I used to toy with the idea of having a separate blog wherein to pontificate on all matter Mormon–since the vast majority of my subscribers are not Mormon and likely uninterested in most of my religious angst and philosophizin’ (which is significant, I’m afraid)–but I eventually concluded that it felt unnatural to write in a venue devoted excluively to faith issues, without the context my mundane and profane existence provides.  I must blog with integrity, or not at all!  Which is why, when religion is at the forefront of my mind, I tend not to blog at all.  It’s the same with politics, incidentally.  But sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Whilst conducting some internet research for an undisclosed side project of mine, I came across the following article on about.com:

Q. “The Salt Lake Tribune has carried several articles recently about “LDS women” who seem to believe that women are an oppressed majority within the Church. Other than the 2 dozen who signed the letter, do LDS women really feel this commonly? If so, why?”

A. There will always be a conflict for Latter-day Saint women who seek after the honors of the world. Living the gospel requires us to leave those honors behind and focus on the things of eternity. While our efforts in the home may go unheralded by the world, they are of the greatest worth and value in this life and in the life to come.

Those women who lose their focus and seek after wordly honor will inevitably find dissatisfaction. The Church oftentimes becomes an easy target for their frustrations. Be assured that these women are not the majority.

The average Latter-day Saint woman is at home nurturing her children. She’s teaching them to read, to serve, to do good in the world. She’s helping her neighbor or planting a garden. She’s developing a new talent or comforting a loved one. She’s reading a book, she’s coaching her child’s team, she’s serving in the local PTO or writing to her local congressman. She’s rocking a baby, she’s praying, she’s sharing the best of herself with those who matter most. Though she may experience sorrow from time to time she is generally happy and at peace with herself.

In the immortal words of Dorothy Parker, “And then Tantle Weader fwowed up.”

Let’s start with the insinuation that LDS women dissatisfied with the patriarchal structure of the church must be “seeking the honors of the world,” i.e. they’re dissatisfied with their God-given role of homemaker and require a professional career to validate their worth.  This assumes that

a) women who are satisfied with their homemaking careers could not possibly be dissatisfied with their patriarchal institutions;

b) the desire to do meaningful work outside the domestic realm necessarily stems from a thirst for worldly honors rather than the irritating compulsion to live as a multi-faceted human; and

c) struggling intellectually, psychologically or emotionally with certain aspects of your faith tradition and/or community constitutes “losing your focus.”

Really, is there no more charitable way to view Mormon women who consider themselves “an oppressed majority” in the Church?  Maybe some of them are ill-focused whiners seeking the praise and honor of the world–I mean, aren’t there some of those in every crowd?–but to dismiss women who question the fairness of the patriarchal order as having lost their perspective on what’s important in life?  You’re not making a very good case for LDS women being unoppressed.  I know that if I were to wonder aloud why the Church doesn’t ordain women, only to have someone respond with “What’s wrong with you?” or “Don’t you like your kids anymore?” I would find that somewhat oppressive. 

The issue isn’t really whether women should work outside the home or not.  Women who aren’t mothers are still women.  Women who aren’t married are still women.  To make this about women not wanting to be homemakers is an ad hominem argument and dodges the question.  The question is whether LDS women “commonly” feel “oppressed,” and if so, why?  One could also ask, if not, why not?

I admit that I have not done any scientific studies on the subject, but apparently the author of this about.com article has not either, so I’m at least as qualified as she is to answer the question of whether LDS women feel “oppressed.”  I think some LDS women feel oppressed.  I think a lot of LDS women who feel oppressed would not publicly admit as much.  I reckon they probably are a minority, but I could hardly say with certainty that they are a “tiny” minority. 

However, the vast majority of LDS women I know (and have known) would say the idea that we are oppressed is for to LAUGH.  To be sure, there are pressures on LDS women to act in certain ways and to make certain choices.  That’s sort of what society does to people.  But the same culture that exerts these pressures–to get married, to have kids, to stay home with your kids (at least while they’re young), to always wear your Church Face–also produces an inordinate number of smart, dynamic, independent women who speak their minds, take care of business and generally kick a**.  And I’m not talking about baking some killer quiche or playing a mean pipe organ or changing a legion of dirty diapers.  The stereotypical Mormon woman who is constantly deferring to men and having more babies than she can possibly handle does not jibe with my observation of Mormon women.  I’ve met hundreds over my short lifetime thusfar, and every last one of them is different from the other.

