This coming Sunday Reverend Alex Holt and I will be sharing the pulpit, preaching about #MeToo. In preparation for sermon writing, I interviewed many men and women on this topic. I also put aside four hours to sit and surf the web for responses to #MeToo. What started as a concern for women, children and men who have experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault, quickly became a macabre tour into the Twilight Zone of why is it so difficult for our society to wrap their minds around this. What is at the heart of almost all of the #MeToo stories is how the imbalance of power results in exploitation, harassment, assault and humiliation. Lives can be dramatically and tragically altered by the actions of those who abuse power.
What started as four hours that I put aside, soon turned to six. I barely moved from my computer. As a former rape crisis counselor at college, and a social worker, I’ve heard many women, some men, and children tell horrific stories about victimization. But also, testimonials of healing and restoration. What I rarely hear is a hope that this will actually get better. One of the websites I encountered this week, had a comment from a twenty-three-year old woman who works as a barista and states she knows that the unwanted touches from the customers is the ongoing “inevitable.”
It seems inevitable because power structures continue to place those with less power in positions where they are vulnerable to harassment before they are even harassed. In the vast majority of cases, the power imbalance is gender inequality. Many employment situations remain as places where men have a disproportionate share of power and women are dependent on them for power/means that they strive for. This means women who are poor, which also mean disproportionately more women of color, have the least power in this system. Women just want to work, unharassed.
Near the end of my six hours in the Twlight Zone existence, I watched a series of videos called #ThatsHarassment, produced by David Schwimmer. (Yes, David Schwimmer from the television show, “Friends”.) Do not watch these videos unless you are prepared to cry, experience profound sadness, agony and rage, and have a friend to talk with or the phone number of the Crisis Clinic nearby. Then I read commentary about the videos which are, in summary: “of course there are raw, realistic” … “accurate portrayals of sexual harassment” … “they were written by a woman.”
We all need to work against sexual harassment and sexual assault. We need to educate ourselves, act as good allies, support protective legislation, and be exceptionally good listeners. Men, you are in a position of power and this is one of the times to use it for the betterment of our world. Partner with women in this fight. Empower your daughters. Be the person who stands against demeaning behavior, snide sexual comments, and rape jokes. Be the good listener who doesn’t tell a woman what she “should” do – rather just listen to her story and know that you have been invited into a most sacred trust. Sometimes just listening is a gift of healing.
We should also consider whether Westside wants to be involved in the dialogue and movement of #MeToo. Do we want more education about the problem? Or workshops on how to be a good ally? Do we want to know who we can reach out to when the fight seems too long and hard? I will be available in the Social Hall after this Sunday’s service to hear your thoughts and questions about #MeToo. You can also reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.