Comparing Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas in 1991 with Professor Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh has led me to believe that while progress for women has been made in the intervening years, much, much more still needs to occur. The discussion of the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by Professor Christine Blasey Ford has to some degree centered around the idea that “boys will be boys.” Professor Ford alleges that when she was 15 years old, the then 17-year-old Kavanaugh pushed her onto a bed at a party. Allegedly, Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, laughed “maniacally” as Kavanaugh groped her, held her down, attempted clumsily to disrobe her and placed his hand over her mouth causing her to fear that she might “inadvertently be killed.”
Many national commentators have been dismissive of Professor Ford’s claims labeling them as “standard teen fare,” “youthful hijinx” or “just a normal part of teenage sexual experimentation.” Others have worried that “if somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then every man should be worried as we can all be accused of something.” Noted Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker mused that: “Here we are debating an adolescent boy’s qualifications to become a Supreme Court justice. What’s next, his potty training?”
Their arguments hold that what Professor Ford described is not really sexual assault but rather bad youthful male behavior. Her alleged attempted rape is viewed as little more than the indiscretions of youth – just your typical garden variety teenage behavior. Sadly, they are correct – sexual assault like this has become normalized as “typical teenage behavior.” Unfortunately for many women, this is far too common an experience for them and one in which women like Professor Ford suffer their pain, shame and trauma in silence out of the very real fear that disclosure will result in additional ridicule and disbelief.
The reality of the “boys will be boys” maxim is that it is our very real daughters, sisters, wives and granddaughters who are the genuine victims here and often carry this psychic burden with them unresolved throughout their lives. With this “boys will be boys” mindset, is it any wonder that the President of the United States opined that Kavanaugh “is somebody very special. I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this, to be honest with you. … This is not a man that deserves this.”
Strangely, this viewpoint encourages a twisted belief that it is the man here who is somehow wronged and the victim. The concern of proponents of the “boys will be boys” maxim then focuses on the accused. It is their lives that will be ruined by this insignificant action as a teen – never stopping for a second to think about the lives of women who are irrevocably changed in that same instant. Women in this view simply should accept this as standard operating procedure for youth and they need to “get over it.” Any trauma they experienced should be just part of the accepted female sexual experience. Quite simply, men are entitled to sex and women are the objects of their male sexual gratification. For boys and men, to take what they want is their norm while the norm for women is the trauma that comes with their actions. Yes, sadly, the more things change, the more things still seem to remain the same.
Steve Vickman, executive director, HELP of Door County, Inc.
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.