Kavanaugh’s testimony reveals a man who has never had his tone policed

Image: Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
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In his opening remarks to the Senate judiciary committee today (Sept. 27), Brett Kavanaugh adopted a tone described as somewhere between an irate substitute teacher and a suburban father letting loose at a service worker.

It was uncomfortable. It was unrestrained. And more than that, it stood in sharp contrast to the “collegial” tones of Christine Blasey Ford, the professor of clinical psychology who accuses him of sexual assaulting her as a teen in 1982. The internet took note of the difference between the two, and how they addressed the people in the Washington DC hearing room.

Some wondered whether Kavanaugh’s huffing and puffing was an effective strategy, and how it would go down with Republicans wary of midterm repercussions. Unrestrained ire may now be the norm for US presidential press conferences, but Kavanaugh ran the risk of appearing blustery and unfocused. It also called into question whether his really is the right temperament for the Supreme Court.

Later, Kavanaugh wept about the damage done to his “good name” in a process event he all but decried as a liberal conspiracy. It was a dramatic shift in tone, from rage to tears of frustration and anger.

The difference between the two witnesses once again revealed the burden put on women to accommodate those around them. It is a burden many men know very little about. Kavanaugh’s unusual display of emotion betrayed a lifetime in which he has likely never being accused of being too adversarial, too pushy or too aggressive. Men’s tears are often seen as a sign of strength and emotional openness. Women, on the other hand, risk being decried for “crocodile tears.”

My colleague Leah Fessler writes about Ford’s vulnerability and the strength it demonstrated—her composure and “sheer, unfiltered, emotional honesty.” But that vulnerability, and the emotional honesty that accompanied it, belies a huge amount of self-control.

In her turn in the spotlight, Ford could not have afforded the wild mood swings Kavanaugh displayed. And the same outspokenness his supporters will see as a mark of Kavanaugh’s bravery would have been seen as an expression of cowardice in her.