Grace Mattern: Entitlement and sexual assault

  • Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa AP

For the Monitor
Published: 9/23/2018 12:25:51 AM

Entitlement. That’s a missing element in articles and opinion pieces I’ve read regarding Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s admission that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Admission is the right word, because that’s what disclosing a sexual assault feels like for most survivors. They believe they’ve done something wrong, and the consequences of disclosure often feel like punishment. Look at what has happened to Ford. She’s had to leave her home, live in hiding and hire private security. That’s how bad the social media lies, harassment and death threats have been.

Why would anyone admit to having been thrown on a bed by a drunken 17-year-old Kavanaugh, groped and then silenced with a hand over her mouth when she screamed for help? Telling means being threatened, harassed and dismissed, even when the language of dismissal has been carefully crafted.

Notice how Republicans aren’t disputing Ford directly and instead say she should be heard. They’ve learned that disparaging a victim outright will get them in trouble with women voters, which is the one block of the Trump base that has begun to sour on him and the Republican administration.

But how and when Ford will be heard has been dictated by Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and his Republican male colleagues. When reasonable conditions were requested by Ford’s lawyers before she would testify, including a “full, nonpartisan investigation,” the response was telling. Senate Republicans united behind their expectation that Ford accept their offer for how and when she would testify, or they would move on to a confirmation vote. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas was the most blunt. “She’s not really in a position to make conditions in my view.” These men clearly feel entitled to set the conditions for “hearing” Ford.

The investigation Ford has requested is reasonable, in spite of what the committee says. The FBI took only three days to investigate Anita Hill’s sexual harassment disclosure about Clarence Thomas.

But the Senate doesn’t want to delay the vote on Kavanaugh for a real investigation. Grassley admitted why in a tweet. He claims the request for an investigation is “not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections.” If they’re sure Kavanaugh is worthy of being a Supreme Court justice, there is time to conduct an investigation, hear testimony from Ford and still confirm Kavanaugh before the midterm elections. What are they afraid an investigation might find?

I believe Ford, as a lot of people do. I also think it’s likely that Kavanaugh isn’t consciously lying when he denies having assaulted her. He may not remember the incident. He was drunk and like his friend Mark Judge, who was in the room at the time of the assault and also doesn’t remember it, may have been black-out drunk. And even if he wasn’t, he’d have no incentive to remember the episode. The way alcohol and memory work, he could easily have forgotten that he assaulted Ford. To him, it wasn’t a big deal. In contrast, Ford has never forgotten the assault because it affected her life profoundly.

How could an encounter like the one described in Ford’s account not be memorable for anyone involved? Because boys like Kavanaugh are steeped in male entitlement that is culturally reinforced, a belief that boys get to be boys, that getting some goodies off girls regardless of whether or not they want to be touched, is okay. Boys, or men, are entitled to get what they want because for much of human history they’ve controlled women and until relatively recently actually owned women. It didn’t become a crime to rape your wife in New Hampshire until 1981, and New Hampshire was one of the first states to delete the spousal exception to the sexual assault statute.

That by itself shows how toxic the social culture regarding rape was as in the 1980s. It was probably even worse at elite private schools, where the privileges of wealth overlay those of gender and give boys an even stronger message that they are entitled to whatever they have and whatever they can get. Hundreds of alumni of Holton-Arms, the school Ford attended, and similar private schools, have signed letters, letting her know they believe and support her because the party and events she described sound like their own memories of that time.

But acknowledging that was the culture then doesn’t excuse assaultive behavior. More young men lived through that cultural time without ever harming a young woman than did. A lot more. The boys who got drunk and forced themselves on girls were acting on their belief in entitlement – I deserve whatever I have and whatever I can get. And get away with.

Kavanaugh’s judicial rulings demonstrate that he still operates from a position of entitlement, only now in a more culturally acceptable way. He’s transferred to the bench his belief that those with power and wealth should be able to keep a grip on it regardless of the cost to others.

Republicans are closing ranks behind Kavanaugh while posturing as if they’ve given enough consideration to the victim, the woman. But Republicans underestimate women’s ability to see through their game. These rich and powerful men feel entitled to their Supreme Court pick, to a Supreme Court that will reliably uphold entitlement, and they’re going to push for what they want, even if it means effectively silencing Ford again.

(Grace Mattern is a poet and writer who lives in Northwood. She blogs at gracemattern.com.)




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