Of Bystanders and Participants


I am raising boys of privilege.

Yes, they are of color, too, so they won’t get the full weight of the benefits that entails… but they are boys living as privileged a life as I can give them. They benefit from highly educated parents. They benefit from a safe, well-resourced community. They benefit from top-of-the-line, well-funded schooling. They benefit from being surrounded and supported by a community of highly educated, well-resourced, caring adults. They benefit from their association with our main-line church and the wonderful people who worship there. If I am lucky, if God is kind to us, if they make good choices and work hard for it, mine are boys poised to grow into men with positions of leadership, power and wealth.

As I was watching Brett Kavanaugh lose the last shreds of his dignity while, with hysterics and pompous indignation, denying the very real and credible accusations set against him, I thought about the bystanders and the participants, the implicated and the innocent. How bad he makes us all look; we moms, that is. We moms who are raising boys, doing our best to give them perspective, make them honorable, make them gentle and courageous and genteel. We moms who spend our days and nights assuring these boys learn to see and treat girls and women with the full recognition of their humanity. We moms who are doing everything we can to raise boys cloaked in the “new” masculinity, while living in a world governed by elements of toxic masculinity.

In his opening statements, he asked us to judge him as if he were our fathers, our brothers, our uncles… “What if this was happening to them?” he asked. He was reaching out to women in the suburbs. We, the women who support, who enable… who make life possible for these privileged men who do the work that shapes the world. How bad he makes us all look; we suburban women, that is. We, the women who live in (real and perceived and relative) comfort and who spend our days making their days comfortable by doing the stuff that they just don’t do. The laundry, the cooking, the raising of children, the keeping the calendar, the making social connections, the scrubbing the bathrooms (or the hiring and managing the people who do those things. It’s a spectrum. I know that). We, who do have fathers and brothers and uncles and husbands and brother-in-laws who behave just as he does. We who were taught, implicitly or explicitly, to survive their behavior with our silence, with our hiding, with our shrinking and disappearing in their presence, especially the presence of their vices and their rage.

Some of the men in our lives get away with it. Some of them don’t. “I’m the man that you know. I’m like all the men in your life. The men you need and depend on. The one who makes your livelihood possible,” he implied. Indeed, Brett and men like him continually ask us to exchange our standards, morality and dignity for the comforts afforded to us via their prestige and paycheck. Brett and men like him would have us believe that there is no survival without them. They ask us to value ourselves with the same sort of ornamental non-value that they seem to apply to us. Nefariously, the threat is veiled, but ever-present: “Accountability for me means consequences for you, too.”

In his wailing victimhood, his salty tears, his striking and uncontrolled anger, his utterly childish display of entitled, unchecked rage, he showed us what it can look like when a child of privilege, a man coddled by a culture of alcohol-saturated broism, placed at the center of gender-based dichotomy of women-as-things and men-as-beings, comes face to face with the inevitable, if delayed, consequence of a life with no accountability.

How bad he makes us all look; we Americans, that is. This is the stock from which we elevate our leaders. This is the well that we dip from time and time again, even though we know the water is tainted. It’s all too easy to make the same mistake again and again.

Yesterday, we watched a maxim embodied: We get the democracy we deserve. We’re getting the democracy we deserve. Brett Kavanaughs are made possible by a a million little choices, transgressions, looks the other way, benefits of the doubt, silence when there should have been screaming, cowardice when they should have been bravery. Brett Kavanaughs are made possible by accountability broken down or utterly absent at home, at school, in college, at law school and well beyond. Now it comes from the wall of broish defense so fully on display during the hearing yesterday and it comes from the puckered, simpering silence of the women who participated in the rearing, enabling, and shielding of the man at the table.

We get the democracy we deserve. We’re getting the democracy we deserve.

We have a democracy where a woman who was a girl, a girl who was traumatized and lived a lifetime with the consequences of that trauma, can put down the entirety of herself at the feet of members of our Congress and got nothing more than their silence, their platitudes delivered via the mouth of another. They said they did it because the optics of 11 white men asking questions of this woman would be awful. Indeed. But what of the optics of not deigning to speak directly to the women, yet give, with the fullness of their throats and the hammering of their fists, a most vehement defense of the man accused? They did it all: blamed another woman for the situation (Senator Feinstein), evoked conspiracy (who brings up the Clintons?), called the idea of accountability names (“hit job,” “ambush”), feigned insult and righteousness (“You want power. May you never get it.”), belittled and dismissed (“you clearly don’t know what an FBI investigation does” “Do you like beer?” “I don’t know. Do you black out when you drink?”). Everyone else is responsible but the man at the table.

This is how our democracy currently stands. How bad it makes us all look.

The internet would have you think that all of mothers of boys, especially privileged boys, are raising little Brett Kavanaughs. I’m not raising Brett Kavanaugh. Some other woman did that. I’m not standing in silence so as to enable whatever behaviors he seems to display when he drinks, which he admits he does a lot. Some other woman (women? Yes, women.) is doing that. I know so many moms out here in the ‘burbs doing everything they can to prevent their sons from turning into the perversion of manhood we all saw yesterday. On the otherhand, I’ve observed plenty of other moms who aren’t thinking about it too much… their sons already displaying that tell-tale behavior that starts real young and doesn’t necessarily disappear without guidance and support.

My boys live in a world where ideas have consequences. All actions, all choices result in something. The good, the bad and the ugly. These lessons are for the seemingly small and petty right now but, with consistency and discipline and no flinching on my and my husband’s part, they lay the foundation for a lifetime of morality. A lifetime of understanding that what they do matters. What they say, what they think, who they are with, what they do, who they are matters. That whether in the light of day or in a dark, locked room, their actions have consequences. Yes, let them be mindful of what they do at parties when they are 17. Yes, let them wonder if what they do might catch up with them when they are older. Anything to prevent them from doing something profoundly harmful to another human being. Anything to prevent them from being reckless with themselves or with others because youth makes one thoughtless. Anything to help them meet the standard I’m so diligently trying to keep them to.

As they grow older, I’ll teach my sons to never believe that a woman’s dignity or morality can somehow be compromised, forfeit or bought by a lifestyle provided by their own personal pursuits. There is no exchange to be made here. A woman’s life shouldn’t be dedicated to enduring, tolerating, excusing, and hiding a man’s shameful behavior. This is not what we were made for. This is not what we are raised for.

For my sons, this isn’t a hard lesson to teach, but it’s one that requires consistency, specificity, urgency and discipline. It’s one that requires me to lead by example, to speak up when necessary, and to teach directly when necessary.

That’s just part of all the damn personal work for the democracy I want.

That’s just part of all the damn personal work we all need to do for the democracy we deserve.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Great piece. These last few years have been exhausting emotionally. #MeToo have given so many women the strength to say “I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t making it up. I know nothing can be done about it now. I’m not going to take it any more.” The collective drawing of a new line has been difficult for some men to grasp. What happened before has gone. What happens from now on is a choice. Some men are scared and confused about what they can now say or do. As they say, when you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

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