Photo by Steve Rainwater, Flickr CC

Supreme Court nominee — now associate justice — Brett Kavanaugh gave an interview to Fox News where he claimed that he could not have assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford because he did not have sex until many years after high school. In a recent op-ed for Huffington Post, sociologist Sarah Diefendorf argues that this ‘good guys’ defense perpetuates an erroneous belief that rapists are fundamentally bad people who are incapable of becoming successful and accomplished people, like Brett Kavanaugh. Diefendorf explains,

When Kavanaugh or other men respond to allegations of sexual assault by making themselves look like good guys, they’re trying to pin the blame on other “bad” men as failures of masculinity. This good guy defense is brilliant. It allows men to make the problem of sexual assault and rape about being an individual ― the work of bad men, not a bad culture ― when we know that it is actually a widespread cultural problem.

Instead of a binary where there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys, Diefendorf cites social science research about how young men learn that masculinity means exerting dominance. This can mean symbolic domination, like calling another man a ‘fag’ or bragging about sex with women, or physical domination, like sexual assault. Citing her own research, Diefendorf points out that dominance work is a show for other men. She writes,

My research suggests that masculine bonding at the expense of women might be even stronger among men who are virgins. I spoke to men ages 19 to 25 who were virgins to understand how virginity affected how they saw themselves as men. Male virginity is often stigmatized, so the men I spoke to had to find other ways to be accepted as manly. They would talk to other men about sex frequently to show how hard it was to keep themselves from doing it.

Social science can remind us that masculinity carries assumptions of domination and is a powerful cultural force in shaping behavior — a force that can affect even those who present themselves as ‘good guys.’