A Husband’s Perspective on Mormon Feminism

Guest post by Jessawhy‘s husband, Markawhy
About a year ago my wife, Jessawhy, and I were discussing some of the finer points of Mormon feminism with MRaynes and her husband.  Actually, the three of them were deep in discussion while I stared off into space.  After about twenty minutes Mr MRaynes, noticing I was not engaged (he’s astute like that), asked, “What are you thinking about?”  I was glad he asked it in a kind, affable tone, instead of “what are YOU thinking about?”  I was scared to reply.  It was one of those times where a thousand ideas were passing through my mind like the wheel on Price is Right but rather than allowing it to come to a slow peaceful resolution, it was stopped abruptly, before I was able to come to a conclusion.

“I’m wondering why I don’t care more about this.”

Embarrassing, I know.  Especially given the intellectual horsepower in the room at the time. The sincerity of the moment demanded my honesty. I felt bad for my wife.  I wish I could be a stronger advocate.

I’m passionate about many things. Education. Global poverty. Genetic disorders.   Innovation. Economics.  And the list goes on.  But “Feminism” doesn’t captivate me.  However, I do recognize many instances of inequality in the church.  But so far, I see such inequalities as individual problems rather than systemic issues.  Now, I’m not saying feminism is not a worthy endeavor, but that I don’t feel any unique sense of dedication or motivation.  And this troubles me.

For her part, Jessawhy has been totally understanding and patient in helping me understand the issues and articulate my thinking. I’ve got a full-time job and three active children.  I don’t multi-task.  And my pious calling as the EQP occupies what would otherwise be my free-time.  So I haven’t had the luxury of thinking, pondering, and debating the issue of feminism.

In my line of work we say that you should never arrive at a conclusion but that your thinking should iterate.  It’s a small recognition of intellectual humility.  So here is my internal dialogue on Mormon femminism, humbly offered.  At work we would call these “Level One” questions.  I would like some guidance.  I urge you to be gentle.  (Warning: this is stream of consciousness and represents a level of internal contradiction.)

  1. Could it be that  Mormon feminism seeks to address issues that are not really a “problem”?  It’s not like Apartheid, Nazi’s, HIV in Africa etc.  Those are situations that demand/ed change.  Is f\eminism the same?  While everyone agreed what the Nazi’s did to the Jews was reprehensible, not all agree the current plight of woman (even within the church) must be changed.
  2. What qualifies as a problem?  One difference between  Mormon feminism and, say, Apartheid is that those whom third-parties considered victims also considered themselves victims.  However, when it comes to Mormon feminism, the perceived victims, women (in many cases,) do not always consider themselves victims, even when introduced to outside thinking/information.  This makes feminism simply look like a personal preference (or a vendetta).
  3. Maybe inclination to Mormon feminism is a preference, like taste-buds.  Many moral philosophers claim a person’s morality can be likened to one’s taste.  I have a preference for spicy, or sweet or salty.  Maybe feminism is really salty and it attracts those who favor that taste.
  4. After hearing arguments for Mormon feminism, I ask myself, “So what?”  Is that less “noble?”  Is it somehow selfish?  I don’t think so.  I believe people are born into situations for a reason.  Maybe to change something.  Best not to get in the way.  So why don’t I help?  Just because something is good doesn’t mean it is good for me.  Being a doctor is good but that doesn’t mean I should be a doctor.
  5. What do I gain through adopting/realizing feminism?  Is my worship less meaningful without the divine feminine?  How would I know?  Though my worship may be affected, is my salvation?  What doctrine would change?  Wouldn’t I still be expected to love my neighbor, have faith, and serve?
  6. How do I find out if it is good for me?  If I stand to gain then clearly it is “good” for me.  Also, anything that helps my spouse is “good” for me as well.
  7. Is Mormon feminism good for my spouse?  She doesn’t look very peaceful.  But that’s not a bad thing.  She seems quite fulfilled in other ways. Cognitive dissonance is a noble fight.  Which leads me to . . .

I see Mormon feminism like many other doctrinal issues in the Church and problems of theodicy.  You either have to go really deep to try and understand, knowing you may not come out alive, or leave it alone and not go at all.

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72 Responses

  1. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for being honest in sharing your feelings. Feminism is something my husband and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on either. Going to the temple is rough. We went again on Saturday, and while I gained a couple new insights, I was bothered by something else. I was trying to explain it to my husband, but he just got frustrated and said, “You ruin the Spirit!” Yeah, that makes me feel GREAT!

  2. I think one of the reasons that I care about feminism (being female) is that it gives me perspective and makes me choose. So the proclamation on the family says that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

    Feminism makes me wonder “what gender roles are eternal?” Maybe we don’t get to choose what heaven is like, but we can choose what we accept. Seriously, if heaven for women is (metaphorically speaking) a place for changing cherubic diapers, I say, “No thanks! I’ll take a less exalted route.”

  3. Dane says:

    I think that your “Level One” questions could be applied to Mormonism just as well as feminism, and would return the same answers. Imagine that a non-Mormon friend of your asked you those same questions, but replace the word “feminism” with “Mormonism” (and make the appropriate grammatical changes for the questions to make sense 🙂 ). In a way, it’s similar to the Christians who tell Mormon missionaries, “Thanks, but I’m already converted. I don’t see the value in what you’re offering me.” It becomes a questions of perceived need and perceived value. From the Mormon perspective, the non-Mormons are the “victims” of your question #2 — by and large, they don’t see themselves as victims, so then you have to justify proselyting efforts by saying, “The don’t appreciate the value of what we offer because they don’t understand their own situation. I am grateful for the light and understanding I’ve received from the church, and I want them to have it as well.” It’s necessarily a patronizing position, just like the position of the feminist activist. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just inherent in the position of anyone who is trying to convince someone else that their worldview is somehow inferior.

  4. Andrew S. says:

    Wow, Dane, that was a great comment.

  5. suzann werner says:

    Mark, a gentle, friendly voice is speaking to you. I value our friendship and trust in your sincerity.

    So, what if all things were reversed? What if the church told you that darling Jessawhy represented you to God, instead of you both having equal presence and voice to God? What if the important voices, examples, history, stories, and scriptures were about women? How would you feel about yourself if you had to reinterpret the female experience into your spiritual view in order to find wholeness, balance and value?

