Guest Post: Waiting for the Glass to Shatter
Eight months before I told my husband that a single man in our ward left me feeling uncomfortable, I noticed that Carl (name changed) was very kind to me in praising all I did. In May 2016, I was called as the new Primary Music Leader. Carl would sit on the front row during Senior Primary with his class and enthusiastically participate as I led singing time. After church he would come up and say how wonderful I was. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then he started to rave about my singing voice. Saying I should sing more often in Sacrament meeting, and be featured in the choir. Once wouldn’t have bothered me, but it started to become excessive.
The sick to your stomach feeling that many women experience (more often than we should) started to come around September. I would catch him looking at me. When I sang in the choir, I’d find him in the congregation staring at me. As we’d pass in the hallway he would touch my arm, even wink at me (who winks now a days, anyway?). I would be in full conversation with another, when he would come up to me, grab my arm and say hello. I always tried to be friendly, as he was a divorced man returning to activity and I could also tell he had a love and joy for his primary calling that was rare and exciting to see. But there was still that sickening feeling.
Shortly after Christmas I had a serious discussion with my husband about Carl. I wasn’t sure how to bring it up, but he did it before I did. He noticed. My husband saw how overzealous Carl was about praising me, even to others. He started to get uncomfortable with how friendly Carl was to me.
Shortly after this discussion with my husband, Carl started helping me clean up after singing time in front of all the kids. Usually I would pick up a few things and quickly leave so Sharing Time could start, then return after church to finish picking up. New Year’s Day Carl took care of my large world map after I had already left, then came out in the hall to find me and give it to me. The following week he started leaving to “go to the bathroom” right after Singing Time ended and would walk me down the hall to RS. He would up and leave his class in the middle of Primary! I called the Primary President to try to address the situation without actually accusing the man. I suggested we make a change in the seating arrangement. The idea was to put him in the back row so “he wouldn’t block the children behind him.” In reality I just wanted him off the front row and to have a safe space. It was a shock when the Primary President knew exactly why I wanted the change. She had noticed how Carl favored me and told me not to hesitate to talk to her again if a seating change didn’t help me feel safe.
I found all of Carl’s actions to be uncomfortable, but as women we tend to second guess ourselves when it comes to accusing another. What if he’s just really friendly? Carl is a nice guy, dedicated to serving the kids. Perhaps he just needs a friend to help him feel connected at church as a divorced, reactivated, middle aged man. What if my experiences of the past made me hyper sensitive, and so my lens was skewed? It was almost a relief when he did something a little more concrete. He pulled me aside and gave me a small gift. But he didn’t just give me something in the hallway, he led me to where we could be alone first.
After the gift, my fear of Carl increased to the point that I was afraid he would show up at my house. My husband was overseas for 2.5 weeks, so I laid in bed making a plan as to how I would escape and call for help when Carl showed up at my front door. Every time I received a phone call from a number not stored in my contacts, I would check it against LDS tools to see if it was him. I called my husband and we decided it was time to go to the Bishop.
I started the conversation saying we needed to discuss my calling and that something had to change. I explained to him the situation, then gave him a list of possible options that would help: 1. Release me. 2. Release him. 3. Get a sub for me for 4-6 weeks and perhaps some time away would help the situation. 4. Call someone to be the Senior Primary Music Leader and I would continue with Junior. I told him that I did not want Carl to feel uncomfortable or to remove him from a calling he loved and seemed good for him. Let me absorb the actions. Let me be the one released or who undergoes the change in assignment.
During the meeting, I felt like my bishop was concerned and actually heard me. After I finished sharing my story and some of the options, he said, “Firstly, let me say how sorry I am that this is happening. You should be able to feel safe at church.” My first thought was, “Thank you for believing me!” He then asked if he could talk to Carl.
That wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. I wanted something to happen. I feel unsafe. Act so I can go to church the following Sunday and not worry. But what if I’m wrong? What if he retaliates?
I told him that would be fine. Again, second guessing myself. There was nothing there. I was just an overly sensitive female whose past experience caused her to cringe when a man so much as smiled her way. I was probably doing something to encourage him. It was all my fault.
