My Response to #Metoo


Social media has been alive and active with the status “Me Too” – largely posted by women. Some have just typed the words “Me Too” or #metoo, while others have put a longer explanation under the words.

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

Followed by the appeal: Please copy/paste.

I understand it. I support those who have typed in the words and I am convinced that every one of the women who have typed “Me Too” know that this is much bigger and harder than two words on social media. But I still can’t do it. Because for me, it trivializes the massive problem and because #metoo can be a painful trigger.  As my friend Sarah said “Women should not have to expose themselves as survivors for this to be noticed as an issue.”

I grew up in a place where every girl and woman I knew just saw this as a byproduct of living where we lived. We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t discuss it. But while I was writing Passages Through Pakistan, I knew that this would be one chapter of my journey that needed to be written.

I can’t type the status, because the memories come back of the first time, and then more memories come of the second, then the third, and finally, so many that I truly can’t remember all of them. It threatens to overwhelm me, because mine is just one small story of millions on millions of others. I have friends who have suffered so deeply because of sexual assault that it is a fight for them to feel whole. #MeToo is not a social media status, it’s their living reality.

I didn’t know the bodies of women were meant to be a museum of tragedies, as if we were meant to carry the ocean without drowning. @ijeomaumebinyuo

So my response is to tell part of the story that I wrote in my book. When we tell our stories, we open ourselves to criticism and misunderstanding, but we also open the door for others to tell their stories. So I offer it here. It’s not the hardest story you’ll hear, and it’s not the easiest story you’ll hear – it’s simply my own.

At thirteen I was fairly well developed. My chest had sprouted breasts, and I had begun to show my inheritance of a curvy round body, the gift of generations of women before me. I was walking with a group of people along a busy street when a young Pakistani man first challenged me with his eyes, and when I quickly looked away reached out his hand and grabbed my buttocks, squeezing as he did so. I felt a mixture of shame and horror. The thought of telling anyone never occurred to me. That’s not what we did. We bore the inappropriate touch of men, whether Pakistani or foreign, because we were conditioned to bear it. We now call this sexual harassment, but we thought we had no name for it. In retrospect, we did have a a couple of names for it: “No big deal.” And “It’s nothing.”

As girls growing into young women, no one ever talked about being grabbed or touched inappropriately. We all figured this sort of thing happened to everyone, that being touched or treated poorly was just a by-product of being raised as a female in Pakistan. This was not reflective of my life at home, where a father and four brothers were solicitous for my well-being. Nor was it reflective of the men I knew at the church we attended during our school vacations or the Muslim families we visited regularly. This was the behavior of strangers, men and boys who didn’t know me and would never see me again, taking liberties that were completely inappropriate. Ironically, if it had been other men or boys touching the women in their families, they would have been justified in violently attacking the man who wronged their women. But I was not one of the women or girls in their family – I was fair game.

The idea that I would acknowledge, much less fight touch, would never have occurred to me. How does that affect a young girl who was becoming a woman? I speak only for myself when I say that it sets a dangerous precedent for suffering shame in silence, for believing I was ‘less than,’ my body an object instead of an integral part of me as a woman, as a person. In the tapestry that makes up my life, this was one of the pictures woven into the whole. It is a picture that was never discussed, and so I dismissed the feelings, put them aside, telling myself they were unimportant in the bigger tapestry.

I would learn that God’s image is powerful, that though they would try over and over, mere men are no match for those who bear his mark, for those who are called “beloved.”

There would be other incidents when I was subjected to unwarranted and unwanted looks and touch, where I averted my eyes quickly, my face burning in shame. That day, on the Mall Road in Murree, was the first and it set a pattern of bearing shame in silence. Had I told my mom, the shame and lies might not have penetrated so deeply. I believe we could have talked about it; that talking could have opened up a door into some of her own struggles. But I never mentioned it. I was silent.

There are many lies that permeate the world of women and girls, and one of those lies is shame and perception that our bodies are at fault for inappropriate touch. In dismissing these events in our own lives and the lives of other women, we begin living by a lie instead of by the truth of God. Truth that tells us we are made in the image of God and our bodies are to be loved, protected, and cherished.