    I find the cultural bias in favor of men to be counter-productive to the spiritual development and maturity of both men and women.

  6. mr.mraynes says:

    I also like Dane’s comment, which sheds a new light on Mark’s ideas but still jives with the idea of “it depends on personal taste.”

    But I’m not sure if it’s a taste thing at all. My interest in Mormon feminism stems from a dissonance between the doctrine (some of which is painfully contradictory at worst, murky at best) and our practice–or at least our speech. I don’t agree that these discrepancies are mostly on a case-by-case basis. Yes, certain individuals can magnify the perceived issues (and others can ameliorate them), but there is an underlying unease with gender issues that permeates everything in the Church. It’s not always noticeable, but given the right circumstances it becomes very apparent.

    Case in point, a few weeks ago I taught the EQ lesson on priesthood. Right away problems arose in defining priesthood. Some thought of it as power, others authority, and others as a call to serve. But then the question was asked “If priesthood is God’s power, than are women unable to manifest God’s power?” The answer “no” was quickly proffered, but it did little to calm the general unease. Next someone wondered aloud (!) when women would finally receive the priesthood. It was interesting to see how everyone reacted to this discussion. Our bishop was mildly outraged that the question of women and priesthood was even brought up and thanked me for handling it well (not sure what I did exactly to “handle it”, but great!). Some others appreciated that we at least could discuss the issue openly and earnestly. Usually we just do a complex dance around it!

    So where’s the systemic dissonance here that I’ve alluded to? Well, in speech the Church officially states that priesthood is held only by men. That is clear as day. Yet when we go to the temple, women wear the same priesthood garb, officiate in ordinances, and receive the same blessings as men. I’ve never heard this addressed in a meaningful way by any Church leader at any level, other than murky allusions or “wink-wink” hints that women “hold” the priesthood “in the temple.”

    Some people are able to overlook the disparities, sure. Maybe that’s the “taste” issue Markawhy describes. Many Mormons see the issues and their innate faith in God’s goodness leads them to trust that it all gets worked out in the end. And I don’t disagree with that. But I’m not comfortable just living with it, either.

  7. Carol says:

    The Book of Mormon decries inequality, comparing it to iniquity. Consider the words of Mosiah, “And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people…” (Mosiah 29:32). When leaders in the Church truly understand the needless pain and suffering that they cause because they treat women as people instead of objects/workers/slaves/servants/second-class citizens, we will begin to see a Zion society.

    The culture of abuse in the Salt Lake valley that is fostered by any ward and stake leaders, who are either abusing their wives or encouraging women to remain in abusive relationships, is heart-breaking. I pray for the day when the leaders of our Church will recognize the fact that all are alike unto the Lord, men and women, bond and free, and will then act upon that principle.

    • mr.mraynes says:

      Carol:

      I fear that your assertions above are exaggerated and lead men like Markawhy to feel the way he does. I am unfamiliar with any strong evidence that the institution of the Church publicly advocates the slavery or objectification of women. Certainly there are instances of such abuse, but to assert that such practices come from the institution (or as you termed it, “leaders of the Church”) simply turns people off. The issues are too important to let that happen!

    • Georgia says:

      The Book of Mormon may decry inequality but I don’t think there are any women mentioned by name as an individual serving
      God in the Book of Mormon. The Stripling Warriors are unnamed as are their mothers!

    • Craig says:

      I agree with Carol.

  8. CatherineWO says:

    I appreciate your honesty (and bravery) in this post. My husband is pretty much where you are when it comes to Mormon feminism and my issues with what I see as institutional sexism in the Church. On a personal level, he clearly sees and abhors the abuse I have received from local priesthood leaders, but he simply doesn’t see how the Church organization and some doctrines give justification to and perpetuate that abuse. He has asked some of the same questions you ask, and I have talked myself blue in the face trying to help him see my point of view. To keep peace in our relationship, I have backed off. He knows how I feel and respects my opinions, though he doesn’t share them. He is an intelligent and very caring person (as I’m sure you are too), so I have to believe that eventually he will understand, but it will have to be on his own timeline.
    And Dane, I think you make an excellent analogy. Very interesting.

  9. Janna says:

    I think your questions provide a ripe opportunity for Mormon feminists to evaluate their position and goals. To that point, part of the issue at hand is simply defining Mormon feminism. This discussion has been hashed over many times on this and other forums, so perhaps some of your lack of commitment stems for the lack of focus and cohesion of the movement itself.

    A few additional points:

    1) As I have done many times in the past in response to male posters/commentators on this site, I will refer you to the brilliant piece by Carol Lynn Pearson, “A Walk in Pink Mocassins,” which can easily be found with a quick Google.
    2) Your #4 point is interesting. Yes, it seems reasonable that perhaps this issue is not one you are “meant to” directly address to facilitate your long term, eternal development. Perhaps your role is to provide a neutral, compassionate sounding board for your wife’s process and model for other men how to do so.
    3) Just a general comment. Gender bias against women in the church is systemic. There really no point in rehashing the reasoning behind this fact in this forum as I believe most readers have heard this analysis and we get it. It’s interesting to me that men do you see this systemic issue as hurting them. Any time we push down the talents, perspective and wisdom of a person – no matter the gender – we only hurt ourselves. While one might argue that certainly the church has a place for women’s talents, perspectives and wisdom, is it a very circumscribed limited place. As such, all suffer.

  10. Janna says:

    Correction to my #3 point:

    “It’s interesting to me that men do NOT see this systemic issue as hurting them.”

  11. Molly says:

    I really, truly give you credit for airing your thought process and acknowledge that it appears your ideas on this subject are in flux.

    What concerns me is that every word of what you wrote is indicative of your male privilege. Even more disheartening is that is sounds as if you are unaware of and indifferent to how heavily male privilege informs your views.

  12. mraynes says:

    Molly, let me assure you, Mr. Markawhy is very aware of his privilege. I know that if the status of women in the church became fully equal overnight, Mr. Markawhy would be among the first to stand up and cheer. In no way is he interested in protecting his own power. I think the question Markawhy is asking is if it is really worth it to fight for a cause that even most Mormon women aren’t interested in. For him, it isn’t worth it. But for those of us who are feminist and Mormon, it is worth it and we have to come up with answers that can convince men like Markawhy and our fellow sisters in the gospel that our fight for equality is worth it.

  13. Janna says:

    Markawhy – do you have daughters?

