In her new book, The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, author Amia Srinivasan poses a question:
What if Brett Kavanaugh hadn’t been white? It’s a hard counterfactual to evaluate, because the world would have been very different for a black or brown boy to grow up not only with the sort of financial and social privilege Brett had—the wealthy family, elite school, the legacy at Yale—but moreover to have a phalanx of similarly privileged peers who would have his back come hell or high water.
Srinivasan is the Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at the University of Oxford. She was recently called by Vogue an academic “star.”
Srinivasan is a skilled writer and oftentimes a clear thinker. She repeats feminist orthodoxies about patriarchy, etc., but sometimes challenges, even if ever-so-carefully, the orthodoxies of the Left.
In “The Conspiracy Against Men,” the essay that opens The Right to Sex, Srinivasan delves into the events of the fall of 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for the Supreme Court. Before getting to Srinivasan’s argument, my full disclosure disclaimer: As I have written in American Greatness and elsewhere, in 2018 the political Left tried to destroy Kavanaugh, a high school friend of mine. They used opposition research, extortion threats, and a media campaign that was comparable to the efforts of the East German Stasi. A woman named Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett of sexually assaulting her in 1982 when we were all in high school. Ford claimed I was in the room when it happened. The press declared that Brett and I had been present at over 10 gang rapes and that I bought and sold cocaine. They used as sources people I’ve never met. Opposition research garbage was fed directly to the media, who passed it on without scrutiny. The stories told about us were so bogus that there were actually liberals who knew Blasey Ford’s story was false, and were reluctant to destroy Kavanaugh over it.
Now back to The Right to Sex. Several times in her book, Srinivasan describes the milieu in which Brett and I and our friends were raised during the 1970s and ’80s as “wealthy and white.” One description is right out of the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”:
In the summer of 1982, Brett was spending time with his friends from Georgetown Prep, among the US’s most expensive private schools . . . together with students of the neighboring Catholic girls’ schools: Stone Ridge, Holy Child, Visitation, Immaculata, Holy Cross. The group—Tobin, Mark, P.J., Squi, Bernie, Matt, Becky, Denise, Lori, Jenny, Pat, Amy, Julie, Kristin, Karen, Suzanna, Maura, Megan, Nicki, spent that summer going to the beach, training for football, lifting weights, drinking beers, attending church on Sundays, and generally having the best time of their lives.
Putting aside the odd construction of that sentence and some clearly false details—we knew some tough girls, but I don’t remember too many of them lifting weights and training for football—and you’re left with those buzzwords in your head: Wealthy. White. Elitist.
Yet as Washington Post reporter Ruth Marcus puts it in her book, Supreme Ambition: “Kavanaugh and his allies later bristled at the notion that his childhood was rich and entitled, and they had a point. . . . In an atmosphere where some of his peers enjoyed significant wealth . . . the Kavanaughs were, for most of Brett’s childhood, comfortably middle class, not wealthy.” Marcus goes on: “Likewise, for all the leafy elegance of Georgetown Prep’s North Bethesda campus, for all the school’s vaunted exclusivity, in the social architecture of privileged Washington the Georgetown Prep boys were looked down on by those who went to even tonier schools, such as St. Albans and Sidwell Friends. They were viewed as less academic, more focused on sports and drinking.” At the time, the tuition at Georgetown Prep was around $5,000 a year.
In fact, Srinivasan, who lived in various cities as the daughter of a banker and professional dancer, may have been more well-off than my high school friends and me. The profile of her in Vogue offers this description: “She wrote the book over two summers in California; she’d wake up at 6 a.m., wait for the mist to clear and head out on her surfboard, before writing all day and unwinding with a glass of wine. ‘You can’t print that,’ she laughs. ‘People are going to hate me!’”
I would argue that black men, whether privileged or not, often do have peers who have their backs. The problem is their supporters are often not heard by the very hysterical #MeToo media and academic elites represented by, well, Srinivasan herself.
To her credit, Srinivasan acknowledges as much. In fact, she explores the liberal abuse of “believe all women” as a serious moral and cultural problem. She notes the work of Atlantic writer Jemel Hill. In October 2018, as the atomic blast surrounding the Kavanaugh hearing was slowly starting to dissipate, Hill went to Ozy Media’s “Take On America” town hall series in Baltimore. The gathering featured over 100 black men in the audience. Coming on the heels of the Kavanaugh battle, Hill was positive she was going to hear a lot of anguish over the Republican victory.
Instead, she heard support for Kavanaugh. Hill wrote:
On Tuesday night, I was in an auditorium with 100 black men in the city of Baltimore, when the subject pivoted to Brett Kavanaugh. I expected to hear frustration that the sexual-assault allegations against him had failed to derail his Supreme Court appointment. Instead, I encountered sympathy. One man stood up and asked, passionately, “What happened to due process?” He was met with a smattering of applause, and an array of head nods. . . . This bizarre kinship was something I noticed in my Twitter mentions, too, where black men were tossing out examples of how white lies had wrecked black lives.
“One name continually surfaced from these defenders of Kavanaugh,” Hill concluded. “Brian Banks. Banks was a senior at Long Beach Poly High School and a promising linebacker who had already committed to the University of Southern California when his playing career was torpedoed by a false rape accusation.”
It’s worth noting that Martha Kavanaugh, Brett’s mom, was a teacher in the 1960s and ’70s at two largely black public high schools in Washington, D.C., McKinley Tech and H.D. Woodson. She went on to become a lawyer and a judge.
In her Atlantic article, Hill marshals the startling facts about black men and rape accusations. Again to her credit, Srinivasan also reports the same statistics. A black man serving time for sexual assault is 3.5 times more likely to be innocent than a white man convicted of sexual assault. A report released in 2017, examining 1,900 exonerations over the past three decades, found that 47 percent of the people exonerated were black, despite the fact that blacks make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. In sexual-assault cases, blacks accounted for 22 percent of convictions, but 59 percent of exonerations.
In The Right to Sex, Srinivasan notes that it is poor black men who have historically been falsely accused and lynched on the often dubious witness of white people. She observes that at Colgate University half of the accusations of sexual violence are against black students, even though only 4.2 percent of the student body is black. “Does ‘Believe Women’,” she asks, “serve justice at Colgate?”
Srinivasan is equally bold in examining the ill effects of pornography. A depressing story in The Right to Sex features a female student recounting that her boyfriend insisted she was having sex “wrong” because he had been comparing her with porn. “I don’t want to sound like, you know, a hysterical moralist,” Srinivasan told Vogue. “But my actual experience of teaching and lecturing on pornography for young people is that it is a serious issue for them on their own account, and not just for the women, but the young men as well. A lot of them feel like it actually closes down what’s sexually possible for them.”
The Right to Sex is the work of a frequently courageous thinker whose work would be even more impressive if she shook off some of the academic jargon and focused more on facts. Eloquent words like the following can offer a strong witness for Brett Kavanaugh and others falsely accused—both black and white: “I am not saying that false rape accusations are something to shrug at. They are not. An innocent man disbelieved, mistrusted, his reality twisted, his reputation stripped, his life potentially ruined by the manipulation of state power: This is a moral scandal.”