CW: Sexual assault, sexism
On October 8, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in to the United States Supreme Court. Already, it feels like old news. Public attention has moved onto stories of hurricanes, migrant caravans, and the midterm elections. I still think about it everyday. I was, simply put, raised at a country club surrounded by people just like Brett Kavanaugh. His behavior didn’t shock or surprise me — he reminded me of everybody I knew growing up. As such a pervasive part of my childhood, it was difficult to have sexual violence and male privilege dominate the news cycle. Even more so, it was difficult to have people rage against the communities and culture that create men like Brett Kavanaugh, especially because they didn’t seem to understand it. So here is my childhood, my experience, and my advice.
In fifth and sixth grade, I went to an all-girls Catholic school. While I probably got the worst sexual education possible, I was taught that my voice mattered. I wore the plaid polyester skirt and sat in a classroom without any boys during a crucial time in my academic and personal development. I was encouraged to talk and share and be a leader. All opportunities were given to girls because there were no boys.
In seventh grade, I transferred to the revered prep school in my city. It is considered one of the best schools in the country and my class included the kids of a few tech billionaires. In comparison, my dad worked for Microsoft and my mom was a homemaker. We could afford private school but we didn’t have a second home in Paris or fly first class. More importantly, my parents were home for dinner most nights and they always told me they loved me and that I could do anything I wanted. A lot of my peers spent more time with their nanny than their parents. I had transferred because I wanted to go to a school that focused on rigorous academics, and that was this school’s reputation. Instead, I found a school with good academics but a cutthroat social environment, rife with sexual harassment and innuendo. I hated it.
In history class, the boy that sat behind me snapped my bra strap every day. My male teacher wouldn’t let me move seats because I “needed to develop a thicker skin.” At lunch, boys tried to throw goldfish into my cleavage and the angrier I got, the more they laughed. The boy that sat next to me in English made suggestive comments and my lab partner looked at my breasts instead of my eyes. In every discussion, boys talked at least twice as much as girls. My teachers always told my parents I was too talkative even though I spoke less than a lot of the boys. People called me bossy whenever I took on a leadership position.
After a school dance where many of the boys had been grinding on the girls (mainly without their consent), the administration called all of the girls in my grade into a meeting. They then told us how inappropriate our behavior was and that our first introduction with a man shouldn’t be rubbing our genitals together. If we behaved that way, they said, nobody would want to marry us. Somehow, the liberal prep school was more conservative than the Catholic school.
I was horrified. But even more, I was horrified that the other girls weren’t upset. They giggled and brushed things off. They rolled their eyes and pretended it didn’t happen. They apologized when somebody interrupted them. They had been conditioned to see themselves as less-than and to accept poor treatment. These were brilliant young women who could have been the next president, but they were taught to be ladies not leaders.
And it’s not surprising. This was the behavior modeled by all the adults in their lives. Their mothers were smart women who used to be powerful businesswomen but quit working when they got married. Now, they used their Ivy League degrees to run the PTA, throw dinner parties, and sit on the board of a charity organization.
Because I had been raised differently, I yelled and complained and told the teachers. None of them did anything. The boy that slapped my ass in the hallway got a free pass because his dad had donated millions to build a new sports complex. And telling on the boys just made things worse. The students called me a bitch and said it wasn’t fun if I didn’t play along. People stopped talking to me. I was miserable. I transferred at the end of eighth grade.
To stop Brett Kavanaugh or any other entitled rich man, we can’t focus on them. We need to focus on the young women of the world. Convince them that they have value, that they deserve to be treated better. Young women have the ability to change the world. And with a little help, they will.