Abuse, church, I kissed dating goodbye, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Balderdash Indeed.

Recently I’ve been drawn to the topic of #churchtoo.  The prolific outpouring of #metoo stories that are coming from survivors that have either been abused by members or staff of churches OR have disclosed their abuse to staff at the church and have been ignored, shunned, shamed, dismissed, or “dealt with in “biblical ways” (small nods of penance/prayer etc.)  I am a survivor, so #metoo & #churchtoo applies to my story directly, leading to my passion on this topic, as well as my strong empathy for the outpouring of the stories from these strong women.

I blogged EXTENSIVELY about the story of Jules, a young lady from Texas who was sexually assaulted by her youth pastor forcing her to have oral sex with him on a dirt road.  She then disclosed her rape, later on, the pastor was only dismissed from the church in an internal justice thing, as she was asked to keep this quiet (despite the fact that a crime had been committed).  The pastor then, later on, was hired by another church in Tennessee.  Jules then shared her story publically, and the pastor was forced to share in front of his congregation what he had done.  Instead of the shock and awe, he should have faced for the criminal act he had done, the man received a standing ovation.  After the public backlash, the pastor went on leave.  Remember this was a CRIME he got away with, that was covered up by the church.  For a long post on this, please refer to this post.

This is just one example of the #churchtoo stories that are coming to light.  Women are starting to become emboldened to speak their truth, in a patriarchal system that previously silenced them.

Now, before #churchtoo, there was #metoo.  We had permutations that came from that and one of them was #yesallmen.  #Yesallmen brought about huge backlash from the XY community, who knee-jerked into the “but wait, I’m not all men!  I am not a rapist, I don’t sexually assault women!  I don’t do these things!”  However, ALL MEN have been involved at one point in the catcalling, in the group that has made fun of a woman, etc.  All men have been bystanders while something has been said or done to a woman. So #yesallmen.  But before we get too hopped up on that broad term, let’s get a bit more specific.

I recently signed up for Twitter.  I’ve been dreading the form of social media for some reason, I didn’t really find myself connected to it, but I did come across an amazing woman who tweets fantastic content.  Amazingly, she linked a blog from Pastor Russ at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church in Missouri, I’d thrilled to dialogue with him in person, because I’m about to break-down his entire post piece by piece and would be happy to put a face to his words. My hopes are he is woefully misguided and just had a moment of feeling wounded.  “But my church isn’t like that, please don’t write us all off” perhaps is where he was coming from.  I don’t know.  I’d be happy to have a Skype conversation.  You know how to reach me.)

You can read their entire post in sequence here. (Assuming he doesn’t have the proper sense to take it down.  (Though I’ve saved it in a cache and a word doc for posterity.)

I will be writing his words in quote boxes and mine below for the rest of this post.

Maybe you’ve read the articles. The world accuses the Church of fostering a culture of sexual abuse.

Balderdash.

Millions of Christians worldwide daily pursue justice and mercy, goodness and truth, and love for neighbor within their marriages, in their parenting, at work, in church, in their neighborhoods, and in charities and social organizations, quietly modeling the character of Christ day in and day out. Their conduct never makes the news. Christ-like behavior is not nearly as sexy as one Christian whose conduct denies his profession of faith. Scandal sells.

  1.  The world-  This is church-speak for “christians vs. non christians.”  We outside of the church proper are the world, for reference.  He is taking a perspective that this is a church v. non-religious stance, rather than the sexual abusers (and those who empower/harbor/excuse them) vs those who want to make sure they are… not doing that.
  2. Millions pursue justice and mercy etc etc etc.  Sure.  Yes.  Millions of people don’t do the wrong thing. Bravo. It’s kind of like when you serve a sandwich that doesn’t have a hair in it.  That’s kind of the minimum of the sandwich artist, right?  To serve a sandwich without a remnant of the server in it?  I’m not going to cheer that my sandwich did not have a curly purple hair in it.
  3. Scandal sells.  Now at this moment, he jumps the shark. I wasn’t angry about what he said before this very moment.  I was annoyed, maybe?  I was like “yeah, I remember this gaslighting message from before, the smooth-talking “world v. us” mentality” but, Scandal sells?  Seriously?  That’s where you want to go with this?    Survivors are not a story to be monetized.  Scandal sells?  We are talking about sexual abuse, rape etc.  This is a crime in which women (and men) have DEEP DEEP shame.  This is a story that often never gets told because of that shame.  The #Metoo movement has finally brought women to the point where they feel that there are enough survivors out there that there is a safety net of numbers so they feel that they can safely be heard and supported, or they would still be in the shadows.  There is nothing to be gained by stepping out and sharing a story about their rape, their victimization, ESPECIALLY if it happened in the very communities that they share a deep connection like their faith, their friends, their pastors, their religion.

Every day faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of abuse, cooperating with law enforcement, caring for victims, and pursuing justice and accountability, quietly and faithfully. But that’s not newsworthy. Scandal scintillates.

  1. Here, let me fix that for you: “Faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of CRIME, sweeping things under the run, shaming victims (like I’m doing in this post,) hiring would be felons, having no accountability, keeping things quiet (I totally agree with that one, buddy).  And that is newsworthy because that’s what we have been doing for so long and it’s finally coming out, and we are all nervous. Scandal scintillates.  And I’m scared that it might come out about my church, too.”
    Whew, much better.  See how that flows?
  2. Broad swaths of churches are not handling abuse, and the large amounts of disclosures that are happening from victims well.*

For two thousand years the Church of Jesus Christ has inculcated the virtue of self-control (Titus 2:11-12), the importance of love for neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40), and the necessity that men treat women as sisters in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The Church has been teaching men and women to conduct themselves with sexual integrity since the days of Moses. But that’s just a killjoy. Scandal is so much more intriguing than obedience.

