US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of assaulting a fellow teenager when they were both in high school. He vehemently denies it. Does that mean one of them is lying?
Here’s the thing about assaults like this: as we’ve learned from the many personal stories unearthed by the “Me Too” movement, the parties involved in these incidents often remember them differently.
MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Most men are good and decent and would never commit assault. You know who you are!
HOWEVER, those men who do commit assault might not even realize their own behavior is wrong, because the behavior has absolutely no consequences (at least not for them – there are very significant consequences for the victims).
Men have gotten away with this for years (decades, centuries, millennia!) because their victims were:
- Their own employees who would lose their jobs if they protested
- Their wives, and therefore their property to assault/abuse as they wished
- Afraid to speak up, because of the inevitable personal attacks such a decision invites
- Inferior in social or economic status, and therefore powerless to complain
- Wearing revealing clothing, and therefore “asking for it”
- Of imperfect character, and therefore wouldn’t be believed
So for most of human history, men who committed assault arrived at the perfectly logical conclusion that forcing themselves on women or playing grabby-grab couldn’t be that bad, because no one complained when they did it! Harvey Weinstein was shocked when karma finally caught up with him. He earnestly explained, “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
It was indeed. To him, it was a culture of entitlement and permissiveness. The women involved remember it differently – they describe these incidents as terrifying and absolutely unforgettable. For Harvey, it was all just another day in the life of a movie mogul.
A story from a Georgia restaurant that went viral this summer is a perfect example of this dichotomy: security camera footage shows a man casually grabbing a waitress on the buttocks. He does it without even breaking stride. He doesn’t hesitate or slow down – just executes a smooth, on-the-move squeeze. It looks suspiciously natural (how many times has he done this?). If not for the reaction of the waitress (she slammed him to the ground and asked her co-worker to call the police), he probably would have forgotten all about it. Just another day in life of a regular dude.
The waitress, however, was having none of it. If the incident was a “first” for her, more power to her. More likely, this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. And she hadn’t forgotten about any of the other straws. Because every incident, no matter how relatively small, leaves a mark. And a memory.
Which brings us to Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford, whose character is already being pummeled in the media (see #3, above). Her recollection of details may be fuzzy, but her memory of the assault itself is sharp as a knife. She reported to the Washington Post that she sought treatment for “long term effects of the incident.” From the moment she escaped by hiding in a bathroom and then fleeing from the house, the events of that day remained significant and traumatic.
If her story is true, Brett Kavanaugh was drunk and, after she ran away and hid, he gave up the chase to rejoin the party. For whatever reason – maybe the alcohol or maybe because it was so long ago – he says he doesn’t remember. No one called the police or confronted him. No one complained.
So Kavanaugh’s denial, which reads, “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone,” may be truthful. Her description of the event was pretty horrible (“I thought he might inadvertently kill me”), but he may sincerely remember just another summer day, drinking at a party, having some fun. Just another day in the life of a promising young man.
They may both be telling the truth.