In recent days, social media has been lit up with #MeToo. Sometimes the post contains nothing more than those 5 letters and other times it spills out into a complete confession of wrongs done to the person. Some posts give a victory cry of how despite injustice, the individual has overcome, other posts simply state that the individual is not yet ready to disclose all that happened (at least publicly) but would consider having the conversation off line or via private messaging. And still many others are an invitation to talk – to discuss, to empower and support one another through what is a tumultuous and oftentimes scarring experience.
At the core of the #Metoo movement is a desire for perpetrators and abusers to begin being held accountable for their actions. It is a vessel to gather information – to prove the scope of the problem, to acknowledge that more women than we realize have fallen prey to gender-based violence, and an opportunity to begin taking those same women seriously as a society. The #Metoo movement aims to show women that they are not alone, that there are many others in similar positions to them (to varying degrees), and that there is indeed a problem – and a big one at that.
A few days ago when my Facebook starting lighting up with #Metoo I at once experienced the profound emotion of anger – anger at this world for allowing this to happen, anger at some men who take advantage of women, anger at a society that objectifies women’s bodies at every turn and corner, but also mixed with it was a feeling of pride and extreme gratefulness at the courageous women who stepped up and shared their experiences. Scrolling through my newsfeed I became aware that this problem affects women of all socio-economic ranks, religious and political leanings, cultures, and ethnicities. Some of my friends are straight, others gay. Some are thin and the portrait of beauty, others would describe themselves as a bit chubby if not “ordinary” and “plain.” The truth is, to an abuser, these things often do not really matter. Ultimately, where the concern lies is simply in who is a prime victim to be taken advantage of. The person the abuser can have a “power-play” on and oftentimes the very person who they know will either never tell or else will tell but will never be seen as credible.
At its core, there is a lot of goodness stemming from the #Metoo movement. It is a place of identification, corporate support, and in some cases action. Marches are being done, letters being written by third parties which alert abusers that other people in the woman’s support network know what’s going on, and engagement and dialogue happening both on and off-line. Nevertheless, I do have a few issues with the #Metoo movement, and I urge you as a reader to consider them and not take them lightly.
Firstly, the #Metoo movement is a great opportunity to at least begin envisioning and understanding the scope of violence done to women, however, what I find disconcerting is that while at least half of my female Facebook friends have written #Metoo, less than one twentieth of my male friends have written #Iamsorry. This, of course, is not at all to say that all men are guilty simply by association of their gender, however, it is to say, that even with this growing movement, it is still very much seen as a women’s issue. As something like “well, that sucks it happened to you, thanks for sharing with me, but I’m still not going to take any responsibility for what happened to you.” The truth of the matter is that the Bible calls both men and women to a very high standard of sexual morality and living. The Bible states that if a man looks at a woman lustfully he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. It doesn’t matter whether that woman is married or not. If she is married – you are robbing her husband even if you never act on your impulse you are degrading and defiling her. If she is single (even if you are in a relationship with her but have not yet put a ring on her finger) you are robbing her future husband and objectifying her. The Bible tells men that they are to lead out of love and servitude. Submission is to be a point of provision and mutual dependency. To be a leader means to first be a slave – to put each other’s interests before your own and to make decisions based on trust and respect for one another.
If you are a man who helplessly stood by when a woman was catcalled because it was too awkward for you to get involved, you are responsible. If a woman opened up to you about a previous abuse or situation that made her feel uncomfortable and you chose to dismiss it because women are always “too emotional” you are responsible. If you are a man who made a suggestive comment (even in jest) you are responsible. If you are a father who did not teach your sons the proper way to respect a woman and woo her in love, you are responsible. You can be responsible for your inaction as much as someone should be for their action. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you choose to stay silent in situations of injustice, you have already chosen the side of the oppressor.”
