I can’t use #metoo.
I have never been sexually harrassed at work. I have never been sexually assaulted. I was groped on public transportation several times while in Tunisia, and I have been flashed, but really nothing compared to what so many women have been sharing.
And so, after commenting on Harvey Weinstein I’ve been silent for a while because I don’t want to take away from their stories, and I think others have more standing to write on this (I really love Mary DeMuth’s take, for instance).
But there is one aspect that I’d like to talk about today for Wifey Wednesday, and that’s how men and women can see “flirting” and this crisis very differently.
Let me tell you a story.
When my girls were 13 and 15, we were taking a walk around our neighbourhood one day when a van full of guys pulled up just behind us and started whistling. I whipped around with rather a snarly mother bear face, and when they saw my face and realized how old I was (I guess other parts of my anatomy from behind didn’t look 40) they freaked and took off. I was told afterwards that I should have been flattered that guys mistook me for a teenager but that’s not the way I felt at the time. I felt seriously offended and scared on behalf of my girls (a van full of teenage boys pulls up and opens the side door? Really?).
I tried to explain to a guy recently that most women don’t find whistling at them in public to be a compliment. Instead we tend to find it threatening.
Why? Because when you whistle, you’re saying, “I notice what you look like.” You’re reducing us merely to objects that you can admire. And you’re not afraid to let us know that. And if you simply think of us as objects, then what else may you do to us?
It may not be as threatening when we’re in groups, but when we’re alone? Definitely scary. Definitely degrading. Definitely intimidating. He just didn’t believe me.
I wrote a while back in a post trying to explain to men the emotional toll it takes on women to always have a rape prevention strategy at the foremost of our minds. When we walk in parking garages, we’re taught to have our phones on, ready to speed dial 911. We scan for multiple exits. When I was a teenager going home at night in downtown Toronto, I knew to choose the subway car with the driver in it, to sit under the camera on the platform, to walk on the side of the street where the corner stores were open, so I could duck in if I had to.
We are constantly vigilant.
And you know what?
It gets tiring.
It gets tiring always watching movies where women are half-naked, because that’s what sells. It gets tiring always having to be on the alert in case something bad happens. It gets tiring as a teenager listening to stories of your friends who have been sexually abused when there’s nothing you can do to help them, and sitting in a Bible study on healing as an adult and listening to everyone’s stories of middle aged men who used to fondle them when they were kids and uncles who forced them to perform oral sex and a boyfriend who date raped them.
It gets tiring.
It gets tiring hearing in church that if you serve on a praise team you shouldn’t wear a skirt in case men lust after your legs while they’re supposed to be worshipping. It gets tiring hearing that men can’t control themselves on a beach, and so women are responsible for their thoughts.
It gets tiring if you’re out in a public place, and a guy grabs your butt, thinking it’s funny. It gets tiring when older men make comments about how good you’re looking, when you weren’t dressing to try to attract attention to anything at all.
And then it gets even more tiring if we are at work, just trying to do a good job, and sexual harrassment starts.
A good friend of mine is currently being sexually harrassed at her job, and it’s making her miserable and stressed. It’s causing her husband stress (and now she’s afraid he may end up in jail for punching the guy out!). It’s causing conflict with her boss. She’s the one bearing all the pain when her co-worker is the one who is causing it. It is all wrong.
And it is very, very tiring.
That’s why, I think, the Harvey Weinstein scandal did not stay the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and so many others are falling as well. Women are simply tired. And so there was this groundswell saying, “enough is enough!” (Reminds me of this post I wrote railing against the “boys will be boys” mentality).
What I’ve been noticing on social media, though, is that there’s beginning to be a divide in the reaction to the scandal.
Women feel angry, tired, and invigorated all at the same time, while many men (not all, but many) seem to think it’s gone too far. Are men not allowed to be men anymore? Are they supposed to be emasculated?
I just want to take a minute and say something to both men and women.
Men, your relationships with women would be greatly enhanced if you listened and understood that sexualizing women only puts distance between you.
(What I am about to say does not apply to all men–certainly not my husband or sons-in-law, and certainly not most of the male commenters on this blog, who are trying so hard to run after Jesus and love their wives. But I have seen some Christian men on Twitter push back on the scandal, and it is to those thinking like that that I write).
