I was trying to get into the spirit of the season and I just heard a mom on the “uplifting and positive” radio station who called in and shared her fears about her son starting to date in the world we live in today. She was so afraid that he would be called out as an abuser by a young woman who was just out to get him. She’s afraid for the young men who have to date these days with all these scary women on the loose. And the guy on the station hosting the show totally supported her fears and said he was glad that his son was married now. I hate to tell him that his son could still be guilty of sexual harassment (or worse) and that married men are not immune to any of this.
I am not sure if it is worth calling this station and trying to explain victim blaming to them. Do they not understand that when the victims finally speak out, it is not to attack someone’s precious innocent son? It is to say that they were hurt and that it is not okay.
So many victims are finally coming forward, because they have been silent too long, and because it happens far too often. So many have been saying that they are shocked. I am just happy that it is finally coming out into the light, and in a way that kind of sounds like maybe some people and some workplaces are not okay with patterns of abuse and violation. I am not surprised in any way that power dynamics are a thing in the workplace. I am not shocked that sex has been wrapped up with money and power and made a mess of things. I am just relieved that some people are starting to look at that mess and wonder how it got so big, and where we can even start to clean it up.
I don’t know if it is worth trying to start these tough conversations is because I have tried so many times already, and I do not feel like I am heard. The reason that these arguments don’t get me anywhere, is because this undercurrent is everywhere! It is because our mainstream culture is more worried about someone being called an abuser or a rapist than they are about how we are supposed to teach our children (or coworkers) not to rape someone. And I am not judging this mom for being afraid. We are all afraid. The fear is what keeps us divided. The fear keeps us in fight or flight mode, so that we are weakened and vulnerable and cannot rise up. So I see her fear and I send her love, but we still need to stop shaming and blaming the victims.
I am scared too. I am worried about my kids starting to date because I know that there is so much pressure from their friends to treat each other with disrespect. I am worried because so many people don’t even know when they have raped someone, because they have no idea what real consent is. They have seen so many movies and heard so many messed up love songs that have taught them how to show they love someone by grabbing and holding on to them like another possession.
In my own life as a safely married adult, on the other side of these messages, I was feeling rejected and unloved because my husband would not act jealous and possessive. He didn’t want to own me. He let me be my own person. But I thought that meant that he didn’t love me. I was so used to this Hollywood image of a man who would grab me and take me and own me. I have been trying to un-learn all of that. I have been looking for better models. I have been trying to create a new image of a loving relationship that is not black and white, abuser and victim, strong and weak, but is instead made of two whole and healthy people in partnership with each other.
Through my writing and my teaching and my volunteering and my mothering, I work to end these patterns of abuse and trauma in our society. But I too, have been hushed and silenced and punished for speaking too many times. I know that the first step is breaking the silence. But I also know how hard it is to take that step.
Nobody takes that step lightly. So when they do, we need to help them. When they finally find the courage to stand, we need to start by resisting the urge to push them back down. We need to learn to be uncomfortable with the truth, but look at it anyway.
We need to stop saying that we are shocked.
We need to stop saying that we just can’t believe.
This time of year is the perfect time to start.
We have ornaments and decorations everywhere that say “BELIEVE.”
And that is the first thing that you need to do when a victim finds the courage and comes out and tells you their truth.
First, believe them. Hear them. See them.
Even if you don’t want to. Even if you would rather pretend that it is not true. Even if you want to pretend that you are shocked.
We have survived wars and holocausts and genocides and slavery. So I always wonder how anyone can say that they are shocked when someone talks about child abuse or sexual abuse or domestic violence or any of the other variations that are symptoms of our rape culture. Are you shocked when someone points out that hurting people find horrifying ways of hurting others? Has nobody else seen movies or read books that demonstrate the amazing creativity that man has when it comes to torture? My kid just learned some of it in an elementary school textbook about the history of our country and asked me how one human could do those things to another! Even the stories that come with this seasons’ holidays are full of wars and massacres and torture. When people are scared and suffering, they lash out in terrifying ways. Horrible things happen every day. We know this.
We need to stop saying that we don’t believe it. We need to look at it. We need to sit with our own fears and our own pain. We need to see where it makes us hurt. We need to hear which words hurt us. We need to pay attention to where we get stuck. And that is where we can start the healing.
So over the radio waves in between the songs about love and light, I hear this mother’s fear. I hear her mother-heart that is scared about the world that her son lives in. In her own way she knows that we live in a perpetual rape culture. I am the mother of boys too, and I am afraid that they will get caught up in the ways in which our society tells them to act like a man. But I don’t blame the girls. I am not scared that these girls are out to get them. I am scared that my sons will do something that they think they are supposed to because the cultural messages are so pervasive. I am afraid that they will get caught in this undercurrent that is so strong, and then find out that they hurt someone, whether or not that was their intention. But this conversation needs to keep turning back to how we can help to break these patterns. How do we teach our children about consent? How do we protect people from being hurt? We do not need to spread fear about the victims speaking out.
We need to create ways to deal with our own fears, so that we do not spend another thousand years using pretty decorations to distract us from the truth of the season. The light comes into the world to shine on the darkness. We don’t need to deny that the darkness exists. When we move through where we are uncomfortable and afraid, we can accept the truth. And then we can learn to live in the light.
I am sending love to all of the people.
Blessings to you in this season of light. Do not be afraid.