They can see themselves in him but not in her

Megan Garber at the Atlantic on this whole “all teenage boys try to rape girls, let’s have a little charity here” thing:

Ford’s account of the event has been corroborated by her husband; by a therapist, with whom she discussed the alleged event in 2012; by the notes of a 2013 therapy session, which refer to a “rape attempt” Ford survived as a teenager; and by a polygraph test Ford took on the advice of a lawyer who knows the doubt with which the world, still, reflexively responds to the recollections of women. What the professor describes, in her letter to her Congressional representatives and again to the Post, is by no means the typical stuff of mere youthful indiscretion. What Ford is talking about—what she has been talking about, for years—is not the behavior of kids simply being kids, boys simply being boys. What she is alleging, instead, is cruelty; it is entitlement; it is violence; it is assault.

And it’s not the case that all boys do it or that it’s just a normal part of being a testosterone-addled kid.

The White House—which of course has multidimensional interests in downplaying negative claims about Kavanaugh, particularly those involving sexual misconduct—has thus far defended its nominee in the broadest of terms, claiming its support for Kavanaugh and otherwise offering “no additional comment.” (Donald Trump’s evergreen advice on countering allegations of misconduct: “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”) A lawyer close to the White House, interviewed by Politico, reiterated the idea that, regardless of Ford’s claims, Kavanaugh’s nomination would not be withdrawn. On the contrary: “If anything, it’s the opposite,” the lawyer told the reporter Burgess Everett, suggesting that the White House has been, actually, galvanized by the allegations against its nominee. “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”

Really. Saying all males are that violent and entitled? That’s their defense?

And here is the deeper venality of the boys-being-boys defense: It normalizes. It erases the specific details of Christine Blasey Ford’s stated recollections with the soggy mop of generalized male entitlement. What red-blooded guy, after all, its logic assumes, hasn’t done, in some way, the kinds of things Ford has described? Who, as a younger version of himself, hasn’t gotten stumble-drunk, pinned down a woman, groped her, tried to undress her, and then, when she resisted, held his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams? (“It was drunk teenagers playing seven minutes of heaven,” the Fox News columnist Stephen Miller tweeted, derisively.)

Once again, in much of the public discussion, the empathy settles on the man accused. There but for the grace, etc.: If youthful indiscretions like that are allowed to affect the fate of a basketball-coaching, soup-kitchen-volunteering, daughter-nurturing, carpool-driving Supreme Court nominee, whose fortunes wouldn’t be affected? “We’ve now gone from ‘he did this terrible thing at 17’ to ‘he’s a man who treated a woman like that,’” the professor and author Tom Nichols tweeted on Sunday. “Man, I hope all the people who are making this case had spotless lives at 17, because I sure as hell didn’t.”

Exactly. I spent much of yesterday afternoon, as you saw if you were around, disputing that tweet and a string of others defending the basic idea, from Tom Nichols. All his empathy was for the man, and the woman simply disappeared. Many people pointed this out to him, and still he kept on doing it. He can’t grasp that women actually exist even when people are saying it right to him.

The salient question about Ford’s allegations became, in some quarters, not whether they are true, but rather whether they count as allegations at all. The cruelties she describes—the alleged acts of dehumanization that left her traumatized, she says, as a 15-year-old and, still, as an adult—might be “terrible,” yes, but they are also … simply part of the natural order of things. Boys, figuring out how to be men. Locker-room talk, made manifest. “Drunk teenagers playing seven minutes of heaven.” Who wouldn’t be implicated in that? Who doesn’t see himself, in some way, in this age-old story? If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.Americans talk a lot, these days, about norms. What will be preserved, in the tumult and chaos of today’s politics; what is worth preserving; what will fall away. Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was already, in the profoundest of ways, a matter of norms: It will determine, almost inevitably, whether the women of America maintain autonomy over their bodies. Here, though, in Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that a young Brett Kavanaugh compromised her autonomy in another way, another norm is being litigated: the way we talk about sexual violence. Whether such violence will be considered an outrage, or simply a sad inevitability. Whether it will be treated as morally intolerable … or as something that, boys being boys and men being men, just happens.

Tom Nichols repeatedly described it that way – as just a thing that happened between two teenagers. Denial is a powerful force.

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