The allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have once again sparked a reaction to the issue of sexual assault. In light of that, this tweet struck me as important:
I think the GOP is wildly underestimating its peril with this Christine Blasey Ford stuff. Has the potential to break through with women in a major, major way. Men have trouble grasping the extent of what women have had to deal with their entire lives, and how it’s affected them.
— Blake Hounshell (powered by blockchain) (@blakehounshell) September 22, 2018
I’m not interested in giving men (either Republican or Democrat) a pass on their inability to grasp the experience of women, but beyond partisanship, we’ve seen evidence that there are a lot of men who just don’t get it.
About a year before we watched what happened to Anita Hill when she testified about the sexual harassment she had experienced from Clarence Thomas, Democrat Ann Richards became governor of Texas based largely on the fact that her opponent, Clayton Williams, made a joke comparing rape to bad weather and suggested that women should just “relax and enjoy it.”
During the 2012 election the question of whether or not pro-life candidates supported a woman’s right to abortion after being raped, Republican men said so many ignorant things about rape that Charles Gaba put together “The Republican Party Rape Advisory Chart.”
Over the last couple of weeks, we’re seeing a lot of that kind of thing once again from people attempting to defend Brett Kavanaugh. As I read the news, I find myself getting enraged once again at all of the excuses we’re hearing for these kinds of allegations. But honestly, conservative talk show host Dennis Prager is the one that has stuck with me the most. He opens with the ridiculous argument that the moral outrage in all of this is what is being done to Kavanaugh. But it is when he takes feminism to task for encouraging women to speak up that he really goes off the rails.
Nearly every woman past puberty has experienced a man trying to grope her. (This is, needless to say, wrong.) My mother was groped by a physician. She told my father about it. My father told the physician that if he were to do it again, he would break his hands. And it remained a family folk tale…
When my wife was a waitress in her mid teens, the manager of her restaurant grabbed her breasts and squeezed them on numerous occasions. She told him to buzz off, figured out how to avoid being in places where they were alone, and continued going about her job. That’s empowerment.
Prager isn’t wrong when he suggests that “nearly every woman past puberty has experienced a man trying to grope her.” But while he says that’s wrong, it becomes clear that he is simply trying to normalize sexual assault. Using his wife and mother as examples, his message to women is that they should simply take it, do what they can to avoid being alone with offenders and shut up about it. To Prager, that’s empowerment. He actually says that feminism is weakening women by encouraging them to speak up about sexual assault.
Keep in mind that the stories Prager told about his wife and mother mean that both a doctor and a restaurant manager were allowed to continue to grope women because no one stood up to stop them. Is it any wonder that it happens to almost every woman past puberty?
When we hear that the current allegations have led men to be afraid, it is hard to avoid putting that in the context of what Prager has written. What would happen if almost every woman past puberty actually told her story? Would men finally have to grasp “the extent of what women have had to deal with their entire lives, and how it’s affected them.” More than anything else, that’s what Prager and men like him are trying to avoid.