Raped — But Not Devalued

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I was on the elevator down from the psych ward, having visited a friend in a bit of a rough patch and struck up a conversation with one of the other riders.

As it turned out, she was a psychologist, visiting a friend (not her patient) who was not doing so well.  This young man, now catatonic, had once had it all together. He was a standout athlete, had a girlfriend who was gorgeous, and then something happened that turned his world upside down.

What would take the feet out from under a strong and healthy male?

He was raped.  

While in the military, the Navy as I recall, he was forced by another man and this started his downward spiral.  It is not possible to know, having never gone through anything similar myself, what happened in this young man’s mind.  But one can imagine, if he had an identity and self-worth built around his ability to protect, being overpowered in this way would have to be absolutely devastating to him.

How could he provide security for a woman if he couldn’t even defend himself from an assault?

His relationship, his life, his will to live, crumbled.  This one experience, possibly over in minutes, probably not doing him lasting physical harm, broke him mentally and turned him into a shell.  I have no idea of what became of him.  Did he find a way to bounce back, form a new identity, move on from the trauma and overcome?  Or has he withered away into nothing?

More Common Than Thought

One of my first encounters with a victim of sexual abuse was in school.  A friend of mine, from elementary school all the way through high school, told me that he had been molested by his stepbrothers while living in Texas with his biological dad.  I had always felt bad for Justin. He was socially awkward and bullied by classmates, had a domineering mother, and came out of the closet later on as a teenager.

I’m also had some very close female friends that have told me about being raped.  Their stories are very similar.  A trusted male, often a boyfriend, talks them into a place where they are unable to escape his sexual aggression.  In all of these cases, to head off any assumptions, there was no alcohol involved.  They were good morally upright girls who were too trusting of a male ‘friend’ who stole their innocence and left them feeling completely broken.

Then there’s Adam, the school friend who took his life a few years ago, victimized as a child by a predator college professor.  His alcoholism and failed relationship no doubt, in part, linked to this experience.  I mean he let me in on this secret, and many years after it happened, so it was obviously still part of his thought process.

At one point in my life all of this was unthinkable.  I was in a home that offered stability and protection, with two good parents.  I’m sure there were things that I did not know about, but my community seemed mostly healthy and safe.  There was simply no reason for me to assume this sort of violating behavior was common.  So statistics about 1 out of 5 women being victims of rape seemed impossible.

It is truly understandable that many who were raised in sheltered homes are in denial of the extent of this problem.  It makes sense that they would try to explain it away as the promiscuous putting themselves in a compromised position.  It is probably a good thing when the reaction is disbelief. Most men aren’t rapists and would be horrified, like I was, if they heard a story firsthand from someone they love.

Boundaries and Consent

As part of my culture, and also my lingering shyness, it is difficult for me to so much as give a woman a hug.  It’s actually very frustrating to me, that I’m so awkward in this regard and would almost need to ask permission rather than simply make the read.  Why is this?  Well, it only seems right to respect another person’s space.  Intimacy is supposed to be reserved for special people, right?

It actually makes me livid to see even a boy too grabby with a girl too early, even if she seems to be enjoying it, because he’s treating her as an object.  And yet this sort of ‘confidence’ is often rewarded.  The women who think that every man is a rapist may have simply spent way too much time with men who do not respect their or any boundaries. 

And, yes, men who pressure with “if you love me you will…” are evil. 

Period.

Rape is a product of an entitled mind, a psychopath, someone who sees other people as something to be exploited for their pleasure.  Sure, maybe they can turn on the charm and blend into normal society, but their true character is revealed when there is nothing to stop them.  Be it in a back alley or her bedroom that he talked himself into while her parents were away, rapists exploit the vulnerable.

Incidentally, this is why I’m still in favor of at least one aspect of traditional courtship.  If a man can’t keep his hands off of your body for a few dates, if there is any unwanted pressure whatsoever to be physically involved, then maybe find someone who is interested in you rather than merely sexually attracted to your physical form.  If a man can’t commit to a relationship without sex, he certainly isn’t the type to commit after sex.

Lust and Self-control

In the animal kingdom there is no such thing as consent.  Often the strongest, most competitive, male gets to mate and by simply overpowering the female.  He runs on instinct, male hormones, testosterone, and is basically acting out his natural programming.  We don’t generally describe a buck “in the rut” as being a rapist because we do not see the animal as capable of complex moral reasoning.

