The Senator, the 'Freak Show,' and a Referendum on 'Good' Womanhood

Sen. John Kennedy
Sen. John Kennedy
Screenshot: PBS

Just a couple minutes into his opening statements, Sen. John Kennedy landed on a subtle yet unmistakable frame for Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings: “good” womanhood.


After some friendly remarks while oh-so-casually leaning back in his chair, Kennedy got right down to business, tossing his eyeglasses on the table. “Now look, judge, I’m not naive. I understand this thing can turn sour real fast,” he said, addressing Barrett. “We all watched the hearings for Justice Kavanaugh,” he continued, seeming calm. Then in a jarring outburst, he yelled: “It was a freak show!” He spit the final words: FREAK SHOW. “It looked like the… the… cantina bar scene outta Star Wars,” he added, haltingly. Then he went on to just totally sympathize with Barrett over the “hurt” of being “called a racist” and a “white colonialist.”

Of course, the “freak show” deserving in Kennedy’s mind of a Star Wars reference was a sexual assault allegation against a Supreme Court nominee. Kennedy was referring to Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which rightly dominated the confirmation process. As you might recall, during those proceedings Kavanaugh was repeatedly cast by defenders as a “good man”—a friend, a husband, a father of daughters—who was being wrongfully persecuted. His proponents explicitly blamed “radical left-wing politicians,” but implicit was the suggestion that Ford was the “bad woman” tarnishing this “good man.”

Now, we have the likes of Kennedy positioning Ford opposite Barrett, a Christian, a mother of seven children, who is herself being wrongfully persecuted. It’s an invocation of “good” and “bad,” sympathetic and alienating, femininity.

What’s more, pairing “good woman” Barrett alongside “good man” Kavanaugh in this context effectively raises that go-to specter of traditional (white) families under attack—in this case, by sexual assault survivors and racial justice activists. Kennedy—another “good man,” I’m sure we’re meant to believe—knows what it’s like to be called a racist. It hurts. Goodness is being assailed, he seems to be saying with a shake of the head. Looming over Barrett’s confirmation process is the issue of reproductive rights, and access to abortion, which for anti-abortion politicians carries perhaps the strongest of “good” woman undercurrents.

Kennedy was not alone in this framing of womanhood. In opening statements, Sen. Marsha Blackburn referred to Barrett as a “successful female legal superstar who is highly regarded… and who is a working mom.” Blackburn spoke of the “increasingly paternalistic and frankly disrespectful arguments” made by Democrats against Barrett. “If they had their way,” she said, “only certain kinds of women would be allowed into this hearing room.” In an Op-Ed for Fox News, Blackburn similarly wrote that the “modern left” will object against Barrett because “they’ll say she is the wrong kind of woman.” Except, it seems Blackburn is the one with an investment in the concept of “kinds” of women. The good kind and the bad kind.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel


Bleach Banquet Bingo

That her nomination is a foregone conclusion makes this all theater.