Being a Man in the #metoo Era
What does it mean to be a man in the age of #metoo? ‘Old fashioned’ ideas like chivalry and decency seem a bit, well, old fashioned and some feminists even suggest that the idea that men should defend or stand up for women is itself sexist.
And what does our faith say to this crisis? Surely it goes without saying that men are to be respectful of others, and to never take advantage of power and position for personal gain or pleasure. But the call on Christians is not simply to avoid sin, but to seek to be “salt and light,” to be “leaven in the lump,” etc. We are to be positive change agents in the world about us both because this directly impacts God’s children whom He loves and because it is part of how we commend our faith to a hurting and broken world.
I am thrilled that we are deep into a national reckoning on the horrible behavior of some men. The Harvey Weinsteins, Louis CKs, Kevin Spaceys, Bill Cosbys, Roger Ailes, Al Frankens and co. need to have their comeuppance. But it is not enough just to get the egregiously guilty to stop. We all need to change our behavior and attitude. No more “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” No more “boys will be boys.” The days of the ‘casting couch’ need to be over, whether in entertainment or any other field.
This requires men to hold one another accountable, seriously and aggressively/. If “grab ‘em by the ***” is ‘locker room talk’ (it’s not in any locker room I’ve ever been in) that kind of talk needs to be called out and shut down immediately. It also means that women need to speak up, and fight back, and do so quickly. Harassment and abuse are not just the product of a few twisted people but of a culture that sees sex as a commodity, sees men as natural aggressors if they’re ‘man’ enough, and expects women to just be quiet and let the men be in charge.
If I’ve learned anything as a pastor dealing with troubled relationships, it is that once we sort out who’s done what, all parties need to change their behavior, not just the guilty party. The focus is usually on the transgressor, but this kind of behavior is part of a larger system that has adjusted in many ways to these patterns of behavior. Like the family of an alcoholic, the attention may be on the drinker, but the rest of the family has also accommodated, tolerated and compensated for the alcoholic’s behavior and lasting change requires that all adopt new patterns.
Innocent men will need to step up. Guilty men will need to lose their opportunities, privilege and perhaps their freedom. Women who are victims will need to stand up. Women who are not victims need to be counted. While they are rare, women who harass will need to be called out with all the fierceness with which we call out men. Sadly, there will be some who will make accusations falsely, seeing an opportunity personal gain or vengeance, and they will need to be dealt with aggressively as well.
There are many uncomfortable conversations ahead of us. What actually qualifies as harassment? When does flirting or asking for a date become harassment? Surely it is not right that a simple accusation can end a person’s career, but these kinds of cases are notoriously difficult to prove. While it is important that we begin with believing the victim, we cannot ignore the accused’s rights to due process and no one should be deprived of livelihood or freedom without due process. Furthermore, objective standards are required. The standard of guilt cannot simply be the feelings of one person, especially not in a climate in which a mere accusation can end a career. I know a priest whose career was ended because he commented to a mother (and several others standing around) that her teenage daughter was “developing into a fine young woman.” Her mother took this as a comment on her daughter’s bust size, complained to the bishop and he was removed from ministry for three years. But even after he served the suspension, what parish can risk calling him as rector with this on his record?
While addressing these issues is certainly a responsibility that reaches across religions, and even non-religion, as Christians I believe we bear a special responsibility to be at the forefront of change. As our Baptism service says, we are to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Surely that means at least we are to work to ensure that all God’s children are free from harassment and abuse. I don’t know of Biblical prooftexts that address sexual harassment and abuse per se, but it is abundantly clear that we are to respect, love, and care for one another, and to maintain a sexual ethic centered in self-restraint and that honors the boundaries of the marriage covenant.
You may not be an abuser. You may not be a victim. But where might you be a part of the solution rather than just a sideliner? How can we demonstrate the love of Christ and respect the dignity of every human being on this difficult subject?
Fr. Eric Turner
This column appeared in the January 2018 issue of St. John’s monthly newsletter, The Good News. Click here for the complete issue.