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Twilight of the Would-Be Gods
By Maria Behan
As I watched Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh rant and weep in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, I asked myself what, exactly, I was seeing—and why it was both so pathetic and so frightening. Then it struck me: I was witnessing the death throes of white male privilege. Death throes are seldom pretty—and apparently that’s especially true when aging frat boys are involved. Kavanaugh’s demeanor veered between outrage, self-pity, and sniveling like you’ve never seen sniveling before. As one CNN commentator observed, if a woman behaved that way, she’d be escorted from the Senate in a straight jacket.
Born far up on the ladder of Republican privilege, young Brett swung easily up the rungs that brought him to Yale and beyond, his Beatles ‘do unruffled despite the underage drinking, puking, and other nefarious activities we’ll likely never know much about because as the middle-aged Brett quipped a few years back, “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.”
We can all get a little misty recalling scenes from our lost youths, but the injudicious judge turned it up to 11 during his Senate testimony as he blubbered and pined for the good old days of brewskis with Squee and “lifting weights with other guys at Tobin’s house.” His behavior struck me as pitiful and disqualifying in the context of hearings determining eligibility for a lifetime appointment to one of the most consequential offices in our nation. But to the all-male, all-white, all-privileged Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Judge Kavanaugh was warbling their favorite tune. His delivery may have been off-key, but to them, it was sweet, sweet music: an ode to the days when maleness and prep school privilege meant they were untouchable by lesser humans, especially women.
What most of us, especially women, saw as an embarrassing and disqualifying performance stiffened those Republican senators’ spines, and perhaps other parts of their anatomy. They’d been downcast after Christine Blasey Ford’s heroic testimony that morning, forced to face the reality that a credible charge of sexual assault might actually bring down one of their own. But Kavanaugh’s weepy defiance put the lead back in their pencils, reminding them of the days when any attempt to deny then any damn thing they wanted—especially women—was downright incomprehensible.
Boys Against the Girls
Make no mistake about it: Republican men may pay lip service to the idea of respecting and supporting women, but they have utter contempt for us. Take Conservative writer Mark Judge, whom Ford claims was in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her. An admitted alcoholic, Judge has had his ups and downs, but one thing’s remained constant: his swaggering misogyny. His Georgetown Prep yearbook page quoted Noël Coward’s line, “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.” Thirty years later, in a 2013 piece for the Daily Caller, Judge wrote this about First Lady Michelle Obama: “With her love of violent movies, her fixation on fitness, and death glare that appears when she doesn’t like what she’s hearing, Michelle is actually more man than her husband. Oh for the days when president George W. Bush gave his wife Laura a loving but firm pat on the backside in public. The man knew who was boss.”
Judge’s pal Brett Kavanaugh has displayed a similarly leaden sense of women-hating “humor.” Of all the puerile and ugly material from his high school yearbook page, the most despicable was his misspelled reference to being a “Renate alumnius,” a phrase Kavanaugh and more than a dozen other future pillars of society included in their write-ups as a way of implying sexual conquest of a teenager from a local all-girls school. When questioned about that, the adult Renate Schroeder called the insinuation “horrible, hurtful.” Even more grotesque than the slur on her character was the 53-year-old Kavanaugh’s insistence that the “Renate alumnius” moniker the boys used was meant “to show affection, and that she was one of us.” Out of all the lies Kavanaugh told the Judiciary Committee while under oath, that one was the most unbelievable.
The patriarchy won this time: Judge Boof is now Justice Boof. But a day of reckoning looms, and I, for one, will relish the moment when Conservatives bewail their lost power with the same teary nostalgia that Kavanaugh shows for his lost youth.
Maybe before something withers away, it flares up at its most extreme and naked. The United States was founded by dignified patriarchs in white wigs who hid the racism and sexism codified into the country’s founding documents under lofty language and ideals. Today, male hegemony in America involves mewling baby-men like Trump, who wears baseball caps and talks about grabbing women by their genitals. And Kavanaugh, who, at least in his youth, seemed to view belittling women and puking as art forms.
Nevertheless, Women Persist
If the misogynic harm weren’t so huge, it might be amusing when Republicans dust off the language of bygone days to express their outrage at uppity women. In 1991, Professor Anita Hill testified that Judge Clarence Thomas was not fit to serve on the Supreme Court because he’d sexually harassed her when he was her boss. The members of the all-male Judiciary Committee repeatedly forced a visibly embarrassed but always dignified Hill, who was sitting in front of her elderly parents, to share an unnecessary level of lurid detail before they went on to confirm Thomas. Amid all the talk of Long Dong Silver and pubic hair on Cokes, one Republican Senator from Alabama peered over at Hill and asked, “Are you a scorned woman?”
Decades later, when Elizabeth Warren had the temerity to continue reading Coretta Scott King’s letter decrying Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’ ascension to attorney general, Kentucky boy McConnell sounded like an extra from Gone With the Wind when he whined, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Not only do we women persist; we insist. We insist on respect. We insist on our rights, including bodily integrity. We insist that we’re not taking this shit any more. And if men like Mitch McConnell don’t like it, they can whistle Dixie on their way back to Tara. And if there’s any justice in this universe, overgrown frat boys like Kavanaugh will be damned to an eternity of beer pong in hell.
Warren continues to persist—indeed, it seems possible that in 2020 she’ll become America’s first woman president. And Anita Hill is not a scorned woman; she’s a professor who’s still teaching the country important lessons about gender and power. But after the Kavanaugh hearings, a whole lot of women in America do feel scorned…by Republicans’ contempt.
Boys, remember that saying about “Hell hath no fury?” Come November 6, you’ll really have something to cry about.
Maria Behan writes fiction and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Stinging Fly, Huffington Post, The Irish Times, DailyKos and Northern California Best Places.
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