You Too.

You too? Of course, you too.

I don’t know a woman who hasn’t been sexually harassed, or treated in a demoralizing way because of her gender.

A little over a week ago, before the “me too” movement took off on social media, I said something to my mom like, “You know how some people are conditioned or programmed to feel suspicious or fearful of entire people groups?”.

Her: “Yeah?”.

Me: “Well, for better or worse, my life experience has conditioned me to be fearful of an entire gender. Men. Not the men I know and love, of course, or the men who have good and decent reputations that proceed them, but every single male stranger”.

This culture has given men a green light to commit all kinds of violence – physical and psychological – against women with little or no consequences. Every woman knows this, which is why so few of us talk about the acts of violence and humiliation perpetrated against us. From our earliest awareness, we are inundated with stories, images, and experiences meant to degrade and disempower us. We cannot hear about a sexual assault without hearing about the reputation of the woman who was assaulted.

The current President of the United States denied the claims of 12 of his accusers last year by focusing on the way one of them looked. “Look at her”, he said. “You tell me what you think. I don’t think so. I don’t think so”.

An upsetting amount of people accepted that non-answer as a reasonable defense too.

For most of us, we learn – too early – that sexual harassment is a fundamental part of being a woman in this culture. In fact, this phenomena is so normalized that we are likely to count ourselves “fortunate” if we have not been raped, and “only” fondled, cat-called, or intimidated.

I have countless personal stories of sexual harassment, groping, exposing, and bullying. Men have masturbated on the street, in a train car, or across a crowded bar while looking directly at me. I have been groped in over-crowded places, been slapped on the ass, had my swimsuit strings untied at a pubic pool, fielded unwelcome kisses, and once had a stranger run an ice cube up my inner thigh while sitting next to him on a couch at a hotel.

In my early twenties, a man offered to buy me a drink at a bar, and then put something in that drink. Mercifully, I made it out of that moment unharmed because I was paying attention. But, I don’t doubt that this culture would have offered me approximately zero justice if I hadn’t noticed what had happened.

I imagine instead that I would have been blamed for drinking alcohol at all. Maybe my outfit would have been scrutinized. “She should have been more careful”, “What kind of young woman lets a stranger buy her a drink?”, “Where was she?”, “What time was it?”.

FOR THE RECORD: drugging someone is wrong. Having a cocktail in a bar is not wrong.

But here’s what we learn every time suspicion is placed on the woman in that kind of story:

“Being a woman is a liability”.

Or maybe this:

“You are only entitled to safety and respect if you are the right kind of woman”.

(Thank you Christian summer camp for making sure I understood it was my fault if a middle-school aged boy saw my bra strap under my t-shirt, and this caused to him to have “impure thoughts”).

And as unsettling and upsetting as it was to endure many of the things I’ve described above, it never once occurred to me to be angry. Afraid? Sure. Ashamed? Definitely. But angry? Not once.

On an ordinary evening in early December of 2014, however, that all changed.

While walking towards my car in a parking garage at 8:30 pm on a Wednesday night, a man came towards me and said things I will not repeat here. They were explicit and they were terrifying. For those of you who are not intimately familiar with my personal timeline, in December of 2014, I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter.

Something about carrying my precious girl inside the body that this man felt entitled to threaten broke me.

My initial feeling of fear then turned into an overwhelming sensation that I didn’t have time to identify or process before I wound up making a very loud sound that burned the inside of my throat raw.

Maybe it was like roaring. Or scream-growling. It’s a sound I couldn’t repeat now if I tried.

Immediately, this man stopped moving towards me. He looked alarmed. And maybe he should have been. I remember thinking, “I will rip his throat out with my teeth if he comes near my baby”.

And I believe I would have tried if he had tried.

Then I ran to my car. I locked the doors, laid on the horn, and put my phone up to my ear.

He ran away. And I drove away.

After I stopped shaking, I cried. After I cried, I understood.

The feeling that had replaced my fear was rage. Electric, white-hot, focused rage.

