Popular international Catholic speaker and author, Jason Evert, says the #MeToo phenomenon coming out of Hollywood is “terrific” as women are finally standing up and publicaly calling-out sexual assault and harassment.
“So much abuse has been suffered silently,” he said. “It’s empowering women to step up and say, I went through this too, you’re not the only one.”
The charismatic speaker from the US, who founded the Chastity Project, will be in Sydney this May—presented by Parousia Media—speaking to audiences about the virtue of chastity and Theology of the Body.
He recently spoke with Catholic Weekly journalist Catherine Sheehan about the impact of the Pill and pornography on our culture, the demise of dating, and the strange juxtaposition between the #MeToo movement and the popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey movies.
Jason, why did you and your wife Crystalina found the Chastity Project?
We’d done a lot of work with young people on retreats. The teens would open us to us about how much they were struggling in their families and relationships. So much of it had to do with sexuality and just not knowing the right decisions to make. So we felt a need to reach out there.
I also did several years of pregnancy crisis counselling discussing options with women who were going to be having an abortion within the next hour. When I was meeting these women, trying to offer them better alternatives, I just thought, why am I meeting her half an hour before an abortion? Why can’t I meet her when she’s 16 years old? Ten years before she met this guy. Maybe if she’d learnt about chastity then she never would have dated him to begin with and be in this tough situation. I realised to reach the most people I needed to do more preventative work.
Do you think St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has revolutionised the way Catholics think about sexuality?
I do, I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding about the Church’s teaching on sexuality, that it’s just a list of “Thou shalt not’s”—a litany of regulations. They don’t understand that this virtue of chastity not only frees us to love, it frees us to know we’re being loved. TOB is a very fresh representation of the Church’s wisdom on human sexuality that has really come at the right time for today’s culture.
This year marks 50 years since Pope Paul VI’s landmark document on artificial contraception—Humanae Vitae—was published. How has the Pill changed relationships between men and women?
The Pill allows a woman to be sexually active like a man. Historically women have had to be very choosy in terms of mate selection because to sleep with a man would be a life-long investment on behalf of the woman. Whereas for the man it can be a 10 minute investment of his life. Our reproductive cycles are just different. Contraception enabled the woman to have intercourse like a man does. As a result we’ve seen this explosion of the hook-up culture where there isn’t a lot of thought going into who you’re sleeping with and what that means. It has not liberated women in the least. It’s made us as a culture less appreciative of the uniqueness of womanhood and less respectful of her – all of which Paul VI prophesied would happen in that document.
What has been the impact of pornography on our culture?
It’s largely emasculated men because they no longer know how to relate to women as human persons. They see them as an outlet for lust. As a result, you’re having more and more women now looking at pornography. The latest statistics recently came out from the most popular porn sites here, showing that 26 percent of those visiting these porn sites are women. I think a lot of it is the woman wondering, ok, what do I need to do, what do I need to look like, how do I need to act? I try to tell the women you weren’t created to be porn. You were created to be loved. So we’ve got to get away from this counterfeit love which is lust.
What do you think is the antidote to the objectification of women?
Modesty is very important. Historically women have had problems with that understandably because it’s always been like, oh, we have a problem with lust so we have a problem with women. You’re a seductress etc. But the cause of lust isn’t the body of the woman, anymore than the cause of robbery is money. The cause of robbery is greed. Greed is the problem. You don’t get rid of money to get rid of greed. Lust in the heart of the man is the problem that needs to be healed.
The body of the woman is perfectly made. But by dressing modestly women can show men there is so much more about you than just your body. It’s not about putting the problem in the hands of the woman. Oh well it’s your fault, you wore that outfit. That’s a very distorted attitude. It’s empowering for women to realise that by being modest you’re actually revealing more because you’re showing him the greatest thing about you is not your body.
What’s your take on the #MeToo phenomenon coming out of Hollywood where women are taking a public stand against sexual assault and harassment?
I think it’s terrific. So much abuse has been suffered silently that it’s empowering a lot of women to step-up and say, I went through this too, you’re not the only one. So many women who’ve been sexually abused or sexually harassed have been led to believe they’re the only one or it’s their fault. It’s important these things come to the surface because for one, it will hopefully scare away the guys thinking of behaving in these horrible ways, make them think twice before they act. A lot of these guys think, well I’m so rich and powerful and famous, I can intimidate any woman out of standing up against me. That’s a very important part of it.
But it’s going to create a very interesting cultural dynamic when you have two currents clashing against each other. On one hand saying, hey, we deserve to be treated with respect, and meanwhile blockbuster movies like Fifty Shades of Grey are coming out which are speaking a totally opposite message. All they’re falling back upon is well, it’s ok if we consent. But we’ve got to think a little bit more. Is degradation OK if we agree to be degraded? Does that make it noble? Shouldn’t a woman be treated with dignity even if she agrees to be treated with less than that?
