The Transylvania Times -

The Journey Inward: Sexual Harassment: Is Healing Ever Possible?

 

January 18, 2018



My mother invited a young, single 21-year-old female co-worker from her office to our house on several occasions ostensibly to meet my stepfather’s bachelor brother. I was 14 at the time and, of course, found her early morning walks through the house in her negligee appealing.

On one of those occasions she undressed privately in my parents’ bedroom and asked me to give her a back massage. She was exquisitely beautiful.

One would think that any red-blooded American boy would be delighted at the sight of this young woman. That’s true.

But there is more to the story. Indeed, it has taken me awhile to recognize how I was affected by this event.

In hindsight, her seduction was an act of sexual aggression, although women are usually not considered aggressive. Moreover, I was afraid she would tell on me. In some way I thought my attraction was “bad” and my fault. I was too young to integrate this experience. And why did my parents seemingly permit this to occur?

Under the guise of providing me a sexual “rite of passage,” I realize now that she wanted to be admired as a desirable young woman. Joining this with other childhood events, especially my parents’ divorce, I was overly susceptible to the influence of women; my father was gone; I was deprived of a steady masculine guide to balance the influence of my mother.

She along with my grandmother carried the burden of child raising — no easy task. Without my father’s guiding hand, mother’s moods affected me more deeply. She could be quite wonderful and later turn on a dime and be rejecting. I developed an early sense that women were powerful (i.e. my mother’s moods and the 21-year-old woman’s ability to draw attention). I was both attracted and fearful. In other words, they had a lot to say about the way I felt as a man.

Fortunately, through my own spiritual reflection and therapy training I now feel more confident as a man by moving toward my self-experience. Though not there yet, I also am trying to overcome my sexist biases.

But the story doesn’t end here. As a psychotherapist for many years (also ordained clergy person) I have witnessed a common thread that runs through gender relating. This will shed some light on an aspect of sexual harassment.

If a boy’s father was absent, abusive or neglectful (a father failure), all too often the boy will look to women for masculine affirmation. Sometimes sexual coercion takes place because the man places too great an emphasis on the response of a woman. Fearful of feminine power, the man oversteps his bounds, becomes insistent and requires submission (especially if in a position of power) — in other words, harasses.

In similar fashion, if a girl experienced “mother failure,” she may look to her father (or other men) to complete her feminine development. Later as a woman she may idealize men in authority such as bosses, supervisors, employers generally. Joining this with a stereotypical feminine caretaking role, men who are either afraid of the feminine or are seeking approval from women mistake admiration and caring for permission. Thus, follows sexual aggression.

A woman then faces a dilemma; speak up or remain silent. (Rupi Kaur in her poignant and courageous poetry expresses what women and men, too, feel. In terse lines from “Milk and Honey” she writes: “you were so afraid of my voice I decided to be afraid of it too.”)

Here’s the problem, simply stated. Women cannot fill the masculine gap in men; nor can men fill the feminine gap in women. In this regard, if either gender becomes aware of their deficiency, both sexes can help each other. Without self-knowledge, however, enactments occur sometimes with serious consequences.

I have provided a glimpse into some subjective and cultural reasons that lead to harassment — only a glimpse. Hopefully my perspective is taken the following way: our culture focuses on behavior — (i.e. “men behaving badly”) but only by understanding and giving voice to our subjective experiencing will we be able to move forward. Also, this is a complicated issue complicated even further by a person’s formative gender history.

Reconciliation and redemption occurs for both sexes at the personal and cultural-systemic level, although I am emphasizing the former.

The Person of the Year for Time the magazine was “silence breakers,” mostly women — actresses, janitors, hotel housekeepers, or administrative assistants who have spoken about their sexual harassment histories.

The Time article concludes with this directive: “We’re still at the bomb throwing point of this revolution, a reactive stage at which nuance can go into hiding. But while anger can start a revolution, in its most raw and feral form it can’t negotiate the more delicate dance steps needed for true social change. Private conversations, which can’t be legislated or enforced, are essential.”

Two disparate persons, Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, and the Apostle Paul offer helpful perspectives. Bono from his marital relationship suggests a way men and women can converse. Paul provides a spiritual foundation for healing gender, class and race disparities.

In an article entitled “Why Men Must Also Fight for Women and Girls,” Bono writes, “The key lesson in my own home-schooling is something Ali (his wife) has been saying to me since we were teenagers, don’t look down on me, but don’t look up to me either. Look across to me. I’m here.”

That just about captures it: neither looking up to, nor looking down but across is where healing begins. I’m here. You are here.

Sounds a bit like Paul who wrote to early Christian converts this message: (Galatians 3:28-29) “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In Christ, a distinction of one is up, one is down; one is advantaged, one is disadvantaged is replaced by a realization that there is no need to be afraid of partnership between the sexes. In this way both personally and culturally we will begin the difficult but necessary move toward a new appreciation of each other, both male and female.

(Dr. John Campbell is a semi-retired citizen of Brevard.)

 
 

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