Things we don't say to men...

I’ve already confessed several times that I enjoy lurking on fashion/lifestyle blogs. Some I genuinely enjoy, and others I sort of hate-read. This probably makes me a bad person, but I’m strangely unconcerned about this.

I especially like fashion/lifestyle blogs that throw in baby pictures. Even if I hate-read the blog, I don’t ever hate-look at babies, that’s my bad-person line.  Recently, however, I’ve determined that looking at more than one fashion/lifestyle/mom blog is pointless. They are all the same. Baseball tee, maxi-skirt, saltwater sandals, cute bald accessory-I-mean-baby.

One thing I’ve also noticed is that many of them all have a post advocating the need to get dressed up sassy, even if you aren’t leaving the house and choosing to hang out at home with your cute baby instead. Most of their reasons are legitimate: it makes you feel better, makes you feel less like a mom blob, you are ready to escape your home at any moment, etc. This is all fine and good, except for I am cool with going out in my pajamas, and I feel good about myself as long as my hand is wrapped around a Diet Coke.

So fine, get dressed in your cute brightly colored skinny pants if it makes you feel better. Leave it at that and I won’t hate read you. But I do hate the last reason many bloggers site as a reason to get dressed in the morning: their husband deserves it.

“Your husband deserves to have a wife that looks nice!”

Hold the phone. Deserves? Is this some inalienable right in the Constitution? One that those crazy liberals made up when they keep insisting that the Constitution is a living document? I’m confused.

While I have no problem dressing up because your husband likes how you look in that baseball tee, (I’m still more inclined to vote for the I-do-this-because-I-like-it option, but whatever,)I do have a problem with the language of entitlement. The idea that your husband, simply by being a man, somehow deserves a certain type of body, and a certain type of appearance.  What did he do to deserve the sight of you in your glorious maxi skirt instead of your slubby yoga trousers? (Trousers make me sound fancy and put together.) Most bloggers suggest that your dude deserves you to look pretty because he has been working hard all day to bring home the bacon.

What? These are the same women who will simultaneously refer their decision to stay at home as their “career,” and rightfully insist that their decision to do so be respected as much as the decision to work.

But nobody tells men they ought to pull over on the way home from work to freshen up. Where is the fashion blog telling men to make sure to wear cheerful looking ties because their wives deserve it after a long day of working hard?  Men deserve a certain type of woman, but it doesn’t go both ways, and I think that is weird.

This led me to think of all the many things we don’t tell men, but also what we do tell men. We don’t tell men that their wives deserve to see them dressed up, but we may tell them to dress up so they are more likely to get laid. This is the justification of basically any remotely-fashion related article in any “Dude” magazine, like GQ or Maxim.

Furthermore, there is no male equivalent of Dr. Laura telling men that their wives will leave them (and they deserve it,) if they wear sweat pants. 

I know that isn’t the message fashion bloggers intend when they tell me to get out of my pajamas in the morning, but it is still an interesting commentary about our world. In a female dominated field like blogging, we still write about what men deserve when they interact with us.

Men get to control their bodies in a way women don’t, they have ownership of their bodies in a way women don’t. And if you don’t believe me, check out all the Republican politicians trying to legislate my ovaries. Men deserve to have women to look a certain way, and men deserve to tell us how to run our bodies. Because of their magical penises, I guess. 

But because patriarchy is damaging to both men and women, I started to think about other things we don’t tell men, but maybe we should.

“You can always stay home and have babies, if you want.”

My Dad used to say this to me all the time. Now his phrasing isn’t super feminist friendly, and usually I balk at another man, (even my dad,) deigning to tell me what I can do, but let’s cut him some slack. My Dad always let me know that I had options. He supported me in my education, and is openly proud of my career, but he also let me know that there were many ways to be an effective adult. 

But I can’t picture him, or very many people, telling this to my teenage brother. Stay-At-Home-Dads are still a rarity outside of sitcom land, but I refuse to believe this is because men don’t find the idea appealing.  In a culture, and if you are Mormon, a church, that emphasizes traditional gender roles, I imagine there are a lot of men in unhappy careers and women unhappy at home. What would happen to our depression rates if we told everyone, “You can always stay home and have babies, if you want. You can also get a job. Maybe you and your partner, should you choose to have one, could find a balance that works for you both.”

So while I am slightly annoyed when people tell me my spouse “deserves” a version of me that may not mesh with my own vision, and while we are all rightly angry when men try and legally control our bodies, I think the solution goes further than telling men to shut up about what we can’t do with our bodies, (wear sweatpants, control what happens to our reproductive organs). We need to start telling men and women all the things they can do, all the options they do have, and most importantly, that their feelings about their bodies matter.

