Sexual Assault and Harassment
Do you find yourself rolling your eyes when you read that list? Do the words “Democrat,” “Left-Wing,” “Progressive,” or “Bleeding heart Liberal,” come to mind when you read them?
If I told you this essay was about any of those, would you race for the X on your screen? Decide that Kate has been lost on her way, consumed by the Liberal Machine?
Or might you say you’ve heard it all before, and glaze over the rest of the essay with your own existing notions on the matter overpowering whatever I might say?
These possibilities are why I wrote this essay three times and quit, moving onto something less divisive like whether or not God exists.
There are few things more exhausting for a writer than writing to convince the skeptic to keep reading. In my first three attempts I worked mightily to phrase things in such a way that the very people I hoped would read this in its entirety, would not be scared off the moment they realized the topic.
To the good men reading: I love you. I really do. None of the men in my life deserve to be talked to like they’re a rapist or potential rapist. They are not responsible for the poor choices of another, and I don’t intend to treat them, or you, that way.
So please, stay with me guys. I’ve written this with my sons in mind and from a perspective built on years experiencing vastly different socio-political settings, seeing the virtues of both.
I wrote it to be practical and applicable.
This essay is not about feminism, although I’ll use that word a few times.
It’s about language. It’s about the power I see good people giving a single word or phrase to make them shut down against good.
So much power, in fact, that my uttering even one of these magic phrases can make you see me, someone you know to be a decent human, maybe even a friend! as the enemy. The enemy of traditional values, of conservatism, of God’s law.
All of us have let certain groups co-opt positive ideas to the point that when I say trigger terms like: Women’s Equality, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ Rights, End Family Separation at the Border, your brain literally shuts off to my reason and puts me in the “other side” category.
And those words, which sound political, which have been manipulated by political parties and abused by politicians, are not inherently political.
They are moral.
Some of them are even spiritual.
This fact has been forgotten, and I think it’s one of Satan’s greatest triumphs. He has successfully made good appear evil when it comes to these ideas by giving them an all-or-nothing feel. By making you think you need to be everything from “one side” if you adopt one belief typically promoted by that side.
These ideas, which are about honoring each individual as a complete human being and not abusing them, are God’s ideas. He said them first and still says them, but with less buzz and fewer hashtags.
I said nothing about the how or the who or what the connotation of the words/phrases has become, or that we should support the movements in the exact ways we see others supporting them.
I didn’t say whose methods are better, or that you need to live and dress and eat like the celebrities talking about these words on Twitter.
I’m only saying that the terms themselves are not dangerous, the ideas are not slippery slopes, and in the absence of political mutation of their meaning, contain a basic idea that any follower of Jesus Christ will embrace.
So when I say let’s work on Women’s Equality…this is not edgy! It is as close to the center as you can get next to the doctrine of Jesus Christ’s atonement because alas, the second great commandment of all of God‘s Commandments: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
Everything I want for myself, I want for a woman. Any woman, no matter how she’s dressed, how she acts, or to whom she is married or not married.
But over the last few months as we have found ourselves collectively focused on events that bring our views on the matter into stark focus, I’ve seen over and over again, strong members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints stating views that go in direct opposition to the laws of God, purely because they were triggered by the term [insert any listed above] now defined as Liberal.
I know about the fear of these words, because as worldly as I thought myself to be pretty much ever since I was a pre-teen listening to gangster rap and watching dark documentaries recorded on VHS, I still found myself sitting across from a member of the Relief Society Presidency in a new city, lamenting that I would be ostracized as a “traditional” member of the church in Super Duper Liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts because I was a stay-at-home-mom and believed Joseph Smith’s story.
I remember distinctly the moment I nervously asked her, not sure if it would sound silly or overly bold (silly, as it turns out), “Are you a feminist?” to which she did not hesitate to answer simply, “Yes,” in an almost bored tone. Like, duh.
A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and feminist. It didn’t take long to realize, through much study and informed engagement with a huge array of women with leanings spanning the entirety of the political spectrum, that feminism nowadays is not a big deal. It’s certainly nothing to fear.
