Total Game Control

Posted by on July 8, 2014 in authority, Body, Friendship, Gender roles, guest post, humor, manhood, modesty, women | 21 comments

Guest Post by Emily Holsinger Butler

the playahs

A Catholic friend of mine once offered the idea that world religions exist for one single purpose: to control women. “A bit reductive, no?” was my response. But this guy was wicked smart—never flippant, never glib. And his assertion has stayed with me like a compass point. I refer to it whenever “things happen” in our Mormon universe. Who is trying to control whom, I ask.

I’ve been controlled, sure. In fact, I’ve often given courtesy control to people out of sheer politeness—like all those times on my mission when I submitted to a young district leader’s efforts to foist a personal priesthood interview on me. That was how the game was played. If there was a priesthood leader present, a sister would hop out of the driver’s seat and let him commandeer the wheel. “Take ‘er for a spin, Elder! Don’t scratch the paint!”* Results varied. It was usually fine, and sometimes funny.

Controlling women—have I been complicit? Heck yeah. I’ve collaborated. I’m not proud of myself. Holy cow, I’ve been Vichy France with a temple recommend.** Like that Saturday in 1994, at some church basketball tournament. As a very lovely break from law school exertions, I played on our ward’s women’s basketball team, coached to great effect by our Stake President. It was super fun. We made it to some sort of regional event, and drove down to a building in southern Virginia on the appointed day. Men were playing in a separate but equal tournament on the full-sized court. We were playing on a smaller one, and I wasn’t about to look that gift horse in the mouth, believe you me. As the female players gathered together, we were addressed by a priesthood leader who may or may not have also been the referee (I don’t recall). He outlined a few basics of the tourney, and then, in all seriousness, admonished us to dress modestly on court.

Incredulous, I looked at my teammates. We were for the most part women of a certain age, some of a more certain age than others. Our power forward was a professional nurse of repute. Our best shooter, the only one who could almost dunk, was the Stake President’s wife (and mother of many). Then there was me—I was a terrible player, but was equipped with two sports bras (worn simultaneously) and shorts that covered my thighs very adequately. I honestly don’t remember the other women’s names, but do remember their tolerant, almost vacant expressions as the brother went on about the necessity of sleeves and such. Nobody batted an eye. We regarded him with distant benevolence. We permitted him to tell us how to dress.

And so it was that we were unprepared for the vision that was unleashed upon us a few moments after the good brother concluded his remarks. It was then that the men’s teams emerged from their changing area. Unlike us, they had actual uniforms with actual numbers. On the other hand, it was clear that said uniforms had been handed down through generations of Mormon men, languishing in a Stake Center closet between basketball tournaments that began sometime in 1972. Sleeves they had none. Manufactured from some sort of skin-tight polyester fabric, the shorts stopped mere centimeters south of the groin area, which (how to put this) was exceptionally pronounced, if not practically articulated—so clingy they might have been codpieces for all intents and purposes. The men’s teams were composed primarily of middle-aged priesthood holders who (like us) were in it for a good time, and who (like us) could stand to lose a good twenty or thirty or forty pounds. It would have been a tender mercy for me to offer my second sports bra to any number of those players. Yeah. Their costumes left very little to the imagination.

Again I looked at my teammates. Bless them, their faces were frozen in alarm, not at what they were seeing, but at what was about to happen. We removed ourselves at once to a secluded area behind the bleachers, and fell to the floor where we rolled around unleashing howls of laughter. Personally, I laughed so hard I pulled a muscle in my abdomen, which didn’t help my game at all. We laughed until the tears ran. Someone almost choked. It wasn’t pretty.

What did I learn that day? Can’t say, really. But it does occur to me that we have a ways to go in our church before we can say that we love each other more than we love controlling each other.

Play on, sisters.

*It was, in fact, literally the case that sisters did not drive cars in my mission. That privilege was reserved for the missionaries who worked in the mission office. Who, incidentally, were all elders.

