it matters

Several weeks ago my 3 year old daughter gave a talk in Primary. I wrote about the experience on my personal blog, first fig, but I thought I would also post it here and expand upon it a little.

My daughter, Sylvia, was assigned to speak on how she can choose the right by living gospel principles. Sylvia wanted to talk about listening to Jesus and because I want to increase the stories of women told in Primary I decided that we would base her talk around the Mary and Martha story.

Here is the text of her talk:

I can choose the right by living gospel principles. One important gospel principle is listening to Jesus.

A long time ago when Jesus was still alive, there was a woman named Mary who was a disciple of Christ. Mary loved Jesus very much and wanted to learn as much as she could from him. One day Jesus was visiting Mary’s house and Mary was trying to learn more about the gospel. Mary’s sister, Martha, got mad at her because Mary was not helping with the house work.

Doing our chores is very important–it helps our families–but it is even more important to listen and be like Jesus. Jesus told Martha that Mary was choosing the right by listening to him.

I want to be like Mary and always choose the right by listening to Jesus. If I listen to Jesus I can learn how to love everybody, live gospel principles and get back to my Heavenly Parents one day.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

When we finished practicing the talk, Sylvia turned to me and said, “Oh Mommy, I love this talk! Mary is a girl just like me. I want to be just like Mary!”

Sylvie has never expressed an interest or connection to any other scripture story she has heard. No surprise, almost all of those stories are about men. But this story, a story about a woman and a disciple of Christ, has captured her imagination. Sylvia and I often talk about Mary. Most precious to me is every night for the last month she has prayed to Heavenly Father and told Him how much she loves Mary and Heavenly Mother.

I have written many times over the last four years, starting before Sylvie was even born, on just how painful it can be to raise a girl in this church. That pain never goes away and I suspect it will become more acute as my daughter gets older. But mine is not the only pain, nor the most important.  Sylvia sees almost no examples of women in the scriptures. She is taught stories about men told from a male perspective. Her female body has been disappeared by correlated church material. And two weeks ago she asked me why there were no girls sitting on the stand next to her daddy and the bishop.

Sylvia is a typical 3 year old who will whine and cry at the drop of a hat but her worst tantrums are reserved for Sunday mornings where she tells me she hates Primary and never wants to go to church again. This is in contrast to the little girl who constantly asks me to tell her stories about Mary, Eve and Heavenly Mother. I worry that already Sylvia has looked around, noted the absence of women and determined that there is no place for her in the Mormon church.

Women’s invisibility in scripture, bureaucracy and leadership matters. Even to 3 year olds.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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29 Responses

  1. Lala says:

    Great post, it kind of got me in the gut. I feel so much for your daughter. I didn’t really realize the problems until I was 22. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse. I don’t have children yet, but I’m afraid to raise children in this church. I know I can reject the crappy stuff, tune it out, make arguments against it in my head, but my kids won’t be able to. I’m afraid it will be too much for me and I’ll just decide to leave. Then I’ll do irreparable damage to my marriage and everything will come crashing down. My husband believes, he will always believe, and I love him more than anything. I’m sure I’ll feel the same about my kids. Sometimes I fear if my frustration with the church grows any more, it will tear apart my family. How do you keep your cool?

    • mraynes says:

      Oh Lala, I can feel your pain–I feel it myself–and I am so sorry. I know it sounds a little trite but it does get better. I also had my feminist awakening around 22 and over the last seven years I have mellowed. I still have the same concerns but they don’t hurt as much because I have coping mechanisms in place to deal with them. Here are a few ways I stay cool, hopefully some of them will help:

      1) I stay for myself. I refuse to stay for my husband, children, in-laws or parents. I stay because I choose to stay–if it were any other way I think I would be more resentful and feel more angst.

      2) I feel a responsibility to my religion and my sisters to make the church a better place. Several weeks ago Terry Gross interviewed a Catholic nun and when asked why the nun just doesn’t leave she replied “So I will continue to work for the rightful place of women in the church but it’s easier said than done to just talk about walking away because I also feel some responsibility, as the church, to bring that corrective to the church for the sake of the whole.” This pretty much sums up why I stay and I feel like approaching church this way gives me a mission.

      3) I long ago decided to reject anything that was painful or overtly sexist as the traditions of men and not from God. I feel no compunction in rejecting it and telling my children it is wrong.

