Master of the house

Around the dinner table tonight, Avery told us that her teacher shared the extremely relevant opinion today that “Ms.” is a foolish construction. It was Avery’s turn to tell us one thing about her day. We were fairly swimming in complacent self-congratulation up to that point. Molly got an Elmo toddler bed from the 24/7 yard sale classifieds on Facebook and Lucy won the afternoon kindergarten spelling bee and Callie had all As in her progress report except an A minus in math for sloppy homework-turn-in.)

And then: “Ms.” is stupid. And you know what? I can see his point. Or, I almost think I kind of remember thinking or hearing something that sounded reasonably like that and almost good in a smug “we’re above political correctness/lameness” and “we prefer simplicity and the unwritten order of things” sort of way.

I don’t know the history of “Ms.” (I’m going to have to look it up now.” But this is what we came up with on the spot:

Is there an equivalent male title that denotes a man’s marital status? Why?

Why do we need to denote a woman’s marital status but not a man’s?

Is there a reason people need to know whether a woman is married or not?

Are there or were there things a woman could not do if she were married? (Like teach school a century ago, or own property at different times in history or retain custody of her children or have the right to not be raped or beaten by her husband?)

Is there a good reason for society to know if a woman is married or not in the sort of situations where a title is used?

Then —

If it is illegal for a prospective employer to ask an applicant if they are married or not, is there a way for a woman to retain her legal right to that privacy if she must title herself either “Miss” or “Mrs.”?

And then —

What about, I asked her (skimming over the littler ones’ hears, I hope) the rape case in California where the state appeals court ruled that a man cannot be charged with rape if he rapes a sleeping woman while impersonating her boyfriend. It is only rape, so the archaic law goes, if he is impersonating her husband.

Is it fair if the same action with the same intent by a man is judged differently by the law based on the marital status of the victim?

No, no it is not.

Almost every day, it seems, I reach the breaking point. That’s it. I’m done. I wash my hands of this misogynistic, crappy world. I’m not happy that my blog has turned in to feminism and the church* all the time blog, but it’s not like I blog every day, any way. But I could, and every day I could write more about how this is just so not the way things should be. So not.

So not.

*I know school is different from church, but sometimes they’re the same in small town Utah. Avery’s teacher said last month that the women planning to wear pants should be worried about not following the prophet. And he is an old family friend of my grandparents, and Avery happens to really, really like him, as do we, most of the time. But she wore pants that day to church so I think she can like him and stay in his class and learn a lot from him while not agreeing with everything, and I told her to tell him she’s sorry he doesn’t understand these things but he’s probably just suffering from White Male Privilege.

 

by name

Today in Primary the theme was “God is my Heavenly Father. He knows and loves me.” Evidence for this personal relationship and paternal love were three scriptures in which God (or Jesus) calls a person by name. Those people were Enos (Enos 1:5), Moses (Moses 1:6) and Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith–History 1:17). We were then asked, “If Heavenly Father visited you, what would He call you?” This is perfectly fine, of course, and definitely something I want my own children to learn, something that, if we could get each person in this world to believe about themselves, and about each other, would theoretically solve every problem, right?

But is sharing those three scriptures the best way to teach children (all children) that they are the offspring of God? The primary presidency’s mandate is to each week “1) identify the doctrine, (2) help the children understand it, and (3) help them apply it in their lives.” They are also told to “Supplement the ideas provided here with some of your own.” So I think it’s valid, even necessary, to think, to actually ponder, how to best teach our beautiful doctrine.

I sat in Primary today wondering if/why I am the only person in the room to see anything wrong with a lesson whose sole purpose is to convince children that they are known personally and by name to God and yet the only examples given are of men that God knows? Does God only know men? Does He know His daughters and simply prefer His Sons? Does He respect His daughters so much He would not approach them personally? Does God wish to know and love me as a female or does He prefer to be inscrutable to me?

I would like to see this lesson taught with both male and female examples. The most easily parallel female example happens to be in the book of scripture we’re studying in class this year. Can you guess? Do you know? (Tom didn’t. And I’ll admit it took me a while to think of her, and now I am more heartsore than ever.) In Doctrine and Covenants 25 :1, the Lord says “Hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God, while I speak unto you, Emma Smith, my daughter; for verily I say unto you, all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.

