I don’t know where I picked up the conviction. I can’t remember if I saw a movie with a woman voicing the complaint, or if I overheard my mom talking to her girlfriends about it when I was a child. For some unknown reason, I have this innate desire to ask women, “How was your day?”. Whether it’s a woman I am dating, a friend, a co-worker, or a mentor, a supervisor, or female students at conferences or seminars in which I am speaking, I always ask the same opening question. There is something about creating space to listen to the women in my presence that I take very seriously.
Being a single man in my 30s, apologizing for the actions of men who have come before me comes with the territory. Whether in relationships or friendships, I find myself more often than not doing damage control and recovery—not always, but far too often. Recently, however, I have become horrified at what I have seen in both the fictional and real world.
First, there’s Bill Cosby.
The beloved Dr. Huxtable has turned out of to easily be one of the scariest men to ever walk the earth—and he will most likely not go to prison as the statute of limitations has passed on his numerous rapes and sexual assaults of women. I have read titles of news articles, listened to videos, and read the words of his victims—but with a limit. There are few things that make me angry to the point I fear I could lose control. Assaulting a woman and hurting a child are two of those things, so I have to be careful that I limit my intake of his atrocious actions as they can take me a place that is neither holy nor healthy.
The reality is he drugged, raped, and exploited women for years—without consequence. There were cover-ups, denials, and the flat out ignoring of women as their voices were not enough to call attention to his destructive patterns of abuse. He didn’t respect women as people with value but treated them essentially as toys for his own amusement, and he is not alone. Other men have done the same for centuries.
Then, this past weekend, I saw Straight Outta Compton.
I was invited to see it with a few friends. Now, I am not a virgin. I lost that in high school, but I have been abstinent by choice for over a decade and will remain that way until I am married. (You’re wondering, “Why did you mention that, Sean?” Wait for it.) One of the disciplines I maintain to “keep my mind,” is to remove my glasses during the provocative sex scenes when necessary. I just don’t need to see a naked woman on a giant screen. It doesn’t matter how Christian I am or how much the Lord has changed me, I am still a man.
I didn’t realize until the second or third scene when I removed my glasses, that I was watching a movie with three women, who are friends, sitting beside me. I was avoiding the temptation of seeing naked women, while these women watched their gender being casually and all too commonly exploited for entertainment. Compton has gotten tremendously positive reviews for its depictions of the birth of N.W.A., systemic racism, and it fills in the gaps for some about the painful history of police brutality towards Black people in the US. Watching the Rodney King beating and remembering the non-indictment of those four L.A. police officers was a reminder that #BlackLivesMatter has been an issue long before it was a hashtag. However, the movie has received overwhelmingly negative reviews for its depictions of women in the film. No female rap artists are referred to in any capacity. Women are either angry mothers, supportive wives, or again—toys to be played with. They are naked, promiscuous, and virtually insignificant to everyone and everything around them beyond sex.
As gripping as the movie is, once again, women are reduced to commodities. Their sole purpose in the film is the physical satisfaction of the men. If they aren’t providing sexual favors, or affirming the men, they are not on screen. It’s not Bill Cosby level of exploitation, but the women are still treated as property rather than people.
Third, I am still trying to process what I saw in Ferguson.
Being in Ferguson for the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death which was the catalyst for the #BlackLivesMatter Movement will require much prayer, journaling, gym visits, and football games to unpack. I attended a Black Scholars Conference and events throughout the four-day weekend that were led mostly by women. Female leaders, female pastors, and women from the bi-sexual and transgendered community. We can discuss and debate the roles we think women should or need to have in any of those environments and the changing definitions of sexuality in another post. The beauty of those days was also the most painful. Women, who are typically exploited and marginalized in society were the first responders to millennials grieving Michael Brown. Women who have been victimized by predators like Bill Cosby, or exploited in entertainment, were given a place to lead and live out the gospel. God, in His sovereignty, I think, redeemed the painful journey of many of those women as their experiences have proven to be sources of wisdom for them to navigate today’s crises of the hurting people they are serving and leading.