**I’m paraphrasing the wonderful Caitlin Moran, here. Email me if you want the original quote, which is pretty salty.

Emily Holsinger Butler is a hausfrau living in Utah with delusions of grandeur & survival, a writer of books, a hoper of all things and a believer in several of them.


  1. Emily–I laughed out loud when reading this. Then read it to a girlfriend and laughed some more. Entangled with the humor are some uncomfortable truths about how we enable others to control us. That politeness one hits home with me. Best take away line: “Holy cow, I’ve been Vichy France with a temple recommend.” Ain’t that the truth!

  2. “Manufactured from some sort of skin-tight polyester fabric, the shorts stopped mere centimeters south of the groin area, which (how to put this) was exceptionally pronounced, if not practically articulated—so clingy they might have been codpieces for all intents and purposes.”

    I’ve been snorting and chortling as I read this. Awesome post, Emily. Please write for Exponent again!

  3. “It would have been a tender mercy for me to offer my second sports bra to any number of those players.”

    I always had a weirdness with the “tender mercy” phrase…. now, I kinda love it. Thank you so much for this, I really needed a good laugh today!

  4. I really thought this post was going to end with you all awkwardly and shamefully donning t-shirts behind the bleachers – and when you fell on the floor laughing instead, I snort-laughed.

    Thank you!

  5. Great post Emily! I love how you used humor to show how ridiculous the double standard is. Love it!

  6. Thanks for the laugh!! What’s even funnier to me is some of the clothing the men wear in the temple – like those jumpsuits that are clearly too small and leave nothing to the imagination – I just chuckle and I thank the good Lord my mother wasn’t sitting next to me or she’d be rolling in the aisle.

    The sad thing is I know there have been some girls/women who have left the church because they were told they dress immodestly (sleeveless tops, short skirts above the knees) my daughter included.

    What makes me angry when I hear women tell the YW to “cover” up around the YM – and no matter how much explaining to them I do. Men and some women, just don’t get it.

  7. Nearly shot Dr. Pepper out my nose when I read, “It would have been a tender mercy for me to offer my second sports bra to any number of those players.”

    If I might add my experience here. I know these things have been mentioned elsewhere ad nauseam, but I’ve worked with four different YM groups in my adult life. In the years and years of sitting through scouts, YM activities and Sunday services I’ve never witnesses a lesson given to the YM about modesty. On the other hand, I have heard on countless occasions the admonition to YW and sisters to dress modestly. I’ve seen and participated in male sports and activities with people dressed as you describe. And yet, the discrepancy in the “dress modestly” teaching never donned on me until one day when I heard a well-meaning leader tell a group of YW to “dress modestly to help protect the thoughts of our young men.” So many red flags went off in my mind at that moment that I have been hyper-sensitive to the subject since . . . and the examples continue mounting.

    Thank you for this blog post. It made me laugh but also left me thinking. Especially about what your catholic friend said.

    Now . . . where did I put that Dr. Pepper?

    • I don’t know that the YM are talked to about “modesty,” but they do get lectures and peer pressure about the clothes they wear, especially to church. Here in Utah, the “unwritten order of things” requires that they wear a white shirt to pass the sacrament (contrary to the CHI). One Easter, I got my sons nice blue dress shorts because I wanted them to have the whole cute matching for Easter outfits, but still keep the white shirts so the older one could pass the sacrament. But that was “too casual” and he wasn’t allowed to pass that day. My son also wear kilts (mostly utilikilt style kilts) all the time. I made one for him out of black suit fabric for him to wear to church, and the only way he was able to wear it and participate was because his YM president caught whiff of his concerns and wore his dressy lava lava to bless the sacrament that same Sunday. He’s been wearing the kilt (in warm weather) for more than a year now, but some of the boys still harass him for not dressing appropriately for passing the sacrament.

      The point (finally) is that while YM aren’t called out on their clothes for modesty, they are pressured to conform to a very narrow and arbitrary definition of what is appropriate to wear while performing priesthood duties. It’s not about everything they wear all the time as it is for YW, but there is great pressure on them to conform to certain standards that they may not have the means (I remember nonmember friends being turned away from stake dances in nice polo shirts, the nicest they had, because they weren’t wearing button downs with ties, because they didn’t own any) or inclination to conform.

