Last week I wrote a post about dealing with all the news about Harvey Weinstein. I was pondering some lighter subjects to write about for today’s post, thinking it would help provide some balance after writing about a subject that can be so difficult to read about.
But then came #MeToo.
On Sunday, Actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet that has gotten a great deal of attention.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Both Twitter and Facebook have been flooded with #MeToo posts. Some simply repeat the tweet content, saying that it is being posted to help communicate just how widespread the problem is. Some posts, though, give us stories:
It was my first job after college, and I wanted to go see a movie . . .
I was 13. I still haven’t recovered 40 years later . . .
He was my boss and I couldn’t afford to lose my job . . .
You’ve probably seen the same kind of thing in your own feeds. The #MeToo posts have me feeling weary. Why is this something that we still have to deal with?
Quite a few women have been overwhelmed by the flood of posts, so I decided it was worth spending some time with today. I’d like to share some reflections on the hashtag.
Why I Posted #MeToo
On both Twitter and on my personal Facebook page, I shared a #MeToo post. So did many of my friends, from many sectors of my life.
Then I started to see quite a few posts that communicated anger and frustration about the #MeToo trend:
Why should survivors have to “out” themselves? Why should people who have already hurt have to do the emotional work of communicating to others how widespread something is? Why have so many men expressed shock about Harvey Weinstein and others, saying they never saw it—while they also say that it’s just Harvey being Harvey or boys being boys or insisting that they didn’t think the guys really meant anything by it? What makes us think that a hashtag or awareness will actually do any good? After all, shouldn’t awareness that it has happened to even one woman be enough to acknowledge that it is a problem? Why are we continuing to focus on survivors and victims rather than on harassers and rapists?
As I read these posts, I realized that I shared every single one of these concerns. I also realized that although Alyssa Milano’s original tweet had a stated purpose of communicating the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment and assault, that actually had nothing to do with why I’d posted.
I wasn’t trying to send a message to society in general or to men specifically. I wanted to send a message to women. I wanted other women to know that they are not alone. My sexual assault experience was a long time ago, as were my experiences with sexual harassment. I remember how alone I felt. I didn’t know of anyone who’d gone through it. If my voice can add to the multitude in a way that helps another woman feel less alone, then I will gladly shout.
A New Awareness?
Awareness won’t solve the problem—but it is an important first step. If people don’t understand how widespread this is, it is easy to think it is something that is isolated, or that happens only to certain women, or only in particular circumstances.
As I’ve been watching the women posting #MeToo (or explaining why they choose not to, even while acknowledging their own experiences), I’ve also been watching something else: comments from men.
I’ve seen good men who are already supportive of women’s issues expressing their anguish at not having realized the scope of the problem. Some have said it was the sheer number of #MeToo posts that overwhelmed them. Others have pointed out that it was the fact that the posts were coming from women in every area of their lives: professional colleagues, high school classmates, neighbors, cousins, and aunts.
Men have been acknowledging times when they’ve made a woman uncomfortable or have dismissed a woman’s story of harassment as not being a big deal. They are communicating ways they will pay better attention, and they’re expressing what they will try to do better in response.
Women are learning that they are not alone. Men are realizing how deeply rooted this is in the experience of being female in our society and how they as men can make a difference. Granted, some women are still feeling very alone. Perhaps they haven’t experienced this much at all. Or maybe they don’t feel safe in sharing their stories or even in making a vague #MeToo post. Some men continue to dismiss this as not that big a problem or believe that there is nothing they can—or should—do.
But for a whole lot of women and a whole lot of men, this hashtag has gotten their attention.
#MeToo makes it very clear is that just about every segment of our society is infected by the problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault. No place is totally immune—and that includes our churches.
When sexual harassment or assault actually takes place inside the church, it can be spiritually abusive on top of all the other problems that come along with sexual harassment and assault. Even aside from that, it is a life experience that is carried by many members of the church.
