The response of thousands of women to Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuse of females should come as no surprise to us guys. Harvey and his evil ilk are everywhere, and if we have not been him we quietly rolled our eyes and turned away when we saw him.
He exists in every strata of society, in our offices, in our factories, on our farms, in our schools, in our homes, and – God knows – in our churches. If you’re on social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, the number of women who said “#MeToo” because they have experienced harassment, sexual abuse, or rape may not have surprised you. But it was staggering to see who the women are: our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, teachers, colleagues, neighbors, and pastors.
The #MeToo testimonies on social media – one woman posted #All Women as a corollary – were painful to read and guys like me squirmed uncomfortably as we looked for ways to respond. Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Evangelical Lutheran Synod posted, “I Believe You.” I have yet to see a guy post “#IDidIt,” and I’d like to believe that most men are not in the Harvey Weinstein category of chronic abusers.
But virtually all men should post #IKnew, because even when we were keeping our hands to ourselves, we knew what some of our brethren were doing.
#IKnew, when I was a student at Eastern Baptist College in 1969, that one of my fellow students, a future missionary, asked a Freshman girl out one night and forced her to have sex. She told her roommate, who told other students. “I was very disappointed in him,” one of my friends, a future clergyman, told me, and we shook our heads sadly. #We Knew. But we maintained the guy code of silence.
#IKnew in 1974, when I was editor of American Baptist News Service, that a high ranking Baptist executive had to be fired because he was a masher and a habitual grabber of women’s breasts. My bosses told me what to write in the press release: “He was so committed to his ministry that he is utterly exhausted and he needs to take a long rest.” #IKnew the truth, but I wrote the lie. Within months, the executives recommended the masher as pastor of a Baptist church. And within weeks he was assaulting women again, and the church fired him. Years later, a member of the church told me, “We never got over that. And we certainly never trusted the denominational offices again.”
In the 1980s, one of my male bosses died after a long, painful struggle with bone cancer. He had been a good teacher of writing about denominational politics, and I was sad to see him go. I called the woman who had been his secretary to give her the unhappy news.
“Oh!” she said. “I hated him! I know you liked him, but he chased me around my desk and couldn’t keep his paws off me. I hated him.”
I was dumbfounded. I thought of him as a sweet and nurturing old intellectual, but he had a shadow side I didn’t detect. And among the things I didn’t detect was that he created a painfully unsafe environment for one of my office friends.
#IKnew, also, that another high-ranking Baptist executive was known for inviting female colleagues into his office, where he would proposition them. One of the man’s staff subordinates confronted him and told him the behavior must stop. But it didn’t stop, and the man was allowed to ease into a comfortable retirement, where he remained active in Baptist activities.
Throughout the years, #IKnew men who were flirtatious with women but didn’t cross what they (and I) considered to be “the line.” No doubt many of the women considered the line crossed, because flirtatious and suggestive banter can be very uncomfortable.
One of the complicating factors in the Harvey Weinstein syndrome is that God created animal magnetism and bestowed it on all of us. Sexual attraction is not only necessary for human reproduction but its pleasure is also a gift of God. Sexual desire is the initial glue of committed relationships and it can also bring couples closer to God. Just as Olympic runner Eric Liddell said he could feel God’s pleasure when he ran, so, too, can God’s intense joy be experienced in the orgasms lovers share.
Even when we lust only in our hearts, as when our eyes discretely follow an attractively lithesome form on television or on the street, we feel pleasure. I can enjoy my spouse’s enthusiastic appreciation of Idris Elba and she will make sure I’m not dozing when Beyoncé appears on late night television. There is no rule preventing any of us from covertly admiring the earthly delights of another human being.
But there are limits to that, and when the line is crossed, it’s usually by us guys. In her #MeToo testimony on Facebook, one clergywoman told of entering a room filled with male clergy. She might have expected to be greeted collegially by her professional co-workers, and no doubt most of the men regarded her with respect. But one looked at her and exclaimed, “Delicious.”
That was a line crossed. The man may have thought he was offering a compliment, but he created an uncomfortable situation that automatically objectivized the woman in the presence of her peers.
I suspect much of the harassment experienced by women is from wolf-whistling men who think they have the right to shout crude compliments at them, in private or in public. I don’t know what can be done to stop men from saying dumb sexist shit, especially if their parents never got around to teaching them to keep their mouths shut and their hands to themselves.
But one of the jarring lessons of the #MeToo movement is that it shows us – as if we guys didn’t already know – how prevalent are the Harvey Weinsteins in our culture.
And one of the reasons they are free to prowl is that other men – those who, due to introversion, or age, or strong mothers, only lust in our hearts – know about it but remain silent.
Clearly the time for silent acquiescence is over, guys. If we see harassment or abuse, we should say something. We should have the balls to look the dude in the eye and say, #IKnow. And it has to stop.
And we have been silent too long.