Personal Progress

When I was still Mormon, we had this program called “Personal Progress” wherein we would earn medallions for mastering skills of domesticity, spirituality, and submission. It was an honor to have earned your Personal Progress Medallion; the bishop even presented you with that little necklace in front of the whole congregation; a public declaration that you were well on your way to becoming a perfect daughter of Christ, worthy to be the helpmate of the CUUUUUUTEST return missionary in the whole stake. The best thing a girl could be.

I was an anxious, insecure, perfectionistic young woman. This program was made for girls like me. And so I plunged in with both feet, finishing the entire thing in two years, when it could take some as long as six. During this time,I learned the metrics of self-worth; Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue.

On paper, all of those values look well and good, but remember, the underlying motive of this program is to get young, impressionable girls to strive toward what their church arbitrarily defines as a Righteous Woman; the optimal feminine status being that of the devout wife of a worthy, priesthood holding, “provider/protector” husband, in addition to being the nurturing mother of Zion’s future.

At twelve, I didn’t know what “faith” was, nor did I value it. It felt silly to say the words “I believe” when talking about things I didn’t understand, and couldn’t prove whether they were true or not even if I did. Believing in things that are not seen hasn’t been my specialty since the Santa Claus Illusion was shattered.

“Divine Nature” was irrelevant to me, because even in adolescence, I didn’t really think about divinity, nor care about my royal status in heaven as a literal daughter of The Almighty. I’m a literal daughter of my biological parents now, and that has always been more than good enough for me.

I really can’t argue with the value of “Individual Worth.” God knows teenage girls need to find that. And I gotta hand it to the Mormons, they specialize in making their flock feel special. I didn’t believe that I was special until well after Mormonism, which I’m honestly rather grateful for, because the kind of special you are when you’re mormon breeds a superiority complex that I fortunately avoided, I hope.

Knowledge is a value in any context, and my youth leaders certainly urged me to pursue as much as I could get. I would eventually carry the burden of educating my future children to prepare them to be righteous spirit children of the Most High. I’ve never wanted children, though, which gave me the freedom to value knowledge for its intrinsic benefit, and pursue it for my own gain.

Choice and Accountability felt a lot more like Guilt and Shame. Under this value, we became well-versed in the Church’s arbitrary code of conduct-dress modestly, no coffee, don’t swear, no tattoos, no sex before marriage, don’t have fun on Sundays, you get the idea. Here, we also learned that it’s actually really easy to choose the right when everyone is policing your every move, even beyond those chapel doors. And we also became very much aware of the disciplinary protocols that would follow our inevitable transgressions.

Mormons do a lot of Good Works for their own. In order to learn this value, we’d bake cookies for the widows in the ward, volunteer at the Bishop’s Storehouse, (an inter-congregation food bank) rake leaves or shovel snow for the elderly members, things of that nature. I’m glad we did those things, it forced me to get out of my own narcissistic world and do something for someone else. I wish we’d hit this value harder, I still struggle to get my head out of my own ass to help my fellow man.

When we learned about integrity and how to have it, we covered all the basics-don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t intentionally hurt people, exude decency. We pledged to have the “moral courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right and wrong.” But then I learned that morality isn’t universal, and it’s totally kosher for you to chop a guy’s head off to steal his stuff if God wants you to. This “knowledge of right and wrong” was getting pretty murky, so I just hoped that God would never ask me to behead anyone.

“Virtue” is code for “Chastity.” A righteous young woman is sexually pure. She has to be if she’s going to have her fairytale wedding in the holiest of holies; the temple. Hormonal adolescent girls are the gatekeepers of sex and therefore must keep the young men at bay by not bearing their shoulders no matter how hot it gets, only dating in groups, and keeping their boyfriends in line. I was not good at this. And when my “virtue” was forcefully taken from me, I’d accepted my fate of being ineligible for an eternal marriage with the love of my life, as I was not willing to jump through the hoops of redemption. That would require confessing a sin I didn’t commit to a man who had no legitimate authority over me.

