Someone called Brett Kavanaugh, who wants to be one of American’s Supreme Court Judges, overcame a major hurdle last week, when a committee of congressmen approved his confirmation, despite a dramatic court room scene, in which he was accused by someone blessed with the name, Christine Blasey Ford, of being a sexual offender, enough to destroy his career and possibly put him in jail.
Everything didn’t go quite his way as the even more absurdly named Jeff Flake, a fellow Republican, only agreed to the nomination if the case was further investigated by the FBI. He decided to request this after he met two sobbing women in a lift. One of them, jamming the door open for four minutes, whined piteously, ‘Look at me and tell me why it doesn’t matter what happened to me?’
Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology with special interests in child abuse and sexual identity, accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her in 1982 when both were school kids. She says Kavanaugh groped her and tried to remove her clothes. When some other rough boys jumped on the bed, topping them, she escaped.
Neither she nor her parents reported the incident at the time. She went on to thrive at college and in her career, with a PhD and a prestigious academic career. She is also a wife and mother of two sons.
I watched the whining, yowling, and self-justification of the hearing feeling entertained but saddened. There was an obviously able woman weeping about an event that occurred when Olivia Newton John was topping the charts with, Physical, and Soft Cell were singing about, ‘Tainted Love.’
There must be a genuine reason for her long – lasting pain but it can’t be because a drunken boy climbed on top of her and grabbed her tights. It’s not hard to imagine bawling Brett and his frat friends strutting around campus, he’s not likeable and his reference to his young daughter was sick-making. Such heights of self-pitying justification have not been reached since 2010 when Tiger Woods, taken in adultery, poured out his repentance on TV while his misty- eyed Granny looked on with a mawkish smile.
But this is much nastier and more ominous. In 2017 Ford took part in a demonstration against the election of Trump. When she accused Kavanaugh, Trump tweeted against her. She has received over $100,000 dollars to fund her case from her supporters including various Hollywood celebrities and followers of the ‘We Believe Survivors’ campaign. The case has split behind identity groups representing Abortion, finance, gay marriage and guns. A microcosm of riven US society.
It also highlights how much as changed here too since the late 70s early 80s. In our last year at school, inspired by Ken Russell films and BBC2 plays, we looked forward to life on a student grant which promised to be a cornucopia of sexual possibilities, with the occasional visit to a lecture theatre thrown in.
Over three years, teenage boys and girls used to clock up their scores. During a house share, there were times when we girls were sharing the same men, at first unaware of it, then realising and comparing notes.
Strolling to the library in my flared jeans and tee shirt I attracted as much attention as if I was wearing a bikini in a souk. This wild approbation was explained by my having a pair of breasts; I was continually amazed by the excitement they engendered in young males who behaved as if they’d never seen any before.
Men on campus never gave up their pursuit of the breast and of other bits. ‘They are even worse when the temperature goes up,’ a friend said, as if we were talking about a particularly pesky breed of reptile. It was a game, avoiding the scary ones, batting off the ugly, and selecting the ones worth a squeeze back. Groping at parties we took, with glee or irritation, as part of our entitlement to a vigorous, sunny, exciting young life.
We were second-wave feminists. Marxist Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique had been published in 1963, tearing apart the idea of women as mothers and homemakers. Dr Greer’s the Female Eunuch arrived in 1970 and we quoted it avidly. That was also the year of the Monty Python sketch, Upper Class Twit of the Year, a contest which included a category called, ‘Unhook the bra on the debutante.’ The implicit joke being that toffs were incapable of this simple act which was all too easy for other men.
Drunkenly unhooking bras and struggling with tights in the dark, was considered an amusing rite of passage. From Hollywood, in films such as National Lampoon’s Animal House, we got the idea that US college life was little more than an extended food-fight with sex thrown in.
On one of my trips to the library where I studied History, I read that in the late 19th century, despite a hundred years of republican and franchise movements, men and women were as far apart in understanding of each other as ever. The Empire was blamed, as it was for most evils at that university. That seemed a good enough answer and I was relieved to be living in the ‘Permissive Society,’ where men and women were equal at last.
In those days, when Prof Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh were entering their teens, many adults, young and old seemed to live almost entirely for sex in all its variety. We followed ‘the religion of coitus’ as Philip Roth called it. Heretics, such as Mrs Mary Whitehouse were widely pilloried and scorned.
By the start of the 1980s my generation had the good luck of the contraceptive pill and Margaret Thatcher’s demand for meritocracy. More doors and legs were open to us than any generation before. In the world of work of course there always lurked what yuppie Brigit Jones called her, ‘Mr Tits Pervert.’ He was no bother to most of us. The secret was to keep him interested until you’d got the deal/job/work done. Tit obsessives could be fobbed off for years, Becky Sharpe style.
Yet less than twenty years after her death, it seems there was never any need for Mrs Mary Whitehouse to get her Directoire knickers in a twist; we now fear sex as much as our parents and grandparents in the days of the Raj ever did. We even prefer it to be called ‘gender’ which is more neutral and less specific.
Men and women seem to be at war with each other again, not despite nearly a century of feminism, but because of it. Its third wave, more extreme than anything that’s gone before, now insists that men and women are exactly alike without separate needs or expectations, that in fact women can have penises if they choose. The enemies of progress are not the refusers of free love but men themselves for being men. Questioning men who claim to be women is treated as a criminal offence.
Wilful masculine differences; raucous behaviour, success, unhooking a bra without filling in a signed consent form, or coming top in physics, is seen to turn women into victims.
Men who do not call themselves women, are now deemed, particularly middle – class white ones, as threatening to equality and inclusiveness. Only if those obstinate hooligans are punished, humiliated, feminised and restrained, will women be able to flourish.
It is salutary but a little strange to think that if you are a man, that over enthusiastic game of kiss-chase you enjoyed in the school play-ground aged five, that fumble you had on a bed aged fourteen when your parents were out, may be on its way back at this moment, coming to derail your whole adult life.
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