Silence Is Not Helping

. . . justice, or the lack of it, always involves bodies

Malachi is on leave. 

Robin:

Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017The national conversation, indeed the raging national debate and finger-pointing, focused on sexual abuse, assault, and rape has many layers. None of this is about sex, not real sex, joy, passion, love, between or among consenting persons—it is about the use of sex to violate another/others.

And yet, as I will argue later in this piece, our social squeamishness about sexual honesty, our phobia about talking openly about sex, is a critical element in our national failure to deal with widespread, and so often hidden, abuse and assault. 

sexual violenceLet me examine two other aspects that also have touched me. Both involve gender roles as enforced by our culture. Both are about bodies—as I never tire of saying, justice, or the lack of it, always involves bodies. 

The first is the contrast between the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasy Ford and Judge, now Justice, Kavanaugh at the final hearing on his nomination to the Supreme Court. The second is an article by Monica Hesse of the Washington Post, “Dear Dads: Your daughters told me about their assaults. This is why they never told you.”  I discuss this below.

I need not spend much time on the first, it having been discussed in many places by many people. But what I do want to say is how clearly the two people reflected the expected, indeed demanded, gender role of women as calm, reasonable, self-effacing, gracious, cordial, concerned about the other person, gentle, etc., and men as strong, assertive, angry when necessary (and so often necessary). not giving any quarter, not caring about others, not even acknowledging others (especially women and children). 

Justice Kavanaugh raged; Dr. Ford smiled. Justice Kavanaugh sneered at Senators, especially women; Dr. Ford spoke deferentially and softly.

As many have noted, Justice Kavanaugh appeared to be coming from the place of righteous indignation, a visceral reaction to what he, and many others, perceived to be an assault on his place of honor and white male privilege as one who began with a silver spoon in his mouth and has carefully made sure it was never removed. How dare you question, undermine, my carefully constructed persona and and record! 

This leads me to another, and related, set of gender roles, namely those governing the relationships among fathers and daughters (and sons, too). Monica Hesse discusses how often daughters (and sons, too) do not tell their fathers about the sexual abuse, assault, and rape they endure. They don’t even talk about the catcalls and rude whistles and comments they endure on the street or the gender-based discrimination and lack of respect and advancement in the workplace. 

Monica Hesse

Some men are now asking their daughters, and maybe sons as well, if there is anything they should know, anything that their children did not tell them earlier, perhaps from shame, or fear of talking about sexual matters, or, as Hesse points out, because they fear their fathers cannot handle the pain they have endured (or are still enduring). Aside: this seems to me a deep tragedy in the current situation—it’s not just women like Dr. Ford and so many others who endured something earlier, but also the women, and men, who are currently enduring such horrors. What is the silencing and dismissals by so many authorities, e.g., President Trump, doing to them?

Hesse reviews communications she has received from many victims, and notices how many are now telling their fathers for the first time about rape and abuse, as well as how many are choosing not to tell. Those in the latter group still don’t think their fathers can handle the emotional upset, or they fear their fathers will rage like Justice Kavanaugh (but go much further by attacking their attacker and even killing him and ending up in jail), or they feel so much gratitude for all their father has done for them that they don’t want him to feel even a hint of ingratitude. One son says that he won’t tell because “manliness” is so important to his father. 

I am grateful to and proud of the children who are telling their fathers. It helps make their relationships more whole by being more honest. 

And I admit to being disappointed by those who are choosing not to tell. I can’t and won’t criticize them for an intensely personal decision. Still, I hope they will stay open to the possibility of self-revelation, and self-empowerment, at some point. 

I believe they will gain, their fathers (and mothers) will gain, and frankly, all of us will gain, too. 

The more honest we are with each other the better our society works. 

This leads me to raise an issue that regular readers of this blog may recognize from prior posts: namely the inability of our society to engage in honest conversation about sex, sexual expression, and sexuality. 

As I said above, sexualized abuse, mistreatment or rape are not forms of sex. They are methods of abuse and domination and violation/violence. 

But I believe part of the problem we have with being honest about violations of bodies and the people who inhabit them is our squeamishness to talk about sex in the first place. It seems clear to me that this is definitely true when it comes to raising sons. 

I turn 72 on the date of publication of this post and as I read articles and books and testimonies about how we are teaching our children about sex and relationships things don’t feel all that different than when I was a pre-adolescent and teenager. In so many locales sex education focuses mainly on “just say no” and “wait until you’re married.” Actually, in my youth, we had only “wait, it’s a sin before marriage,” which did not stop many of my peers from being sexually active (and I imagine some being predatory and violent). 

I read of how some parents talk to their daughters about being safe, taking precautions; they may even tell sons something similar. And of course, how “no means no,” but even more how consent is more than simply allowing something to be done by one person (or more) to another (others). Consent is an active agreement by both (all) parties. Anything short of that is non-consensual, abusive, and violative behavior. It does not appear to me that that message is getting through to boys, or many grown men either. 

What is also so often missing is testimony about the power and beauty of sex and sexuality, how when engaged in with sensitivity and care for each other(s) it can enrich life, because sex is a powerful, and can be a liberating, force in our bodies and lives. 

I think that can begin by teaching the beauty and power of masturbation, the safest form of sex, not only in terms of avoiding pregnancy and STDs but also in terms of not harming any person (with one caveat: using images that encourage violence and violation as a form of stimulation do cause harm). 

Just think how different it could have been for Dr. Ford if Brett Kavanaugh (or whomever violated her) and other high school boys had either jerked off by themselves or engaged in a circle jerk.  

