Friday, August 31, 2012

Regaining the Fucks

I'm sure that, by now, our readers around the world have gotten an earful about U.S. Congressman Todd Aiken and his unbelievably medieval remarks about rape and biology. I've spent the past few days in a haze of disbelief and rage, including a memorable moment when I burst into tears over a stupid commentator on National Public Radio. I've been avoiding the news ever since, knowing that any mention of His Idiocy (or the idiots that believe him) will set me off again. I'm exhausted from caring to the point where, as Erin Gloria Ryan so eloquently put it, "So many more fucks need to be given, and I have exhausted my fuck supply. The fucks are on backorder." I just can't do it anymore. I can't take the overwhelming tide of misogynistic crap that American politicians somehow keep spewing.

In some ways, it's a bit of a wake-up call. Cis women of any race have never really had it easy during my lifetime- marital rape wasn't federally codified as a crime in the U.S. until I was eight, for example- but all the same, I was born with a lot more rights than my mother and grandmother were. It was never a question that I would be eligible to vote when I turned 18. Going on to university, and later a job, was not only an option for me, but also the preferable one. It never had to cross my mind that being raped could result in a forced marriage. Plenty of cis women in the U.S. and around the world can remember times when they had to fight for these rights- or still look forward to a day when they may have those rights respected. The fact that one fool's lack of basic biological and social knowledge can cause such an uproar in my home country ought to be a sign of hope. Elsewhere, beliefs like Aiken's have been legally accepted for decades and residents of those countries have been working their butts off to change that, with limited success.

At the same time, however, my natural optimism is silent. I guess that's largely because I had believed that, once rights are recognized, they won't be taken away. It's an incredibly naive and privileged perspective to carry, I realize, but I've always been the Scarlett O'Hara type anyway, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to counter it. Hell, I'm in a profession where optimism is an essential trait for survival. I've finally been shocked into (relative) silence by the shattering of that most beautiful illusion. As much as I thought I'd overcome the tendency to take hard-fought rights for granted, I'm learning I have been. What I'm experiencing right now is the abrupt and terrifying realization that yes. It can happen to me.

It can happen to me that I'll be a citizen of a country that will progressively strip away the rights that my foremothers fought so hard to gain.

It can happen to me that I'll live in a country where policymakers make important decisions about my body based on a complete lack of knowledge.

It can happen to me that visiting other, more feminist-friendly countries will mean visiting places where cis women are very much more privileged than I am.

It can happen to me that a potential representative of my country would (and did!) suggest that rape is just another method of contraception.

I can hear a lot of you readers laughing at my naive perspective, and a few others shaking your fists (wait, what? A White American feministmissed something? Never!), and a couple of others telling me to join the grown-up club already (in which case, keep your arrogance to yourselves). I can also hear a lot of our readers from around the world shaking their heads and sighing because you're all much more accustomed to the back-and-forth misogyny that takes rights away as readily as it grants them. I know. I've been living a pretty privileged perspective. It happens a lot to Americans.

With this realization in mind, I'd like to subvert the age-old American feminist tendency to believe that "we" have it right by calling on the rest of the world: how do you get your fucks back? In less cavalier language, how do you find the energy to carry on when you feel utterly overwhelmed by the challenges facing your movements? It's obvious to me that I- we- can't afford not to care, not with so much at stake, so the only answer is to keep on caring enough to do something. But how?

Go Girls (and Go Folk) the world over are a daily reminder that we're all moving, shaking, and changing the world with every step on a plane, every backpack zipped, every tijn spent. Somehow, wherever we're from and wherever we're going, we always manage to keep ourselves in motion. It's unbelievably inspiring. So as a movement, as a tour de force, let's brainstorm. How can we keep ourselves going against not logistical odds, but sociopolitical odds? How can we make and preserve lasting change?

How can we get our fucks back?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ask a Mormon Feminist: How Do You Feel About Women and the Priesthood?

Last week my friend Mark asked me this question on facebook:

Hi Emily! This is completely random, I know. But I saw your post and I wanted to get your perspective about women holding the priesthood. It's something I've considered but never felt conclusive about, one way or the other, though part of me certainly gravitates to the idea. I guess what I'd like to know the stance you've taken and why, so I can take a step closer towards understanding the issue as completely as I can myself.

