You’ve seen it this week. The steady stream of women coming forward on social media to say, “Me too. I too was a victim of sexual harassment or assault.”
I can’t say that I was.
I was not raped.
I was not assaulted.
But I can’t think of a single woman who hasn’t felt “objectified” at some point – seen as a thing, rather than as the person she is – beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.
And so, like you, I sit in the storm and yearn for healing and hope, praying for those who continue to suffer.
I also caught myself thinking back to a time when I felt more vulnerable than I do now.
Twenty-six years ago I was dating a film buff who believed Martin Scorsese’s art should be appreciated at the first available opportunity. So, one Saturday night, we went to see his 1991 remake of Cape Fear. Not far into the film, a young woman named Lori (Illeana Douglas) is brutalized and raped by the ex-con and murderer Max Cady (Robert DeNiro).
By the time we got to the scene, I was already nervous. Scorsese’s cinematic tendency to jerk the camera around gives me headaches, but then, the gratuitous display of violence on a woman completely unraveled me.
I cupped my hands over my ears, bent my head down into my lap, and tried to drown out her screams.
When the scene ended, my body was shaking from head to toe.
With a quavering voice, I said to my boyfriend, “I have to leave. I can’t stay here.”
He said impatiently, “So go out. But I want to see this.”
I want to see this.
In that moment, I knew something was wrong.
There was a disconnect between my reality and the fantasy world he was living in, and he wasn’t going to come to my aid.
I left and waited for him in the PG movie next door.
He chose the virtual, horrific storyline over the real woman who needed him.
I had identified with the woman on the screen.
‘And why?’ I asked myself.
I had not been raped.
I struggled with this issue for years afterward, trying to talk myself out of my body’s response – trying to ‘think’ my way out of it so that I could steel myself for the barrage of visual assaults that were sure to come in the future.
But I never succeeded.
And now I understand.
My discomfort – the way my stomach clenches, adrenaline surges, muscles tighten, and I prepare to run – this surge of physical empathy whenever the topic of rape emerges is a form of crucial wisdom; it is a God-given sensitivity that has heightened my awareness of the preciousness of the gift of Life itself.
Each person on the planet is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).
Any violation of another human being is the desecration of something holy. And if you’re paying attention to real beauty in the world – if you haven’t lost your natural in-born ability to marvel at the wonder of creation – your own and others’ – you can see that.
Back in the theater, my shaking body was pleading with another soul to walk away with mine from the glorification of rape. To walk away from the depiction of the sacred being violated.
At the time, I didn’t know that’s what the moment was about.
But whenever we stand up and say – “Let’s not make this person an object. Let’s not pretend she (he) doesn’t have thoughts or feelings. Let’s not give this unnecessary and graphic violence a nod. Let’s not portray her (him) as less than,” we are one step closer to clearly seeing the divine in every person. We are one step closer to creating a safer world for women, men, and children alike.
Can you glimpse God’s reflection in the person sitting next to you?
Let’s ask for the eyes to see.
Let’s speak up for what’s good, stand up for what’s holy, and walk away from what’s not.