The Power of Perspective
There are a large number of good men who don’t realize they have sexually harassed and abused women. Sex education from my conservative Christian upbringing consisted of “Don’t do it unless you’re married.” I can recite many conversations from private school and church youth groups that illustrated the danger and shame of premarital sex, but never mentioned the concept of “No means no.” In movies, the man grabs the woman, kisses her and then they have wild passionate sex. No words needed. Imagine my surprise when I was asked, “Do you want me to stop?” for the first time. It was incredibly hot. Trust me guys, you should do that more often. You know, check in with and respect your partner’s request. I’m optimistic that this generation is having more conversations about consent and hopeful that someday soon we will have the courage to talk about it at home and in church youth groups.
Most men will never know what it feels like be touched when they don’t want to be touched. As I thought about this idea, I decided to do a quick google search to check some of my statistical assumptions on sexual assault. 81% of women in the US reported they have been sexually harassed or abused and 1 in 5 women said they were victims of attempted/completed rape (90% of which were from an intimate partner or acquaintance).
You have heard women recently talking about their bodies and having a choice. For perspective, keep this in the back of your mind: women frequently get touched when they don’t want to and it’s not fun. Just because you don’t immediately get kicked in the balls, doesn’t mean we like it.
Women want to be valued and heard. The value of women has been relatively fixed until recent history. Reading through the Bible there’s a lack of the feminine perspective, to put it mildly. Stories about and inspired by God, yes… but told by a bunch of dudes. Dudes who didn’t know much about women, if we’re being honest.
With some notable exceptions, the underlying assumption in the Bible is that women make babies but don’t say much. In fact, a woman’s value was almost entirely set by her ability to bear children. Now, if this were God’s will, God would have created women to be mute and without intellect. Thankfully, within the past hundred years or so, our wealth of wisdom has been discovered and I hope you agree, we are better as a society because of it.
The historical value of childbearing makes sense. In an agrarian society survival is based on a large familial workforce. You have kids, they work the farm, you grow wealth in grain and goats. In an industrial and postindustrial society, dependents become a liability. Kids have transitioned from producers to consumers. In the capitalist US, most households require two incomes to make ends meet. Having the means for one partner to stay home and care for children is a luxury.
We have made millions of miles of improvement. I am so glad I wasn’t forced to marry for economic survival. I am grateful for my many career advancement opportunities. I am thankful to earn a good living. I also think I make a great boss.
Women bring a lot of value to the workplace and have made a huge contribution to our nation’s economic success. And yet, many women are still stuck in the my womb is my worth paradigm.
I love being a woman. Wearing pretty clothes, permission to share my feelings and the ability to have multiple orgasms are among the many benefits I enjoy. But sometimes being a woman is challenging.
As a young 20-something, I had an assistant manager who liked to flirt with me. Most of the time it was harmless, but sometimes he would stand next to me, so close that our arms were pressed together. On a couple of occasions he would rub my shoulders. It felt nice, but it was also confusing, awkward and very uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to ask him to stop and I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone about it.
I remember one night I was out with some friends at KCP&L (for those not from KC, this is an outdoor concert venue). We were making our way through the crowd toward an exit and I suddenly found myself in the arms of a very smelly drunk man. He didn’t touch by boob or anything, but he had his arms around me. I can’t recall his exact words. Something like, “Hey baby how you doing.” His hold wasn’t so tight I couldn’t get away, but it was enough that it kept me moving forward. I smiled politely, shook him off and haven’t been back since. More naturally confident and powerful than average, I was more nervous and startled than afraid.
I don’t think either of these men saw themselves as sexual harassers.
Thankfully, I have never been sexually assaulted. We will rarely hear those stories. The women and men who have on occasion trusted me with an account of their abuse hate to talk about it. Retelling the story is like reliving the trauma over and over again. The memories carry shame and unbelievable pain and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to forget. Most of us don’t react well to another human’s pain, which makes it all the more difficult to share. These crimes are also nearly impossible to prosecute (per my husband, the retired police officer).
Thinking about our bodies, I am reminded of imagery from scripture. Our bodies are supposed to be a temple. I needed a refresher, so I reread 1 Corinthians 6. The context is a discourse on the evils of sexual immorality.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6.18-20, NIV)
I think it’s helpful to be reminded that this passage was written by a man to other men. I would like to imagine how it might read if Paul were a woman and “Paula” was speaking to both genders. Maybe it would go something like this:
If you are tempted to touch a woman without her permission, run in the opposite direction. As believers, our bodies belong to God and we carry the presence of the Almighty. Believer or non-believer, we all bear the divine image of our Creator. Therefore we honor God with our bodies. When we use other people for our own selfish sexual gratification, we dishonor God Almighty.
You are not your own; you belong to God. So be strong and courageous when others try to take advantage of you sexually. Don’t be silent. Know that God is your advocate and defender. Together as a community, we commit to honor and respect your body as sacred.
Perspective is powerful. As a community of faith, Christians have not done a great job of embracing different perspectives. It’s easier to tell kids, “Just don’t do it,” than to have uncomfortable conversations about things like consent and contraception.
This week in response to Roe v Wade, I’ve heard perspectives from joy to despair and everywhere in between. (I also heard on NPR that there has been a huge spike in men getting vasectomies.) I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts as a person of faith.
First, 98% of unplanned pregnancies are the man’s fault. He didn’t wear a condom, he didn’t pull out or worst of all, he failed to get consent. That 2% is the failure rate for most methods of contraception.
Second, this decision by the Supreme Court will pull forth the voices of women who have had to make an awful impossible choice not to carry and birth a child they can’t afford to support (the reasons are often complicated, but this is the #1 reason women seek abortions). Both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life camps would like to eliminate financial strain as a decision making factor. Maybe we could work together to find a solution? Bam! 40% reduction in abortion rates. Done!
Third, I invite you to be curious. Curious how someone with a sincere faith in God might have a different view point. Make it safe for them to share with you. Let them know that you really want to understand where they’re coming from. You never know, you might gain a new perspective. And perspective is powerful.