Exponent II Spring Issue: Women and Priesthood

Exponent II Board Meeting December 2003 L-R back row: Heather Sundahl, Evelyn Harvill, Kimberly Burnett, Emily Clyde Curtis, Aimee Hickman, Michelle Martin Front row: Nancy Dredge, Barbara Taylor, Judy Dushku, Cheryl Howard DiVito, Robin Zenger Baker, Karen Call Haglund)

Exponent II Board Meeting December 2003
L-R back row: Heather Sundahl, Evelyn Harvill, Kimberly Burnett, Emily Clyde Curtis, Aimee Hickman, Michelle Martin
Front row: Nancy Dredge, Barbara Taylor, Judy Dushku, Cheryl Howard DiVito, Robin Zenger Baker, Karen Call Haglund)

In the spring of 2000, when my second child was just a couple months old, I got a call from Nancy Dredge who was taking over as editor for the Exponent II, asking if I’d be an assistant editor. I was flattered and terrified. Exponent II mattered deeply to me—and to thousands of Mormon women. I felt like I was being called as the first counselor to a bishop of an all female ward that knew no boundaries. And I loved serving in that calling for almost a decade: choosing themes for issues, guiding first time essayists through the writing process, and the simple joy of reading women’s stories. Exponent was founded on the idea that women’s stories matter and there should be a forum for sharing their insights and experiences. One challenging aspect of the job is being accused by some of pushing a “feminist agenda” while simultaneously being criticized by others who think Exponent does not agitate enough. But I see that as Exponent’s great strength: we weave together voices and ideas that reflect the truth that there is not a singular path for a Mormon woman. We are not a venue for soloists. We are a choir. As long as you will harmonize with others, your voice is welcome.

And for forty years the women of Exponent have worked very hard to present a variety of voices, often when many were too afraid to speak up. Our current editors, Aimee Hickman and Emily Clyde Curtis, decided to focus an issue on women and priesthood last March, right after the launch of Ordain Women. Little did they realize that the issue would go to the printer the very weekend of Kate Kelly’s church court, when many saints fear the outcome is not just about Kate, but about the very right to ask hard questions. And this issue is Exponent at its best because it asks the hard question: should women be ordained? Obviously not everyone has the same answer. Notice that the cover reads: “Talking Ordination at the Dinner Table: Conversations Between Sisters.” In this issue opinions on women and the priesthood run the gamut from women who support a male only priesthood, to women who feel we already have the priesthood, to women, Kate Kelly and others, who feel ordination is the only path. As Aimee wrote in her editorial, “By sharing their stories and laying claim to their unique perspectives, these authors beautifully demonstrate how we can differ in our point of view without employing divisive rhetoric.”

Very selfishly I am deeply grateful to have the magazine’s publication be so timely. While I am not a part of Ordain Women, I firmly believe that women deserve a seat at the table and that all is not well in Zion. I have held back from conversations with certain parties, not knowing how my ideas would be received, not wanting to be judged and desperately trying NOT to judge what I perceive as the complacency of so many. (Now I am shifting into Exponent Missionary Mode) I know that I will use this issue of Exponent to start conversations and share the complexity of my own intellectual and spiritual wrestlings with some of my family, friends, and those with ecclesiastical authority over me.   I have done so in the past with other issues with surprising results. It is my sincere hope that the collection of voices in this issue will be a balm to those in pain, provide insight for those who want to understand, and keep this essential conversation going in the chapels and homes of the saints. Won’t you join us at the table?

To subscribe for online or print issues, visit http://www.exponentii.org/magazine

 

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Total Game Control

Guest Post by Emily Holsinger Butler

the playahs

A Catholic friend of mine once offered the idea that world religions exist for one single purpose: to control women. “A bit reductive, no?” was my response. But this guy was wicked smart—never flippant, never glib. And his assertion has stayed with me like a compass point. I refer to it whenever “things happen” in our Mormon universe. Who is trying to control whom, I ask.

