Teenagers across the country are watching how adults are handling the allegations against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, and taking notes.
Leyla Fern King, a high school sophomore in St. Louis, Mo., was asked by her mother this week what she thinks about Brett M. Kavanaugh: If he was guilty at 17 of sexually assaulting a girl at a party decades ago, should he still be held accountable?
“He should,” said Ms. King, who is 15, “because you’re definitely supposed to know right from wrong by my age.”
Defenders of Mr. Kavanaugh have argued that events dating from so long ago are irrelevant and should have no impact on his confirmation. Mr. Kavanaugh, who is 53, has also denied the allegations. But teenagers across the country said in interviews that they were disturbed to see so many adults dismissing the accusations against Mr. Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford. Much of the story felt familiar to them.
They recognized the scenario outlined in Dr. Blasey’s allegation — a drunk teenage boy taking advantage of a girl at a house party. And in the backlash against Dr. Blasey, a research psychologist in California, the teens saw the way girls are often criticized for calling out mistreatment.
On Thursday, President Trump questioned Dr. Blasey’s credibility, saying in a tweet that if the alleged attack “was as bad as she says,” charges would have been filed. Earlier in the week, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah suggested Dr. Blasey was “mistaken” in her recollections. Right-wing news outlets have published rumors claiming she is mentally unbalanced or politically motivated.
Maycee Wieczorek, a 17-year-old in Rapid City, S.D., said it felt odd as a student to hear grown-ups dismissing the significance of Mr. Kavanaugh’s character in high school.
“For me and my friends his past is our now,” she said.
And she worried that if the Senate does not take Dr. Blasey’s allegations seriously, it will reaffirm the idea that “boys will be boys,” and teach a dangerous lesson to teenagers today.
“Boys will learn that what you do in high school won’t affect your future at all, so go do the damage you need to do now,” she said.
Ms. Wieczorek said she sees in the controversy a double standard for men and women’s behavior that is already well entrenched in high school.
“A boy is figuring out how to be a man, but girls are told, ‘You better shape up in order to be respected,’” she said. That much was clear at her school, she said, in the detentions frequently handed out to girls for dress code violations — a skirt judged as too short, spaghetti straps, a glimpse of bare midriff, anything teachers deem too “distracting.”
Boys, she said, are not subject to such dress-related infractions. “It’s telling girls you exist as an object for someone else’s attention, rather than you’re here to learn and that your education is important,” she said.
On Tuesday, Emma Thatcher, a high school student in Florida, tweeted: “I would just like to say that the emergence of this whole ‘teenage boys should get a pass because they’re not mature enough to understand consent’ narrative is probably one of the most unsettling things I have ever witnessed.”
Despite the rise of #MeToo, girls said they still felt objectified by their male classmates. A recent nationwide survey by PerryUndem, a research and polling firm, found that about three-quarters of girls 14 to 19 said they felt judged as a sexual object or unsafe as a girl. And compared to boys, they were more likely to say they felt pressure to put others’ feelings before their own.
Amy Zhou, a 17-year-old high school senior in Scottsdale, Ariz., said that during a national teen leadership summit she attended this summer, some of the boys were caught ranking online photos of the female participants by attractiveness. Even after conference officials addressed the incident, only one boy apologized, she said.
“We need to send a message that people should respect men and women,” she said. “Kavanaugh’s going to be upholding the supreme law of the land, so obviously he’s supposed to embody that principle.”
Sexual harassment remains part of the culture at parties, said Brennan Leach, 17, a senior who lives in Wayne, Pa. “Often times girls just come to terms with that experience as a normal part of high school life,” she said.
Ms. Leach said she was frustrated by the doubt cast on Dr. Blasey’s claims, a reaction other girls in her high school have also encountered.
“When a girl has come to school after a weekend party and says someone made her feel uncomfortable, she’s called a drama queen,” Ms. Leach said. “People would say she’s fabricating stories for attention. The language being used by a lot of Republicans is eerily similar to the way boys sound in high school.”
For some teenage boys, the controversy underscores the importance of treating girls with respect. And it has been sobering to realize that gaining a job as powerful as sitting on the Supreme Court bench could hinge on what may have occurred in high school.
Dan Radka, 17, a high school senior who lives in Clinton, Conn., said he had learned from friends who were girls how important it is to obtain consent in sexual situations. His teachers have also stressed using caution on social media, where youthful posts can live forever.
But Mr. Radka said the controversy in Washington has made him think even more deeply about making the right choices now and in college, knowing they may well impact his future.
“I don’t want to do something dumb that I could have prevented,” he said.
Written by By Dan Levin