Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mormon Women in Pants Face Backlash, Ryan Murphy's Glee Still Hates Women, Seattle Makes Marriage Progress, and More: While We Weren't Blogging

Apparently the world does not stop spinning out sexism just because Erica, Rachel and I are busy. Go figure.

Here's a quick, quick run-down of some recent gendered happenings:

1. Washington state offers marriage rights (and rites) to same-sex couples, leading to a teary-eyed string of lovely photos. I know some of our readers still oppose same-sex marriage, which I take as a good sign about how inclusive our blog can be: there is no litmus test to join the conversation. But I hope even readers who don't support Seattle's policy still appreciate the loveliness of the personal moments in these photos from this week's Seattle weddings.

2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launches an official website to address the church's stance on homosexuality. The website has received mixed responses. Pro-gay-rights Mormons see it as great progress that The Church is now officially stating that homosexuality is not a choice, though the website still maintains that acting on homosexuality is a sin. I'm choosing to look on the bright side by focusing on how this website will hopefully encourage more Mormons to be truly loving to others, no matter sexual orientation. For an audience outside the Mormon church, the website is unlikely to do much, but liberal Mormons like me are really anxious to see more positive relations between our church and the gay rights movement... down the road. Down, down, down the road.

3. Glee runs a plot point about a character who develops bulimia, and in the process the show's creator, Ryan Murphy, reveals just how misogynistic he truly is. I'll be following up later with a post that will also go up on emBody. For now here's the gist: the show portrays bulimia as something a character develops as a result of another female student tricking her. In the process of her deciding to lose weight, no characters ever recommend that she consult with a doctor, nutritionist, or guidance counselor (or even a scale). When her bulimia leads her to pass out during a performance, other characters blame her for losing the competition, and AGAIN nobody recommends she seek help. Where is Emma Pillsbury (school guidance counselor) when she's needed? The character even winds up apologizing to everyone and stating that her bulimia was the result of her being "naive and selfish." And nobody, not even adults who should know better, contradict her. Like I said, it's a post worth careful discussion. Not only is Glee misrepresenting a serious disease - they're also trivializing the issue and blaming the very people who are most likely to unfairly blame themselves.

4. And meanwhile, the Mormon blogosphere/ facebook world is engaged in a pants war. A war that none of us who got involved early in this process expected to blow up like this. Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, you're probably lucky, because things have turned nasty. Some context: like many churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages members to wear their best clothing to Sunday services in order to express respect and reverence as they worship. While the Church has no official stance on what "best clothing" does or should mean, in the US Mormons have developed a culture where that means men wearing suits with white dress shirts and women wearing dresses or skirts.

I've been known to complain about this tradition of gendered clothing, mostly because Mormon meeting houses are cold year-round (high AC and low heating) and today's available skirt/dress fashions are much chillier than suits with socks and shoes. Given that men are on average more comfortable at lower temperatures to begin with, putting men in warm clothing and women in chilly clothing is silly to begin with. Is this temperature difference a human rights violation? Of course not! But is it silly to stick with a gender norm that has women shivering even with blankets on their laps, while men are overheated in their suit coats and ties? Heck yeah!

Well, a new group of Mormon feminists decided to start a campaign to build solidarity among Mormon feminists. The goal is to use peaceful and even subtle organized action to work toward gender equality in the church (please note that the term "church" is a very ambiguous term for Mormons that sometimes means official Church leaders and other times means something as ambiguous as Mormon culture). The feminist group's first move? Encourage women to wear pants to church this coming Sunday. Seems simple enough, right? There's no Mormon doctrine or policy against women wearing their best pants to Sunday meetings. Many already do. But the dominant culture pressures women and girls to wear skirts/ dresses.

And so, to quote a little 10 Things I Hate About You profanity: the shit hath hitteth the fan - eth. 

Folks are gettin' maaaaad. I'll let you read about the backlash for yourself, though, because it's giving me a headache. The quotes in that Jezebel article I just linked are sadly, just the tip of the iceberg. People can be real jerks. feminist Mormon housewives responds too. Here's a more positive take.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Review and An Interview: 'Aung San Suu Kyi: Lady of No Fear


To say that Aung San Suu Kyi, political prisoner and General Secretary for the Burmese National League of Democracy is one of the world’s most powerful and inspirational women would not be a stretch. Leaving the safety of England and the care of her family she endured 15 years of house arrest in her non-violent quest for removal of the military junta in power and the instating of democracy in Myanmar. Last week I was lucky enough to attend the 12th Annual Gwangju Film Festival here in South Korea and watch the 2010 documentary, Aung San Suu Kyi: Lady of No Fear. Even luckier was that the director, Anne Gyrithe Bonne, was in attendance and graciously agreed to an interview.

It’s entirely coincidental that my interview with Anne Gyrithe Bonne will be published during the same week that United States President, Barack Obama, will be in Myanmar. While Myanmar’s current leadership has released many of their political prisoners, Myanmar still struggles with human rights violations. The President of Myanmar, Thein Sein, has promised to review all of the current political prisoners and seek their release by the end of the year. Hopefully President Obama’s visit to Myanmar can spur more changes and continue to encourage their transition to a stable and safe country.

The admirable Aung San Suu Kyi, ever mindful of the hard road towards peace, has warned against too early an acceptance of the government’s words, cautioning against their possible motive of appeasement and fearful that the country could slip back into military control with, ‘the mirage of success’ in front of them. Aung San Suu Kyi’s great strength and personal sacrifice in her fight against the government is ongoing and complete, features that are simply displayed in Bonne’s film.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Lady of No Fear naturally covers Aung San Suu Kyi’s infamous periods of house arrest and the personal discipline and mental fortitude she possessed which allowed her to be such a powerful leader and democratic activist. However, the film focuses on Aung San Suu Kyi’s private life, which Bonne would argue is essential to understanding her involvement in the Burmese struggle for democracy. Bonne specifically chose to focus on the astounding relationship between Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband, Michael Aris, since Aris was a major support to Aung San Suu Kyi and similarly held her belief that Burma was everything: more than each other, more than their children. 

Aung San Suu Kyi
What the film does especially well at demonstrating is the incredible mythic power that Aung San Suu Kyi has over the Burmese people. Because of her background as the daughter of the great commander and soldier of independence, Aung San, as well as her renowned public speaking abilities, Aung San Suu Kyi was able to step into her father’s shoes; as one loyal Burmese supporter said of her, “She is not only a fighter, she is a commander.”

I asked Bonne what she felt that Aung San Suu Kyi had given to women of the world, particularly those involved with the issue of human rights and she suggested something very simple: “rebelliousness.” Without this rebelliousness, a rebelliousness founded in the exemplary cause of civil rights and human freedoms, hierarchies cannot fall and ongoing cycles of violence and abuse and repression cannot be removed. One of the most stunning moments of the film came during a clip of an interview Aung San Suu Kyi had given some years ago. In the interview she’s asked about the situation of her communications with the outside world. While she was given permission to write letters to her family, they were all censored by the government; so, incredibly, she refused to send any more letters because she didn’t want to, “communicate through the authorities.” Even completely isolated from her family she refused to give in to the demands of tyranny and authority.