So what else? It is easy to tell men to stop telling women what to do with our bodies, but are there things we should tell men they CAN do with theirs? (You know, if they want.)

 Let’s talk about this. Are there things we should be saying to men? What other things do we tell women that we don’t tell men? 

PS: My spidey senses tell me that someone is going to log on and say BUT I LIKE WEARING HEELS FOR MY HUZZZZBAND. I like looking nice for him! I’d rather be feminine than feminist! To which I say: Cool. Please continue to wear heels for your husband, or make-up, or a shirt in his favorite color. I simply think that you should do that because you love him, not because he “deserves” it for having a penis and a job. Also, feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive, but that is a chat for another day.


it's the spring-time of my life.*

Greetings, wayfarers.

Summer is almost over, and I'm getting ready to start teaching again. Technically, by the time school starts, it will have been five months since I really "taught" anything. Yes, when Clara was 8 weeks old I returned to work, but that was for the last week of school, and no one is really counting that as "teaching." I mostly sent Seniors to assemblies, nursed my kid during my free period, and gave up entirely on trying to finish teaching Much Ado About Nothing. Sleep deprivation and Shakespeare do not mix. Judging space________________________.

I really hope teaching is like riding a bike, because I don't remember much about teaching pre-Clara. Except for that I wore lots of leggings and got really huge.

Every year before school starts, I start to imagine Ms. Lauritzen again. Mentally prepare myself to be the kind of person who says "Eyes up here, please," and "Can you elaborate on what you mean?" Ms. Lauritzen does not say "Anymothereffingdamnway."

When I imagine the type of teacher I want to be, I always remember Aubrey, and I spend a moment feeling sad again. Aubrey was one of my final professors at the (Blessed) University of Utah, and she died a few weeks after I took her class, leaving behind two kids and a loving spouse. I'm always sad when I think about her family, and I always tell myself that this year, I will try harder to emulate her teaching style. Her family lost a loved one, but I think her students did too. She taught bravely and kindly, and with just enough sarcasm to keep people awake early in the morning.

I wrote about Aubrey back in 2007. ( Post HERE. Warning: the formatting is really weird on very old posts. I was 21 years old when I wrote about Aubrey, so be kind to my younger self. Also, I have reformed my feelings on Math.) Out of curiosity, I looked up that post again today, and realized that this time, I'm mourning two people. Neither of the people in that post, the author or the writer, exist anymore. The author of the post in 2007 was still getting used the the extra layer of clothing underneath her t-shirts. She kept things on shelves in the back of her mind, a faith crisis aging like fine wine. Or cheese? Or maybe I should describe it as the calm before the storm. So many cliches, so little time.

But just as I hold on to the memory of an old professor, using the memory as a guide for my own teaching, I find myself grasping for tiny pieces of my old self. The memory of a more optimistic person, a kinder person, and most importantly, a person not so weighed down by worry. Who is this reincarnated person, who no longer squirms under an extra layer of clothing and ritual, but who constantly worries? Can I hold on to the memory of a 21 year old optimist just a little bit longer?

At the end of every summer, I mentally prepare myself to meet Ms. Lauritzen again. For the past few months, as the heady and intense feelings of transitioning through my faith die down, I've been preparing myself to meet the person who is left.  I'm at peace with where I've landed in my faith, but I still try and use the memory of my former self as a guide for my own personal growth. There was a lot of beauty in that faith-filled self.

However, with so many incarnations of self wandering through my subconscious: Ms. Lauritzen, Stephanie, Child-Bride, Wife, Hopeful Agnostic, Mormon, Christian, Mama, I know I can't spend too much time looking to the past. Instead, I'm looking forward to a year of re-building. When the kiddo was born, I told Spouseman that the only big decision I would make in her first year of life concerned her name (Clara Alice is named after a great- grandma and a great-great grandma,) and the rest of the year would be spent learning to love all the new people in my life. My new daughter, our new roles as parents, my new- to- me way of faithfulness that allows for both reason and  hope.

Mostly, I'm ready to be done mourning, and ready to start living. I think it is going to be a really good year.

*Name the song. No googling.


The Business of the Church

  Last night I read a FAIR article analyzing gender roles and governance in the LDS church. I was transfixed from the very beginning, because it is rare for a believing Mormon and a pro-church advocate to talk openly about some of the problems caused by rigid gender roles within the church. I think author Neylan McBaine does a very good job identifying "The Crisis" with women in the church, and offering some viable solutions that can happen right now, without any new proclamations or changes in doctrine.

