“I declare!” my mama used to exclaim when she found herself at a loss for words. It was an exclamation often accompanied by the shaking of her head in exasperation. And here I am today, her eldest daughter and heir of her exasperation.
I am frustrated almost beyond words by the failure of even the most truthful and intelligent media to help the people of our nation — women and men alike — begin to get at the root of the sexual abuse scandal in our midst. I felt much the same way — exasperated at my core — decades ago, when priests of the Roman Catholic Church, together with parishes, schools, and dioceses, were being brought down by revelations of rampant sexual misconduct.
The sexual problem that has been pulling us down all along is not the aberrant behavior of individual men — from Donald J. Trump right on down the ladder of power and privilege. The problem is white racist, hetero/sexist patriarchy.
All of the abusers have been shaped by the psychospiritual dynamics of patriarchy, which have muddied these men’s moral moorings. It is time for us to wake up to the fact that we have ALL been shaped by the pervasiveness of patriarchal power relations structured precisely for the purpose of perpetuating ruling-class and ruling-race men’s control over the lives, bodies, and sexuality of women, vulnerable men, children, animals, and earth.
There is a great deal of enthusiasm these days that we women are finally coming out as having been targets of sexual misconduct, and I honestly don’t know a single woman who hasn’t been. This historical unfolding is likely to be a boost to the self-esteem, integrity, and courage of many, many women and quite a few men who have been victimized by predatory sexual behavior. This, we can hope, will be a healing process for many people — those who’ve been abused and, perhaps even, some of those who’ve been among the abusers.
But we make a grave mistake if we participate in rounding up men and sometimes women who’ve sexually exploited women, children, and sometimes men — and casting them out of our public life. Why make them disappear — as if somehow they no longer exist? If they are not repentant, if they continue to deny that they have hurt people, if they blame the women, then, like all violent people, yes, put them away somewhere they can’t keep causing pain and distress to so many. These are the ones who need to be cast out.
But whenever abusers really do seem repentant and genuinely want to figure out how to live differently in this world, why not give them opportunities to do public penance? Why not give them a chance to work for sexual healing and gender justice? Why not require them to give their time, talent, and treasure to organizations dedicated to social change — movements and efforts to eliminate sexual violence in all its forms, for starters? Why not insist that they spend the rest of their lives working to transform white racist hetero/sexist patriarchal dynamics into genuine mutuality between and among genders, races, and cultures? Why not give these people another chance — this time, to change the world?
Let’s face it. The basic moral problem with Donald Trump is not that he has taken advantage of so many women but rather that he doesn’t give a damn about those women or anyone but himself and whoever he needs and can control. Not only is Trump not repentant. He delights in being able to touch, titillate, and take whomever or whatever he pleases on his own terms: women, money, the presidency. If he could just be God, he’d be satisfied, maybe?
This is the essence of patriarchal privilege, power, and control. This — not a bunch of sexually confused, sometimes violent, & often hurtful men — is the root cause of the sexual misconduct crisis we are facing. Until we get at this root, nothing will change.
And until this kind of call to action, this radical insistence, begins to be voiced in the public square, I’ll continue to echo my mama whenever I hear some well-meaning journalist sound shocked when she announces that yet another guy has been accused. To this news, I’ll just keep shaking my head and muttering, “I declare!”