[This is part two in a series of blogs which were written to help me make sense of the whirlwind of emotions I’m feeling with this #metoo movement. If you’re going to read one, please read them all because this is a complicated and nuanced life we’re living and it deserves more than 1000 words. Will update posts to link to each other as they go live! Part one can be found here.]
I wrote yesterday about the unpleasant side effects of the #metoo movement.
I want change, I want it so badly it’s keeping me up at night. I’m grieving, as we all are (I hope), over the things we have overlooked for so long in our own lives and the world around us. And I have this twisting burning in my heart for people to understand one another and listen and for change to come.
I long for a world where women are respected. Where we know what that word means. Where we are treated as if our Creator is right about us and we actually have as much dignity and worth as any creature ever made.
When we get too obsessed with who needs to pay for what has been before then I fear we might miss that target all together. Don’t get me wrong, justice is a part of the change process, and there are situations where that will be the first step to turning the tide. And there will be other situations where, in order to help cultivate a space and world where women are respected, we are going to have to respond differently.
Here are three situations*** we’re hearing about a lot these days:
I was forced.
The terrible tragedy I’ve noticed in the last few months is that we’ve become obsessed with debating the gray area and missing the very real truth that we have a big fat black area. We have a serious problem in this country and in this world with women being abused. That’s what it is when a woman is forced through physical violence or threats of harm to do something she doesn’t want to do. 1 in 3 women will be raped in their lifetime. This isn’t an imagined problem. The chorus of #metoos that fall in this category is deafening. That needs to change. Now.
I didn’t say yes.
This is the word ‘consent’ that you keep hearing about. It’s important. Because in this world you don’t need to just not hear a ‘no’ in order to put your hands on someone, you need to hear a ‘yes’. Because God gave me dominion over my body, not you. And just like you’d ask permission before you borrow your roommate’s car, you ask permission before you touch someone’s body.
I said yes, but I didn’t want to.
This is hard for a lot of us to understand, but consent isn’t always enough to ensure that someone doesn’t have a painful and violating experience. There’s a very real and tragic cultural dynamic at play, where the freedom to say ‘no’ isn’t always felt by women.
In each of these three situations there are two things to be considered: (1) the external dynamic and (2) the internal experience for the woman. Both of those things make up what happened. Behaving as if what the woman experienced is irrelevant because of the external situation is damaging. Behaving as if the external dynamics are irrelevant because of what the woman experienced is damaging. Instead, we have to validate and respond to both of these aspects as realties of the situation, but we don’t have to let one cannibalize the other. We don’t have to fight for them to be the same; we must beware the temptation to rewrite the external dynamic to match the internal experience or vice versa.
Anyone who feels internally pressured to do something they didn’t want to will have had a painful and traumatic experience, and that’s worth grieving. That has to be validated and understood. And we need to separately evaluate the appropriate response and consequences based on the external details and dynamics, even if they don’t match the internal experience.
Each of the three experiences above has distinct external dynamics and those distinctions matter
Here’s why: We’re not merely trying to create a culture where women are protected and safe from harm. If we were, it might make sense to respond to each of these in the same way, after all, women ended up feeling violated in all three of these situations. But don’t lose sight of the goal: we’re ultimately trying to accomplish here is a culture where women are respected.
When we treat all three of these situations as if the same remedy and same response is appropriate, I think we begin to build a culture that ‘protects’ women, but protection is not the same as respect.
There is a way to ‘protect’ women in an incredibly disrespectful way. That actually treats women like children and belittles their personhood and dignity and strength and courage. If we shoot for protection, we may miss respect altogether, but – and here’s the great news – if we shoot for respect, we will also get protection.
Respect means that women have the authority over their own bodies. It means they have the capacity and ability to not only know what they want, but communicate it, and that communication should be sought and listened to by everyone. And when it’s disregarded there is no gray area. There is only abuse.
I am wary of a world that communicates to me that I need men to step in and speak for me because I’m not able to say what I want. I am wary of a world that communicates men are right to ignore my words in some situations. “Ignore my ‘yes’, because it’s possible I didn’t really mean it” feels dangerously similar to ‘Ignore my ‘no’ because it’s possible I didn’t really mean it.’ I don’t need any protection that comes in the form of asking men to assume that I am unable to say what I want and that my words can’t always be trusted.
If we want a world where men believe us when we speak then we must all of us believe that we are able to say what we mean.
And women. I believe in us. I believe that we are able to know what we want and we are able to say it. I don’t say that as if it’s easy. It’s not. It will take more courage for us to do that then it takes for men to do the very same. We’re going to have to fight against a whole hell of a lot of programming. We’re going to have to overcome demons, because the sad truth is that our brains are not just being dramatic when they warn us about the social and political consequences of saying ‘no.’ But we are not cowards and we are not frail and we will no longer play along with any systems and structures that assume we are.
This is the world I long for. This is respect.
[***there are way more than three situations. Categories can be helpful and devastatingly damaging. Please give your mind the space reading this to understand that life and culture and abuse are all extremely complicated and nuanced things.]