Normal and expected

George Felis shared this post on Facebook and was inspired by comments to take a more extended look at the “why do people shrug off bullying when it’s only girls?” question. I got his permission to quote what he said.

Evidence that Kavanaugh was a high school bully would be generally taken to be a plausible indicator of his character, and even those who disagreed — those who rejected the idea that such youthful bad behavior could serve as a significant indication of the kind of person he is to this day — wouldn’t simply fail to understand why or how someone might think otherwise. But much of the conversation around the evidence that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault on a 15 year old girl is utterly point-missing in exactly that way: It’s not simply that Kavanaugh’s defenders don’t believe the accusation; they don’t seem to understand why anyone would think that might have any bearing on his character even if it were true. I mean, he was just a teenage boy who wanted sex, right? That’s like saying water is wet!

People are so thoroughly embedded in and emotionally committed to rape culture that they view sexual assault as not merely the deplorable but predictable behavior that some significant minority of adolescent boys and men engage in, but as normal and expected behavior for adolescent boys and men, so much so that they are quick to blame girls and women for “putting themselves in that situation.” Pretty much no one would hear the story of an adolescent boy physically assaulted and humiliated in a locker room and say, “Well, as a skinny geeky kid, he should known better than to go into that locker room.” But I’ll be damned if I didn’t see some asshole commenters discussing the swimwear 15 year old Christine Blasey Ford was purportedly wearing and her choice to attend a high school party with alcohol while just scrolling casually past a story on facebook today. That’s a pretty big damn difference.

It’s true. Even though feminism has been pointing out for at least two generations that rape is bad, and violent, and damaging, and subordinating, and a very serious issue, there is still this huge segment of the population and the culture that sees it and treats it as just natural male sex-seeking behavior. The Kavanaugh train wreck is letting us know that all over again – as did Jian Ghomeshi’s NYRB whine, as did Ian Buruma’s indifference to Ghomeshi’s victims, as did the election of the self-described pussy-grabber. On the one hand this knowledge – that rape is not a cute joke – is well available and conspicuous, on the other hand powerful lawyers who pick clerks for even more powerful lawyers still want the women to look like models. We learn and learn and learn the lesson; every time there are columnists and reporters saying now finally this is getting through to people, and then along comes a Kavanaugh and it becomes painfully obvious that a lot of people have not learned one.fucking.thing.

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