Sunday, September 23, 2018

Faith and Sexual Misconduct

Women are raging.

And women who've been abused sexually are feeling traumatized all over again, not merely by the description of the alleged assault against Dr. Ford, but by the behavior of the GOP, the President and some of their apologists. To say "boys will be boys" or to say "all guys do this" is to open wounds so deep that it seems as if blood is flowing throughout our society.

The rage spills over into social media. Women (and some men, because men are victims too) report that they feel physically ill, and have had exacerbation of chronic conditions.

It's important to remember that so often the initial trauma is bad, but that it could have been far less had there been a vehicle for healing available. Instead, most victims face shame, repression, silence, denial, and disbelief if they do tell. Those who report are scorned by the perpetrator's allies and humiliated by attorneys and sometimes law enforcement. I believe that most perpetrators of sexual violence get away with their crimes, usually for their entire lives. Hence the hashtag #whyididntreport

This column by Maureen Dowd covers the extent of the fury. Read the column.

In my own family, this has happened.

My mother died when I was 5. Soon after, my father remarried, a woman with 4 sons, the oldest of whom sexually abused my sister, my brother and me. In my case, he backed off. I think he knew my father and stepmother would believe me if I told. But the others suffered severely, and their trauma has destroyed our family, our relationships, and taken a toll on several generations. So much of my own life has been devastated by the actions of this person that I am keenly aware of not only the first hand but second, third, and fourth hand effects of sexual trauma. A few years ago, I went back to my home place to live and work, and made an effort to unmask the perpetrator, now in his sixties, who has two young sons in his care. It was more out of concern for their safety than for revenge that I went to extreme measures to alert authorities to his crimes. Although I was listened to (probably because I am a minister), and I had a chance to meet with individuals in law enforcement up to the County Judge Executive, and there was a home visit made by Child Protective Services, nothing could be done. The person involved, Roger Tees of Atlantic County, NJ, was not yet 18 at the time the actions took place in our home. There's no statute of limitations, but he wasn't an adult. So.

Soon after, he and his wife and their young children came to the church I was serving as an interim. They only stayed for about 20 minutes, then got up and left. I suspect they came in an attempt to intimidate me. They did not. I tell you this not to claim a victim stance or a moral high ground but to say that I speak with knowledge of someone whose life was permanently altered by sexual assault and who has yet had a productive life, who refuses to stop trusting men, or people in general.

Roger Tees and his sons

The faith tradition I serve, Unitarian Universalism, is historically Christian but has evolved to embrace many paths to God and truth. We do agree on a number of tenets, not a creed. Topmost among them is The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

There have been times when I've questioned that. Times when I've felt that, although every person is born with innocence and free of sin (where Universalists fall away from Calvinists), there are those who immerse themselves so egregiously in evil that they eliminate any trace of worth and dignity. Nonetheless, my Christian foundation cautions me, as do my experiences, that there is always hope, that salvation is possible, and that even the most unrepentant may yet do good.

This stepbrother claims to be Christian and wears a big cross. To me, if he were even slightly serious, he would have made amends to those he hurt, and he'd be attempting to right his wrongs. He'd have gotten treatment for what was a classic example of pedophilia. If not, his "Christianity" is a cover for what I fear may be continued abuse that I can do nothing about, and what no one else, neither family, friends, nor the state, will do. You only hear these stories in retrospect, and by then the next round of abusers has already been created. 

Back to my own faith.

I'm disconcerted by the number of Unitarians and especially of Unitarian ministers who are making statements that, if I were a male, would make me feel as if I'd somehow been in the room with Kavanaugh and Ford. If you say #notallmen, you're toast, yet some posts I've seen look an awful lot like it's okay to say #allmen and that just doesn't go along with my personal beliefs. How can you believe in the inherent worth and dignity  of every human, yet somehow deny that to 50% of humanity? It's one of many problems I have with my own faith tradition right now.

Brett Kavanaugh is a conservative and a person with whom I likely disagree on many things. He's not a monster. What he allegedly did at 16 sounds pretty bad. I don't know what he's done to repent or repair the damage. He didn't apologize to the victim. Nor did he go on to a life of sexual assault (both conjecture). Nonetheless, even though, as a liberal, I don't want to see him on the Supreme Court, I think he has inherent worth and dignity.  I think he probably did it. It's going to outweigh all good he's done since, in many minds. What if he'd gone to her then, begged forgiveness, stopped drinking? I am assuming he was and is Catholic. Did he tell his Priest? I agree with one wise commentator this week: He should step down. That would be the ethical, moral, and even politically correct thing for him to do. It's what appears to be his lying about it now, as well as his lying and dissembling about numerous other issues, that to me is completely disqualifying.

For the rest of us? I'm not telling anyone else what to do right now. I'm going to go on believing that most people are basically good. It's worked for me so far. And it's what my faith tells me.

Kids. Innocent & Safe.
Inherently Good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pointing Fingers & the Kavanaugh Debate

Every man is some woman's son.

Although he may not have been raised by his mother, someone raised him, and how boys were raised has a bearing on what sort of men they become.

As I contemplate the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, and especially as I read the extensive discussions on my social media (most of them among liberal and progressive "friends"), it's impossible to do so without the knowledge of a mother of adult sons, a sister, and a wife. When I hear colleagues ask: Where are the men? Why aren't they speaking up? I think, what can they say right now? When I read words like this is male privilege. This is what men do... I know I can't say anything along the lines of "Not all men," because that is verboten. I write this because I think the divisive rhetoric will get us nowhere and I want us to be able to get somewhere.

I pray that my sons, my husband, my brothers never did anything like this. I will probably never know. I know that raising boys has been a challenge over the past 36 years. I have felt that my own influence has been offset by the lyrics in the music they listen to (at times incessantly), the TV shows and movies they've watched, and the general culture: books like Fifty Shades of Gray, video games like Grand Theft Auto. I remember being overjoyed when it became clear they'd not join the military, when I realized they would never pledge a fraternity, when the women they had relationships with were clearly treated with respect. But there is much I don't know. Because they suffered from years of addiction, I was not always a part of their lives. Men don't usually tell their mothers the intimate details about their liaisons. And, since their father and I divorced when they were young, my influence was supplemented by his. What I know is that I expected to be treated with respect. I didn't tolerate sexist and misogynist behavior and comments. I hoped that by seeing me leave a demeaning and verbally abusive relationship, they'd understand the worth of women. But was that enough?

Since I have a young son, my sister's grandchild, I get to spend time around people with children his age. I can observe current day mothering as well as I could observe mothers and sons thirty years ago. Here's what I see that troubles me: women routinely allowing boys to boss them around. Women condoning and permitting behavior from boys they wouldn't tolerate from girls. Women letting men dominate conversations, make subtly aggressive remarks, and shuffle all the child-related responsibilities onto them. Boys learn from what they see.

And so do girls. I have a daughter, too. From the beginning, I felt the importance of teaching her that she must never allow herself to be objectified or demeaned by men. And it was clear to me that the best way I could teach her was not to tell her but to show her by my own life. But things are complex. This did not succeed in every regard. Most of the interpersonal negativity in her experiences have been caused by women... as they have in mine. Raising girls not to trust men is not the answer.

I'm convinced that growing up with misogyny unaddressed is how boys become entitled, arrogant, and dismissive of women's needs. If what boys observe is that women routinely set aside their own passions, health, creativity, and even their opinions in order to please the men around them, why would boys expect the world to be different when they become men? Why wouldn't they expect women to be available and even eager to please them sexually?

Men, here's a query you can reply to! Your HS experience?

