First, the backstory, if you’ve missed it. Social media is full of women posting “#metoo”. Most of them add “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” (Read more on Wikipedia)
So what is #TheOtherMeToo? If I have my way, it’s something men will use to confess they have been guilty of sexual harassment on some level. I’m not talking about rape here. Virtually all of us have done something sexually inappropriate at some point in our lives. But much of what was, in fact, harassment, we don’t call that. We don’t want to be bad guys, so we don’t want to admit we did that to some woman. Or more likely women. Or many women.
Our refusal to see our own wrong action along these lines is a huge part of the problem. By excusing our actions we skew reality for other men. When we call things that were harassment “a bit of fun”, or “just playing”, or say the girl/woman overreacted, we help to excuse others who do the same – or worse. We raise the bar for what is harassment so high every woman is harassed repeatedly and most of the guys who do it think they’re doing nothing wrong.
So I’m going to say #TheOtherMeToo: I’ve been guilty of sexual harassment. At the time I wouldn’t have called it that, and if I’d known, I’d have been horrified and stopped immediately. But that doesn’t change what I did or that the girls on the receiving end almost certainly felt harassed. My list is probably shorter than many men’s, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the recipients of my wrong actions. You may be no more comfortable reading this than I am sharing it, but if it can help us all deal with sexual harassment it’s worth it.
- When I was in high school, I talked about sex a good deal with several female friends. I was only interested in one of these gals, and she had a boyfriend she was intent on marrying, so I wasn’t trying to start anything. But I was getting off on discussing sex with girls, and I have no doubt I made most if not all of them uncomfortable at times. None of them ever protested, but looking back I can see times when they would rather not have been talking about what we discussed.
- In 8th or 9th grade on the way to a youth group retreat hours away, I ended up in the far back van seat with a young lady. She and I had talked a good deal about sex, and she had expressed various curiosities. I guess I took that as a request, or permission, or maybe just “I can get away with this.” When the sun set I moved my hand between her legs and tried to feel her off through her jeans. She never said anything. She never seemed to orgasm either, which I realised years later was because I was rubbing her pubic bone.
- Then there was the incident with a high school girlfriend with whom I was sexual (nudity, orgasms, no intercourse). One night we started messing around, fully clothed. We moved till our crotches were together, and I started to “dry hump” her. At some point, I realised she was no longer engaged; she was just lying there stiffly. I stopped, and she got up and started to cry. When I asked her about it, she said she thought I was going to rape her. Back then I was pretty angry she’d not told me to stop when she felt uncomfortable. She should have known I would’ve stopped immediately. I felt like it was her fault for not saying anything when I crossed a line I didn’t know existed. In my mind what happened was way less than some of what we had done with her full interest. I had very little compassion for her fears and feelings; I was just mad she had suggested I could be a rapist.
Today I see how wrong all of these things were. but when I was a teen I honestly didn’t see it. Part of this was the culture – we all told each other girls wanted to be pushed sexually because they wanted sex but couldn’t admit they wanted it. There was also the total lack of anyone telling me about boundaries. Another factor is how the purity culture feeds all this. We are taught any hint of sex outside of marriage is sin. I agree with that message, but if we cross the line we tend to throw out the message entirely. We go from nothing is allowed to it’s all allowed. We have no understanding of how our urges can hurt women. Of course, we don’t want to know, so we don’t go looking for it either.
How Can You Help?
Start with your children, both boys and the girls. Be honest with them about what you did that you shouldn’t have done, and ask your wife to be honest about what was done to her. I know personal examples are painful, but they are also powerful. If you can’t talk about yourself, talk about your friends – even if some of what you share is really about you.
Tell your sons no means no, but go beyond that. Tell them saying nothing should also be taken as a no. Tell them girls get scared and don’t say no when they would like to. Yes means yes, everything else means no.
Tell your daughters boys assume no news is good news. Teach them to say “I don’t want to do that”. If that doesn’t work “Are you going to rape me?” will stop most guys cold. It will make them angry and defensive, but it will usually end the activity.
I realise a lot of this seems at odds with teaching them to wait and have sex when they marry. In fact, it is at odds with that. But statistically we know most kids don’t wait, and our failure to teach them about this causes a lot of pain and suffering. Besides, good teaching on this should reduce premarital sex as a good deal of that is not desired by the woman.
Finally, a challenge: Post #TheOtherMeToo on social media. Point to this post, or better yet say you’ve done things you now realise qualify as sexual harassment. No details necessary, just admit you’ve been part of the problem, and in so doing become part of the solution.
BTW: I did a search and saw a woman tried to start #theothermetoo as a hashtag over a week ago. So far not a single man has used it. Wouldn’t it be nice if it became a thing and everyone knew it was Christian men who did that?
A note to women reading along: This is written by a man to men, and it may be difficult for you to read. I wanted men to understand that harassment is far more than not stopping when someone says no. I tried to make the examples as non-graphic as I thought I could without losing the necessary context.