Guest Post: Waiting for the Glass to Shatter

By MJ

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.

I froze.

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.

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20 Responses

  1. Guest Post says:

    Terrific post, MJ. This situation sounds just awful. Like you, I’ve got mixed feelings on how this was handled by your bishop. On the one hand I’m glad he heard you and took you seriously. On the other, I wish he had asked you what you wanted to have happen to make this situation better.

    This reminds me of the story of a girl who went to college with me. She was in my singles ward and her home teacher developed a deep crush on her, to the extent that she felt very unsafe and scared when he was around. I’m not sure how it was all resolved, but I do believe the situation went on for months and months before he was removed as her home teacher. She was terrified and miserable the whole time.

    This also reminds me of something Chieko Okazaki once said. I believe she was speaking to a group of priesthood leaders about abuse. And she told the men something to the effect of, “When women tell you they are being abused, believe them. Trust them.” I think too often, male church leaders have downplayed the seriousness of issues that threaten women and children’s safety.

  2. Thomas G Thigpen says:

    Your concerns and experiences are well thought out and articulated. It would have been helpful for your peace of mind maybe for the Bishop to take some of your suggestions as to callings etc. But Carl needed to receive the guidance from the Bishop to put Carl on notice that such behavior was unsettling and should be halted. Without that counselling, another sister could easily have become the object of his affections.

    Carl seems to have at least heeded the counsel from the bishop. Hopefully his heart is in the right place and he realizes his mistake. Maybe he will actually apologize.

    Glenn

  3. Dani Addante says:

    Thank you so much for this post! Yes, there are some people that are good at lying and saying that it was a misunderstanding. I’ve met people like that. They knew what they were doing but when they talked to an authority figure, they lied and the person in authority was quick to believe them. I’m glad you’re bringing awareness to this.

  4. Andrew R. says:

    You went to the Bishop, he listened, he prayed about it, he spoke to Carl, Carl has ceased his actions and can continue in his calling, as can you. Your suggestions, as good as they were, we not required.

    If you wanted your suggestions to be acted upon you needed to ask to be released. Otherwise you were leaving it in the Bishop’s hands, and it appears his actions have resolved Carl’s actions.

    • MJ says:

      To which I am grateful for, but it doesn’t always work that way. That’s the point of the post. I went to my Bishop asking for a change. I gave him options, and one of those options was to be released. However, I love my calling. Why do I have to be the one to endure not only the humiliation and fear that comes with these situations, but also to give up my calling? I didn’t leave it in the Bishop’s hands. I took it into my own hands by being proactive and going to him in the first place. And telling the Bishop something NEEDED to change. But he didn’t change anything. Thankfully, he took me seriously, be he didn’t change my calling or take my suggestion. I’m grateful Carl has stopped. But I still go to church in fear. Even though his actions did change, what if they didn’t? What if when the Bishop called him out, instead of stopping he showed up at my house while my husband was overseas and raped me? What if he continued to corner me at church? Groped me in the halls? What if he started to stalk me? The point is, how long do we have to wait? How long do women have to wait before men believe that they feel unsafe? Should I have to wait until I’m pregnant with another man’s baby before authority figures realize, “Oh, she was right. We should have done something months ago when she first came to us. I guess we need to release her from her calling and make sure she doesn’t interact with that man anymore.” The issue at church could have played out like my situation at college. My professor was rebuked. Called to “repentance.” He said it was a misunderstanding, and so that was that. Then the blasted man showed up at my dorm. Is that what it takes???

      Oddly, Andrew, I usually agree with many of your points. I’ve read your comments throughout the year+ that I’ve been reading the Exponent. But this one, validates everything I was saying in my post and find it to be of very poor taste. Men don’t get it. Sexual harassment is very real. And women deal with it day after day after day. Year after year. Married, single. Young, old. It doesn’t matter. The only way to change the staggering statistics is for men to listen and believe. How many situations at church, in the work place, at school, on sports teams, etc. could have been prevented by a caring, believing authority figure who took the victim’s word at the first, “This person makes me feel uncomfortable.”

      • Kindra says:

        MJ: Thank you for your post. It was needed. And, thank you for replying to Andrew. That was needed as well and I am sure formulating your reply took a bit of an emotional toll.

        Andrew: I have to say, your words, “Your suggestions, as good as they were, we[re] not required,” left me in shock and heart sick. Given the situation, her suggestions and thoughtful (and I am sure, prayerful) development of them absolutely should have been part of the process, and I wish they had been given greater weight.

      • Ziff says:

        Amen, Kindra. Andrew, your dismissiveness with this comment is quite rude.

      • Andrew R. says:

        I am sorry that my comment seems to have been seen as dismissive. That wasn’t my intention.

        If I read your post correctly you were basically saying that the Bishop should simply have done what you asked – and presumably released Carl.

        However, again if I read you correctly, it was not clear, even to you, that Carl whilst being inappropriate had any real understanding that he was being so. And further that his actions were leading anywhere further.

