Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Religion Should Not be an Excuse

A few weeks ago I was talking to my dad about my problems with the patriarchy in the church. I've seen the priesthood and " men are the head of the house" used to demean and damage women. Any system that gives power to one group of people and not to another creates a situation where power can be misused in horrible ways. In expressing this to my dad, who was born and raised in the church, is a strong member, and one of the kindest and most generous people I know, he said that people will hurt each other regardless of the patriarchy in the church, so the church isn't responsible for how men in the church misuse power. The church preaches against abuse, so the fact that it gives men power is irrelevant. I couldn't frame a logical argument against that at the time, even though it felt wrong. Last night as I was falling asleep I found my argument, which is that religion should not give people an excuse to damage others.

Religions are all based on a concept of divinity. Most contain teachings on love and compassion. (See Towards a True Kinship of Faiths by the Dalai Lama.) Mormonism teaches that everyone is a child of God, and claims to be God's true church on the earth. And yet it puts women in a subordinate position to men, strictly defining what is and is not acceptable for women to do, calls homosexuals sinners, and on and on. So it preaches love, equality and kindness, but creates situations where abuse, hatred and cruelty can exist and be supported by church doctrine. There is no excuse for a religion, a system connected with Divinity, with a higher plane of understanding and existence, should be giving someone an excuse to damage others.

There is a quote from She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson, "because God's glory is humanity...because God is the creator, redeemer, lover of the world, God's own honor is at stake in human happiness. Whenever human beings are violated, diminished or have their life drained away, God's glory is dimmed and dishonored. Whenever human beings are quickened to fuller and richer, God's glory is enhanced." a system based on the idea of humanity's divine creation, which Mormonism is, should not intentionally give power to one group at the expense of others. People will misuse power, and there are numerous social and political situations that create differences in power, which lead to abusive relationships. But religions should not add to this problem; their very nature should prohibit that. The fact that people will not misuse power does not mean that religions should add to that problem.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Mormon Identity

Joanna Brooks has talked a lot about claiming Mormon identity (two examples here and here.) She believes anyone who wants to call themselves Mormon has a right to, even if they don't fit other's definitions. As a Mormon feminist and intellectual, she believes she has a lot to offer even if her experiences and beliefs are outside the realm of traditional Mormonism. She says That we can claim Mormonism based on belief, heritage, community, etc. We have the right to call ourselves Mormon; no one can give or take that definition.

I've been struggling with guilt over not being a good Mormon. Even though I don't believe in most Mormon teachings anymore, I've been raised to think about being a Mormon woman in a certain way and feel guilty for not fitting it. I've been allowing others to define my Mormonism. I've decided to change that. Mormonism is a large part of my life, and has shaped my life in major ways. And more importantly, no one has the right to define my Mormonism other then myself. Claiming or relinquishing a Mormon definition is my own choice, not anyone else's.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I was listening to an episode of Mormon Stories podcast; the episode itself was about improving your sex life, but I got something different out of it. They discussed that many couples feel that they are entirely responsible for their partner's happiness, and make their partner entirely responsible for their happiness. We are often taught in the Mormon church that there is nothing more fulfilling than getting married (except having kids), that nothing will make us happier. So we place all our expectations of happiness and fulfillment onto one person, and take on the job of single-handedly making them happy and fulfilled. When you think about it, this is a pretty unreasonable expectation. We spend our whole lives surrounding ourselves with different kinds of people. We have friends we go party with, friends we vent to, friends we go to in a crisis, friends we shar a certain interest with, etc., etc. We find different kinds of fulfillment with different people. Granted, many of us have a best friend, the role a spouse eventually fills, that fulfills us in many ways. But not in every way. Most people instinctively know which friends to go to for what, and what each person can and can't handle. But often that all goes out the window when we marry or start a long-term commited relationship and expect our partner to be everything, always.

