As I watch the political drama over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination playing out on the American stage, I am saddened by how polarized we are.
You might think that as a woman and a survivor of sexual assault, I would be on “Team Ford.”
I am not.
I refuse to choose sides because to do so is to condone the circus that has arisen and to perpetuate the divide that separates us as genders and as a nation.
I am more interested in getting to the root of the problem so that we can shift the culture in a meaningful way. If we can do so, perhaps our children and grandchildren won’t have to fight similar battles.
How can we do this? It all comes down to what we prioritize as a culture, what messages we send to our young people, what skills we give (or don’t give) them, and how wide our own circle of compassion is.
I see Judge Kavanaugh as much of a victim as Dr. Ford. He is actually serving a valuable role by teaching us about what we have created in our boys. Even if he isn’t nominated to the Supreme Court, women have not “won” in the biggest sense of the word.
If we don’t take this lesson to heart and make some fundamental changes in ourselves and in our culture, history will only repeat itself.
Men are getting a bad rap right now, and rightly so to some extent as unchecked masculinity has caused serious destruction around the world. It can be easy to forget that men also are highly sensitive creatures whom our society has led astray.
They are also pressurized by the media, institutions, and families to fit a certain mold.
Male role models are often entertainers or sports figures whose claim to fame is power—often violent power—physical prowess, aggression, and dominance.
Implicit in this narrative is sexual conquest over women.
In a 2018 Times opinion essay, author Michael Ian Black writes: “The past 50 years have redefined what it means to be female in America. Girls today are told that they can do anything, be anyone. They’ve absorbed the message: They’re outperforming boys in school at every level. But it isn’t just about performance. To be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms and expressions.
“Boys, though, have been left behind.
No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to ‘be a man’—we no longer even know what that means.”
The predominant messages for men goes something like this: Boys don’t cry. Man up. Be tough. Make lots of money. Drink a beer. Get some pussy, don’t be a pussy.
Judge Kavanaugh is giving us the great gift of showing us that just because someone is privileged and pedigreed, it doesn’t mean they are above absorbing this message of toxic masculinity.
I believe that at his core Brett Kavanaugh does love and respect women, but not many of us have the strength of character at age 17 to stand up and reject conventional wisdom. Add a few beers and a brain that is not yet fully developed, and we get a situation like the one we are hearing about where there are no winners—only losers.
It must be incredibly difficult and confusing for a man to receive all these messages and then to navigate a world with women who are stepping into their own power.
In the current era of #metoo, most men are smart enough to suppress certain words and actions, but previous decades were different.
Rather than vilifying an individual male, what if we came together to calmly and maturely talk about how we can rewrite the story about what it means to be a “good man?”
What if we instituted social-emotional intelligence and mindfulness programs in all our schools to normalize our emotions so that everyone—of all genders—has the skills to handle whatever comes up? Because these are skills that can be taught.
What if we had open conversations, starting at a young age, about expectations, possibilities, stereotypes, and the highest vision of what might be possible for any individual human?
Perhaps then we wouldn’t have prisons filled with men who are raging because they’ve never been given permission to feel sadness, and we wouldn’t have therapists’ offices filled with women guilty and ashamed over their anger.
Boys are the ones shooting people up in schools. Boys are the ones, for the most part, who are dealing drugs, committing violent crimes, raping, and stealing.
Our boys are broken.
We have to take responsibility for that. They are confused and scared. We need to give them permission to be vulnerable and to express their feelings.
Mental illness is rising in both boys and girls. We must have compassion for each other because we have all been wounded.
Turning this into a “gotcha” moment is a lost opportunity for healing and growth.
Only when we can face such challenges with compassion and introspection rather than reactivity and blame will we be able to truly heal as individuals and as a collective.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A great nation is a compassionate nation.”
Mindfulness helps us to see through the illusion, to see ourselves in the other, and to extend our circle of compassion out to include all living beings—to not get caught up in the drama but to observe with equanimity and to discern the best way to move forward, keeping in mind the interconnectedness of us all.
Someday we may look back and thank Judge Kavanaugh for being the catalyst who helps usher in a new age of compassion that redefines healthy masculinity and what it means to be a “good man.”
Let us begin.