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.”
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.