Guest Post: #MormonMeToo Maybe
My heart goes out to all those who have shared, or have reason to share but have chosen not to yet, their #MeToo stories. Because of a strict (aka emotionally abusive) Mormon upbringing I have particularly tender feelings for the #MormonMeToo victims. Though my history clearly puts me in the ranks of #MeToo, I had never considered myself a part of the Mormon version. Not until today anyway.
For 35+ years I have seen the sexual abuse that I suffered at the hands of a brother, a sister, a piano teacher and a college classmate as being separate and distinct from my religion. After reading a mountain of #MormonMeToo stories something clicked inside of me and I got it. I finally saw how the religious system that was integral to my childhood set me up for carrying the pain of sexual abuse for way too long.
I don’t know exactly when I figured out the unspoken rules of my family of origin, but I know that by the time I was ten there was no mistaking the obvious patriarchy that served as a guide for our family interactions.
Rule one: Men ruled. Period. They had some sort of god-given authority(?) or something that made them more important, I supposed. I didn’t understand it, but I saw it in my home. I saw it reinforced in the Church. Fathers preside. Priesthood leaders are inspired. Obey your leaders. Follow the Prophet.
Rule two: Family was more important than the individual. The older the family member was, the more important they were. This idea was also supported by the Church. Honor your parents. Respect your elders. Families Are Forever. Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.
These two rules shaped the way I responded to the traumatic events of my life. With these in place, and as the youngest female child in a family of eight, I felt like I didn’t stand a chance of ever being listened to. But occasionally I would try. Like the day I came home from school to find my brother and his friend were engaged in playing a game of fetch with his friend’s dog. Sounds like a harmless activity, I suppose. But let me fill in the details.
My brother and his friend were in their early 20’s and had embraced the hippie culture in full force. Their long scraggly hair, hollow eyes and tattered clothes were scary to to me. They slept in a VW bus that was parked in front of our upper-middle-class suburban home. They shared the vehicle with a large, black dog with big sharp teeth. I don’t know the breed of dog, but they had name him Genghis. And appropriately so. For in my ten-year-old mind, this dog, along with his master and my brother, appeared to be the epitome of savagery and barbarism. So I came home from school and there they were, throwing my kickball collection across the lawn one ball at a time, commanding Genghis to fetch. Which he did. Energetically he grasped each ball thrown with his big, scary, sharp teeth.
When I took one of the now punctured kickballs to my mom I had tears in my eyes. I was not a child prone to drama. Yet I was truly upset by the destruction of one of my favorite playthings. I explained with a tear-stained face how it happened. My mother just looked at me and gently said, “He’s your brother.” She then turned away and continued with her tasks, effectively ending the conversation and leaving me to conclude that “Families are Forever” felt more like a threat than a promise. It also left me with a clear understanding, three years later, that speaking up about my brother’s sexual adventure at my expense or my sister’s attempts to fondle my breasts would not be met with any degree of empathy or desire to protect me. So I kept quiet.
And when, at age 15, my mother explained to me that the “crazy lady” of the stake had accused our stake president of making unwanted advances and that he was just telling her “I love you” in a brotherly way and that she just really was making a big deal out of nothing because everyone knew that the stake president was a wonderful man, I knew I could not tell anyone that just weeks before, my piano teacher had hugged me and told me he loved me and that I had felt extremely uncomfortable about the whole thing. I didn’t want to be like the “crazy lady.” So I kept quiet. And I quit taking piano lessons. And no one understood why a girl who was so musical and seemed to loved it so much would just up and quit.
And then in college, on a study abroad experience, when a male classmate came to my room and, uninvited, started rubbing my legs and I asked him to stop, I told myself it had happened because I was wearing short-shorts and I shouldn’t have done that. I was such a temptation to him. And he wasn’t LDS so I needed to be nice to him. You know, be a good missionary. And I was. For a little while. And then he tried to force me to do things I didn’t want to do. This time I fought him and received a major head wound when I finally pushed him hard enough to free myself from his grasp and fall against the radiator that was behind me. But I was wearing pants and a non-revealing t-shirt that time. “Was it still my fault?” I wondered.
So while I did not experience a clearly obvious #MormonMeToo moment, after reading others’ experiences, I do believe that the trauma I experienced was made more painful because of harmful beliefs perpetuated within the Mormon culture. And each #MormonMeToo story that I read helps me to identify harmful beliefs that were once invisible to me. Helps me reach out. Helps me heal.
For those who have shared, I thank you. For those who want to share, I encourage you. For those cannot share yet, I support you. Even in your silence I believe you. I was silent too.