I’ve been controlled, sure. In fact, I’ve often given courtesy control to people out of sheer politeness—like all those times on my mission when I submitted to a young district leader’s efforts to foist a personal priesthood interview on me. That was how the game was played. If there was a priesthood leader present, a sister would hop out of the driver’s seat and let him commandeer the wheel. “Take ‘er for a spin, Elder! Don’t scratch the paint!”* Results varied. It was usually fine, and sometimes funny.

Controlling women—have I been complicit? Heck yeah. I’ve collaborated. I’m not proud of myself. Holy cow, I’ve been Vichy France with a temple recommend.** Like that Saturday in 1994, at some church basketball tournament. As a very lovely break from law school exertions, I played on our ward’s women’s basketball team, coached to great effect by our Stake President. It was super fun. We made it to some sort of regional event, and drove down to a building in southern Virginia on the appointed day. Men were playing in a separate but equal tournament on the full-sized court. We were playing on a smaller one, and I wasn’t about to look that gift horse in the mouth, believe you me. As the female players gathered together, we were addressed by a priesthood leader who may or may not have also been the referee (I don’t recall). He outlined a few basics of the tourney, and then, in all seriousness, admonished us to dress modestly on court.

Incredulous, I looked at my teammates. We were for the most part women of a certain age, some of a more certain age than others. Our power forward was a professional nurse of repute. Our best shooter, the only one who could almost dunk, was the Stake President’s wife (and mother of many). Then there was me—I was a terrible player, but was equipped with two sports bras (worn simultaneously) and shorts that covered my thighs very adequately. I honestly don’t remember the other women’s names, but do remember their tolerant, almost vacant expressions as the brother went on about the necessity of sleeves and such. Nobody batted an eye. We regarded him with distant benevolence. We permitted him to tell us how to dress.

And so it was that we were unprepared for the vision that was unleashed upon us a few moments after the good brother concluded his remarks. It was then that the men’s teams emerged from their changing area. Unlike us, they had actual uniforms with actual numbers. On the other hand, it was clear that said uniforms had been handed down through generations of Mormon men, languishing in a Stake Center closet between basketball tournaments that began sometime in 1972. Sleeves they had none. Manufactured from some sort of skin-tight polyester fabric, the shorts stopped mere centimeters south of the groin area, which (how to put this) was exceptionally pronounced, if not practically articulated—so clingy they might have been codpieces for all intents and purposes. The men’s teams were composed primarily of middle-aged priesthood holders who (like us) were in it for a good time, and who (like us) could stand to lose a good twenty or thirty or forty pounds. It would have been a tender mercy for me to offer my second sports bra to any number of those players. Yeah. Their costumes left very little to the imagination.

Again I looked at my teammates. Bless them, their faces were frozen in alarm, not at what they were seeing, but at what was about to happen. We removed ourselves at once to a secluded area behind the bleachers, and fell to the floor where we rolled around unleashing howls of laughter. Personally, I laughed so hard I pulled a muscle in my abdomen, which didn’t help my game at all. We laughed until the tears ran. Someone almost choked. It wasn’t pretty.

What did I learn that day? Can’t say, really. But it does occur to me that we have a ways to go in our church before we can say that we love each other more than we love controlling each other.

Play on, sisters.

*It was, in fact, literally the case that sisters did not drive cars in my mission. That privilege was reserved for the missionaries who worked in the mission office. Who, incidentally, were all elders.

**I’m paraphrasing the wonderful Caitlin Moran, here. Email me if you want the original quote, which is pretty salty.

Emily Holsinger Butler is a hausfrau living in Utah with delusions of grandeur & survival, a writer of books, a hoper of all things and a believer in several of them.

