Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, is apparently a very good girls’ basketball coach, an attentive father to two young daughters and a man who has actually hired women more than a few times to work with him.
All of this, of course, is almost totally irrelevant when it comes to whether he would make a good Supreme Court justice.
Yet we’ve been hearing an awful lot about these facts since Monday night when Trump introduced Kavanaugh, a 53-year-old federal judge, as his pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the high court. First from Kavanaugh himself. He spoke on Monday about coaching his girls’ teams and even bragged that the majority of his law clerks are women.
And then we heard more of this in a much-derided opinion column in The Washington Post published Tuesday, titled “I don’t know Kavanaugh the judge. But Kavanaugh the carpool dad is one great guy,” from Julie O’Brien, whose daughter goes to school with his elder daughter.
The whole enterprise pushes the narrative that this man is a friend to women. Maybe even a feminist. After all, he spoke winningly about how his mother “overcame obstacles” to become a trial judge — a signal, perhaps, that he understands the kind of systemic discrimination women once faced. He spoke of trying to bond with his daughters. Clearly, he must respect girls and women. Or at least that’s the message.
The overall suggestion is not unlike what you hear from powerful men when they’re reacting to some terrible news story about sexual harassment or discrimination. They couch their understanding of the news in their status as a father or grandfather or husband.
“As a father, I cannot abide such behavior,” the typical statement goes.
“As the grandfather of two precious girls,” Jeb Bush said after viewing Donald Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, “I find that no apology can excuse away Donald Trump’s reprehensible comments degrading women.”
The statements betray a failure on the part of these men to identify with women as fellow human beings. Instead, displaying a thirsty eagerness to show that they’re not “that guy.” The vibe is kind of “I am a nice man who defends and protects women because I have in my possession women to protect.”
And really, that seems to be the Team Kavanaugh message. The conservative darling wants us to know he’s just a nice guy who is nice to girls. He interacts with women, therefore he is a friend to women. It’s an argument with fragile logic. Imagine extending it to other fathers. Like Trump, who is known to favor his daughter Ivanka Trump but has a terrible track record of supporting women and women’s rights. George W. Bush is the father of two girls. No one would call him a feminist. Many horrendously sexist men are good fathers to daughters. Sometimes the personal isn’t political at all.
If Kavanaugh’s nomination goes through ― and there’s little reason to think it won’t ― he will be the fifth conservative on the court. And in this role, he will likely be very not nice to women.
Indeed, he is likely to gut reproductive rights for women. As an appeals court justice, he has already ruled against Obamacare birth control provisions and signaled a willingness to curb abortion access. He’s a favorite of conservatives, and anti-abortion groups have already signaled their pleasure about his selection.
Playing up Kavanaugh as some kind of gentle, good dad seems to be a fairly transparent effort to sidestep all this stuff. To try to make this man less terrifying by reassuring women that he’s a nice daddy.
Women don’t want some kind of paternalistic sports dude on the Supreme Court. Most of them want a justice who can recognize the humanity of all Americans and the rights of women to control their bodies. (Of course, not all women feel that reproductive rights are important.)
Kavanaugh has been nominated for a lifetime position with the power to reshape the fabric of the nation. His people skills shouldn’t be the first thing to consider.