What teens think of the Kavanaugh accusations
Once the allegations were made public, defenses of Kavanaugh rolled in quickly, characterizing the event, if it happened, as a youthful indiscretion. All too often people dismiss this kind of behavior as just “boys being boys.” That old adage suggests the behavior is innocent. Kavanaugh himself has joked, “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.” The subtext is that boys will be boys—and we’re not supposed to talk about what they do.
What some boys do at these elite private schools might be as seemingly benign as pranking a school meeting by performing sexually charged dances. Or it might be, as an alumna from another boarding school detailed to me during my research, a rug in the cafeteria that she said only seniors were allowed to stand on and from which, allegedly, boys called out rankings of the attractiveness of underclass girls on a scale of one to 10 as they walked by. Or, more disturbingly, it might mean forcing a 15-year-old girl to perform oral sex on five members of her school’s hockey team, an incident that reportedly took place at Milton Academy in Massachusetts during the 2004–05 academic year, according to Vanity Fair.
Misogyny is ubiquitous. It is deeply entrenched in these school communities, and yet many young men can’t see the water they’re swimming in for what it is. They seem to have no understanding of the harm this culture of misogyny causes. As one alumnus from St. Paul’s School quipped when he heard about the alleged incident with the ice-hockey players at Milton, “The question is: Did they win?”
The revealing logic of “boys will be boys”
The joke I remember most clearly from my own ninth-grade year at an all-boys prep school didn’t come from one of my classmates or an upperclassman. It came from a guidance counselor. He was giving a guest lecture in one of my classes about how to study more effectively, and told a story about a young man who was supposed to be doing his homework but instead looked out the window and watched a girls’ cross-country team run by. The guidance counselor acted out the scene for us with grossly exaggerated caricature, pantomiming the teenager watching the girls’ breasts bounce as they ran by. He laughed when he finished, and all 20 or so of us in the room laughed along with him. This was how he got the guys in the room to trust him. By telling a crass, objectifying joke, yes, but also by implying that we should see women as nothing more than a distraction; we had more important things to do.
Later that same year, I heard a guy in my gym class talking about how to decide which of the two girls who liked him he was going to invite to the dance. It would be the one who would sleep with him, or, as he said, would let him “fuck the shit out of her” and “fuck her brains out.” These were phrases I’d heard so often I’d become numb to their meaning. They only stood out to me because they were said out loud on the soccer field instead of sotto voce at a party.