No one knows whether Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations describe an event that actually happened, or happened exactly as she describes it. We may learn more, from the FBI investigation, or not. Whatever the result, the lurid circus that is the U.S Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation process, and now the hearing into Dr Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by Judge Kavanaugh, (when she was 15 and he was 17) is a Rorschach screen to the American mind.
For those who don’t know, the Rorschach test is a series of inkblot prints used to explore unconscious thinking, or bias. Since the black-ink images represent nothing in particular, the interpretations given to them by subjects can only come from the mind of the subject. It was popular in the early twentieth century when psychoanalysis held sway, but is very seldom, if at all used these days. It survives best as a prop for jokes, like the one where the frustrated subject, looking at image after image of meaningless black smudges, berates the psychologist: “I don’t see how showing me pictures of my parents having sex is supposed to help me with my problems.”
And the famous Get Smart sketch where the doctor testily upbraids Smart for crassly remarking that all the ink blots look like a man and a woman having sex:
Doctor (with German accent): “You’ve got a very one track mind, Mr Smart”.
Smart: “Well doctor, you’re the one with the all the dirty pictures.”
You get the point.
There is nothing in the Kavanaugh matter about which we can be certain. He may be all of the things said about him, or none. So, the bitter partisanship, exemplified by the ABC’s predictable panegyric about how Blasey Ford is “the symbol of a generation of women”, together with the hysterical and self-indulgent overreach that paints Kavanaugh’s ordeal as the coddling of male indignation, tells us a great deal about the authors and nothing about the Kavanaugh or Blasey Ford. If Blasey Ford is not telling the truth or is mistaken she is not a symbol of courage but of calumny, and Kavanaugh is perfectly entitled to his sense of outrage.
Equally, those who say they “know” Blasey Ford is a liar and that the possibility of sinister motives with respect to the timing and handling of her story mean that it didn’t happen (or that, if it did, would not have been terrible to endure), are no better. They are probably worse. If Kavanaugh assaulted Blasey Ford when they were teenagers, as she insists with “one hundred percent certainty”, then he did a terrible thing. It would have traumatised anyone to a greater or lesser degree. Whether it has any relevance to his confirmation is a debate worth having. If he didn’t do as has been alleged (or, dare I submit, even if he has), then those misandrists who mocked him and used his angry and anguished rebuttal to make a larger point about men should be ashamed of themselves. But they won’t be. He doesn’t matter to them. Because this is as much a gender war as it is a partisan political one. The stakes are high and so is the nastiness.
There are many ways to think about Kavanaugh and his testimony. Some speculation is, of course, reasonable. But, in the absence of any special insight, and these people have none, to label his torment the phenomenon of coddled masculine indignation is ineluctably cruel. The capacity to project the vulgar entitlement of the patriarchy onto a man they know nothing about is a bias not exclusive to, but predominantly the domain of the ubiquitous female journalist and blogger. These women are almost never older than fifty. Many are under forty. They are tertiary educated, at least medium-income earners, and very few have ever encountered any substantial sexism or classism in their shortish privileged (go on, say “coddled”) lives. So, the cognitive and emotional biases required to promulgate this peremptory tripe are hard to understand, unless they are vicariously grafted from the weirdos, liars and assorted personality disorders who inhabit social media.
Their apparent lack of lived experience betrays an astonishing naiveté about the pathologies of femininity, including the blindingly obvious: Women lie, just like men. They make things up, get confused and exaggerate, just like men. Women become furiously and embarrassingly indignant, just like men. None of this should need to be said.
It also invites the question: Where have these women been in the last 20 years? Don’t they have enough female friends and colleagues to at least have come across a memorable minority of liars, careless exaggerators and manipulators? Have they not worked for female bosses, seen female indignation, feminine fury, emotionally incontinent agitators, even barking-mad crazies?
Have they never met a decent, successful man who has worked hard and is angry about unfair treatment? Don’t they have sons, or be capable to imagining they might have sons, or have empathy for the strivings of little boys and young men? And why don’t they grasp that if these boys grow up to be successful in the careers, like Kavanaugh, that they might look and sound like Kavanaugh — proud of themselves and angry when their reputations and life’s work are being undermined. Is this unthinkable without reflexive and arch contempt?
The gendered condescension of the commentariat would be intolerable if the roles were reversed and female stereotypes were mocked: under-confidence as craven and pathetic; emotional reasoning and empathy as tortuous, disorganized, muddled and inane; female hierarchical tendencies as bitchy, sly and blackmailing? Quelle horreur!
As it stands, we don’t know how the Kavanaugh story will turn out. And it is precisely because we don’t, and can’t, that the projections of these opinionistas tell us much more about them than they realise, or, lets face it, than they care.
Dr Murray Walters is a Brisbane psychiatrist