Sunday, February 11, 2018

The #metoo moment and the stories we tell

I wrote the other day about Adah and Zillah, who openly declared their husband's violent secret, about Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, who were belittled and punched and choked by the man they'd each married, but didn't let that treatment silence them.

I've been thinking a lot over the past many months about issues raised in the #metoo moment. About story after story I've been told by women I respect of sexual assault and harassment. About what it can mean when a man you should be able to trust uses or abuses you instead. 

I don't like that there's so much to talk about, but I'm glad people are talking about these things. Partly because the conversations seem to be building a greater culture of accountability for those who act without regard to the agency and dignity of others. Mostly, though, because I've heard enough about how sexual assault and domestic abuse can mess with a person's head, seen enough the sense of shame and isolation it can create, that I'm glad people around the world are able to hear more stories and know they're not alone.

Which is why I'm not entirely satisfied with how media coverage and informal conversations of these issues have been conducted: from Harvey Weinstein on, the focus has typically been on the offending men. 

There's a place for that, to be sure. A place for airing of grievances when the old systems for telling truth and pursuing justice seem to have failed. A place for holding people to account. But it's not the end of the story: it's just the part that gets attention, because all too often it's the prominence and influence of the men that we care about. Even though it's a cultural obsession with prominence and influence--and a cultural disinterest in the broader community--that has left so many men feeling entitled to women's bodies in the first place.

We are drawn to stories about power. But we need stories about healing.

Because even after the consequences have come for the offender, the damage and disorientation can remain. And the quiet, internal drama of sorting out the detritus others' actions leave in us does matter, desperately, to the health of an individual and of a society.

I got my wife Rupi Kaur's poetry collection The Sun and Her Flowers for Christmas. Here's how she talks through the process after assault in one of her poems:

it's too heavy to carry your guilt--I'm setting it down
i'm tired of decorating this place with your shame
as if it belongs to me

it takes monsters to steal souls
and fighters to reclaim them

I think the gospel has a lot to tell us about how to set down others' guilt, how to wipe ourselves clean of their shame. I think a gospel that says our souls are worth more than the whole world can teach us a thing or two about how to fight for them.

And I hope we talk about this. With our sisters and our brothers. With our daughters and our sons.

I hope we learn how to turn open wounds into battle scars we're proud of when this life is done and we meet again back home. 

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