The only other textually comparable example I could think of off the top of my head was the Annunciation — in Luke 1:30 the Angel Gabriel (sent by God) says “Fear not Mary, for thou hast found favor with God.” The angel also mentions Elisabeth to both Mary and Zachariah byname. There are several scriptures about the Lord “remembering” women by name (Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Hannah, Ruth) and allowing them to conceive.

In the temple we learn that God and Jesus spoke to Eve by name (and in Moses 4:19 it reads: “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living; for thus have I, the Lord God, called the first of all women, which are many.”)

And, speaking of names, when the Lord changes Abram’s name to Abraham He also changes the man’s wife’s name. Genesis 17:15 reads ”And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.” So not only did God know Sarah by name (and remember her eventually in conception), but it was important to Him to change her name as part of the Abrahamic covenant.

Finally, beyond the personal, loving relationships Jesus* had with His female disciples while on earth (e.g. Mary and Martha), in John 20:14-17 there is this beautiful exchange after the crucifixion:

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

in which Jesus both comforts Mary and makes Himself known to her by saying simply her name.

When I was first lamenting about Sharing Time to Tom, he apologetically reminded me that there are just not that many women in the scriptures, we just live in an unfair world, it’s just the unfortunate way things are.

But that isn’t true! There are women in the scriptures! Of course I wish there were more, and that more were known by name, and that they were more often discussed in terms outside their maternal function. But they are there! They are known by name to God and Jesus, even if they aren’t known by name to us!

I want my daughters to know that God knows them, and all other people, male and female, by name.

—-

*I am a little stumped as to whether there is a doctrinal issue with saying Heavenly Father (Elohim) knows us versus Jesus (Jehovah) knowing us, but  for the purposes of instilling a sense of divinity and divine love in children, I’m going to say it doesn’t matter. In the original examples, Moses and Joseph Smith are pretty clearly addressed by God the Father, but I have always understood Enos’s interlocutor to be Jesus Christ.

Your contempt betrays you

The pants thing is done and gone ad nauseum. In our house, too. But I have some thoughts.

First of all, imagine this: A friend, a sister, comes to you and tells you that she is hurting and that she has found a way to feel less alone, to feel more understood, to stand up for what she believes in and show solidarity for those who have made her feel less alone, a way to show God what is in her heart, a way that God has told her is an okay offering of her broken heart and contrite spirit, a way to feel more herself in God’s presence, in the community of believers that she aches to be a part of even as she too often feels marginalized, misunderstood and misused. She has decided to wear pants to church.

What is your response? And how would Christ have us respond to such a friend and sister?

a) Your contempt betrays you.

b) Your hurt for her hurt and your massive indifference to her attire is the best possible evidence that all is well in Zion.

c) Your compassion and desire to understand what is incomprehensible to you, your yearning to reach out in fellowship even when you are righteously convinced that you are right and she is wrong, your humility and love, your turning of the other cheek against such (insolent!) provocation is magnificent.

When I was nineteen I shaved my head. At the time I had no thought of gender social norms. I was in Europe for the first time, I had left a heady, consuming and ultimately wrong-for-me relationship, and I wanted an outward expression of my inward change of heart. I shaved my head.

Sunday I wore pants to Church.

Both times I felt like I was right with God again, that I had re-adjusted my course to walk more fully with Him, and that Jesus knew, loved and accepted the offering of my heart. That I was, and am, okay with God, and that what anyone else thinks or thinks they know about me, is immaterial.

And now some posts and articles to answer your questions (I don’t agree with everything in these posts, but they are marvelous food for thought and worth your time):

But I’ve never felt marginalized or hurt. Does anyone really? (And here is that contempt again, as the subtext is: Does anyone who matters feel hurt by patriarchy? Does anyone who is righteous feel marginalized? Does anyone with a testimony think that gender inequity is a problem?)

Neylan McBaine at FAIR, CJane Pants Part I and Part II, Joanna Brooks in Huffington Post, Wearing Pants

Why pants? What is a social norm?

Feminist Mormon Housewives, Mormon Women Who Wear Pants to Church: A Manifesto

But our church, like our country is one of the most progressive about women, can’t you be happy with that? (i.e. it could be worse!)

The dignity of your womanhood

But why must you protest in Sacrament Meeting?

The Politics (say it ain’t so) of Pants

Why do men feel so threatened by women doing something that the Brethren have specifically NOT counselled against?

How to Silence a(n LDS) Woman: You’re Doing it Wrong

People didn’t really respond so viciously, did they?

