Smash the Plate-riarchy: A New Feminist Ritual
I grew up hearing the legend about the early Mormon pioneer women who sacrificed their china to be smashed up for the plaster on the Kirtland temple. I imagine it was told as a way to instill respect for the sacrifices of the pioneers, as well as to encourage a sense of reverence and awe for the temple – that’s certainly what I took away from the story as a child. Not until recent adulthood did I learn that some parts of the story had been embellished: while they did use broken bits of glass and pottery in the plaster, it more likely came from cast-off crockery in trash heaps, not taken from the cabinets of the families.
The mythology of the story is effective: sacrificing something they believed to be beautiful, special or important (their finest china) for something more beautiful, special, or important (the first temple.)
Other stories I heard as a child taught me ideas about women, men, relationships, race, equality, ambition, sexuality, and more. I was told that patriarchy was beautiful, special and important – that it was God’s will for men to preside in the church, families, and marriages. I was taught myths about white supremacy – that God’s chosen people were “white and delightsome.” I was taught about the roles of women to be wives and mothers, not to pursue careers – that it was God’s will for a woman to be a stay-home-mother, regardless of her personal preference, opportunity, or ambition. I was taught that the identities and sexuality of LGBT+ people were an abomination to God.
In Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s essay, “Lusterware,” she describes a cabinet shelf full of dishes, some pieces of beautiful, plated silver, and other pieces of the phony knock-off version, or “lusterware.” When the “shelf breaks” and all the dishes fall, the phony pieces shatter while the authentic dishes stay intact.
As I carefully examine all the dishes taking up space in my metaphorical mental shelves, I’ve found a number of pieces that don’t deserve to be there. The lusterware, the phonies, the knock-offs. They are lies: inauthentic and harmful, and do not contribute to beauty in my life. When I search the purest parts of my heart to find if these deserve a second look, or consideration to stay, my whole being rebels, “No! Get rid of them!”
I decided to further purge these harmful modalities from my psyche with a symbolic new ritual:
Smash the Plate-riarchy
I went to a local thrift shop and picked up a few second-hand plates. On these plates I wrote the things that wound my soul – things that no longer had a place in my life. Things that needed to be smashed up into unrecognizable bits so that they’ll never take up space in my house again. Things like:
A few good friends and I wrote on our plates with permanent markers, a therapeutic act itself! We took our plates to an empty parking lot, stood on top of the car, raised our arms high above our head, and threw the plates down on the ground with a mighty crash. As symbolic remnants of toxic systems shattered before our eyes, we felt the horcruxes of oppression lift away from our hearts, like Tom Riddle screaming out of the diary. Never again do these systems, modalities, or beliefs have a place within us, to be perpetuated within us, or to find us as host. Seeing these words smash on the ground filled with me new resolve to rid my own life of their remnants, and to help others on their own journeys of self-discovery.
Most importantly, the shards of these shattered systems do not combine together to make something more beautiful. They beautify my world by their absence. They belong in the trash heap. Sometimes my effort to delete harmful systems leaves a vacuum where new and equally harmful systems take root. I’m constantly aware and vigilant of what new systems are growing in the spaces where oppression used to dwell because it’s so easy to replace one hierarchy with another hierarchy. Lessons I’ve internalized from the pedagogy of oppression don’t just go away overnight, both as the giver and the receiver of such oppressions.
I want room on my shelf for more equality, justice, peace, prosperity, partnership, honesty, authenticity, unity, collaboration, community, consensus-model leadership, vulnerability, healthy boundaries, and independence. I must build the scaffolding to support these newly learned modalities, or risk falling into poisonous old paternalistic patterns.
This ritual was a nice cleansing and clarification of all the dirty grime and oppressive systems that had built up on me for so long. It was liberating to see them come to a crashing halt in my own heart, and filled me with resolve to see them crash everywhere else, too.
Next time you attend a women’s retreat, girls’ night out, book club, group therapy session, or need an act of radical self-care, I recommend you try the Smash the Plate-riarchy ritual.
Post your photos and tag them #smashtheplateriarchy
p.s. (like a good Mormon woman, be sure to bring a broom and dustpan to clean up the mess when you’re done.)