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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Exposed

I am an introvert. I get my energy from being by myself and being undisturbed. Being at large parties or being around people I don’t know, emotionally and physically overwhelms me, makes me anxious, and exhausts me. Don’t get me wrong. I love being around a large group of my good, close (“good” and “close” being the qualifiers, here) friends that I already know and being in small personal gatherings to meet new friends and people. I love having great conversations and [attempting] to be funny and getting to know people on a small, intimate basis. However, it’s still physically draining for me to do. I need to go back home and recuperate so I can prepare myself for another day of interacting with people.

This party won't last all day for me.... So many people!

This party won’t last all day for me…. So many people!

I am also extremely shy around others that I don’t know. This often hinders me. When I intern, volunteer, or work somewhere, it’s hard for me to make friends with colleagues and coworkers. It’s difficult for me to open up when I’m thrust into a group of people I’m suddenly forced to interact with frequently. It stresses me out, even. Sadly enough, even here on the blog my introversion prohibits me from reaching out and forming new relationships. I’m afraid to speak out or chime in. I worry I’ll say the wrong thing. I’ll worry I have to keep up with conversations I’m not qualified to have. I’m afraid to open up and make myself vulnerable. It’s best if I stay in my quiet little corner until I’m able to warm up and open up. Introverts take time, but I am trying to change and speed up the process.

Feelings of exposure and vulnerability are a gift for some people, but a great struggle for me. A frequent complaint of my friends is the fact that I will actively and truly listen to them about their life and their problems and solve all of their life’s worries, but I rarely talk to them about my life and my problems.

“I feel like I’m talking too much,” a friend will say. “What’s going on with you?”

“Oh, nothing. My life’s not as interesting as yours!” And I’ll sneakily bring the conversation back to the life and goings-on of my friend.

I tend to be more of a listener and observer. It’s safe that way. I’m privy to information without giving up information myself. I get to listen and help with problems and practice my skills of empathy. I get to learn about others and hear about their lives. I love being close to my friends and other people in that way. But I’m now realizing that this is a two-way street. I already feel I’m an excellent listener. Now I need to work on being more vulnerable. More exposed.

It’s hard. I naturally keep things to myself. When people speak ask my opinion of feminism, or Mormonism, or certain politics, I’ll give my opinion–– strongly. But only on a superficial level. I never bring in my personal experiences or connections with the topics at hand. When people ask about my family life or what I’m thinking about, I’ll give generic answers. No one wants to hear what I think, right? But people always want others to listen to what they think, that’s for sure.

But even in my prayers to Heavenly Father, I’m extremely generic. I go through the motions, but I can’t even be open to the one person I’m supposed to open with. Even communicating with God is a struggle for me, which is probably why I rarely say prayers.

Balance is possible, I know. And I also know that my friends truly do want to know what’s going in my life. People trying to be my friend and get to know me also want to hear about my thoughts and myself. My successes and failures, my wins and losses. It’s how we bond with one another. It’s how we help each other and “bear one another’s burdens” and become more Christlike.

So I’m slowly coming out of my introverted woodwork. I’ll always be shy and introverted, there’s no doubt about that. It’ll always be difficult for me to talk about myself and open up. But I need to open up and let others into my life. I need to be exposed. There’s no human connection more powerful than intimacy and vulnerability. And I want to be connected. I want to expand. I don’t want to be safe anymore.

Wish me luck.

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Herstory

Abuela is 2nd from the right

Abuela is 2nd from the right.

Abuela was raised in a small pueblo just after the Mexican Revolution of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Grandpa Angel, 16 years older than Abuela, fought in the revolution. The illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, he killed a man for the first time at the age of 15 in a dispute over the ownership of some pigs. The revolution was good for him as murdering men frequently thrive in violent times. By the close of the war he co-owned a banana plantation and was quite wealthy. His fortunes changed when a drunken bar incident escalated to violence that culminated in a large gun battle in the center of town. Grandpa Angel and his men killed people including some important government officials and had to go on the run. A former general in the revolutionary war helped my grandfather to hide and convert his resources into land and cattle in the pueblo where Abuela lived.

Although raised in humble circumstances, Abuela loved to read and declaim. She first memorized patriotic poems as a three-year-old, declaiming at community events or simple family gatherings. An aunt who married into the family taught school and provided a free education to Abuela, who was reading by age four. Although much of her time was devoted to the typical farm and household chores expected of young girls, in her free time Abuela read every book she could acquire. It was well known in the community that no gift would please her so much as a book (although she also loved to play with dolls). When Abuela was 15 years old, Angel came to the house to visit with her parents. It didn’t matter that Grandpa Angel already had a family in the pueblo with another woman out of wedlock. He settled on a price of cattle and land with Abuela’s parents that greatly improved the resources of the family. Abuela put her books and dolls away and was married.

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On My First Mother’s Day Weekend

On Saturday evening a loved friend met my babe for the first time. Perhaps because of this, the conversation turned to children, and whether she hopes to have one some day. The answer was yes: one. I told her the thing you say, that if she chooses to have a baby, and is able to have one, that she “will be a great parent.” I said this thing sincerely–completely, completely sincerely. She said the thing that I have never had anyone say. “Do you think you are a great parent?” For what felt like a long time, I could only pause. I could only be silent.

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A Sermon for International Women’s Day

Several months ago I was asked to give a talk in my ward’s Sacrament Meeting in celebration of International Women’s Day. The following is the text of that talk.

Introduction

Several years ago I was at a park with my children. There was nothing particularly interesting about this park except for two older boys at one corner play-fighting. I don’t like my children to watch or engage in violent behavior so I tried to keep their attention on the other side of the park. But we kept hearing their taunts: ” I have the power.” “Ha Ha, I just took your power.” “You can’t take it because I’m invincible.” “I have your power, I have your power.” “No. I have THE POWER.”

Sylvia became more and more distracted by their exchange and before I could stop her, she marched over to the two boys. She stared at them intently and then proclaimed, “Now I have the Power.” She snatched at the air in front of their faces as if, in this one single gesture, all of their power and the power of the universe would instantly transfer to her. The look on the boys’ faces was priceless because, at least momentarily, three-year old Sylvie had taken the power.

I was shocked–where did this assuredness and sense of entitlement to a theoretical power come from? We tend to be uncomfortable with women claiming power but as far as I can tell there is no doctrinal justification for this, in fact, just to the contrary. So after the shock, I was delighted and so proud that this spirited little girl is my daughter. Sylvia was and is in that beautiful time before the forces of the world try to convince her that she is smaller than she actually is. Right now she has absolute confidence in her place in the world. Since this experience I have often wondered how I can help Sylvie retain this confidence, or at least prolong it. The results of those musings are the genesis for this talk.

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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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