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Exponent II Spring Issue: Women and Priesthood

Exponent II Board Meeting December 2003 L-R back row: Heather Sundahl, Evelyn Harvill, Kimberly Burnett, Emily Clyde Curtis, Aimee Hickman, Michelle Martin Front row: Nancy Dredge, Barbara Taylor, Judy Dushku, Cheryl Howard DiVito, Robin Zenger Baker, Karen Call Haglund)

Exponent II Board Meeting December 2003
L-R back row: Heather Sundahl, Evelyn Harvill, Kimberly Burnett, Emily Clyde Curtis, Aimee Hickman, Michelle Martin
Front row: Nancy Dredge, Barbara Taylor, Judy Dushku, Cheryl Howard DiVito, Robin Zenger Baker, Karen Call Haglund

In the spring of 2000, when my second child was just a couple months old, I got a call from Nancy Dredge who was taking over as editor for the Exponent II, asking if I’d be an assistant editor. I was flattered and terrified. Exponent II mattered deeply to me—and to thousands of Mormon women. I felt like I was being called as the first counselor to a bishop of an all female ward that knew no boundaries. And I loved serving in that calling for almost a decade: choosing themes for issues, guiding first time essayists through the writing process, and the simple joy of reading women’s stories. Exponent was founded on the idea that women’s stories matter and there should be a forum for sharing their insights and experiences. One challenging aspect of the job is being accused by some of pushing a “feminist agenda” while simultaneously being criticized by others who think Exponent does not agitate enough. But I see that as Exponent’s great strength: we weave together voices and ideas that reflect the truth that there is not a singular path for a Mormon woman. We are not a venue for soloists. We are a choir. As long as you will harmonize with others, your voice is welcome.

And for forty years the women of Exponent have worked very hard to present a variety of voices, often when many were too afraid to speak up. Our current editors, Aimee Hickman and Emily Clyde Curtis, decided to focus an issue on women and priesthood last March, right after the launch of Ordain Women. Little did they realize that the issue would go to the printer the very weekend of Kate Kelly’s church court, when many saints fear the outcome is not just about Kate, but about the very right to ask hard questions. And this issue is Exponent at its best because it asks the hard question: should women be ordained? Obviously not everyone has the same answer. Notice that the cover reads: “Talking Ordination at the Dinner Table: Conversations Between Sisters.” In this issue opinions on women and the priesthood run the gamut from women who support a male only priesthood, to women who feel we already have the priesthood, to women, Kate Kelly and others, who feel ordination is the only path. As Aimee wrote in her editorial, “By sharing their stories and laying claim to their unique perspectives, these authors beautifully demonstrate how we can differ in our point of view without employing divisive rhetoric.”

Very selfishly I am deeply grateful to have the magazine’s publication be so timely. While I am not a part of Ordain Women, I firmly believe that women deserve a seat at the table and that all is not well in Zion. I have held back from conversations with certain parties, not knowing how my ideas would be received, not wanting to be judged and desperately trying NOT to judge what I perceive as the complacency of so many. (Now I am shifting into Exponent Missionary Mode) I know that I will use this issue of Exponent to start conversations and share the complexity of my own intellectual and spiritual wrestlings with some of my family, friends, and those with ecclesiastical authority over me.   I have done so in the past with other issues with surprising results. It is my sincere hope that the collection of voices in this issue will be a balm to those in pain, provide insight for those who want to understand, and keep this essential conversation going in the chapels and homes of the saints. Won’t you join us at the table?

To subscribe for online or print issues, visit http://www.exponentii.org/magazine

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Being a Bossy Mormon Woman

bossy

There’s been a lot of talk about the word “bossy” lately. Sheryl Sandberg ala Lean In and Facebook started a Ban Bossy website that promotes leadership in girls. And of course there’s backlash from those who say bossiness and leadership have nothing to do with one another; and others who object to the campaign because they refuse to accept “bossy” as a pejorative term, and instead, like Tina Fey, Ms. Bossypants herself, embrace it.

I’m no stranger to the word bossy. I’ve been called it (and another lovely b-word) many times in my life. My sister and I got to a point in college where we wore it like a badge. I remember a time we were playing a game at a birthday party and had divided into two teams, Angela (the sassy blond you see above) and I in separate groups. People were having a hard time deciding how to proceed so I waited for a minute or two and when I sensed a leadership vacuum, I took charge. I have no desire to run the show, but when surrounded by passivity I go a bit nuts. A friend of my sister’s stood up and shouted at me, “I picked this team because I didn’t want to be with your bossy sister! But I think you may be worse!” and he stormed off to the punch bowl. My sister and I burst out laughing and were not so secretly proud of our take-charge abilities. We get stuff done.