I do not possess any of these values as the church defines them, but I feel comfortable considering myself a righteous woman all the same. I swear a lot. I drink coffee like healthy, well-adjusted people drink water. I help my fellow man, even the one who doesn’t look like me or doesn’t share my beliefs. I know that I have inherent worth, but not as a spirit crammed in a flesh vessel banished here by her omnipotent dad to prove herself, no. Just as a person on a planet with other people who miraculously get to experience life here for a while.

I guess the church and I just measure personal progress differently.

 

M.

 

 

 

 

Irascibility

I thought I was over my self-proclaimed “angry feminist” phase. Boy was I wrong.

I am a sucker for a good podcast, and I scrolled upon one this morning featuring the topic of feminism, which naturally peaked my interest. The discussion participants included a male host, and a male political science professor at a notoriously problematic university (I won’t name names, but this particular university can’t make it into the Big 12 due to their some fundamental, problematic issues in the way they run their institution). You can listen to this podcast for yourself here.

Anywho, I was expecting this professor to advocate for feminism, and to support the progression of gender equality within society. You can probably guess from the title of this post that this was not the case. This political science professor spent his allotted interview time defending traditional gender roles. The take-away message he presented was that perhaps some of the things that feminists have (and will) accomplish are categorically good things, but come at a devastating cost to society.

Professor Bigot’s argument was that yes, women should obtain Bachelor’s degrees, in agreement with the counsel provided by the leaders of his church. However, if women choose to continue on to develop themselves academically, they are delaying childbirth, and neglecting to fulfill their divine roles in the home, even if they have no desire to become a housewife. He feels that a woman should spend the “prime of her life” reproducing and raising the resulting offspring. Ring, ring, the 1950’s called. They want their societal norms back.

He then later in the interview expressed that if it were his daughter that had a more “brainy” predisposition, he would support her in cultivating her fullest potential(presumably after she’d taken full advantage of her child-baring years).

This professor, full of contradictions, argued that one of the many problems with feminism is that feminists view women who choose to be housewives as inferior, and this makes housewives feel unfulfilled and consequently unhappy with their decision to become housewives in the first place. To the contrary, the feminism that I’ve come to advocates a woman’s right to choose for herself what her life will look like, whether that be a life of motherhood and domesticity, or that of scholarly study and professional development, or anything in between.

Because this man obviously knows what the female experience is like, he explained that women who devote their prime years to academia and professional spheres tend to experience a crisis at age 30 because they did not devote themselves to motherhood when they had the chance.

However, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that perhaps it’s the ones who did not pursue their interests because they felt obligated to give up what they really wanted out of their lives to set aside their desires and dreams to adhere to traditional gender roles. Multiple women that I know personally have shared with me that once they become empty nesters, they feel a sort of crisis in which their primary role as a mother has been fulfilled, and she is presented with this newfound free time in which she begins to contemplate the “what if’s” and feel remorse for not choosing an alternate path.

That, my friends, is my worst nightmare.

Now, let me make one thing VERY clear. I have no objections to a woman who willingly chooses to abide by traditional gender roles, so long as it is a conscious choice, made after years of serious contemplation. Additionally, I am the biggest advocate of education for all genders. This is an issue that I am extremely passionate about, perhaps due in part to growing up in a community where traditionalism was emphasized, and nonconformity was regarded as disobedience.

I have not been this upset in well over a year about the issue of gender roles, but this podcast tore open some wounds that I thought I’d partially mended.

I guess what it comes down to is the issue of control and power. I refuse to allow anyone, especially men, impose their myopic worldviews and values on the lives of women. Men of this type seem to think that they are entitled to control the opposite sex, and that their opinion on what women should be doing with their lives is somehow significant.

