Can we believe women and have due process at the same time?

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If I’m hearing a lot of the chatter about Brett Kavanaugh correctly, there seems to be two beliefs co-existing out in the wild:

* Kavanaugh deserves due process.

* “Believing women” denies him that due process.

I’m here to tell you differently. Somewhat differently, at least.

I agree that Kavanaugh deserves a fair process of some sort. Accusations of wrongdoing are not, at the end of the day, evidence. Kavanaugh and his accusers both deserve a process that seeks the truth and weighs it as best humanly possible.* I’m not sure that’s what is happening right now.

* “Best” may not be all that great in this circumstance, but that’s no reason not to try.

That said, “due process” is not a magic fairness potion. Tom Robinson in “To Kill a Mockingbird” got due process — would anybody argue he got justice? Due process takes place in a human context, and the truth of the matter is that we humans still struggle to take accusations of sex assault seriously, or with due concern for the victims. (The stories are legion. If you don’t have a personal story about this, you probably know a woman who does.) Oftentimes , due process can reflect that.

Maybe there’s a tension between “believing women” and giving the accused due process. I’m not convinced that we’ve actually believed women enough for it to be much of a problem. Wherever the right balance is, we’re not there yet.


Instead of #whyIdidntreport, I want to hear #whyIrapedher and #whyIstoodby

TW: Sexual violence






Gang rape of an unconscious person is not about sexual pleasure. How much pleasure is there in ejaculating into or onto an unconscious woman? Like, how little do you have to know about sex to know to think that’s fun? What’s your standard of pleasure here? Where did sex ed fail you if you think that this is sex?

It is not about proving that you are a sexual dynamo. What kind of man finds a helpless  woman sexually exciting? We generally consider getting a hard-on at someone else’s inability to fend you off as a characteristic of a serial killer. (Unless we don’t, because we see female terror as the cost of male pleasure.)

So why would young men prey on women with alcohol problems, getting them drunk until the point of blacking out (or at least not being able to fight back) and then stick their penises in them, one after the other?

It’s not really for their own pleasure. It’s for the sake of their peers and their status with them: they don’t know how to be adults without a pecking order. (Who comes first is important in this situation.) They don’t know how to have power without having it over other men, and before they can have it over other men, they have to have it over women, and an unconscious woman is an easy one to have it over.

Or, as one male commentator wrote in response to a Facebook post questioning whether conservatives could support Kavanaugh if he, in fact, was guilty of the crimes he’s accused of: “I like him even more.” This was an adult man, not a 17 year old without a fully-developed frontal lobe.

We have–especially through our Greek system–produced generations of men who carry with them memories like the ones described by Brett Kavanaugh’s victims. We don’t have to ask women to explain #whyIdidntreport. We can also ask men what they know–and why they did it.


Above, a possible future Supreme Court Justice, who is expected to treat women as equals under the law, flies a flag made of women’s underwear on Yale. His fraternity was later banned on campus for chants promoting rape. Today’s Yale students are sharing stories of such violence on campus, so be sure to support their efforts with a click. 

While we hear a lot about the number of women who will be raped, we don’t know much at all about the number of men who rape. Why? Because we don’t ask. We don’t want to find out that it was our fathers and our brothers and our pastors and our politicians and our Supreme Court Justices who used sexual violence as initiation rituals into fraternities or sports teams–or just into friendship circles.

But we do have some insight into why men do violence to women and to each other. We understand that this is a result of toxic masculinity–a desperate need to bolster up a fragile sense of self, one tied to violence and domination and gender distinctiveness. We know how to raise our boys better, but we need to put them into better systems, ones where the kind of behavior that used to be a prerequisite to get into our most elite institutions is now seen as unthinkable. We can get there, but it will require moving all men who have engaged in this kind of behavior out of power, because we can’t let boys today think that this is how power is achieved.


Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook: A textbook case of toxic masculinity

This is awful:

Brett Kavanaugh’s page in his high school yearbook offers a glimpse of the teenage years of the man who is now President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee: lots of football, plenty of drinking, parties at the beach. Among the reminiscences about sports and booze is a mysterious entry: “Renate Alumnius.”

The word “Renate” appears at least 14 times in Georgetown Preparatory School’s 1983 yearbook, on individuals’ pages and in a group photo of nine football players, including Judge Kavanaugh, who were described as the “Renate Alumni.” It is a reference to Renate Schroeder, then a student at a nearby Catholic girls’ school.

Two of Judge Kavanaugh’s classmates say the mentions of Renate were part of the football players’ unsubstantiated boasting about their conquests.


