Brett Kavanaugh and the problem with ‘boys will be boys’: it’s not an excuse, it’s a justification for abuse

Lucy Hunter Johnston
Lucy Hunter Johnston: Daniel Hambury

News that Line of Duty is set to return to our screens reminds me of a typically excellent moment from its second series. At the end of a tense scene, a steely DI Denton, played by Keeley Hawes , leans menacingly in a doorway and delivers a quiet challenge to her fellow cop: “There’s an interesting exercise. You take the worst thing you’ve ever done, and you state it in the simplest terms — no dressing it up, no implicit mitigation.”

It’s a moment that’s impossible to watch, or even remember, without mentally running through the no doubt extensive catalogue of your own misdemeanours — and not just your average, run-of-the-mill vanilla lies but the dark, juicy stuff that you try not to think about too often. Which leads to an interesting question: what is the worst thing you’ve ever done?

Infidelity would be high on most people’s list, I imagine. But I wonder how many men would answer, in the “simplest terms”, attempted rape.

US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “categorically and unequivocally” denies that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were both high-school students in 1982. Professor Ford claims that, aged 17 and drunk at a party, Kavanaugh locked her in a bedroom, pinned her to the bed and tried to strip her, smothering her screams with his hand. She’s agreed to testify in an open court on Thursday and — as more women come forward — the story has transfixed a polarised nation.

Regardless of the veracity of the allegations, the part I find most astonishing is the breezy assumption from some quarters that stories such as these are par for the course in adolescence; that boys are unable to control their most base desires, and neither should they. “We’re talking about a 17-year-old boy with testosterone running high,” said former congressional candidate Gina Sosa. “Tell me, what boy hasn’t done this in high school?”

The extraordinary assumption is that most men have “pushed the boundaries” at some point. It’s the natural order of things. Or, as a lawyer close to the White House put it last week: “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”

But the false “every man” narrative does boys a great disservice. It’s insulting and damaging to the vast majority of 17-year-olds who categorically are not attempting to rape their fellow classmates. I can only imagine how confusing and infuriating it must be for a teenager to be told that such behaviour is not just tolerated but expected. That forcing yourself on a classmate is a rite of passage, with little to no consequence.

"The false ‘every man’ narrative does boys a great disservice. It’s insulting and damaging to the majority"

For the idea of an uncontrollable, universal male passion allows the actually guilty off the hook. If it happened long enough ago, and provided the individual is now a highly successful — preferably white — man, earlier transgressions can be ignored. We can simply dismiss degrading assault as childish tomfoolery, regardless of the cost to the girl in question, who is expected to view violence as a sad inevitability of her peer’s progression to manhood.

“With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me.” Ford has recounted. But you know, boys will be boys.

She shoots, she scores — but can Meghan sort out her shoes?

An Oscar de la Renta and Altuzarra ensemble makes for unlikely gym kit — just thinking about the dry cleaning bill is workout enough — but it’s Meghan Markle’s decision to take to the netball court in towering Aquazzura stilettos yesterday that has divided the nation.

The Duchess of Sussex took part in a sports demonstration at Loughborough University (Reuters )

Is this ultimate proof that Meghan’s royal make-under is complete — edges softened and sparkle dulled — or is she a stylish, hoop-shooting badass?

Royals and their heels are rarely separated. The Duchess of Cambridge is a pioneer in the field of unsuitable footwear. She has bounded across hockey pitches in knee-high boots, thwacked cricket balls in disappointingly beige wedges and played volleyball in, er, disappointingly beige wedges. But this refusal to don trainers demonstrates an unacceptable lack of competitive spirit on the part of our first family. Meghan — slip on your sneakers, and run.

*At a jolly birthday dinner party this weekend I was given a prime position seated next to a terrifyingly astute ninetysomething-year-old — still active in the Lords and a passionate Remainer. He was fascinating, brilliant and woke beyond his years.

After bonding over tagine and political despondency (“This is the worst crisis I’ve lived through. Worse that Suez,” he told me) we talked about the curious way time unspools through human interaction, and how strange it was that when he first started work at the Treasury, senior colleagues had been there since well before the First World War. “I mean, Lucy, they were of the generation that still had standing desks!” And they say history repeats itself.