When you believe you are superior and untouchable, the least moral commit heinous crimes.
The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have been careful to include not only his age at the time of his alleged assault, but the fact that he was a student at Georgetown Prep. Assaults are a pandemic in our culture today, but his alleged actions speak beyond toxic masculinity and the general rape culture that holds all women hostage today. Brett Kavanaugh is a symptom of something worse. He is the fullest expression of elitism blended with misogyny that is cultivated and groomed at private, all-male institutions like Georgetown Prep.
I know because I went there.
I was proud when I was accepted as a freshman. I loved that the school dated back to 1789— just two years after the signing of the Constitution—making our school older than modern France. Coming from a brand new public school, I marveled at the marble columns of the chapel that was built with an anonymous donation during the Great Depression.
It is a potent brew of pride that is heady stuff for a 15-year-old, and it meant the world to me to be included. I was coming from a public middle school in rural Maryland, and I loved my teachers and had an incredible education, but I had been bullied every day for my bookishness. I believed Prep’s story about itself—I was so excited to be a part of such a noble institution of scholars and athletes “committed to justice.”
As part of our orientation, we were told what an honor it is to be a “Man for Others.” I was in awe of the access to power being a Prep grad might secure for me.
I remember Justice Scalia spoke at our annual Father-Son Dinner. We sat in the gym and feasted on steak as he addressed us. He pointed out that he attended Xavier High School, which was still in our network of esteem and familiarity as a Jesuit school like ours. He laughed about his decision in determining the course of the election of George Bush over Al Gore, and said “Well, I got that right,” to thunderous applause. Brett Kavanaugh worked for George Bush during that very campaign.
I wonder at what point in his career Brett Kavanaugh felt that he would someday serve on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh was two years ahead of Justice Gorsuch at Prep. They would have passed each other in the halls. Did they already feel confident even then that would rise to such prominence?
As a teacher now , I truly believe in the power of the growth mindset. Rather than telling a student “you are smart” or “you are good,” you should praise the effort a student invests. My education at Prep had a different tenor however. Teachers offered intermittent, lukewarm constructive feedback on our behavior, but the general message of the school was that we were already fully actualized as “Men for Others.” Largely by virtue of our parents’ being able to pay the admission ticket, we were Prep students. We were the best. We hated our rival schools and looked down on everyone else.Kavanaugh was two years ahead of Justice Gorsuch at Prep. They would have passed each other in the halls. Did they already feel confident even then that would rise to such prominence? Click To Tweet
No one should walk with the certainty of their own innate goodness, least of all unformed, adolescent boys. As many lessons as we learned about how special we were, we learned even more from the lack of response to our worst behaviors.
I remember a young woman who substituted for my English class weeping as she erased “I want to fuck Ms. ________ in the ass” from the blackboard. If the boy who wrote it was disciplined, I never heard about it; his actions were never condemned. I also remember our class president getting elected on the slogan “Bleachers,” because he had “fingered” a girl beneath them. Before big games against rival schools, the “Boosters” (an elected group of cheerleaders who would get the fans going before and during games) would paper the hallways with posters with such slogans as “Beat the Pagans” when we played schools that were not religious, and “Hoya Saxa,” etc. One popular poster was a cartoon of a rabbit’s head that on closer inspection revealed a woman parting her legs. It would appear alongside other posters praising certain players or generally hyping the team. It served no other purpose and had no other meaning.
When you believe you are superior and untouchable, the least moral commit heinous crimes. The same lack of accountability that led to the rampant abuse finally being called out by the #MeToo movement, the rape of children in the Catholic Church by priests, rapes in the military and abuses by the police force—these all stem from the same corrupting sense of superiority.
I don’t think a day went by that I didn’t see a penis scrawled on a chalkboard or a desk. Everyday in the hall I would regularly see guys punch each other in the groin. I would often find myself doubled over in pain having just been punched out of nowhere. On two separate occasions I was choked until I almost blacked out. This was normal, everyday behavior. That is the culture enabled by the dangerous and passive permissiveness of “boys will be boys.” I have never been a fighter and in truth, I’m not particularly quick with words. I had very little defense. The idea of telling a teacher never crossed my mind. I’m not even certain who I would have told.