  1. Self control- YES. See, that’s what could keep you from getting in this mess.  The church slut-shame girls and women by telling them how to act, dress, and to keep themselves all prim and proper (Hi, one-piece suits for girls but topless boys,  double standard! I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, I’m looking at you too!), rather than teaching men to keep it in their pants,  control their minds, and not martially rape their wives.
    When we are taught to be submissive, not to be valued; when we are trained, like dogs; when the biggest value we have is hospitality, to be a mother, and a wife, not a member of society, to go to college,  to get an amazing job, to contribute passionately to the world, not our minds, wit, and spirit…
  2. This sexual integrity you speak of is totally not of this church world.  When the church teaches about sexual integrity in the terms of passing around a rose and by the time it gets to the end of the youth group is all smudged and broken and we are told that is what we are when we give part of our heart/spirit away like we are objects… or a piece of paper that gets ripped in half each time we like a boy until there is just this tiiiiiiny piece for the person we marry… see how we are objectified?  This is what the church teaches.  Mind you also, this is ALWAYS DIRECTED TO THE GIRLS.  We are fine china and any chip in the china and we are damaged goods.  Wonder why we don’t disclose abuse and rape? When all of that is shattered when our “purity” is taken from us, and we are disempowered by the very church that tells us it’s ultimate value, that is the power the church has.
  3. “Mansplaining” what it’s like to be in a survivor’s shoes, by this point in your blog is getting offensive.  You’ve started to lace in sexual purity and self-control to the narrative as if the #metoo or #churchtoo movement has to do with a lack of self-control.  RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE IS NOT ABOUT SELF CONTROL ON THE PART OF THE SURVIVOR.  IT IS ON THE PART OF THE AGGRESSOR/ABUSER.

The world expects, nay, it demands, that the Church share its outrage against sexual sin, which is the sin de jour. If a church instead chooses simply to live in fidelity to the truth and in sexual integrity, rather than to make showy, toothless, public proclamations, then that church is—according to the world—complicit. Phrases like “silence is consent” bandy about as the world shames the Church. But if the Church does rebuke sin, and if that sin is not the sin de jour—or if it is a sin that society refuses to call sin—then the world denounces the Church as hateful or racist or misogynistic or any number of other derogatory labels of contempt.

  1. Violence.pngRAPE IS NOT SEXUAL SIN ALONE.  RAPE IS A CRIME. RAPE IS A FELONY IN MOST, IF NOT ALL, STATES.  IT IS NOT THE “SIN DE JOUR”.  IT IS THE “CRIME DE OMG WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN ON THE FOREFRONT OF ALL CHURCHES ALWAYS WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THE TIME AND WHY AM I EVEN HAVING TO SPELL THIS OUT FOR YOU?”
  2. Are you really saying that the world would have an issue with you going “the church will have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual abuse, assault and rape?”  Is this really even something I’m saying?
  3. We ARE shaming the church.  When the church has unprecedented access to vulnerable populations (children, homeless, women, survivors, etc), you ARE held to a high standard of behavior.  There is story after story coming out of staff who are known predators who were hired with known criminal records.  This is UNACCEPTABLE.  This point cannot be argued.

And now you go into your affirmations.  I recall these.  In the church we used to say stuff and just because we said it, it made it true.  We had a gal who had cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition, where the pastor told her that she still had it because of unconfessed sin, but that’s for another time), we spoke it out that she no longer had CF and waited for Jesus to heal her, because anything claimed in his name became true.  She died before she turned 30.  But let’s go into this pastor’s affirmations.  These might go over better.

I affirm that individual professing Christians have been guilty of sin and abuse. I reject the idea that an entire institution is guilty for the sin of an individual.

Onboard.

I affirm that individual churches have mishandled abuse cases, and in so doing have wounded the abused. I reject the idea that every church stands guilty for the sin of one church.

Abuse was an actual CRIME, but okay.

I affirm that entire denominations have failed to speak or have actively covered up sexual sin. I reject the notion that every denomination is thus a nursery for abuse.

When there are posts like this pastor’s, shunning the speaking up of victims of abuse (you can bet that no one from his flock will because HOLY SHIT, #nothischurch), and being in a system that is male-dominated, and where victims often are told that the abuse will be handled internally, rather than to be encouraged to speak to police, the Church (Big C, meaning any/all) will not be a safe place to disclose abuse.  But don’t just take my word for it.

I affirm that the Church must balance justice and mercy, giving appropriate weight to each when dealing with sin and abuse. I reject the intimation that world knows best how the Church should deal with sin.

There is a whole justice system set up to deal with crimes.  Which is what we are talking about here.  If the church wants to help out with the spiritual side of an abuser, carry on, warriors, but justice and criminal repercussions are handled in the courts.

The world understands neither justice nor mercy, and it certainly knows nothing of how justice and mercy meet in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

Eyeroll.  Just no.

I reject the hubris of the world in presuming to tell the Church what it should or should not do and say.

Here, let me help you out.

  1.  We the church will not hire, abet, encourage, employ or affirm abusers.
  2.  We firmly stand with, affirm, believe, encourage and stand up for the victims of sexual assault, abuse, and rape.
  3. We will IMMEDIATELY contact law enforcement if we become aware of any information that breaks ANY laws regarding sexual crimes involving children.  We will immediately encourage any women to report sexually based crimes to law enforcement.  We will support them FULLY through that process.
  4. We believe in the autonomy of both women and men, and the absolute value of both sexes.

It’s really that simple.  IT’S.NOT. THAT. HARD.

The Church of Jesus Christ—with all her warts, flaws, sins, shortcomings, baggage, failings, and weaknesses—is still the beautiful Bride of Christ whom He will deliver blameless on the last day. The Church still binds and looses, opening and shutting the Kingdom of God through her preaching of Good News. To the Church Jesus has given the oracles and ordinances for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. With the Church He is battering down the gates of hell.

The world is in no position to bad talk the Bride of Christ.

In fact, the world might find that the Church’s husband has been keeping score, and He is jealous for His Bride.

Is that… a threat? Keeping Score?  If I’m keeping score on the bride of christ, you have a chance to do better.

I’m available via skype, OP.  I’d love a dialogue.  I’m a survivor, of a rape that happened IN my church.

The church has an opportunity to call survivors in by acknowledgment of organizational failures (if not singular church failure), rather than call the world out for pointing the finger at the clergy at Large for harboring.

