Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In the News

Dearest Readers, this long-overdue post is a hodgepodge of links, which I haven't even bothered to proofread. Internet grammar hawks, read at your own risk.

Recently I wrote an article for Patheos about why feminism needs to be about men, as well as about women. One of my major concerns is that far too few conversations recognize the prevalence with which men are victims of sexual assault. When any female feminist tries to banish the topic of male victimhood from the feminist movement, that rejection and denial only adds to the cultural stigma which these survivors are already fighting to tear down. In a heart-breaking but very necessary project, 27 men share what they were told by perpetrators and/or those they confided in [trigger warning]. Far too many were told that "men can't be raped" or to "man up" and simply get over symptoms of PTSD. I've done enough research to verify that these responses are both common for and feared by male survivors of sexual assault.

If you have sensibilities anything like mine, you might not want to hang out at the beaches in Stockholm now that a judge has ruled public masturbation at the beach to be legal. Yes, you read that correctly. When a man was arrested for doing just that, the court ruled that it could not be considered sexual assault, since it was not directed at any one individual. Apparently the city of Stockholm did not feel it had enough negative connotations attached to its name already.

Next up, for the first time ever, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is live-broadcasting the Priesthood Session of General Conference on the internet and television. Some context: the Mormon bloggernacle (and all of facebook) has been alight recently with debates about female ordination and the role of Mormon women in a church whose hierarchy fills all of the highest position with (predominately white and affluent) men. Understand, please, that I'm stating a fact about the demographics in church leadership and not actually attempting to pass judgment on those demographics one way or another. Make of the facts what you will.

While female ordination has been an ongoing debate for years, the Ordain Women website and organization recently sparked new discussions by requesting tickets to the Priesthood Session of the Church's Semi-Annual General Conference. General Conference runs over the course of two weekends and includes four 2-hour sessions for general audiences, plus a 1-hour session for either adult women or teenage women depending on whether it's Fall of Spring. The conferences take place in Salt Lake City in the Conference Center but are broadcast live all over the world. Up until now, only the Priesthood session was not broadcast live on the internet and TV. Why not? I can't really say - maybe to encourage men to watch it together at church, or perhaps to make sure women didn't feel obligated to watch the session.

Whatever the reason for making the session more restrictive than others, OW's plan of showing up at the conference center unleashed enough harsh responses on the internet that I'll admit I'm trying to forget which of my friends proudly wrote (or shared another's writing) about feeling angry at or hating all the feminists who wanted to be ordained. Let's just say that I've officially lost all patience for anyone who dismisses another's desire for ordination. Disagree with their methods all you want, but don't you dare assume their desire for greater power to serve the Lord is inherently wrong. Granted, some of the tension happened within Mormon feminism, much of it in response to Patheos articles written by Margaret Young. Young has written a lovely follow-up post with ideas on how we can all be more inclusive.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

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

I published this post last year, but it seems like a good time to revive it, what with all the recent buzz about the question of whether Mormon women should be ordained and whether it's a good idea for Mormon feminists to demonstrate at the upcoming Priesthood Session of General Conference (a semi-annual broadcast of advice from church leaders).

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 priesthoodno, 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. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Anxious Mormon Singles

Graduating Single: A Support Group

I was a sophomore at Brigham Young University when I saw the sign, advertising a support group for students who were worried about graduating single. Inwardly I chuckled and thought about the non-LDS friends I’d attended high school with on the liberal New Hampshire Seacoast, who had grown tense and silent when someone mentioned that a fellow class-mate had recently gotten engaged. Only when someone added, “Don’t worry – they’re waiting till after they both finish college,” did the car full of friends relax. “Good girl,” someone added. “The last thing a college student needs is marriage.”
            Meanwhile, by the start of my sophomore year of college, two of my former roommates were already married. At the religious BYU, marriage was considered a top priority for students. To a few, marriage was the most urgent goal in a student’s life, more urgent even than academics or finances. This goal was so urgent that the church split the student body into congregations based on our marital status. Instead of attending congregations with adults from all walks of life, we singles attended church only with each other. Our leaders and lay clergy were middle-aged marrieds from local “normal” congregations (also called wards), but the congregations themselves were filled with nothing but singles between the ages of 18 and 29.
            At church, local clergy warned us of the evils of postponing marriage and family. If we waited, we were warned, we’d grow complacent with a single lifestyle. We’d grow selfish and self-centered and find it even more difficult to get married down the road, locked into our own idiosyncrasies and unwilling to adjust to a spouse or welcome children into our lives. And when all the pressure brought us to tears, we were encouraged: don’t lose hope, you’ll find someone, 21 is still young, so you have plenty of time.
            In this marriage-hungry culture, I watched many friends find the love of their life and settle in together to build a life together. I also watched friends go on a first date in March and get married in July, with no idea how their new spouse would behave in the middle of winter. I watched roommates get engaged before discussing something as basic as how their new fiancĂ© budgeted money. And in a few cases I watched friends get divorced within the year.
            So when the above TED Talk that discourages 20-somethings from postponing adulthood showed up in my facebook newsfeed, I wanted to throw my hands in the air and shout, “That’s not the problem.” In the video, Meg Jay, a therapist, describes the nonchalance that she’s witnessed many 20-somethings bring to the early part of their adulthood. “20 is the new 30,” one former client would say, to justify stalling her career and dating men she had no intention of partnering with in the long term. So in this TED Talk, Meg Jay calls on 20-somethings to stop passing time and start building the stable, long-term lifestyle they’ll find satisfying in their 30’s.
            At first the video didn’t seem applicable to Mormon single culture in the way it was perhaps applicable to mainstream single culture. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Meg Jay’s observations apply to Mormon 20-somethings as much as they apply to other 20-somethings – just in very different ways:

  1. Isolation
One of the greatest concerns Jay expresses in the video is that by clumping together with other single 20-somethings, millenials will miss out on opportunities to network and further their career. According to her, major life changes are facilitated by friends-of-friends and diverse networks, so single 20-somethings will lose opportunities to grow and change by only spending time with each other.

And yet, for LDS 20-somethings, congregations are arranged with the express purpose of clumping singles in that age-range together, in the hopes they’ll pair off, marry, and then enter the local “family ward” in couples. Sure, LDS singles have the right and option to attend a local ward, but the family congregations are often unsure how to fit singles into their family-centric framework. When I moved to Georgia and called the family ward I wanted to attend, the clergy encouraged me to attend the student congregation instead.

In other cases, I’ve heard married friends fret about the singles in their family congregation. “I just feel so bad for them,” one friend said. “They don’t have anyone to date in our ward.” It’s not hard for singles to pick up on this discomfort, so many young professionals return to congregations filled with starry-eyed undergrads, while others simply stop attending church meetings. But even for those who contentedly attend singles congregations while waiting to marry, it isn’t helpful to spend so much time away from families and the elderly and small, squealing children.