If you think about it, societal norms were implemented by men, and for men. I’m no history expert, but I am not aware of an active form of consent to traditional gender roles by women. Nobody asked us what we want for ourselves, they told us. And that makes me physically ill.

I will not be controlled by anything or anyone. The only thing dictating my life is my own cognitions. Women, what you want out of your life matters. In fact, what you want out of life should be your priority. We only get one shot at life, and there is simply no time for regret.

My views on feminism can be summed in one simple statement: Everyone deserves to live authentically and everyone else should mind their own damn business.

Enough with the pressure to conform to some silly, arbitrary role. This burning anger I’m experiencing this morning has revamped my drive for accomplishing my academic and career goals, none of which include any kind of adherence to a “predisposed” role that some have decided is a one-size-fits-all, but in reality has no consideration for individual differences.

I typed this entire post with shaking hands and burning cheeks, and my first draft had a much more colorful vocabulary, which I have censored for the children.

I know I’ve beat a dead horse here, but until society eases up on dictating peoples’ life decisions, I will not be at peace.

Down With The Norm, indeed.

M.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubious

I think it’s really important that when discussing women’s issues, we keep a safe space for men to express their concerns, as well. Don’t get me wrong, with some issues, I stick with the motto “No Uterus, No Opinion,” but in the interest of making the feminist movement as effective as possible, it only makes sense to get as many folks on board as we can.

In order to contribute to this idea, I have taken the liberty of interviewing a couple of male feminists to get a feel for what they find problematic in regards to the Church.

I am so blessed to have not just one but TWO feminist parents in my life. The first male feminist I interviewed is my dad, who, unfortunately, has not developed this viewpoint until recently, which meant that I suffered some blackmailing in order to attend and participate and comply with YW stuff as a teen.

The prompt I provided my interviewees is as follows: “As a father (or father to be) of a daughter in the YW program, what themes, if any, taught by the program strike you as problematic, and what will you do as a parent to ensure that these themes are not absorbed by your daughter?” 


“The first thing is how limited women are in the church. We are taught that a woman’s role is in the home raising children. Women who chose a career are guilt-ed into thinking they are being selfish for wanting a career. They are guilt-ed by the GA’s, local ward, friends and family. It is a cultural problem created from the top down. Women are being taught to be subservient to their husbands and that they can’t obtain eternal life without one. Our lesson manuals teach that and it is taught all the way up to the temple. Women can’t talk to God directly or covenant with God directly. They must do it through their Priesthood holding husbands. The problem is that most of these women are more worthy than their husbands in terms of keeping commandments, serving God, and being Christlike, but when it comes to rank in the church, they are not considered equal. As long as he [the husband] pays his tithing, he’s in good standing. But a woman who stays at home to raise the kids can’t have a recommend if her husband doesn’t pay tithing. Keep in mind this housewife has no income and cannot pay tithing, yet is punished because her man doesn’t pay tithing. Where is the equality in that?

“The church needs to teach that women can be anything they want to be. They should strive for education, strive for success professionally. They have so much to offer than this male-dominated society. Women are capable of amazing things but we as men are afraid of that, of losing control, just like the church is so they try and keep everyone in their little boxes and roles. I teach my kids they can be anything they want to be and should strive to be anything they want to be. God wants us all to be the best and most we can be, not just men. Women matter.”


My second interviewee is a colleague of my father’s who is married but has not had children yet. He had some insight to share on how he intends to raise his (hopefully) future daughters.

The first, focusing on a very specific role to define a women’s divine purpose, makes a young woman feel that if they aren’t wired with these exact traits or desires that something is wrong with them in the eyes of God. Even when a women has these desires, it makes them feel that this is the only thing essential to their happiness.  I do not wish the devalue the importance of being a mother and bringing and child into this world but I do NOT want my daughters – or anyone’s daughter- to feel that their eternal worth and overall happiness in this life is intrinsically linked to motherhood. If you want to have a career, you can still be an incredible mother. If you do not wish to have children or cannot have children for whatever reason, you still have the same divine purpose and value. If you do devote much of your life to being a mother and a homemaker, there are still other things you should seek after as well. Whatever makes you, YOU is your divine worth and using that to make this world a better place and enrich the lives of those around you is what makes you worthy in the eyes of God.  It all seems very simple but I hope to instill this in my children by encouraging them to find who they are and develop all the goodness in them into whatever type of individual that may be.

