We’ve all heard the adage that “the personal is political,” and as we watched the slow motion train wreck that was Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, that saying holds true more than most times. Unfortunately, that means we have a battle over due process, rape, and what those two terms should mean for us as a society. It’s being cast as a victim versus perpetrator battle, but I suspect that it’s really making all sides the victims.
I hate the word “victim,” and avoid it all costs. It is not who I am, no matter how many times anyone may say the term applies to me because of my past. When it comes to the Kavanaugh accusations, I cringe every time something new hits the headlines.
It’s not because I think there might be a credible accusation. That dread comes from the fact that each headline – each accusation and new accuser – pushes the entire narrative about rape at least a step or two back. We managed to (almost) get beyond the point of putting those who were raped on trial, and then we entered into the abyss that is filled with false accusations mingled with real ones. The reactionary response hit our college campuses first, where young women started calling for the ability to call “Monday morning regrets” rape.
Of course, that isn’t how it was back in the 1980’s, when Kavanaugh allegedly did horrible things. It’s an important detail to remember since it seems everyone is all too pleased to act as though the social atmosphere was “just like today” back then. By today’s standards, the accusations of attempting to remove a girl’s clothing, and giving one’s genitals a bit of air in the vicinity of women at a party are viewed on nearly the same level as rape in an alley. In the early to mid-eighties, I recall both of those kinds of behavior directed toward me by boys. I didn’t like it, and the attempts to remove my clothing without my consent were definitely unsettling at the time. However, I had been raised to understand that while I shouldn’t tolerate that sort of behavior from boys, I also shouldn’t consider calling it “rape” or even “abuse.” It wasn’t “boys will be boys” behavior either. It was simply unacceptable, and a very good reason to avoid the boys who did it.
When I went to college, I learned why there was a big difference between guys trying to go too far or being idiots about their genitals, and rape. That lesson left me with a couple bruised ribs, a split lip, and assorted bruises all over. Back then I didn’t report what happened to anyone except a few close friends. There was no point, because I already knew nothing would happen – the college would bury the report, convince me not to talk to the police, and based on campus rumors, might even threaten to oust me if I didn’t keep it quiet. And, that was rape, defined as forced sexual intercourse.
Times have changed, and what I grew up knowing as “not rape” has been placed under an umbrella for “all things sexual that men might do with or to women and make them feel uncomfortable.” That umbrella is becoming the new definition of “rape,” and the current accusers of Kavanaugh are taking advantage of that categorization. People have politicized sexual interactions to the point where one needs to check daily to find out what new things have been placed under that growing umbrella. What’s worse is no one is thinking about the consequences of criminalizing the concept of making people uncomfortable, or that due process is becoming meaningless in the face of accusations that have anything to do with sex. It’s creating an interesting political battle, but unfortunately the casualties of it are vast and most of them are not even old enough to vote.
Worst of all, there is absolutely nothing empowering for women in any of this. I thought that I would get over the fact that I was silenced in the eighties when I was raped if I lived to see a day when women wouldn’t be treated as I was. It has gone so far in the opposite direction – just the word “rape” has become a weapon, which has rendered it meaningless. It means nothing – less than nothing. It means the destruction of lives, not only of the men who are accused, but also of the women who use the word for accusations of actions other than forced sex. We are human, and we (hopefully) learn from mistakes and bad things that happen to us along the way. But, there are no lessons in this new political game except one – practice isolation. If you never get close to anyone ever, you should be safe from being accused of getting too close. Sadly, I have come extremely close to teaching my teenage son exactly that. Maybe one day I’ll also teach him about how making “all the uncomfortable things rape” just ripped open scars I thought I’d buried years ago. But, I will not call myself a “victim,” because I don’t want to be under their umbrella.