Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dear Men: You’re Breaking Our Hearts

I don’t know if what I’m going to write represents more than just me. Maybe I’m alone in feeling this way, but it doesn’t matter. I need to write this for me. Maybe it will let me move past one more barrier of anger and pain. And maybe, if I’m not alone, it will make a difference for someone.

If you were to meet me in person, you would never guess that I have a deep hollow wellspring of pain. And when you read these words online, if you know my previous writings, you could probably chalk that pain up to my divorce. But you would be wrong. My ex-husband is just one data point on a vast continuum of experience. It isn’t my ex. It’s you, men of the Priesthood.

When I was a teenager and watched the boys around me turn into men, I noticed how they looked at girls. Because I was a bit of a tomboy, I also heard it. There may be women out there who don’t get it, but I think they are few. You think that looking at female bodies, those little “jokes” about “wanting some of that,” go unheard, but they don’t. We seem to ignore them, but they stick.

If you’re a good guy, you’re probably saying to yourself right now “at least I’m not one of those scummy guys who only value women for their looks.” But it’s not just the so-called scums. It’s our brothers, fathers, sons, priesthood leaders. Look at this bishop in the LDS church, teaching women that they exist to be beautiful. If it were only the scummy men, it wouldn’t hurt so much. But it’s our priesthood leaders, those who have made covenants to represent the Father.

“You’re Beautiful”

I have one profile on a dating site. I don’t use it very much, but every once in awhile I check it. I don’t get many messages, but all of the ones I get could be summed up like that. “You’re beautiful.”

When a man tells me I’m beautiful, he’s saying nothing about me. All he is telling me is that he is attracted to me. I may be the only female on this earth who doesn’t find that flattering. In my experience, telling me I’m beautiful is supposed to create an unspoken debt. I’m supposed to be gratified that someone finds me physically attractive. Maybe if I were one of those girls who spend hours on their appearance, I would be. But I find other things more important.

If the man who told me that really knew me, was commenting on more than just my looks, I imagine it would be different. But I’ve never had someone who knew me tell me that.

Men of the Priesthood, Do Better

When a man who not only holds the priesthood, but is the priesthood leader of a singles ward tells me that I’m beautiful because I’m a woman, and goes on to describe my theoretical physical beauty, it breaks my heart. I know in my heart I’m not physically perfect. I don’t have what men value, if that is all a woman is.

But more, a man who stands in the stead of God should see ME. My looks, whether a man thinks they are beautiful or not, are not a commodity. I don’t spend much time or money decorating them. I don’t sell them. They are temporary, subjective, and worthless to me.

When that man, representative of most men in my experience, quotes the Family Proclamation to the World about procreation, and then tells me that my physical appearance is a message I send that makes men want to possess me, I’m terrified.

As a woman, I know that I am physically weaker. That knowledge is always with me. If a man wants, he can take. There is little I could do to stop him, even though I’m taller than most women. And I have met many men who believe they have the right to take what they want.

They may be right. I may be nothing more than an accessory, of diminishing value as I age. Men may be different than women in that they feel they have a right to “possess and caress” the women they like to look at. But that doesn’t make it okay. To the contrary, it shows me how the Priesthood is in part an invitation to men to see something more than that in their sisters. The Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God is a better way.

Hoping for More

In my life, I married a man who just wanted to possess me. Deluded by movies and books where strong men restrain themselves in order to protect and care for a woman they value, I thought that the mere desire to possess meant value. It doesn’t.

Children want the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, but that doesn’t mean they value them. The man I married manipulated me, used me, broke me, and discarded me when I was no longer valuable. In dating after my divorce, I’ve searched for a man who was different, but haven’t yet found one.

I have never had a man who was attracted to me able to see me as a person. I’ve been put on pedestals and knocked down from them to be replaced with a better model of their ideal. It wasn’t just my ex. It was every man I’ve ever seriously dated. Can you imagine what that feels like? To believe in your heart that you are worth more than an appendage to another person, but not being able to find evidence of it anywhere? I was either not worth their time, or I was an object to be possessed. I was never a woman, with hopes, fears, weaknesses, and strength.

My experience tells me that bishop is right. Men are just like that. I despair, because if men ARE like that, if it is as true as this bishop and my experience tell me, I will never be able to marry again.

I have tried, again and again, to find some element of hope. To believe that it is possible to trust a man to see me as a person even when he is attracted to me. But, I have found too little evidence of it, only men who have learned after marriage to see more than a possession in their wives. (And I’m grateful for at least that much evidence, though it has nothing to do with me.)

My heart is dying, “pierced with deep wounds.” And I don’t know what more I can do to heal without finding a man who can be my friend, show me that there is more to men than a desire to possess.

