I open my top drawer and fumble under my socks and bras until I feel the folded notebook paper. The edges are worn down and smudged, but it is the only piece of paper hidden away, so I know it is the list. As I unfold the decade-old page, I feel secretive and young, looking at the names. My timeless handwriting has titled this piece “Good Men.”
I remember when I first started this list. I had left a therapy session in which I realized my predominant relationship with men was as their intellectual prostitute. Historically, my role with pastors in ministry, my role with my father’s intimacy issues, and my role with male friendships would default to my being used for the way I thought.
Within ministry, men would often have conversations with me about my thoughts on God. Later, I would hear my words preached from pulpits without any acknowledgement. I remember some fifteen years ago when I was in seminary, I was pulled from my elective preaching lab after four classes due to donor conflicts with female ordination. However, some of my original thoughts, spoken openly during class, were used in chapel sermons by that very professor! My voice meant nothing to these powerful men; it was used and discarded so they could feel as brilliant as me.
As a result, my God-fearing heart began to cringe and dismiss all-male-pastor-led churches or all-white-male-led seminaries. I have been burned. Christian men have predominantly failed to be safe and good, so when I hear Ephesians 5:25, “Men, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up to death for her,” I smirk. Christian men have proven to be some of the sneakiest womanizers, objectifiers, and narcissistic abusers I know. So, how can I say that yet also say this–“I have come to love good men”?
It has taken me a long time to untangle and heal from the abuse of men in my life. It has taken me even longer to re-engage relationships with men. In the church, it wasn’t until an eight-year invitation from a pastor who welcomed my voice at the pulpit. As a result, I began to trust that Christian men wanted to hear my voice. Within my marriage, it took ten years of my husband’s sobriety from pornography until I began to trust his fidelity. The PTSD of patriarchy and objectification wrecked my amygdala.
When it comes to men, I want a do-over. I don’t want to have mistrust and doubt weighing in the background of every interaction with men.
A longitudinal study in New Zealand was done to measure the effects on women’s well-being due to exposure to objectifying culture. Objectification is the dehumanizing of a person’s humanity, striping it down to only an object. Particularly for women, if they are raised in a Western culture with stereotypical media exposure, the average female lifespan is cut short by seven years. This can be due to increased violence on women or chronic stress on the female immune system. This is what I see in my client’s eyes. After untangling their abuse, they stare at me with desperation and ask, “Are there any good men?” I adjust my stiff body and my own betrayed and recovering heart, and respond, “Yes, there are good men.” It is after those sessions, when I have heard of the most horrific harm, that I unfold that paper and read aloud their names.
When I became a professional counselor focused on women’s well-being, I was repeatedly bombarded by stories of how men had harmed women. This spanned from spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, particularly by Christian male abusers. These stories gave women little hope of good men. I could feel my own story rumbling, my countertransference difficult to keep at bay. So, I started bringing my list of “Good Men” to work with me. Originally, the list started with only three names, yet over the past fifteen years, it has grown to nineteen names. It has been a long road. At times, with tears of betrayal and deep grief, I have had to erase names on this list, and at times, with trepidation to trust again, I have reinstated names.
In a culture of systemic oppression, particularly objectifying systems are playing at large. My work to help restore women’s well-being comes at a cost–many times a war within myself to believe in male goodness. I look down at the names with tears falling, baptizing these good names I have acquired. I read them aloud, pray for their courage and continual pursuit of what is holy. Lastly, I thank these men who have spoken up against sexism, objectification, narcissism, and patriarchy. What good men you are.
McKenzie, Mandy, et al. “Advertising (in) Equality: The Impacts of Sexist Advertising on Women’s Health and Wellbeing.” 2018. Women’s Health Issues Paper, no. 14, Women’s Health Victoria, Dec. 2018, https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.135672368547541.
Christy Bauman, LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers meaning-making and storywork consulting. She is the author and producer of three works: Theology of the Womb, A Brave Lament, and Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, adjunct professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality and theology. Christy co-director of Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma with her husband Andrew. They live in Seattle with their three kids: Wilder, Selah, and River.