Friday, July 13, 2007

Reviving Ophelia -- through Mormonism

I finished reading Reviving Ophelia last week. I've got some young daughters, so I thought I'd try to get a sense for the challenges ahead. It certainly raised my consciousness of cultural messages that get pounded into girls as they approach (and pass through) adolescence.

While I was reading the book, I felt like active involvement in Mormonism could be helpful, in that the culture of Mormonism does not portray women as sex objects and teaches against substance abuse and premarital sex (sources of serious problems for adolescents, obviously.)

On the other hand, the author asserts that part of the turmoil that can arise during adolescence is a result of waking up to the fact that this is a "man's world." Girls begin to experience harassment and gender-based inferior role assignments (don't look or act too smart!), and it crushes their spirits. Needless to say, Mormonism falls pretty flat in this area, by teaching that the superior positioning of men is actually God's divine plan (or, in recent parlance, the Great Plan of Happiness).

How will this all work with my girls? I don't know of course--they're totally unique from one another and a decade or more from their teenage years. I only know that they'll be raised to know that patriarchies are a human invention, not part of some divine ideal! (And then, off to a private all-girls school!)

20 Comments:

Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Uj,

Belaja said it in one of the most poignant things I've ever read about the Mormon female experience that spoke to my very core. See it here, as published on Wry Catcher's blog (taken from another blog discussion comment). Seriously read it all...what Belaja said is completely and utterly true.

You can train your girls to be as autonomous and strong as you want, but in church, they are getting a far different message. What's worse, the young men are getting a far different message as well, and how will your beautiful daughters fare if they find themselves married to men who grew up in church knowing men are better or more worthy or more qualified to lead or in a position of power over women?

I've got one more quote that I want to share by another woman...lemme go find it.

July 13, 2007 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

OK, it's from a thread on FLAK, written by Nanna P: (Link to Flak thread is here http://www.thefoyer.org/viewtopic.php?t=344&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=45)

NannaP writes:

Women have no power within the institutional church. While there is at least one woman who has institutional power in a church-owned business (Sherry Dew), it is safe to say that if she had married and had children she would not be in the position she is in. Further, her power is constrained to her profession, and does not extend to her identity. Yes, you can run Deseret Book but don't ever think of giving one of your beloved nieces a blessing. Mormon women are able to obtain power outside the church, but never in it.

The least powerful women in the LDS church are the young women. Not only are they powerless, their powerlessness is pounded into them at every opportunity. They are regularly reminded that they have one use and one use only - to breed. That is their JOB, their divine mandate, the only profession they ought to ever aspire to. They see their mothers relegated to worthy handmaid roles, while their fathers conduct meetings and give blessings. They see their young male peers, the ones who think it's clever to belch really loud and make armpit farts, acting in the role of the apostles while they sit in the pews, unable to participate.

The ONLY power they have is their sexual power. The suits do absolutely everything they can to take even that little, only internal power away. Young women are repeatedly admonished to cover up, lest their hot young bodies make the belching farting young men think of sex - like they're thinking of anything else. They are taught that their bodies are shameful, objects of lust, walking porn. In a culture where they are utterly powerless over anything - even their own choice of profession! - they are reduced to mere objects. Worthy vessels. Daughters of God. Find someone to take you to the temple.

July 13, 2007 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

NannaP further writes:

Is it any wonder, brought up in such a culture, that a woman comes to believe that the only important thing she will ever do is bring up children? That when faced with the combined weight of years of indoctrination, the proclamation, and the pressure of the men and women she most closely associates with that when she has a baby, she is to Stay Home, that she stays home?

If she doesn't buy into it (Hey, Sarah! Love ya, Wry! Ya reading backpew?) she leaves.

I don't want to underestimate the importance of evolution in the decision to opt out of the rat race. I remember Gracie saying that when she was pregnant with her first, of course she was going to go back to work. That was what she did, and the money was important, and everything was all worked out. Then he was born. She looked at the baby and looked at her husband and said, "We need a new plan." That's evolution.

