When he was in his early 20s, my husband woke up at a party to find a woman he did not know having un-consented sex with him. He was passed out drunk in a back bedroom alone when it happened. The next morning, he woke up to find her still in bed with him, brazen and shameless as if she had done him a great favor.
He got up and left, and felt sick about it for the next two months. Not only was he disgusted by what had happened, but he was also terrified that he “had gotten her pregnant.” One day, weeks later, he ran into her at the store and, relieved to learn that she was not pregnant, he put the event out of his mind to the best of his ability.
The first time he told me this story I responded by telling him I was so sorry that had happened to him. He shrugged his shoulders as if it was no big deal, although his face was tight with pain. “You do realize that was rape, don’t you?” I asked.
In that moment, relief visibly washed over his whole body and it was as if a burden of guilt and shame that he had carried for a decade fell off him with a single breath. “No; I didn’t until now.”
My heart broke as I watched the man I love struggle with the realization that this was not his fault. That all his feelings about it were valid. That it was okay and right that he had felt like something was taken from him all those years ago.
He told me then that he had confided the incident to a few friends over the years, but had been met with high fives and congratulations and “you’re so lucky” remarks. Those only increased his shame, because he couldn’t understand why he felt so differently than it seemed he should. So, he quit talking about it, assumed there was something wrong with him for feeling violated, and tried to forget it ever happened.
The message of society is this: Being raped by a man makes you a victim. Being raped by a woman makes you a baller, so don’t call it rape.
The whole country is a-buzz right now as public figure after public figure is accused of sexual predation. In the past few months, dozens of men have been spotlighted for their disgusting transgressions. Politicians are being questioned for lewd, inappropriate, and violent actions. Hollywood is being exposed for the way it has quietly allowed powerful men to sexually exploit others (men and women alike) without facing any repercussions.
And I’m right there with you, America! Let’s talk about this stuff. Let’s hold people accountable. It’s unacceptable and we can’t tolerate it any longer. It’s ridiculous that we ever did.
But, America, I disagree with you on one point: Men are not the problem.
Although it’s easy to overlook when we’re desperate for a place to cast our wrath, men are victimized and exploited by women, too. But it tends to be a subtler oppression. They become silent victims, because they are taught from childhood that their feelings make them weak – a teaching which is re-affirmed constantly in art and media. They are oppressed in adolescence when they are told that their sexuality is basically uncontrollable, and that’s just a part of life. They are built up in the belief that a man should always want it, and there must be something wrong with him if he doesn’t. They are oppressed when they are taught that forced penetration is the only form of rape, so there’s no way that a woman mounting them against their will counts.
Men are oppressed when they are taught that there is never an okay time to be violent toward a woman, even if she is hurting them. Even if she is forcing herself upon them after they’ve said no, or when they are sleeping, or when they’ve otherwise tried to stop a sexual advance. Instead of respecting their personhood and sexual autonomy, we have taught men this:
Don’t fight back. It isn’t rape. Just enjoy it. You should want this, anyway, you lucky dog. Come on, aren’t you a man?
And so the heart of rape culture cannot possibly be men.
I don’t know where the woman who raped my husband is today, but you should know that I hold no ill feelings toward her in my heart. I picture her sitting on her couch, similarly outraged by the allegations she’s reading in the media, holding her babies close and wishing for them a safer world. I do not suspect that she thinks back to the time she raped Brandon. In fact, I do not suspect she even considers it rape, and I’m hopeful that if she knew that her actions sparked years of pain and confusion for him that she would be regretful.
But when we teach our daughters that men are sex crazed animals who can’t think about anything else, we are doing everyone a great disservice. Women are told that men always want sex, that putting out is expected by them, and that sex is a way to get affection. They aren’t taught to respect men; they are taught to fear them and they are taught to please them.
While women are being told that men are sex-hungry above all else, they are simultaneously being taught to demand consent for themselves in every sexual encounter. No matter what they are wearing, no matter how drunk they are, no matter how much they’re flirting, no matter how many times they’ve said yes before – they deserve consent. And they absolutely do, by the way! But Brandon was well known as someone who slept around, and he was drunk at a party where he had no doubt been flirting with women all night. So it begs the questions: Was he just another sex-crazed lunatic? Was he asking for it?
Of course he wasn’t. But I bet that girl was never taught to ask for his consent. I bet she thought she was pleasing him.
And so the heart of rape culture can’t possibly be women.
Nay – the heart of rape culture is bigger than gender and sexuality. It expands far beyond horny, out of control, boys being boys. Beyond sexual violence as a form of control. Beyond porn. Beyond promiscuity. Beyond drunkenness. Beyond reputation. Beyond what she was wearing. Beyond stripper poles and body shots. Beyond “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The heart of rape culture is deeper than societal norms of sexual conduct.