HOW WILL YOU USE IT? 

TRY AGAIN, PASTOR RUSS.

 

* I’m adding this edit: I realize that this pastor is one of the first to come out and attempt a dialogue.  This is hard work.  It’s hard to be male and attempt a dialogue about sexual assault, being that the voices that should be out there should be the victims.  Victims need to be the ones talking, but it takes a lot of emotional labor to be always educating on this issue.

I spent a lot of time on this article, and I also spoke with many people as I wrote it, including quite a few who are in the church themselves to ground my anger with the faith-based responses to the #churchtoo movement.  I do understand that likely this pastor is working to try to understand how the church can meet people where they are.  I imagine there are people in his church that have experienced rape, and I hope that he can find a way to hear their stories without judgment.  Victims deserve to have their perpetrators face justice within the justice system and to have support systems in place to encourage them to speak to authorities if they so choose.

Rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse is not only a sin, it is a crime.  Pastoral staff need to take a stand against this crime and stand with women who are starting to be able to find their voices and boldly step into the light.

 

 

Vulnerability

Dignity Comes in the Most Basic Forms

The Vulnerability Project was created to explore various facets of becoming or past vulnerability. Nothing is more vulnerable than the idea that one’s basic needs may not be taken care of.

A couple years ago, a marathon runner brought attention to the lack of access to feminine hygiene products (referred in this post as hygiene products to include all people who bleed monthly but do not connect with the feminine adjective).  This post took me aback.  However, instead of responding how most did (with revulsion), I started to research about my local bleeders.  I found that many of the persons who lived outside, or who were underhoused rarely had enough products to get through one cycle.  Many used other items to absorb the blood, including newspapers.

Dignity is a right.  Basic hygiene is a right.  So, I started a drive for tampons, liners, pads, and wipes (along with hand sanitizer and ziplock bags) for my local community.  The response was HUGE.  My community came through with over 2500 items.  I put together packs of single month packs and gave them to local organizations (and gave by hand to those amazing people I encountered) that served the underhoused and lived outside.  The people who worked at those places told me that literally NOBODY every donates those supplies.

A few months later, I ran another drive and we doubled our collection with over 5000 items.  I was ecstatic!

Today, in the news is Arizona’s Bill asking to provide unlimited supplies to those who bleed while incarcerated. Forgive my naivete, but I thought this ALREADY HAPPENED. According to the article, most people need to work 21 hours to be able to afford the bare minimum of supplies they might need for a cycle on the inside.  Some are cutting their pads and making them tampons to stretch them longer.  They get 12 pads a month given to them a month.  According to the Mayo Clinic, women would need an average of 20 per month to maintain BASIC safety and health standards.

This has inspired me to talk with my local prosecutor to see what their policies are.

We have to do better, world.

Authenticity, Vulnerability

Calling People “In”, The Antithesis of Shame and Blame

Last week was hard, friends.  I faced a difficult moment of truth about myself, and I’d like to share it with you.

Black and white thinking is safe feeling to me. Things are either right, or wrong.  Often this thinking helps protect me from the grey of life, people doing wrong things with right intentions (or no intentions at all), or being able to vilify an entire population like “the church.”  This way of thinking seems so clear.

Therapy has been such a battle for me, as I unpack “big T” traumas (like sexual assault, or abuse), I find that there are more and more “little t” traumas, like how people reacted to my disclosure of abuse, or spiritual teachings gone awry in the church.  It’s been so easy to look at the church as either good, or bad, the people in it are “good or bad”, helpful or abusive.  This has been a protection from me needing to humanize the people involved in my story.

For example, it’s been comfortable for me to look at my former religious life (the church, the pastors, the teachings) as a whole.  It’s all bad, they had poor intentions, etc.  But there is so much more to it.  There is nuance.  Perhaps my pastors give teachings in love, but were misguided.  My hurt is real, but intent may not have been present.  (Or the intent was to guide, rather than to shame.) *Side note, there are people out there who directly intended to hurt others, an example being my rapist, this is not in reference to those who committed crimes nor to people who had true intention to harm others.

When it comes to my pastor, there were several things he did wrong, and many things he should have done better.  When I disclosed my rape on church property to him, the first words he said to me were “well, why were you over there?”  (I was going to a restroom that wasn’t often used, for context.)  When I contemplate his intent, it’s easy to see this as victim blaming, and shaming.  (And it is.)  The choices then become, what do I do with this question and how do I feel?

I will be meeting with him in the near future to ask him about this question, which he likely will not remember.  Which brings me to point two.

As I move into preparing my statement for my former pastor, I am starting to reassess my beliefs regarding his response to one of the biggest “Big T” traumas.  Maybe he asked me the question of the location in order to know more about what had happened.  Perhaps he was wondering what had prevented me from using a restroom that someone could have hurt the assault happening in (close to the youth group room). What if he was feeling guilt and wanted to know how far his responsibility went towards how he could have prevented this crime.  Hopefully he wasn’t asking this to question the validity of my experience.  The fact is, I don’t know what his motive was.  It’s easy to assume that he was victim blaming.  (And this has been a huge part of my story.)

This brings me to last week, where I stepped in it.  I had read a post about using handclaps in social media posts (as in one clap in between each word) and how it was seen as cultural appropriation.  I read more about it, and was very interested that it was seen that way, and recognized the connection of the emoji to the culture of a population that I intrinsically don’t belong to (I’m caucasian, and it refers to the handclaps as being appropriated from black culture.)

While I don’t use them in my posts, I knew of a close friend who did.  Knowing her, I knew she never wants to offend anyone, as she is a social justice warrior herself.  Then, I jumped the shark.  I messaged her the article and said “I’d imagine you’d like to know, the handclap between words thing is a cultural appropriation issue.”

I left no room for connection.

The way I said it came across as accusatory, and as if I was the end all and be all of the issue.  I called her out, instead of attempting to connect with her as a fellow human being and “call her in” to conversation about what she thought.  And as one would guess, she responded in frustration and anger about what I had sent, rather than wanting to explore the issue further.  I found a week later that she was upset, and when I explored what might have been wrong, by looking at my messages to her, my comment was glaring.  This way of stating my feelings has been consistent in my communication, and I’ve been called out on it more than once.  I tend to try to be direct, but it often is (or comes across as) harsh.  I needed to find a better way.