Who said “Well-behaved women seldom make history”?  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Harvard professor and Mormon woman.  It’s not a coincidence.  A Mormon woman’s scriptural role model is as likely to be Eve, infamous eater of the forbidden fruit, as it is Mary, celebrated handmaiden of the Lord.  (I suspect most Mormon women don’t even think of the nameless Proverbs 31 gal because she’s a little too perfect.)  Mormonism is, I think, unique in its characterization of the Fall and particularly Eve’s role in it.  In our tradition the Fall was part of God’s plan from the beginning because God always intended for us to have the ability to choose between good and evil and to learn through our own experience.  Without delving too deeply into LDS theology (does any of us really want that?), suffice it to say that to varying degrees, most Mormons think Mother Eve rocks.  This would include every stripe of Mormon, from the feminist to the killer-quiche-maker to the Stodgy Old White Men who run the joint. 

Understand that my point is not to argue theology–this view may well indeed make us phony Christians, and if that’s your opinion, you can save it because I’ve already been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.  My point is that with as much religious baggage as Mormon women carry, we certainly are not burdened with any notion that woman is responsible for bringing evil into the world, or alternatively, that woman is too weak and dim to realize that eating fruit = bad.  So right there we have an advantage.

No, we are more burdened with the multiple examples of Mormon pioneer women crossing the plains and taming the wild desert, raising forty-two children alone whilst their husbands served eight-year missions overseas–not to mention all the canning of fruit that must have gone on during this period.  If Mormon women are oppressed, it is not by men but by our heritage of female heroism.  We are much more oppressed by the expectations we place on ourselves than we are by whatever sexism lingers in our institution. 

LDS women are a diverse lot–sort of like women in general.  Are we more likely than other women to be full-time homemakers?  Perhaps.  I haven’t seen the numbers.  But full-time homemakers are a diverse lot also.  To say that the average LDS woman is “at home nurturing her children” is only telling part of the story.  The average LDS woman does many things, usually at all once. 

I’m not sure what exactly it is about that last paragraph I quoted that rubs me wrong, whether it’s the suggestion that feminists are women who are not happy and not at peace with themselves, or the implication that the “average” LDS woman is too busy performing acceptable feminine tasks (like planting a garden and serving in the PTO) to be dissatisfied or sad about anything.  Perhaps what irks me is that it’s a phony answer to a phony question.  Does anyone really wonder if LDS women “commonly” feel oppressed?  Obviously they don’t, or 1) LDS women feeling that way wouldn’t be newsworthy, and 2) the Church would have changed more by now.  I’m not defending or maligning the Church’s patriarchal hierarchy as it now stands.  I’m only trying to characterize the experience of myself and the Mormon women I’ve known.  Of course there are sexist, domineering men and timid, submissive women who wouldn’t know their own worth if they tripped over it, but you don’t need religion to facilitate that sort of dysfunction.  It’s just that when religion is used to justify unfairness and mistreatment, it’s especially egregious and infuriating.  Especially to religious people.

I’m not sure why the author feels compelled to tie things up with a neat little bow, this Pollyanna-ish description of Mormon women that doesn’t account for the wide range of women among us who proudly proclaim themselves unoppressed–the single, the married, the divorced, the widowed, the employed, the housewifely, the emotional, the analytical, the scrapbookers, the NASCAR fans, the cheerful, the cranky, the peaceful, the frustrated, the organized, the confused–they’re all here, and the common denominator is that they find more meaning within the Church than they do without it.  And something that gives your life meaning is a great source of personal empowerment.  Even Mormon feminists–the ones who characterize us as an “oppressed majority”–continue to stay in the church specifically because of the doctrinal and historical aspects of our faith that they find particularly empowering to women (and incompatible with the status quo). 

As for the rest of us, to chalk up our lack of discontent to the fact that we’re happy serving in our own little sphere is a truly inadequate response.  Every Mormon woman I know thinks of herself as a person, not a gender role. 

And now I’ve pretty much run out of things to say, if indeed I was ever saying anything.

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