Actually… no. But yes.
If you are like me you have seen a lot of statuses popping up saying Me Too. They are from women acknowledging that they too have been sexually harassed or abused. The idea behind the viral trend is to help demonstrate the extent of the problem. Each of us might define that problem differently but as I hear/see/understand it the problem is this: a ubiquitous sense that is ok for the male gender to treat women as sexual objects. The women, across the spectrum of race, culture, social status, economic class, and gender heteronormativity have experienced abuse and objectification by males who think its ok… its normal… its men being men, to see women as sex objects.
As I watched the Me Too’s begin to spread I will admit… I wasn’t on board. I don’t mean I didn’t agree with them. I need no convincing. I agree (heartbreakingly) that this is almost universally true. I am not in the least surprised about the extent of the “me too” and I’m not a doubter that men behave/think this way. I’m a white, heteronormative male who doesn’t largely like what society makes (and has allowed) it mean to be a white, heteronormative male. I think we generally are possessive, objectifying, entitled, narcissistic… because our culture has taught us that this is what it means to be a white heteronormative male. Though in this case, I could collapse this to simply be: male. And I think we men are good at not hearing what we don’t want to hear. Whether that is my wife telling me to bring the laundry down when I come to dinner… or marginalized society telling us its past time to work toward a more just status quo.
I didn’t agree with the Me Too then, not because I don’t share the sentiment, but because I didn’t see it accomplishing anything, and certainly not accomplishing its objective (if I have, in fact, correctly named at least the primary objective). Those who want to toss it off as “overly sensitive women” would still do so no matter how many times they see “me too”. Those who want to imagine it’s the problem of a “few bad apples” will still imagine that most men don’t do this and the “me too” is making a mountain out of a molehill. Those who want to cite cultures who have the problem worse than our own will still use that to excuse our own sin. And those who have found counter-examples will still use counter-examples (a female teacher who sexually abused a student… a girl who used sexuality to “skirt” accountability… and, of course, the decades-old “I’m being oppressed because I’m a man” when they take away all my unfair abusive power) to make it so they don’t have to acknowledge that all those things being true, it is still ALSO true that we have a cultural issue of male possession of women.
I was already debating writing these things down and sharing my thoughts and perspectives… but then I thought, no. No-one cares. No-one will change their mind. I will simply get in another round of arguments with people not willing to see what they do not want to see. There is no point. I realized in that moment (and not for the first time) that I’m overly cynical. I called myself that in my head while driving into work this morning… and then prepared to move on to my day already overly filled with last week’s checklists. And then… I came across this on Facebook. Tacked onto a “me too” declaration:
My Facebook feed is full of “Me too.”
Yes, I have been sexually harassed on and off, in professional contexts, since I was in college. In my self-understanding, I distinguish that harassment from sexual abuse, which I have never had to endure, and so I find myself deeply saddened by the indications of that suffering. Also, deeply angry-frustrated: is there a word for that?
I have learned in the fight against racism that white people committed to justice must teach white people, rather than expecting people of color to forever be teaching me, bearing that burden. Racism will not go away because of people of color – we white people need to dismantle our oppressive systems, especially those of us who are disciples of Christ.
Likewise, men must teach men. Men must hold other men accountable for behavior. It is the good men I am talking to here, the ones who have been shocked by the presumption of other men who have harassed me when they have heard my story and believed me. This means rocking the boat and finding ways to do it fruitfully. And it will take rocking the boat: the calmness of the current sea depends on submerging the damaging experience of so many women (and men as well) who have been hindered, impaired, stifled by the notion that it is ok, when one has power, to turn another person into a mere object to which one can do anything. The seas will get rougher before they become tranquil: not just on the surface, but deep down.
These words, from Michelle Bartel, hit me and I realized – cynicism be damned – I would write my thoughts anyway. And I will use another popular post going on to demonstrate one of the ways I see the problem.
There is a comedic post about a lifehack to decide if you are about to sexually harass a female. The trick is to replace (in your mind) that female with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson (a former football player, professional wrestler, action movie star, and maybe future politician) and decide if its something you would say to him. If you think it would get you squashed…. don’t say/do it. The post is humorous. I laughed at it even while it made me uneasy. It is funny, but the thought behind it IS the problem. For some people to see the problem we need to turn a woman into a man – as if only a man has enough worth to be treated correctly. Seriously? No. And not into your sister, your daughter, or your mother either. You do not need to become an overprotective father to learn that sexual abuse of women is problematic. We do not need any of those to know that objectifying a person is wrong. Presuming a female wants to be your sexual object is wrong. Living in the illusion that she can’t help but find your unwanted advances complimentary are wrong. Not taking no – even and particularly an ambiguous no – as NO, is wrong. Imaging that an initial yes that became a no still means yes is wrong. Using power and privilege to put her in a compromised (doing something she would not otherwise be willing to do) position is wrong. Blaming a person for “enticing” you to act boorishly is wrong.
And yes, it would be wrong to do all these things to a man too. But mostly, we already get that. So stop it. Take responsibility. Force others to take responsibility. And stop treating women as “less than”, and as objects, and as causes of your misbehavior. This shouldn’t be a hard sell. But it has proven so… for millennia. Its woven into the fabric of our sacred stories, our political myths, and our “family values”. Its reinforced by the seemingly benign practices, and rituals, and traditions… and we need to root them out and let them go.
I ask you then to do this: pay attention. Pay deep, reflective, non-defensive attention. That is hard. But it is necessary. We need to become diagnosticians of our behavior and messages to each other. We need to learn the harmful (intentional and unintentional) consequences of those behaviors. And then we need to change them. And changing them requires that we change them in our own hearts, minds, words, and actions – and in our neighbors because that is the only way to systemically dismantle oppressive structures.
We do not do this work because we don’t like our society, our culture, our traditions, our way of being. We do this work exactly because we love all these things and we need to separate out from them the insidious fabric of harm. And to say its past time to get this done is the understatement of all understatements. So….