In a couple of weeks, I’m going to a high school reunion. Not my real high school reunion – I’ve never been invited to one of those – but a reunion of my closest friends from high school. As I think about those friends, all men, I’m reminded that none of us are rapists. It is certainly possible that I’m wrong about this, but I feel pretty confident in my assessment. This may seem a low bar in judging a person’s character, but it also seems that it really needs to be said right now. No one I know, no one I would choose to spend time with or call a friend, has sexually assaulted anyone.
Lisa was asking me, in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, how it feels to be a man and to know that this kind of behavior is expected. How do I account for the fact that the very idea seems so alien to me and to everyone I know, yet it’s so pervasive? I’ll come back to that question in a second.
First, an apology. I admit that I disbelieved statistics on sexual harassment and assault for many years. I approached stories of these events with skepticism, thinking that surely she, whoever she was, had misread the situation, that it wasn’t really that bad. It wasn’t until I became a minister that I became aware of how truly pervasive sexual misconduct was. Literally, every single woman to whom I have given pastoral care has a story of sexual harassment or assault. Every one. So I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you and I repent. But I think my lack of awareness might reveal something.
As I thought about Lisa’s questioning, it occurred to me that there is a clear dividing line around masculinity that begins to take hold at least in middle school and perhaps earlier. Me and my friends would never speak that way about women. We were sensitive and decent boys who had friends that were girls that we respected. We looked with disdain on the boys who did talk about girls that way, as objects of conquest. And we were bullied. We were not considered normal. We were considered weird and effeminate. If not gay, then gayish. We tried our best to separate ourselves from those boys, the boys pretending to be men, the boys imitating a version of manhood that had been presented to them.
Because I was never around those men after that, I had always assumed that those men, too, one day understood that was not how the world worked. They would someday understand that women are people with thoughts and feelings and not just bodies to be used. I was naive. That is how the world works. Those boys never had a reason to grow up into a different understanding of gender. That presentation of masculinity has always been rewarded. The men who sit in power do so because they delight in taking power over others. And it has always worked. For them.
This is why I’m not at all surprised that more women are coming forward. Why would he change? He’s never had a reason to. And rest assured, there are more stories out there. Don’t forget that Kavanaugh is very close with Judge Alex Kozinsky, a judge who stepped down after fifteen women accused him of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh clerked in the very same office where all that misconduct happened, so it seems unlikely that he was completely unaware of it, as he has claimed under oath, and just as unlikely that he didn’t participate in it, imitating the ways of his close friend and mentor. Once you get through high school and college and law school by sexually assaulting or harassing women, what would motivate you to change in your professional career?
The beauty of #metoo and #timesup is watching the utter confusion on the faces of these men. They cannot believe this is happening, that a woman would dare to upset their apple cart. Brett Kavanaugh has been groomed from a very young age to be in this very spot. His nomination was supposed to be a fait accompli. But women are having some measure of well deserved revenge.
But it’s not just revenge; it’s survival. While Kavanaugh and his supporters believe that no young man should pay a price for sexual misconduct, Kavanaugh is nominated for this position precisely because he believes that women should pay a price for the actions of young men. He is nominated to, if not overturn outright, erode Roe v. Wade so that any teenage girl who is sexually assaulted by a young Brett Kavanaugh and becomes pregnant will have no choice but to carry that child to term. The reminder of that assault will be written on her body for at least nine months. Pregnant or not, it will be written on her psyche forever. Sadly, I don’t think it’s implausible that Kavanaugh doesn’t remember this event. He probably didn’t think about it at all.
Perhaps it’s Good News that there are men who find this version of masculinity repulsive and alien. In the face of so many saying things like, “What man hasn’t done these things?” we certainly need those of us who will raise our hands. However, if we only do that to exonerate ourselves, it’s not Good News at all.
We have to start, as a bare minimum, by voting out those men (and women) who find this conduct acceptable or even necessary. Preferably, we replace them with women who understand; thank God we have so many good options this election year. More importantly, we need to have better ways of talking about and expressing masculinity and, in turn, gender altogether.
While I’m certainly on the side of inclusive language, there are moments when we should consider Christ’s incarnation as a man. What does it mean for Christ to be a man? The men who sit in power, the ones who will humiliate Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in order to further their agenda, would be as confused and offended by Christ’s masculinity as they are by a woman who persists. The Apostle Paul exhorts the powerful to disempower ourselves, to become weak and vulnerable. If we have confidence, it can only exist in our quest for justice, not our conquest of women. If we boast, it is not of our accomplishments, but of the accomplishments of those we have raised up, of those for whom we have stepped aside, of those we stand with, not on. This is what God call us to and blesses.
If we choose not to do this, Paul offers a warning: “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” That is, those who our world disempowers, shame those who we have empowered. This is Paul’s eschatological moment, the apocalypse (revelation) he anticipated in which the veneer of male power is pulled away. Boys will be boys? Time’s up.