There is a second side to her though; her graceful and poised nature set her apart from other would-be leaders, and even from her college friends. Aung San Suu Kyi was educated at Oxford during the sixties and while other women were exploring the sexual revolution, Aung San Suu Kyi protested that she wanted to be a virgin when she married and that for now she would, “just hug her pillow at night.” In many ways Aung San Suu Kyi never forgot that she was from Burma, even refusing British citizenship as a way to maintain her heritage, for, as she told Michael when they married, “If Burma needs me, I will go.”

This dual-nature she possesses highlights her relationship to Burma: Burma was always her home, but neither was she the government’s puppet, sporting a rebellious streak of her own. A rebellious streak that Bonne believes is demonstrated in her marriage to Michael Aris, who despite his cosmopolitan upbringing, was still an “enemy of Burma” as an Englishman. Aung San Suu Kyi directly went against her mothers wishes, her family’s wishes, and even the wishes of her country by marrying the man she loved: her mother refused to even attend the wedding.

For many years Aung San Suu Kyi stayed in Oxford with her family, giving birth to two children and supporting her husband’s rising career as a Buddhist scholar, a topic that surprisingly Michael actually taught Aung San Suu Kyi about and an interest that the two of them shared. Eventually, Aung San Suu Kyi began to start her own projects, beginning a biography about her father and even applying to graduate school. However, the sudden failing health of her mother in 1988 called her back to Burma, unknowing that she would become its most outspoken and inspiring democratic activist in just a few short months.

In reference to Aung San Suu Kyi’s sudden propulsion into Burmese politics Bonne felt that Aung San Suu Kyi had been seduced by Burma, stating that, “She had been a proper housewife for a long time, ‘ironing Michael’s socks.’ During that time period the world was more about the man; if you wanted to get a Ph.D you couldn’t because you had your children and your house and your husband. Then there was the 8-8-88 revolution and she went to Burma to visit her mother and she was finally elevated. She gave a lot of public speeches, speeches with some say 250,000 thousand people, some say even 500,000 people; she was an amazing public speaker and people loved her.”

But her success would lead to great personal sacrifice, a situation that Bonne outlines in her film. While many are aware that Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest for almost 15 years, some might not be aware that she was allowed to leave if she chose: she just wouldn’t be allowed to return. The conditions for her release were dependent upon her willingness to live in exile from Burma, however, despite her desire to see her family (Aris and her children were refused visa’s into Burma starting in 1995) she knew that she could only be effective if she stayed in Burma. And how could she leave Burma knowing that so many others could not? How could she leave knowing that Burmese people were suffering and political prisoners were being abused? She therefore chose separation from her family rather than abandon her people, a decision that led to criticism against Aung San Suu Kyi, some saying that she had ‘abandoned her children:’ A harsh accusation against any mother. 

Anne Gyrithe Bonne
Yet the interviews featured in the film point out this damaging double standard, a double standard that one of the greatest proponents of democracy and peace of our generation has had to endure. While male human rights activists have had to leave their families in the past, no one accuses them of child abandonment (Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years, but no one ever mentions his children). One of Aung San Suu Kyi's friend's from Oxford pointed out, that even the Buddha left his family in to go into the forest and meditate for a while, and yet a woman of self-sacrifice who gave everything for the family that was her country of Burma, still can't be free from the lazy and illogical and damaging double standards that still rule our society.
It was the necessity of exposing the information about Aung San Suu Kyi leaving her children in England to serve Burma that was Bonne’s greatest concern about producing this film; “I was afraid of destroying her cause. It was a balancing act to make her story and also be respectful because I was afraid that the general [leader of Burma] and others would see the film and think she’s a bad mother and end up damaging her cause.” However, Bonne continued to make the film, believing it was essential to uncover the story behind the icon, to realize what had nurtured such a strong and effective supporter of democracy and civil rights.

The documentary then walks a delicate line in respectfully baring Aung San Suu Kyi’s unique past, highlighting her political achievements, while also demonstrating Aung San Suu Kyi’s own humanity. In that light, the film focuses more on her personal relationships and features interviews from several of her close friends and family. Interviews that reveal just how much Aung San Suu Kyi sacrificed for the people of Burma after the Burmese government refused to allow Aris to visit his wife, even as he was dying of prostate cancer. Michael died in 1999 in England, unable to say goodbye to his beloved wife.

Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding Aris’s death and the Burmese governments unwillingness to allow him into the country, Bonne believes that Michael’s death served to increase Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity and power among the Burmese people. When it became known that she had given up everything for them, she became even more beloved and her supporters ever more loyal.

While great attention should obviously be paid to Aung San Suu Kyi’s incredible political triumphs, when asked about what she wanted audiences to take away from the film, Bonne explained that she hopes people see, “That there’s always a story behind the person and then realize what price they had to pay to become that person and who they are.” A tie-in to a beautiful line in the film where Aung San Suu Kyi says, “Nothing is free: if you want something of value you must make payments accordingly.” According to Bonne, Aung San Suu Kyi, “paid a big price.”

The extended version of the film (which I was able to view on Monday night) actually starts at the end of her house arrest, the first few minutes of the film showing footage of Aung San Suu Kyi after her 2010 release. This is unique for many reasons: the documentary was originally released a mere two days before Kyi’s 2010 release. Bonne is humble about this astounding coincidence however, acknowledging that the film certainly, “brought people’s eyes to her.” Obviously the film created a fair amount of exposure about Aung San Suu Kyi’s situation and must have helped to place pressure on the Burmese government. In 2011 the film was selected for the exclusive Berlin ‘Cinema for Peace’ Festival, after which a journalist was finally allowed into Burma to photograph Aung San Suu Kyi.

Bonne’s film exposes Aung San Suu Kyi’s humanity and in so doing has shown the strength and desire for freedom that is possible in leaders and which is fundamentally necessary for the development of human rights in the future. As Aung San Suu Kyi has said, “we must nurture mental strength and support each other,” because it is then that we experience true freedom: “freedom from fear.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Links of Note

First up, Jon Stewart breaks down the history of anti-immigration racism/ xenophobia that gradually accepts some groups - which groups then turn around and discriminate against new groups.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Best of Times
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And, of course, there's been some post-election hubbub over whom to blame (or thank). While some conservatives have taken this moment to reassess their talking points, others have decided to blame single women for apparently having no moral compass? I'd like to know their take on how the moral compass's of comparable single men compare, seeing as how single women would only need birth control for purely sexual reasons if they're having sex with men. 

