Sexual harassment: Let’s define it

Harvey Weinstein. Roy Moore. Al Franken. Charlie Rose. Matt Lauer. Garrison Keillor. And so many more, some known and many who have yet to apologize.

All have been accused of sexual harassment or worse.

This crime knows no boundaries. Democrats and Republicans. Rich people. Plenty of rich, powerful people. Hollywood types. Media moguls.

I have a question, which I haven’t heard anyone – except for one close friend – ask.

What, exactly, is sexual harassment?

Don’t tell me it’s in the eye of the beholder. That’s a cop-out, and no answer at all.

We need a definition that all of us, and I mean all of us, can agree on.

In no way am I excusing true sexual harassment. If a man touches a woman’s private parts, for example, that’s completely unacceptable and should be prosecuted to the extent of whatever laws there are.

What about a hug? If I give a woman (who is not my wife) a one-armed side hug, I have been taught that that’s OK. If I give her a full-body two-armed hug, that is not OK.

What if a woman gives me a full-body hug, then charges me with sexual harassment?

See the dilemma?

That’s why we need a national standard for sexual harassment.

Women and CPR

I saw an article recently that said women are less likely to receive CPR than a man is if she is having a heart attack. I wonder if the harassment issue plays into that.

What if I, even accidentally, touch a woman in the wrong place while trying to save her life? I’ve had CPR training, and they teach us to unbutton the victim’s shirt to improve the chances for success.

Would that cross the line? If I do that and the woman dies, could her family file charges against me?

I’m serious.

In today’s atmosphere, her family might be successful.

Again, I’m not condoning abuse. What Dr. Larry Nassar did to numerous female U.S. gymnasts in the name of medicine is inexcusable. Throw the book at him. Make an example out of him so that, hopefully, no one ever does that again.

Where’s the line between those two extremes? As a man, how do I know when I cross it?

Again, don’t tell me that if I have to ask the question, I’m guilty. That’s a cop-out.

And you’d probably be right anyway, as I’ll show in a minute.

Temptations and Hollywood

Temptations are everywhere in our sex-saturated society. Of course, that’s no excuse. Not every man touches a woman inappropriately after seeing a sexually-explicit television ad or an R-rated movie.

I see a TV ad these days with men in underwear and the voice-over announcer says, “Don’t wear your dad’s underwear.” You can hardly watch a football game without a closeup of the cheerleaders, often looking up. Prime-time TV shows joke about sex like it’s no big deal, something that everyone does, whether they’re married or not.

If everyone does it, why are men being punished for doing less? Every TV actor and actress likes it, including the women, according to the script writers.

Right?

If sex is mainstream in front of a camera, what’s the big deal off-camera?

Of course, it’s a big deal. Hollywood is not real, even though real people are saying and doing very real things. But we know better, don’t we?

So, where’s the line?

Keillor vs. Lauer

Garrison Keillor’s situation troubles me. According to an article in today’s newspaper, he “apparently put his hand on a woman’s bare back when trying to console her.”

“She recoiled. I apologized,” Keillor told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an email. “I sent her an email of apology later, and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it.
“We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”

Minneapolis Public Radio terminated his contracts over that.

What did Keillor do wrong? He admitted his mistake immediately, and the woman accepted his apology.

That’s not good enough any more? What’s her purpose in hiring a lawyer?

To fire a popular radio figure, ruin his reputation and end his 40-year career?

The article doesn’t say anything about seeking monetary damages. Indeed, none of female victims in today’s high-profile cases are seeking financial damages.

If Matt Lauer used his position of influence to take advantage of women, his reputation should be ruined.

Garrison Keillor didn’t do that, apparently.

So, why do they suffer the same fate?

All men are guilty

If I touch a woman’s (covered) shoulder during a light moment, is that harassment? If I give a hug or pat on the back for emotional support or encouragement, is that harassment?

Don’t give me the “eye of the beholder” argument. You might change your mind later, as Keillor’s accuser did. If the standard changes, how can I possibly follow it?

Men are visual. We are wired that way. If you’re going to file a lawsuit against me for who I am, I stand no chance.

If you charge me with looking at you weird, I’m most likely guilty. Every male who ever lived, including me, has done this at some point. That doesn’t mean I’m going to act on that or that it’s even something I’m going to dwell on. That temptation often passes.

But for a second, I’m guilty.

That’s why we need a standard for sexual harassment. Where we seem to be headed, every man on Earth is guilty.

If you’re looking for a skeleton in my closet, you’ll probably find it. We men do our best to hide such things, but if you look expecting to find something, you will.

Here’s a thought. Each of us has good things in us, too. If you try to find the good in me, you might just draw that out instead.

Let’s define it

Again, I am not defending sexual harassment or abuse.

I’m just asking:

What is it?

Let’s come up with a definition we all can agree on.