The post he referred to was an article I linked,  which describes a moderate stance on the issue of Mormon women and priesthood: no, we don't need to be ordained in the Priesthood, most women in the article argue, but we can empower and strengthen women and families by returning to practices that were once common in the church. Surprising as it may be to most people, the early days of the LDS church (or early days of the restored gospel, as those in my faith would see it) saw women more proactively engaged in the priesthood. Women blessed one another and participated when their husbands blessed their children. So these recommendations have historical evidence to back them up, though the fact that the church once did something is probably not in and of itself a reason to do said thing.

For any readers who aren't LDS, here are a couple brief things you should know to help clarify this discussion: being ordained to the priesthood is available to (and expected of) every Mormon man who is 12 or older and who is living a "worthy" life - worthiness is determined  by obeying commandments that include having no sex outside marriage and not drinking alcohol. This policy plays a role in the lay clergy of the church, as it allows for a flexibility in leadership that is revolutionary.

When asked why women are not ordained to the priesthood, most LDS people you talk to will give you one of a few answers: Men have the priesthood while women have motherhood, they may say, or men need it because they'd slack off  and women do all the work if everyone had it, or even women don't need the priesthood because they're inherently more spiritual. The only accurate answers, mind you, are "God has asked us to fulfill these roles," and "We don't know why." But people love speculating, which is why you get all the drivel-presented-as-doctrine answers.

But I still haven't answered Mark's question - what is my perspective?

My perspective is a mostly-stable jumble of contradictions. When I was younger (I'm talking elementary through preteens) I was vehement in pushing for women to have the priesthood. I probably made my poor Bishop uncomfortable with my letters, and I tortured unsuspecting Sunday School teachers by instigating arguments between the boys and the other girls in class. Somehow, they never seemed to notice that I was the instigator. My perspective changed as a result of seeing the priesthood in a different light, and to this day I have some strong feelings about the way we, as members, discuss gender and the priesthood. 

For instance, few things bother me more at church than the kind of stupid speculation I described above. One time I was in a lesson taught by another woman in the ward, where she decided to address the question of why men had the priesthood and not women. On the one hand, I suppose it's laudable that she was willing to address an issue that we often ignore. But here's what happened: she brought this up, and I raised my hand and  explained that this issue had bothered me a lot when I was younger and that what had nearly destroyed my testimony were all the speculative "reasons" people gave and that it took learning that the speculation was unsubstantiated for me to feel okay with just not knowing the reason. And she thanked me for my thoughts, before offering her speculation on how brain chemistry explained the need for this difference in male and female roles. 

Not helpful. 

Guess what else isn't helpful? Saying things like, "It's separate but equal!" First off, God does not ask for husband and wife to be separate. Quite the opposite. Second - what educated American uses the phrase "separate but equal" as if it still carries positive connotations?

Here is what has been helpful to me: no longer thinking of Mormon men as "the priesthood," and therefore no longer viewing "the power of the priesthood" as male power. I view the office of priesthood as service and obligation. Yes, it is a privilege for any man to have access to such great power, but it's a privilege in the sense any gift from God is a privilege. And if a man ordained in the priesthood wants to be blessed through the priesthood, he cannot use his own access to that force. He must go to others who have that authority. When I view the priesthood in that light, my feelings alter significantly.

Now, when people take the hierarchy that exists within church leadership and try to apply it to families to argue that husbands should be in charge, that's a different matter. I see room for official language within the church (including language in the temple) to continue evolving, to the point that egalitarian Mormon marriages are not just the norm (as they currently are, based on my experience) - but also to the point that there can be no confusion among members about the fact that contemporary Mormon leaders have instructed us to have egalitarian marriages. Currently, there are some who still use concepts like "separate but equal" to justify marriages where the husband makes major decisions with only input from the wife. Still, I don't even see that kind of family as a large minority. It seems more and more rare.

In the long term, I do believe that women will be ordained to the priesthood. Maybe not during my mortal life, and maybe not before The Second Coming, but there's pretty solid evidence in the temple to support that theory, both in the language of the Endowment Ceremony, as well as in the fact that some women have access to priesthood authority in order to administer to other women within the temple. 

