Let’s Talk: About the Death of a Myth
by Conference Minister Diane Weible
I am taking an online class called “Preaching the Headlines” and last week we were asked to share a eulogy for the death of a person, place or thing that has made national headlines. Below is the eulogy I wrote about a topic that is very important to me and have decided to share it with all of you.
Today we mourn the death of a myth. The myth we mourn is that sexual harassment and abuse are “new” issues that didn’t exist one, two, three or more decades ago. But instead of mourning, we are finding reason to celebrate the fact that people are speaking up and what was perceived as ok back then was not. And, it is not ok today either. The myth of sexual abuse as something new is replaced by the fact that women (and some men) for decades have been trying to break free of the prison that has held their secrets and their silence. The reality is that this death of the myth is a prison break for many.
The other day I listened to a webinar on sexual harassment, sponsored by the UCC Insurance Board. The male presenter actually said, “this is a trending topic…” Trending topic? As if sexual harassment and sexual abuse and exploitation and, well, sexism, never existed before Harvey Weinstein; before Bill Cosby; before Charlie Rose?
The #MeToo movement demonstrates this fact through the stories of countless women and men told over decades. Their stories are a reminder that sexual harassment should never be the “in” thing to talk about; the trendy topic of the day that is here today and gone tomorrow. Male entitlement and a society that gave men power to act and to control the lives of those around them was never appropriate and should never be viewed as something that was ok then and not ok now. That makes it sounds like, perhaps, in the future, it might be ok again. It won’t.
When Terry Crews, former NFL player turned actor, told his #MeToo story on Good Morning America he explained what it feels like to be a victim of abuse of power, a victim of sexual harassment:
“When a person of power breaks that boundary,” he said, “violates that boundary, you’re a prisoner of war…. You’re digging tunnels with spoons and you’re trying to find a way out. And then you get out, and you finally find freedom [and speak out] and somebody says, ‘Well it must not be that bad. You should’ve come out sooner.’ And you’re like ‘I’m free! I finally got free!’…This is the thing a lot of people don’t understand and they end up blaming the victim.”
Like Terry, I have my own #MeToo story. My story was abuse at the hand of a clergy person. In an effort to cover it up, the senior minister blamed me and told people, “Poor Rev., a victim himself”! Years later, when I was preparing for my own ordination, the president of the Church Council asked to have lunch with me before writing the letter of recommendation I would need to be ordained. He started it this way, “I just want you to know that we forgive you.” “Forgive me?” I asked. “For what?” “Well, for the affair you had with our minister.” I looked him straight in the eyes—because, well, years had passed and I was finding the courage to start tunneling just a little—and I said, “Let me tell you what really happened.” And I did. He was stunned.
Even with the courage I found that day, it took another two decades of tunneling spoonful by spoonful before I found my way out of that prison camp and claimed my story as my truth. That time I was greeted with the exact words I needed to hear because the truth was, that without someone to tell me it wasn’t my fault and because I was locked in the prison of my own silence for so long, I started to believe that maybe I was to blame after all. But that person, a stranger then and a dear friend now, did not miss a beat when I found the courage to tell my story—he looked me straight in the eye and said, “It wasn’t your fault.” And he reminds me of that as often as I need to hear it, even now.
I was finally free. Terry Crews was right, the prison of my story was held tightly for so long inside of me because I didn’t trust that anyone would believe me. I stayed in the prison of that secret because early on when I tried to tell the people I thought could help me, I was abused all over again by blame and the unwillingness of others to believe me. I went back into the prison of my secret for two more decades, occasionally tunneling out just a little and then retreating for fear of what people would say; would tell me what I should’ve done; would make me suffer all over again. It was easier to be quiet then to have someone look at me and say, “But you must’ve wanted it.”
Trending? No. There is nothing trendy or trending about the #MeToo stories. In fact, #MeToo stories are each victim’s opportunity to tunnel a little farther out of their prison of silence and secrets. Just because they were forced into their prisons by the power and control that led to their abuse in the first place and by a society that believed “boys will be boys” and if it really happened, it had to be because she wanted it–doesn’t mean they ever stopped tunneling.
What we are discovering now is that all of us have been tunneling in our own place for a very long time and we are just now getting to the place where our tunnels are merging with the tunnels of other #MeToo survivors and, eventually, one by one, each spoonful of the myth is being removed. We now know we are not alone in our tunneling and we can even hear the sounds of others tunneling alongside us. My hope is that soon we will be standing together in the light of day, free of our prison, finally finding the courage to speak our truth, speak our stories.
May the myth that sexual abuse is a new thing that never existed before, be finally put to rest for good. Rest in peace.
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