  14. Jessawhy says:

    This is a great conversation. I love all of the different perspectives. Mark and I talked this morning about the post before I put it up (I asked him to do it last night, hence the stream of consciousness excuse). At one point he said, “I’m afraid I’m going to look like a jack-ass.” I said, “That’s a possibility, and it’s the risk you’re taking. By the way, I’m a little worried about how this will make ME look, having a not-so-feminist husband.” He acknowledged my point and I quickly followed up with, “But that’s part of having differences. I’m sure there have been times when my liberalism or feminism has embarrassed you in other situations. It’s something we deal with because we love each other.” We agreed and kept on getting ready for the day.

    It was about 4 hours later, after I’d gone to the gym and Mark had been at work for a while that I realized today is our 10th anniversary.

    I’d love to respond to specific comments, but I’d rather have Mark do it since it’s his thread. I’ll just answer Janna quickly: We have three sons.

  15. z says:

    It’s good to hear that your attitude troubles you. Here are a couple reasons to care about Mormon feminism:

    1) Because gender is obviously a huge deal to Mormon God, so it’s important to get the right answer on gender relations, rather than just shrugging it off and not dealing with it.

    2) Because the doctrine around gender is not only problematic, but incoherent. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the actual doctrine is? It seems like kind of an important thing to know.

    But ultimately, if you can’t see it as a systemic issue, then you’re missing the point in a big, big way. Maybe you should focus on trying to understand that part of feminist theory, if only to refute it, before deciding whether feminism merits your attention.

  16. Caroline says:

    Markawhy, you are a brave man.

    I don’t think feminism is a preference. I think it’s a conviction. Just like belief in the Church. And my convictions about feminism are closely linked with my convictions about God. I think God cares about inequity. I think God wants every opportunity that is available to his sons available to his daughters.

    Regarding the idea about systemic problems when it comes to women’s status in the church, here’s my take: It seems to me that anytime over half of an organization is prevented, just by virtue of their sex, from leading (to the same extent as men), pastoring, developing policy and divining doctrine, we’ve got a systemic problem.

    Regarding your #2, I find it fruitful to remember that there have always been women who have fought against increased freedom and opportunities for women. Women opposing suffrage. Women opposing birth control. Women opposing increased educational opportunities for women. Women opposing equal pay for equal work, etc. When one has lived one’s life a certain way, and has been taught that that way is how God wants it, one may very well decide to fiercely protect that way of life. Or, at least, feel unmotivated to change it.

  17. Jessawhy says:

    Markawhy here!

    Wow, these are all very thoughtful comments. And, to my wife’s point, I do look like a Jack-ass.

    Most of the comments are focusing on the systemic versus individual gender bias as well as the value of understanding gender roles. I’m not surprised all in this forum agree the issue of discrimination is systemic. But how would you prove this? Rather, how is it defined? It’s not necessarily true merely because all in this forum agree it is so. That’s question begging in favor of feminism. Jessawhy explained (offline) that the systemic issue is related to the doctrine of Patriarchy, which is clearly a cornerstone of Mormon faith. I think she articulated this basic syllogism:

    1) Patriarchy is a core doctrine of Mormonism
    2) Patriarchy naturally creates gender discrimination (in the form of oppression)
    3) Widespread discrimination adversely affects spirituality (i.e. systemic failure)

    I have no problem with the first and last assumptions but I get crabby with number two because it assumes that 1) the human race perfectly lives the principle 2) nothing else (like generational culture) create gender discrimination and 3) that we fully understand a man’s role. I take issue with all these assumptions, and others, but will not attempt to argue each of here because I haven’t given due credence to other writings on this blog that probably address some of my concerns. Though my tone may not sound sincere, I consider myself very sympathetic (special thanks to MRaynes). I don’t purport to be right, I’m just saying there are good reasons as to why others (perhaps your spouse) may not be as passionate about feminism as you are.

    Earlier tonight Jessawhy told me the reason that I’m not more sympathetic is because I don’t want to be. That’s tough medicine to swallow. She may be right. What a horrible potentiality.

    Lastly, a word about reason and logic. I’m starting to adopt the idea that reason is not about finding truth but about winning the argument, which is why confirmation bias is rampant in human thought. We naturally create a thesis and find data, employ arguments, and surround ourselves with people that agree with our perspective. So I’m skeptical anyone on this forum (including me) is completely rational. I widely admit my perspective is biased (I disclosed that in the original post my wife edited) in the way the Exponent worldview is biased. That’s why I find value in third-party opposition. Though biases exist, the arguments and evidence are no more true or false. Thus defaulting to a type of ad-hominem attack is a fruitless endeavor.

  18. Janna says:

    I think the answer to your question, “I’m not surprised all in this forum agree the issue of discrimination is systemic. But how would you prove this?” is answered by Caroline’s comment, “It seems to me that anytime over half of an organization is prevented, just by virtue of their sex, from leading (to the same extent as men), pastoring, developing policy and divining doctrine, we’ve got a systemic problem.” Seems pretty clear to me.

    I agree that 3rd party opposition is essential to the development of any sort of movement. However, I find it problematic that you want us to “convince” you of the merits of feminism through this forum. I’m not sure that Exponent II is about convincing anyone, but rather a place to share our beliefs and thoughts in a safe place. Hopefully, our sharing will provide perspective; but I’m going to gently step aside from a conversation of “convincing” since (even aside from my “safe place” comment) you seem to be convinced that our efforts would be fruitless.

  19. mr.mraynes says:

    Markawhy:

    Would you be so kind as to clarify your opinion for me? You stated:

    “I’m not surprised all in this forum agree the issue of discrimination is systemic. But how would you prove this? Rather, how is it defined? It’s not necessarily true merely because all in this forum agree it is so.”

    Janna suggested that Caroline’s statement about female exclusion from Church leadership clearly demonstrates gender discrimination. I would also stipulate that the large majority of significant organizational decisions made in the Church are made by men. Additionally, every single one of those decisions is given final approval by a man (or a small group of men).

    From your statements it seems you don’t see this as a form of discrimination. Could you address that?

    One last point, you mentioned that patriarchy may not be the actual culprit in gender discrimination, and that generational culture could actually be at fault. I am unsure the two can be extricated from one another. Patriarchy shapes each generation in different ways, and each generation views patriarchy a bit differently. No doubt the patriarchy of 2010 is different than that of 1910. But whether enforced by the greatest generation, baby boomers, or Gen X, patriarchy leaves women out of the leadership loop.

