I met a couple of people at Starbucks the other day under the auspices of far-too-early-pop-Christmas music. One was a woman I’ve known fairly well from church, and another was a man she knows fairly well, but I’ve only met a few times. He finished ordering and came to greet me while she was still at the counter. He didn’t hesitate, but something—I still don’t know what—in his body language told me he needed direction on the interaction. Would we smile? Would we shake hands? Would we maybe hug? We consider one another brother and sister in Christ, after all, and are working on an interfaith partnership, so any of the following options were up for grabs.
I chose a handshake. We smiled. The meeting continued.
I’ve become more and more aware of these moments with the men in my life. Moments when they pause, betraying uncertainty. These moments come because men and women hungry for justice in the world have done the hard work of consciousness-raising. But after breaking down institutions that perpetuate injustice, the vacuum of expectations in their wake leaves many people untethered and uncertain.
Consciousness: raised. Now what?
One of the best critiques of our generation is that we are so busy deconstructing things, we stand for nothing. I love a good deconstruction as much as the next American liberal millennial (arguably more than most), but at some point, we have to stand for something if we want something to be done.
Men in particular right now are asking for this: asking for structure and rules and boundaries to be placed on them so they can know how to act. Many, many men that I know want to be respectful of women. Things have changed, and they want to change, too, but the message most men hear is “don’t do this” or “that makes me feel uncomfortable.”
It’s our turn to call the shots.
So, let’s call them. Let’s draw some lines and hold them.
As we marvel at the recent outings of institutionalized sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and political sphere, we must remember to acknowledge that same power in our own lives.
Men, ask what we want. In the bedroom. In the office. In the classroom. Ask how we feel and what you can do.
And women? Have your answers ready. What do you want? Is that coming from a place of health, self-awareness, and respect for others as well as yourself? If it isn’t, can you be honest with yourself and those in your circle of influence about where it is coming from?
I know some of us are dealing with a lot of hurt and brokenness from past experiences. Arguably most, if not all, of us have found ourselves damaged by the systems that are just now coming to light for our brothers (SNL’s “Welcome to Hell” got it very, very right). Whether or not we’ve realized it, we’ve also perpetuated those systems and increased cycles of victimization.
I perpetuated one already in this blogpost: that dichotomy (men, women) ignores a significant and valuable segment of our population. I apologize. I am also going to let my words stand, because we can’t fight everything at once. Pick your battles and commit. Let’s stand for something.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).