Sisters Speak: Reflections on Exponent II

Since the upcoming issue of Exponent II is commemorating Exponent II’s fortieth anniversary, the Sisters Speak column will center on women’s experiences with the organization. What has Exponent II meant to you? How has it impacted your life? What articles have meant the most to you and why? What do you hope Exponent II will address or accomplish in the next forty years?” 

To give you a little of my own story, Exponent II has enriched my life in many ways. Ten years ago, I found Exponent II through my visiting teachee Jana, who handed me a stack of her mom’s Exponent II magazines. I was entranced, and with Jana’s help, I threw myself into the organization, offering to edit with Jana a Southern California issue of the paper and then offering to start, again with Jana, a blog for Exponent II.

I can’t even begin to describe how much I have loved my association with this organization. Through it — the magazines, the blog, the retreats —  I’ve found women who ask hard questions and live wholeheartedly and generously as they work to find answers. I’ve found companions in my faith journey who fully understand the tension I feel as a Mormon feminist. I’ve found a support network that has strengthened me when I have felt beaten down and hopeless. Every time the magazine comes in the mail, I feel a renewed sense of hope about my Mormon faith tradition, inspired by women’s wise insights and complicated experiences that are articulated in the articles.

Please share your reflections about Exponent II. You can reply on the blog (I will email you and ask permission to quote you), or email me at carolinekline1 at gmail dot com to submit a response to this Sisters Speak question. The deadline is October 15.

 

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Dear Sister Sassy: Our Resident Agony Aunt

adbf0f6196d792210049c0cd48fc3f0eHere at the Exponent we’re proud to introduce a column by our resident Agony Aunt, Sister Sassy.  An expert in homemaking, spirituality, doctrine, culture, morality, and pretty much everything else, Sister Sassy has been dispensing bad advice to fictitious readers for seven years and is excited to share her (dubious) recommendations with this audience.

Dear Sister Sassy,

It is my understanding that Family Home Evening is non-negotiable and key to my family’s happiness.  My husband is supposed to preside at our weekly gatherings.  When we were first married, we had FHE all the time, but it seems like now we’ve lost our spark.  My husband seems barely interested, even when I use themed printables! I am worried that he is going elsewhere to get slapdash spiritual lessons and forced activities.  Is he getting so much out of his Bishopric meetings he feels I have nothing left to offer him? Is this grounds for divorce?
Forlorn in Fremont

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Digging Deeper: The Future of Mormon Feminism Part 2

Click here for Part 1

Waking Up

I vividly remember an experience with my youngest daughter who was around four-years-old at the time. I was using public transportation to get to and from campus where Sara attended preschool while I attended classes. A younger mother on the bus held her baby. The baby’s complexion was dramatically darker than his mom’s. She nuzzled her child, talked baby talk, and saturated that baby with maternal love. Sara looked at the scene then back at me several times with a quizzical expression on her face. She wrinkled her brow and looked at me again. I said, “Are you wondering about the baby’s skin color?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, the mommy is white and the baby is black. The baby’s dad is probably black.” Sara’s expression changed only slightly before she shifted the conversation in an unexpected direction and slammed my white, Utah Mormon brain up against a wall of generational prejudice. She said, “No! The mom’s skin is pink and the baby’s skin is brown.”

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Digging Deeper: The Future of Mormon Feminism Part 1

Part one of two posts.

 

 Introduction

Maybe you won’t identify with this story. Maybe by the grace of God you escaped the curse of cultural or racial prejudice that affects both a person of privilege and a victim of racism. Maybe you were raised in an egalitarian environment and are truly free from such burdens. If so, you are among the lucky ones.

Others may find commonality with the thoughts and experiences I’ll share, especially women who grew up in Caucasian communities. And who, by osmosis, inherited cultural and racial biases from home, school, and church life. I see racism as a disease in America and I hope others will agree that by extension, racism is a part of the mainstream North American LDS communities where many of us live. (Perhaps some of our sisters abroad will share their experiences from elsewhere around the world in the comments below.)

I could try telling stories here about some of my sisters of color, but I don’t really know their stories well enough. Besides, they can do that for themselves. We would do well to seek out our sisters and listen carefully to their words.