There’s a pretty good chance this man backed away from me because he thought I was crazy, or on drugs, or just unpredictable in a way that gave him pause. I don’t know why he didn’t follow through on his threat, and I don’t really care. What I do care about is that this moment taught me something impossible to forget.

We need to be more angry.

FURIOUS, actually.

I understand that we also need to be afraid. Fear helps us run. It helps us avoid unsafe situations in the first place. It is a critical survival emotion for human beings to access in healthy, appropriate doses.

But, MY GOD. We need our anger too. Anger protects us, and it restores us. It gives us our dignity. It sets boundaries. It takes action. It insists on change. It makes a scene. It demands attention. It says:

“FUCK THAT. NO”.

It also doesn’t apologize for using swear words sometimes. Because if the only thing in this essay that has upset you so far is the F-word, you are missing the fucking point.

A roar, a scream-growl, and a curse word are not violent. They do not cause bodily harm to anyone. Phone calls to congressmen and women are not violent. Signing petitions, telling our stories, standing up for one another, calling the police, donating to organizations that help victims of sexual assault is not violent. Protesting the sentencing outcome for Brock Turner, and insisting that the President of the United States bragged about sexual assault on that horrifying Access Hollywood tape – that it was not indeed “locker room talk” – is not violent.

It’s true. It’s protective. It’s courageous. It connects us. And it just might be able to change us.

Yet, for me, all of these actions are enabled by my capacity to feel situationally appropriate anger.

It took me a long time to unlearn all the lies about how anger is “unnecessary”, “unattractive”, “uncalled for”, “unsafe”, or “unfeminine”. And, it took an even longer amount of time for me to appreciate how these unflattering depictions of anger are intended to keep us from accessing a critical inner conviction about our own shared dignity, and start challenging the status quo.

For the last week, I have been reading these “Me Too” stories on the internet, and every time I read a new one I keep feeling a sizzle of that focused anger I felt that night in the parking garage. And while my daughter now lives in the world outside of my body, I am under no illusion that this world has ceased being a hostile place for her to become a woman.

Nor has it stopped being dangerous for you, or for me.

So.

I will keeping honoring the anger I know we need to feel in order to make the changes I know we need to make, and I am going to continue to give that anger to the world in the most productive ways I can manage until things are different.

And. I think you should too.

 

Furiously,
Whitney

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#DearWhiteChristians:

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“…I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows…In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Open Letter To The Evangelical Right (2nd Edition).

 

Dear Persons To Whom This May Concern:

You will no longer find me apologizing for my “liberal” political ideology — unless, of course, “liberalism” gets hijacked at a later time and means something different than it does today. But for now, I am proud to wear that label.

To me, liberal political beliefs are synonomous with “being a good neighbor”, “caring about people other than myself”, being firmly on the side of racial and economic justice, fighting for access to decent public education for every child in every town and city across America, championing the health care rights of women, thinking about how to take care of our disabled, our infirm, our aging, our traumatized, and our mentally unstable Americans, finding ways to provide ongoing support to the brave men and women who sacrifice their lives to protect us, and being a good steward of the planet we inhabit.

And if that means my taxes are higher tomorrow than they are today — as a Christian SPECIFICALLY, why should that concern me? As scripture tells us, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:48). And also this: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:39).

Trust me: the yoke of this belief system is easier, the burden much more light.

Grace to you, as it has been given to me,
Whitney

Eyes to see.

Alright, beloveds: we gotta talk about how easy it is to interpret the Bible for our own personal satisfaction.

Are you not guilty of this? I know I am.

On Monday of this week, I met two women protestors standing outside of a Planned Parenthood facility while on my way to a physical therapy appointment nearby. On a bit of a whim, I politely and sincerely asked them to tell me why they choose to stand there with their signs, what they are hoping to achieve through this demonstration, and why this issue means so much to them.

Alongside their seemingly sincere love for unborn babies, and professed love for the women who feel desperate enough to terminate a pregnancy, I also heard them express a lot of rage about Planned Parenthood in general. Anecdotally, I mentioned to them that when I did not have health insurance in 2007-2009, I received two annual exams, the HPV vaccine, and a birth control prescription from a Planned Parenthood provider. I’m aware that they also offer cancer screenings, although I did not mention this at the time.

