Guest Post: Meetings — The Hidden Agenda

by Nate Curtis

(Nate Curtis is a father of three, and husband of one.  Nate lives in Phoenix, Arizona and working at a really fun job that is also really boring to talk about.)

A few weeks ago, EmilyCC received a message from a friend and fellow feminist that is going through a trial.  EmilyCC shared with me (anonymously – I have no idea who this woman is) a message in which this woman described the ordeal she was facing.  EmilyCC shared this message with me because she was deeply affected by this sister’s plight.

As I read the message, I felt completely differently.  I found myself thinking, “Why does she want her bishop and stake president to beat up on her?  She is almost asking for them to emotionally destroy her.  Does she want to by martyred for the feminist cause?”  I was shocked at myself.  How could I, a professed male feminist, and one who was raised, indoctrinated and married into feminist faithful so quickly conclude that this woman was “asking for it”?

Determined to get to the bottom of this gaping hole in my feminist armor, I started carefully examining why this sister’s cry for help was soliciting blatantly misogynistic conclusions from me.    After carefully rereading her message to EmilyCC, I realized that she had no hope that any good would come from this meeting.  Her lack of hope is why I wrongly concluded that she wanted to be abused.

Forgive me for a moment of “mansplaining” feminists know this, but it was a moment of revelation for me.  When men go to a meeting, and especially a church meeting, there is hope for progress.  (by “meeting” I mean when 2 or more people get together to decide on a course of action and/or resolve a dispute).  Furthermore, we go to church meetings and defer the decision-making authority to someone at the meeting (usually a bishop) because we know that one day, we might be that authority figure, and we want everyone else to accept our decisions when/if that day comes.

For women, church leadership meetings  mean they sit and listen to men make decisions.  Even when a woman’s input does influence the decision process, it does so in the shadow of a “worthy” man who is allied with the woman and champions the cause on her behalf.  Women have been conditioned to behave this way not just in church meetings, but in business meetings as well.  Men and women approach meetings with radically different views that have been established and reinforced for generations both in and out of the church.

I am embarrassed to say that never realized how deeply the hopelessness that results from the meeting bias goes in Mormon women’s individual and collective psyche.

After coming to this realization, I revisited the message from this sister to Emily.  Of course a woman, faced with the prospect of meeting with two male religious authorities who “love” her would be terrified and defeated.  She has been taught since she was a child that in such meetings she has no power, control or influence.  Her belief structure dictates that by even going to this meeting she is submitting to the will of her male religious authority.  How wrong is that?

I finally begin to understand a friend’s description of her church disciplinary counsel as, “…being gang-raped by Carebears.”

The root of this problem is that men typically view meetings as battles and women typically do not.

This form of combat is not always against an “enemy” per se.  For example, I attended bishopric meetings for years.  In those meetings, the bishop would ask his counselors for their advice on various issues.  The bishop would then make a decision that usually favored the advice from one of his counselors.  In that interaction, the favored counselor was the victor over the other even though there is no traditional “enemy”.   The benefits for the victorious counselor include self-confidence, church standing, and reputation-building.  Most church leadership meetings are battles similar to this.

In the Art of War, one of Tzu’s main themes is that the outcome of a battle is decided in the preparation for the fight, and not the fight itself.  In preparing for meetings men build weapons to help them achieve victory.  Here is a short list of some of the more universal and effective weapons that men (including myself) use in meetings.

  1. Write and distribute an agenda – Whoever controls the agenda controls the meeting.
  2. Record the meeting – Honor dictates that men will not lie or go back on their word if they know a record is kept.
  3. Bring allies – Often, the party with the most combatants wins.
  4. Divide your adversary –  This weakens their confidence and credibility.
  5. Role play – practice the meeting ahead of time.

I could write a book on each of these weapons, and many people have done just that.  There are several lawyers here, they will recognize that these tools are used daily in the legal field which is the formal meeting/battle format.  I personally use all of these weapons in most meetings both in and out of the church.

Men have designed the meeting/battle system because it favors our gender.  Generally, men prefer to fight.  Men want a clear victor in any conflict, we want to solve problems, and resolve conflict.  The meeting/battle system is effective, but either by design, or by circumstance, this system does not generally favor women.

In conclusion, my questions are:

  1. Why don’t Mormon Feminist, who recognize the unfair nature of the meeting/battle system, change nature of the battle by showing up to meetings armed with the same weapons that men use?
  2. How would the male-centric meeting/battle system of resolving disputes and making decisions change when women are in charge?

 

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69 Responses

  1. Ryan says:

    >>I finally begin to understand a friend’s description of her church disciplinary counsel as, “…being gang-raped by Carebears.”<<

    For what it's worth, I think that this statement is highly inappropriate and trivializes rape which is a very serious issue.

    • Annie B. says:

      After growing up and learning a less filtered version of LDS church history (Joseph Smith practicing polygamy in secret and often behind Emma’s back) I wondered if that precedent meant that my own father, and even my own husband might secretly practice polygamy. I later told my husband that after knowing certain things about the LDS church history I felt spiritually raped. Maybe that is another way to put it. I believe that trivializing rape is inappropriate, but I don’t think that’s what the phrase was meant to do, or actually did. I also agree with Alissa.

  2. Nate Curtis says:

    Yeah Ryan, I used to feel the same way. I don’t anymore. I got a small glimpse of just what must feel like. I realized that my level of discomfort with that particular description is one reason I can never fully understand what it is to be a Mormon woman.

    I agonized over that quote for some time, but in the end, I realized that the controversy of that quote is one of the only ways I can force other men to face the uncomfortable reality of a loving patriarchy.

    Those are not my words, but the words of a woman who experienced exactly the phenomenon I am trying to communicate. If you are uncomfortable with her description, I would recommend that you start thinking hard about the structure of church courts, and how demeaning and difficult that structure is to the sinner, and particularly the female sinner.

    • Ryan says:

      >>If you are uncomfortable with her description, I would recommend that you start thinking hard about the structure of church courts, and how demeaning and difficult that structure is to the sinner, and particularly the female sinner.<<

      I think you misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm not uncomfortable with the description; I think the description itself is highly inappropriate. While Church courts can be seen by some as "demeaning and difficult," there is no comparison between a Church court and a horrifically violent crime such as a rape. Any such comparison, particularly one such as "gang-raped by Carebears" is completely inappropriate and frankly, reprehensible. It trivializes real life experiences faced by survivors every day. While it may have been someone else's comment originally, I think it should not have been repeated.

      • Nate Curtis says:

        Understood, but if that is how the experience made her feel, why should she remain silent or understate her feelings just to make you (and me for that matter) comfortable?

      • Ryan says:

        I understand your question. I would say it’s not my call on how anyone expresses their feelings. However, there are countless ways to express feelings without trivializing others’ abuse.

      • Alisa says:

        For the record, I think that this expression (gang-raped by Carebears) is appropriate. Not only was it made by a strong feminist leader who is well acquainted with rape and its implications, but it describes the actual violence that the Church leaders do when they kill someone’s soul, they sever that person’s relationship with Christ and cut them off from their baptism and the atonement, they damn that person from the Celestial kingdom, when they cut all eternal familial sealings to that individual to ensure that person is alone and lost forever, and they take it upon themselves to move the judgment bar from God’s timing (after death) to this life in a court where the person on trial can bring no representation, and where the “advocates” assigned are also the jury and judge.