Watching the men around me, I see pornography, abuse, possessiveness, objectification, denigration and disgust of women. Men of God can be better than that, can’t they? I know women are not any better than you. We objectify, too. I’ve seen that as much as I’ve seen it in you. But you have the priesthood. Do you not understand what this means? At least in part, it means that YOU represent Jesus Christ. How you treat us is our only example of how God sees us.

We women have to search to see ourselves in the gospel, but it is built around you. Please, try to see us as people. Try to be more than your desire to possess.

I’m not asking that you never feel attracted to women. I’m just asking that you look beyond it to the people we are. Realize that your attraction is about YOU. It says nothing about us. We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents. Some of us long for men to take their priesthood seriously, wishing we could draw upon those powers of heaven. Some of us pour our hearts out in prayer, aching for an opportunity to serve the Father in Heaven as the priesthood lets you serve. Don’t take it for granted. Realize you are sons of our Heavenly Parents, who have been given a divine charge to act in the name of God on this earth, one that we don’t have.

Please, please see US and not yourselves in us.

We are capable of so much more than being looked at.

14 comments :

  1. I wish there were more commiserating about the lack of men stepping up than there is telling women how they should "fix themselves" to make them more marriage material. I know married men aren't as much of a concern for you, but I think the same can eb said to many of them as well. I mean, this Bishop is married. I'm amazed that being over a singles ward, most likely hearing more problems from women not being able to find worthy men than men not being able to find worthy women, this Bishop can come up with it being the womens' own fault for not being confident enough.

    It was interesting, as I read, to have the immediate feeling of "is it me?" I've a feeling it's not, even though I'm hopeful to stay out of the dating pool indefinetly. Some just have a hard time seeing that both men and women are people, not different species that have to be treated some mystical way differently. That is the one thing I hope my sons and daughter will learn as they grow - that just because there is another gender does not make those in that gender "other".

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  2. Frank, for what it's worth, just that you're wondering if it's you is a sign that it probably isn't. Granted, I don't know you well, but I've never seen these things in you. Almost every man I can point to who don't exhibit these qualities are married, which tells me that marriage can teach these kinds of things which are harder to get to single. But I don't think I have it in me to risk a marriage in the hopes that the man I marry could learn to see me as a person.

    Expecting too much, perhaps, but I don't know how to be different. I don't want to marry if I have to marry afraid.

    I have hope, still, that I can find men who can see the divine humanity in women, rather than just their use to them. But being validated in objectification by priesthood leaders strains that hope.

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  3. I am not sure if there is a more dysfunctional dynamic in our Church than the one that occurs in a singles ward. I tried to read the Bishop's talk. I got about halfway through it before I quit reading it. Although much of it was good, there is a lot that left me shaking my head and saying, "WOW ... just wow."

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  4. I found your blog through a friend on FB and I can't help but comment. This is a thoughtful, heartbreaking post. I read that Meridian article and felt ill afterward. I truly believe that line of thinking is wrong and doesn't just misrepresent how God views His daughters, but that it is absolutely contrary to how God view's His girls.

    My heart is broken for the dearth of gentlemen of integrity and honor in your experience. You deserve better. Many women deserve better. I have no doubts that you've suffered from this. But there truly *are* men out there who value women for more than physical appearance. They're rare. They feel like an extinct species. But they do exist. I think it only seems unlikely because the voices of the world are so loud. I'm doing my best to raise boys to become men of honor and I pray that they will always behave as such. I pray that God will bring such a man into your life and will treat you as the priceless woman you are.

    Lastly, please know that men like that bishop (well meaning as he might have been) and the seemingly countless others who objectify women do NOT reflect God's view of you. God knows you, has always known you, and values you for your intelligence, your talents, and your soul. You are so dear and precious to Him. The world will break you and lie to you and devalue you. But the Lord has overcome the world and He will set everything right. We don't have to wait for "the end" to feel all right. We simply have to trust Him, believe Him when He tells us He loves us, and find that stillness where He whispers just how much we really mean to Him. And it will carry us through to that day when He can tell you in person. Hang in there. Don't give up. You are loved and you matter FOR YOU.

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  5. L.T. said exactly what was in my heart, and far more eloquently than I could ever hope to. Your blog post is beautiful, heart-wrenching, and timely. And really, we're here on this earth to overcome "the natural man." It saddens me to hear of brethren in the church who claim that in this respect, there is no overcoming to do. That this is simply how we are.

    I adore Elder Holland's words on the subject, and hope you can draw the same comfort from them that I do. There may be brethren in the church who have it all backward, but the church is being led by worthy priesthood holders who know our real worth as daughters of a loving Heavenly Father.

    "I’ve heard all my life that is it the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the intimacy in courtship, because a young man cannot. Seldom have I heard any point made on this subject that makes me want to throw up more than that.

