#MeToo. Time Magazine announced today that their annual Person of the Year choice is The Silence Breakers: The Voices that Launched a Movement. The front cover includes pictures of Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, and other lesser-known women who have come forward in this past year to name their experiences of harassment, assault, and rape at the hands of more and less powerful men in recent and not so recent history. The article talks about the complexities, the fear, the decades and generations of acceptable silencing through threats to job, family, and even one’s life. It also shares that actions of harassment and violence cross all boundaries of race, class, age, vocation, and geography, and in a minority of instances, gender. In every case the foundational issues are power and domination, a sense that the perpetrator has a right or entitlement to do what they want to another person, in which case the other person ceases to be a human being and becomes an object to be used.
#MeToo. A phrase that became an unexpected open door for, primarily women, in the United States and around the world to name the often unspoken story of harassment, assault, and/or rape; a weight many of them have been carrying in silence, some for nearly a lifetime. Some simply used the phrase and let it stand at that. Others use the phrase as an introduction to tell a bit or all of the experience that in lesser or greater ways has shaped them and continues to shape the way they see themselves, the world, and the relationships they have at work, at play, and at home. When we feel silenced, most often from fear, the internal process can eat away at self-esteem and value. Many of these folks name the internal conversation of blaming themselves for somehow being in a room by themselves when the perpetrator came in, or examining what they were wearing or what they said that might have invited the assault, or if they spoke up too much or too little in a meeting that angered the more powerful, or their shame at not saying anything because their job depended on their silence and on the one who harassed or violated them. And nearly across the board, the understanding that they were not likely to be believed.
#MeToo. Over the course of my years of ministry, I’ve been humbly entrusted with many stories that have shaped and impacted and created the beauty of people’s lives. I often hear how faith has given foundation and strength and courage to move ahead, sometimes against great odds physically, emotionally and intellectually. The ones I remember and honor with the most specificity are the women who have shared that they were raped. For a long time I used the word “assaulted” when visiting with them about their stories, until one day one of them said to me, “Nanette, you can use the word rape, I was raped. Part of my healing is acknowledging that, and saying it is both the truth and gives me courage to not be defined by it. It’s what happened to me, not who I am.” In that moment, I realized that survivors of rape are the ones with the true power, not the perpetrators of the violence.
#MeToo. In a couple of the stories that have been shared with me, the perpetrators were caught. In all the rest, they were not. In a few, they knew the person, in the majority of them, they did not. In every single one of the stories shared with me, the women believed they were going to be killed, some because there was a weapon, others because of threats that were given before, during, and after the rape. Some saw the perpetrator, some did not. Some called out for help, some could not. Some reported it to the police, others never did. Every. Single. One. of their lives has been shaped and changed whether it happened years and years ago or more recently.
#MeToo. How could they not report it? How could they not tell someone? How could they not be willing to identify the perpetrator? If they know it’s not their fault, how do they not go after the person who committed the crime? Ah, there the conversation begins to change, did you notice? IF they know it’s not their fault. IF they weren’t where they shouldn’t have been. IF they weren’t wearing suggestive clothing or drinking too much. IF they weren’t so abrasive. IF they weren’t so submissive. IF their body wasn’t saying yes when their mouths were saying no. IF they weren’t trying to claim too much authority. IF they didn’t act so weak. IF they stopped trying to act like a man in a man’s world in a man’s career that should never have included women. IF they didn’t laugh at suggestive and sexual jokes. IF they stopped walking and talking and looking like they were inviting inappropriate attention. IF they weren’t so young and vulnerable. IF they weren’t so old and vulnerable. IF they weren’t alone walking to their car. RIGHT??? How do they not report it for 40 years??? Who would believe them? And who would attack them and who would blame them and who would accuse them and who would remind them that sexual discipline and denial is the woman’s responsibility because boys/men just can’t and shouldn’t be expected to.
#MeToo. My amazement comes from all the women who keep going. Those who choose to stand up and tell the story and sometimes confront and name the perpetrators, AND those who choose not to ever tell the story and still keep going. My amazement comes from the process and work all of them have engaged in to heal and return to as much wholeness as possible. Some have found a way to forgive whether the assailant was brought to justice or not, others still struggle on that journey. They keep going, they keep showing up, they keep finding their way, they keep being brave in small ways and big ways. They keep being enough.
#MeToo. A number of my male colleagues and friends who understand and live in respectful partnership with all the women in their lives are newly hesitant and wary and a little confused about how the world is supposed to work now in relationship across gender. Do we stop unthinking banter in the workplace because it might offend? Do we never pat each other on the shoulder in affirmation or offer a quick hug or go to lunch or meet one on one without a crowd around? There are no easy answers, AND we’re called to respond to each other rather than react to or against one another. We can find our way together by talking clearly and honestly, by checking with one another if we have question about language and behavior, and understanding that we all have life experiences that shape how and who we are in the world as unique and beloved human beings. I think acknowledging that there aren’t easy answers AND that treating one another with respect and individuality rather than assumptions that come through stereotypes will serve us all well.
#MeToo. Witnessing God’s work in the world often comes through struggle and at times through trial and tribulation. The possibilities for grace and beauty are not limited to prosperity and ease. We can choose to accept the challenge to see one another as human beings and beloved children of God worthy of our best in spirit, in language, and in behavior. And we can treat one another, quite simply, as we want to be treated. I think I’ve read that somewhere, maybe Matthew 7:12? God created us with the ability to love one another into our best selves, because it is how God first and last and everything in between loves us! The life stories of those among whom we live and walk and work are precious gifts. Sometimes those gifts are shared with us and we offer compassionate and trusting ears and hearts. Sometimes those gifts are not shared with us and we offer compassionate and trusting ears and hearts. And somewhere in the midst of this messy complexity perhaps we learn the value and vulnerability of our common humanity.
And btw, #MeToo.