“I learned about these yearbook pages only a few days ago,” Ms. Dolphin said in a statement to The New York Times. “I don’t know what ‘Renate Alumnus’ actually means. I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way. I will have no further comment.”

I don’t know whether Kavanaugh is guilty or innocent of the sexual improprieties he is accused of. But I do know that this NYT story about his yearbook could be Exhibit A in a presentation of What We Mean When We Talk About Toxic Masculinity.

Listen to this:

Some of Judge Kavanaugh’s high school peers said there was a widespread culture at the time of objectifying women.

“People claiming that they had sex with other people was not terribly unusual, and it was not terribly believable,” said William Fishburne, who was in Judge Kavanaugh’s graduating class and was a manager for the football team. “Not just Brett Kavanaugh and his particular group, but all the classmates in general. People would claim things they hadn’t done to sort of seem bigger than they were, older than they were.”

I don’t think this is unusual. The “boys will be boys” defense practically writes itself. But that’s why it’s a problem! Letting a young woman’s name be sullied for decades on the pages of a yearbook, preserved for all history, for the sake of a joke and boasting? Gross and wrong.


This piece is cross-posted at

Trusting that the GOP means what it says

Hi Joel,

As a sociology professor, one of my jobs is to help students notice social problem they didn’t notice before. As students become aware of how widespread social problems are–that, broadly speaking, women earn less than men upon graduation (not years after being in the workforce) with the same degrees and in the same field, despite having higher GPAs, or that most poor people actually have jobs (They just don’t pay enough to live on.)–they tend to get upset at how unjust the world is. Why, they wonder, if the adults have always known about this, hasn’t anyone fixed it? Sure, some problems are “wicked”–but they’re not unsolvable. They’ve been solved other places. Surely than can be solved in the most innovative nation in world history? Some of them just assume that the rest of the world doesn’t know about these problems (“We need to educate people!” is often their first solution to the problems we study.). It’s a lot harder to think that some people benefit from other’s suffering–and that they want to keep those benefits, no matter the cost to others. In fact, for some people, one of the benefits is the harm it causes others.

So, here are the questions I ask in class: “Why do people keep making the choices that allow this problem to happen? And what do those consistent choices tell us about ourselves? What does the problem do for us that we want it to keep doing? What, other than solving the problem, would be the consequences of solving the problem? And who might lose power if we solved it? What is the function of this problem in maintaining the status quo?”


When I look at the Brett Kavanaugh debacle, I ask the same questions:

One consequence of nominating Kavanaugh is that the Supreme Court falls in the estimation of the American people. To a certain extent, we want to believe that our Justices are set apart. The fact that they aren’t elected and are appointed for life makes them more like figures in a monarchy than a democracy, and we’ve generally taken that to be a good thing: we want them unsullied by politics, as much as possible. I want my Justices to be like my elementary school teachers: they should not exist to me outside of the classroom. Their mystery is part of our respect for them. The Trump administration, by forwarding a man with credible accusations of sexual violence against him, turned the ONLY remaining democratic institution (not the presidency, and not Congress, which has failed in its duties so spectacularly that We the People should sue its members for breach of contract) into something we now distrust.

Trump is the King Midas of Shit. Republicans knew that when they elected him. They didn’t elect him in spite of it but because of it: he is here to turn our institutions into shit, because then their fascist tendencies are justified. Every day since his election, he has damaged our democratic institutions. If we ascertain people’s intentions by their actions, then we see that undermining democracy is the goal. 

Another consequence of nominating Kavanaugh is that victims of sexual violence, who are disproportionately women, are hurt. The reason you don’t hear Republican leaders saying, “We’re so sorry to have to bring this up” is because they are not sorry for the damage this inflicts on women. We are not collateral damage here. We are the targets. It’s not about (or just about) Roe v. Wade: it is about threatening all women and also humiliating men who have been victims of sexual violence. Anything that could recognize the dignity and worth of women is rejected by the GOP. This is not an accident; it is the Republican platform. It’s why ZERO House Republicans backed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act this week. If we ascertain people’s intentions by their actions, we see that hurting women is the goal. 

