Shut the door!

The intersection of LDS discipleship and conscious citizenship

Category: feminism


I am tired down to my bones. Tired of trying to explain why I am tired. Tired of fighting all the little things that add up to a mountain and a constant uphill trudge.

This Steubenville rape case is just the last straw. If you haven’t heard the words “rape culture” by now, you must have been ignoring the whole thing, which I probably should have done, but I just couldn’t.

I’m going to soapbox here for a minute.

Rape culture is a society giving women a list of do’s and don’t’s that boil down to “make sure he rapes the other girl.”

Rape culture is a society where women are scared to go out by themselves at night.

Can we think about that for a minute? We’ve created a society where women are scared to be by themselves. Isn’t that horrifying? The ability to be alone, to be yourself, to choose to do whatever you want is limited because of fear.

I’m scared to go camping by myself. Not because of the wild animals, but because of the wild humans who are more terrifying than any bear or cougar. They will just maul you to death and then eat your corpse. It will hurt for a bit, but it will be over quickly, especially if the cougar manages to get the right bite on the back of your skull to sever the spinal column.

No, it’s the humans that do the real damage. It’s the humans that leave scars that last a lifetime. It’s the humans who play with your body and kill your soul. It’s the humans who think they have a right to your body because you chose to walk by yourself home from the library after studying for three hours for that physiology final you have tomorrow. Or because you wore your hair in a ponytail so obviously you want someone to grab you by it and throw you to the ground. Or because you walked by a construction site. Or a dorm. Or down the street in your neighborhood.

It’s the humans who say, “hey, she was drunk.” Who blame a girl, not even a woman, for “bad judgment” because getting intoxicated obviously causes boys to forcibly penetrate you repeatedly, take pictures of it, send them to their friends, laughing about what you did. It’s the humans who excuse this behavior because boys will be boys, and skill at sports washes away any “mistakes.” And then sentences you to less time in prison than you would get for pirating a DVD or possessing cocaine. What does that tell the victim? You are less important to society than a bootleg of Gigli. 

Rape is not a mistake. You don’t just fall over and end up with your penis in someone’s vagina or anus. You don’t accidentally rape someone. Rape takes intent. It’s an act of power over someone who you consider less than, non-human, the other. It’s not about sex and boys are horny and it just happens. It’s about perpetrators not thinking their victim is a person.

Stop teaching “boys are boys.” I have a son. He’s a total boy. But he’s not an asshole. Boys don’t have to be assholes. You have to teach them to be assholes. And really, when advertisements feature women selling everything, it creates a culture where the women are just objects that are for sale. The female body is something to be consumed, that is designed to be looked at, that exists to be looked at.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of a culture that thinks it is okay for you to come talk to me on the subway, and when I am not interested, I’m automatically a bitch or a lesbian. You know what? You don’t have a right to my time or attention any more than you have a right to my body. I do not exist for your ends. I am an end in and of myself and you do not own me. So if I choose to spend time with you, consider yourself lucky, and if I don’t want to spend time with you, that’s not my problem, because I do not have responsibilities to you other than to respect you as a person. And I’ll do that.

And if you bitch to your friends about how the girls never like the nice guy, because they are really selfish shallow status-obsessed bitches who always friendzone you, then you’re not really a nice guy, you’re a misogynist in nice guy clothing.* And if you think for one instant that anything a woman does entitles you to have sex with her other than her explicit consent, you are wrong. Because if you do, then I am going to walk up to you and hit you with a baseball bat. Because you didn’t say no, so that means you are consenting to it.

Unconscious means no.

Wearing a mini skirt means no.

Walking by herself means no.

Hair in a ponytail. NO.

Hair not in a ponytail. NO.

She’s had sex with you before. NO.

She’s had sex with your friends. NO.

She’s never had sex. NO.

She flirted with you. NO.

She drank alcohol. NO.

She did drugs. NO.

I mean, really. You learned no when you were a two year old. How difficult is it to get this through your mind, society? The default of “can I have sex with this woman or man” is no. NO NO NO. Just stop it.

And yes, I know people will say, that focusing on changing the behavior of the rapist is unrealistic. You know what? I don’t care. According to RAINN, almost 2/3rds and 38% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. You know what that means? You aren’t safe with your friends. We’ve created a culture that means most people are not safe ever. And nothing about the way I dress is going to change that. So stop telling me that I should spend my life expecting to be raped, because that is wrong. You create that culture by saying it. And then excusing it by blaming the victim. And then creating a culture that is so misogynistic about the treatment of victims that only 3% of rapists actually spend any time in prison.

Women are people. Men are people. Stop raping people.

And, because I’m going to assume that the people reading this are the ones who wouldn’t rape someone, though statistically, who knows, I have some advice for you too.

