Wednesday, December 19, 2012

she wants her cake and his too

Earlier this year I became aware of this growing group of women who are calling themselves Mormon Feminists or Feminist Mormons. I hear it both ways. They're vocalizing over the internets & once or twice in my living room their feeling of "oppression" by the Church.

I'd like it to be clear to anyone reading that I have never felt oppressed nor second-class in this gospel, in this church I belong to. However, these women are, some of them, dear friends of mine and because my experience has been different doesn't make me right and them wrong. It is clear to me there are real reasons behind their feelings and I've made it a bit of a mission to try to understand where it is they're coming from.

To that end I've read a share of blogs, a share of comments, and I've asked a lot of questions trying to listen hard to the answers. I genuinely wanted to understand how these feelings could possibly exist.

THIS article, titled I am a Mormon Because I am a Feminist is excellent and echoes all of my personal feelings on the topic. This is the gospel take. This is the doctrine. The problem that my Mormon Feminist friends are having, I've come to realize, is cultural.

I've decided much of this "oppression" stems from a misunderstanding of the term "authority" as it is used in relation to the Priesthood. In our culture the word "authority" is just one side-step away from the word "control." I know of, and have seen men, who get that confused. I know of, and have seen women allow that connotation and become confused.

C. Jane about broke my heart with her The-Time-The-Men-Went-Hunting story. The men in my family went hunting every year. As a child, when I asked, "Can I come?" The response was, "You can come, but we're killing birds, Heather. Can you kill a bird?" I decided my answer was "no" and I chose not to go. My husband is also a hunter. He's invited me to join him, but I choose to stay home for the same reason I did as a child.

This is one of the examples of why this "oppressed" concept is foreign to me. I never encountered even the slightest hint of inequality in childhood. (Well, with the exception for the time that I tried to pee on the fence like my brother and my cousin. I was feeling inequality that day, I assure you!) While my parents discussed things, and gave heads-up to each other on schedules and calendars, I never once witnessed my mom asking for permission to do anything. I never once heard or saw my father try to exercise any type of "I'm the boss" or "I wear the pants in this family" or "You'll do as I say." Not to my mom and not to us children. From the very beginning we were parented with full knowledge that we were free to make ALL of our own choices.

As I grew older, and entered Young Women's I was ticked that the boys got to go off and do fun activities like water ski and camp and hike while we were forced to learn how to make bread, tie quilts, and sew buttons. I was mad at the men for this until I learned that it was the Young Women leaders who didn't want to go water skiing or camping or hiking. I had misplaced my anger/ resentment.

I can't help but wonder if a lot of this discontent with these Mormon Feminists or Feminist Mormons has to do with a bit of misplaced resentment. I can't help but wonder if these women have been the children and/or wives of men who do not understand that Priesthood Authority does not in any way, shape, or form give them the right to control another person.

I can't help but wonder if a lot of this discontent stems from a core misunderstanding of the divinely appointed roles of men and women and our mutual relationship to the Priesthood. Again, I'll refer to THIS article for the explanation -simply because she explains it so well.

As far as my own thoughts went, the only one example of inequality within the church that I could personally see a legit complaint against was the length of missionary service. While I was trying to work this one out in my head, it occurred to me that Heaven is efficient. Perhaps the Lord is asking for a sacrifice, perhaps he isn't as concerned with length of time as he is with quality of service and the state of the heart and mind of the servant. Perhaps the missionary offering of an 18/19 year-old-young-man typically requires an additional 6 months, perhaps it takes them this much time to fully turn their whole hearts and minds to the Lord. Perhaps a 19/21 year-old-young-woman can accomplish in 18 months what takes the guys 24 months.

Another reason I saw for this time discrepancy was that the shortened time for women allows more time for them to complete their educations before settling down with family life. Women have always been encouraged to seek and pursue education to the fullest. Though culturally (mainly in Utah/Arizona/Idaho) women tend to get married at very young ages, and begin families at very young ages -to the sacrifice of their formal educations/ careers, that is(was) their choice and not a gospel requirement.

Bottom line is this is the Lord's church, directed by Him, and His way is the best way. I know that.

The only other angle I could come with to make these feelings of "oppression" make sense to me, is from the judgement and feeling of being judged by each other. This is a very real problem to me, but has everything to do with ourselves, especially as women, and nothing to do with the doctrine or organization of the church. So again, misplaced resentment?

I sincerely hope that these friends of mine can come to the answers they need, the answers that will bring them peace.


Cara said...

This was really well written! Lots of good points that I agree with. I'm the same; I didn't ever grow up feeling as though I was treated in any way I didn't want to be treated based on my gender.

I like your point on mission service and hadn't thought of this before but I can see that it makes sense. Also I find that boys are less mature than girls so perhaps they need more time to 'grow up.' I think missions are wonderful but I think they are served, for the most part, to prepare people for life and to prepare young boys to become men and leaders in the church. That is going to take time and a 2 year mission is about 10 years worth of life experience. It makes sense, always has. They also hold the Priesthood and because of this they are able to physically baptise people if needs be (though I think members should be heavily involved in baptisms) and perform other Priesthood duties that Sisters can't do. I LOVE Sister missionaries and when they took them out of our area it was so sad for me.

I think when the church is run the way it should be, with the best of intentions in the hearts and minds of the leaders, then there should be no rock left un-turned but sadly from time to time people slip up, they say offensive things, do silly things that in turn make people feel left out, discriminated against etc.

I'm so glad you wrote this because it makes complete sense and raises a lot of issues I hadn't really thought of before.

Cara said...

Oh and I say the above about people slipping up in church because leaders have said hurtful, demeaning (albeit never sexist or based on my gender) things about me that were untrue. I could have decided to go crazy over it but instead it made me love these people even more because I see that they have a lot still left to learn and I am grateful that I can be of service to them in this area ;).

Okay at first it was hard to hear the things people had said behind my back (my leaders, the people I respect and trust, no less) but I think the negatives can always be turned around. Feelings of gender inequality aren't that easily dealt with, of course, because I feel they tap into a really private part of the soul but I also feel that there are ways to deal with the things people say or do to us - we can let them consume us or we can act on it and prove them wrong :).

angiedunn said...

well said, agree 200%

Aunt Merrilee said...

You always write so well. I wish I could convey my thoughts as well on paper as you do. I fully agree with what you have written. Too many times we blame the church for things mortal men and woman have chosen to do. The gospel is true and we all have our agency to respond to that as we may. But we need to remember the gospel is not the members. They are only human after all.

Laurie said...

Ditto!!! I've never felt "beneath" anybody. If anything, the women's opinions and feelings are put above the men's! :)

Momza said...

Thanks for raising your voice on a topic that is relevant to your generation of women. I only recently heard about the "wear pants to church" deal last week, and I think it's because women my age have lived long enough to know what's really going on with this movement and the undercurrents relative to it.
It's really about perspective, I think. I don't think we've seen the last of this movement however. The "pants to church" thing was just a baby step...there will yet be more steps to be called for--my hope is that those steps do not lead our younger sisters right out the door of the temple. Be careful in whom you place your trust, is a wise counsel.