Monday, September 01, 2014

Them Sobbin' Women

Sacrament meeting was so awful yesterday. Benjamin was a holy terror. The only parts of the meeting I heard were the parts when Andrew was out in the hall with Benjamin. The only parts of the meeting Andrew heard were the parts when I was wrestling with Benjamin in our row.

He coloured on a hymn book (Who does that?! The girls always seemed to be able to restrain themselves from graffiti-ing church property. Not Benjamin.), he yelled about wanting bread and water, he ran up and down the row gathering all the hymn books into a huge pile, he pushed his sisters, he came up with the choir and ran up and down the row behind the altos and sopranos, he ran out of the chapel yelling, "PUSH!" as he pushed open the door, he scattered our crayons everywhere (twice), he ripped some paper, he kicked Miriam off of my lap repeatedly, he...

At least Benjamin wasn't the only unruly child.

I don't ordinarily get annoyed with children who act up during sacrament meeting (because you read the description of my son, right?) but I was almost grinding my teeth by the end of yesterday's sacrament meeting. It was out of control, folks.

Not only was Benjamin being his charming two-year-old self but two rows back his little friend Rosie was making herself known. Directly behind us Marcella was acting up and Baby Jay was fussing loudly. In front of us my friend Magie's twins decided they'd had enough at exactly the same time, but her daughter wanted to sit on her lap, and her husband was out with their two-year-old. And the speaker? The speaker was talking so loudly that it seemed to me that she was trying to speak over all the noise around me.

The cacophony was deafening. I was having an almost irrepressible urge to stand up and to stop the meeting—like I stop my primary class when things are getting out of hand—and say, "Before we continue I need to know you are all paying attention! Hands to yourselves. Quiet mouths. Eyes on me."

Instead I whispered, "Magie!"

She didn't hear me. She put the twin she was holding (I can't tell those little dears apart) down in his carseat so she could pick up the other one. The one she picked up promptly stopped crying. The one she put down promptly started crying. Magie looked frustrated.

I scooted closer to her and tapped her on the shoulder.

"Magie, give one to me," I whispered, holding my arms over the back of the bench.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yes," I assured her.

Holding babies is one of my favourite pastimes. I'm always sure I want to hold a baby. Besides, everyone knows that if you're holding a baby during sacrament meeting you get to stop paying attention to everything else around you. My children crowded around the baby and made faces at him so he would smile. I'm not sure if that made our row was any less noisy but we were certainly less me. And as an added bonus I wasn't trying as hard to pay attention to the speaker so I wasn't annoyed by the other noisy children, either. Of course, I also have no idea what the speaker said (she was talking about families...or tithing)* but that's irrelevant.

I listened to (parts) of the other talks, anyway (you know, when my children weren't being too obnoxious). I got the basic theme of the meeting—strengthening families—but most details of the talks eluded me. I do know that at one point—after telling/crying about a recent bad hair day—one of the speakers said through her tears, "The best thing you could do for your family would be to marry my husband!"

She did go on to admit that no one could do that because she already had...but it was still hilarious (and probably something that needed to be heard with more context surrounding it, rather than between the spats and rows that were breaking out around me).

I thought it was interesting that they (the bishopric) had invited the new primary presidency to speak—everyone from the secretary up to the president. It would have been better if they had made some sort of an announcement like, "And now we will hear from the primary presidency," rather than saying, "And now we'll hear from Sister F.," who happens to be the primary secretary, "Followed by sister J.," who happens to be the second counsellor, "Followed by the choir, after which we will hear from Sister E.," who happens to be the first counsellor, "and Sister C.," who happens to be the president.

I mean, why not just introduce them as the presidency instead of making it sound like it was completely coincidental that they would all speak the same day?

We are working on making women more visible in our church culture. There's no sense in denying it. We just are.

For example, for the first time ever women were included in the spread of general authorities and officers in the conference edition of the Ensign this past May. Last April a woman prayed in General Conference for the first time ever in the 180+ years we've been holding General Conference.