Women Wearing Pants at Church Bingo (this is a humorous aggregation. The text of the death threat on the original Facebook event page was “every single person who is a minority activist should be shot .. in the face . point blank . GET OVER YOURSELVES ..” I was also appalled at comments such as: “these dumb bitch feminists don’t understand what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is even about.”)

But you started it, haven’t you brought this response on yourselves?

Less than 1200 words on on pants

If you don’t like the church, why don’t you just leave?

“If you don’t like it, leave” and Religious Pluralism

How do women look in pants at church?

Wear Pants to Church Day

 

What is wrong with feminists? Why can’t they just accept the church?

How Mormonism Changes and Managing Liberal Expectations,

If women have agency, the same as men, how are they not equal in church?

Women in the Mormon Church: The Limits of Agency

(And even though the pants thing was really about culture and not about challenging doctrine, here’s a bonus post. Do any (faithful, intelligent) men think women should have the priesthood? Gender and Priesthood)

Did any women consider themselves feminist and choose to wear a dress?

How I feel about pants

Doesn’t God hate it when we ask questions?

 Joseph Smith — HistoryHear me

Because the Declaration of Independence . . .

This afternoon Callie changed out of her uniform, unloaded the dishwasher, finished her math homework, wrote her testimony in her shiny new “Faith in God” booklet, passed off the first Article of Faith and nagged me to get her to Activity Days on time. Normally I send Avery and Callie off on the three-minute walk together, but today Avery was finishing up her contribution to her school’s Winter Store.

We drove to the church (sad, but it’s sprinkling and we were a minute late, despite Callie’s persistence) and sadly, Activity Days was last week. Turns out we are not on the email list for the eight- and nine-year olds, just the ten- and eleven-year old group. I apologized profusely to Callie, who was not mollified.

If only it were every week, I mused aloud, then it would be easier to remember, rather than keeping straight whether this is a first and third Wednesday month or a second and fourth, or, as in December (and June, and July, and August) a once-a-month on the first or second or third or fourth Wednesday month. Callie knows Scouts is every week because every Wednesday Dad leaves dinner early, as he will tonight and next week and probably they’ll skip the actual day after Christmas but even so they’ll manage to meet three times before the year is out.

And Callie wants to know why. I said it’s one of the things that frustrates Dad and me most. She asked if I’d told anyone about it, and I said we both had, quite recently, and she wanted to know why it hadn’t changed, then, and I said I don’t know. I’m sorry. How do you think we could change things? How could we make people realize there needs to be change?

And she said, “Because the Declaration of Independence says boys and girls are equal.” And I said, that’s not exactly what it says but I certainly agree that that’s what it means. But our nation’s founding wasn’t perfect either. That whole three-fifths compromise and all.

Only in the case of Scouts versus Activity days it’s more like girls are one- to two-fifths. On a good month.

Living up to our privileges

I went to the temple for the first time in a long time on Thursday, and while I felt half imposter-sinner and half conscientious-objector while I was convented there, there was a point where tears overtook me and I felt it was a direct answer to doubts I have been having recently. Doubts about whether there is a place for me in the structural church, with my dangerous questions.

Last week I got an email from one of my favorite cousins. I wanted to defer to the priesthood authority in my home and beg my husband to answer for me (because my husband understands, and maybe the same idea from him would be conceivable?) — but the response, my only response, to that and all the other (however well-meaning) shushings I have received all my life is a barbaric and desperate yawp into the gaping maws of benevolent paternalism that I am entitled to my questions.

I am entitled to my questions. I will have and do have and have had questions. You can have my house, my shelter, you can have my books, you may take my Diet Mountain Dew, but you may not take my questions. (You can’t take my daughters, either, unless you promise to not return them when the whining starts.)

God is not threatened by my questions. He understands them, and me, and our entire church is based on the idea that asking questions is a good thing.

In the temple Eve has a small role, but she asks five extremely incisive questions. And then she sets the whole plan in motion by her actions.

With Eve as a model, the creation story as a guide (Adam is a bit of a dim bulb, yes?) and the admonitions of so many as an excuse, I am tempted to concede that it is quite fundamentally obvious, yes, that women are naturally and innately superior to men in all aspects of spirituality. We are born nurturers, we are intelligent enough to ask the right questions and we are courageous enough to do what needs to be done. Of course we do not need the priesthood or comprehensively-planned and well-funded developmental activities. Of course we do not need to approach our education with a career in mind or learn any of the things involved in heading a household. Is it the errand of angels to change tires?