  1. Postponed Adulthood
For Jay, postponed adulthood is the crux of the problem. She meets with 20-somethings who don’t feel a need to settle down and take on adult responsibilities like marriage, children, and a career. But for LDS singles, adulthood becomes postponed on a psychological level. To our leaders, we’re not really adults because we’re not married. At 27, I have several years of professional experience in my field. I have taught college courses (and even graduate courses) for four different universities and hold an MFA. But LDS adult congregations are much more welcoming of my 20-year-old, newly-wed, former students.

To say that this attitude has damaging psychological repercussions for LDS singles is a drastic understatement. From the surface, it can be hard to see how much this attitude hurts us, because we usually hide our hurt. We know that the people encouraging us to marry mean well. We know that when we meet a young couple and ask, “So how did you meet,” they’re not trying to insult us by offering dating advice as part of their story. We know they’re trying to help. But this attitude that single adults belong in temporary, transitional religious communities suggests that a single’s current life is temporary and transitional, that our lives will only begin when we get married.

It didn't occur to me how many LDS singles were secretly waiting for their lives to begin until this summer when a mid-20’s friend, frustrated by yet another negative dating experience, said that she was sick of failed relationships. “I’m ready for my story to begin,” she said. And it was only then that I realized that on some deep, hidden level, I too was waiting for my story to begin. Not because I was stalling like Jay’s clients, but because I’d learned to view my current life as a transition. And I realized that if I maintained that attitude, then no matter what professional, academic, or creative successes I accrued, somewhere deep down I would still feel that my story had not even begun.

  1. Rushing to Marry and Missed Opportunities
In terms of marriage, Jay’s greatest concern seems to be that single 20-somethings who view this decade as a time to party will panic at 30, when all their friends get married, and settle for an unhappy marriage with whoever is nearby. And it’s this area of her advice where I don’t think she fully understands the problem that leads to these rushed, settle-for-it marriages. For Jay, the solution is to think about marriage earlier. But anyone who’s spent time in marriage-hungry Provo, Utah knows that a person can turn desperate and rush into marriage at any age.

So maybe the problem is more complex. Maybe it comes from thinking that marriage must happen on a deadline, or that any marriage is better than singlehood. I can’t say what that experience is like for my non-LDS contemporaries, but among single LDS women my age, I sometimes hear shocking despair about the future. By 25, 26, 27, many feel like spinsters. We’re often spoken of by married friends and family with pity, or accused of being too picky. When I told a married friend that I was tired of constantly giving chances to men I wasn’t actually into, her response was a worried, “But you still have to say ‘yes’ to a first date.” When this friend married at 23, she was surrounded by single Mormons her age, and a first date was often the way to spend time alone with a man and get to know him a little better.

      3.5.  Missed Opportunities

But for a 27-year-old woman living outside the Mormon singles hub, dating is a different scene altogether. In most parts of the world we outnumber the single Mormon men our age, so for those of us who are determined to marry in our faith the prospects can feel bleak. When I first visited the LDS student congregation at the university where I’m working on a PhD, the single female grad students listened attentively while younger friends described dating dilemmas. “We hear about the dating world,” one told me with a smile, “but we’re not part of it. That’s kind of fun, but also – you know.”

When I returned to the congregation after enrolling in the PhD program, I heard other female grad students in the congregation express worry that by attending grad school they’d chosen a career over a family. But it was only when I read a post by a single doctoral student at BYU who was tired of being berated by dates for attending grad school, that I realized I’d never once heard a Mormon man express the fear that in attending grad school he’d miss out on opportunities to marry. Even then, I couldn't really articulate the problem until I read an article by a female divorcee who was tired of constantly being reminded to “search for her eternal companion.” For Mormons, the person we marry is meant to be someone we spend all of eternity with. So it’s not a decision to be made lightly. And yet, after years of being told to always be on the lookout for that eternal relationship, it can reach a point where on some deep, subconscious level we’re afraid that we’ll miss our one chance at love if we so much as blink.

And for me, that worry manifested itself as a fear that if I enjoyed my life as a single, I’d never find the will to settle down when I eventually did meet the right person. That I’d become the cautionary bogeywoman of singles congregations, a woman who enjoyed traveling and spending her time on hobbies and friends, rather than putting her energy into the lasting family relationships that would bring her satisfaction in old age and joy in the next life. When low Georgia rent allowed me to move into a 3-bed, 3-bath townhouse and split it with just one roommate, I felt a little guilty about having so much space. When I made plans to travel during vacations to visit friends and family, I wondered if I was missing out on dating opportunities by not spending enough time in one place. I felt all this in the back of my mind, but it still impacted me. It still left me holding back, on some level, while outwardly living my life.

  1. Solutions
For Jay, the solution is to stop treating the 20’s like throwaway years. But for most LDS singles, we’ve never seen our 20’s as a responsibility-free time to party. So for LDS singles, maybe the solution is to stop defining ourselves – and allowing others to define us – by our marital status. And to stop letting well-meaning leaders corral us into social isolation. If we want to attend a family ward, we can set our foot down and politely tell the local clergy, “Church policy allows me to choose between a singles ward and a family ward, and I’m choosing the family ward.” And if we do attend a singles ward, we can turn down ward activities that involve Frisbees and Slip-N-Slides if we so desire and plan activities that involve serving the community and learning skills we’re interested in gaining.

We can say, “No, thank you,” when married friends offer unsolicited romantic advice, or we can simply say, “That hasn't been my experience, but I’m glad it worked for you, personally.” We can make friends with other people from all walks of life and simply share our experiences with them and listen to theirs. If they have kids and a spouse and we don’t, that’s just one area of difference to learn about. And we can unapologetically live and enjoy the life we’re living. Not because we’re partying or shirking responsibility, but because we’re each growing in our unique way.

Note: when it comes to romance, I'm not currently accepting any unsolicited advice. But feel free to comment with your own thoughts and experiences.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Racial Bias and the Lenses We Use to Interpret Zimmerman's Trial

I was in Georgia when I first heard the story of Trayvon Martin's death, though a few days earlier I'd glimpsed the headline on a newspaper that had been delivered to my hotel room in St Louis. After a week on the road, traveling first to St Louis for an academic conference and then to Georgia to visit a campus where I'd been accepted into a PhD program, I wasn't paying much attention to the news.

So my first real exposure to the story involved seeing African American student protesters in GA, who were holding up signs that called for justice. This was all before Zimmerman had even been arrested, a factor that horrified a national audience who knew all of the incriminating details (such as Zimmerman being told by a 911 dispatcher not to pursue the young man in the hoody) without knowing about the fist fight that would eventually clear Zimmerman's name in court, if not in the public eye.

At the time, I couldn't have imagined how polarizing this case would become in national discourse. Even after hearing details about Zimmerman's injuries and the fist fight that he was using as his justification for shooting and killing Trayvon, it seemed clear that there was enough evidence to at least pursue a criminal trial. Whether Zimmerman was ultimately determined guilty or not guilty in court, the situation merited that day in court. And the local law enforcement's delay in arresting and charging him disturbed me because it was hard not to interpret that oversight through the lens of our nation's historical distrust of black men and disregard for their lives.

