Bill Dwight: Advise and consent

  • Bill Dwight poses in front of the Pie Bar sign outside of the bar itself on Thursday August, 10, 2017.

Published: 10/18/2018 2:26:09 PM

I couldn’t let the events and circumstances of Brett Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court pass without writing about it. A glib commentary on the vicissitudes of autumn would be ridiculously inappropriate.

 The feelings for me — an oversized white heterosexual male baby boomer — were myriad, but they were the emotions of privileged sympathy. Shame, of course. Deep, unequivocal shame brought on by my own experiences as an adolescent and even into adulthood. I have no dark confession to make other than I have been a relatively passive bystander in situations that, in retrospect, needed me to say something or do something and I stood mute. And that’s bad enough.

 Too many men and some women are baffled and consider the predatory behavior revealed in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s narrative as the expected, albeit regrettable behavior of all adolescent boys that should be forgiven or overlooked.

 And for many other people this was just a partisan political grudge match bulging with unabashed hypocrisy, crocodile tears, scripted empathy and rehearsed indignation. The sides were defined by the competing objectives of either blocking Kavanaugh’s appointment or muscling him through. And, depending which side you were on, Dr. Ford’s testimony was either a means to an end or something to work around.

It seems that these “scandals” and revelations do very little for the reporting survivors. They are useful only as a means to defeat an opponent. The stories of Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky and Christine Ford, for example, are introduced as expedient tools calculated to expose behaviors we pretend to abhor in our leaders. In each case the men who were accused were not repudiated or vanquished. They went on, more or less, unscathed. After the hearings, though, the abuse these women were subjected to fades into a collective shrug.

 But for so many, the experience of these proceedings was something entirely different. For many women, the testimony of Dr. Ford held out the possibility that maybe this time people in power might acknowledge the oppressive imbalance that exists between men and women, girls and boys. Here was another opportunity to hope; a chance that we were at least moving toward a correction, if not an epiphany. But the possibility that entrenched party politicians and men in general might just be moved to accept that we are immersed in a cruel structural dysfunction (of which Brett Kavanaugh is a totem) was, apparently, just too much to hope for.

You would really have to be self-delusional not to believe Dr. Ford’s courageous testimony. The only weak-tea rationalization offered by some Republican Senators was to suggest that she was “confused” or “mistaken” about who attacked her. Even they could not bring themselves to challenge her veracity. In the end, though, her trauma was nullified and virtually dismissed. And, in doing so, the pain of so many — so, so many women — was rejected and ignored.

Brett Kavanaugh being seated on the Supreme Court is an egregious case of adding insult to injury. His last testimony was a display of whimpering self-pity and petulant disdain. His tears were not those of a man wracked by sorrow but the whining of a child on the verge of being cheated out of his birthright. His behavior stands in stark contrast to Dr. Ford’s tears of real pain and her genuine courage in defiance of the sure knowledge that she would be misused and ignored. So, this man, who subscribes to a paternalistic philosophy that men can and should dictate what is best for women, is now affirmed and memorialized as the representative of an insurmountable majority of like-minded men in the agency that is the final word on how we will be governed.

People throughout time have gathered around a fire at night for a sense of security. They face the flames and stare into the protean warmth, and what they see and feel there distracts and comforts them. But there is always present the sense of dread of what hides behind their exposed backs; there in the dark, the unfathomed and unknown … the predator. For women, that ominous presence is way too often a male. And for men, as well, if we’re being honest. If this recent tragedy (and it is just that, a tragedy in the truest sense) has moved me in any way, it has pushed me to turn away from the fire and look into the dark places, away from the bravado, to try to discern my own complicity.

I have the room to hope, where many women are entitled to their skepticism, for a time when we universally spurn the frat boy pack arrogance that considers assault as courtship, sex as achievement and women as prey. It is incumbent on all of us, but particularly men, to not just move beyond this moment, but linger here for a while … sit with the raw feelings and have an honest evaluation of our parts in this cruelty.

Bill Dwight is a Northampton city councilor and a pie wrangler at the Florence Pie Bar.

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