Friday, December 14, 2012

How firm a foundation

When I was in college, I dreamed of starting my own magazine. It would be called Foundation, and the tagline would be: Celebrating the feminism, femininity and fortitude of the 21st century woman.

I think it's needed now more than ever.

I'm having a "dear God, this cannot possibly be my life" moment. It started with a group asking Mormon women to wear pants to church on Sunday as a sign of solidarity and desire for equality in the LDS Church. Outside of this great state, this would get zero to very little interest, even among Mormon women. Inside of Utah, it has blown up. We argue about it at work. The Facebook page was like a car accident that I cannot look away from.

That, of course, was until today, when it was flagged as offensive so many times that Facebook took it down. There were death threats against the people who started it. If you didn't think there was a problem before, it's pretty clear there is now. (Here's the new page.)

I have not yet concluded what I will wear to church on Sunday. To distract myself from the wardrobe druthers, and the disappointment I feel over what happened with the Facebook page, I'm going to attempt to delve into pantsmageddon 2012, possibly the saddest natural disaster to hit Utah.

∫  Dress does not define femininity. A woman can wear her pearls with a pants suit while she runs the world. She can wear ratty jeans and a flannel shirt while breast-feeding a baby. She can be beautiful in a football jersey, running shoes and yoga pants as easily as in a fancy dress. Looking feminine is not the equivalent of being feminine.

Now, this movement isn't really making the argument that women should be allowed to wear pants to the LDS Church. First, they are and have been for as long as I've been alive. But second, and more critically, the organizers are hoping to symbolize the need for equality by wearing pants. To recap: Pants = symbol of a larger issue. Pants ≠ the actual point.

∫  In my experience, women's clothing in church has almost always been judged by other women. With one exception, men do not comment on it. Maybe they don't notice, maybe they don't care, maybe they're less petty.  

∫  Women do not have to be either feminine or feminist. You can be in favor of equal rights and equal opportunity and equal for women and be a stay at home mom. I can be a woman in a male-dominated field, one in which people call me sweetie and honey and my personal favorite, "that young girl who didn't do what I told her to," and be able to make people cry and still keep up with anyone. And, quite frankly, I can be the biggest tomboy around, with scrapes on my knees and always wearing jeans and tennis shoes and have my hair in a ponytail, and still like to put on a skirt and heels and makeup and have the door held open for me. And I get to decide that.

∫  I got kicked out of a church dance once because the dress code was Sunday dress and I showed up after a track meet in my track pants when the dance had 30-45 minutes left. It was a dichotomous experience: I knowingly broke the rules, but could not believe how unwelcome I felt being asked to leave a church function while modestly dressed.

Fortunately, I've only felt that unwelcome a few times, and in those instances it was people, not policies, and how I reacted to those people that excited that feeling.

∫  The correct response to, "I feel like the LDS Church does not treat women equally" is NOT, "You're wrong." The solution to women saying they feel unequal is to not to say there is no inequality. We should not invalidate feelings simply because we do not share them. You may never have experienced inequality or perceived any inequality, but that doesn't mean everyone else feels the same way.

∫ Sacrament meeting is for the Savior. It is not the place for politics, jokes, self-promotion or PDA, nor do I think is it the place to make a statement.

However, since I've sat by while all those other no-nos were allowed, maybe it is time to take a stand.

∫  This isn't about hating men. It's not about building lives without men. It's not about not needing men. In fact, it's not about men at all. It's about women who feel they are not getting what they need from their church. It's about women who don't feel needed, valued and supported. It's about starting a conversation. No matter how you feel, please — don't run from this conversation.

∫  Different but equal = separate but equal = not equal. Please stop with this.

∫  I am never going to hold the priesthood the way men hold the priesthood. To be honest, I'm OK with that. I don't feel like not being able to give a priesthood blessing in any way hinders my ability to pray in faith and receive those blessings. I've certainly raised some issues — the Young Women program needs to include a greater focus on job skills, education, leadership, self-sufficiency and ropes courses; women should be more strongly encouraged to go on missions; we should trust men to be Primary teachers; we should talk more about the righteous women of the gospel; we should stop delegating the irritating organizational tasks to Relief Society; women who speak in General Conference should speak more on doctrine; the role of fathers as nurturers should not be understated; and, for the love of all that is holy, why haven't we bitch slapped the loud-mouthed misogynist who without fail makes a disparaging comment about Eve during that Sunday School lesson?

(I will say, however, that I've never thought women's missions should be two years. The reason is totally selfish: I was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted after 18 months. I'm sure I would have survived six more months, but it is hard.)

But no, I don't feel like I need the priesthood to be equal. (Pretty please, though, could we cease and desist with the, "I hold the priesthood every night when I hold my husband?" It's unconvincing and gives me mental images I do not want.)

∫  More than anything, I hope people who go to the LDS Church anywhere, on any Sunday (or any other time) feel comfortable there — not at all because of what anybody is wearing (OK, wear something. Cover up the important parts. This isn't a pantsless day.) but because in that building you feel a sense of unity, of friends and neighbors working together to help each other feel the Spirit and feel closer to Jesus Christ. I hope you feel love and respect no matter what.

∫ I am not a feminist Mormon. I am not a Mormon feminist. In each of those, one of the words describes the other. I am a Mormon. And a feminist. Both describe me, neither define me.

For anyone interested, LDS Wave's Ask a Feminist is kind of the impetus behind this. I don't think it's an "official sponsor," but it's one of the more outspoken LDS feminist blogs.


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