Confirming Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nominee for the US Supreme Court would be framed, now and forever, as a loss for women.
It would be all that, and more. For everyone in America.
Whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, that he was allowed to testify in a fit of rage—while seeming to equate losing his ability to coach sports to the decades of trauma Christine Blasey Ford has endured as a sexual-assault victim—and still be taken seriously as a nominee epitomizes the indelible inequality between the sexes.
As Doreen St. Félix writes of yesterday’s hearing in the New Yorker:
More than presenting a convincing rebuttal to Ford’s extremely credible account, Kavanaugh—and [Orrin] Hatch, and Lindsey Graham—seemed to be exterminating, live, for an American audience, the faint notion that a massively successful white man could have his birthright questioned or his character held to the most basic type of scrutiny.
In pretending that the debate over Kavanaugh—or the ongoing battle against sexism, sexual harassment, and feminism for that matter—involves only women’s issues, we harm everyone. We subject everyone, especially men and boys, to toxicity and hate. That’s because the patriarchy, at its core, is actually a men’s issue. Sexism exists because men (especially powerful white men) have believed that they are superior to women, and entitled to handle their bodies.
In confirming Kavanaugh, the American political system would be telling men and boys you can take full advantage of women, treat them like dirt, indulge your rage and frustration without restraint, and disrespect authority without consequences.
You can do all this, and still advance to the most prestigious seat in the world. You can do all this, and go on to pass laws that will control other people’s bodies. There is no deeper damage American legislators could to to young men—especially white men.
Women will never shut up or stop working to upend this oppression. But until men take misogyny seriously, viewing it as their personal responsibility to stop sexual harassment and assault, the patriarchy will never topple. Women and many men will continue to be victimized by sexual abuse. And true progress—social, cultural, and economical advancement—will be stalled.
Yesterday, male friends texted me, asking how I was doing. A few posted on social media, short and simple, #IBelieveHer. Their activism inspired and excited me, not only because they’re advocating for women, but also (and in many ways, more importantly) because they’re advocating for themselves.
As I wrote amidst the rise of #MeToo, many men stay silent for fear that posting on social media is phony. They fear that women will call them out for not taking to the streets and doing more to advance feminism.
I understand. But they’re missing the point.
A Facebook post certainly won’t end the patriarchy, and it’s no substitute for calling out a buddy who makes crude comments or reporting a coworker’s inappropriate behavior. But it’s a step. Posting on social media shows the people who have been affected by sexual abuse that you are tuned into the cultural conversation. It shows women who have taken a risk and publicly made themselves vulnerable that you’re listening, that you believe them, and that you agree sexism should not be tolerated. At a bare minimum, it shows that you give a damn. Just make sure your activism doesn’t stop at a social media post. Hold yourself, and other men accountable. (More advice for men who want to speak up against sexism here.)
The lie that toxic masculinity only oppresses women is created and proliferated by men who are unaware of their own imprisonment.
Ample research shows the psychological impact of “masculinity” (as defined by traits like the need to be powerful, emotionless and insensitive and have a high-sex drive) on boys and men is tragic. As Wizdom Powell, an associate professor in the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Department of Health Behavior, explains to the American Psychological Association puts it:
Masculinity norms for example can govern the way men seek help. They can govern the kinds of disclosures men make when they are feeling distressed or they are exposed to stressful events.
In general, when men adhere rigidly to the kinds of norms that encourage them to not share their emotions, to be sort of relentlessly self-reliant without seeking the help or support of others. They can have poorer mental health outcomes, particularly more depressive symptomatology because doing so cuts them off I think from the social networks and social supports that might help them get through a difficult time.
This makes it unsurprising that American Foundation for Suicide Prevention data show that in 2014, men accounted for 77.4% of all suicides in the US—and white males for about 70%. As my colleague Annalisa Merelli explains in Quartz, masculinity and privilege are quite literally killing older white men: “They might not be equipped to suddenly face their own mortality and might resort to suicide more easily than other demographics because of that.”
Kavanaugh, in his frat-boy glory and relentless defensiveness, defines toxic masculinity. He’s the bro we all know from college. He’s also a powerful, middle-aged white man raised with tremendous privilege.
Not all “boys will be boys” in the Kavanaugh style. But is this the man you want your boys to become?