It may have started with a small movement—publicized by a tweet from an actress—but it’s turned into a cultural phenomenon that’s raised the voices of ordinary women from all different backgrounds. Those voices have spurred a national conversation about abuse of power, sexual ethics, and women and men.
We’ve paid attention as the movement grew; we’ve processed our own thoughts and listened to many of your thoughts. As different public figures step aside or are fired, and other accused harassers stay in their positions of power, and as commentary after commentary ponders what guardrails concerning sex should be put in place in the workplace and in our culture, one thing has been clear to us: this is a moment Women Speak For Themselves was made for.
Time Magazine named the women of #MeToo the “Silence Breakers.” We at WSFT believe they have been victims twice: once by the men who harassed or assaulted them, and once by a culture that has told all of us that sex or sexual touch shouldn’t be any big deal.
These women are courageous—for overcoming the assaults against their dignity that they endured, for their bravery in speaking out, and for the reform they are seeking and inspiring.
Many of our WSFT members are likely part of that #MeToo cohort. But, even if you are not—the women of WSFT are “silence breakers” of another kind. You have been breaking the silence on the meaning and weight of sex for a while now.
I don’t say this to diminish the valor of the #MeToo cohort: they are uniquely brave in coming forward about their experiences.
I simply say it to empower all women to join this fight for the respect that is owed to women, including our bodies, and to empower all women to speak about the weightiness of sex, and why it ideally belongs in a truly safe environment, a loving marriage.
This is a moment you have been prepared for. We can’t let this moment–which has some moments of clarity about sexual ethics and respect–pass us by without offering even more clarity.
To be clear, sexual harassment and assault are always an abuse of power—a boss taking advantage of his (or her) staff because he (or she) knows the victim can’t risk their job (or won’t). A man groping a woman on a crowded train, because he knows he can get away with it. A date taking things too far amidst protestations, because she “set the stage.” Comments or behavior from colleagues that crosses the line, and sometimes leave the victim feeling confused–“perhaps I started it with my friendly banter,” or “maybe I was standing too close.” When it gets to the point of harassment and assault, it’s not her fault, she didn’t ask for it, and it’s not okay.
But sexual harassment and assault are also always about sex and the meaning we, as a culture, give it.
In fact, it is because the harassment and assault is sexual that it is so violating. Sex is intrinsically intimate and emotional, and always affects both body and soul. Yet we live in a culture that says sometimes sex can be casual, non-relational, and divorced utterly from its potential to create life. This casual sex culture creates a lie that sexual behavior “isn’t a big deal.”
And if sex is “not a big deal,” “then who cares if you explicitly consent?” some abusers think. Of course, they know at some level that sexual harassment and assault is wrong; thus why they regularly operate from a “protected” position of power. But what aids some abusers in believing they are owed what they want, is how seemingly inconsequential it is. After all, “she probably does this all the time,” they may think. That on some level “she wants it,” because “everybody agrees” that it’s fun, flattering, and without real consequences.
The victim is often ashamed, even more so when her story or actions are questioned. Ultimately, she can begin to believe too, “maybe it wasn’t that big of deal.”
But not anymore.
Of course, I’m not saying anything you likely don’t already know. Yet it’s worth fleshing this out, so that our pro-“sex connected to marriage and kids” movement is clear about where we are in this discussion.
And so, how do you, a woman who speaks for herself, respond to #MeToo?
First, we need to listen to the stories from the victims with compassion and support.
Next, we need to join the national conversation by speaking about the meaning of sex. We need to advocate for clear social expectations about what is unacceptable sexual behavior, and pose questions as to how we can create better guardrails, so that their violation is clearly understood.
We need to talk about our experiences, and the experiences of women we know.
We need to advocate for impoverished women and women of color, whom we know are more victimized than elites.
We also need to give reasons for hope: by offering resources for healing (i.e. good mental health counseling, prayer, and strong community); by talking about the good men and women we know—who would never violate another person in this way; by talking about the empowerment that comes when sex, marriage, and children are connected.
This will not be easy. We may not do it perfectly. But together, let’s find the language to draw the lines between sexual harassment and the need for a sexual ethic that is compassionate to victims, empowers women, and puts sex, marriage, and children together (below are some resources to help you).
Let’s keep speaking for ourselves, for the good of all women, men, and children. Because if there was ever a time when people will listen when you say, “we’ve treated sex too lightly,” it’s now.