In brighter news, a new child's toy called Goldie Blocks is defying the myth that girls simply won't be interested in engineering, by combining story books and invention-building toys that solve problems posed by the book. The even greater news is that the toy also holds the potential to defy myths about boys not wanting to read, by providing an interactive book to help get resistant boys hooked.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Straight Men Opposed to Same-sex Marriage: Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriend

Because if our blogging frequency is any indication, we all need something to brighten our day:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fat Lip

One day after surgery, and I was trying to minimize how bad the swelling looked. I was unsuccessful.
In February this year I had to have minor surgery on the inside of my lip. It really wasn't a big deal- the whole procedure took about ten minutes- but at the end of it I was left with a lip that was so big I couldn't move it effectively. I felt like Goldie Hawn at the beginning of "The First Wives Club" and looked like a partial stroke survivor. There was no hiding it, either: I had an incredibly fat lip. It took about ten days for the swelling to go down and a few months for the nerve damage to be fully repaired, and during that time I had to function basically normally, all out in public with slurred speech and a bit of a drooling problem.
Why am I sharing this story with you? Because, throughout those ten days of no-hiding-it puffiness, no one said a word to me about it. No one commented on the fact that I looked like I'd taken a real clocking, offered me resources, or even stopped me to ask if I was okay. Remember: you couldn't tell from the outside that surgery, and not abuse, was the source of the swelling. Living in a town where people will repeatedly ask me if I've found Jesus if I'm wearing a rainbow bracelet, I find this particularly troublesome. It shouldn't be that hard to ascertain if someone is safe at home.
There are so many cultural barriers around intimate partner violence, no matter where in the world we are, that it's easy to understand why so many people ignored my fat lip entirely. It's a private matter. It'll make things worse if I say something. I'll offend you or your partner, or both, by asking. I'm not permitted to talk to you because of my sex, my class status, or my profession. I don't know anything about intimate partner violence, or prefer to pretend it doesn't exist. I don't want to embarrass you by drawing attention to that huge wobbling lip or black eye you're trying so desperately to hide.
It's always fair to take these things into consideration, especially if we're traveling in a culture that's not our own and are afraid of violating an enormous taboo we weren't aware of. Hell, sometimes it's hard to engage with these topics in our own cultures because we know we'll be violating an enormous taboo. Most of the barriers I listed above are in play in the United States and are beliefs or concerns I encounter on a daily basis in my job. However, given that approximately 25% of relationships are abusive in most Western countries, I'd rather err on the side of caution. What always pushes me into (hopefully) tactfully checking in with someone who looks a bit battered, though, is the answer to this question: is my potential embarrassment or fear worth more than the potential safety of that injured person? More often than not, the answer is no. I'd much rather have someone be upset for suggesting that their partner hurt them than miss the opportunity to connect with someone who's isolated and in danger. Remember: if someone is being physically injured by their partner or loved one, they've likely been emotionally and psychologically abused by that person far longer. Your check-in might be one of the only times anyone ever shows some concern.
How do we go about this, though? How do we respectfully and safely engage with someone about their injuries? Here are some options:
  • Always try to speak with the person alone. Checking in with the partner present, if their fat lip was caused by physical violence, escalates the level of danger to the person. You can get creative with ways to get the person alone; for example, using the washroom at the same time as them or pretending they dropped something on the way out.
  • Note the injury as your reason for checking in, and then ask if the person is okay. Try not to make assumptions about the person's circumstances. For example: "I don't mean to pry, but I noticed your lip seems swollen and I wanted to make sure you're okay. Are you?" It's a lot less threatening to hear that from a stranger than to hear, "Hey, I noticed you've got a fat lip. Take this crisis number. Better yet, let me call it for you." Remember, the goal is to check in, not to assume or fix.
  • Let the person tell you what their perspective is and believe it. The injury might be the result of a bar fight, a surgery, an allergy, an accident, or intimate partner violence, but it's that person's injury and not yours. They might not need or want your assistance, and that's fine.
  • If they get offended that you're asking, it's okay to explain. Saying something like "I'm sorry, I'd rather be safe than sorry" in a genuine (not angry!) tone and then walking away is appropriate. This is adaptable to whatever culture you're in at that point in time- Americans can get a bit personal at times, so fiddle around to find the most culturally effective way to diffuse the tension.
  • If the person does say that help is wanted, try to have the local domestic violence crisis number on hand. You can use this website to connect to resources around the world for human trafficking and domestic violence- many countries, the U.S. included, use the same central hotline for both.
  • Finally, do what you feel comfortable doing. If you aren't comfortable asking the person directly, but note they're with a friend, check in with the friend. If you have a friend with you, see if your friend would be comfortable doing the check-in instead. Mention it to the waitstaff, if you have to. Whatever you do, though, try to find some way- however indirect- of checking in.
At the end of the day, the other important reason for checking in is because abusers use silence as permission. When someone is visibly injured and no one speaks up, abusers see that as a free pass to do whatever they please. Silence is complicity. Wherever we are in the world, it's our job as bystanders to speak up to keep each other from being hurt. Even if everything's fine nine times out of ten, the world can only benefit from all of us making a collective gesture to stop tacitly permitting intimate partner violence to continue.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Disenfranchised in Georgia

I am a 26-year-old citizen of the US, born and raised in the country, residing in the state of Georgia. And tomorrow, for the first time since I turned 18 years old, I will not be voting in the presidential election.

Not in protest of the only two options, not out of apathy, and not for lack of trying to vote. Tomorrow I will not be voting because I moved to the state of Georgia a few months ago but only mailed in a voter registration form three weeks ago. Unbeknownst to me, I had missed the deadline by four days.

At the time, I was still registered to vote in Utah and could have requested an absentee ballot. In fact, I began filling out an online request form for an absentee ballot. But when the form asked for my permanent address, I didn't know what to put. I have no permanent address in Utah - I live in Georgia now. If anything, I have a permanent address in New Hampshire, where I grew up. But I gave up my New Hampshire residency last year, when I finished school and chose to stay in Utah for a year as a resident rather than a student. I became a real, true resident of Utah, down to the voter registration and Utah Driver's License.

So yes, as of last week I could have requested an absentee ballot from Utah. There's a chance I could have even requested one from New Hampshire, but I couldn't justify in my mind that I was a resident of either state. Wouldn't the more mature, responsible thing be to register in Georgia?

And the gov't website where I downloaded the form and followed instructions about mailing it in did not indicate that anyone mailing in the form after the ninth would be unable to vote. I only learned that fact today when I called to ask why my records didn't show up and was told it was too late. They had my application - they had it right there in their office, in a box of other applications marked "too late."

But because the post mark said October 13 and not October 9, I would not be able to vote.

"So, I have no options at this point?" I asked. My voice cracked a little, I'll admit.

The lady on the phone sounded worn out when she answered - I imagine she's received a number of similar phone calls, and it's not as if she legislated the policy. "Not unless you're registered in another county."

I am, but the cost of a last-minute plane ticket to Provo, Utah would be a lot more excessive than a poll tax.

So, there you have it, folks. I won't be able to vote tomorrow. Could I have prevented this mess? Absolutely - simply calling their office three weeks ago would have made it clear that a Utah absentee ballot was my only option. Or I could have registered as soon as I arrived in GA (in between moving and starting a PhD program).

But if I, an educated woman with ready access to the internet, wound up in this position, how many other citizens are there who lack the resources to learn about those restrictions?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Unexpected Motherhood in Looper


Warning: Spoiler Alert
It seems an obvious sort of review to talk about the unexpectedly large presence of motherhood in Looper, but while I expected to have plenty to say on the movie’s women (or lack thereof) I was not expecting to see motherhood played out in such a diverse way. It’s just not something I expect in a Summer/Fall Hollywood science fiction blockbuster: shame on me for my lack of faith in Hollywood’s creativity.

The first part of Looper is a tangled, intriguing, sometimes gory, exploration of time travel: what happens to your future when we mess with your pass? How do you remember the past if your future doesn’t exist anymore (or vice versa for that matter)? A great question would be, if you chop off a person’s legs in the past, while their future self is in the past, wouldn’t that change their future, even if they’re in the past? Oddly enough, all those questions are answered in the first hour of the film.
But the film really took off for me during the second half, when a different film than the one the trailer promised me, emerged. Cityscapes were traded in for cornfields and discussions on the finer points of temporal displacement are exchanged for character development.