        You took your genuine concerns to the Bishop. You have previous issues, again quite valid, and he listened to them. He then prayed and considered. He spoke with Carl and Carl’s actions have changed.

        What I am saying is that IF Carl was not going to listen to the Bishop maybe the Bishop’s consideration, and the Lord’s direction, would have been different.

        Why simply assume that this was simply the action of a MAN, and not the revelation of God?

        I think everything worked out well because the Bishop did what he should have done, and not in spite of his actions.

        Working on the basis of what you have written Carl has changed. Your going to the Bishop helped you, it helped him and has hopefully helped anyone else with whom he might have acted inappropriately with.

        I do know that it could have not worked out if you didn’t have a prayerful Bishop. And it is always important for leaders to listen to the concerns of everyone that they have stewardship for.

        Just think for a moment if the Bishop had simply released Carl. He may not have told him why. It may have been a while before Carl was able to have a new calling. In that time Carl may have zoned in on someone else, not knowing how his actions come over.

        All I am saying is thanks for going to the Bishop, and it’s great you have a Bishop wise enough to involve the Lord. And, if Carl had not changed it would appear from what you say that the Bishop would have then released him. It wouldn’t have taken more than one week to know.

      • MJ says:

        Andrew, thank you for clarifying your meaning.

        However, if you read my post, you would have read that I gave the bishop 4 initial options, and another option later. Never was it “release me or him.” It wasn’t just action to keep me safe, but to help me feel safe and comfortable. As I said in my post, I am grateful for my bishop. He could have simply dismissed me. Instead, he did what he thought was best. But, as I said, this is more than just safety. It’s security and safety and feeling like church is a haven from the world- not a place to fear. I was willing to absorb everything- so whereas the bishop did the right thing, thanks to revelation, he didn’t do the complete thing. One could say that he still took the man’s word over mine as he didn’t take any of the suggestions I gave so that I could feel safe and comfortable in front of the Primary. I also said that I am grateful things worked out THIS time, but often they do not. And in dealing with these situations, men have no idea how to handle them. More often than not, Bishops do not even go and pray about these situations. As I’ve spoken to other women, often the bishop will quickly counsel and say the man is too “worthy a priesthood holder” to do anything stupid. There is a reason why women second guess themselves, downplay their thoughts (even the spirit). It is because we have become conditioned to do so by the reaction of our male counterparts.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Perhaps I am missing something. The only way to be sure of feeling safe at church, in respect to Carl, would be for him to attend another unit.

        “And in dealing with these situations, men have no idea how to handle them.”

        That is quite a sweeping statement. Do you really include ALL MEN? Maybe all the men you have had to deal with didn’t know. But if that is the case LDS feminists should be pushing for single sex wards, not just women getting the priesthood.

  5. Ziff says:

    Wow, MJ. Thanks for sharing this. What an awful situation to be sexually harassed at church, of all places. I’m glad that your bishop listened, but I’m sorry that he didn’t listen well enough to actually take any of your suggestions. I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to get movement on problems like this if bishoprics included both women and men so that you could have maybe brought the issue up to a woman in authority.

    • MJ says:

      Ziff, that is a great idea!!! Originally I thought I should go to my RS Pres (would have been much more comfortable, especially if you read my first post on the Exponent- http://www.the-exponent.com/a-pew-the-priesthood-and-a-prayer/). But my RS Pres is the type of person that would try to handle things herself (I love that about her… most of the time). So if I wanted any action to take place, I had to go to the bishop. But to have a Bishopric include a woman, where she was working closely with, and had the power to bring up possible action regarding callings, that would just be incredible!!!!! Or, even as a first step if RS Pres were included in Bishopric meetings! Then, she could take the information she has and have a regular forum to bring up these types of things.

      • Andrew R. says:

        There is nothing to stop the RSP being invited to Bishopric meetings where something needed to be discussed. Although in this particular instance I think Bishop and RSP would be enough.

  6. Andrew R. says:

    I thought it might be useful to give an example from the other side. I would point out first that I do not know Carl, and I certainly don’t know his motivation. He could be completely innocent in terms of understanding how he is coming over. Or, he could be a complete weirdo who gets of making women feel uncomfortable. However, since the OP is more about possible situations that this particular case let me tell you of something that happened to me.

    Many years ago I worked two jobs. In the day I was an analytical chemist working in the water industry. At nights I worked at McDonald’s (in the UK). I was a shift manager and generally worked from 6pm to about 1am.

    McDonald’s has (or had 30+ years ago) some pretty odd rules regarding dress. One of these was that you name badge had to be on the left. One girl/woman (somewhere between 18 and 25, I can’t remember) had her badge in the wrong place. I told her that she needed to move it and pointed to where it should be over her left breast. I thought nothing more of it until I came in for my next shift and the store manager asked to see me.

