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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.


It Isn’t Necessary to Hold Women Sacred…

…when we can just start believing them.

November 10, 2017

I am not surprised by some of the “it’s the girl’s fault for tempting the man” defenses of the alleged assaults by Roy Moore, because I remember hearing just this rationale coming from the pulpit in a Baptist church in Lake Charles, La., in 1996.

I did not fully know what to expect when a municipal judge in Lake Charles sentenced me to attend church once a week for a year. I’d been caught speeding, 10 over in a school zone. My choices had been a fine equivalent to 60 percent of my monthly stipend or church once a week for a year. Me and a what seemed like a couple hundred others went with church.

Being raised in the Midwest and sporadically attending the most anodyne of Presbyterian churches, which I opted out of entirely after confirmation, did not prepare me for what I would see and hear in the 35 or so churches I attended over the next year. Occasionally joyous and uplifting, but also often unsettling and even scary, it seemed the whiter and richer the church, the closer we were to Rapture and Revelations.

I heard in a sermon that United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was planning on tattooing bar codes on every person in the world. An Easter Sunday service contained a recounting of Christ’s crucifixion laden with homoerotic/S&M subtext, e.g., “The sweat on Jesus’ knotty muscles gleamed in sun as the Roman soldiers flayed the skin from his back, again and again.”

But it was at a white Baptist church in a nice part of town where I learned that thanks to Eve, sexual sin is always the fault of women, that men who fall to the temptation are indeed sinners, but they cannot be wholly blamed because it is man’s nature to sin. The only way to prevent a man from sinning is to remove the temptation, which is the responsibility of women.

And girls, at least according to this pastor at the time. He railed against 12-year-olds who dressed like “trollops,” suggesting, I suppose, that even a child could be held responsible for tempting a man. This is a culture that would claim to “revere” women, but in reality seemed fearful of them to the point of terror.

I was reminded of this during Trump administration Chief of Staff John Kelly’s remarks in a recent press conference when he said, “You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases.”

But in this church, and others like it I attended in southwest Louisiana during that year, only mothers were to be worshipped. Women, not so much, every one of them a lurking jezebel waiting to take an (otherwise) good man down.

What exactly is the great honor in being confined to a role dictated by men?

Some of the defenses of Moore’s conduct -- which was deeply reported and corroborated by The Washington Post -- are even explicitly biblical. Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler said, “Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Is it surprising that Moore’s political career has been consumed with his personal terror over the dangers of “sexual perversion”? This seems to be a man who knows his demons, but can only locate them in others who are trying to live peacefully, openly as themselves.

It’s tragic, really, and not for these men. The thread running through all of these allegations, against Moore, against Louis C.K., is the way these assaults served to derail the lives of the victimized, while the victimizers’ careers continued unabated.

Leigh Corfman, one of Moore’s alleged victims, told The Washington Post she wanted to confront Moore for years. Corfman was 14 when Moore “took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.”

She didn’t come forward earlier in part because of “three divorces and a messy financial history” that “might undermine her credibility. “There is no one here [her Gadsden, Ala., hometown] that doesn’t know that I’m not an angel.”

Rebecca Corry, one of the women who spoke on the record about Louis C.K.’s predilection for masturbating in front of women, “long felt haunted” by the incident. Julia Wolov and Dana Min Goodman, a comedy team who initially spoke out about Louis C.K. masturbating in front of them in an Aspen hotel room when it first happened, learned they were better off staying silent, fearing retaliation from C.K.’s powerful manager, Dave Becky. They’ve refrained from seeking work on any projects with which Becky is involved.

The same is true of the predatory men of academic creative writing I wrote about earlier this year in the aftermath of a stunning essay by the writer Bonnie Nadzam. These are men who see their students as fuel for their own “genius” and use their status and privilege to silence and gaslight their victims. I have been counting the minutes until some of these men are outed. It can’t come too soon.

I do not believe it is necessary or helpful to revere women. We merely need to believe them.


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