We do not need lessons in leading or calls to action or reminders of duty. We have no need of entering into covenants with the Lord directly when we will always, from birth, through every stage of life, unto death, have a man at our side to mediate that relationship for us. Why would we need to speak to God for ourselves, anyway, when we are already, by virtue of our congenital chromosomes, as perfect as a man might someday hope to be with the priesthood as his aid? Even our transgressions are not our own but the responsibility and realm of the man whose rib made us. We can own no wrong.

Why would any man ever think he knows better than I what it means to be faithful and content and devout? Doesn’t he know what I am? Doesn’t he know that I am a woman, and as such, his innate superior in every spiritual way?

And that is not even counting my motherhood. Four children and two souls lost to miscarriage. In the motherhood-priesthood equivalency, that would parallel, what? Deacon for Avery, Teacher for miscarriage one (or is a miscarriage like an ordination temporarily derailed by one dissenting vote of non-sustaining? Let’s count it for now), Priest for Callie, Elder for Lucy, High Priest for miscarriage two, Patriarch for Molly.

If I embrace the “woman don’t need the priesthood because they’re naturally righteous” and the “motherhood and priesthood are complementary” arguments, it would seem that, logically (or I should say spiritually, because it is not in logic but spirit that women exceed male capacity), I am a seriously righteous Patriarch (Matriarch), who can stop apologizing for asking questions.

The Mother-Priest

A week and a half ago I was struck by inspiration in the bathroom (always the shower with the inspiration). The house was blessedly quiet, as I was on Molly-nap-guarding duty while Tom walked with the older girls to the church you can see from our back windows. I was thinking how glad I was to have recently prioritized Molly’s mid-day nap over punctuality for church (especially when she’s been sickly).

Probably now is a good time to say that when it comes to the priesthood, as much as I dislike it when women say (or feel like they have to demur that) they don’t want the priesthood because it’s just more work or they don’t want the responsibility, etc, the truth is that I really don’t want most of the priesthood or authority as it’s exercised, either. I’m not asking to be the bishop! No, really! (I don’t want Tom to ever be a bishop, either, but that is because I am selfish and want him all to my family’s self.)

What I would like is . . . here’s a story:

Angelica’s husband is an engineer, and one day he came home from working with metal shavings all day and feeling fine. Later that evening, though, his eyes started to hurt. The pain was bad enough, by the time the kids were all in bed, that they were looking up online the treatment for metal shards in the eyeball, and wondering about a trip to the emergency room to stave off imminent blindness. At one point he was lying in the bathroom weeping, the pain was so bad.

Angelica sat on the floor in there with him, cradled his head on her lap and prayed. She prayed and prayed and prayed. Moments later he remembered that his coworkers had been welding in the corner of the shop during the day and he realized that what he was experiencing was flashburn, an extremely painful, totally temporary condition and that he was not going to lose his sight.

Now you can say that I should just stop there and agree that the power of God is in the priesthood and in prayer and everything is okay (and it is, and okay), but what about the other things?

What about Primary?

That Sunday ten days ago, I realized that perhaps that was the day our Primary chorister (a wonderful, otherwise-sensitive man) would devote Singing Time to the boys’ practice of A Young Man Prepared for the sacrament program. We had already spent the majority of a different Sunday on the song, and by “we,” I mean that the boys and he had worked on learning the song while the girls and women sat dumbly, numbly, mutely along. That introductory Sunday included a lot of motivational commentary about how awesome and “Superman”-like the priesthood is and how “nothing is better than the priesthood.”

I am sure that these things are all true. What then, is there for girls? Are girls obviously and naturally then inferior, unworthy? But wait, women also have a God-given power — that of giving birth, of creating life itself.

And so what struck me in the shower was that I should liken that song unto myself and my daughters, in preparation, and in hope that I would not end another Sunday, sobbing quietly, ugly, deeply, out in the hallway.

Here is the original:

              A Young Man Prepared

Though a boy I may appear, yet a man I soon will be.

If I prepare and live clean in every thought word and deed

I will be worthy to hold the sacred priesthood of God.

So I now prepare myself, I will serve my fellowman.

Being armed with the truth, with the scriptures my guide,

I’ll go forward a young man prepared.

I’ll go forward a young man prepared.

And here is mine:

              A Young Mom Prepared

Though a girl I may appear, yet a mom I soon will be.

