A woman in her 80s stopped by my office this week to reflect on a time she had been sexually harassed by a college classmate. Although the event occurred decades earlier, she still hesitates to attend school reunions, fearful to encounter him again.
“Just seeing him makes me feel sick to my stomach,” she said, “Do you know what I mean?”
I do indeed. I would be willing to bet every woman understands. If we gathered a group of women together, each one would have at least one story about a time when she was harassed, molested, assaulted or spoken to in a way that made her feel disrespected, dirty or ashamed.
Or just plain angry.
It’s been all over the news lately. The politics of the situation are not as important as the need to have this conversation, to get the problem out in the open.
We can start by sharing our stories. The “gross encounters” I have experienced are probably no worse than anyone else’s. I could tell you about the time when:
- Two boys were playing a rough game of tag with me at a school picnic when I was eleven. Suddenly, one of them grabbed me and pushed me to the ground, pinning my arms down while the other boy reached under my shirt. I can still hear their breathless laughter. That ended when a male teacher yelled, “What are you kids doing?” He then went on to chide me about teasing boys.
It was on my junior year abroad from college, backpacking with a male companion by train through Europe.
On a night train to Rome as I ventured down the corridor to the bathroom, a stranger lunged out of a compartment, pushed me against the wall, and tried to kiss me as his hands groped my body. It was only when I brought my knee up suddenly that he stopped and pushed me away.
- I received an envelope in the mail filled with images of violent pornography after challenging my male college dorm mates about the volume of their music. “Women should be quiet” was the only repeatable phrase scrawled across the vile photos. I could never prove that it was them, but I always felt afraid when I walked by their room.
Many women have experienced much worse.
Many women live in fear every day, but violence cannot have the last word.
I want the woman in my office to look in the mirror and recognize a beloved child of God. I want her to know that the cruel disrespect she and I and so many women experienced cannot diminish our God-given identity. As cherished, strong, capable women, beloved of God, we can face this sometimes bruising world with courage.
Sue Foster loves being a minister at the East Woodstock Congregational (UCC) Church in CT. She juggles her roles as pastor, wife, mother, and writer. She blogs at www.fosteringyourfaith.wordpress.com.