Turns out, in my constant quest for fairness and belief in our Divine nature, I’ve always been feminist and just didn’t have the language for it.
I’ve realized many of my conservative female friends are, even though they may fear the title a little bit. Spoiler: your wife might even be one!
If you think of feminism as man-hating, abortion-loving, angry women who want to emasculate and dominate men, your information has grown stale. Time for an update. Let me know and I’ll send you some links.
Slow down, Kate! You promised this wouldn’t be about feminism!
Yes. It’s about the power of language to effect big responses in people. It’s about giving good men some pointers on how they can improve the experience of women, particularly within the Church of Jesus Christ.
Some years ago I found myself in a room with all twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and their wives. My date and I were up-close bystanders, the only people there besides the Apostles, so we weren’t exactly a part of the conversation.
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas, and we were gathered around a fireplace as they spoke casually about this rare opportunity to all be together with their spouses. The majority of the talking was done by President Packer expressing his gratitude for his wife and the other men’s wives.
He mentioned specific qualities in many of them that led to their being innovative, intuitive, and vital to the progress of the church and their communities.
He brought up several women by name who, internationally and locally, were doing all kinds of great work for the church.
Some of these women were single, older, leading charges and building Zion. I appreciated knowing this wasn’t a “let’s give lip service to the public to pretend to care about women.” Of all that could be discussed in private, this was what they felt like talking about, and everyone in the room was nodding in agreement and ad-libbing about these successful women who were critical in the work.
He also said to my date, “We all know we can treat our wives better. You should, too.” All the apostles nodded in agreement. Slightly awkward since we weren’t married, but you get the idea.
I know men in the church are regularly reminded to treat women with respect. In fact, they may hear it so often that the meaning is a little worn. Ok ok, I’m nice to my wife and I am appropriate and cordial to women of all ages with whom I interact.
What does it really mean to treat women with respect? Is it different than treating men with respect? Is it enough to simply not hurt them?
Our Savior not only was kind to women, but He sought them out, He conversed with them, and He honored them. We know that He was dealing with an environment of extreme social hierarchy, and time and again we see Him beelining for the least important in society.
Disabled individuals, those of supposedly inferior ethnicities, children, and women. Some of the most significant moments of revealing doctrine and performing miracles in the New Testament were done either directly to a woman or in their presence, including revealing His newly resurrected body.
Why? Why would He do that when throughout time but especially then, women were among the least credible, least respected people in existence, according to those in power?
How are you going to get your message out by talking to the voiceless?
Of everything that is in the scriptures, it’s important to think about what isn’t. I’m positive Christ had countless interactions of significance with men, and men in power, in His short life. But what God chose to include in His limited space were highly significant references to the deliberate attention Christ paid to seemingly ordinary women in His life.
I believe this is no accident. I believe He is using the very tool He knew would be used by those in power to justify oppression of minorities and females, the Holy Bible, to communicate a key truth:
Women are here to be more than not hurt.
They are supposed to be heard, their presence protected, and their skills and contributions valued. As yourself.
We have so few records of acts Christ performed directly, yet a large proportion of them involve His behaving in these three ways toward women. This is intentional.
Great article listing 7 key doctrines and miracles in the Bible that were revealed through Christ working with women, children, and the differently-abled.
This context will help us answer the question:
How can a non-abuser proactively combat sexual abuse?
One way good men can hear, protect, and value women is by normalizing their presence in key arenas where previously we weren’t used to seeing them. This helps young women see themselves in those leading them. It helps girls, in a world where they increasingly see that they can do anything they decide to do, that they have a place in their church, too.
It helps boys see that women are not just existing in the background, but a fundamental aspect of the foundation and growth of the church.
Tagg Romney was the Bishop of my ward in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had a clear vision of how he wanted to increase the visibility of women in critical church functions.
He asked myself and the woman from the embarrassing feminist conversation I cited above, to be the Sacrament Meeting Coordinators- developing topics for the meeting and assigning speakers to them.
This job is traditionally done by the bishop or bishopric, but the key word is “traditionally”- not “doctrinally,” or even according to the church handbook. He wanted to insert female voices wherever he could, particularly in the most important meeting of the week, so he found a way.
