Of Sharp-Tongues and Binders
One of the more interesting aspects of this presidential election has been to view Mitt Romney through the lens of Mormonism. Having been born and bred in this culture myself, it has been fascinating to see how Romney exudes Mormonness even when not engaging with it. Like it or not, we are all products of our culture and Romney exhibits both the best and the worst that Mormonism has to offer. This post isn’t so much about Romney as it is about the culture of Mormon men that Mitt Romney embodies.
I first noticed it after reading Romney’s opinion of the daytime talk show, The View.
[The View] is high risk because of the five women on it, only one is conservative and four are sharp-tongued and not conservative.
This soundbite was a dog whistle to my Mormon woman ears. We are socialized to behave in certain ways and we all know that being sharp-tongued is a bad thing. Rather, Mormon women are:
[N]ever be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.
Of course this rhetoric has an effect on women but it also impacts Mormon men. Women who are assertive, opinionated and willing to speak their mind can be viewed as rude, course and sharp-tongued. Instead of engaging with actual women with actual ideas, Mormon men may mistakenly believe that all women should be like this caricature set forth by our culture.
Another example of typical Mormon men culture was in this week’s debate where Mr. Romney made the now infamous “binder full of women” comment. Mitt’s comment, while rather clueless, is not especially offensive. What is remarkable is despite 25 years in the upper-echelons of the private sector, Mr. Romney was not aware of any qualified women to fill positions in his gubernatorial administration. Or rather, it is unremarkable because too many Mormon men remain generally clueless about women and their lives. Mr. Romney did not see women until they were brought to him and put in front of his face.
This pattern can be seen in the way the Church considers women. Take, for example, this stunning moment from Elder Christofferson’s most recent conference talk:
Brethren, much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles, for example, includes Why There Are No Good Men Left,The Demise of Guys,The End of Men, Why Boys Fail, and Manning Up. Interestingly, most of these seem to have been written by women…
Has he never seen this book? Or this one? Or this one? Or this one? Or this one? How about this talk? Or this PR piece? Should I go on? Because I can. Fellow Exponent blogger, Spunky had a brilliant comment on this:
It was clear that he pointed out this thing that he deemed ludicrous with the intention of gaining a laugh (which he did)…In doing this, he exposed how wholly absent of empathy or comprehension in regard to the countless male-authored publications, texts, assignments, definitions, etc, that the church and its policy uses to label and discuss women.
This is our reality as Mormon women in the church, men define who we are, what we do, how we should behave and feel. Some Mormon men remain completely unaware that women have experiences outside of our relationships to them as their mothers, wives and daughters. We are never ourselves…We are never fully human…We are the other.
That the most prominent Mormon in the world publicly displays his awkwardness and ignorance of women–characteristics that stem from our cultural practices–should be very concerning to us as a people. We are certainly doing harm to our daughters but we are not giving any favors to our sons either. Mormon men should be comfortable engaging with assertive/sharp-tongued women. They should know that in addition to providing invaluable service to their families and community, women are capable employees whose meaningful inclusion brings strength to whatever organization they are a part of. That there are some Mormon men who do not know this is shameful and we need to acknowledge our cultural culpability.