First a disclaimer. In light of the last post and this one, one might think I'm struggling deeply right now. Strangely, I'm not. I could never write these posts if I were. These are not fresh wounds, they are old scars, which means I can poke at them a little, feel the pain just enough to describe it. Sure, things that happened recently have pulled at the scars, but I'm fine.
I promise, dear friends who read this blog and have reached out to me: I'm more than okay. These battles have been won already.
A friend of mine came to visit from out of state this last weekend. He is not Mormon, and I thought I'd give him the Temple Square tour. We wandered temple grounds for a moment, then went to the Church History Museum. As we walked in, a presentation on "the first Mormon presidential candidate" was announced in two minutes.
We headed over and sat down. Soon after us, came a group of Polynesian men in their early twenties. They had been doing a service project for their ward. A couple who were obviously not LDS came and sat down on the first row. An older male missionary was standing at the front, obviously the one who would give the presentation. He asked us all where we were from, and since the couple was from Florida, he said "you are the interesting ones," and made a few jokes about that.
They got up and left. I'm not sure there was a connection.
But then he started asking questions of the YSA men. They mentioned which ward they were from, and the missionary started joking about attending only when they weren't visiting other wards, amiright? wink, wink. Then he said that he used to visit singles' wards not his own, and then "if there wasn't anyone there he liked," he'd move on to the next one, "know what I mean?" Haha.
I felt sick. This came only a week or so after I read a blog post from a "mother to her husband's nine children" arguing that the value men see in marriage is the ability to control his woman, and since women are no longer willing to be controlled (due to the evil feminism,) especially when it comes to reproduction, women have ruined marriage for men and they are the reason families are in such dire straits.
As hard as that was to read, the comments were worse. They add their voices to my ex-husband's, proclaiming that I am divorced because I was a cheater. I didn't give enough to my man to make it worthwhile for him to stay. Breaking off pieces of myself to feed to the flame that was my marriage, only to have it flicker out anyways, was not enough. Becoming a shell of who I had been was not enough.
All of these people who have had the good fortune to marry someone who was loyal and caring pontificated for pages about how people like me are cause of all that is evil in the world. These are people who consider themselves the stalwart, faithful members of the Church. I want so badly to be on the side they believe they are on: on God's side. But God had other ideas.
Granted, I am not feminist, because there is much that feminists espouse with which I do not agree. However, I owe feminism my life. Literally. I have little doubt that if it were not for the evils of no-fault divorce, the empowerment of women to become educated and hold decently-paying jobs, if it were not for the pages and pages of advice from overwrought and drama-seeking feminists which teach about consent and mutual respect in a marriage, I would have joined the ranks of Laci Peterson and Susan Powell long ago.
I do not agree with much of feminism, but I am deeply grateful to it. It did what the Church could never do. Yes, I am part of the terrible statistic of divorce, I am one of the people at fault for everything wrong in the world today, but I'm grateful every day that I'm not a part of the terrible statistic of murdered spouses. That last day of living with my ex-husband, I saw how thin the barrier between me and that fate truly was.
Of course, they'd rush to say "abuse is an exception!" as if they have any idea what abuse is. As if a victim of abuse often ever truly believes they were abused enough to justify divorce, even as they rack up hospital bills. Let alone the ability to discern that line for someone like me with no marks of which to snap photos.
I hope that those people who believe they know so much about God, His ways, and what is wrong with the world never have to face what I have: the complete crumbling of all my paradigms, all my sense of safety in mortal and divine law, and all trust in what once made me myself.
So sitting on that bench, I just couldn't stay there and give tacit approval to this priesthood holder who so obviously objectified women, and thought it was a joke, who taught it to those bright young men right in front of me. I asked my friend if we could leave, and we walked away. I wonder if the white-skinned, silver-haired missionary wondered what it was he had said. I doubt it even occurred to him to wonder.
The talk "Pollution of the Mind" was the only talk I could bring myself to discuss from this session of General Conference (Sunday Morning, October 1972) for the General Conference Odyssey.
In that talk, Robert L. Simpson talks about the mind of man. He said something that struck me: "It must naturally follow then that the pollution of a single church member’s mind will indeed affect the whole." This shows a sense of family in the Church that is utterly gone from my experience. He declared that when one person's mind is poisoned, the Church as a whole is poisoned.
He argues for greater activism in the community to combat, not just pornography as we currently think of it, but the infiltrations of a secular mind in schools, movies, supermarkets and government. Clearly, he does not limit pornography just to pictures, videos, and stories.
So I'd like to broaden his words just a little to include the influx of pornography as thoughts and attitudes handed down from generation to generation: the idea that women exist for the use of man. When the participants in that blog post made their comments into their
safe haven echo chamber, I'm sure they didn't realize the whole impact of what they are saying. I believe they mean well. The principles are much more important to them on their blog than are the people, though I'd like to think it would be different if they could watch my face as I read. Maybe they would offer a hug and a tissue. I'd like to believe that.
But that post clearly taught to those of us who have had to suffer their abuse being openly extended into a court of law (whether God's law or man's,) their safety explicitly ignored in favor of an abusive spouse's feelings with all the power of judicial or priesthood decree behind it, that if women are not of use to men in the way men want them to be used, men are justified and excused in failing to follow the commandments of God. (And of course, the genders could be swapped and my statement just as true.)