      • I have a son and know that there is clothing discrimination for boys as well. I love that your YM leader wore a lava lava in solidarity. I think it’s so much harder to “look on the heart” so clothing have become a petty short cut means of judgement. As a church we need some serious soul searching about our attitude towards clothing.

      • Great blogpost! And yes to the discrimination and females and males face within the church. As Heather noted, it’s a pretty short-sighted way to judge the worth of another person’s soul.

      • Now that you mention it, you are absolutely right. I remember friends of mine not being allowed to pass or bless the sacrament because they weren’t wearing white shirts. My most recent calling was YM president and for the sake of principle I didn’t wear a white shirt for three years on Sundays and sported a beard for the last year. My bishop never said a word, but he is a gem. I did contract work for the church down at the conference center for about four years. There was a HUGE amount of pressure to dress and look a certain way. So, I guess you’re right. It cuts both ways.

        Thanks for all of your insight.

  8. I loved the Vichy France metaphor! I had a good giggle. Humorous though the analogy is, I think it does raise a serious issue. When through silence and inaction we are complicit with injustice or oppression, we’re way, way, way off the straight and narrow.

    I’ve often had similar thoughts about the discrepancy between men and women. When will the high priests receive a sharp talking-to about shopping for a new suit when they have clearly outgrown their old one? Will they be given a firm reminder to keep their legs together, as no one appreciates the bulge? What was once modestly baggy and pleated has, with the ever-circling years, become revealing. Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout my tight pants…I got my tight pants…I got my tight pants on.

  9. Great post, and great story!

    I loved this line in your description of yourself: “a hoper of all things and a believer in several of them.”

  10. [Mormon][feminist][church ball] humor at its finest! You win all the prizes for this. Thanks for bringing this to The-Exponent. And have a lovely day, sister.

  11. I too laughed out loud and long at your description. It is heartening to know that your fellow teammates also saw the humor/irony in the situation! Thanks for the humor highlighting a serious issue. P.S. In my mission also no sisters were allowed to drive. Only elders. Sigh.

  12. LOVE!

    Once the Young Women walked in on my husband’s church basketball game (they played skins and shirts). He couldn’t help but laugh at the look of shock on their faces as the young women beheld a bounty of hairy backs and protruding bellies (I guess they aren’t beer bellies?).

  13. Yea, I laughed even unto snorting whilst reading this post. You are awesome and this was delightful.

  14. This was absolutely delightful and insightful, Emily. And I agree with Ziff about loving your self-description. Hoper of all things and believer of many, indeed.

  15. Forgot to say– Perfect title, too.

  16. Great post about crazy and just weird church ball antics. In my stake, I am one of the few allowed to play ball with the “competitive” ward in pick-up games. It has been ages since I have lived somewhere that any organized LDS church ball was played. The last time I played church ball, it was in the all churches league played at the biggest church gyms in town. The LDS ward represented well.
    Vichy France with a temple recommend is one of the best lines ever. This is Nibblet nomination stuff!

    Your picture had me thinking in different directions at first. The ABA was disbanded around the momentous time in church history of OD2. The Kentucky Colonels and many other teams folded, while a few other teams, including 5-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs were added to the NBA. At the time, an investment of less than $100,000 was needed to keep the Colonels in business. That team would now be worth $500,000,000 or more. Give me a time machine and a small loan!!!!

    • This blog needs a snort warning *do not read during the one minute in sacrament meeting when all children are silent*
      I dont think my fake cough cover up fooled anyone!
      Thinking about all the ways I am team Vichy France was the sad side to this blog for me.


  1. Total Game Control | Well-Behaved Mormon Woman - […] Controlling women—have I been complicit? Heck yeah. I’ve collaborated. I’m not proud of myself. Holy cow, I’ve been Vichy …

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