I also don't want to underestimate the importance of choosing your battles. As Wry has said, it's hard to fight all the time. And if you are trying to get ahead professionally and your husband was brought up in the patriarchy, when you get home, you'll have a second shift. Housework, meal prep, homework, stories, playtime. If the husband isn't properly trained, he thinks he's doing you a big favor to set the table. And even if he is properly trained, it's such a hassle to be giving orders all the time. Do I blame women for opting out? Hell no! We all have only so much fight in us.

But to summarize, if a woman is opting out, she needs to know why she's doing it. Because she adores her baby and can't bear to leave him? Because she doesn't want to work the "second shift"? Because it's her place and God told her to? Because it's all she's good for?

If she does opt out, where is her power going to come from?

If she's not going to fight the fight now, when will she? We can cover for her for a while, but we need her in the fight.

July 13, 2007 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Nanna's comments about sexuality being our only internal power is pretty spot-on, in my opinion. I know that's difficult for parents to think about when considering our own children, but seriously, it's true.

I remember being a senior in high school and not even being comfortable wearing longer shorts, because my legs would show! In hindsight I was beautiful, but I felt ashamed of my own body, and felt it was horrible to be seen.

Sigh. This topic really is a touchy one for me.

sml

July 13, 2007 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

And you may teach your daughters all you want that patriarchies are NOT a divine institution, but they will be getting bombarded on all sides from the primary leaders to the Prophet about how the patriarchy IS the "correct order" of things according to God, and the only system to ensure exhaltation.

July 13, 2007 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Sheesh, one more. I'll try to stop and let someone else get a word in edgewise after this one. This comes from KimberlyAnn, from FLAK as well, on a thread called "Mormon Misogyny" http://www.thefoyer.org/viewtopic.php?t=2596:

Mormonism breeds it's own unique brand of misogyny. In a religion where the most simple, uneducated and puerile man who holds the Priesthood wields God-given power over the most capable, educated, and brilliant woman, a near total disregard for the talents and power of females is to expected. It is no shock in the church of Joseph Smith to find that often the most loathsome man feels superior to the most remarkable woman. Why wouldn't he? He has been taught from his youth to view women as weak, incapable and beneath him in every way - as objects who exist to serve men - bearing their children, cooking their meals, cleaning their houses - and aren't really fit for anything else.

Mormonism teaches men that they are in every sense the saviors of women. Weak women need to be rescued by men. Women cannot even GET INTO HEAVEN without being called forth in the resurrection by their husbands, who alone know their new names, though the wives never know their husbands' new names. You see, God deals with the men. Men deal with the women. All of these things give Mormon men, even the puniest, weakest, and most pathetic among them, a power trip they'd never get from the real world, which recognizes many of them as the sorry excuses for men they really are.

Mormon produced misogyny is not only a disservice to women, but to men as well. Men as well as women are denied the pleasure of knowing how powerful, talented, and self-reliant women really operate. Men can rely on the fake authority of the Priesthood and dominating women to give them a sense of power, instead of becoming the truly self-confident men they would be by earning respect the hard way, treating women as equals, and making successes out of themselves in their professions.

In the real world, men work hard to earn respect. In Mormonism, even shiftless men who've never done a hard day's work in their lives get respect by virtue of their false Priesthood. Women, though they may work hard, are intelligent and educated and strong and more capable than any man, will never have the privileges granted to the shiftless, jobless, weak willed male Priesthood holder.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does indeed produce it's own vile breed of disdain for women. Every ex-Mormon, women especially, should take a stand against Mormon misogyny wherever it rears it's ugly head.

If you're staying in the church, knowing it's a lie, in order to change it from the inside or appease your family, please think carefully about the teachings to which you're exposing your sons and daughters. Your sons are learning that women are inferior and your daughters are being carefully trained to meet those expectations.

Kimberly Ann

July 13, 2007 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Am I totally unwelcome after ranting in your comments? Just say yes if so.

July 14, 2007 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

Ha ha! I was sirprised to find so many comments in a row, but if it works for you, go for it!

I don't think the LDS church provides the best background for raising kids, but I don't think mainstream US culture does either. I was raised Mormon and end up with libertarian, humanist ideals, so I belive that I can help my children accomplish the same. Rarely are family values perfectly aligned with outside influences, so I figure that either way I will be working against some cultural messages and with others.

I agree with most of what you said or referenced above, but Mormonism is the hand my daughters have been dealt. I could no more raise them independent of Mormon influence than an atheist can raise their children independent of Judeo-Christian theism in America. Nevertheless, I can help them win with that hand. As I said before, I think I've managed to get a healthy view of women as humans rather than as objects for men, and if I hadn't my born-and-raised, still-believing wife wouldn't have had anything to do with me. In fact, the Evolation entry I posted dealt directly with that issue: TBM sister-in-law was engaged to someone just a little too patriarchal, so she called it off in the end.

July 15, 2007 at 7:19 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Lucky women, your wife and SIL. It does, however, suck eggs for those women whose "great" men don't show their true colors until after they've been sealed in the temple together.

Sigh.

But it's completely true, the world at large is a big grab bag, and if the church gives you what you need, by all means stay. It's no guarantee for harm to your girls and their sense of self.

I guess for me, it's only because we grew up in the church that such a system feels "normal" or "ok" or "good for you."

If you happened to go to a different church one Sunday where only women conducted, presided, passed sacrament, blessed babies, were acknowledged for turning 12 and receiving the power to act in God's name, would that bother you or would you be completely comfortable with it? Say they taught over the pulpit that women are to preside over their families...this is Goddess' plan for us. And if they then taught that the only way men are able to be united again with Goddess in the afterlife, is if he's married in a special ceremony by a woman in authority, and only then IF his wife is willing to call her man forth through the veil could he live in Goddess' presence. And if she so chose, she could have multiple husbands in the next life too, as this is Goddess' plan for us. Of course, you may be able to choose if you accept the virginous other husbands or not, but scripture made it apparent that to say no would make Goddess mad at you.

Would you find that just as acceptable? Would you teach your girls that such a system was a good one to support?

July 16, 2007 at 8:21 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Ha! I said "virginous" when I think the word is "virginal."

I make me laugh.

July 16, 2007 at 8:23 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

It does, however, suck eggs for those women whose "great" men don't show their true colors until after they've been sealed in the temple together.

Not a problem unique to Mormonism, of course.

...it's only because we grew up in the church that such a system feels "normal"

Would you find that just as acceptable? Would you teach your girls that such a system was a good one to support?


I completely agree. Normalcy is a function of familiarity more than any intrinsic characteristic of an organization or culture. This is why religious adherents who do "wierd" things (such as wearing "funny" aprons and caps) must be evaluated in the light of their own culture, rather than a different culture. Temple clothes are funny to mainstream America, but not to mainstream Mormons. Western clothing was weird to Native Americans a few hundred years ago.

Given this, if everything were reversed (including mainstream culture of course, since that is also "man-oriented") I would undoubtedly view it the same way many NOM women view the church today. Sexist, but not jarringly so, simply because they're so used to it. I like role reversal presentations such as yours because they create a jarring image, clarifying the level of sexism that does exist.

If I were a woman, and otherwise in this exact same situation, I would leave, regardless of my husband's wishes. But as it is, I am part of the priviledged class, so when I complain to my wife she replies, "but it doesn't bother me." Hmmm. It's like offering a drink from the "white's only" water fountain to your black friend in the Jim Crow South--if he turns you down, what do you do? Force his head into the water in the name of freedom?!? Stop drinking from it yourself? You've made your point of sharing the "good" fountain, but if he doesn't want a drink, you can't really make a scene about how he's being prevented from drinking (since you just offered the drink).

July 16, 2007 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

For me, (and I'm not intending to sound preachy to you, so please don't take it that way), I'm absolutely not willing one more second to go to church and thereby show my kids through actions that such a system is OK to me. You can say all you want that it's not really that way, that women are of worth, but the actions of the church reinforce the other.

My boy child doesn't need to go and learn that he's somehow more qualified than my girls to act in god's name, and my girls don't need to go and learn that they're not as qualified or capable, and that their one and only valid role in life is that of mother, while for their brother, the sky's the limit. He can be whatever he wants, as long as he treats his women and children right since his priesthood authority gives him the responsibility to do so.

