CBC News aired an opinion piece asking three men (all from the media) about sex, assault and consent. This was a result of the acquittal in Toronto of TV host Jian Ghomeshi on various assault charges due to erratic evidence offered by three female accusers. One of the points raised by panel host Wendy Mesley surrounded the question of “redefining masculinity” in the 21st century. It prompted a lively discussion with my wife. She suggested I should write a book on how I would redefine masculinity for men so that women can feel safe in our society. I declined and here is why.
Her point is that women often feel objectified by men and she has herself experienced leering gazes, catcalls and even physical grabbing in Spain. No one can deny how real and frequently this occurs in our society. in 2015, a Toronto woman sportscaster was rudely interrupted by a man yelling out his desire for her lower genitals. As many pointed out, she is a professional at work doing her job. She should not need to fear being sexually denigrated.
I personally witnessed this at the 1990 Super Bowl which I attended in New Orleans. A female broadcaster in bright lights was on camera on Bourbon Street on the second floor balcony of a bar. The street teemed with people. Suddenly the men began chanting, “Show your tits, show your tits” as loudly and repeatedly as possible. The woman kept her cool and I assume the TV network was able to mute the sound as it aired live to a national audience. These were grown men doing what men often do, particularly in a crowd situation where anonymity breeds a false courage.
A more recent example happened in Cologne Germany where hundreds of women were sexually assaulted in a crowded public square at night. It was a large gathering where again men thought they could get away with it. Shocking and totally unacceptable. Apparently only one man has been arrested so far.
Every man is accountable for his own behaviour and no matter what a woman says or does, if he crosses the line, the shame and consequences are completely on him as far I am concerned. Indeed, I want every man to be accountable to help other men respect women.
Having said that, I have to ask myself, do women have any responsibility in how men behave? On that same night at Super Bowl 1990 in New Orleans, I was stunned to see several women willingly pulling down their tops in response to the same lewd cries. Some women leverage their sexuality freely and willingly to the detriment of all women.
My step-daughter visited Budapest last year and was equally shocked to discover that people were having sexual orgies in public fountains after dark, right in the middle of the city. Apparently, women were having sex in public with men – surprise, surprise. Does this justify any man to force unwanted sexual attention on a woman? Never.
However, I sometimes get the impression from strident feminists that a woman should be able to say, do or wear anything she likes and always feel safe from men. I shake my head in wonder and dismay. Do women have so little understanding of men? I told my wife, “A man can get sexually aroused from looking at two curved lines drawn in pencil on a blank sheet of white paper!” Read the bestseller, “Every Man’s Battle,” if you want to learn more.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor 10:23) I believe we are each responsible for the choices we make and the consequences they attract including sexually. My therapist once wisely told me, “The best defense is to not be there.” Like getting mugged in a big city, it is not our fault. However, we still chose to walk around that city. That part belongs to us. If we wore flashy, expensive jewelry, that part also belongs to us. I was once tempted to date a woman who, based on phone chats only, was strikingly provocative. He advised me to stay away. I took his advice and was thankful, though my temptation to meet up with her was very strong. We choose where we want to be, making ourselves vulnerable to outcomes we don’t want. To me, this is like defensive driving.
I told my wife that I don’t need to write a book on masculinity. The Bible already spells out the role of men and women sexually very clearly. Men and women are to either serve God as a single person or if they cannot control their lust, to get married. “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Cor 7:9)
The Bible also spells out what it means to have sex regularly. “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Cor 7:5)
The Bible also spells out equality between a man and a woman sexually: “The wife’s body does not belong only to her. It also belongs to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong only to him. It also belongs to his wife.” (1Cor 7:4) The first and safest antidote to lust is to be in a committed, loving marriage and keep it there.
Any man or woman who thinks they can unleash their sexuality on the world and contain it, is either naive or wants to leverage it. Your sexuality is very powerful. You can reserve it for the love of your life or you can put it out there for the world to use for your own ends. Marilyn Monroe was a famous sex object. She fully knew and understood the power of her body and her image. She said, “I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn’t argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn’t.” She chose to be their fantasy. You don’t have to make that choice.
Your being has power. Your challenge is to know which aspect of “you” is affecting the person you are with. Then you need to be intentional about what effect you WANT to have. This is a question of character. Before I became a Christian at age 40, I would on rare occasions, meet a beautiful woman who by the power of her mind and her presence, quickly shifted herself from being viscerally sexually attractive to me into amazing person. I kept my initial inner reaction well-hidden and I had a bullet-proof public track record at work and at home. Only Christ opened my mind and heart to my real truth and his healing power.
You have a choice. That choice comes from how you see yourself whether as a woman or a man. If you see yourself as desirable primarily for your looks, you will radiate your truth to the world by where you go and how you show up. Your sexuality is existentially part of who you are. People will want to make you into their own image of what they need you to be, not who you really are. Mastering your inner being – your own neediness and temptations – is the antidote to this.
This is why it is only with faith that you can possibly become the person God created you to be. No woman (or man) is an island. You may have the right to strut your stuff, but pray for wisdom lest it not be beneficial. Any person who suffers a sexual assault is a victim of wrong-doing. Yet, each of us has to consider what we can do to reduce the risk of personal harm in the first place because the daily headlines scream of weak men who will cross the line, given the opportunity.
In his peace,
John Kuypers †