The Trump administration could have placed any number of well-qualified, not-serial-sexual-offenders on the Supreme Court. He released a list of possible nominees during the campaign, an act that won him favor with the conservative Christians who say that abortion is their greatest concern; surely some of these include people not accusing of preying on women with alcohol problems and gang raping them? We’re not yet halfway to 2020, and this nomination was scheduled before the midterm elections. To get its nominee on the bench, all the administration had to do was put forward someone who wasn’t a likely criminal. If the goal were a smooth transition to a more conservative court, that could have been done easily. Why didn’t Trump do that? I think it is fair and reasonable to conclude it’s because the Trump administration wanted the problems it created–that, in fact, undermining faith in the judicial system (which, before or after he leaves office, will be coming from Trump and his children) and hurting women. At minimum, it felt that these problems were worth placing on the bench a man who wishes to remove accountability over the presidency. Even worse, they understand that their base cheers for cruelty.

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Above, protestors call upon Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine to #BelieveSurvivors. What cost would Collins pay for doing so? What does she–and other members of Congress–gain by ignoring them?

As Maya Angelou reminds us, “When people show you who are they are, believe them.” It is respectful to allow people’s words and actions to speak; when they disagree, we have to believe actions. When the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress undermine democracy and injure women, we have to believe that this is what they mean to do; they’re simply too powerful to not do what they mean to do.






Boys will be boys

I’m fortunate enough to know lots of boys, as well as other children who have strong opinions about boys. So I asked them this week about boys and boyhood.

Here is what they said:

To the question: What are ‘boy’ things to do?

“Hot Wheels. Girls can play Hot Wheels, too, but I don’t know any who do.”

“Literally, anything that a boy does is something that a boy does. A boy doing it makes it a thing boys do.”

“The bad things that boys do are: chopping down cherry trees but then telling the truth about it. And digging a hole in the yard without permission. The good things that boys do are unloading the dishwasher and taking the dog out.”

“Manly things, but on a smaller scale, like be brave and use your strength to care for people in need. Make sure that weaker people are safe. But these are things everyone should do.”


To the question: How should we treat teenagers who commit crimes? 

“How could a teenager commit a crime? Why aren’t their parents paying attention?”

“Parents have to give teenagers a chance to make mistakes, but they shouldn’t be given the chance to make mistakes that ruin their lives. Like, you should be able to trust them not to shoplift if you take them into a store. But you can’t really trust them not to shoot someone if you give them a gun or not to get drunk if you give them alcohol. They’re not responsible enough yet to make those choices.”

“Did they just hurt themselves, like by smoking a cigarette? Or did they hurt someone else? It doesn’t matter how old you are if you hurt someone else–you have to fix it.”

“Teenagers’ brains aren’t developed, so they can’t predict the consequences of their actions. But they can see by looking at someone’s face if they are hurting that person. So if their crime hurt someone else, that other person should get to decide–or at least be part of the decision–about what we do.”


To the question: What does “boys will be boys” mean?

“Of course ‘boys will be boys.’ What else would they be? People just say that when the mean ‘Boys will be jerks.’ Sure, some of them will be, but we shouldn’t encourage them to be. Boys don’t have to be jerks.”

“It means that their parents didn’t raise them right and now don’t want to take responsibility for it.”

“It means someone’s trying to get out of trouble they deserve to be in.”


See the source imageAbove, the cast of The Sandlot, a movie about boys being boys. Spoiler: no one is sexually assaulted, because that’s not an inherent part of boyhood.

Our kids are smarter than Brett Kavanaugh’s defenders suggest.



Stuck in a conversation with someone trying to defend Brett Kavanaugh? Find that the words just won’t come? That they’re stuck behind a lump of tears, rage, or rage-tears? Does your head have a semi-permanent indentation where you’ve banged it against your keyboard out of frustration during an online conversation with someone trying to convince you that men accused of sexual assault deserve a fair trial before being deprived of their God-given right to sit on the Supreme Court? Do people dolefully saying that conservative judicial credentials are more important than a history of sexual violence make you actually miss the GOP of the Clinton impeachment? Are you worried that conservatives won’t rest until every important office in the land is occupied with a man who wants to make sure teen girls can’t end a pregnancy that begins in rape but that teen boys’ future careers won’t be jeopardized by raping?

Yeah, same here.

