At this point, being surprised at the number of women who have experienced sexual harassment is ridiculous. People are depraved, as they have always been, which is why there were so many “#MeToo”s on social media this week. This is not new information, as Roxane Gay pointed out in her op-ed for the Times, yesterday:
We already know victims’ stories. Women testify about their hurt, publicly and privately, all the time. When this happens, men, in particular, act shocked and surprised that sexual violence is so pervasive because they are afforded the luxury of oblivion.
Every once in a while, there’s a chorus of public testimony to the awfulness of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, usually triggered by a related major news story (e.g. Brock Turner, Harvey Weinstein). But does all this public testimony do anything? I’m skeptical, as is Gay. Sexual harassment doesn’t stop being a problem when we acknowledge that it’s a problem. It takes more than “awareness” of sin to stop sin. So what do we do?
Gay says that men need to confess:
Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small. They can testify about how they have cornered women in narrow office hallways or made lewd comments to co-workers or refused to take no for an answer or worn a woman down by guilting her into sex and on and on and on. It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it. It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.
The problem with Gay’s solution is that it will not change anything. Men who habitually harass women probably don’t care all that much about ending sexual harassment. And other men probably don’t have a lot to confess to in this regard. (How many men have actually cornered a woman in a hallway or made lewd comments to a co-worker? Or am I just being naive?) As far as I can tell, this would be only a “balm,” as Gay puts it, making some people feel better because it looks like progress is being made. But what we really want is an antidote, a way to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment.
And this is, in large part, the responsibility of men, too, albeit in a different way. Fathers have to raise their boys to be good men instead of contemptible creeps. Feminists complain about “toxic masculinity” and “rape culture,” but that’s the default setting for depraved human souls. Counteracting the tendency towards sin requires that we replace it with something else. Merely giving everyone a list of things not to do will not work. We need a positive vision of what it is to be good. And boys in particular need to be taught what it is to be a good man, and how a good man treats the women around him.
But even this will not completely eliminate sexual harassment. The depravity of the human soul can be mitigated, but it cannot be overcome (not by us, at least). We owe it to one another to do our best to solve our many problems, but some problems are intractable. We shouldn’t be surprised when we cannot save ourselves from ourselves. Only Jesus can do that.