Throughout recorded history, men have generally treated women badly. They possessed them, raped them, impregnated them and tortured them all in the name of superiority. As my wife and I have been reading in the Old Testament, we’ve run across countless stories of women being treated badly, even unto death. We have shaken our heads reading the stories and wondered why, just why? Sure there are stories of female heroes, like Deborah the judge, Ruth and Esther. But they are overshadowed by the abuse written about. How are we to reconcile that against that of the loving God?
The New Testament tends to take a softer tone in large part due to Jesus’ treatment of the women around him as well as the ones he encounters along the way. And while women are still not treated as equals, it’s better. That is, until you get to the Epistles and the Apostle Paul seems to “put women in their rightful place,” not speaking in Church or ministering to others.
As we look to today’s sexual harassment revelations, where not a day goes by that one, two, three more men are unmasked as sexual predators or at the least, harassers, I am reminded of a familiar set of verses from the New Testament:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28)
We men are all guilty. We’ve done it. Even the most righteous Letter-day Saint man. Even the most devout Christian (think: Jimmy Carter) has done it. Once, twice, maybe multiple times a day…..
Many of us older men were brought up in the era where our Moms stayed home and Dad worked. The movies and TV were pretty benign, except for hints of sexuality now and then. Married couples slept in twin beds and babies appeared out of nowhere. But yet, there was Playboy Magazine and the lifestyle it promoted. And there were always the pretty girls. Magazines, newspapers, TV, movies and personal appearances. They were sold to us on their looks, that we should desire them. They were being exploited for commercial gain. And yet, we were also taught to be respectful. But perhaps not well enough. Hormones and high school brought about a whole other level of issues. Boys were challenged by one another to date this girl or that girl in hopes of “going all the way.” It was encouraged, bets were made, names were called for failure. And the seeds of sexual harassment were sown in the form of unwanted advances and even worse, rape. With the victims too ashamed to report it, it emboldened the rapists. They say that rape is a crime of power rather than sex, but for hormone and peer-pressured boys, it was both.
I can somewhat guarantee that his type of behavior was more prevalent among the jocks and BMOCs (Big Men on Campus) than among the marching band or scholars, though we had our moments. So you can begin to see a parallel with those who held the power in the organization versus those that did not. That’s not to say that some girls willingly pursued the jock types, but that would never give license for harassment or sexual battery. Some girls may have, in fact, felt forced to maintain relationships lest they be branded as a “loose girl, a slut or worse.” Another parallel.
In the intervening years, standards in movies were slowly relaxed and nudity was introduced. Ironically, it was mostly, if not all, female nudity. Nobody was real interested in seeing male genitalia (though that has changed too), but men were very eager to see the undressed female form to the point where gratuitous nude scenes were added that had no real bearing on the story. In fact, it was typical that a nude scene, often a shower scene, would appear within the first 5 minutes or so of the movie, signaling to the men that a good time was ahead. Madison Avenue took full advantage of these loosened standards to portray women in all stages of undress. Ads perhaps aimed at women but pleasing to the man’s eye. No need to get the popcorn. And of course, the Internet provides easy access to pornography, which has always objectified women and created a false standard that most normal women have a hard time living up to.
Fast forward to today. Many of us could probably relate a story about a situation where something happened, but we chose not to do anything about it. I have one where I did speak up.
An employee and I were attend a multi-day field meeting out of town. One of the activities in the evening was bowling. I’m sure you say to yourself, what could possibly happen at a bowling alley? Well, my employee was a very attractive female and our field guys were middle-aged men. And, there was drinking involved. So where was the problem?
Well, the guys on the team with my employee would get hugs from her every time they made a half-way decent shot. So much so that the guys on the opposing team did it too. Again, alcohol played a part.
When we went back to the hotel, I took her aside and told her that I wanted those guys to respect her. She was extremely bright and was very good at her job. When she gets up to do her presentation, that was what I want them to see. She started to cry and said “I never thought about that.” Now, this woman went on to be the CEO of some very successful tech companies. It was an important lesson I learned that night.
Men need to be ashamed. Perhaps not for their own actions, but for the fact that they know someone or have read about the hideous accounts of the men in Hollywood, business and the media. They should be appalled at the double standard of our politics (though double standards and politics go hand-in-hand anyway)
Men need to teach their sons respect for women, to treat them as equals and never, ever do anything that could be construed as not receive explicit consent.
In the LDS Church, the Young Men need regular lessons on not just honoring and revering their Priesthood, but how to treat Young Women and their future wives. Teach modesty if you wish, but respect for one another is probably much, more important.
After all, there are now windows in every classroom in the Church. It’s not because of the women.