Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Charlie Rose. Garrison Keillor. Louis CK. Dustin Hoffman. Al Franken. Matt Lauer. Most days, I digest my news in small bites. A notification on my phone, a few minutes of NPR in my car. Lately, that is all I can stomach, sometimes literally. As I take in even snippets of the almost daily allegations of powerful celebrity men sexually harassing, assaulting, and raping women, I have experienced visceral gag responses. The pervasiveness of the allegations is staggering. Part of me is thinking ‘well, duh, why should you be surprised by this?’ And another part just feels the disgust in how much pain, how many lives, how much subjugation, objectification, and violence against women has been committed, and because of the inherent or social power differentials, gone unreported. And then there is the justified critique that once again, the issues of violence only make the headlines after white people of privilege come out, while the voices of people of color are discredited or silenced. In fact, the hashtag #metoo was started by a black woman, Tarana Burke, ten years ago to call attention to violence against women of color. (Check out this article for more information)
While I have never been assaulted or raped, I had my share of unwanted sexual attention, especially as a young adult. I consider the constant cat-calling in the streets of San Francisco, a few awkward drunken and somewhat forceful solicitations, and inappropriate sexual innuendos the microaggressions of being female in my time. Then there was the time I felt most vulnerable, even scared for my safety, on a first date. Most uncomfortable, and now resurfacing, are the memories of inappropriate boundaries at work –especially in my first professional position out of college, when colleagues and supervisors did things like touch my inner thigh or put their hands on the back of my neck. All minor infractions, I’m grateful to say, but the sense of confusion and violation still lives in my body.
Sexual expression is where body meets soul, and when those boundaries are violated, even in small ways, it erodes an essential sense of dignity and worthiness. I know I am not alone in the resurfacing of uncomfortable memories in this time of painful public revelations. If you are suffering, please do seek the support you need. Rev. Ruth and I are always available for pastoral counseling, and help with referrals.
As a woman, it would be easy, especially in these times, to assume that all men are sexual aggressors. I’ve had those thoughts before, for sure. But just as I seek to increase my awareness of my racial biases, I don’t want to malign 50% of the population with my prejudices and experiences with a few men. My husband asked me to recount all the experiences I’ve had with men over my 50 plus years of life. What percentage, really, were inappropriate? It’s helped me to gain perspective, while not condoning the actions of those few who crossed boundaries.
Painful as they are, these moments of spotlighting pervasive oppression are transformational. As a nation, we are now asking deeper questions about sexual ethics. We are learning not to tolerate sexually aggressive behavior. My greatest hope is that we pass these learnings on to the next generation. Crowded high school hallways still provide ample opportunities for groping, and cat-calling is now a request for sexting. “Hey, here’s my number, send me a pic”, and yes, even rape happens in high school. At the same time, this is the generation that has leaped forward to more fully embrace the continuum of sexual and gender identities.
There is great possibility now to increase young people’s awareness and respect for sexual boundaries. As a learning tool, I ran across this humorous and kid-friendly video “Consent and Tea”. The best thing we can do is keep the conversation going. Let our young people know that respect for bodies, theirs and others, is paramount to respect for self and other. I’m grateful we have programming at the Fellowship to help in that process, and hopeful that these painful times of revelation will move us, over time, into a more sacred relationship with all bodies.
May you be well, in body and soul,