fast car

tracy-chapman-album-cover

One of the things about leaving Provo (permanently and irrevocably) in 1992 and then moving back more than twenty years later is that I experience these periodic, intense flashbacks that just come out of nowhere. Like this morning, I’m driving up Center Street, listening to the radio, and I hear “You got a fast car, I want a ticket to anywhere . . .” and BOOM, I’m right back in my student apartment playing Tracy Chapman. I’m seeing my bedroom with peculiar 360 degree lucidity, hearing the words to Fast Car (especially Fast Car) coming out of my portable. During that pre-mission semester in 1988, I must have listened to Chapman’s album a thousand times. Now I’m feeling all the old feelings.

Those feelings included, first and foremost, nostalgia. During my last two years of high school I had a car, and despite also having early morning seminary AND a job, I enjoyed hours and hours of driving around with my friends, happily going nowhere. Those were the laissez faire days of benign parental neglect, coupled with the blissful weightlessness of being a teenager, and (gas was cheap) I drove my pals all over the place, imagining the vistas that would open up to us as soon as we got to college.

In my case, college meant BYU. What a shock to the old system when I got to Provo and experienced a sudden, almost vertiginous narrowing of perspective. This many years later, I know what bothered me, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it then: none of my professors was female. Neither were the speakers at any of the Tuesday devotionals, which (as a freshman at least) I attended quite faithfully. It was weird, and it made me feel displaced. But there was very little critical thinking performed at BYU in the late 80s, if such mental activity involved questioning doctrine or authority. My own analytic abilities (probably never robust to begin with) started to feel suspicious to me, and they withered on the vine like sad, rotten grapes.

So yes, Chapman’s anthem of escape struck a deep chord, even if I couldn’t have articulated it. Being at BYU was (to me, okay? I speak only for myself!) like being in a box, and not a particularly large one. When I got out, I did not look back.

Yet here I am in 2016, driving down Center Street in a minivan. Hah! There’s much to like about Provo. It’s a great place to raise kids, and boy, that’s not nothing. But as I said, I’ll have these occasional flashbacks with attendant tightness of breath until I remind myself that I have not only a minivan, but lots and lots of frequent flier miles, and I’ve made peace with my questions as well as my questioning.

I haven’t made peace with the still-unchecked chauvinism at BYU, though (see here!). This is because it’s the same chauvinism that runs rampant through the institutional church, of which I remain a part. It was a hard thing to deal with last Saturday, when I stood outside the Church Administration Building and asked a closed and gated door if someone would hear me. That was a pantomime, but a meaningful one. I could still make myself believe that, unacknowledged though I was by church leadership, perhaps the beating of my wings would ripple across the street where the Q12 were conducting Saturday sessions of Conference. I cherished the hope.

That hope took a bit of a thrashing the next day, when, in between Sunday sessions, I watched a few of the “leaked” videos showing the brethren in various modes of governance, their patriarchy glorious and uncensored. I didn’t watch all fifteen videos by any means, but I watched enough. Content-wise, I saw nothing particularly shocking. However, the unrelenting boys-only clubbiness of the private meetings was difficult for me. No women. No women. No women.

No women. I can only assume that for the apostles, it’s the most natural thing in the world to conduct meetings and such where there are NO WOMEN. Why would they ever feel inclined to consider changing a single thing? The hail-fellow-well-met camaraderie of it all has been working (in their favor) since the nineteenth century. And if it ain’t broken . . .

Friends, Tracy Chapman’s words are just timeless:

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way

EmilyHB

Emily HB 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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12 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Terrific post. First, I adore Tracy Chapman. Fast car is such a poignant song. She has a fast car, but by the end it’s clear she can’t really escape the narrowness and struggles of her life. That reminds me a bit of some of your reflections. You certainly have escaped some of the narrowness of your time at byu, but for those of us affiliating with the LDS Church, we have to live with the reality of the old boys club running the church, “their patriarchy glorious and uncensored.” (Great phrase.) My chest tightens when I think about that reality. It makes me feel sad and hopeless.

  2. spunky says:

    Brilliant post.