In the second half of the film, Looper did a really great job of showing a few different kinds of mothers starting with Summer Qing (Qing Xu), who plays Bruce Willis’ wife, wants a child, but never gets to have any (explicitly stated in the film). Sara, (Emily Blunt) may or may not have given birth to a seriously creepy, possibly homicidal destructor of the future, and Suzie (Piper Perablo) is a prostitute and exotic dancer who independently raises and supports her young child (and is proud to be able to do so).

Sara’s (Emily Blunt) storyline centers on her incredibly creepy kid, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who is possibly one of the best child actors I’ve ever seen. Sara’s storyline is unique in that she is a late mother to her son, but despite her fear, and the fact that Cid doesn’t believe she’s really her mother, feels that she must and can save him from a possibly violent future. It’s sort of reminiscent of a Harry Potter plotline—a mother’s love is all that’s needed to make a child grow up “good” and “safe.” The audience is left with the hope that Sara’s belief in her own mothering skills will be enough to stabilize the troubled child and keep him from harming others.

It’s a really sweet sentiment, this “power of love” idea, and to its credit, the film doesn’t specify whether it does heal all ills, but I find this idea sort of problematic. So many parents believe that every mistake their child has made and every bad thing that they’ve done is their fault as a parent. Obviously, this is not always the case. I’m no sociologist and the argument for nature vs. nuture is still swirling around out there, but reinforcing the ideals of a perfect motherhood and it’s redemptive powers seems to be placing too much responsibility on the shoulders of women (without regard for temperament and personality). This is not to devalue motherhood and the great job of raising their children that so many women do, but rather to point out a possibly naïve and damaging ideology that we seem to be indirectly promoting, that if a person were to do something really, really awful (for instance, murder someone) that it would be based on some failure of the parents.

Pierce Gagnon and Emily Blunt in Looper

Looper does get credit though for the fact that it does portray a less-than traditional type of mother: Single mom, out on her own on a farm, raising a child she barely knows since her sister raised him first. She was just a woman, doing what she could to be a good mother (though she had some pretty high expectations for herself, and I can say I’d feel a bit of pressure to be the best mother ever if I knew my son would become an evil mob boss and the man I loved had killed himself so I could have a chance to raise him right and stop that from happening). Spoiler Alert by the way.

I bring this up because of an interesting article I read a while ago about children who display characteristics of psychopaths. I feel awful just typing that, but hey, the New York Times said it first. In the article they talk about children who seem to have a neurological condition in the brain centers that control empathy and shame, two essential traits that help to regulate our behavior and response to others. The part I find fascinating is the fact that some children have neurological disorders and that parenting, no matter how wonderful and loving, might not change that. The article quotes a psychologist who, in regard to the possibility of diagnosing the disorder in children, stated: “'This isn’t like autism, where the child and parents will find support,’ Edens observes. ‘Even if accurate, it’s a ruinous diagnosis. No one is sympathetic to the mother of a psychopath.’”

Poor Sara with her troubled, possibly evil, child. Nobody feels support for the mother of a psychopath except the psychopath who didn’t have a mother, Joe in this case. Joe mentions his own mother several times in the movie, asking his girlfriend (lover? prostitute?) to rub his hair as his mother did when he was a child (I’ll ignore that possibly Oedipal situation) and telling Cid that his own mother sold him to the gangs. Joe obviously sees himself in Cid, particularly the scenes where he projects into Cid’s future, riding the train alone, hurt and scared, resenting his mother and others for abandoning him and then eventually taking it out on everybody else by becoming homicidal (Jon does kill for a living, it’s not like he’s particularly well-adjusted himself).

The scene seemed a bit fallacious, in terms of it’s logical progression, as I said, loss of a mother should not indicate future murderer. However, I did appreciate the sub-idea that Cid, despite his known future, is not predetermined, perhaps he can change and learn to control himself, and therefore obviously deserves to live.

The movie’s dark beginnings really ended in a very hopeful, life-affirming place, even though it begins and ends with the loss of life. 

***Cross posted from Bitch Flicks

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mormon Underwear: The Difference Between Magic and the Sacred

The Endowment Room in The Boston Temple

I received my first set of temple garments nearly two years ago. I was home in New Hampshire for Christmas vacation, a month before my 25th birthday, and I was at the Boston Temple to receive my Endowment. Most Mormon adults first participate in the ceremony known as The Endowment a few days before becoming a missionary or getting married. As a single but faithful member in my mid-twenties, I had received permission to make those covenants without serving a mission.
The ceremony wasn’t even close to salacious. I prepared through another ceremony where other women spoke words that symbolically cleansed me, symbolically promised me blessings, and symbolically prepared me for the Endowment. Then, wearing my new garments under a white dress, I went into a chapel and waited for the ceremony to begin.
The ceremony itself was, again, symbolic. We watched a video that recounted the story of creation and the garden of Eden, a story found in Genesis. We covenanted to follow all the commandments we had agreed to follow in order to even enter the temple. (Follow the Word of Wisdom and Law of Chastity and Law of Consecration – take responsibility for preventing poverty as we’re able). The ceremony was long and symbolic to the point that unless you go in believing it means something, you’d probably find yourself quite bored. Then we went through to the Celestial Room (pictured below), the one place on Earth where Mormons feel most comfortable discussing this sacred ceremony.
I’d wanted to participate in that ceremony for years. I’d been yearning probably since I was eighteen, but the ceremony is so sacred and the covenants so binding that it was recommended I wait for a mission or marriage or simply till I was a little older. The question of what age is old enough for an unmarried adult who is not serving a mission – well, that’s a question for another day. What I can tell you, though, is that for at least the first six months after I took part in the ceremony, I lit up each time I remembered that I was wearing garments.
I would be sitting there grading papers or reading a book or watching TV, or out with friends having fun, and suddenly I’d remember, “I’m wearing garments,” and it made me so happy that I wanted to laugh with joy. That is how significant this religious clothing has been to me as a symbol of the covenants I’ve made with God.

Unfortunately, these garments are misunderstood by many and even referred to as “magic underwear,” as in this recent SNL clip:

Due to the sacred, personal nature of what garments represent, many Mormons bristle at references to our “magic underwear” and yet hesitate to correct those false assumptions. When I searched for statements from other Mormons in preparation for writing this article, my searches yielded no information through, the website officially set aside by The Church for people who are not themselves Mormon but who are curious about the faith.
Wondering what other resources a curious person might encounter, I tried googling the question “What are Mormon temple garments?” Keep in mind, I was using the terminology that those outside my faith often don’t even know. With the exception of a Huffington Post article by Matt Bowman, most sources that showed up were from ex-mormon and anti-mormon websites. While I recognize those last two perspectives as valid, they can’t do much to educate those outside the faith on what current members actually believe about garments.
So, when I saw yet another magic underwear slam earlier this week (on a facebook friend’s wall), I decided it was time to address this issue on Go Girl. Now that you know that garments mean to me personally, I want to lay out a bit on why the “magic underwear” myth is false and why it is inaccurate and even hurtful to use that term.

First off, what are temple garments?
Temple garments are an article of clothing that most devout adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wear. They consist of a bottom and a top, but beyond that can vary quite a bit. Generally the tops have sleeves and the bottoms come down close to the knee, and they’re usually made with white fabric, but there are some exceptions, such as with military clothing. Fabrics vary substantially from a t-shirt-style cotton, to a spandex-like material, to the mesh that a hot-blooded Northerner living in Georgia (ahem, me) depends on to stay cool.
The top and bottom both have symbols sewn onto them, which represent our covenants as well as the spiritual blessings we believe Heavenly Father wants us to receive.

