In what may be the least surprising development ever, the Republican Party has decided to rally around Roy Moore, giving the man accused of multiple sexual assaults on minors campaign funds from the Republican National Committee and a glowing endorsement from Donald Trump, at last report, the president of the United States.
The arc of Moore's story precisely follows the one established by Republicans after the accusations against Trump during the 2016 campaign, which included a now-infamous recording of him bragging about sexual assault: An initial flurry of outrage, giving the conservative base a few weeks to hammer out their rationalizations and normalize the idea that sexual assault is no big deal, and then, when the coast is clear, a mass rush back to the accused sexual predator's side.
Many people hoped or believed that this time it would be different. Trump's election made it clear that Republicans don't care about sexual assault of adult women, especially women they can write off as sexually immoral because they had jobs that put them in situations where they were alone with an obvious sleaze like Donald Trump. But this time, the accusers were underage girls at the time of the alleged incidents; the youngest was 14 years old when, by her account, Moore molested her.
It turns out it was naive to think that teenage girls were exempt from the misogynist social narratives perpetuated by the right, which divide women into "good" women deserving of protection and "bad" women whose deviance from restrictive patriarchal rules on female behavior means that they deserve whatever terrible things happen to them. The fact that these women stood up to Moore in the first place meant they were destined, in the eyes of many or most conservatives, to be categorized as "bad" women undeserving of trust, much less safety, protection and understanding.
Right-wingers are already in the habit of classifying minor girls as deviants who do not merit moral concern. Conservative politicians and activists are not only committed to forcing childbirth on minors through abortion laws, they have in fact targeted minors especially for forced childbirth, through parental notification laws for abortion and abstinence-only education that discourages sexually active teenagers from using contraception.
The idea that the women in question were "bad girls" who did not deserve the social protections that good girls get has already been hinted at by religious conservatives. In a piece at the Federalist calling on conservatives to vote for Moore, Tully Borland, a philosophy professor at Ouachita Baptist University, offered a half-hearted defense of Moore's sexual pursuit of teenage girls, saying, "This practice has a long history and is not without some merit if one wants to raise a large family." He hastened to add, "I have a 14-year-old daughter. If I caught him doing what was alleged, for starters I would kick him where it counts. "
If it was Borland's daughter, that would be wrong. Someone else's daughter? Eh -- that's up for debate. It's worth remembering that Moore is alleged to have targeted girls who worked in the service industry, often late at night. In the case of Leigh Corfman, she was the daughter of parents going through a divorce at the time, something that no doubt still carried a noticeable stigma in 1970s Alabama. It's easy to see how such girls could be written off as not-good girls in conservative eyes, especially compared to the purportedly obedient and well-behaved daughters of affluent evangelical Christians.
This mentality goes a long way, I'd argue, toward explaining the bizarre interview that anti-choice activist and Moore defender Janet Porter gave on CNN. During the entire segment, Porter kept trying to change the topic away from Moore's alleged misconduct and toward this good girl vs. bad girl framework. She kept bringing up the fact that Poppy Harlow, the host, was pregnant, and waxing poetic about the "unborn child" and suggesting that Harlow's pregnancy should (for some reason) incline her to support Moore over his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.
This sort of thing makes more sense in the good girl vs. bad girl framework. As Ilyse Hogue of NARAL noted when she was pregnant, anti-choice activists she encountered were unable to accept that her pregnancy was real and that she continued to be pro-choice. Having a baby is constructed, in religious right circles, as evidence of a woman's compliance with patriarchal order — and therefore any woman who espouses feminist attitudes while pregnant is seen as a hypocrite.
At another point in the segment, Porter complained that there's "a group of non-accusers, that have not accused the judge of anything illegal," a comment that was mocked relentlessly on social media. No one believes Moore could possibly have molested every single girl that attended high school in Gadsden, Alabama, during the 70s.
But I suspect that Porter, in her inarticulate way, was trying to set up this good girl vs. bad girl competition again. She was identifying a group of women whose silence made them more virtuous than women who sully the good name of womanhood by speaking out, especially against a man who is such a stalwart defender of the patriarchy.
Porter also aligned the female accusers with "criminals," which again suggests that she is focused on the idea that women who speak out about sexual abuse are disruptive and subversive forces. In her eyes, it is they, rather than a man who has been accused of repeated sexual abuse, who are the proper objects of outrage.
In a fascinating interview with Sean Illing of Vox, author and philosophy professor Kate Manne argues that misogyny is the mechanism that a sexist society uses to police women for insubordination.
"I think most misogynistic behavior is about hostility towards women who violate patriarchal norms and expectations, who aren’t serving male interests in the ways they’re expected to," she says.
If Manne is right, as I think she very much is, then it was inevitable that Republicans would turn against Moore's accusers. The very act of speaking out, as Porter's weird ramblings about "non-accusers" indicate, makes a woman suspect. Good girls simply don't draw undue attention to themselves or make a scene like that. Whether or not they were actually victimized fades into irrelevance as an issue. Ultimately, the conservative worldview is one where a woman speaking out is more deviant than a man who still adhered to social expectations to be dominant and heterosexual, no matter how creepy his expression of those tendencies might be. Which is why Republicans will likely shun Moore's accusers and reward him with a seat in the U.S. Senate next Tuesday.