One of the women standing there responded to me then by saying, “well, when I think of that, I think about the ‘double-minded man’ in the Bible, and I know I need to be single-minded. It doesn’t matter if these facilities sometimes do good things, they also do the worst thing, and I can’t be double-minded about it.”

Her explanation troubled me considerably, and here’s why: there is a verse in the book of James Chapter 1, which says “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (1:8, KJV). Fine. Now, let’s zoom out for second, and observe this verse in it’s context:

5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do”. – James 1:5-8, NIV

James encourages his reader to not be double-minded, or doubting, regarding their faith in God’s generosity. In other words, he may as well be saying, “when you ask God for wisdom, believe that He will give it you. If you do not believe that He will give it to you, you won’t be available to receive it”.

Do you see?

This scripture does NOT say: “when you decide that you alone know the mind and will of God on any one subject, make sure to dig into that conviction as hard as you can, and do not waiver from your opinion even if you are presented with contradictory information, or your fate will be that of a double-minded man”.

That’s not double-minded, that’s closed-minded, and that is in no way related to the instruction James gives the early church in this part of his letter.

I sincerely, and urgently believe that we HAVE TO make a commitment to examine our spiritual assumptions – in an ongoing way no matter how uncomfortable that may feel to each of us sometimes. Otherwise, we risk carrying around belief systems that are unsubstantiated and lifeless at best — or corrosive and dangerous at worst.

 

Sodom

Did you know that the biblical story of Sodom’s destruction is really a referendum on inhospitality? (Hint: not homosexuality).

#true.

Here’s the story: A man named Lot is the protagonist in this tale, and is described in this story as a “servant of the Lord”. He lives in Sodom, which happens to be an aggressively hedonistic town. According to the tale, the people in it are consumed with reckless greed and lust, which often times turns violent.

One day, Lot (our main character), sees two angels (i.e. living, breathing, divine messengers) walking up to the city gates of Sodom. He rushes towards them, and begs them to come stay in his house – in order that he might protect them from the violence of the city. They agree to this, and all is going well for a brief little moment.

Not terribly long after their arrival at Lot’s house, however, “all the men from every quarter” of the city surround the house and start yelling for Lot to surrender these heavenly visitors to them so that they can rape them. [Short hand: Some drunk, belligerent, and obviously violent men want to rape God’s angels, whom Lot has taken personal responsibility for by agreeing to house them.]

Soooooo, Lot goes outside and pleads intensely with the men at his door to leave them be, and even goes so far as to offer up his virgin daughters to the men in exchange for the angels. Of course, this is all kinds of troubling to me, but it’s also important for us to understand that at this time in history women were regarded as significantly less valuable than men (property), and humans as less valuable than angels, I imagine.

You tracking with me? Because this part is supremely critical: LOT IS NOT OFFERING HIS DAUGHTERS TO THE MEN OUTSIDE HIS DOOR BECAUSE SEX BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN IS BETTER THAN SEX BETWEEN A MAN AND A MAN. Instead, he is offering his daughters to these men because he believes that allowing these men to abuse a piece of his own property is better than allowing these men to abuse two of God’s messengers.

Do you understand?

The Bible itself describes Sodom in this way:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy”. – Ezekiel 16:49

Now, I do not see one single word about homosexuality in there.

Do you?

So, did I miss something? OR, is it just SO.MUCH.MORE.CONVENIENT for modern heterosexual Christians to convince themselves that homosexuality (something that doesn’t touch them personally) incurs the wrath of God instead of what the Bible actually says – i.e. arrogance, overindulgence, and indifference (something that may strike a bit closer to home)?????!

On behalf of every single LGBTQ+ person who has been needlessly tortured by their religious family, friends, clergy members, and law makers, I am sick and sorry about that.

Perhaps we can start making some progress here if we all understand the original story better.