And humans do have these similar underpinnings too.  Men, for the most part, are more aggressive, and women tend to be more submissive, agreeable, etc.  It is simply the substance we’re made of in the same way it is for any other animal.  We’re instinctive creatures that seek out, and imagine, the things we want.  But we also have a layer beyond this, a large frontal lobe in our brain, which gives us an extra capability for self-control.

Lust is often confused with simple desire for something.  Many in a strict religious upbringing, like my own, are made to feel extremely guilty for looking upon a fair maiden and finding her desirable.  But that’s not lust, that’s healthy sexual attraction and not a sin.  What is lust is when we dwell on something that’s not ours to take. That is a path that can lead to rape, as in this Biblical account:

Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. […]
So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.” David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” […] 
But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.” “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

(2 Samuel 13:2‭, ‬6‭-‬7‭, ‬11‭-‬14 NIV)

Awful!

The sad part is that when Amnon’s lust was satiated, he discarded his half-sister (not biologically related) as if his sin were somehow her fault.  Incidentally, this violence did not go unavenged. Amnon was eventually killed by the victim’s brother, Absalom.  But this lack of self-control seemed to plague David’s house.

Considering what king David did to have another man’s wife, we could say “like father like son” to explain what happened here. 

Rabid Dogs Are Put Down

In the end, we all have sexual desires. Attraction is natural and not something to be ashamed about.  But, when this crosses over into lust, when we choose to dwell on something unattainable and scheme to have it through immoral means, that’s a choice and what separates us from animals.  The reprobate tries to hide behind their urges and impulses. 

If a dog can’t keep from biting we’ll put it down. 

Should a person with no self-control, who harms others because of their unwillingness to rein in their lusts, be treated any differently?

I know Jesus said, pertaining to those who harm the “little ones” (referring to those young in the faith, not necessarily children), that it would be better that a millstone be hung around the neck of those who do these things and they be cast into the sea.  He may not have been talking specifically about sexual abuse and yet, knowing what this sin does to those who have fallen prey, I’m quite certain it’s included.

Jesus never said, “if she’s wearing a skimpy outfit, then she shares some of the blame,” but he did say, in the context of lust, If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out…” (Matthew 5:29a NIV) 

Good people do not create scapegoats.

Godly men do not blame women.

Your Body Is Not Your Worth

The more important message of this blog, and my main reason for writing it, is to tell those who have been through this kind of trauma this: Your rape is not a reflection of you or your value.

As one who fully appreciates the human form, especially that of the female body, and completely desires physical intimacy, it could be easy to treat our bodies as being one and the same as our being.  We show preference based upon stature, beauty, shape and other matters of outward appearance.   So it can feel as if this form we reside in is of greatest importance and, therefore, what happens to it a reflection of ourselves.

Women, traditionally, put value in their cleanliness or purity, men in their strength and ability to protect.  Our identity is often wrapped up in this external image.  Rape is an attack on the physical manifestation of these things and causes the victim to question their identity or value at a deeper level.  This is why, in mere moments, someone can be shattered.  They now see themselves as dirty or defiled, inadequate or weak, and thus of less value.

But the truth is that our human value has nothing to do with what others have done to our bodies and everything to do with how we choose to live.  

I’ve encountered toxic and nasty people, bitter, who have used the abuse they’ve experienced as an excuse to mistreat others.  I have also met those who have not been defeated, who are able to put the unpleasantness behind them, and even become a better person in the end.  This idea that we’re damaged goods or have lost our worth because of something that happened, through no fault of our own, is choosing to put our own value in our bodies.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

(Matthew 10:28a NIV)

There is so much more to our being than our physical form.  We might convince ourselves, based on the world’s obsession with the external, that our worth is in only these physical things.  But what matters, the real value we have, is our soul and that thing that can’t be touched. 

Age will eventually destroy our bodies. The tall youth will some day be hunched over, the strong man’s muscles will atrophy, wrinkles will spread on that angelic face.  The world abuses us, we will all likely face trauma even if not rape, and yet—if we know that value is something other than the physical—our worth will increase.

At the very least, no matter what anyone has done to your body, whether you were abused as a child, raped or whatever, I do not look at you as damaged or inferior. 