In the end, to me, those who continue to drink from that "whites only" fountain are fully supporting such fountains. What good does it do to only say, "Wow, this fountain for whites only thing really doesn't seem right does it? Aaaaaaaah, refreshing water, though!"

July 16, 2007 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

What good does it do to only say, "Wow, this fountain for whites only thing really doesn't seem right does it? Aaaaaaaah, refreshing water, though!"

A response I had considered myself. Here's how the analogy has to be looked at in real life:

* I'm married to the black person--she's my wife.
* We're not alone--blacks and whites are all around.
* I make the aforementioned offer--she's not interested.
* I suggest I won't drink at all--she's not interested, because I need to get water from somewhere, and she doesn't want a big public mess.

So, I either directly offend the one black person I care about, or I fail to "stand up" for all blacks everywhere.

Making another person's life harder "for their own good" is the way you treat a child, not your spouse. I cannot, in good conscience, make my wife miserable in order to liberate her from the "oppression" she doesn't feel, and doesn't mind when it's pointed out. In the world of women, I can take a stand in some abstract way that benefits no one directly, or I can have a tangible impact on making my wife happy. I made a covenant (with her) to focus on the latter. So, life's not exactly like I might plan it, in that I'd prefer to be in agreement, but it is what it is and I will make choices to make her happy. This, by extension, makes me happy.

This doesn't mean lying about my feelings about the church, of course--that wouldn't make her happy as it would destroy intimacy. But it does mean I weigh my actions against both her value system and my own. This blog works well for that--I can respect her wishes while sharing my philosophy with a broader base of people anyway. (It's not hidden from her, either.)

July 16, 2007 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

All the things you list about your real life scenario are touching and hit home to me as well, Uj. I appreciate them fully, as I've been there too.

What I seek to look at in my quest (to recognize who I am as a woman and who I want to be) is to consider openly and honestly WHY it is that I was so able to say for so long just what your wife has said: "but it doesn't bother me."

WHY didn't patriarchy bother me?

WHY did I accept that it was OK that the church required me to have written permission from my never-Mo husband to take out my endowments? (I was mad at him, not the church). Why did I accept it as OK when I found out that the same requirement wasn't in place for men married to non-member wives? Why is it that I'm not bothered by the fact that boys who are twelve and not even mature yet are gifted with the power to act in God's name, while I as a mature woman don't receive the same simply because I was born with a uterus? Why don't I mind that I am unable to bless my children, even though I am ten times more spiritual and more in tune with my own children than my dad is, who did it because my husband wasn't a member? Why am I OK with the fact that I must embrace polygamy if I'm to have any chance of exhaltation in the Celestial Kingdom, since I chose to marry a non-member in this life? Why do I accept that I am unable to get to the CK without a man calling me forth? Why do I accept the priesthood order as it stands when I know too many strong, spiritual, capable, smart women who would be every bit as good, if not better, at being a bishop than some of the men I've seen called as bishops?

Here's why we do this as women, I think.

First, we watched our parents, the two we love most in all the world, behave this way, and we know that it worked for them and we want to have the happiness we could see them enjoy.

We are taught from the time we're very young in church that this set-up comes straight from God, and if you love him, you'll support the system as it stands. What little girl doesn't want to show she loves God? We are given messages from all over (society, church, home) that a woman is most attractive when she's meek, helpful, beautiful, and submissive to men.

We also know that power in men is attractive. This plays into our being submissive to men to be attractive to them ~ men show their power and prowess physically and emotionally to be attractive to us. No woman wants to give up her attractiveness to men just to be treated with equality! That's absurd!

Women who question authority or defy the strictures that are placed upon them are given labels that are derogatory and meant to show how unacceptable and unattractive they are.

So is it OK to not care that you support a system that immorally refuses to let women have leadership or the power of the priesthood by virtue of their gender alone? Perhaps.

But the same happened to black people who were slaves. Some were treated very well by their owners, given the best food, clothes, and shelter. They were only given one role in life, but they were treated kindly, and told how loved they were. They didn't aspire to being an actual slaveowner themselves. Their life as a slave was all they ever knew. Why would they want to change it? When it was pointed out to them that the system was not fair to them, they would say, "but it doesn't bother me."