If my womb can expand and my egg be fertilized

I will be worthy to hold the sacred uterine power.

So I now prepare myself, I will snare a handsome man.

Pray for fertility, with the moon as my guide,

I’ll go forward a young mom prepared.

I’ll go forward a young mom prepared.

Tom and Avery were not amused, when I passed them my lyrics as the boys sat and sang, and stood and sang, with great gusto. When I explained, on the way home, that I knew it was ridiculous, the point was how ridiculous!, Tom said, why don’t we have Avery write a version that is not ridiculous, and then submit that somewhere. I said (and say to you, my challenge to you) go for it!

Instead, in the ensuing days, Tom has had what I would call a feminist awakening and has politely pointed out to our Primary President that perhaps the all-boy focus in singing time is a bit sexist and insensitive, and that perhaps having 40+ boys sing a song in the Children’s Sacrament Meeting Presentation is not even prescribed in Handbook 2. (Pending bishopric oversight, of course.)

But even if they stopped singing it for twenty minutes straight with a captive audience, and even if it got nixed or balanced by equal girl time, this whole thing only highlights the fact that this song is in the Children’s Songbook and is the only song in there (as far as I can tell) that is for only one gender.

Because the priesthood is for only one gender. And, yes, men can only use the priesthood to bless others, and yes, in the temple . . . somehow . . . women . . . but that’s not what the song says! That’s not what anything in the daily life of the church says! (on the temple thing, not the daily life thing; most of the time, in my experience, good men use the priesthood to bless the lives of others.)

Does it matter? Can’t I just accept that men and women are different with different roles and different stewardships? Here is a pretty compelling work around the motherhood /= priesthood equivalency, arguing that motherhood = fatherhood and as such, motherhood administers physical birth and fatherhood (thanks to the supplement of priesthood) administers (through ordinance) spiritual birth.

Couldn’t I just pray long enough to see that This Explains Everything?!?*

Maybe I could, but I find myself even more compelled by this:

“Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior.” (Nicholas Kristof, at the end of an excellent column about The Elders)

and this:

“The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”

Of course (of course!) I don’t think our church is that bad. (Though sometimes I do think modesty madness –>victim blaming is on a par.)

In contrast to women across the world and time who experience the horrible fruits of power corrupted, I have an indescribably easy and blessed life in a rich, peaceful country with education and food and leisure and the freedom to write these things at my fingertips.

I also have a husband I would be proud and happy to submit myself to. Yes, really! And you know why? Because he would never ask that of me.

——–

Have you read these?

Neylan McBaine To Do the Work of the Church at this year’s FAIR Conference and Stephanie (Mormon Child Bride)’s response.

Rebecca J Why I don’t like the priesthood-motherhood analogy  and My feelings about not holding the priesthood.

*I’d like to see this taken to its natural conclusion — that women should administer physical birth at all levels, e.g. midwifery reinstated as a spiritual calling and all-female ob’s. Meanwhile, I cannot get past the plight of infertility in this analogy, among other things, one being, isn’t this trying a little too hard/relying on sophistry/violating Occam’s Razor?

adult spaghetti

Tonight I made two kinds of spaghetti sauce. The good kind had onions and garlic and country sausage, a cup of cream and an entire diced zucchini from the garden. The kid kind was just the frugal #10 can of marinara from Costco, unadorned, or if Avery was to be believed, undefiled.

Lucy asked for the adult kind first. She is our great lover of zucchini, the one who led Nana Marian into the temptation of grilled zucchini rounds before dinner. Nana confessed their devouring of our daily zucchini; it felt too odd to scold for gluttony of the vegetal variety.

Tom served Molly our mixed noodles (white and wheat) bathed in garish red and ladled on the demur (spiked) creamy sauce at her demand. She prompted naked noodles on top of that. Avery discounted the baby’s sophisticated preference as simply wanting everything, no serving dish left out.

Callie polished off her kid portion in record time, after downgrading spaghetti from her favorite food to merely one of her favorite noodle dishes. Then she asked for some with my special sauce.

After a couple bites, she turned to sage Lucy and said, “Spaghetti is the thing where we just don’t talk about the onions in it. We know they’re there, but we don’t need to talk about it.”

So Avery, the oldest, was the lone holdout for the kid kind, and Callie, my tall, difficult, almost-eight and black-and-white, simmering pot of incitable emotions, is capable of more complexity than I had imagined.