05 November, 2009

I'm not a feminist because I love animals, I'm a feminist because I hate plants.

Several happenings contribute to my general feelings of impotence and despondency today. One, no response from the folks I wrote to yesterday re: getting some non-Mormon support for keeping the WRI open. I knew it was a long shot, but I guess they can't get involved with Mormons in any way, shape or form. Our respective missions are too disparate.

Two. Why does it have to be this way? Why do so many people believe that feminism and the gospel cannot possibly co-exist? I wrote this little guy (which is quite similar to the letter I wrote to Amplify, with a Mormon twist) for a blog I really love, one intended for Mormon feminists, which got some positive and some negative responses. A few accused me of not believing in or trusting the Prophet and Apostles, because they are the executive board of BYU, which logic I have always found completely ridiculous. I believe that Church leaders are inspired, but they don't fast and pray about whether or not to sell mint brownies in the Wilk, for crying out loud. Nor do most decisions about programs at BYU make it all the way up the freeway to Salt Lake. That's not how any university is run. The overarching board, especially if they're also preoccupied with running a worldwide church, hasn't the time to micromanage. This was the administration's decision alone. From what I understand, even the man Cecil himself didn't have much to do with the decision to close the WRI. It stemmed from an internal review board, and from what it sounds like, ended there as well.

Because of this post, I was quoted (As "Elise"--seriously, if you're going to go to the trouble of writing about something I said, double-check my name, yeah? Not that hard.) on this blog. The post wasn't too hard on me, but said a few things that hurt my feelings. Maybe I was being a little sensitive, but check this action out:

"What Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does she belong to that believes in gender equality? The only Mormon church I am aware of makes it clear that women are not equal with men (unless you believe that two groups can be separate but equal, and that by denying women rights given to men, you are actually protecting them)."

Ouch. Not on my behalf, really, but on the Church's. And then it goes further:

"Here is the problem with her [my] analysis: the higher-ups in the bureaucracy that she [me] is railing against here are the General Authorities and the Quorum of the Twelve. You can’t say that when something of this magnitude is being done at 'The Lord’s University' (or less tongue-in-cheek, 'The University of the CoJCoLDS') [Note: I have no idea what that is referencing] that it isn’t reflective of the opinion of the Church as a whole towards women, women’s issues, and feminism. I remain baffled by women who can endure this sort of obvious second-class treatment at the Church authorities hands, while simultaneously arguing that they Church itself is not misogynist.

Although I understand that the author (and others like her) is trying to avoid cog dis, at some point these issues will be more than just academic.

Perhaps she will go to graduate school, and be questioned by her bishop – the authorized 'servant of God' for her salvation – about her 'intentions' with regards to having a family and fulfilling her divine calling of motherhood.

Perhaps she will desire to go on a mission, and her Stake President will restrict her, saying that because she has a (pseudo) boyfriend, that she should be thinking of getting married.

Perhaps she will consider getting a job at BYU, only to discover that her department of choice does not hire women of child-bearing age.

Perhaps she will realize that it is demeaning to women when her 12-year-old son (who still wets the bed) has more 'authority' to act in God’s name than she, as a 50 year old woman, will ever have."

Wh-oa (two syllables). First of all, see my above comments with regard to criticizing BYU = criticizing the Church leadership. If they can't be given credit for every little decision at this university, they can't be blamed for them either. I don't thank God every day for inspiring His servants on earth to build a glass building that looks exactly like a fishbowl, and I don't rail at God in my nightly prayers for not selling Diet Coke on campus either. BYU is owned by the Church, but it's its own institution, with its own unique rules and prerogatives. These, I have found, tend to stem from Mormon culture and not the gospel I know to be true.

I had a very interesting discussion with Brooke about this very topic earlier tonight. But before I get into that, I want to make one thing crystal clear.

Feminism is personal for me. My own mother was terrified at the prospect of me joining this Church because of the prevailing sexist attitudes she had noticed were held by many members of it. My father said that Mormons initially reminded him of a paramilitary group. My mother truly, honestly believed that I would be oppressed and mistreated by men in this institution, and so now, years later, I actually don't blame her for refusing to let me get baptized initially. It's a scary thing to lose your child to another religion, especially one that has such a huge affect on one's lifestyle. However, my mother told me, while I was on my mission, that to her great relief, everything she had taught me about feminism and being a strong, independent, intelligent woman did not get swallowed up in my new faith, but rather integrated into it.

