#MeToo meet #YouToo.
My husband is obsessing over the daily revelations of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. He can’t stop talking about it. I didn’t understand at first.
“You’re happily married. You don’t abuse your power with your female students. You’re raising a strong daughter. What are you worried about?”
It bothers him that some women may be lying.
That some men who are innocent are going to be caught in the #MeToo wave and have their lives or careers ruined. He’s wondering what it will be like for our 10-year-old son when he eventually wants to flirt with a girl he likes, ask her out on a date, and eventually engage in physical affection with her. The rules are changing so fast. What is he supposed to tell his son? The world is already so different than the one in which my husband was raised. He has been shaken.
I assure him – this is a good thing.
Yes, the shroud of secrecy and “boys will be boys” attitude in this country that protected all men is being peeled, ripped, and burned away by hard truths. Yes, we will have to parent our son differently than my husband was raised. And yes, he himself will have to rethink how he behaves – even as a good man. Especially because he is a good man.
What you are feeling right now is just a grain of the pain that millions of women have experienced for thousands of years.
That discomfort you feel? Oh, honey. You have no idea.
I remind him that the pendulum of privilege has swung so far in the direction of men, that it is now swinging back the other way. And some men are going to get hit by that pendulum. Even some good men.
But that’s not the fault of women.
It’s the fault of men who have kept the pendulum up so high for so long. It’s a heavy pendulum, and it took generations of men a great deal of energy to keep it in place. But the laws of physics – and the laws of justice – dictate that imbalance cannot hold forever. All that pent-up energy is being released and its sweeping down hard on all men. Even the good guys.
Are you rethinking what you can say to women in the workplace? Good. That’s exactly what you should be doing. Think twice about what you say, what jokes you make, whether you touch her.
The harmless flirt?
“But what about my friend Stanley – a cute old guy who used to flirt with waitresses and tell them how pretty they were? And they would flirt right back. Put their hand on his shoulder as they warmed up his coffee. They liked it!”
Did they? And does that make his lewd comments okay? Just because he was older? Just because he “didn’t mean anything by it”?
Does it bother you that men can’t engage in what they feel is harmless flirtation with the pretty girl anymore? Too bad. Here’s the thing you need to understand. Women do not exist for your pleasure, your come-ons, or your libido. Those waitresses were being objectified by Stan. He saw them as nothing more than a toy to play with.
You may think you are flattering her.
It may seem as if she enjoys it. And sometimes she may actually appreciate it. But remember that she and all women have been socialized for generations to think of themselves as existing for the pleasures of men. We are seen as little more than objects of sexual gratification. We’ve been taught to pretend we like it when you say those “flirty” things. We get rewarded for giggling and blushing. But for the majority of women, it puts us in a very uncomfortable position.
If the waitress told Stan to back off, there went the tip money. And there goes little old Mel to the restaurant manager to complain that the waitress was mean to him. And there goes her job.
Do you see why we have to pretend that we like it when you say and do these things?
Because you are all in cahoots together. All of you, individually and collectively, have power that women – individually and collectively – do not have.
Until that pendulum swings back the other way, and an equilibrium has been achieved whereby women hold as much power as men – individually and collectively – men will get hit by that pendulum. Even some of the good ones.
And it’s not just matter of bringing the pendulum back half way. The pendulum will have to swing all the way in the other direction so that justice is restored to women.
So that means that, yes, we will see some women take advantage of this pendulum swing and try to ride it with trumped up charges. But for every one of those very few women who are lying, remember that there are millions of women who told the truth and were never believed. Or were punished. Even killed.
For every man who is unjustly accused, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of men who got away with it. The grope. The rape. The discrimination. The violence.
I had to tell my husband my own truth.That when I was in middle school, packs of boys would walk through the halls between classes. One of them would grab my breast or my buttocks or my genitals. The first time it happened I was so shocked, I just turned around, stunned. Who had done that?!
But they were all laughing. They all knew.
It would be impossible to figure out who did it. Because they were all in on it. They would protect each other. I was alone. I didn’t even tell anyone, because there was no one to accuse. And I was ashamed that it had happened to me.
After it happened a second and third time, I learned to wait until just before the bell rang to go to my next class. I would wait after class and ask the teacher a question to stall for time while the crowds moved through. Then I would dash and hope to make it into the next room without being late.
And I’m one of the lucky ones.
I have not been raped or molested. My father never touched me inappropriately. He was a good man. No male relative ever copped a feel. They were good men. No family friend ever took advantage of me. They were good guys.
But I can’t deny that I heard plenty of sexist comments from them over the years. Lewd jokes. Inappropriate jibes. Even from the good men.
And I can tell you that in every church I have served, in every class I have ever taught, there has always been at least one woman who has confided in me that she was a victim.
The woman who was raped by her cousin in the stairwell at church. And he got away with it. The student who was raped by a popular football player at the party. Whose lawyers dragged her through the mud of shame and made her life a living hell. The child who contracted genital herpes from his mother’s boyfriend. Only now as a young man is he claiming his courage and telling his truth.
All of these women and children were victimized by men who were protected by inexcusable excuses. By a patriarchal culture where the men protect each other because they know their privilege is at stake. Whether or not they abuse that privilege, the potential still remains. I’m hoping those days are coming to an end.
[Read more about the church confronting sexism: #MeToo, #ChurchToo: The Church is Facing the Truth About Its Sexism]
So, Good Man, will you have to rethink how you talk to your son about dating? Yes. We both will. And I’m glad for it.
On the drive to visit family over Thanksgiving, my son saw me reading a book I’m reviewing called She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry by Karoline Lewis. “What’s that about?” he wanted to know. I happened to be on the chapter, “The Truth about Sexism,” reading through the Glossary of Sexism (pages 122- 128). I read him the definitions of “sexual harassment.” “Sexism.” “Feminism.” “Rape Culture.” “Sexist Microaggressions.” “Mansplaining.” My husband and daughter listened, too.
It was not a comfortable conversation. But they need to know these terms and what they mean. We all do.
At the very least, we need to equip our children with the words to talk about these things. These were words I never knew when I walked that middle school hallway. Now at least we can give our children the language to speak about what had once been unspeakable. Language is power. Words can help restore justice. Talking about it brings the evil out of its secrecy so it can no longer perpetuate itself again and again.
So, yes, we need to talk and to listen. #YouToo, Good Man.
Because it’s not just about your son. It’s about your daughter. I want her to live in a world where she does not fear being grabbed by her genitals. Where she does not have to fend off unwanted words, hands, penises. Where she and her brother have equal protection, and feel equally safe.
I know that’s what you want for her, too. Because you are, indeed, a Good Man.
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church (ELCA).