The “me too” hashtag and story prompt has swept through social media in the last two weeks. And, like all social media activism, people have both praised it and found it lacking.
- People recognize some of the magnitude of the problem.
- Some people are getting healing and support for the first time after years of silence. Praise God! Silence about sexual shame can be so damaging, short and long-term.
- There is greater awareness that people are scarred by harassment and unwelcome physical touch and proximity, not just words or outright assault/rape.
- Maybe some people will realize that this sort of behavior is less than attractive and doesn’t count as flirting. [I had a random stranger start a compliment on my appearance this week with, “I don’t mean to offend you but, you look great!” Maybe he was one of the ones making a renewed effort…]
- Social media has become very triggering for people with negative past experiences. When you are on social media, you are often alone (or might as well be) and you don’t have a real live person ready to respond adequately to your grief, need for empathy, or more visceral reaction. You may get “likes” and messages of support, but those only go so far down the path of real healing.
- There is a hint of a condemnation of all men for being internally driven toward sexual pursuit. I’ve seen lots of outright suggestions that men need to become more feminine. This is so totally wrong. Men were given a drive to pursue because they are the best version of themselves when they are living to love, serve, and protect someone they value. Their masculinity is not the problem.
- No one has actually told men how they CAN get a woman’s attention appropriately. They “can’t” open doors, can’t pay for the date, can’t court, can’t ask a girl to date them exclusively, can’t provide for the woman, and can’t do just about anything and get approval from certain quarters unless they wear a pointed, knit, pink hat. You can’t throw out the rituals that protect a relationship and lead it (ideally) through various stages of intimacy or tell boys that porn, masturbation, and hook-ups are ok, and then expect them to intuit a proper respect for women. I get it, “no means no” and that’s important. But how do they lead toward a “yes” and respect a woman in the process? I have heard very few public voices on that. [Though my husband has some strong feelings on the topic and a method that worked out just fine for him…]
- We live in a broken world, so I would be astounded if there is anyone who is untouched. But, kinda like the “checking your privilege” movement (another topic for another day), you can always find someone better off and worse off than yourself. As a result, there is a pressure to label oneself as either a victim or perpetrator, but life is not that black and white. So you wonder if you are victim enough to cry out against injustice or perpetrator enough to need to apologize.
I could go on, but I’d rather list what we CAN do to combat the use of our sexuality as a power play or tool of assault rather than a launching point for kindness and complementary.
- Treat others with incredible respect–in your actions, your words, and your thoughts. Put yourself in their shoes and approach them as they might like to be approached.
- Watch your eyes. There is so much visual noise that normalizes the objectification of men and women in our culture. When you linger on those images, you create expectations in your mind about how human sexuality works, but real life is not photo shopped or fetishized.
In Rome, billboards are like Victoria’s Secret ads on steroids. Some of my guy friends used to nonchalantly face the other way on the bus when we would drive by a line of them. I noticed. They earned my respect without saying a word.
If you struggle with an attachment to porn, seek healing. Fight the New Drug has inspirational articles and a program to help. And Covenant Eyes has an app that helps you create accountability and a bunch of blog articles for inspiration. And Confession is the best.
- Pray for purity, even if you are not in a relationship or if you are married. Purity, more broadly as a virtue, is not just about having or not having sex. It’s about single-mindedness and seeing a whole person, not just a collection of parts.
Be intentional in the way you treat others and in the ways you allow others to treat you. Be intentional in how you dress (guys and girls) and make sure that your clothes communicate that you should be treated with dignity. To be clear, sexual assault is not at its root a clothing issue, it’s a heart issue. But you communicate in many ways, and in your daily interactions you can help cultivate respectful interactions by the way you carry and clothe yourself. Cutting out the crude language doesn’t hurt either. 😉
Sadly, personal purity does not create a magic force field or something against sexual assault or harassment, but I do think modeling purity helps others to practice it who are open and who want to know you more authentically.
- Make a commitment to chastity and pray with the combined prayer power of hundreds (thousands?) of others. The Catholic Church (and a few Orthodox and Protestant sects) have these cool things called confraternities that are groups of people committed to certain apostolates. You could do this through a commitment to the ancient and formal Confraternity of Angelic Warfare (connected with the Dominicans). [You’d be in the company of great saints like St. Aloysius Gonzaga and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.] Or another option is through the less formal wearing of a Cord of St. Joseph and praying for purity.
People, I don’t have this all figured out. But I do know that we have to do more than post two words if we’re to enact real cultural change. And I think that those of us who are mothers and fathers have a particularly important role to play as we educate the next generation in manners and encourage them in the pursuit of a pure heart and lasting love.
And, for the record, if the inebriated young man who was gyrating like a worm on a hook and calling out to my friends and I as we tried to enjoy our cheesecake the other day happens to read this … if you have to DIY a t-shirt that says, “I’m the PARTY,” you’re not the party.