It’s no secret that the response to allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh has been heavily influenced by gender, with women much more likely to support his accusers while men circle the wagons to defend the nominee. While many say they simply don’t believe the allegations, a common talking point among men is that even if the allegations are true, they shouldn’t matter today.
“If I were held accountable for everything I did as a teenager…” seems to address the root of this backlash, which has been present throughout the #MeToo movement. Until recently, much of the behavior, sexual and otherwise, we now recognize as damaging and inappropriate was often considered acceptable–and a lot of men seem afraid they might face consequences for their past indiscretions.
Of course, sexual violence doesn’t exist exclusively in the gender binary; people of all genders commit sexual violence and people of all genders are survivors. That said, there’s a reason why men are the most common perpetrators–because patriarchal power structures and toxic masculinity have created a culture where men mistreat women without consequence.
So if you’re a man who was raised in a different time and engaged in some questionable actions toward women, there are some things you need to understand. We’re pushing for consequences for powerful abusers, but that doesn’t mean the feminist movement is out to ruin the life of every man who’s ever done something misogynistic. If you’ve knowingly used your privilege to hurt other people, you deserve to be held accountable for your actions–but having made an honest mistake you came to genuinely regret doesn’t leave you beyond redemption.
After all, there are significant cultural factors that shape our perceptions of masculinity, consent, and gender norms. Boys are often socialized to encourage violence, aggression, and shows of power and taught that being vulnerable undermines their masculinity. Most schools don’t include discussions of affirmative consent in sex education. Popular films and television shows normalize aggressive behavior, sexual harassment, and coercion. With all that in mind, it’s entirely believable that some men out there have said or done misogynistic things without fully realizing the impact of their actions.
If that statement applies to you, what we’re really asking for is self-reflection and self-improvement. Think about misogynistic things you’ve said or done in the past and recognize that whether your intentions were malicious or not, the impact of your actions matter. Support women, trans people, and non-binary folks who don’t have the same privilege as you. Do your best to avoid misogynistic behavior and challenge other men who act inappropriately, even in instances that seem small or insignificant.
Brett Kavanaugh’s defensive behavior in light of credible and serious allegations is the perfect example of what not to do. If someone from your past tells you your behavior caused them harm, don’t shout them down and deny responsibility. Take ownership of your actions, apologize and change your behavior going forward. Maybe you didn’t know better then, but you absolutely know better now–so it’s time to be better.