The Double-Bind

Mary and Eve

Originally uploaded by Hi, I’m G

by mraynes

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend an all day conference about the dynamics of gender violence in the South Asian community. The conference was put on by a wonderful South Asian feminist non-profit organization in Phoenix that I work with and was one of the best conferences I have ever attended.

Among the excellent speakers was a representative of the Peaceful Families Project which is a national organization devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families. I was impressed with the mission and the action of this particular organization but I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with the speaker as she progressed through her presentation. Although very knowledgeable about the Quran and the culture of Islam, the speaker seemed unable to acknowledge the problematic aspects of her religion. My frustration came to a climax when the speaker used the Quran’s Sura (chapter) four, verse thirty-four as proof of the progressive nature of Islam. Here is a translation of that scripture:

Husbands should take full care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in the husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. (Haleem, 2004).

If you are wondering what is progressive in this, men are commanded to provide for their wives and if there are problems, they are told to first separate and only hit their wives if the separation doesn’t work. (In other translations, men are told to lightly beat their wives which I suppose is better than savagely beating your wife. Go here for further translations and explanations.) I was perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief and categorize this scripture as a product of its time but to be told that it was a good thing for women was more than I could take. It was at this moment that I realized that for the first time in my life, I was on the opposite side of the double-bind.

The double-bind is a dilemma that many feminists find themselves in when they participate in a patriarchal religion or cultural tradition. Feminists of faith who identify with religions where women are not equal in either the theology or the institution find themselves caught between the two worlds they love, risking the reputation as a dissidents by fellow believers and as pawns of the patriarchy by secular feminists.

As a Mormon feminist I often find myself in the middle of this double-bind. I have been told on more than one occasion by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that I don’t have a testimony of the restored gospel and that my heart is hard, that I have been deluded by Satan and that I should just leave the church. I have also been pitied, ridiculed and dismissed by feminists who say they care about women. The tension of being stuck between these two worlds is often overwhelming and painful and yet I find that there is very little compassion for women like me. So when I found myself in the role of the skeptical feminist, judging another woman for her faith in and apology for parts of a religion I find offensive, I was so ashamed of myself. That Muslim woman and I are in the same position; we are both believers of a religion that is undeniably problematic for women but nevertheless brings happiness, peace and meaning to our lives.

In the time since the conference, I have thought a lot about how to integrate my feminism and my faith and how to thrive within the double-bind. In order to make it as a faithful feminist you have to accept the double-bind as inevitable; secular feminists will never fully accept you and neither will members of the church. The trick is not to care; live in a way that is authentic to yourself and the God you love. The Muslim woman I spoke of earlier might have frustrated both the traditional believer of Islam and the outsider but nobody could accuse her of not believing in the God she wanted to believe in. There is nothing inauthentic about that.

I worry that the Mormon Church is losing amazing feminist women and men in the search for authenticity. I certainly do not mean to offend those of you who have chosen to leave, obviously the individual must do what is best for themselves and their family. But for those who are in the process of choosing or have already chosen to stay please don’t believe that it is impossible to live authentically as an active Mormon feminist. The truth is our lives are only as authentic as we make them. You don’t have to believe in or make apologies for doctrines and practices you find offensive. I have found that the more honest I am with believers, non-believers and myself, the less I feel pulled between the worlds of feminism and the gospel that I care so deeply about.

I will never say that life in the double-bind is easy or even desirable. I cannot promise an existence of peace and acceptance. I can say that the double-bind is a very brave life; it is not easy to live with that amount of complexity for a prolonged period of time. But there are rewards; there is something in losing yourself in a cause that seems impossible. There is something in the humility that comes from being dismissed on all sides. There is something in those quiet moments where God whispers to your heart “keep going” and gives you that one last breath to make it through Relief Society. There is something in shaking your fist at God and asking why until you feel like your soul will explode and then taking that energy and being the change you think God would want.

They are simple gifts…but who needs more than passion and God?


Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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18 Responses

  1. mb says:

    Excellent post.

    You wrote: “The trick is not to care; live in a way that is authentic to yourself and the God you love.”

    Getting to the point where one can live peacefully and authentically and devoted to God, regardless of the opinions of others is harder that we would wish and takes longer that we would like, but, I agree, absolutely necessary. The majority of us emerge from the buffeting of adolescence feeling like our ability to press forward is only possible if we are being validated by others whom we perceive as powerful. As a result, contradiction by our fellow travelers can seriously derail our sense of ability to travel in their company.

