Both of the essays I’m quoting appeared in New York Magazine yesterday:
Imagine a woman accused of a crime shows up for a Senate hearing and mostly cries and shouts about how persecuted she feels. Imagine she loses her temper several times during her opening statement, and refuses to answer yes or no questions. Imagine she evades follow-up questions by talking about how often she went to her friends’ houses and how good her grades were in high school and college. Now, imagine that a black man is accused of a crime, but when he’s asked if he’d like there to be a further investigation to clear his name, he stammers, “I’m innocent!” and “They sprung it on me!” Imagine this man repeatedly states that he liked beer when he was younger, and he still likes beer. “Do you like beer?” he interrupts one senator’s question to ask. Imagine he admits to drinking to excess, but claims to have had a clear memory of every single thing he did while he was drinking.
A woman who conducted herself in that manner couldn’t get an assistant-manager job at Forever21, let alone on the Supreme Court. A black man who behaved that way would be dragged out of the room, or worse — much, much worse. The real insult of Thursday’s Kavanaugh hearings was the contrast between Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s calm, respectful, endlessly helpful testimony and Kavanaugh’s absolute master class in white-male privilege. Here was the accused, called to vouch for his character. We should’ve seen a solemn, cautious man indicating, with his words and his demeanor, that he takes both the accusations lodged against him and his future role as a Supreme Court Justice seriously enough that he’s more than willing to submit himself to the process at hand without becoming temperamental or defensive.
Instead, what we witnessed was a man who clearly believed that he could rage, cry, joke about beer, and parade his family’s suffering before our eyes with impunity. He believed that getting into Yale Law School somehow meant that he wasn’t capable of sexual assault. The people who get into Yale are the good people, he meant. He didn’t even deign to argue that point. He just assumed that we were all on the same page. He assumed that we’d think his demeanor was casual and likable, that drinking too much only made him relatable, that yelling only meant that he had clearly been wronged, that crying meant that he was in pain and someone should pay for that. He assumed that we would join him in feeling that someone should be held accountablefor bringing a man like himself so low.
GOP senators interrupted the Kavanaugh hearings repeatedly to proclaim them a disgrace. But the real disgrace here is that Brett Kavanaugh is living on an utterly different planet than most of the citizens of the United States. Kavanaugh’s alternately blundering, messy, enraged, arrogant performancegave us a close-up look at what white fragility and entitlement look like: Even when you’re accused of a serious crime, you’re the one who’s being persecuted. Even when a credible witness has identified you, onlookers should be content in the knowledge that you did regular football workouts and even had some friends who were women. (“Friends with women?! Who would befriend them? What a guy!”) Even when you’re asked about your callous remarks about a woman’s sexual history with you in a yearbook, you accuse the questioner of dragging your friend’s name through the mud. Once again, as with Trump, it’s not about what this man actually did or didn’t do. It’s about the heartless mob who would dare to drag such things into the light of day, for all to see.
As the afternoon went on, I found my mood swinging back to Kavanaugh’s defense. At first, I was shocked by what seemed to me to be his shouting and belligerence. But then he drew me in. Of course he was angry. Wouldn’t you be if you were innocent or had no idea where this allegation suddenly came from? He wasn’t being accused of sexual harassment, or sexual abuse as an adult in a way he could have refuted or challenged. His long-lost teenage years as a hard-drinking jock were now under the microscope. Even his yearbook was being dissected. Stupid cruelties and brags from teenage boys were now being used to define his character, dismiss his record as a judge, his sterling references, his respected scholarship, his devoted family, his relationship with women in every capacity. He had to fend off new accusations, ever more grave and ever more vague.
And there were times, it seems to me, that he simply couldn’t win. If he hadn’t hired and mentored many women, it would be proof he was a misogynist and rapist. But the fact that he did hire and mentor many of them was also proof he was a misogynist and a rapist, who only picked the pretty ones. If he hadn’t shown anger, he would have been obviously inhuman. When he did express rage … well, that was a disqualifying temperament for a judge. It didn’t help that the Democrats made no pretense of having an open mind, or that any glimpse at mainstream media — let alone media Twitter — revealed that it had already picked a side. This was, for the major papers, especially the New York Times, a righteous battle against another white straight male, and the smug, snarky virtue-signaling on Twitter was in overdrive. Even Kavanaugh’s choking-up was mocked — just another contemptible “bro-crier.”
And so when Lindsey Graham suddenly unloaded on the Democrats, I felt a wave of euphoria. “Yes,” I said to myself. “Go get ’em, Butters!” When Senator Blumenthal got all self-righteous about a single lie destroying someone’s credibility, I actually LOL-ed. Then I remembered all those op-eds and essays that decided to judge one moment in one man’s teens as somehow deeply revealing about … white privilege, toxic masculinity, white supremacy, toxic homosociality, bro culture, alcoholism, patriarchy … you name it, Kavanaugh was suddenly its foul epitome. He was an instant symbol of all the groups of people the left now hates, by virtue of their race or gender or orientation. And maybe he is. But did any of that necessarily make him guilty of anything, except by association?
The most amazing part of the second passage is the failure to recognize that to find an example of someone conducting herself well under these sorts of very trying circumstances one only had to watch Christine Blasey Ford. Actually, it’s more amazing than that. Just before this passage, the author says this:
Christine Blasey Ford was not just credible, her account of her assault and trauma was deeply affecting. She was understandably anxious in such a setting, but kept her shit together, made her case poignantly and calmly — her moments of humor, her need for caffeine, her hair framing her glasses like wisteria were all thoroughly human. In her dignity and restraint and precision, she helped me and I’m sure many others better understand what sexual trauma is.
A better illustration of Heather Havrilesky’s thesis would be difficult to find.