The 2nd Reckoning of the #MeToo movement
I recently watched “The Morning Show,” a fictional news TV show that interacts with real world events, primarily the Me Too movement. It starts with the firing of its male cohost for sexual misconduct allegations, similar to the real life example of Matt Lauer. While it portrays the typical revelations of the movement’s early awakening—women coming forward stating they were a victim, too—there’s another reckoning lying beneath the surface none of the characters want to face: I was complicit, too.
As much as all of the characters struggle to self-righteously believe they couldn’t have contributed to the problem, the one who struggles the most is the fired cohost. He loses it all: job, wife, kids, friends, social status, any future of a career. And he can’t help feeling, I’m not as bad as Weinstein, as the "first wave" of Me Too. He’s stuck in a victim mentality.
That is, until a dramatic twist at the end, when you see the amazing actor Steve Carrell portray the stunned, horrified, look of realization: I’m just as bad as the others. I’m an aggressor, too.
When we hear or watch these stories, it's difficult not to read ourselves into the role of the victim. Or, if not the victim, at least their savior. A classic example of this comes from the Hebrew tradition.
One of the most legendary Jewish kings of all time, King David, committed a horrendous scandal in which he forced the wife of one of his own soldiers to have sex with him. When she got pregnant, he ordered the soldier to be abandoned on the frontline so that he’d be killed in battle. His wife then became just another one of the king’s many wives.
He would have gotten away with it. Except, one day a prophet, Nathan, came to the palace and told King David a story:
“There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
King David’s reaction to this story, understandably, was immense anger. “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
And then, Nathan brings the mic drop: You are that man.
David imagined himself as the victim, and entered into this story wanting to be the savior, only to realize that he was the aggressor in real life.
David had his Me Too reckoning, his “aha” moment.
Both victim and aggressor
As a white woman, I am in the unique position in our current society of having the potential to be both the victim and the aggressor. As a woman living in a patriarchy, I can be the victim of unequal pay, not be believed in the face of sexual assault by a white man, and otherwise be dismissed, demeaned and belittled because of my sex. But as a white woman in America, I have the power to be the aggressor, to be believed over a Black, Asian, Latinx man or woman. White women from the times of Emmett Till to the now-trending “Karen” meme have been able to weaponize their “victimhood,” enabling the typically white men who run our society to become the aggressor against whomever we point our finger at.
[It’s this victim/aggressor conundrum that’s resulted in the Karen meme being used paradoxically by both anti-racists on the left and sexists on the right, which you can read more about here.]
So while many brave white women have stepped forward with other sisters in the #MeToo movement to announce their solidarity as victims, it is time for our second reckoning. We are aggressors, enablers, and oppressors, too. The truth is, we are not always the victim in our stories.
Maybe, in this complexity, we can move forward and learn how to reintegrate broken people—like us—back into society. Because right now we are stuck in a new sort of purity culture that crucifies you if you say something on social media or are caught on camera doing something that’s wrong or hurtful. Often, the mob mentality of the people doing the crucifying is to act as if they’ve never done anything wrong themselves. Leaning into my Christian tradition, it’s poignant that Jesus stops the stoning of a woman caught in adultery by challenging the crowd, “whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.”
Who of us is blameless? You? Me? Can you name a single person?
To return to King David’s story, after his visit from Nathan he wrote a poem/song (Psalm 51) in which he pleads with God for forgiveness. Interestingly enough, he acknowledges that God doesn’t want him bringing sacrifices or offerings to atone for his wrong doing, but instead desires “a broken and contrite heart.” There are still major, deadly consequences for David’s atrocious actions, but there is also a path forward for his redemption.
As much as we focus on justice and punishment to the aggressors of the Me Too movement (and other movements like Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, etc.), I believe what we really desire is for people to realize how they’ve wronged others and want to do better. Unfortunately, those examples of true contriteness are few and far in between.
That's why that realization has to start with ourselves. Everyone needs to have that "aha" moment when they realize they're not the victim in their story, but the oppressor. Only then can we experience true remorse, repentance, and redemption.
So no matter your sex, race, background, religion or identity, consider this: how have you used privilege to hurt others? How do you relate to the aggressor, not the victim or savior, in these stories? What's your “aha” moment?