It takes little research to uncover that history, a history not nearly so far in the past as most white Americans like to think. And it doesn't take much observation to note the bias with which so many friends and acquaintances treat the phrase "big black guy" as a redundant description of African American and black men. And so what has disturbed me about this situation, more than the outcome of this one individual trial, are the dismissive remarks I've heard others make, where some have even claimed that Zimmerman was only tried because he was not black.

Such remarks reflect great ignorance about American history, including recent history and the role that even subtle racial bias plays in the way Americans make decisions that affect other people. Decisions ranging from which job applicant to hire, to which contestant on The Voice to vote for, to how much pain killer a patient will need. And we're often unaware of the role these biases play, because the bias is only one factor in how we interpret a situation. So it's easy to focus on the other factors in the situation and never recognize that we'd have preferred a different job applicant if only she had lighter skin.

As a white American, I understand that it can feel exhausting to be reminded of our racial privilege and to be frequently asked to recognize that privilege and change our actions accordingly. I recall how I felt the first time a black friend held white Americans as a group responsible for what had been done to her ancestors - we were both ten years old when we had that conversation, and it was not the most eloquent discussion to ever take place. I recall replying, "I know, and it's terrible," while inwardly feeling a bit frustrated by being blamed for things I had not contributed to as a ten-year-old child.

But I also recall the conversation my entire fourth grade class had when that friend was called the N-word by a stranger at a gas station in our rural New England town. And I recall hearing my father and his mother refer to black people as "darkies" or even by the N-word on one occasion. And when I came to college and a friend from North Carolina told me that as individuals black people could be wonderful but that "when they're in large groups they turn violent," another friend from South Carolina insisted that I simply didn't understand his remarks because I wasn't from the South. I can attest that southern states do not have a monopoly on racism or on the ability to recognize it.

And my perspective was necessarily expanded when for three of my years in college I lived with a black roommate, who first of all insisted that I add "black" back into my vocabulary, since not all black people are American and not all black Americans identify as African American. And I heard stories from her about the struggles her mother went through to get medical treatment for teenage sons whom inner city doctors assumed to be high and not ill. And I heard a very complicated take on Rudy Giuliani's efforts to decrease crime in NYC, efforts that were largely effective but at the cost of harassing innocent black men and even turning a blind eye in cases where police officers killed innocent black men.

And when I dated a black man while living in Utah, I saw the looks strangers sometimes gave us when we were in public. And one night when I had stayed on campus late and he jogged to campus to walk me home so I wouldn't be in any danger, I watched as a security guard ignored the other students who were leaving campus along with us and focused on me and the man I was dating. As we held hands and laughed together, the security guard trailed us for awhile before approaching to ask, "Everything okay?" Before that incident, this man had expressed fear of being falsely accused of assaulting a white woman, and I had rolled my eyes because I didn't understand the vulnerable position in which the color of his skin left him.

So if you're a white person who's tempted to think that we're living in a post-racial America or that racism would fade away all together if black people simply forgot about events that happened to their parents and grandparents, that might just be because you're enjoying the privilege of not being followed across a crowded parking lot simply because you have darker skin than the woman you're walking home late at night. In other words, it might be the racial privilege you're denying which is preventing you from seeing that privilege in the first place.

In the following video, Obama gives what I think is a fair but helpful response to the national dialogue surrounding this trial. What's of most interest to me is the first ten minutes or so when he explains the type of heightened scrutiny that most black American and African American men experience regularly and which white people tend to simply overlook.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Colorado Fires and Body Memories: What is Trauma?

This post by our very own Erica also appeared in Go Girl Magazine.

Body Memories: What is Trauma?
Experiencing a fire can cause trauma. But what can help? Image from
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s somatic memory. It’s what makes your stomach ache, your throat close off, and your muscles clench when you remember something bad. It’s what makes you feel awful when you encounter stimuli that remind you of that bad thing. Maybe you remember a rape. Maybe you remember a pickpocketing. Maybe you remember being laughed at. Whatever the cause, it feels awful because your memory — your past – is impacting your present in an uncontrollable way.
Here’s a recent example:
Last year, running from the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado, I remember spending days wandering around in a daze, exhausted but unrefreshed by sleep, constantly fighting a cringing, sickly feeling in my stomach. It took several months before I felt normal again. I thought I’d finally recovered when the sight of campfire smoke no longer sent me into a spiral of fear. Then the Black Forest Fire broke out just last week, and the same sleeplessness and nausea returned. Even though I was less attached to possessions this time around — detachment as coping, anyone? — I was still a walking bundle of nerves.
Trauma happens all the time, whether through violent acts or surprise disasters from nature. Whilepost-traumatic stress disorder has very specific diagnostic criteria, “trauma” refers to a much broader range of psychosomatic symptoms that can show up in the aftermath of an unusually stressful or threatening event. Here are a few:
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Unusual physiological sensations, like jangling nerves or nausea
  • Constant worry
  • Hyper-awareness of your surroundings
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping, including nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Numbing out, including using self-harm or substances
  • Avoiding anything or anyone that might trigger a memory
Anxiety is a common symptom of trauma. Image from

Why are somatic memory and trauma showing up in a column on sexual politics around the world? Because this is what happens when people are harmed. This is how we, as humans, remember acts of violence and situations of terror. Even when our brains seem to have rationalized themselves into calmness, our bodies continue to carry the experiences forward. Thus, when we are reminded of the original situation — by a plume of smoke, a predatory glance, etc. — we are sent back into the spirals of fear that created these symptoms in the first place.
These symptoms can keep us safe, sometimes, but they can also interfere with our ability to be bold explorers of our worlds. So what can we do to cope? Here are some ideas:
  • Engage with counseling, especially EMDR
  • Use physically active techniques, in keeping with your level of ability, to help your body work through its symptoms
  • Talk to other survivors, knowing that you each have your own experiences
  • Accept your symptoms as being a natural part of the healing process
  • Find a trauma-sensitive yoga or meditation class to re-connect with your body
  • Write or draw a journal of your experiences
  • Take time to focus on yourself and your own needs
Healing from trauma takes a lot of time and patience. It’s unpleasant and doesn’t happen overnight.But when you can recognize it, and nurture yourself in its aftermath, you can empower yourself to take on the world once again.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Feminist Taylor Swift, Fragile Men, Porn Wars and More: Links My Friends Send Me.

While many people complain about the political drivel that shows up on facebook, I've somehow been gifted with friends who share any number of interesting links, so this is a new column, links my friends send me. Like all columns that we currently publish, this one will show up sporadically and when you least expect it.

First up, a fascinating article on the academic wars surrounding the study of pornography. A new academic journal will study pornography in depth and with the nuance that the material probably merits, but the journal's 100% pro-pornography board has others in the academic community skeptical about its  ability to interpret data without bias. If you've been following the blog for awhile, you might recall that Erica and I tend to disagree on this subject.

