Sunday, October 9, 2016


Some people are startled by their own emotional response to this video leaked last week. Others are not surprised at all, but struggle to articulate precisely why this is so offensive and inappropriate. Like racism and privilege, rape culture is in the air we breathe. It's hard to define and dismantle something that is like vapor that permeates our society's expectations and systems.  And why is this the straw that breaks the RNC's back? What about all those other bodies denigrated and disrespected by this campaign and our systemic privilege?

I type today because a few have asked me to explain why this is an example of rape culture, but then I want to give us some hope through action. What can we do, as conscious individuals, to change rape culture and build respect for all human bodies? 

What is rape culture?
If you haven't watched the video yet, please do and hear the soundtrack of smug laughter. This is the sound of entitled, rich, famous, white men relishing the power they feel in remembering and planning violence against another person. Demanding and feeling owed the bodies of others - in the form of touching, kissing, groping, commenting, ranking, and discarding - is an act of violence.

They speak about taking what they want with disregard for the dignity of the other person. It is a game they win or lose by hunting their prey. Donald is so bold as to acknowledge his source of entitlement: when you are this rich and famous, you can do whatever you want.

When they get off the bus, they demand hugs and touching. They create a space in which only they get to feel comfortable and call the shots. Others are lucky to be beautiful or chosen or present, but they will need to stand where Billy and Donald tell them and be ranked on their terms.

You could argue that the actress doesn't have to comply, but of course she does! Her employment depends on her beauty and fun-loving nature. She has been tasked with making sure Donald has a wonderful experience as a guest star on the show. She works in an environment where white men direct and produce, making decisions about who's in and who's out. She wants to be in and, like many women, has learned to navigate that system with compromise and a smile.

We see this in white collar criminal cases, board room meetings, elections, and newscasts. Men are generally revered for their future potential while women are critiqued based on their reputations and their ability to function within systems that let the decision-makers feeling comfortable and powerful.

How do we change the culture?

Let's start with the children. 
  1. Don't let your first comment to a young girl be about her appearance or clothing. Instead, ask her about her interests, passions, and talents. She is so much more than a pretty face.
  2. Don't tell little boys to stop crying. Instead, help them understand and embrace a healthy range of emotions. It's okay to be sad and angry. Model problem solving your feelings in healthy and creative ways. 
  3. Don't tell them who to touch or make them hug people. From an early age, kids should be encouraged to own their own space, getting a sense of what touch and times feel appropriate so they can build confidence about themselves and a respect for other people's bodies. When saying goodbye to other people, I ask my kids to choose between a wave, a high-five, and a hug.
What about the teenagers?
  1. Fathers of Daughters: Please don't do that creepy thing where you threaten potential dates with physical violence if they touch her. Your daughter is not "your little girl" until the moment - poof, bang! - she's a women. Those teenage years are an important opportunity for her sense of self-acceptance and boundaries to develop. Teach her to value and celebrate her body, but also her mind and her spirit. Model a healthy relationship with your own partner. Refrain from making comments about women based solely (or firstly) on their looks. Trust your daughter to make good choices. Her body does not belong to you until you give her permission to belong to someone else. You do not protect her purity or beauty by treating her like property.
  2. Parents of Sons: Don't tell them to "be a man". Teenage boys are still boys. Let them have this formative, in-between season while modeling a multitude of ways to "be a man". It's not only about bucking up or acting tough. Being a man is about being a whole person who loves well, feels things, and takes responsibility for himself. Show him what that looks like.
An Introduction to Rape Culture 101.
  1. Understand Benevolent Sexism. This is any unsolicited or unwelcome advice or feedback about my physical appearance. Need an example? When my husband or friends compliment my body, it's welcome. If a parishioner gives thanks for my legs or a male colleague says, "You're lucky you're married or you'd be in big trouble around here", that's benevolent sexism. Just because you mean it as a compliment, doesn't mean I don't think it's creepy, gross, or distracting from our actual, boundaried relationship. Most adult men unconsciously relate to women through one of four lenses: wife, mistress, mother, or daughter. But guess what? Women shouldn't have to navigate these lenses in every relationship with a man. A doctor might remind a man of his daughter because she's in her thirties, but that lens should not impair his ability to respect her as his doctor. If you are an adult male, you can fight benevolent sexism by recognizing these lenses and choosing to operate outside of them with new, more appropriate boundaries.
  2. Recognize the hypocrisy. We are supposed to be smart but not no-it-alls, pure but not prudes, sexy but not slutty, flirty but not a tease, leaders but not bossy, confident but not shouty, breaking glass ceilings but PTO chair, climbing the ladder but keeping up with the laundry. In every case, we are asked to choose between fragments of whole personhood. We are supposed to excel, but only to a point that will continue to support the social and economic structures that keep us in our place.
  3. Encourage women leading. Across time and culture, studies and stories show that when women do better, everyone does better. When women lead, communities rise up with them. Recognize and thank the women leading in organizations, schools, and political systems that matter to you. Learn more about the issues and policies and challenges they are passionate about. Uncover barriers for women in places they are not yet leading and ask questions about what you find. 
I began this post with a story about rich, white men delusional with power. The men in this video feel entitled to the bodies of others and use their privilege to consume and discard people. It's maddening, but I can't bring myself to end there because there's a better story:

There's a working class, brown man who humbled himself before friends, strangers, and the power of the Empire. God Embodied used his privilege to love the bodies of others, taking only his own for the sake of the world and then giving it away for the sake of life, freedom, and justice.

I am a Christian because of Holy Communion, so I was filled with hope this morning while I spoke the Words of Institution. I stood holding the bread and wine, proclaiming the true presence of Jesus in a meal that celebrates God's commitment to our bodies, our lives, our mutual value, and the justice we continue to seek. If you need this kind of hope - this kind of ending, find the meal this week. It will sustain and delight in your beautiful body.

God is right here with a different story. And, because God's story is louder in my ears and heart than CNN Breaking News, I will always proclaim truth about my body and yours: your body is valuable, not as an object to be consumed, but as a creature in whom God delights; not as a piece of meat to tormented by critique and oppression, but as a whole person who is loved and set free in Jesus; not as an island weathering rape culture alone, but as a member of Christ's body through whom the Spirit breathes and inspires change...

change that is inconvenient for some, but necessary for justice.