This past week, Sen. Ted Cruz asked Jennifer Sung, Biden’s nominee to the U.S. Court for the D.C. Circuit, if she truly believed that Justice Brett Kavanaugh was “intellectually and morally bankrupt.” Sung had signed onto a letter in 2018 during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings which contained that language.
The nominee replied that her comments were “rhetorical advocacy,” and refused to give an honest answer even though the Texas senator provided her with at least three opportunities to clarify her comments.
I wasn’t surprised at her lack of courage. Most of the women who were up in arms during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings traveled in packs, and derived their power and mean-girl momentum from the echo chamber. But it was interesting that, almost three years after he was torn apart by the braying wolves, Kavanaugh’s name resurfaced twice in the past ten days.
About a week ago, I saw the following on Twitter: #BreakBrett.
That hashtag had something to do with the nuclear meltdown experienced by women across the nation over the possibility that their sisters in Texas will no longer have access to abortion.
The reason most women still hyperventilate over Justice Kavanaugh is precisely that: He’s “Justice” Kavanaugh, with all of the emotional baggage that entails. He’s the man who possibly raped Christine Blasey Ford. He’s the man who probably wants to control their reproductive processes. He’s the man who definitely came from a privileged, preening, preppy background.
He’s a white male. And guess what? He has the means to defend himself, now that he’s on the Supreme Court for life. Talk of impeachment might make the soccer mommies smile at brunch over their Aperol Spritzes, but he’s not going anywhere.
The people I worry about are the young men, the boys really, who attract the same sort of vitriol as Kavanaugh. Recently, the Wall Street Journal had a story that highlighted the shocking fact that at the end of the last academic year, there was a huge enrollment gap between the genders: 59.5% of college students are female, while only 40.5% male. Of course, there were a number of reasons cited to explain the deficit, but one stood out: a sense of hopelessness. In fact, the article was entitled “A Generation of American Men Give Up On College: ‘I Just Feel Lost.'”
You might think that hostility toward a Supreme Court justice and an almost 20% deficit in male college enrollment have nothing to do with each other, and at a micro level they don’t. But when you step back and look at both phenomena in the context of the tectonic cultural changes, it makes a certain poignant sense.
Beyond the fact that the last 50 years have been spent empowering women and creating a force field called “Girl Power,” something from which I’ve unwillingly benefited, there has been an equally strong yet diametrically opposed trend toward diminishing boys. When I say “boys,” I mean males from toddlerhood to young adulthood. Race changes the dynamic, drastically, so we can add “white” to the mix.
The vitriol aimed at Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t because women suspected him of rape. It wasn’t because he might cancel their right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. It wasn’t because he liked beer.
If you listened to the questioning from Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, there was a palpable anger at his prep boy identity, at the fact that he represented the power differential that they might have experienced in their own lives, that he was young and successful and white, and he had a penis. Harris, in particular, seemed to truly despise him and her questioning had the palpable subtext of a woman of color who was going to use her position of authority to tear down a symbol of everything she hated.
And other women heard the dog whistle, and ran with it. They’re still running with it. And as abortion wends its way back to the high court, they will run a marathon with it, to the mid terms and beyond.
Whenever you point out that boys are being unfairly treated, you get astonished looks from those who think they’ve always gotten preferential treatment in school, in business, in relationships and even in the family dynamic. One of the few people who dared to contradict that was Christina Hoff Somers in her classic “The War on Boys,” which acted as a counterweight to the more readily-embraced “Reviving Ophelia,” a book about the struggles for girls in society.
I’ve read both books, and I can honestly say that Hoff Somers provides a much clearer vision of inequity. Girls might have had to suffer through decades when their only choices were teaching, nursing or marriage (or if you happened to be Catholic, getting to a nunnery). Girls were denied opportunities because they were the “nurturers” and were expected to do the cooking, cleaning, and breeding. The wage gap exists, although not to the level Megan Rapinoe argues.
But that’s been changing for a very long time, particularly in first-world countries like the United States where we are told to “believe women” and “still she persisted” and “I’m with her.” There was the whole celebration about RBG and the “Wise Latina” and the aforementioned V.P. Kamala. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with celebrating my sisters. But it should not come at the expense of my brothers.
Young men these days are taught that they need to tone things down, and not express their masculinity because it’s considered “toxic.” Remember that stupid razor commercial, where the company pandered to the feminists by telling men to eschew their “toxic masculinity?” I wrote about that, too, and got a lot of flak from women and even some men. I call that dynamic, “feminists and the men who want to date them.” Any man who thinks it’s okay to be told to shut up is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Would we allow the same thing to be said of a woman? For lord’s sake, AOC has an aneurysm when someone calls her a “young lady.”
And can I be honest? The children who suffered most from shutdowns and virtual education were boys. The evidence is anecdotal, but compelling. Boys tend to need more direct contact with their teachers, more guidance, more “coaching” as it were. They are more physical, less cerebral, and less insular. There are exceptions of course, but these gender differences are classic. And when you stick a boy in a room in front of a computer where he is forced to focus for eight hours a day, alone with his thoughts and only the flickering virtual faces of his friends, he suffers.
I’ve taught in an all-boys school, and an all-girls school, and I know how truly different the tribes can be.
The other day, a man called himself a “girl dad” on my Facebook page. He said it proudly, as if there was something special in it. There is absolutely nothing special about having a daughter. There is something sublime about having a child.
And until we come to that place where we finally see the ge
nders with equal pride, tenderness, respect and affection, we will continue to have lost boys, like those described as a cautionary tale by the Wall Street Journal. And that’s not “rhetorical advocacy.”
Christine Flowers is an attorney. Her column appears Thursday and Sunday. Email her at [email protected]
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