Why #MeToo Matters

My thoughts about #MeToo: can a hashtag really make a difference?

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.

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.

Two Thoughts

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.

My thoughts about #MeToo: can a hashtag really make a difference?

Image credit | Christianpics.co

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4 Comments on “Why #MeToo Matters”

  1. #MeToo. I always want to be clear that I have not been sexually assaulted, so I don’t claim to fully understand that level of heartache. But I have experienced sexual harassment, from construction crews repeatedly calling down to clearly underaged teenager girls (including me) walking by to a high school teacher leering and making suggestive comments. I wish I’d spoken up then, because I now believe that I couldn’t have been the only one. But too often, we’re ashamed to speak, worried that it will be He Said vs. She Said, or wonder if maybe we inadvertently did something to invite unwanted attention. Had I said something about the teacher, however, and other high school girls had said something — even if each case was He Said/She Said — the pattern would have demanded further investigation. We simply can’t remain quiet. Thanks for speaking up, Chris.

    1. Sexual assault certainly is a traumatic experience. Sexual harassment is traumatic, too, but in a different way. The daily experiences of wondering if someone will make comments or follow us, walking with ourkeys between our knuckles just in case, minimizing our upset in order to manage a harasser’s emotions, and wondering if we were imagining our discomfort or should say something wear us down in a trickle of trauma. Over time, the daily trickles pile up. I’ve been so sad to see the number of women who weren’t sure if they should post #MeToo because what they experienced was “only harassment.” “Only harassment” is still wrong, and it still hurts women–individually and collectively.

  2. I was raised to respect women and never to treat them in the way that is being described by the #MeToo campaign. My heart goes out to the women victimized by assault and have a large degree of sympathy for women saying they have been harassed.

    I have to bring up a difficult issue, however, as a man who was terribly girl shy and now find myself sex shy even with my wife. It would be nice to attribute this to respect for women, but I experience it as being a loser at the game of love. Guys who have macho or game may get a lot of sexual harassment complaints, but they also have a lot more success with women than I do. All this respect and politeness has gotten me is a single life with one and only one girlfriend late in my 20s who I married followed by very limited sex because I don’t seduce her or charm her or play the role of the sexual aggressor. Isn’t this a core function of my role as husband? But where do I learn this if my father is absent and my mother is determined to not let me become the skirt chaser of her nightmares? Initiator means to initiate, which some women might interpret as harassment. And the fear of crossing that line leaves guys like me afraid to even approach the line. So I am the nice polite harassment-free man that wouldn’t harm anyone but can’t get sex even in my marriage.

    So how do we balance the desire to protect women with the need to encourage young men to be men. To use their God-given testosterone to pursue a woman with focus and intentionality while avoiding crossing the harassment line. And who draws that line? Radical feminists who say all sex is rape? Or is there a line we can all agree on that is clearly defined and still preserves the man’s need to take the initiative?

    1. This article helped me understand a bit about what men learn in our culture about being men and interacting with women.

      Let me address a few things you say:

      All this respect and politeness has gotten me is a single life with one and only one girlfriend late in my 20s who I married followed by very limited sex because I don’t seduce her or charm her or play the role of the sexual aggressor. Isn’t this a core function of my role as husband?

      Why do you think that is a core function of your role as husband? I rarely hear from wives that the reason they don’t have much sex is that their husbands aren’t seducing them, charming them, or being a sexual aggressor. If that is what your wife has told you, perhaps you should ask her to describe what those things look like to you. She may not mean what you think. Being the sexual initiator doesn’t look the same in every marriage.

      But where do I learn this if my father is absent and my mother is determined to not let me become the skirt chaser of her nightmares?

      No man needs to learn how to be successful with women in general. He needs to learn how to be successful with his wife, specifically. A man can learn with his wife by pursuing God’s design for sexual intimacy by reading the Bible, going through marriage studies the support healthy sexuality, and spending time with other couples who are happy in their marriages.

      Initiator means to initiate, which some women might interpret as harassment. And the fear of crossing that line leaves guys like me afraid to even approach the line.

      Again, it all depends on the approach. Here’s the thing, though: how sexual interaction looks like in marriage has nothing to do with whether something would be perceived as harassment in other contexts. This is not about pursuing women. It is about pursuing your wife. Ask her what kinds of initiation help her feel loved or make her feel like an object.

      So how do we balance the desire to protect women with the need to encourage young men to be men. To use their God-given testosterone to pursue a woman with focus and intentionality while avoiding crossing the harassment line.

      We teach men that being a man is not just about pursuing a woman’s body. It is also about pursuing her heart and learning to cherish her. We teach that outside of marriage, their interactions with women should steer away from sexuality. We create opportunities for young men to spend time with older godly men who are happy in their marriages (and have wives who are happy, too).

      You say that you are sex-shy with your own wife. Perhaps you could just tell her that you want to experience full intimacy with her. Ask her what that means to her–and then listen. At some point (even in a separate conversation), tell her that for you it also includes deeper sexual intimacy. Tell her that you are shy about it and ask if she would help you become more comfortable and confident as her lover.

      Thanks for taking time to comment. I suspect there are many Christian men with the same frustrations.

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