    But we err, thinking that validation is what gives us the ability to stand strong. Validation is nice, but it is a poor substitute for love. I think that strength to continue in the company of others who do not see what you see comes most fully from a sense of being fully loved. That’s one of the reasons that being in tune with God’s love for you is so vital to true Christian courage, and why Jesus focused on that so fully in his intercessory prayer and his comments to his disciples at that time. And it’s also a reason, I believe, why it is so important that we love each other and our children. The love we can give is a far more powerful gift than any approval we may extend.

    For me, validation can make me feel okay about what I believe and help me not care what others think, but feeling fully loved by God or another person not only frees me from caring about what others think or say, but also enables me to love the naysayers in my life in spite of their intended or unintended censorial statements and to travel peacefully with them.

    So yes, the trick is not to care what others think. And then, what to do with that not caring? You can turn that not caring into cool tolerance, or you can tap into love and turn that not caring into freedom to love and live authentically with your fellow travelers in spite of the rejection of some of them. Hopefully we do the latter.

  2. sarah says:

    I loved this thoughtful post.

  3. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you for this post. I have been struggling with this (the double bind) for some time. Often, I don’t tell people I am LDS when I know I will just get flack from them. And just as often, I don’t reveal to Church members my feminist side. The consequence is that I feel like a fraud. Recently, I have been trying to be more honest with everyone, not in an in-your-face kind of way, but just to stop hiding two very important parts of my identity–the Mormon and the Feminist.
    I agree with mb too, that love is more important than validation.
    Your words give me courage.

  4. D'Arcy says:

    I’m there with you. Right there. And I’ve been feeling so conflicted. I’ve been working so hard to figure out how to be in the church without embracing the things I am so against. Most people in the church think if better if I leave, and all my “open minded liberal” friends can’t believe I’m not out of the church with more alacrity and conviction. The truth is, I just am trying to define my own spirituality in terms that feel true and right to myself. But it does get tiring having to defend myself at every turn and from every person.

  5. Jessawhy says:

    MRaynes, thanks for this beautiful post.

    My husband made the mistake of introducing a new man in the ward to two women as wives of so and so. They immediately got on his case, “I am the secretary in the RS, not just John’s wife.” Also, they were surprised that Mark was the one who made that mistake. They said, “Of all people, you should know better.” Indeed, he did know better and he apologized.

    Thus, it’s nice when for brief moments, the double-bind eases up and some women in the church come to the defense of us feminists.

    I don’t feel very much pressure from feminists to abandon the church. Probably because I don’t know many outside of the bloggernacle. I wonder how true that is for our readers.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    The women were not wives of the same man, but he introduced them separately and referenced their husbands to help him make the connection of who they were married to.

  7. Erin says:

    Hmm…I haven’t felt that so much. (The “double bind”.) Do you have a working definition of “feminist”?

  8. Caroline says:

    Mraynes, you articulate so much of what I feel. I want very very badly to make Mormonism work for me, and I think there is a way to do it and be authentic. I think for me it’s about being honest about what I think and who I am, and at the same time trying (though often failing) to appreciate the Mormons around me for their sincerity and good qualities, even if I disagree with them. Hopefully someday they’ll extend the same to me.

    Your last paragraph is beautiful, by the way.

  9. mraynes says:

    Thanks for all the comments, I have to say I find it reassuring that many of you have had the same experience.

    mb, I love this paragraph:

    “So yes, the trick is not to care what others think. And then, what to do with that not caring? You can turn that not caring into cool tolerance, or you can tap into love and turn that not caring into freedom to love and live authentically with your fellow travelers in spite of the rejection of some of them. Hopefully we do the latter.”

    I worry that I too often project cool tolerance instead of love. It is a personality fault that I am working on, thank you for reminding me what to work towards.

    Thanks, Sarah!

    CatharineWO, I totally understand your situation, it is one that I have found myself in a time or two :). I commend you on your quest for greater honesty. Good luck in your journey!

    D’Arcy, trying to find your own spiritual path is probably the hardest thing we do in mortality. I hope you find a middle path that works for you.

