I began this post with a few descriptive sentences about my own experiences. No details, just a few lines to make an interesting story for you.
But of course, I remember all the details. Some things you just don’t forget.
And those details? They are more than memories; they mark you.
They marked me.
The way someone speaks to you, looks at you, interacts with you – especially when it is a person of influence – it impacts how you see yourself. How you see men. How you believe men see you. In a world where brushing off such things as “locker room talk” seems to excuse the inexcusable, I feel weak and whiny for saying that it matters.
But it does.
And we can be tough, we can grow a thicker skin, we can fiercely claim our rights – but at the end of the day, you can’t just brush it off. Whether it fuels a simmering rage or forms another brick for a wall or adds a jagged layer to secret insecurity or paints another brushstroke on an ugly, angry portrait of ‘Men’, it’s no easy thing.
I began this post writing about my experience, but to be completely honest, I had to stop. Because it still matters, and it’s hard to write. My history – my own, factual, undeniable history – is tainted with whispers that make me doubt my own innocence.
Maybe you asked for it.
You shouldn’t have gone with him.
You were stupid.
Boys will be boys; you know they can’t help themselves.
It’s just locker room talk; play along and laugh with them.
You wanted it.
It was probably your fault.
So, no; I am not telling my stories. It hurts.
Instead, I am going to tell you about a couple of game-changers.
The first was a summer vacation; my three girls were in their early teens. They were children.
They were children.
The entire family was on the beach – the same beach we visited year after year, where the kids had grown up – were growing up. Extended family vacation. They were playing in the sand, running in the water, riding the waves.
My children were playing, and at some point as I looked around the beach, I realized that someone was watching my daughters.
They are beautiful women now; they were lovely teenagers. They looked like young women, playing in the sand, and I noticed a grown man watching them, and I don’t know if men understand how easy they are to read sometimes, but most women I know get it. At my workplace, we laughingly call it ‘creepy guy radar’.
Sometimes, you just know.
My radar went off. He sat on his blanket not twenty feet from my family with his family and I watched him blatantly looking my daughters up and down with that look.
It sickened me. My daughters, playing in the sand – nothing sexual, nothing flirty, no ‘asking for it.’.
It happened again just a few weeks ago, when I was walking down the street with two of my girls. I’ve heard it excused by saying “There’s no harm in simply appreciating God’s beautiful creation”, but come on, guys; the eyes that linger on the breasts, that run up and down the legs?
It’s obvious. And it’s intrusive and disgusting and offensive and wrong.
For all that I ever experienced that allows me the sad privilege of writing #MeToo, I still fight the whispers; but it is heartbreaking – and infuriating – to know that my girls can also claim that hashtag, simply because they exist as females.
There was the heated conversation in my family, when a male confessed that he’d made comments to attractive strangers walking in the mall, because he assumed they appreciated being appreciated. This was a shocking revelation to me; someone I love and care for deeply became quite comfortable with the assumption that since culture assigns great value to women on the basis of their appearance and ‘sexiness’, women must be grateful when they are affirmed in this manner.
This is not a bad guy; he’s a good man, a smart man. But he didn’t get it.
(Maybe he does now, after the HEATED conversation that followed his revelation….)
The ultimate game changer takes me to a place I almost don’t want to go, because the implication that it takes a man to remedy this brokenness is problematic. I’d like to say that women can rise above this nonsense – that we can be bold and strong and take back our dignity and refuse to let the attitudes of men define us…
I’d like to say that, because wouldn’t it be easy to be fueled by that kind of righteous anger?
That righteous anger is motivating. It’ll get you far.
But not far enough.
I have two very special relationships with men who made a difference. One in the workplace, one in a personal relationship. In both cases, the intimacy and friendship I experience with these two very good men are devoid of any actions or words that ever devalued or disrespected me. Maybe for you this is no big deal; but for someone who has struggled to find healthy boundaries with men for most of my years on this planet, it was huge. I’ve seen men as enemies, as projects, as sources of power. Men have caused me pain and been recipients of my incessant need for control.
But for over a decade now, I have had these two relationships that totally redefine the possibility of healthy boundaries, respect, and a deep value for personhood apart from sexuality and appearance. They are not perfect, of course – but I can say with no hesitation that these two people respect me, and I trust them. Because of these two men, you’ll never hear me throw ALL men under the bus for boorish, sexist behavior. These two guys are game changers.
I am grateful beyond words.
And here is the point; it is a request of all you good men. The ones who are posting on social media about the #MeToo hashtag, the ones who are saying We can do better, the ones who are apologizing, who say that their hearts are breaking for their sisters.
Get out there and be seen.
Act like good men you are. Be proactive; develop healthy relationships with women at school, in the workplace, in your social activities. Show us what it’s like to be valued for our skills, our minds, our friendship. Fight the urge to sexualize us or our bodies. Treat us like you would want another man to treat your sister, your mother, your daughter. Treat all women like that – with dignity and respect, regardless of how they dress or act or if they’re flirty or inebriated or coming on to you. Be a game changer for somebody who has been hurt before. Show her that it’s possible.
Be an example for other dudes; refuse to play the game. Call each other out.
And full disclosure? We ought to start with the church.
Show us a better way.
You can, quite literally, change the world. You can heal old wounds and prevent new ones from opening by investing in relationships with women AND men that value spirit and mind over body.
I know it’s possible, because I know two incredible men who act like that towards me every single day. And my life – quite literally – changed.
Thank you, in advance.