How are they worn? Are they really underwear?
While we don’t usually refer to garments as underwear, yes, we do wear them as underwear. Women still wear bras, and I don’t mind sharing that I wear “normal” store bought underwear (like any woman, I hate the word ‘panties’) when I have my period. But even during my period I wear the garment bottoms over them. Like underwear, I wear garments to bed, and like with underwear I try to keep them from showing under my clothing. As I move about during the day, does an edge of lace occasionally show above the neckline of a shirt? Of course. And while you get your occasional Mormon jerks who make a big deal about that, most Mormons are rational human beings.

Knee-length underwear? Sounds pretty inconvenient.
Yes, it can be. Using a public restroom always takes a few moments longer, as I need to tuck the garment top into the garment bottoms to keep it from showing when I leave the stall, and some of the silky-style tops slide around in ways that make it hard to keep them from showing.

And you’re sure, absolutely sure, that they’re not magical?
Don’t I wish I had access to underwear that could stop bullets, or – better yet! – allow me to fly. If I find anything along those lines, I promise to share the knowledge.

So, if it’s not true, where did the myth of magic underwear originate?
The answer, I’ll admit, is murky. Some blame this myth on Mormon folklore that sprung up when Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the church, was martyred while not wearing garments. Of the four church leaders held in the prison where Joseph Smith was massacred, only the leader who was wearing garments was spared. Apparently some folks wondered if this correlation reached the level of causation. I’d put such speculation in the same category as legends about Saints’ relics: just as most contemporary Catholics can chuckle over those legends, I’ve never met a contemporary Mormon who claimed that Joseph Smith’s death stemmed from removing his garments.
Today it’s true that some Mormons will discuss temple garments as a source of protection, but if you press them for specifics, they’re likely to explain that we believe we can receive added blessings (a consciously vague term that includes emotional peace and spiritual insights) by honoring our covenants to God. Garments are a tangible, daily reminder of those covenants.

But why does it bother you when I refer to the symbol of covenants you hold sacred as something as degrading and implausible as “magic underwear”?
So glad you asked!
It’s hurtful to me because dismissing religious clothing as “magic underwear” is tantamount to dismissing that religion’s beliefs altogether. Would you call a Catholic priest’s robes “magic bathrobes”? Would you call cross necklaces “magic t’s”? Or Jewish Yarmulkes “magic caps”?
If you would, then I’m glad that you’re at least consistent. If not, then why is my faith deserving of less respect than those faiths?

But, come on, aren’t “magic underwear” cracks at least a little funny?
First off, I mostly see “magic underwear” jokes made in groups without Mormons, by those who don’t expect a Mormon to see/hear. It’s an exclusive joke used to dismiss Mormons as outsiders.
Secondly, here’s a good rule of thumb in determining whether a joke is entirely at the expense of another group or whether the group is chuckling with you: do they make similar jokes?
Mormons make polygamy jokes.
Mormons make jokes about not drinking coffee.
Mormons make jokes about their constant appearance of cheerfulness (and thus I love this song Edit [10/27/12 4:05pm]: I love this song even though it's coming from those outside the faith and isn't completely accurate).
Mormons make jokes about being naïve about sex, drugs, and booze.
Mormons make jokes about their blondness, their addiction to chocolate, and their obsession with homemade rootbeer floats.

But I have never, not even once – and I spent eight years at Brigham Young University – I have never heard a Mormon make a joke about “magic underwear.”

Temple garments are sacred to us, so please try to respect that.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Feminist Review: Take This Waltz

This small, Canadian romantic indie film starring Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams and Luke Kirby and directed by Sarah Polley seems like it should a moving and insightful film about relationships (much like Michelle Williams earlier movie, Blue Valentine, was). However, despite its female centered love triangle, the film offers little of interest.

If you were to read the synopsis of this film on IMDB it would tell you that “A happily married woman falls for the artist across the street,” a pretty uninformative summary since it’s apparent from the first scene that Margot is unhappy and struggling in her marriage.  The film follows Margot (Michelle Williams) as a slightly off-kilter aspiring writer married to chicken cookbook-writer Lou (Seth Rogen). Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) while doing research for a pamphlet she’s writing and then again on the plane, only to discover that he lives on the same street as her. And so begins their romance, full of clichéd significant looks and fevered whispers, as they get lost in the forbidden.

Unfortunately, my two sentence synopsis was far more interesting than the movie itself, since much of the movie was long shots of Williams looking confused and depressed and Rogen acting oblivious.  The music was a particularly pretentious brand of lackluster indie and on the whole, the film just felt like it was trying too hard to be profound.

In reality, the best parts of the film came from Margot’s interaction with her sister in law, Geraldine or the brilliant Sarah Silverman. Silverman’s character is a recovering alcoholic who, at the end of the film, offers one of the two best lines in the film, “Life has a gap in it, it just does, but you can’t go crazy trying to fill it.” (She’s also a part of a legitimately funny scene involving the incredible world of water aerobics, I tried to find a clip of it online, but alas, I failed).

It’s after the water aerobics scene when we get the second best line of the film, delivered by a naked older woman in the women’s locker room (a great scene by Polley that doesn’t shy away from the normally unsightly issue of aging and women’s bodies); Margot is wistfully considering the merits of “something new” with Geraldine and the woman smiles wisely and replies “New things become old.”

There was a subplot of the film that had some potential as well had it been developed a bit more, in particular the issue of Margot’s sexuality. It’s obvious that Margot and Lou are not the most sexually active of couples since we see Margot attempt to seduce Lou several times, only to be rejected in favor of his cooking. While the lack of sex doesn’t seem to especially bother him, it could be argued that one of the reasons Margot continues to seek after Daniel is the promise of sexual discovery that he offers her. At one point in the film, there is a montage of Daniel and Margot having sex  (it sounds spicy, but really, don’t get excited) where it becomes apparent that Margot is finally able to explore that part of herself; the premise was interesting and one that I think many women can identify with, however I think it could have been fleshed out a little more.

I wanted this film to be good; the trailer was interesting, all of the actors are talented, and Polley is a promising new director (who I would be interested in seeing more of in the future). While there were good moments and unique ideas being toyed with, the film was, in reality, a lukewarm portrayal of a good topic; in short, I was bored most of the time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mormon Miracles and Mormon Heart Break

This weekend something beautiful occurred that might just reshape the Mormon world for a new generation, and yet I find myself incapable of expressing how I feel. Because this weekend something else happened that broke my heart.

As a blogger, I find myself in a loop. I say I want to write about issues that affect religious feminists, and sometimes I do, sometimes I address current, contemporary issues. But more recently, I find that I am caught in the place of laying foundations for a deeper discussion: let me tell you how hard it is to be caught in two worlds, I say, and then I'll tell you more. But then something happens, before I get to the more, that drags me back to the start.

Last week, for instance, I wrote about the struggle many Mormon feminists face in trying to find a place for themselves in the church. I ended on a question, hoping that my post would double as a longer, more contemplative one and as a question of the week. As a teacher (and perhaps by nature), I am always posing questions. You could say I do it to play devil's advocate, but even that isn't quite right, because my questions always come from the heart, even if I'm more interested in them for the generative power they might have than I am for any immediate application in my own life.