A few times when I mentioned this to members, they expressed concern that women, not the bishop, were doing this job. This illustrates the problem. His assigning us to that role is not radical! It’s completely within the bounds of the handbook, but it required a commitment on his part to looking past tradition and into the existing church principles to figure out how we can move with them, forward.
As a sort of meta example of what I’m talking about, some of you read the previous paragraph, thought about how you felt about Mitt Romney’s political views, then decided whether or not to give credence to his son’s church leadership decisions. See how this works? Single words are blocking reason. Don’t let them!
Other ways Boston stakes increase the visibility of women in the church:
- Emphasis on funding girl’s activities as much as Boy Scouts
- Young women and young men are greeters/program-hander-outers at the door
- Sacrament meetings are required to always have at least one female speaker
- Relief Society presidents attend significant bishopric meetings
- If the Stake Relief Society President is visiting, she sits on the stand
There’s also care taken to refer to the young men passing the sacrament as “Aaronic Priesthood holders” rather than, “Thank you to the Aaronic Priesthood for passing the sacrament.”
This can seem insignificant, but when coupled with lessons and reinforcing discussion about the priesthood, it matters. Boys and girls need to be reminded as often as possible that the power of the Priesthood is dependent on righteous behavior, not simply the gender of the person.
Countless acts of abuse have occurred in tandem with the statement, “Don’t worry, I have the priesthood, you can trust me.” or, “I feel like this is right, and I have the priesthood.”
When a girl has been clearly and consistently taught that if a boy or man is acting inappropriately toward her then he is not acting with power of the priesthood, it empowers her to disregard his statements and protect herself.
Bear with me for one second while I bring up what you hoped I wouldn’t bring up, Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Don’t worry, I’ll be quick.
When my husband and I discussed it, we found we felt differently about key aspects of it. So this section has nothing to do with a person’s opinion on whether or not he should have been confirmed a judge. It has everything to do with the way members of the church were talking about the woman, in the absence of complete information from either side.
I was deeply concerned that the types of comments I was seeing on social media were the same comments being thrown out in living rooms and kitchen tables across America in the presence of daughters.
Daughters who don’t separate themselves from the woman testifying under oath. Daughters/sisters/wives who see themselves in her, then hear strikingly critical statements from the men they love who have no idea she could hear it as an attack on her femaleness.
As a Sunday School teacher for a giant class of 14-18 year olds, I write this for them. We adults getting this right, talking about this stuff with respect and civility for all parties involved, will show our boys to what they can aspire, and our girls what they can expect. For both, it had better be good.
(Side note about my husband because I’ll take any chance to brag about him:
He’s very smart. He could out-logic a logician at some hard strategy game, and could argue in the big leagues of arguing, whatever that is. Supreme Court?
He plays a lot of sports, is good at them, is up to date on all current sporting events and athletes, and in general just super masculine. Like so masculine, you guys.
Oh and he went to Harvard Law School, the second best law school in the nation [can’t resist one Kav joke] where he learned a couple of things about the law.)
With what I’m about to say, it matters a lot that you don’t think he’s a softie (he is though) or else you won’t follow in his footsteps and I really hope you will. Just remember, he’s definitely a man, he’s definitely conservative, and I like to think he’s pretty righteous, and still, these things happened anyway:
Even though we disagreed on key points in the situation, at no time did he ever imply directly or indirectly that (you can put any accusation by a woman of a man here. Doesn’t have to be Ford/Kavanaugh):
- The alleged abuse wasn’t “that bad,” or that it shouldn’t have impacted her for so long
- That she was any less credible than him in terms of life history and reputation
- That he suffered any more than she did during the proceedings
- That the experience would have been forgotten after that long if it had happened
- That sexual abuse reporters are more likely to lie than tell the truth
It’s possible to be conservative and religious and pro-women. Jon always gives me the feeling that he understands how often gross things happen to women and doesn’t seek to minimize it, explain it away, or blame the woman. He expresses empathy and sadness over it all, and takes concerted efforts to improve his own behavior toward women as he learns where he’s erred.
He doesn’t have to immediately condemn the accused in order to immediately support the woman attempting to speak. I love him for that.
