I don’t completely understand the workings of the patriarchy. But I have my eyes and ears open.
It isn’t something that is readily apparent from traveling the country– even during an immersive expedition like mine. Sure, there were the echoes of it. There was Barbara, now a successful native arts dealer in Las Cruces, who had to escape the expectations of her family and community to settle down with a “nice boy” in order to live an independent life clear across the country. And there were the stories of women being treated unfairly by husbands and courts alike, as transcribed by Wheeling stenographer Gertrude. But even in these instances, the patriarchy was more a spectral presence than an indicted felon.
This is part of the reason, surely, that when it rears its monstrous head publicly, it is still veiled and protected not just by those who benefit from it, but by those who refuse to admit that it is actually a thing.
If ever there was a day when the armies of the patriarchy could be seen fighting for its preservation, it is today. Indeed, awful as the alleged misdeeds of Brett Kavanaugh are, they are not, in fact, the real story of his tumultuous nomination process. The real story is how vulnerable the proprietors of America’s patriarchy feel today, faced as they are with the prospect of a woman being capable of bringing down a man who has been groomed from the fount of wealthy, chauvinistic privilege that disproportionately oversees the working of our teetering republic. For them, Kavanaugh’s confirmation is now even more important. It is, after all, the pushback of the patriarchy against that most terrifying of enemies: a woman who thinks the crimes perpetrated against her are deserving of retribution.
It starts from the top, of course, not least because the president is a misogynist and an oft-accused sexual predator who not only holds the highest reins of power in the nation despite such misdeeds, but feels entitled to do so largely because he sees the objectification and exploitation of women as the right of a powerful man. It is no surprise that after a few moments of restraint, he unleashed on Kavanaugh’s accuser, saying that he could not envision a scenario where she was telling the truth, calling it a “con-game” perpetrated by Democrats (who, let’s be honest, have not exactly behaved well in this instance themselves, and should be ashamed of themselves for seizing upon the avowed childhood trauma of a sexual victim), criticizing two teenage girls for being “drunk” and “messed” up (a drunk, messed up boy being perfectly fine), proposing that it is “the single most unfair, unjust” enterprises in American history that such a “wonderful man” as Brett Kavanaugh could be subject to such attacks.
Then there is Mitch McConnell, who insisted last week that it is an “opportunity” for an alleged rape victim to be allowed to testify before a Congressional committee, and that she must accept the narrow scope and timeframe proposed by Congressmen or be done with it, as if rape victims are dying to lay themselves before the American public and reopen wounds that they well-know will be turned against them in the usual puritanical way of the disapproving. Slut. Liar. Man-hater. Party girl. And to justify these slurs, the tangential indictments of a woman who dared be strong and independent. She’s an activist (how horrible to be such a thing!). She’s a disliked professor (we are definitely interested in the opinions of those teenagers, but not the millions of young girls who have been subject to abuse? Except wait, those weren’t even reviews of her. Still, an academic? Suspect). She’s a Democrat who has donated to Democrats (no woman who gave $79 to politicians can be trusted), she participated in the Women’s March (those people), she co-signed a letter from psychologists demanding that the Trump administration stop the separation of immigrant families (and those people!). Why wouldn’t any woman feel privileged to be allowed to speak in such a forum about such a topic, given the prospect of such a reception? Especially when said leader then turned to parroting the president in calling her accusations a smear campaign designed to “destroy a man’s personal and professional life.”
And then there was the parade of senators on Monday who, having not spoken to the accuser directly, declared again and again that they were going to vote yes on the Kavanaugh nomination. Orrin Hatch thinks the Senate needs to “get it over with”– no concern about how long it might take for the victim here to get over what happened to her. McConnell and Dick Durbin say they are going to “plow through” this obstacle– no apparent concern about the sexual implications of such a phrase, much less the recklessness of jamming a lifelong appointment through without a full reckoning. Lindsey Graham complains that he and his colleagues are “in the Twilight Zone,” but that the allegations against Kavanaugh are “collapsing.” He says he is “not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this.” But of course, she’s welcome to have her say. “She will be respectfully treated,” he says.
And there, in brief, is it all. As the White House council worries that any man can be brought down by a woman if Kavanaugh is allowed to be brought down by this woman, Lindsey Graham is readying himself to treat her like a woman. Am I being cynical when 1) I question just how respectfully she has been treated up to this point, particularly when Graham has already declared publicly that her claims are a bunch of hooey; and 2) that I read his words to mean, “We’ll treat her politely, and then politely consign her to her place?” It somehow reminds me of Mary Surratt being shielded beneath an umbrella on the oppressively hot day of her execution. Mustn’t mistreat the lady.
This is the fight of consequence being waged today. It is non-partisan. It is between egalitarians and feminists and those with narrower views on the proper course of our culture and the power that controls it. It is the same fight that was waged when Joe Biden taught a 15-year-old boy– and his thousands of peers– that the Old Boys Club ruled the world, so go ahead and treat women accordingly. It is the same fight that was waged when Bill Clinton was ruining the lives of women, and excused each time because he was doing the “good work of good men” when he wasn’t busy with that. It is the same fight that was waged when Hillary Clinton was pilloried for “enabling” her husband’s infidelity. It is the same fight that is waged every time a woman who dares to speak out or to try to participate in the shaping of our politics and our culture is called hysterical, unruly, impolitic, rash, loud, abrasive, shrill, emotional.
These are the mortars of the patriarchy. And you better believe there’s going to be a shelling on Thursday.