    What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have, that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability — perhaps even pursue a university education — and prepare to effect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of this world, yet does not have the mental capacity or moral will to say, “I will not do that thing.” No, this sorry, drugstore psychology would have him say, “I just can’t help myself. My glands have complete control over my entire life, my mind, my will, my very future.

    To say that a young woman in such a relationship has to bear her responsibility and that of his, too, is the most discriminatory doctrine I have ever heard. If there is sexual transgression, I lay the burden squarely on the shoulders of the young man — for our purposes probably a priesthood bearer — and that’s where I believe God intended responsibility to be.

    Now, in saying that, I do not excuse young women who exercise no restraint and have not the character or the conviction to demand intimacy only in its rightful place and role. I’ve had enough experience in church callings to know that women, as well as men, can be predatory. But I refuse to buy some young man’s feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology.

    Indeed, most tragically, it is the young woman who is most often the victim, it is the young woman who most often suffers the greater pain, it is the young woman who most often feels abused, used, and terribly unclean. And for that imposed uncleanliness, a man will pay, as surely as the sun sets and rivers run to the sea."

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  6. Note teh quote is from "On Souls Symbols and Sacraments" when Iwent to seach for it and found this talk on Discouragement. http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=869

    SilverRain, may I say, as a man and priesthood bearer how much I apreciate your courage, and honesty, and willingness to be vulnerable as you instruct us in the ways of righteousness and how to be "Men, Women can trust." (http://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/11/brethren-we-have-work-to-do)

    I know from loving my wife that for some one who has been through the kind of experiances you have hearing and beliving honesty in praise of anything, appearance or otherwise is not easy. The default is to doubt ones worth and ability and I'm still, 10 years in, learning how to exprese my admiration and appreciation of her in ways that will build her up, so I understand the hesatency to try again.

    In the mean time as my 34 year old single brother says "the Lord needs his single saints, there is work only thay can do."

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  7. Well SR, I have no idea what you look like, but I can honestly say that you have been my internet crush for a while now. Your comments and posts have always struck a chord in me like nobody else's has.

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  8. *LOL* Thanks, Jeff. Now my appearance is red. ;)

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  9. Has any man who doesn't value a woman for more than her appearance ever spent five minutes alone with one? Seriously - the idea is ridiculous. Some may place entirely too much emphasis on that, but valuing appearance alone? I don't think so.

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  10. Thank you Mark. Looks are just the cover on a book. All the really important things are to be found on the inside.

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  11. Mark, objectification can happen regarding more than just appearance. The bishop discussed appearance, I brought it up as only one example of it.

    To me, negative objectification happens when a person defines and treats another person solely according to their own needs. In other words, it's great to be attracted to someone. But it's not good to expect someone else to dress differently because you're attracted to them.

    It's great to want a wife who cooks. But it's not okay to filter the worth of dates by whether or not they can cook. It's good to have an idea of who might be a good match for you. But it's not okay to run dates through a shopping list of qualities you're looking for in a mate. It seems like almost the same thing, but it isn't.

    Relationships are not wish fulfillment. They are teamwork.

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  12. Replace "physical beauty" in this post with "material wealth" and you quickly see things from a man's perspective. You are more than a body and I am more than a checkbook. Shallowness is a two-way street.

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  13. I agree. Men are more than pocketbooks. I did have someone point out to me once (a man) that the difference from an LDS perspective is the provide/nurture responsibilities. There is a difference between valuing a man for his pocketbook, and wanting a man who is willing to provide for his family. It would be like the difference between valuing a woman for her looks/sex and wanting a woman who is willing to have and care for kids.

    It's just that woman's prime familial responsibility is in direct opposition to her primary value from a male perspective. Which is probably, in part, why women often have a hard time feeling valued no matter what they do.

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  14. Every heart yearns to be loved and nurtured, for what they are, for who they are, and to be considered equal, beauty playing no part in the equation. Beauty only on the outside, can often be a cold venture, one unworthy of taking. And no, not all beautiful creations are cold or unfeeling, then again, a few are. Since I'm not a beautiful creation, I don't have to worry about it. But the warmth and vitality of a person lies beneath the outer layers... a wallflower, so plain, so insignificant in the eyes of others, yet so full of tenderness, gentleness, compassion, understanding, wise beyond their years... that one could be worth their weight in gold... if someone took the time to look for it. One must never judge a book by its cover (cliche, I know, but true). Money? I could live on a dime, and never worry about it. I know some men consider their wallet their greatest treasure, but money doesn't make the man. The man makes the man what he is, and it's up to him whether or not he'll become the man he was intended to be. I enjoyed this post. I really did...

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