New research about female desire suggests a lot of our perceptions of gender and sexuality are inaccurate, perhaps even in terms of how women perceive their own sexual desire. That factor alone suggests we need to have a more nuanced discussion on topics like pornography, but that discussion needs to be honest about negative impacts too.

In a similar vein, you can also read about a debate surrounding "naked protests" in the Middle East, though in this context the nakedness in question is women who protest topless. Even Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy supports nudity in protests when used to subvert a culture that restricts women by restricting how they dress.

Next, an article that discusses the phenomenon of men dying younger on average than women do, a phenomenon that applies throughout all stages of life, including childhood.

It's also worth reading this article about obesity, which explores research that breaks down the myth that obesity is merely the product of poor self control. In a nutshell, the author points to how complicated weight loss turns out to be in reality and to surprisingly high increases in obesity rates among animals, including closely-monitored lab animals, and suggests that something more complex is happening on a chemical level.

And lastly, I'm sure most of you have already seen the Taylor Swift Feminist memes. If you haven't yet, do yourself a favor because they're pretty delightful.

Friday, June 14, 2013

You Don't Get to Tell Me How to Forgive an Abuser

Emily's Note: The topic of abuse and forgiveness is a sensitive one for me, and it's a topic that recently arose in my personal life when a member of my extended family attempted to publicly shame me (and others in my family) for not maintaining contact with someone who abused us in the past. When I privately asked that individual not to make such statements, their response was that I was obligated as a Christian to forgive. And so, with this topic once again at the forefront of my mind, I decided it was time to explain why such advice is in fact damaging to victims and survivors.

For a victim or survivor of abuse, one of the most damaging things a person can say is, "You have to forgive your abuser."

If you're religious (as I am), my statement might sound sacrilegious. Even if you're not religious, you may want to encourage a survivor to forgive those who hurt them so that they can move on with their life and let go of that pain. And I don't disagree with you that letting go of that anger is one essential part of the healing process. But I'm not concerned with the message you're trying to share - I'm concerned about the way you're sharing it and the unintended consequences your statement may carry.

1 - Telling someone to forgive assumes that they are doing something wrong, and a survivor of abuse has been hearing that message for years.

For the context of what I'm going to discuss here, suffice it to say that I grew up in a home with an abusive father, and some (but not all) of his siblings reinforced the abuse by accusing me of causing it. I once came home to find one of his siblings in the kitchen, waiting for me, in order to lecture me on being a better daughter. When I went to the police in order to get a restraining order so that my family and I would be safe from him, his mother and some of his siblings accused me of lying, despite those individuals possessing knowledge of similar abuse which he perpetrated against others when he was younger. To put it lightly, my relationship with those particular family members has been strained ever since.

Research and anecdotal evidence suggest my experience is not at all unusual. I've heard first-hand and second-hand accounts of mothers who accused children of lying when they came forward about abuse or who even accused preteen daughters of seducing their stepfather after he sexually assaulted them. And I've read studies where alarmingly high percentages of survivors reported that the initial adults they   confided in blamed them. I've posted about victim-blaming before, but I cannot over emphasize the damage that a culture of victim-blaming enacts on those who are abused. Victim-blaming leads to victims feeling so much shame that they hide what is happening, and it helps abusers evade prosecution. As a result, the abuser is likely to continue abusing.

2 -  Telling someone to forgive faster interferes with their healing process.

Most survivors spend years sorting through their experience. For many survivors, even reaching a point where they can openly express anger toward those who hurt them is in fact a step in their recovery. They may have spent years convincing themselves that what an abuser did was okay, or even pretending it never happened. Acknowledging anger is essential in working through the repercussions of abuse. And acknowledging the abuser is necessary to eventually forgive. After all, how can you forgive someone if you never come to terms with the fact that they did, in fact, hurt you?

3 - Forgiveness is a process that is different for everyone.

Perhaps you were abused, and you forgave that person by restoring a close relationship. Perhaps you never stopped loving that person or considering them your father, your mother, your brother or sister. Perhaps you forgave them and let them back into your life, after they had stopped abusing you.

But it doesn't work that way for all of us. For some of us, no longer praying for an abuser to die in their sleep is forgiveness.

For many survivors, it is unsafe to maintain any sort of contact with an abuser. And I don't just mean physical safety - yes, that's a major concern. But if you think that's the only issue at stake, you won't understand when another survivor refuses to even be in the same room with their former abuser. For some of us, hearing an abuser's voice or seeing a photo of them alone is enough to give us nightmares for two weeks straight. Enough to trigger old fears and leave us vulnerable in ways to hurt our efforts to simply live our life.

4 - Forgiving does not require staying, and yet many victims convince themselves that it does.

For those victims, being told that they have to forgive just reinforces the old belief that they are obligated to accept the abuse, never fight back, and not try to leave. A victim who holds that belief is likely to feel guilty for resenting the abuse. And even if a survivor overcame that belief in order to leave, hearing you tell them that they have to forgive is likely to dredge up the shame they felt when they were abused.

Again, not helpful in their recovery process.

5 - It's simply not your place to say, and you may be saying it for the wrong reasons.

Forgiveness is a complicated process, and no other person has the right to look at a victim of abuse and assume that their approach to forgiveness is wrong. You may be telling your friend to forgive because you're worried about how their anger seems to eat them up, but you simply can't know enough about their situation to know that for a fact.

If you've given this advice to someone, you may also need to reevaluate your motives. You may have had nothing but good intentions, but you also may have been looking for a way to stop them from sharing an experience you were uncomfortable hearing. Perhaps you have been abused yourself, and hearing their experiences leaves you feeling raw about your own pain.

Perhaps you care about the abuser so much that you're afraid to admit the severity of what they did, so you're treating it like something minor enough that it could be forgiven quickly. Or perhaps you witnessed abuse and you feel guilty that you didn't protect the survivor. If any of these motives ring true for you, please do whatever it takes to work through it. Confide in friends, write in a journal, go to a counselor, pick up a hobby that helps channel that energy.

But please, don't try to tell other survivors how to forgive. Because it's probably hurting you as much as it's hurting them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

That Kind of Girl (from the archives)

I originally published this post more than three years ago, in response to a conversation I'd had with a roommate and some friends. When this topic came up again in recent conversation, I decided to revisit my post from the time. As is usually the case for a writer, I found myself shuddering over the awkward phrasing and wondering how I could call myself a writing teacher back then. But alas, in the name of authenticity I have changed nothing from the original post. 

The other night, some friends accused me of something I found so insulting that I instantly cried, "I am NOT that kind of a girl!" What had they accused me of? Cooking dinner for a man.

They were both shocked by how defensive I was on the issue, and as I tried to explain why that was a sensitive topic for me, and why I am uncomfortable with cooking dinner for men, they became even more confused. In the end, they criticized me for what they saw as inconsistent behavior, and they insisted that if I was ok with my roommate's brother coming over and fixing our kitchen sink, I was a hypocrite for refusing to cook dinner for a man.

And I, for my part, am still confused by their confusion. It's not like I'm anti cooking with a man on a date, or cooking for family and friends. I just refuse to prepare a meal, by myself, for a man I am on a casual date with, and I'm cautious about doing so with a boyfriend too. And I get really upset when people think I have done that very thing. A few years ago, I invited a guy I'd been on several dates with over to my apartment. I had baked bread earlier in the day, and I offered him some fresh bread and homemade jam. He later bragged to a mutual friend that I had baked bread for him, and she immediately corrected him. "That's my friend you're talking about," she said. She explained that I bake bread all the time and had probably just offered him some of the bread I'd already baked. "She is not that kind of a girl," my friend continued, "and don't you ever say that again." He promised her that if he asked me to bake some bread for him I'd do it in a heart beat. Needless to say, I didn't respond well when he asked.

Why am I so loathe to cooking food specifically for a man on a casual date? Well, I can't really explain it rationally. For some reason I just shudder at the thought of doing so. I picture a man sitting expectantly at the table, waiting for me to bring the food to him, a smug, self-satisfied look on his face. It doesn't help that my father usually did that when I was young, even though my mother worked (and he did not), or that there are a lot of men in my extended family who take the attitude that cooking and cleaning is a woman's job, even if both he and his wife are working equal hours outside the home.

And contrary to what my friends from the other night insisted my aversion to cooking for men must mean, it's not that I'm against people who are in a relationship or who are going on dates doing nice things for each other. I appreciate it when a man opens a door for me, and I love sharing the food that I cook or bake with other people, romantic interests included. If I'm in a relationship and I bake bread, I'll specifically bring some to the guy I'm dating. I'll leave nice notes for him to find, and do other little, spontaneous things. I'll unlock his car door after he's unlocked the passenger door and opened it for me. I'll grab extra napkins for him while we're grabbing food. I'll wear my hair a way I know he likes it, and humor him by playing board games or watching movies I'm not terribly fond of. Honestly, roommates who've seen me in a relationship have always been shocked by how often I'll bake something to share with a boyfriend.

So, maybe the issue here isn't that I'm unusually prickly about cooking for a man. Maybe I'm just prickly about the phrase "cook for him." Maybe it brings up images and emotions that upset me so much that even when I talk with other women who are a lot less likely to cook food with the intention of offering some to a boyfriend I end up sounding more anti it? And I become much more comfortable with the idea of cooking for a man if he first cooks for me. I got very upset when one man interpreted my invitation to a group date where we would all prepare dinner together as me offering to cook dinner for him (your words, Carl, not mine!) But when he later cooked breakfast for me, I felt much more comfortable the next time he thought I was "cooking dinner for him."

But what's really crazy about that last example, is that his idea of me cooking dinner for him was me buying the ingredients, and then him making it along with me. Which brings us back to language - am I against going through the physical act of cooking dinner for a man, or am I against some sort of cultural association I have with that language?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Murdering John Walks Free, Mothers and Daughters Sharing a Husband, SLC Pride Parade, and More: Links of Note

It's no secret that Erica, Rachel, and I have been a tad absentee recently, due to our work (and in my case, grad school) obligations, so instead of trying to catch up I'll just cover a few recent things.

First off, in our distraction we haven't been checking the notanotherwave email account as frequently as we used to. Several months back, someone contacted us in response to a post about attachment parenting and asked if we'd be interested in their graphic about helicopter parents in the workplace. Not the most obvious fit on NAW, but I figured we'd give it a shout out, as readers might find it interesting, and since she was gracious about my delayed response.

Next, this article about a Texas man who got away with murdering an escort has been making the rounds on facebook. Long story short, he hired an escort through craigslist and paid her $150 in advance. When she didn't have sex with him as he'd expected and tried to leave, he shot her in the neck, paralyzing her and causing her death seven months later. His attorneys argued that the victim was stealing from this man and that he therefore had the legal right to shoot and kill her. The jury somehow agreed, despite the fact that her "theft" was in refusing to follow through with prostitution, which is itself a crime. I don't even have words for how disgusting it is that this man was found "not guilty" and that he isn't at least being charged with soliciting a prostitute. The irony is that if he'd pulled a gun on her and she'd shot him in self-defense, she'd probably be serving life in prison.

From a few weeks back, Twisty of the radical feminist blog, I Blame the Patriarchy, recently posted her thoughts on how rape is portrayed on tv and whether those portrayals are inherently misogynistic.

Next, an article on an unusual and rare marital practice from a remote region of Bangladesh that a friend of mine aptly summed up as "both heartbreaking and fascinating." The title of this Observer article is "'My Mother and I are Married to the Same Man': Matrilineal Marriage in Bangladesh," and the details are worth reading in full, so I'll let that title act as the basic summary I usually give along with a link.

In news that I find exciting, the group Mormons Building Bridges marched in a Salt Lake City pride parade this past Sunday. I knew about the parade in advance and was sad I couldn't make it, as I'm very supportive of the work MBB has been doing. Last year they marched in the pride parade, and this year they built on that work with the theme "Family Reunion," to encourage other Mormons to fully accept and love their lgbtq friends and family. 

And lastly, on a fun note, I'll confess that I follow The Voice. The Voice sometimes infuriates me, mostly in their habit of starting off with about half of their contestants being people of color, only to systematically eliminate the majority of contestants who are not white in the battle rounds. (Don't believe me? Watch the battles where one contestant is white and the other isn't. In all but one, the white  performer was declared the winner). Anyway, despite all that, I've been impressed by Michelle Chamuel, one of the top artists in the current Top 5. Chamuel is talented, confident and charismatic onstage, and intelligent, confident, and gracious off-stage. In the following interview she discusses her wardrobe and makeup decisions in a way that sheds light on the creative process while also stressing her confidence in maintaining an appearance that feels organic and comfortable to her:

I'm pretty sure I've got a girl-crush on Michelle Chamuel. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Croods: Surprisingly and Refreshingly Feminist-Friendly (Guest Post)

This review is a guest post by Bailie.

The Croods is DreamWorks Animation’s latest film, released March 22, 2013. It follows the story of cavegirl Eep and her family, the Croods, who find themselves without a home and wandering through new and colourful lands while on the run from geological events that promise the end of their world. The film is charming on multiple levels, and adults and children alike will really enjoy this film’s quirky humor, family values, and stunning visuals. However, what is really interesting about this movie are its feminist messages.

Brave (Disney-Pixar), another cgi kid-flick with a female protagonist, got a great deal of media attention for its feminist messages, both positive and negative. Its decision to have a Princess that didn’t have a romantic interest was the one that garnered the most attention, but it also stood out against other Disney films by having the mother play a large part. The feminist messages for Brave are very predictable. She’s tough, she’s capable, she must battle the patriarchy and prove herself worthy! Now, she spends most the film being a real tomboy, rebelling against femininity, but in the end can see that her mother, even with her embrace of all things girly, is still a force to be reckoned with. This is actually quite good, as many people trying to appeal to feminists often force the character away from ‘girly’ things, essentially turning the characters into men, or belittling the ones who are happily performing their traditional gender roles. In this respect, Brave does very well, but it falls behind on the male characters. They’re really only there to provide conflict and humor.

Now The Croods is deceptively similar to Brave. It’s about a willful teen girl who wants more from life than her parents offer her, and the end moral of the story is to love, look after, and respect your family. Comparing the two, it looks like Merida has a lot on Eep when it comes to pro-feminist messages. Eep spends a good portion of the film fawning over a guy, while Merida don’t need no man -snap snap-. Merida hates having to wear the latest fashions; Eep screams in delight at the discovery of shoes. But while Brave shoves its messages down your throat, The Croods is more subtle.

Eep is tough as nails. She’s from a family of cavemen, it’s in the genes. But even considering that, she’s tougher than usual. She’s capable, solid, and generally reliable, unless her curiosity for the world around her overpowers her. Her Dad is big tough guy who uses his considerable strength to literally carry his family, protecting them with everything he’s got, but while he’s got the claim on being biggest and baddest, he bows to his wife. But she’s not the type to browbeat or nag, she respects and supports him as he does her, and their relationship is one of give and take, and equality. Gran and baby Sandy hold their own as well as the rest of the family, and it’s never assumed they are incapable of anything. The only other male in the family, Thunk, isn’t pushed to the sidelines - he’s right up front with the rest of the gang, and even though he comes off as slightly weaker, with more nervousness and less brains than his sister, it’s not really a downplay of his character, or a boosting of hers; rather, he is an example of what Eep would be like if she had taken their father’s messages of doom and destruction to heart. Thunk is not an idiot, he’s just very trusting, and throughout the film he loses a lot of his timidness entirely by his own efforts.

The biggest test for this film was the introduction of Guy, a teen male from outside the family who has evolved a bit more than the Croods. Eep and Guy’s interactions are beautifully thought out, and refreshing. So often in films we see the same formula; Mr Tough and Dumb falls for Ms Smart and Pretty, or Ms Gorgeous Idiot falls for Mr Weak but Brainy. We oh so often see the beautiful women fall in love with the unattractive man, but the opposite is very rare. And if we do, then it’s either played for a laugh, or she goes through some sort of amazing makeover where she’s suddenly super attractive. The Croods is different because Eek is an incredibly physically tough lady who does not possess generically ‘pretty’ features, with her beefy arms, non-existent forehead, and frizzy hair, and she falls in love and actively pursues a boy who is generically attractive, and super smart to boot. Her methods of getting his attention are played for laughs, but not her attraction, and more importantly, neither is his returned attraction. The best part is that neither of them change. Eep doesn’t get a makeover, and Guy doesn’t become manly and muscular. They love each other because of who they are, no makeover montage necessary.

The genius of this movie in regards to its feminist messages comes down to this: Eep is not a "strong female character." She’s just a good protagonist. If you can swap the genders of the main characters and not have anything taken away from the story and love everyone just as much, then you’ve got a winner. Eep just happens to be female, and unlike in Brave, it’s never even thought of or brought up as a flaw. She’s not allowed to hunt for while, not because she’s a girl, but because she’s grounded, which is a huge thing, because it implies that it’s something that she enjoys, and she’s not thought of as weird or wrong for that enjoyment. But neither is she weird for being flirty and giggly. She also eats with a ferocious gusto, very unlike Guy, who nibbles daintily at his food, and in that instance, it’s Guy you laugh at, not Eep.

So not only is this one of the funniest and most entertaining movies you’ll see this year - it’s also one of the best for breaking down gender stereotyping, and hopefully it will get the respect and praise it deserves. 

Bailie is a part-time student, part-time graphic designer, and full-time feminist. She spends any free time either at the cinema or home catching up on tv shows.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rape Culture Among Feminists

Recently the term "rape culture" has made its rounds in popular culture, with many reporters and bloggers complaining about the victim-blaming, perpetrator-excusing behavior of major news networks. But rape culture is more pervasive than most of us want to admit. (Note: I'm about to go on a rant. Feel free to skip to the paragraph that starts "last night").

Because reporters aren't the only ones who tend to side with the perpetrators. After all, as many trauma theorists have pointed out, victims ask a whole lot more than perpetrators do. Victims ask us to listen to their accounts, to believe what they're saying is true, to stop it from happening, to protect them, and even to take responsibility for any part we played in their abuse, as complicit bystanders. At least, that's what victims would be asking if rape culture didn't shame them into silence.

What do perpetrators ask us to do? Nothing. That's right, nothing. They don't have to ask us for anything, because they already have power over their victims. And as long as we do nothing, they can keep victimizing people, and we can continue living our lives as viewed through rose-tinted glasses. We can continue believing that the only real perpetrators out there are people who look spooky and scary and whom we would never befriend. And when a victim or survivor tells us that they were abused by someone we know and like, we can assume they were lying, but then go turn on the news and pat ourselves on the back for getting angry at the true rapists out there, who fit our narrow definition.

I'm used to rape culture. I see it all the time in friends, family, and associates. I see it when people assume men can't be raped, or when a group of male scholars performs exhaustive research to determine what factors make women most likely to become victims of sexual assault and presents it as a checklist on how women can avoid being raped. And then the presenter is surprised by my frustration.

But I'm not used to seeing it among other feminists. Maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention before now.

My preamble has gone on a bit long, I know, so I'll get to the story that has me so upset.

Last night, a member of a feminist group I belong to on facebook posted an article about a 17-year-old woman who came forward and testified that a former teacher and coach had been sexually assaulting her for the past couple years. The perpetrator is now 33, but the woman was just 14 when the then-30-year-old man first began courting her, so to say.

When she was 15 he kissed her, and by the victim's own account, she felt helpless after that day and felt incapable of saying no when he pressured her to have sex with him, as he suggested he would withdraw his love otherwise, and as he told her that she would be worthless and have no future if she ended things. Apparently learning that an LDS woman would now be eligible to serve a mission at the age of 19 (formerly 21) gave the victim a reason to hope and the courage to seek aid.

Fortunately, those she turned to actually believed her, and a judge agreed to bring the case to trial.

And yet, horrifying to me, at least half of the responses from members of this feminist group where the link was shared responded by questioning the victim's accountability in the situation and questioning whether she was a victim at all. Because it is a closed group, it would be unethical for me to share names or exact words, but here's a summary of the arguments that were made:

- Some 17-year-old women want to have sex, so she probably did; the only difference is she had sex with an adult, not a teenager.
- The fact that she ended things now shows she always had the power to end it, so she can't be a victim.
- She may have committed sexual sins that she'll need to repent of, so she's probably accountable for at least some of what happened.
- It sounds like she consented at the time, but now she's regretting it.