        Some say that God is worse than Hitler, because Hitler could only punish people until death, but God punishes His own children for eternity. A Church court not acted in righteousness or fairness or under the rule of law that creates all this eternal and spiritual violence on a person looks–to a person who truly believes in the Church–as an eternally violent act, worse than anything one could suffer in mortality. Yet these courts open and end with prayer, shaking of hands, etc. You don’t kill someone’s eternal soul, condemn them to eternal salvation, and make the decision to have Christ’s atonement be null-and-void, robbing them of thier children and parents forever, and do it oh-so-nicely without ending up with a metaphor like “being gang-raped by Carebears.”

      • Nate Curtis says:

        Alisa – That is a much better and more eloquent description of why I thought it an appropriate quote. Thank you!

      • spunky says:

        I think the expression is brilliant, as Alisa eloquently stated. Thank you, Alisa.

    • anonforthis says:

      When I was date-raped, I was able to understand and contextualize the experience largely because I had already been subjected to a psychological/spiritual rape at the hands of an LDS priesthood leader. Frankly, the spiritual rape was worse, because the priesthood guy felt entirely justified in what he did to me, chastised me for crying while he abused his authority over me, refused to let me leave when I wanted to, told me the experience was good for me and would bring my closer to my heavenly father, and expected me to be grateful to him. At least the other guy didn’t expect gratitude.

      it’s been almost 30 years and I find myself fighting back a panic attack as I write about it now.

      Ryan, I agree with Nate: If you really think that the comparison trivializes rape, you might think very hard about the types of abuse and cruelty women are often subjected to by their priesthood leaders. Rape after all is meant to demean, disempower, and hurt a person in the most personal, intimate ways possible. Crucial to that is aggressive domination and disregard of the victim’s sovereignty over her/his personal integrity and self. I think that discipline of a woman in a roomful of male priesthood leaders–or even the discipline of a woman by one very aggressive priesthood leader–can be all too consistent with that.

  3. April says:

    I can see how some of these strategies would be useful, but I have questions about how to use a few of them. For example, since men always have the authority in these meetings, it is their privilege to set the agenda. I suppose a woman could write a list of agenda items that she wishes to discuss, and a written list may be more effective than merely trying to verbally change the subject, but the male authority figure would still have the right to veto any items on her list.

    Also, I wonder about item 3. Since, by design, church council meetings always include more men than women, and even then, the only women there were personally selected by the male authority figure, how does a woman “bring allies”? Are you allowed to bring people other than those prescribed in the Handbook to the meeting? If so, can any council member invite them, or does it have to be the bishop?

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Reply for April:

      “For example, since men always have the authority in these meetings, it is their privilege to set the agenda”

      You are correct, the handbook actually says that bishops should have agendas for every one of their meetings. The Bishop’s executive secretary is tasked with writing these agendas. I am the only executive secretary I have ever met that actually did this part of my calling.

      When I am going to any meeting (in or out of chuch), I write an agenda and send it out ahead of time. I don’t always call it an agenda, most of the time, it is a list of topics I want to cover in the meeting. Bishops will typically welcome such emails because it provides structure and flow to their meetings. In this manner, it doesn’t matter who is officially in charge if they are using your agenda for some or all of the meeting.

      “Since, by design, church council meetings always include more men than women, and even then, the only women there were personally selected by the male authority figure, how does a woman ‘bring allies’?”

      The handbook give great leeway to the bishop on who is allowed to attend different meetings. Basically, the bishop can invite anyone he wants to any of his meetings. In addition, auxiliary heads are permitted to send anyone from their presidencies to these meetings. Other than these two small loopholes, the church has very effectively stacked the deck against women regarding the ally-based weapons, but creativity always finds a way.

      Allies don’t need to be women. When faced with a situation where I cannot bring allies, I will create my own. I do this by coupling together several weapons. When I list my “topics” (agenda), I will call up other people who are going to be at the meeting and tell them I am making a list of talking points for the meeting and ask them if they want anything on the list.

      Most of the time, they won’t add anything, but it opens the door for me to talk about my agenda and either passively or actively solicit their support. More often than not, this conversation leads to an allie.

      The second place to create allies is by utilizing tool #4 “divide your adversary”. In Mormon meetings, men consider one another allies by default, but this bond is incredibly weak most of the time.

      When I have set up, or been set up to be in a confrontational meeting that is intended to resolve a dispute, the first thing I do is, in front of the entire group, thank the person in authority for allowing the meeting to happen.

      For Mormon women in particular, this sign of gratitude places the responsibility of defender and protector of that woman on the authority figure. He now has been publicly identified as your protector to the group. As a result, he is culturally obligated to stand up for you even if he doesn’t agree with you.

      As a result, you have now inserted a wedge between your adversaries. The rules change for men once such gratitude has been displayed. The best part about this is that when a person does this, they have taken possession of a big part of the leader’s power. His followers (who are typically the ones tasked with leading the charge) are now unsure of what course of action they should take, and where their leader stands. They will likely be less aggressive in defense of their position. While I utilize this tool regularly, it is much more effective in Mormon culture when used by women because women are generally considered to be in need of protection. As long as the inequality exist, you minus well make use of it to further the cause.

      In more advanced meeting/battles one or both sides will attempt to disguise or hide their decision-maker or authority figure in order to prevent this strategy. This is one reason why lawyers will often not bring their clients (the decision-makers) to mediation or negotiation.

      Sorry for the long reply – it is a deep and critically important aspect of Mormon male culture.

  4. I think it would be of more worth, rather than encourage the women to take on more of the “weapons” of the men, to teach the men to change their perceptions and treatments of the women they work with. I’ve not been privy to a lot of Bishoprics, but the one I was a part of actively encouraged discussion about the direction of the ward and adding new things to the agenda, from all the men and women involved int he counsels.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Ahh, the community agenda. One of the great applications of the agenda weapon.

      The meeting starts with a prayer, maybe a spiritual thought, and then the bishop ask what people want to talk about. He dutifully takes notes either on a notepad or white board, then he decides the order and which agenda items will be addressed. The illusion of shared leadership is convincing.

      A very effective use of one of the most powerful meeting weapons.

      I find it very interesting that the first replies are from men, and they are not pleased. I find that many Mormon men are uncomfortable with the depiction of church meetings as battles and competitions because it feels contrary to the gospel. Do either of you have an alternative opinion of how these meetings are designed?

      • No, not having no agenda, but having a Exec good enough to be in close contact with all the presidencies to know what is asked to be on the agenda.

        You seem to think its not possible to have equality of opinions when there are fewer women than men in a meeting. A good organization (in the Church or not) works with all their contributors, no matter what their gender or even racial heritage. Organizations that don’t have a hard time working at all.

      • Nate Curtis says:

        It is possible to have equality in such meetings. But the structure of meetings generally, and in the church specifically are not equal in any way.

        What we have is a voluntary subservience that assigns power to one individual who may attempt to create an illusion of equality.

        And I strongly disagree that organizations can’t function like this. For all of its sexists faults, the male-centric meeting/battle format is highly effective at solving problems and resolving conflict.

        If you really believe what you are saying, go and suggest something outlandish at your next leadership meeting and see what happens. For example, ask if girls can participate in the pinewood derby next year (Boy Scouts of America is fine with this). After you make a recommendation outside the proscribed church rules, see how quickly the battle system is revealed.