    I love your story, Jessica. It’s funny because men like our husbands try so hard but they can’t always escape their patriarchal socialization. I also love that women in your ward are beginning to accept you for who you are, I have to say that I’m a little jealous. Despite my assertion that other people’s opinions don’t matter, I do struggle with not being accepted in my ward. Hopefully I can embody my own beliefs on this matter. Thanks for the comment.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    When I was in Divinity school I felt such camaraderie from the other feminists I was in class with from the Wiccan and pagan feminists to the Southern Baptist ones. I think your post articulates why we got along so well–although we had different doctrinal beliefs, we were all in that double-bine, working within our traditions to make them more inclusive.

  11. mraynes says:

    Erin, thanks for your comment. A feminist believes that women and men are equal, pure and simple. I think a lot of people are feminists when this definition is applied to them. I’m glad that you have not experienced the double-bind, hopefully we all can get to a point where those of us who identify as feminist do not have to be pulled in two directions.

    Thank you for your kind comment, Caroline. I know both you and I struggle with feeling out of place in the church but like anything else, finding a place in Mormonism where you are comfortable is a trial and error process. I agree with you, it is possible to find authenticity in this choice but it certainly takes a lot of patience. I think you do a great job at this; some of your suggestions have made it easier for me to choose to stay and I thank you for that.

  12. ECS says:

    mraynes, loved this post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  13. newt says:

    I read this blog pretty frequently but have maybe posted a comment only once or twice. I just wanted to thank you, mraynes, for the beautiful, insightful post. You have touched upon so much that I’ve been struggling with, echoing so many feelings and questions of my own soul. And you have illuminated several things I’d not even considered.

    “The truth is our lives are only as authentic as we make them. You don’t have to believe in or make apologies for doctrines and practices you find offensive. I have found that the more honest I am with believers, non-believers and myself, the less I feel pulled between the worlds of feminism and the gospel that I care so deeply about.”

    Isn’t it strange how that is? Something I’m just barely beginning to recognize.

    I went away the other weekend, to visit a friend, and when I came back, my church meetinghouse had burned down completely (due to an electrical fire in the roof). Staring at the remains of that building which was beloved of so many, I was overwhelmed with sorrow. I remembered so many aches and struggles of my own, but somehow felt it has been worth it, that it will continue to be worth it. And it surprised me. It is really a strange position we find ourselves in, trying to balance between these two worlds. But, for me at least, it seems like half of my angst comes from not embracing myself fully.

    And mb, I like your comments too. What a fine line we walk in terms of validation and self-confidence.

  14. newt says:

    p.s. I think I will send this post to some of my dear friends and probably also print it out to paste in my journal.

  15. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for this insightful post! I
    do not share many of the the “feminist”
    viewpoints expressed on this blog in general,
    but I enjoy reading this blog because I do like to try and
    understand other points of view even if I do
    not personally share those viewpoints. Thank
    you for helping me understand the inner struggle
    that many are dealing with. I view my role in
    the church and in God’s kingdom as different but
    very equal. I am denied no blessing because of
    my gender and it matters not to me whether the
    administration of those blessings in the structure
    of the church is done through a man or a woman.
    One thing I do know for sure is that there IS a
    place for everyone in the church and the Kingdom
    of God and I admire those of you who struggle with
    some aspects of it but continue to search and
    continue to choose to remain. My life
    is much richer because you are there than if you
    were not.

  16. Alisa says:

    I’m joining a tad late, but just wanted to thank you for this beautiful, well-articulated post. It resonates with me.

  17. AS says:

    I like the honesty of the post and as Erin, I was wondering what your definition of “feminism” was. I saw your follow-up, and if “feminism” simply means men and women are equal, then I hope that is what we all are! Because, in fact, we are created equal. I truly believe that Christ and Heavenly Father believe we are equal also, but I can see where there are those who act like that is not the case. I know that women do not have the priesthood and cannot function administratively the way that men do. However, I have seen in meetings where I have been in leadership how some of these priesthood holders will defer to the women. Almost to a fault at times.

    There is also a cultural or generational issue involved. Many of our leaders in the church are older men, and from what I can see, most of the men from those generations are very “traditional” in their ideas of gender roles. I can see how the cultural aspects of our church can sometimes be confused with those beliefs we really have as a religion. I believe we are a church of imperfect people and that we are trying to overcome those problems we have. Mraynes, I am happy to see that although you have seen those conflicts, it has not led you to leave the church or prevent you from the joys of the simple truths.

    I too have feelings that don’t always seem in line with being a perfect mormon woman and mother and I am happy to read and discuss on this website and thank you all for your honesty.

  18. Kiri Close says:

    LOVE this post!

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