This week I finally dove into “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown.  I tend to really love hate her books, and the margins are always peppered with curse words as she calls me out to be better, more vulnerable and seek connection with others, especially over challenging issues.  Anytime I read Brene, she speaks right to my soul.  This week I was on chapter 5 “Speak Truth to Bullshit.”

Brene speaks of several instances where people called her out, rather than calls her in, and her response to the person.  She describes how when people make black or white statements, or accusations (as I had done with my friend) it bounces her soul right into the reminder of the “if you are not with me, you’re my enemy” thinking.

It’s not that she says “don’t challenge the status quo” or even “keep your opinions to yourself”, but rather to take a moment to process your statement and thread civility into it.  By remembering that most people act from a place of good, learning more about their motivations can help you both get to a place of openness and connection about even the most challenging issues.

I will continue to talk a bit about her approach, with this caveat, my friend’s statement to me was not bullshit, nor was her use of handclaps.  This is important to note, as Brene describes issues of difference (as it pertains to not embracing change or desiring to self-reflect) as “bullshit.”  This needs to be really clear.

When an issue of conflict in belief comes about, Brene talks about…

Avoiding creating an environment where there are two sides.

  • Setting up a black or white response framework cuts off the ability for understanding and the nuances of why the person believes what they do.
  • Perhaps they just don’t know (but why would they admit it, if doing so would make them look like an asshole because you are accusatory?)
  • Perhaps they do believe a variation of what you are asking about, but have reasons behind it. (But why would they explain that if you leave no room for conversation?)
  • Perhaps what you THINK they believe is actually not even the case (or only some parts are true).  (Why would they take the time to explain it, if you are accusing them of being one way?)
  • *Side note: there ARE black or white issues.  This is speaking more about the nuanced belief systems. But, even those issue have nuances of reasonings and explanations that we could learn more about.

What could I do better to not “call her out” but “call her in” (to conversation)?

  1. I could have mentioned this article I read in a WAY better way.
  2. I could have asked her about her feelings about the article, rather than implying “dude, I see you do this, knock that shit off”, “this article is true” and “what are you going to do about it?”

Looking back, I would bring this issue up like this:
“Hi friend!  I read this article the other day, and was curious what you thought about it?  I notice you use handclaps in your statuses frequently, can you tell me what that means to you? I’d really like to talk more about this with someone who utilizes this tool in their communication to learn more about it!” 

The tone is SO different.  Instead of learning about her feelings in a way where she felt she needed to be understandably defensive, we could have had a good conversation about the article and come to conclusions about its implications.  I deeply care about my friend, and the way that I approached this issue with her was totally not valuing her as the strong, thoughtful, and aware woman I know her to be.

This is Brene’s second point, Speak the truth to bullshit, but BE CIVIL. Rarely is a good conversation where both people are heard, respected and learning started with such direct and pointed conversation.  She brings up the acronym BRAVING again in this chapter. (Brene’s words in italic.)

B- Boundaries- What’s okay in a discussion, and what’s not?  How to you set a boundary when you realize you’re knee deep in bullshit (either from them, or from you?)

R- Reliability- Bullshitting is the abandonment of reliability.  It’s hard to trust or be trusted when we BS too much.  (I take this as both people involved!)

A- Accountability- How do we hold ourselves and others accountable for less BS and more honest debate?  Less off-loading of emotion and more civility? (Again, from both sides.  For me, it was “how could I have promoted a valuable conversation, rather than hurt my friend?”)

V- Vault- Civility honors confidentiality. BS ignores truth and opens the door to violations of confidentiality.  

I- Integrity- How do we stay in our integrity when confronted with BS and how do we stop in the midst of our own emotional moment to say “you know what, I’m not sure this conversation is productive” or “I need to learn more about this issue”?  (We couldn’t even get to a place of conversation, because I had shoved the door open and pulled her inside, rather than gently inviting her in.)

N- Nonjudgment- How do we stay out of judgment toward ourselves when the right thing to do is say “I actually don’t know much about this.  Tell me what you know and why it’s important to you.” How do we not go into “winner/loser” mode and instead see an opportunity for connection when someone says to us “I don’t know anything about that issue?” (In this case, what I knew was I read an article.  I knew my friend used them.  The jump I made was launching right into the issue with a “this isn’t right”, rather than seeking understanding and connection with someone I cared about.)

G- Generosity-  What’s the most generous assumption we can make about the people around us?  What boundaries have to be in place for us to be kinder and more tolerant?  (Though I made the assumption that my friend wasn’t using handclaps to be offensive, I equally assumed that she was wrong. The former was not even implied in my message to her, but certainly my view of “you are wrong” came across strongly.  Though my intent was not to call her out, I did.)

I read this section of the book today and though I had already apologized to her for how I approached this, Brene really “called me in” to do much better.

I’m sorry, dear friend.DFwOGZFVoAAdIPG.jpg

 

Vulnerability

Bypass of the Raw

Perhaps what makes us most vulnerable are the parts of us that we cannot change, but affects the way people see us, treat us… talk to us.. talk about us.

A lengthy conversation started over the comments Matt Damon said about how there is a scale of severity when it comes to sexual assault.  “Why is everyone jumping on Damon?” My male friend asked.  “I mean, it’s true isn’t it, there is a difference between a slap on the ass and rape.”

While not wrong, this guy was still missing the point.  Let’s have a master class about why Damon is missing all the marks.

First, Damon is a man, commenting on the scale of severity in regards to sexual abuse and assault on women.  This has been the state of being for centuries.  Men making decisions on whether a rape occured, whether the assault was serious enough, whether it was “asked for” by the victim in some way.  The rates of conviction (with jail time) for men assaulters are somewhere close to 6/1000.  This demonstrates the patriarchal structure we live in as women.  That is to say, most of the time, men are making the choice about how assaulters will be punished.  Yet another man in power (and even worse so, with a microphone that millions will hear his words from) spoke to trivialize the severity of sexual abuse and assault.