I don't think I expect K to fill all my needs. I have friends I vent to and friends I go out and do things with that he doesn't want to do. I've noticed that I do, however, make myself utterly responsible for his happiness. If he's upset by something at school or work, I take on his anxiety. Often I get more upset than he is because it's my job to make him happy and I can't fix what's upsetting him. Every little problem he has becomes the end of the world in my mind. Granted, wanting your partner to be happy and trying to make them happy is a good thing, but making yourself responsible for their happiness and blaming yourself for their unhappiness is not a good thing. But I picked up the idea somewhere that his happiness and unhappiness is my responsibility and I've internalized that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Self-defining in the Negative

I'm reading No Excuses : 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power by Gloria Feldt. In the third chapter she talks about how women often deny their own power, intelligence, abilities, etc. We often define ourselves by what we aren't, by why we aren't good enough rather than what we have and who we are. There is quote from Marie Cocco that says, "when Cheerios advertise, the don't say, 'Of, I'm not cornflakes,' do they?" as silly as that analogy is, it rings true. So much of my guilt comes from defining myself by what I am not, based on some random cultural/religious expectations that I dion't even like. I'm not domestic,  don't have kids, I don't want kids. Even when I do define what I am, I often feel I should be ashamed of or apologize for being that way. I'm ambitious, independent, passionate, outspoken, and I shouldn't be.

Cocco attributes women's negative self-definition to the fact that for generations women have been powerless, have been defined by outsiders, and there work has been ignored or mocked. Part of the feminine wound is to not feel good enough, and to feel as though how we define ourselves comes from an external source. As a Mormon, my role as a women has been defined by men or women who buy in to the male party line. The male leaders of the church are constantly telling women how important they are, but only within the confines of the traditional self-sacrificing wife/mother/homemaker role, and the largely unacknowledged service in the church. We are defined as nurturing, sacrificing, self-effacing women who put aside all needs and wants for family, who don't want power or recognition, and who obediently follow the men in their lives. The only other definitions offered are the single or childless woman who serves selflessly in the church until a man comes along, or the feminist who is one of three enemies of the church, along with intellectuals and homosexuals. Even education is set up only as a means to support yourself or family if absolutely necessary. With all that swirling around every Sunday for most of my life, maybe it's no wonder I have guilt issues.

So, what to do this problem? Step one would be to acknowledge my right and ability to define myself, and to use it. One my better days I like my passionate, intelligent, outspoken self, and use those things in causes I feel are important. Often I feel guilty after the fact, and guilt can stop me from moving as far foresees as I want to. Hopefully awareness of this can help me move even with the guilt and eventually get rid of it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Why I created this blog...

In Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd talks about a feminine wound, or the damage done to women by social and religious expectations. I read the book two years ago, and that idea has stuck with me. Despite my non-traditional parents, and a husband who does not hold any gender expectations as far as our relationship goes ( or at all as far as I can tell) I find myself trying to fill certain gender expectations, or feeling guilty if I don't. This blog is an attempt to recognize and change these feelings in my life.

I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church. The Mormons are a conservative Protestant sect with very strong traditional gender expectations, i.e. husband as provider and head of the household and wife as homemaker. These roles have never appealed to me, and have no bearing on my life at the moment. I'm working full time while my husband goes to school and works part time. Whoever is home and has time does the domestic chores, or we do them together. This is following the example my parents set growing up. My husband has never made me feel like he expected me to do or not do something based on his expectations or whims. despite all this, I find myself feeling guilty for not meeting the expectations I have been told I should be filling. The following is an example of this, and the catalyst for this blog.

A few days ago, I went to a storytelling performance with a couple of friends. My husband was at work, so I left him a note so he would know where I was and not worry. It was a fun performance, and I was scoping out the space for a play I want to direct. But the entire night I felt guilty for not being home when K got home. I was worried he'd be mad ( which has never happened), and I felt like I was falling down on the job by not being home waiting for him. It was really hard to enjoy the performance because of how I felt.

I have no idea where I picked up the idea that a wife should always be at home waiting for her husband, I didn't get it from my husband or parents. And I don't feel bad when I'm at school or work and get home after him. But when I'm out having fun, I feel guilty, as though my fun shouldn't deprive him of my being home. I realized this that night, and how insane it was to feel that way. I also realized things like this happen to me a lot. So this is my attempt to document and deal with these feelings, to give myself permission to use the freedom I have.