If the cultural script for pushing back against sexual assault allegations has become depressingly familiar, it makes for especially grim viewing when the swing vote of the US Supreme Court hangs in the balance.
The women who have accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault have been subjected to degrading smears and outright dismissal. Christine Blasey Ford — who alleges that Kavanaugh drunkenly attempted to rape her in high school — was forced to flee her home after receiving a barrage of threats. Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh nonconsensually thrust his genitals in her face while at Yale, was widely mocked for being drunk and having a spotty memory of the incident. After Julie Swetnick issued a sworn affidavit describing a series of prep school gang rapes, Kavanaugh himself dismissed the account as “ridiculous and from the twilight zone.” And while Ford is set to testify about the alleged incidents before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, the committee vote is still scheduled for tomorrow — hardly the behavior of a party that takes sexual assault seriously. (Uncomfortable with the optics of interrogating the women themselves, the all-male Republican contingent has tapped a female lawyer to handle the questioning.)
The seat Kavanaugh stands to inherit is widely regarded as the decisive vote on the Supreme Court. His confirmation would hand the Right control of the nation’s highest court for a generation. Given the stakes — and the looming midterm elections that could reverse Republicans’ slim majority — the GOP is clearly desperate to confirm Kavanaugh, no matter how painful or credible the testimonies of his accusers might be.
Even before allegations of sexual violence came to light, the battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation centered on gender justice. Much coverage rightfully focused on the fate of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion and whose reversal would almost certainly result in untold numbers of compulsory pregnancies. But the Right’s contempt for women goes far beyond indifference toward sexual assault and reproductive rights — it’s an inherent, defining characteristic of Kavanaugh’s ideology, and that of the political movement that groomed him.
The assumption that Kavanaugh would enthusiastically strike down Roe is based on the fact that he was plucked directly from a list furnished by the Federalist Society — an ultraconservative, billionaire-backed network of lawyers dedicated to shoving legal thought rightward and serving as a pipeline for clerkships and judicial appointments. Beyond the organization’s alignment with social conservative causes like the anti-choice movement, its chief goal is to entrench property rights as inviolable. As Michael Avery, author of The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals, put it in a radio interview, “[They] oppose anything that would interfere with rich people’s God-given right to do whatever they want with their property.”
One thing that interferes with rich people’s dominion over their wealth is women’s autonomy: for women to have freedom, the unpaid care roles they disproportionately perform (and which sustain society) must be equitably distributed across it. This means socializing basic needs and building rich social support systems in common — which requires redistributing large amounts of the property the Federalist Society was invented to protect. Without a robust welfare state, the burden of care and survival falls squarely on individuals and families, forcing anyone who isn’t wealthy to balance the simultaneous need to generate wages with the other necessary tasks of life.
In the Federalist Society’s ideal world, capitalists would have no obligation to chip in for healthcare or childbirth costs, maternity leave or childcare — constraining women’s life choices while at the same time making them poorer. Shouldering such challenges is clearly easier with a spouse or larger family network, but this can also force dependence on a romantic partner and facilitate abuse. In short, the Federalist Society’s ideology subordinates women by imposing staggering personal costs simply for being one — and even favors striking down the ruling that mandates pregnancy be voluntary.
The Federalist Society’s agenda has made inroads in recent years. Its judges were instrumental in blocking Medicaid expansion in Republican-controlled states, leaving millions of poor women without critical health care. Kavanaugh himself has ruled repeatedly in lower courts against workers rights, consumer protections, and government oversight — all of which empower business and the people who grow rich from it at the expense of everyone else. And whenever workers are structurally forced to incur more suffering for the benefit of their bosses, that trauma is thrust onto women, who disproportionately step up to mitigate the social consequences.
And so it happens that there are no good conservatives — and certainly no feminist ones. It is quite literally impossible to engineer a world where private property is sacrosanct — its spoils monopolized, the institutions that could protect everyone else’s livelihoods destroyed — without also generating mass pain. Conservative ideology handles this problem by individualizing its cause: if you’re struggling to pay for a tough-to-access abortion or take care of your kids, it’s your fault. And if pain happens to be unevenly distributed by class, race, or sex, it’s your fault too. Is it any wonder that Brett Kavanaugh and his ilk revile women as much as they do?
So as jarring and upsetting as it is to watch the GOP attempt to ram through the lifetime appointment of a probable sex criminal to the highest court, the things Kavanaugh stands accused of are hardly at odds with his judicial philosophy. Protecting ruling class interests amid widespread precarity requires an inverted semblance of justice. It’s victim-blaming, and it’s anti-feminist — no matter how many girls’ basketball teams you coach in your free time.