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Kavanaugh, Rape Culture, and the Time for an Important Course Correction

Kavanaugh, Rape Culture, and the Time for an Important Course Correction
Reading Time: 6 minutes

By: Maria Thompson Corley – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.

He said, she said. I believe him. If not for Jeff Flake’s last-minute request for a week-long investigation, the net result would have probably been a party-line vote, with Brett Kavanaugh as the latest addition to to SCOTUS. As it is, the ads continue, at least where I am, to insist that he never assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. If he had, the crowd of women in one of those ads, all of whom claim to have known him for many years, wouldn’t be vouching for his character.

Let’s talk longtime reputations. I was a soloist with the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra in 1996. The late Gunther Schuller, a renowned composer, musicologist and educator, was the conductor. While we were alone backstage after the last performance, he pulled me in to try to forcibly kiss me on the lips. I never flirted with him. He knew I was married. His obituaries make no mention of sexual harassment.

Should I have told the orchestra’s board of directors? The police? What response would I have received? Probably “So what?” I mentioned it to my then-husband and my parents, but not even to my sisters. I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want it to have happened. I wanted to move on.

Looking at an obituary and seeing a picture of him as he was then made me cringe. I can only imagine my reaction if he had groped my body rather than…what did he grab? My arms? My back? All I know is that I was pulled close to him, he tried to kiss my lips, and I pushed him away. Or did I back away? Who left the room first? I don’t remember. Was something else said? I don’t remember. Did I walk out the backstage door, or into the auditorium? I don’t remember. Did I tell my parents or just my mom? I don’t remember. Did I say what had happened immediately, or wait until I got home? I don’t remember.

Was I the only person he ever tried to kiss without invitation or permission? I did a Google search, but nothing came up. If somebody else had lodged a complaint and I added my story, would I be trying to smear the reputation of a legend who is dead and thus unable to defend himself? Am I doing that by revealing it now? Are my mother and my ex-husband, who is open about being a recovering alcoholic, reliable witness, that I mentioned the incident to them years ago? I am getting queasy typing this, even though I was never held down on a bed by two drunken boys. I realize that my story proves nothing about Christine Blasey Ford or Brett Kavanaugh.

As everybody knows by now, Kavanaugh came out swinging last Thursday, perhaps having studied Clarence Thomas’s successful strategy from decades earlier. The baldly partisan, at times petulant display made me wonder how many cases he would have to be recused from, in the interests of fairness.  There is nothing wrong with preparing, but the evasive stock phrases—some, such as “circus” and “disgrace” borrowed verbatim from Thomas (who probably lied under oath)–rang a tad hollow: “This was sprung on us.” “I like beer.” “I worked my tail off.” (Note: Kavanaugh seems to assume that hard work entitles us to commensurate rewards. The poor, women and people of color know better). I suspect most of us have seen the clips, including the judge’s behavior devolving into throwing questions back at the questioners, a particularly egregious strategy that resulted in a much-needed apology after Kavanaugh asked Amy Kolbuchar, the child of an alcoholic, if she had ever blacked out after drinking.

The GOP’s surrogate questioner was unfailingly polite, but Rachel Mitchell’s questions had a subtext. Regarding the insinuation that Blasey Ford was a paid pawn repeating a script (if so, her talking points were difficult to spot), are the people whose expenses are covered so they can sit in the audience at State of the Union speeches pawns? Maybe, but does that negate their stories? And how can one feign respect for Blasey Ford while insisting she was mistaken about who attacked her? Let’s concede that Dems have been vehemently against Kavanaugh from before the first hearing. Does that make all accusations against him untrue, especially when they were mentioned before he became the nominee? And what’s the point of a confirmation process if being nominated guarantees the job? And if you think being nominated guarantees the job, I have two words for you: Merrick Garland.

The day I wrote this, Mitchell’s report, in which she concludes Blasey Ford’s testimony was unconvincing, was both released and attacked. Regardless, there are those who feel that long-ago sins shouldn’t be held against Kavanaugh anyway.  Whether or not one subscribes to that notion, current truthfulness is—at least allegedly—a consideration for confirmation. The questions about the meanings of slang terms from the 80’s may have seemed silly, but in distancing himself from toxic, frat-boy culture, the judge may have been lying. Even if Kavanaugh’s definitions were truthful and the Yale roommates with whom he allegedly drank are lying, who is he, really? The calm guy on Fox, the evasive, calm guy at the first set of hearings, or the evasive, unhinged guy who squared off against the Democrats on September 27? Even if the brief investigation Jeff Flake (or, more accurately, the women who accosted him in an elevator) set in motion turns up little evidence, Brett Kavanaugh has shown himself to be a chameleon. I know this question implies that something matters other than the right-wing credentials established in his opening statement, his broad endorsement of presidential power., and particularly the expectation that he will help overturn Roe vs. Wade, but I’ll ask it anyway: should we want a chameleon on the highest court in the land?

Whether or not Brett Kavanaugh gets confirmed, I think the time has come for an important course correction. Not long ago, the top story was a devastating report on sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Survivors told their stories, and sexual assault hotlines lit up, just as they did during Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony. Since I first told my #MeToo story publicly, both men and women have sent me messages about their own experiences, including one dating back 70 years. Many of these people feel ashamed. Many of them were unwilling to name their attacker. I understand why. That said, what if there were a groundswell of not just women but men, all calling out the entitled mentality that normalizes the displays of dominance included in every assault? There are those who lament that every small physical gesture is scrutinized and labeled, these days. I think this is a small price to pay as we try to change a worldwide culture where rape is a weapon and a silent epidemic rages, in the form of the indelible, excruciating memories of the victims, without any real consequences for the vast majority of their tormentors. Mainstream religion has lost its hold on our society, partially because so much evil has been perpetrated in the name of various deities, and yet, the idea of our bodies as temples—and, just as importantly, other people’s bodies as sacred, no matter how they are dressed—might be a refreshing change. And since our brains are part of our bodies, perhaps we should also address physical, verbal and emotional violence. It’s ridiculous to keep excusing aggressive behavior in the name of testosterone. It’s equally wrongheaded to accept the existence of Queen Bees, or whatever the alpha “mean girls” are called, these days. 

What to do with our human aggression? Why not try teaching children meditative practices, which benefit everyone involved? Not enough mastery? How about the arts? Through music, writing, visuals, theater and dance you can channel any emotion. You don’t have to be a professional, or even have an instructor. You don’t have to even be “good.” Most importantly, when you work your butt off, you can—and should—feel entitled to the rewards.



More by Maria:

Black Women Get Angry Sometimes. Occasionally in Public. Like Everybody Else.



Maria Thompson Corley is a Canadian pianist (MM, DMA, The Juilliard School) of Jamaican and Bermudian descent, who has experience as a college professor, private piano instructor, composer, arranger and voice actor. She has contributed to Broad Street Review since 2008, and also blogged for Huffington Post. Her first novel, Choices, was published by Kensington. Her latest novel, Letting Go, was published by Createspace, along with a companion CD of solo piano performances by the author. “Malcolm,” a poem about her son which she presented at the 2016 National Autism Conference, is featured periodically on the Scriggler All Stars Twitter page. “Drop Your Mask” was awarded second place in New York Literary Magazine’s love poetry category and appeared in that publication’s AWAKE anthology in December, 2016. Her short story, “The Road to Jericho,” is slated for publication in the inaugural edition of Midnight and Indigo.

Twitter: @MariaCorley



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