No, you are strong to keep going. There is a special beauty to a survivor that is not found in those sheltered.  And I believe there are more who agree with me than do not. 

Your value is in who you are and not what was done to you!

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
(Luke 12:6 NIV)

Are Those Girls Laughing At Me?

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There was a time, many years ago, when I had a particularly severe struggle with insecurities, it was likely related to a recent romantic rejection and this mess of anxieties being part of the aftermath.  I had walked into a youth volleyball event and, observed, a couple of girls across the room laughing. 

I had known how cruel young women could be about guys who didn’t meet their standards, overheard their giggles and comments related to that slightly awkward and unfashionable older guy who was the constant butt of their jokes.  So my fears of this sort of ridicule were not entirely unfounded.

But, after a quick self-assessment, making sure I wasn’t wearing my underwear on the outside or anything too obviously wrong, I did my best to ignore that nagging voice and find another explanation.  They could have been laughing about anything, there was absolutely no reason to conclude it related to me and yet the unpleasant knot remained in my stomach.

Had I run with this conclusion, based upon my hallucination of their reason for laughing and not reality, this incident would be added to my existing grievance with the female gender.  I was already aware that many girls have a 5′-10″ cutoff for guys they will date, the guy that did end up dating the one I had asked was a six-footer, it could be that they were laughing at my expense?

However, had I went with that, even if I didn’t match across the room and command them, “do better!”  Something that most definitely would have branded me as a weirdo even if they were guilty and did apologize.  Even if I had simply allowed my own explanation of their actions to metastasize, it would be the root of a very toxic attitude which would further marginalize me.

My initial interpretation, born of my anxieties, not their laughter across the room, was the real problem.  Even if we banned all laughter or every snickering teenager girl were reprimanded for their feeding of male insecurities, had a plan been devised to force all girls to date short men as reparations for discrimination and height privilege be excoriated by leaders, the actual issue would never be solved.

No, I’m not saying that genuine acceptance doesn’t go a long way towards healing old wounds.  Becoming part of the Orthodox world, where I didn’t have a reputation to proceed (and limit) me, where it was possible to talk to the opposite gender comfortably, did certainly help.  And there’s no denying that my being in a relationship has lowered the stakes and helped me to relax around other women.

Still, all that only happened once I stopped caring what other people thought and subsequently became comfortable in my own skin.  Today, unless it was a really bad day, I would be more likely to laugh with those laughing and then ask them what they were laughing about.  Slinking around, making accusations, might gain you a following on social media and earn the meaningless sympathies of those only hearing one side.  But it will do nothing to improve self-image.

Painful as it was, I’m glad that things didn’t work out for me because someone swooped in for the rescue.  Had this happened I may never have found my internal spiritual footing and, after briefly appreciating the charitable effort, remained as lacking in confidence.  Pity the woman who marries a man looking for her to bolster his self-image and mend his brokenness, that relationship is probably going to be hell in a few years.

My physical stature hasn’t changed since my days of paralyzing approach anxieties and there remains plenty of reason that one may laugh in my direction.  But my life improved vastly when those voices of self-pity and doubt were muted.  At this point it would not matter if those girls had been truly laughing at me, I wouldn’t take them so seriously anymore. I’m a different man.

Is Traditional Masculinity Toxic?

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I’ve been extremely critical of abusive men in my blogs, taking on things like blame-shifting, patriarchal and purity cultures. Men who use their natural strengths or positions of authority to take advantage of others are reprehensible and should be called out for their abuses of power.

That all said, I’ve shied-away from using the term “toxic masculinity” to describe male abuses and my reasons for hesitation were confirmed in the past few weeks when the American Psychological Association (APA) claimed that traditional masculinity is harmful and lumped it together with murder, bullying and other toxic behaviors.

This is not an overgeneralization. No, it seems to be a part of broader misandry campaign and, at very least, is a complete misdiagnosis of the problem. It would be like pulling out crime statistics for a particular racial demographic and applying them as criticism to all within that group. That, of course, is stereotyping and unfair to the many who do not fit the broad brush of statistics.