Minnie Driver is quoted saying “I honestly think that until we get on the same page, you can’t tell a woman about their abuse. A man cannot do that. No one can. It is so individual and so personal, it’s galling when a powerful man steps up and starts dictating the terms, whether he intends it or not.”

Second, Damon is speaking to the #metoo movement, where all women who have been assaulted/raped/harrassed are included.  By stating guidelines of severity, he is also saying that some sexual assaults are “lesser.”  A victim of a “lesser assault” may not feel like her experience and story “counts.”  This goes against the very cause we are looking to bring awareness to.  The #metoo movement is for all women who have experienced sexual violence.  This club, however we don’t want to belong to it, includes all.  It is a safe place for women to speak their truth boldly.  By having a male break down categories, he was divisive.

Damon also is quoted as saying “We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is… the preponderance of men I’ve worked with who don’t do this kind of thing.”

*Blink*  Well, let’s stand up and cheer for all the men who are NOT (and haven’t ever) sexually harrassed, abused or assaulted women.  In fact, all of you who haven’t done that, please stand up.  Nobody?  Right.  That’s the point.  Even the most upstanding male friends have at one point made an unwanted sexually charged comment (action) towards a woman.  This is the culture we are in.  In addition, women are supposed to recognize all the men who haven’t committed sexual violence against them?  Really?? Come on, now.

Third, Minnie Driver states Damon’s lack of ability to speak to this issue eloquently by saying men “simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level” and should not, therefore, attempt to differentiate or explain sexual misconduct against women.   Driver continues with this truth bomb: “Gosh it’s so interesting (profoundly unsurprising) how men with all these opinions about women’s differentiation between sexual misconduct, assault and rape reveal themselves to be utterly tone deaf and as a result, systemically part of the problem.” This is yet another case of “mansplaining” to women.  As if we don’t know about the various ways we experience sexual violence.

She added: “There is no hierarchy of abuse – that if a woman is raped [it] is much worse than if a woman has a penis exposed to her that she didn’t want or ask for … you cannot tell those women that one is supposed to feel worse than the other.

“And it certainly can’t be prescribed by a man. The idea of tone-deafness is the idea there [is] no equivalency. How about it’s all fucking wrong and it’s all bad, and until you start seeing it under one umbrella it’s not your job to compartmentalize or judge what is worse and what is not. Let women do the speaking up right now. The time right now is for men just to listen and not have an opinion about it for once.”

Fourth, at this point,  the only productive thing men can do is to be quiet OR unequivocally support the #metoo movement.  The guy I was talking to stated that this was divisive and limiting of potential allies who wanted to be able to ask questions about the movement.  The issue, though, is black and white.  You are either against all sexual violence, or you aren’t.  In addition, we really aren’t concerned about bringing men on board at this point.  The effort is to get women’s voices out there, survivor’s voices.  We are rallying behind a common story, the abuse of men against women. When we live in a world where men are doing most of the talking, most of the legislating, most of the powerful positions, it is TIME for us to speak and men to listen.

Driver says “In the same stereotypical way that we see women being supportive of men in their endeavors,” she said, “I feel that’s what women need of men in this moment. They need men to lean on and not question.

Fifth, Damon spoke to the idea that because Louis C.K. (who admitted copablity to sexual abuse due to a differential of power).  “I don’t know Louis C.K.. I’ve never met him. I’m a fan of his, but I don’t imagine he’s going to do those things again. You know what I mean? I imagine the price that he’s paid at this point is so beyond anything that he…” And he trails off.  What price has he paid?  Public humilation for what he did?  The inability to work in the public eye (which is yet to be seen)?  Why is C.K.’s repercussion somehow the concern?  With the majority of sexual abusers not getting any charges brought up against them, and a large majority of those who are charged not getting any consequences, the public’s view of C.K. (Cosby, Weinstein, Franken, et all.)

Driver goes on to say “Men can rally and they can support, but I don’t think its appropriate, per se, for men to have an opinion about how women should be metabolizing abuse. Ever.”

Sixth, Damon is not the reliable voice on this issue.  In 2004, a reporter started to look into Weinstein’s sexual exploits, Damon allegedly called the reporter to vouch for Weinstein and try to kill the story. He also knew about Weinstein’s sexual harrasment of Gweneth Paltrow and continued to work with him.  Thus, his reliablity is increbily suspect.

Now, it must be said, this guy I was speaking to IS supportive of the #metoo movement and stands on firm moral ground regarding sexual abuse.  He was surprised to hear about the differential of power always leaning towards men.  Women are taught to have their phones out when walking around at night, with their keys in their other hand.  We are taught how to dress, even dress codes in most organizations are written BY men.  Rape culture is everywhere.

Alyssa Milano says this: “I have been a victim of each component of the sexual assault spectrum of which you speak. They all hurt. And they are all connected to a patriarchy intertwined with normalized, accepted–even welcomed– misogyny… We are not outraged because someone grabbed our asses in a picture. We are outraged because we were made to feel this was normal. We are outraged because we have been gaslighted. We are outraged because we were silenced for so long.”

I get cat-called frequently, with men looking me up and down when I walk by.  We notice these things, but at a certain point, we even gloss over them because they are so common.  This is our daily framework we operate in. I am in the skin of a woman’s body.  This culture is a given for us.

It’s time for men to get woke and hear what we experience every day.

 

church, I kissed dating goodbye

I survived “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

I’ve been sitting on this post for several weeks.  As the number of women who are speaking out against sexual abuse, assault and rape continue to build, so are the offensive comments and apologists.

In my formative years of early dating life, I was introduced by my pastor to the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (and it’s follow-up book, Boy Meets Girl.) Among many things, this book was an instruction manual for the devoted on how to properly date (or not date as it may be) and relate to the opposite sex.

