For my last installment of the “Women Crush Wednesday” series, I wanted to talk about a woman who I think is severely underrepresented in our society. In fact, unless you’ve seen the Netflix crime docuseries, The Keepers, you’ve probably never heard of Jean Hargadon-Wehner before. The main focus and general overview of The Keepers is the murder mystery of Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969, but on a deeper level, Jean Wehner and the other sexual abuse victims are the true backbone and movement of the show. My words can only skim the surface of how entrancingly The Keepers captures this disturbing recount, so if you haven’t watched the show, I highly recommend you do to better understand Jean’s story. My goal here isn’t to summarize the docuseries; I want to focus instead on my reaction to everything Jean Wehner and the other women endured, and how tragic it is that their justice was never really delivered.

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I’m sure Jean never dreamed that she would touch so many individual people, and serve as such a powerful pioneer in the phenomenon of repressed memories. She inspires us to keep an open mind to mental health, and especially how it can be ridiculed and disregarded by the US Justice System. The plot of The Keepers is extremely complex and can’t really be fully summed up in one article, but I’ll provide a little essential context if you haven’t seen it. From the late 1960s until the early 1970s, a Catholic priest named Joseph Maskell sexually abused between 50-100 high school girls at Archbishop Keough High School. An extremely manipulative excuse for a human being, Maskell especially enjoyed targeting young girls who already had a record of familial abuse and trauma. Maskell wasn’t the only creep involved in this horrific scandal- he essentially ran a sex ring with all the other powerful male figures in Baltimore. Many of Maskell’s victims remained quietly traumatized about the abuse -(and some had forgotten due to the phenomenon of repressed memories)- but everything changed when Jean Wehner came forward in 1992 with a lawsuit against Maskell. Under the protection of the alias “Jane Doe”, Wehner publicly disclosed the horrific abuse she and dozens of other women had faced at the hands of Maskell. After being essentially bullied, ridiculed, and disbelieved by the court due to the amount of time that had passed, Wehner lost her case and was unable to move to trial. Maskell died in 2001 after a gradual fail in health, and since his passing, Jean has still not received justice for her experiences.

Maskell was also a crucial suspect in the murder of Sister Cathy, which many believe may be linked to the sex crimes at Archbishop Keough. According to Wehner, she disclosed the abuse she was enduring to Cathy in 1967. Months later, Cathy was discovered dead in a barren field, apparently because she was going to expose Maskell. Additionally, Jean Wehner has consistently stated that Maskell even took her to see Cathy’s dead body, just to scare her even further into staying silent. As inconceivable as that sounds, I do truly believe Jean’s recount of what happened. In fact, all of the details that Jean gave surrounding Cathy’s death turned out to be scientifically accurate, further proving to me that she is telling the truth.

Additionally, the phenomenon of “repressed memories” has been proven by several psychologists to in fact be a real thing. At the time of Jean’s case in 1992, the research about repressed memories was certainly not as substantial as it was today, and in a nutshell, Jean was accused of just trying to take money from the church through her lawsuit.

As a young woman myself, I absolutely cannot imagine going through years of abuse at the hands of those who were meant to protect me, and then being threatened into silence by the sight of a murdered body. When you think about Jean’s perspective in what she has gone through, it will really make you furious about the justice system in America. To be ridiculed and blamed for something that ISN’T YOUR FAULT, and then made into a public spectacle, it’s simply amazing that Jean has remained so strong and full of poise. Let me say that again in case you missed that:

ABUSE IS NEVER THE FAULT OF THE VICTIM.

She has always stood by her story, no matter how many people laughed in her face and discredited her. Her only support system through the trial was her incredible husband, Mike, and her other contender against Maskell, called “Jane Roe.” Even after Mike’s tragic passing due to esophageal cancer, Jean has still not crumbled or given up. I have so much respect for her, after seeing how much scrutiny she went through under the public eye. People often wonder why victims don’t come forward about their rape, but the reality is, stories like Jean’s are not uncommon. Even in 2019, victims of rape and sexual assault are still scoffed at, humiliated, and disbelieved.

I would love to talk to Jean one day, and thank her for being so brave against the odds. For someone who has gone through so much shit, she still has a positive outlook on her life, and continues to make the best of everything. She’s a fitting choice as my final #womancrushwednesday, and I’m glad to give her the representation she deserves.

Watch The Keepers on Netflix!

Picture source: https://doubleexposurefestival.com/speaker/jean-wehner/

https://www.dailyscene.com/buried-in-baltimore-the-mysterious-murder-of-a-nun-who-knew-too-much/

Coming up next: How Pixar Changed the Path of Animation Forever

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Consent, whether it be romantic or not, is equally interchangeable between sexes. As a society, however, we do definitely put more emphasis whether or not a man will behave decently or not to a women. And trust me, I totally get that. I’m a feminist. I’m a lady, (a pretty lady, at that), and I constantly have to deal with men trying to invade my personal space and manipulating me into a being a “bitch” when I don’t reciprocate their sexual advances. I’m sure I speak for many women when I say that’s a serious issue, and it deserves the attention is receiving.

