I have long held that football is the worst so I was thoroughly unsurprised when another scandal presented itself this week. But rather than another story about a football player and his involvement in a rape or assault, this scandal involves a seemingly good Mormon boy caught up in a cruel hoax. I have no idea whether Manti Te’o was complicit in this lie, what is interesting to me is that we have yet another high-profile Mormon man unconsciously, or consciously, displaying the complexities of Mormon gender relations for the world to see.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter whether Manti lied, the gendered impulse behind both possibilities is the same. Mormon men benefit profoundly by being romantically attached to women. But before we examine the privileges that come from being a partnered man, it is important to understand what Te’o had to gain either by believing he was in a relationship or lying about being in one.
I know that it sometimes seems like it is—that it sometimes seems like someone else’s gain automatically signifies my loss, but it is not like that. Or, at least it is not always like that, or not in the things that matter most. This is true on individual levels as well as institutional levels. For instance, men’s gain does not need to mean women’s loss, as women’s gain does not need to mean men’s loss. It doesn’t.
When things are done right, everyone gains: when things are done poorly, no one does. One of the best examples of this in a religious context is set forth by renowned feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether in a direct dialogue with Mormon theology. Straight from a paper I once wrote:
Ruether “engages in a critique of patriarchal images and concepts of God,” as well as “in a re-visioning of God-language inclusive of women and men.” She began by stating her view of the problem of patriarchal God-language. She did this not to suggest that “the traditional patriarchal language for God has been fine for men but has excluded women, so we need some additional feminine language for God,” but to emphasize that “language for God that subordinates women is detrimental to men as well.” Subordinating language “distorts and limits the humanity of men as much as it does the humanity of women,” for a “God who is alienating and dehumanizing to women is harmful to everyone, and even to the well-being of the planet earth itself.”
Before Christmas I read an article about how since fathers are doing more of the child care and more of the purchasing for their families, toy makers are responding by producing toys for girls that also appeal to men. Enter construction worker Barbie and pink Legos.
This may be the first generation of girls to get a chance (on average) to play a lot with construction-type toys. From the article:
“Research shows that playing with blocks, puzzles and construction toys helps children with spatial development, said Dr. Susan C. Levine, chairwoman of the psychology department at the University of Chicago and co-principal investigator at the National Science Foundation’s Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center. Even controlling for other skills such as verbal and numerical skills, she said, children with better spatial thinking are more likely to eventually go into mathematics, engineering, science and technology.
She said that a set aimed at girls could be beneficial, if only because it might increase girls’ likelihood of participating in construction activities.
Dr. O’Brien, the consultant on the new Barbie set, said adults had traditionally been “the limiting factor” in why girls have not played with those toys as often.”
I thought it was fascinating (and obvious, in hindsight) that adults have been the reason girls haven’t received toys that develop spatial skills, and as I recall in my childhood, nary a Lego entered our home until I was about 10 or 11 and my little brothers were old enough to play with them. At that point, I certainly wasn’t interested in playing with construction toys.
This Christmas, my husband and I bought our 5-year old son a Lego set (although his favorite gift was a set of WWII airplanes from his cousin), and our 2 year-old daughter received pretend-play kitchen toys (since that’s what she gravitates toward in her Nursery class) and some puzzles. I want both my kids to fully develop their minds in all kinds of ways, but it’s interesting to me that my husband is the one that’s the most vigilant about making sure our daughter doesn’t get too many “all-girl” toys. And, he’s the one to really shop the sales. The toy makers are noticing!
“In their zeal to promote opportunity for women, something we applaud, there are those who denigrate men and their contributions,” he [Christofferson] said. “They seem to think of life as a competition between male and female — that one must dominate the other, and now it’s the women’s turn. … This cultural emasculation of males is having a damaging effect.”
Some men, he said, use these signals as excuses to duck responsibility.