My second issue with the #Metoo movement is that it can easily mess with a victim’s mind. In theory, the activity and acknowledgement of what once was (and still is in many cases) relegated to the basement never to be spoken of again being brought to light and spoken of publicly can be a healing experience. Nevertheless, it also can raise someone’s defences, heightening their PTSD, and reminding them of experiences they’ve tried so hard for years to bury. In light of this, all I ask is that we walk with our friends gently through this experience. If we have not experienced sexual violence ourselves, we may not comprehend how seeing something on the screen can truly be triggering and upsetting – but trust me, in our culture today, seeing things visually online can be just as upsetting (if not more upsetting) than hearing them offline while sitting across from a friend at a local coffee shop. During these upcoming days, weeks, maybe even months, please allow your friends to FEEL. Please do not become defensive or filled with justification (especially if you are a man), acknowledge her emotions and let her vent. Standing in solidarity with a victim does not always mean we need to be full of sound wisdom and sage advice, sometimes it simply means that we need to tune our own needs out in order to focus on hers. Journeying together is a lifelong process – it cannot be rushed, it cannot be shushed, it cannot be snuffed out.
Lastly, my issue with #Metoo is that we cannot simply see this as a by-product of the culture, rally for it for a few weeks and then let it die out. I’ve seen this time and time again with online causes, and in fact, when I was doing my master’s degree one my classmates actually did his thesis on online presence. We saw Facebook light up with the “N” for Nazarene to raise awareness of religious persecution. We saw thousands of people doing the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS, but today that organization has not been able to keep up that same amount of fundraising. Social media constantly sees a barrage of causes on a daily basis – profile pictures changed, hashtags added, even protests circulating. Yet, the very nature of social media is that it is transient. We live in a passionate generation, but it is one in which we rally together for a cause until we get bored of it and move on to the next (often within a period of weeks if not shorter). Sexual abuse, assault, and harassment are such big issues that affect almost every woman that we simply cannot just “move on”. People are opening up publicly in such a vulnerable way, and we cannot take that lightly. When a woman opens up (perhaps in some cases for the first time – at least publicly) she is putting herself at risk. At risk of being broken, at risk of not knowing how people in her life will respond, at risk for being questioned, even at risk for becoming part of the victim-blaming cycle. With risk comes opportunity and potential advancement for growth, but there is still a great risk attached. The truth is, whether at this point we want to admit it or not, in the next few weeks, #Metoo will be old news and replaced with something else, but the trauma that woman experienced will continue to live on vicariously for the rest of her life. When a woman experiences trauma, abuse, and victimhood, it does not just affect her for a time or a season. It will affect how she views herself – her sexuality, her ability to trust, her relationships, maybe even her spirituality. It will affect her daily activities – whether she will walk through that park again in the dark, whether she will make friends with someone who looks like her abuser (even if she knows internally that it is not that person). It may cause her to experience mental illnesses such as depression or PTSD for the rest of her life. It may eventually affect her marriage, her family, her friendships, even her working environment. So, you see, the issue of abuse is perpetual. Even if the abuse only happened once, it can snowball throughout her life, coming up at the most inconvenient and shocking of times even when she felt like it had all been dealt with. So regardless of what happens with the #Metoo movement and whether or not it goes anywhere after these initial weeks, please remember that these women who have now posted so boldly are not going to suddenly “get better” just because they posted, and in fact, in many cases may actually get worse now that things are all churned up again.
If we truly want to make a difference and end this culture of abuse and violence, we must be willing not only be acknowledge the widespread problem, but to be part of its solution. We may all be at different stages. We may be someone silently struggling to articulate the abuse that happened to us. We may have a friend or relative who was the victim of a grave abuse and want to be an ally to that person. We may have been sexually harassed and just have never realized it. Even if we personally have never been the recipients of sexual harassment or violence, if we are women, we must realize that as members of this society – we are harassed on a daily basis by media and pop-culture songs that are nothing short of porn and almost always aimed towards women. The best way to help end this cycle of abuse is to stand firm in our own stories, to educate ourselves, to listen to others, and to listen to our own hearts. It is to take the Biblical injunctions of God’s love, mercy, healing, and forgiveness seriously. It is to see sin as the systemic oppression and violence it is and to call each other and ourselves out on it whenever we see that we are beginning to make justifications or rationalizations. And, when we have done all we can, it is to entrust the rest to God – to give Him this broken world with all of its attachments and weights, and to hope, trust, and pray that ultimately there will come a day when we will move from #Metoo to #Meneither.