Why is this appearing here, now?  Josh Harris, the author of IKDG, and BMG is currently doing the rounds of social media as he details how he might have been wrong about how the book was written.  Over time, he heard stories of how his stringent dating principles were taken like the bible across the world and how they have damaged young people’s sense of identity, sex lives, views of the opposite sex and marriage.  Since hearing these stories, he has recanted many of the rules and guidelines for appropriate relationships that he put forth in his book. (You can watch the entire 17:27 TedX talk here.)

Harris’ book placed males ahead of females, and perpetuated the patriarchal views of relationships in the most skewed sense. He wrote this manual to “appropriate dating and courtship” when he was 21, after only one actual relationship. I actually purchased this book again (much to my chagrin) in order to deconstruct some of the harmful tenants that Harris’ book (and thus the church) imposed on girls as they developed into women.

(Sidenote: Another eerie part of this book is that it had a previous owner that highlighted various passages.  This brought sadness to my heart, knowing there was another person led into this harmful way of thinking at one point.  I recall saying to my therapist that it was as though the book had a soul that my past could relate to.  I wanted to know who this was, and to let them know that this book was harmful, and not to put so much trust in one person’s view, as the book was written in the voice of “God wants you to do this.”

Let me break down some of the issues he brought to light when he wrote this book.

Serial dating/recreational romance

Harris refers to dating like recreational romance, in the sense that it is reckless and without merit.  Essentially, any dating before entering a formal “let’s see if we could get married” is cheating on your future spouse and has no use what-so-ever.

Let’s break this down.  First off, it’s difficult to know what you do and don’t want in a person without getting to know them better.  Harris would say you can do this outside of a dating relationship.  He refers to this as a brother/sister relationship.  First off, starting a relationship looking at someone as a brother squidges me out.  How I would treat and think of a sibling, and how I would think/treat a person I was interested in are totally different.  Making the switch from a pure “I couldn’t think of them that way (or shouldn’t)” to a “maybe I could pursue this person as a mate” is a violent one, and leads to a lot of boundary confusion.

Biblically, women are to be submissive to their husbands- “Here’s a man I could follow.”

(I won’t get too far into my personal beliefs about this, but suffice it to say, women are equal to men.)  Within the church, women are considered less than men.  Often women cannot speak in church (from the pulpit), and cannot teach boys past a certain age.  This is based on a scripture pull from 1 Corinthians 14:34; “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

I have long believed this quote is culturally based, as it was written in the time where many women could not read and thus did not know the scriptures as written in the time.  It would make sense to not have someone teaching the bible if they could not read the bible.  However, in this time, it is still used in the context that men are the only ones qualified to teach and interpret what god says in the bible for the masses (or for older boys and men.)  I clearly take a lot of issues with the idea that women could not offer lessons of value on living out faith.

This lesser-than attitude carries down to the youngest of girls who are not allowed to ask questions, or speak up in church.  They then develop a subserviant view of their role in their sex as they develop.  This view pepetuates rape culture from the beginning, placing men in the only power roles available, and women in the place to meet the needs of the men to enable them to perform their leadership duties (both in church and in marriage.)

Furthermore, this view is brought into the bedroom.  Often the topic of sex was brought up, and I currently see many christian women talk about how they have sex when their husbands want it, regardless of whether they are “in the mood” (or even further, when they actively don’t want it.)  This IS MARITAL RAPE in the case of the latter, but the church instructs women to have sex when their partner wants it, lest the male be led to meet their sexual needs elsewhere.  This places the sole responsibility and blame on women if their men cheat.  Often the question “well, what needs were you not meeting in your marriage” is first, rather than the onus being directly on the male for the choice to cheat.  (Side note: I believe unmet needs lead to cheating. HOWEVER, the sole responsibility for extra-marital affairs cannot be placed solely on the woman not having sex with their husband “enough” as I often heard in church.

With regards to “Here’s a man I could follow” I say this:  I do not follow my husband.  I walk next to him, both figuratively and metaphorically.  When there is a power differential among partners from the get-go, I believe there is a definite probability of misuse of that power.  As I grew through my late teen years and into my twenties, I watched “biblical relationships/courtships” and even marriages where the woman was placed in a lesser-than role and always asked permission of her husband to do even the smallest of things.

Courtship: “Its a time for the couple to get to know each other without outside pressure or overly high expectations” (Page 29, IKDG)

Oh boy, where do I start?  When IKDG came out, this book became the bible of relationships.  The church picked it up and ran with it.  When we found out a couple was “entering a courtship” it was a given that they were likely to marry, and it was a BIG deal.  The announcement was basically a “pre-engagement.”  Everyone started to examine them from the outside, and watch to see what they did.  Courtship was the HIGHEST form of outside pressure and high expectations.  Period.

“Men don’t know what it means to be a man, so we lazily do whatever is easiest. Women don’t know what it means to be a woman, so they end up acting like men.” (page 104, IKDG)

Where do I start here?  First off, the author considers men to be lazy because they don’t know how to be men?  What does that even mean? Immediately following this quote is this: “Relating to the opposite sex can be confusing if you don’t know what you are opposite of.”

*Blink.*

So, breaking that down, Harris is saying that men are the opposite of women?  This is completely false.  We are different, and in some cases our skills are complementary, but I certainly don’t consider myself opposite of my husband.  Later on, he talks about men as leaders.  So, to take his view, women are followers?  When extrapolating this out into common marriage life, we cannot afford to be followers.  We have needs.  We have skills.  We are simply BETTER in some areas.  (And sure, that works to the opposite, men are better in some areas too.)  In a functional relationship, men and women are leaders in multiple areas both practically and emotionally.

Speaking to the latter part of Harris’ above-bolded quote, Women don’t know what it means to be a woman, so they end up acting like men.” Again, this is vague.  If women take the lead on something, they are acting like men?  Why can women not lead and be powerful women?  In former church life, this was a threat to power in the leadership, and thus why the women were shunned for speaking out about their needs, ideas, and stereotypical gender roles.

This played out as many women getting married and not going to college, or being forced into early motherhood.  Not only did this play out in this way, but this life was idealized.  One should aspire to marriage and children, regardless of how their goals might differ.  Young marriage in this format also led to financially dependent women, who could not leave a partnership even if they wanted to, burdened with a lack of education, skills, and several children.  The church was HAPPY to help, however, as long as the marriage stayed intact.

