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Sexploitation And The Me Too Movement

Brace yourself, reader. This is long, messy, and littered with stream-of-consciousness thoughts and feels. There is a hefty dose of personal opinion that I’m desperately desiring scripture to shape. If you literally can’t even with this, at least glance at the last paragraph. That’s the good stuff.

All this week I have scrolled through a sea of posts with the hashtag #metoo. This cyber-social movement comes on the heels of what feels like a year marked by headlines involving sexual harassment and sexual assault, the most recent of which involved a successful Hollywood producer and a slew of big-name celebrities. The hashtag emerged to raise awareness, through social sharing, revealing to society just how many women and men have experienced sexual exploitation in some capacity.

The sea of posts is harrowing and has evoked a number of thoughts and feels. Naturally, I did what any scholarly researcher would do: I put up a poll on Instagram. I asked my friends what they thought about this trending hashtag and whether or not they felt that they would be open to sharing this sort of information online or felt that it was too personal to share. I was floored with the responses I received. Over 550 people saw the survey, and of those who did participate 53% said that they would be willing to share to raise awareness while 47% said they found it too personal to participate.

These statistics (yes, small, likely homogenous/biased, blah blah blah professionals, chill the heck out) suggest that for every post that says “me too”, there is another one out there who could say, “me too” but is choosing not to.

Let me say from the start, no one, myself included, gets to tell someone else how he or she should or shouldn’t share his or her story.

What’s utterly confounding to me is some are trying to. There’s this weird social pressure to share or not to share—online, of all places, and via HASHTAG, God help us all— something that is so personal and of this magnitude. I’ve spoken with a number of people this week who are experiencing a degree of guilt because they feel semi-obligated to share in order to raise awareness but simultaneously don’t want grandma to find out about such personal life experiences through a Facebook status, lest it become a topic of conversation over Thanksgiving dinner, bless everyone’s heart.

When we read that everything from cat-calls to rape are now coupled under the same two-word hashtag, all the feels are surely going to be felt. We simultaneously do and don’t want details that are not ours to know. We use comparison to gauge whether or not we too are victims of harassment, abuse, or assault, trying to decipher whether or not our experiences qualify. This begs the question, is victimization in the eye of the beholder? Who gets to decide who is and isn’t a victim? And what if you’re the perpetrator? Confession, I’m 100% guilty of playfully hollering “HEY MAMA!” from my car, total TLC “hangin’ out the side of my best friend’s ride” style, to my gal pals walking to class in college. On more than one occasion. Is that a form of harassment? Please know that I’m not trying to compare the two, because they are vastly different, but I think it is worth exploring. What if the things we consider to be playful could be interpreted as exploitative? But we will save that conversation for another post.

This conversation, if we want to call it that, is highly complex, multi-faceted, and deeply personal. It seems that the heavy reality of what comes with commenting “me too” got lost somewhere in the shuffle as the trend went viral. Perhaps it isn’t from fear or cowardice that keep people from posting, but rather discretion. Or maybe people do not have an accurate definition of what these words mean, much less if they’ve been victimized in this way (they aren’t aware that what has happened to them would be considered harassment etc.). There could be countless reasons for why a victim chooses not to participate in this discussion.

Sure, there is a sort of comfort that comes with solidarity, but solidarity in itself does not bring healing. Commenting may provide a short-term sense of relief by way of cyber confession, but ultimately it is a hollow and shoddy façade of true connectivity and will not bring healing. Entrusting your story to another person is a big deal and not to be done casually or impulsively.

If anyone reading has shared his/her story on social media, know that I am in no place to shame or invalidate the courage it took to do so. I’m simply wary of the rapidity at which this trending hashtag has prompted people to chime in, pseudo-entrusting personal stories to pseudo-acquaintances in a pseudo-dialogue through social media. I’m wary of sharing for the sake of sharing, without pointing people to the hope and healing found in Jesus. I’m particularly unnerved about clumping everything from catcalls to rape under the same two-word hashtag. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not the same thing. Yes, they are both wrong, they are both inappropriate, they are both predicated on entitlement, they are both derived from sin. But at the end of the day they are not the same, and to associate the two as synonymous is naïve at best and otherwise altogether ignorant.

Raising awareness is great and good and grand, but this particular topic feels like a trending invitation, or rather obliged pressure, for the exploited to be exploited again, to go public for the sake of raising awareness, which is honorable, but ultimately to expose again the fact that they were to some degree unwillingly exposed.

I want to know what this ultimately accomplishes. Because awareness, devoid of action, will likely garner more negative ramifications than positive ones— furthering an “us” vs. “them” mentality, that seems to further isolate and divide. Or the reiteration of the narrative that all men are swine with insatiable sexual impulses that cannot be tamed. And perhaps worst of all, it may feed a debase appetite in us to peer into another’s pain for personal entertainment; which is, by definition, voyeurism. Where is the gospel in all this? Without action, I fear, that awareness gives way to bitterness, affirming generalizations, and a sort of nosiness that wants details that aren’t ours to know. The conversation shouldn’t stop with awareness; awareness should prompt action.

For the believer, we have work to do. First of all, we need to recognize that the exploitation of both women and men for sexual gratification is not new:

  • On two separate occasions Abram offered his wife Sarai to be taken and known by other men so that he would not be killed. (Genesis. 12:11-19; 20)
  • The men of Sodom cat-called for the holy men visiting Lot to be given to them so that they could violate them, and Lot offered up his daughters to the sex-crazed crowd. (Genesis 19:4-8)
  • Joseph rejected the sexual advances of his owner’s wife and was wrongly accused of violating her. (Genesis 29)
  • Bethsheba was taken by the king and raped, and then obligated to marry her oppressor. (2 Samuel 11)
  • Tamar was raped by her brother. (2 Samuel 13)
  • Esther was paraded before the king, alongside countless other women, so that he could choose a queen that sexually satisfied him. (Esther 2)

These stories—many of which involve the patriarchs of our faith— should remind us of the gospel. This world, and everyone in it, is broken and depraved. But our God is in the business of bringing beauty out of ashes, of covering our nakedness, of restoring what has been devastated, he is the author of redemption and reconciliation. Let’s share the hope that because of Jesus we are not bound by our experiences—neither what we have done nor what has been done to us; no, we are made new. This world is not our home, so let’s share the hope that though these days are bleak, this isn’t how the story ends. Let’s not comment and go about our lives with a distant estrangement to a cyber pseudo-community, but rather let’s take action. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what that looks like. Maybe we start by providing a listening ear to those who need to process and be heard. And when we share, let’s share our stories with wisdom and discretion, not compulsively, but rather heeding the prompting of the Spirit, for the ultimate purpose of pointing people to the King of glory who makes all things new.

(photo credit: Allef Vinicius, for Unsplash.com)

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