  20. mb says:

    I don’t believe that every one of God’s children is called to the front lines of every one of his battles. I believe he gives differing gifts to his children which enable them to recognize the importance of various work needing to be done and gives them abilities to articulate and effectuate change for the good in those areas.

    And those of us who are on the front line of one of those battles have no call to feel threatened or unappreciated by one of our brothers or sisters who is gifted to recognize and work in battlefields other than the one we are currently passionate about. Not all of our fellow workers in the cause of goodness and truth are going to have the exact same amount of passion for the exact same areas of concern that we are. If we all did, we would all be emotionally exhausted and stretched way too thin.

    So, it’s okay if you are not passionate about this. God does not require that we all be equally passionate and concerned about each one of the many, many things that need fixing and helping in this life. I appreciate the good things that you are throwing your efforts into. We are all, in our various strengths, passions and focuses, essential parts of the body and work of Christ. We need to respect that in each other.

  21. z says:

    Markawhy, this is obviously conjectural but your writing gives me a strong sense that you just don’t want to believe that the problems feminism identifies are real. In such a situation I don’t think anyone could persuade you. I imagine it’s very disturbing to contemplate the possibility that one’s religion, culture, and most cherished personal relationships are all influenced by sexism at the very deepest level, but that’s what feminism is about. Your reasoning in the comment of 5:11 AM makes so little sense to me (because I think your #2 clearly does not imply the assumptions you list) that I have to think something else is afoot.

    Reading all these women being oh-so-courteous and oh-so-flattering, while you oh-so-humbly reject and dismiss their arguments just doesn’t sit right with me. So I’m with Janna– trying to explain things you is unlikely to be fruitful.

    Why don’t you try reading some basic feminist theory and see if that helps. One tenet of feminist theory is that men should take responsibility for understanding this on their own, rather than making it women’s responsibility to explain it.

    • mr.mraynes says:

      Z,

      While I readily agree with both of your comments, especially with regards to what I see as iffy implications in Markawhy’s #2, I think you’re just being too hard on him. I don’t read anywhere that he’s put the burden of proving Mormon feminist thought on women or even the Exponent community. Rather, he’s just being honest in saying that he doesn’t see the gravity of the issues for himself, but he’s willing to hear everyone’s point of view. I don’t think you can ask anyone to be more reasonable than that. And just because he’s expressed some doubt that anyone here can “convince him” because we’re all “true believing Mormon feminists” isn’t all that unreasonable, either.

      How many people on this forum would be likely to be “convinced” of the error of their views through a comment thread on an (admittedly hypothetical) blog devoted to the value of patriarchy?

      In my view, tinged by my friendship with the -Awhy family, Markawhy represents the vast majority of the Church: people who are faithful, have good intentions, yet don’t always get what all the fuss is about in Mormon feminism. If we TBMFs don’t find a way to maintain a productive dialog with these people without throwing up our arms in consternation, we’ll never get anywhere with the Church at large.

  22. Markawhy says:

    Just to clarify, I was writing my comment at the same time Caroline posted hers. Again, I’m not waiting to be “convinced” (special hat-tip to Janna). I think my follow-up question was more clear. I don’t understand what/how feminism is defined. My intent was to air my initial thinking and my hope was that many of the readers on this blog would give me some basic guidelines, pat me on the head and send me on my way.

    @Z. What I hear you saying is that I’m not being sensitive enough to the very real experiences of others which are obvious examples of systemic abuse. And that I’m choosing not to be sensitive because that would also mean I would have to accept gender discrimination as a systemic problem which I’m not willing to do because I like things the way they are, nice and tidy. Fair? I think you should be careful about making assumptions regarding one’s intentions as it seems like this is one big beef feminists and ex-Mormons have with the rest of the TBM world. Lastly, just because I haven’t read the other posts on Exponent does not mean I haven’t read up on feminist theory elsewhere.

    Caroline has indeed taken me to task on the systemic issue (as has MRaynes) and others by indicating the vast involvement of men over women in church policy and procedure. But this doesn’t mean Patriarchy is the problem. Going back to the syllogism, in order to place blame on Patriarchy you have to hold everything else equal, meaning, you have to assume we are living Patriarchy perfectly, in it’s intended form, and that its still not working. I’m saying I don’t think we are. In other words, God could have given us a perfect system only to be ruined by scheming men. Which leads me to think the greatest paradox in all of this is not the plight of women but that we’ve completely missed the mark on the role of men. Or maybe we originally had a perfect system but scheming men instituted Patriarchy, is that what you’re saying?

    I also see the comments by Caroline et al above similar to saying “because 25% of all people have lost there home, 100 banks have gone out of business in 2010, and the economy detracted by 6% that free-market capitalism is a failed system.” Even if that’s your perspective you have to concede many would disagree, citing abuses within that system as the cause of failure. Therefore the focus should be on checks and balances rather than throwing the entire system out.

    Caroline said, “When one has lived one’s life a certain way, and has been taught that that way is how God wants it, one may very well decide to fiercely protect that way of life. Or, at least, feel unmotivated to change it.” I agree.

    • mr.mraynes says:

      So what’s your view of “proper” patriarchy that we are failing to attain? How ought it to function as opposed to how it currently does?

      • Markawhy says:

        It’s not that I pretend to know what “perfect” is, but that I think it impossible for fallible humans (by definition) to be optimizing the system. It seems to me that, if you accept the second premise, you are trying to solve a three-part equation with two variables. You need to have at least two constants (working from Mathematical axioms).

      • mr.mraynes says:

        Now you’re being a little coy, Markawhy. It seems you are hesitant to make a stand either way. You hint that patriarchy might be polluted by imperfect men, but you’re unwilling to speculate how. You also seem to suggest that God set up patriarchy for good reasons, but you won’t venture a guess as to what they might be? Why the discomfort with hypothesizing? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

        Also, it struck me that earlier you compared patriarchy to capitalism, given the Mormon doctrine that eventually the more socialistic “common order” will supersede capitalism in the Millennium. I speculate that patriarchy will also be replaced with a system of cooperative male/female shared governance.

      • mr.mraynes says:

        Let me take a shot and see if I am understanding your argument:

        (1) Everything God makes is good.

