So while the tale of a 17-year-old boy chasing a 15-year-old girl into a bedroom, pinning her down and clamping his hand over her mouth as he inelegantly tugs at her clothes is bad enough, the real animating cause is the other boy in the room, egging him on and laughing. For women who’ve experienced something like them, the stories of Ford, Deborah Ramirez, Renate Schroeder Dolphin and Julie Swetnick don’t sound like simple youthful indiscretions, but rather like sickening visceral reminders of a time when our fear and pain were compounded by the snickers and cheers of those who witnessed it as entertainment. The smarmy references to “Renate Alumnius” on the yearbook pages of Kavanuagh and his friends; the laughter surrounding Ramirez, already an outsider among her Yale peers, as Kavanaugh allegedly wagged his penis in her face — these stories have been resonant for many women who have had their own bodies, fears and struggles to get away witnessed as entertainment.
If you grew up immersed in the popular culture of the 1980s, it was entertainment. There were countless teen comedies, blurred together in an almost indistinguishable mass, about horny, unfulfilled boys whose journey to manhood inevitably included the sexualized humiliation of their female peers. Peeping at girls in showers and locker rooms was a recurring theme (“Porky’s,” “Private School,” “School Spirit”), as was filming them without their knowledge (“Getting It On!”). John Hughes’s 1984 comedy, “Sixteen Candles,” had a teen girl at its center, but it also featured a handsome jock handing off his passed-out girlfriend to a younger nerd after musing that he could “violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to.” (That jock was the film’s romantic hero, by the way.) That same year, “Revenge of the Nerds,” billed as a triumphant comedy about the brainy underdogs outwitting the jocks who tormented them, suggested that the best way to exact payback against the popular kids was by installing secret cameras in a sorority house and distributing naked photos of a jock’s girlfriend.
Kavanaugh even blamed the yearbook reference to Schroeder Dolphin on the movies, in his testimony Thursday: Georgetown Prep students “wanted the yearbook to be some combination of ‘Animal House,’ ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ which were all recent movies at that time. Many of us went along in the yearbook to the point of absurdity.” (Less convincingly, he also said the line had nothing to do with sex: “That yearbook reference was clumsily intended to show affection and that she was one of us.”)
Another standard storyline in these movies was punishing beautiful, haughty girls for the crime of not being interested in our heroes: In1982’s “Zapped!,” Scott Baio plays a nerd gifted with telekinesis when a lab experiment goes wrong. He wastes no time using it to strip clothes off his popular, stuck-up crush. “Screwballs”in 1983 centered on a group of boys who plot to deflower, and thereby disgrace, a classmate named Purity Busch (yes, really), because she got them sent to detention.
The effort expended to portray Kavanaugh as a good man, a trustworthy coach to the girls basketball team at the Blessed Sacrament School and a dependable carpool dad seemed performative from the start. The alleged ugliness now seeping from the past plants a bright red flag on all that. I imagine those ponytailed, plaid-jumpered girls struggling to reconcile the “Coach K” they know with the boy being described by a growing number of women: one to whom girls were fodder for dirty jokes. And I imagine new generations of boys, already conditioned by a culture that rewards them for conforming to a narrow masculine ideal, looking to men who secured their leadership roles despite — and possibly because — they knew that strong bonds can be made stronger at the expense of women.
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