U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has a new defense against sexual assault allegations: He was a virgin in high school.
Kavanaugh, who is facing a second accusation of sexual assault, spoke to Fox News host Martha MacCallum on Monday and made a variety of poor defenses. He said that maybe Christine Blasey Ford was sexually assaulted by someone else, hinting at the strange theory that Blasey Ford mistook her attacker for someone who looked like him. Kavanaugh also claimed he “never saw or heard” of parties such as the one Blasey Ford went to, despite people who grew up in the area finding it implausible that Kavanaugh didn’t at the very least know of such parties — particularly when he made statements such as “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep” during a 2015 speech.
But his most ridiculous defense yet may be that he was a virgin during high school “and many years thereafter” and thus couldn’t have sexually assaulted anyone.
“We’re talking about allegations of sexual assault. I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone,” he told MacCallum. “I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.”
The notion of virginity itself is ensconced in patriarchal values and heteronormativity. Virginity and all it signifies is rarely focused on queer people and is instead all about preserving the conservative values that Kavanaugh has endorsed his entire life — keeping women in line and allowing men to maintain a kind of false innocence while they’re allowed to explore their sexuality without consequence. It makes perfect sense that someone with Kavanaugh’s worldview would refer to his virginity at the time to protect himself against attacks on his character.
But losing one’s virginity as Kavanaugh sees it — penetration of a woman by a man with his penis — has nothing to do with Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez‘s accusations of sexual assault. Blasey Ford said that Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed, grinding his body against hers, and covered her mouth to stifle her screams. Ramirez said that at a party, Kavanaugh put his penis in front of her face and laughed about it.
And even if Kavanaugh had been sexually active — as one of his Yale University classmate says — it would still have nothing to do with sexual assault.
Another Yale Classmate Rebuts Kavanaugh: was he lying then, or last night on Fox? This classmate is now an award-winning history professor. https://t.co/bj9uooB4QQ
— Jane Mayer (@JaneMayerNYer) September 25, 2018
Whatever consensual activity Kavanaugh engaged in with women in high school and years after is irrelevant to sexual assault. By definition, sexual assault is not consensual.
In a way, what Kavanaugh is doing is acknowledging that we live in a world that smears people over their sexual history. Look at the many cases of police officers analyzing sexual assault victims’ sexual history, particularly if they do sex work, or considering their appearance as relevant when considering their credibility as a survivor. Defense lawyers have used women’s behavior, and implied promiscuity and poor character by mentioning their drinking habits and “provocative” selfies, to argue they are not survivors of sexual assault. In this respect, sexual availability or perceived sexual availability makes you less worthy of protection and it makes you amoral. If you have a lot of sex or are asking for sexual attention, you aren’t a good person. Although conservative influential men are often protected from this kind of scrutiny, that protection is chipping away for Kavanaugh now and he is being subjected to the kind of intense character analysis women are routinely subjected to. People are investigating his drinking habits and his club affiliations. So when Kavanaugh says he was a virgin, he is really saying “I was a good person and couldn’t have harmed anyone.”
But by confusing sexual assault and virginity, Kavanaugh betrays a major issue men in power often struggle with, which is that sexual assault is only about sexual intercourse as straight men see it. Sexual assault is an umbrella term that includes groping and grinding on top of another person as well as penetration of another person against their will. By narrowing the definition of sexual assault to the penetration of a woman with a man’s penis, everything else can be written off as minor “horse play.” And by focusing on virginity, Kavanaugh can reinforce that only one kind of sexual act is meaningful and thus, harmful.
People who commit sexual assault may see sexual assault and consensual sex as blended together because they see sex as something to extract from women; an act women are more observing than participating in. People of all ideologies are capable of seeing women this way. But Kavanaugh is vying for a position on the nation’s highest court, and he will have power to make decisions that affect sexual assault survivors.
Kavanaugh’s alleged laughter at Ramirez’s expense as he pulled up his pants and his hand smothering Blasey-Ford’s mouth are images that will stay with them forever, regardless of whether he was a virgin at the time.