        (2) God established patriarchy.

        Therefore:

        (3) Patriarchy is good. (Syllogism)

        (4) People are fallible and cannot attain perfection.

        Therefore:

        (5) People inevitably pollute God’s intended patriarchal order.

        (6) This corruption leads to human pain.

        Therefore:

        (7) The trouble is with people, not patriarchy itself.

        (8) Patriarchy ought not to be rejected outright because it is not the cause of the trouble.

        Is this more or less in the right neighborhood? Probably not.

  23. Jessawhy says:

    Markawhy,
    I’d like to flip this conversation on it’s head. Why not support feminism? What do you lose by taking everyone here at their word that patriarchy really IS a problem for ALL men and women (even those women who seek to keep the current structure in place)? You said yourself that the system God set up may be perfect, but it’s not being practiced perfectly. Wouldn’t a loving God want us to fix those imperfections? If not through feminism, then how?

  24. Jessawhy says:

    (Also, I just noticed that in the photo I used, Markawhy is on the black and white side and not the color side of the photo. I did not intend to imply anything about his perspective on the church by that, but it looks like it does. . . )

  25. kevinr says:

    Would a very practical example help you, Markawhy, come to perhaps understand that there are systemic problems, maybe more related to the heirarchical management style the Church currently uses, but still very discriminatory based on sex? Here it is: I served in a bishopric for more than 10 years, up until 2.5 years ago. At the beginning of my time in the bishopric, a very forward woman served as our ward’s relief society president. She came to the PEC meeting each Sunday for the first two years. A high councilman started attending our PEC meeting and then told the Stake President that she was attending the PEC meeting. She was told not to attend the PEC, as the meeting’s very title (Priesthood Executive Meeting) indicated that only men could attend. She obeyed and did not attend, but for the first several weeks after the ban on her attending, she came early, gave me or the bishop or another counselor a list of individuals and families she saw as being in need temporally, spiritually, or emotionally. The effectiveness of the PEC gradually declined, and most of us lamented how this had taken place. We tried other tactics, like holding a Ward Council meeting each week immediately after our almost useless PEC meeting. That worked for a time, but changed when another bishop was called. I continued to serve in the bishopric after that change. The PEC was attended by the YM president, but not by the YW president. The YM president tried very hard to include issues that the YW president had brought to him as a concern, but again, gradually, the very lack of presence of anyone directly representing the women and young women of our ward clearly showed that their issues were not in the forefront of our minds. Now, granted, you, Markawhy, suggest that we perhaps aren’t living the “true” way of the Patriarchy. That may be true, as in my decade of work, women could have been included if a more open-minded interpretation of the current “system” had been used, instead of a literal reading of the Handbook. But, my opinion is that the system was set up that way (not by God, but by men) and that we, men and women alike, need to stand up and change it. Why, you may ask, didn’t I myself stand up and do more to change this practical example I’ve given. Well, I did to some extent, but I wish I’d done more. By the way, my wife and I are just the opposite as you and your wife; I am strongly a Mormon Feminist, and she is the doubting Thomas, Mrs. Conservative, believing much the same as you, serve your darn hardest and have faith and eventually God will make it all right.

  26. kevinr says:

    I forgot one last thing I wanted to convey. I believe that anyone could serve in the capacity of that very forward woman who served as our ward’ relief society president and did an admirable, even great, job at it. He or she had to have their eyes and ears open to everyone to learn what was going on and work hard to try and help wherever they could. It doesn’t have to be a woman serving in that capacity; my belief is that it could be a man with many gifts of the spirit related to compassion. Perhaps that’s the crux of my argument in support of feminism, that we all truly ARE equal; that any of us based on the gifts God imparted to us, could serve anywhere in the Church.

  27. Harijan says:

    I started writing a response, but then it turned into one of those responses that is so long that no one will read it.

    In my experience, Mark’s comments are representative of a large part of the church memberships (both men and women) views of Mormon feminism.

    Two posts here are were especially helpful in this discussion, one was Dane’s comments concerning the interchangeability of feminism and Mormonism, and the other was MRaynes (mrs. and mr.) and Janna’s back-and-forth concerning the duty of “convincing” people to the cause of Mormon feminism.
    I argue that by carrying the banner of “feminist” we all have the responsibility to convince, convert, and persuade others to at least care about the cause of Mormon feminism. Just as missionaries have the responsibility to convert other Christians to Mormonism. Maybe EX2 is not the proper forum for this missionary work, but if not here, then where?
    While EX2 may be maintained as a safe place, it is also the only place people who are at least interested in caring, like Mark, come for information and conversion.
    How do we (collectively) and us (individually) go about converting those who cannot find a strong enough reason to care about the plight of Mormon feminism?
    What arguments work, and what behavior lends itself to conversion?
    When do we make a stand by refusing to participate in the church, and when do we continue to serve because it will win more allies to the cause?
    I realize that there are no universal answers, but sometimes, actually most of the time, questions are better than answers.

    Yeah – this is the short post.

  28. z says:

    @ Markawhy 4:28

    I think we’re talking past each other in a couple of different ways.

    First, “systemic” discrimination doesn’t just mean discrimination carried out through the formal hierarchy of the LDS Church. In mainstream feminist discourse, it tends to mean the whole panoply of legal, cultural, and economic ways in which the “game is rigged” in thousands of subtle ways to keep women in a certain restricted role. I’m not sure from your comments whether you understand it in that way. Have you heard of concepts such as the “norm of masculinity”?

    Second, it’s not really a question of “sensitivity” to lived experience, and that’s kind of a gendered way to frame my comments. I’m saying that it may benefit you to read more feminist theory on the topic of systemic discrimination. I think your lack of interest in the systemic problem may stem from a lack of familiarity with the underlying theories. Perhaps you’ve read a lot already, I wouldn’t know, it’s just a suggestion because I can’t tell from your comments how much you know about feminist theory.

    Third, it seems like you’re mixing together the question of whether systemic discrimination against women exists, with the question of whether it’s actually a problem. Those are very different questions.

