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7/23/12

majority rule



A few days ago, my long-suffering mother sent me a link to a newspaper article about Maxine Hanks, and her decision to be re-baptized into the LDS church after being excommunicated in in 1993. I'd seen links to the article elsewhere, but had avoided reading it. Her story still hurts, even though it isn't mine, but because of people like Maxine Hanks, it never will be. 


For those of you unfamiliar with Maxine Hanks, she was one of the "September Six" excommunicated in 1992-1993 for speaking and writing critically of the LDS church. She edited the book, Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism," which contains several essays and papers analyzing the role of feminism in church history.


It is important for me to note that I am reading the book, and especially by today's standards, it contains nothing particularly inflammatory. It is a scholarly work. Some might even find it dry at times (I don't, but I'm a history major, a Mormon, and a feminist.) But Hanks was speaking and writing in a time where church leaders, like Elder Packer, believed that "There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away...The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals." (1993.) 


It was a dangerous time to be a Mormon and a free-thinker. It was a dangerous time to be a critical thinker, and to question church practices. Growing up, I heard rumors about the September Six. Many people were quick to say that they weren't excommunicated for being feminists, or for their writing, but for far worse "secret" things. According to some, the September Six (and the entire feminist movement,) were bent on destroying the church, (and probably bringing about the end of times, because let's be honest, that is how we Mormons roll sometimes.) Many also suggested, and still suggest, that if someone disagrees with the church, they should just leave. For some, critical thinkers have no place in the church. 


I don't  believe that. I do believe the September Six were excommunicated for having ideas that differed from Church leadership, at a time when the church was working hard to "correlate" (critics sometimes see "correlation" as synonymous with "white-washing," others may see it as simply "standardizing,") Mormon doctrine. If the September Six were a "danger" or "threat" to the church, they simply threatened the idea that all Mormons should think, act, and believe the same way. 


So when I read of her re-baptism, I admit I harbored feelings of cynicism. How convenient. For a church currently battling criticism ranging from their spending habits to their treatment of the LGBT community, a happy story for the news cycle seems calculated and insincere. Hey world! We are feminist-friendly now! We didn't even make her recant her writings! PS: Elect Romney!


Likewise, I wondered why Maxine Hanks would seek re-baptism. How could a woman who ten years ago believed "Mormonism was limiting to me, so I needed to test the limits — to see who I and the church really might be. … Excommunication opened the door to a larger cosmos, inside and outside myself," now believe her "searching was complete. I had my answers." 


After the Mormon Stories conference, I spoke to a friend about my feelings of confusion regarding my role in the Mormon community. I speculated that many read what I write and project their own feelings onto my faith journey. Some want to see me as their "Ex Mormon Hero," a sharp-tongued critic who reveals all that is wrong with the LDS church. Others want me to be their "Liberal Mormon Friend," who speaks up for them in Sunday School, and courageously battles against the group-think. 


I am neither of those people. 


 Like Hanks, and like anyone who simultaneously loves and questions their religious up-bringing, I seek out my own path.   But it is because of people like Maxine Hanks that I am free to carve out my soul from the rock of Mormonism. I am neither forced to leave or required to stay. It is a freedom that is terrifying, and bought at a price.


Twenty years ago,  the church excommunicated Maxine Hanks for thinking critically. Now, like Lazarus emerging from the tomb, her name appears on the rolls again. My inner cynic still questions the motives of the Church in allowing her to be baptized again. But I cannot deny the feeling of hope I feel knowing that someone like Maxine Hanks exists in the church. I hope, and the part of me that still seeks out God prays, that this means something good. The presence of  Hanks in the church tells me that maybe the church no longer sees feminism, intellectuals, and Gays as the greatest danger to the church. Maybe the biggest dangers are ignorance, prejudice, and fear, and maybe Mormons can begin to fight these new threats from within.

