EDITOR'S NOTE: Change the Rape Culture for Women and Men Alike

Many conservatives are defending allegations against Brett Kavanaugh by indicating that all men and teenage boys assault women. This is wrong.

Many conservatives are defending allegations against Brett Kavanaugh by indicating that all men and teenage boys assault women. This is wrong. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin


Donna Ladd

I've written before about being raped as a teenager. He was a really popular athlete who lived in a house; I was a mouthy girl who lived in a trailer. My girlfriend and I went "riding around" with him and another boy one night, and he took us to his house in Neshoba County. I made the mistake of going into his room with him where he turned the music up; he then held me down, rather expertly I realize now, and raped me as I struggled to get loose, with one hand covering my mouth.

If there is anything the #metoo era has taught me, it's that I wasn't the only girl this happened to, even though then it was easy to imagine that it was my fault. Certainly, there was no reality in which I could report it; I know that now as well as I did then. No one would believe me; they would blame me; my name would be dirt for keeping the star off the field and ruining his future.

As I write this, it's been about 24 hours since Professor Christine Blasey Ford finally stepped into the terrifying space of telling her story publicly about Brett Kavanaugh, alleging that he tried to hold her down and rape her as a 17-year-old. Her story was partially out there, and she wanted to speak for herself. Her therapist has notes from years back; her husband knew long before Kavanaugh was up for this post; she passed a lie-detector test; she is credible.

I can only imagine what it would feel like for me now—decades after I was raped—if the teenager I've never named publicly, but can see with his family on 
Facebook as I wonder if he raped again, was up for a U.S. Supreme Court post with the power to affect and dictate women's lives for the rest of his life. That would be the time to risk it all, I can see. You do it for other women and men. It's to make sure that a system that has long shielded male abusers in our society doesn't hand an abuser the power to ensure others' ability to get away with abuse, too, regardless of gender.

This is bigger than what a Supreme Court nominee may have tried to do, or what happened to me in that teenager's bedroom. It's about finally shredding the systemic protection of abusers—from the religious institutions, to corner media offices with automatic locks, to the halls of government and law. There is no more excusing it, looking the other way, blaming the victim, acting like it's just a "boys will be boys" thing, or what all men do or want to do.

The part that is often overlooked is that we must change this culture for boys and men as well. Young men too often grow up in a toxic masculine environment where their friends and even fathers or 
uncles celebrate some level of abuse. Many are challenged to be macho and to at least brag about rough sexual exploits or contexts. Some learn to help each other with assault, as Kavanaugh and his odd-duck buddy Mark Judge are accused of doing.

That's bad enough. But here's a too-often ignored historic tragedy that the last 24 hours have shown—not only are men and boys encouraged to engage in horrendous behavior without consent, and tell each other is just part of the sexual game, but they too often talk about each other as if all men are rapists or would like to be.

After Professor Ford came forward Sunday, Ed Rollins, co-chairman of a pro-Trump PAC, chose the well-worn logic that Kavanaugh's alleged behavior is the kind of thing that all men do. "If this is the new standard, no one will ever want or be able to serve in government or on the judiciary," he told the world.

Other media reported that a lawyer close to the White House said, "If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried." What?

Why in hell would every man be worried? I was around and went out with a fair number of men in the years before I settled down with my life partner and, you know what? That one guy is the only one who ever forced himself on me. Other women will tell you the same thing—we don't believe all men are rapists or want to be. We just want the ones who are to be held accountable. We want to be believed. It's not like you'd put yourself through the same hell as the multitudes of women who have come forward just in the last year for fun.

The default in our society is to blame the woman in one way or the other. It always has been, because these rules were put in place back when society believed men owned women and cover for them. Some men still believe that, but certainly not all.

The solution here, as I've seen many great men say in the last 24 hours, is for non-rapists to (a) believe women when we share what's happened to us and (b) to hold the rapists accountable. Our society has operated on a twisted logic that if a woman speaks out against one man for rape or abuse, she is blaming them all. This has never been true, and it's a trope that just provides cover for those who abuse.

It is devastating for many women to watch what is unfolding in Washington with so many Republicans kneejerking to defend Kavanaugh no matter what. That is dumb partisanship, and it is shortsighted and dangerous. I urge others to use the same logic I chose when I publicly supported Bill Clinton's impeachment—apply the same standard against members of one party as you would the other for sexual harassment and assault, abuse of power and lying to the American people.

Members of all parties abuse.

Imagine a world where men and women stand side-by-side in support of those revealing abuse—looking at all the evidence the same regardless of ideology. That is a society that we should build for future American women, as well as the millions of men who do not take what they want without asking first.

Follow Editor-in-chief Donna Ladd on Twitter and Instagram at @donnerkay. Read her blog at donnaladd.com.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment