Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feminist Mormons

I know. We're not supposed to be. Our leaders speak out against feminism all the time. And while, for awhile, I thought "Ugh, the more those feminists talk the more they sound like they're projecting. There's no gender inequality. They don't see the value in being women so they have to fight for men's positions - they're just supporting the opposite view!"

Make sense?

I thought these women were only making womanhood seem that much less because they coveted traditionally male positions to prove a point. It's a fair assessment.

It wasn't until just a few years ago, though, that I started to see why some women feel shortchanged.

I've already talked about it a little bit. We're expected to pop out a dozen or so kids, and if we don't, we're considered selfish.

The words may not say "selfish" but the looks and tones say it.

We are to be good at keeping our home clean, teaching our children, cooking good and nutritious food. If we're extra good Mormon girls, we can even sew homemade clothing.

I am not a good Mormon girl. I admit it.

I wanted to be for so long. I loved the idea of taking care of my man, making him dinners and keeping the house just right and ensuring all was well in Zion, but after a while...a few things had gnawed at me just enough to start hurting:

"And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law...

"And again, verily, verily I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her..." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:54, 64)

Destroy her because she didn't necessarily like her husband taking on new girls. I don't know about you, but the tone in this just eats me up. For what is being asked of Emma, I'd expect something more compassionate. I'd hope for it, at least.

We say it's because the Lord wanted to raise up seed, but verse 51 says:

"Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice."

I know I'm really pushing the lines here, and I know some of you have expressed a comfort level with such a situation. I even get the "well, if you can't give up absolutely everything for God..." argument. But I can't read these verses and feel comfort. I'm not feeling the love. I don't see God threatening to destroy Joseph. The language concerning Joseph's part in all of this is comparatively soft.

It just adds to me feeling like nothing more than a baby machine.

Oh I know. We're always told about the divinity of motherhood, how women are vastly more spiritual than most men, that without us, men couldn't achieve the Celestial Kingdom anyway...

But really?

I understand that the Scriptures were written by men for men. But it bothers me, even still, even after hearing many attempts at explaining this:

"Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression."

(the Joseph Smith Translation does save itself a smidge in the final verse):

"Notwithstanding, they shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity, and holiness with sobriety."

- 1 Timothy 2:11-15

It just stings. Am I missing something? It's not as if teachers haven't tried to dull the pain - I have the notes in my scriptures right here, but I still don't understand it. And aren't we supposed to not pay for Adam's transgression, or is that a clever Article of Faith loophole because it didn't mention Eve?

Maybe my inability to understand is part my fault, maybe it's partly because...well, I won't say it.

I get that we're good for making sure our guys remember to do stuff. I get that we're good for making things look pretty (at least some of us). I even get that we're good at the service stuff. Hell, how often do we hear how the women VT stats are leaps and bounds better than the HT?

But mostly I've been feeling as if we're mere baby machines, husband/priesthood supporters who are expected to give up everything the minute we marry.

I didn't stop going to school just because I got married. There were other reasons for that. My problem lies in the fact that I'm getting the quizzical raised eyebrows when I say I'm planning on taking a few classes next semester.

I know the logic behind waiting until the kids are older. It's a lot like the logic that comes in waiting to graduate from school before marrying - but we're not exactly encouraged to do that.

I want my kids to know I'm more than just their mom. I want them to know I'm a person with hobbies and interests. I want them to know that I love me, too. I want them to grow up knowing they're more than just a husband or wife or mom. I want my daughter to know she's not just a mother-in-training, but a person, and that to be a good person she doesn't have to scrapbook, make cards, or know how to make damn good chocolate chip cookies (it's what I call them, haha). It's okay for her to want to be something when she grows up, and not just as a backup to "in case I don't get married," but because it's just good to know things, to be educated. It's important.

Yes, I think it's best to stay at home with the kids, but you won't see me judging a girl who doesn't. I honestly believe some women do better for their children when they can work a little (or a lot).

No, I don't think it's best to give up everything for them. Some sacrifice should be made; a girl ought to be able to have something to offer her children beyond the crafty Martha Stewart stuff.


Laura said...

My mom went back to school when my sisters and I were small. She always felt a little guilty about it, but I truly think it helped her become a better mother. If she hadn't done it, we would not have been able to afford to go to college. Her example is what made me want to not just "finish" school, but to do something I love that makes me better- and get paid for it! Sometimes the general R.S. presidency really bugs me when they comveniently forget to acknowledge the contributions of working mothers. I agree with you that some moms are better moms because they work.

Amanda said...

I know a good mormon couple in Wisconsin where the Dad stays home and the mom has a great career as a dentist. The dad WANTS to stay home. The mom WANTS to work. It works for them. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

Noe said...

Here here.

Remember, Christianity is a relatively new religion in the grand scheme of things... Those "pagan" religions that were all the rage before Christianity showed up on the field had strong goddesses, they had priestesses, and often it was the women who did the teaching, who petitioned the gods... women were considered sacred because life came from them-because they held the power of giving life. Them-Us-Women.