In the meantime, I remind myself to grant others their own paths, including a path back to Mormonism. To do so, I remember a line in To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Maxine Hanks, Atticus Finch is often asked to choose between his profession and his community. Both sides claim the advantage of having majority rule over his behavior. But he reminds his daughter that "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." He does the right thing for himself, for his daughter, and for those who do not yet have the freedom to choose. I believe Maxine Hanks is doing the same thing. 

If Hanks can trust her conscience enough to rejoin the LDS church, it should be enough (for her.) As I seek out my own path, wherever it leads, I thankful to be able to trust in my conscience. I may be a cynic, but as Atticus also teaches Scout: "You rarely win. But sometimes you do."

Links:



Additional Materials:


(Are you listening to the FMH podcast yet? You should.)



Maxine Hanks will be at Sunstone this year! 





7/20/12

no delete (it is thursday somewhere....)

Greetings.

I think I've this mentioned before, but every summer I turn into an insomniac. I don't know why this is, oh wait, I probably do. I turn into an insomniac because from June to late August, I have no schedule. Oh, the life of a teacher. Remind yourselves of my summer freedom every time you roll around in your piles of money that you get from the job society actually appreciates. My teenage brother came home from work the other day, (Clara and I were visiting my Mom,) and Grant just emptied a bunch of 20 and 50 dollar bills from his pockets. From one day of work. I don't want to live on a planet where I think my teenage brother makes more than me pulling weeds when I'm the one EDUCATING THE LEADERS OF THE FUTURE, but here we are, on this planet.

For the record, I don't want to live on a planet where Romney is a serious contender for the White House, the Kardashians make money, and people keep electing Republicans, but what can you do?

A complete and ADD-fueled aside: I've decided that Glitter is the crafting equivalent of Moderate Republicans. Fun in theory, but really, just a mess to clean up and sort of pointless.

I don't know why I capitalized "Glitter," but this is no delete Thursday, so Glitter is now a proper noun. Wahoo!

Hmmmmm, what else should I tell you, internet, on this no delete post? Aha! I shall break the cardinal rule of blogging and talk about blogging. Quick note before we get started though. I do not understand why it is socially acceptable for a blogger to post ninety thousand photos of themselves in a single post, but we aren't supposed to talk about blogging. We are just supposed to pretend that this is our secret journal that mysteriously wound up on the internet, and not acknowledge the fourth wall that is blogging for an audience. I know people read this. I write for an audience. Is "fourth wall" even the correct term for recognizing that you know people are reading your blog? I don't know. All I know is that when the characters in Seinfeld broke the fourth wall, it was all REVOLUTIONARY and TV HISTORY. So there you go.

Anyway, blogging about blogging. I realized my blogging kryptonite (spell check is not letting me fix that in blogger, and if we are going to be capitalizing Glitter, we are going to be leaving kryptonite.) Anyway, perhaps I should refer to this as my blogging Achilles heel, since I apparently know how to spell Achilles. Shit this post is getting embarrassing.

ANYMOTHEREFFINGDAMNWAY

My blogging Achilles heel is dick commenters who misunderstand what I mean, usually because they are sort of dumb. Is that also against blogging rules, to acknowledge that some of your readers might be one candle short of a chandelier? Most of you are great, and I love interacting with you. Most of my friends are internet friends now, some that I have met in real life, and like that book they sell in Deseret Book to convince Mormon virgins that it is okay to have sex, "I am not ashamed." I am not ashamed of you internet friends.

Likewise, I usually don't bother with the openly hostile comments, except to remind them that I have feelings. And unless I feel like the conversation will be interesting and constructive, I sort of ignore the ones that disagree with me on every point. Therein lies the rub, though, friends. I don't care if you disagree with me on one of my opinions, as long as you understand what my opinion actually is. 


If you get all up in my face though about how I think all men are evil, or that I am just disagreeing with you because you are a man, (confession, I originally typed because I am a man, and no delete Thursday be damned, I wasn't letting that one go,) I will get in your face trying to clarify.

