As I sat in my new flat in Cambridge, scrolling through Facebook, I was struck by the overwhelming amount of “Me Too’s” from my friends. If you’re not familiar with the movement women across the world have been posting “Me Too” as their status if they have experienced sexual assault or harassment. It is a movement of solidarity – an effort to not only show women they are not alone in their experiences but to raise awareness on a global level of the immense impact this problem has. I see sisters and friends sharing and it is heartbreaking. And what is there to do? It seems there are innumerable blogs, articles, studies, courses, or sermons on sexual assault & harassment, its causes and its perpetrators. Yet we, as women, are still swimming through an epidemic of fear and vulnerability.
I did not realize how specific this fear was to women until a few days ago. I walked home at night from the town centre, when I was back inside our flat I told my husband “I made it through the dark part just fine, I wasn’t even too scared.” He looked at me blankly, “What dark part?”
“The dark part… in the park… where they only have those little lights on the pavement and you can’t really see where you’re going? There’s always a food truck near by…?” I replied, a little taken aback.
“ Oh, yeah. Why would you be scared? It’s a safe town.”
It was in that moment that I realized how different we were – not because of background or experience or religious beliefs – but simply because my husband is a man and I am a woman. He grew up in a safe town, a safe school, a safe church, because he was a boy. He went to a safe university, to a safe job, and continues to cycle around a safe town, because he is a man. He could not understand the fear women know all too well. He could not understand that I walk with my hand around my keys in my purse because someone from some seminar told me if I didn’t I would be raped and I would have no excuse. He could not understand the fear I felt walking home in the dark – because he has never been painted as a victim in this world, no he has never been told he will be attacked, pursued, abused, and it will be his fault for walking home at night. In that moment I also realized I was ashamed to explain all of this to him. I was actually ashamed to tell my husband that I was afraid of men and what they might do to me, my friends, my sisters, my mother, and someday my daughters.
Now, my husband is a patient, understanding, and safe man. Of course he listened to my fears without condemning me. But why was I ashamed of being afraid in the first place? I can easily answer that – from the time I was a child people in authority around me have said if anything happens it is my fault. People have told us, women, if we are afraid it is because we put ourselves in a bad situation and we should have known better. I have never heard from anyone in authority, outside of my own parents, that men are culpable for their actions against women. I have never heard someone claim that there is a dire issue with the hearts of men in this world, and it is women who are victims of their sin.
An article my sister shared explains this phenomenon expertly. It was written in response to the Weinstein investigations. The author explores the causes of abuse in the workplace while exposing that this is not a new problem at all. This is an issue women have been dealing with long before Weinstein was ever born.
All women know this. Early lessons about the abuse of male power are stitched on our minds like aphorisms on a Victorian sampler. If, by our early 20s, we haven’t personally experienced it, then we have held the hand of someone who has. So many shared confidences: of eyes on cleavages, hands up skirts and tongues down throats; of being forced into corners or trapped in lifts; of the shame and the fear and the not-knowing- what-to-do. And the laughing it off too. After all, it happens to so many of us, it must be the norm: an inconvenience of biology, like menstruation; not something to get het up about. – Garavelli, Dani
When I was in high school we had to take a Sunday school class each semester. Sophomore year all the girls took a class on being godly women while the guys learned how to be godly men. They went camping, they played games, they pulled broken down cars to test their strength and were allowed to come to church in dirty t shirts. The girls sat in the library, we were taught to not date, to not kiss, to not wear short skirts. We were taught that men are the rulers of relationships and if a man is tempted to have sex with us, we are to blame. It is our fault, it is our body that led that man into sin and we should be ashamed for letting our shoulders ever see the sunlight. You might laugh at the absurdity of these lessons but I’ve learned it’s not so uncommon. The church has a massive lack of instruction and love when it comes to teaching women to value their bodies rather than fear them. Evangelical Christians need to stop telling high school boys to see girls as their weaker sisters and needs to teach them to see girls as individuals made in the image of Christ – people to be respected, valued, and loved – not diminished, objectified, or abused.
Of course, these Sunday school classes were not useless. Girls do need to learn how to carry themselves in a godly manner. However, there are other ways to instill these lessons.