      • Erin says:

        For what it’s worth: in our stake, girls are allowed to build and race pinewood derby cars, but only after the scouts race them.

        Re: why women don’t use the same battle strategies as men–for me, I just don’t think of meetings as a place to do battle. I suspect some women must, but for me, while I don’t consider myself passive in any way, I do come to meetings expecting to hear and be heard. Maybe I am more concerned about relationship-y things and less about bullet points on an agenda. I suspect many women are. Maybe this is why women in general don’t play by men’s rules–we just are unaware the rules exist.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Actually, I agree. I am always hearing what women need to do. I’m already told how to dress, how to be safe, how to be a good mom/wife, and now how to play by the male rules in a meeting?

      I mean, I get it. It’s useful information, so I don’t mean that this isn’t a valid option. But I am tired of the assumption that feminist problems require women to fix them. We need men, too.

      For each time I am given a new tool to use, I would love to hear what men can freaking do too. After all, they have the privileged position. For our male readers, certainly there are some ideas out there for how to change the meeting structure in church as well? We’re gonna get a lot more done with BOTH sides chipping away than just one.

      I recently quoted this from Shakesville on another comment thread, and I think it’s applicable: This is the hard truth for progressive men who care about gender-based inequalities: When you leave the public fight to others, you’re leaving it mostly to women—which is itself a perpetuation of gender-based inequality. I’ll give you a moment to contemplate the many ways in which treating feminism as “woman’s work” is some f**ked-up irony, right there.

      • Nate Curtis says:

        I never suggested that women adopt the male format. I only described it so that we had a common framework.

        I then asked why women don’t use those tools, because I really don’t understand why women don’t. I think your reply addresses that question indirectly.

        Just because I identified the process, doesn’t mean I think women need to “change” in order to fit into a male world. I do not.

        That is why I asked the second question, how would women do it differently?

      • rah says:

        I think this is somewhat of a good place to disagree slightly with the OP. I think most the dynamics of how meetings in any hierarchical system are run are pretty much the same. Put a bunch of women in a hierarchical structure and I would say 90% of the same dynamics would apply. Maybe they wouldn’t use a war metaphor, but it the same general principle’s apply. I don’t think we need to fully gender these tactics. I have a sneaking suspicion that decision making processes in a feminist commune look pretty similar to those in a cloister full of monks.

        However, I do agree though with seeing the very gendered way the all male hierarchy plays out and then thinking hard about how as a woman you can best game the system. I love the key insight that women don’t play the defer now so people will follow me later game men can play. Until there are decision rights given to women within the church hierarchy then they are left to “turning the head” and other influence tactics that are subtly and not-so subtly different. There is value for feminist men and women to understand the dynamics of this unequal game so as to maximize as much as possible the influence of women, because more equal influence will positively affect the community as a whole.

        So yes Kmille I agree lets get men on board but it is also important to help women understand how to best navigate a system where they can’t play by the same rules. I think Nate has some insight there.

  5. Bonnie says:

    Interesting post. While I appreciate the sentiments and the intent behind them, I reject for the most part the need to behave as men do in order to be a powerful woman. I’ve been in battle meetings as you describe and the older I’ve gotten the less patience I have with them (really: self-aggrandizing, eminence-building, prideful, unproductive, childish, bullying, the adjectives do not fail me.) I wholeheartedly reject the idea of a council as a forum for power-jockeying, because I am a pragmatist even before I’m a feminist, and I really just want to get things done (and even power-jockeying idiot puppet self-elevators sometimes do that). I have presided over female auxiliaries quite a few times and I don’t run meetings anything like this (and they don’t take forever or involve excessive feminine emotion-stroking, either.)

    In addition, I have found most of the men I’ve dealt with professionally (as a consultant) and spiritually (as PH leaders) open to gentle correction in the vein of D&C121. The ones who weren’t open aren’t worthy of much control in my outlook, and I’m sure most men have met women who aren’t the best representatives of our sex. Still, I’m glad you’ve written this, at least for people who see behaving as a man a valid way to assert femininity – because we are all coming from different places. I’m bound to live my life behaving as neither a man nor a woman but a Bonnie, so sometimes I don’t fit either masculinity or femininity. For the most part, nobody’s fallen off a cliff about it.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Thank you for your response Bonnie. One of the reasons I wrote this is to try and understand how it is different when women run the show. Can you describe how the meetings you ran were different and what made them so effective?

      Most Mormon meeting/battles are done in a rather lovely and self-depreciating manner. In my experience the battle is usually well-hidden behind a great deal of respect, love and sincere compassion. At its heart, we still have men trying to do what is right for their congregations, but the battle is always there, sometimes it is harder to identify, but it is always there.

      • Bonnie says:

        When I conducted presidency meetings, I circulated an agenda to all attendees a week before as often as my schedule allowed. If I didn’t, we only discussed what we said we were going to discuss in the meeting two weeks before. We always ended on time, even if we hadn’t discussed everything. 1 1/2 hours for YW, 1 hour for primary (I really had to fight for time limits when I served in Stake RS, but I wasn’t in charge). We had extra meetings only for large annual activities, but usually only one and the rest was delegated to committees who reported at pres. meetings.

        I always praised every single contribution and defended those that we didn’t select. I always turned the focus to the goal: does it accomplish our goal? I always asked a lot of questions during the discussion and offered my observations then, but we decided together on a course of action; I did not make a decision. Only once did a group decision not parallel my belief, and it was a great learning experience for two people who really needed it in that case. True, I have always felt like my role as a leader was to actualize other leaders as much as to accomplish things, so that certainly colors my personal MO. And I have no lack of opinions; I just think that we will work together ten times faster if everyone is invested, and that happens more efficiently with shared leadership.

        Men think hierarchically, so it’s difficult for them to conceive of a group dynamic that is unified enough to arrive at consensus efficiently, egalitarian-like, and with all the information. When men meet to battle, they assume that one will be superior. When women meet in unity, they lead cafeteria style, and what evolves usually bears no resemblance to any of the ideas that first entered the discussion.

        I agree that embattled PH leaders do often act like carebears. Anyone who has dealt with passive-aggressive people can deal with that. I’ve certainly dealt with passive-aggressive women. But my experience is that once people taste shared leadership, they never go back.

  6. Diane says:

    Nate,

    When I went in to speak to the Bishop(about the issue I was having with my Home teacher) I brought the RSP with me. My Relief Society President happened be a lawyer who does work for the Nuclear Reg. In other words she’s no dummy. Even with her by my side, the man basically laughed in my face about the situation.

    I have much anger towards this man( Both the Bishop and Home-teacher) four years after the fact. Why, because he refused to do anything about the abuse that my Home-teacher was subjecting me to. But, the one thing that I am proud of most is the fact that I was smart enough to have someone in the room with me that can vouch that yes, indeed I was laughed at. And that being said, no one wanted to talk about the situation.

    So, the fact still remain even if woman still employ your tactics as I did, there is no sure fire way that anything will result in anything positive coming as a result.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      I am sorry to hear that. It sounds like a very bad experience. Preparing for a battle is no guarantee for a victory. I have lost many battles, sometimes over issues that were dear to me.