    He told me that this woman had accused me of sexual assault – She said that I had touched her breast. This was not the case. Had not gotten within 5″ of her when pointing. I felt awful. Awful that she had interpreted my actions in such a way. Awful that she had accused me. Awful that the store manager might believe her.

    Fortunately he didn’t believe her. He knew me well, and had for over 2 years. He knew of my religious beliefs, and how strictly I observed them. And he knew of my honesty – if I ever made a mistake I always made people aware of it, I have never tried to hide anything.

    I don’t know why she made that accusation. Maybe she actually thought it had happened that way. Maybe I handled the situation poorly and in feeling bad about the badge she imagined worse. I really don’t know. But I can tell you I sat there in his office for a while thinking I was going to lose my job, perhaps have police involved and be seen as some sort of sexual weirdo. And the reality was – I wasn’t, I had done nothing wrong.

    Both sides have to be viewed. Both sides could end up worrying, upset or worse. Inappropriate actions should always be dealt with. But they should always be dealt with in the most appropriate way for the individuals concerned.

    • Zoe Kenneth says:

      Andrew – it seems to me that she was actually trying to AVOID the situation that you found yourself in. She didn’t ask for the bishop to confront or accuse Carl, she just wanted to take herself out of the situation to see if that would improve things. She made every effort NOT to accuse him unnecessarily. Of course things can be blown out of proportion, but she by no means overrated and there was no mention of “sexual assault.”

      The frustration she expressed came from the fact that they confronted Carl when all she actually asked them to do was move her out of the situation to see if it could be cleared up without accusations or confrontation. I don’t think she was trying to put him in the situation you found yourself in.

      A family member of mine had a similar experience to yours where someone accused him of something that he didn’t feel was accurate — it really shook him up, and when situations aren’t dealt with correctly it can cause a lot of lasting pain. But I really do think that the author of this emphasized that she was trying to handle things in the most gracious way possible, and felt let down when her bishop ignored her less-confrontational solutions like simply being moved to another time slot, or taking a little time off.

      What do you think? Would it maybe have helped if the Bishop had just let her switch to a different time, instead of putting Carl on the spot?

      • Andrew R. says:

        No doubt it would have helped her in this situation. However, it would not have helped Carl know that his behaviour was inappropriate. Not would it have helped the next person he latched on to. The Bishop has a dirty of care to everyone.

  7. Kindra says:

    Some things I wish I had said earlier in my earlier comment:
    1. Every individual has the right to inspiration into their own situation – regardless of their gender, age, or role in society or the church. It requires neither a priesthood ordination nor a calling in the church. Every individual has a responsibility for seeking and paying heed to that inspiration.
    2. Women generally have a very clear understanding of both how the bishopric works (and even stake presidency) and of the concern of the bishop and counselors for every member of the ward. I have found this to especially be true the longer they have been members of the church.
    3. Women, while being constantly praised for their apparently natural ability to nurture, have additionally often developed an ability to also care about the welfare, happiness, and safety of every member of their ward and community.

    And some things that seemed to have crossed my mind a little more recently:
    4. There are worse things in the eternal scheme of things than becoming inactive (not that it was ever wished for by anyone in either the original post or the comments).
    5. There are worse things in this life than being unmarried in the church. I would think that statement would also be true in the eternal scheme of things.

  8. Damascene says:

    So much of this post has mirrored my experience in life. I would attempt to avoid and then go through proper channels at school/church/work to address the problem. Then I would fret about how it was handled. Part of me always wondered if I had somehow caused the situation. I felt embarrassed and I felt guilt.

    My LDS culture conditioned me to respond in such a manner.

    As I have watched other non-LDS women handle overly affectionate men, I have mentally taken notes and learned. There are ways to completely shut down unwanted attention. Early intervention works best. Bluntness is important. Statements to the admirer such as: “Personal Space”. “Stay in the Friend-Zone” “Don’t touch me” all work quite well. Simply being quiet, passive and not saying much can too easily mark you as a submissive and easy target.

    As LDS women we need to quit worrying about emotionally, psychologically, and physically hurting an overly affectionate person. There are too many stories about women who refuse to fight off a rapist. They want him to stop, but they are concerned about physically hurting him. Think about that for a minute. Be willing to hurt someone in order to stay personally safe.

    Try:

    “Hey, I feel like you keep staring at me during music time. You are making me uncomfortable.. Stop it. “. Do not simper. Do not apologize.

    I find such simple and blunt conversations are easier on the recipient than his realization that the entire ward has noticed and the bishop has been asked to intervene. That gets the gossip mill going and helps no one.

    Shut down the attention early and bluntly. It will help both of you.

  9. Livi says:

    This is exactly why our modesty rhetoric is so damaging. Mormon girls are taught for so long that they are responsible for men’s thoughts and men’s actions that they cannot recognize inappropriate behavior or respond to it, and men cannot listen to women and believe that their concerns about men’s behavior are valid. How many women in this scenario have been told that they should try wearing more-modest clothes? (Baggy turtlenecks, presumably.)

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