“Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They seemed to be having a very good time.”
This is one of the most striking moments from Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who she says sexually assaulted her when she was only fifteen. It is striking, because it perfectly encapsulates the experience of so many women who have found ourselves acting as the unwitting punchlines for the actions of men.
And it’s for that reason that men like Kavanaugh are so terrified.
The Pervasiveness of Rape Culture
For both men and women, patriarchy is the water we swim through every day. It touches everything, but above all, it ensures who has power, and who they get to wield that power over. Until very recently, for men like Kavanaugh — men who are white, wealthy, well-educated, and well-connected — it has meant never having to face consequences for their actions, for one simple reason.
Their behaviour is considered to be the norm among people just like them, and the people just like them are also the people in charge.
Every woman has a story of a time they were made to feel uncomfortable, or were laughed at, or were threatened by men. In fact, it’s the very fact that these situations are so pervasive that means we often don’t come forward at the time. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t do us harm, or that we don’t remember them.
I remember moving through clubs and bars as a teenager, slapping away hands, laughing as men twice my age speculated over whether or not I was a virgin — laughing because it was safer than making a scene. I remember my first job, age 18, when my forty-year-old boss moved my desk into his office, ostensibly so he could monitor the number of telesales calls I made a day, but really so he could make lewd jokes about my slim figure, my tits, and my outfits, while his wife worked, unknowingly, in the next room.
I remember the man who assaulted me while I worked at a bar. I remember how he cried when confronted. I remember that he wasn’t fired. I remember that people told me I should have been kinder to him.
And I am far from the only woman with these stories.
Quite simply, using women as punchlines, and sexual conquest as social capital, is a ubiquitous part of the culture we live in. It is something we all recognise intuitively, but something that can only exist if it continues to go unchallenged. It’s also the culture that allowed Kavanaugh and his friends to discuss “Devil’s Triangles” (not a drinking game), and “boof” (not a euphemism for flatulence) with impunity in their yearbook at the time.
It is, above all, a double-standard that we saw play out vividly on screen during the hearing. While Dr Ford remained calm and eloquent, choosing her words carefully and answering every question that was put to her, Kavanaugh berated Democratic senators, refused to answer questions, wept, and shouted.
It was a performance that, if it had been played out in reverse, would have seen Dr Ford derided as hysterical, and her testimony instantly dismissed. But for many men, who I’ve no doubt see in Kavanaugh the ghosts of their own past indiscretions coming back to haunt them, it was proof of his innocence.
For many women, however, it was exactly the opposite. This stark contrast in acceptable behaviour proved, once and for all, the existence of the double standard. Women, after all, are used to having our emotions weaponised against us. We are used to smiling through rage, laughing off inappropriate comments, and swallowing down pain and fear to protect the feelings of men.
What many of us saw when we watched Kavanaugh’s rage applauded by the very people who would dismiss our own, was concrete evidence of a culture that seeks to uphold the success of powerful men, at the expense of the women they trample on. It’s for this reason that men like Kavanaugh are terrified, because such a culture can only be maintained for as long as we refuse to look at it.
Well, we are looking at it now.
And one day, we’ll tear it down.
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