Bull. Shit.

When I responded that these statements were forms of victim-blaming and that I expected better on a feminist group, one person responded that she was merely being technical, while I was responding emotionally.

So, let me explain, in technical detail, why this is sexual assault.

1. A minor cannot legally consent to sex with a 33-year-old man. Sexual assault is not merely the presence of a "no," but the absence of consent.

2. Statutory rape is rape-rape, no matter what Whoopi thinks to the contrary.

3. This relationship went on for three years. That means a then-30-year-old man initiated a personal, emotionally intimate relationship with a 14-year-old girl. And took advantage of it a year later, when he first kissed her and began making sexual advances on a 15-year-old.

4. Courting a person in preparation for sexually assaulting them is known as grooming a victim. It is also a crime, and it makes it that much harder for a victim to leave or resist.

5. The now-17-year-old survivor of this abuse identifies it as sexual assault and describes how her perpetrator groomed, assaulted, manipulated, and threatened her. She identifies it as abuse. She says she did not consent. Based on her testimony and whatever evidence her lawyer presented, a judge saw at least enough evidence to take the case to trial.

And so, all my feminist friends out there, we need to be on our guard against rape culture from within. That's how prevalent rape culture really is.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Is a Terrorist Evil?

With Friday's arrest of one suspected marathon bomber and the death of the other, his older brother, I think anyone with connections to Boston is feeling some strong emotions. As a native New Englander, I'm feeling about as strongly as anyone outside of the Boston region. I have friends in the city, one of whom was two blocks away at the time of the explosion, and just a month ago I was in Boston for a conference. I road a bus past the site where the explosions went off several times while I was there. To New Englanders, Boston is our home city, the only real city in all of New England.

So the attacks literally hit close to home.

So I understand why my fellow Americans are angry at the arrested suspect - and I will refer to him as a suspect out of my respect for the US court system which considers a person innocent until proven guilty in court, though it's hard to imagine any reasonable doubt as to his guilt, after the shooting spree in which he and his brother killed one police officer and wounded another. And like my fellow Americans, I'm relieved to simply have a face and a name to hold responsible for the tragedy in Boston. During the first few days following the attack, when there didn't seem to be any clear leads, I felt just as overwhelmed and lost. I knew there would be evidence and that the FBI would track down the guilty parties, but until they did, the violent act felt all the more frightening because of the mystery.

But amidst all the relieved reactions to Tsarnaev's arrest, I'm seeing a troubling trend. Sure, most people I know are hoping for justice in court and are recognizing that the younger brother is an American citizen, unlike his deceased older brother. But even among those I respect and love and care about, a few make a quick and angry move to label Tsarnaev as "evil."

But is Tsarnaev evil?

Is this 19-year-old man evil?

I don't want to fall into the mistake that reporters did when they covered the Steubenville case, so I won't bemoan the opportunities these two men gave up in their own lives or complain if Tsarnaev is convicted, rather than considering the long-term impact on victims and survivors of the attacks in which he participated.

But is he evil?

I doubt it. I sincerely doubt that this young man is pure evil. I even doubt that his older brother, who was by all reports the likely instigator here, was evil. What they did was wrong, heinous, and tragic, but here's why we can't label these two men as evil:

When we label individuals or groups as evil, we cease to see them as people. If you ascribe to a faith like mine, we forget that they are children of God with divine potential. Driven by revenge, we suddenly want to see them suffer for their crimes, and who can blame us for making them suffer if they're evil?

So, does Tsarnaev deserve to suffer?

 Perhaps. But I'll tell you the kind of suffering I want him to experience - I want him to some day look in his God's face and watch as his God weeps in sorrow and disappointment over his actions from this week. I want him to recognize that what he did was truly wrong and horrendous and that the forces he believes supported those actions in fact condemn those actions. Because Tsarnaev is still a human. And both Tsarnaevs probably believed they had excellent reasons for doing what they did. .

Perhaps these brothers even believed they were avenging a specific act of violence perpetrated by the US government against people they loved and cared about. Even as a US citizen, perhaps Tsarnaev wanted other Americans to suffer as those he cared about had suffered. Perhaps he believed we were evil. That his victims deserved to feel pain.

Just try something with me for a second. I want you to think of the most pain you have ever experienced. If that's too strong of a trigger for you, then by all means don't! But if you can, think back to a time after a surgery, or in childbirth, or when you broke your leg as a kid. Think about that pain and how you felt at the time - that's what pain feels like to everyone.

That's what pain feels like to a murderer.

That's what pain feels like to a rapist.

That's what pain feels like to anyone, no matter the terrible things they've done.

It doesn't feel like justice. It doesn't correct them or fix them. And I can guarantee you it does not convince others who associate with the same terrorist organizations to not commit similar crimes. If anything, it's going to persuade the remaining members of that organization that the people they're waging war against are as evil - as un-human - as they believed when they planned the first attack.

So yes, press for legal justice against Tsarnaev. But not on the basis that he deserves to suffer. He might deserve that, but it won't do any good to anyone. The reason he needs to be in prison and needs to be tried is because if he truly is guilty (as he very well seems to be) he cannot be on the streets. He cannot be trusted, ever again for the rest of his life, to be free. He is a fellow human, a fellow American, who has surrendered that right.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Paloma Faith and Question of the Week

When bad things happen, whether it's looming finals or actual tragedy like the explosion in Boston, we at NAW sometimes take a break from our usual posts about social problems to share something cheerful or fun.

Today, my cheerful video is Paloma Faith's upside down. Paloma Faith is a musical artist who's been popular in the UK for awhile now but who's had a slow time catching on here in the US.

And the question of the week is, what's one link that makes you feel better?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Confessions of a Straight Mormon Girl

When I was growing up, I was woefully ignorant about homosexuality. In my ignorance, I said terrible and offensive things, without any malice in my heart. Just ignorance.

Want examples?

1. The day Gay Straight Alliance came in to meet with my freshman social studies class, they asked us to list off the first words that came to mind when we heard the word "gay." My word? Sodomy. By the startled reactions the GSA members gave me, I sensed there was more to the word than I had thought. You see, I just thought it was a rude term that meant "homosexual." Imagine my surprise, years later, when I realized it was a sexual term. That's ignorance.

2. I told any number of friends that I believed homosexual "lifestyles" (read: sexual activity between two people of the same sex) to be a sin, but added on the caveat "But it's not a sin for people who don't believe what I believe," and I genuinely couldn't understand why that still bothered them. Ignorance.

3. When one of my friends posted about homosexuality on her blog and one of her college friends made a comment that dismissed people who believed Soddom and Gomorrah to have fallen because of homosexuality, I added a comment defending such people and identifying myself as a person who held that belief. I hadn't actually considered all the *other* issues the Old Testament lists before that group of people is destroyed and was going off what adults had at some point told me.

