No wonder Donald Trump has been driven to fresh bursts of tweeted rage: A whole category of people is being driven out of the workplace: People whose talents and experience are invaluable. People who just can’t get a fair shake. People who deserve the opportunities they are being denied.No, I’m not talking about women, who are a paid a whole 83 per cent of what men earn (up from 77 per cent just two decades ago)! Nor am I talking about people of color, who face structural discrimination that screens them out of the recruitment process merely for having “black” names. I’m talking about men — well, #NotAllMen, of course. Just the handsy, gropey or rapey ones, all of whom were eminently employable until about five minutes ago. Now these poor guys are being denied their God-given right to edit prominent publications, host national radio shows, or sit on the Supreme Court.
At the top of this week’s hard done-by list is Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination to the US Supreme Court was cruising along quite nicely, despite little details like his ambiguous answers on abortion rights and his refusal to address hypothetical grounds for legal action against a sitting president (not that hypothetical, given the current investigation of President Trump). These evasions were all too similar to Kavanaugh’s questionable testimony when under review as a nominee to the D.C. Circuit court, his careful fence-straddling on affirmative action, and the withholding of Kavanaugh’s papers -- material that would normally be reviewed as part of a confirmation process.
But none of that would have kept him off America’s highest court, if it weren’t for the nasty feminists making an issue of the time he allegedly tried to rape a teenage girl. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist, has come forward with the accusation that Kavanagh assaulted her at a high-school party back in the 1980s, pinning her to a bed and holding his hand over her mouth so that she couldn’t scream. While she managed to escape his efforts at removing her clothing, and locked herself safely in a bathroom, she experienced long-term trauma as a result of this assault.
Thank goodness there are Republican allies available to point out that Blasey Ford probably made up the whole thing, because it is so fun to be driven into hiding by an avalanche of death threats. Or to suggest she’s “mistaken”, because an attempted rape is just the kind of thing a girl’s mind can’t keep straight. Or that this was no big deal, just teens playing “seven minutes in heaven”. Or to remind us that if by some fluke this is the rare time a woman is telling the truth about a sexual assault, this one happened a really really long time ago, and what you did as a teenager shouldn’t matter once you are adult gunning for the Supreme Court. Thank goodness we have the President pointing out that, "if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities” at the time.
And if none of these contradictory arguments quite cuts it for you, we have one more, courtesy of a lawyer described as “close to the White House”: “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,” the unnamed lawyer told Politico.
At a time when the utterances from the White House consist of a near-constant stream of misinformation, it comes as a relief to hear such forthright comments. Yes, that is exactly what this administration believes — as evident not only in the behavior of its Assaulter-in-Chief, or its decision to reverse the Obama-era policy on campus sexual assault investigations, or its decision to push hard for Kavanagh despite the allegations. From his infamous claim that “when you’re a star, they let you do it”, to his well-oiled machine for silencing the voices of disgruntled mistresses, this President has barely hidden his contempt for women who might resist or interfere with male advancement. His administration stands for the right of all men to keep their jobs and advance to ever-greater heights, regardless of what some silly girls say about how they might have been a little bit raped somewhere along the way.
But let’s not delude ourselves: The Poor Little Rapist narrative is hardly limited to the White House. Even such bastions of American liberalism as Harpers and The New York Review of Books seem to have bought into the idea that the biggest crisis in the American workplace is the awfully tough time faced by the modern male. In recent weeks Harpers published a self-pitying essay by “exiled” journalist John Hockenberry, while the Review published a similar missive by Canada’s own Jian Ghomeshi. Apparently America is too good to accept Canadian lumber, but it’s happy to import Canadian self-pity.
Ghomeshi’s seductively readable essay offers a great window into the mindset that allows Brett Kavanagh’s nomination to go forward. Lamenting his new status as “a poster boy for men who are assholes,” Ghomeshi neatly elides over the substance of the accusations leveled against him (a belated introductory note now acknowledges that “more than twenty women accused him of sexual abuse and harassment, which included hitting, biting, choking, and verbal abuse during sex”), and gets down to what really matters: How this behavior affected him, the perpetrator. Distancing himself from his own record by writing in the second person, Ghomeshi describes the tragic existence of the downfallen male, the celebrity outcast:
You’re confounded at how tales of your alleged behavior from years past are now used as a sledgehammer to destroy the career you’ve built and determine the way you will forever be seen….Adding to your shame is the fact that you’re suddenly helpless...You don’t leave the house because there are cameras outside...You realize almost immediately that this is a financial calamity as well: not only have you lost your income, but you’re also hemorrhaging your savings to legal fees.
But amidst the self-pity, Ghomeshi shares a revealing truth about the narcissism of celebrity: “Dating and having sex became another measure of status….the women I was with were the true gauge of success.”
If the companionship and sexual availability of (generally young and beautiful) women is both the perk and measure of male celebrity, how can we possibly see the violation of these women as anything but footnotes in the lives of powerful men? Once we reduce the women to footnotes, we relegate their traumatic experiences to the margins. What matters is not the impact of male misbehavior on women, but the impact of women’s accusations on men.
Because apparently the worst thing is not getting groped by your co-worker, or propositioned by your boss, or seeing your would-be rapist nominated to the highest court in the land. The worst thing is if men who’ve engaged in these behaviors discover that they can no longer get a plum job.
I’ll admit to some confusion about why we should worry so much about these men being unemployable. Where are we supposed to employ them, exactly? While schools and daycares refuse to hire people who victimize children, apparently there’s no equivalent expectation around re-hiring men who’ve harassed, hit on or even assaulted their female colleagues. We ladies are supposed to accept that a little workplace “friskiness” — you know, boys being boys — is simply the price of entry into the man’s world of actual paid employment.
That’s the message we can all take away from the willingness of (male) Republicans to spring to Kavanaugh’s defense, and from the willingness of (again male) editors to publish the self-pitying but unapologetic reflections of Ghomeshi and Hockenberry.
It’s at moments like these that women get the clear message that our workplace comfort, our productivity, and our safety are all less important than the professional prospects of powerful men. But it’s not too late to send a different message. It’s conceivable that in the wake of #MeToo, just enough Republicans will be just worried enough to actually listen to the female voters who have suggested that maybe we’re not ok with putting would-be rapists on the Supreme Court. Maybe these Republicans will actually vote against confirmation, and maybe the Democrats will do well enough in the U.S. midterm elections to miraculously re-take the Senate, and maybe the Republicans will be too embarrassed to push an even worse nominee through the confirmation process in a lame-duck session. Maybe we’ll see an impeachment of Trump himself, replacing a President who assaults women with one who is merely afraid to be alone with them. Maybe the Republicans will push another Supreme Court nominee through, but they’ll find one who only manifests disdain for women through anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-feminist judicial decisions, rather than by actually assaulting them.