    As to your third paragraph of the 4:28 comment, your chain of reasoning is very difficult for me to follow. I don’t see why one would have to hold everything else equal before placing any blame on patriarchy– it seems like a bizarre requirement for which you in no way provide reasoned support, much like your comment of 5:11 AM. I would suggest that you are holding feminist ideas to an impossibly high standard of proof. That indicates to me that perhaps you don’t want to give them a fair chance, and are just hoping for an excuse to reject them. Maybe that’s not true, but you are the one who brought up the possibility of your not wanting to be more sympathetic (5:11 AM), so I think it’s legitimate to talk about. Because of that and because I find it very difficult to follow your reasoning, I think conversing about feminism wouldn’t be productive for us. Also, just FYI, I’m not a TBM so I definitely don’t think a God created a perfect system.

    I’ve always thought Jessawhy to be a very smart and articulate person. If she hasn’t managed to convince you, I wouldn’t think that have anything to add.

    • Markawhy says:

      I assumed we were only speaking of feminism in Mormon faith. Is the idea that Mormonism makes “worse” what is already a Global problem?

      Going back to Patriarchy, what reason’s do Feminists provide to support the fact that it is NOT from God? Is it scriptural (from which I’m probably most familiar), in which case do they invoke other texts besides the traditional Mormon canon? Is there historical precedence? Anecdotal (just look at what it does)? Or a confluence of all three?

      @ Suzann. Because I know you personally there is no way a comment on a blog can convey how much I admire your example, faith, and tremendous patience. I think the best I can do is try to put myself in your position but I recognize that that, by itself, would be insufficient to understand the feminist perspective and wound.

  29. Janna says:

    Harijan says, “While EX2 may be maintained as a safe place, it is also the only place people who are at least interested in caring, like Mark, come for information and conversion.”

    Good point!

  30. Markawhy says:

    Correction,

    @Z 11:46. I read the last couple of lines from your post with a sharp, antagonistic tone in my head. I just went back and re-read your comment and have no idea why I read it that way. You give excellent suggestions which I will endeavor to understand. However, I’m not interested in “refuting”, just understanding.

    @ Janna. I will read Carolyn’s piece. Thanks for the tip.

    Strangely, I feel more passionate about the plight of women in emerging economies than I do towards the plight of Mormon women. And I haven’t read Half the Sky.

  31. Markawhy says:

    @ mr. mraynes

    Touche. I wondered if someone was going to railroad me on the “common order” bit. Nice job. I think the logic you laid out is fairly accurate of my current worldview (for which I don’t think I’m atypical). Now, my understanding is that Feminists take issue with your number #2 and #3 that God did not create Patriarchy and that Patriarchy is not good. But there’s also another group that takes issue with the Divine feminine. Is that separate from Patriarchy?

    Here’s another question. In the O.T. people were taught to obey the Law of Moses, which, we’re taught, was the lower law. Even though a superior law was given much later, it doesn’t seem like you score any points for living the higher law until it is given. In this way, should we stick to what we believe God has revealed regarding Patriarchy or should we advance on our own to the “higher law”. If so, will we be turned to dust?

    • mr.mraynes says:

      Yes, Mormon feminists take issue with your premise (2), which then would nullify the syllogism that resulted in (3).

      While we’re at it, suppose we substituted “polygamy” or “refusing blacks the priesthood” in place of “patriarchy” in this argument. For me, that sheds a very different light on the tenor of your assertion. (For the record, I don’t contend that such a trick disproves your argument, which is logically sound in my view–even if I think (2) is a suspect premise.)

      Regarding your point that we ought not move faster than God reveals truth to us: Change is a reality of the Church, and I think it is dangerous (prideful?) to assume God is always satisfied with the rate of our progress as an institution. Change in the organization of the Church comes by way of a not-so-subtle mixture of inspiration and social pressure (see the above mentioned polygamy and denial of priesthood on basis of race). We Mormon feminists tend to hope that our activism (in its various forms) can encourage change as has occurred in the past.

  32. Jessawhy says:

    First of all, I think Markawhy has been reading too many philosophy books. His attitude seems to be “I’m not saying that I have the answers, I’m just saying that you don’t have the answers.” It’s a little too crazy for me.

    Secondly, Markawhy mentioned to me in reference to my previous comment that he does feel like the supports equality in his interactions in the church, which is true. There are several examples of him going out of his way to include women in EQ lessons, in meetings, planning, etc. I would imagine that his actions would look feminist to most but I’m struck by the way the way he doesn’t want to claim affiliation as a feminist (not unlike most LDS members).

    My impression, and Markawhy has verified that it is accurate , is that he has been informed by feminism and seeks to generally include women, but not under the label of feminism. He sees feminism as making him into a better (more perfect) patriarch.

    (*sigh*, well I’ll be damned)

  33. Janna says:

    “He sees feminism as making him into a better (more perfect) patriarch. ”

    Markawhy – would you mind extrapolating more on your wife’s point?

    Also, are you saying that since humans are inherently flawed that we couldn’t change the system perfectly anyway, so we might as well leave it alone?

  34. Markawhy says:

    @ Janna. Speaking of the Mormon Church, Patriarchy is confusing (I loved the Chicken Patriarchy piece over at ZD, btw). So I simply strive for equality and try to be more inclusive. Patriarchy may not be ideal but it is sacred in the sense that it came from God (in which definition I include Heavenly Mother).

    I’m all for advocating for what we perceive to be a better way. After all, we believe answers only come after questions. But maybe there is something to be said for patience. Which I realize is easy for ME to say. I’m all for a helping hand, as long as it’s gentle and not coarse.

  35. Kiskilili says:

    Hi, Markawhy! I really appreciated your post. We’ve missed you and Jessawhy at Sunstone these last few years. Come back to us.

    This is why Mormon feminism matters to me: melodramatic edition.

    What Mormonism purports to offer is a unique relationship to deity (of a quality said to surpass what’s available in other denominations), the authorization to act on God’s behalf, and a personal self-understanding as inchoately and potentially divine.

    I would argue these are some of the most breathtaking aspects of the faith. God values, validates, trusts, and acknowledges us, even in our weakness and inability, and he provides us the means for constructing a self-concept as a subject in relation to deity, both personally and existentially. This is what, for a Mormon, it means to be human.

    Or, stated more precisely, this is what it means to be male and human.

    For some of us the Church offers the stupefying prospect of becoming an eternal nothing, insignificant or nonexistent, cut off from the possiblity of relationships and from the raison d’être of the eternities: nurturing human progeny. Some of us are asked, as a religious act, not to accept the authority to act in God’s name but to defer it, to construe ourselves as objects rather than subjects and our value as contingent rather than inherent. We’re given scant institutional means for constructing a religious self-concept as beings in communion with the divine. Instead, our personal relation to deity is compromised by the presence of male intermediaries, and our existential relation to deity is nullified by Heavenly Mother’s profound absence.

    Female Mormonism is a sort of negative space, an irreligion, not an opportunity for acknowledgment from God but a denial of it. If religion matters, and if women matter, this is a travesty.

    You raise the possibility that patriarchy (and correspondingly, I assume, androcentrism) may represent God’s will.

    This could well be the case. It’s also why I left the Church. Not because of doubt, but because of faith: in God, temple, scripture, and priesthood. This is the searing irony: that my faith led me to give up on God. In the Church’s holiest spaces and most sacred texts I failed to find compelling evidence women are people in any meaningful sense. It’s the Church itself—not just disgruntled feminists—that insists gender matters. If the Church is right about what it fundamentally means to be female, I have no reason to stay; what I do hardly matters. If the Church is wrong, I have no reason not to leave.

    Of course, the clear gendered implications of liturgy, scripture, and policy—that God endorses the blatant marginalization of females at every level and in every age—is simply unsayable in today’s political climate, and the Church has obligingly thrown us a barrage of palliative sops about women’s superlative value (often in reference to men), statements with painfully little reference to practice, rituals, or sacred texts and even less awareness of women’s experience.

    I concede that many—maybe most—women are happy with the situation. I would argue it’s in spite of, not because of, these theological implications. Women are happy because they’ve trained themselves not to notice or they’ve found a way they’re comfortable rejecting it.

    For those of us who can’t not notice and who can’t find an easy way out from under it, it matters because religion is about who and what we are and can be. And what some of us are is apparently appendanges, afterthoughts, and auxiliaries.

    And, quite likely, this will never really change in any way deeper than the cosmetic. Because the people with the power to change it—maybe human men, maybe a male Godhead—are, exactly because of that power, the very people who will never understand why it matters.

  36. Kiskilili says:

    Patriarchy may not be ideal but it is sacred in the sense that it came from God (in which definition I include Heavenly Mother).

    It sounds like you’re trying to make a feminist concession by including Heavenly Mother. But think about it. In patriarchy, what Heavenly Mother thinks doesn’t carry that much weight. Your statement undercuts itself.

    • mr.mraynes says:

      Kiskilili,

      I really appreciated your passionate and articulate explanation of the importance of Mormon feminism. I do take issue with your final statement, however.

      “In patriarchy, what Heavenly Mother thinks doesn’t carry that much weight.”

      Of course you may be right. Perhaps Mother in Heaven has as little say in decision making there as women do here in the earthly church. But you are making an assumption that patriarchy constitutes the government of Heaven. A lot of Mormon feminists would take issue with that!

      Your postulation is no more or less feasible that Markawhy’s, that Heavenly Mother jointly designed our mortal probation with Father and that a temporary patriarchal order (here only) was installed by mutual consent and collaboration. There is no literal evidence to prove or disprove either view, merely circumstantial evidence that relies on another assumption, that Earth resembles Heaven.

      It seems we are left to adopt one view or the other according to our conscience, but proving either is no more feasible than proving the existence (or absence) of God.

  37. Janna says:

    “So I simply strive for equality and try to be more inclusive. ”

    I suppose, at the end of the day, that’s all any of us can do!

  38. Kiskilili says:

    Ah, I see what you’re saying, Mr. Mraynes–in this system of thought, Heavenly Mother supports patriarchy for us, but not for herself. That is a bit chilling to me–God the Mother as a cosmic Phyllis Schlafly, perhaps? 😉

    I too find the idea that women are ultimately redeemed from, not through, patriarchy appealing. But since I’m a gloom-and-doom feminist, I’m just taking my redemption from patriarchy in this life and giving up on the next.

    Mostly I’m just teasing Mark (goodnaturedly, I hope!) about the irony in his statement that Heavenly Mother has been involved in inspiring the patriarchal order on earth; heaven (!?) help us if she’s playing a prominent role in the fight for androcentrism!

    • mr.mraynes says:

      For clarity’s sake, I want to state that we’re in agreement, Kiskilili. I don’t support the notion that either Father or Mother in Heaven “ordained” a patriarchal order here. Hence all my endless commenting on Spunky’s post about priesthood and motherhood…

      • Kiskilili says:

        Oh, I’ve been reading your comments here for a while now and have enormous respect for both your thoughtfulness and your levelheadedness, Mr. Mraynes–I’m sure you’re no friend of the patriarchy. 🙂

      • Markawhy says:

        But this is the crux of MY question. Your saying, from the beginning of time, since men were stronger than women, they sought to ensure their authority in perpetuity and all the liturgical texts as we know them have been manipulated such that they are simply a means to that end? Is that what you’re saying? So from the beginning of time it’s been rampant phallic aggression?

      • mr.mraynes says:

        I’m not sure whom Markawhy is addressing, but I’ll counter with the classic racism switcheroo. So all those years were just rampant white aggression? I suppose I like that better than a racist God.

  39. Caroline says:

    Kiskilili,
    What a great articulation of the theological problems of being a woman and a Mormon.

  40. Kiskilili says:

    It seems we are left to adopt one view or the other according to our conscience

    My problem is that I think what’s good and what’s true are separate questions. I’m not unsympathetic to the feminist line of thought that advances an ethical critique and then postulates God’s endorsement of it, but I don’t see how we get from one to the other without taking it as axiomatic both that God is good and that goodness is comprehensible to us. (A parallel argument popular among some atheists argues God doesn’t exist because “God is not great,” in Hitchens’ phrase. I’m similarly baffled by what logically connects the two conclusions.)

    This is the source of most of my feminist angst, that I haven’t found a satisfactory way of accepting that something is true because my conscience tells me it’s right.

    • Markawhy says:

      Jessawhy and I have had a similar discussion. Is metaphysics (meaning the a priori investigation of the unanswerable) more relevant than reason and logic? When should one trump the other? At one point in the early 20th century this was an exciting debate among philosophers and mathematicians. I put more emphasis on the metaphysical given my stance on reason: that it isn’t meant to find truth, but to merely win arguments. Many of us find positions that may be logical but not believable.

      You said, “religion is about who and what we are”. I suppose asking one to simply ride it out and have faith is too much a sacrifice to ask if it robs one of arriving at an understanding of an eternal identity.

  41. Kiskilili says:

    Thanks, Caroline!

    At the risk of monopolizing the thread, I’m going to dump a quote in it that I think articulates the problem beautifully:

    For those feminists concerned with the religious dimensions of life, the absence of any spiritual tradition which resonates with their experience and which grounds women in a religious cosmos is one of the most insidious aspects of Western culture. To submit to the guidance of traditional religion is to become subjected to a kind of spiritual rape; to reject it is to fall prey to a powerful spiritual loneliness.

    –Paula Fredriksen Landes

  42. Ziff says:

    Wow, Kiskilili! I love your 8:22 comment!

  43. CatherineWO says:

    Kiskilili, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head with all of your comments. Thank you!
    And Markawhy said, “I suppose asking one to simply ride it out and have faith is too much a sacrifice to ask if it robs one of arriving at an understanding of an eternal identity.”
    This is the biggest struggle of my life right now–trying to ride it out for the sake of my family, but feeling like I am losing my heart and soul.

  44. Craig says:

    My view is that it is difficult for someone who hasn’t really experienced disadvantage to truly understand privilege, or the importance of eliminating it.

    I admit I have a great deal of privilege. I’m both male and white. While I have no real concept of what it means either to be female or a person of colour, I do know what it is like to be gay in a a totally heteronormative society, and an even more strictly heteronormative religion. I have a small idea as to what is at stake in feminism.

    So @Markawhy, you should care. I get why you don’t see the immediacy, but you need to. Equality can not ever exist as long as patriarchy exists. Patriarchy is evil. You are nearly as much a victim of it as your wife and every female is.

    While I don’t believe in gods of any sort, Mormonism needs to elevate heavenly mother to a complete equal to heavenly father; equal in every sense of the word. It oughtn’t matter which deity you pray to. Indeed even in current Mormon doctrine you were created by both beings, so why does only the man get the credit?

    The idea that only men get the priesthood, the power, the authority is insulting to everyone. The world needs a female apostle, prophet, and pope.

  45. Kiskilili says:

    Not exactly, Mark. My position is that women don’t have souls in any meaningful sense of the word. That’s the most parsimonious explanation justifying God’s sidelining us. Women exist for men and are valuable to the degree we support and elevate men in the same way that, theologically, animals exist for humans. I only wish it were different; that doesn’t mean I think it is. Hence my feminist angst.

  46. Kiskilili says:

    My angst is a product of my faith in Mormonism.

  47. Somehow I don’t think Nazis thought what they were doing was bad at the time. And those who just followed instructions became numb to it and even learned to be good at being awful. Just a thought.

    Maybe some day more people will recognize the awfulness of inequality. I think part of the problem is that women end up having to settle for those who don’t understand it but tolerate it, which, I guess, is better than someone who doesn’t understand and doesn’t tolerate.

  48. Setawu says:

    The Gospel of Jesus Christ is my idea of a belief system. The promise of families can be together forever is used by members to isolate themselves from other people and social relationships. The family the Church is taking about is the Family of our Father and Mother in Heaven. As members we have distorted that view. It would be silly to think we are all going to live in separate households in the next life. I often feel inspired to point out that our children will be grown and on there own. What ever it means it has nothing to do with a mansion with our earthly family hanging out together.

    The Church is the people and the programs we use to educate each other. The people make activity in the church extremely difficult unless I deny everything that makes my life meaningful.
    Empowering women, single moms, the homeless and the poor. The blessings of loving people from other countries living in America with or without a passport, respecting people with a different sexual preferences and favoring socialist economy’s over American capitalism.
    In Utah the activities I believe are Christ like must be directed through the Relief Society or they are not relevant. As great as Relief Society is they do not help the poor residents in Utah who are alone outside the Church. Since the financial failure the elderly women in the church are suffering more than any other group.
    Giving money does not change our hearts and minds towards the less fortunate. All I have to give is my time and the work I’m willing to do to uplift another human being.
    Equality and Justice for women is becoming rare in the church. The people in my area don’t listen to President Monson when he speaks on helping the widows and orphans. They usually go out of town during conference. They may be watching it but nothing changes. I hope I can continue to be active in my church and still do the things that make my life worth living. I look at it as a sign of the times. Brigham Young said Salt Lake City would be one of the most wicked cities in the world. Having the gospel and not living it is wickedness.

  49. I wonder, would knowing that the Holy Ghost is a woman change your mind concerning Mormon feminism?

  50. Justin says:

    The problem that can come with feminists is similar to that which can arise among anarchists. Intellectual people who have arrived at a well thought-out conclusion will naturally assume that, given the freedom to, any other rational person would choose likewise.

    I see feminists do this. They want woman to be free to choose their own lives and destinies — just so long as it is not the traditional, Utah Mormon one. I can, at times, make the same mistakes with my passionately held beliefs — judging those who don’t see what I see to be the plain, on-your-face truth as just not having thought about it good enough.

    Concerning Mormon Feminists, I only wish they would wake-up and see the kind of power they actually have in the church. The male hierarchy has done an excellent job at conditioning the women of the church to feel powerless and beholden to the “Priesthood(TM)”.

    However, a woman’s entrance into the Lord’s church thru baptism is designed by the Lord to be an entrance into freedom. No longer is she a second class citizen, standing behind a man, but is on equal ground with men, having equal voting rights as they do, and having — together with her sisters — the combined capacity to pull down all abuse and the abusers by vote. No longer need she obey by virtue of someone’s title (father, husband, police officer, teacher, elder, president, etc.), but is free to discard one’s title altogether and obey only the Christ-like ones and vote down the devilish.

    Because abuse by tyrannical men is often directed at women, and because they are usually the first ones to detect it, the Lord has given the keys of the church mainly to the sisters, so that, in the church, the women are empowered to rein in abuse thru the sustaining votes for callings and canonizations.

    The tremendous power of the keys of the church, if wielded by the sisters as a voting block to vote their conscience — even if it contradicts the leadership position — presents an insurmountable obstacle to tyrants who mascaraed behind priesthood office.

    The strategy, then, used by leaders, is to talk only of the keys of the priesthood and to never mention the keys of the church. Because no one can exercise a right they don’t know they have, as long as the sisters remain ignorant of this authority, given to them by the Lord, men are free to rule in the church as tyrants.

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