[Please note: This post includes some of my personal experiences of sexual harassment. I am not sharing these experiences out of spite or for shock value, but because I believe sharing them could be beneficial. Love keeps no record of wrongs— in fact, when I was keeping a record of these wrongs in my heart, they only hurt me more. Forgiveness is so important and freeing, but I also believe God can use our brokenness and pain for good and sometimes that involves sharing our stories with others.]
I spent a lot of time reading friends’ “me too” posts, heartbroken, and realized after awhile that I was avoiding writing my own. Whew. It’s hard, my friends…and, as many have mentioned, others (whom I know well and love dearly) have gone through much, much worse.
I’ve been sexually harassed through words often veiled as “compliments” and “jokes.” I’ve been touched and paralyzed by fear. And, as many women experience, what happened to me was almost always minimized and justified by both men and women. A boss I no longer work for implied, multiple times, that I should give him a certain sexual favor and said, multiple times, when he saw my anger “Oh, so-and-so is much worse and says things like that all the time to the other girls, it’s just a joke.”
As if his verbal sexual harassment could be justified by levity and comparison.
After I quit he asked me out— multiple times. He didn’t like the word no. I guess it really was never a joke and he really didn’t understand. He has no idea that when I think of him, I only feel nausea, fear, and sadness….such sadness. He was so blinded that, even after all of my anger and rejection, he thought I would find him romantically appealing. I chose this story to share in more detail because I think he TRULY did not know what he was doing. He was taught that his behavior was acceptable long before he harassed and disrespected me— probably through a combination of culture at large and influential male role models in his life. He is responsible for his actions…but, other people are, too.
I didn’t tell anyone what lewd things were said to me until after I quit. I felt such shaming false-guilt. And, because similar things were said to other girls and it didn’t *appear* to bother them, I felt weak and small and as if I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Sexual harassment was the norm in that workplace, what else did I expect?
That’s one instance out of many. I could tell you about the time I heard a middle school classmate make a joke about me involving gang rape, the handsy old man on the airplane, the two boy team that evaluated my body out loud and concluded that I was “*insert explicit vulgarity here* approved,” the first time I was aware I was being catcalled and sexually objectified as a teenager, and lots of other instances of harassment.
Sexual harassment is a huge part of our culture.
I’m uncommonly fortunate to be at this point in life without worse wounds.
This morning, as I prayed, I thought about a friend from high school who protected me in small and subtle ways, and what a HUGE deal that was. I began to thank God for other men who, throughout my life, protected me. I could think of many men who I felt respected by (and that matters!)…but there were fewer men I felt safe being around because I trusted they would take action on my behalf. There were nine men on my list. I could think of two women who had actively protected me. I don’t say this to criticize women— I think it reflects how paralyzed we are by fear and how powerless we often believe we are in our society. These people protected me in some very different ways. Some protected me emotionally and some protected me physically— but, each act was significant.
As I let myself become filled with gratitude, I was so moved— they thought about me and my well-being instead of themselves. That, my friends, is love. They didn’t just respect me, they loved me. Respect can cause a man or woman to not harass another person, but love takes action to shield the other emotionally, physically, and spiritually from the degrading actions of the people who are disrespectful, self-serving, or ignorant.
Yes— “Love always protects.”
I want to actively, with compassion and gentleness, defend the women and men around me when I see or hear harassment and disrespect. I want to love abusers through speaking truth in a world that is constantly feeding them lies. I want my love to be bigger than my fear.
As we seek to eradicate the injustice in our society, let’s remember what we desire to fill the space with.
Love and peace,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. -1 Corinthians 13:4-7