By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
Donald Trump Jr. has been playing the canary in the coalmine for a certain segment of the American male population.
In a recent interview with DailyMailTV, commenting on developments in Senate confirmation hearings regarding his father’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Trump Jr. said that the #MeToo movement has him more worried for his three sons than for his two daughters.
As the father of three daughters and two sons – as well as the grandfather of 13 girls and 4 boys – I contend that Trump Jr. has it exactly wrong.
Yes, it’s true that the workplace has become more complicated with the widespread arrival of women and, more recently, the rise of the #MeToo Movement. But that’s certainly no reason to contend, as Trump Jr. does, that these developments have made the workplace more threatening to men than to women.
He forgets, or can’t grasp, that the #MeToo movement was launched and gained velocity as a result of very real and all too often verified instances of men sexually abusing women.
Yes, the severity of reported incidents ranges widely – from prurient comments and glances to outright assault and rape. But all of them are offensive and denigrate human dignity, period.
And does anyone honestly think that the number of false reports exceeds the instances of inappropriate and abusive behavior?
When it does, you can worry more for your sons. Until then, worry more – much more – for your daughters.
Meanwhile, Trump Jr.’s comments have unearthed a 2013 interview on the now-cancelled SiriusXM radio program The Opie & Anthony Show that suggests his perspective is the result of a cavalier sexist perspective that dates to at least five years ago.
Talking about women’s charges of sexual harassment in the workplace, Trump Jr. justified alleged incidents by explaining, “If you have a guys’ place, you have a guys’ place. I have a hard time letting go of that.”
Then he added: "If you can't handle some of the basic stuff that's become a problem in the workforce today, you don't belong in the workforce. You should go maybe teach kindergarten."
The insensitivity – cruelty and blindness – of his comments resonate all too well with comments by Joseph Stalin in response to a fellow Communist’s concerns about the Red Army’s rampage in Berlin in the first week of May, 1945, during which at least 100,000 Berlin women were raped. “Can’t he understand the soldier who has gone through blood and fire and death, if he has fun with a woman or takes a trifle?”
Takes a trifle? An estimated 10,000 of those women died as a result of those rapes, and overall an estimated 240,000 German women died as a result of rapes by the Red Army.
Guess wartime Germany was a “guys’ place” too.
(In an especially sad irony, on the last day of April, 1945, even before the Red Army’s assault on Berlin, Hitler had committed suicide, and on May 8, at the end of that infamous week of mayhem, Germany signed an unconditional surrender, presumably making it less of a “guys’ place” thereafter.)
A difference but ...
Yes, there is a difference – in fact, a huge difference – between rape and many of the instances of sexual harassment reported in relation to the #MeToo movement. But they share two important characteristics: they denigrate and assault the dignity of people and they are entirely unnecessary.
Over the centuries and despite the admonitions of Judeo-Christian tradition, we’ve come up with countless ways to justify killing people. But Stalin’s and Trump Jr.’s words aside, we have yet to come up with a credible excuse for sexual harassment, assault or rape. None!
And I doubt – as I firmly hope and pray – we never will.
For Christians wondering how to think and behave in the midst of this more recent warzone, we need only look to the life and teaching of Jesus. At a time when it could be argued that the whole world was a “guys’ place,” Jesus consistently treated women with dignity, holding them up as models of virtue for his followers.
Think of the woman who was healed when she touched his garment (because of her goodness, he said, not his), the persistent widow, the watchful virgin, the widow with her mite, Mary and Martha, the woman who anointed him with oil, Mary of Magdala and his own mother Mary. And there are more.
As you may recall, Jesus even affirmed the dignity of prostitutes (without, of course, granting any dignity to their profession).
When he told us that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, he did not offer any gender specific conditions on his admonition.
We would do well to follow his words and his deeds.
When I was young I got some additional advice that brought the matter even closer to home. My dad told me to treat women in just the same way that I would treat my mother and my sisters.
I can’t say I always lived up to that advice. But in the workplace I think I largely succeeded.
Com’on, guys, this isn’t all that complicated. Just treat other people – all other people – with respect. All of the time.
Of course, until everyone is doing that, you are right to worry more about your daughters than your sons.