As a woman who lives, works, and studies in conservative Christian circles, I feel like I spend most days running around trying to convince people that I am a full human being. A person with gifts and dreams and stories, an image-bearer of God who has a call on her life just as wild and holy and important as my brothers.
"My Bible professor said that if a woman is sexually unavailable to her husband, and he cheats on her, she is partially to blame."
I immediately covered my face with my hands, hoping against hope that I hadn't heard the sweet college freshman I was talking to correctly.
"Wait...what? Are you sure?"
"Yeah, he said that in class.”
"But...wait...he really said that?"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It seemed too outlandish, too crazy to have been an actual thing that was spoken out loud, let alone to a crowd of impressionable college students. Who thinks like that? I thought to myself.
I walked around with that story like a rock in my stomach for days following that conversation. Yes, that heinous comment sends some seriously toxic messages to women about their value and responsibility within a relationship. I don't want to ignore those. But the piece of that message that made me ache all over was the one aimed at men, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that it's coming from many more places than one ignorant educator's classroom. It's coming from magazines and video games, modesty talks and movies, pastors, defense attorneys, and television, and it goes something like this:
You are nothing but a slave to your desires. You are a sex hungry, uncontrollable, animal-like creature with no capacity for empathy or self-control. It is laughable to think that you could possibly prize relationships over sex, people over sex, vows over sex. You are sub-human, and no one expects anything different from you.
Eventually, the heaviness of this narrative brought me to tears, as I thought about the good men in my life who have been subjected to this message since puberty. How many times, I wondered, do you have to hear that before you start to believe it? Before you internalize the idea that you are sub-human, something more akin to an animal than a person?
Brothers, I am so sorry.
I am sorry that this is what you have been told.
I am sorry because I know you. You are my colleagues and my mentors, my brother and my Dad, my classmates and my friends. I know you, and I know you to be men of integrity, compassion, and depth. You look at me and other women around you and see people, see God's own image, see all the complexity that makes up a human being, rather than body parts to be objectified. You are not perfect, and we are all working, men and women alike, in tandem with the Spirit, to be made holy as we wrestle with what it means to steward our sexuality in a way that honors God, ourselves, and others. We have all fallen short, yes, but you are not what this narrative has told you.
So as I continue my fight to be seen as fully me, as fully Sarah, I will remember to fight for you, too. I will not sit idly by as others speak of you in such a way, I will not let them rob you of your personhood, of your Imago Dei. You were not born an eventual adulterer, but a full person whom God created and saw as good, a person with endless capacity for compassion and empathy and fidelity. I could not be fully me without your voices and stories and songs, without you living out the full expression of who you were created to be, and who you were created to be is nothing close to what this lie would have you believe.
I see you, and I know you. Let’s push back at the lies and fight for a better story together.