My job is to tell my own story with as much accuracy and integrity as possible. So, I’ll start there, hoping it will lead to an increased awareness of how some of us can reach toward greater inclusion of all our culturally diverse sisters in conversations and as friends in our day-to-day lives. I feel moved to invite white sisters to actively acknowledge and champion the concerns and causes of Mormons of color as our own (feminist or not) or, I fear, we will ultimately fail in our mission as Mormon feminists.

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Relief Society Lesson 23: Individual Responsibility

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français
The lesson opens with the following quote:

“We expect our members everywhere to learn correct principles and govern themselves.” (Joseph Smith)govern2

This quote alone could serve as a discussion base for an entire lesson.  It begs big and interesting questions.  Here are a few.

  • For some it seems that we are not allowed to govern ourselves, but rather that the church and its leaders govern for us.  Do you think this is true? In your life, do you feel that you govern yourself?  Whether, yes or no, how does this make you feel?  (Empowered?  Happy? Controlled?  Frustrated?)
  • What are correct principles?   And how do we learn them?  (from the church manuals and teaching?  The scriptures?  General Conference?  Our Bishops?  Our own prayer and revelation?  Temple attendance?)  Contradictory themes abound among these tools; how do we decide which tools to use and how are sure that we are learning correct principles?  What do we do when others learn in different ways?

Teachers Note 1

CrucibleI would recommend several chapters in the Givins’ latest book, “The Crucible of Doubt”, as background reading (and as great source of quotes).

  • Chapter 4: The Use and Abuse of Scriptures, which discuss the various contradictions we see in scripture and in church teaching – and what to do about it.
  • Chapter 6: The Ring of Pharaoh, discussing the fallibility of church leaders and God’s anointed – and how to navigate this truth while stay believing.
  • Chapter 8, Find Your Water Place, exploring how individuals can find their own place of spiritual fulfillment and insight.
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The Fatherhood Shift

perryby MargaretOH

“We’ve demonstrated that women can do what men do, but not yet that men can do what women do. That’s why most women have two jobs—one inside the home and one outside it—which is impossible. The truth is that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” –Gloria Steinem, 2009.

Occasionally the gendered language of the church is more hurtful towards men than it is towards women.  We hear it when women are spoken of as naturally more righteous or when men are said to lack self-control.  The gendered culture of Mormonism is so strong that most of these messages, for most Latter-day Saints, go unobserved or unchallenged.  It’s the landscape we live with every day.  But it is damaging for everyone.

In the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference Elder L. Tom Perry said this in his (mostly good) talk about the crucial need for good parenting:

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General Conference: Feeling Tossed on the Old Ship Zion

life-preserver

For the most part I’m a fan of General Conference. I like to spend Saturdays working on a project, headphones on and hearing counsel and stories about the gospel. Sundays I turn it on in the kitchen and try to listen as I simultaneously instruct the kids on the proper way to make frijoles or corn chowder or whatever yumminess we’ll eat during the break between session. Sunday afternoon is spent in a food coma in the basement, drifting in and out of sleep as I recline on the futon. Some talks I like. Some bug me. But I usually walk away a little more committed and renewed. But this past weekend, I felt pulled in two different directions and I’m a little queasy as a result.

My favorite speaker is always Jeffrey Holland. I love his intelligence. I love his relationship with his wife Pat (she is his equal, not his “sweet companion”) and that comes out in how he talks about and to women. I love that he always has a thesis and sticks with it (English major here). His Saturday afternoon talk focused on how the Savior’s first “messianic call” was to care for the poor. “The great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join him in lifting this heavy burden from the people.” He really hit home our duty to “seek opportunities to care for the poor.” Aside from fast offerings, he promised that God “will guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.”

And other talks made reference to serving in our communities and as communities. I delighted in hearing Elder Wong talk (in Cantonese!!) about the absolute need to “Rescue in Unity.” “We can all help one another,” he said. “We should always be anxiously engaged in seeking to rescue those in need. … When we assist (Jesus Christ) in his mission of saving souls, we too will be rescued in the process.” I felt the truth of their admonitions. As I say to my teenage son who no longer identifies as Mormon, “I don’t care as much if you believe in Christ as I do that you act like Christ.”