      Your story does spark my curiosity. What I would expect to happen in that situation is for the bishop to at least take some sort of action or follow-up, specifically because you had someone with you.

      You bringing someone with you means there is a record of his response, and he could be held accountable. In that situation, he must have been very confident in his decision to reject your concerns. Sitting there, listening to you, he was, at some level, evaluating what would happen if you elevated your concerns to the stake president.

      Knowing that he could not adequately misrepresent his meeting with you (since you had two people and he had one) he felt confident that his decision to ignore would be defensible to the SP.

      Not that you should have to, you most certainly should not, but did you escalate your concerns or attempt to escalate to the stake?

      • Diane says:

        Nate,

        I have written about my situation in previous post, so I don’t really want to write about it all over again.

        but, suffice it to say I took all appropriate actions including writing and speaking to my SP, writing a letter to an Area Seventy and the General Presidency of the Church. No one ever addressed my concerns.

        Since they never bothered to address my concerns in any real constructive meaningful manner I felt I could no longer in good conscience raise my hand in support of leadership and I requested to have my name removed from church membership. And I did in fact stand in opposition to support my Bishop (in the presence of a SP)during an actual meeting. It was not a pretty. But, I made my point, and I wouldn’t let myself be made a liar to support a Bishopric, or even more clearly a Branch that didn’t support me.

      • Nate Curtis says:

        Good for you! I am sorry that you had to go through that.

        The fact that you had the courage to see it through is a great example.

  7. ZD Eve says:

    Nate, an excellent post. Immensely useful. I’m going to print this out, condense it, and keep a copy in my scriptures (or on my phone, the modern equivalent).

    I had an absolutely terrible encounter with a bishop a couple of years ago. A lot of my problem was that I was completely blindsided by the meeting and the agenda, which was actually that of an extended family member who had recruited my bishop to his agenda in a good-old-boys’ informal agreement. I so wish I had had this sort of thing at my disposal. Now I do!

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Yes. When I started suspecting that this aspect of male culture is hidden, I started asking women about whether or not they saw these tools in use. I am amazed at how many stories I hear like yours where once the weapons are identified, women immediately see how those weapons were used against them.

      For the record, using these weapons is not taught in Deacons quorum or Priesthood session. These tools are passed on from father to son, mentor to apprentice, and bishop to counselor. These weapons are not openly discussed or identified as such, but are instead, taught and learned through examples.

      Some of the most proficient uses of these weapons in the church don’t even consciously realize what they are doing which makes the person and the weapon even more effective.

      • el oso says:

        These are used and taught all the time in business and mainstream society. Also, they are many times used subconsciously since the users do not realize where they learned them and they are not always appropriate in a church council setting.

  8. Sherry says:

    “gang-raped by care bears” does resonate with me. My X had a church court for raping me over the 29 years of our marriage. Not that the word “rape” was EVER used. I was the only woman in the room with 15 men, and X yelled at me all the way home. I”ve lost 99% of my trust in P.hood leaders after that, even tho X was disciplined. (we later divorced). I WAS highly traumatized by that experience. Even tho the men seemed to care about me, the subject matter was highly personal and I had NO women or any person who really knew me or deeply cared about me, to be there with me. So that phrase could easily be used to describe my experience. Sure, those 15 men “loved” me but it was terrible. I should have had a woman who loved me there with me.

    • anonforthis says:

      What’s really striking about this, if I understand it correctly, Sherry, is that the church court was for the perpetrator of a rape–and yet, as the victim, you felt raped again in the process of trying to pursue justice and accountability. That’s pretty typical of how rape victims feel in secular courts, but it’s one heck of a note that it happens in church courts too.

      Sometimes it’s accidental, but sometimes it’s deliberate, a way to get perpetrators–who tend to be more powerful than their victims–off the hook: shame and terrorize the victim and make any sort of trial a recreation of the initial rape, so that they’re just too traumatized to go through with it.

      And even (especially?) when it’s done by people who claim to love you and have your best interest at heart, it can be pretty darn traumatic. After all, if you can trust these people who claim to love you and have divine guidance about what’s best for you, who can you trust?

      • anonforthis says:

        make that, “if you can’t trust trust these people who claim to love you and have divine guidance about what’s best for you, who can you trust?”

        sorry.

    • Kmillecam says:

      This is absolutely horrifying. I wish I could have been there with you. But I am here now, and I’m glad you could share something so painful here so we could all witness it. I hope that you are okay after something that painful happening.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      What a powerful story!

      I am sorry that you had to go through that experience, and for the damage caused. One of the biggest deficiencies of the meeting/battle format is that the weak are made weaker unless they come prepared.

      There is no safety or floor to the pain and trauma that can happen. As a result stories like your (and many others) happen. Where you, the victim, are beaten down again and again even though the outcome was officially a resolution affirming your trauma and abuse.

      The church court system is probably the most difficult meeting/battle to prepare for. The accused and accuser both start off with no power or authority, but the bond of “brotherhood” always tilts the scale toward the male.

  9. Caroline says:

    This is fascinating, Nate. Thank you for posting this.

    “Why don’t Mormon Feminist, who recognize the unfair nature of the meeting/battle system, change nature of the battle by showing up to meetings armed with the same weapons that men use?”

    The first thing that comes to my mind is a quote by feminist Audre Lorde about feminists and patriarchy. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” If I understand her, she’s saying that feminists can’t employ the same tactics and strategies as those in the power positions — otherwise you just end up perpetuating the same unfair power systems. So on one level it makes sense to me if feminists refuse to play this jockeying for power game that you outlined.

    That said, if I really want something specific from my bishop someday, I’m going to remember these tactics.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Thanks for articulating this, Caroline. This was what I was getting at above. I’m glad Nate has outlined what he has, so that people who can make use of it will have more tools than before.

      But for me, it really feels like playing another version of the same gender game that I refuse to play.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      I will respectfully disagree with Ms. Lorde. If I need to dismantle a house, I use the same tools that I used to build that house.

      That being said. Ms. Lorde’s deeper meaning is not lost on me. I see that rejecting the male-centric meeting/battle is a critical statement for feminists to make.

      But there are still communal problems that must be solved, and there are still disputes that must be resolved. What are the feminist alternative(s)?

      • EmilyCC says:

        Nate, we’ve dismantled a few houses in our years together (figuratively and literally). The tools are different. I use plaster, plywood, drills and hammers to build parts of our house. And, I take lots of trips to Home Depot. When I’m taking something apart, I use sledgehammers, plastic sheeting, and lots of garbage bags, coupled with multiple trips to the dump.

        There’s some crossover–I use hammers in demolition and creation, but I do think in most cases a new set of tools is necessary.

        I think the feminist alternatives are discussed and worked out in forums like this blog and others as we try to us figure out what tools are most effective. (Can I plug WAVE’s upcoming book which lists specific ways to include women more at the local levels of the Church?)

        I don’t think many battles are fought in these sorts of meetings. I think feminist alternatives come through teaching and example, e.g. expanding the definition of modesty that we teach our youth and having powerful and articulate women speak in sacrament meeting.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    This post has made me think for a couple weeks. Thanks for writing it, Nate.

    I think Caroline makes a good point and Lorde’s quote is a powerful one. However, I think there are times when as Mormon feminists, the overall war for equality may necessitate fighting a battle over a specific incident or issue using the tools that will ensure that we are heard.