When I was a sophomore, I was taught math by a very old priest. He was a big fan of the football team, and he would let football players sleep in class because they needed rest. He hated me, presumably for my lack of athleticism and my preference for extra-curricular activities which he deemed unmanly. He made a point of telling me that, “we get men ready for college, not art.” A student chimed in in agreement that “if I didn’t like it, I should just leave.”No one should walk with the certainty of their own innate goodness, least of all unformed, adolescent boys. Click To Tweet
On another occasion, when I took exception to his taking additional points he’d taken off of one of my tests, he called me a “pussy” and punched me in the head.
I wonder how Kavanaugh, a star athlete at the school, would have been treated. I wonder what he would have said if he had been in that class with me. The image of his yearbook page that is now circulating indicate that he was inculcated in and upholding of this same cruel and misogynistic culture.
We did not have a comprehensive sexual health education at Prep. Freshmen were required to take physical education, and we had a rigorous program of units on weightlifting and other sports. One day out of every class cycle, we met with a coach who styled himself as “Doctor.” There was no textbook or curriculum. He simply shared amusing anecdotes and gave us words of wisdom such as:
“Boys, the first time you have sex, you’re not going to last long. So you should probably be drunk so you’ll last a little longer.”
There were high fives around the room. Everyone laughed. There was no discussion of how to use contraception and there was certainly no attempt to discuss what consent was.
During freshman orientation at college, I remember we were having a water balloon fight. I had gotten to know a student named Charles, and I picked him up and went to throw him in the kiddie pool of water and balloons. He cried out for me to stop, and he looked so upset and scared, I realized that I had crossed a line and I needed to rethink how to interact with other men. I felt awful—I saw in Charles a brief glimpse of the hurt and humiliation I’d felt throughout all of high school.
As an educator now, I am horrified at my memories of high school. It took me years to learn about healthy sexual relationships and healthy relationships in general. I worry about how our failures of education are perpetuating rape culture. The statistics for sexual assaults are staggering. One in five women will be raped in their lives and more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. We spend more time articulating the honor code and investigating claims of plagiarism and cheating than we do the health and safety of our students, especially that of the girls and young women attending our schools.
At all-boys’ schools, when students stand shoulder to shoulder with their classmates and hear that they are called to greatness, they also internalize the absence of women from their position of privilege and power. Women are not part of the club. They are separate. They are for conquest; they are for dating; they are for marriage. Women are not peers. Some boys graduate and go on to unpack and unlearn these lessons. Others find new clubs with guarded access. They join fraternities. They go on to business schools and law firms and seek out institutions with disproportionately more men than women. Look at the gender breakdown of boardrooms everywhere. Look at the Supreme Court.
The question of the quality of sex education is vital for our schools now, and also in considering what education our current leaders have had. Has Brett Kavanaugh ever attended a course on sexual health? When would he have learned about consent? I don’t believe he learned about it at Prep. I wonder what curriculum he might have had at Yale. The world is different now than it was in ‘70s and ‘80s yet we are letting men with largely unchanged attitudes from those decades literally pass judgement on cases that define our lives and our society.We've internalized the absence of women from their position of privilege and power. Women are not part of the club. They are separate. They are for conquest; they are for dating; they are for marriage. Women are not peers. Click To Tweet
Court cases demand that crimes be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, and institutions like Georgetown Prep have honed their ability to cast shadows for almost three centuries. I will never know exactly what happened to some of the victims at my school, and we will similarly never have conclusive evidence proving guilt. That is no accident. We learned implicitly which victims were not valued by the community and therefore expendable.
The new teacher here only temporarily? Graffiti desks in her room with threats of sexual assault. The librarian who just wanted to create a quiet space for study? Mock him every day and make his life miserable. Attack the isolated and the vulnerable, but be sure to do it when there are no witnesses. It’s safe to do anything in front of your classmates and your Prep brother, of course—they will always have your back and laugh about it later. All the while we were confident that we were “Men for Others,” confident in our goodness and the promise of great futures.
The burden of proof should not be on the victim, but sadly it is. While the legal system remains imperfect and we cannot hope for immediate change, surely we could stop rewarding alleged predators and abusers. We don’t need to know whether or not Kavanaugh is definitively guilty of any one of the many allegations being leveled against him now.
He is not a man for others; he’s a man for other men, and the women of our nation deserve better.