Hello Dear Ones:
Content warning: Sexual Assault
This week, as I prepared the letter for the Beacon, I was ready to write a note about worship at South Valley, about why we do it and how, and to state my appreciation for this congregation’s openness to change and experimentation. I was ready to write a nice, safe letter. I can’t do that today.
Today, Friday September 28, I write to you filled with a holy rage and a profound sadness. The affairs of the moment bring us face to face with what we’ve long known: women live in constant awareness of their vulnerability to emotional and physical attack from men. Women live in constant awareness that if that attack happens, they may not be believed when they report it and they will likely be discredited and disparaged for speaking up. Women live in constant awareness that their assailant is unlikely to suffer any consequences. We’ve known this for a long time, and it is still true. This is something that I cannot accept.
As a person who identifies as male, it’s hard to know exactly what to do with all this. Some women I respect are saying that for right now, men should shut up. Given the men that I’ve seen who are going out of their way to demonstrate their lack of empathy for survivors, I think those women have a point. Others are calling for men to step up as allies. I aim to do that, but I also worry that my support will come off as virtue signaling, making a show of being a “good man” without any real will to change either myself or this misogynist country. I know too well my own past complicity with sexism to hold myself up as an example for anyone.
I think that this is a moment for everyone, but especially men, to go deep into reexamining their attitudes and actions. Let us acknowledge that rape culture exists on a continuum from an unwanted gaze or remark, to an unwelcome touch, to outright assault. The idea that connects all those things is consent, or more to the point, the lack of consent. We (again, men especially) need to think about the times where we engaged in actions (gazes, comments, touches) that were done without consent, and also when we allowed those actions to happen in our presence. This latter part is critical.
I don’t know what to do next, and frankly it’s not for me to say. I want to listen to women and follow their lead as an ally. That feels like a good start. If folks feel like this is new ground, I’m happy to share resources that helped me better understand the situation. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I write with rage and sadness, but I also write with inspiration. I’m inspired by Dr. Ford, and all the victims (some men, but overwhelmingly women) who overcame their shame and their fear to share one of the worst moments of their life in hope that we as a society can learn and do better. One of the signs of spiritual maturity is the ability to experience an awful loss or pain and to use that experience to help the world grow and heal. The courage of these women is a lesson to me and to all of us.
Finally, this issue is not an abstraction; there are people in this congregation, who sit with us on Sunday, who have experienced this directly. My prayers are with the survivors among us. If you need support, consider calling the Rape Recovery Center at (801) 467-7273 to be connected with a trained staff member.
How I wish I could write a nice, happy letter today, but wishing won’t make it so. It’s time for us to do the work called by our Unitarian Universalist values. I believe in you.
In love and anger,
Rev. Bob LaVallee