Then Christianity came along and started a whole new patriarchal thing. It has toned down a bit and in some denominations women can actually be in positions of power or "women of the cloth". But on the whole Christianity is a very patriarchal religion and since I firmly believe that women got the short end of the evolutionary stick I have a hard time following a religion that tells me my worth is in my children.

Believe it or not a Baptist priest told me that... my worth is in my children.

I don't think so.

Lisa said...

Laura: I know. When I gave my lesson on Sunday in Relief Society, I realized "Oh hell, I've forgotten about the young, single sisters in here."

I should be the one who remembers them first! I HATED RS back in the day because I never felt like I belonged, and that was part of the reason why. But it's the nature of the beast. I hope I recovered well enough.

Women, no matter their station in life, matter. Working, single, old, young, barren, with a litter, weird, normal, Molly, apostate. All matter.

I don't want to give the impression that I hate men and they aren't nearly as important - I worry about that. I love my husband. I love having a big strong man around the house. I feel safer with him here.

But I've realized, too, that those years he worked nights were good for me. I needed to know that I could be alone at night. For most people this isn't an issue, but it was huge for me at first.

There seems to be too much condescension to women in the church. Too much bullshit. I hear the words, but I don't feel the support, you know? I'm not a helpless waif (most of the time), and I don't want to be considered one. I don't craft. I like to get dirty. I hate that our culture demands that people look at me weird when I allude to that.

Eric tells me all the time that he couldn't have gotten through school without me doing most the crapwork for him (by that I mean typing his papers up, signing him up for classes before they filled, etc) So while I do need my guy, he needs me too.

I think we miss that sometimes. People talk the talk but just cannot comprehend...and sometimes I don't think they want to. I totally empathize with the feminists of the Church, and to brush them aside dismissively and disapprovingly only adds fuel to the fire. I think they have valid concerns that ought to be discussed.

that girl said...

i'm all about strong, educated, smart, career-focused women. and if they're moms too, i'm totally blown away and want to bow down to them. i've hated every single general conference talk by the RS presidency. not once have i ever heard them address working women in a positive way. not once have i heard any support for those of us who work our ass off to truly fulfill our divine potential or whatever. it's not all in motherhood!!!! i'm not a mom yet, so i guess i can't really say that. but i know it can't be. it just can't. women are too freekin awesome to settle with being baby-machines and husband-servers and that's it.

Katie said...

Lisa, you totally need to switch to a community board type format for these posts. You have so much great stuff in each post that stimulates so many different conversations, and it would be great if all of your followers could have more back-and-forth on these things. www.freepowerboards.com is one example of a site that offers free hosting.

Anyway, concerning feminism... I think, first and foremost, you need to define what "feminism" is, or what you perceive it as. I see it defined as the aim of creating a world in which women have equal access to traditionally male roles. "Equal opportunity" as a means of avoiding a "separate but equal, and therefore inherently unequal" society.

Constrast this definition with the one that feminism is defined as having as a goal that women SHOULD hold traditionally male roles, and that traditionally female roles are therefore "lesser". There is a huge difference between the two. One is about equal opportunity/agency, while the other is about redefining gender roles.

I would consider myself a feminist in the first sense, but not the second. Furthermore, I think that in rejecting the Equal Rights Ammendment in the 1970s, what the church was really aiming to do was to avoid the consequences of the second definition of feminism (gender role confusion).

From a personal perspective, I have struggled a lot with what is the traditional female role (wife and mother) and how that jives with my own personal revelations. From the time I was baptized, I had thought that it was church doctrine that I was absolutely NOT to work outside the home after I got married/had kids. However, I didn't meet my husband until I was mid-way through my PhD studies. Since getting married to him, nearly every priesthood blessing I have received - be it from missionaries, my husband, friends, home teachers, whoever - ever one has focused completing my schooling and choosing a career. Talk about confusing.

Then, as a very pregnant mom-to-be, I had a very special spiritual experience that showed me clearly the Lord intended for me to work after the baby was born. It wasn't the answer I wanted, or expected. I never, since being baptized, really even considered being anything but a SAHM. However, I have acted on the revelation I have received, have seen doors open in miraculous ways for our family, AND I realize I am a million, trillion, gazillion times happier than I would have been if I had followed through on what I "thought" to be the Gospel plan.

I have gone through a lot of personal grief and agony over a lot of these decisions - ranging from "I must not be a good enough woman" to "I must be receiving revelation from the devil". Then, a few months ago I read through the Worldwide Leadership Training materials (from our church) from this past February. In it, Elder Holland discusses, with the RS general presidency and YW presidency and I (think) Elder Oaks as well, the Family Proclamation (FP), something that I had regarded as a sort of churchwide statement on why women should not hold meaningful jobs. In the roundtable discussion, Elder Holland compared the FP to a pattern. He talks about how you can make a shirt from scratch or you can make it from a pattern; either way will still get you a shirt, but one way is easier to follow. The FP is meant to be a general guide for how to live our lives, not a dictation of every nitty gritty detail of how different families should arrange things.

