I was listening to a discussion on the Keystone XL Pipeline recently, and the pros and cons were being analyzed. The perspective of the Native tribes in the areas effected by the pipeline was brought up, and I learned that one of the negative effects of construction of these pipelines is the increase in disappearances, murders, and rapes against local Native women. These horrific acts go up in frequency due to the “man camps,” or work camps set up for the men hired to construct the pipeline.
As I heard this, I felt an internal tornado of mixed emotions. A part of me was not surprised at all. Women have historically been taken advantage of, treated as property, and used by men for their selfish purposes since the dawn of time. Women of color are victims of violence and injustice even more than white women like myself. Justice has rarely prevailed in the protection of women. We’ve all heard the statistics. That tide is finally changing a bit, with great strides being made by movements like #metoo.
That part of me wanted to start railing against men. Why are men such pigs? Why can’t they see women as an equal part of humanity deserving of dignity and respect? Why are people of color, and these Native women specifically, not better protected from suffering the violence and harm coming from predominantly white men?
And that’s when the tornado started swirling, as I thought about the specific white men in my life. I flashed back to that time in college, while studying abroad in Australia, when I was drugged at a bar. My friends from uni and I traveled en masse to this certain bar every Thursday night, and it felt like a home away from home. I’m not a heavy drinker, to the point that I was teased for my work-arounds to avoid drinking too much during drinking games (“Sarah sips”), so when I suddenly started throwing up at our table one night, my friends’ red flags started flying. They noticed that I seemed too out of it for how much I’d had to drink, and that my eyes were fully dilated. When they all realized that I’d been drugged, they flew into a rage. My male friends wanted to find and murder whoever had attempted to use what they assumed was a date rape drug on me. I was gently led home, shielded by this whipped up wolfpack, and my girlfriends kicked all the enraged guys out of my dorm room so they could help me into my PJs. One of my guy friends remembered that I wear contacts and, as my consciousness had started to return, I saw his fingers coming at my eyeballs to take them out for me.
For what could have been a terribly traumatic, horrible night, it ended up being a weirdly beautiful experience that let me feel how much my friends loved me. I felt so protected and cared for, and was touched at how upset all my friends were on my behalf. I assume it was a man who drugged me, and who had dishonorable intentions. And yet my male friends, in particular, made me feel very respected and honored that night.
And I started thinking about my husband, who is a better husband than I even knew to look for. He is so intentional and purposeful in overcoming bad prototypes, working hard to help more around the home and with our kids than has been traditionally typical. He is a fierce defender of human rights and proud feminist. He is working on his built-in blind spots and is constantly trying to improve.
And I thought of my father, who I doubt would consider himself a feminist, and yet who always encouraged me to dream big and reach for anything I thought possible. Who trusted me and my judgement and never acted like I was his property as I began dating. While friends of mine from church had their dads purposely stage their shotguns in the living room when they got picked up for prom, my Dad was so chill and relaxed around one of my boyfriends that my boyfriend thought it was a bad sign that he wasn’t getting grilled. My dad showed me that he trusted my brain, my character, and my judgement and didn’t consider me vulnerable, weak or gullible because of my gender.
I think the problems around violence against women, and women of color in particular, run deep. My country was built on the premise that we could own women’s bodies if they were black, and rape and murder them if they were Native. It’s woven into the very first fabric of my nation. White women faired better, but were still not considered fully human in the writing of the Constitution. They couldn’t vote and rarely had an avenue to own property. Grown ass women were completely dependent on their husbands and then sons in the event of widowhood, due to the coverture and dower systems set in place.
I can understand how men came to act so entitled, to think that their desires and whims trumped everyone else’s, and to feel justified in taking what they want, even at the expense of a fellow human being and their rights. Sadly, the Christian Bible has been misused in this way as well, to uphold the false message that women are inferior to men. There are great analyses of the patriarchal messages of the Bible, such as Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, that break down how misguided such interpretations are. Society has been patriarchal for much of human history, and that lens colored the authors of the Bible. It’s clear from the Creation story in the beginning of the Bible that God intended male and female, both created in God’s image, to be equal parts of the image of God on earth.
So while I can understand how we got here, and why so many men act the way they do, I also hold no mercy for those unevolved men who chose to use their privilege at the expense of others. Because I’ve seen what a quality man looks like. I’ve seen men so self-assured in their inherent worth and value that they don’t need to prove it by lording it over anyone “beneath” them. I’ve known men who don’t allow the narrow definitions of what a “real man” is to restrict their emotions or behavior. I’ve met men who understand that all of humanity hold the same amount of inherent dignity and worth as they do. I know men who recognize the terrible, ugly patterns in societies across the globe that have gotten us to where we are today and who want to work that change that. (check out the New Zealand based, She’s Not Your Rehab group – amazing!)
Society is crawling forward, inch by agonizing inch, into a better reality for us all. The Kingdom of God professed so much in the Bible by Jesus, in which the powerful are made humble, the poor are made rich, and the lowly are lifted up, is being clawed and scratched down to Earth. And it’s been a fight. The rich and powerful (read: predominantly white men) aren’t going to be quick to give up their privilege and power. Why would they? But as more of us glimpse what an equitable, supportive, inclusive and open world looks like, we can’t but help to fight to make that a reality. So fight on, man up, evolve, and make the world a better place for us all.