As important as Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court was, could it be that we are in the midst of a cultural war that transcends the Supreme Court confirmation hearings in its scope and implications? Might his confirmation be seen as a backlash against the #MeToo movement? Might we be in the midst of an epic conflict between old cultural belief systems and a newly emerging cultural paradigm?
Kavanaugh played by the rules of the conservative culture he ascribes to. According to those rules, male emotions other than anger and self-righteous indignation are a liability and even a self-centered indulgence. There is little empathy for the suffering of self or of others and a lot of disdain for anyone who "breaks the rules."
Those rules demand that men abandon their emotional needs and conform to their peer group. As compensation for doing what they are told by those who have power over them, they are allowed to dominate those below them in the hierarchy.
That most certainly includes women. Patriarchy rewards its "good soldiers" with sexual access. In fact there is an expectation for men to be sexually aggressive because in this culture, women are supposed to "control" men's sexual appetites. How women are supposed to effect this control is rarely explained.
At its extreme, in "purity culture," men are seen as burdened by God with insatiable lust, while women are not. Therefore women are expected to enforce boundaries, while being very careful not to tempt men. In conservative culture, women who are assaulted, are often seen as the problem. They are assumed to have violated norms by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressing provocatively, drinking, or otherwise deviating from behavior expected from "good" women.
This is why it is so easy for conservatives to engage the topic of sexual assault with an eye toward what the woman may have done to "encourage" or "deserve" what happened to her.
But now, with the advent of #MeToo, a new understanding is emerging. The old way of blaming rape survivors instead of their rapists is being challenged, and is losing acceptability.
Men who are loyal members of conservative culture find this very threatening. They may give lip service to the thought that women should be respected, but their entrenched beliefs and sometimes contempt shape their attitudes and actions regarding sexual assault allegations.
Conservative culture also puts a much higher value on the careers of men than of women. If a woman is damaged by sexual harassment or assault, her plight is seen as less egregious than a hardworking father's loss of income or reputation. After all, his family is counting on him. The woman is expected to "take one for the team" by ignoring her pain and getting on board for the "higher" goal of advancing men into key positions of power.
How else can you explain the tolerance of a sexual predator like Trump?
He is after all doing the "work of God" by "Making America Great Again." So what if he had sex with a porn-star and then lied about it? It was disgraceful of her to work in that industry in the first place and then to have the gall to threaten to smear his name and upset his wife! She's the problem, not him, the conservative thinking goes.
Thankfully #MeToo is ushering in a new cultural paradigm based upon empathy for the suffering of survivors as well as accountability for those who commit sexual harassment and assault. There is huge momentum to empower women and all genders to speak out about the ways they have been harmed by sexual harassment and sexual assault and to call out those who have created that harm.
And we need to go deeper into the different dynamics that shape our current sexual culture.
For instance we need to talk about how the differences between male and female bodies can shape the power dynamic. On average, male bodies are bigger and stronger than female bodies. Does this hold true for all male and female bodies? No. But as a whole, male bodies possess more upper body strength and are larger than female bodies. And that physical difference creates a power imbalance. It affects women's choices and experience of relationships in ways that aren't often recognized.
Even if a woman is fully empowered and knows that she does not want to have sex, she may feel that saying no could lead to a more violent assault.
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