Susan Brownmiller 42 Years Later

Ever since “locker room talk” became part of our national conversation and accusations of assault became daily events, I’ve been asking men I know and trust about such things.  I’m the mother of two men, the wife of one, the daughter of another, the sister of two others. I honestly do not believe they have participated in “locker room talk” as defined by our President.

But this article makes me sad.

“harassment was not something he had thought much about before” 

I’m not sure most men have thought it about it much because they don’t have to think about it.  Yes, men can be victims of harassment (hello Kevin Spacey) but women have been harassed and worse since the beginning of time.  Susan Brownmiller wrote about this in 1975.  Even since men realized they could physically overpower women, there has been harassment and worse.

I do not believe that all men cognitively participate in objectifying women.  But there are many who know exactly what they are doing and it’s about power.  All women are subjected to power plays – some very ugly power plays – and it’s become so normalized, we shove those experiences aside and move on.  They run the spectrum from unwitting to intentional.

Years ago, I was officiating at a graveside ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, burying a beloved parishioner.  It’s an enormous privilege to officiate at a burial in Arlington.  You are surrounded by  history and precision and reverence.

I was standing beside the widow who had just been presented with a neatly folded flag by the honor guard when the funeral director leaned over and whispered into my ear what he would like to do to me after the service.  The operative words here were “do to me.”

Creepy men count on women not to make a scene.  What was I going to do?  Slap the funeral director at the graveside at Arlington National Cemetery?  My only response was to find another ride home after the service.  I was not about to get in the hearse with that guy and I never got in a car with him again.  But I didn’t report this to anyone.  The only people I told were other clergywomen who might work with him and my words were a warning, not a sexual misconduct report.

In my late 20s I attended a Volunteer Fire Department banquet which honored several men in my congregation who were volunteers.  The keynote speaker from a State Fire Fighters organization sat beside me on the dais and identified himself to me as a Christian who didn’t believe in the ordination of women.  He even had a Bible with him and he pointed out a couple verses to make his point.  And then he stood up and began his address with  a rape joke.  I can’t make this stuff up.

Ours is a rape culture.  I hate to say that.  I hate to write such a negative thing on a beautiful Monday morning, but it’s true.  And what we can do about it is to call everyday violence against women – along with the obvious criminal activity – what it is:  dehumanizing.  If we believe that women are created in the Image of God, if we believe that women are holy and treasured then all of us will work to shift this culture.

Abusers are counting on the fact that their victims will be too afraid to speak up. They count on the fact that ladies have been taught not to make a scene in public when someone pinches them or grabs them or whispers vile comments into their ears.

We not only need to teach men about consent.  We need to make it safe for women to make a scene.

Image from the Twitter account @Son_of_JorEl22 .  When I see this kind of thing in the future, I hope I’ll have the guts to start a conversation.

One response to “Susan Brownmiller 42 Years Later

  1. Having read many articles and columns that have been written following the latest #metoo effort of encouraging women to come forward and/or speak up, I am disappointed, to say the least, that no writer has had the courage to confront the overwhelming pornography industry and how it burns images of abuse into the minds of men, young and old. It sickens me. It is hypocritical. As long a the movie industry and pornography industry happily promote abuse, our daughters will see no change in society and the icky personal stories will be shoved to the back of their minds.


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