Mar 13, 2010

A Feminist Discussion

From this post.

This post was by a guest blogger, and it was on Feminist Mormon Housewives a week or so ago. It was a complaint about a BYU devotional talk by Elder Pace given recently. Here is the original post:

It was with great sadness and disappointment and, I’ll admit, more than a bit of anger that I read Elder Pace’s BYU Devotional talk regarding women’s divine purpose Wednesday morning. I read it with an eye on tonight, when I would attend New Beginnings with my headstrong, smart, articulate 13-year-old daughter. I’ll be honest: when I first saw it, I thought it was a parody, like The Onion for Mormons. But alas, I read about it in several other places, including the Church News, so now I know it was for real.

I go to church every Sunday. I’m the ward organist and the Primary chorister (the world’s greatest calling, hands down). I went to BYU and got married in the temple at age 19 (gasp—what was I thinking?). I have three kids who are so great that I know better than to take credit for anything they are or do. I’m an assistant professor of education. And I wear pants to church. Yep, that’s me in a nutshell.

I’m also a feminist. I want both my girls and my son to grow up believing that men and women can do anything and be anything they want to be. I worry about my girls getting that message because they will not be able to participate in priesthood ordinances (unless you count watching). I worry at least as much about my son understanding that message as well because he will be able to participate in those things. I worry about my daughters because they will have to defer to men while they’re at church. They’ll have to worry about finding a man to babysit a group of adult women at the church building. They’ll have to get approval for their ideas from male leaders.

So here I am, ten minutes after getting home from work, hoping my kids feed themselves dinner in time for us to get to New Beginnings, wondering why today feels more like a continuation of a cycle of uncomfortable messages I’ve received throughout my life about the “divine role of womanhood” (cringe) than like a new beginning. I remember coming home from YW one day when I was about 15 after a lesson on careers. I had volunteered that I wanted to be a concert pianist when I grew up (I was never good enough for that!). One of my friends said she wanted to be a doctor and our YW teacher smiled and said: “That’s great! You’ll be able to administer first aid to your children!” We had a little talk about that over dinner. My dad—wise, diplomatic, un-exciteable, and patient—told me to “rise above the occasion.” And so I laughed it off and carried on.

Then there was the General Conference Sunday when we heard the “Mothers Come Home” talk. I was too young to have paid attention, but I remember the family drama that ensued after one of my sisters at BYU called home in tears. Again, my dad listened patiently and reminded her to rise above the occasion.

Years later, it was my turn to make a tearful phone call home from BYU. One of my religion professors had told us in class that if women worked, they shouldn’t pay tithing on their earnings because it was like gambling proceeds. He actually called it “blood money.” Again, my dad smiled and told me to rise above foolish advice.
Another time, that same professor told us that when we died, Christ himself would personally escort working women to the gates of hell for going against their divine nature. I guess this comment was ridiculous enough that my dad forewent his previous mantras and laughed out loud. Then he told me that if that were true, we’d have to rent a 15-passenger van and the whole family would ride to hell together because all the women in my family are professional women. Another religion professor told us that we didn’t have to listen to what Chieko Okazaki said because “last time I checked, she didn’t have the priesthood.” Sigh.

I could go on. My poor dad has listened to a lot of stories like these. My husband has probably heard even more. Since I don’t see these attitudes towards women enacted in my own family, I am mostly able to rise above the occasion and blow it off as old school. But every once in a while, I see something like this devotional talk and wonder: How do I rise above this occasion? How do I shelve my hopes and dreams for my children and tell them to follow this counsel? How do I tell them that they will be broken or deficient if they don’t marry? I don’t want my daughters to wonder why Heavenly Father has such a limited vision of their potential. Surely Heavenly Father wants women to do more than complete men. I’m a wife. I like my husband. But being a wife doesn’t complete me. My husband doesn’t complete or sanctify or purify me. And I don’t do those things for him, either. It’s just the five of us—my husband, my two girls, my son, and me—and we’re just doing this life thing.

I’m also a mother. Motherhood brings me plenty of joy (and heartache). But it doesn’t complete me. I’m lots of other things, too. I’m a friend, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a primary chorister, a pianist, a professor, a book aficionado, and I just started guitar lessons! I like to think all those things together complete me.

I want my girls to be strong and of good courage—just like we heard tonight at New Beginnings. I want them to think, like the closing song we sang tonight: “How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission . . .” I want them to figure out what completes them and go do it—whether that includes marriage or motherhood or not. And I long for the day when the church—and that includes BYU Devotionals, the Church News, General Conference, General Relief Society meetings, General YW Meeting, the Ensign, the New Era, the Friend, and our Sunday lesson manuals and weekly activities—can get on board and join the new beginning that’s happening over here at my house.

P.S. My son is coming along for the ride, too.