Why do you think many women like the Fifty Shades movies despite the fact our culture has problems around respect for women, domestic violence and sexual assault?
One point that’s interesting to make is that, let’s say the gentleman in the movie, this abusive character Christian Grey, what if instead of being this powerful, handsome, millionaire he was a bum living in a trailer park, treating his girlfriend this way? Take away his wealth and then how sexy is this? This is domestic abuse if you’re poor. But if he’s rich, it’s a romantic thriller? Something’s distorted here. He’s not the only one using someone. She’s using him as well. It’s distorted in both directions. She wouldn’t be with him if he wasn’t wealthy.
What can the Catholic Church offer people who’ve been devastated by this hook-up and throw-away culture we live in?
It’s that ache they have for something better has been placed there by God for a reason. We often learn how to doubt our intuition, doubt our consciences and then it leads to a sadness and depression. Because sin just makes you sad. There’s a joy that God wants to give us but in order to unlock that joy the first thing he asks of us is trust. Do I really trust him with my future, with my past however messy it may be? Do I trust him with my dating life, my vocation? Do I really believe that living for God will bring me more joy and satisfaction than clicking on porn websites 2 hours a day? Until we really believe that God can give us more joy than the lusts of the world we’ll miss out on the happiness he had planned for us because there’s a lack of trust.
Do you have hope that we can turn this culture around?
Without question. The pendulum is already swinging back in many respects. Teen sexual activity rates have been going down for 25 years. Most high school students are virgins. I believe with porn it’s going to take the course of cigarettes. Initially cigarettes were thought of as sexy, pleasurable, harmless. Then when the studies came out, now there’s the stigma: who would want to do that to their lungs? Now the neurological studies are coming out on pornography. What it does to your brain, to your relationship. What it does to your capacity to love. More people will ask, is that really how you want to relate to a woman? Hopefully it will become less and less fashionable and acceptable because of how deplorable it really is.
Are you currently working on another book?
My wife and I wrote a book for women called How to Find your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul, and it was very popular and I’ve been getting a lot of requests to write one for the guys. So I’m in the midst of working on that, especially encouraging men to initiate relationships instead of hiding behind their mobile phones. Guys don’t know how to initiate. They don’t know how to ask a girl out face to face. They don’t know how to clarify their intentions in a relationship in terms of what direction it’s going and their commitment.
Why do you think men today are lacking this knowledge?
Because our parents don’t know how to date. The key thing is really getting married people to act married, where husbands are taking their wives on dates. Then kids will know how to date because they saw Dad ask Mum out.
Because we have a culture of broken families guys don’t have a clue so they seek path of least resistance which is Tinder. I can just swipe myself into a relationship and there’s no risk of rejection. It used to be so much more challenging to ask a girl out and it’s become too easy.
In this politically correct age some people would ask why the guy should be the one to initiate and pursue in a relationship. What would you say to that?
We should look into the heart of a woman: Does she really want to have to pursue the man and ask him to commit to her? It’s not that it’s “wrong” for a woman to initiate, but I simply feel that a man is out of place when he’s the one who has to be swept off his feet. Just imagine a guy leaning over his balcony at night, blushing as he listens to a young lady serenading him from the garden below. In her stilettos, she carefully ascends the lattice outside his room to bring him flowers and a kiss. There’s a reason women never dream of doing this.
Men need the adventure, the challenge, and the thrill of winning you. When you look desperate for our attention, you take this all away. We may be afraid of approaching a girl, but any man worth your time will take the risk. The man should initiate the relationship. It’s romantic, it honours the woman, and ultimately it’s a sign of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. People are free to do it otherwise, but I don’t think many girls grow up dreaming of how they are going to pop the question to Mr. Wonderful. If he wants you, let him come and pursue you. You’re the prize, not the pursuer.
What are you looking forward to most about your trip to Australia in May?
This will be my fifth trip to Australia.
I’ve loved being in Australia. The people are so friendly. I love the culture. I’m very much looking forward to my return visit. Audiences there have been very receptive to the message, very hungry for it. Just like here in the States, it’s not something they hear very often. Their hearts are made for love and their minds for the truth and chastity in a way offers them both.
Jason Evert speaking dates in Australia this May:
16 May, 7pm: the Great Hall at ACU in Fitzroy, Melbourne
17 May, 7pm: Fundraising Dinner at the Epping Club, Sydney
18 May, 6pm: the Seymour Centre, Sydney University
More information: www.parousiamedia.com