“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
A wise friend of mine once said, “Sexism, like racism, works for some, but not for others.”
She meant, of course, that some people are on the side that benefits from sexism, or racism, while others fall on the side that does not benefit.
In a spiritual view, no one benefits from racism or sexism. Inequity of power and injustice against people who lack power damages people on both sides of the equation. Frankly, that’s much harder to see when you get the benefit of the doubt, when you are on the receiving end of advantages. It’s harder to see when you don’t feel like you’re the one being hurt.
Jesus said “you cannot serve God and money, because you will hate the one and love the other, or love the one and hate the other.” One aspect of this word is that I must speak against injustice, even when doing so threatens to cost me my advantage–or perhaps especially when it does so. Unless I see our lives through spiritual eyes, I’m always going to believe that I just deserve what I get, that I worked harder and, perhaps, that the person complaining just doesn’t follow the rules or the law or know the system as well as I. Is that my fault? Am I my brother or sister’s keeper?
If being the “beneficiary” of injustice harms me, then I’m working for both our good when I seek to acknowledge and correct our unlevel playing field.
Men, in my experience, generally do not like to hear the term “rape culture.” It sounds accusatory. It puts us on the defensive. It suggests that the nice guys among us, who believe we’ve never committed any of these acts of sexual harassment or sexual violence against women, still contribute to the problem. We’re still guilty.
When I first heard this term, I had to read and study. I had to choose to keep an open mind to hear their voices above the voice in my head shouting “Nuh-uh! Not me! I advocate for women! I believe in equality! I hyphenated my name!”
Now I believe sexism is so woven into our cultures–here in Nicaragua and the U.S., the two I can speak to–that most of us men remain comfortably oblivious to something so shocking as “rape culture.” We’re not forced to be aware of it.
Today, I’m watching my Facebook page roll by with woman after woman, friend after friend, posting “Me, too.” #metoo. Men and women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted are posting “Me Too” as a status to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. A few women report being sexually harassed by other women. I’ve seen a few men speak up. In college, I was sexually harassed by a man, so yes, #metoo.
But though that matters, and I needed to work through my trauma and seek healing, that’s not my point today. In fact, one stumbling block for men is to convince ourselves that we have it just as bad, that we, too, have suffered just as much. In this, I don’t want to diminish anyone’s struggle or their journey. But white men are not oppressed in the United States. The loss of some privileges that we have above others, no matter how normal they seem to us, no matter how much we’ve rationalized that we deserve them, does not equal persecution. It doesn’t.
Likewise, while some men have suffered from women being sexual predators, rape culture is a culture perpetrated primarily by men against women.* It’s a culture that degrades and diminishes women by conveying that they are less than men, that they are objects rather than subjects, and that they must accept living in constant awareness (if not fear) that any man with whom they come in contact with might choose to use his power to hurt them for his gratification. It also belittles these acts of violence, which are always a sin and frequently a crime, by making light of them and turning them into jokes. Sick jokes.
When my wife and I watched the news of the rape case in which a male Stanford student sexually assaulted an unconscious female Stanford student, everything about it horrified us. The details turned our stomachs. The court proceedings outraged us. We were most upset by the defense that this poor young man might have his life destroyed by a harsh sentence when he was such a promising athlete with such a bright future, the justification that this was all too much for a boy’s “twenty minutes of action.”
Okay, that’s a nightmare. That’s rape culture. Describing your son’s sexual assault against a helpless, unconscious human being as “twenty minutes of action” when he was convicted of three felonies—assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object–that is the epitome of rape culture. In this description, the woman victim is a lesser human being, of lesser value than the man attacker. This point is driven home when you read her letter to the court.
The assailant faced up to fourteen years, the prosecution asked for six years, and the judge sentenced him to six months in county jail and three years of probation, saying a harsher sentence would have a “severe impact” on him, a star swimmer who could have made it to the Olympics. That, in my opinion, is rape culture.
But this is a nationally publicized case. How many of the women and girls who are my friends had their cases tried? How many saw their attackers brought to justice or received justice for themselves? How many of them suffered silently? How many took years to recover, to gather the courage to tell anyone? How many were believed when they tried?
As I’m reading these stories today, I’m seeing:
“10 years ago I took out a restraining order on a pastor for sexual harassment. He still tried to contact me. #MeToo”**
My first job out of college was as an ESL teacher. A 50-year-old businessman was in one of the classes that I taught. He turned in homework with threatening and sexual comments to me. When I complained to my supervisor, they did nothing. Then I overheard my supervisor telling someone else about it in a joking way.
Then one friend posted this:
And so I’m writing, because writing is what I can do. It’s not the only thing I can do, but it’s a tool that I can bring to bear, a voice I have with which to advocate for my friends.
I’ve been in vocational ministry most of my adult life. I’ve lost track of how many girls and women I’ve prayed with over their sexual abuse, how many struggle with cutting or eating disorders or depression or suicidal urges because they’ve been sexually abused. We must face this reality and we must change it.
Two personal experiences to conclude:
A situation I was part of many years ago in which a man in ministry abused his power by making sexual advances on a minor. He was well-loved and charismatic; people were upset by the news and didn’t want to believe it. He did it, he confessed to it, and people did not want to believe it happened.
What is that, when people, both men and women, desire to remain in denial rather than look this sin, this crime, in the face and shout their support and defense for the girl?
A woman, a friend I love dearly, had a restraining order against the man who had sexually harassed her. We were talking and praying about it. The restraining order had expired and the court, the judge, decided not to renew the order, in spite of her pleas and evidence. She was struggling because she felt guilty that she was not being forgiving.
I had one of those moments where either God is speaking to me or I really am losing my mind, because the compulsion was so strong that I had to tell her, “This is not your fault. You are not to blame. You did nothing wrong and forgiving does not require putting yourself in a position to be abused again.”
Refuse to accept denial. Refuse to remain in denial. Speak up. Speak out. Advocate! What is your one tangible action?
If you’ve suffered harassment or abuse, this is not your fault. You are not to blame. You did nothing wrong and forgiving does not require putting yourself in a position to be abused again.
And we hear you. We are with you.
*Some studies suggest boys experience sexual harassment or abuse at a rate much higher than reported, still largely at the hands of men.
**Quoted with permission.