    It is exhausting to be bombarded with the message that we, as women, should to adapt to the patriarchal structure in order to be respected and heard, but I feel fortunate that in most aspects of my life the men I’m trying to speak with and learn from are also trying adapt and learn from me.

    • Caroline says:

      “I think there are times when as Mormon feminists, the overall war for equality may necessitate fighting a battle over a specific incident or issue using the tools that will ensure that we are heard.”

      I think that’s a great point, Emily.

  11. mraynes says:

    I’m conflicted about this, Nate, because while I think the points you make are really useful and are ones that I may certainly use in the future, so much is contingent upon the priesthood leader. So if you have a bishop who sees women as equals and is used to working with women then there is a high likelihood that these tactics would work. But if you have a leader who does not operate from this paradigm then not only will the tactics not work but may also put the woman at risk for some type of retribution. I guess I would be uncomfortable propagating these war tactics out of fear that they would backfire.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Mreynes,

      You bring up a great point.

      Application of the weapons is an art form that should be carefully considered. True masters of the weapons use them without anyone ever realizing that the weapons have been prepared or applied.

      Each of us has different skill sets for applying the weapons. For me, I use a great deal of humor, self-depreciation, smiles, and sincere personal interest in my adversaries. A more common Mormon-male model is to express great humility, sincere love, effusive praise and gratefulness toward their adversaries. For example, how many of you have had a bishop or SP gush of how well you do in your calling, how grateful they are that you are part of the ward family, and how much they love you, only to then tell you that your request has been denied.

      Hidden behind those truly sincere expressions are the weapons used to perpetuate our respective causes.

      When I am faced with an adversary who I suspect of being antagonistic or disrespectful of me (much like the bishop you describe) I make it a point to spend as much time as possible with that adversary before the meeting. I try to build a relationship with that person outside of the issues addressed at the meeting so that they feel more obligated to listen and agree with me.

      Men in the church who see the priesthood as a definitively male power also have a severe cognitive dissonance that can be exploited. They view women as a gender that is not lesser, but also not equal to them. The men are therefore predisposed to discount what women say regarding leadership decisions, but at the same time, any one woman that the man has a personal relationship with is his responsibility to protect and champion. Therefore, the personal relationship will, more often than not, trump the cultural gender inequality.

  12. My negative experience with PH leaders are not even close to the horrific experiences expressed here. I am so sorry you were treated that way. It makes me sick.

    In my case . . . I feel like it was one big boys’ club where my opinion was brushed over. I did not feel like I was treated like a person–just a silly little girl overreacting that my bishop basically kicked me out of the ward for not attending “often enough”. I don’t think these men are bad people, they just seemed to have difficulty viewing my (female) opinion as legitimate.

    I don’t really have any answers to Nate’s questions. I think change will happen eventually, but it will be a long time coming. Maybe we can teach boys to respect women better and teach girls to have the confidence to stand up for themselves? I really wish I had had the confidence to stand up for myself better.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      The “boys club” phenomenon you describe is an example of the ally weapon taken to an extreme. Many charismatic men, including some bishops and stake presidents, focus almost exclusively on the ally weapon.

      Lets face it, securing allies for a meeting basically means socializing alot and hanging out. It is by far the most enjoyable of the weapons to develop.

      However, by itself, the ally weapon is incredibly weak. The church structure for the priesthood and leadership hierarchy are predisposed to using the allies weapon, but because of the strict hierarchy, such reliance on the allies weapon can usually be defeated by (1) winning over the leader outside of the meeting, (2) a combination of the agenda and divide weapons, or (3) escalation or threat of escalation.

  13. Jana says:

    I’ve been through two different church court proceedings (one, my own and the other, my ex-spouse’s). So I feel like I can speak with a bit of experience about how those typically play out…

    What was hardest for me about both of these experiences was the vulnerability that I felt. In my own court I really couldn’t even speak on my behalf–I simply sat in the chair and cried. I was so humiliated and scared about the possible outcomes of the trial (at the time I was a fully active member and had a bishop who seriously overstepped his boundaries in calling discipline for a fairly benign sin). With my spouse’s, although I testified for him and was present at most of the trial events, I wasn’t told the verdict of the trial until after we were both escorted to our car in the parking lot by our bishop. When I realized that my spouse was ex’d, I had a whole list of questions about what that meant for the validity of *my* temple ordinances. As it dawned on me that I no longer had a temple marriage, I felt like it was a coward-move for the high council not to have some accountability for the fact that they not only cut off my spouse from the celestial kingdom, but they had also done the same for me (and for our children). Their violence of their act of excommunication was not just aimed at my spouse, but to our entire family (and also to extended family members who were similarly cut off from us as a result).

    (FYI, here’s a link to the post that I wrote just after my spouse’s excommunication: http://janaremy.com/2009/09/14/this-post-brought-to-you-by-the-letter-a-or-john-i-go-to-lds-court/)

    In a situation where the priesthood leaders have so much discretionary control on the outcome of an event (like a church court), I can hardly imagine that treating it like a battle would be effective. In the case of both events there was little told to me beforehand about what would occur, and it was clear that the phood leader had full control of the outcome. In fact, with both events I had the sense that if I was to be too forward with my questions or my ‘defense,’ that this would be a mark against me (or my spouse) as someone who was repentant/penitent.

    I did write my blogpost about my spouse’s church court as soon afterwards as I could, in order to preserve a record of those happenings and to document their violence. And that post has been read thousands of times. So perhaps that’s one way of ‘fighting’ against the patriarchy…to just keep writing about all of the awful/ugly/power-hungry/violent things they do.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Jana
      I too have been present at a few church courts, and I have read many descriptions of the same events. Yours is the first that resonates with me as a truly accurate description.

      It is a violent and power-laden event. Unfortunately, it is intended to be exactly that. Notice how they used the tools I described to maximize the impact of the battle.

      -An agenda that only they knew

      -No recordings from you was a condition of the meeting (but you should know that the only reason the Stake Clerk is required to be at church courts is to record the proceedings).

      -Bring allies – They brought at least 15, you were allowed only 2.

      -Divide your adversary – for you, this was an actual physical separation from your spouse that created uncertainty in you.

      Frankly, you and your husband didn’t stand a chance. I am sorry. I could talk alot about how the church court system as it was intended has evolved into a hollow shell, but that is a conversation for another day. I very much enjoyed your blog post.

  14. Apame says:

    Thank you for this, Nate! I haven’t read the comments, but I wanted to tell you that this post is absolutely spot on for me.

    Example: The last temple interview I had, I literally had to psych myself out by taking deep breaths and repeating the mantra, “Just go in, answer the questions, and get out. The goal is to get out as fast as you can.”

    I literally start to shake at the thought of having to answer doctrinal questions with a bishop or other leader.

    And only now am I like, “Huh. I don’t think that’s normal. That’s rather unhealthy…”

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Yes. The temple recommend interview is a great example.

      There is an agenda, and you have no control over it.

      You cannot bring allies.

      You cannot divide your opponent against himself.

      You cannot make a contemporaneous record of the meeting.

      In case anyone thought I was pulling this out of my bum. Still, there are things that can be done. I always start off temple recommend interviews by making small talk, asking questions about the interviewer’s family, career, hobbies. I then ask how the ward/stake is doing and if there is anything I can do to help things run more smoothly (because if you can’t beat them, join them).

