Speaking The Truth In Love Is Not Victim Shaming


I don’t want to write this post. I really, really don’t. But we in the church have picked up the verbiage and values of our culture, and it shows itself in the most ugly way.

First, the problem. In patriarchal societies, sinful men will act sinfully and they often sin against women. That’s a fact, and it has been since Adam first blamed Eve for his own disobedience.

In contemporary western culture, however, we have taken a strange turn. When men sin against women, to counsel women how they can protect themselves, is “victim shaming” and ought not to be done.

Here’s where all this is coming from. On Monday someone in a writers’ Facebook group drew our attention to a Publisher’s Weekly article about four Christian writers’ conference presenters who have been accused of and/or investigated for sexual misconduct.

One of the many people who commented said this:

The code of conduct [which conference directors are beginning to include for their staff] should apply to everyone–male and female, attendees or staff. Some of the clothing I’ve seen is really questionable, especially at a Christian conference. Not that it gives the other person any rights, but get a clue, folks. Don’t wear suggestive clothing!

Well, this opened the floodgates to the “victim shaming” accusation:
* What a sad, victim-shaming comment.
* I would love to think we’ve gotten past this way of thinking. Wow.
* that you think clothing choices lead to (and excuse) male misconduct is both shaming to women and insulting to men. [Never mind that the commenter specifically said: “Not that it gives the other person any rights.”]
* when I see someone implying that a woman brought abuse on herself because of how she dressed or what she did all my niceness goes out the window. It is never ever the victim’s fault.

And on the comments went, most taking the stance that any word to women was victim shaming. I admit, the comment was blunt and in my opinion should have carried a tone of compassion and love, but it caused me to think.

As a result, in another discussion of the PW article, I made this comment:

One thing that has dismayed me is that when someone says women can be discerning and can do something to shut down predators, their comments are considered “victim shaming.” How are we to have a conversation that will help young women if we can’t say anything about what they should do in response or as a precaution or to enhance discernment?

A friend of mine took the time to give a thoughtful answer:

The time to tell women how to protect themselves is not when we are discussing predators. It makes it seem as if we’re shifting blame. That comes during other discussions, not during the focus on predators.

It’s like when someone’s kid dies drunk driving. You don’t start lecturing on how bad it is to drink and drive to the grievers. You grieve with them and comfort them. Later, another time, another forum, you can be active in speaking against intoxicated operation of vehicles and heavy machinery.

But when women are talking about their pain and abuse is not the time to say, “Well, don’t stand so close, don’t be alone in their room or in an elevator, don’t sit next to them at a table if you know they tell racy jokes or touch a lot, don’t smile when you feel uncomfortable, speak up, etc.”

But . . . the comment that drew such ire was not directed to the victims. It specified that the men had no right to do what they did. And if not when the incident surfaces, then when?

I’d make this comparison. What if a serial rapist was on a university campus and had not been caught. This has actually happened. It isn’t a pretend scenario. On the news there will often be careful instructions about how women on that campus should call security if they must walk alone at night, stay in groups, even carry mace. Is that victim shaming? Of course not. That’s giving sensible instruction about how a woman can discourage an attack on her person from the rapist.

So I have to wonder, why are a clear warning and some helpful insights considered victim shaming? Why can’t we talk to women who may find themselves in a vulnerable situation about what they can and should do to protect themselves?

I think of Joseph, and one of the PW commenters actually mentioned him, when he was propositioned day after day by his boss’s wife. It wasn’t his fault, the commenter pointed out. So very true. But what did Joseph do? He ran!

Clearly that woman had power over him, but Joseph didn’t “go with the flow” or decide that she was just harmlessly flirting with him or that he could get further ahead if he let her have her way. He made a decision that what she was pressing him to do was wrong before God, and he left.

Reminds me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18a—“Flee immorality.”

Today we talk about having boundaries, and in my opinion, that’s just another way of saying flee. Keep an inappropriate relationship at arm’s distance, or further, if necessary.