I am not sure we have gotten far beyond the days when Dr. Joycelyn Elders, U.S. Surgeon General, was forced to resign by President Clinton on December 10, 1994 for responding openly, and affirmatively, to an honest question about masturbation. 

all bodies deserve respectBodies are at risk in so many ways, of course not just sexually but also in terms of lack of food, healthcare, water, and exercise, not to mention war, police violence and crime—and at the most basic level of social interaction, simple respect by each of us for all the bodies with whom we come into contact as well as those we never know.

Our political climate as revealed in the past several weeks certainly is working against such respect, certainly as it involves our sexual beings. It is time to own our failings and work together to create change. 

Where’s the Shame?

Just think what a different world it would be . . . .

(Malachi is on leave this month.)

Robin:  Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017

I have been thinking a lot about shame lately—both because it has been in the news and because it has not been. 

Take former New York Mayor and Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani—the man I used to call “Bulliani” when I was one of his constituents—who said of Stephanie Clifford (more widely known as Stormy Daniels): 

“So Stormy, you want to bring a case, let me cross-examine you. Because the business you were in entitles you to no degree of giving your credibility any weight,” Giuliani told an audience in Tel Aviv, adding later, “I’m sorry I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman or a woman of substance or a woman who … isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation.” (ABC News June 6, 2018)

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani

The thrice married Guiliani—who had affairs before ending each marriage (to legalize the affair—doesn’t use the word “shame,” but the bite of his words has the same effect as saying, “Shame, Shame, Shame! I can see and hear many righteous Christian women in my home town wagging their fingers, tut-tutting, and saying, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

What I have always found revealing is that the language of shame is rarely used about murder or theft or embezzlement but is so often attached to sexual acts and behavior.  The shaming reflects the virulent and deep-seating sex phobia that permeates the land. And it is women who are expected to bear the shame. 

Which is one of the reasons I am grateful to Pope Francis expressing “shame and sorrow” over the actions of pedophile priests (NPR August 16, 2018). For once, we have a man expressing shame about the actions of men who engage in sexual abuse and exploitation. 

Pope FrancisThe words feel good, even though the lack—so far—of concrete action does not. Being ashamed, expressing shame, and remorse, is good, but the repentance and reparations have yet to come. Based on what has been revealed by the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, even more revelations are coming (New York’s Attorney General is now engaged in a similar project).  

But what clearly is missing, at least in most cases, are expressions of shame by many of the perpetrators. The perpetrators include not only the actual abusive priests, but also their organizational superiors who often turned a blind eye toward the behavior or simply moved the offending priest to another location where he could start again. So, many need to express shame, remorse, repentance, and together find ways to make reparations.

Payoffs by dioceses and others to victims, with clauses that prohibit them from talking about what happened, are neither remorse or reparations, they are hush money to avoid public scandal. They keep the victim ensnared in a silence that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to deal constructively with their own feelings and find ways to reclaim the parts of their lives that were severely damaged.

Stormy Daniels
Stephanie Clifford (AKA Stormy Daniels)

Which brings us back to Stormy Daniels. She has decided to break the silence, and confront the denials by one Donald J. Trump and throw the settlement she agreed to back in the face of her former lover and his attorney. In other words, she has decided not to carry the shame any more. 

One could make a case that, as “the other woman,” she owes Melania Trump an apology, but the person far more responsible for making such an apology is the man to whom Melania is married (and was married at the time of the affair).  Don’t look for that to happen any time soon. 

But as a porn star, indeed as a self-respecting businesswoman/sex worker who made money by being sexually available, needs make no apology—unless she over-charged for her services or performed the agreed upon acts in poor ways. No shame, no blame unless the services did not meet the standards as advertised and agreed upon. 

This was consensual sex, friends. Unlike the priests and their victims, both boys/men and girls/women. 

Oh, speaking of non-consensual sex, how about all the celebrities and corporate executives (men in all cases, except one so far I think) accused of abusive behavior? None of that appears to have been consensual. 

golden parachuteSome of them have expressed regret for “any pain they caused,” and many have lost their jobs—but few, if any, are suffering any economic loss. So many have “golden parachutes” built into their contracts—and/or their employers really don’t want to go through a trial with all of its attendant bad publicity—that they seem to land on their financial feet quite nicely. Buyouts leave them with good nest eggs to cushion the loss of status. And a few already seem to be attempting come-backs of one sort or another—and I predict more will try—which surely does not feel to me like feeling any shame. 

I have done some things in my life of which I am not proud, and even feel shame. I remember when I, as a county commissioner, backed down when one of our county department heads threatened to expose what he called my “strange sexual habits visiting porn stores” if I persisted in my complaint about the mistreatment of two gay male constituents who were overheard having sex in their tent at a county park in my district. I still feel the sting of that, and have spoken and written about the shame I feel. I wish I could find the two men and say it to their faces. 

I acted to save my political and marital neck, at the expense of the dignity of the two men. I went on to win re-election (before deciding to hang up politics to go to seminary). Talk about a golden parachute.

I am accountableAnd of course, there are the years of my marriage when I denied my own gay identity, and frankly the quality and quantity of sexual care my wife deserved, not to mention the pain my coming out, separation, and divorce caused her and our daughters. Much good came of all that, too, but I still carry a sense of shame. It long ago stopped immobilizing me and I have fully owned my role in all the pain, have been forgiven by all involved and have even forgiven myself, but the shame is still there. I realize it will never be erased. 

The shame of Mr. Trump, the priests and their superiors, and all the celebrity and big business men will not go away either, even if they never own it. But we’d all, and especially their particular victims, be better off if they stood up like real (I am tempted to say “men” because of the ancient, and generally wrong, idea that men are the strong ones) people who own not only their glory but all the rest of their character and behavior, too. 

Just think what a different world it would be if we all took responsibility, full responsibility, for all our conduct, if we all strove to be accountable at all times. Those who can lead us in that direction are the real heroes in my book.