That question I asked was a simple: What can we do better?

I intended to follow up this week, with a Part 2 that would lay out some of my own ideas and answers to that question. I was going to list off ways that feminist Mormons and non-feminist Mormons could each make a difference in helping feminist Mormons to feel like an accepted, valued, and respected part of the ward community. My feeling has long been that many who leave the church would have stayed if they had felt more accepted by the general congregation. Not just invited, but welcome and accepted and valued.

One friend responded to my question, but most others read and held their peace, which I was perfectly content with.

Meanwhile, I made some remarks on facebook last week. I posed a question for other Mormon academics about the use of "slippery slope" logic (often identified as a logical fallacy) in church classes. Friends responded thoughtfully, offering thoughts on cases when that form of logic was helpful and other times when it could, in fact, turn into a fallacy. I also posed a (mostly) tongue-in-cheek question about temperatures in church buildings, with got much more of a reaction than I'd have expected.

Perhaps most provocatively, I decided I was sick of hearing stereotypes about what sorts of people support Obama, and broke my own rule about stating over facebook which politician I support. Yes, most people can guess from my liberal leanings how I feel, but until now I had not stated on fb which politician I would vote for. I still have not and will not publicly express on facebook my reasons for supporting Obama. So it was immense for me to state that I am a Mormon (active and temple-going), who paid income tax last year, who did not have health insurance for the greater part of the year, and who would have supported Romney four years ago - but who nevertheless would be voting for Obama this time around. I ended with, "stereotypes don't hold up," because that was my only purpose in posting that status - establishing that the stereotype that only those who receive more gov't money than they pay in taxes support Obama simply doesn't hold up.

A long-time friend of mine (whom I will refer to as Sarah to avoid sharing her real name) asked why I supported Obama. I said I was happy to explain, but only in private, to which she replied that Obama supporters never describe why they support him. Still, true to my word, I gave her my answer in a private message.

All of what I have told you is background and context for what happened this weekend. (I know, I know, I'm long-winded!)

This weekend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a semi-annual conference. This conference is divided into 6 sessions, most of which are 2 hours long. During the first session on Saturday, we received amazing news: women will now be eligible to serve missions when they turn 19, instead of waiting until they are 21. When I heard this news, my heart lifted. When I think about this news, my heart lifts.

To describe what this news means for me, for my toddler niece, for the children I will some day have takes more than words. Before this Saturday, the policy was that eligible men could (and were strongly, strongly encouraged to) serve 2-year missions. Women could serve 18-month missions when they reached 21. The catch? These young missionaries cannot be married, and they cannot date for the duration of their missions. As you might imagine, that earlier age of 19 made it much more feasible for willing men to serve missions. Some took a year off after high school to earn money and then began college when they returned. Others spent a year at college, then served a mission, then returned to school. As difficult as many men have found it to return to school after a couple years away, most have returned to freshman or sophomore courses.

For women, it has been more difficult, though many have still happily served. By 21, many women find that 18 months out of the dating and academic world would (or does) disrupt their plans in bigger ways. For those unfamiliar with that position, imagine taking as much as two years off from school, between preparing and serving, at the end of your junior year of college. That's right, as you're accelerating from advanced coursework into professional level coursework, you take off for a minimum of 1-1/2 years and return rusty, most of your pre-mission friends and classmates already having graduated. Of course, the common-ness of missions at CES schools facilitates those transitions as well as it can, but for LDS women at other universities, that challenge must be even worse. Of course, all of these obstacles only increase my respect for women who have served missions. Still, this age change will dramatically increase the number of women who serve missions over the next year and in the future, and over time that change will transform cultural gender dynamics in the church.

Yet, admidst all the joy this weekend occasioned for the Mormon and feminist in me, something happened that leaves me wondering again how much work it will take for Mormon feminists to no longer be seen as an oxymoron. While watching one of the sessions, I heard a story from a speaker who described her delight when she saw a girl in a grocery store who wore a t-shirt that proclaimed herself a Mormon. When this speaker described a hypothetical t-shirt she would be happy to wear and how this t-shirt would proclaim that she is a Mormon and proud of it because she is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, it raised some questions for me that I wanted to consider more. I thought about the overlap (and difference) between the gospel and the church and wrote as a facebook status:

Question for my Mormon friends: is there a difference between ashamed of the Gospel and being ashamed of the Church? In other words, can you be ashamed of one and not the other?

To avoid the assumption that I was indirectly claiming to be ashamed of the church, I added (just a question I thought of when she mentioned the T-shirt). Most of my friends responded thoughtfully, but one friend (remember "Sarah"?) wrote the following:

Sustain your leaders. The questions you have seem scary to have since you have a temple recommend. You don't seem like you have a testimony of Christ or of Our Prophet and the principles. You need to read the church literature and ponder and figure things out for yourself. More than always turning to others for answers pray to God.

When I told her that I believe in the power of asking questions in order to learn and strengthen faith, she then steamrolled me with multiple lengthy messages, as well as finding NAW and posting comments that I have since removed, in order to protect her identity. In her expanded comments, she proceeded to tell me

And I sincerely do not think you are actually seeking answers. I do not think you are going to act on the advice of others. Your questions show you have pride. You need to ask pray for humility. 


You know the answers you just do not want to do the work. You post all things publicly so I will post back publicly the truth.

Also pro gay is against families. Anything against families is against Christ.


Keep pretending, keep justifying and keep making excuses. But I know what Truth is. I know where the church and gospel and leaders stand on issues....and I agree with them, because I have studied the gospel, church materials, conference talks, scriptures and lots of time pondering,

You agree with world on issues that are against the church and yet you think you understand the gospel??

The questions you write clearly state that you do not understand a lot of things about the gospel.

Instead of listening and being refuse to listen to anyone that says stop turning to the world and start looking within

among many other gems. On the blog she even insinuated that my experience with abuse had driven me from the church, a claim so outrageous and offensive that I couldn't imagine why blogger, The Mormon Child Bride, included it in her list of the top 5 things not to say to friends and family who are questioning or have left the faith. When I asked Sarah to stop saying these things, she did not, and I ultimately blocked her on facebook for my own mental and emotional health.

But while I could laugh off this reaction - after all, I am not planning on leaving the church or even doubting its truthfulness, and it's likely that Sarah's reaction is merely coming out of her own problems - while I could laugh this all off, I find myself wondering how many other Mormon friends, acquaintances, and family see the questions I pose as signs of coming apostasy but have the good sense not to pick a fight.

It wouldn't be the first time that an unorthodox Mormon gained a reputation as not believing or as "apostate," despite regularly attending church, fulfilling callings (unpaid positions, such as Sunday school teachers), and even holding a temple recommend (meaning a Bishop has agreed to the member's worthiness and strong testimony). Several years ago, for instance, rumours spread throughout the mission that covered my home ward that the Relief Society in my ward was apostate. These rumors came down to the questions that feminist sisters posed in lessons, questions with made missionaries and recent move-ins from western states uncomfortable.

More recently, a rumor spread through the family that one of our family members did not have a testimony. When I asked her what she had actually said, she explained that it was a hypothetical question, meant to inspire thoughtful discussion. As a class was discussing the importance of developing and nurturing a testimony of the Gospel of Christ and of the Church, she said, "Why is it important to have a testimony? If I didn't have a testimony but still kept the commandments, why wouldn't that be enough?" Rather than considering the question, younger members of the class answered, "having a testimony is everything," while older members reassured her that she, personally, would gain a testimony in time.

