Some women in Alabama have a hard time identifying with #MeToo, a movement they feel often doesn’t leave space for conservative women’s voices.
Elizabeth Sheth of Huntsville is one of two women engineers in her office, a mother of three and a conservative Christian. She thinks the #MeToo movement is important, but believes it sometimes goes too far, shaming all men. Sheth said the movement does not give women enough credit when it comes to personal responsibility.
“(The movement) should also include what women can do (to prevent assault),” Sheth said, but stopped herself. “You can’t say that without victim shaming.”
Sheth said she supports women’s efforts to speak out, but finds #MeToo hard to talk about without getting shamed for bringing up a woman’s responsibility to defend themselves before raising a red flag to the media.
Nancy K, who asked AL.com not to use her last name because of employment concerns, is a small business owner and conservative Christian in Mobile. She said it’s hard to get behind #MeToo and women’s rights movements when some women who have the floor use vulgar language and imagery. She said it’s important to speak out against physical sexual assault, but that verbal abuse should not be lumped into the #MeToo movement. Nancy’s Christian upbringing affects how she reacts to women who encounter sexual harassment.
“As a Christian, God closes one door and opens another. If I’m being harassed then he has another plan for me, and I have to go on faith and move in that direction,” Nancy said. “But I understand not all women believe that.”
A #MeToo leader in Alabama Tina Johnson who spoke out against Roy Moore for allegedly assaulting her in 1991, along with the other women, became Alabama’s unofficial #MeToo rallying cry.
Johnson said she grew up in a conservative, Bible-believing household. She was taught to “hear no evil, see no evil” when it came to sexual misconduct. Discussing sexual behavior was “not an appropriate conversation.”
Growing up, she was encouraged by her church and family to hold men in high regard, and to “submit” to the men in her life.
After Johnson spoke out, she was chastised in her community. Two months later, her house was destroyed by fire. Last month, Moore sued her and two of the other accusers, alleging they were part of a political conspiracy.
“People want to know why we don’t speak up, but I’m going to tell you I am living proof,” Johnson said. “I have been through hell and back.”
Despite multiple women speaking publicly about alleged sexual assault at the hands of Moore, 68 percent of white women voted for him in the Senate election against Doug Jones. Eighty percent of white evangelicals voted for Moore.
“The cost of believing (the women) was so politically high, many on the right refused to admit what was right in front of them,” Dana McCain, a conservative faith and politics columnist said. “It was a sort of intellectual dishonesty that kept us from doing what we needed to do.”
McCain said voters on both ends of the spectrum often turn a blind eye to what doesn’t fit into either parties’ narrative, or “inconvenient truths.”
“We categorize certain movements or ideas based on who is involved. We have to judge ideas on their merits,” McCain said.
Brushed aside but not giving up
Lauren Peabody, a Tuscaloosa mom of two, found solidarity when women around the world began to speak out about their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Her own stories of abuse in the workplace were brushed aside my management and human resources when they happened, but the #MeToo movement gave her space to speak up again.
At Peabody’s first job in college, developing film, she spoke up when a man she worked with began making copies of photos of women to take home. Her boss rebuked her concern, and Peabody was fired.
At 25, she was sexually harassed on multiple occasions by her store manager at a corporate pawn shop. She asked for direction from her human resources department, but after an investigation, they claimed she had “warranted the attention.”
“I was recently a single mom. I have to stay (at that job). I have to pay my bills. I can’t leave,” Peabody said. “I took a leave of absence and he harassed me until the very last day of my employment.”
Today, Peabody works for two women-owned companies, a conscious decision she made in an effort to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Alabama’s belief system is based on the Bible, whether we’re Christian or not,” she said. “We look up to men of power; congressmen, police officers, pastors. They have this moral code and they fit that idol that we made them out to be.”
Peabody said she doesn’t think anything has changed since the #MeToo movement touched Alabama after Roy Moore’s defeat by Jones in December 2017.
But Johnson said the cause is worth it for Alabama women to continue speaking out against sexual abuse and sexual harassment.
“Just don’t give up. It’s worth the fight,” Johnson said.
Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.