Take a look around your congregation. Assume that every woman has experienced this to some degree in her life. Sunday School teachers. Choir members. The children’s ministry director. The woman who sits in the pew in front of you. The professional woman who is CEO of a local company. The stay-at-home mom who educates her children at home. The single mom who is trying to make ends meet. The woman who leads the women’s ministry. The wife of the chair of the church board. The elderly woman who always tells you how happy she is to see you. The high school girl who plays her violin. The pastor’s wife.
Women, you are so, so not alone—even in your churches.
Then take a look at the men. My guess is that quite a few of them are carrying the knowledge that they have made a woman uncomfortable, crossed a line, not believed a woman, or have looked the other way. They carry the knowledge that they have sinned. Even if they have repented and accepted forgiveness, they know that at one time, even in a small way, they have been part of the problem.
Why #MeToo Matters to Marriages
When we’ve experienced discomfort, fear, or trauma at the hands of men, we carry that into our marriage. We may see our husbands as though they are just the same as those other men. We might find it difficult to trust our husbands. We may find that sexual feelings are accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, or obligation.
Meanwhile, our husbands are carrying the weight of their own sins. If they’ve ever crossed a line with a woman or have been complicit in someone else doing so, they may believe they don’t deserve better in their marriages or that their sexuality is dangerous.
Our husbands may not realize how deeply embedded in our minds and hearts these experiences are. If a hashtag awareness campaign helps them develop compassion or understand what we are trying to overcome, they will find it easier to live with us in an understanding way.
As wives, it is good for us to recognize that our husbands may also carry some burdens that shape how they approach our marriages.
We often bury the feelings, forgetting that ignoring them doesn’t actually make them go away.
Our husbands might also bury their feelings because they can’t change what happened in the past.
Burying our feelings doesn’t make them go away.
When we bury our feelings, we keep them in the dark.
“It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” John 11:10
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. John 3:19-20
#MeToo matters because it unburies the problem of sexual harassment and assault and brings it into the light.
Some of you have been overwhelmed by the #MeToo posts, maybe because you are seeing things that deeply resonate with you or perhaps because they remind you how frustrated and angry you are that we still have to have this conversation.
I am right there with you on both these things. Whether or not you’ve shared a #MeToo post, I’d like to suggest that the hashtag points us to two very important reminders.
1. The message “you are not alone” is an important one, whether or not you use a hashtag to communicate it.
It is good for us to be reminded that we are not the only ones who’ve experienced sexual harassment and assault. Even if we don’t reach out for support, we can find comfort in the knowledge that other women get it.
When we choose to be transparent about our own experiences, we help others feel comforted. We help them feel safer in acknowledging the feelings they thought they alone had experienced.
#MeToo matters, even if you do it in your real life circles rather than in a hashtag on social media.
2. Light is better than darkness.
I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. Ecclesiastes 2:13
Awareness doesn’t solve the problem, but it does bring it into the light.
Bringing a problem into the light invites God to transform it. God can take our darkest experiences and transform them into something that shines His light through us.
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:13
Whether or not we choose to share our own experiences, we can still help keep this problem in the light. We can talk about the problem in general terms. We can listen when others share their experiences of things that happened in the workplace, walking down the street, or in the line at the grocery store. We can support women who come forward, and we can be a beacon of hope to women who choose privacy. We can shout #MeToo so all can hear. We can also look for small places to whisper #MeToo where we think it will make a difference.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Today’s headlines are nothing new. Read 2 Samuel 13 to be reminded of Amnon cajoling Tamar and trying to seduce her—and then raping her when she tries to back away. If you swap out a few names, it sounds pretty much like what I’ve been reading in news articles during the past couple weeks.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 reminds us that what we see now is not new: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Sexual violence (I include both harassment and assault here) is an ages-old problem. I don’t expect that it will ever go away—but we can still reach out to those who are experiencing it today.
We can invite God into the healing process for all our sisters.
And just in case it helps, #MeToo, my friends. #MeToo.
Image credit | Christianpics.co