These reactions to thoughtful questions - whether it's casual dismissal of the question or outright rejection of the seeker - these reactions are dangerous. These reactions reinforce the stereotype of our church being filled with brainwashed sheep. These reactions circumvent our progress as thinking, believing, developing, children of God with divine potential.

So, to those (few, I hope) fellow Mormons who are frightened of questions about the church, I have some questions for you:

Do you think that General Authorities ask no hard questions as part of their service? That changes like the missionary age requirements from the weekend, or revised temple policies of the 1990s, or extending the Priesthood without regard to race of the 70s all came without ever asking difficult questions?

And if those men asked difficult questions as General Authorities, do you think that they never asked or contemplated similar questions before their callings? That they mysteriously learned skills of reasoning with the Lord when they were sustained?

And if they asked questions before they were sustained, why not you? 

And if you can and should consider difficult questions, why not feminists?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Keeping the Faith and the Feminism

I promised another post on Glee's continued misogyny, and yet I find something more substantial weighing on my mind - the struggle to remain faithful, as a feminist in a conservative and patriarchal worship community. This issue has weighed on my mind (and heart too, I suppose, but I don't want to sound sentimental) for awhile now, but I've hesitated to post for a couple reasons:

1. It's difficult to discuss this issue without bringing in some personal examples that could hurt, offend or confuse people who have attended church with me.

2. In my faith - and this is my greatest reason for hesitating - merely suggesting any form of doubt can make other members worry. And when they worry, they're often quick to jump in with needless (and perhaps destructive) reassurances. For instance, when I mentioned in Sunday School one day that there's a trend of creative writers leaving BYU for PhD programs elsewhere and then leaving the church and that this trend has forced me to contemplate what causes this apostasy so that I can avoid it - well, one friend immediately reassured me that apostasy only happens gradually so I shouldn't worry, and my bishop then asked me to explain this dilemma to my mother. Kindly, all kindly.

I've found myself explaining to friends my philosophy that it is good and productive to work through doubts and confusion, so why hold back on this blog? So instead of remaining silent, I'm prefacing this post with this explanation and a request: do not try to shut down this discussion or others like it, even with well-meant reassurances. Sometimes people need to consider and contemplate and discuss difficult situations, and your well-meant "Don't worry, it's not as bad as it seems," can cause real harm by ending a discussion before it happens.

As you can tell from that preamble, I've been thinking about tensions between faith and feminism for awhile now. Tension is only one part of that relationship - faith and feminism often reinforce each other in my life, which is why I tell people that I'm a feminist because of my faith, not in spite of it.  I'm a feminist because I belong to a faith where women are considered beings with divine potential, a faith that was before its time in promoting education for nineteenth century women. A faith with an unnecessarily well-kept secret (which isn't intended to be a secret in the first place) that women perform priesthood ordinances in the temple. Take that fact as you will, but a fact it remains.

Recently, though, I've been reminded that feeling a sense of belonging in church is a struggle for many feminists. A few weeks ago a friend added me to the facebook group Feminist Mormon Housewives Society, a group inspired by the fMh blog. Each day members of the group share stories of challenges that they face as feminists and unorthodox Mormons. One woman shared a story of a bishop curtly forbidding her from putting a Sunday service project in the ward bulletin, along with instructions for her to review church literature on what constitutes appropriate Sabbath activities. Another asked advice on communicating with her husband. But all the posts had something in common: Mormon feminists looking for a community of others who share their faith and their feminism to offer support.

As Mormon feminists we have all the advantages that I have listed. But we also belong to a faith with some ordinances and scriptures that don't seem to jive with the contemporary Mormon ideal for equal marriage partners. And a faith with members who sometimes infuriate and offend. Don't misunderstand me - members are much more likely touch my heart and teach me how to be a better person, but sometimes an individual infuriates me, all the same. And sometimes it simply takes awhile to find your niche in a faith community. And having a sense of community is key for most people in continuing in a faith. Sure, there are some religions that are more individualistic, but let's be honest - in faiths where meeting as a community is essential, who wants to continue spending hours with individuals where they don't feel accepted?

One of our teachings is that we should seek friends who share our values. In fact, my current branch (our word for a smaller congregation) recently handed out posters that reminded us to seek friends who share our standards (based on a 1989 address at Rick's college that is not accessible through My knee-jerk reaction was to make a snarky comment under my breath about how this poster was asking me to drop out of my PhD program. I have dear friends outside the church who are pro-pornography, friends who are openly gay, friends who drink, and I'm not about to cut off ties with those friends simply because their standards are different than mine. On a more productive level, I would say the principle is to find others who share our values in a more general sense. But even then,  do all active, temple-going Mormons share the same values and standards?

I think the obvious answer is no. Some Mormons love Ted Talks as much as they love hearing from Mormon leaders, while others pride themselves on reading only books published by church leaders. Some Mormons watch R-rated movies without a second thought, while others consider R-rated movies to be a form of pornography (sorry, dear fellow Mormon whom I'm referencing). Some Mormons are politically conservative, others politically liberal. And many of us fall into a more moderate area of these spectrums - most members aren't even in the US and don't even know why we US members make such a big deal over a rating system that doesn't apply to them and which is applied by people who do not share our beliefs anyway. So yes, Mormons are diverse, as the I'm a Mormon campaign has worked so hard at convincing people.

But that diversity does not always translate into an even distribution within one congregation. Because Mormon congregations are assigned by our residential addresses, neighborhoods and regions factor into ward makeups. If a member is unhappy with a ward, that member occasionally can choose a different form of congregation (I currently have the choice between a university branch and a local family ward), but usually switching congregations requires special permission or - more commonly - moving. A member who chooses to attend elsewhere without permission will find that his or her records remain in the assigned ward and is unlikely to be able to fully participate in the chosen ward due to the location of the records.

For the most part, I see those restrictions as a positive aspect of Mormon life. We are unable to shop congregations until we find a Bishop (pastor) who already agrees with us, so we face the challenge of learning to love and accept members and leaders whom we have not chosen. That challenge helps us grow and learn and love. But it also means that when a person feels rejected by a congregation, they have a choice of leaving the church, moving to a new home and thus ward boundaries, or seeking to resolve that rejection and attending church even if those attempts fail.

Sometimes rejection is hard to overcome, as in this recent story from a woman whose religious community is also her neighborhood and her former business clients. According to the author, she learned on good authority that members of her religious and neighborhood community made a collective decision to boycott her business in order to avoiding supporting someone who shared the views she makes public (in support of gay marriage and abortion rights, for instance). No matter how rare this type of incident might be, it presents a dilemma for anyone who finds herself in that position. When your faith community rejects you, how do you find the strength to continue attending weekly 3-hour meetings (and more, if you attend additional activities) with those very individuals?

For some Mormon feminists, the answer has been to stop attending church. But leaving the church is a tragic option for a person who still believes in the Gospel. So what can we do differently?

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Return to Not Another Wave

There comes a time in every feminist blogger's life where she looks at the frequency of her facebook posts and the increasing ire coming out in the comments on said posts, and realizes that it's been far too long since she blogged. So long, in fact, that she is perhaps deliberately starting trouble!