Dang straight. Mormon culture may try to tell me what to do with my life, and possibly even how to do my hair, and members of this Church are as fallible as they were when it first started, but the gospel of Jesus Christ has done NOTHING but make me a better, stronger, happier woman and person. I have a testimony of this gospel. My testimony of this wacky Mormon culture is weak, but that doesn't matter because I don't need one! I deeply resent the assertion that feminism isn't personal for me.

To respond to the four hypotheticals:

"Perhaps she will go to graduate school, and be questioned by her bishop – the authorized 'servant of God' for her salvation – about her 'intentions' with regards to having a family and fulfilling her divine calling of motherhood."

You will recall me saying that sometimes my bishopric has a less than ideal attitude about how women (in my opinion) ought to behave. However, when I announced in Relief Society that I had been chosen for an internship with a linguistics company in Paris, the first counselor in the the Bishopric came up to me and congratulated me. I have never felt discouraged by any of my church leaders when it comes to my education. And particularly not by the higher-ups, who have taught for years that women need to be smart. And not just because stupid women are bad mothers, either, although that's true. Because intelligence is eternal, and so am I.

Additionally, it seems completely illogical to me to conclude that because sometimes a Bishop will say something old-fashioned or insensitive, that therefore the Church he represents cannot possibly be true. Mormons are humans, and humans can be idiots. Let's not hearken back to 14th-century Catholicism, shall we? (Just kidding, Mom!)

"Perhaps she will desire to go on a mission, and her Stake President will restrict her, saying that because she has a (pseudo) boyfriend, that she should be thinking of getting married."

As a matter of fact, I did serve a mission, and dumped a pseudo-boyfriend in order to do so. When I met with my bishop and told him about my desire to serve, he said to me (I will never forget this), "Now, some guys seem to not want to date female returned missionaries. But don't worry about that, because those guys are idiots." Well played, Bishop Sterling, well played. Granted, Church leaders do teach that a mission should not be used to escape from the obligation of finding a spouse. I served with some chicks were were there out of boredom, and it wasn't pretty. But if God tells me to serve a mission, who am I to argue? If he had told me to get married instead, believe me I would have listened.

And again, if imperfect people have no chance for salvation, I am screwed, and so are you. One stake president does not invalidate thousands of years of revelation. That's the beautiful thing about the Atonement: sometimes people make mistakes, and that's OK. The Church is still true.

"Perhaps she will consider getting a job at BYU, only to discover that her department of choice does not hire women of child-bearing age."

Two words should silence you here: Wendy Baker. Check out that CV! And if you're looking for women who aren't single, the WRI faculty has some choice gems for you. According to everyone, all those women will be moving departments rather than losing their jobs. Thanks, hiring freeze!

Perhaps she will realize that it is demeaning to women when her 12-year-old son (who still wets the bed) has more 'authority' to act in God’s name than she, as a 50 year old woman, will ever have.

My senior year of college, my parents and I went out for Indian food on my 18th birthday. I distinctly remember telling my parents about my decision to apply to BYU, which I had previously not even considered. My mother asked me if it would bother me to go to a "patriarchal university where I would have no power." I don't remember how I worded my response exactly, but the summary is this: Not having the Priesthood does not make me feel powerless. Being told that I should feel oppressed by my religion, however, does. The gospel is not demeaning to women, although some ignorant, short-sighted people can be. However, those people are recognizably departing from the truth when they exercise unrighteous dominion over anyone, male or female. The organization of the Church is demeaning to no one unless they choose to see all humans as automatons for whom God has the exact same plan. His desire for all His children is the same, but the way He brings about each child's life is wholly unique and individualized.

I'm not sure if I can articulate this properly. But here goes: it's not that I don't want the Priesthood. Some women say that, and I think it's a little disrespectful. The Priesthood is neat. I like helping people, which is what the Priesthood is all about. I imagine that theoretically, if the Priesthood did one day become available to women, it wouldn't bother me to participate in it. However, I don't need the Priesthood to feel powerful. I feel empowered for plenty of other reasons, many of them related to the potential I feel I have because of being a women, because of my body and my future, as-of-yet unrealized calling as a mother. I feel empowered because I know God made me female for a reason. I do not feel slighted because a twelve year-old boy can pass the Sacrament and I cannot. "Separate but equal" is a crude way of putting it, but to be honest, the notion doesn't bother me, in the same way that some people are ordained to be born in Peru and some are ordained to be born in Hungary. Nobody's challenges or responsibilities are better, they are all just different. I feel that saying that all human beings should have all the same experiences and callings is oversimplistic.

