Kavanaugh and the Virgin Defense

1797 Cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank

“I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter,” Brett Kavanaugh attested, claiming he was a virgin until well after high school in a Monday interview with Fox News’ Martha McCallum.

She followed up by pressing, “So you’re saying that through all these years that are in question, you were a virgin?”

“That’s correct,” Kavanaugh answered.

She pressed further, “Never had sexual intercourse with anyone in high school?” and again Kavanaugh repeated, “Correct.”

Because I want to know what my friends who are conservatives are hearing, I listened to the entire interview.  Though I began listening skeptically, he sounded credible to me, though his answers were clearly rehearsed.  He even seemed to be fighting the urge to cry at the end of the interview when he repeated, for the 17thtime, according to the transcript, that he was simply asking for a “fair process,” where he could defend his integrity.

This defense will sound familiar to any evangelical or Catholic.  Though Kavanaugh predated the Southern Baptists’ True Love Waits campaign of the early 1990s, the concept of waiting until marriage to have sexual intercourse is at least as old as medieval times when women had to produce the sheets from their wedding night beds to prove their chastity.

Therein lies the problem.  I must admit that Kavanaugh is the first man I’ve ever heard use the virginity defense.  But as a former evangelical, I’ve heard many young women proudly proclaim themselves virgins at an age when women in earlier times would have been called spinsters and considered a burden to their families and society.

As I watched Kavanaugh protest his innocence over and over again, I was reminded of how many girls I knew who proclaimed themselves chaste but were virgins in name only.  Indeed, I had one friend who proudly proclaimed to me in private, “I’m the sluttiest virgin I know.”

Though this friend had never “gone all the way,” she confided to me that she had done everything short of male penetration to satisfy herself and her partner.  Now she can tell her children that she was a virgin when she married their father.  Her husband, on the other hand, seems to bear no such burden.

Thus conservative Christians perpetuate the double standard that applies to women and men in regard to sexual activity.  We are steeped in thousands of years where women have borne the burden of drawing a line that cannot be crossed.  When it is crossed, in spite of a woman’s objections, the woman is almost always the one who bears the burden of proof in a culture where we claim equality of women and men is important but where the subtext says exactly the opposite.

Indeed, Kavanaugh may be telling the truth about his virginity.  He may even believe he’s telling the truth about not having committed sexual assault if he was as drunk as many observers have said he often was.

Perhaps senators on the Judiciary Committee should ask him pointed questions to determine whether he’s a virgin in name only—the kind of pointed questions he listed in a 1998 email the National Archives released this week, in which he suggested questions that would force Bill Clinton to confess specific sex acts that fell short of sexual intercourse.  In that email, he highlighted one sentence in bold print after listing Clinton’s transgressions:

He should be forced to account for all of that and to defend his actions.

Why should Kavanaugh not be held to the same standard that he demanded for former President Clinton?  Indeed, the Christ Kavanaugh proclaimed in the interview to follow said this:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

As a judge and as a Christian, Kavanaugh should be well aware of what it means to have equal protection under the law and of what it means to be judged by the same standard that we expect of others.

Should he not bear at least an equal burden in proving his credibility?

Christine Blasey Ford has a therapist’s notes and the results of a polygraph test to add veracity to her claims, and she has not claimed that he raped her.  On the other hand, Kavanaugh’s senior profile in his yearbook lends doubt to his credibility, and he seems to be twisting her accusation by claiming he couldn’t have assaulted her because he was a virgin.

As many have pointed out in recent days, Thursday’s hearing is not a criminal case.  It is a job interview.  But Republican senators have all but assured that Kavanaugh has the advantage in Thursday’s hearing.  If a lawyer trained in asking questions of sexual assault victims asks the questions, Democrats on the committee will have no chance to ask Kavanaugh the kinds of questions he suggested asking Clinton.

Kavanaugh will get the last word.  Ford will have no chance to respond to anything Kavanaugh might say to dispute her account of events.

This is anything but a “fair process.”  It is a process intended to give Brett Kavanaugh the best chance possible of being confirmed.

If Kavanaugh survives this process to be confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, young women had better hope that the Virgin in Name Only defense works to ward off predators who might sexually assault them. Because if it does not, and they become pregnant, their right to abort their rapist’s offspring may be in peril.

Will we, as a culture steeped in male dominance, condone the continued oppression of women that endangers our daughters’ autonomy, their mental health, and, indeed, their very lives?

Or will we finally break free of forcing women to prove their purity?  If we have a Supreme Court that overturns Roe v. Wade, we had better elect a Congress that passes laws to protect women from predatory men.

Let us not sacrifice women on the altar of Republicans’ sense of fairness.  For the process to be fair, Christine Blasey Ford must not only be heard but must be given the chance to respond to anything Kavanaugh might say, just as he will have the chance to respond to her accusations.

Brett Kavanaugh is asking for a “fair process.”  Let’s give him one.

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