Breaking the Patriarchal Grip
Last week we attended the mission homecoming for the son of one of my dear friends in our ward. Because it was over 100 degrees and the old houses in downtown Denver have notoriously bad ventilation I chose to wear a sundress to stay as cool as possible. The sleeves of this dress covered the garments I was wearing but it would probably still be considered a sleeveless dress. As we were heading out the door I grabbed a cardigan only to be stopped by mr. mraynes. When asked what I was doing I explained that though the dress covered my garments it was still sleeveless and I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable around my fellow saints. mr. mraynes argued that the dress was perfectly acceptable, that I was covering what I had covenanted to cover and that reasonable people like me needed to stand against the increasingly pharisaical dress code for Mormon females. He was right and it was such a hot day that I left the cardigan at home. But the whole time we were there I tugged on those thick straps, wishing they were just a little bit longer. Nobody said anything and I really doubt anybody cared but it didn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable.
We could talk about the skewed rhetoric that influenced my psychology in this experience but that is not the point of this post. Rather, I want to talk about the role progressive men should play in helping the cause of gender equality within the church. My interaction with mr. mraynes provides a low stakes exercise to analyze this complicated issue. As I said above, mr. mraynes was right–my garments were covered and there is nothing modest in suffering through heatstroke so that one more inch of my arms could be hidden. But however right mr. mraynes was, wearing a sleeveless dress to a Mormon function is a political statement and as such, I should have been in complete control of that decision. (I should note here that had I been insistent on the cardigan I’m sure mr. mraynes would have backed off).
So what should mr. mraynes have done? This is a tricky question and one that feminists have been dealing with forever. There are those who believe that men have no place in the movement and should keep their ideas and actions to themselves. This is an extreme position and I think that the majority of feminists, myself included, believe that men play a vital role in advancing the cause of equality for women. It is my belief that we absolutely need men, especially in a culture so steeped in patriarchy, fighting the fight right alongside us and building bridges where women cannot. As Lorie Stromberg says, ‘men can act as equality missionaries…modeling equitable behavior and helping us convince the male hierarchy that change is necessary and desirable.”
This takes us back to that original question, how is this to be done? I don’t think mr. mraynes should have kept his mouth shut, I’m thankful he said something because sometimes I do need a little push to act on something that should be acted against. On the other hand, this was not really the statement I wanted to spend political capitol on and in following mr. mraynes’ directive rather than my own heart I was not fully committed to the ideology he wanted me to stand for.
In fairness to my husband, if somebody is at fault for my experience it is me for not explicitly saying that I wanted to wear the cardigan. mr. mraynes is a true feminist man and has always believed that the feminist cause is one for women to lead and him to be supportive of. And this is the key for me. In order to truly be a male feminist you must listen to women and let them lead the fight for their own liberation. To do otherwise is to make a mockery of feminism and all women.
There have been Mormon men who purport to be allies of the feminist cause but, unhappy with the pace of change, push for radical action that many of us intuitively know to be the wrong approach. Perhaps these men have the best of intentions, but to women who have been struggling with this for years, it just seems like another man telling us what to do. Mormon feminists understand better than anybody the consequences for radical actions like seeking the priesthood or praying to Heavenly Mother. There have been real women who have paid dearly for their action and this understandably makes us cautious. To mansplain to us and then to usurp female initiative and power is an insult and betrays the latent sexism of these men.
Women have been and must continue to be the prime leaders of the movement for gender equality within the Mormon church. Listen and counsel with us but remember this is our liberation and we must own it in a way that feels authentic to us. If progressive Mormon men really want to break the patriarchal grip then it is time to recognize women’s authority.