To return to my original point, I see no actual contradiction between feminism and the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yes, Mormon culture leans toward the conservative, and Mormon women do have a reputation of being a little bit ... plastic. But I am neither conservative nor plastic, and this is my Church too. I did my time as a missionary, I love Jesus Christ, and I live the teachings of this Church with every fiber of my being (little joke).

I don't see why Mormon women can't be everything feminism says women can be.

I love this talk. Joss Whedon is brilliant. And I want to be all of those adjectives he used to describe his mother and his wife. I long to be extraordinary, inspirational, tough, cool, sexy, and funny. I also choose to spend my time with men who, like his father and stepfather, "prize wit and resolve above all things in the women they [are] with." I can be strong and educated and interesting and still sustain President Monson with all my heart. I see no contradiction there. And so many women on both sides can't seem to get their heads around that. Some think I can't possibly be a faithful Latter-day Saint because of some of the opinions I hold. Others see no way of reconciling these aforementioned opinions with LDS dogma. But bless their hearts, Jesus was the ultimate champion of womanhood. His gospel is the greatest honor I can ascribe to. And if some jerk in my future ward thinks I'm a bad wife for not changing my name, that's his problem, not mine. And certainly not God's.

When Brooke and I talked, I asked her, "Would Jesus tell a woman not to get an education, because intelligence drives men away? Would He discourage women from serving missions? Would He call anyone inferior? No, of course He wouldn't."

The gospel of Jesus Christ, in its pure form, when you strip away the Republican party and the culturally ingrained misogyny practiced by some fringe idiots and the jello, is the best thing that could ever happen to any woman. Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I know what I'm capable of, and it's a lot. I feel an even stronger desire to learn and improve and teach and fix everything bad in the world. I feel connected with everyone on the planet. I will never leave this church. It is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, and I fought to be a part of it. I will fight to stay a part of it. I believe that the best women in the world are acting on Christ's behalf, whether they realize it or not. I believe in a religion that teaches the incredible potential of men and women, not just men with their wives hanging on their coattails.

And I would love to know with an absolute certainty that I am not the only woman who feels this way.


L'homme pressé said...

I'm on your team. Unfortunately, the only thing I am really good at is headbutts and punches. Let me know if it comes to that.

Ashley said...

Dude, I'm pretty sure your critic hasn't read this.

I'm pretty pissed and ready to be up-in-arms and point out all the things you said about her criticisms. I actually said out loud, "She DUMPED someone to serve a mission!"

Austin said...

um, ditto. totally.

very well written my friend.

theFinn said...

THANK YOU. This is exactly how I feel. It is also exactly what I was trying to say to you late last night, but I couldn't articulate the words properly. Luckily, you could.

cassie said...

i teared up a little.

Rachel said...

Thank you for being so passionate about everything you do. You inspire me.

Anonymous said...

I am so very proud of you for being such a strong, committed, smart member of our sex!


Holly said...

Thank you for articulating ideas that I also believe, but never could have expressed so well. And re. the wacky Mormon culture... I read this essay, Eugene England's "Why the Church is as True as the Gospel," my freshman year and I think it should be required reading for all members of the Church, or even for those concerned about a loved one who is a member of the Church. You can read it here: http://ldsfocuschrist.blogspot.com/2007/10/why-church-as-true-as-gospel-eugene.html

Holly @ Domestic Dork said...

"Why do so many people believe that feminism and the gospel cannot possibly co-exist?"

There are many, many, many reasons I believe this. But mainly it comes down to this, {and this is not just an LDS issue}...God is not a feminist, at least, not the god of the bible, the temple ceremonies, etc. I personally cannot reconcile equality of the sexes with a god who wants me to swear obedience to him *through* my husband.

I found your blog through my friend Shelly. I'm not interested in picking a fight, especially since I think women like you and Shelley will be a good influence for many members. And I understand where you're coming from, I think. It wasn't long ago that I felt the same way. Clearly, the person who wrote those things wrote them without any real knowledge of who you are and what you're about. It was, IMO, an unfair assessment of you. That said, this is a difficult issue, I think, for members and non-members and former members {like myself} to reconcile.

I'll stop myself there before I pick the fight I claimed to want to avoid. ;P

But just know, that just because you don't comprehend why we think the gospel and feminism cannot be reconciled does not mean we do not have legitimate concerns.

Holly @ Domestic Dork said...

PS: I love that Joss Whedon video. Joss is freakin' awesome. Firefly and Buffy are two of my favorite shows ever.