The second, which I think can be even more problematic, indirectly teaches women that they lack a fundamental connection, and have to rely on their husbands, fathers, brothers, bishops, or other “worthy” male influences in their lives for some divine inspiration and guidance. I hope to teach my future daughter(s) that she has a personal connection with God that is just as strong as mine. He will give her as much personal inspiration, guidance, and power to make decisions as he will to me or anyone else. Pray and receive inspiration. Ask your heart and your soul deep questions and God will direct you. The questions you have in this life, the inspiration you receive, and the decisions you make never have to be filtered through any sort of male counterpart. This ties back in with divine worth. Your worth in the eyes of God is equal no matter who you are or what path you decide to follow. Embrace all the goodness in you, develop who you are, make decisions for yourself, and know that God will empower you with as much inspiration as anyone to make this world a better place.

The most difficult part of your question is how do you teach these things in your children. My wife and I actually disagree on this because sometimes she thinks it isn’t possible. I try to remain optimistic that it is. Maybe we have trouble answering it because we haven’t experienced parenthood yet. But how am I going to  get my kids to believe something differently than what they hear in Sunday school and what most of their peers subscribe to? I would hope the answer lies in my ability to connect with my children and the trust they will have in me. I would also hope that I can always provide them with an environment that really encourages them to focus on developing into a unique and inspiring individual.  Be who you are and I promise there is as much happiness and divine worth available to that person as there is to anyone else in the world. I have to hope they can live that and find it for themselves.


Not that women’s issues require acknowledgement from men in order to be validated, but it is definitely encouraging that these issues are being recognized by more than just the oppressed.

Special thanks to my interviewees for contributing to today’s post. You guys are number one.

M.

Exclusion

Can someone please point me to the part in the bible that says “Yea, forsake thy bretheren/sisteren who differ from thee”? Because I can’t seem to find it. Which is funny, because that’s the law that people seem to be living by these days.

It seems that the more I advocate for inclusion, the more excluded I become.

I feel like a plague or a parasite that people are protecting themselves from. Apparently if you drink coffee, wear tank tops, and think that all people deserve to be treated as equals, nobody will want to play with you. Even the people that have been in your life for years.

The more I think about it, though, the more it makes sense. Even in Primary, I remember having discussions about the importance of choosing good friends who have the same standards as you, which, where i’m from, meant that mormons stuck with other mormons for the most part.

I love mormonism, and I love the people within it. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it, but I am doing the best I can. And it stings that through my well-known “struggle,” I am having to try my best all by myself.

Every Sunday, I sit through my meetings by myself and try my best to stay calm and keep an open mind, and return home either in tears or in a flurry of frustration or pain.

I can’t seem to find my tribe. Even through grade school, I’ve been in constant pursuit of finding a place to fit in. But now that i’m starting to figure out who and what I am, even the few people I though I had are turning their backs.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but I had to get this out there. I feel better already.

A Very Solitary M.

Guest Post

I get it-you’re all sick of metaphorically hearing my whiny voice. So I’ve decided to start doing some research on others’ viewpoints on topics that interest me, and share their responses with you. I am fortunate enough to know many diverse people from various backgrounds, so finding content was a snitch.

My first guest author is a young woman whom I’ve come to know, respect, and love as we endured our teens and early adulthood together. Without further ado, I now present her take on the YW program. Take it away, Sam.

Cognitive Dissonance

How was my experience in the Mormon Young Women’s program? Thanks for asking.

