Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination opens a new fault line in the American marriage: Call it the rage gap
A third person has entered the American marriage. Brett Kavanaugh is his name.
In a matter of weeks, a man previously unknown to the vast majority of Americans has managed to dominate not just the national conversation but the most intimate ones, too, between husbands and wives, in some cases inspiring revelations, in others, triggering tension, even when partners share an antipathy to Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
With furor over the nomination boiling, relationship therapists and couples are reporting that anger is in some cases spilling into marital spats.
One of the main issues: Many wives feel their husbands —
even those who oppose Kavanaugh — are too skeptical of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers in suburban Maryland in 1982.
“I just had a couple having this discussion,” said Alex Chinks, a licensed clinical psychologist in Needham. The husband and wife, both lawyers, each oppose Kavanaugh, she said. But the man was more focused on Kavanaugh’s drinking and immaturity and the volatility he showed during the hearing than the alleged attack.
“How can you be so dismissive?” the woman asked her husband during the therapy session, Chinks said.
In some other cases, the Kavanaugh hearings were a force for new openness among partners. In the wake of Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cambridge therapist Kyle Carney is seeing victims of sexual assault deciding to tell their husbands about histories they’d kept secret.
“I’ve seen women stirred up about stuff that happened in their past, and they’re beginning to take the risk to tell their partner or spouse,” she said.
Their fear, she said, is not that their partners won’t understand. “It’s more about women’s own feelings of shame, about, ‘I put myself in a position I probably shouldn’t have.’ It’s been really good in terms of breaking the secrecy and silence.”
All around the city, wives are using Ford’s testimony as a teaching moment, with teenagers, as you might expect, but also with husbands.
“This opened up a conversation we hadn’t previously had over the many years,” said Jennifer Kohn Goldsmith, who works in global health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“When it was clear that I could put names and faces to similar incidents — thank God not as the victim but as a friend who feels I should have done more — it became much more real to him and much harder to intellectualize,” said Goldsmith, of Brookline.
On Monday, at a Kavanaugh protest on City Hall Plaza, many women spoke about what might be called a “rage gap” between women and men — even men who genuinely want to understand how women feel and may think that they do.
“He’s not as angry as I am,” said a political consultant from Jamaica Plain, 40, who declined to give her name for the sake of marital harmony.
She described herself as a “crazy leftist with a crazy leftist husband,” but even his crazy left credentials don’t mean he’s protesting Kavanaugh for what she thinks is the right reason, which she considers allegations of sexual assault, and not alleged lying under oath, his nonjudicial temperament, or his angry, partisan statements.
Nearby, another protester — an Allston woman, 40, carrying a sign that read “Don’t Look Away” — was unhappy her husband hadn’t made the effort to come to City Hall. “He hasn’t prioritized it,” she said.
It was the same story at Healthworks in Coolidge Corner, a women-only gym. “We were watching John Oliver making fun of Kavanaugh crying over his calendars, and my husband said, ‘[Kavanaugh] is really crazy,’ ” said a 30-year-old PhD candidate from Brighton.
“That,” she said unhappily, “was the most passionate he got.”
Many women say they understand why their husbands are not as passionate about Ford’s accusations: For men, sexual assault, or fear of it, is not nearly as common.
“I think the rage boiling over among women is the culmination of the myriad experiences we have all had, including the ever-present messages we got to suck it up, forgive and forget, not make a big deal out of nothing,” a rape survivor from the Boston suburbs e-mailed the Globe.
“We have been groomed to gaslight ourselves, and our psyches simply cannot take it any longer,” she wrote. “Thus the visceral rage. I don’t think that’s something my husband could relate to, as supportive and informed and ‘woke’ as he is.”
Even before the Kavanaugh hearings, women were angrier than men about the current state of politics, according to a national poll conducted for the University of Delaware’s Center of Political Communication in midsummer.
More women than men said they were anxious (50 percent versus 40 percent) and angry (66 percent versus 58 percent) about politics, according to the poll. Women also reported that they are more likely to vote in the midterm elections this fall, with 63 percent citing anxiety as the reason and 49 percent saying it was anger that would drive them to the polls.
The gender divide isn’t just splitting husbands and wives, said Deborah Offner, a Newton psychologist who specializes in adolescents.
She has a patient — a student at a local progressive prep school — who was eager to talk about the fact that her father and her grandfather both “feel bad” for Kavanaugh.
“She finds that outrageous,” Offner said.