#MeToo and Why it should matter to the church

When #metoo first popped up into my facebook feed, I decided not to comment. A quiet little #metoo isn’t going to change anything. Anyone who cares doesn’t need #metoo to not harass a woman. Those who don’t will roll their eyes and talk about how a little flirting isn’t harassment. But then I read this in response to a post:

“[They] just need to suck it up. If they want to avoid it then don’t interact with society.”

#metoo and why it should matter to the church
Yeah. You know what? I’m overweight and over forty. One of the greatest blessings of those two facts is that I don’t have to deal with “it” any more. I “sucked it up” most of my life. I don’t think about it all that much. I don’t talk about it at all. In fact, there are things I’ve never told anyone and I don’t really know why. Perhaps because of just that attitude. I learned to “suck it up.” Tell me, to, however, and apparently I find my voice.

I’m about as far from a feminist as you can get. I stay home with my children. I homeschool. I vote Republican. I go to church and that word “submission” in the Bible doesn’t bother me all that much. And most of my life I’ve known that to interact with society, you have to “suck it up.” Because you can either let it get to you or you can swallow the venom and go on with your day.

But in the last few hours, I’ve read as many diatribes against what random posters don’t think qualifies as harassment as I have #metoo stories. Or should I say, “harassment?” Because those little quotes around someone else’s experiences are oh so convincing to their arguments.

I know it has to be a little difficult for men dealing with a changing culture, where what once was considered chivalrous is now considered belittling. And in a culture where women who were once taught to be coy and passive just might turn around and tell you what they think of your cat calls, your whistles and your sweethearts.

Honestly, though, I know more what it’s like on this side. To be pushed against a wall in a soccer hall by a man three times my age. To be afraid to call out because I’m not sure if the other men standing outside would come to my aid or his. To marvel at just how quickly I wasn’t there any more. To become a passive observer of what was happening to my body. Fortunately, a good deal of alcohol was involved on his part and despite his weight and strength and violence, I was able to get him off balance. I was out the door before he was off the floor and found myself standing in the midst of a dozen other men who in that moment seemed no different to me than he. Because he was also my neighbor, a respected member of the community, the director of the soccer league who unlocked the building so I could use the restroom. To get home, I had to walk through a small wooded area that took me on a dark path right by his house. So I stood there in the midst of the celebrations, unsure what to do or where to go, even as he left the building, locked up and so casually offered me a drink.

I sought out the assistant coach. At least he was safe. He offered to walk me home. For the price of a kiss, I found out when we arrived. But what’s a little harmless flirting? I laughed nervously and started to walk away. He didn’t think it was so funny and fortunately for me, all he did want was that kiss.

I know what it’s like to work drive thru late at night. To have strange men order though the speaker system, “I’ll have a Whopper with cheese . . . and one of you if you’re good looking.” I know what it’s like to swallow the ire. The customer’s always right. To stand there taking orders as he pulls to the window, undresses me with his eyes, strokes my hand as I hand him his sandwich. I know what it’s like to have him ask me for a little smile. But the thing is, it’s my smile and I’ll give it to whom I please. Not to you and not to the countless men after you, some of whom are arguing in my feed about whether telling me to smile is harassment or if I should “suck it up.” You know, so I can “interact with society.”

But this is the thing. No one has ever “just” told me to smile. It’s really the eyes and that smile. That filthy smile and those penetrating eyes that look right through my clothing, leaving me feeling naked while he asks for, just a little smile.

And that’s just “harassment.” In quotes. Because the easiest way to demonstrate that air of condescension on the internet is with quotation marks.

I know what it’s like to have a manager get into my file for my phone number, start requesting I come into work early, before anyone else is there. To have him use any excuse and no excuse to step into my personal space, to touch me as he reaches across for things that are there on his station as well, to endure the constant comments . . . the “innocent” flirting . . . that no one would think constitutes “harassment.” And as I got more and more forceful about defending my personal space and warding off the advances of an older (and married) man, I was the one who ended up in the office, talking to the female restaurant manager.

Because she knew he could be “annoying,” but I really just needed to “suck it up.” It was my atitude that was affecting the workplace environment.

It wasn’t until he cornered one of the 16 year olds and kissed her that he was finally seen as the problem and let go. It never really surprised me he chose her. She had been molested when she was younger. She didn’t know how to deal with him, bit her tongue and was silent. She tried to stay out of his way but never made any waves. She never landed in the manager’s office because her attitude toward one of her superiors was affecting the workplace environment. She “sucked it up” way better than I ever did.

