I know you are, but what am I?

I have two young kids, and they’re of an age when potty language and name calling happen all the time.  ”Poop” is both the funniest word in their vocabulary and the worst insult.  My daughter laughs about making piles of pretend poop at home, but complains of being called a poo-poo-head at preschool.  It feels awful to be called something you’re not, and the immediate impulse when that happens is to correct it in the strongest possible terms.  The typical playground response when I was a kid was, “I know you are, but what am I?”

The reason name calling hurts is because it touches on the most core belief we have – who we are.  My daughter does not believe she is a poo-poo-head and is indignant at being called that, but when someone uses that term I wonder if there’s a flicker of a question about who she is, if not that.  The question is troubling, and terribly insistent.  For her, a soothing word from mom, dad, or a teacher is all that’s needed to answer it until the next insult comes along.

Gradually, I hope all those soothing assurances will accumulate to form a solid self esteem for her.  She’ll know she is an inherently and irrevocably worthy human soul with great potential, loved by Heavenly and earthly parents.  Of course, a healthy self image won’t protect her from ever being hurt by a word, and she’ll be exposed to views, ideas, and experiences that may challenge her beliefs about her identity.

For me, the greatest assurances and the greatest challenges to my identity have come from the Church.  From singing “I am a Child of God” as a toddler, repeating the Young Women theme about being a daughter of God, and my own study of the scriptures and sacred music, I’ve acquired a solid self image of a person who is inherently and irrevocably worthy, with great potential, and loved by Heavenly Parents.  But sometimes things I’m taught at Church also challenge that self image.  And sometimes it’s the things I don’t hear at Church that challenge me most.

For example, I heard about the roles, responsibilities, and power of the priesthood in the last General Conference, and I also heard I’m an appendage to it.  Arms and legs are important and valuable, but they’re not what give people their identity.  In the temple men covenant to God, but the covenant I made was to a man, to hearken to him.  I pray daily and sing weekly praises to Father in Heaven, but I’m at a loss as to how to worship my Mother in Heaven.  I see how men are heirs to Father in Heaven.  I know who they are, but who am I?

I believe I’m a child of God and that Jesus suffered and died for me as much as for anyone.  But the lack of acknowledgement of Mother in Heaven, the asymmetrical temple covenants, the possibility of eternal polygamy, and the withholding of ordination could lead a woman to believe she’s a lesser creation than men.  I know that’s not true.  But I still get that flicker of a terrible, insistent question: Who am I, if not that?  I have no answer, and I can’t be consoled by a soothing word.  So instead of letting the question trouble me, I snuff it out quickly.

Tell me, why should I have to, over and over?

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Guest Post: The Message We Send

by Lori Davis

Fairly often, I read a blog expressing outrage about the message women and girls learn at church: women have no value outside the home, working women are neglecting their real responsibilities, women should always be subservient to men, etc.

I feel some sympathy here, but mostly, I feel puzzled. I’m not hearing that message at church here in the UK.

Two recent talks in Sacrament Meeting are good examples. One working mom spoke about praying over a change in her career path with good financial and spiritual results. Another talk discussed Deborah, Esther, and Eliza R. Snow, with particular emphasis on how motherhood is not what they are remembered for. Incidentally, this last one was given on Mother’s Day, which is in March here. As far as I know, no one batted an eye at either of these talks.

Strong role models are more effective than any amount of talking, so I tallied up the currently prominent women in my ward. 

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Rejected Offerings

Rejected Offerings

I didn’t ask the woman at the door of the tabernacle if I could come to the priesthood session. Elder Oaks had already answered my question, although he had not directed his answer to me. I strained to hear him talking to the men about me, a female member of Christ’s church who wanted to serve God as a priesthood holder. I listened through a cell phone as I waited outside in the rain, where I had been waiting in a line labeled “Standby” for nearly two hours.

It wasn’t a real standby line, even though it was labeled as such. Where I stood, behind hundreds of women hoping against hope to be admitted to the priesthood session, I saw men who entered the line behind me redirected to the real, unlabeled standby line.  A man with a Temple Square name badge was saying, “This is not the priesthood standby line, I’ll tell you that.”

There wasn’t much point to asking the woman at the end of the fake standby line if she would let me in to the priesthood session after she had already refused hundreds of other women. Instead, I asked her about Church PR. I wanted to know why the church PR department had ignored our many written requests for meetings with general authorities but responded to our request for tickets to the priesthood session with an open letter, addressed to me and three other women, with our names across the top, that was published in the Deseret News before I even received it. I wanted to know why that open letter made false claims that Ordain Women had said things that none of us had ever said.

I guess what I really wanted to know was why the church had rejected my offering. I asked to speak with my church leaders. I asked that my questions be taken to God by His prophets. I asked for the opportunity to serve my God and my church in expanded ways.  With the exception of this one woman, who had patiently received us at the end of that line, most of what I received was cutthroat PR tactics that treated me as an enemy.

I suppose that Elder Oaks answered my questions, explaining that a woman is just an “appendage“ to the priesthood. But he wasn’t speaking to me. He was speaking to other men at a session I wasn’t allowed to attend.

Serving as a missionary

Serving as a missionary

It wasn’t the first time the leaders of our church had talked about me and my female peers at the priesthood session. When I was 21 years-old, I was two months into my mission when President Hinckley, the very person who had signed my mission call and sent me to the far-away land where I was serving, gave a talk about sister missionaries during the priesthood session of General Conference. The first thing one of the male missionaries said to me after returning from the priesthood session was, “Boy, President Hinckley sure doesn’t like sister missionaries!” When I read it, I learned that the offering that I was making right then, serving my God and my church as a missionary, had been rejected by the prophet, who would have preferred that women like me stay home. Acknowledging that an all-male session was an odd place to talk about sister missionaries, Hinckley added,

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From the Backlist: Favorite Quotes by Women about Leadership

Nobody-cares-if-you-cant-dance-well.-Just-get-up-and-dance.-Great-dancers-are-not-great-because-of-their-technique-they-are-great-because-of-their-passion-Martha-Graham-quoteApril: My daughter’s PTA just sent an email saying they are decorating her school with quotes about leadership. The email listed 17 quotes and asked if anyone had any other quotes to suggest. All 17 quotes are by men. I think I need to make a lot of suggestions to balance it out. Anyone have any fave quotes by women about leadership? It looks like anything related to vision, hard work or integrity counts.

Deborah:  This is from a rotating list of quotes I used to have in up in my classroom:

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At the Gender Rolls Bakery

rollsThe customer reached for a roll, but the baker slapped her hand, “No!” he said. “That’s the Decide and Preside Roll.  It’s for men. Be careful not to take a roll that isn’t yours.”

The customer stepped back, “Can I have one of these?” she asked, pointing toward the Pastoral Care Rolls.

The baker shook his head.  “Let me show you to our Women’s Department.”

The customer followed the baker to the Women’s Department, which was well-stocked with Motherhood Rolls.

“There’s only one kind of roll here!” complained the customer.

“These rolls are divine,” replied the baker.

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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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