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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We Are Putting Our Eggs in the Wrong Basket

In the wake of Kate Kelly’s excommunication a lot has been said about the proper way to do things, the proper way to ask questions, the proper way to advocate for change. As someone who is interested in making changes regarding gender in the Mormon church my ears perk up at these suggestions–I would love to know the most effective way to see progress.

The most concrete suggestion has been to seek for changes on a local level. I don’t think this is a bad idea, there are so many little things that can be done in our local congregations that would make women’s experience in church much better.

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Guest Post: Auto-Pilot to Heaven

 

by Jenny

baptism dresses 4“What day is your daughter going to get baptized?”

It’s an innocent question, but it rips at my heart a little more each time it is asked. I have too many skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have two baptism dresses in my closet, one that I couldn’t resist because it was on sale at Costco, and another that was given to us. It was all so simple then, back when I was on auto-pilot to heaven. The path was steady and sure. My plane was headed straight toward the Celestial Kingdom and all I had to do was sit back and check things off my list. Married in the temple, check. Motherhood, check. Endure Sacrament Meeting with toddlers in tow once a week, check. Ten years of smooth sailing from the temple to my first-born’s baptism. Of course she would be baptized right after she turned eight, and taut her new cleanliness by wearing a pure white dress to church. That was one more thing to check off my list.

Then I woke up.

When I realized that I was flying on auto-pilot, I also realized that my path wouldn’t necessarily lead me to heaven. The dread set in. You mean I actually have to learn to fly my own plane? The flying lessons were short because I was already in midair. Now I am awake, and I am flying, and I am thinking about the covenants I make. I don’t want my daughter to grow up on auto-pilot. I want her to think.

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Paper Cuts

Paper Cuts

Sunday after church, my children occupied themselves by making paper airplanes with scraps of paper while waiting for my meeting to finish. Monday morning, while tidying up, I found one of their airplanes, made from a copy of the First Presidency’s invitation to the General Women’s Meeting later this month.

First Presidency Invitation to the General Women's Meeting

Click to enlarge

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Claiming Our Name

Several years ago someone made a surprising and hurtful remark to me. This person was aware that I was working through painful memories of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by my father. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, because she had previously implied she did not believe these horrific events really happened. On this particular occasion, she said, “It seems if it were as bad as you say it was, you wouldn’t want to keep your father’s name.” I had legally taken back my maiden name a few years earlier after divorcing my husband. So, indeed, I carried my father’s surname. I still do.

After recovering from the initial shock of her remark, I responded by saying, “I wasn’t the one who sullied this family’s name. I am not the one who corrupted its value in the world and made it into something ugly. In fact, I am reclaiming the name and cleaning up generations of familial destruction perpetrated by a long line of abusers. So, actually, I deserve to bear this name even more than my father does.”

This experience empowered me, not only because I declared the truth of my life to someone who wanted to deny and invalidate it, but also because I claimed my name – with all its sordid history—and, by so doing, I transformed it into something beautiful and ennobling for me and for my children.

Feminism (the name and the cause) has been made to seem ugly by those who are not comfortable with the intent and meaning of feminist efforts. For many Latter-day Saints, feminism equals selfishness, un-womanly-ness, unrighteousness, or simply “Not The Lord’s Way.” My own opinion is that even the most radical of feminists have been and are working to ennoble and uplift women. For me, this is an important part of the Lord’s work in mortality–to lift and empower all His children.

I may be preaching to the choir, but perhaps there are those among our readers who are uncomfortable calling themselves feminist, uncomfortable with the word itself because of negative connotations. I can understand this. I kept a safe distance from the word for quite some time. Until I remembered how it felt to claim the truth of my family name—the truth of who I am and where I come from.

Melody and Hannah Melody

Melody with her grand daughter, Hannah Melody.

My four sisters and I call ourselves The Newey Girls. Our daughters are Newey Girls too, as are our granddaughters–regardless of their surnames. They are part of a legacy of courageous work that we, their mothers, have done for ourselves and ultimately for them and for their brothers. By stating this fact clearly, firmly and without apology, we bring beauty and honor to a name that might otherwise be held in derision. I have a secret hope that many more LDS women will find the courage to bring their particular goodness to the name Feminist. What a wonderful, powerful, legacy this could add to the already rich history of the LDS church organization and to the community of saints whom we love.

Last week I linked via social media to an essay written by Neylan McBaine. I highlighted this:

If you care about the spiritual, emotional and intellectual development opportunities available to you, your wife, your sister or your daughter, you are a feminist. Period. Based on this definition, the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is inherently feminist . . .  - Neylan McBaine

One of my friends, Meg, responded as follows:

You know, I’ve stopped calling myself a feminist because of the unwanted (by me) baggage of the word. Its true definition and the definition assigned by other people are often so at odds. Perhaps when we reclaim its real meaning (and understand that is an umbrella that covers so many different schools of thought), I will begin to use it again. Until then, I guess I am a child-of-God-ist. All of us together, male, female. No patriarchy, no matriarchy. Just united in true equality. It happens in my house…so it can happen in the world at large, right? Maybe? Someday?