So men: My goal here is to help you see that there are ways to not be a mindless lemming following the Democratic Liberal Commie Brainwashing Committee (if that’s how you see it), while also doing right by the ladies in your life.
Earlier this year I was nervous to return to Provo, Utah after the majority of my adult life had been spent on the East Coast.
My time in Provo as a young twenty-something had been spent sorting through a situation where, on a business trip to Chicago, my married, LDS, 14 years-my-senior boss came to my hotel room and told me he was in love with me and wanted to take me to Mexico and marry me, leaving his wife and 5 children.
He made sure to clarify that he “didn’t want to jump into bed with me,” he “just wanted to hold my hand and watch movies together,” as he emphatically grabbed my hand to communicate just how strongly he believed his own story.
He mentioned that the time he spent in his office –the door of which faced my desk– even when we weren’t engaging in any way, was time better spent than at home with his family.
Because I had grown up with complete trust in my highly virtuous father, a man who is vigilant against infidelity and immorality in general, I had literally viewed my boss as I viewed my dad when it came to friendly banter and naively never considered he could interpret our typical business conversations for flirtation.
I just didn’t realize that “dads”–older dudes with jobs and a wife and other normal life stuff– actually liked young girls. Hello.
Alas, it happened, the clichést cliché of all time, and luckily he was horrified and apologetic about his confession upon realizing I didn’t feel the same way (even though after re-reading of my texts and emails, he couldn’t figure out where he had ever gotten the idea that I shared his feelings).
I immediately pulled my hand away and told him to leave and to call his wife to tell her everything. I left the company (and a great job, as I was his direct report) shortly thereafter.
Although this tainted my memories of Provo, it wasn’t the main factor in my hesitance to return. Mainly I was concerned about the conservatism (regular conservatism, not political) and the slow-moving cultural progress that I had always felt made me a bad fit in the community, even as a fully active member of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Then, on my first week back to the heart of the action, the Sunday School lesson was on Bathsheba and David. After discussing David’s tragic fall for awhile, an older white man, maybe 50, raised his hand.
He talked about Bathsheba and how she was obviously righteous, bathing after her menstrual cycle in alignment with the Law of Moses, when she was unfairly summoned by the King to commit adultery.
He discussed how she had no choice in the matter, because of David’s power both as a King and as a man in general in those times. He said, “We’re talking about a 3,000 year #MeToo situation.”
The breath of fresh air that went through me then was pretty huge. Just knowing that a guy (found out later he is a BYU professor) from this little pocket of conservative America was looking at the woman’s perspective, was a rare treat.
The class teacher’s next comment was about how in the subsequent verses it appears that Bathsheba was a willing participant…and we were back to our regularly scheduled program. But even that couldn’t keep me from being pleased at the commenter’s courage to show another side, even when he knew the response could very well be a shutting down of brains once the “Liberal” hashtag was used.
In my first week back to the town where I had my very own #MeToo moment, I experienced its perfect antithesis. God’s hand in that isn’t lost on me.
The originator of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, recently spoke about the misdirection the term has taken on as various groups have attempted to co-opt it and move its focus.
“We have to shift the narrative that it’s a gender war, that it’s anti-male, that it’s men against women, that it’s only for a certain type of person… At the end of the day, there is a body of work that we’re building to help those people who have their hands raised.”
Christ’s church is about women and men, hand-in-hand, working together to find those with their hands raised, then protect and heal them. To find those with their hands hanging down and lift them up with respect for their Divine nature and infinite value.
“I have always been impressed with the love and respect our Savior bestowed upon the women in His life… our focus is generally on what He taught them and the love and understanding He gave them.
Have you ever considered the possibility that these women provided immense comfort to His burdened soul? It is my belief that He needed them as He journeyed toward living a perfect life so He could provide the ultimate sacrifice.” -Glen L. Pace
Good men, you’re doing a good job. In all sincerity, I’m grateful you read this all the way through. We can only do this together.
In Part II I’ll address the women and share ways I internally combat the attacks waged on my worth as a human being, without depending on society to change overnight. Also, how to be effective without being angry.