September 18th, the immediate day following the Kavanaugh hearing, a student in the Seneca Valley High School football team was sexually assaulted by his own teammates. Montgomery County precinct reports show that the player was left alone with the rest of his team when they ganged up against the victim, turned off the lights, and assaulted him with a broomstick. The victim pressed no charges. Three teenagers were tried for second degree rape, and no consequences have made their way to the coaches yet. One coach even claimed that cases like these are common, and frequently unreported.
Washington Post did not publish this article until November 11th. Between then and Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the fear of false sexual assault allegations has died down. The unmasking of the #HimToo poster child probably contributed to that. These three events are all intertwined not only in the sociopolitical linguistic sphere, but also within the societal norms and hierarchies from which they manifest. It is impossible to analyze the media phenomenon of the Kavanaugh confirmation and not discuss sexual violence, and how we perceive and portray it.
The primary fear behind Ford’s testimony is clear: men will begin to be held accountable for sex crimes they’ve never committed. Considering that a majority of sex crimes are unreported and therefore the men committing these actions against women are not held responsible, it would be ludicrous to imply that manufactured lies and espionage will be enough to land a mass quantity of men in prison, or to even taint their image in social media. Per 230 reports to local police departments, only 9 actually make their way to a prosecutor (granted some deviation for out of court settlements). These are easily accessible statistics, these are crunched numbers spoken over coffee and alluded to in pop culture. Any news pundit, left or right, know these numbers, and are flagrantly lying if they deny so.
Which leads us back to the question, why does a considerable portion of America fear false sexual assault allegations? Surely, in a hypothetical scenario where Ford is lying, her testimony did not hinder Kavanaugh’s life. He is still a Supreme Court Justice. Maybe his confirmation satiated the fears of the public. Maybe these fears are politically inactive now, the primary objective of getting Kavanaugh confirmed is already complete, oblescing the #HimToo movement. The Alt Right villainized Ford, going so far as to leak her address on Twitter in hopes that some interventive violence would silence her. It did not silence Ford, but I can absolutely guarantee that it terrified and hushed into submission sexual assault victims of all genders and ages across America, including the young man pinned down by his male peers and raped with a broom handle.
What happened at Damascus High School, to the grown conservatives and young incels of the alt-right, is merely a casualty. An unwanted byproduct of the greater cause they’re championing. By siding with the accused, a hierarchy is maintained that benefits male rapists, and serves a disservice to the victims, but in particular I’d like to concentrate on male victims.
The same political sphere that attacked Dr. Ford with death threats also swain over the supposed oppression of men. Whenever statistics of men-on-women rape are brought up, they’re quickly rebutted with the fact that “men are raped too.” They absolutely are. What happened at Damascus is a testimony of that. But unfortunately, the tragedy that took place in those locker rooms will only be utilized in oppositional arguments, and never accepted as a tangible reality, as something that will happen to their own sons if toxic masculinity is not placed in check. What happened at Damascus was a “rite of passage” for the players, a ritual. Rituals are manifestations of deeply embedded ideas and morals within our society. No one will ever say it, but it’s a deeply ingrained idea that when sexual violence happens to man, he is supposed to be resilient, unbreakable. This invulnerability, when filtered through toxic masculinity, is supposed to take the form of silence.
And if not silence, then this tragedy exerts itself loudly, with AR-15 shots echoing down school halls. We have confined ourselves to a cycle of silent submission or using violence as the only medium of expression. Again, what happens to these young men is merely the byproduct of the agenda: keeping women’s mouths shut, and maintain a norm that has existed for decades.
In Animal House, shy freshman “Pento” debates raping a passed out girl at a frat party; in Grease a young man lies below some bleachers, looking up women’s skirts. These are two box office hits, written by an American for an American audience; familiarity and bonding experiences is what drove the numbers in their sales. Obviously sexual assault and harassment aren’t the central drive in these films, but it’s an important enough staple to what it means to be a man that the screenwriters felt it necessary to include. A wager they were correct on. What Dr. Ford recalled in 2018 would have been a throwaway gag for a goofy and loveable drunk judge in a mid-1970s high school comedy. Men scream that rape is not a staple of their culture. Hollywood said otherwise, packaged it, and sold it to them. They fucking bought what they deny. I would like to think that in 2018 we are more aware of sexual assault, and what the complete disregard of human autonomy looks like, but after seeing Ford get scourned for testifying in a calm lingering fear, against a man that raged beyond sensibilities, and was awarded one of the most powerful judicial positions for it, I can only conclude that we’re still in the age of Animal House. Kavanaugh’s position was not merely at stake, but a norm for half the country was on the line.
The #MeToo movement terrifies men. That itself is a testimony to its effectiveness. We need a society where people live in fear if they’ve committed a sexual crime. We need a society that gives a platform and a microphone to those who have been silenced and victimized. The fear that men will be falsely accused is a damn facade. The direct source of fear is that many men fear finding themselves on the wrong side of a paradigm shift.