Sexual harassment: Another one bites the dust

As I began to write an opinion piece earlier this summer, the internet was blowing up with the latest sexual harassment scandal: Morgan Freeman.

Sigh. Another one bites the dust.

Will there be justice? And what, exactly, does justice look like here?

Freeman not getting any more multimillion-dollar movie contracts or endorsements? Not getting to play God anymore — literally and figuratively?

Meanwhile, the survivors of Freeman’s (Spacey’s/Moore’s/Sheen’s/Hoffman’s/Weinstein’s/Cosby’s and countless others’) behavior continue to live in a culture where female people are routinely and systematically treated like objects who are fair game for sexual use by others — without their consent.

These messages are communicated to us all early in life. They start with language like “He’s so strong!” for male babies and “She’s so cute!” for female babies.

Children in elementary school easily articulate how the messages in our society around power, behavior and sexuality are different for male people and female people.

Those “He’s a stud, she’s a whore” memes? They are alive and oh so well. Just a few weeks ago, they were spoken out loud by peers in a room full of eighth-graders during a presentation I was giving.

When these messages flourish, we all lose.

We lose when female people are blamed for what they wear and how they behave.

We lose when male people are steeped in toxic messages about what it means to be a man in our society.

We lose when those whose genders are less binary are marginalized because they don’t fit neatly into one of two very contaminated boxes.

We lose when people with power use their privilege to speak to and touch whoever and however they want because they can — and because our society has said “Go ahead. It’s what’s expected of you.”

We have turned the other cheek in a very unhealthy way.

So, what does justice look like?

It looks like truth-telling.

Truth-telling by survivors who refuse to let someone else’s power and reputation dictate their reality and their demand for humane treatment.

Truth-telling by those in power (I’m talking to you, Congress) having the courage to hold even those in the highest offices of our country accountable for harassment, assault and more.

Truth-telling by faith communities who say, “What opportunities and responsibilities do we as a faith community have to impact the healthiness of relationships in our congregants? What deep, ongoing conversations do we need to have?”

Truth-telling by parents who decide to deal with their own discomfort and discuss bodies, power, respect and the mosaic that is our sexuality with their children throughout their entire lives.

In this garden of secrets and tolerance for harassment that we have inherited and sustained with our complicity, let us celebrate the groundswell of weed-pulling that has begun.

Let us not grow weary, but continue to plant the seeds of respect, of equity, of unity. Let us water them with love and persistence, to help them grow strong, so that we can harvest true justice.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of three books and facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area. Amy specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. Amy can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.

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