Due to a sick child, I missed the next Sunday, but I hadn’t heard anything so I followed up. I sent the following email to my bishop:
“Forgive me, but I cannot rest due to worry over our conversation from Tuesday. [My daughter] mentioned that she saw Carl at church, but [1st Counsellor in Bishopric] sat in his place during 3rd hour. Is this permanent?
“My main worry is that I overreacted. This is an extremely sensitive topic for me. I have had experiences that have led me to stop trusting men. I am conditioned to expect the worst, however unfortunately I am usually right.
“It is because of my fear of overreaction that I again plead to absorb as much as I can. I fear retaliation. That if he finds out I went to you things could get worse. It is hopefully irrational in this case, but I will not deny the fear. Any thoughts are appreciated.”
So much about my letter irritates me. In hindsight I see how we as women are conditioned. We are just overreacting when we accuse men of being inappropriate. We have the spirit, we have instincts, but what if we are wrong? We need to be strong and tough and deal with uncomfortable situations on our own. What if we accuse wrongly? In our minds we rationalize. It feels worse to accuse wrongly than to not speak up at all.
I will say, I am grateful my Bishop listened. He did not act in a way that I was hoping, but he at least took my word and acted. And herein lies the point- our Bishops and other leaders have no idea how to handle situations like this. They do not understand what it’s like to be a women- #Yesallwomen. Here is the response I got:
“I am sorry you have continued worry about this. I would encourage you to place your mind at ease as I am thinking there could be a misunderstanding. I recognize this is a very sensitive topic and did a considerable amount of praying and pondering about various approaches to take.
“I had an interview with Carl during the 3rd hour. I mentioned I had reports that some of his interactions may be too friendly toward some married sisters in the ward. He expressed concern and sadness that he might have ever given any impression other than that of friendship to anyone… I believe in his anxiousness to serve and help, he can be a bit overzealous at times…
“After my discussion with him, I would like to see how things go without making any changes to any callings. If there is still an issue in subsequent weeks, you can alert me and we will take more stringent actions. In the meantime, I will have [1st Counselor] monitor the situation as well.”
Research has proven that women can “see” things happen before they happen. If a child puts a cup on the edge of the table, a women is more likely to run through possible outcomes and envision the cup falling off the table and therefore ask the child to move it away from the edge. Some call it premonition. Perhaps there is some of that. I prefer to call it factual extrapolation.
The problem with the bishop’s response was his decision to go on what the man said, and not take action. I went to him to tell him the glass was near the edge of the counter, about to fall. Yet since the glass had not yet fallen, in his mind nothing needed to be done. More often than not, unless the glass has shattered, no action is taken. Women are simply viewed as overreacting.
This same issue happened to me in college. During my freshman year, my music theory professor started to act very strangely toward me. This happened to me throughout my teenage years but this time I finally decided to take a stand for myself. I went to Student Services to talk to an authority figure and laid out my claims: He would force me to brush against him through a doorway, touch my hand, recommend inappropriate movies to me, etc. Every little thing that contributed to my feelings.
The administrator talked to my professor and then told me this was just a misunderstanding. That my professor was from the South, and raised to hold the doors open for women. I misunderstood his actions toward me. He was trying to be kind and mentoring and sorry to have made me feel uncomfortable. This was all before the worst.
Here I was, again in the same situation. “It is all just a misunderstanding. Let’s wait until something else happens, then we’ll take action.”
I am grateful to report that Carl has kept his distance. Immediately following his meeting with the Bishop he stopped talking to and staring at me (which I’m grateful for but also is an indication that he knew what he was doing).
Although everything worked out in the end for me THIS time, men in leadership positions need to realize the reality of what we as women face. When a woman comes into your office with concerns about an individual, you need to take action. When she gives you suggestions on what to do, use her suggestions. The best questions to ask a woman in this situation are, “How can I help?” “What would make you feel the most comfortable?” “What do you think we should do?” Then work together going forward. Even if she is wrong, do not wait and find out for sure! What if she is right? Either way, she still feels uncomfortable and unsafe. That is reason enough to be proactive.
We need to stop waiting for the glass to shatter.
MJ is a wife, mother to 4, wanna be farmer, musician, cake decorator, and life-long member born to convert parents.