I crossed a threshold that night. I entered a world I did not wish to enter and came of age in a way I did not choose. I adhered to the unspoken code of silence that dictated our lives when it came to being touched inappropriately. Through the years the memory would heal. I would learn that God’s image is powerful, that though they would try over and over, mere men are no match for those who bear his mark, for those who are called “beloved.” God, in his limitless creativity, would find ways to remind me who I was that far outweighed the message that I was an object.

Wrong and evil may threaten to overpower that which is good, that which is beautiful, but it will never truly win.

So to all of us who claim #metoo, whether we type the status or not, I say this: God saw what he created, and called it good. Man can distort that, twist it, repackage it – but the truth will never die. God saw what he created and he called it good. The beauty of those words are a healing balm. Every wrinkle, every laughter line, every stretch mark, every mole – my body is made in his image to be used for His Glory. 

Blogger’s Note: Here is another article that I wrote a couple of years ago: On Harassment and Freedom from the Silence of Shame.

“She Shouldn’t Have Worn White” a Repost


“My mom says she shouldn’t have worn white”. I looked at my friend perplexed. I was 16 and had never heard the phrase. She was referring to the western Christian custom (brought about by Queen Victoria in 1840) where a bride wears white, symbolic of virginity, of purity. She was specifically talking about a wedding I had been to — a wedding where the petite bride’s belly showed through the satin and lace of a wedding dress; a wedding where the bride was pregnant.

She said it again: “She shouldn’t have worn white” and shook her head. I, daughter of Baptist missionaries, was completely confused. The irony that “She with little church background” was educating me on symbols of purity and virginity was not lost, even at my young age.

They were words of condemnation. Words said in disgust. Words said in judgment.

Suddenly the bride’s gown didn’t seem as beautiful. Suddenly it was stained, all that satin and lace now the color of condemnation.

This conversation has stayed with me since that time. For there are many times where I have heard the words in my head that spoke judgment and condemnation about something I’ve done or said. The words “You shouldn’t have worn white”. 

You shouldn’t have worn white. You’re not qualified. Your past should exclude you. You’re not worthy. You’re an impostor. You’ll never be good enough. You shouldn’t have worn white. You deserve to walk in shame.  Your past cannot be forgiven. You shouldn’t have worn white. 

Far worse is that in my mind I have used these words with others, deeming them unworthy. Casting judgment, the first stone, condemning the white until there was no beauty left.

The words made their way into a pocket of my soul unreached by Grace. Grace had to find a way to burrow in and replace words of condemnation with words of conviction. “You shouldn’t have worn white” had to be replaced with words of saving Grace. Words of truth to replace lies of condemnation.

For I have found that true conviction leads me to action while condemnation paralyzes, the paralysis expressed in the phrase “She shouldn’t have worn white”. Satin and lace tarnished, beauty gone, my heart closed to the beauty of Grace.

But conviction? Conviction opens wide the door and makes me long for loveliness, strive for transformation, open to the work of Grace.

“She shouldn’t have worn white” still casts its stain, for sticks and stones may break my bones but words can haunt forever. But words of Grace ultimately win this battle.

Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.

Quote from  Brené Brown

Shame On Me: Third Culture Kids & Shame

steps - shame quote

Shame on me: Third Culture Kids & Shame by Robynn 

Two Sundays ago our Pastor started an enormously brave sermon series on shame.  Since shame only regains its power when it’s kept secret, when no one is talking about it–speaking about it, naming it, bringing it into the light—from the pulpit, no less, is remarkably courageous.

I find myself stirred up and I’m not entirely sure why.

Brené Brown defines shame in Daring Greatly as, “…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Deep inside we are petrified of disengagement or disconnection from our community. We are afraid we won’t belong if we are truly known. Brown also talks about shame in terms of scarcity, often revealed in completing the phrase: Never______ enough. Never good enough. Never perfect enough. Never thin enough. Never powerful enough. Never smart enough. Never safe enough. Never extraordinary enough.

