#YesAllWomen. The girl who cried wolf, and other myths.

The #YesAllWomen hashtag, where women share their stories about the everyday harassment they endure and worse, is trending on Twitter. You should absolutely check it out. This is a repost from 2011, minus the first paragraph referencing an old news event. Sexual harassment is very, very real, and Christians need to find ways to deal with it in a Christ-like manner and stand against the status quo. Unfortunately, many have been taught not to take the issue seriously, or to consider it politically-correct bellyaching, instead of an ugly, frightening reality that almost every woman has faced at some point. That needs to change.

You’d think that Christians would be very interested in standing up for a woman’s dignity. After all, don’t most Christian books about gender teach that it’s a man’s role to defend women? But all too often, the evangelical response to men’s shameful shenanigans, especially when nothing physical has taken place, has been a sort of snide, “boys will be boys” affirmation of male virility. High fives all around, while the woman, mortified, slinks back into the shadows. I mean, what did she expect, trading the safety of the kitchen for the wild and wooly “man’s world”?

I grew up surrounded by loving, protective men, so this attitude truly shocked me when I first encountered it. I felt downright betrayed in the mid-nineties, when Focus on the Family began circulating ridiculous stories about little boys being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment. This philosophical slight-of-hand effectively took the church’s eyes off the real problem—that girls and women were being shamefully mistreated at school and work—and cemented evangelicals’ jaundiced view of much-needed sexual harassment laws. I remember writing an impassioned letter to Dr. Dobson (who I had idolized up to that point), suggesting that he come take a walk down the hallways of my school, where girls wore running shorts under their skirts for fear of being “flipped,” where boys made up lewd songs about menstruation and masturbation to enjoy the sick power-trip of humiliating insecure teenage girls, and where stepping onto the school bus was like stepping into the crucible, an hour-long test of endurance that bore more resemblance to hyper-sexualized, post-apocalyptic anarchy than a peaceful ride home. I never sent the letter, but I did manage to convince my parents to start picking me up after school.

My experience was not the least bit unusual, nor was it extreme. (My friend Ryan cowering in the choir room because he had received death threats, or the sort of nonsense that went on at this school are better examples of how out of hand sexual harassment can get.) Sexual harassment is real, it can cause devastating emotional damage, and Christ’s followers should be speaking out against it, instead of suggesting people “suck it up” and accept the prevailing cultural iniquity. So why are some Christians acting like sexual harassment laws and the people who avail themselves of them are the scourge, instead of sexual harassment itself?

A comment on a recent Red Letter Christians article exemplified one of the prevailing attitudes about sexual harassment. “As for these allegations I will tell you firsthand that in an effort to protect women in these situations we have gone quite the other way. All a woman has to do is ‘cry wolf’ and ruin a man whether it’s true or not. It’s BS. The exact same punishment should be exacted to the complaintant that the defendant is facing should the charges not be proven… If you have proof then by all means bring it but if it’s a he-said/she-said then you should have to deal with it just like every other person who cries wolf without proof.”

Okay, look. I don’t doubt that some infinitesimal number of messed-up women do falsely accuse men of sexual harassment. But the sort of overblown antagonism this commenter (and countless others) expresses is, in and of itself, a form of intimidation that serves to keep women’s mouths shut. Since when does a woman need “proof” to complain about inappropriate behavior? (Remember—she’s reporting it to her school or workplace, not taking the guy to court—although she can sue the organization if it fails to take appropriate action.) Unless there are witnesses willing to back up her story, there is no way to “prove” that harassment has taken place. For that matter, there is no way to prove that a woman has been raped, unless she goes to the hospital and submits herself to rape treatment.  (Unfortunately, most prefer locking themselves in the bathroom and sobbing in the shower.) Does the fact that an allegation can’t be proven mean that a woman shouldn’t report it? How convenient.

And what are we supposed to make of the shudder-worthy suggestion that a woman be “punished” if her allegations can’t be proven? Happily for the “complaintant,” the worst punishment most harassers face is losing their job, a possibility many women in that situation are staring down anyway. Still, the truth of the matter is that most women don’t report sexual infractions for fear of reprisal. Oh, we don’t stone women for coming forward with allegations of sexual impropriety like they do in some other parts of the world; we just call them liars, sluts and hussies who were obviously asking for whatever they got. We imply that these troublemaking women are shameless seducers with wicked ulterior motives, carnal temptresses intent on bringing virtuous men down into the grave.

And all Eve’s daughters sigh.

I’m going to shift gears for a moment, because when it comes to unwanted sexual advances, harassment is just the tip of the huge, destructive and mostly hidden iceberg lurking under the surface of American society. We need to look at the culture these allegations are taking place in. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every four girls has been sexually molested by the time she turns 14. (Stop for a moment and let that sink in. One in four of our precious little girls.) One in six women has been a victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and approximately 7.8 million women have been raped by a boyfriend, husband, or significant other. According to estimates from the US Department of Justice, fewer than half of all rapes are reported to the police, and only one out of twenty rapists ever spends a day in jail for their crimes.

What this tells me is that the problem isn’t histrionic shepherdesses crying wolf. Most of them never even make a peep. The real problem is that the flocks are teeming with wolves, and women are afraid to speak up for fear of getting their throats torn out. Liar. Hussy. Shameful. Slut. Everyone will hate you if you tell.

Too often, we’re proving the wolves right.