I know what it’s like to have a male coworker start crossing the lines between a friendly workplace and being a little to familiar. I know what it’s like to wrestle with what exactly constitutes harassment, to know that I could ruin a career and a marriage if I say anything. And yet . . . no means no. Not interested means not interested. Back off means back off. I started saving the emails so I would have evidence if I ever decided to do anything. I was relieved when my husband found them and thought I was having an affair. Because most of my “suck it up” training had told me I was overreacting.

And now he’s the one I think about every time I read another post about the difference between innocent flirting and workplace harassment. Because it may be clear to anyone who isn’t experiencing it that it’s harmless. But it isn’t so easy to put into words when you are on the receiving end and you ponder filing your complaint and even in your own head it all sounds so petty. Except he makes your skin crawl every time he’s near and all of your internal sensors warning that this person isn’t safe go off. Because it isn’t any one comment or any once glance. It’s all of it together, coupled with the fact you know his wife and kids.

Getting from 16 into my mid thirties was a gauntlet of unwelcome gestures, comments and contact. No, it wasn’t all men. It wasn’t all the time. But for a conservatively dressed young woman who stayed away from the party scene in high school and college, declined sex until she was married, who worked in professional environments and who never flirted with anyone she wasn’t already romantically involved with, it happened to me often enough that it is hard for me to imagine that there are very many women out there who haven’t experienced it to some degree.

Because it’s part of growing up female. Just look what happens when a few women come out and talk about what it’s like on this side. We’re told to #suckitup. We’re treated to lectures about “harassment.” We’re dismissed, marginalized, blamed and even mocked.

But that’s not the message I want to teach my daughters. And it most certainly isn’t the message I want to teach my sons who have far more control over how the women in their lives will be treated than my daughters will.

What I’m not as sure of is how to teach them any differently in a sex-saturated culture which seems to scoff at any separation between what is private and what is public, what is intimate and what is superficial.

And you know what’s even harder? Trying to figure out how to teach them any differently when so many of the scoffers are Christian. Sure, there are good men out there. Lots of them. But this isn’t about them. We cannot fix the problems in our culture and in our churches by sweeping them under the rug and “looking for the positive.” We can’t fix them by belittling those who come forward or by dismissing their testimonies with quotation marks. We can’t fix them by asking them to “suck it up.”

When I imagine Christ in heaven watching as woman after woman shares a small, frequently hidden piece of herself with an unassuming “#metoo,” I don’t see Him responding with, “Oh you silly little thing. That’s not ‘harassment.’ You just need to look at all the good in the world!” When we hurt, He hurts. When we weep, He weeps. When we grieve, He grieves. And that is what He calls His church to, as well.

In fact, it is the very heart of compassion.

com = together, passion = suffering

Compassion literally means to suffer together. To bear one another’s burdens. To offer a whispered #metoo when it’s appropriate and an it-grieves-me-that-this-is-your-story when it isn’t. Because that’s what the church is supposed to be.

1 Peter 3:8-9 — Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

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16 Responses

  1. If you lie to someone, you lose their trust, bad enough. If you steal from someone, you take their inanimate objects, bad enough. If you sexually assault someone, whether it be by sight, words or deeds, now you’re directly violating the image of God! Genesis 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 6:18 confirm the premise of this article which says,

    “When I imagine Christ in heaven watching as woman after woman shares a small, frequently hidden piece of herself with an unassuming “#metoo,” I don’t see Him responding with, “Oh you silly little thing. That’s not ‘harassment.’ You just need to look at all the good in the world!” When we hurt, He hurts. When we weep, He weeps. When we grieve, He grieves.” ~ Roscommonacres

    Sexual immorality whether in sight, word or deed, definitely grieves the heart of Christ Jesus, for it grieves his body [1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:5]. And sadly, there are many men who don’t have the voice to courageously say what is written in this article, yet live with the sorrow of “#metoo”.

    1. Sadly, I think it’s harder for men to talk about it. The whole “suck it up” mentality is even stronger.

  2. This is such a timely and timeless piece!! Thank you for your insight and I believe you are exactly right. Christ is grieved by this sin and we ought to be too. #metoo

    1. Yes. The flippant comments and eye rolling kind of got to me as I was reading through the posts. It kind of highlighted the whole reason the hashtag started. 🙁

  3. What a beautiful post! My heart is over joyed that people are willing to see the church grow and become healthier. I agree, brushing things under the carpet Ned’s to change. Thank you for your courageous bravery! I hope it encourages others to do the same!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I hope more people think through what half of our population has to deal with on a regular basis and how we can respond with grace and love instead of condescension.