But there was another theme: the need to put family gospel study first. This was referenced many times, most particularly by Elder Scott who focused on the necessity of making one’s family the center of all our efforts. On Sunday afternoon he spoke of four tools. And here is where I started to feel guilty. And stressed. And confused. But don’t mistake my anxiety as disapproval or dislike because I actually believe in the benefits of his four tools:

1)   Family Prayer morning and night is “nonnegotiable priority in daily life, more important than sleep, school, media…”

2)   Scripture Study as a family, same as above

3)   FHE needs to be every Monday night and nothing, not “employment, sports, homework” should stand in the way.

4)   Attend the Temple.

I kinda wanted to cry, because as a SAHM who is actively trying to raise her family in the gospel, I WANT these things in my life. I TRY to do these things but fail. Majorly. Especially if the standard for success is Every. Single. Day. Twice. Whatever happened to the lovely vagueness of the word “regular?”  Regular prayer and scripture study are goals I can live with. But nonnegotiable rocks my boat, because I cannot prioritize my family as Scott urges and also serve those around me in the way Holland envisions.

As I listened to Elder Scott, I started to picture two versions of Elder Ballard’s “Old Ship Zion.” One ship is large, filled with many souls. Sometimes I have to leave my kids on the poop deck to go into the galley and wash dishes or play shuffleboard with a widow who desperately needs the company. Scriptures are not always studied because my time and attention are spent elsewhere, mending sails and swabbing decks. But my kids are learning to work and serve as well. Yet when I think of Scott’s focus on shoring up my family, I see me and my kids on a small boat, a dinghy of sorts. The only way I can make those four tools a regular part of our lives is to isolate ourselves. Become the Swiss Family Robinson. If I am going to make it happen, I cannot pull other people onto my boat.

I freely admit that my life is better when I have managed to make prayer and scriptures a regular part of our lives. There is a peace. But there is also a price. Because FHE is not simply 4o minutes on Monday night. It means meals and homework and lessons and projects all have to be dealt with ahead of time, often at great cost. It means preparing a spiritual message that a 17 year old and an 8 year old will listen to. And nobody’s mad, but all those tasks usually fall on the woman’s shoulders. So as Elder Scott talks about the peace brought by these tasks, I feel a little resentful because if any of it is going to happen, the tasks will be mine and mine alone. It ain’t right, but that’s how it is for me and most of the women I know. So we hear this counsel, and we want the benefits but just don’t know if we are capable of paying the price. What (or who) will we have to toss overboard to keep our family afloat?

I am torn because I know I cannot heed both orders. I cannot serve in my ward and community, as I love to, as Holland and Wong urge us to, if my days are filled with nonnegotiable obligations. If I go out in the evening for a lecture, exercise, visiting teachings, service, then family prayers and scriptures will not happen.

And here is where I miss Chieko Okazaki. If she were around she would be tossing me a life vest, and a Diet Coke, telling me that of course I cannot do it all. She might say this: “[Heather], I think that many Mormon women do not have clear boundaries for themselves. They feel a sense of confusion about who they are, because many competing voices lay claim to them and they try to accommodate them all…. Remember, a boundary has ‘yes’ on one side and ‘no’ on the other. A woman who never feels that she can say ‘no’ is lacking an important element of personal identity and, hence, personal safety. A woman who also feels that she can never say ‘yes’ has an equally serious problem in her inability to move beyond her own boundaries.” (https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/…/article/download/391/369)

So I come away from General Conference with lots to think about: my role as a mother, a sister, a friend, a disciple, a part of a community. I know I will have to find my own answers, my own balance. Choices will be made and I will live with the consequences. Ultimately it is Elder Uchtodorf words that provide a lifeline: “We are all pilgrims, seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship.” And in my quiet moments, I can almost see the sun on the horizon.

 

How do you reconcile what feel like conflicting admonitions from Church leaders?  What talks felt like life preservers? What make you feel like walking the plank? 

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