The heart of rape culture isn’t rape at all.
The heart of rape culture is SIN.
And until we address it at its core, we will never gain any ground in trying to overcome it.
But we live in a world that celebrates all manner of sin, and especially the ones that dominate over rape and assault. We promote career over integrity and power over decency. We value reputation over safety and peace. We revel in our drunkenness and our promiscuity, and often advertise that lifestyle as a sort of rite of passage between youth and adulthood. “You’re only young once!” we say, “Nothing wrong with having a good time!” We love the fantasies of bondage and domineering sex. We have belittled the idea of monogamy and called it science. We have forgotten the science of gender and called it progress. And we’ve decided that every single expression of sexuality is just another expression of personal truth, and we think this is a great and inspiring thing.
And then we’ve drawn the line at rape.
But the lines are distorted and blurred.
The sinful culture that we are facing is daunting and it is devastating, but it is not surprising or unexpected. 1 John 5 clearly states,
“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” -vs 19.
So at first glance, that seems a little bit hopeless. I have sat on this scripture for 3 days just waiting to find something more encouraging than “this is never going to stop sucking” to end this blog with. Tonight, I read the next two verses again and found the glimmer of hope I needed to keep writing.
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” vs 20-21.
We as Christians may never be successful at changing the culture we are surrounded by, but we CAN and MUST keep ourselves from the idol of giving into its lies.
We can’t change how the world around us talks about values and gender and sexuality, but we CAN and MUST change how we talk about those things in our homes and in the church.
I hate that I feel the need to stop here and say this, but I really do – please don’t misunderstand what action steps I’m recommending. Because I’m NOT pleading with you to boycott Target or freak out about the Starbucks cup. I’m NOT begging you to sign petitions and stage protests for the sake of Christian values. While we should never be conforming to the world, we are still charged with being kind and level-headed. So, please, Christian, be thoughtful when choosing your battles. The world is not going to stop sinning because we tell it to.
Instead, let’s focus our energy on the sin we can change – our own.
Traditionally, it has been the conservative Christian mindset to not talk much about sex. Oh, sure, if you grew up in the church you probably signed a True-Love-Waits card and knew that sex before marriage would put you just beneath a murderer on the scale of how bad you were at being a Christian. Maybe that idea was re-enforced once or twice a year with an awkward night where they boys and girls met on separate ends of the church.
Most likely as a teenage boy you were told that watching porn was bad. But by the time you were told this, did you already have a problem? For many of the men I know, they were exposed to pornography several years before a trusted adult spoke with them about it. If we want to change the hearts of men, we have to be a step ahead of the world in teaching them about their sexuality.
And undoubtedly as a teenage girl you were told by the church that you needed to dress modestly. But were you taught that the purpose of this was to glorify God with your body? Or were you, like me, taught that it was your personal responsibility to keep your male friends from uncontrollably lusting after you?
Growing up, you were probably taught that you would struggle with sexual temptation, but were you given any practical direction for what that would look like or how to handle it? I was not.
And so I ask you, can we commit to change this? Can we talk about sex and sexuality in our small groups and from the pulpit? Can we talk about it at our dinner tables? (Parents, do not let the burden of teaching your children about sex fall on the church. They need you to be open on this subject.) Can we raise up a new generation of believers whose sexual identity is rooted firmly in Christ, rather than a set of rules?
Can we, together, teach our sons that they are not destined to be overcome by sexual desire, and teach them how to access the power of the Holy Spirit to fight temptation? Let’s encourage them with the hope that their sexuality comes from God, and that it is beautiful and exhilarating when it is controlled. And let’s remind them gently, but often, that the world is counting on their leadership when it comes to sexual expression
Can we, together, teach our daughters that men are not the enemy, but rather brothers to be respected? Let’s teach them to guard their safety and their hearts without becoming calloused and bitter, yet to boldly speak up when something isn’t right. Let’s encourage them with the hope that their sexuality comes from God, and that it is beautiful and exhilarating when it is given freely to their husband. And let’s remind them gently, but often, to be strengthened by the word of God to walk alongside the men in their lives as able helpers.
Can we prepare our children to enter a sexually broken world and behave like Jesus? Or will we look upon the storm with fear, as we silently send them out to drown? Will we continue to throw our hands up helplessly as waves crash around us on every side, or will we look to Jesus and be brave?
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” -Psalm 30:11-12
Christian, our victory here may be far off, but it is certain. The world, though ruled by sin today, will be ruled by Christ forever. For Brandon, his mourning has turned to dancing. By the promise and power of Jesus, so will you dance. Where sin has caused you pain or despair or guilt or death – trust God; resurrection is coming.