A reflection on #metoo

As I ran this morning I was pondering a post from Facebook and I became acutely aware of the things that I do while running that I would like to add to the list that was posted. Here is the story that my friend shared:

Shared from a friend:
The difference between men and women. “I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other. Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?

At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

Then I ask women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine. Here are some of their answers: Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”

― Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

P.S. — from Ann: Not sure why this wasn’t included, but when I go out with my gal pals, especially in big cities, we call or text each other when we have arrived home safely. If we are dropping off a woman who lives alone, we wait in the driveway until she’s entered her house, turned on some lights and come back to the door or window to wave that she’s ok. There should be a whole separate chapter on what we have to do for subway/transit safety!!!

When I run along the forested river path, I do wear my headphones as I love my music as I run, but I ensure that my music is not *too loud* so that I can hear if someone is coming up behind me. If I see a man coming towards me along the river path, my first line of defense is to try to appear strong, healthy, assertive and very fast. (Like, “Hey buster, if you decide to chase me just know that I *will* be faster than you. Guaranteed.”) The second thing I try to do is to make eye contact and say ‘hello’, making sure that he knows that I’ve seen him. (As in, “Hey buster, if you try anything, I *will* be able to identify you in a police line up. Hands down.) After passing him, I usually check over my shoulder at least twice, peripherally, to make sure that he has continued on his way down the path.

The internet has been flooded these past 2 weeks with women posting the status update: “me too”. Some men have also posted and shared their own stories of being sexually assaulted. I listened to 2 friends yesterday share their stories. One woman was first assaulted as a toddler by a female babysitter. The other was assaulted by a friend of her older brother 6 years her senior. Her dad walked in on the situation, but instead of addressing it, or speaking to the teenage boy, the perpetrator, he gave a stony stare, told my friend that dinner was ready, and then was silent on the issue. My friend sat in shame at the dinner table, wondering if she had done something wrong. As for me, my 2 friends had no idea that I too, had been a victim at one point in my life. I tend to keep my cards close to my chest about those ‘shameful’ personal things.

It’s not something I think about very often now. It happened long ago. It was one of those situations where we had a ‘date’ (kinda… I hadn’t really considered it as such; I thought we were just hanging out) and then there was a potentially bad decision on my part to go back to his place. (hmmmm …. and here I am, already considering that it was sort of ‘my fault’ because I made a ‘poor decision’ to be alone with him in an empty house…) No alcohol involved… (and now here I am trying to stipulate that my judgement was not impaired due to intoxication in any way… why do I even feel the need to do that?) Maybe there is no need for all of that explanation and rationalization…. Perhaps I just need to realize that the guy was being selfish and thought that I ‘owed’ him something because we hung out one night. And how I felt like I couldn’t really say ‘no’ b/c we had ‘history’….? I don’t really know.

I do know that for years after, I used to walk around the city, haunted by the idea that I might run into him. What would I say? Should I pretend not to see him? Would I ignore him? Would I look him in the eyes? Would he say anything to me? What would I say? “Hey, jerk. Remember that one time when…?” Awkward. I always prayed I wouldn’t run into him. Sometimes I would catch my breath and my heart would accelerate if I saw someone in the distance that looked like him.

I think that every single woman has a story to share. Even if it’s not a physical assault, it is a story of a situation of inappropriate behaviour towards her: a comment, a sneer, a look, a touch… something stolen. Something not offered, but taken from her anyway.

There is no safe space. There was the one time at a Christian camp where I was being spotted from behind by a guy on a ropes course. As I fell off the rope, he caught me and grabbed me around the chest: full on, both hands. I was so mortified about my experience I didn’t share until later on that evening when I discovered that every one of the girls in our group had been groped by him as we fell off the ropes. Ewwwwwwww. I don’t even know if we told anyone. We just chalked it up to experience… a gross one, for sure. As an adult, I would hope that if my daughter had a similar experience, that she would tell someone in charge. And that boy, no matter how socially awkward he was, should be ‘schooled’ in appropriate behaviour towards young women.

How does God view women?  If we look at stories in the Bible of Jesus interacting with women, he always treated them with such respect and dignity and love in a culture that thought women were (far) beneath men… essentially, property. Unfortunately, the status of women in many cultures and countries around the world has not changed. But that, my friends, would have to be a whole other blog post.

Just seeing how many women have said ‘me too’ makes me sad. It makes me feel as though the world is a very unsafe place for girls… for women. Just look at the list of things above that women do in order to protect ourselves.

 I long for something different for my daughter, don’t you?

We can teach our boys how to respect girls and women, make sure that they know that ‘no means no’, train them in behaving in a civil and courteous manner towards girls and women. But I think the problem is more systemic. Our culture is inundated with sexual imagery, sexuality oozing out of ads, and porn readily available on any internet-connected device. I think that this colours our world view and changes our perception.

How do we turn the cultural tide? How do we shift societal norms and expectations with regards to how we view women? Or even how we view ourselves?

How do we champion each other as women? How do we see ourselves as treasured daughters of the King? Do we truly know how much we are loved?

I don’t know that I have answers right now.

In my daughter’s future, I would hope that her ‘no’ would be heard and respected. I do not want her to be subject to comments about her body, or about her looks. I don’t want her to be inappropriately groped by some hormonally-crazed adolescent male. I would hope that she could listen to music while she runs (fast), as loudly as she wants, without having to check over her shoulder on the river path.  I don’t want her to post #metoo in 10 years. I want her to feel safe… but more than that, I want her to be safe.

But most especially, I want her to know how loved and treasured she is by the King of the universe, the One who dreamed her into being before I did.