Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Isn’t It About . . . Gender?
Incredulousness was my first reaction. I have fought bloody verbal battles in the past, defending against feminist accusations towards the Church, and pushing those with good reason to believe they have been discriminated against based on their gender to look beyond gender issues as the source of their problems. But I have a strong tendency to take personal comments from others to heart, so I have been taking a long, hard, and uncomfortable look at myself.
I have often gotten entangled in heated philosophical and theological discussions. My dad, brother, and I used to get into them all the time, so I was effectively raised in a debate environment, where I was encouraged to not only have an opinion, but to defend it. Part of the cost of my marriage relationship was no longer feeling that I had any right to exert my opinions, both because my perspective was inherently faulty, and because “debate” was the same thing as “contention,” and was therefore wrong. It has taken me the better part of two years to again grow enough backbone to believe that my perspective and ideas have merit, and to enjoy discussing philosophical issues again.
Parallel to this, I very much do not want to see the world through a feminist perspective, but my personal experiences with men have not given me many tools to fight the fire. My few romantic relationships have been such that I was expected to act certain ways to keep their attraction and attention, without much reciprocal concern about my needs and desires. And those ways generally parallel the ideal of womanhood, viewing the world though a softer lens than my experiences warrant. Some of the men have been very good men, but when I did not behave the way they expected, there was automatically something wrong in me that made me unworthy of further association unless I changed.
As someone who was a decided tomboy as a child, preferring boys to girls as friends, it has been hard for me to accept that my primary attractiveness lies in being sweet and happy, and deferring my opinions to a man. Sweetness and happiness is not what has kept me in the Church, and loyal to the Savior. Unflinching willingness to face the harsher realities of life has. And though I have been searching desperately for evidence to the contrary since my male friends entered puberty and began talking about girls as objects of attraction in my presence, my only evidence has been with men who are not attracted to me, and who have no level of authority over me. I have yet to meet many men with any kind of clear priesthood or work-related authority or implied romantic authority over me who do not expect my automatic submission to him based on that authority rather than on the merit of his ideas or on the strength of his concern or love for me.
I know that while there are parts of my personality that people do not like, they are things that are easily seen from the moment someone meets me. Why would someone even begin a romantic relationship with me unless they expect it will change once they have implied authority?
I passionately believe that authority of any kind should not be exercised except on principles of righteousness, on genuine love. And I don’t accept authority unquestioned until I have first come to trust that the authority figure truly cares about me, whether the authority is from priesthood, a relationship, or employment. I believe this is closer to a divine perspective than believing that authority in inherent in position.
Unfortunately, our culture carries an element of male-over-female implied authority in romantic relationships. And I have no interest in entering into a relationship where I am subservient to the will of another by default. I recently came to realize that I have subconsciously created several ways to test my status in relationships that are guaranteed to turn off someone who is not comfortable with my personality for what it is. But I’m fine with that. I’d rather know early than late.
So my critic was right in a way, and wrong in a way. I really do not believe that interpersonal conflicts are strictly about gender, even in romantic relationships. But I think that there are many interpersonal conflicts that come into play because of cultural assumptions about the nature of male/female relationships that I am not willing to accept. Because when I see those conflicts not happening, it is in the absence of authority or romantic involvement.
There is no point in belonging to a Church only to submit to another imperfect mortal’s will without questioning. And there is no point getting married to a person who believes, even a little, that it is my eternal job to defer my perspective to his, even if I have useful experience and wisdom in a matter. Especially not when I feel free to utilize my agency by the things I have learned in my life to make decisions now regarding my home and family.
Please be willing to comment. This idea is relatively new to me, and I’d like to explore its potential. I may be completely off the mark, here.
But maybe I’m not.
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