I keep bracing myself for the next story of sexual misconduct.
I don’t know why I’m surprised. As a college-professor-hearer-of-student-stories, I’m no stranger to the fact that statistically a large number of my female and male students have been sexually violated. Why am I surprised that I keep hearing that people whom I formerly respected are perpetrators?
I want the movement the silence breakers began to continue until every story is told, until every perpetrator is held responsible for his or her actions.
But I think something’s missing.
Maybe it’s too early to start this conversation. Maybe I should wait until all the stories have come out. Perhaps I should wait for the voice of women to be empowered before I think about where we go from here.
But I can’t help it. I have two little boys. And I work with a group of men. And I want us to figure out how men and women can have relationships that recognize each other’s sexuality without taking sexual advantage. Trying to ignore sexuality just doesn’t work.We must learn to have relationships that recognize sexuality WITHOUT taking sexual advantage. #MeToo #ChurchToo #Moving Forward Click To Tweet
It seems that we recognize the power of sexuality and have two responses:
- Take advantage of sexuality
- Run away from sexuality altogether.
Why are we this way? It seems that both responses rely on a paradigm of male/female relationship based in sexual intercourse. This is the old paradigm because our primary experience of close female/male relationships through the ages was marriage.
Many of us are still formed by Harry’s paradigm that men and women can’t be friends because sex gets in the way:
We’ve also been influenced by Men Are From Mars and Women are From Venus, and therefore assume that women and men are very different and that causes trouble.
So, our primary paradigm for female/male relationships is
- Sexual in nature
- Based on our differences (often as liabilities)
The next generation won’t have different statistics from ours until we change this paradigm. I want to train my two sons, but I realize that so much more is caught than taught. Simply stating I believe that women and men can be friends and colleagues without the sex getting in the way isn’t enough. I must enact it in front of them.
I must act out relationships that recognize sexuality without taking sexual advantage.
That can happen in my marriage.
That can also happen in my working relationships and friendships with other men.
My seminar last summer, “Harry Was Wrong: Women and Men as Friends and Colleagues” at the CBE International Conference suggested characteristics of a new paradigm.
“It’s time for women and men together to rediscover God’s vision for shared leadership in the Church and Christian ministry.”
And yet, at our regional venue, there were so few men that it seemed hardly about leading together. Why was that the case? Is it possible that the men in Christian leadership who already believe this have diversified their staff, thinking they’ve solved the problem? Perhaps they think we’re leading together if there are both male and female on staff.
That’s like thinking a black president solves racism. Maybe it helps, but there’s so much more to the issue. Old paradigms must be broken, or else we fall into the same racist patterns when the president changes.Sexism is not solved by having a diverse church staff any more than racism is solved by having a black president. #Sexism #ChurchToo Click To Tweet
So, where do we go from here?
If I knew exactly how to move forward, I’d be creating a new box like the Pence rule or Harry’s idea. And boxes are no way to move forward. Humans don’t fit well into boxes, so our relationships don’t either.
At the risk of being simplistic, we start with conversations. #MeToo and #ChurchToo have brought sexual advantage to the forefront of the collective imagination.
The stories are overwhelmingly sad and heavy, and we need to listen, grieve and act.
And we need to talk.
Some men are now afraid—afraid to make any comment to a woman that recognizes her sexuality, even telling a woman she looks pretty. Fear that begets silence is not the answer; it runs from sexuality, like Pence and Billy Graham. We need to recognize sexuality without taking sexual advantage. Male friends have begun to ask my opinion on whether comments are appropriate or creepy—these are helpful conversations.
Perhaps to move forward, we can we also tell stories of relationships between men and women that recognize sexuality but don’t take sexual advantage. We listen to stories of sexual advantage. We are entertained by stories of underlying sexual tension in our movies and other media. What about normal relationships that aren’t controlled by sexuality? We are a storied people; the stories we pay attention to and believe in shape our lives.
There’s more. How are you conversing and changing the paradigm? Please share below!
What about the Christian subculture that expects men to pursue and women to wait? How do we help the young navigate that in the age of #MeToo and #ChurchToo? That’s the subject of my next blog. . .
(Interested in hearing more from me? Check out my book, The Book of Womanhood)