The Masculinity Mandate: #MeToo, Brett Kavanaugh, and Christine Blasey Ford
25 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2019
Date Written: 2019
The fall 2019 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings involving Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior at a high school party gone awry and his emotional testimony in response will be etched in American minds for the foreseeable future. Dr. Blasey Ford accused then-teenager Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in an upstairs bedroom as his friend, Mark Judge, egged him on. At the hearing, Blasey Ford’s trembling voice and respectful demeanor softened the bite of the substance conveyed: she was 100 percent sure that she had been sexually assaulted and that Brett Kavanaugh was the attacker. Blasey Ford’s occasional lapse into technical explanations using psychological terms established her competence. The combination of vulnerability and competence led to the widespread belief that Blasey Ford’s testimony was credible. After Blasey Ford testified, Kavanaugh came out swinging, accusing the Democrats of corrupting the process and categorically denying that he had sexually assaulted anyone. For the second time in three decades, the country was left with many questions about fairness, process, and sexual assault/harassment, and the role they should and do play in the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice.
This essay uses identity performance and multidimensional masculinities theories to analyze the hearings, specifically to consider the gender, race, and class performances of the participants, and how partisans and non-partisans interpreted those performances. This examination demonstrates that the judgment concerning masculinity and femininity performances and their appropriateness is, to a certain extent, in the eye of the beholder. By the same token, public interpretations are not arbitrary. Rather, at least in this context, power differentials based on gender, race, and class appear to have influenced the public reaction to these performances and the interpretation of what constitutes appropriate masculine and feminine behavior. Moreover, the perceived appropriateness of these behaviors governs who the winners and losers will be. In this case, upper-middle class white males won while women of all races and classes lost. Although it was not immediately obvious how class and race influenced the process because both main participants are of a similar class and race, deeper analysis demonstrates that white, upper-middle class, male power affects how the participants were perceived and judged. Class, race, and gender were certainly present in the calculation of winners and losers.
Part II of this essay establishes the theoretical basis for my analysis, explaining masculinities, identity performance, and multidimensional theories. Part III uses these theories to analyze the various performances as well as the public reactions to those performances. Finally, this essay concludes that gender, race, and class affect judgments in this context, and the Senate should write rules to assure that a fairer and more accurate process takes place in the future in the hopes of breaking the strangleholds of traditional gendered, raced, and classed power.
Keywords: masculinity, multidimensional theories, identity performance, gender
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation