We are so pleased to be partnering with our friends at The Junia Project to co-publish this article. The author asked to remain anonymous, but she speaks for untold numbers of women and girls who could share similar stories. We set this forth as a way of adding to the growing number of voices, long marginalized among our churches, who are alerting us to patterns of thought and behavior that are deeply entrenched not only in the culture of the world, but among Christians as well. May God continue his work of healing the brokenness between genders in and through the vulnerable sharing of stories such as this.
Recently, the phenomenon of “locker room talk” among men about women has made national headlines. This has kick-started a new wave of awareness about the pervasiveness of sexual assault against women. All this has provided an occasion for me, and I am sure many other women, to relive a moment when a stranger grabbed me in exactly the way described in this “locker room talk.”
Twelve Years Old
I was twelve and walking with my mom and older sister. As a group of older teenage boys walked by, one of them pretended to bump into my shoulder and as he did, he grabbed me between the legs—not an accidental brush but a deliberate, unmistakable grab. My mother and sister had no idea and we just kept walking. I was too stunned to respond. But I had already learned that this was the kind of thing boys do. Because, for a year or two, my best friend and I had been targeted by a group of older boys at school who at least once a week squeezed a breast or lifted a skirt.
It didn’t even cross our minds to tell anyone.
It also didn’t cross my mind to tell anyone when, at 14, a 35 year-old family friend held me tight and tried to kiss me.
What did cross my mind was that I seemed to have a strange power over men. They seemed to just do things they couldn’t help when I was around. Like all teenagers, I was grasping for something that made me feel in control so I soon learned that if I dressed in the right way, walked in the right way, I could have some of the power that I desperately wanted. And when boys made me feel small, I just had to flip my hair and giggle and their power over me would dissolve.
I didn’t want to have any relationship with them; I just wanted something to fill the void of insecurity and powerlessness. Because inside, like most teenagers, I had no idea who I was or if I had anything to offer the world. And why take the long, painful road to self-discovery, why take the risks required to find your voice when power is as close as your make-up bag?
The Damage of Sexual Power
It wasn’t until my thirties, as I stepped into Christian leadership that I began to see the real damage those early experiences had done to my sense of self. It goes without saying that a Christian leader of any gender should not use the kind of sexual power I’d learned as a teen and I had no desire to.
But once I set aside what the world had taught me—that my power lay in my looks—what was left? Would some men, still thinking in the world’s ways, look for that kind of power in me and only take me seriously if they found me attractive? Would others, knowing that kind of power is not appropriate in the church, dismiss me if I were too attractive?
Finding that nebulous space between “not attractive enough” and “too attractive” crippled me. On the occasions I got the wrong kind of attention (as a female church leader) I beat myself up for my choice of clothing. I became a disembodied leader, always living in the realm of ideas, to keep from drawing any attention to my embodied self. My body was something to hide, to be ashamed of, afraid of, something to steward well to protect the men I lead. Finding that nebulous space between “not attractive enough” and “too attractive” crippled me. Click To Tweet
In the wake of this new national conversation, we’ve heard the devastating statistics that one in six women has experienced sexual assault. My experience in no way caused the trauma that rape causes and I grieve with my sisters who have been violated in that way.
I have to wonder: if we included women who have been groped by a man, would it be one in three? one in two? If we included women who have been spoken to in a way that was objectifying, would it be all women?
Beyond what this treatment does to women physically, what does it communicate to them about their influence in the world? If we learn, from an early age, that our greatest way to make an impact in the world is through our sexuality, how will we ever learn to value the internal qualities God has given us to share with the world? How can we protect that space for our developing daughters to discover their gifts and their voice?
The Church needs what they bring!
It’s in light of precisely these kinds of realities that Missio Alliance has convened the #SheLeads Summit. We long to see God’s work of redemption, reconciliation, and recreation manifest among men and women as partners in life and leadership!
No matter where you are, there’s still time to register to join us at regional venues across the country or via the live stream.
And just in case you missed it, there’s a special opportunity to have your son or daughter join you for this!