The Problem with Just "Standing-by"

So, I just read this article in The New York Times this morning about continuing discrimination against women, particularly in the sciences:  Harassment in Science
It’s an interesting article, and, of course, much of what I read there I know women also have experienced in theological education and public ministry.  I could say a lot more about that.  I won’t.

Instead, here is the part of the article I want to lift up.  At one point in the article, the author offers the following story:

                        “Most men are not creeps, and they have a powerful role 
                        to play here. During a field trip at a journalism conference 
                        a few years ago, I had an engaging conversation with a 
                       keynote speaker. As we parted, he told me, in front of two 
                       other men, ‘Your husband shouldn’t let you out of the house.’  
                       The two bystanders brushed off this insulting attempt at a 
                       compliment. It was easier for them to let it go than to call out 
                       a friend, and their behavior said it was all right to treat me like that.”

Christians actually have a name for that behavior, and it’s called “bearing false witness.”  I know have talked about this many times before, and in many different places, but I can’t help but feel it bears repeating.  Luther was quite clear that bearing false witness goes beyond simply talking trash about your neighbor.  Instead, it also explicitly includes keeping silent and NOT speaking up when someone else does the trash-talking.  As I have noted before, Luther uses the image of “cloaking and veiling” our neighbor with our own honor, writing:

“Thus in our relations with one another all of us
should….do whatever we can to serve, assist, and 
promote their good name. 
On the other hand, we should prevent everything
that may contribute to their disgrace.”  

And, let’s be frank, as long as we live in a patriarchal society that continues to discriminate women in many different ways, it is of critical importance that men use their social capital on behalf of women and risk speaking up and speaking out on their behalf, rather than just standing by and keeping silent in the face of sexist jokes and dismissive comments.  

Here at the seminary, for example, I can tell you what a different it makes when my male colleagues emphasize to our students the importance of inclusive and expansive language–and model that for them in their own behavior–making clear that this is not just a “women’s issue” or something the female faculty keep trying to shove down everyone’s throat.

I know how hard it is to risk your own social standing to challenge something someone says in a group, especially a group of friends or colleagues.  But our responsibility to the neighbor is clear–and when we don’t challenge people who make sexist [or homophobic or racist, etc., etc.] comments, we’re not being impartial or unbiased, we’re putting ourselves on the side of injustice–just by saying and doing nothing.  The fact is, “standing-by” is actually a misnomer:  if you’re not standing up, you’re “standing in.”  We all need to pay more attention to where we stand:  there is no neutral location in situations of oppression.

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