Father Richard Rohr does workshops* for men and women using a helpful theory about the spiritual formation journey for each gender.
Traditionally, he says, at puberty the genders’ journeys begin to differ – in fact, they go in opposite directions.
Young men begin to learn their power – they begin the “journey of ascent.” For the next decade or two their bodies will teach them they are strong and vigorous and with this power, they can dominate or protect. They can rule. They can produce. In a conflict, they can win. Later, as their physical strength and virility fades, men begin the “journey of descent,” which can lead to humility and wisdom, but will not automatically lead there.
Young women, however, begin to learn something different from their bodies at puberty – they begin to learn that their bodies at least in some ways are for the service of others. They begin, at puberty, their “journey of descent.” Traditionally, in young adulthood, women married and began to give birth and care for children. In those situations, women naturally learned to delay gratification of their own desires, to submit their strength to the needs of others, etc. For them, the “journey of ascent” begins later in life when the children are raised! Women and men often cross paths at this time of life, when women can begin to pursue more of their own interests and use their strength outside of strictly the needs of their families.
These paradigms are of course shifting in our current setting, but there is something to be learned in observing these patterns. Father Rohr points out that in most cultures (but not ours), young men at puberty were taken by the men of their culture into some kind of challenge, which was meant to demonstrate that their strength and virility was not just meant for themselves, but for the good of the community.
I was thinking about all this in relation to the story of Brock Turner, the “Stanford rape case,” and the social outrage over his lenient sentence.
I understand his (and his father’s) bewilderment over everyone else’s insistence that Brock is a rapist who deserves more jail time, when to them it seems like he’s a good kid who made a mistake. Of course I don’t know them, but I’ve known people who they remind me of – privileged, powerful, with all the schooling and coaching and experiences that a well-rounded 1%-er will need to dominate society.
He was only doing what he’d been brought up to do, only doing what everyone else does. The problem, it may be, was that he never had that experience of learning that his strength, virility, power, prestige and privilege were not just for himself.
He never learned the elements of the journey of descent…only ascent. And so people have been pointing out that he thought everything he wanted…even a woman…was his to take, and the idea that someone like him might be called to account for it is…confounding. After all, he didn’t really rape her. He knows where the boundaries are – the boundaries that suit him. But he doesn’t know that the way he sees the world is not acceptable.
I hear a lot about more “complementarian” forms of Christian doctrine and how they set people and churches up for this same kind of thing. These are the folks who infer from the few things said about gender in the Bible that God says all men rule over all women, that all men are given the task of protecting and guiding all women, and all women were made to serve men.
To them, this kind of thing can be avoided when women stay home, marry young and are protected by their fathers and then their husbands. And that certainly is one way to solve the rape problem…unless the men involved, with their worldviews so skewed about their place in the world, instead learn that they are dominant, powerful, privileged, and can take what they want from women. Then, even marriage won’t save that woman.
Instead, I see Jesus, who looks at men and women far differently than any of these paradigms have taught us to see each other. To him, each were individuals. Each needed a “journey of descent” into humility before God. Each needed to see with God’s eyes that we are both wonderful and a mess, made in the image of God and yet torn up and driven by fear and desire and sin.
Each needs to trust Jesus for forgiveness and real power…and then a much better “journey of ascent” begins, one hand-in-hand with the living Christ who never used his power for himself at the expense of others, who never took what he wanted but gave what others needed…who never would have seen an unconscious woman as an opportunity for sex. Neither does he think just women are here to learn humility and service!
As a culture we need to stop asking kids who’ve been taught to sharpen their individual strengths all their lives for their own benefit to suddenly understand others with an empathy they never learned. As a culture, it sounds to me like we need to teach young men and women that their power and strength and intelligence and even their virility are not toys for themselves but tools for not just them but their village. They will not always be strong. Everyone is going to need some help. And we are responsible for more than just ourselves.
That’s not the only answer to the Brock Turner sentencing outrage – no, not at all. We need to ask ourselves why we put young people of color away for many times more of sentence, for much less of a crime. Much has been uncovered in this situation.
But I’m reminded that rape has been and is still often used as a tool subjugation and cruelty over whole populations. Dominance is an ugly desire, unless it is tempered with love and empathy and responsibility. If we’re not teaching that to our kids, we are growing up monsters without knowing it.