Like most of the nation, I sat glued to my computer for nearly the entire day on Thursday, September 27, riveted by the historic event unfolding in real time across my screen. As I observed the furious testimony of Judge Brett Kavanaugh in response to Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual assault, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the temper tantrums my 2-year-old nephew has taken to throwing as he endeavors to understand the concept of “no.”
As it turns out, according to experts of masculinity and men’s studies, that interpretation isn’t far from reality.
“Aggrieved entitlement is the idea that boys and men are raised to believe [the] world is our oyster; that we get what we deserve,” Cliff Leek, sociology professor at the University of Northern Colorado and the president of the American Men’s Studies Association, told Rewire.News. And when men feel like things they’ve been promised—like, say, U.S. Supreme Court seats—are being withheld, this entitlement often results in anger.
During his Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, Kavanaugh repeated that he did everything right. This suggested that success should therefore be his for the taking.
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“I busted my butt in academics. I always tried to do the best I could. As I recall, I finished one in the class, first in—you know, freshman and junior year … I played sports. I was captain of the varsity basketball team. I was wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. I ran track in the spring of ’82 to try to get faster. I did my service projects at the school, which involved going to the soup kitchen downtown—let me finish—and going to tutor intellectually disabled kids at the Rockville Library,” Kavanaugh said to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
He later made the same point to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI): “Senator, I was at the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off.”
“When it started to look like he wasn’t going to get what he feels entitled to he went on the attack,” Michael Kaufman, author of the forthcoming book The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join the Gender Equality Revolution, pointed out. This was exemplified by Kavanaugh’s aggression toward Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), when he largely neglected to respond to her questions and instead asked her whether she has drank to excess:
KLOBUCHAR: So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before, or part of what happened.
KAVANAUGH: It’s—you’re asking about, you know, blackout. I don’t know. Have you?
KLOBUCHAR: Could you answer the question, Judge? I just—so you—that’s not happened. Is that your answer?
KAVANAUGH: Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.
KLOBUCHAR: I have no drinking problem, Judge.
KAVANAUGH: Yeah, nor do I.
“It’s normal to be angry about a promise that wasn’t delivered, but the difference is that things that men are feeling aggrieved [about] and entitled to aren’t promises that are made to everyone,” Leek said.
The promises that white, cis, straight, non-disabled men expect to be automatically fulfilled are what Kaufman calls “patriarchal dividends”: everything from a good job with a decent income to women’s bodies.
A closely related piece of the aggrieved entitlement puzzle is the mobilizing of other men in support of Kavanaugh himself, not necessarily because they believe him or condone his actions, but to protect themselves and their interests in the process. “It isn’t abnormal to rally around and seek to protect other men,” Leek said, using the Catholic Church’s covering up of sexual assaults as an example. “This [protective response] might be a piece of what’s happening now with Kavanaugh. We have Republican senators helping to … shield and protect him from investigation because it protects their own interests.” If Republicans declare that sexual misconduct is a disqualifier for Kavanaugh, for example, what are they to do with a president who has been accused of just as much if not more?
This protective rallying is evident in Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) emphasis on how difficult and unfair the process is for Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh himself drove this point home several times as well, suggesting that what he sees as his personal misfortune could have consequences on the integrity of the legal system as a whole.
“This has destroyed my family and my good name. A good name built up through decades of very hard work and public service at the highest levels of the American government .… This is a circus,” Kavanaugh lamented, going on to declare that “if the mere allegation—the mere assertion of an allegation—a refuted allegation from 36 years ago is enough to destroy a person’s life and career, we will have abandoned the basic principles of fairness and due process that define our legal system and our country.”
Sentiments like these, designed to place blame everywhere but on the men themselves, are a hallmark of aggrieved entitlement. In the day to day, common enemies are women, immigrants, and liberalism—but in Kavanaugh’s case, the enemy was the Democratic Party, the Clintons, and those doing the accusing themselves.
While not all men or people with privilege translate their inherent leg up in the world into conscious entitlement like Kavanaugh has, the potential effects of his attitude should he enter the highest court in the United States are grave.
“If folks who feel entitled to, for example, women’s bodies are on the Supreme Court, we can expect that worldview to inform their decisions about … reproductive rights,” said Leek. This goes beyond questions of abortion and contraception legality, he cautioned; it could also extend to issue like “how much say should men who are the romantic partners of women [be able to] control [their] reproductive health.”
The fury that Judge Kavanaugh displayed, and continues to display, throughout this process highlights just how pervasive this toxic sentiment is. It’s time to see Kavanaugh’s rage for what it is: a product of aggrieved entitlement, an anger toward the very notion of being held accountable for one’s actions and experiencing consequences because of them.
Even if Kavanaugh manages to get what he wants out of all of this, it presents us with the opportunity to call Kavanaugh’s rage what it is—entitlement that results from a life of unquestioned privilege—and bring it into the national discourse. As Rebecca Solnit explains in her most recent book, Call Them by Their True Names, “Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”