TLDR – Kavanaugh Redux, or, Baby It’s Cold in Washington D.C.

I am not a satirist.  I had considered writing this as though I were; the problem is that since I am not, not only would it not be very good satire, it would run the risk of not even being recognized as satire.  And so I write it as I write other things, whatever classification that is.

I also usually do not repeat myself; I have already written on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the various dramas surrounding that nomination.  However, this is an involved story, and several various trains of thought have coalesced into identifying themes and drawing relationships and parallels among the various actions being undertaken in Washington, D.C.  Yes, we know these actions are consistent with previous actions, but in understanding how they are consistent, we as a nation can improve and progress beyond those actions.  If we want to, that is.

The first train of thought is this:  I have seen recently on Facebook – and forgive me for not being able to find the source, for Facebook’s searching is poor, and its ability to consistently show a reliable history in my feed is even poorer; stories and posts jump around like grasshoppers fleeing before you in a field, and catching a specific one is just as improbable – but I have seen recently on Facebook a meme or a post wherein it is noted that the Republicans are trying to “ram through” the Kavanaugh nomination, and the women of the nation are saying, “no,” “stop it,” “we don’t want this.”  It notes the powerlessness felt in such a situation.  To put it bluntly, the Republicans are raping America; the metaphor is fairly strong and accurate.

The second train of thought stems from the testimonies of Dr. Ford and Mr. Kavanaugh before Congress.  It is not inconsistent that she remembers the incident but he does not; you remember when you are hurt, but if you don’t realize that you are hurting someone else, you are not likely to take note of it.  Particularly if what you are doing is not outside of your normal modus operandi – this is the way you have always done something and nobody has complained before, so what makes this special?

Finally, a train of thought stemmed from the article written by Mr. Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, where he writes “…there’s also that ambiguous middle ground, where the woman seems interested and indicates, whether verbally or not, that the man needs to prove himself to her. And if that man is any kind of man, he’ll allow himself to feel the awesome power, the wonderful beauty, of uncontrollable male passion.”  Clearly, Mr. Judge believes that if there is any ambiguity, then he is free to act as he sees fit.

All of these led me to thinking about Frank Loesser’s 1944 song, Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

There has been quite a controversy over this song.  On the surface, it certainly sounds like a song condoning date rape – the “wolf” (he) is pressuring the “mouse” (she; roles as indicated in the original song) to stay the night with him.  She comes up with excuse after excuse not to, but still he persists.  It includes the line, “hey, what’s in this drink?,” which is really what puts this song into the uncomfortable area.

However, there’s more to this song than meets the eye, as Tumblr user bigbutterandeggman wrote in an explanation of the song.  This explanation has been reposted quite a lot across the internet; I quote, extensively but not  in entirety, from that user’s post:

That is the standard joke that’s going on when a woman in media from the early-to-mid 20th century says “hey, what’s in this drink?” It is not a joke about how she’s drunk and about to be raped. It’s a joke about how she’s perfectly sober and about to have awesome consensual sex and use the drink for plausible deniability because she’s living in a society where women aren’t supposed to have sexual agency….

Basically, the song only makes sense in the context of a society in which women are expected to reject men’s advances whether they actually want to or not, and therefore it’s normal and expected for a lady’s gentleman companion to pressure her despite her protests, because he knows she would have to say that whether or not she meant it….

So it’s not actually a song about rape – in fact it’s a song about a woman finding a way to exercise sexual agency in a patriarchal society designed to stop her from doing so.   But it’s also, at the same time, one of the best illustrations of rape culture that pop culture has ever produced. It’s a song about a society where women aren’t allowed to say yes…which happens to mean it’s also a society where women don’t have a clear and unambiguous way to say no.

Tumblr, 2016 

There are several items to consider here, but the key one is the last line:  it’s also a society where women don’t have a clear and unambiguous way to say no.  This is important – at one point, not that long ago, society gave women no way to say “yes.”  This meant that “no” was ambiguous, and men had to rely on other clues to interpret the “no.”  Clues like tone of voice, choice of clothing, whether or not she is drinking – these are all things that men have had to rely on to determine what was meant by “no,”  Not coincidentally, these are all suggestions on various “helpful” lists on what women should do to not get raped; basically, don’t do anything that can be interpreted in any way as “no” meaning “yes.”

This is, of course, a very restrictive way to live, and women have been striving to move past that.  It is evidence of the progress being made that Baby, It’s Cold Outside is now uncomfortable – we don’t live in that society any more.

Or rather, many of us don’t live in that society any more.  Societal change does not often happen overnight, and a large portion of the population still lives as though women cannot say “yes.”  They still live as though if a woman says “no” it is a mystery to unravel.  They teach their children this same thing, so that this piece of history is handed down from generation to generation.  The problem is, as identified above, this leaves a lot of room for “misunderstanding” and “misinterpreting.”

And projection.  A lot of projection.  When things are ambiguous, it is easy to see what you want to see, as though it were some sort of societal Rorschach test.  Of course, we are the heroes of our own stories, so anything we project of course falls in our favor.  This is why Mr. Kavanaugh does not remember any sexual assault happening – because, to him, what happened was not assault.  It was simply his interpreting a “no” as ambiguous, which he had to do because he was not aware that a woman could say “yes.”  What’s more, he cannot conceive that a woman would not want him, and thus all “nos” must be these concealed “yeses.”

This is not dissimilar to Donald Trump’s attitude as evidenced by his infamous quote from the Access Hollywood bus incident, where he says,   “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”  In Trump’s mind, it would be irrational not to want him because he is, as he says, “a star.”  He is rich and famous; therefore, everything a woman does is indicative of her desire for him.  This is what happens when you combine the narcissism of Trump with that societal Rorschach test; every action is interpreted as ambiguous.  Every contestant who enters one of his beauty pageants, every woman who says “no,” every woman who even meets him – they all become fair game.

Even when not taken to the extreme of Trump, this mindset is pervasive – Mike Pence, for example, famously does not meet with women other than his wife one-on-one; this is an extension of that belief that everything a woman does is indicative of desire (and, possibly, and extreme amount of distrust or jealously from Karen Pence).  This is, of course, aided by women who continue to live in the society where they cannot say “yes,” especially if they come from a large community of such women.  The evidence they have firsthand is that this is still the way society works, and thus it only reinforces the notion that they can consider these protests from women for the sake of their body to be simply for the form of the matter.   Men like this don’t actually need to listen to the protests, the don’t need to consider things from another’s viewpoint – they see themselves as playing by the rules, and those protests are just a natural consequence of playing the game.

It is bad enough, of course, that men like this still exist; that they have not stopped to take the pulse of society and alter their actions.   Some men have grown and learned; they have retrained themselves to the new rules of society and issued apologies for their previous actions.  It is, unfortunately, the ones who have doubled down – the ones who not only are not apologetic, but insist that this is the way society should work – it is these men who are in power in Washington D.C.  They are trying to do everything in their power to maintain or reinstate the society they are familiar with, to make sure that the rules are what the are comfortable with.  This is, of course, a conservative approach, one of the rare times that lower-case conservatism actually overlays with upper-case Conservative ideology.  In this administration, however, this society is one of cronyism and personal loyalty – loyalty not to country or position, but to an individual, and doing everything to further the ambitions of that one individual.  There really is no way to correct this other than voting them (or the people supporting them) out of office.  Protests don’t work on them, they consider these protests from others for the sake of their country to be simply for the form of the matter.  Men like this don’t actually need to listen to the protests, the don’t need to consider things from another’s viewpoint – they see themselves as playing by the rules, and those protests are just a natural consequence of playing the game.