Dear Little Ones (For When You Are Not-So-Little-Anymore),
Right now you are in my daughter’s preschool class, coloring and learning and being her friend. Or you are a stranger swinging next to her at the park, pumping your legs back and forth and enjoying the thrill of rising high and swinging back. You are largely unaware of the real world that is spinning around you, just out of your reach. And I thank God for that.
Because the real world is not always a world of fairness and equality and dreams-come-true. There’s fighting and meanness and no one shares as well as they should. And just last week we came face to face with a harsh reality. Woman after woman shared two little words with the world: “Me too.” They were contributing to a conversation about sexual assault and sexual harassment, saying “yes, I’ve been a victim of that, too.”
As I saw woman after woman after woman acknowledge the struggle of being a woman in America today, I was horrified. Not because of how many I saw, but because I wasn’t at all surprised. I realized I had taken it for granted that we women experience sexual assault and sexual harassment on a regular basis. Many of us can’t even count how many times we have suffered this reality.
I realized that I see this as an unfortunate part of “normal” life. And that horrified me.
So I decided I would share “Me too.” I would add my own lament and affirm with women everywhere, “yes, this really does happen. All. Of. The. Time.” But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. It felt too scary, too personal to name aloud for ANYONE and EVERYONE to see.
It was years ago now, but there was one Sunday that I will never forget. As I stood in the pulpit I looked to my right and saw a sea of young, eager faces. It was Girl Scout Sunday, and there was a whole troop of talented, bright girls filling the sanctuary seats, some for the first time. I don’t remember what I preached about. But I do remember this: half-way through my sermon I glanced towards the group of Girl Scouts, and I saw a look that changed me forever. It wasn’t admiration, exactly. It was imagination. It was courage and resolve. It was joy that they saw someone like them doing something they didn’t know someone like them could do.
And it hit me like a ton of bricks: They might not know that they can be whatever God calls them to be. I get to help them imagine a different way to be a woman.
Little ones, there are women everywhere helping you to imagine all that it means to be a woman. And I love being a part of their brave work. I love that I get to show you that you can be valued for more than your looks, or your clothes, or your desirability to others. I hope that this sounds old-fashioned to you when you read this letter as a grown-up, but I assure you, the pressure we women feel today to be valued for our looks and appearance and desirability to men is sometimes overwhelming.
So as I stared at my computer screen, at my two little words – “Me Too” – the memories swirled like a nauseating current through my head. I thought of the men who thought they could treat me however they wanted. Of the men who threatened me or humiliated me or made me feel so, so, so very worthless. I wanted to forget all of it, like I had for many years. But I couldn’t. Because brave women around me weren’t forgetting their painful past. And I couldn’t forget it because of you. Because of the Girl Scouts. Because of my own sweet daughters, sleeping peacefully in their beds, dreaming of a world where they can be valued for who they are, not for what they can offer the opposite sex.
So with a trembling heart I shared my “Me Too” with the tens of thousands of other women around the world, adding my harmony to an unsettling chorus of lament and grief and anger. I was sad. I was discouraged. I was disturbed.
And then I thought of you.
I thought of you, girls, who will someday have to face this broken reality of a broken world that has broken so many female hearts. So my “Me too” was for you. Because there weren’t enough women in my formative years telling me: “you can demand to be treated better than that.” There weren’t enough (if any) women standing up in public spaces and saying, “we are more than you make us feel.” There weren’t enough women pulling me aside and telling me, “If a man grabs my butt, I kick his.” So my “Me too” was to give you the courage and the self-confidence to never, ever, ever accept this kind of treatment as a “normal” part of life. Don’t repeat my mistake.
But I didn’t think just of you, brave girls. I also thought of you, young men. You who will either be conditioned to perpetuate the problem or be brave and smart and compassionate enough to say, “enough is enough.”
And then I had an epiphany. I thought back to the dozens of Girl Scouts who were thrilled that a woman was respected and listened to and admired as a pastor and not as an object of desire. And I realized: for every girl in that room who needed to see a woman in the pulpit, there was a boy who needed to see it, too. Perhaps they needed to see it more. Because boys have to learn early to resist the toxic culture that teaches them to objectify women or remain silent as women are objectified by others. Boys need to see women who are doing brave, courageous, smart, and faithful work that has absolutely nothing to do with their beauty or charm. Boys need to see grown men who value women for more than their bodies. Boys need folks like you and me to convince them that there is a problem with how our society treats and talks about and sees women. Boys need to see that this problem limits their sisters, their friends, their moms, and grandmothers from being all that God wants them to be.
I want you, boys, to be just as excited as girls when you see a woman in the pulpit, simply because she is not like you.
So my “Me too” was also for you, boys. I want you to know that I am counting on you. I am counting on you to stand with your friends and sisters, to remind them in their pain and humiliation, “sister, you are worth more than they make you feel.” I am counting on you to stand up to the toxic culture that drags you into the muddy belief that you have the right to treat women however you want to. My “Me too” was to give you the courage and the self-confidence to never, ever, ever accept this kind of treatment as a “normal” part of life. Don’t repeat the mistake of your ancestors.
But I have to admit, little ones, I worry that this was all for nothing. I worry that if you read this as adults you will nod your head in heavy lament and sigh, “me too, me too.” I worry that the global chorus of “Me Too’s” will fade away into the abyss of apathy and never really be heard.
But then yesterday I stood behind the altar, leading my church in Holy Communion. And as I lifted my hands and turned my heart to God to give thanks for the gift of holy sustenance and new life, something I desperately needed, I noticed something from the corner of my eye.
A young girl was following my every move. Lifting her hands when I lifted mine. Bowing her head when I bowed mine. She was practicing being a woman who was not defined by her appeal or appearance, but by her calling and her contribution to the community.
My heart grew wings.
Because that eager little girl reminded me of an important truth that I hope to never, ever forget: girls want more than what our world is giving them. Girls want to be more than some man’s desire. Girls want to be respected and valued and admired for who they are inside, for what they can do for our broken, weary world.
And you know what, girls? Deep down, boys want that for you, too.
And you know what else? Don’t ever forget this, don’t ever let anyone make you believe differently: God wants that for you, too.
That’s what I want you to know more than anything, girls and boys. God wants you to be free, to be valued for who you are, to be treated with respect and kindness. You are worth more than the broken world makes you feel.
So I keep holding out hope. My “Me Too” will not be a waste. My daily existence will not be a waste. I am part of a holy movement of brave men and women who are demanding a better world for you, little ones. And I won’t give up. Because I know that one day, you or your kids or their kids after them, will be able to study this time in our history and wonder how we lived like this. My “Me Too” is helping you and your kids and your grandkids one day say “Not me.”
So stay strong, dear ones. Don’t give up. Don’t hide from the truth. And don’t let this reality ever be “normal.” I am counting on you to help make this a more beautiful world for all of us.