It is true that men, as a category of gender, do dominate statistics for violent crime. However, what is not true is that all men are equally guilty and should be judged on the basis of the bad examples. The vast majority of men have not murdered, raped or otherwise act violently and would never excuse such behavior. I say this as someone who has been around men his entire life: Most men that I know aim to be protectors, not predators.

The Protector and the Predator…

A few weeks ago, before the APA taking aim at traditional masculinity (and an ill-advised Gillette ad) became a topic of conversation, I had started to write a blog to describe two distinct but related categories of male behavior—the predator vs. the protector—and what makes the difference.

The first category (and the one rightfully called toxic) is that of the predatory male. The predatory man is only concerned about his own wants or needs and will use any power he is given to exploit others for his own gain. This includes men who use religion or other means to manipulate others for their own personal gain and especially those who are coercive in pursuit of sexual gratification.

For example, the boyfriend who pressures his girlfriend into sex. I can understand, with teenage hormones raging, that waiting for sex is not easy for a passionate man and know this from personal experience. But there is simply no excuse for the young man who believes his natural urges entitle him. The young man who makes his commitment to relationship contingent on her compliance with his premarital sexual desires (ie: “If you love me, then you will…”) is a predator.

By contrast, the second category, the protective male, consists of men who use their strengths and abilities to serve others. This is not a man without desires. A protective man is tempted to serve his own needs and wants like anyone else. However, a protector is one who chooses to resist any evil or exploitative impulses and follows an example of self-sacrificial love instead. The protective man is even willing to give his own life for the good of others.

Traditional Masculinity Is Not Toxic…

As long as there have been appetites and differentials in power there have been abuses. Much of human behavior has to do with instincts, it is why we breathe, why we seek food to eat and why we desire companionship. This isn’t something that needs to be trained, we observe similar behavior in animals, and is natural.

There is no concern for morality with animals and in the natural world. When a lion, acting on predatory instincts, stalks, pursues and takes down it’s prey, this is not a cause for consternation. We understand that this and “survival of the fittest” is part of life and even how biological life thrives. If predators were removed, as they have found out in Yellowstone Park after wolves were reintroduced, everything in an ecosystem is thrown out of balance and deteriorates.

A young buck does not need any training to be overcome by hormones, to pursue a doe, fight off the competition, and do his thing whether the female consents or not. His sexual aggression is just part of his natural composition, it is not a choice, he is as controlled by his biological impulses as much as the female is subdued by his physical strength and stamina. We cannot make a moral judgment of a creature incapable of moral reasoning or choice.

However, human society works differently and notions of morality are used to push back against some of our baser instincts. Part of this push back has come in the form of tradition. In fact, our traditional morality, that arose in conjunction with religion, formed to provide protection against predatory behaviors. It is Christian religious tradition that has promoted the idea that behavior is a choice and therefore men, unlike deer, should be held accountable for what they do.

Traditional masculinity is not responsible for the toxic behavior of men who choose to act on their most vile and violent imaginations. Quite the opposite. It was the traditional men in my life who taught me to respect boundaries, to save sex for a marital commitment and to offer my life as a sacrifice to the world. It is traditional masculinity that has stood as a protector against predatory animals and opposed to toxic (or what we would traditionally call immoral) behavior.

With Every Strength There Is Weakness…

I would be remiss to claim that everything the APA says about masculinity is baseless. Men so tend towards certain and some of those behaviors are definitely harmful. However, it is one thing to say that men should not bury their emotions nor ever excuse behavior that is harmful to other people or even themselves. It is quite another thing to declare: “…traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.”

First of all, there is the question of what traditional masculinity is and if it is truly defined by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression—I would argue that it is not. Second, those characteristics also are part of a two-sided coin, one side positive and the other negative, where stoicism becomes loving restraint, competitiveness is a drive to provide, dominance is an urge to explore (pursue science, innovation, etc) and aggression is merely assertiveness.

Not just that, but those things listed are not all bad in and of themselves. In an age where we are constantly told to embrace diversity, tolerance, and inclusion, on what basis can we declare something to be “on the whole” harmful?

I mean, what is really wrong with some friendly competition, say a game of basketball or a Poker (Rook, if you’re Mennonite) tournament, where everyone gets the exercise or thrill of the experience—despite there being a winner and a loser?