So, I’m not saying I think consent for women need less attention: I just think consent for men needs more. I think there needs to be equal attention brought to both matters, because both sexes are responsible when it comes to consent and healthy relationships. One of the reasons I think men have a harder time opening up about being victims of sexual assault is the unfair stereotype dynamic we have created in our society. We are often taught, purposefully or not, that all men are the monsters, a sex to be feared, and almost always the perpetrators of aggressive sexual advances or assault. While yes, many causes of sexual assault are towards women (91%, actually), that doesn’t mean the 9% of men are less significant (also, that doesn’t include all the men who haven’t come out about it yet). Sexual assault towards men is almost never talked about, which is alarming, considering I took part in extensive training for preventing sexual assault while I was in high school. Because we are conditioned to believe that men are not the victims, we also build up a sense of guilt and weakness in men when they are assaulted. For many men, they may feel invalidated, not believed, or simply, that their case is not as severe as it would be if the gender roles were reversed. Even worse, the man might not think it’s a big deal at all if he has been assaulted (or he will brush it off, like it’s a minor annoyance rather than an invasion of his body).  I think that we (for the most part) are trained as women to believe that if a man isn’t saying anything when you’re making moves on him, he must be enjoying it then, right? Because all men are sex-crazed animals, right? Well, no. If a man doesn’t seem to be reciprocating, he might be uncomfortable, and most likely afraid to speak up. But these are the stories we don’t hear about, because men are trained: YOU are the alpha, YOU can’t show weakness, YOU can’t be defeated.

I have a personal example of this. I had a relative, actually, tell me that he got totally smashed drunk at a party and woke up on a bed with a girl raping him. That girl gave him a sexually transmitted disease, which he now has to live with for the rest of his life. And some-fucking-how, he brushed it off with a nervous smile like it was no big deal.

I have another male friend who 1) has graciously brought the idea for this article to my attention, and 2) has some personal experiences he would like to share. I’m going to be keeping this anonymous to protect his privacy, but I admire his strength and eloquence in coming out to discuss his experiences with the imbalance in consent between the sexes.

“I’ve been quiet about this issue. Mostly because when I tried to get involved in the conversation, my opinion was taken as a threat and rejected because of my gender. As a man, I’ve watched some pretty resentful public displays of humiliation towards men on this topic. And my personal experiences with feminists has been wildly misandristic – which I find to be ironic because I thought feminism was about equality, not punishing men for being the opposite gender. I know that’s what the ideology suggests, but there are a lot misandrists hiding behind the veil of feminism as their shield and sword”.

Ladies and gents, this is what I want to say. If you are a woman, and you’re thinking about kissing a man you’ve been out on a couple dates with, at least say, “Can I kiss you?” before you actually project yourself onto him. You’d expect that from him, wouldn’t you? So let’s embrace the equality of consent and make sure that everybody feels safe and respected in their own bodies. You can’t know what somebody else is thinking unless you ask them, and even then, it’s so important to read body language and make sure your partner is comfortable!!

I can completely understand my friend’s frustration with some feminists. It’s a bad analogy, I know, but it reminds me of crazy vegans who ruin the entire image for everyone else. As a feminist myself, I wish to promote complete equality for both ladies and gals, not just for myself. The extreme “man haters” give the rest of us a really bad image; trust me, I’m aware.

He continues:
“I’m more used to being approached by women, and I seldom ever make the first move. Generally, I am just very shy. Here are some of my personal experiences as a man, and my observations on the topic.

Me being less assertive, most of the women I’ve slept with have been the result of their assertiveness, and did not ask me for consent when they initiated the first kiss, or the progression for sex. There were exactly two that did [ask for consent], although I will say I personally prefer not to be asked and I understand some people want a more natural and organic feeling when getting intimate. Everybody has tastes and preferences and those should not be minimized.”

I wanna say this, too: I know you don’t have to hear a verbal resounding “YES!” every time you want to have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend. If you’re comfortable with each other and you understand each other’s body language and preferences, and you’ve been having a prolonged sexual relationship for a while, no you don’t have to confirm “hey, are we going to have sex?” every time right before a roll in the hay. When you’re hooking up with someone the first, second, or heck, even the third time, just do yourself a favor and ask for verbal consent. Once you’ve been together for a while, sexually or romantically, it becomes easier to understand each other’s cues and body languages, and then, you obviously won’t need verbal consent every single time. Anywho, back to his quote:

“The few times I built up the courage to take the initiative and ask, I was ridiculed for asking, or rejected -BECAUSE- I asked. I’m paraphrasing because it was so long ago, but it was met with something like, “You were doing fine until you had to ask.” Or, “What makes you think I’d be interested in you?” in a condescending tone.

The expectation that men need to initiate consent is unequal, and quite frankly reinforces gender stereotypes. If we are to make progress, there can be no double standards; women should be held to an equal standard. Furthermore, ridiculing a man for asking for consent just because you’re not attracted to him is acidic to the entire movement.

My experience with this make the current depiction of consent look (to me) like: ‘Guys who I’m not interested in or attracted to must ask for consent, but the guys I’m interested in or attracted to should just know without having to ask.’”

See? This is what we’re talking about when we say the double standard. Can you imagine if a man said he didn’t need to ask the woman for consent, because “she should just know” and he “doesn’t need to ask”? That scenario would be completely fucked up. And guess what? News flash, when you reverse the gender roles, it’s still fucked up!

“I understand why people become misogynistic or misandristic, and I think it’s because they were hurt really bad by the other gender, but the answer isn’t resentment-fueled revenge. The cycle of hate and pain is ended with forgiveness, understanding, and inspiring change in those that hurt us. It’s how I overcame my twelve years of abuse from my stepfather, and it was a process, but I feel better now than I ever would have by holding onto my hatred and ‘getting even’.”

If man and woman are equal, we need to hold each other equally accountable for our behaviors. I’m certainly not coming on here to start a war, but I do think we need to think more seriously about the toxic messages we may be unknowingly putting out. No matter who you are: man, woman, or somewhere in-between, you deserve to be treated respectfully, just as much as you deserve to treat others with that same respect. Love is a beautiful thing, but it’s give and take. You know what else is awesome? Sex is pretty awesome. But we both need to try a little bit harder to think with our heads and not so much or genitals, because sex can be a tricky (and hurtful) thing to navigate without a clear level of consent between the two parties.