“And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?… How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? … and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever; And thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations; and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?
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.
In July I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. I had major abdominal surgery and began chemotherapy, which continues today. It’s been a long, tiring, terrible journey – and it’s not over yet. My physical body has been opened, cut, poked, drawn, and filled with poison. My emotions have tugged and pulled. The illness has wrecked my preveiously ordered life. I’m too tired to maintain a schedule of work, athletics, socability, and too worried about germs to always attend activities and church service. The doctors keep me close with an endless schedule blood draws, appointments, transfusions, and infusions. I am left desperately trying to keep up, working only part time, and watching the bills pile up.
I worry a lot. About dying. But more about living. How will I recover? And get on my feet again? What things will never be the same again – and how will I grieve the losses? How will I know how to rebuild the pieces that can be recovered?
It is from this dark place of uncertainty and loss that I write three things I am most grateful for on this Thanksgiving weekend.
1. I am thankful that I can see God.
In the midst of my exploding life (last summer), a path was cleared, and in the wreckage some things were illuminated. I believe it was the hand of God. I was handed the right health insurance; I was transfered to the right surgeon; I was provided the right recovery location; and I was given the right part time work. There were no missteps or tangles around these items, they simply were – available and present. And while the cancer still came to me and the cup was not passed over, I felt God with me in the hospital and on the journey. I heard the voice saying, “you will be OK” and “things will work” and “got to sleep; we will fix this in the morning”. My heart has been granted peace many times. I believe it was and is the hand of God – and I see it more clearly because it shines in the darkness.
2. I am thankful for the goodness, kindness, and humanity of others.
The massive outpouring of goodness from other people has come to me in the darkest night. Others have both sat with me in that darkness and lifted me out of it. It has been extrordinary.
In the hospital, I was never alone. Every time I opened my eyes, my friends were there, committed to staying and being near. They stayed in uncomfortable chairs and slept on uncomfortable benches. They held my hands and unhooked me from myrid machines so I could move. They were a constant.
And then the steady march of visits, calls, prayers, lunches, and well wishes came. And the mountain of cards and gifts – and flowers, quilts, food, scarves, funds, chemo remidies, and chocolates. I have been overwhelmed and humbled with the kindnesses – even from strangers.
My family, immediate and extended, have been formost in the effort, assisting me at personal cost to themselves and their families. They simply made themselves available and cared for me.
The most incredible part is that I feel like the help is far from being expended – rather that it is close by me – like an accessible well of goodness – full and waiting. I simply need reach out and scoop it up.
3. I am thankful for the divine spark that I find in myself.
This time of trial has brought me a deeper appreciation for the divine spark within myself. I feel the will to live, to go on, to push forward. I am filled with the sense that I am important and I have something beautiful to add to the world. I feel stronger deep inside. I have a desire to move beyond the darkness and live outside the despair – in a place of joy. I want my spirit to shine.
For these things, I am most grateful at Thanksgiving.
I, along with three other bloggers, will be sharing our notes from various talks from the General Relief Society Broadcast tonight. Here are my notes and comments from the talk by Sister Linda S. Reeves, the new second counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency.
Reeves started with the story of Molly Lenthall, a single, sibling-less 70 year old woman in Australia. She said she felt distinctly the Spirit telling her that despite the fact that she lacks family, yet she is not alone.
She entreated, with the story of Christ’s care for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, that we remember the compassion, empathy, love of Christ when we are weighed down by anguish, sin, adversity, and the pains of life. And that the Lord knows our thoughts and intents and knows us.
She shared personal experiences of feeling the love of the Lord with two stories from her family. First, she told a story of when husband was ill. She felt despair, anguish, anger and turned from the Lord, but eventually prayed and received comfort. And her husband made full recovery. Equally, later when they lost their 17 year old daughter, she felt the same comfort. She testified that the Lord’s comfort was there no matter the outcome.
Cast burdens on God, tell Him how you feel, cast your burden on him. Search the scriptures. Christ has taken not only our sins, but our pains and afflictions.
She concluded with Isaiah 49:16
15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
Overall, I felt that the General Relief Society Presidency has tried hard to make this broadcast Christ- and atonement-centered. They also did a good job of being inclusive of the diversity of women in the Church: acknowledging that we don’t all have nuclear families with husbands and children, but are single, childless, and even without any blood-related family at all. Reeve’s talk included a good balance of women- and men-centered scripture stories, which I think is wonderful. This is a broadcast that I would definitely recommend reading, listening to, or watching again.
On Saturday, August 18th 2012 I attended the We Are Woman Rally in Washington, D.C. which was organized to protest the war on women, evaluate the current state of women’s rights and make our interests known to our representatives; to communicate that we won’t sit back and remain silent while women’s rights—for the first time in more than a century—are not only being threatened, they are moving backwards. I was invited to speak about The Equal Rights Amendment and the importance of women getting the same constitutional guarantees and protections as men. I represented Mormons for ERA and talked about how my religion shaped my moral imperative to fight for equality, social justice and rights and protections for women, children, mothers and families. I argued that for too long we have let the conservative right co-opt religion and families as the motivation for their legislation even when it is evident how many their laws and policies harm women, children, mothers and families. I concluded by encouraging everyone to press forward in the fight for women’s rights and led the masses in the now 50 year-old chant: “Hey! Hey! What do you say? Ratify the E.R.A.”
Hearing hundreds of voices join together in support of what I consider one of the greatest travesties of legislative justice in American history was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Unfortunately, another memory from that day stands out just as clearly.
Mormons for ERA were gathered on the West lawn of the U. S. Capitol holding signs, mingling with fellow protestors, and wrangling our children when a family approached us. They were a Caucasian seemingly upper-middle class family of four on vacation to the District of Columbia. They saw our signs and wanted to know more about the rally and our organization. We explained briefly and the wife inquired about our Mormons for ERA sign. “Are you for or against Mormons?” she skittishly asked. “We are all Mormons” I cheerfully explained. A look of relief flushed across her face and she reached out to connect, “We are Mormons, too” she enthused. We soon got talking about banal subjects and the husband interrupted to ask what the ERA was. I had not even gotten through a basic description of the 24 word amendment when he interrupted me again to explain why what I was saying was wrong because “God makes those decisions, not humans or governments” he assured me. “Excuse me?” I asked. I was certain I had misunderstood him because his statement made no logical sense in the context of what we were talking about. “The scriptures clearly show that marriage is between one man and one woman. That is God’s truth and humans or governments have nothing to do with it.” He preached and then reached out, gathered up his family and began quickly turning his back on us. “Well, do you want to talk about this or are you leaving?” I asked trying to be considerate of their family vacation schedule and not wanting to debate in front of his children unless he was game. He turned to look at me exasperated. His visage was scrunched with annoyance that tacitly communicated, “I’ve already explained it to you little girl. What more can be said?” I was not intimidated. I dared to suggest, “Actually our scriptures have many forms of marriage sanctioned by God: polygyny, polyandry, concubines, marrying the eldest daughter, widows marrying brothers, etc. More importantly, however, what does this have to do with women’s rights and the ERA for which this rally is gathered?” He ignored everything that I said then he rolled his eyes and shook his head as he reasserted his point about the bible, God, and governments with “the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant” (Solnit 2012). When the last phrase left his lips he turned and walked away without so much as acknowledgment that I was still standing there or that I might want to reply. He made sure that his was the last word. As he made a hasty retreat his wife and children were left to awkwardly say goodbye and rush ahead to catch up to him.