What do I remember from my first middle school dance? I remember the fairy lights perfunctorily strung up around the St. Elizabeth’s gymnasium, and the crowds of sweating, rowdy Catholic school kids, ferried in from all corners of Montgomery County, Maryland to grind indiscriminately with each other. I remember an eighth grade boy from Mater Dei, an all-boys Catholic middle school in our area, walking up to me and asking me to give him a blowjob. And I distinctly remember telling him to go fuck himself. I remember the adrenaline rush of standing up for myself, and the concurrent swell of queasiness I felt when I thought about this random boy, with his adolescent swagger, feeling entitled enough to ask me for something that I didn’t even fully understand yet. I remember feeling small and ridiculed, despite my big, confident refusal. I was 12.
Recently, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a graduate of Mater Dei and Georgetown Prep High School, was accused by a California professor, Christine Ford, of a pretty egregious incident of physical assault and sexual molestation. Ford went to Holton Arms, one of the all-girls schools in the suburban DC area where I grew up.
The alleged attack occurred in high school, in the 1980s, at one of the suburban basement parties with which I am intimately familiar. I went to those basement parties! If there is one social scene that I know all too well, it’s the complicated, fraught relationship between boys and girls educated at single-sex, Catholic high schools, released on the weekends into Potomac basements and plied with alcohol. I’ve been in closets at those parties with strange, sweaty boys, brainstorming ways to leave without seeming weird or alarmist. I’ve seen the pressuring, the cajoling, the straight-up coercing.
Many of my friends in high school went to Georgetown Prep. The majority of the boys I knew who attended all-boys Catholic high schools – my own two brothers included – are thoughtful, intelligent, service-oriented young men, whose high school educations provided them with a space to develop their faith and intellect. But that dark underbelly exists, too, as I know all too well.
Catholic schools, as a general rule, teach very limited sexual education courses, with the assumption being that, since premarital sex is against Church teachings, none of their students are having sex. There’s no need to talk about consent or how to determine personal boundaries if no one is, ostensibly, having sexual contact with anyone to begin with.
This is not to say that Kavanaugh did or didn’t do what he’s been accused of, and it’s not to say that all-boy Catholic schools imbue their students with a disregard for their female peers. This is just to say: it feels personal. Kavanaugh’s kids go to the Catholic parish school where my three siblings and I went. My 11-year-old sister just started school at the same all-girls school that I attended – and loved, by the way. And I’m scared for her, and I am so, so angry. I knew boys who did things like what Kavanaugh has been accused of doing. I knew boys, buoyed by money and entitlement and the general fratty-ness that all-boys schools can engender, who attacked the high school social scene with aggressive vigor, leaving a trail of confused, wounded girls in their wake.
I don’t know if Kavanaugh did the things he’s been accused of doing, but I do know for certain that I would never, ever want that eighth grade Mater Dei boy from the middle school dance as a Supreme Court justice.
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