Responsively Yours: The Double Bind
The Video Music Awards show is not usually on my radar, and this year was no exception even with it in Brooklyn's new Barclay's Center—at least it wasn't before my Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up with negative comments about one artist's performance. Criticism of the female performer was fast and vicious. Perhaps it was deserved; I don't know, I still haven't watched the video. However, after several days of commentary, I realized a male entertainer was also involved in the performance.
What's wrong with this picture? Why did the avalanche of criticism land on the woman alone? Was she the bigger "star" of the two and so the one to take the heat? That would be one explanation, but somehow I doubt it.
Instead, this incident reminds me of the persistent double bind for women. Female behavior—dress, dance and demeanor—is held to be "responsible" for decorum, for rape, for babies born outside of marriage, for the demise of social institutions and even for the actions of the few males who are actually prosecuted for violent crimes against women. Women who report on-campus rapes often experience swifter and more severe consequences for doing so from school officials than the students identified as the rapists. In the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, there was widespread lamenting that the athletic careers of the boys involved might have been "ruined." Victims in some places must pay for analysis of the "rape kit" that contains forensic evidence critical for police department investigations and for prosecution of such crimes. In some states, if a child is born of the rape, the rapist has parental rights that can be leveraged to dissuade the victim from testifying against him in exchange for his relinquishing those rights. And to protect the child from the rapist, a woman may decide this is what she must do.
This is what happens when women are regarded as sex objects or the sole pillars of civilization. We must change this culture.
United Methodist Women can be part of a sea change on this issue. We must call out the media that casually treat women as if they were only their bodies. We must teach young people about healthy sexuality. We must investigate the laws in our own states and press for change—electing people who have the skills and the will to see that this is accomplished. We must not accept governments, institutions, corporations or people we know and love treating women as objects. God did not create us as objects. We are loved and valuable children of God, created, like men, in God's divine image.
Remember Jesus writing in the sand when faced with "the woman caught in adultery"? Jesus was unwilling to join the crowd's condemnation. Instead, he sent her off to live in a new way.
United Methodist Women can follow Jesus' example in how we teach our sons and grandsons, nephews and grandnephews. We can be a force for helping women who are victimized first by rape or sexual abuse and again by our health care or "justice" systems find safe places to heal and start again at national mission institutions that care for them. That's what love in action looks like.
HARRIETT JANE OLSON
United Methodist Women