To be clear, Republicans don’t care at all about sexual assault in any case. After all, they stood behind their presidential candidate after the world heard a tape in which he admits to and laughs about being a sexual assaulter and grabbing and groping women without permission. So we shouldn’t be surprised in the least that they are standing by their man Kavanaugh. But we should absolutely take them to task about how they are, once again, perpetuating rape culture and normalizing sexual assault and rewarding accused abusers with power, money and prestige.
The Atlantic’s Megan Garber wrote about how Kavanaugh’s alleged assault attempt is being written off as “boys will be boys” behavior. As such, we are supposed to understand the actions of a 17-year-old Kavanaugh through the lens of a teenage boy—who made a bad decision likely because “the alcohol made him do it.” This is being framed as an otherwise good kid doing a stupid thing. But this isn’t logical or normal. It posits that the natural outcome of drinking when teenage boys and girls are together is attempted rape and we should accept this as a forgone conclusion. Rape and assault occur when abusers decide to use their power to victimize—period. The alcohol may lower their inhibitions but it is not the cause of abuse. This false logic doesn’t account for the millions of us who drank as teenagers, but still never managed to try to rape someone. It also completely downplays the seriousness of the crime.
Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, says that while he was stumbling drunk, he and a friend “corralled” her into a bedroom. He then pinned her down on a bed, groped her, tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. She was so afraid that, in her own words, she felt that “he might inadvertently kill” her. As Garber writes:
What the professor describes, in her letter to her Congressional representatives and again to the Post, is by no means the typical stuff of mere youthful indiscretion. What Ford is talking about—what she has been talking about, for years—is not the behavior of kids simply being kids, boys simply being boys. What she is alleging, instead, is cruelty; it is entitlement; it is violence; it is assault.
Yet, here Republicans are, trying to defend sexual violence as good, old-fashioned, normal teenage behavior.
Kissing games like Truth or Dare, Seven Minutes in Heaven, Spin the Bottle etc. are problematic in and of themselves. They are a shitty way to force intimacy and sexuality between people who may not have a desire to be intimate with each other but may do so because of peer pressure. But, they are also supposed to be consensual. And violence and assault are not objects of the game.
Garber also reminds us that this defense of Kavanaugh’s alleged actions is the epitome of male entitlement. Many men want to get away with having abused in the past because they were simply “too young to know better.”
“We’ve now gone from ‘he did this terrible thing at 17’ to ‘he’s a man who treated a woman like that,’” the professor and author Tom Nichols tweeted on Sunday. “Man, I hope all the people who are making this case had spotless lives at 17, because I sure as hell didn’t.”
Let’s clarify one thing: if you did this at 17, yes, you are an abuser and a creep. There’s a big difference between not being a saint at 17 and being a sexual assaulter. Too many men either don’t know the difference or don’t care—and they most certainly don’t want to be held accountable for their actions, either then or now.
But we must also look at how the “boys will be boys” defense is conveniently and purposely invoked to specifically defend white male behavior. Because while we are supposed to believe that Kavanaugh’s alleged actions are the result of his 17-year-old youth and immaturity, we are not supposed to believe that young black men of that same age are innocent of anything—even when they are killed.
Trayvon Martin was 17 when he was killed by George Zimmerman for walking in a neighborhood where Zimmerman apparently thought he didn’t belong. Conservatives were quick to blame Martin for his own death—painting him as a thug and violent predator who was a menace to society. There was no “boys will be boys” and “youthful indiscretion” assigned to Martin. In fact, Zimmerman’s entire legal defense rested on the theory that Martin posed a grave danger to him. Even though we know it was Zimmerman who confronted Martin and initiated the altercation. We know this because we heard the 911 call where Zimmerman tells the operator that he’s going to follow Martin because “these assholes always get away.”
Neither Zimmerman, his defense team, an entire jury nor conservatives wanted us to believe that Trayvon Martin had a right to fight back when Zimmerman accosted him for not belonging in the neighborhood. There were no cries about this simply being “boys being boys” or something that just happens. Trayvon Martin was 17 and a black boy and apparently that was old enough for George Zimmerman to play judge, jury and executioner in a matter of minutes.
Eric Levitz wrote in The Daily Intelligencer about the irony of how, in the wake of the Kavanaugh allegations, Republicans are suddenly calling for us to understand and go easy on juvenile offenders. The very party of the “tough-on-crime” approach that supports trying juvenile offenders as adults and has defended life sentences and executions of minors (who are disproportionately black and brown) has suddenly come to see the light.
But in the past 24 hours, the right’s thinking on juvenile justice appears to have radically changed: Where conservatives once believed that people who commit violent crimes as teenagers do not necessarily deserve the opportunity to ever reenter free society, many now contend that such people should not (necessarily) be denied the chance to serve on the nation’s highest court.
Clearly, conservatives haven’t really had a change of heart. There’s no Republican understanding of “youthful indiscretion” for 99 percent of juvenile offenders and they’ll continue to support punishing them, locking them up and making them pay forever for the things they did when they were young—including attempted rape. The difference is that this is one of their own and the stakes now include the Supreme Court. And they don’t believe in holding their own accountable for anything, least of all sexual assault. So they won’t hold Kavanaugh accountable and will do anything they can to convince us that the rest of us that we shouldn’t either. But we must. Boys will be boys is a toxic narrative that only prevents us from achieving gender equity and continues to normalize violence against women. It is should not be acceptable at any age and it certainly shouldn’t be a trait we overlook in a president or a Supreme Court justice. Enough with rewarding abusers with more power and privilege with which they will most certainly keep abusing women.
Ironically, Republicans are also using history to support their “boys will be boys” defense. One Trump adviser said that not only was this behavior relatable, but that even bringing it up is ridiculous.
“[Democrats are] playing a high-stakes game right now,” the adviser told Politico. “You know there are a lot of people in this country who are parents of high-school boys. This is not Anita Hill.”
For the record, Republicans and Democrats didn’t believe Anita Hill. And things would have been a lot different if they had. It is striking to think that it took a black woman’s public humiliation in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for America to begin to talk about sexual harassment and abuse. It was also a black woman who started the #MeToo movement, creating space for abuser survivors to have their voices heard and for holding powerful men who abuse women accountable for their actions. Black women have been doing anti-rape activism for decades. It was the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement. We don’t accept that sexual abuse is a normal part of behavior. Perhaps, it’s time for a black woman to serve on the Supreme Court and leave the sexual assaulters and the “boys will be boys” excuses in the past.