New Series: #VisibleWomen: You can’t be What You can’t See

My years in the Young Women’s organization were rough on me. Part of it was just teenage awkwardness and the rest was teenage cliquishness. As soon as I turned 18, I switched to Relief Society. I have a December birthday, so I spent the last half of my senior year out of Young Women’s. For me, Relief Society was a level playing field filled with a rich history of strong women. Age didn’t matter, we were all women together.

I was called as the Relief Society pianist and paired with one of my seminary teachers as visiting teaching partners. We were assigned to teach one of the other seminary teachers. I’ll let you all imagine how odd it is to refer to your seminary teachers as Sister So-and-so on the weekdays and by first names on Sunday.

Very quickly I learned that all was not well in Relief Society Land, either. The seminary teacher I was supposed to visit teach didn’t like the visiting teaching program and requested that we not visit her. My companion would do lunch with her (and obviously was in constant contact because of sharing the job of teaching seminary) and that was my extent of visiting teaching.

It was both shocking and good for me to learn that a person that I looked up to as a spiritual leader didn’t follow all the programs of the Church exactly. I think it has helped me be more compassionate with people whose needs must to be addressed differently. I still very much believe in Relief Society and its attempt at its expansive mission, but it’s obvious that it isn’t reaching everyone. From Ordain Women to Mormon Women Stand, Mormon women are creating organizations to fill the gaps that the church programs are leaving behind. Of course, Relief Society can’t be everything to everyone, but I believe it, and in turn the Church, can be more to more people.

This Sunday is International Women’s Day and for this, the Exponent is starting a new blog series: #VisibleWomen: you can’t be what you can’t see. In addition to personal stories of Mormon women, this series will come with calls to ask the Church, “Would you please consider…” ways to make women more visible in the Church and feel more include. Hopefully a few of these suggestions will speak to you and you’ll participate in your own ways.

Friendship

 

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Relief Society Lesson 20: Love and Concern For All of Our Father’s Children

Relief Society Lesson  20: Love and Concern For All of Our Father’s Children

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Lesson 20: Love and Concern For All Our Father’s Children

rosegardenstatue  “I believe it is our solemn duty to love one another, to believe in each other, to have faith in each other, that it is our duty to overlook the faults and the failings of each other, and not to magnify them in our own eyes nor before the eyes of the world.  There should be no faultfinding, no back-biting, no evil speaking, one against another, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  We should be true to each other and to every principle of our religion and not be envious one of another.  We should not be jealous one of another, nor angry with each other, and there should not arise in our hearts a feeling that we will not forgive one another our trespasses.  There should be no feeling in the hearts of the children of God of unforgiveness against any man, no matter who he may be.” (Joseph Fielding Smith – lesson manual)

When I read this lesson, this quote alone spoke to me as being the message I would share with my sisters in Relief Society.  I have chosen to break it down into the many bits of counsel that Joseph Fielding Smith offered, supplemented by other quotes from sisters in leadership callings.  A good companion talk for this lesson is Sister Oscarson’s April 2014 address “Sisterhood: Oh how we need each other.”

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I Hope You Stay

It’s not very politically correct these days in the feminist or progressive Mormon community to make a plea like this. We’re expected to honor every woman in the place she stands, to wish her well wherever she goes. And I do. I also want to be able to say what’s in my heart and on my mind.

Political correctness has never been my strong suit. And I’m not sure how to say this except in very simple words. I could say I’m asking out of love, but that may not be entirely true. Except that I love this church. With all its sexist, puritanical, hierarchical insanity, I love it. And I love you too. People like you are making Mormonism better, so even if it’s selfish of me to expect you to listen, I’m going to come out and say it anyway:

I hope you stay.crazyquiltjanicevaine

 

Please stay.

Please don’t go.

Can I help you?

How can I help you?

What can I do to help you stay?

If you’re thinking of leaving Mormonism, please reconsider.

Maybe none of this matters to you anymore. Maybe you’ve reached the breaking point or your therapist has advised you to go. Maybe your wounded heart or your guardian angels are leading you away for your own good. And what can I say to that?

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The Goodness in Others; the Goodness in Me

Suzette and EliTwo years ago this month I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer – and started on a dark journey of hospitals, needles, chemotherapy, nausea, and pain.  I have been reflecting on this time as I pass the anniversary. The thing that stands out the most is how much goodness I saw in others as I struggled through.  It was remarkable to me at the time and continues to be a source of inspiration.

The people I knew well (close friends and family) banded together to form a shelter, so that I rarely worried about my next meal, a ride to the hospital, being alone, or even doing laundry.  My people were beyond generous with their time and resources – and I feel grateful for that every day.

But even outside of my own clan, goodness came to me from all kinds of strangers.  Because I was bald and walking slowly, most people could tell that I was going through some sort of treatment.  I noticed that people smiled at me more and this seemed a sign of solidarity against the great enemy of humankind:  cancer.  Many people approached me to wish me well and give me their prayers.  Waiters and store clerks often discounted items; others (strangers to me) picked up my tab.  Women let me go ahead of them in bathroom lines, teenagers carried my bags, and taxi drivers dismissed charges.  It was astonishing – and wonderful.  I can only imagine that they did these things because they saw “one among them” who was obviously struggling and going through a difficult time.  It was heartening.  I will forever believe in the goodness of humankind because of this experience.

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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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