The question has been asked, “Was there ever a time when there were no learned women?” To this query we reply, No! never since the creation of Eve, our first mother, down to the present, when the cause of women’s social and political rights has become a distinct national question; we admit there has been an unusual intellectual activity for the last twenty years, both in Europe and America, and that there has been advancement and progress in this respect within the last decade, but we are apt to felicitate ourselves, and perhaps are too indiscriminate on the progress achieved in female education.Read More
Years ago, when I was dealing with depression that resulted from a move and the associated massive changes in my life, I sought out an LDS counsellor. I had gone to some counselling sessions at LDS Family Services, but the counsellors there were all men, and I felt the absence of female empathy and direction. I wanted an LDS counsellor because much of my angst was church related. In hindsight, I understand that I sought spiritual advice from a woman, but given the patriarchal structure of the church, only could comprehend female, Mormon, inspired, advice could come from a woman who was a professional counsellor. I do not believe this now. Anyway.
Prior to this move, I found it easy to meet and make friends, sometimes LDS, sometimes not, so had not shied away from moving to new places and trying new things. But this move was different. I chose to move where my husband was going to school and had family, far from my friends, and very different to any other place I had chosen to live previously. The place, the people, and the situation were different and foreign. In this, I suddenly found myself an outsider in a close-knit community. I sought the companionship of female friends, but found it very difficult to meet people. A deep loneliness set in, resulting in depression. Although previously disinterested in Relief Society and its structured friendships, I chose to embrace Relief Society with the expectation of making new friends, even if they were assigned.
It didn’t go well.Read More
As part of her New Year’s resolution, a friend of mine is trying to watch a few TED talks a week. Together we were revisiting Brene Brown’s moving TED talk on vulnerability as a key to emotional connection and I was struck by her use of the word, “worthiness.” (Many, hopefully most, of you have seen this talk, it was given in 2010. If you haven’t seen it, I’d suggest you take 20 min and watch it, especially with someone you love. It’s well worth the time). MRaynes blogged about Dr. Brown’s book here.
In Mormon culture, we hear worthiness so often associated with a checklist of behaviors we may or may not do, according to current church teachings and policies (these have changed widely over the years). Even things as small as the number of earrings a girls wears, the length of her hem, or if she wears a skirt or pants to church may fall into the worthiness category. For me, the notion of worthiness sometimes brings with it feelings of guilt of not being perfect. Perhaps this has to do with how worthiness is gauged by someone outside ourselves, often a priesthood leader. Also, there are so many categories to measure our worthiness, we’re bound to not hit them all, and often feel guilty about our shortcomings. Additionally, I wonder if it’s also part of a culture of guilt within Mormonism. Needless to say, worthiness is not a word that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I’ve never really associated it with connection to others or really even about something I would determine for myself.
That was why I was so surprised that Dr. Brown describes the main difference between two groups of people: those who feel strong connections with others and those who don’t, as an issue of worthiness.Read More
Many people are concerned with a very basic question right now: Why do some women feel unequal in the church? A few years ago I wrote a post for LDS WAVE about why I feel unequal. While this was not an exhaustive list, it made apparent many of the gender disparities that we often take for granted.
Another way to make inequality apparent is to talk about privilege. In academia there is a lot of literature on male privilege and white privilege—those unacknolwedged advantages that men and majority ethnicities gain from women’s and minorities’ disadvantages. An important step in lessening, mitigating and ending this discrimination is acknowledging it. It is sometimes easier to see that others have different gender roles or even that women have some disadvantages. The truly difficult thing to recognize is the concomitant truth: what aspects of being male are advantageous?
Do not despair, this is not an attack on men. Rather it is a mental exercise in trying to see those aspects of gender inequality that are normally hidden in our religious culture. Men (and women alike) are taught not to recognize our privileges or as Dr. Peggy McIntosh puts it the “invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. [Male] privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks” (McIntosh 1988). It is not the fault of the holder of these privileges that he has them. However, it is our moral and ethical duty to learn to recognize, mitigate and lessen them for greater religious gender equality.
I decided to try to identify some of the daily effects of these advantages in order to answer the question: What is it like to have Mormon male privilege? (Many of these points have corollaries in literature on white and male privilege).
As a Mormon Male:
- My odds of receiving a leadership calling compared to females of my same age, experience and spirituality are skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the calling, the larger the odds are skewed.
- My odds of being asked to speak at church functions compared to females of my same age, experience and spirituality are skewed in my favor. The larger the forum, the more my odds are skewed.
- My church leaders are people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the calling, the more this is true.
- When I ask to “see the person in charge,” odds are that I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.
- I can go home from most leadership meetings feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
- I can be pretty sure that a disagreement with a woman is more likely to jeopardize her chances for advancement in leadership positions and her reputation as a good Mormon than it will jeopardize mine.
- I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my gender on trial. If I fall short as a missionary, gospel doctrine teacher, or general conference speaker I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.
- I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my gender.
- If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my gender is not the problem.
- I am never asked to speak for or represent “the” perspective of all the people of my gender.
Tomorrow marks a few milestones for me. My son turns 1 1/2, and despite his frighteningly early birth and warnings from doctors that we could be dealing with a lot of delays and health issues, he’s pretty close to normal on the developmental chart and is healthy (robustly so) and strong (he handles the stairs in our second-and-third-floor condo at now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t speed). It’s the 23rd anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, something seared into my brain because I’d spent several weeks the previous summer in what was then the Soviet Union, and despite people talking in cafes about independence and our translator’s curiosity about free markets and the nuts and bolts of owning a small business, Eastern Europe still looked like an unpickable lock. It’s the birthday of a few friends, one in particular whom I’ve known since childhood.