Because I need to practice talking respectfully rather than using my maladaptive coping mechanisms (grinding my teeth to nubbins; rewriting my will so that certain relatives will not be able to inherit my children if I die; praying that God will open a hole in the Earth that swallows the entire 2020 Republican convention and having faith that God really knows I just mean “soften their hearts,” even if, maybe, I don’t in that exact moment; rage-cleaning, <–actually a pretty helpful coping strategy), I offer the following easy points that, if you practice them in front of a mirror often enough, you may be able to say without making them sound like, “I can’t believe I have to explain why we don’t want a potential rapist on the Supreme Court”:

  1. We are not denying Kavanaugh of a right to a fair trial. We are denying him a Supreme Court seat. Everyone has a right to a fair trial. No one has a right to a Supreme Court seat. I’m sure that many of us would love to see this go to trial to ensure that Kavanaugh is treated fairly.
  2. We are determining if we want someone credibly accused of sexual assault on the Supreme Court. As a reminder, a job interviewer can deny you a job because you have a visible tattoo or wear dreadlocks or if they look into the parking lot as you leave and see you get into a car with the words “Wash Me” scrawled into the dust on the rear window. Some of these reasons for rejecting a candidate are unfair; some should probably be illegal. But the Supreme Court has let stand such nonsense rulings. Surely, the Court would agree, then, that a future employer (we, the people) can reject a candidate because of rumors of sexual violence. I have personally filled out more than one job application that requires me to affirm that there is nothing in my past that would complicate my ability to do a good job in the position–and even an allegation of sexual assault would be included in that.
  3. There are 315 million Americans and 9 Supreme Court Justices. Conservatives can give us better choices than this. If the Trump administration can’t find someone with rock-solid credentials AND free from an allegation of sexual assault, then they need to ask why their pipeline of judges is so flawed.
  4. Each time they support a man who has sexually assaulted people or been accused of sexually assaulting people, conservatives lose credibility with decent human beings. The Republican Party always has to fend off its nutjob wing–the anti-Semites, the Lost Causers, the conspiracy theorists. It’s a delicate balance, because the worst of the party tends to vote at higher rates, but if they actually got power, their ideas would be ruinous. But, eventually, there won’t be anyone left but the most hateful of Republicans. (Are you a Republican who is upset at me for saying this? Take your anger to your local Republican party and kick out the racists, misogynists, and xenophobes giving Lincoln a bad name.)
  5. Kavanaugh was known to be a flawed candidate. The GOP was ready with a list of women ready to defend him as a true gentleman (that is, women who were not in the room in this particular instance) the moment the allegations surfaced. This means that they knew he came with the baggage of sexual assault and selected him anyway (See #2 above) because they don’t mind risking the support of decent people (See #4). But the seat is theirs anyway. A Republican is likely to remain in office until 2020, so whoever they picked was eventually going to find a seat on the bench. Why inflict the pain of this conversation on all of us and degrade the dignity of the Supreme Court if they didn’t have to? No good citizen wants the spectacle of Kavanaugh taking a lie detector test. And the whole thing makes Republicans look not just like rape apologists but as politically incompetent.

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Does this help? Probably not. I’m not sure that people who don’t believe women who say they were assaulted can be persuaded by logic or ethics. But sometimes people change their minds, and that’s more worthwhile to pursue than sobbing in the shower.


Is sci-fi TV more feminist than books? (Or: Reading and watching ‘The Expanse’)



Have you ever watched “The Expanse”? It’s a terrific space opera on Amazon Prime – my wife and I binge-watched all three available seasons recently, and — bereft of that universe — I recently picked up the first volume of the massive book series that spawned the TV show. Think George RR Martin in space.

Anyway, I’ve noticed something.

The first book, “Leviathan Wakes,” is expertly written genre storytelling. No wonder they wanted to make a TV show out of this! The scripts practically write themselves! The world-building is wonderful, and the plot doesn’t really have much downtime.

One thing is kind of bugging me though.

Both the book and the TV series include a character, Naomi Nagata, who is the engineer of a hardy little ship named the Rocinante. In the TV show she’s played by Dominique Tipper, and is a powerful figure in her own right.  She challenges the captain, keeps her own secrets, and makes decisions that affect the story. It’s a great performance, and a cool character.

In the book — this first book at least — not so much.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through the book. It’s told from two alternating viewpoints: The captain of the Rocinante in one chapter, a hardbitten detective the next, and back-and-forth we go. The characters? Both men.

The result is that Naomi, so vibrant on the screen, is reduced in the book. She still challenges the captain. She’s still competent. But she’s flatter, two-dimensional — the object of the captain’s gaze instead of being fully realized. She loses agency and urgency in the book.

That’s not the case just with Naomi. All the Rocinante crew who aren’t the captain are lesser, and less-interesting, in the book than they are on TV. (The book, though, offers insights in to the TV series: I finally understand why the Rocinante’s pilot, an Arab man who hails from Mars, has a Texas accent.) But given the various choices made in the two media, the disappearance of a strong, fully female character in the book is all the more noticeable.

Still: Great TV show. Watch it!

Yours in nerdiness,