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CRAMER: Patriarchy, privilege and the #MeToo movement

• Oct 20, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Over the past few days, I have been seeing two very small words in my social media feed that carry tremendous weight: “Me too.”

The movement to post these words seems to have started Sunday, when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” It began as a response to the news reports of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer who lost his job, wife, and membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when a wave of allegations arose accusing him of sexual misconduct.

On Sunday, when I watched the status posts beginning to spread, I told my wife that I was unsure of how to respond. On one side, it seemed like a powerful way to raise awareness. On the other side, a part of me worried that the distinction between sexual assault and sexual harassment might be lost by this sort of activism, maybe even causing pain to victims of assault. I wondered if social media posts like this could make an impact on the myriad problems related to issues surrounding the way men treat women.

I then asked my wife if I she thought I was wondering these things because of the patriarchal position, the perspective in which I live, given my gender. She said that was a tough question.

Now, several days later, I think I know the answer.

Yes.

Yes, any questions I have about this movement arise from my own patriarchal perspective. My very hesitancy at listening carefully to the voices of women from around my social network betrays the pervasive nature of patriarchy, how very hard it so often is for women to be truly heard by men when it comes to questions of sexual harassment and assault. I am complicit in that systemic reality and I have simply not done a good-enough job repenting of that complicity and seeking to be a better man.

So, the first thing I want to say is that I am so sorry.

I am sorry that a tidal wave of #MeToo posts has not provoked more shock and sadness, more contrition and desire for action in the men who have seen them. I’m sorry that men are often so unaware of what it is like to live like a woman in this society that we would be surprised that so many women have had this experience. I’m sorry that our first experience — my first experience — isn’t always to listen. I’m sorry that more of us don’t realize a culture that permits harassment is one in which assault also thrives.

Perhaps you’ve seen the image of a sailor passionately kissing a nurse during a parade celebrating the end of the Second World War. Perhaps you’ve thought how romantic it was.

It wasn’t. That is a photo of Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental assistant who was grabbed that day by a sailor and kissed. As Friedman said in a 2005 interview with the Library of Congress, “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed! That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”

That picture is an image of an unwanted physical assault upon a woman. But our culture is so blind that, to this day, many laud it as a playful example of American exuberance. It is actually a devastating example of culture’s treatment of women.

In “The Macho Paradox,” author Jackson Katz tells the story of drawing a line down a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female on the other, and then asking men, “What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?” He says that the men sit there awkwardly, unsure of what to say except maybe to make a joke.

Then he asks women the same question. The answers immediately pour forth.

“Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cellphone. Don't go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don't put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man's voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don't use parking garages. Don't get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don't use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don't wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don't take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don't make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”

Every single day women have to make a myriad choices because our culture has conditioned men to treat them as objects, as things that can be coerced to serve the pleasure of men. Whether it is as seemingly innocent as complimenting a woman at work on how good she looks (instead of perhaps complimenting her on her excellent work and insight) or whether it is as pernicious as using your position, physical strength, or even just your demeanor to make unwanted advances with a woman — no matter what, it is wrong. It has created a world where strong, powerful, vibrant women live with a shame, sadness, anxiety or pain that should not be theirs to bear.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that every man is not only saying I’m sorry but is also working actively to monitor his own thoughts, behaviors and words, and asking how he may be complicit in this reality.

As men, we must do better. Every single #MeToo should make us sick to our stomach, should make us immediately reflect on our own lives, should make us the first to stand up when a woman has the courage to speak truthfully about her experience. Every single #MeToo should be met by a resolve not only to listen but actually to hear about these experiences — and to ask how we can dismantle this sin-soaked system.

— By the Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven.

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