Brett Kavanaugh and the cruelty of male bonding

By | September 25, 2018

Lili Loofbourow writes:

For what it’s worth, and absent evidence or allegations to the contrary, I believe Brett Kavanaugh’s claim that he was a virgin through his teens. I believe it in part because it squares with some of the oddities I’ve had a hard time understanding about his alleged behavior: namely, that both allegations are strikingly different from other high-profile stories the past year, most of which feature a man and a woman alone. And yet both the Kavanaugh accusations share certain features: There is no penetrative sex, there are always male onlookers, and, most importantly, there’s laughter. In each case the other men—not the woman—seem to be Kavanaugh’s true intended audience. In each story, the cruel and bizarre act the woman describes—restraining Christine Blasey Ford and attempting to remove her clothes in her allegation, and in Deborah Ramirez’s, putting his penis in front of her face—seems to have been done in the clumsy and even manic pursuit of male approval. Even Kavanaugh’s now-notorious yearbook page, with its references to the “100 kegs or bust” and the like, seems less like an honest reflection of a fun guy than a representation of a try-hard willing to say or do anything as long as his bros think he’s cool. In other words: The awful things Kavanaugh allegedly did only imperfectly correlate to the familiar frame of sexual desire run amok; they appear to more easily fit into a different category—a toxic homosociality—that involves males wooing other males over the comedy of being cruel to women.

In both these accounts, Kavanaugh is laughing as he does something to a woman that disturbs or traumatizes her. Ford wrote in her letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, “Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with [Mark] Judge, who periodically jumped onto Kavanaugh. They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me.”

“Brett was laughing,” Ramirez says in her account to the New Yorker. “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” She recalled another male student shouting about the incident. “Somebody yelled down the hall, ‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face,’ ” she said.

If these allegations are true, one of the more shocking things about them is the extent to which the woman being mistreated exists in a room where the men are performing for each other—using the woman to firm up their own bond. The Kavanaugh yearbook is littered with dumb codes that seem to speak to exactly this tendency—stuff like “boofing” and “devil’s triangle” all suggest that what mattered to Kavanaugh was displaying club membership. The question is: At whose expense?

It goes without saying, I hope, that virgins are perfectly capable of doing everything Kavanaugh has so far been accused of. Offering a detail that personal was not only meant to be exculpatory in a specific sense; it was also deployed to counter an emerging image of Kavanaugh as a sleazy frat guy like his close friend and classmate Mark Judge. But he overshot the mark. If you’re going by his reactions in the Fox News interview, Kavanaugh’s wounded astonishment at the very existence of bad behavior would mean he couldn’t have known his good friend Mark Judge, who has written plenty about his own, very well at all. Kavanaugh’s strategy, in other words, was to present himself as all innocence: not just a virgin, but a virgin who’s never even heard of—let alone done!—some of the things he’s accused of. [Continue reading…]

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