This goes back to the differences between myself and my husband. He grew up watching guys harassing girls in school. I grew up listening to my friends cry in the bathroom because of something a guy had said. My husband never feared his teachers being inappropriate. One of my bible teachers told my friend her shirt had been too distracting for him to teach his lesson properly, she should never wear it again unless she wanted to keep tempting men. When a 40 something husband says that to a 15 year old girl (who was wearing a shirt that passed an insane dress code) he walks away feeling no guilt, while my friend sits in our room, ashamed, embarrassed, sobbing. We felt helpless. My husband did not grow up being afraid adults would not believe him. I had five girls convince me to call the dean after a boy in my class made a pornographic comment to me. My husband did not grow up listening to his friends talk about how guys took advantage of them “but it wasn’t sex so it wasn’t that bad…” He didn’t listen to his dorm sisters, best friends, or roommates make excuse after excuse for guys who touched them, hit them, told them they “would be more f**kable if they were skinnier.” But we did. We, women, we’ve listened to it all. We’ve heard all the stories – from “he pulled all her clothes off and raped her” to “he told everyone I gave him a hand job when we just kissed” and all of the in between. We make sure we give our friends a safe word before going on a date. We’re certain our clothes are not lewd. We sit in our rooms and talk about the things men said that destroyed us and instead of telling someone, we punish ourselves. We have convinced ourselves we deserve this. Why?
I certainly do not believe all men are evil. I don’t believe every woman is innocent. But I do believe the culture surrounding assault and harassment is twisted against the victims. An older brother figure at university gave me pepper spray when he graduated. Though I was grateful for the gift we’ve both talked about how sad it is that he knew, even at a Christian University, I was prey – and I would have to fend for myself because there’s often no one to tell during those situations. And so I want to make a plea with Christians around the globe. We cannot keep the evil from this earth. We cannot eradicate the Evil One, but we can learn to better love and protect one another.
My oldest sister shared another fantastic piece about the patriarchal theology in churches and how it promotes the idea that women cannot be in authority of anything, not even their own bodies. Please, read it here https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/breaking-silence-implications-rape-culture-body-christ?platform=hootsuite. As Christians we are held accountable to the Lord of Heaven for our actions, our words, and our silence. We are the ambassadors of His Kingdom and yet we are the ones who fail to love women, fail to protect them, and fail miserably at counting them as equal and valuable beings.
Jesus, Our Lord, explicitly tells us the world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). These words are a piece of his parting to the twelve apostles, a new and final command we continue to break. Are we loving our men by not addressing the issue of pornography in Christian circles? Are we loving our brothers and sons by not teaching them how to value women as individuals – with opinions, feelings, and worth? Are we loving anyone by judging victims of rape? Are we loving anyone when we hold bitterness and anger against those who have abused us? Are we loving our sisters and daughters when we tell them they are outspoken and brash instead of saying they are strong? Are we really loving each other when we justify a politician’s sexual assault because of his conservative assets? Are we loving our daughters and sisters when we’re too afraid or too proud to call men like Donald Trump what they are?
Or are we showing love when we forgive and repair. Are we showing love when we behold each body and each life as a manifestation of the Lord’s making? Yes, men and women have said hurtful things. Both have made me doubt the worth of my body and my being. Yet, I ask them to see me as the Lord’s creation. And that is how I choose to see them. To hold onto the anger of injustice is too much when I can instead hold onto the hope of the Lord’s healing. The hope that this generation will pray to be different. The hope that we, men and women alike, will not let our sons and daughters experience what we have. The hope that Christians will address this problem head on, fearlessly fighting against this sin and its extensive reaches. I gain nothing from being angry, bitter, or upset at men. Instead I choose to spend my energy praying for change.
Since getting married I have six sisters and one niece, all women I love and respect fiercely. I pray for them, for their daughters, for their friends, for their coworkers. I pray we will no longer let this be the norm, especially in Christian circles. I pray we will have heard the last of these confessions. I pray that any daughter I have never listens to her friends’ stories of assault. And I pray we will continue to persist. I pray we, as women, will never quit loving one another, protecting one another, or believing there is a better future for us and our daughters.
Asproth, Rachel. “Breaking the Silence: The Implications of Rape Culture for the Body of Christ.” CBE International. CBE, 07 June 2016. Web.
Garavelli, Dani. “Dani Garavelli: Faux Outrage Adds to Agony of Weinstein Revelations.” The Scotsman – Scottish News. The Scotsman, 14 Oct. 2017. Web.