These weeks have not been the nation’s finest. There have been millions of words written about the Kavanaugh/Ford hearings, and there will be many more now that he is confirmed. But I need to add my own voice to the choir.
I was traveling with my son the day of the hearing and waited until he fell asleep to watch the circus alone in my hotel room. I personally do not know Kavanaugh, but I recognized him. We are the same vintage and we went to adjacent fancy prep schools. Our parents were successful but lived in very different social strata. A great deal of my past came sweeping back —- I was rarely at these parties and never conventionally popular as a quirky, brace-faced teenager ( I had braces FOREVER), but I did observe these DC/MD/VA boys when we did intersect. I never felt at ease with the entitlement that we all had, never felt like I belonged in this kind of world, though I pretended otherwise until I knew better. As I watched Kavanaugh blow up, I recognized the cholera, the ingrained pride over the access to elite schools and country clubs, the implication that all of this was his due before he embarked on his spectacular career. And that white hot anger was also familiar when Kavanaugh challenged Senator Klobuchar and her right to ask a fair question. Instead of answering her question and awarding her the courtesy of her station while honoring the process, he parroted her like a teenager and was utterly contemptuous. He was claiming territory, even though she outranked him. He would not pull that punch with a man but would and could with her. It’s a stance, a chest gorilla thumping, that many entitled men take— I AM MORE than you. And the incredulous look on Klobuchar's face —I recognized that too — will they ever quit?
I have seen the I AM MORE my entire life. When I was younger this kind of man would try to use his self-importance as leverage over me, so I would know my place. There is little curiosity about others, particularly women, just assertion of superiority. Today I am less compelling to that particular brand of male, and I'm old enough to offer a challenge to this kind of authority. These men will recede, as will I, but the undercurrent of “I AM MORE” persists.
Last summer I was invited to a party by a new, younger friend. He was keen for me to meet his boss and maneuvered me through the cocktail party filled with swells and introduced me to his superior. His boss is a former scion of Wall Street, and it soon became clear it was up to me to make polite conversation. I asked about a mutual acquaintance of ours with whom he sits on a board. He was not interested in that connection, but did proceed to tell me just how much he does as a volunteer, all the while tossing around household names like confetti and asserting how busy he is. As he scanned the room without so much as a sideways word of inquiry, I was found wanting. My friend fidgeted next to me. Another alpha male approached and though I introduced myself to him, my friend and I were closed out as the two men hyucked about some insider bro financier stuff. My friend did not give up and mentioned that I was an artist and a writer with a big show on the horizon. The two regarded us as if we were heads of iceberg lettuce and returned to their conversation. I excused myself from the conversation and then the party.
My friend later apologized, as nice men often do for the bad behavior of other men, and then lost his diplomacy and said: “What the fuck is wrong with these guys?” I told him I appreciated his efforts but I’m used to it. I am also complicit because I put up with it. I am well groomed — I know how to socialize and place the right questions to keep the conversation flowing. I know how to nod to the male ego. I know how to pretend to listen to a bore while calculating my to-do list or while collecting inspiration for another essay or another painting. I also know how easy it is to uncover that rage that so many men have towards women. I have tolerated this kind of I AM MORE narcissism on boards, at parties and in my own family, but I don’t want to anymore. It has made me cautious with my time and the company I keep. I know I cannot inspire someone to move from entitlement to enlightenment, that I cannot compel genuine curiosity, but I can push back by raising a son who knows that his inheritance, his privilege is due to a stroke of chance, that his welfare is tied to others, and that he is part of a system that we need to change. I am teaching him how to listen and how to engage. And one day when I listen to a man talk about himself for an hour and a half without bothering to get my name straight, I will say I AM AS MUCH AS YOU.