The Kavanaugh Case

Forgiveness. Kavanaugh. Also Cowbirds. part 3


Do we say, then, that a 17-year-old boy’s behavior shouldn’t be judged?

I hear US Senators saying, “If true, he was just a 17-year-old kid.” Wait! That’s not what comes after, “if true.” I’ll tell you what comes after, “if true.” After saying, “if true,” what comes next is “what has he done to own the responsibility for the mistake? Is there sincere remorse? Is there apology?" When the allegations first come to light, does he say, "Oh, my God, Christine, I barely remember that night – I was intoxicated, I’d been taught all my life that women’s autonomy didn’t matter, that assault was no big deal. But hearing from you now, reading how that encounter was so traumatic for you, I see that I hurt you, and I’m so sorry." Did he say that? Did Kavanaugh respond that way? Or did he dismiss and deny the woman’s experience? Did he and his supporters and enablers imply women aren’t reliable, aren’t to be believed -- they’re "mixed up," as Orrin Hatch said. Did he take refuge in the male entitlement that allows women’s complaints to not be taken seriously, and just deny the whole thing? Unfortunately, that is exactly what he’s been doing.

It’s worth noting that teenagers can know better. Many of them do. After Blasey Ford’s account became public, journalist Joe Pinsker, talked with several teenagers around the country this week, and wrote about it for Atlantic. Pinsker heard from Evan, an 18-year-old Texan who, during some sexual encounters, has
“found it useful for us to briefly roleplay a situation in which I make demands and they reject me. I want to establish that they have a say in this, that I’ll listen to them, that they can tell me what...not to do.” ("What Teens Think of the Kavanaugh Accusations," Atlantic, 2018 Sep 21)
And an 18-year-old young woman told Pinsker:
“I have never slept with (or even kissed!) a guy, but when I do, there won’t be any gray area about it — everybody in the tri-state area will know whether or not I have consented.” (Ibid)
Wow. When I was in high school, the girls didn’t think like that girl, and the boys didn’t think like that boy.

I don’t judge the judge for not being that enlightened in 1982. I wasn't either. It was a different time. But I judge him for not having picked up a clue in the 36 years since. That a middle-class white male born in America in 1965 could get to age 17 without understanding the damage done by sexual assault, I can understand. Only 43 years ago, in 1975, marital rape was legal in all 50 states – that is, they had an exemption in their rape laws that said the crime didn’t apply if the perpetrator and victim were married to each other. Not one state – not in liberal New England, not in left coast Washington, Oregon or California – not a single state had thought to say, "Hey, maybe wife of doesn’t mean sexual property of."

Eighteen years later, 1993, all 50 states had removed the marital exemption from their rape laws. Back when folks first started to suggest that change, others were taken aback. California state Senator Bob Wilson told a group of women lobbyists in 1979, “If you can’t rape your wife, who can you rape?”

That was 1979. In about the same time period, 1982, 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford (by her account, which, yes, I believe). There was, indeed, a lot of that going on – and unfortunately still is. Male entitlement to women’s bodies was taken for granted and rarely challenged. Today fewer men, but still far too many, take that entitlement for granted, and it is more often challenged.

Born in the time he was born, that he could get to age 17, and do what he did and not think he’d done anything wrong, I can understand. In the 1970s, articles and essays began to appear written by women, detailing the trauma caused by assault, and what it was like living in this regime of terror of the threat of assault even for women who had never been assaulted. Before the 70s, women themselves had been publicly silent on the topic. Some time during the 70s, the term “rape culture” was coined. In 1975, Susan Brownmiller's book appeared, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, making the case that "rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear." But a 17-year-old in 1982 might not have seen any of those writings. He might not have read Brownmiller's book. (Evidently, California state Senator Bob Wilson didn't either.) These writings weren’t mainstream at that point. I understand.

Then in 1991 Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas. And the outpouring of women’s voices that was triggered by Hill’s testimony, voices saying loudly and clearly and in the mainstream that assault and harassment really are big deals, and really, really not OK – led to the 1992 “Year of the Woman” elections in which the number of women in congress jumped from 33 to 55 – a 67% increase -- because of the energy of outrage from the way Anita Hill was treated. Does that man in 1992, now 27, still not understand the damage done? Is he still dismissive of women’s experience?

Does he get to be 40, and now 53, having lived through years of hundreds of women coming forward, a broad-based movement to emphasize consent, including a 3-minute youtube video called “Tea and Consent” with over 10 million views (the text of which I read from this pulpit last spring), and remain unphased?

Has he lived in this country in the last year, through the outpouring of the #MeToo movement? Does he live through all that and STILL figure, no, there’s not really any harm done that he’s obliged to acknowledge?

It’s not the actions of the 17-year-old that I’m not ready to let go of and forgive. It’s the actions of the 53-year-old who, by all indications, still assumes today the male entitlement he assumed at age 17.

The first condition of forgiveness for his youthful indiscretion is that he ask for forgiveness, that he own what he did and demonstrate sincere remorse. If he can’t let go of belittling women’s reality, then the rest of us can’t let go of his adolescent crime.

On the Supreme Court, this man would be ruling on women’s reproductive freedom. As Deborah Copaken concludes her essay:
“The life of my daughter is at stake. Her bodily autonomy is at stake. . . . I want to make sure that whoever is passing judgment on the next generation has, at the very least, judgment to pass.” (Atlantic)
Amen, sister. Amen.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Forgiveness. Kavanaugh. Also Cowbirds."
See also
Part 1: Apology and Forgiveness
Part 2: Cowbirds and Moral Judgment

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