Tomorrow also marks a year since I signed myself into a psychiatric ward, suicidal, untrusting of family, resentful about church, furious with my husband, feeling desperately alone. I stayed for a week and a half, waiting for a new combination of medicines to work, waiting to trust myself around sharp objects and empty spaces. I slept a lot, went to workshops and meals when I felt I could, put together jigsaw puzzles and then pulled them apart again.
While I was in the hospital, one of the occupational therapists on the ward handed me a list of events that could trigger post-partum depression. Nearly all of them applied to me. Unexpected pregnancy? Check. Complications during pregnancy? Check. Early delivery, baby in NICU, long-term separation of mother and baby? History of depression? Recently stopped breastfeeding? Check, check, check. I hadn’t chosen any of these things. No wonder I was feeling that my life was in freefall, that nothing I did had any effect or meaning.
I think I re-emerged from the depression seven or eight months later. I couldn’t give you a day when I knew I was going to be all right; I still have afternoons that yawn at me like enormous sharp-toothed beasts. For the most part, though, I am myself again, and I am grateful.
About that post-partum checklist: Everything on it represented either an outside stressor or an internal hormonal shift. We are good at recognizing stressors for what they are, but hormones are stealthy, and they are serious. Men are subject to them too, of course, but the word “hormonal” conjures up a specter of a wild-haired, wild-eyed woman at the end of her rope, screaming at her children and threatening her husband with a carving knife or cast-iron skillet. It’s chiefly a female attribute, and it stands in for unstable, unbalanced, irrational, emotional — the opposite of what men tend to pride themselves on being. Label a woman hormonal and she is immediately the other, the unknowable, an embarrassment.
I have a lot of resentment about this, but other than pointing out that hormonal changes are actually normal, I’m going to leave the men-have-hormones-too, emotional-is-neither-better-or-worse-than-analytical arguments for another time. Because yeah, hormones have huge effects on me. I knew that I was pregnant each time — taking a pregnancy test was only ever a confirmation of something I’d already known from fatigue, nausea, and blurred vision. I can feel it when I ovulate. I know when I’m too weepy or too angry or too withdrawn (or maybe just more weepy or angry or withdrawn than usual) that my body is marinating in some new chemical mixture.
And I guess what I really want to say with this post is, first, that sometimes our bodies betray us. We secrete chemicals that change our reaction to the world around us, that alter our lens on reality. I think it must be inherent to mortality: these bodies of cells, dependent on DNA copying over and over correctly, dependent on chemical messages, dependent on small electrical charges lighting up parts of our brains, have constant failures. It’s in the design. It’s miraculous that it works at all, so none of the failures are surprising, and some of the failures are bound to be distorted messages that say “null” instead of “whole,” “harm” instead of “bless.” Things break down. It doesn’t mean that the universe has betrayed us or that the presence of God has withdrawn. It just means that we are mortal and our bodies fail in infinite small ways. Sometimes, like starfish, we are self-healing. But sometimes, because we are social beings, we need someone else to help us heal.
The second thing I want to say is that things do regrow and heal, and that we are not alone. You are not alone. Someone — a visiting teacher? — made a list of people who knew me and loved me, people I could turn to when I felt most helpless and most unloved. Phone numbers. E-mail addresses. I left the list hanging on my refrigerator for months. I rarely used it, but when I did my friends never failed me. Even reading their names made me feel safer. Following this blog and hearing other women’s stories made me feel less “other.” I spent hours reaching out to my Mother in Heaven, asking her for help and feeling her beside me, whispering to me that I would be all right someday, that the only way around was through. I read and re-read Sara Burlingame’s Prayer for a Friend Contemplating Suicide and thought, Other people have been through this, and they have survived, and I will too. It has been a year, and I am still here, and I made it through, and I will keep making it through.
Who and what do you turn to when you feel alone? What are the things that help you see more clearly or feel more connected?Read More
A few years ago when living in Las Vegas, I was driving home from work and listening to the radio when an announcement came on the radio station. One of the DJs was at a specific fast-food chain; listeners who went in to this exact place within a certain period of time and said “hi” to the DJ would get a free specialty burger. I was about 3 blocks from this fast-food place. As a student who was living on my own, and working part time to put myself through university, money was tight. So in this, my days of “rice and beans,” a burger –from any restaurant- sounded like a really nice indulgence.
I pulled in, said “hi” to the DJ and received a coupon for the burger. I went, got the burger and hopped back in my car. I don’t know why I didn’t eat it there, but I didn’t. As I was pulling out of the parking area, I noticed a homeless man. He wasn’t begging, he wasn’t trying to clean windows for cash. He was, however, very clearly destitute. I pulled and stopped at a light. In case you have not experienced this, stop lights in Las Vegas seem incredibly longer than in other cities. And, as you can guess, I felt prompted to give my burger to this man. I rolled down the window, and called out “are you hungry?” He didn’t speak, he rather– jerked awkwardly towards the bag that was in my outstretched hand. He nodded, as if to say thank you, but still did not speak. He took the bag and jerked a few more thank-you type nods as he stepped back onto the curb. The lights changed and I drove off, burgerless.
I felt good. Really good. A very powerful spirit came over me from doing that random service. I didn’t know the man, had not seen him there before or after that. But I can still picture him. I overwhelmingly felt the spirit tell me to give the burger away, and I did. That overwhelming, loving, spirit stayed with me for days. It was so powerful and filled me so spiritually that I wanted to share the feeling. But not just anyone would understand, right? I thought I needed to be someone who I thought understood the spirit. So I shared the experience with a guy – a returned missionary (RM)– whom I had been dating.
“Ha-ha!” he said sourly enunciating each ‘Ha.’ “So now, because you told me, you aren’t going to get any blessings. Ha-ha.”Read More