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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Ryerse

On Swallowing Camels

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

*Trigger Warning -Sexual Assault, Abuse

A few minutes ago, I had to stop in the middle of a telephone survey because I started to cry.  The woman conducting the call paused with me, and asked gently, "Are you ok? Do you need to stop?"

I know I sounded less than ok when I squeaked,  "Please keep going."

I'm a weirdo who really likes taking surveys, so when I got a call around dinner time last night, I told them I wouldn't mind participating, but they would have to call me back when I was free.  And they did.  I didn't really know what the survey was about, but they did tell me up front that it would have some personal questions and I would probably want to be alone when I answered.

I was assured of the veracity of the agency taking the survey and the privacy of my answers, and while I won't say who it was, I will submit that they are an agency on the chopping block for funding from the current administration. And it's not Planned Parenthood.

After the usual questions plotting me in the grid of gender, age, income, racial background, the real nature of the survey came into focus.  The woman reminded me that I could stop participating at any time, or I could refuse to answer.

At the same moment Relevant's article on Why You Should Be A Christian Feminist appeared in my feed on Facebook.  But the survey questions yanked my attention away from the headline and brought me back to the questions:

"Have you ever been followed or made to feel threatened in a public place?"

"Have you ever been pressured by compliments or gifts that you did not want?"

"Have you ever been approached in a sexually threatening way that you did not want or encourage?"

"Have you ever been hit, choked, kicked, or shoved?"

"Have you ever been raped?"

"How old were you when someone touched you in a way you did not want or encourage?"

These were just a few of the questions.  There were many more.  They were surgically worded, but very explicit in content.

Most of the questions were not about me.  Most. I can talk about the clumsy and unwanted advances of teenage boys who should have had better training about consent without dissolving into tears.  I can talk about being ogled. I can talk about being followed. I can talk about being detained in conversations with men or boys I didn't want to talk to.  I can talk about men or boys talking to me in ways that were pushy, manipulative, vulgar, and too familiar.  I can talk about those things because they have happened so frequently to us, that all the other women I know would nod knowingly and move on to other topics.

It was while answering the brutal questions that were NOT about me that the sob rose in my throat. The tears surprised and embarrassed me. I hated that the survey-taker might be thinking I was crying over my own painful memories.  "No, not me." I answered, while I thought, "But someone I know....

Someone I love...

Someone I wanted to protect...

Someone I thought I was protecting...

A friend...

A friend's daughter...

With each new question, the list of women who had experienced violence and violation at the hand of a man grew longer and longer.

Today is International Women's Day and I had no particular plans to mark the day, but I was ready to support my friends who would find creative ways to observe the day, from the author I follow who's baby girl was born on this day 2 years ago and would no-doubt have some good words, to the academic who posted a picture of himself wearing red in support and solidarity.  

There's another story that has been clogging up my newsfeed this week.  Franklin Graham is calling ya'll to boycott the live action Beauty and the Beast movie because of a minor character being gay.  Wanting to think the best of my former tribe, I tried to assume it was only extremist who would be joining this call to action, but soon enough I saw guys I went to high school with sharing their dismay and chagrin about Disney's "gay agenda" being sneaked into their favorite entertainment dish like an unwanted vegetable.  At first it amused me, but as time passed, I began to grow angry as I foolishly "read the comments section."   Apparently, these people are convinced that a single exposure to the existence of a gay person in a two hour movie could be so detrimental to their offspring, that they need to avoid this movie and the whole Disney corporation while they are at it (Good luck with that, by the way. )  This exposure issue had me confused at the logic:  You are afraid that if you take your child to a two hour movie that shows a gay person...not a main character, but frankly one that is not even all that likable...your child will develop a sympathy for gay people?  Or rather, an acceptance of them and their "lifestyle"?

And yet, according to a recent poll I read, 74% of white evangelicals support the current President. How much exposure will your child have to this man in the coming four years?  What will they observe and come to accept because of his example?  How many teachable moments are you hoping will come about to talk with your kids about power, pride, lying, boasting, name-calling, injustice, being inhospitable and without mercy?  You have your dukes up to fight about a fictional character  but when will I see you speak up about the wrong of a very real and powerful leader of the free world?  

You strain at gnats and swallow a camel.

If you know me at all, you already know that I don't believe it is a sin to be gay.  And I'm not an fundamentalist evangelical any more.  Franklin Graham doesn't speak for me.  But those are my roots and I still care about the people from my past life.  I want to tell you plainly that you have a metaphorical booger in your nose and you look ridiculous and I'm embarrassed for you.   Because you have used your platform to call attention to a gnat instead of the camel.

Use your pulpits to say what I never heard from you while I was growing up: Get up and tell the men in the room that God is angry when a man hurts a woman,

when a husband hits his wife or she's not allowed to say no to sex with him,

when a teenage boy forces a girl to do something she hasn't given consent to.

Use your Facebook feed to decry abuse and manipulation that your churches have sheltered and allowed under the heading of "submission." Apologize for shaming victims and covering up pedophiles for "the sake of the gospel," and ask for forgiveness.  Clarify that the Bible you love and teach does not wink at the objectification of women or the dominion of them.   Preach that no matter what a woman says or does, she isn't "asking for it."  Support your President's politics (if you must) but clarify that you do not support his treatment of women. Speak up on behalf of over half your churches.  Imagine what it would be like if none of the women showed up at your church on Sunday and consider how well it would run.  You won't let a woman in your pulpit, so it is your job to speak up on her behalf. 

Here's the truth: I would leave my daughters alone in the room with any gay man I know,  but never with the current President.

The last question of the survey was this: Do you think people can be taught to help prevent sexual assault, intimate partner abuse, domestic violence and rape?

"I strongly agree. "

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