In the Senate confirmation hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, one word was mentioned more than others. Twelve times, in fact. It wasn't "justice" or "remorse" or "assault," it was a four-letter word that was just as common in the summer of 1982 as it is in 2018:
Judge Kavanaugh waxed poetic about his harmless love of beer, attempting to spin his youthful habit of debauchery into a chaste, wholesome activity. His own testimony: "I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer, but I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone."
Whether he blacked out or not, Kavanaugh's high school and college years were characterized by drinking to excess, at prep school and later Yale University.
I've seen all kinds of Brett Kavanaughs walking around our own campus. Boys who drink to excess on a Saturday night and still make it to mass on a Sunday morning. Boys who want to become doctors and lawyers and our future leaders of Congress, but who can't remember how they got home the night before. Boys who worked so hard they got into Yale, but who pass the hours on a weekend by being passed out on a bench outside their fraternity house.
Boys will always be boys, the age-old adage goes.
There's an important piece absent from the Senate confirmation debate: booze is only part of the problem. Every drink consumed goes into the body of a person with attitudes which have been societally mediated about women and power. A person who regards women with equality and respect, or one who does not. A person who either thinks it's okay to assault women or one who thinks it's not.
Kavanaugh took a break from yelling or crying to offer this conclusion in his testimony: "There's a bright line between drinking beer, which I gladly do and which I fully embrace and sexually assaulting someone, which is a violent crime. If every American who drinks beer or every American who drank beer in high school is suddenly presumed guilty of sexual assault, it would be an ugly new place in this country."
He is right about one thing, that there is a distinct line between drinking beer and committing sexual assault. However, there is one common denominator between all sexual assaults committed against women: negative views about women. Variables like toxic masculinity, sexism and skewed power dynamics are much more accurate predictors of gender-based violence than alcohol intake.
Stories of sexual assault are whispered on our own campus with near terrifying regularity. Stories involving a party, typically one with alcohol and loud music, a bedroom, and a front door, like the one detailed by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on a summer night 36 years ago. The endings of these stories are sickening to hear, the kind that reminds you of the worst of humanity.
And then there are the stories that don't warrant a whisper or even a mention, where I drink beer in the presence of boys and return home at the end of the night safely to my own bed, unaccompanied.
It isn't lost on me that the outcome could be astonishingly different. This difference isn't because of the clothes I am wearing, or not wearing, the words I am saying, or how much I am drinking. The only difference seems to be whether or not the men in my company feel it is okay or not okay to assault.
Brett Kavanaugh felt, multiple times, that it was okay to use his power and force over a woman to make her intimidated, uncomfortable, or to fear for her life. That fact doesn't have a thing to do with beer, no matter if it's an IPA or a Pilsner.
On the night of the televised confirmation hearing last week, I sent a text to my roommate that said: "I'm sad. Meet me at Krafthouse." Her lightning fast response: "I'll be right there." She pulled up a stool and together we unpacked the burdens that we'd carried on our shoulders that day, and many days leading up to it. How we were disappointed in our leaders, and the media, and in the allyship, or lack thereof, of the men in our own lives.
We each drank a beer and walked home together in the dark.
There it is again, beer. The same drink Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had one of on the night that changed the course of her life, the same drink that Judge Kavanaugh claims he never abused during that long, hot summer. The same drink that's led to good memories and a few funny stories in my own life, too.
It's hard to hold all these difficult things in my head at once. Here's what I know, and what the Senate committee, and, really, all of humankind should know as well: Women shouldn't have to live life in fear of violence.
We should be able to have a beer without worrying about the motives of the person who handed it to us. We should be able to dance to loud music without worrying that there are cries muffled in the background of the party.
Most of all, we should be represented on the highest court of the land by a person who works to uplift the lives of all women, young and old, black and white, immigrant and native.
I'd like to see real change be made to improve the lives of women, and I think it starts with the people on this campus.
As long as the voices of women are silenced, we will stay angry. The topic of conversation of late among my female friends has been when we are going to take to the streets, light the patriarchy on fire and burn toxic masculinity to the ground.
And perhaps we will celebrate at a bar afterward.
Janie Booth is a Trinity senior. She does not condone the use of real matches to set the patriarchy on fire, but she will see you at the Women's March.
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