That friend deleted my comment, and I imagine it's no coincidence that she distanced herself from me in other ways around that time. Imagine my surprise when a later blog post suggested she might be bi. Ignorance leads to insensitive remarks.

4. In high school, after a male friend described Johnny Depp as the most attractive man in the world, I decided that friend was gay. I had issues with heterosexual men when I was that age (not out of ignorance, but out of trauma), so this realization made me much more comfortable around this friend. One day while we were setting up for a play he asked my thoughts on gay men. I told him I was more comfortable around gay men. Then he asked my thoughts on men who were bi. Given my discomfort with anything pertaining to sexuality, I saw bisexuality as the worst thing imaginable - I saw it as hypersexuality, which was an understandably terrifying concept to someone who associated sexuality with violence. Well, what I said to him was "Oh... that would be sketchy." His face fell. And I instantly realized that he was bi, and I felt like crap. On the one hand, there was more than ignorance at play in that scenario, but ignorance about bi-sexuality is nevertheless the reason I described that sexual orientation as "sketchy." Ignorance hurts people.

5. I've never admitted this to Erica, but when she first told me she was bi, I didn't believe her. I had overcome enough of my ignorance at that point, that I knew to keep my mouth shut.

6. When a college roommate said that she believed all people were somewhat bisexual since she viewed sexual orientation as a spectrum (scientific evidence would support that viewpoint), I assumed she was bi and felt a bit uncomfortable about sharing a room with her.

7. When I noticed that the vast majority of our high school's "Diversity Day" events involved lgbtq issues, I decided that an agenda was being shoved down our throats and skipped school that day. To be fair, I was also sick that day, but I'd been known to go to school with strepp throat. I'd been known to go to school after throwing up. Much to the annoyance of school nurses... The worst part is, I was good friends with the daughter of the woman who organized Diversity Day, and it wouldn't have been a hard thing to express my concerns to her mother and have an actual discussion about it.

Obviously I've come a long way since I was a teenager. And yes, I'm happy to say that each of those examples happened before I turned 20.

So, what is my point with all of this? Well, as someone who once opposed same-sex marriage, I have a lot of sympathy for those who still oppose it. I get where they're coming from, and while I disagree - I get it. And ever since my views on this topic began to shift, I've been tormented by how polarized this discussion is. I remember how irritating it was when I would express a careful and articulate explanation of what I believed and then have supposedly-open-minded friends accuse me of being hateful and dismiss my perspective without seeming to consider it. And now, from the other side of things, I know how frustrating it is when those who oppose same-sex marriage refuse to let go of ignorance. And I don't mean to imply that only ignorance leads to that political stance - what I mean is that many people who oppose same-sex marriage are ignorant about the type of things I was ignorant about when I was in high school. And while ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of, willful ignorance is not helpful.

So, as someone who once opposed same-sex marriage but now supports it and who still hopes for more nuanced and helpful discussions on this matter, here are my thoughts to folks in both camps. Take this all with a grain of salt, but I do hope you'll at least consider it.

1. Let others define their own feelings. Telling others what they feel is a problem in both camps. Just as I was wrong to not believe Erica when she told me she was attracted to women, I would be wrong to tell my older sister that because she opposes same-sex marriage she hates gay people. I'd be wrong to even assume she feels something that she denies feeling. But this is exactly what opponents of same-sex marriage do when they tell lgbtq people that they're choosing to feel what they feel. And this is exactly what supporters of same-sex marriage do when we tell someone that they hate gay people.

2. Recognize the Cultural Subjectivity to Morals. I'm not denying absolute truth. I happen to believe that there are absolute truths in existence/the universe/the world. But what is recognized as moral varies greatly from one culture to the next. Even those who want to return to the values of the founding fathers would probably be appalled by the morals of one or more of the founding fathers if they met in person, whether because of a major issue like slavery, or a minor and subtle social expectation.

But this issue doesn't just apply to those who oppose same-sex marriage. Those of us who support same-sex marriage mostly do do on moral grounds. The moral assumptions might be different, but to us it feels immoral to deny marriage to same-sex couples. And it feels immoral to most of us to allow cousins or siblings to marry, or to allow a 15-year-old to get married with or without a parent's consent, or to allow a person to marry more than one person. We won't put all those individuals in jail for having sex with the people they want to (provided everyone is either a consenting adult or a consenting minor in a relationship with another consenting minor). But we also aren't likely to support any laws intended to offer marriage to those individuals. Sure, we might talk about how it would impact "society" and "American culture," or about how any kids coming from incest would be likely to have genetic problems. But at heart, we think it's immoral for a brother and sister to have sex, so we're not willing to condone that practice by allowing them to marry each other.

3. Discuss the Complexity in this Issue. To you, the choice may feel simple. You may feel that God ordained marriage as an institution for one man and one woman and therefore no further discussion should be necessary. Or you may feel that only same-sex marriage will bring equality, and therefore no further discussion should be necessary. But there are always, always, always multiple perspectives and issues to consider when determining a solution to a conflict.

For instance, if you oppose same-sex marriage, you've got to ask yourself when your moral convictions are issues that you're obligated to press for laws to enforce and when your moral convictions are issues for you to attempt to persuade others of without enforcing them, and when your moral convictions are personal choices that are entirely about your own behavior. For instance, I believe that casual sex is a bad thing. I believe that sex outside of marriage, for those who have access to marriage, is a bad thing. But I've learned not to judge others who have sex before marriage, and I'll probably only ever try to persuade other Mormons not to have sex before they're married. Meanwhile, I think that having an affair is a bad thing. And while I know I shouldn't judge, I nevertheless do, and I would go out of my way to persuade any number of people not to cheat on a spouse. But I wouldn't try to enforce it by law. Do you see what I mean? Very, very few people expect every strong moral conviction they hold to be enforced by law. So if same-sex marriage is something you want to oppose by law, what puts this particular moral issue in a camp where you have that right and obligation, as opposed to in a camp where you have different rights and responsibilities?

For those of us who support same-sex marriage, we need to ask ourselves similar questions about the forms of marriage that we still oppose. And we need to ask ourselves what role we should play in trying to influence non-government groups - and this has got to be one of the toughest questions out there. But if we aren't thoughtful and respectful in considering this question, those who oppose same-sex marriage will feel attacked when we post memes on facebook that refer to anyone who opposes same-sex marriage as "assholes." And if we vandalize the church buildings of religions that oppose same-sex marriage, it will only convince religious conservatives that the gay rights movement is at odds with religious rights.

I know that I'm just a voice among many on this issue. And I know that lgbtq individuals are tired of hearing more and more straight people talk about issues so central to their hearts. But this is an issue that matters to me too, particularly because I know what it feels like to oppose same-sex marriage while surrounded by those who support it, as well as what it feels like to support it while surrounded by those who oppose it. We need more nuance, we need more careful thought, and we need a helluva lot more trust and respect. Because no matter what the a series of courts determines on this issue, this is one issue where Americans have a long road of healing ahead of us.