An examination of post-#MeToo balances of power.
We are publishing this piece anonymously at the request of the author.
When I was four, my babysitter sexually abused me. It wasn’t violent, but it certainly wasn’t consensual or right. She had all the power, and specifically told me not to share what was going on. A 15- or 16-year old girl, innocently curious or not, isn’t supposed to do what she did to someone in her care. I didn’t tell anyone about this for 30 years.
When I was 25, I woke up in bed with someone I would never have slept with had I not been drunk and pilled out of my head, and the woman I slept with knew I wasn’t interested in her sexually. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and like I’d been taken advantage of. I felt victimized, and, at the same time, I felt a need to minimize my own upset in favor of not insulting the woman. By modern standards of consent, I was raped.
But here’s the thing . . . I’m a man. I’m not trying to somehow say that I know what it’s like to be sexually assaulted in the way women have. I’m not trying to minimize what women have been through by saying #metoo or virtue signal by saying #notallmen. I’m also not comfortable with the fact that I’ve specifically been told BY WOMEN that my experiences don’t qualify as sexual assaults because I’m male and my victimizers were women. I’ve heard the, “But were you erect?” line of questioning from women and been appalled.
I’ve also been on the other side of this coin.
A high-school girlfriend of mine stood up and told a gathering of women at our university that, “I may not have raped [her], but might as well have.”
I behaved badly when our relationship ended. I was hurt, I was confused, I was all kinds of things, but I was also unjustifiably possessive and even if I believe I hadn’t crossed lines when it came to physicality, I had crossed lines when it came to the notion that I had any right to her affections or reasoning for ending our relationship. And she wasn’t the only ex-girlfriend I treated poorly when things ended. I felt indignation for being poorly and improperly characterized, and I felt justified in being bad to them. But, if I’m honest with myself, I’m embarrassed of that behavior.
I’ve gotten far too drunk and done questionable things to people I cared about. I’ve felt guilty about that behavior, and I’ve attempted to make amends for it when appropriate, and I’ve learned to let it go when it wasn’t. I’ve had to deal with the alienation I caused. There were — most definitely — consequences, even if they were merely social. My own drunkenness is no excuse for inappropriate behavior, and I won’t justify or minimize that behavior: it was wrong.
I’ve worked harder as I’ve gotten older not to self-medicate as heavily as I have in the past, and I’ve made a point of thinking more deeply about my own body security and that of others. And, most of all, I’ve striven to believe what victims say when it comes to such all-too-human interactions, while also working to maintain a presumption of innocence for those accused of crimes.
That’s not an easy place to live. It requires a lot of reasoning, and more than anything it requires a suspension of judgement. But I’ve always believed that — to use a baseball metaphor — the tie should go to the runner, who is, the weakest party in any conflict/dispute. In a court of law, the weakest party is almost always the defendant. Sexual assault is that rare case in which that obvious line becomes incredibly fuzzy.
Believing victims of sexual assault – or at the very least taking their claims seriously enough to conduct investigations into their veracity — is important. It’s a special case in which a defendant holds power over his or her accuser. Unlike in the case of a murder, assault or theft, the victim continues to be as vulnerable to the judgment of society as the defendant is to the court.
Brett Kavanaugh is NOT the runner — or victim — in this situation, and the confirmation hearings are not a court of law. He is a holdover from a time in which wealthy men could expect protection from their peers. Bad behavior would be swept under the rug or passed off as “boys being boys.” And this is a double-standard of unbelievable proportions in 2018.
Kavanaugh IS the kind of golden boy given every manner of advantage in life. Kavanaugh IS the kind of man who re-opened a closed investigation into the death of Vince Foster for purely political reasons with no regard for Foster’s family. Kavanaugh IS the kind of person whose judicial record is INCREDIBLY partisan. He IS a judge who has dangerous opinions regarding protections FROM religion. He IS a man who supported torture under the Bush White House.
Kavanaugh WAS nominated and could be confirmed by a cadre of old men — most of whom won’t live for as long as Kavanaugh could serve. They won’t have to clean up the mess that could result from his decisions on the court. WE, the collective younger people of this country, will suffer under a repressive court for generations. A court that can’t understand how technology has accelerated cultural shift, and will actively work to suppress it.
Lastly, Kavanaugh WAS nominated by a president under investigation, and, if confirmed, could be a deciding vote in decisions regarding that investigation. A president whose election is in question with regard to interference and who didn’t win a popular election. The Electoral College is antiquated, and undemocratic. (So, essentially, NO Trump nominee should be considered legitimate.)
All of the above should disqualify the man from making rulings that will affect the world for generations. We live in times far too precarious to allow it.
Our society is changing at an ever-increasing pace. I actively think about whether I’m developing at anything close to the same pace.
I’m a 42-year old man. I’m not a paragon of moral virtue by any means. My character would not pass the test of a thorough Supreme Court vetting process and background check. I am the epitome of a flawed character. I’m not egotistical enough to believe I have any business being in that role. But here’s the thing: shouldn’t we HAVE high standards for the bench on which judges who will serve for a lifetime? Shouldn’t we do the bare minimum of investigating legitimate, credible claims of sexual assault committed by a nominee?
The reality of all of this is that it’s time not only for our judicial and legislative systems to evolve in ways that make them look more like United States itself looks, but also for all of us to evolve.
Without trying to virtue signal too hard, I know what I’ve done, and I’ve evolved. My thinking changed because I learned not to actively TRY to wall off my world and my perception of it from things I don’t agree with or find threatening to my worldview. In fact, I learned to embrace that a bit more exactly so I can continue learning and growing. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it often makes sense to keep my mouth shut and listen to women, people of color, immigrants and anyone who is “the other.” If I want the freedom to be who I hope to be, I have to take the time to develop empathy and sensitivity.
I don’t think my previous behaviors are excusable in relation to that evolution, and I have to accept responsibility for what that does to my reputation. And, more than anything, I have to continue to examine my psyche, my behavior and how current attitudes and standards reflect on my own past actions.
This is something Kavanaugh hasn’t learned.
Let’s hope our society as a whole can learn this lesson, though.
The author works in finance in Washington, D.C.