Not that I would ever find myself in that position.

But, seriously, folks - it's been over a month since I shared my opinion on LDS women and the priesthood. Since then, I have been to a bar with my cohort-mates.  And when Joanna Brooks spoke on The Daily Show, I responded with a post on Patheos about how exclusive and us vs. them language at church can drive members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to apostasy. Since then I have also graded more papers than I care to think about. But now I'm back.

Next up:

How Glee continues to offend.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

'Out of Control': The Intersection Between Homeschooling and Feminism


A recent follower of Not Another Wave requested an article about homeschooling and feminism and well, aren’t you in luck? I was homeschooled for ten years and I happen to be a feminist. I should perhaps caveat this article by stating that I don’t usually discuss my homeschooling history with many people anymore. People tend to have very firm opinions on the subject, and out of all the topics to pick a fight with me about, home schooling hits my buttons. I got into too many fights about it, so I stopped telling people; this is the first time for me to publish my views on the subject in the volatile sphere of the Internet.

Homeschooling, by it’s nature, is a unique educational experience, every child who was a part of it probably had a very different experience in how they were taught and how they think about it now; to that end, this article will be more of a personal history about my experience with it and how that experience ties into my feminist values now.

To start, let’s cover the basics, three weeks into first grade my mother pulled me out of public school; I have a September birthday, so I’m always the youngest in my year and apparently, I was just too young for school, I was having difficulty sleeping and was obviously just not the happy kid I had been before. Now this was twenty years ago and homeschooling was still considered a very off-kilter thing to do; my mother fought against a lot of people in order to homeschool us, many believed she would forever disable to her children by not allowing them access to stable education and good socialization (nice, huh?).

So, from the time I was six years old until the end of my sophomore year of high school, I was homescshooled through a charter school known as Horizons (here’s a link to explain exactly what a charter school is). During the early years, we had small group classes in a variety of subjects with other homeschool children, once I reached high school age I started to attend larger group classes a few days a week. When I was fifteen I finished my high school credits and began attending a local community college; two years later I moved on to Brigham Young University and received a BA in Humanities and an MA in English literature.

Now, remember, during this time homeschool was a fledgling idea and the resources for homeschoolers were very slight—my mother can legitimately be considered a pioneer in the homeschooling movement in California. She helped to build up the charter we were associated with, also being a prominent voice in campaigning for parents’ rights in the state of California.

In many ways this article is more about my mother than anything else, since any consideration of my time spent homeschooling must feature the woman who implemented the lifestyle in my house, a lifestyle which would completely define my ideology in many ways. And while my mother would not use the term “feminist” to describe herself (mostly because of the negative associations that the word has) to me she is a brilliant example of feminism. My mother is without a doubt, the most independent and competent person I have ever met. She fiercely believes in social activism and responsibility for our political actions, hence, in California, state senators know her, California state laws have been the recipients of her input, and large insurance companies fear her.

I grew up marching on the state capital, going to protests, and watching my mother campaign for the things that she believed were important, whether it be to maintain our community garden, or fighting against the power-hungry machinations of one anti-homeschooling California Superintendent of Education (more on that story later).

My mother’s motto? “Never take no for an answer” and they were words she lived by. This leads me into the one of the first values my mother taught me: anti-authority. It didn’t matter the position of the person telling her “no”, if she believed that her cause was right, she would do everything in her power to accomplish that; my mother would never do something just because someone told her to.

Many years ago, Delain Eastin, the California Superintendent of Education, believed that homeschooling should be illegal and called homeschooling parents, “Out of control parents.” Big mistake. As it should be, my mother was livid, because what does “out of control” mean? Someone you can’t control.

Feminism has always been about stepping beyond the bounds of patriarchal control: control over women’s bodies, women’s choices, women’s education, women’s sexuality. The few who believe themselves to be gifted with the superiority to be in change often have the intention of superimposing their own beliefs upon the public, seemingly believing that the ability to raise a lot of money and pander to lobbyists as being a sign of their divine destiny to lead and “control” their constituents. Not in my home. And my mother taught me that.

Along with the anti-authority background came the importance of not following the crowd, the value of our unique identity, personal experience and beliefs was constantly reiterated, and my mother was proud of our non-conformist lifestyle. Case in point, do you remember the Power Rangers? During this period, Power Rangers were the thing, the thing that you had to watch. My mother, not wanting us to be like everyone else, believed we should only watch the show if it was something that we really liked, not just because everyone else was watching it.

Homeschooling often receives a bad rap as producing awkward or badly socialized children. To me, this is an offensive lie that pisses me off (hence all the fighting about homeschooling in my early years).  While there are PLENTY of seemingly awkward people who were homeschooled at some point in their childhood, you cannot tell me that there were not seemingly awkward people at your public school. Some people are just a little bit outside of social norms, who cares? And making broad generalizations that incorrectly characterize the way that they were brought up, is not only rude, it’s ignorant.

Today, there are hundreds of studies regarding the socialization of homeschool students versus traditionally schooled students (look here for a great bibliography). One of my favorite studies, completed by Larry Shyers, Ph.D (Comparison of Social Adjustment Between Home and Traditionally Schooled Students) states that homeschooled children actually have significantly less behavioral problems which stems from their more varied socialization with adults and children of other ages, rather than just with the children of their same age.

RANT: (In response to my confession of being homeschooled as a child, countless people have said to me, "You're very normal for a homeschooler." They say this with the nicest of intentions but it is one of the rudest, most condescending things that people can say. As if they are the authority on childhood socialization and as if they have a RIGHT to patronizingly pass off on my life and behavior.)

I remember when I was preparing to attend community college, many people warned me that I would struggle with culture shock. They were full of bullshit. Not only did I not struggle with culture shock (either from my “sheltered” childhood or from my “lack of socialization”) but I actually thrived in a college-type environment having learned from an early age how to be self-motivated in my education. In short, I was well-prepared and very successful at college and I have the transcripts to prove it.

In fact, homeschooling offered diverse educational opportunities: gymnastics, scuba diving, sailing, historical reenactments, whale watching, horseback riding, soccer, golf, swimming and a variety of other activities were all a part of my education. My mother fiercely believes that experience, whether in or out of the classroom, is the basis for any curriculum; that education is a lifestyle, not a twelve-year period of schooling.

Feminism requires social activism; it requires independent and strong-minded women who recognize the importance of education and the value of individual experience. It demands that we think outside of the box and seek to remove ourselves from the boundaries of control, those placed upon us by the expectations of society and the machinations of the government. It requires women and men who aren’t afraid to speak up for themselves and the dictates of their conscious. In many ways, homeschooling taught me those ideals.

During those early years my homeschool group once participated in a space exploration program, it was basically a simulation of a space flight (mission control and astronaut) with each child being placed in a different role and conducting tasks associated with that team. During the month of preparation classes for the experience I remember one of the teachers commiserating to another, “These home school kids really don’t do well with instructions, do they?”

While she intended it as a criticism of the way we had been educated, despite the fact that I am a teacher myself, I consider it to be a compliment. No, I don’t always follow instructions well, most of the time because I think that those instructions are stupid. Or sexist. And that is a good thing. That’s what keeps us free from the bonds of authority, governmental control, and patriarchy.

Sir Ken Robinson in one of my favorite Ted Talks, discussing public education and how it could be improved.