Yoder-Short: ‘Pretend you know me’
I was putting money in the parking meter when a young woman approached me and quietly said, “Pretend you know me.” I was puzzled. She loudly chatted about how good it was to see me. After a trio of guys walked by, she explained that they had been following her and making comments about her body. She felt exposed and unsafe. We walked a block together, she thanking me and I ranting about society’s sexual manners.
Impropriety is not limited to men talking trash. Some found banners at the women’s march in Washington offensive and unacceptable. Can we also see them as reminders of the anger and hurt many women feel? Can we admit “locker room talk” has become too common and too accepted? Unlike most men, women can feel unsafe and exposed, even in the middle of the day, in the middle of a public sidewalk, in the middle of Iowa City.
Sexual violence seems woven into society. Sexual assault is ancient. Remember Tamar, King David’s daughter? Her half-brother Amnon, David’s eldest son, has eyes for beautiful Tamar.
His cousin Jonadab comes up with a plan. Jonadab is the kind of unscrupulous adviser many politicians want, the kind who finagles to get you what you want, not necessarily what is best or beneficial to others.
Amnon pretends he is sick. King David sends Tamar to care for him. Nothing like taking advantage of someone’s kindness. Amnon is alone with Tamar and ready to pounce. Tamar pleads for the moral high ground. She begs him to ask the king’s permission for a relationship. Amnon ignores her and rapes her.
Amnon now finds Tamar repulsive. She is conquered and no longer attractive. He sends her out and orders, “Bolt the door after her” (2 Sam. 13:18).
Tamar is brushed aside, but she won’t be quiet. Tamar brings out her offensive banner — she tears the robe she is wearing that designates her as a virgin. She paints her face with ashes and cries loudly. This sin will not be covered up. Her father hears but chooses not to punish Amnon because he loves him.
Stories of doors bolted and women dismissed without justice continue. Unsafe brothers, unsafe friends and unsafe associates persist. Inappropriate comments while walking on sidewalks, bragging about sexual assault and groping happens too frequently.
The story of Tamar helps us notice bolted doors and impeded justice. Jesus prods us to notice cultural biases. Jesus hears the voiceless. He hears the Syrophoenician woman when culture viewed her as a dog. He hears the Samaritan woman when culture viewed her as an outcast. He hears the woman with free-flowing hair when culture viewed her as scandalous.
God has ways of unlocking our ears to hear the voiceless: victims of sexual abuse, targets of locker room fantasies, objects of office harassment, refugees of war and rape. It can be easy to overlook the voiceless.
As Jesus followers, we stumble along looking for ways to untangle from those aspects of our culture that tolerate degradation of others. May God untangle our feet so we can walk with those being harassed, untangle our hearts to understand the anger behind offensive banners, untangle our eyes to see unjustly bolted doors, untangle our ears to hear the stories of the Tamars around us. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes it takes a sidewalk conversation and an offensive sign to wake us up.
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.
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