(210) 558.5917 jharris@gracepoint.org

Sexual Harassment: A Cultural Issue

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Sexual harassment fills the headlines of our culture and the discussion is long overdue.  It is good that those who’ve been harassed now feel empowered to name those who have perpetrated unwanted advances, groping, and even rape.

Let me be clear—a man’s sin is never the fault of a woman. A provocatively-dressed woman doesn’t make a man sin. A sensuously-acting woman doesn’t cause a man to sin. The issue is that, in our culture, we don’t look at provocative dress or sensual acting as sin. This is not blame-shifting, because an individual’s sin is their own. But, it does take place in an environment we are all responsible for. I believe there is a facet of this complex, multi-faceted issue that needs to be part of the larger conversation.

We live in a culture where the Supreme Court deems porn as “the right to freedom of the press” Ha! We live in a culture where women wear yoga pants and bra tops as everyday fashion, seemingly unaware of the tenuous balance between dressing for style or comfort and dressing attractively (as in, “to attract”). Think about the word for a moment: “attractively.”  Attracting what?

In 1 Timothy 2:9 in the Bible, we read this instruction:  “Likewise I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness.”

Modesty is lost in our culture. The intersection of sexual objectification and sexual allure results in all kinds of distorted behavior. We have legalized the objectification of women and socialized provocation of men.

Sin is sin! Men who objectify women have distorted and diminished women as conquests for their own gratification. Women who dress immodestly turn themselves into an idol to be sought after and adored. When the two are left unabated in a culture, you get a combustion of sin.

I’m glad we are talking about harassment and the vile practice of using fame, power, or position as a platform to foist oneself upon a colleague. I also think if we called immodesty sin the discussion would be far more common and the culprits would be far more numerous.

Most women I know would be shocked by the way their dress is seen as sexual by the men around them. They are unaware because they have been desensitized by an immodest culture. Modesty is not old-fashioned; it is common sense. Men who sexually harass are called “Predators” but you don’t often hear of the sexually-provocative referred to as “Prey.” At some point, the sexual revolution gave women a free pass. They want the same rights as men but not all the responsibility.

A man should be responsible not to harass a woman just because he has power, position, or fame.  A woman should be responsible to present herself in a way that doesn’t scream “want me,” “watch me,” “be attracted to me.” Saying it’s a man’s problem if he glances at the yoga pant-wearing soccer mom at the dentist office is simply naïve as well as disproportionate responsibility shift. The man has the responsibility to guard his heart and eyes. The woman has the responsibility for modesty (to not draw idolatry-like attention to herself).

The Bible presents both of these as truths. At the moment, our culture is acknowledging one of them. Outing sexual harassers is progress; but, as the culture of sexual exchange is dismantled, don’t be surprised if dress codes become more stringent. That may seem like a strange correlation to some, but men don’t speak out because they already feel misunderstood and perceived as goons. Just imagine if they admitted what was sexually provocative to them in the workplace? They would be lambasted as perverts.

Now, as the accusation of harassment is enough to ruin one’s career, don’t be surprised if some guard rails are put into place. This is not to say harassment is caused by provocative dress; it’s not.  A man has to own his own sin. They do coexist within the same environment and a woman must own hers. But first, our culture must acknowledge it.