Originally published: 18.10.17
I’ve been working out if or how to write about #metoo. The hashtag was started over ten years ago by Tarana Burke to enable women in underprivileged communities who did not have access to rape crisis centers or counseling, to be able to share their stories of having been subjected to sexual assault. In the wake of the New Yorker publishing details of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault of women across Hollywood (over a number of decades), actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet their stories of sexual harassment. A million people have tweeted using the hashtag in the last few days, with many people also using it on Facebook.
The most wonderful Vicky Walker has written over at Premier “Harvey Weinstein isn’t just Hollywood. Men like him exist in our churches too”. Vicky’s piece, which included her own personal experiences of having been subjected to harassment by Christian men, has been commented on by a number of men. Peter tells us that, “I am concerned that this article is actually approaching the whole issue from the wrong perspective.” (What wisdom Paul has…) Whilst Paul tells us that, “Plenty of conjecture and personal anecdote but nowhere near enough sources to properly level the claim with credibility.” (I’m hoping Paul is going to commission a nationwide survey on harassment in churches to help us get the data he thinks is acceptable.)
Another Paul (not the apostle) tells us Vicky’s article is, “probably the worst article I’ve ever read on Premier Christianity – ever. A Hollywood mogul is unmasked as a serial sexual predator and for some random and completely mysterious reason, this is seen as an excuse to unleash a vitriolic ‘j’accuse’ tirade against an alleged culture of systemic, misogynistic abuse within the church. No facts, no statistics, no case studies not even a suggestion of a cogent or logically coherent argument, just a bunch of subjective generalisations, personal anecdotes, false equivalence, question begging and good old fashioned axe-grinding. Dreadful.”
It would be easier to see these comments as the exception. To believe that the men expressing their horror at #metoo and those writing about their horror are the majority. But they’re not. They are mainly Paul, Peter and of course there’s all the men who actually perpetrate abuse towards women and girls.
I’ve seen a couple of well-intentioned high profile Christian women tweeting about #metoo with the hope of change, that out of women’s pain we will see change and hope. I wish I could agree with them, but I can’t.
When we see the pain pouring out of women, how women are opening themselves up, offering their pain, in solidarity, in strength and in vulnerability, we want to believe that change is coming. That no one will be able to ignore 1 million tweets, or the many Facebook posts that are being shared. We cannot bear pointless pain, we want it to have Meaning. And for those who have found their shame diminish in sharing, it is not pointless, and for those who have found community, solidarity or sisterhood, it is not meaningless.
However, we must not be under any illusions that #metoo is going to change men’s violence and abuse. It is not. And that is why I am finding this week so difficult. For some, this critical mass seems to be an opportunity to hope for change. But not for me.
I was speaking at a Christian event a few months ago. After giving the basics of gendered socialisation and statistics about male violence, I went on to share my story of how my ex-husband abused me. Afterwards, one man approached me to tell me how wrong I was, that men are better than women at working, which is why men are paid more. A few minutes later another man approached me, he was seething, “You’re harming people.” He said this to me in a voice that sounded like he was trying not to shout. “You’re harming people and you’re going to go on harming people whilst you keep doing this.” He spoke at me for about five minutes before turning away and leaving the building, without giving me a chance to respond. A woman approached me. I burst into tears just as she began to thank me for my talk. I hated that I was reinforcing the emotional weakness of women. After I pulled myself together, I told the remaining few people about these two men. They started suggesting ways I could have changed my talk to make it acceptable to such men. The worship leader asked me, “So what exactly is the point of what you do?” I told him I was doing it in obedience to God. “Well you’ve certainly made us all think,” he mused. “And that’s the point of what I do,” I said to him.
I’ve been doing this work for ten years. I’d like to tell you that being an expert in domestic abuse, telling my story, providing robust data and offering theological analysis would be transforming things. But I can’t tell you that. Because it isn’t. People are invested in keeping the status quo and it doesn’t matter how many women rip open their wounds and share the brutality that was done to them, it will not make the world listen. The world is invested in not listening. People’s lives feel safer that way. Feel easier. As I see brave women bearing their all and telling us their truth, I cry. Because I want to live in a world where their stories matter and where the critical mass of #metoo shakes the world. But it won’t. And that is the brutal truth. Women’s pain doesn’t matter.
I continue to speak and bear my all, not because it will change the world, but because I can’t stop. As a Christian, I do it with the assurance that there is more than just this. I have so much admiration for my sisters who do this work without the belief in any greater power, most of the time it is my hope in God that keeps me going. Occasionally transformation does come, in individual hearts and minds, and I keep going. Because this is my call. And it is terrible and awesome and holy. But this week, it is almost unbearable.
I desperately want for there to be healing and wholeness and change. I want for men to change and children to be raised differently. I want the police to take sexual and domestic violence seriously. I want every perpetrator brought to justice. I want women’s services to be fully funded and I want every person who witnesses male entitlement to challenge it. I want all girls to be in school and for female genitals to never be mutilated. I want all girls to have the same chances in life as boys, and for boys to no longer be enculturated into violence and destruction. I want governments to value the work women do and for men to share emotional labour. I want women to be safe and for men to view women as their equals.
Women have been saying this for generations, and every generation we have to start saying it again. I’m only 33, but I’m already tired. How the foremothers have kept going for so long, I do not know. But even though I know change is not coming in some big wave, I will continue, as hard as this week is to bear. I can’t stop. Once we know the truth, it sets us free, and we are free indeed. But what a hard freedom it is to bear.