My response to her:

Meg, I love your thoughts. I’m a feminist ;)

As a result of this brief interaction, Meg reflected on her negative associations with feminism and wrote an essay about a shift in her perspective. I think her words may help Exponent readers who are reluctant to fully acknowledge their feminist heart. Here is the essay. And here is one quote I particularly love:

It is not owned by any one person, any one ideology, any one movement. Feminism belongs to every girl that hoped to make her life better. It is the birthright of any woman that has looked into the night sky and felt the heat of the stars reflected in the chambers of her heart. It belongs in holy places and in the workplace and around kitchen tables. It isn’t radical. It is right. – Meg Conley

The act of naming ourselves is an act of empowerment and self-respect. We are Christian, we are Daughters of God, we are Mormon (a name reclaimed by our religious community).

My name is Melody Newey. I am a kind, compassionate, courageous, hard-working, nurturing and maternal, morally sensitive disciple of Christ.

I’m a feminist.

 

Who are you?

What are some of your names?

If you have felt to call yourself feminist, can you do so now?

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A Response to Neylan McBaine’s “Elder Christofferson And Moral Authority”

In her response to Elder Christofferson’s Saturday morning talk from the recent General Conference, Neylan McBaine begins by saying she’s aware of the reasons she’s not supposed to like the talk, but nevertheless it worked for her in both tone and content.  While it’s not for me to question the “warmth and authenticity” she felt through the talk, for me his approach was more condescending than warm.  When men in positions of authority speak about how women fit into the big picture of society, and of their place in the context of church and family, they take the position of someone with a view larger in scope than the women they refer to.  This point of view is inherently condescending.  Perhaps that is not necessarily bad, but it should come with an acknowledgement of the speaker’s lack of experience as a woman, and that was missing.  Obviously Elder Christofferson has not lived life as a woman, but it becomes necessary to state the obvious in talks like his because of his taking the position of an authority on being female and of having inside knowledge of women’s internal worlds with respect to their moral authority.  It is an affront to women to do this without any admission of his particular view as a man.

Neylan wrote that the term “moral authority” is a fresh description of women’s role in society, church, and family.  But as my co-blogger Em pointed out, the term is not fresh but in fact quite old.  In the nineteenth century women were said not to need the vote because they had moral authority and that was enough.  It was the topic of conduct manuals, essays, and private correspondence, with the consensus being that tangible authority was unnecessary and unseemly when women’s moral authority could be manifested in private.  Neylan is not wrong that Elder Christofferson’s use of the term is novel to modern Mormon discourse.  But in my view his talk harkened back more to the private moral authority of the past than toward a new gender paradigm.

This is a separate discussion, and I’m interested in learning more about what Neylan means by a purpose struggle, but in my view Mormon women do not lack purpose.  Mormon men can check the boxes of passing the sacrament, giving blessings, and attending bishopric meetings and Mormon women can check the boxes of doing visiting teaching, fulfilling their callings, and attending Sacrament meetings.  What the outlets for women’s spiritual growth lack is not delineation, it is scope.  What women lack is not purpose, it is authority.

While Elder Christofferson did not explicitly make this comparison himself, Neylan sees a parallel between “moral authority” and priesthood authority.  She calls it semantic parity, with an administrative (priesthood) authority paired with a ministerial (moral) authority.  I completely agree with her that the way we talk about things matters, but only if the words we use refer to real life.  And the reality is that no holds were lifted in this season of General Conference that would give new ministerial authority to women.  The comparison Christofferson did make came at the end of his message when he fleetingly referred to the moral authority of men.  He did not expand on it, but said that men should cultivate their own “companion moral authority.”  He did not offer any explanation on what women’s counterpart to priesthood might be.

I agree with Neylan that “moral authority” is an improvement over the word “nurture,” which as she says has the disadvantage of sounding like a personality characteristic that not all women have.  In addition, Neylan writes that “Women as nurturers is hard to disentangle from women as mothers, which is of course a vital identity for many of us, but may not satisfy the search for purpose by our single or childless sisters.”  Again, I agree that the term moral authority is less limiting in that it can encompass areas outside the home and outside of mothering.  However, this rhetorical subtlety is almost surely going to be missed by many people who hear Elder Christofferson’s talk.  I think Neylan is expecting too much when she says women can be expected to re-frame their role in the Church based on Christofferson’s use of the term “moral authority” in place of “nurture.”  Especially when Christofferson offered no real explanation of what “moral authority” means.  In addition, it is a significant leap to go from hearing the words “moral authority” to carving out new outlets for ministerial work, and to put the onus on women for making that leap is, I think, unreasonable and unfair.  There is a big difference between saying something is not forbidden and giving the support and resources needed to make that thing possible.  Finally, Neylan mentioned administrative and ministerial work the Relief Society performed in the past, specifically grain management, training midwives, and managing welfare.  As April wrote in a recent post, these are things that were removed from the ministry of women by priesthood leaders!  How do women claim new outlets of ministry when priesthood authority always has the final say?

But the biggest problem with Elder Christofferson’s talk is that it is a rhetorical shift, and nothing more.  Moral authority is merely a new color of wrapping paper in place of the pale hue of nurture we are used to seeing on the package of womanhood.  And that, in my view, is nothing to celebrate.

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