Friends, sexual harassment is a serious issue. As Christians, we need to stop minimizing these evils and listen carefully to what the victims have to say. Even when it costs us something. Even when it makes us uncomfortable. And rest assured, it probably will.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from Ephesians 5:3-13, because Paul says it better than I ever could: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not squeeze our eyes shut and pretend that the darkness is just in our head. Instead, let’s expose the deeds of darkness, shining the bright light of Christ’s truth on the dark spots in our society, in our histories, and in our hearts, so God can illuminate them and make us a beacon of light to a dark, dark world.

15 Responses to #YesAllWomen. The girl who cried wolf, and other myths.

  1. Lisa Guinther May 24, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    Thank you Jenny Rae!

    It is true that most women I have known, and I myself, would rather put up with harassment than report.

    I once by accident “reported” at my work…I didn’t know that the person I was speaking to was a designated reporter. It was horrible! I was shunned by my whole department for a year; but later I had women coming up to me and saying to me that they had been harrased by the same man.

    Why oh why do we think that women lie about harrassment? That is the “myth” we, as women are meant to swallow. The horrible victim blaming/shaming that happens after a woman is brave enough to say something.

    Thank you for this post.

    I agree that this is a topic that all churches need to educate their congregants on.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong May 25, 2014 at 8:42 am #

      Thanks Lisa. You know, it is bizarre–I can see how some small percentage of women, like Bev mentioned below, might give false testimony against exes if they have a lot to gain (total custody of kids, etc.). But I would question the mental health of a woman who lied about being sexually harassed by a co-worker, pastor, or teacher. Because honestly, unless the person has some sort of serious mental/emotional disorder going on, what’s the point?

  2. Becky May 24, 2014 at 11:04 pm #

    Good post, thank you for writing!

  3. Bev Murrill May 25, 2014 at 3:54 am #

    I agree with this post. I was personally molested a few times as a young woman, fortunately not physically severely, but nevertheless by a couple of different people in authority and I did not know who I could tell… so I didn’t tell anyone.

    The difficulty is that there are women who, out of vengeance, accuse ex partners of abuse. In the same way that there are guys out there who are jerks, there are also women who take advantage of the increasing determination of women and men to expose sexual abuse, and who use it for their own ends.

    It’s an ugly world, and yes, I agree, it is far more normal for women to be abused and men to blame the victim. I’m so encouraged that we are finally bringing the issues into the light. Thanks Jenny Rae for your consistency on this subject.

  4. Susan May 25, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    I’m in my 50s. After an extended time if working from home when my children were young, I got a part-time job in a law office, in the late ’90s, after sexual harassment laws had taken hold. I could NOT believe the difference! In my previous life working in many offices, women put up with a steady stream of leering, double entendres, “invitations” and actual molestation, every day. When I went back yo working in an office, no one ever said a single word that even slightly be interpreted as sexual and certainly never touched anyone inappropriately. Of course, that’s not true everywhere, but what an improvement! Why Christians would defend that old status quo is beyond,me!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong May 25, 2014 at 8:35 am #

      Yes, so true! I was in middle school/high school in the late eighties and early nineties, but I noticed a definite shift after the laws took hold as well. The eighties were horrific, and even watching teen movies from that time, how awfully girls were treated and how it was supposed to be laughed off, is astonishing. I won’t let my kids watch them. Things still happened in the nineties, of course, but at least the behavior had been clearly identified as not only obnoxious but illegal, which gave the victims more clout and cowed establishments into taking it more seriously.

  5. Kelly May 25, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    The “needing proof” attitude infuriates me. I would bet 9 out of 10 times a woman does not have physical proof of sexual harassment (not including rape). Not even a month ago, a male cable/internet/security tech for a major company sexually harassed me IN MY OWN HOME in front of MY CHILDREN and no, I have no “proof.”

    The evangelical world should be absolutely ashamed of itself.

  6. kris799 May 25, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    As an agnostic I don’t say this much but God bless you, Jenny!

  7. Anna May 29, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    About the whole “needing proof” aspect: if there is no proof for what took place, than what exactly is a company or a court supposed to do? Please understand, I agree with the points you’ve made here, I’m just wondering how this would play out practically if they were to be implemented.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong May 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

      I get what you’re saying. Regarding school or workplace harassment, the thing is, the victim is not taking the harasser to court–they are reporting inappropriate behavior to the company, who should take some sort of action to end the problem. That could be reprimanding the harasser, or moving a cubicle, or changing a line of command, or changing a student’s class–there are several different options, and they aren’t all punitive. What the laws do, as I understand it, is remove the option of doing nothing to protect the victim without the threat of being sued. Legal cases are, obviously, much more complicated, which is why so many abusers or rapists are never punished for their crimes, and walk free even when someone reports them.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. #yesallwomen: the real vs. the fantasy female - Your The Man Jesus - May 25, 2014

    […] Thanks to Jenny Mae Armstrong’s post #yesallwomen: the girl who cried wolf and other myths. […]

  2. The Sociology of Institutional Repentance « Sociological Reflections - May 28, 2014

    […] For now, I’ll simply use some sociological tools to explore why the idea of institutional repentance is so important. This week has provided four critical examples where institutional repentance is the only feasible response: Ta-Neisi Coates’ Atlantic article, the unfolding saga at Sovereign Grace Ministries (#IStandwithSGMVictims), new revelations about “normal life” at Mars Hill in Seattle, and the aftermath of the UCSB mass shooting (#YesAllWomen). […]

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