To a budding pre-pubescent, the prospect of joining older girls in Young Women’s at the age of 12 made the misery of sharing Primary class with the 7-11 year olds…bearable. Once you reached that fortuitous age of 12, a few of the Young Women would sit in the back of Primary class until “announcements”, wherein the Primary leader would announce that this was, indeed, your time for that coveted rite of passage. BOOYAH.

I remember heaving nervous breaths through my A-cup chest (I’m still an A-cup, so that’s the only thing that never changed through puberty. Damn it.) I finally got to sit in the same room as 15, 16, even 17 year olds! My sister was already in the program, and I was more than ready to join the big leagues.

At the beginning of every Young Women’s meeting, we would simultaneously recite the Young Women’s Theme.

“WE ARE DAUGHTERS of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him. WE WILL “STAND as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9) as we strive to live the Young Women values, which are:

Faith • Divine Nature • Individual Worth • Knowledge • Choice and Accountability • Good Works • Integrity • and Virtue

WE BELIEVE as we come to accept and act upon these values, WE WILL BE PREPARED to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.”

(Virtue hadn’t been tacked on the end of the values until I was 14, so that was a pretty exciting change-up).

Basically, the first two or three years are bliss. You’re surrounded by peers, taught by beautiful women of God, and conditioned to giggle, flirt, and regurgitate sexist language verbatim. But then…the boys start getting cuter. You start your period. You are exposed to a greater pool of friends in school.

And…you start to pay attention to the words you are reciting.

Strengthen home and family? Sacred covenants? What sacred covenants? What even is ‘divine nature’”?

Then, you hear the boys recite their theme:

The purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood: become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and live its teachings. Serve faithfully in priesthood callings and fulfill the responsibilities of priesthood offices. Givemeaningful service. Prepare and live worthy to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and temple ordinances. Prepare to serve an honorable full-time mission. Obtain as much education as possible. Prepare to become a worthy husband and father. Give proper respect to women, girls, and children.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the reinforcement of traditional gender roles here.

Women: be a shining beacon of virtue and divinity. Be the kind of woman who supports your man in the home!

Men: don’t be a dick to women. Take the role of leadership in the home (priesthood). Get an education.

I’m not opposed to gender roles, but the roles of each gender in the church should not be predetermined by a panel of older men (the General Authorities). They are between the two partners. Girls shouldn’t be taught at a young age that they are meant to be the family support. Men shouldn’t be taught that they are to be the provider of the home, regardless.

And that was my experience in Young Women’s. Constant reinforcement of gender roles. We would be decorating scripture bags while the boys would be playing basketball in the gym, or mowing people’s lawns. For summer camping, we would stay in a condo while the boys would embark on a 5 day high-adventure trip into the mountains.

What upset me is that most of the girls bought into it! When I would help put away tables, people would chastise me for doing “boys’ work”. The boys were always required to clean put away chairs while we had the first go at the dessert (which was awesome, but totally not fair to them). I always felt very isolated with my blunt, “masculine” personality. The things I was told…I couldn’t believe it. They told me it was okay to be educated, but I was ultimately to support my husband’s Priesthood authority. I was to raise the kids in the light of the Gospel and be an example of chastity and virtue.

My initial aversion to the church wasn’t even an aversion to the Gospel itself. It was an aversion to the attitude of the Young Women’s program, and the expectations to which I was held.

If any Young Women are reading this right now, I ask you this: are you completely satisfied with the role that is required of you in life by the Mormon Church?


Interested in becoming a guest author at DownWithTheNorm? Head on over to the Contact Me page and fill out the form with your article and a quick bio so the rest of us can absorb your wisdom and insight. 

M.

Canonical

I am an intellectual. And we intellectuals, well, we listen to podcasts.