It's something we're working on at the top levels and should be something we're working on at the local level, too, because it just should be.

Women's voices have been muted through most of world history. If you think about it, that is simply a basic truth. "If we position the beginning of women's improved representation in the world to Mary Wollstonecraft's 1792 treatise...(which may be considered generous since most strides really didn't take root until will into the nineteenth century), a mere 3.7 percent of the world's recorded six thousand-year history has been concerned with the development of women's full potential," points out Neylan McBaine in Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact (p. 4). Men "rarely have to go through the same process of disassociating their own gender to find inspiration in female characters" but women are always expected to be able to do this (p. 72 of Women at Church).

The truth is that our young girls need to see faithful women of the church. Our young boys need to see faithful women of the church. Because in a world where women are, thankfully, granted a lot more freedoms and where literature and history have expanded to the point where we can finally see women (going into space, riding bicycles, winning Olympic medals, getting PhDs) our girls don't have to look to only male role models for inspiration. They can look to women of the world, too. So it is needful that they have visible female role models in church as well. Otherwise where else will they look?

Is it too late to admit that I'm in the middle of reading Women at Church by Neylan McBaine?

It probably is since I already referenced it above. Anyway...

So far it's been a wonderful book and I highly recommend it. The first part deals with recognizing the pain some women feel. I admit that I don't feel the same pain as other women. But that doesn't mean that women don't feel pain. And if they're feeling pain then it's our job as saints to help carry their burden—not to tell them to be quiet or leave.

Andrew recently shared an article on Facebook about Neylan McBaine and it was not received well (in fact, it was received kind of like he was being a missionary for the adversary). Even my own mother accused women of being whiny nowadays (because women certainly weren't whiny at any other time in history). She mentioned specifically that single men in church don't always feel comfortable either but you don't hear them complaining (partly because—dare I say it?—no one would ever say that a man was whining about anything because men don't whine (only women do that)).

I don't think anyone is denying that single men feel uncomfortable or less-than at church, but single women don't exactly find their single-tude a cake walk in our family-centered religion either (something Neylan addresses in chapter four—"The breakdown of unmarried Mormons in Utah results in eight unmarried men for every ten unmarried women between the ages of thirty-one and forty-five, five unmarried men for every ten unmarried women between the ages of forty-six and sixty-five, and two unmarried men for every ten unmarried women over sixty-six.... Single women feel like they are less likely to be considered for local callings because they are unfit in some way to teach and preach to those having traditional family experiences"). I think that the church, as a whole, has been making strides to make this better on a grand scale and also at the local level.

It used to be normal to have a husband and wife asked to speak on the same Sunday, or to offer the opening and closing prayers of the same meeting. But I think now the norm is to not to. Rather, we pair up random people to speak and pray. This has helped single members feel more comfortable (and less "singled out" (hahaha—get it?)) in the congregation because they aren't constantly reminded that every pot has its lid...except for them...every time someone gets up to speak.

The added benefit of this is that it leaves one parent to sit with the children while the other parent is up on the stand. But I think I only see that benefit because of how yesterday went. I would have gladly sat on the stand—even if it meant I had to give a talk—if it meant that I wouldn't have had to deal with Benjamin at all.

Anyway, my point is that the church is aware that single members feel pain and has been making efforts to make that pain better.

To my understanding single men can't be bishop (my mom pointed this out—I honestly hadn't really thought of that before since we had a single man (never married, as far as I know) in our bishopric in Stonewood—not bishop, but still a pretty big leadership position). How would it feel to those single men if we said the same thing we said to women: "You don't want that kind of responsibility, anyway," or, "I've never felt that way so I don't care," or "If it bothers you, it's your problem" or "People who have the 'issue' need to do some more soul searching" (all examples from Neylan's book on how women—and the pain they feel—are constantly minimized)?

