The hashtag #metoo has been really prevalent on facebook and twitter recently.
For those of you that have escaped this phenomenon, a disgraced Hollywood Producer Harvey Winestein has been accused of sexually harassing (and one account of rape) of a (ever-growing) number of women, and the #metoo hashtag is women standing in solidarity with these women saying they have also been sexually harassed on occasions.
Also, as with any popular meme there has been much shared around the subject of harassment.
One of the most interesting -and honest- things I read on facebook was from a girl who said she felt she had sexually harassed guys thinking she was being “flirty and fun”.
The truth is that although this is something that many women are talking about now, it is actually a problem bigger than gender, but a problem of humanity, the challenge is the way we treat, view, respect and think about one another is at the heart of this all.
Another thing I found really interesting was a blog by another friend, who said although he’s never harassed anyone sexually, he knows he has involved in the objectification of women and has not done all he could to advocate a society where all such abuses of power are not tolerated.
As I read this post I was reminded of the phrase by Edmund Burke “for evil to prosper all it takes is for good people to do nothing”.
This is something that I resonated with, I know that Jesus’ command that “if you even look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery with her in your heart” is one I have -to my shame- broken on occasions.
I certainly haven’t been as ‘salty’ and as much of a ‘light shining in darkness’ on this as I should have been, maybe even guilty of colluding with the darkness on occasions.
Maybe we all share some culpability for the way the world is today in the way we have tried to rip sex and love apart in a way that breaks the heart of our creator? Seeing people as objects rather than people with feelings and value.
As I began to think about things some more, I remember having the old debate about Christians and the whole “sex outside marriage” with someone exploring faith (a big deal in our current society). I remember talking about Alkali burns -what is missing (acid) is what causes the burns, in the case of sex the love and commitment being removed from most sexual encounters is why so many of our generation are left with deep emotional scars from past sexual activity they now regret. He laughed and said that if he could turn the clock back he’d do things so differently now as his life has been plagued by regret of hurting people in the past. “I never thought I’d end up agreeing with a Vicar on ‘no sex outside marriage'” he laughed. He then said “I guess it leads to less sex but at least you can look yourself in the eye in the mirror!”
To be honest I’ve not always been all I have wanted to be in this area, so I’m not sure I could entirely look myself in the eye, but he had hit upon an important truth that God is not out to spoil our fun, but actually is about “life in all its abundance”, wanting the best for the people he created and loves.
I was waiting to meet a friend for lunch and the Sun newspaper was on the bar (a paper I hate almost as much as the Daily Mail!) and it was slamming someone in the public eye for alleged behaving inappropriately towards a woman. Yet this outrage seemed somewhat ironic as knowing that on the next page (p.3) there would be a scantily clad woman, and as many as they could get away with squeeze into the next few pages of their vile tory rag.
The Sun’s outrage felt ironic, not seeing how their behaviour and misogyny, has probably encouraged many a ‘mini winestein’ to objectify other human-beings.
It struck me as ironic the moral outrage at Winestein and the sycophantic praise of Hugh Hefner, yet no questions about the way he has caused objectification, stylised and air-brushed ‘idolised’ women, and made money from exploitation women in his magazines and the men who bought them too?
As I thought about this for a moment, I remembered a story a friend told me when he was having a driving lesson with a real sleaze-ball who kept leering at women out the window, he made some comment about some girl they drove past. My friend turned on him and said “that’s my sister you’re on about!” The man instantly apologised.
Yet to me this emphasised the double standard we have within our society , where it is okay to harbour such thoughts -but not against anyone you know-.
There is a maximum I remember hearing as a teenager “look but don’t touch” but the truth is if you look, you become tempted to touch.
This dreadful behaviour I believe would be less prevalent if we realised that our first line of defence is to do with what and how we think, rather than what we do. Sorting our mind out first will have a knock on effect to our actions too, our hearts and our minds are our first line of defence.
From our hearts and minds everything else flows. The problem is when we put rubbish into our hearts and minds through what we view/listen too/think about then unsurprisingly its fruit is rotten too -rubbish in, rubbish out-.
For me, the most challenging thing was when I had a baby daughter, I grasped something of the heartbeat of God, just as I’d want to kill anyone who looked at her inappropriately (my planned line for her first boyfriend is “remember I do funerals for a living!”), God must have the same pain and anger at anyone who looks at any of his children with predatory and unscrupulous desires in their heart.
When we think on how God sees us, and then realise that is passionate love for us is also his passionate love for all his has made, the good father with no favourites.
Then as I wandered back home, I saw “50 Shades of Grey” on Sale in WH Smiths (a popular but unpleasant trilogy of an abusive and controlling relationship written in a way that seeks to normalise and romanticising exploitation and sexual violence). I shuddered as memories came flooding back of things I have heard from times working in rehab and some instances of Domestic Violence I have come across from parishioners over the last 20 odd years of ministry. Exploiting people for their own gratification, brings us back to the heart of what the #metoo thing is all about. Yet, if you attack 50 Shades of Grey you get a backlash saying it is harmless fun, but degrading human-beings is contrary to the way of the cross of Christ, and is neither harmless or fun.
As I thought on, I was reminded of a situation of a couple who exploited a lot of money out of a vulnerable family they were staying with. It made me realise that this warped mind-set can exist where-ever there is opportunity.
The tragedy is we live in a society where it is acceptable -normal even- to see people not ultimately as valuable in their own right people but rather about how they make us feel, which is not only dehumanising and degrading for all involved.
The problem is we live in an “explain and blame” culture where we never take responsibility for our actions, even if 50shades the perpetrator of this abuser was himself a victim of abuse himself. We forget that we can break cycles as well as perpetuate them, histories do not have to repeat themselves.
Perhaps the #metoo hashtag can challenge us to think of the times the world has treated us badly (and seeing these #metoo hashtags has been heart-breaking, and deeply worrying of a dad of a daughter).
Perhaps the #metoo hashtag can challenge us to think of the times when we perhaps have not always treated one another as we should have.
Perhaps too, we might take a moment to think of the words of Jesus “what you do to the least of these you did to me” -that every time we treat anyone as less than human that is how we are treating Jesus.
Yet the reverse is true, every time we honour, respect, value and love another human-being treating them in a righteous way we are bringing blessing, honour and glory to Jesus too.
The call to follow Jesus is the call to turn this “upside down and broken world” the “right way up” for Christ.
So, as a challenge, we probably all could write #metoo as people that have not been treated with the dignity, love and respect due to being a human-being made in the image of God.
Yet can probably -and tragically write #metoo that we have not also always treated one another in the same love, respect and dignity that befits them as a beloved and cherished child of God.
And let’s be people that can write #metoo to being people that seek to re-write the narrative about how we as human-beings treat one another, value one another, think about one another.