Occasionally at my health club, people on bikes or elliptical machines skirmish over switching TV stations (from Fox 5 News to a soap opera or sports).  Usually once TV stations have been negotiated, everyone exercises in peace. But not lately. The Brett Kavanagh nomination to the Supreme Court has unleashed such a tidal wave of vitriol that it’s no longer possible to enjoy a civilized conversation with a friend on the next bike.

Last week, my friend Nancy asked what I thought about the first sexual assault allegation by Dr. Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanagh. As I was sharing my opinion, a very tall elderly man interrupted me. First he put his foot on the back of my friend’s recumbent bike, presumably to stretch his leg, but obviously also making a show of male dominance by trespassing into the personal space of a woman. Plenty of unoccupied space nearby was specifically designated for stretching, but our intruder chose to press his weight against the back of Nancy’s recumbent bike instead.

He even knew it was rude because he began his speech with an apology and even removed the offending foot. “Don’t you think this political situation is deplorable? Why did this woman wait so long to come forward?” His apparent goal was to barge in and hijack our conversation. “Do you believe her? Where’s the evidence?” Standing there in his gym shorts, he fired a  barrage of angry questions at Nancy and me.

“I’m a criminal attorney, and there’s no evidence that’s been presented.” Nancy responded in a reasonable tone of voice, seeking common ground.

“Don’t you think Kavanagh should be considered innocent until proven guilty?  Do you think it’s right for this woman to ruin a man’s life?” Our new acquaintance at the gym kept ranting while Nancy and I pedaled our stationary bikes.

“What about ruining the woman’s life?” I argued. Being disqualified for an appointment to the Supreme Court would not end Kavanagh’s privileged and comfortable life. His house was not destroyed in a hurricane, nor was HE sexually assaulted, nor has he been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Bad luck (or bad karma), but not ruination. “Dr. Ford is currently receiving death threats for reporting a sexual assault,” I said aloud. “What about that?”

Forget about finding any common ground with our chauvinistic exerciser. Forget about continuing a reasonable conversation with my friend. Nancy and I suggested moving forward to that increasingly elusive place where educated people agree to disagree. But the elderly exerciser wasn’t having it.

“Maybe you’d have a different perspective if YOUR daughter had been sexually assaulted or you had a relative with a severe drinking problem,” I suggested.

“My daughter was never assaulted,” he bragged. “And she could be Miss America.”

Does he think his daughter is superior to all the women who’ve been sexually assaulted? Does he really think she is so much more resourceful in avoiding unwanted sexual advances, or he is just clueless about the life experience of his daughter? What makes a man so sure his daughter is not at risk? This level of denial is profound.

“I guess you can’t empathize with my point of view at all,” I concluded.

“If we punish everyone who made a mistake in high school, there would be no one left to nominate.”

Actually, there probably would probably be plenty of women, but I don’t say that.

“I don’t care so much about whether he made a mistake in high school,” I clarify. “I’m willing to believe that he doesn’t remember—or doesn’t want to remember—a sexual advance that happened when he was black-out drunk. But I DO think he’s lying. If he’s too drunk to remember what happened, he should apologize for the possibility that he assaulted the girl. Obviously, SHE remembers.”

“Maybe she’s just doing this for publicity?  Why did she wait so long?” Our intrepid misogynist persists in chanting the Republican party line.

“Nobody wants this kind of publicity,” I retort. “Who wants death threats? Obviously, she came forward because she doesn’t want a man who assaulted her (and possibly others) to receive a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. And who wants to honor a liar?  Maybe Dr. Blasey Ford is a true patriot who cares deeply about protecting women’s rights and Roe vs. Wade. Why else would she expose herself and her family to death threats? Her integrity is being questioned right along with Judge Kavanagh’s. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision.”

Flash forward to a week later when Nancy and I are sitting on bikes again.  Jokingly I whisper: “We better not talk about Kavanagh.”

“What do you think of the second witness who came forward? Or Kavanagh’s Yale friend who says he was a violent and ugly drunk?” My friend smiles and pedals, undeterred.

Before I can answer, the SAME old man from last Tuesday interjects AGAIN.  “Have you changed your mind yet?”

No, we had not changed our minds…. “How about we agree to disagree, so we can ride our bikes in peace?” I offer, truly NOT in the mood for my favorite misogynist.

“People like you want to ruin a good man’s name,” he gets in the last word before stalking away. From our bikes, Nancy and I can see him verbally pounce on another woman.

In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Kate Mann coined a new word: “himpathy.”  She defined “himpathy” as the “inappropriate and disproportionate sympathy powerful men often enjoy in cases of sexual assault and other misogynistic behavior.” Mann suggests that the Kavanagh case has revealed “gendered sociopathy: a pathological moral tendency to feel sorry exclusively for the alleged perpetrator. Like the old man at my health club, himpathizers say “he was just a boy in high school; it happened so long ago,” while relentlessly casting suspicion upon the female accusers. Not surprisingly, those who sympathize with Kavanagh to the exclusion of Dr. Blasey Ford are also avid abortion opponents. These pro-lifers are unable (or unwilling) to empathize with girls and women facing an unwanted pregnancy.

I wish I could say that “himpathizers” are all men. But it turns out that foreign and elderly women raised to defer to men also feel sorry for Kavanagh.  “Don’t you feel sorry for him?” My foreign-born podiatrist asked while blasting my toenails with laser beams for 45 minutes.

I declined to answer. (Those laser beams were painful enough!)  Even my 91 year-old mom persists in defending Kavanagh in spite of—or maybe because of—the newest accusations.

During Thursday’s senate hearings at the health club, there was (almost) a screaming match between two men and two women over Kavanagh as we rode our stationary bikes. Two women behind us on treadmills angrily shushed everyone.

Before I ride my bike at the health club next week, I’m going to buy those Martian-like ear pods for my iPhone. From now on, I‘m listening to music.


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