Faith in action
SAFER is a brand new online resource produced to help churches support and prioritise victims of domestic and family violence, and know how to deal with perpetrators.Read more
This week our social media feeds have swelled with the collective lament of #MeToo, as women share their stories of harassment and sexual violence in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations.
Globally, women aged between fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be injured or killed by male violence than through cancer, traffic accidents, malaria, and war combined. The millions of women who responded to the #MeToo hashtag have demonstrated the disturbingreality that most women have been affected by gendered abuse. The sheer volume of accounts shows that far from being exceptional, women’s experiences of harassment, assault and rape are intolerably common.
We must listen fiercely and resist the scepticism that so often colours the way we hear these stories. Refuse to ask any qualifying questions that passively imply that the victim is at least partially to blame. It’s a tired, false and unacceptable assumption, particularly in the face of this week’s staggering evidence that it doesn’t matter who she is, or what her ‘lifestyle’ is, no woman is invulnerable to abuse.
We must grieve with the women who have shared their stories, and the ones who haven’t, and for whom it is still too painful. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. He wasn’t without hope, he knew redemption was coming, but he cried tears of compassion and commiseration with his grieving friends, Mary and Martha. To grieve is not to abandon hope; it is to afford suffering it’s appropriate weight.
We must resist the urge to offer convenient and well-meaning platitudes like ‘don’t let guys like that get to you’, ‘don’t let it define you’, ‘he’s not worth your pain’, because these sidestep a meaningful engagement with the root cause of their pain, with the root cause of all this pain, and that is the behaviour of men who feel entitled to exert power over women. It is the perpetrator’s behaviour that needs to change, not the victim’s.
It’s time for a collective reorientation of our gaze. We must not require victims to publically reconstruct their suffering and ask us to care, and instead begin the work of examining the structures and systems that have supported sexual violence against women for so long.
We must lament.
Biblical scholar Kathleen O’Connor tells us:
“Lamentation names what is wrong, what is out of order in God’s world, what keeps human beings from thriving in all their creative potential. Simple acts of lament expose these conditions, name them, open them to grief and anger, and make them visible for remedy. In its complaint, anger and grief, lamentation protests conditions that prevent human thriving and this resistance may finally prepare the way for healing.”
To “protest the conditions” is to denounce evil. We must have those difficult conversations about distorted views of gender and toxic forms of masculinity, and expose their destructive influence on both men and women. We must identify misogyny in culture, and object to it. When a woman shares her story, we should say, “I’m sorry that happened to you. It was not your fault”. We need to denounce the abuse and value her, the way Jesus always did and still does.
The colossal response to #MeToo has also inspired a series of offshoot hashtags used by men, including #IDidThat and #HowIWillChange. Men are tweeting their own stories about how they plan to respond to men’s sexual violence.
Be prepared for the reality that once you start to notice sexism, you will see it all the time. Do the mental heavy lifting now and decide how you will intervene should a situation call for it. Hold yourself and your friends, accountable.
Here are some ideas:
Refuse to tolerate the casual misogyny of banter that demeans women, sexually or otherwise. It is often tempting to view sexist jokes as relatively low on the spectrum of misogyny, but this is the wrong way to measure harm.
Misogyny isn't a sliding scale of harm where jokes are situated at the low end, and rape at the other. Misogyny is a pyramid, where minor acts support the major by providing, at best, a foundation of blithe indifference and at worst, an atmosphere of amusement around the denigration of women. Please don’t be complicit in it’s existence.
Get good at saying stuff like “that’s not cool, man” to sexist jokes. Let men know that they will lose social capital if they disrespect women.
If you see a woman being harassed, intervene. Even if she looks like she's ok, check. I know that I usually only express around 20% of the discomfort I'm feeling. This is an act of self-preservation and not cowardice; the potential of violence looms large enough that the survival mechanism of de-escalation, which we learn from about twelve years old, kicks in.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of this issue. But it’s pervasiveness means that we can start dismantling these structures immediately, from the grassroots, all the way up to the top. Every act of opposition counts, and there is much at stake.
Paula Glassborow reflects on her professional and church experiences working with people experiencing family violence, and calls us to acknowledge what we don’t yet know, and commit to learning more.
Share the Dignity is a fantastic opportunity to contribute in a seemingly small way to make a profound difference to women and mothers staying in shelters and refuges. Read about one Caseworker's experience of care packages
Common Grace supporter Emma Pitman shares how #MeToo calls us to hear, lament, and respond.
Recognising where the Church has failed victims of domestic and family violence is the first step our churches must take in addressing this national problem. But it is not the only step.