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Deborah Ramirez’s plastic-penis copycats: female elite-college alums dredge up their own Brett Kavanaughs from decades ago

September 28, 2018
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Remember Deborah Ramirez, the Yale grad who told the New Yorker that classmate/Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had flashed in her face at a drunken freshman-year dorm party 35 years ago at which a gag plastic penis was also passed around?

That story melted faster than a dildo in a blast oven after it turned out that neither the New Yorker nor the New York Times could find anyone else who had either been at the alleged party or witnessed the alleged incident.

But as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, Ramirez’s tale did set off a frenzy of other female alums from the Ivy League and other elite colleges dredging into their decades-old memories and coming up with their own Brett Kavanaugh-like stories–more or less.

The Chronicle headline reads: “As Kavanaugh Allegations Widen, Elite-College Alumni Recall Harassment From Decades Past.”

The New Yorker article prompted outrage and understanding. In online circles, Yale alumnae wrote messages of solidarity with the woman, Deborah Ramirez. They wrote about avoiding Kavanaugh’s fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon.

So–in a seeming effort to top Ramirez’s story, involving an alleged incident that took place circa 1983, Dartmouth alumna Jean Passanante, now a television screenwriter, came up with an incident dating all the way back to 1973.

The anonymous letter from 1973 wasn’t shoved under Jean Passanante’s door, but she has saved it, since then, all the same. It began with a vile, four-letter word, demeaning the first women to seek a degree from Dartmouth College. “Your mere presence at this institution is a direct confrontation to the goals we consider sacred,” it read.

She had transferred to Dartmouth mere months before, in the early days of coeducation. Her peers showed her the letter after someone slipped copies of it under their doors, she said….

The Dartmouth letter, published a decade before Kavanaugh’s first year at Yale, was as crude as it was threatening. For the university’s men and women to “live in harmony” on the campus, it said, women needed to expose their breasts in the dining hall, make their “services” available at all times, play naked softball on the central campus green, and perform oral sex on a man identified by a nickname. “These are not idle threats. Our movement is large. Things must change,” it said.


This week she decided to post it online, motivated by allegations that Brett M. Kavanaugh exposed his penis to a woman at Yale University when both were students there, and was part of social clubs whose degradation of female students was seen as part of their fabric. The portrait of Kavanaugh, on the doorstep of a lifetime Supreme Court appointment, that she read in news coverage showed an attitude of privilege and entitlement. It enraged her. And it resonated….

“There’s something about these privileged, the chosen, the white men in their little clusters who are going to have this glorious life of a Supreme Court justice,” Passanante said this week. “The women are there for the picking. They need to step on someone, and they can and they do.”

The fever seems to have spread to the University of Chicago:

Kirsten Ginzky felt similar dynamics at play at the University of Chicago, where she started taking classes in 2011. Her memories of loud fraternity hazing in the apartment unit above her own, and dorm parties at which female students were plied with alcohol by older male hosts, are fresh.

“That is the exact type of organization that produces people like Kavanaugh,” Ginzky said. “Kavanaugh could have very easily been my upstairs neighbors, hazing, and getting women drunk on thirsty Thursdays, and participating in the toxic male-bonding culture.”

Another Chicago alumna reports:

Carole Emberton, who attended Chicago more than a decade earlier, said she saw parts of herself in Ramirez’s allegations. The New Yorker article showed the social dynamics and power that she said had placed Ramirez, and a student like herself, as “on the outside of that elite environment….

“This kind of behavior is about power, it’s about … marking out territory,” she said. “Targeting people, and sort of saying, ‘This is your place.’”

And even a male Stanford alum says that Kavanaugh-Ramirez style campus incidents traumatized him for life:

Patrick Iber, who attended Stanford University in the early 2000s, said the Kavanaugh coverage reminded him of feeling alienated on that elite campus. He recalled wealthy students’ willingness to pay a hefty fee instead of cleaning up their dining trays.

Iber, now an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said he views Kavanaugh’s nomination as an adjudication of sorts of whether American elites can be held accountable for their actions.

I’m waiting for a Harvard alumna, class of 1971, to tell us that the Kavanaugh-Ramirez story reminds her of the time some drunk guy from the Porcellian Club who paid a scholarship student to make his bed jeered at her because she was reading Sexual Politics.

Posted by Charlotte Allen


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