The first experience occurred when I was a PhD student. I was randomly having lunch with a senior scholar in the field who had been invited to lecture at Edinburgh. In the course of the conversation, he stated explicitly that Helen had used her sexuality to advance her career. I’m 100% that this person meant it as a compliment, that Helen had been shrewd and used everything she could to her advantage. But it essentially came across as a statement that Helen wouldn’t have been where she was if she was ugly. I was shocked not only at the statement but at the fact that he said it to her PhD student.
The second experience occurred at the tail end of my PhD studies in a research seminar that I can only describe as tragically majestic in every way possible. I’ve written about it before here. I mentioned in that post that Helen was presiding over this paper and that, at one point when trying to make the case for a sexualized reading of the woman at the well, Jesus, and the bucket of John 4, the presenter used hand motions to explain a bucket going in and out and looked at Helen like, “Right?” Well, one thing I didn’t mention in that post was that—for some reason I honestly can’t now remember and I’m not sure it would matter if I could—in the midst of his case for his reading of John 4 and the sexual nature of the woman’s statement that Jesus had no bucket, the presenter said: “Well, and we all know what women are like at cocktail parties, don’t we?” When he asked “Don’t we?” he turned and looked right at Helen for affirmation, as if she was going to say, “Oh yes, that’s how I always am at cocktail parties, as is every woman I know.”
The third experience occurred several years ago in a meeting. I was meeting with Helen and two other senior NT scholars. One of the other two was addressing Helen in a manner that seemed overly-informal; it sure looked like flirting. At one point in time, he leaned close to her and I instinctively thought he was going in for a kiss. He wasn’t, but that’s how close he was. Later on when I had a chance, I asked Helen what that was all about. She told me that this person has always acted like that toward her, including calling her “my dear” and whatnot. I couldn’t believe it . . .
. . . and I suppose that’s the problem that arose freshly for me after hearing Emma Watson’s speech and thinking about my professional world. I had conveniently filed these away as isolated odd experiences. But these types of things are quite clearly common for Helen. I mention it, and write this post, however, because the real issue that I saw freshly was my response in each situation, which was simply and embarrassingly silence, a silence that permitted such things to continue unaddressed.
I wrote to Helen and apologized for being part of the problem while thinking that I was not. As mentioned before, I also asked if she’d be willing to address these issues here on the Jesus Blog. Thankfully, she said yes, and that post is coming soon.