    But I do wonder- is Provo a great place to raise a family? As the mother of daughters, fearful of the overt patriarchy….the idea of living in Provo terrifies me as much as the idea that women might be permanently sidelined in the church. Just me?

    • EmilyHB says:

      spunky, thanks for you comment! I can’t say that Provo is more overtly patriarchal than any of the other places we’ve lived; it’s probably reasonable to “assume patriarchy” as some sort of baseline. My greater concern when we moved here was that Provo is so predominantly white, but actually the demographic breakdown of my son’s school is pretty broad, and my daughter’s school is elibible for Title 1 funding, so there is way more diversity than I originally thought. Provo is safe and Utah is gorgeous and our neighbors play a genuinely supportive role in my children’s lives, as I hope I do in their children’s lives. Upshot: raising feminists is challenging in Provo, but no more so than in other places I’ve lived.

  3. Heather says:

    Beautiful imagery. I too felt that mystery malaise that you describe. And I’m not sure which hurts more: that women are so excluded or that the excluders seem so oblivious to the absence of women. When will we finally be in the room where it happens?

    • EmilyHB says:

      Heather, it’ll happen and when it does, I hope that you and I can be in the SAME room (or at least one with Wi-Fi so we can Skype each other). And yes, I have come around to the view that church leadership is oblivious, and it really blows my mind, because it indicates such a total lack of empathy. But they have a vested interest in not feeling what I’m feeling; historically, people in power positions can’t afford it.

  4. Jolie Griffin says:

    Oddly enough, the box of patriarchy existed for me even at a school (Stanford) that I chose because it was not BYU, and I attended full of dreams of what I could do with my life. I remember being that girl.

    And then I met a boy…and then my life fell neatly into the script I had learned somehow without realizing. I comforted myself that it was okay because I was choosing to get married before (not instead of) graduating, and I was choosing to study early childhood psychology (not to be a good mom, but because I really loved it and it was easy to do and graduate early with my husband who was a year ahead of me). All my own choices, right?

    But that was a turning point for me–much of the critical thinking I did as a student, and a lot of my vision of myself as a feminist–went underground when I married young. Although I worked (taught preschool), and lived in NYC (lots of scope for thought and opportunity to learn about diversity), and we didn’t have children for another five years (a few painful infertile ones that I thank God for now), a lot of my feelings about church and life fell lockstep into place. It took a long time to wake my inner feminist again.

    Which is all mostly to say–this patriarchy and its messaging to young children and youth runs deep. And even in diverse places of thought and experience they shape our lives and choices and thinking.

    Sorry for the long response–I love reading what you write Emily, and am glad to have known from way back when (I certainly looked up to then!).

    • EmilyHB says:

      Jolie, I dig your long response, and it totally resonates with me, although the only time I was able to turn off my feminist consciousness was during the 18 months of my mission, when I had to ignore it to be able to do the job I wanted to do–otherwise it would have been impossible to get out of bed in the morning.

      Your point that patriarchy inhabits all the places (I paraphrase): YES. It’s a very fallen world we live in, and I would have liked to have been raised in a faith tradition that is not of that world. Instead, our church embodies the elemental corruption of patriarchy, and it breaks my heart. It didn’t have to be that way. It *doesn’t* have to be that way. Truly, from one day to the next, we could begin to teach something more perfect, and lift ourselves out of the gutter of sexism. I really believe that.

      Love to you!

  5. Allison says:

    Beautiful and painful.

  6. Jenna says:

    Your writing is beautiful and poignant. I was born in Provo and I too went to college there. Now a divorced single Mom I struggle with the parts of tje LDS Faith that resonate with me and the ones that don’t. I appreciate the insight more than you know.

  7. Michelle says:

    Married women, married women, married women. If you are or have ever been in your life a married woman, you are ALREADY considered equal by the church. Never married, childless women, will never be equal. Where’s the outrage? Like you said, “Why would they consider changing a single thing?” Single women disappear so easily into the crowd without a man, so easy to forget they even exist. No one cares if they also want to be “in the (temple sealing) room where it happens.”

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