It is a sad day when we can’t discern the difference between a harmless playful tussle between boys and harmful bullying behavior. It is an even sadder day when the negative expressions of masculinity are used as a basis to bash the very thing that channels natural male qualities in a socially beneficial and positive direction. It is traditional masculinity that has long urged young men to use their physical strength and competitive nature to make the world a better place for all people and we have succeeded.

The inability of the APA to see traditional masculinity in a more nuanced and balanced way will likely do more much more harm than any good it accomplishes. It is, in effect, an attempt to bully young men, through quasi-intellectual means, into compliance with their own prejudiced worldview and expectations. They fail to see the good in their focus on the bad and have done a disservice, and not only to traditionally masculine men but also to their own profession and all people.

Everyone Is Hurt When Good Men Are Destroyed…

My conservative Mennonite father, the embodiment of traditional masculinity, gave me an example of a man who didn’t use his emotions as an excuse to lash out. This ‘stoicism’ was for the benefit of not only my mother, myself and my siblings, it was also for the men who worked with him. There are many men today who do not exercise this kind of restraint, they become screaming tyrants when things do not go their way and have neglected the tradition of my father, his fathers and our Father:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. […] Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:19‭-‬20‭, ‬26‭-‬27 NIV)

The tragedy of this new targeting of traditional masculinity is exactly the opposite of what is needed in the world. It is the lack of traditionally masculine role models that has led to more toxic behavior in young men. It is not a coincidence that mass shooters come from fatherless homes. Indeed, fatherlessness is a more reliable predictor of future poverty than race and is linked to many negative outcomes for both male and female children.

The real crisis in this country is not traditional masculinity, the real crisis is the lack of traditional masculine role models that often leads to harmful and self-destructive behavior. The real truth is that traditional values have been under assault for a long time now and we are reaping a crop of toxic behavior as a result. But those who are responsible for this destruction, rather than admit their mistake, have decided to double-down and continue to punish the wrong people.

Traditional masculinity is to serve as a protector and provider, the man who looks after the widows and orphans, as James implores. It is the man who reads and obeys the instruction of John the Baptist to soldiers, in Luke 3:14—and doesn’t use his physical strength to extort or do violence to others. He is a man who follows after Jesus who treated women (including his mother) with absolute respect and told men to serve others rather than exploit them:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25‭-‬28 NIV)

To conflate toxic behavior with traditional masculinity is not only frustrating to the men who are least deserving of rebuke—it is also convenient cover for abusers and those truly guilty of toxic behavior. Good men do not need to become the scapegoats for predators, but rather need to be appreciated and encouraged to continue to live a healthy and traditional masculine example.

Toxic Behavior Need Not Be Coupled With Masculinity…

I had never liked the term “toxic masculinity” and long suspected that those behind the wording (not the average users of the term) were targeting masculinity itself as much as anything else. But now the cat is out of the bag, the APA and others are lumping my father in with the wolf-whistlers, womanizer’s and Weinstein’s, and I’ve had enough.

My father is not perfect, but he’s not toxic for his traditional masculinity either…

My father spending some toxically masculine time with his grandchildren…

We can and should distinguish between traditional masculinity and toxic behavior. No, that does not mean we bury our heads in the sand and pretend all problems with men started with the social upheaval of the 1960s nor should we deny the reality that extreme expressions of what could be called traditional masculinity are bad. But the extremes of anything are often unhealthy and yet we are able to delineate one from the other.

Furthermore, women can be predatory and violent too. It is true that men are statistically more likely, as a general category, to be violent, but women also can be self-centered and abusive as well. Women, however, often prey on children or other women, usually in less visible or openly violent ways—like destroying reputations through gossip, cyber-bullying or other passive-aggressive means.

And, ironically enough, while reading the sanctimonious blather about toxic masculinity another article popped up on my news feed, “Video shows group of women allegedly trying to attack food court employees…

What?!?

Do we call that toxic feminity and blame traditional female expectations?

Sorry Gillette, APA and all others condemning what you do not truly know, but your campaign is picking the wrong target. Traditional masculinity, at least in a Christian cultural context, has Jesus Christ as the ultimate example and not Bruce Willis.

Traditional masculinity is not the problem, immoral behavior is the problem and women are not guiltless when it comes to sin. We all, male or female, need to repent of our selfish instincts and change our bad behavior to good.

So let’s target the bad behavior, not the gender!