I like this analogy. It made me re-read the FP, wherein I realized just how precise, but vague, the language in it is. Men and women are "primarily responsible" for different things in the home, but that doesn't mean they need to do it all themselves. In fact, Elder Holland says in the Worldwide Training that there is nothing wrong with delegating your responsibilities - as long as you realize you are the one who will be held accountable before the Lord with regards to whether or not it is done. That leaves a lot of room for personal preferences and/or abilities. For instance, in our family, my hubby is the better cook, and he enjoys cooking. It would be a sad waste of a talent if I, who don't like cooking, insisted on doing it all and my husband, who likes to serve me, was not allowed and/or appreciated for his cooking skills, all b/c of how we interpretted the FP.

Based on the pattern anology, I like to think that I am just making myself a snazzy Regency-era day dress, while the other girls in the ward are making jumpers. Both can be made from a "jumper dress" pattern (although my dress requires a little more work to get it made), both are dresses, both serve their intended purpose, and both are good - just very different :-)

The thing is, alot of girls LIKE making the jumpers - they LIKE being the SAHM who crafts, sews, cooks, bakes cookies for all her VTees and YW, and is forever pregnant or nursing. They like that lifestyle, and they don't understand someone who the jumper just doesn't work for (I, for instance, am far to short and squat to look good in a jumper). There is a tendency for those of us who don't fit that mold to say that it is stupid, or wrong, or our way is better - but I think that is the same as those who judge working moms as not following the prophet.

Lisa said...

that girl: you're not alone. I hope RS realizes there are other women in our church that need their attention as well.

Katie: Point well taken ;)

I am curious to know just how many of these girls truly enjoy it, though. I don't doubt for a second there are many who do, but I've ran into enough who gasp with relief that motherhood can suck sometimes, they don't want to scrapbook, etc.

And thank you for telling us your perspective on the FP. I worry too often, because I was there and in some ways still am, that we think it's all or nothing here. That it's one way or the highway. It's not. We're too different for it to be that way.

Those of us who realize we don't have to be June Cleaver or Donna Reed tend to celebrate the fact. It is nice to realize that not only were you not part of the mold, but that it's okay. The acceptance of that fact is liberating - and yes, sometimes we go overboard and judge. That's not right.

As for the community board thing, haha. I'll think about it. I think it might be better if I worked more to write a bit more cohesively :P Then we can keep the topics a bit more simple.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I've always felt that the LdS religion was horribly, horribly sexist, even when I was at my most devout. There is no doubt in my mind that the Joseph made up polygamy to excuse his adultery and so he could have sex with whomever he wanted - including girls as young as 14. He (and others like Brigham Young) exploited their standing in the community to force young women to marry them (women who were even often already married and sealed to other men by threatening their eternal salvation if they defied them.

Whether it is polygamy, or the way women are treated today, sexism is a fundamental part of Mormonism. A woman is expected to give up her own identity and interests, hobbies, etc., in order to devote all of her time and energy to raising children and making her husband happy by caring exclusively for the home. Women are made to fee guilty if they even dare to have outside interests, let alone a job or *gasp* career.

My mother is utterly unhappy in her life and she probably doesn't even realise it. She could have been a great artist, but as soon as she got married, she gave up everything she ever liked to do and focused entirely and wholly on her husband and her children, to the utter exclusion of everything she used to like to do. I was would ask her often why she never painted or drew any more, and her excuse was always that she had to make supper, or do laundry, or drive one of us somewhere - and any time she would take even an hour for herself, she felt incredibly guilty, because she had been taught that as a women, her holy, holy duty was to her children and husband (and not to herself).

Now that I and my brother aren't in the church, she feels like a failure because she obviously did something wrong, otherwise her children would have stayed in the church (because of course, we don't have minds of our own or anything...)

Just the church's treatment of women is enough to get me enraged and crazy, let alone all the other stuff it does to destroy individuals.

And I agree with Katie that there are many women who would willingly choose that lifestyle, but the point is that in Mormonism, you don't have much of a choice - it is forced upon you from the time you're born - your whole childhood (if you grow up in the church) is grooming you to be the perfect housewife, and nothing else. And you're seen as lacking in faith and being utterly selfish if you don't love every second of it, or if you reject the mould and make your own decisions for your life.

I guess I really identify with the way women are treated in the LdS church (and many other religion), because I know what it's like to be expected to fill a role that has nothing to do with who you are just because of the genitalia you have. Rigid gender roles are utterly arbitrary and have nothing to do with reality, and only harm people and society, because the vast majority of people will never fit into those polarised "ideals" of gender. Most of us are more alike, whether male of female, than we are different, and to expect any one who is male to behave one way, and all females to behave another is just ridiculous.

Gwenny said...

::hugs:: Kudos, lady, for your struggles and your honesty.