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#metoo: It's the second reaction that counts

Ed Wolff • Feb 14, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Ever since the unfolding of #metoo, there has been a plethora of incidents reported about sexual misconduct/abuse/inappropriate behavior of men in high positions. Report after report has inundated our senses and possibly numbed us. However, the issue continues to judge our culture, notably the men who control it. All of the incidents have been those that have been critical of men with popularity, importance, wealth and power. (However, we also need to remember that there are men in power who manage fast food restaurants, retail stores and other establishments where the majority of workers are women.)

I have been searching my mind through all of these situations along with seeking insight from a mentor or two. An experience the other day clarified much of the issue for me. I was watching a rebroadcast of an interview of Rachel Crooks, who has accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. (Now before I go any further, I want to stress that what I am about to say has very little to do with Donald Trump. It has a lot to say about our culture’s perception and treatment of women. Please remember that.)

Ms. Crooks recalled the incident during the interview. She was a receptionist, in front of the building elevators, for a firm in the Trump Tower. From time to time Mr. Trump would visit the organization. One time, Ms. Crooks, attempting to be positive in her position, got up from her desk and introduced herself. She held out her hand and Mr. Trump responded. He kissed her on both cheeks. However, he did not let go of her hand. He continued to kiss her on both cheeks, and when the elevator came, he kissed her on the lips.

Now, let’s forget it was Mr. Trump. Let’s just identify a man who is famous, extremely wealthy and powerful. What do you think was unfolding?

A man might say, “Well, she made the overture. She expressed a desire to meet him. It’s no big deal. There was no sexual abuse or advances, just a person who demonstrated, possibly, an over-exuberance. Perhaps her body language was suggestive.” I opine that such thoughts by men have occurred and continue to do so.

But what about the woman? Isn’t such action nothing more than being proactive as a receptionist? Would the perception of the woman’s action be different if it was a man? The important question is what kind of affect would it have on the woman! What would she be thinking, as a person who is not aggressive, but being proactive in her responsible position with an opportunity to meet an important man? As Ms. Crooks stated in the interview, afterward she questioned herself, wondering what she did wrong and what had she said that was inappropriate. More importantly, she began to sense how insignificant she must be for someone to respond like that to a simple handshake. She ended up demeaning herself because of the action of being debased.

The debasing affect on women because of inappropriate behavior, to me, is the challenge men face. Sure, our first inclination is to “check out” a woman for how she looks. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the reverse is true!) It’s the second reaction that’s important. Do we continue to see a woman or do we see another person with the same rights and with the same personal space to be afforded her as anyone else?

Northern Tennessee has a culture of individual independence. It is also a culture that is ruled by Caucasian men of wealth and power who wield their independence. However, those who have more influence and power also have more responsibility. In fact, a Holy Book with which I’m familiar says just that. It doesn’t matter who or what we see first. It’s how we respond to what we see and know. Every human being is made in the image of the Divine. Men, especially, need to remember that as we create and build all our relationships, our purpose is for such relationships to be healthy.

Men have used their unearned value as people with power and authority to inadvertently diminish women, their value, their significance, their reality as another person. We men need to look inside ourselves and experience our own powerlessness rather than impose false power on the opposite sex.

If we men know women who will be honest, open, and are willing to share with us some of their experiences, and we truly listen to them with our hearts, we might learn a little about their experiences of being demeaned and powerless. Perhaps we might learn a little about our need for humility.

Let’s hope these series of #metoo events and the subsequent disclosures provide an opportunity to develop more positive relations among all people because of what has been revealed.

The Rev. Edward Wolff of Jonesborough is a retired Lutheran minister and progressive activist.

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