Yes, there are some women who climb the ladder by sleeping around, and some women obviously like the attention and dress provocatively. And, yes, you appreciate a woman’s body, and you feel like you were hard-wired for that.
But just because some women seem to want to be sexualized does not mean that all women do. And just because you appreciate a woman’s body does not mean that you should reduce her to that. God wants you to treat women like they are whole people. There’s a big difference between saying, “you look very nice today”, and “that dress makes your butt look great” (with hand motions).
This is not about protecting women, either. When I was being groped in Tunisia, I was on a missions team with a bunch of men who said nothing and did nothing to help. That made me really angry. There are times we definitely need your protection.
But do you know what we need and want anymore? Simply your respect.
What grieves me far more than the groping is believing that the male gender sees me primarily in sexual terms, and doesn’t really care about what I think. That’s very difficult psychologically to handle.
Certainly you may appreciate a woman’s body. But you do not need to mention that to her. You do not need to dwell on it. You can simply start talking to her about normal things and treat her like a person. That will help immensely. Be part of the solution to this cultural crisis, not part of the problem.
To the women: Please don’t think all men are perverts.
Every morning I turn on the news right now to see which other celebrity has fallen overnight. There are almost too many to count now (and soon it will start happening in wider Christendom. Just wait).
The temptation we women face now is to give up on men. I have heard so many women say, “none of this would be happening if women were in charge.” I understand the sentiment, but we all have issues. They’re simply different issues. Let’s not give in to the idea that women are superior than men. We are all made in the image of God.
It is so disheartening to see the extent of the problem. It is wonderful that it is coming to light, but there is part of me that is getting angry. Seriously? That many men treat women like that? A sitting U.S. Senator thinks it’s okay to grab a woman’s buttocks while her husband is taking a picture of them? He thinks that’s funny? He thinks it’s funny to pretend to grab a sleeping woman’s breasts?
And we hear of all of these media people masturbating in front of subordinates, and thinking that it’s okay because the women obviously were coming on to them. Really?
I know it’s tiring. And if you can honestly type #metoo, I would imagine it’s even more tiring. When people start doubting the stories and calling women liars, when you’ve been there, too–I’m sure it physically hurts.
How can you trust anyone now?
But, please, don’t give up.
We’re at a watershed moment as a church and as a culture right now. God is bringing things to light and bringing judgment on people who need it. But shining light has the propensity to make things look even more common than they actually are, because we are only looking at the light. We aren’t seeing all the other people who have been quietly going about their business, not doing anything wrong.
Our culture is realizing that sexualizing women is wrong. We are finally truly reckoning with it. That’s good.
But for this movement to do the most good it must be about both genders coming together to find ways to mutually respect each other.
It must not be about the genders separating themselves to protect themselves. It should not be a men vs. women thing. It should simply be a humanity thing.
It feels almost intoxicating to nurse anger sometimes, but reject the impulse. Yes, keep conversations going. Tell your stories, loudly and widely. Work for positive change and do not compromise on the idea that objectifying women is always wrong.
But at the same time, remember that there are far more good men out there than there are bad men.
My friend who is being sexually harrassed is having almost all her emotional energy stolen by one man right now. He is poisoning everything. But there are so many other men in her life who are not like that. There are even so many men that she works with who are not like that. Let’s denounce the evil without denouncing the entire gender.
We have covered for sexual harrassment for far too long. We have sat by and laughed uncomfortably when someone made a sexual joke, because we didn’t know what else to do. We have put up with whistling and inappropriate touching because we didn’t want to be rude or make a scene. It’s okay to say “stop”. It’s okay to say “no”.
But, please, let’s not paint all men with the same brush.
Let’s stand firm against the objectification and harrassment of women, both in and out of the church. But then let’s remember that God made us in His image; male and female He created them. We are all sacred and special. And never, ever give up on men. Pray that God will show you wonderful men who do respect and honour women. Pray that those men will be emboldened to speak out.
And, even if you are tired, please, please do not give in to bitterness. This can be a healing moment in our culture or a polarizing one. I pray, for the sake of our culture, that we will all, men and women together, make it a healing one.
What do you think? Are you feeling tired right now? What’s the best way to make this a healing moment in our culture (and in our churches)? Let’s talk in the comments!