Tyranny is taught through a thousand lessons. For boys, the instincts of domination are first practiced against girls, through small violences and antagonism. The lessons often scale up to stolen kisses, small humiliations, fanned rumors, and then worse. Much of what many boys and young men are told is that masculinity has to do with projecting power, most often against the girls and women who are close at hand. Misogyny is the first and most enduring tyranny, a connection so atavistic and primal that the languages of dominion—of conquests and ravages, of taking and acquiring—are interchangeable between talk of women and talk of war.
Thursday could serve as a breaking point for that close union of violence against women and the exercise of power in American politics. Or it could not. In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the account of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, as well as that of Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, will be heard. But because of a larger debate—one that’s now sprawled much wider than the alleged facts of this allegation or a single confirmation—the stakes are elevated well beyond whether conservatives can finally secure a fifth seat on the Court. At stake now is some measure of the ancient twin legacies of misogyny and dominion, how they’ve shaped a political movement, and how far they can hold out against social retribution that’s been a long time in the making.