Which is really, really stupid, because people who read my blog and get that message can't be reasoned with at all, and our conversations just end up like this:


(Don't know source, someone posted this on my Facebook wall. Sorry internets.)

And then I go like this:


 (source)


And it is a vicious, vicious, cycle, in which I write two whole posts (one I am proud of because it addresses a larger issue about equality, and one I am ashamed of because I wrote it at 1:23 am on a Friday morning, but not really too ashamed because childbirth rids you of any dignity, of which I had very little to begin with, ANYDAMNWAY.)

So my new goal of blogging is to never interact with dumb people. Mean? Yes. Opposition? Yes. Friendly? I'll meet you with a Diet Coke somewhere and we will be friends. Dumb? Of course I still will, don't be ridiculous. But I will be ashamed after. Like Mormons having sex.

See? That all came full circle.

I have to go now. My boobs are going to explode. Sorry, male readers, prudes, and any relative reading this besides my Spouse, who should just apologize because somehow this situation is all his fault.

GOODBYE FOREVER.



7/7/12

When company comes



               Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets. His poems are so beautiful, and I’ve always related to them. Related to his feelings of sorrow when dreams “dry up like a raisin in the sun,” prayed with him to a God to, “Help me to shatter this darkness,” and felt the same anger: “I tire so of hearing people say/Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day.”

Like Hughes, “I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

            I will be careful to say that I know our experiences are hardly similar. But our fights converge sometimes. We both want a different world.

            Currently, this is my favorite Langston Hughes Poem-
I, Too
I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America. 

There were many responses to my last post, and I cannot address, nor do I want to address, every single one here. I certainly will not apologize or rationalize my right to having an opinion, and expressing that opinion in a way that suits my feelings. I am a passionate person, and I care about things. This influences the way I write. I am passionate, my voice can be loud, and I do not ask for permission on my topics. You don’t think this is a big deal? You don’t think this discussion is one worth having?
You cannot send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes.
More importantly, I want to talk about eating at the table. When I say that there is no good patriarchy, I mean it. In the worst case scenarios, patriarchy uses a monopoly on power to abuse women, and that is wrong.
But even at its very best, benevolent patriarchy, upheld by kind people, still excludes women from maintaining power. Patriarchy tells me there is no place for me at the table. It expects me to sit on the lap of another, while he holds my place.
I have a right to sit at the table. Tomorrow I’ll be at the table, but that doesn’t mean I want to push anyone else out of their seat. I do not think all men are evil, and that women are better. I do not, as one commenter suggested, think “all men are wrong, all men are evil, no man can honestly love, support, and respect women… And women are just better. . . ? Women would never say something to objectify, simplify, or misrepresent men?

Men and women often push back when we sense our place at the table is threatened. It isn’t right.

Frequently, men tell me I have a place at the table, but not their table. I belong (metaphorically and literally, in the kitchen.) My table there is just as good! It is my divine role to sit at that table, and if I reject that spot, men sometimes will twist my words to justify excluding me. Sometimes women do it too. One commenter kept insisting he knew what I meant, despite an inability to use my words to prove it. He kept explaining to me how I felt:

"I take offense at the idea that just because a leader is male, he must be antagonistic towards women (which is the logical extension of what you are saying, whether you realize it or not.) You are arguing leadership theory in a place where leadership theory doesn't apply, and finding sexism in a place where it doesn't exist. Demonizing leaders because of their gender is not helping the gender discussion, it is undermining it by engaging in the same sort of sexism you are trying to fight."

Maybe there is no sexism at your table because there are no women there to be sexist against? Or maybe, like so many, you just don’t see the empty seats.

I do not believe that all men are inherently sexist, or all leaders in patriarchal institutions are evil. The world is patriarchal, and the church is a reflection of that paradigm. In my mind, one’s willingness to embrace many at the table of power, influence, and equality stems not from their position at the table (a male, a leader,) but how they react to newcomers. There are men in the world, and men in the church, who embrace my spot at the table.