I know when I was young, I would have appreciated some wise counsel in this area. Because I was naive and stupid. I actually faced a couple scary situations, largely of my own making. Well, sure, not that the guys involved were free to have their way, but because I gave them the wrong impression—that I was available and willing. I was just goofing around, having fun, and these were strangers who I never saw again, but the situation could have had a very different ending, but for the grace of God.

Reminds me of a time I was taking a neighbor’s son home from school. He kept flashing gang signs out the window. I finally pulled over and told him in no uncertain terms that what he was doing could get us killed. Not that a real gang member (my neighbor’s son was not) would have the right to attack someone flashing signs at him. But the end result would be the same: we’d be innocent, and dead.

That may sound extreme, but listen to women who have faced abuse or harassment. They will say how much it has affected their lives, their marriages. We’re talking about something dangerous, so to basically say, Don’t tell women how to keep this man who wants to exert his power over you from doing so because that is victim shaming, in my opinion simply perpetuates the problem.

I get that the women who are suffering, who are dealing with confrontation and with forgiveness, and what all that means, don’t need to hear what they could have done in the past. That isn’t helpful to them. But it would be greatly helpful for the women coming along behind them to know that they don’t have to expect the same to happen. There are boundaries that the can draw, even if it means they lose something temporarily, as Joseph did. Sometimes there’s a cost, and that can be intimidating. Which is why we should talk about these things instead of hiding them under cover of the world’s “victim shaming” accusation.

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It Really Is Up to Readers


As near as I can tell, editors and agents are just too busy to know what readers actually want. As Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt admitted in a blog post last May, publishers do not do market studies. They rely on “the Book Industry Study Group and various trade associations … but very little is done at the individual publisher level.” Instead, marketing trends become apparent after the fact, based on the sales record of particular books.

In my mind, this explains some of the tendencies I see in the CBA, one being the slow response to the fantasy craze in the culture. This, from agent Steve Laube via Chip MacGreagor’s blog,

We get the same problem with science-fiction and fantasy (which are two distinct genres, contrary to common verbiage). I championed that category when I was at Bethany House and we launched Karen Hancock, Randy Ingermanson, John Olson, and Kathy Tyres. Unfortunately the market was soft and the category sort of frittered away to where the 2007 Christy Awards didn’t even have the category designated for an award. However at the same time we have observed the wild success of CBA YA fantasy novels from both Donita K. Paul and Bryan Davis. That success has opened a small window of opportunity in this category for adults too. Only a couple publishers are looking, and I can state that they will probably only release one or two authors, and wait for the market to vote. If the numbers are not strong? The cycle will begin all over again.

Steve is right about the publishers waiting “for the market to vote.” I’ve had two acquisitions editors tell me personally or publicly that they are waiting to see how current projects do before making a decision about acquiring additional fantasy projects.

As a writer on the out, looking in, I feel frustrated at times. Granted, Donita Paul and Bryan Davis are selling well. To have Steve characterize their works as wildly successful is incredibly encouraging. But isn’t Wayne Batson also wildly successful? Doesn’t the media attention from this summer (remember the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly articles), not to mention the soon-to-be released Reuters interview with Batson and Christopher Hopper, count for something when publishers consider what projects to pursue? From where I sit (outside looking in, remember) it appears that sales trump all.

How unfortunate. Of the authors that Steve Laube contracted for Bethany, only one is a fantasy writer, so as a reader I admit I was not out there buying science fiction. But the combined genre got a black eye because the sales of all the books weren’t … what? Making money hand over fist? 🙂 I admit, I don’t even know what publishers consider “successful.” And in any case, I don’t have any real sales numbers to go by, anyway.

So guess what? It keeps coming back to the same thing—if we want Christian fantasy, we have to buy Christian fantasy.

So, who’s on your Christmas list that could surely benefit from reading a good fantasy? 😀

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