As Christine Blasey Ford presented her whining, yowling, uncorroborated account of Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sex attack on her, I watched with puzzlement.
Dr Ford, a professor of psychology with special interests in child abuse and sexual identity, says the would-be Supreme Court judge groped her and tried to remove her clothes at a teenage party some time in the early 1980s. When some other rough boys jumped on the bed, she escaped.
Here was an obviously able woman weeping before the Senate Judiciary Committee about an event that occurred when Olivia Newton-John had a hit with Physical and Soft Cell were singing about Tainted Love.
There must be a genuine reason for her lasting pain but it can’t be because a drunken boy climbed on top of her and grabbed her tights. It’s not hard to imagine bawling Brett and his frat friends strutting around campus. He’s not likeable and his reference to his young daughter was sick-making. Such heights of self-pitying justification have not been reached since 2010 when Tiger Woods, taken in adultery, poured out his repentance on TV while his misty-eyed Granny looked on.
But this is more ominous. In 2017 Ford took part in a demonstration against Donald Trump’s election. When she accused Kavanaugh, Trump tweeted against her. She has received over $100,000 to fund her case from her supporters, including followers of the ‘We Believe Survivors’ campaign. The case has split between identity groups representing abortion, finance, gay marriage and guns. Since Ford’s appearance, her testimony and that of others has been comprehensively trashed. Yet the hounding of Brett Kavanaugh has been undefying for all concerned and highlights how much has changed in the US and UK since the early 80s.
In my last year at school we looked forward to life on a student grant which promised to be a cornucopia of sexual possibilities, with the occasional visit to a lecture theatre thrown in. Over three years, teenage boys and girls clocked up their scores. During a house share there were times when we girls were sharing the same men, at first unaware of it, then realising and comparing notes.
Strolling to the library in my flared jeans and T-shirt, I could have been wearing a bikini in a souk judging by the wild approbation I received. This was explained by my having breasts; I was continually amazed by the excitement they engendered in young males who behaved as if they’d never seen any before. Their behaviour was seen as harmless if idiotic. Groping at parties we accepted with glee or irritation, as part of our entitlement to a vigorous, sunny, exciting young life.
We were second-wave feminists. Marxist Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique had been published in 1963, tearing apart the idea of women as homemakers. Dr Greer’s the Female Eunuch arrived in 1970 and was quoted avidly. That was also the year of the Monty Python sketch, Upper Class Twit of the Year, a contest which included a category called ‘Unhook the bra on the debutante’. The joke being that toffs were incapable of this simple act which was all too easy for other men.
Drunkenly struggling with bras and tights in the dark was just a normal rite of passage. From Hollywood, in films such as National Lampoon’s Animal House, we got the idea that US college life was little more than an extended food-fight with sex thrown in.
On one of my trips to the library where I studied History, I read that in the late 19th century, despite a hundred years of republican and franchise movements, men and women were as far apart in understanding of each other as ever. The Empire was blamed. That seemed a good enough answer and I was relieved to be living in the ‘Permissive Society,’ where men and women were happy equals at last.
In those days, when Ford and Kavanaugh were entering their teens, many adults seemed to live almost entirely for sex in all its variety. They followed ‘the religion of coitus’ as Philip Roth called it. Heretics such as Mrs Mary Whitehouse were widely scorned. Yet less than twenty years after her death it seems there was never any need for her to get her stout knickers in a twist; we now fear sex as much as our grandparents in the days of the Raj; we’ve even renamed it ‘gender’ which is more neutral and less specific.
Men and women seem to be at war again, not despite nearly a century of feminism, but because of it. This third wave, more extreme than anything before, now insists that men and women are exactly alike without separate needs or expectations, even that women can have penises if they choose. The enemies of progress are not the refusers of free love but men themselves for being men. but mselves for being men. Questioning men who claim to be women is treated as a criminal offence.
Unhooking her bra without receiving a signed consent form turns a woman into a victim. Men, particularly middle-class white ones, who do not call themselves women are now deemed as threatening to equality and inclusiveness. Only if old-fashioned males, those obstinate hooligans, are punished, humiliated, feminised and restrained, will women be able to flourish.
It is salutary but a little strange to think that if you are a man, that over enthusiastic game of kiss-chase you enjoyed in the playground aged five, that fumble you had at fourteen, might be coming back any day soon to derail your whole adult life.