“If you want men to respect and cherish you as a woman, refuse to buy into our culture’s obsession with being physically beautiful and sexually alluring. This is an attitude that springs from the motives of your heart and extends to the way you dress and act around men.” (Page 117, IKDG) “Once when I told her (his courtship lady) that a particular pair of shorts were a little too short and were causing me to struggle, she quickly replaced them.” (Page 118, IKDG)

At one church I attended, there was a giant shirt we had to wear over deemed inappropriate clothes.  It said, “I did not wear the proper clothing to church today.” (And various other permutations of this idea.)  And so, the slut-shaming began*.

Harris describes a time that he felt his “courtship partner” was wearing shorts that were too short, and caused him to struggle.  (And subsequently told her to not wear them.)  This puts the early onus on women to prevent men from thinking (and eventually acting) on sexual thoughts. This is rape culture at its finest.  Men are SOLELY responsible for their actions when it comes to sexual behavior.  By having an early expectation that 1. sexual thoughts are wrong and 2. the woman is responsible for changing her behavior to keep the man from acting on that thought causes men to switch their view from “I am responsible for my actions, and need to manage my thoughts appropriately” to “that woman caused me to think/act this way.”  We can see this culture clearly with the various permutations of “she was drunk”, “she dressed slutty” “she was asking for it.”

As a survivor of sexual assault, I also would like to state that this battle continues for me.  I was raped IN a church, and am consistently deconstructing the warped perception that I was the cause of my own rape.  But outside of that, women are consistently questioned as someone who “asked for it” when unwelcome sexual actions occur.

 

25360662_10156007683982072_726069157_n.jpg
The shirt her daughter wore to school.

 

In a conversation thread on Facebook on a friend’s wall, the topic of dress codes came up.  Her daughter wore a shirt that pointed out the major flaws in dress codes, and how it perpetuates rape culture.  One commenter said: “I feel like it’s some sort of popular trend to try to be a victim in any way possible! I don’t get it….. I just don’t. It’s a dress code, a rule that kids need to follow while at school…. I wouldn’t necessarily love my daughters to see this shirt because they don’t feel like victims. I think it promotes victimhood.” 

We subsequently had a back and forth where she couldn’t see how dress-codes that are extensively directed at girls was contributing to rape culture, and placing the onus early on girls, to “protect boys” from provocative clothing.  She attempted to deflect to a future “dress code” for a job (and referring to the school as the child’s job.) To which I would respond that 1. a job (and subsequent dress code for the job) was an agreement they entered into willingly (while school is compulsory) and 2. even dress codes within employment are often written by upper management (read: males) and continue to be written to “not lead men astray” in the workplace.

The major sticking point for this commentor was based on her not being a “victim,” with regards to women being thrust early on into a male-dominated/slut shaming/rape culture because she had not encountered it. Interestingly enough, until we examine that culture, and how we are players in it, the forces can be subtle, and sometimes imperceivable.

*I’d also like to state that I never saw a boy at church be forced to wear the slut-shaming shirt. Ever.

We should never expect the other person to be the strong one and force them to bear the weight of temptation.  (Page 150, IKDG)

This quote refers back to many of the past points.  First, we SHOULD expect the other person to be the strong one, when it comes to rape culture.  (Read: the men.)  When we look at rape statistics, most sexual assaults are committed by men, on women.  This, however, cannot be tied (and morally SHOULD NOT BE TIED) to the responsibility of women.  Men are more powerful in many cases, physically, than women.  However, my spaghetti strap shirt (or walking down the street at night, or simply being a woman) is not an invitation for a man to rape, assault, or cat-call me.  The responsibility to control one’s mind is solely in the hands of that person.  I do not “lead” men to behave inappropriately, they are 100% in charge of their actions.  100% of sexual assaults are the cause of assaulters.  Full Stop.

“God not only wants to maximize a couple’s enjoyment of sex in marriage, He also wants them to learn to trust Him together. When a Christian man and woman systematically deny their own physical desires as an expression of mutual faith and submission to Jesus Christ, they are laying a solid spiritual foundation for their marriage.  They are learning to fight sin as a team.” (Page 151, IKDG) “only selfishness and sin make two people sexually incompatible.” (Page 167, IKDG)

This sets up sex to be SO MUCH.  First off, there is a whole section about forgiving a potential courter of previous sexual/relational behavior.  I recall a very clear couple of sermons (and I think ANY long time youth group person will remember a similar less.)  This lesson starts with a piece of paper.  The pastor holds it, whole, and starts to tell a story about how Jessica (insert name here, but every time I heard this, it was a female, which will become important later) was in a relationship and kissed this boy.  They later break up. (The Pastor then rips the paper in half and says “she gave part of her heart away.)  He then goes through several other dating relationships (which usually involved her having sex with a boy, kissing them or doing other sexual things) and each time he would tear the increasingly smaller piece of paper in half.  Then, FINALLY finds “the one” and she is full of shame because she only has “this much” of her heart to give to this boy.  She has to painfully explain away all her previous exploits to this boy, with shameful tones.  (I’ve also heard this lesson as a rose that was passed around to all the youth group, starting as a perfect rose, then getting damaged by so many people touching it.)

Sex. is. not. inherantly. bad.  But, throughout life, sex is a taboo topic and (especially for girls) considered their worth.  Are you pure when you are married?  No?  You didn’t “save yourself” for your husband?

Should sexual relationships be saved for two consenting people who are at the age of reason of the consequences?  Yes.  Should exploring natural feelings be a cause for shame and a feeling of being tainted?  NO.

I recall the residue of my church upbringing as I eventually disclosed to my eventual husband the number of sexual partners I had before him.  (I did not count the rapes I experienced within my tally.)  Though I had been with more sexual partners, (and had more long-term relationships,  I could look back on those relationships as ones I learned a lot from.  Every person had something to offer that developed who I was, both positively, and in a way that showed me what I didn’t want in a life-partner.  Furthermore, I did not feel that my worth had been diminished because of those experiences. If anything, I had more to offer my husband.  I knew more about myself, and what I needed.

