A few days ago, I thought, "Oh, I really need to find time to write another blog post," but planning worship and writing sermons, promoting my book and attending online retreats that started at 4:30 AM my time pretty much put paid to that notion. I was looking forward to spending today doing absolutely nothing, having something good to eat, reading a novel, napping, and in general, having an actual day off.
But then I heard about Sarah Everard. If you are in the UK, you already know her name and at least part of her story. If you are in the US, maybe you haven't heard about her. But I guarantee you know someone like her, even if the woman/women you know didn't wind up a murder statistic. Sarah Everard was walking home, a perfectly normal activity, and she disappeared, seemingly into thin air. She was attacked and murdered, allegedly by a Metropolitan Police officer, someone charged with the duty of protecting and serving, someone she no doubt believed she could trust. Her body was found some 50 miles from where she was last seen, and women all across Britain are sharing their stories of being intimidated, sexually harassed, and treated with disrespect by men
Every woman I know, whether she does it consciously or not, lives with a low murmur of danger thrumming in her veins. When she goes out alone, whether walking or driving or taking public transportation; when she's at home alone and the doorbell rings; when she leaves a store and crosses a parking lot and unlocks her car; when she plans the route she will take to and from a particular destination -- she's thinking things like, "I've got plenty of gas in the car, and my phone is charged. I'll be back before it's dark. I have my keyring with a loud whistle on it. I told so-and-so where I was going and who I'd be with." And so on and so on and so on.
We're told before we even go to school how we're supposed to curtail our lives so that we won't be a tempting target. How to not take up too much space. How to ignore the lewd remarks and eyes that sweep over us like a pornographic X-ray machine. How to make ourselves as small and un-noticeable as possible. And if we do find ourselves on the receiving end of catcalls, wolf whistles, grab 'em by the p****y remarks, or worse still, molested, raped, and assaulted, we're told we must have done something, said something, worn something to call it down on ourselves. Jogging? Drinking? Making eye contact? BREATHING????
If you are a man, and you think you're one of the good guys, consider this. The really scary ones don't wear signs. It's not like they're contained in an offender zone that we can avoid. And so if a woman doesn't get in an elevator with you, doesn't make small talk at the bar, or if she doesn't, heaven forbid, smile at you, don't make it about you. Don't tell her you're just being friendly or whatever and make her feel like she's hurting your feelings because she doesn't choose to interact with you. Be a good guy. Respect her. Respect her space. Leave her alone. If you're with guys making cracks about women, calling names, and telling dirty jokes, say something. Don't use your size, strength, and privilege to do more damage. Be that stand-up guy, and speak up, speak out, speak for, and above all, listen to the women who tell you their stories. Believe them when they tell you of feeling unsafe, and be part of the solution rather than part of the blame the victim brigade. That's what being a good guy looks like.
And if you're wondering if this somehow connects to the usual subject matter of my blog, well, yes, it does. I'm thinking of another Sarah. Sarah Ryan was one of the "Mothers in Israel" I wrote about, and she was victimized by many of the men who were closest to her. Married to three different men who deserted without divorcing her, she was treated her as a sex object and even contracted a venereal disease from one of them.
Even after she discovered that the depth of God's mercy included her and she became a Methodist class leader, the housekeeper at the New Room, and even an exhorter, her reputation was in tatters. Her frank retelling of the brutality of her former life earned her scorn even from some other women, including Molly Wesley, the wife of John Wesley, but he saw in her something no one else had bothered to see, perhaps because he had seen the ways his intelligent and talented sister Hetty had been treated by some of the men in her life. Sarah wasn't just someone's wife, or daughter, or sister. She was someone.
John Wesley helped her believe in her gifts for ministry, for encouragement, and for mentoring others in faith. She became so well-respected for her testimony of what God had done in her life and her work with poor children that Charles Wesley lauded her in her funeral sermon as a "mother in Israel." That, too, is what being a good guy looks like.
Sarah Ryan was such a powerful speaker and spiritual leader that she became what Mary Bosanquet called "the friend of my soul," and was a mother in the faith not just to Mary but to other women, as well. When she died, aged only 44, her gravestone hailed her as a "mother in Israel" along with two other Methodist women preachers given that accolade, Ann Tripp and Sarah Crosby, who also share that final resting place.
If it hadn't been for "good guys" like the Wesley brothers, who knows what might have happened to her? Who knows how many lives would have perhaps remained untouched by the gospel, had she not been encouraged by them to speak of the love of God and how it changed her life?
If you care about women, go and do likewise. Our very lives may depend on it.