They Were Watching: What Our Teens Learned from the Kavanaugh Debacle
Our teens were watching, these past few weeks. They watched us as we debated and took sides and cast blame and made dark insinuations. They watched as we picked apart the testimonies of two people in their 50’s who were tasked with remembering events from a drunken party in high school. They learned a lot from us as we beat our chests and took our stances.
I remember very few dates and times from high school. My testimony wouldn’t stand up in a court of law; which is just as well. The boys who sexually harassed me daily don’t deserve to be prosecuted or publicly castigated. The ones who made comments about my breasts, my butt, what they’d like to do to my body – they don’t deserve to have their middle- aged feet held to the fire for things they did as minors. Just as I don’t deserve to have my reputation shredded because I wore suggestive clothing and fumblingly tried to be sexually alluring as a girl who wanted so badly to have the control of a woman.
I was passed out drunk at a party one New Years Eve. This wasn’t the norm for me, but I decided to throw caution to the wind that night. I woke up to a boy’s hands all over me, inside my clothes, touching places he had no invitation and no right to do. He was doing this in front of a room full of people, many who made a couple of jokes about him molesting an unconscious girl, but who did nothing to stop him. Somewhere along the way, these kids forgot that I was somebody. I was a person, but they stopped caring about that. I became a joke, an object to observe. When I came to and realized what was happening, they kicked me out of the house in the cold. Not him. But me. I had gone from being a nobody to then becoming a threat. Their scorn was palpable.
I never told anyone for all the same reasons any kid doesn’t. I was ashamed of putting myself in that position. I didn’t want to get in trouble.
This story is not unique to me. Countless of my friends from high school had similar things happen to them. They were sexually harassed daily. We all bore witness, with our tired eyes and hollowed out dignity. Even the boys who made the comments and snuck in the groping, seemed bored with the whole thing. It was as if we were all playing parts in some sad, dysfunctional play. The boys behaved as animals, with out-of-control sexual prowess. The girls went along, sometimes encouraging it, sometimes rebuffing it. None of us told about the intensely decayed sexual climate pervading our hallways and classrooms, our parties and get-togethers, where it was worse to be called a tease than to be called a slut. We all just endured.
When I got married, I thought all that was behind me. I had a man in my life who esteemed me. I remember introducing my husband to a male friend from high school and my friend said, “Amber was the girl everyone wished they could %$#@.”
A part of me folded in on itself as I watched my new husband absorb those words. I was paralyzed with fear that he would forget, then, that I was somebody worthy of love and respect. My worst nightmare was that he would see me as an object, like so many before him.
These instances, and so many more, I recalled as I watched, in horror, the Kavanaugh debacle unfold. I talked with my beautiful teen niece about it. Not usually engaged in political events, her interest in the proceedings was piqued. You see, she has skin in this game. She lamented that these things go on all the time. We wondered why everyone was putting their heads in the sand. Our teens are abusing each other every day. She admitted that no one talks about it.
Shame and fear are powerful captors.
If Judge Kavanaugh had admitted to bleary-eyed drunkenness in high school, if he had owned up to being in the room that night, if he had agreed with Dr. Ford’s recollections of the events, then what? He would have been tarred and feathered, disqualified from life in general, labeled forever as a rapist. He would no longer be regarded as somebody.
If Dr. Ford had been able to recall the specific time, down to the minute, in which the events took place and she had been able to produce scores of witnesses to corroborate her story, then what? She would still have been labeled a liberal operative and discredited because of her politics. She would still be forgotten as somebody.
Our teens heard the message loud and clear: Confession is dangerous. Silence is the only safety. They can’t afford to be human. Better, then, to stay hard, to ignore, to never have hope of healing.
They watched. They listened. They discovered that, though we’re all aching from the same pain, as a culture we aren’t doing the work it takes to heal. They learned that it’s better to be a false somebody than an honest nobody.
What if we had allowed Judge Kavanaugh to be fully human and Dr. Ford as well? What if we had the courage to acknowledge that most of us experienced sexual trauma as a teen or knew someone who did? What if we made generous room for the conversation to happen, instead of demanding their heads on our ideological platters?
We would have shown our teens the path to healing, to self forgiveness, to the wholeness of collective confession and acceptance.
They would have seen something wondrous indeed.