Friday, June 7, 2013

Cultural Violence in a Mormon Setting

In working through the emotional sludge pit after finding myself in a marriage fraught with violence, I have developed a keen awareness of patterns of behavior and modes of thought that open the door to violence. Over time, I have realized that these red flags do not define domestic violence, nor guarantee it. But they do nurture it. The biggest red flag of them all is objectification of the opposite gender.

Objectification is very hard to define for someone who has never learned to see it. For one thing, it is almost necessary to objectify to a point. It is such a common thread of life, we hardly notice it. If we were to see each and every person we pass in our lives as a person, we could easily go insane. It's just too much to process the real needs, motivations, and basic humanity of everyone all at once. Our brain filters the influx of information to our conscious mind, and with people this means we don't always see them as more than a prop in our life. Because it is necessary to a point, the difference between necessary and inappropriate objectification is sometimes difficult to parse.

The easiest place to define what makes objectification inappropriate is in romantic relationships. In such relationships, any amount of objectification saps a relationship of its power. Rather than creating a partnership with someone, objectification defines romantic relationships by a satisfaction of needs. We end up attaching ourselves to people who fulfill us, rather than partnering with someone who is our equal. We treat the other sex like a prize to be won, rather than as a potential partner. This approach to romance is taken for granted in modern relationships to the point where trying for anything else seems crazy or boring.

As you can see, this is nowhere near a Mormon (LDS) problem. It is a problem born from a culture of Disney and fairytales, a belief in reward for good works and strength. The modern worship of self turns us away from seeing anyone else as a real, independent, feeling and thinking person. But the framework of eternity does make this problem more poignant. Since we as Mormons find our familial relationships (to our Heavenly Father, and to others) central to our doctrine, this twisted perception of relationships has become almost doctrinal in the understanding of many.

For example, the objectification of men is generally placed in a man's ability to provide. While it is good to find a man who is willing to work hard, to set goals and reach for them, to live life rather than letting it pass him by, it becomes objectification when a man is defined by his earning capacity. Because it is—for good reason—the responsibility of a man to provide for his family (per the Proclamation on the Family,) it is easy to focus on the fulfillment of that responsibility and not the man and his potential. Doing otherwise takes constant reminder and effort, especially if the man is failing to take responsibility. The cure for this is to pull oneself back from focusing on one's own needs, and begin to see his needs and your needs, his responsibilities and your responsibilities, as the combined needs of the partnership. Develop charity for him. Don't just try ignore his failure to meet his responsibilities (as I did,) but don't define his worth as a person by it, either.

One of the influences which led to my decision to withdraw from the LDS dating culture was the growing understanding that being an object to the opposite gender is unavoidable. Even men who are otherwise dedicated to the Lord see women as "eternal companions" NOT "eternal partners." A subtle difference, perhaps, but a vital one. A companion is there to provide companionship and support, a partner is to be worked with. Knowing what I now know, after experiencing what I have, I cannot marry again without feeling a full partner. And from what I've seen, that just isn't likely in our modern Mormon culture. Not when we women have been raised to be appendages to our men. Not when men see us as rewards for good behavior. Only someone who has transcended this false cultural idea to see the true Gospel beyond it (help meet not helpmate) is capable of offering me a true partnership. And that is a whole lot to ask of a mere mortal man.

The characters the speaker's daughter loved had one thing in common. "They know more than anyone else, and they love sharing their knowledge with other people to help them reach their potential." This is God. This is what manhood (and womanhood!) should be. It doesn't matter to me whether the team is led by a woman or a man. The vital point is that cultural violence and objectification towards men and women can only be stopped by one thing: developing charity. Charity isn't just a feeling of bonhomie towards all people. It's using our knowledge to help other people reach their potential. It's neither absolving others from the needs to meet their responsibilities, nor defining them by their success.

It IS becoming one with God.


  1. Awesome work, SR. Loved the video, too. And I may just have to break my own rule and watch Wizard of Oz again. (It scared me when I was six and I haven't watched it since.)

    Thanks for this.

  2. Well done. I find this not only in the Mormon Culture, but in the world as well. Historically women have always been considered "the lesser". I have experienced it in my employment as a university professor, a high level administrator, and as a private practice business owner. I am LDS, and have been the breadwinner in my home for over 25 years. My husband has a disability. I whole heartedly agree that the only way one can overcome this is through charity and blessing others. It is the only way to survive the injustice.


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