Did Garrison Keillor cross that line?

If he did, then I daresay nearly all of us men are guilty.

What is the endgame here?

Respect?

Certainly, women need respect. To be honest, you haven’t had it in a long time. Look at our movies, TV shows and ads, magazines – and on and on. You’re portrayed as little more than sex objects across the landscape.

Why, women, do you put up with that stuff?

We should have had this discussion a long time ago.

Let’s define harassment.

Then, let’s follow that definition.

In every area of our lives.

Instead of hiring a lawyer, let’s think this through.

Then do something about it.

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Defending a dress code

Someone asked online the other day whether the church I attend has a dress code, saying she didn’t have “dress-up” clothes and didn’t want to feel out of place. I responded by saying, no, there’s no dress code there. Come as you are!

She said thanks.

Someone else took that a step further, saying that any church that has a dress code is being exclusive.

I let that go because I didn’t want to get political over a sincere question. But I do have a response.

Dressing up

While churches should welcome all who visit, I grew up in a church that did have a dress code. I wore a suit and tie to church as a teenager. (Perhaps that’s where my lifelong rebellion to ties comes from.)

While a suit and tie (or a long dress) is not a symbol of comfort, it has a specific purpose. Those who wear formal clothes, in a business or church setting, are showing off their best side. Formality shows dignity and respect to those we interact with.

Again, formal clothes are not meant for comfort (although they shouldn’t be distractingly uncomfortable). They serve a higher purpose. We are giving our best. We have standards. It costs money to buy formal clothes, and in certain settings, they are necessary.

Weddings and funerals require more than T-shirt and flip-flops. Why? Respect for those we are honoring.

Dressing down

Having no dress code on Sunday mornings is fine, to make sure that no one is excluded. But I think we’ve taken that thought too far. We are so casual, we’ve forgotten who the God of the universe really is. It’s hard to offer respect in a T-shirt and flip-flops. We can start there with God, but should we remain there our whole lives?

I’m reading the book of Leviticus in the Bible with a group of friends. It’s a long list of rules for animal and grain sacrifices, purification rituals and standards for daily living. It’s hard reading. Does it even apply to 21st century America?

Oh, yes. My study Bible offers this commentary:

 

We may be tempted to dismiss Leviticus as a record of bizarre rituals of a different age. But its practices made sense to the people of the day and offer important insights for us into God’s nature and character.

 

Israel, from the day God formed the nation, had to follow different rules than every other nation did. Israel was set apart. Its standards for living were much higher. The Israelites didn’t always appreciate that. At one point they wanted a king, solely because every other nation had one. God said He was their king, but that wasn’t good enough for them. God said fine, but you’ll have problems as a result. And they did.

Holy standards

The higher standards remained, even as Israel rebelled.

The Ten Commandments, as well as all the Levitical laws and rules, didn’t apply outside Israel. But inside Israel, they did.

God had something special planned for the nation. The higher standards benefited Israel as much as it did giving God the honor and respect He deserved. Do not commit adultery, for example: When we do commit adultery, the side effects are obvious and horribly damaging. But we do it anyway, don’t we?

As Christians who inherit this lifestyle, we are held to this higher standard. It’s easy to point fingers at us when we fall short. We all do, you know, whether we admit it or not.

Here’s the kicker: Those outside the church by definition aren’t following God’s standards. They follow their own man- (and woman)-made rules, many of which are based on Biblical principles (again, whether we admit that or not).

Where God’s standards and man’s standards differ is where we clash. Hard. It’s difficult to find compromise when we see life through different eyes. I’m not talking Republican and Democrat; I’m talking much bigger than that. I’m talking Christian and non-Christian.

Those two groups read the Bible differently, and here’s the explanation. Do we read Leviticus, for example, as a list of bizarre rituals, or insight into our holy God? Same words, two totally different meanings.

Best foot forward

The business world understands this better than the church does. Business executives put their best foot forward to lure customers to their product or service. If a business cuts corners, customers eventually will find out – and leave for a competitor.

High standards have a cost. Businesses have to put out time and money to research and build the best products and services, and then they charge us accordingly to consume them.

With God, the high standards are a lifestyle choice. That choice affects the way we think and live, the lens through which we see life. Are we willing to submit to a high standard, or not?

There are consequences and side effects whichever choice we make.

With God, it’s not a decide-once-and-live-happily-ever-after decision. Perhaps that’s why so few people accept God’s standards. It’s a daily thing. When we fall short, we ask God (and each other, when necessary) for forgiveness. Then we do it again. Forgive, and be forgiven. Seventy times seven times, in Jesus’ words.

I wish more people in the church understood holiness. In our efforts at being casual, it’s a lost theme.

But God is God and the standards remain, whether anyone follows them or not. Israel learned that the hard way over time in Old Testament days. I fear we are learning that the hard way today as well.