Rector's Ramblings October 18, 2017
One of my favorite TV shows of the last decade was AMC’s Mad Men. The period show spanned the entirety of the 1960’s, showcasing the birth of the world of the high-powered advertising culture that sprung up on New York’s Madison (Mad in Mad Men) Avenue. Watching the show was like entering into a different place and time. Much like Downton Abbey captured England’s dress, style, and mindsets of the early part of the 20th century, Mad Men focused on a time of dramatic change in our country with laser focus. The show won awards for its authenticity when it came to costumes and history.
Part of what made the show interesting was the regular cringe-worthy realizations of life in the 1960’s and how it has (or hasn’t) changed. We see smoking everywhere, for example, with dubious claims about its benefits and dangers. There is a scene where a child plays with a plastic bag on her head, causing the mother to call after her, “just don’t strangle yourself to death!” But the most persistent revisited theme surrounded the interaction between men and women. At the start of the series, women were only able to be secretaries. The men in the office regularly harassed and chased the women, and worse.
Such displays of misogyny, sexism, and abuse were more than cringe worthy. There has been debate about how accurate the show was with regard to Madison Avenue, with some real life 1960’s Mad men stating it was accurate in its portrayal, while others denied it. Nonetheless, the show was an avenue to revisit some of the behaviors of the past, explore their changes, and provide a comparison to our modern day. While the specifics of the advertising world might be in question, the behaviors and assumptions of the day aren’t really challenged. Men often treated women as the show portrayed; not all men, but enough that it is considered accurate for the time.
I thought of Mad Men this week as the #MeToo movement swept across social media. If you’re not on social media, and you haven’t seen it in the news, the #Metoo movement invites anyone, but mostly women, to use #MeToo as their status if they have ever been sexually assaulted or harassed. [I acknowledge that this affects men as well, but will focus on women in this Rambling as the reality is quite lopsided against women.] The idea is to show the world just how prevalent such things are. I cannot count the number of people I am connected to on Facebook (including a few men) who used the status since the movement began, fresh in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s headlines. Some have shared general details of what they endured, while others simply offered the status without commentary. It’s worse than cringe worthy to recognize that it isn’t fiction, it isn’t debatable, but instead is very real. It’s shocking, disheartening, and angering to see it. Which is the point.
While we may not live in decades past any longer, and much progress has been made in terms of appropriate interactions between men and women, it is clear that we have a long way to go. As the father of two daughters, I have only found myself becoming clearer about my own understandings of the role of men and women. I had strong women in my life that taught me about the value of women and why I should respect women. Perhaps more importantly, I had men in my life that did not treat women poorly, or make crass comments. My father and grandfather taught me by example how a woman should be treated and respected, when they are present and when it is “just the guys.” This is probably why the spectacle of Mad Men’s treatment of women struck me as foreign, dated, and sad on the same level of some of the other period anachronisms in the show.
That’s not to say I haven’t been aware of what goes on in women’s lives. I’ve been around the kind of men who don’t respect women, and I have listened to many stories from women over the years to know how bad it can be. And yet I had never stopped to realize just how prevalent sexual harassment and assault is. Although it is sometimes talked about, it is still a rare topic in most settings. To see it laid out on my social media feed has indeed brought a new perspective into view.
All of the issues at play are too great to be dealt with in a single Rambling. But one thing to address today is what we do about this new insight and realization? For the most part, the change that needs to come is dependent upon men, as a whole, and as individuals. Men need to stop objectifying women, sexualizing women, and assuming that we can say and do whatever we want without thought as to how it affects women. We need to teach our boys how to respect women; their wishes, their bodies, their minds, and their well being. We need to teach boundaries and how to recognize what is appropriate. We need to see women as equals. This isn’t about being politically correct, it’s about being decent human beings and raising the next generation to be decent.
The effectiveness of a social media outrage campaign is debatable. Some suggest that the release of expressing our dissatisfaction with something online means we’re less likely to take physical steps towards change. I hope that’s not the case here. I’m still thinking about what this movement means to my friends, my wife, my daughters, and the women “under my care” as a shepherd of the Church. I know it means that things need to change, that I can still change even more, and that it’s important that we do so. As we continue to figure out exactly how that will happen, we can offer our support, our understanding, and our condolences that such horrible treatment has affected so many in our lives. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.
Hidden and mysterious God, we seek you in darkness and unknowing; in desire and intimacy you come to us with tender love. We pray for women who suffer because what should be uncovered is covered up; women who have been humiliated, harassed, and stigmatized, and dare not tell; women who have been beaten, tortured, threatened, and cannot tell. We pray for women whose bodies have been violated by rape and degradation; women whose bodies are bought and sold as commodities; women whose cultures reflect them as inferior, as stereotypes, as less valuable than men. Forgive us for times of our complicity in silence and concealment. Forgive us for our failures to proclaim the personhood of all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality.
And also hear our thanks. We give thanks for the witness of women, most of them unnamed and unsung, who have refused to be shamed or silenced, and who have stood up and stood out for justice and truth. We give thanks for the persistence of those who struggle for equal rights for women, for an end to sexual violence, trafficking, and discrimination, and for the power of human dignity. Blessed are you, gracious God, who has created women in your image, through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Adapted from a prayer for International Women’s Day at Christianaid.org.uk