Neylan does a fabulous job, in my opinion, of explaining things in a very non-whiny, non-apostate way (she works for BonCom, by the way, and when she was asked to speak about women's issues at the 2012 Fair Mormon meeting it was because her name was suggested to the organizers by Ruth Todd (who was working for the Church's Public Affairs department (and if we can accept Jessica Moody to be the "mouthpiece" of the church about feminist issues, surely we can also take Ruth Todd's endorsement of Neylan McBaine as a mouthpiece for feminism as well)).

I especially liked her section on "Disunity vs. Diversity" in the chapter "Why Should I Be Concerned about How Women Feel at Church?". She does such a great job explaining the pain women feel, why that should concern us, and what we can do to help—all without asking for the priesthood once.

I highly recommend this book to women who are feeling pain at church (because we shouldn't be feeling pain at church) and also to anyone who can't understand why women would feel pain at church. This book has been eye-opening for me (because, as I mentioned, I don't necessarily fall into the category of women who feel pain at church, but I am more sympathetic than others (though I'm sure I could be more sympathetic)) and has led me to such gems as this talk that President Uchtdorf gave at the church history symposium this year.

I'm only halfway through the book (it came late on Saturday and I didn't have much time to read yesterday because I was too busy wrangling babies at church), but I'm excited to see what solutions McBaine offers in Part II because "if the Lord is hastening His work we cannot keep doing things the same way we have always done them" (that's Elder David A. Bednar and I totally agree with him—because change is beautiful).

PS. I don't really define myself as a feminist in the "extreme way" you might be defining it in your head if you think feminism is a bad word, but I do think I am, as my friend Melissa Mason said once, a "moderate" feminist. By the way, my friend Melissa is in charge of the Mormon Women's Oral History Project at Claremont Graduate University (her husband Patrick Q. Mason is the Mormon Studies chair at Claremont (and he has his own wikipedia page (and they were our buddies in Egypt (so we're basically famous by extension)))). I think it's a beautiful project—collecting the stories of women to add to our voice in that 3.7% of history. It's similar, perhaps, to the project Neylan McBaine started: Mormon Women.

PPS. Once upon a time I was considering attending graduate school in Ontario and a relative expressed concern that I would turn "all liberal" by attending a university in the east. But instead Andrew came home from his mission and swept me off my feet and I got married and started following him to liberal universities. But I'm pretty sure we were already considered liberal "missionaries for the adversary" before we came out east.

* I can't find the post, but I swear I wrote about that one time we were watching General Conference at Andrew's parent's house and Andrew fell asleep during a talk about tithing. Later someone woke him up and he denied being asleep. "Then what's this talk about?" someone asked. "Uhhh...tithing," Andrew said. But it was definitely not about tithing. And it was hilarious.


  1. I enjoy those articles Andrew posts on Facebook. Glad to read your point of view here!

  2. I'll be honest, it hurt a lot to read you Mom's comment on the article Andrew posted. I typed up a big response, but it was leaning a bit snarky. And I love your Mom and didn't feel like diving into a fb flame war just then. And I just couldn't figure out how best to bundle up everything I was thinking and feeling and all that was wrong/discouraging with how people were responding to the article into something concise so I just didn't comment at all. But that we so easily dismiss women as "whiney" rather than engaging and arguing the actual points they are making - that other women eagerly jump to do so - is so, so discouraging. to me. As someone who left (partly, but not entirely, because of how women are treated) and who has friends who have OW profiles it's always frustrating to read commentary on Mormon feminism. So many people making caricatures. I mean, I get it, cognitive dissonance isn't fun at all and we naturally avoid it. But it really doesn't help a community for people with differing views to never talk and try to understand each other.

    1. Oh, I completely agree. Talking, listening, and trying to understand are three very important things. It doesn't mean that you necessarily will come to agree, but I think it usually means that you will gain some empathy.

    2. Reading Promethues Unbound and this hit home with me: "You, in the meantime, stay quiet and don’t overindulge your tongue! Or is it that you, you, Prometheus, with all your wisdom, don’t know that the uncontrolled tongue brings its own destruction?" This is where I all too often find myself -- causing destruction with an uncontrolled tongue. I am sorry. I truly am.