It strikes me that this is an issue the Third Culture Kid is especially familiar with. We know what it means to be deeply afraid of not belonging. We feel our differences keenly. We experience that lack of connection constantly. Our engagements, our connections, are fragile at best. We fear ridicule. We are afraid to make mistakes. It’s easier to stay quiet than to share our stories and experiences, which rarely translate. We struggle to be seen and heard. There is this core feeling, this deep sense that we aren’t enough, we aren’t acceptable where we are, we don’t belong.

Or at least that’s been my experience.

Never American enough. Never savvy enough. Never culturally adept enough. Never adaptable enough. Never an insider enough.

I live with deep, daily, durable shame.

(And that doesn’t take into account any other shame the TCK might have picked up, innocent or culpable, from life experiences in foreign or familiar places: trauma, body image issues, separation from parents as a result of boarding school, addictions, health issues, faith queries).

“Remembering that shame is the fear of disconnection—the fear that we’re unlovable and don’t belong—makes it easy to see why so many people in midlife over focus on their children’s lives, work sixty hours a week, or turn to affairs, addiction and disengagement. We start to unravel. The expectations and messages that fuel shame keep us from fully realizing who we are as people.” (Daring Greatly, Brené Brown)

Where do we go with our shame? What do we do with this heavy fear of disconnection? When we unravel where do we take our frayed edges? When we reach that midlife unraveling where do we go?

Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly, speaks of how to combat the shame. She talks about vulnerability and courage. Understanding shame and cultivating resilience to shame are pivotal points on the road to becoming real. She suggests practicing courage and reaching out to others in response to our desperate desire to hide. Talking ourselves through the shame like we would talk to someone we love and respect also promotes passing through the moment of shame: You’re okay. You’re human—we all make mistakes. She says we need to own our stories:  If you own this story you get to write the ending. Granted…our stories feel a little more complex. The plots feel a little twisted and whole chapters are written in foreign languages.

It’s good and true stuff from Brown. But I’m still left with the pain of my disconnection. I’m still left with a deep longing for belonging. Understanding it, naming it, practicing courage in spite of it, talking myself through it…. Still leaves me, up to my neck, sitting in it. Where do I go now? Where do I take my soul that struggles and simmers with the pain of not belonging, with the hurt of not connecting?

Sunday’s sermon suggested a space to place that soul that still pulses with the shame. There is a balm for the heart that longs to belong.

Pastor Steve proposed a Person who safely welcomes our shame. I can bring my shame to Jesus. And it seems Jesus has a particular affection and affinity for people steeped in shame (both those who are innocent and those who come to their shame by virtue of their choices). Try reading the gospels and consciously choose to identify with a shameful person. Stop and hear how Jesus responds. In other words…pretend to be the woman at the well and imagine Jesus engaging you in that moment. Imagine you are the tax collector and hear how Jesus talks to you in that place. You will hear Jesus’ deep acceptance. You will hear him transplant you from a place of alienation and shame to a place of attachment and belonging. He calls the woman betrayed by her own body and bleeding for twelve years–she who wished to remain invisible– he sees her and he calls her, “Daughter”.  Jesus reaches out and touches the untouchable and untouched leper. He makes eye contact with him and proclaims healing over him.

It doesn’t take my longing to belong away….which is disappointing. I still live with the feelings of shame. I’m not sure what to do with all of this yet…but it is comforting to know Jesus isn’t like the others. He doesn’t look away from those of us who live with shame. He doesn’t walk across the street to avoid contact. He doesn’t pretend he doesn’t see me. Jesus deliberately makes eye contact, he walks toward me. He looks deep into my eyes, lifts my chin up and calls me “Daughter!”

I’m trying to soak in the mystery that there really is deep belonging and connection there….

Brené Brown’s advice to talk myself through those moments– You’re okay…We all make mistakes —gives me the space I need to breathe and remember I do belong however I might feel.

Note from Marilyn – this piece…it’s so good but so hard. It resonates deeply with me. What about others? Weigh in through the comments. 

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