I can see how this might sound as if it may be an attempt to excuse the behavior of men who do things like Kavanaugh is accused of doing. It is not! Nor do I have any patience for those who say women that are assaulted asked for it, or are somehow to blame. My point is that as bad as things seem to be today, as egregious as this type of behavior is, there are a multitude of things that need to change:

* How boys are raised by men and women
* The influence of culture: music, literature, and film/TV
* Sex education
* Fraternity culture and the culture of violence

Those of us who are mothers of sons can take an unflinching look at how we influenced our sons' attitudes. For me, there were things I did well, and things I could have done better. Rather than pointing fingers at the men on my Facebook timeline (the vast majority of whom are decent, respectful, and beyond laudable in how they treat women), it feels more productive to do some self-examination. Even now, with sons in their thirties and a boy in his teens, I can look at ways I allow people to treat me. I can demand respect and decency. I can believe that I deserve to be treated well. Those are things I can influence, and they matter.

Monday, September 17, 2018



I haven't been blogging as much lately.

Unless I have something to say that is likely to add to the general conversation, I think it makes more sense to wait and listen. When I feel compelled to speak/write, I will. I have so many projects underway, both writing projects and gardening ones, that my blog doesn't call to me quite as often. I've turned off comments for a very specific reason, but if we are connected through other social media, I welcome your feedback.

So, the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. I can't imagine that this isn't raising some issues for every woman (and probably many men), no matter their age. Did that happen to me, ever? Did I do something like that? For not a few, the answer will be yes. How much should that "yes" continue to impact the rest of our lives, if it happens as early as this was alleged to have happened.. high school?

I went to plenty of parties in high school where there were no parents, and there was drinking. I remember going into bedrooms. I'm pretty sure that boys laid either on top of or next to me, but there the comparison ends. Although they (and sometimes I) were drinking, and probably drunk, I wasn't forced into a bedroom, pushed onto a bed, held down, nearly suffocated, nor were my clothes nearly torn off. I didn't have to flee to a bathroom and wait, terrified, until the offender left. And there was never  a second boy in the room. That's just so upsetting, for a number of reasons.

I didn't feel then, and I don't feel now, that I was ever forced to do anything against my will. I'm a good ten years older than the accuser and the accused here, so I bring my own experience to the conversation, because it may be more relevant than someone who is that age today, or was that age ten years ago. As a girl, I felt more powerful than powerless, because I knew that I had something (even if I was insecure about it) boys liked, and I could either give or withhold my affection. The boys with whom I spent this kind of time were inexperienced, usually awkward, and endearing. So I write this not to say #notallmen because that has become anathema, but to say that what is alleged to have happened was not normal, not okay, and not just a case of "boys will be boys".


I was also sexually abused. This happened at a much younger age, around nine or ten, when the oldest stepbrother of four moved into our home after our mother died when I was five. Because I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes, he backed off after making numerous attempts to groom and grope me, and I spent the next year or two, until he moved away, hiding from him. Tragically, he did succeed with my brother and sister, and their trauma has been far worse than mine. But even with what happened to me, I've been affected in ways that continue to have repercussions decades later. So, it's easy for me to believe that the accuser is still affected, as well as to believe she did not tell many people. Neither did I.


Here's why I think what happened to her happened, and why so many women signed a letter supporting her attacker:

His actions were those of an entitled, pampered, male from the upper classes of American society. Much like Trump, he believed that if he wanted something, he could just take it. Of course, he kept that sort of behavior in check over the remainder of his adult life, because what he wanted would be undermined by allegations like the one that has arisen. There is a class of people who are making decisions for us, who are running our institutions, and who are taking our money, who have never experienced the day-to-day life of American people. This is epitomized as much by Brett Kavanaugh throwing a 15 year old girl on a bed at a party as it is by Donald Trump throwing paper towels at Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria.

Strangest of all is that those who are enabling this triumph of entitled imposters are the poor and uneducated who have never seen the inside of a prep school, and who might think what Kavanaugh did is no big deal, yet sit back and ignore the rape of the environment, the stifling of peace accords, the undressing of trade economies. Who are being assaulted themselves, and don't even know when they're getting groomed.