I had just turned 22 when the Monica Lewinsky story broke. I remember a phone conversation with my dad at that time in which we disagreed on the relative guilt of the parties—he argued, if I remember correctly, that the preponderance belonged to President Clinton. I argued that Lewinsky and Clinton shared near equal culpability. After a bit, my dad concluded the conversation by saying, “Laura, I think you may be too young to understand.”
He was right.
I was too young, too inexperienced in the world. Here’s what I did not understand: power.
Over the years, I have come around fully to my dad’s perspective. President Clinton was the guiltier party by far. He held all the power, and he knew it. What twenty year old could act with a clear head when advanced upon by the President of the United States? I have to come see that Monica Lewinsky, despite how she may have seen herself at the time, was, in fact, a victim. I imagine that the twenty years since have made this grievously clear to her, as well.
This is the the problem with making sexual ethics entirely about consent, as many are now doing. When there is a power difference between the two people, consent becomes terribly muddied. What might look from the outside like consent may actually be someone giving in to pressure to please someone more powerful.
And the reality is that in many, many sexual situations there is a power difference. It may not be the size of difference between a top Hollywood producer and an aspiring actress, but it still exists. Think of the connected, wealthy man and the aspiring, young woman. Or the popular boy and the unpopular girl. Power is at play in these relationships. Crucially so.
We must teach our children much deeper ethics than the importance of consent. This is especially true for those who do not share my Christian sexual code, but desire to raise their children to be good people in the bedroom and outside it.
Note well, friends – it is impossible to be a good person without learning to wield power justly. Or to put it another way, the best test of a person’s character is the way they handle power—do they use it to honor and to lift up or do they use it to take advantage and exploit? Therein lies the measure of a person.
Indeed, the issue of power lies even at the heart of the Christian gospel—it is the story of the Creator King who laid down His immense power in order to restore those He created.
©Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2017.