But there are also some deliberate negative spaces left in her article, things specifically not addressed that I think are important factors when talking about women and their potential role in church governance. She also presents an interesting, but somewhat flawed (in my opinion,) theory on whether the church is in fact hierarchical, or rather cooperative in nature.

            First, I think that it is really significant that she legitimizes the pain many women feel under the current system. After lots of research, she comes to the conclusion that "There is a tremendous amount of pain among our women regarding how they can or cannot contribute to the governance of our ecclesiastical organization and we need to pay attention to that pain."

 Secondly, McBaine’s solutions to the pain women feel in the church are interesting because she bases them on the idea that the church ought to operate under a “Cooperative Paradigm.” She quotes recently- rebaptized feminist Maxine Hanks in stating that “Equality is embedded, inherent in Mormon theology, history, texts, structures. Gender equality is built into the blueprints of Mormonism, but obscured in the elaborations…. The inherent gender equality in Mormonism just needs to be seen by extracting it from other distracting elements and contexts.”

Essentially, she says that women have the potential to be equal to men in the church. We just need to “extract” equality from the original “blueprints” of the church. (For those unfamiliar with Church history, the Relief Society President, and the society itself, used to be much more influential in church leadership. Former Relief Society President Eliza R. Snow was even referred to as a “Prophetess.” Under Brigham Young, the Relief Society lost much of its independence and power.) Thus, Church leadership and women need to work harder to re-develop the existing female leadership roles, especially those involving the Relief Society, so that men and women can “cooperate” better in leading the church. According to McBaine, when we focus on the church as a hierarchy, in which the Priesthood leads and men are the priesthood, it is hard to incorporate women as “cooperative” co-leaders. If we instead view men and women as both equal servants to the Priesthood (God, and his power on earth,) we won’t exclude women from leadership opportunities.

An interesting excerpt is when she explains the common misunderstanding that men and the Priesthood are the same: She argues that “Equating the priesthood with a gendered privilege, like passing the sacrament, reinforces over and over again the understanding that men “get” something the women don’t and the women are therefore lacking and lesser.”

Thus, McBaine argues that Men don’t get the Priesthood just because they are men, and women have equally important roles. This is where things get a little bit problematic for me, and the part of the article with the most negative space. So if men don’t get the Priesthood just because they are men, why can’t women hold the Priesthood in the same capacity? McBaine would suggest that this is part of a “divine division of labor,” but if gender equality really exists in the blue-prints of the church, wouldn’t the Priesthood be offered to any worthy member, regardless of gender? While well intentioned, the “men and women should have equal opportunities to serve,” but “men and women have divinely appointed gender roles, so women will never obtain certain opportunities” idea seems to contradict itself.

Furthermore, her suggestions for “extracting” female equality from the church blue- prints are good, but likewise seem to fall short. Some suggestions, which, for the record, I agree with: Calling females with leadership positions “President” instead of “Sister.” Making sure female leaders on the Stake level are as well-known as male Stake leaders, and having them sit on the stand during Stake functions. Having female leaders speak in church, similar to High Priest leaders. Allowing women to instruct men, just as men frequently instruct women.

All of these are fantastic suggestions, but McBaine almost deliberately ignores the mote in the eye of her “Cooperative Paradigm.” As long we maintain the language that men “preside” and “hold authority over” women, women’s leadership roles will never be fully realized. If we truly want to “extract” female equality from our church history, the Relief Society President ought to be a “Prophetess” again, and women ought to be able to fulfill their leadership responsibilities independent of a male authority and his approval. (As occurred in the past.)

Additionally, McBaine does not follow the “Cooperative Paradigm” theory to its logical conclusion. If we need to further develop female leadership roles in order to combat the idea that women are lesser in the church because they do not hold the Priesthood, should we not re-visit the idea discussed by early church leaders of granting women a form of “Priestesshood?”  If we are to develop the role of women in the church, what of the role of women in Heaven, specifically the idea of a female God? If equality exists in church doctrine, and we just need to “excavate” or “find” it, I think it is strange that McBaine’s article does not even touch on the idea of developing the Heavenly Mother doctrine that already exists, albeit in an undeveloped way, in the church.

I appreciate McBaine’s article for the things it does well, it legitimizes pain, it offers concrete and immediately appropriate solutions. McBaine also caters well to her audience: faithful Mormons who want to see positive change in the church. But I do believe her solutions could have gone farther, while still adhering to church doctrine. Perhaps it is true, that female equality in an LDS context has been hidden by other “distractions” (perhaps the language of males presiding over female,) but if we are in the business of excavating equality, to use a colloquial phrase: go big or go home. Give me back the concept of a Prophetess with Priestesshood power and Heavenly Mother. Inequality is bad, but partial equality is not much better.