      Eventually the meeting starts and the questions come, and when they get to the one about being sympathetic with groups that oppose the church, I always say, “yes, I am.” or explain my involvement with Ex2 and other groups. I have never been denied a recommend.

      • el oso says:

        I also usually say that I support a group that opposes church teachings in some way. I bring up my employer (a large multinational corporation, we have some employees that are polygamists in the middle east) and then let the interviewer decide to explain or not.
        This is a tough question for all involved and with the 2 year interval now, I have never had a repeat interviewer at the ward level.

  15. Sherry says:

    In years past I was included in many leadership councils but the description of a good old boys club fits, even if the leaders aren’t white-haired. I’ve been divorced for over 10 years and since marrying a nomo have been a non-person in my ward of 30 years, especially since DH nicely made it clear he doesn’t want to join the church. Plus X still lives in my ward, recently married in the temple and now looks like a normal nice older LDS man (gag!). I since had my sealing cancelled to him – no way was i going to fuel his “polygamy in heaven” belief. Having been a very active member for decades I know how things work in the church. My trust in p.hood leaders has eroded mightily. Rarely see HT, a YW pres. worried abt. my teen daughter being in a home w/o the p.hood ( i tried ti set her straight – futile). I volunteer and work in my community and have no problem working with men and women, at all. I think too many men in the church, whether they admit it or not, have 100% bought into feeling superior over women. Holding the p.hood fuels that belief. Julie M. Smith said in a blog post (wish I knew which one – i have the quote next to my desk) “MEN IN AUTHORITY DON’T LIKE WOMEN WITH OPINIONS.” I think it scares the hell out of them! PS – my nomo DH treats me with great respect. He’s the complete opposite of Mr. Righteous Mormon Man (my X).

  16. Sherry says:

    ALSO – thanks to the EXPONENT for letting me give voice to my experiences in the LDS church. I’ve gone from a TBM to a very skeptical one. I often tell myself I am out of the “garden” now and it’s a much better place than being naive and blind-believing. While I sometimes mourn for my lost associations with members of my ward, I am in a much better place in life, happier and healthier. I feel closer to Mother and Father and have always felt the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you again…..

  17. DefyGravity says:

    Really interesting post. It reminded me of Housewife to Heretic by Sonia Johnson. She employed many of these tactics when she was pulled in for discipline. Sadly, she was still excommunicated. Men still have the power to make decisions for women, and no tactic we use will remove that power.

    I remember sitting in my bishop’s office with my husband a year ago. We are attending my parents ward because our ward was driving me nuts. My bishop found out that we weren’t living in the ward, and called us in. Instead of asking us what was happening, he acted as though he knew some deep dark secret and was going to trick us into admitting we were being dishonest. Then when I told him I hated going to temple, he called me proud and told me I was destroying my marriage. Then he called me in week after week, without asking if I wanted to see him. The best thing I did was just stopped going. I told the secretary not to call me because I had nothing more to say. I wasn’t going to let him dictate terms anymore. He hasn’t spoken to me since, which is fine by me.

    What really gets me is leaders who claim to care about you, but then they attack, threaten and abuse you. What kind of system has been set up to allow these men to think that threats and abuse show love?

    • Nate Curtis says:

      That is actually a really good question that I have not pondered. The lack of training for the Mormon lay-clergy is a well-documented issue in the church. It is unfair to both bishops and their congregants to set up this hierarchy without any training and then expect the spirit of inspiration to make up the difference. As a church, we are not, “doing all we can…” to make sure bishops are ready for the responsibility thrust on them.

      So bishops fall back on their definitions of “love” no matter how twisted or cruel those definitions are. I do not doubt that the bishop you describe thought he was doing you some great favor by harassing you, that it was his expression of love for your soul.

      Mormon men learn these types of behavior in their childhood homes and on their missions. It is not an excuse, but for many of them, they do not know another way to be.

    • X2 Dora says:

      A long time ago, I met with my stake president (A) to discuss a matter of ecclesiastical abuse that deeply affected my family. The man perpetrating the abuse was the stake president (B) of my kin.

      My SPA walked me through the path of what we would need to do to contest the wrongdoing of SPB. It was remarkable to me that all communications with church headquarters needed to go through SPB. When I stated my dismay, SPA said that my family would need to tread very carefully, since the centralized church gives great leeway to stake presidents in general, and only oust badly behaving SP’s only when their conduct has been particularly egregious AND well-known.

      The system is flawed. My kin didn’t bring allies to the church court because s/he didn’t want to drag anyone down long with. I wish we could go back and re-do it. I’m bookmarking this post in my mental file cabinet …

  18. Gilly says:

    Great post Nate. I really agree with a lot of it. I would add some other tools or tactics ( see I’m a peace loving feminist -still a little wary of calling these weapons). The meetings I have in mind are ward council meetings/ward welfare meetings that I have attended either in RS or YW capacity. I’m a pragmatist – so I do what works to get the decision I want. Some may not agree with my tactics. ( I have found these helpful in work situations as well)
    1. If you are not in charge of the agenda – at least find out what is going to be on the agenda – then you can be prepared. This can be done tactfully and is especially important if I can not go to the meeting and am sending a Councillor in my behalf)
    2. When a decision is important to you and especially if you expect resistance – don’t bring it to a meeting to discuss unless you have to. Do behind the scenes work first. Send an email, ask pointed questions, have information discussions with people who will be at the meeting or others that they might discuss it with. Build your case and increase your allies.
    3. Know the handbook and be the first person to reference a section if it is in your favour. You can use scriptures too if handbook doesn’t help you. These should be mentioned not in a self-righteous or know it all way, but in a matter of fact/ almost an aside, like everyone already accepts it has a given.
    4. Use recent addresses from general authorities and stake priesthood leaders to support your comment ( this should be done subtly) ” This reminds me of Pres. U “the Why of the gosple….” Men who never want to change their minds to adopt a women’s idea have an out – they are now adopting the GA’s opinion….
    5. Persistence – keep bringing up an issue different ways. You need to bring something up at least 3 times. 1 time to get their attention, one time to be heard, and one time to show them it is important – ( three is a minimum). Be patient and pick your battles.
    6. Never get upset or seem contentious because that can result in your opinion being automatically discounted ( this is so sad but true and one of the most unfair things about being a women. Men get frustrated and they are leaders, women do and their are called crazy). When I want to get angry, I try to laugh).
    7. Remember your are building long term relationships. Each meeting builds or detracts from your credibility.
    8. Give praise whenever you can. Everyone wants to think they are doing well and people like people who like them. You want as many people in the room to view you as an ally.

  19. Whoa-man says:

    PHENOMENAL! Thank you Nate.

  20. Razz says:

    I just found this website and am so relieved that there are like minds. Thank you for your words, preemptively.

    I can understand what you’re saying, Nate, about basically fighting fire with fire, but I also agree that when a system is flawed, saying the only way to combat the system is by using the system is a glaring catch-22.

    I found this website after a few months of serious analysis of the situation I am in. To help illustrate the problem, I think it’s anecdote time.

    Trigger warning for rape, spousal abuse.

    I was raped at 16 by a fellow member. We both came from long time member families. The young man who raped me did so in a deliberate attempt to impregnate me so that I would “have to marry him and he could be with me always.” This reasoning he revealed much later.