However, that residue of shame continued from my church days of “will he judge me or think less of me because I had more relationships that included sex than him?”  When women are brought down to a basic worth of purity and abstinence, we are forced into the framework of rape culture.  We are then an object to be spoiled, rather than a living, breathing, evolving woman.

Josh Harris and his motivations:

This post started with the recent developments and revelations of Josh Harris.  His book perpetuated rape culture, female shame, and male power differentials.

I watched his TedX talk about his evolving belief systems on these two books that he authored about courtship and relational behavior, and was rather un-impressed with his self-reflection.

First, he did not spend a significant amount of time speaking about the people who were hurt by his book.  I phrase it this way for the following reasons:

1.  The book was used as a tool by leaders in the church, pastors/males especially, to alter and influence the behavior of youth (who at the time were highly influenceable by spiritually given advice and guidance.)

2.  This book became the basis and rulebook for what a healthy (read: “godly”) relationship should look like.  The impact of this is still being felt across the world (literally), as many marriages were formed under the guidelines this book lays out. All one needs to do is google “I kissed dating goodbye” and you can read the copious amounts of stories out there written by young victims who are living in (or escaping from) horrible marriages that were not thought-out in a logical way.

3. It only took him 2 decades to start talking about how his framework MIIIIIIGHT be damaging.  This is yet another example of male-dominated rape culture in play.

4.  Josh Harris is doing this talk, SURPRISE, before a big release of a documentary.  Attention fingers are pointing at you now, right Josh? He pats himself on the back throughout the talk for talking with dissenters and placing their “testimonies” out there publically for all to see.  All the while, his book(s) continues to sell on the shelf.  If he truly felt that these books were damaging, he would pull them from circulation completely.  (And should.) Harris continues to profit from a book that damages young people.

Conclusion:

We do live in a culture where men are the perpetrators (mainly) and are not called to the carpet for 100% of their thoughts and actions.  We DO live in a culture where women’s sexual exploits, clothing, actions, and words are considered the key to whether they will be assaulted/raped.

This book is just one part of this structure, in the microsystem of a young person’s life, but for an entire church-going generation, it was a huge influence in perpetuating a dangerous precedent.  This is rape culture, and until we look at it, in all its grossness, and expose these faulty beliefs (and judicial systematic procedures), we will continue to live in a world where men cannot do wrong unless the women were leading them to do so

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

The Body Keeps the Score

CW: Rape & Trauma Processing

Recently I’ve been faced with a health challenge that is draining my physical reserves.  The cell phone battery of my body charges to an unpredictable level… when I wake up, usual daily chores/activities are taking everything for me to get through.  Often even walking upstairs causes me to need to lie down for a bit.

This lack of autonomy/function in my body has caused me to have increased flashbacks as of late.  My heart is already racing from basic activity, so it doesn’t take much for my mind to jump into a PTSD moment.  Something as simple as my child accidentally scaring me, or even the sound of a male voice can fast-forward my memories into trauma.

Flashbacks aren’t new to the survivor, and I’ve certainly had them before, but the flavor of these have been particularly intense.  During the actual assault, I did what many people do in traumatic events, disassociated.  I recall leaving my body behind and watching from above.  In the actual moments, I don’t recall feeling pain, as my body protected me from the physical trauma by disconnecting my body from my brain.  However, in the past month, my flashbacks have incorporated split seconds of “pain memories.”

The first time I remember feeling actual pain was in the hospital after the assault.  I was numb, and I don’t actually know how I got there (obviously I drove, but I don’t remember the act of getting there).   I looked down as I stood on the collection paper, and saw blood, and a lot of it.  In that moment, I started to “wake up” and realize what I had seen wasn’t a movie, but rather something that happened TO me.

My body told the tale that my mind protected me from.

Very quickly, though, my brain shut down those pain feelings… and filed them.  Until just recently.

The lack of autonomy that I feel in a body that is not at its best is wildly triggering.  I sit in therapy trying to hear what she’s saying… at the same time as I hear voices in the foyer that are male and try to manage the flashes that happen.  When I’m alone at home, it’s even harder as my mind spins on the possibilities of what “could” happen. I check the doors, make sure they are all locked and crawl into bed and wait for the moment to pass.  Sometimes it passes quickly, but more often than not it lasts for what feels like an eternity.

PTSD is a bitch.

Process, Vulnerability

Be Still

As we enter into the holiday season, my heart starts to settle a bit.  My assault anniversary is now behind me, and I find that my heart starts to still.  What comes with outward stillness, is inward movement.  My brain is famous for stirring up all sorts of memories and thoughts and I find that I start to spin a bit.

This year was a bit different.  I am and was dealing with a health crisis around the time of the assault anniversary, leading to my need to backburner my feelings.  As the emergent issues of that health issue passed, I found that the refuse of the anniversary remained, strong as ever.

So what happens when life around is still, but your mind is moving so quickly? What happens when there isn’t a big T trauma happening?  Where does your mind go?

For me, I start to spin on trust. My physical issues have led me to need to step back from my roles as wife/mother more and rely heavily on my partner to take care of a lot of the day to day things I’d typically do.  This dependence has created a feeling of vulnerability in myself.

What IF our value was simply based on what we contribute?  And if that is the case, when our ability to perform those roles diminishes, what do we become?  Are we less worthy?  Are we less of a partner? Are we less of a value?

When looking at the 5 love languages, I fall STRONGLY into the quality time and acts of service camp when giving love to others.  I deeply desire to connect authenticly with those that mean most to me, and when possible, meet needs.  Over the past months, my ability to do either one has gone down severely causing me to question my value in my friendships.

Being still, and vulnerable is a very big struggle for me.  What am I if I am not at my best?  Then, to unpack that further, what is “best”?  Once boiled down, “best” equates to optimum efficiency and output, as if I am a wifebot, mombot, or friendbot and my value is based on what I can do, how much and how well I can do it.  And isn’t that the kicker?

What if they don’t find me valuable anymore?

We all just want to be seen, heard, connected and valued.