According to a study done by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, 87% of women between the ages of 18 and 25 have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault.
In an article for Relevant magazine, Dorothy Greco wrote a powerful and important sentence: “No matter how many women bravely share their personal stories of sexual abuse or harassment, no matter how many opportunistic predators are exposed and stopped, until enough men rise up to condemn and interrupt misogynistic behavior, the exploitation of women will most likely continue.”
Until enough men rise up to condemn, to intervene, this isn’t going to end. Men who are not abusers must challenge those who are. In her words, men need to “interrupt” each other. We need to speak up and stand up when another man engages in sexual harassment or abuse, no matter how subtle it might be. Consider the passivity of the men surrounding the rape of Tamar (II Samuel 13) in comparison with Moses’ defense of the daughters of the priest of Midian (Exodus 2).
We need more men like Moses.
Unfortunately, we have a world filled with males who don’t know what it means to be a man. They’ve either never been mentored into manhood, or were mentored badly. This is the shared sentiment of Glenn Stanton who wrote a compelling article titled, “Manhood Is Not Natural.”
His general thesis is that a woman’s biology tends to help her grow into a healthy, mature woman. For example, sex makes babies. But for a man, sex can be just about pleasure. He’s not naturally connected to the potential of that act the way a woman is. She, Stanton notes, is inescapably invested. The man is not. Which is why phrases such as “Woman up,” “Be a woman,” and “Make a woman out of her” don’t exist. They don’t need to.
So how does a male become a man? It has to be learned. As an identity, maleness happens but manhood does not. And how is it learned? From other men. It comes through a father and a community’s larger fraternity of men.
But that is the problem.
I recently had coffee with a young man who told me that growing up, every significant man he knew was in an affair. His dad, his older brothers, his uncles… everyone. He just came to see having sex whenever, wherever, and with whoever as normal. As though it’s just what a man does.
He had to learn that it wasn’t.
So how do men learn this from other men? How are men sexually redirected when it comes to women? When other men step in and intervene. When they don’t, males never become men.
Let’s be very specific about how this needs to work.
Instead of laughing at an off-color joke that was demeaning or disrespectful to a woman, it’s men saying, “That joke wasn’t funny and it wasn’t appropriate.” When a man hears that from another man, he doesn’t tend to tell that joke again.
Instead of laughing at a guy’s remark about a part of a woman’s anatomy, it’s men saying: “I don’t appreciate you talking about her that way. She’s somebody’s daughter. She’s somebody’s wife. She’s somebody’s mother.” When a man hears that from another man, he doesn’t tend to make remarks like that again.
Instead of turning a blind eye to a pat on the butt or a brush against a breast, it’s men intervening and saying, “Don’t you ever touch her that way again.” Translation: “There’s another man on this watch, and if you do it again, you’ll deal with that man. And I’m that man.” Chances are, he’ll think twice next time.
So let’s state the obvious.
The solution to the sexual harassment, assault and rape, the solution to men using positions of power or influence to coerce or pressure for sexual favors, has to be found in men. This isn’t merely a woman’s issue. It’s a man’s issue.
And, specifically, men needing to make two resolves:
First, resolve to not sexually harass, assault or pressure a woman. Period. And to all you men in dating relationships, this also includes pressuring a woman to have sex when she is telling you “no.”
Second, resolve to not only stand with women, but to also stand up for women.
Who should intervene first and foremost when a man tells an off-color joke?
Who should step in when a man touches a woman inappropriately?
Who should blow the whistle when they know of a woman being pressured by a superior for sexual favors?
Who should rescue human-trafficked girls from their pimps?
Who should inject themselves into what looks to be the start of a sexual assault of a woman by a man?
Who should be the first to turn in a man boasting of date rape, drugged rape or any other kind of sexual misdeed against a woman? Who should be the first willing to testify, swear an oath, do whatever it takes to bring justice to bear on a heinous act?
Because that’s what men – real men – do.
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted on his website ChurchAndCulture.org.