    After the rape, I was in such a state of shock, I stopped speaking, eating, or really sleeping; not even telling my parents. A month later, I had no choice but tell them when I started showing extreme morning sickness and was sent to our family doctor for a physical to test for what was making me look so ill.

    My parents were hysterical. Unfortunately, in their shock, they asked questions like, “How could you let this happen?” And so forth. I was an honor student, a virgin, and had been an active member my entire life. They immediately set up an appointment with the bishop.

    The bishop listened to my story, frowned, asked a few questions as to what type of relationship I had had with this young man, then grabbed the handbook and flipped it open to the section on adoption. He said, “You are planning to adopt.” It wasn’t a question. Let me say that I’m completely pro-choice and pro-adoption for everyone. For me, I already felt very bonded to the baby. When I said I was going to keep the baby, the bishop was furious. For the next few weeks, he called me into the office a couple times a week to chastise me for “refusing to give the baby a better life, that I couldn’t offer the baby anything.”

    When my parents intervened, he said the only way to make keeping the baby a sensible option was to marry the father, that he had spoken with him and that they needed to consider it strongly. My parents were desperate to find a solution, knew that I insisted on keeping the baby, and agreed.

    Within a couple of days, both sets of parents had met, met with the young man, and a wedding was planned for one week later. It was a blur: a horrible, painful, terrifying blur. The young man had no problem admitting that his urges had forced him into it and that he was desperately in love with me. And everyone nodded sympathetically.

    I was married to him for a decade. Immediately after the wedding, the bishop disfellowshipped both of us for sexual indiscretion – yes, even me. For the entirety of the marriage, the bishop – who became the stake president soon after – made a habit of coming over to our bench a few times a year and saying, “You’re still active. That’s…great.”

    The rape that started it all did not prove to be an aberration, but the preliminary stages to what would become increasingly violent sexual abuse during the marriage. I went for help dozens of times to the various bishops we had and was told to pray, to read my scriptures, as they gave my husband a stern talking to about how “men and women’s sex drives were very different” and that I, naturally, “wasn’t able to understand the depths of his needs.” The last time, it took the church arranged marriage counselor meeting with the bishop to support a divorce before I stopped hearing lectures about forgiving and second chances.

    And when I went to renew my temple recommend, I had to meet with the same stake president, who made sure I knew that the divorce was a bad idea. My ex-husband never had a church court as they didn’t believe that the abuse was anything other than a “misunderstanding”, even when the counselor offered to be an advocate.

    I played by the rules. I shook it all off, reminded myself that people are chosen for callings to learn things as much as teach and serve, that they are untrained and unpaid positions. I still smile and speak as politely as possible when church leaders ask why I’m not doing more to encourage my ex-husband to show interest in my children, or when they question my children about where their father is.

    Which is rather my point, Nate. I did take advocates in. I did bring in proof. And no one would listen, even then. And I paid the price for years. When I thought my experiences were an aberration, I was more willing to concede that the situation was tenable. I know differently now.

    I know change takes time. Change doesn’t start, though, until people are aware of the need. Adhering to the same problematic format, I don’t think is conducive to that.

    • Kmillecam says:

      I have no words, but I want you to know that I read your story and what happened was so wrong that I don’t even know what to say. I’m so glad you got away from him and (I hope) are in a better set of circumstances.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Razz – That is an incredible and heart-wrenching story. Thank you for sharing that with us.

      I agree that the system doesn’t work. Women are conditioned to behave. By even showing up to such meetings women are voluntarily handing over the decision-making process to their religious authorities.

      The meeting/battle system is a crude instrument that is applied to every conflict in the church, and as a result, victims, be them women, children, minorities, or even men are further victimized through the conflict resolution process regardless of whether or not the church ultimately decides the victim is right.

      How should the system change?

      • Razz says:

        Kmillecam, thank you for your response. We are doing much better. I know it is a hard thing for many people to relate to, especially in the church, but sometimes divorce IS the happy option.

        Nate, I’ve thought about potential situations to lever momentum towards change. I agree that change needs to be presented in a way that has the most appeal and is as nonthreatening as possible. When people feel under attack, they react first, listen second. I’ve found that responding calmly – as many of the other posters have mentioned – sets up a situation where more people are receptive to what you say. It is a sad cliche, but common, that showing emotion as a women, tends to close people off to what you are saying, like mentioned.

        I do think, unfortunately, there is an element of the “forty years in the wilderness” situation in play; that a substantial amount of people have lived so long believing completely in unbalanced or limiting gender interactions – and has been rewarded with comfortable status quo – that their mindset is intractable. It would take a major personal upset for them to readdress their default perspective; which is painful and no guarantee. It sounds cold, but I think there won’t be major change until two things happen:

        1. Teach the youth a more holistic view of “male” and “female.” It’s easier to instill than to reprogram. (Want an easy example? How about people stop thinking it’s fine to set up amazing outings for the young men, but insist that the young women do crafts or “self improvement” activities the majority of the time?)

        2. (Wince.) Wait for some of the older generation to die. Unfortunately, most of the leaders are in the generation that absorbed a lot of the 50’s gender dynamic. No, not all, but a lot of them. When the leaders don’t come from a background that propels them to respond with confusion/feeling threatened when traditions are questioned, that’s a major hurdle right there leaped over.

        3. Speak up. I don’t ascribe to “weapons” to address this – for the reasons I said concerning being a part of the power dynamic rather than using a NEW way – but unashamedly and calmly offering a different perspective works. Perhaps not visibly, perhaps not immediately, but offering information in a honest desire to help, versus WIN, makes people think.

        The information does roll around in their minds. It’s a funny way of “inception-izing” people. People tend to operate on new information when they feel they can claim it personally; that it was their idea, that it was their epiphany. Giving them the information in a way they can absorb is the first step to them being willing to see it. Sometimes, you do have to go to war, but that should be the last resort, not the first tactical maneuver.

        There is no fool proof way. I think a efficient way of judging useful tactics is the old “By their fruits, ye shall know them” analysis. What we see now, the operational imperatives NOW are throwing rotten fruit.

  21. spunky says:

    This is a brilliant post, Nate.

    When I was in an Institute Council Presidency (secretary, of course), I was thoroughly frustrated at the men, who seemed to think that nothing was really their responsibility, as though women, pre-missionaries or new converts were supposed to be the “worker bees” for them somehow. I remedied this by taking detailed notes, then I typed and distributed the notes complete with action items and names. It was a play on name and shame to a degree, but for the most part, everyone began stepping up. The funny thing is that although I felt like the task was a bit demeaning to me (to type and copy), I chose to do it because it kept all of the leadership on task. I also made meeting agendas and invited specific people to contribute (as listed on the agenda) who had opinions that I respected or ideas I desired– both men and women. People called to ask me to include them on the agenda, which was funny because I was “only” the secretary. Another funny thing was that people RAVED about my work in the calling. So I think you are spot-on in advising everyone to create agendas and in doing action-item follow ups.

    The thing is, I had a business-type mind for this, I suppose because I had to support myself from the time I was 18. If I didn’t pay the bills, I didn’t eat or have a place to live. So I always took work seriously- much unlike many of the other student/YSAs who had the ability to live at home– or at least move home, if they needed to. This experience drove me to suggest resume-making as activities for RS and even Lambda Delta Sigma, but this suggestion was always knocked back. Craft was okay, but resume creating was not? Mad me mad.

