By Cathy Norman Peterson
One year after #metoo began revealing the depths to which sexual harassment and assault have seeped into the bones of our culture, Forbes published these findings on women’s attitudes about their workplaces. The EEOC reports a 12% increase in harassment filings in the past year. And 57% of women say nothing has changed in their work environment.
Last week the New York Times reported that Google had been handing out multi-million-dollar severance packages to executives who’d been accused of sexual misconduct.
A national survey on harassment and assault states that more than 80% of women have experienced sexual harassment and more than 20% have been sexually assaulted.
During the annual Christian Community Development Association conference last weekend, several former female staff members published accounts describing a work environment of chronic “toxic masculinity.”
And this weekend I listened to stories from women who are still being told they can’t use their gifts or follow their calling to lead in church because God/Scripture forbids it.
Is anyone tired yet?
In this cultural context we’re rebooting Theoloqui. I am so excited to share this space with the passionate, gifted, and brilliant women who make up this writing team.
Some days I wonder what else is there to say about this topic. Then I open my news feed and read another round of stories of suffering and abuse of power. And I remember how essential it is for women to continue speaking up.
Many years ago a colleague at the Christian institution where I worked used to come up behind me while I sat at my desk and give me creepy back rubs. I never told anyone about it. I didn’t want to be perceived as a trouble-maker or whiny or as a woman who couldn’t “handle it.” I rationalized, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t really that bad—even though I felt trapped and unsafe every time it happened.
When I was assaulted in a crowded bar, I tried to dismiss that too. It could have been worse. So it didn’t really count.
#metoo has reminded me how much I internalized the messages culture and the church taught me about who I was supposed to be as a woman. Be “good,” compliant, helpful. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t be demanding. I thought I was a feminist, but those messages had seeped in more than I realized.
Soong-Chan Rah, church growth and evangelism professor at North Park Theological Seminary, says we can’t truly change systems without changing the narratives we tell ourselves to support them. I think #metoo is helping—forcing—us to begin changing those narratives.
Many of us grew up in the church hearing that King David was a “man after God’s own heart.” I knew it was bad that David murdered Uriah. But no one ever said anything about the fact that he raped Bathsheba.
My colleague Dominique Gilliard talks about the many stories of assault against women in the Bible.
Esther only comes into power because Queen Vashti refuses to submit herself to sexual exploitation. Two chapters after Bathsheba is raped, David’s son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar. And David does nothing about it.
Reframing the familiar narratives helps us see more clearly. Until we do that, the systems—the church—cannot truly change.
Jesus shows us how to do that in one of my favorite passages in Scripture. A woman had been hemorrhaging for twelve years and had spent all she had on physicians, to no avail. In her culture, that meant she was perpetually unclean. She couldn’t enter the sanctuary, she was prohibited from public religious activity. If anyone even touched the bed where she slept, they were unclean too.
One day, in desperation she violates the purity codes and reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus’s robe. He notices immediately. Jesus stops in the middle of the crowd and looks around for the one who touched him. The woman is afraid. But instead of remonstrating her, Jesus sees her. And she is healed.
How we need such healing. Today I’m clinging to the hope of Jesus’s message of redemptive wholeness, even in the midst of the mess that continues. Maranatha.
- The women who have come forward have found strength in the #metoo movement. They have found solidarity and support. For this season we have asked each of our authors to write about the dark and uncomfortable places, not necessarily sexual assault, where they too wish for those same things; solidarity, support, love and hope for a better future. Thank you for joining our journey