The teen sobbed on the stand at his own trial, pulling a page out of the Brett Kavanaugh playbook — and I hate it.
Can We Please Stop Letting the Men Play the Victim
Credit: Getty Images

Kyle Rittenhouse is a giant baby. 

I wish I could be more mature about this, I really do. Because in general, as a matter of principle, I believe that teaching young boys and men that to show emotion is unmanly or weak is exactly the kind of toxic patriarchal socialization that creates Kyle Rittenhouses — teenage boys who illegally obtain automatic rifles and set out on self-appointed vigilante missions that result in the loss of life. 

But honestly. How does the kid holding the loaded AR-15 say his life was threatened by a skateboard? The sound of a gunshot? A plastic bag? How does this kid, who pointed his BFF's military-style rifle directly into the chest of an unarmed man inches away and fired, get to bawl on the stand while remembering how scared he was? In case you missed it (in which case, good for you) Rittenhouse, the then-17-year-old who shot three people at a Kenosha, WI anti-racism protest last year, broke down in sobs while testifying at his own murder trial on Wednesday. And my eyes rolled so far back into my head I think I saw God, wondering where this child got the audacity to make an earnest plea for pity after posing for a photo wearing a T-shirt that read "Free as Fuck" in January while awaiting this very trial.

The day began with questioning by the defense, and when responding to his lawyer asking him to describe the events of that night, Rittenhouse unraveled. Joseph Rosenbaum, he explained, beginning to falter, was running at him from the right, while another man helped corner him from the front. "There… there were three people right there," he blubbered through sobs. The judge called for a break so that Rittenhouse could compose himself. When court resumed, Rittenhouse, now calm, said he heard a gunshot from behind him, and turned around to find Rosenbaum reaching for the rifle still strapped to Rittenhouse's person. Apparently believing that Rosenbaum intended to steal the gun and kill him and others with it, Rittenhouse fired four shots at close range and then ran away. Rosenbaum was the first person Rittenhouse killed that night. 

Here's my thing. If you're brave enough to march into the depths of what you believe to be an unruly violent mob with a rifle strapped to your chest like Teen Punisher USA, you should be brave enough to face the music for everything you do next. That's life. Except, of course, it isn't for some people. The entire day's testimony was a circus of white male privilege and it was actually physically revolting. The New York Times reported that experts believe the jurors might be moved by Rittenhouse's display of emotion on the stand. Meanwhile, Judge Bruce Schroeder, himself a humanoid MAGA hat with a gavel, more than once excused the jury temporarily so he could scream at the prosecution. 

Watching as a person who never went to law school and who has never owned a gun or a dick, I kept thinking, what if the prosecutor was a woman? What if those tears were rolling down a Black teen's baby-faced cheeks?

After a relatively short direct examination from the defense attorneys, Rittenhouse was cross-examined by the prosecution, who pressed him on why he didn't call 911 after he shot Rosenbaum, why he brought the rifle to the protest if he only intended to provide medical aid, and why it was self-defense when he shot at Gaige Grosskreutz but it was not self-defense for Grosskreutz to aim his own gun at Rittenhouse who was then an active shooter. Doesn't the NRA crowd always say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun? 

Several times throughout his testimony, Rittenhouse insisted that he only fired his weapon because he was afraid for his life. Which feels a little baffling coming from the guy who had the assault rifle. You have an assault rifle! Anthony Huber, armed with a skateboard at an AR-15 fight, tried to disarm Rittenhouse, who then shot and killed him. I wonder if it even occurred to Rittenhouse that the people he shot, and everyone in the vicinity, were terrified for their lives. And with greater cause because, again, he had an assault rifle. And yet, as Rittenhouse himself testified, no one ever shot at him.

Can We Please Stop Letting the Men Play the Victim
Credit: Getty Images

The day was a portrait of male fragility and privilege. The kind of fragility that induces young men to act out the most violent archetypes of American masculinity and then makes them fall apart when they're challenged on their actions. More than a few people online noted parallels to Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. After being accused of attempted rape, Kavanaugh spent the better part of his hearings crying about all his women friends, beer, and Devil's Triangles. His accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, remained calm throughout her testimony — because she had to. Her intentions, the veracity of her claims were being picked apart just as much as his.

On a normal day, men might be socially punished for doing something as womanly as weeping in public. But in court, when the very patriarchy they've staked their whole sense of self-worth upon is at stake, they're free to sob as hard as they please. Coming from Rittenhouse, who exemplifies the kind of toxic masculinity that makes men believe they need to be a rifle-wielding action hero in order to prove something, such a display of emotion is not brave. It's manipulative. Were the situation reversed — if the people he had waved his gun at been crying — would he have listened? Does he respect emotion any other time than when it's a possible get-out-of-jail-free card for him personally?

A woman's tears, on the other hand, are so often treated with immediate suspicion of either disingenuousness or irrational sensitivity. We don't even get to take advantage of our own stereotypes because, it seems, those too belong to men. 

Rittenhouse's testimony lasted all day, and legal analysts who are a lot smarter than me seemed to agree that the day was a disaster for the prosecution and a win for the defense. Because of weaponized white boy tears. Excuse me, I have to go scream out my window now.