      4) I truly care about the community. If you can swing it, try to find a ward that you love. I have been the ward pariah and that is really painful. But if I’m being honest, I played into that reputation and made it worse by my antagonism. When we moved 3 years ago I decided to serve as much as I could, approach even the most TBM members with compassion and understanding and be authentic and vulnerable with others. It took about a year but I have built relationships in this ward that are truly meaningful to me. A good number of the sisters know about my feminist activism and even if they disagree they respect me and believe my heart is in the right place.

      As for how I stay when I know my children are potentially being hurt, this is definitely the most painful part of my decision. But I also know that even if I were to leave the church I couldn’t protect my daughter from sexism. I would rather all of my children see me fighting against patriarchy in concrete ways and so that they know that it is wrong. Because patriarchy is so obvious in Mormonism I believe that they will be better able to recognize it whenever and wherever they see it.

      I’m sorry for the length of this reply and hope it makes sense. I’m trying to fight off a toddler which always makes things more difficult. Please let me know if you would like more specifics!

      • Lala says:

        Thank you for such a thoughtful reply. I have really enjoyed all of your posts on The Exponent. I like to hear that it gets better. It has only been a couple of years and it’s already a bit better than it was at the beginning. Much of that has come from what you said in number 3.

        Your words make me feel a little stronger.

        “Because patriarchy is so obvious in Mormonism I believe that they will be better able to recognize it whenever and wherever they see it.” This is a unique thought. I’ll chew on that for a while.

        I try to tell myself that I’m not staying for my husband, but I don’t always believe myself. I do, however, think I may be getting to a point where I would still stay if I weren’t married. Joanna Brooks’ recent words (similar to the nun on NPR) about needing more feminists who stay in the church has really helped with this. I see us on the verge of impressive change and it is quite exciting.

        Some days I know I have to brace myself for the long road ahead, years and years of discomfort for the hope of some small change. Sometimes I realize I have to set my mind to it. I’m in the fight and, like Robert Frost, I feel like I have “miles to go before I sleep.”

        Don’t we all have miles to go before we sleep my beloved Mormon Feminists?

  2. CatherineWO says:

    This is beautiful. Yes, it does matter so very, very much.

  3. Danielle says:

    wonderful post. I have two little girls, 5 and 2. It makes me so nervous to raise them in this church, especially because we live in Utah. Thanks for the tips on how you stay sane. 🙂

    • mraynes says:

      I’m glad the tips were helpful. I firmly believe that despite the culture what will matter the most is the teaching we as parents five our sons an daughters. And it is always helpful to me to know that there are orhers out ther fighting the same battle I am. Good luck as you navigate this path!

  4. Ronda says:

    I’m a grandma – as a young woman, then a mother – I too wondered when the feminine voice would come in the LDS faith and culture. Why is it that even now the Church has proscribed the stories of Christian women to the nursing room hidden behind the smelly church restrooms? Yet – many years later, and now watching my grandchildren being reared in the LDS faith, if anything, the children of those of us women who were so vocal are in no different place, as parents, than I was. And to be honest – I’m tired of fighting, of pushing, of questioning, of praying, fasting, attending – and nothing, nothing has changed.

    The accolades that were given to Daughters in my Kingdom stopped once the book was handed, I believe as a token effort, to all LDS women. Almost as if that was to pacify those of us who wonder and worry and are weary.

    Mothers of daughters and sons cannot stop teaching about Martha and Mary, Emma, cannot stop at the story of the Stripling Warriors – but listen to the story of their strong stubborn mothers.

    I could go on and on – yet I thank you for teaching your daughter to recognize herself in Mary – and giving her a role model – you.

    • Rachel says:

      The fight you are, and have been fighting is a good fight. And while the changes may seem incremental, something, something has changed.

      There are communities (often online, but frequently in person) where we can gather to rejoice together and to mourn together. I can testify of Heavenly Mother every Sunday in church and not feel afraid. Etc. Etc.

      (I do hope that bigger, broader changes will come, but enough women are starting to speak, and to find their feminine voice that there will be.)

      Thank you for being a strong stubborn mother and grandmother.

    • mraynes says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience here, Ronda. I agree, progress is much slower than any of us would like. I am hopeful that things will start to move faster as Mormonism gets more attention but we’ll have to see.

      But thank you for this:

      “Mothers of daughters and sons cannot stop teaching about Martha and Mary, Emma, cannot stop at the story of the Stripling Warriors – but listen to the story of their strong stubborn mothers.

      I will remember this when I’m having a hard day!

  5. Kris says:

    I wonder if LDS feminists could write a paragraph sans the word pain.

    • Rachel says:

      We do all of the time.

