The diversity of the stories of people who have experienced sexual harassment or assault shows that this is not a partisan issue. Conservatives and liberals, rural and urban, religious and non-religious, sexual harassment and assault cross every boundary. It happens on college campuses, in the workplace, on the street, and, yes, in church.–Rev. Kira Schlesinger
When I was a teenager, a friend in my church youth group somehow mustered the courage to come forward to disclose the sexual misconduct of our youth group director. What happened next was ugly and my first real-life, in-your-face lesson about how patriarchal systems treat victims who dare to speak truth to power. Later, after the initial chaos began to subside, grown women with jobs, lives, and families of their own who had once been teen girls growing up in that same church community began disclosing to their families that he had preyed on them as well over the years.
Before hashtags were even a thing, that was my first experience with the essence of #MeToo — with women finding strength and solace in validating each other in their shared trauma.
As Rev. Schlesinger states above, this is not a partisan issue — or at least, it shouldn’t be. Nor, I would add, are Christianity and its churches the only religious institutions in which sexual harassment, abuse, and assault happen. While this particular teenage Confirmation class drop-out went on, as an adult, to find a spiritual home in a Pagan tradition, I am well aware that Pagans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. all see the same abusive situations play out over and over again within our traditions and our specific faith communities. Cardinal Pell, Kenny Klein, Rabbi Greer, Imam Saleem. My old youth group director, your former JCC teacher, her current archdruid. Big names or just locally familiar ones, the tragedy of it all is that as we continue to stand at the crossroads of feminism and religion, we’re hardly surprised anymore.
As the #MeToo posts across various forms of social media continue to stack up by the hundreds of thousands, we’re heartbroken and rising, bitter and healing, triggered and refusing to be silenced, filled with love for our fellow survivors and brimming with righteous fury. But the one thing we’re not, is surprised.
We’re also hardly surprised when another (usually historically abusive) man decides to slaughter more of us.
The morning after the horrific Las Vegas mass murder, I was travelling back from a weekend spent in sacred space with sacred community. Sitting in one of several airports I passed through that day, trying to process such gruesome, large-scale death alongside a small weekend of beautiful spiritual growth, I wrote:
When are we going to have a public, collective conversation about male violence?
This morning, my cab driver actually asked me if I carried a taser. I told him flat out that if I was carrying a defensive weapon of any kind, I certainly wouldn’t divulge that information to him. He was doofy, inappropriate, & possibly high. And although he was probably harmless, he set me majorly on guard. Because women cannot afford not to be. It is not a luxury we’re permitted in this life.
Meanwhile another man has grabbed his (all too easy to purchase – yes, I went there) gun (and yes, that’s a bitter double entendre, in case you missed it) and decided he was entitled to play god with the lives of hundreds of people.
Nearly all mass murders, like Vegas and the countless others that plague our country in this shameful era of our history, are committed by men. One article listed 98% as a statistical measure. 85% of the victims of reported domestic violence are women. At least one in three women is a survivor of rape or sexual assault, predominantly at the hands of a man.
We have a grave problem.
Toxic masculinity is killing us.
And toxic masculinity sits securely in the halls of government, offering its smug, ‘warmest condolences’.
And we keep dying.
These things are connected — sexual assault, harassment, & abuse so common it’s happened to pretty much every woman I know, a gun violence epidemic that leaves virtually no community unaffected, and models of masculinity that seek to leverage dominance, control, and destruction as sacred paths to power-over.
Feminists, scholars, and survivors know these things are all connected. We’ve been talking about these connections with anyone who will listen. In the last two days, however, suddenly a lot more people are listening.
I don’t know if #MeToo will go anywhere. I don’t know if it will really do anything on a macro scale, advance the conversation meaningfully, create actual manifested change within our culture. Honestly, given our collective attention span, I doubt it. I have no love-n-light-we-are-one delusions of grand, sweeping, instantaneous cultural evolution. And yet, I still sense power in this little six-character hashtag. I can still see how, for those who made use of it to speak their truth to the purveyors of power-over lurking in our histories and communities, it is absolutely worth something in this moment.
Even in the emerging critiques of #MeToo — many of which, I agree with to varying extents — the conversation grows further, engaging a few more newly-willing participants along the way. While so many of the folks who make up communities like FAR are not surprised by and even critical of the sudden social media groundswell that is #MeToo, this morning there are people outside those sorts of communities who are surprised; who are new to the conversation, who did engage, and who are now left questioning, possibly for the first time ever.
Toxic masculinity and its detrimental effects on our lives, faiths, and cultures is an issue with a tragically long history. It’s an issue that I’m forced to bitterly admit most likely won’t be solved in my lifetime — and an issue that, as a result of my own personal #MeToo’s, I can’t always bring myself to engage fully in my own communities or the public sphere. And yet, while I won’t let any expectations around profound cultural miracles as a result of 48 hours of hashtag activism run wild by any means, #MeToo still allows me to grasp at a modicum of hope that the conversation will continue to grow beyond those of us who are no longer surprised. And that’s not nothing.
I’m not satisfied with it. Not in the least. But I’ll take it, all the same.
Kate M. Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon. During 2017, she presented at the SOA’s annual online conference, AvaCon, & at the second annual Ninefold Festival in Ithaca, NY. Kate is published in Flower Face: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Blodeuwedd and The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context.