My life has been too easy. I was born white, male, heterosexual and American. There followed a peaceful suburban upbringing with loving, committed parents. Top-track high school classes that funneled me into an elite—and expensive—college. My first adult job? At a magazine where my dad was an editor. Before I knew it, I had matched my great ambitions: publishing books and writing for a living. I knew, in some abstract way, that I had “worked hard” to succeed, but to this day I can’t shake a sliver of self-doubt.
Because more often it feels as if I haven’t really tried at all.
I don’t trust men of my privileges who don’t wrestle with this imposter syndrome, with the lack of obstacles in their path, and realize that luck has helped them to stand where they do. If we weren’t sure of it before, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hysterical Senate testimony today, which vacillated between slurring rage and petulant weeping, confirms his deeply held belief that he’s entitled not only to all he has, but more. Kavanaugh has never lain awake at night wondering, Am I a fraud? Do I deserve the power and prestige of my position? No, he accepts both as his birthright.
And here’s what happened when women challenged that idea:
To be sure, Kavanaugh may still get what he wants: a seat on the highest bench in the U.S., where he will rule on gravely important cases, steering the lives of millions with his interpretations of a 229-year-old document. This tantrum was thrown because he might be denied that honor — which is nobody’s to seize outright — because of his own mistakes, deceit and denials. He seemed convinced that a full-scale meltdown over this comeuppance, with the entire country watching, would persuade us to quit scrutinizing his past and let him steamroll the rest of the way to confirmation.
But the unhinged performance revealed him to be a sniveling, smarmy guy who can’t even fake contrition, a guy who wants inflated status at any cost—a guy he always had to be, since no one else would accept an appointment from President Trump.
His anger wasn’t at being “smeared,” since he’s gladly let his surrogates shit all over his calm, credible accusers, but at the juddering halt of his personal myth. Now, here, so close to the summit, these women dare to threaten the climb? To block his path instead of carrying the burden of his secrets? Unacceptable.
It’s all women, but especially those women—and in particular, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford—who deserve gratitude for their refusal to stand aside. Kavanaugh’s defeat at this level, should it come to pass, will be their victory, but it likely won’t feel like one after what they’ve endured. And it should (I’m not optimistic enough to say it will) serve as a stark message to all men. Not just those who have shrugged off the consequences of their worst wrongdoing and think it cannot reasonably have a bearing on their future, but also men like me, who stew in the guilt of our advantage yet rarely challenge the men who coast on it for a lifetime. We mock and trash them in private, wondering who will do something about them, when they will be stopped.
And then wait for the problem to fix itself.
“I am over the passivity of good men,” feminist and playwright Eve Ensler has written. “Where the hell are you?” If we don’t ask ourselves this question today, then we’ll never slice out the rot we’ve seen. An awareness of complicity isn’t the same as open revolt. It will be too easy for other men of Kavanaugh’s caste to give him the thing he desperately wants, despite his past. They’re not even afraid to do so. We start by giving them that fear.