Imperatori-Lee Reflects On #MeToo and #ChurchToo Movements

One of the greatest challenges in the fight against sexual violence is society’s reluctance to believe that people can be capable of monstrous acts, according to Natalia Imperatori-Lee.

“We need our monsters to look like monsters … and when they don’t, when they look like people we have been taught to respect … we are far more likely to disbelieve an accusation than we are to hold one of these golden boys accountable,” said Imperatori-Lee, a religious studies professor at Manhattan College.  

In an event hosted by Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, Imperatori-Lee reflected on the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.

Imperatori-Lee said Nashville-based poet Emily Joy added the hashtag #ChurchToo to the #MeToo movement in 2017, the same year that #MeToo was trending.

Joy wanted to bring attention to how Protestant pastors, evangelical pastors in her specific case, groomed young people for assault through youth programs and other church fixtures,”  Imperatori-Lee said.

Imperatori-Lee then discussed the dangers of elevating the clergy above human standards.

“Clericalism is an important cause of the sex abuse crisis,” she said. “The belief that the clergy are exempt from human failing and are somehow superhuman has deep roots in the Christian tradition, namely in the notion of higher and lower states of life.”

Beyond the culture of abuse within the church, Imperatori-Lee also spoke about misogyny in a broader societal context. According to Imperatori-Lee, misogyny forces women into boxes based on static perceptions of womanhood. 

“Keep in mind that misogyny doesn’t discard women,” Imperatori-Lee said. “It assigns women crucial roles. … But being made to feel special is not the same as being given the freedom of self-determination. A pedestal is a prison.”

The stress and suffering that women experice as a result of misogyny and sexual violence oftentimes leads women to demand justice loudly, Imperatori-Lee said.

“These women are viewed as problematic, as prima donnas, [and] as demanding troublemakers who are difficult,” she said. “Why? Because we hear the snap, but we never consider the pressures, the indignities, [and] the harassment that bent that branch until it could no longer bear the weight.”

Combating misogyny and the culture of abuse in the church and in society involves confronting the secrecy and shame that surrounds sexuality in religion, according to Imperatori-Lee

“Even more devastatingly, how can we expect victims to come forward when we have shrouded all genital activity, even abuse, as a unique source of shame?” Imperatori-Lee said.

Imperatori-Lee said that believing women who come forward as victims is also key when confronting sexual violence. 

“Believe women,” she said. “Imagine if we just did this. … I don’t mean believe all women regardless of countervailing evidence. I mean, start from a position that women are trustworthy narrators of their own experience.”

Featured Image by Maddy Romance / Heights Editor

April 20, 2021