Here is my response:

Men say stupid things sometimes. Even though they hold the priesthood. ;)

Having said that.. I went and read through this talk and found nothing that really blatantly made me wince. I thought it was nice. I can see how it might ruffle some feathers… I guess. There was the discussion of marriage as necessary to fulillment (though I’d argue he was talking about men AND women, though his talk was directed at women) and the discussion of women’s “roles” that seems to always stir up trouble.

The thing is… I do think women have certain roles that men don’t have, and vice versa. That might not jive with modern feminist theory, but dang. Modern feminist theory is a product of the world. There’s good and bad in it. I’d be just as worried about someone holding up modern feminist theory and theoreticians as above reproach as I’d be about them holding up a priesthood leader as such.

The author's response:

Although this may be foolish and naive, I’m too stubborn to admit that the world can so easily be divided up into two big categories–women, who have a unique divine purpose, and men–who have a different unique divine purpose. Sure, there’s plenty of research that shows that there are biological differences between men and women. But IMO, the world is so diverse–full of all different kinds of people, all of whom have unique strengths, challenges, limitations, talents, perspectives, etc. If that’s not evidence of the divine, what is? So let’s embrace those differences. Let’s say their names out loud and recognize them, rather than try to squeeze everyone into one of two possible boxes.

FWIW, I agree that modern feminist theory is not above reproach. Any feminist worth his/her salt should be able to admit that. My post didn’t suggest that I thought modern feminist theory was above reproach, did it? If I did, that was an unintended message.

My response:
I don’t necessarily want to accuse you of promoting feminist theory as above reproach. I guess what I’m saying is, I see this a lot: any discussion of the “roles” of men and women is immediately countered by some modern theoretician or piece of “scientific evidence,” etc. Oh, yes, people are so different and diverse. And each different society provides stereotypical roles for men and, and some for women, that are unique to culture and geography and perhaps socioeconomic status.

I think, though, that there are certain, spiritual roles that men and women are primarily responsible for (ie proc on the family) and it makes sense to me, and I don’t see how that’s degrading or anti-feminist. It just is. My stewardship and my husbands are different. You could argue that this mirrors the “seperate but equal” way of thinking that was debunked with the Civil Rights movement, but I don’t think the two situations are all that similar. Biologically, men and women ARE different. Biologically, our drives and processes are different, especially in the face of such things as sexuality and parenting. Why would we be biologically given different purposes and functions, and not spiritually? I think Heavenly Father has beautiful way of mirroring his spiritual creations in the physical. I feel that, as a woman, I have certain roles and stewardships that are primarily my responsibility, and so does my husband (though that doesn’t mean there’s never any crossover.)


So what do you think about these issues? (Gender, Roles, the church, misunderstandings/misinterpretations that can happen on both sides of the discussion.)


Tracy said...

I think people say stupid things too, and being a BYU professor doesn't make anyone exempt from doing so, unfortunately. I think it is important to remember the purpose of the gospel, what Heavenly Father's plan is for all of us: that we return to His presence and live together as families. (I realize that this is a VERY general description). Leaders of our church do their best to remind us all of that purpose. I believe that when we choose to marry and have children we are taking on very specific roles that we must do our best to fulfill. A woman can still hold a career as a mother and wife, but her first priority is not herself--that is a choice you make when you have children. And many women I know who work outside of their home, whether by choice or because of other circumstances try their best to keep their children their priority. And if they didn't it wouldn't be my place to judge. Our talents and any knowledge we gain in this life will go with us to the next, but the recognition of the world will make no difference in the next life. What matters most is what we accomplish within the walls of our own homes. That is important for BOTH genders to remember. It seems to me that the woman you quoted has forgotten what really matters and that she is so determined to be a "feminist" that her heart is not in tune with Heavenly Father's plan.

David L said...

Honestly? I personally strongly dislike the feminist movement in general _because_ it seems to encourage that line of thinking. Nothing against equality and opportunity for both genders, but feminism? Bah! (And I know I just opened a terrible can of trouble for myself with that... so be it.)

This comment in particular was troubling:

"I worry about my daughters because they will have to defer to men while they’re at church. They’ll have to worry about finding a man to babysit a group of adult women at the church building. They’ll have to get approval for their ideas from male leaders."

This comment shows a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the priesthood, and, in my opinion, is a terrible attitude to take both in respect to the priesthood and church leaders. I don't know the reasons for her attitudes, but belittling the priesthood and those leaders as she did is dangerous not because it attacks men but because this is the priesthood of GOD, not man. Any time you belittle the priesthood you walk a dangerous line simply because the spirit will NOT continue with you. It CANNOT continue with you.