They have no idea what it takes to "prove" abuse in a for-fault divorce. They have no idea how abusers capitalize on that, that requiring the very burden of proof gives them license to abuse with the praise and honor of the public. They don't understand how men such as Brock Turner, his father, and Judge Persky warp and twist the perception of what women must tolerate all while they themselves participate in the exact same kind of doublethink. And so many people have no idea how every message of woman's objectification, whether through exposure on a magazine cover, or in jokes made by priesthood holders, tears off a little more sense of worth in the daughters of God each time the laughter rolls.
Being a Mormon Woman
Within 24 hours after this experience at the Church History Museum, I learned that I would have to teach a lesson for 16- and 17-year-old Sunday School on how women work with priesthood holders in the church. I love teaching, but some lessons I am asked to teach terrify me, and this is one. I do not have a good testimony of how this works today. The example I shared is only one small needle in this death by a thousand. But I do not want to project my pain and trouble on these kids.
The more I have prayed about it, the more I'm feeling that I need to be honest. I can't teach that "women are incredible" when everything except the words themselves indicate otherwise. I mean, yes women are incredible in the way sanitation workers are incredible. They do the jobs no one else wants to do to enable people to go about their lives without having to worry about the less pleasant parts of life. And once every so often, we celebrate their contribution, then move along with everything as normal.
I don't believe that women are equal to men in the Church. Not because of the priesthood, but because of the way women are treated by priesthood holders. And there is evidence (such as recent training to "include" women in the councils of the Church) that the Brethren understand the gap, at least a little. Until a woman commonly presides in a roomful of men, women are not and cannot be equal, and that will never happen.
Where I differ from feminists is that I believe we should own that. Rather than gaslighting women with "LDS women are incredible!" speeches, how about admitting that things aren't the same for women and men. Rather than telling us we shouldn't feel less than men, how about putting Activity Days for girls and Cub Scouts on the same footing? Because there is no way in this world that anyone with half a brain can pretend that women are just as important as men in their respective roles so long as the moment a girl turns 8, she starts to see how many more resources, time, attention, and consideration are spent on the boys in her class than on her and her sisters.
So long as a called missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can stand without shame and joke about shopping for a women based entirely on her looks in an outreach-based venue that belongs to the Church, no, women are not equal, and no, we do not feel incredible no matter how much lip service is paid to the altar at the foot of our pedestal.
That is what being a Mormon Woman means to me. It means seeing the same objectification within the Church as I do outside of the Church, but painted with a layer of priesthood legitimacy. It means knowing that our offering will never be enough to those who happen to fit into the paradigm. It means reading about how we shouldn't allow the objectification of women via pornography into our home out of the other side of the same mouth that declares that we should accept that our women's silent, valued-only-in-words grunt work are just as important as the honor, praise, and training that boys and men receive. It means being told we should be leaders, but not leading (except for the very few, all of whom are righteous enough to not be abused.)
It means relying entirely on the hope for value in the life after this one. It means ignoring the scriptures that say that we, if we are still virgins, are to be given to the man with the most righteousness, (and if we are not, we are no good,) that if we divorce we are evil, rotten, and selfish sinners. It means having faith—not in scripture—but faith that some scripture is WRONG, that the love we feel from God negates the other things we are told about ourselves.
Being a Mormon Woman means learning that we are Daughters of God in spite of the practices and doctrines of the Church, by putting our whole selves into the kinds of service we are allowed, no matter how many people tell us it will never, ever be enough. It means being silent while being told to speak up, because if we speak up we will not be saying what they think we will be saying. It's hearing people say what we wish we could say with so much anger and bitterness it poisons the message we long to send.
It is knowing that, as I read the injunction to keep my mind clear of pornography, I am still never going to qualify for "His holy presence," that I have no real "family unit" that can depend on the Priesthood because the priesthood is not in my home, and has not been for more years than it has. It likely never will be, because I am not a man. And the best I can hope for is to be given to some righteous man in the hereafter so that I can finally have the worth they keep telling me I already have, except, wait...I don't qualify for that, either, even if I do marry again.
Does this all sound bitter and too hard to bear? Do I sound like I "don't get it," like I'm misunderstanding some vital piece of doctrine that will somehow wrap everything up in a nice bow of eternity?
I can promise you that, although it hurts and hurts bitterly, I am not bitter. There comes a time when you look into the abyss, and turn your back on it. Life is life. Mortality is mortality. And "sufficient unto the day" is the evil (or good) of the next life. This one is not meant to be fun, kind, or validating. Sure, for some people like those who commented on that blog post, it works out well. Their trials are the kind of trials that the Ensign strengthens us against, the kind that have an end. They use the Atonement like a balm over scratches and scrapes, not understanding why people like me don't use it for our broken bones and shattered hearts, judging us for not having enough faith to obey the way they have obeyed, for bleeding out our lives on the steps of the temple.
I can accept that, and usually I can sit on the hard bench while someone at the pulpit breaks my heart, but sometimes I have to get up and leave. Judge me if you wish. I just hope that when the Christ judges me, it will be with tears in His eyes and the words I've been longing to hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
Because I can't give up. No matter how evil I am or how thin the promise that I will ever be enough.
- Saviors in the Home by Nathaniel Givens
- A Home Where Mission is Part of Life by G
- Satan's Effort to Influence and Control the Human Mind by Daniel Ortner
- Abomination and Understanding, Works and Grace by Ralph Hancock
- Zombies, Mormons, and Ants by Jan Tolman
- We are the catalyst by Marilyn Nielson