      Take the two posts before this one. April’s (http://www.the-exponent.com/heres-to-hoping/) is a very hopeful post on hope itself.

      Mine (http://www.the-exponent.com/turning-the-hearts-of-the-children-to-their-mothers-part-i/) is rejoicing in the remembrance of my mother lines. No talk of pain anywhere. 🙂

      • Rachel says:

        But in all seriousness, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

        A time to feel pain, and a time to not.

    • mraynes says:

      Perhaps you should go back to the post, Kris, and you would find that 1 out of 10 paragraphs, not counting the one-line paragraphs, uses the word pain. Do you have anything meaningful to add?

      Also, this:

      “Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—”

      Mosiah 18:9 or the baptismal covenant.

      • Lala says:

        Was Kris being snarky, or sympathizing with the amount of pain LDS feminists feel? I’m not quite sure. Benefit of the doubt?

      • mraynes says:

        I read it as snarky–in my experience these types of comments are usually meant to be snarky–but perhaps you’re right. I could have misread the tone and if that’s the case, Kris, I apologize.

  6. Suzann Werner says:

    Oh little baby Stella is a wise 3 year old. Thanks for sharing this precious mother dauthter story.

  7. jks says:

    38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
    39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
    40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
    41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
    42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

    Great talk. I just want to point out that it was Martha’s house, not Mary’s, so Martha was the hostess and she was required to do a lot of work….and some of that work was because of Jesus! She was taking care of him. Jesus seems to understand and acknowledges her work and the trouble and work he is causing her to do, but he is telling her not to be bitter about Mary having the opportunity to listen to him speak. We can all learn this lesson whenever we teach a lesson or plan an activity. Rather than complaining about the work, we should be thrilled that other people are benefitting from the work.
    Some people read this as listening to Jesus is more important than housework, but others read this as Martha was actually helping with the Lord’s work so she should not be bitter about it because it is bringing about so much good.
    Martha sounds like a totally awesome disciple and I hesitate to say that the very real work she was doing to take care of Jesus’s physical needs (was she doing his laundry? We know she was making all the food? Doing all the dishes? Whenever you have guests you have to do so many things to take care of them). But, as a feminist, I like that Jesus makes it clear that doing housework is not the only way we should be interacting in the gospel. We should also be able to listen to the words of Christ, that what Mary was doing wasn’t wrong.

    • mraynes says:

      I absolutely agree, jks! The situation was much more complex than I made it out to be in this primary talk but for the sake of simplicity and the understanding of a 3 year old I just decided to do a bare bones telling. I really love Martha and I made an effort to tell her story to Sylvia after the talk was over. Thanks for adding the rest of the story!

  8. Kate says:

    When my son was 3, he got really upset (exasperated might be a better word) that few of the women in the scriptures had a name. Noah’s wife. Nephi’s wife. Etc. he turned to me and asked what president monson’s wife’s name was… And was so happy when he heard it was Frances. he notices gender inequalities all the time (general conference speakers, why we don’t pray to Heavenly Parents, etc.) and we talk about them, but I’m not sure any of the reasons are satisfying to either of us.

    • mraynes says:

      I love that your son also noticed the absence of women in scriptures. When I said this matters even to 3 year olds I absolutely include boys and men because this is damaging to them too. I also wish there were better answers to give to our precious children but at least there are stories of women that we can use as a supplement.

  9. Jessawhy says:

    Mraynes,
    This is so beautiful! Also, I love that photo of Sylvia. Thank you for being so thoughtful and sharing your experiences here.
    It brings my heart a lot of peace.

  10. Ziff says:

    Great post, Mraynes. It’s really too bad we as a church can’t do better for Silvia and all of the other girls who are being implicitly told every week that they don’t matter. Silvia’s lucky to have the parents she does, but I wish there were a general solution that would help us all.

  11. Lashley says:

    Thank you for sharing this. All my brothers, who are each great fathers of daughters, got this post forwarded to them by their bossy/loving older sister.

  12. Zenaida says:

    I agree, Silvia is so lucky to have a parent who recognizes this and allows space for her to voice it. I suspect that I might have showed signs that young, but there was no possible realm where those kinds of feelings could exist. I was not the type to rebel, so I waited… and waited. I never really felt a deep connection with the ward, and the day to day doings of the church, but continued to wait for the time when it would happen. I waited for high school to be over, and then I waited to find the right ward in college, and beyond. I did find a lot of _people_ that I connected with, but I just finally realized that it wasn’t going to happen. I hope that because of people like you and your family, change will eventually come.

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