Stop rape culture. Stop laughing at jokes that objectify and sexualize women. Stop consuming media that sexualizes women. Stop making excuses for men being assholes. Name and shame, people. Name the behavior when you see it. Point out how this perpetuates a culture that promotes a society that makes people into victims, and victims into the cause instead of the effect. I’ve read enough social construction IR theory to know that this works if people are committed to making a change. So put it into action.

Stop rape. Stop rape culture.


*I read this argument somewhere and can’t find it now, so I’m just going to say that it is not mine and if I can find it later, I’ll come back and link it.

On being a feminist woman in the Mormon church.

Be a Christian. I think at some point, you have to deal with the fact that while the Church was founded by Christ, it is run by men and by man. That means that what the church does sometimes is based on the understanding of man. And because of the patriarchal structure, it’s largely based on the understanding of men. And for the most part, they are good men, but still, they are men, and they have male experiences, and they are raised in a church culture that emphasizes the inherent, immutable, eternal differences between men and women.

So men and women are different. I’m okay with saying that. But I don’t understand how that difference plays out in the church. Why can’t women be a ward finance clerk? I don’t understand how a church that emphasizes the difference between women and men can then logically say that men can make all the decisions with a minimal amount of input from women. Ward Councils are overwhelmingly male, and the women who are on those councils are quite frequently the only woman on the council, and have been socialized to be subservient to the opinions of men.

So, how do you do it? You be a Christian. You take the doctrines of the Church – above all, love – and the ordinances – baptism, sacrament, temple ordinances – and you do the best you can. And you pray for patience. And maybe you get a tattoo of Sisyphus to remind you that others have fought this fight. And you read the history of the church – not the History of the Church – but the books put together by academics who document the role that women played in this church before cultural conservatism got grafted onto the root stock of the gospel.

And you pray. And you realize that God made you to be you, and the general counsel given may not apply to your life at this moment or ever. And you pray some more, and learn to listen to the Spirit and for the Spirit and you learn to trust in the path God has set for you. Because if you know that you are living in accordance to the will of God, then it is easier to get over the hurtful comments. And there will be hurtful comments. And you go to the temple and you pray for inspiration to make sure you are really doing this to be in line with God’s will for your life and not out of pride. And you pray some more. And you make girlfriends who feel the same way you do, so you can have someone to sit with in Relief Society and roll your eyes with, or to pat you on the back when you speak up and everyone else is rolling their eyes. And if you are dating, you make sure he knows what he is dealing with and that he is supportive of you. And if you’re married, you just keep talking to him with love, because eventually, if he loves you, and not just the idea of you, he will understand how much hurt is being caused to you by this church that you love, and he will learn why sometimes you have to get up and walk out of sacrament meeting before you call the speaker an idiot. And he will listen to you rant sometimes when you just have to get it out of your system. And he will eventually, if he loves you, start pushing for the changes that will make church a safer place for the woman he loves.

Not every man married to a feminist woman starts out a feminist, but usually they end up one. And it can take years, but know that other women have done this, and are doing this, and your effort will make it a little bit easier for women down the line.

There’s a theory in political science called the spiral of silence. The idea is that people in the minority fail to speak their opinion because they are worried about being discriminated against. That lack of representation makes others less likely to speak out because they think they are alone. It takes someone to speak up first to give others the courage to speak out. So be that person. Know that you are not alone. Even if you are alone in your ward, you are not alone in the gospel. And the countless unnamed women in the scriptures stand with you too.

It is hard to be a feminist or feminist-leaning woman in this church. I don’t mean doctrinally, but actual on-the-ground living the life in Mormon culture. It is an exercise in patience and perseverance. And it’s an opportunity to develop a sense of humor, because you have to laugh or you’ll cry. And sometimes you’ll cry. And that’s okay, too.

Above all, deal with all others from a place of love. Love is never wrong.

Why feminism isn’t (shouldn’t be) a bad word for Mormons

I don’t know about your experiences in the LDS church, but one thing that has always amazed me is the strength of the LDS women. These women know how to get stuff done. You have a baby? We feed you. You get married? We celebrate that and hug you and make sure you have someone taking you to the temple and we give you lots of really good advice about how to have a happy marriage (don’t forget that the stuff that bugs you now is the reason you fell in love with him in the first place.) You lose a baby? We will sit with you in solidarity, and share our own stories of loss, and welcome you into the sad sisterhood.

LDS women are fantastic. Seriously, FEMA should just hire a bunch of past Relief Society presidents and call it done. Katrina would have been a blip on the radar.

So, that leaves the question for me. Why are LDS women so circumscribed in what they can do in building up the Kingdom of God? There is no woman in the church who can make an independent decision without it being reviewed by a man. And I’m not advocating for women to get the priesthood. I don’t necessarily think we need the priesthood. We just need to have permission (grrrrrr) to expand the realm of our stewardships a bit. I can’t think of a reason why a woman can’t be a ward finance clerk or a Sunday School president. Why can’t a woman run the Sunday School? It’s like, once a boy hits puberty, he automatically outranks a woman, which I think is a little bit insulting, especially when I see some of the antics our deacons think are appropriate.