Ugh... Like I said, I have very little patience for the feminist movement, especially when it is driven by a "we're repressed" attitude. I'm a priesthood leader, and I believe I do very little to "repress" anyone EXCEPT for those who choose to find repression in the order and pattern given by God, and they find repression not because I do it but rather because they can't see anything else. If you've got a problem with that, I'm sorry, but there's very little that I or any other person can do until you gain a testimony of the divine pattern established by God.

Ah... Why did I even bother stepping into this trap?

NoSurfGirl said...


I'm glad you expressed your opinion because I think a lot of church members share it. And to be honest the only exception I take to your argument is, I wouldn't define feminists or the feminist movement by all the *negative* aspects and doctrines that seem to stem from feminisim, any more than I'd define Mormonism by its most controversial/troubling doctrines, nor would I define any sort of ism by what bugs me about it most ;) I'm a proud feminist but I don't believe that the priesthood is an oppresive force for evil, as a few of my more radical feminist colleagues might.

And some have asked me... why use the world at all if it stirs such controversy?

For the same reason we don't cast off "Mormon" or LDS and find something else to call ourselves. TO me it's about showing people what a feminist truly can be...

NoSurfGirl said...

And Tracy, Thanks for your comment. I agree.

I think a few of these women are speaking from their hurt... you notice in this post, this woman had a few "slap in the face" type encounters with the opposite extreme that sometimes can occur in the church: the view of Priesthood as an automatic right to power or control.

Skywalker and I have talked about this a few times. He says that the priesthood has nothing to do with control, but a few men do percieve it that way. And a few insecure people will always use whatever to feel "in control" even if we're not talking about the priesthood.

Personally my veiw of the priesthood is this: The cleaner, the purer the vessel, the stronger God can work through an individual. So a truly great priesthood holder is one who can put his own weaknesses, desires, and need to control completely aside and be a pure vessel for God's power in a moment where God's power is needed.

Missionaries are a great example of that. This is why they speak so much about "distractions" on a mission... a vessel can taint the water it holds, but if a man is pure and ready to be an instrument and be completely humble to God's will, the power will come through powerfully and untainted.

So it's got nothing to do with control... and everything to do with humility. I think a lot of these "radical feminists" have been hurt by those who claim priesthood authority as a means for control and therefore, have less understanding about what the priesthood really is. And that's sad.

merrilykaroly said...

I read this post last night and spent some time thinking about it. I don't have a lot to say, and probably couldn't voice my opinion articulately enough about it anyway, but it was very thought-provoking.

I think it is interesting that someone that active would wear pants to church. Something so simple... yet... something that seems quite calculated to get people's attention, get people talking, and to show an unecessary pride-- that kinda seems to be what she is all about in general when it comes to those (sensitive) issues.

That's just my opinion. I think your comment right here above mine is a really important point-- she's had those hurtful experiences (although some of them-- like a General Conference talk-- don't seem to have been as hurtful or untrue as she might feel they are. But some of the other ones definitely got my dander up!)

It's such a complicated issue. But in the discussions I've had with Josh about it, we seem to come to the conclusion often that some of that ("look at me, I'm a feminist, I'm oppressed so I'm going to go out of my way to show you are not in charge of me") seems to border on selfishness.

David L said...

It's true, NSG. I was an English major in college, and I think the constant feminist argument (usually offered by the stereotypical feminazi) has left me quite jaded to the movement in general, and for that I apologize.

Like I said, I am thrilled with the growth and opportunity the modern world allows for both women and men. I'm thrilled that my wife and daughter both have the opportunities to grow and do so much more than their forbears did. At the same time, I'm deeply humbled and grateful that given all that, my wife finds her greatest joy in being a mother. It's not a matter of submitting herself to me or anyone, but rather a recognition and testimony on her part that the greatest work she can do right now is within the walls of her home.

I think one of my great complaints about comments such as the ones you quoted in your post is that they assume a masculine deity rather than a loving Father. I'm sorry, but this is the God who created His crowning jewel (woman) last. This is the God who bestowed the greatest burden, and therefore blessings, of creation on His daughters. I can't understand a God who _doesn't_ believe women in general to be truly prized and beloved, and by virtue of that, it stands to reason that His priesthood readily turns that way.

The priesthood is designed with both female and male elements. Yes, the actual manifestation of the priesthood is given to men, but the full blessings and power of the priesthood can only be expressed and adequately used in unity.

Sigh.... I love women. I don't say that in any silly sort of way either. I truly do love women for the richness of their spirits, their full testimonies, and their outright humility and honor. And in direct opposition to some of the quotes in that blog, my wife _does_ complete me. And I complete her. And together, we complete our children until such a time that they too will join with another. We recognize that our salvation is not independent of each other, and that true exaltation will be found between our shared covenants. None of that degrades, abuses, represses, or otherwise damages my wife or any other women. If anything, it puts the greater burden on my shoulders to adequately live in a way that fully meets her expectations.