    So- whilst I agree with you and your suggestions to attack meetings with masculine admin weapons, I also see a huge need for women’s church groups– like Young Women, Relief Society and even Lambda Delta Sigma– to teach women business culture if only as a survival mechanism in the church. The problem is, we are so aimed at training women to be mothers and wives that even a class on how to build a resume is rejected. The General Authorities are almost always business professionals, and the church structure is very business and military oriented, down to branch presidents. In allowing and inviting women to train in the professional culture that is such a strong part of church culture, then we support women to have a voice in the church, if only in development until it becomes policy. So I think it isn’t just about bringing along an agenda. Its also about teaching women that they are allowed to “play the game”. (to coin the pre-WW1 military training mantra phrase)

    • rah says:

      Super like this comment and agree 100%. The vast majority of ward decisions are made like and through business decision logic. Sometimes some inspiration comes along and you usually recognize it because it seems so outside of the normal logic. My experience is that a lot of women in the church think somehow 90% of decisions are inspired outside these processes which is understandable given our rhetoric and the fact that women are systematically less exposed to ward decision making (fewer seats on the WC, invited to fewer of the meetings etc). Those that do gain enough experience to see and be savvy to it often become powerful women in the ward. We need more of you!

  22. Sol says:

    As a student of law, I understand your adversarial approach to the “meeting/battle.” You’re correct that it is highly allegorical to legal jockeying. However I have to vehemently disagree with encouraging further escalation of the idea of meetings as a battlefield. In framing meetings this way you, and all those who share your view, are distancing yourselves from the visceral consequences of your actions. Those consequences, of course, being the affects had on human lives which are intended to be your responsibility in some measure. Emphasis on winning, on combat, on tactics creates an impassable “us v. them” mindset which only further sets you apart from the fact that you are dealing with people concerning people. As such, clothing the meetings in Army fatigues is limiting your own avenues for interpretation and acceptance of other methodologies.

    I found it interesting at this last Priesthood meeting of Gen. Conference that so many of the Authorities (how’s that for more verbiage of dominance) tried to quantify what exactly the priesthood is and how it doesn’t make a man superior.

    Then the next day seeing the former RS president talk at Sunday’s Conference and use quote after quote from male leaders that defined what the Relief Society is and isn’t (those other nasty women’s groups).

    As a husband and father this has an even more personal aspect. Razz, my wife, has already explained some of the ordeal she had to go through concerning her former ‘spouse.’ We’ve still been unable to get the church to dissolve her temple marriage to a man who was never worthy to begin with despite going through the process twice.

    We have three boys, three girls. It makes for an excellent microcosm of just how differently YM and YW operate in our Stake. While our oldest son goes off to Boy’s Camp to shoot rifles, canoe, swim, and otherwise have a blast, my girls go off to be lectured on how to dress and dance appropriately by men in their 50s for a week. I do wish I was exaggerating the scale of the inequality. If anything that example understates it.

    My girls were miserable during the weeks leading up to and after, and felt utter frustration with the entire thing. The decisions that lead to them questioning the validity of the church structure were likely made after a series of your “battles.”

    To put this into your battle terminology in hopes of clarifying my point: You, in using these weapons, are fighting in on a battlefield of your enemy’s (the enemy being the patriarchy, not merely those men emblematic of it) choosing. Worse, you are attacking the enemy’s feint using weapons it knows better than you do. You are strengthening it by doing so! Buying in to its methods makes you a part of it.

    There’s more sadness than honor in jousting with windmills while the real dragon devours our daughters and wives.

    Apologies for any glaring errors, as I typed this up on my phone.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Sol – You wrote that on your phone? I would hate to be the subject of a more focused response. Very eloquent and articulate.

      I find that most of the time in church settings, the battle aspect of any meeting is a distant second to actually resolving the dispute or solving the problem. In this context, the victor of the battle is a footnote to the larger conversation.

      In such situations, participating the meeting/battle format while well-prepared can and does achieve great things for women. For example, using such weapons, it is entirely possible to influence girls camp agendas so that the girls are given a much more independent and spiritually uplifting experience that is overseen by women instead of men. I remember a brew-ha-ha from my youth when the stake YW president demanded that only the one required Priesthood holder be allowed at their girls camp. She won that fight.

      However, I agree with your argument that participation in the system does perpetuate a cultural trend that has an unhealthy impact on women’s rights. Even if we willingly participate and master the meeting/battle cultural phenomenon, it is at best a band-aid on the larger problem, and at worst, dirt in the wound.

      So how do we, as feminist men, balance our participation in the system with efforts to modify or completely change the system so that victims are not continually beaten down, and so women are given a fair chance to contribute independent of their influence on men?

  23. Sol says:

    You don’t. You can’t. That is imbalance itself. That is a fallacy of thinking which fails to differentiate between duty of a divine mandate and a very temporal, cultural system of oppression. The two are anything but the same, though the latter is the most successful example of Peckhamian mimicry extant.

    Someone, who really ought to know about such things, once asked us to love one another. I know that seems overly abstract, but it isn’t as breathtakingly pedantic as it may initially seem. It means loving our fellows more than we love our own comfort. More than we love our safe, easy traditions. But I could spend ages talking on this and not get my point across. What we require right now is information that can be applied. I won’t pretend to be anything close to an authority on scripture, church history, or church politics. I’m none of those things — not even close.

    What I am is a father and husband. My every decision is going to effect my wife and children and those around me in ways big and small. Further, this applies to every single person I interact with, member or no. What I do affects them, in turn affects everyone they interact with. This is, or should be a hugely humbling fact. So huge that it is nigh impossible to keep track of the entire picture, like standing feet from an IMAX movie screen and trying to follow the story.

    So I take the microcosm of my family, who are more precious to me than my next breath, and project decisions made onto what I know of them. This applies in Priesthood meetings and every other facet of life. Beneficence, without arrogance, without intent to control, should be the default goal in all of your meetings.

    The point of all this is to remove the false veneer of being a step removed from the people your decisions affect. The theme of battle, or even resolution of an impersonal problem, merely reinforces that façade and occlude the fact that there is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person or people at the other end of the decisions made.

    “No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom
    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. ”

    Deontological ethics have it right in that a person should never, ever be a means to an end. The anthem of battle turns your fellow men and women into resources to be acquired and spent to steer the decision-making process in a direction that you have decided is best. It is easier to do this rather than to convince others on the merits of your point, true. That doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t make it any less of the most distilled form of unrighteous dominion.

    Women and children don’t have to be given a fair chance to contribute, it is their right as people, as equals. Anytime we are operating from a place where we are limiting the avenues and choices open to our brothers and sisters we are following one of the plans proposed in the pre-existence. I’m sure you can figure out which one.

    If you feel like I’m nitpicking your word choice its because I am. The way we communicate is the very first step towards balance. There is so much cultural momentum that the very way we speak frames our thoughts in ways that are oppressive. How can we behave in a way that isn’t demeaning if we can’t think it?

  1. May 13, 2012

    […] priesthood commemoration by sending all the fathers and sons on a camp-out. As a feminist couple, Nate and I are troubled by this–If the priesthood is available to all, shouldn’t all be […]

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