It wasn’t that I was surprised at the powerful leadership women were bringing. I know numerous female leaders. I know some female preachers that can easily out preach most men. What was painful, however, was that they have to carry the brunt of this burden alone. It wasn’t enough that they haven’t been heard. It’s that women heard the cries of other people on the margins that men—and mainstream society as a result—have almost completely missed.
Instead of attacking this social justice issue team-style, most of the heavy lifting is left to…well, the…Women.
You know, the first ones to proclaim—I mean preach—the resurrection of Jesus. The nameless ones in the Bible when only Noah’s sons are mentioned to restart the human race. The one who doesn’t get her name until after she and Adam get evicted from the garden. The ones that are only in Carl’s Jr. commercials if they are in tiny bikini’s washing a car. The ones that have to earn more degrees, work longer hours, and be completely emotionless at work in order for the men to give them half the time they would give to another guy. (I’ll only mention that it’s the 21st century and we still haven’t figured out how to pay women the same we would pay a man with the same credentials.)
I am a man. That is the lens through which I view the world. Even as a Black man, with all of the limits society places on me, I know I still have more privilege that women do. I try to defer to, listen to, and advocate for women as much as possible. I didn’t know men existed that refused to submit to women in leadership, and in many cases, won’t even acknowledge or respect it. The tears of Andrea Thomas and the painful experiences of Sabrina Chan almost ten years are fresh in my soul. These two friends, colleagues, and mentors of mine shared how their voices had not be recognized by some men in some contexts—simply because they were women. I had never heard of that before. I didn’t know that was possible. I care deeply about those two ladies especially. I remember becoming very angry when I heard how some men had treated them…and I don’t think I have stopped being angry at the arrogant supremacy men have in this patriarchal society.
I believe in women in leadership, period. It was beautiful to see women leading, and not asking for permission to lead. They didn’t read off their resumes, years of experience, or mentors as credentials that gave them the right to lead. They just led. With boldness, authority, and conviction. That was the beauty. The painful part was the absence of the men. There were men there, speaking in some capacity, serving in others, but the dominate gender in the room was women—again.
It is troubling to me that women are regularly pushed out of the mainstream conversation, are present at this pivotal moment of racial tension in the U.S., and the men who haven’t listened to them also aren’t listening to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.
I know that’s a broad generalization…and I stand by it. There are pockets of men listening, but the numbers are not equal…
And it saddens me, so…
I want to apologize to you and to say, “I am sorry.” I am sorry for the ways in which my gender has failed to listen to you, failed to recognize you, failed to create space for you to lead and be all that you were created to be.
I am sorry that we haven’t heard your cries for justice about the numerous Bill Cosby’s that are still out there right now, that it takes another man to say something before your concerns are taken seriously.
I am sorry that in 2015, you are too often reduced in value to physical appearance and made to compete with fictional bodies in movies, music, television, and even the porn industry. I am sorry I haven’t gut checked more men when I have seen or heard them degrading women which is too common.
I am sorry that rather than having men lead with you, we have left you to lead alone. It is not good for man to be alone. It is not good for a woman to be alone, either. We are made to be in community, and I am deeply sorry for the part men have played in jacking up that community.
If history has taught us anything…from slavery, to all the world’s wars, Civil Rights, and now with #BlackLivesMatter, it is that men, when left to our own understanding, will destroy the world—or at least try to. It is because another voice is missing at the table. That voice is needed to not simply to fill an empty seat, but to do the work of justice that is needed in the world.
I am sorry you have not been given a voice, or a seat, or the resources to do the work of justice. Some women have, and they are shinning, but far too many are sitting on the margins or knocking on the door waiting for the opportunity to display the greatness inside of them.
If I…No. For the times, words said, and deeds done where I have benefited as a man at the cost of causing women pain, I am sorry. For the places where I should have been present but was absent, the times I should have listened rather than spoke, affirmed your feelings rather than trying to solve the problems, for being blind to your issues and concerns, I am sorry.
Ladies, you deserve better.
God willing, I will do my part to make the world a better place for you, too.