Perhaps “intellectual” is a slight over-statement of an adjective for me, but I do listen to podcasts, which makes me feel sophisticated, educated, and frankly, keeps my mind alert as I commute 45 minutes to and from work each day.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the Mormon Matters podcast, which focuses on problematic themes and societal issues through an LDS lens. The latest episode I listened to is titled “Mormon Women and Equality” and discusses the blatantly sexist practices and policies within our church’s structure, and offered some great solutions, or, at least, steps in the right direction toward gender equality within the church. Good stuff.

The panelists suggested an intermediate solution to the sexism problem that doesn’t involve women’s ordination to the Priesthood. What if we started including women in the decision-making when it comes to church policies and procedures? What if we started allowing women to hold callings not explicitly prescribed to Priesthood holders?

I firmly believe that by not including diverse representation in leadership and decision-making positions, there will always be oppression and marginalization, thus making true equality entirely unattainable among the members of the church.

I mean, even within the senior leadership of the church, there is very little diversity among the Brethren, which means that very few perspectives are being considered when it comes to policy-making.

At one point in the podcast, a panelist noted that prophets receive revelation by asking God what is to be done in regards to His church. I think that maybe some significant questions in regards to women in Mormonism are not being asked, simply because women have a history of being an afterthought, perhaps due to their lack of presence when policy-making matters are being discussed?

And that’s why women have been and will be an afterthought-they are not given the privilege of having a platform to influence decisions that directly impact their lives or voice their concerns in a manner that they will be effectively addressed. Their voices are not being heard, and their pain is being muted.

Women make up half of the congregation. That’s 50% of church members whose concerns are not being adequately examined. The only people who understand what it’s like to be an LDS woman are LDS women themselves, and I think that it only makes sense that they therefore should hold positions of influence over their sisterhood.

The Relief Society is made up entirely of sisters, and yet, no Relief Society meeting can be held without a presiding Priesthood holder. Why is this? There matters discussed in a Relief Society would have absolutely no bearing on any male member of the church.

The Church has a habit of placing its women on a pedestal-there are numerous talks on how wonderful and lovely and delightful we are. These messages are maddening and feel rather condescending when spoken by men, who are superior to women in every aspect of the structure of the church.

You can listen to the full podcast here.

I dunno if any of this would lighten the oppression of women within the church, but why not give it a try and see what happens?

M.

Intrepid

I felt a little less solitary in my stout feminist endeavors this past Sabbath.

There I was, sitting in Relief Society, listening intently to our lesson on Marriage and Delighting In Homemaking, which, as you can probably infer, is a topic that tosses me into a tornado of fury.

The lesson was going about as i’d expect it to, and I did my best to focus on my breathing so as to not loose my tongue. My attentiveness decreased as the lesson carried on, until one sister raised her hand.

“I’m a feminist, in the best way, I promise,” a shaky voice proclaimed, as my eyes searched anxiously for the source. *cue giggles of discomfort from surrounding sisters.*

“…and I really struggle with the topic of homemaking and motherhood,” she admitted.

Tada! My faith in my own generation had gained some much-needed restoration.

She continued on to tell us how she’d finally made peace with her beliefs in Feminism and her religion’s traditional family values, which, after much contemplation, I’ve decided to discard, although I am thrilled for her for having found a way to settle her internal conflicting beliefs, something that i’ve spent the better part of my post-high school years attempting to do, but to no avail.

But i’m no quitter.

Anyway, I truly admire this sister for her courage in not only proclaiming her feminism in front of a conservative group of Relief Society sisters, but also for admitting that she struggles with the topic we had been discussing. What bravery it must have taken her to make such a strong statement, regardless of the fact that the majority probably wouldn’t agree with her.

I’ve yet to muster up the courage to express my beliefs so strongly in a face-to-face situation. For the time being, I will hide behind my keyboard and express my beliefs via the written word. But hey, I’m working on it.

Thank you, publicly proclaimed feminist in my ward, for being brave enough to speak up. You’ve inspired me to not give up hope, and to speak up. Maybe my comments will inspire somebody else someday. That’s how change happens, slowly but steadily.

M.