My biggest question to women who say that patriarchy in the church doesn't bother them is this:

Why is it so scary to consider the church being led by both men and women? Why is it so unacceptable to think of women AND men having the priesthood side by side, especially if that's how it's gonna be in the next life anyway? Why do the male leaders fight so hard to keep the status quo, do you think?

July 16, 2007 at 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Dathon said...

I'm late to this party and I'm hesitant to add anything because there's so much good substance already here.

I'm not sure that it always follows that being Mormon indoctrinates girls/young women into accepting patriarchy thought I agree that that is indeed often an outcome of being raised Mormon (or substitute any essentially patriarchal religion or culture).

What worked, so far for us, was to debrief our children after church to directly address some of the dogma, folklore, misinformation and myths that were disseminated by (usually) well-intentioned by not terribly thoughtful people. We took pains to point out that speakers and teachers were only human and had their own interpretation of material. We encouraged our children, including our girls, to balance being open minded with being reasonably skeptical.

Our oldest daughter is a delightful person with a good sense of confidence and self-efficacy, a good mind she's not afraid to use and a strong will. We're hoping and feeling our youngest daughter is on a path to be similarly self-confident.

I believe there are studies that indicate that an important thing in growing girls lives is a positive relationship with a father who values their feelings and ideas. I will look for references on that.

Although my wife is a liberal tbm and I am a flaming skeptic, though I was a liberal believer during my older daughter's younger years, my wife and I are able to agree that children should be listened to and encouraged to think for themselves. Thinking for themselves may be discouraged by church culture but it can be encouraged by parents, other relatives and friends.

July 18, 2007 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Hi Dathon!

Well, I agree that it's nice to teach girls confidence and self-worth, but the fact for me was that while I was a totally faithful TBM, I was denied the ability to take out my endowments and attend the temple because the church said I had to have written permission from my never-mo husband, who said NO after saying he thought that was bull that such a thing was required for a grown woman.

I can say that I don't believe in patriarchy, and that I refuse to support such a thing, and I can teach my girls and boys all I want that it's stupid, and not right, and if you're confident and feel self-worth, it won't happen to you, but.....

It could.

Your sons could BE the bishop who's forced by virtue of his calling to tell a bawling woman in his office that she's not going to get that recommend even though she's worthy because her husband denied his permission.

Your daughters could BE that woman, confident that she's choosing the right and headed the way she's supposed to go, and instead she could be blindsided by that rule or any other sexist requirement that isn't taught openly like what happened to me.

What the hell did confidence or self-worth do for me then??

Squat, that's what.

That is why I HATE the system that makes the priesthood "order" insidious and horrible, in my opinion. Because it painted for me the reality that all my confidence in my "equality" meant nothing, and was in fact just a myth in my own mind.

I'm so glad you are here, Dathon. I love your comments that I see on occasion.

July 18, 2007 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger NM said...

Greetings,

nathanielmacrae here...

I've really enjoyed reading this blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts =)

Anyway, this response is probably best for the 'God is smarter than you' post:

Can I point you to Mr. Piper? He lives at desiringgod.org.

Here is a video entitled, 'The Supremacy of Christ'. Watch it; I'd love to know what you think?

July 20, 2007 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

nm,

I tried to read the article, but couldn't--it was too irrelevant to this discussion. I welcome your thoughts on the matters we are discussing--the discussion you referenced was about missionary work or something.

July 24, 2007 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

I wasn't going to comment here, just because I feel we've gone over the "sexist" topic quite a bit, and I don't feel I have much to offer that I already haven't in past comments.

I just got my new issue of the Ensign today, and thought perhaps it might be worth while to point out to all of you that one of the cover articles in this Ensign is a marriage article titled, " Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners ". I haven't had the chance to read the article entirely, but from what I have read, I think the Church deserves a bit in its defense in light of what's been said here recently. So far the article has been pretty interesting with the "crossing thresholds" aspect.

I will fade away for the moment, but just thought I'd throw this out there.

July 24, 2007 at 11:19 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Hi SS, I wondered where you went.

I don't see that Ensign on LDS.org yet...

July 25, 2007 at 1:30 PM  

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