In the meantime, I wish everyone would stop stating speculation on this question as if it their speculation were doctrine, and I also wish men would think twice before saying that the church is democratic because "anyone who's worthy can hold the priesthood." I know plenty of women who are worthy but still not eligible to be ordained in the priesthood. I'm not asking to be ordained to the priesthood (though if I were offered the opportunity, I'd comply in a heartbeat) - I'm just asking for a little more sensitivity in the way we discuss it. 

Update: just as I was about to post this article, I encountered Joanna Brooks's recent post in response to people who have criticized her for bringing up this issue on TV. Joanna argues that Mormons are capable of providing much better answers than the knee jerk "women have babies and men have the priesthood" we hear all too often. With her thoughts in mind, I want to clarify that I absolutely welcome and encourage discussion on this topic. But like Joanna, I'm interested in thoughtful discussion, not empty statements that are meant to shut down the question. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Links, Links, Links

Author's note: I drafted this post on Monday, while I was on campus. However, I wasn't able to post it at the time - and it took the rest of the week to get internet at home. So I apologize for not adding more links (I really did mean to find more stuff on Chick-Fil-A) and for taking so long. Once I have a chance to play internet catch-up, I'll be back to a more consistent posting schedule.

Dear Readers,

Between moving to a new state, starting a PhD program, and teaching composition at a new university, I've gone a little MIA. Plus, I haven't had reliable internet for the last two weeks.

No worries, though, I am back, and I will be posting again with at least semi-regular commentary and links. In fact, if you're wondering why I chose to pull last year's post on The Glee Project out of the archives, TGP  will air its season finale tomorrow, and I intend to discuss how the producers' racial and gender preferences shaped this year's competition.

So, what has happened while I've been absent? A lot of interesting articles have shown up as part of the never-ending Mormon Moment. Within the Mormon intellectual community, a number of people have shared  a FAIR (name of the website) article that argues against viewing the LDS church structure as hierarchical. According to the author, Mormons do ourselves a real disservice when we argue that we have equal opportunities for men and women to serve as leaders in the church. Instead, the author recommends viewing the church as a cooperative paradigm with no position of service above any other. The beauty of the article is that she takes the time to admit and confront the fact that many LDS women are hurting because of the current way Mormons view leadership in the church. I don't agree with the entire article, but it's well worth a read.

In a more accessible setting, Joanna Brooks, author of Book of Mormon Girl, did an interview on The Daily Show, where she established the need for Mormons and non-Mormons alike to view Mormons as human.  According to Brooks, there's a terribly cycle in the US where memories of nineteenth-century oppression (the founder of the faith was martyred while he was defenseless in a prison cell, after all) lead Mormons to feel uncomfortable talking about their faith, which feeds into criticism of Mormons, which only leads to greater discomfort. Another compelling argument. I'd also recommend looking into her discussion of her decision to leave and then re-join the faith. As a Mormon feminist I've shared some of her concerns, simply because I know about the 1990's events that she lived through. But, as Brooks argues, I'd agree that times have changed, and there is a clearer place in the faith for those who are more liberal.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Joanna Brooks Extended Interview Pt. 1

Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Then, of course, there's been plenty going on with Chick-Fil-A, and we teased you last week by describing a terribly important link, only to not include it. Unfortunately, I'm just as curious as you as to what article Erica was linking.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Link of Note

In this week's edition of "In the News," we only have one link. That's right. One. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I'm rather drained from two trying weeks at work and can't dredge up the energy to continually traumatize myself with news of hatred and bigotry, but the rest of it has to do with the fact that I'm simply lazy.

So here's a link to a blogger's response to the Chick-Fil-A day-of-support yesterday. Since so many of our readers are Christians in the United States, I thought this article- which is written from what I perceive as being a non-hateful-towards-Christians standpoint- focused on points that might be particularly pertinent here. As probably the least dogmatic Catholic out there, I certainly appreciated the author's attempts to redirect Christian energies away from bigotry and more towards a compassionate and loving world.

My two cents, anyway.