After the horrifying shootings in Santa Barbara on May 23rd, news reports attempted to discover a motive behind the act. The 22-year-old gunman posted a YouTube video shortly before he acted where he complained about rejections he’d experienced from women and revealed his plan to kill women he believed had rebuffed him. We can guess mental illness played a part in the gunman’s decisions and actions, and we can’t assume misogyny and hate were his motives—at this point it’s correlation, not causation.
Yet his actions led to a heart-breaking and eye-opening conversation on Twitter. Using the hashtag #YesAllWomen, women from around the world began tweeting their experiences with misogyny and sexual harassment. As of today there are over a million tweets with the hashtag #YesAllWomen.
To be clear, not all men abuse, hurt or harass women. I have known countless men who have supported, loved and lifted me up as a whole and valuable person, including my wonderful husband. But this also is clear and true: all women experience misogyny and sexual harassment. My truth includes a day at the mall when I was around 14, when a man in his early twenties leered at me and stated, “I’ll wait and do you on a Sunday because you look like a good girl.” It includes a man in a past congregation I served who hugged me a little too long–while I was wearing my alb and vestments–and who regaled sexist jokes to me in front of my husband, thinking he would laugh; it includes long-ago excruciating and halting conversations with male youth trip chaperones who crossed the line with underage girls and it includes a boy in college who called me over and over—to the point where I became frightened—because I danced with him once then walked away. It includes all the subtle ways our society tells boys that they have a right to a woman’s body and tells girls that their body belongs to someone else.
Even if it’s only a few men who partake in this behavior, as Christian people, we need to acknowledge, listen and speak out against it. Scripture is full of stories of women experiencing shame, abuse and violence, yet there is hope in the way many of these women confront the corrupt systems that oppress them and speak out. We meet caring men in Scripture who do the same, including Jesus himself.
Pray for women who know violence and oppression all over the world and in our community. Listen without judgment; speak when your heart is moved. There is power in the Word.