So, why? There’s a few theories out there – one, Eve and original sin, and women are more sinful and this is a punishment. To which I say, “Pppppbbbbbbbbbbbbbtttttttt!” Seriously, if you believe this, you need to repent. Eve is to be honored and respected for her role in bringing out the possible mortality of all of us, so knock it off.

Two, women are spiritually inferior to men. I think here we have the problem of presenting women and men as homogenous groups, rather than as individuals. Now, I don’t think women as a group are spiritually inferior or superior to men. The whole “women are angels and shouldn’t be sullied with the dirty world of politics” was an argument used to prevent women from getting the vote, and I think it’s the same here. Women are protectors of the hearth and primarily responsible for the nurture of the children according to The Family Proclamation. Well, children don’t stop being children at 12. We’re all children throughout our whole lives, and the ability of women to nurture shouldn’t be restricted.

There is some fear here that if women and men work more closely together that sexual impropriety will arise. To which I say, “Grow up!” Oh no, women are such sexual beings (back to the whole Eve and the fruit and the idea that the fall was improper sexual relations) that the mere presence of them will cause men to fall prey to their baser urges and engage in a sexual relationship.

So, a. I think that’s really insulting to the wonderful men I know who are fully capable of engaging in a work relationship with a female without sexual urges getting in the way.

b. So, women can’t do the things they are capable of doing because the poor menz are too weak to deal with the presence of women of God exercising their gifts and abilities? Uh, that doesn’t seem very fair to me.

c. Women aren’t anymore inherently sexual than men are, but society sexualizes and objectifies women to a ridiculous degree. And the way we talk about modesty in the Church doesn’t help matters either. We’re telling 12 year old girls that they are responsible for the moral content of the thoughts of adult men. How is that healthy? And more importantly, how is that TRUE? If you are looking at a 12 year old girl and having sexual thoughts, you are the one with the problem.

I lost count of what number I was on, just a second.

And most controversially, three: That’s the way God wants it.

Okay, that is a possibility. It’s possible that this is a pride issue for me – Look at me! I am wonderful and fantastic and want more recognition and POWER!!!!

But, if you look at the history of the church, another possibility arises. Joseph Smith was a radical utopianist. Let’s go set up a society of Zion on the frontier and institute new economic principles and new ways of organizing the family. And wow, did he do some interesting/crazy stuff. Leaving aside polygamy, which I realize is a huge topic to be leaving aside when it comes to feminism and the LDS church, LDS women in the early days of the church had a huge degree of discretion and authority that they don’t have now.

Women routinely stood in circles to bless the sick. They anointed other women. Especially when you look at the pioneer midwives, they were given specific authority to anoint and bless women and children in childbirth. This dies out slowly to the point that most women today don’t even know that this was part of our heritage.

The early Relief Society under Emma Smith did all sorts of fun stuff. When the Relief Society is reorganized in Utah, women did all sorts of interesting things. They built schools, started the Welfare program, built church buildings, had women educated to be teachers and doctors, paid for infrastructure development, built hospitals, all with their own funds that they had independent control over and were not subject to priesthood oversight.

What happens in the Church mirrors what happens in the society at large. Women were a significant portion of the people who helped settle the west. Many of the homesteads held in the settlement of the west were held by women. As the west becomes more domesticated, women slowly started being marginalized from the independent positions that they had and were cast in more “traditional” roles.

The truth of the matter is that when you are taking on a very difficult task, you can’t afford to sideline 50% of your human capital. We see this again in WWII with women being called out of the homes to fill the jobs the men left behind as they went off to fight. It’s never been a question of capability, it’s been a question of when power structures find it necessary to larger organizational goals to allow women to do non-traditional things.

I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, that the new Daughters of the Kingdom book, or whatever it’s called, is a documentary of the disappearance of the Relief Society. I felt the same way when I read it. Look at all the stuff we used to do, and you see it, chapter by chapter, getting taken under the role of the priesthood, to the point where in the 1970s, the Relief Society’s funds were taken from them and put under general church control.

So, maybe God wants it this way, but maybe He doesn’t, and we’re too enmeshed in societal values and the fetishization of 1950’s nuclear family structures as the “one true way” of organizing a family in God’s will, that we’re not willing to question why we do things the way we do them.

I, for one, think it’s time for a systematic questioning of why so few women have a voice in this church. I don’t think the church can continue to significantly limit the opportunities for women to participate and expect to see the Kingdom of God advance in a meaningful way. I think it’s time for the church to put its money where it’s mouth is. Stop telling the women how wonderful and powerful and spiritual we are, and give us the authority to actually do something with it.