I’ve been trying to write this post for over a year. It won’t come together. But after the national conversation this weekend, I’m going to get it out there in whatever form it takes.
A year ago I met a young lady living overseas, new to missions. She was working in a city where the men are known for being quite forward. I asked her if she’d had any unwanted attention from men.
Over the next few hours she recounted to me stories of things that had been said to her by men in her city. Things that had been done to her. She was ashamed to tell me these things. She made sure to excuse them by telling me all the ways that she had perhaps invited their behavior. (She hadn’t.)
I shared with her some tools learned from women in France. Raising a scene. Publicly embarrassing them. Doing whatever you have to do to bring attention to the situation. And she pushed back – not wanting to embarrass them. Not wanting to raise a scene.
And then she shared with me that the worst of all of it was that they were taking from her something that belonged to her husband. (She was not married or even dating anyone.)
This was what caused me to flip.
No, we don’t talk about assault in our churches. We talk to young women about sex in the following ways: 1, keep your body covered up. 2, keep yourself pure for your husband. Period. We teach them to be quiet and compliant and to not raise a scene. We teach them to be helpmates and to wait patiently for a husband.
So what about your young women that are called to missions? Here’s what happens:
I teach them. I teach them to dig their elbows into mens’ ribs on the metro so they’ll back away. I teach them to yell at the top of their lungs when they are groped. I teach them that their body is not on reserve for their husbands – it is theirs, now. They are not allowed to be assaulted, not because it will take something from their hypothetical future husband, but because they were created to be treated with dignity and honor and sometimes as women we have to hold that dignity with both fists and fight for it. I teach them that when a man says something gross to you, you don’t have to laugh. You can yell at him.
I will teach them if you will not. I love these young women fiercely. I will tell them it’s not okay. I will tell them to yell. I will disagree with them when they say it’s not a big deal. I will tell them it’s not okay.
If you want to see more young women in ministry, especially in ministry overseas, you have to raise them to understand that it is never acceptable to be spoken about with such sexual overtones that it makes you want to hide. You have to not laugh at jokes that make women appear as objects. You have to sit there and stare people down when they joke about women being manipulative or weak or stupid. I don’t laugh at those jokes anymore and I don’t care if that makes you feel awkward. I’ve had it with having to re-teach young women what they are worth.
If you have a say in the life of a young woman, whether you are her mom or her dad or her pastor, coach, or small group leader, please – I beg you – please fiercely guard her dignity. Please teach her that she is allowed to do the same. Please speak against people who would speak about her in such a way that her body is viewed as a commodity. Please tell her that you can have a gentle spirit AND a fierce heart.
We have to fight every day. All the time. Church needs to be an oasis for that. A place where each of us – women and men, of every race, of every nationality and origin – are viewed with dignity. Viewed with honor. Where each of us are viewed with awe. Souls are so sacred and are worth every ounce of dignity and service we can give one another. We are made in the image of God. The church has to be a place where that is felt. And we have to guard that fiercely.
And you, young woman. You own that. You own the fact that you are made in the image of God. That you have been created with infinite love. You are sacred. Your body is sacred. And you are allowed to fight to protect that. And nobody is allowed to challenge that.