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Relief Society: Fight or Flight

A few weeks ago I sat in RS and realized it would be one of those lessons. You know, the kind that makes your skin crawl. A young mom who recently moved into our ward was asked to teach Elder Christoffereson’s talk “The Moral Force of Women.” It was clear she had no idea that this talk might be a landmine and I turned to my friend sitting next to me and said, “I may start to cough uncontrollably and leave. I don’t think I can sit through this.” I’m fairly outspoken and generally not afraid to rock the boat. But here’s how disagreement usually plays out in RS: Sister A says x, Sister B says not x, and a wave of horror passes through the room because women, God bless us, do not like conflict—especially when a lace tablecloth is present. Then Sister C says, “I think we are all trying to say the same thing…” and cobbles together an idea that satisfies neither A nor B and shuts down any real discussion. Pleasantness restored, honest dialogue? Not so much.

So I scooted to the edge of my seat and prepared to find sanctuary in the foyer. But I noticed who my back row buddies were and I stopped. In addition to my friend next to me, who has kids and works, there was my dear friend D who had fled from a Singles Ward because she often felt infantilized and undervalued there. Two thoughts entered by head: First, we belong in the trenches together; and second, I’m a coward and I suck. I decided to stay and be part of the resistance. D smiled at me and I smiled back and I started to sing in my head, “Will you join in our crusade who will be strong and stand with me” because I’m dorky like that and sometimes imaginary theme music comforts me.

The teacher put three quotes from Christofferson on the board and asked us to divide into groups to discuss and come up with insights to share with the group. I can’t tell you how much I hate that talk. I won’t post the quotes because I’d start rocking in a corner.  I vividly remember running errands that first Saturday in October and listening to conference via my iPhone. When his talk started I had just grabbed a Diet Coke and felt so paralyzed by his words that I could not drive but had to sit down and write my objections on the receipt, the only paper I had on me. Straw feminists! Fallacious arguments!  Gender reduction at its worst! It takes a lot to get me that riled up.

After five minutes the teacher asked for responses. I was afraid our back row band of feminists would be the only naysayers. I was wrong. A convert on the front row with a new baby told us she was returning to work that week and felt judged by the talk. And D raised her hand next, which she rarely does. She stood up and said, “I’m single and may never have kids. I don’t know if I even want kids. Does this make me less of a woman? I read talks like this and feel that is a poor yardstick of my eternal value.” D got teary and so did I. The sister next to her, an empty nester with 6 kids who loved the talk, took her hand. The low point for me was the teacher’s well meaning response to D, that the Lord would give her a husband and kids in the next life so we should all just be happy because in the end it’ll work out. I felt like the whole room collectively shook their heads at this drivel.

A woman on the front row also got emotional sharing how much she loved the talk. “I’m a stay at home mom with 7 kids and every time I leave my house I feel judged and invalidated for my choices. Christofferson’s words make me feel like what I do matters.” A few others chimed in that the talk was a balm to them as well.

I decided to weigh in on the list of feminine qualities written on the board: nurturing, intuitive, faith, empathy, virtuous, humble, etc. These are wonderful traits, but women hardly have the monopoly on them and to say so diminishes the women who’ve worked to develop them and sends a message to men that they belong to the ladies. Whenever I want to make a point that will be hard to shutdown I turn to my friend Jesus. Because every word in the “feminine” column can be applied to Him. Gender stereotypes break down with the man who said, “Oh how I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” Honestly, on my hardest mommy days it is the Savior who is my example of patience and nurturing.  And no one can argue with Jesus.

By the time class ended, most of the women had had their say. Some loved the talk. Some hated it. Many had never stopped to think how it made them feel. But it was a little miracle to me that such a divisive talk could have spurred so much honesty and compassion within my RS. There was lots of disagreement, but no contention. And I feel closer to the sisters in that room. The truth is we are not all saying the same thing, and we should never confuse consensus with connection.

When a lesson gets messy at church, do you:

A: find a baby to pinch and take out to the lobby

B. sit silently and play Angry Birds

C. stay and speak out when needed

D. other

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