Too Many Me Toos
This week two words have dominated my newsfeed, every occurrence a shaft of light exposing the reality of what life in this world is like for so many:
Social media is often lambasted for all sorts of reasons: narcissistically filtered photos, self-selected profiles, seemingly endless banality.
But not this week.
This week I’ve been strangely thankful for the way in which Facebook, Twitter, et al, has allowed me to see clearly.
It should go without saying that I’d rather it was the case that there was nothing to see. That’s why I say I’m ‘strangely’ thankful.
But maybe too often it also ‘goes without saying’ that what we’re seeing is normal or, even, acceptable.
And so I’m thankful for the way that every “Me Too” has helped to open my eyes – yes, my unavoidably male eyes – to a reality that so many women have experienced – and indeed go on experiencing.
Bringing Me Too Home
As horrific as the nature of the Harvey Weinstein allegations are, I can’t deny that there was a sense in which, when the claims were breaking at the end of last week, they still seemed somewhat distant and removed.
But when actress Alyssa Milano then tweeted, below, inviting people to add ‘Me Too’, it felt like any misjudged sense of this being something disconnected from ‘real life’ was quickly put straight.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Milano said she wanted to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.
Well, she’s certainly done that.
As has everyone who’s echoed her ‘Me Too’.
But sadly, it’s not just the magnitude of the problem that’s become plain, but the extensive, seemingly all-embracing nature of it too.
Sometimes there’s been the snippet of a story, an incident: enough to make the head shake and the heart ache. Often it’s just been the two words.
But when it’s your own friends posting ‘Me Too’, then it inevitably feels different to when it’s just ‘out there in Hollywood’. And whilst brave friends have shared stories of abuse or harassment before, there’s been something about the avalanche that’s been (sadly) necessary to display the sweeping nature of the reality.
It brings home the ugly reality of this ‘problem’. It’s a wake-up call.
The Church and Me Too
Tragically, and as has been bravely exposed by courageous testimonies this week, the Church is not immune to sexual abuse or harassment either. But – again – it is all too easily to become blind to it.
As a church minister, it is desperately saddening to read of examples where such horrors have occurred in the context of a relationship with someone entrusted with Christian pastoral responsibility.
It’s always grotesque, but there’s something incensing about it happening under the guise of supposed Christian ministry or Christian behaviour.
Anyone who seeks to minister in the name of the God of the Christian Scriptures can hardly get round the fact that we don’t have to turn over a single page of the Bible before we’re confronted with the God-given value and equality of all humanity, underlined by stating both male and female. In Genesis 1 we’re told – and in stark contrast with many of the cultures of the time:
So God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
And though the Bible doesn’t hold back in showing us the hideous horror of how humanity – and in particular, men – have corrupted that image in the way they have treated women, neither does it permit us to become apathetic to that distortion either. This isn’t the way the world was meant to be.
Of course, some people might question why I, as a man, think it’s appropriate to even be writing about this reality. Surely, better a case of ‘don’t speak, just listen’.
But it’s precisely because I’m a guy that I want to write. I don’t want to let this pass me by. What kind of a person would I be if I didn’t respond to this in some way?
Author Heather Jo Flores has suggested that ‘Me Too’ wrongly places the burden of change upon women having to speak out. “How about men post ‘I ignored it and I won’t anymore‘ instead?” she said.
The point’s also been made by Kate Hardie that we need to make the link between abuse and the content of the media we consume.
Because sadly, as Megan Nolan painfully observed, sometimes speaking out about one’s own experience of abuse seems to work against having an impersonal conversation that actually critiques our culture. People understandably respond to the personal situation, yet perhaps can fail to diagnose the wider problem.
Response & Resolve
I think I can understand those concerns. They’re partly why I feel compelled to write something. I don’t want to ignore the situation. I don’t want to be part of the wider problem.
Even if it’s ‘just’ in a personal resolve to not be blinded to the realities of abuse and harassment.
Even if it’s ‘just’ in a decision to speak out and condemn those patterns of behaviour or degradation that all too easily never get mentioned – whether in personal conversation or from a pulpit.
Even if it’s ‘just’ to repent of all the ways in which I’ve been complicit in a culture that normalises the sexual objectification of women.
Even if it’s ‘just’ in a commitment to raise my boys to be men who treat women with the God-given dignity that they deserve.
Even if it’s ‘just’ to determine to understand better what life is so often like for women in this broken, often ugly, often male-sculpted, world.
Certainly, I can’t imagine what it’s like to type those two words. I don’t for one minute think it’s an easy or straight-forward thing to do. I imagine for many they’ve been some of the hardest online statuses to write.
And I’m sure that for all the #MeToo posts that have flooded our online world, there’s many more women for whom posting online has been something that they just can’t do.
I wouldn’t have said I was naive or ignorant about sexual harassment or abuse, but this week has made me realise that I need to be more aware. I am conscious that as a man I can bear an intrinsic blindness on this issue.
And so with every Me Too, I am thankful for the chance for me to see.