When I criticize an institution that fills up a big spot on my table, or a man who threatens my place, it is valid, but not unkind. I can criticize, and still see good in the subjects of my disagreement. I can criticize, and still believe.

            I can still believe in a God, and maybe someday a church, that sees all of us at the table, “ both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need." (Alma 1:30.)

            Then Nobody'll dare say to me, "Eat in the kitchen," Then. Besides, they'll see how beautiful I am, and be ashamed. Tomorrow, I'll be at the Table. 

7/2/12

Fresh Meat



Last week, someone posted this little gem on Facebook:










Since last Friday, 1, 366 people "liked" this, and 2,772 people "shared" it with their friends. Of course, there were a few dozen people, myself included, who expressed responses ranging from disagreement to horror. But it seems like a drop in the bucket. A few people who felt strongly enough to say "No. It is not okay to compare a woman wearing a tank-top/bikini/whatever-screams-"immodest"-to you, to a pig rolling around in shit," versus the thousands of people voicing their approval, including many who advised the people dissenting to "calm down," "get a life," and most disturbingly "It's interesting. It's not unlike someone deliberately dangling fresh meat in front of a pack of starving wolves, and then getting mad at them, and condemning any of them that run up to take a bite."


At least in the original post, the women were still alive, acting/being pigs maybe, but alive. However, look how quickly the women were turned into "fresh meat." I'm most angered by the violent undertones of these kinds of comments. If you dress immodestly, you deserve to get attention from "pigs," you deserve to be "bitten" by "starving wolves." You deserve to be sexually assaulted. Many of the women who "liked" the post promised to use this in a future Young Women's lesson.


The excuse that this is just "Mormon Culture" and not "doctrine" isn't true either. In his April 2005 Conference address, Dallin H. Oaks compared immodest women to pornography."And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you." 


Pigs. Fresh meat. Pornography. I'm not resorting to hyperbole to say that this breaks my heart. That it makes me want to take Clara and run in the opposite direction of whatever church tells my beautiful baby that she deserves to be mistreated, to be viewed as porn, based on what she wears. If I ever have a son, it breaks my heart to think he will be taught that this is how he treats women. That he himself is a "pig" or a "starving wolf" who cannot control his own thoughts or actions. It kills me that this is the world I am raising my daughter in, and yes, it kills me that many people around me don't understand.


 I will not stop saying this: There is no such thing as "good" patriarchy. The church isn't the "exception" because once a year we tell women they are incredible. Everyone is hurt by inequality, everyone is hurt by patriarchy.


Thoughts like this will lead to violence against women. When we reduce women to objects, it is easy to hurt them. It is easy to justify hurting them, especially if they fight back. What right does pornography have to fight back? What right does the fresh meat have to refuse to be eaten?


A few weeks ago Anita Saarkeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign to make a series of videos about the way women are portrayed in video games. In response, she received threats of death, rape, and bodily harm. Her quote in response? “I have been running a web series on YouTube for a few years now that both deals with questions of sexism in the media and also has ‘feminist’ in the title, so I’m certainly no stranger to some level of harassment...I knew that delving into video games might provoke a bit of a misogynist backlash … [but] this level of organized and sustained harassment, vitriol, threats of violence and sexual assault in response to a project that hasn't even been made yet is very telling."


We live in a world where people who identify as feminist are used to being harassed for their beliefs. We live in a world where hundreds of people will threaten to kill you if you dare to question a misogynistic social norm. If they don't threaten to kill you, maybe they will threaten to excommunicate you. 


The only good news? After posting about her harassment, she received over $120,000 in financial support for her project. Her initial goal was $6,000. We have allies, but we need to be willing to talk about the problem.


This is not the post I wanted to write today. I had a happy post about ways I see the church and society changing, the way women are changing our own destiny, the way the world will be better for Clara than it was for me. I believe that. But I also believe it isn't happening fast enough. It should have been better for me. It should have been better for you. Yesterday.












Anita Saarkeesian article.