  4. Wow, this is so well said.
    I only wish it stopped when I hit my 40s and was overweight. For me, it hasn’t. Maybe it’s being a red head. I don’t know.

    I just wish there were real men out there who took this seriously and didn’t shame and attack me when I talk about it. Just last week I had some guy following me in the store sniffing me. The security guard acted like this was a joke. It was just plain old creepy. “Ignore it”.

    And that, sadly, is just the most recent one. I have 40 years worth of material I could share but I’d have a 5 pages long comment. 🙁

    1. Wow. And yeah. That was what got to me on facebook as I read the comments. So much belittling and dismissing of the whole issue. That’s what really prompted me to write more than anything. Women know this is a huge problem. The men who comment their eye rolling and yawns are not any better than the men who actually harass women. They are part of why it is so pervasive . . . because there is little shame in it from other men who mostly seem to either laugh or just look away.

  5. Very well said, Dana, as always. I’ve been dismayed not only by the number of “me too” posts I’ve seen but also by all the mocking, dismissive comments about “snowflakes” this week too. How many of the “me too” posts represent the first time those painful experiences and memories have even been acknowledged? I’ve rarely ever spoken of the boss who inspired me to chime in with “me too” the other day. It’s ridiculous that such a simple confession could be construed as melodramatic or weak. If it makes people uncomfortable to be confronted with the reality of how pervasive this problem is, then they’re the ones who need to “suck it up.” The fruit of the spirit is not scorn, ridicule, contempt, mockery, and meanness, but you would never know it to hear some self-described followers of Christ talk.

    1. Yeah. That isn’t how Christ teaches us to respond to suffering. Or even to an annoyance someone shares. But I have seen the “church” come to the defense of the unrepentant sinner too many times, blame a woman for her abusive husband (what is she doing to make him so angry) and a couple weeks ago, a woman in a Christian forum I’m in wanted to know where in the Bible it said you can divorce because of molestation, implying that the woman looking for resources to get out when she found what was going on needed to stay. My husband shared this quote with me last night after he read my post. I think it says a lot (that’s why I shared it on facebook, too):

      “Psychologist Mel Lerner has demonstrated that most people have a deep desire to believe “people get what they deserve and deserve what they get.” They tend to assign blame to victims of tragedy especially if it is not possible to punish a perpetrator. This comes from a normal human impulse to make sense of things, but it also likely stems from the deep human need to believe we are in control of our own lives. People want to believe “that couldn’t happen to me–because I’m wiser, I’m better, I know what I’m doing.” The Bible’s assessment is less flattering to non-sufferers and kinder to those who are hurting. Much suffering is mysterious and unjust.”
      –Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (p. 135)

      Whether it’s harassment or rape or abuse or a terror attack at a concert, I see far too many Christians quick to judge the victims rather than the perpetrators.

  6. After being molested by a stranger near a playground at age 10, I automatically assumed I did something wrong. Everybody, female, male, young, old supported me and told me it was all the man’s wrong and I was innocent.

    I’ve since taken that as license to assume any clear cut unwanted sexual communication of any type is not my fault. Therefore, since it is unwanted, I directly and verbally reject it. If that is not received respectfully, I exercise my Christian freedom (duty?) to give vent to God’s righteous judgement on sexually impropriety. I use my teacher voice on young and old alike, and occasionally on the female gender too–women are not innocent of making unwanted sexual communication, especially to younger males. Waspishness is the fastest way to deflate amorous intentions from most people.

    I found it difficult to figure out how to teach my daughter to carry herself, sweet and kind like all the elderly expect from girls OR confident and vocal to protect herself in a selfish, chauvinistic society. I settled for suggesting she be her confident self most of the time, but know how to turn it off for the elderly. She found she needed to turn it down for many of her female friends and some of her male friends too. But so far, she hasn’t experienced any harassment, to my knowledge.

    Women shouldn’t have to be a firebrand to get treated respectfully, some are not naturally assertive, some have had submissiveness drilled into them, but it certainly helps to speak up for yourself. And those of us who don’t mind (or can’t help) speaking up, need to help women vocalize for themselves when needed and vocalize for sexual appropriateness whenever it is useful. Educating husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, cousins and sometimes other women–often the most vicious–is the first step.

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