Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Feminist Summer Reading List

Since it is summer and I have all the time in the world, I decided to spend my time reading more feminist books. I'm not in school anymore, so I really don't have very many scholarly feminist articles to read anymore. And while not all of the books I've read are strictly scholarly, they have helped me to understand feminism a little bit more.

Bossypants by Tina Fey - The reason why I love this book is because it is how one woman has taken feminism and interpreted it in her daily life. I think lots of women can relate to her experiences of learning about being a woman in this patriarchal world and how feminism fits into things for her personally. Of course, this is not intersectional feminism - Tina has a lot of white, heterosexual, cis, etc. privilege, and she does not address that. But a lot of feminists are in the same position (like myself), and that doesn't make any of the issues she's dealing with less important. Though it does mean that you, as a reader, should probably be aware of the lack of intersectionality while reading it.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - Similar to Bossypants, this book/memoir is another personal interpretation of feminism. It is not deep feminism or even the bottom line of feminism. But it does do a good job of showing everyday sexisms and how one woman interprets the events around her. I think for both books we can learn that it's okay for feminists to make mistakes and not be perfectly feminist-y; that standing up against sexism isn't always clearcut and can be very difficult; and that many events in our lives are actually subtle sexism. I also loved the way Caitlin treated childbirth in this book.

I've also written about Bossypants and How to Be a Woman here.

Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts - So this book is pure history. And sometimes that can be kind of dry and hard to get through. But also, the lives of these women are FASCINATING. As feminists, it is important that we try to rewrite history with the women included. As it is right now, history is dominated by male figures, and the women are completely ignored. But women existed! We can't just assume that they were all gossiping and sewing, completely ignorant to what was going on outside of the sphere of the home. This book shows that women played an important part in founding the country, from Eliza Lucas who single-handedly made indigo a cash crop in the South to Mercy Warren who greatly inspired the rebellion against England through plays and poetry. Without women, we wouldn't have this country, even if they weren't always on the battlefront. We need to remember that.

Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan -
This book is a collection of essays by different feminists describing the moment when feminism "clicked" for them. Men and women from all different kinds of backgrounds discuss the parts of their lives that lead them to embracing the label of "feminism." They discuss what they do and don't like about the feminist movement as a whole. They explore what being a woman means to them, the female figures in their lives, and their personal stake within feminism. I think it's a great read because sometimes emerging feminists can get anxiety over the fact that their origins in feminism were for selfish reasons. We don't always think about rape victims or child brides in developing countries. We generally start out with rejecting the sexism that immediately affects us. And that's okay. I do think it is important to have a kind of selfish stake in feminism, as well as being aware that it extends beyond you to all the other women in the world.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - This book has been pretty famous this year. Sheryl Sandberg is currently the COO of Facebook, which is HUGE. I absolutely love Facebook, by the way. But she's also an awesome person because she's helping to shatter the glass ceiling in the tech industry, as well as by being high-up administrator. Lean In discusses the reason why women now outnumber men in terms of college graduates, but still are not CEOs or very high up in business hierarchies. What I liked about this book is that it discussed societal issues, but also had some practical solutions for women (and men) to do. It made me feel very empowered, especially since I had just started my new job when I read it. Again, this book has been criticized for being "white" feminism. Most women in this country aren't even in a position to take Sandberg's advice of Leaning In. I guess I'm technically not either since I'm in an entry-level position. But I would absolutely recommend it for any working woman.

Summer is over! Looking back at these books, I've realized that they are all pretty ... white. Click is the only exception, but even then I believe it was dominated by white women with a few great chapters by women of color.

I do have a good reason for this, though! I was actually halfway through Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan (see! Not just white women) when I got distracted by the Game of Thrones books. Can you really blame me for getting sucked into those???

Next time I do a feminist reading stint, I'll make sure to include more women of color.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Smashing Arguments Against OW Part I

So hey everyone. Sorry I haven't posted in a while. To tell you the truth, my sister actually found my blog. I'm not open about this blog because, honestly, being a Mormon feminist is difficult. She didn't really approve, confirming the need for me to be discreet.

But the thing is, I'm a writer and I'm opinionated and passionate. I have lots of feelings and I cope with them by writing them out.

There's been a lot of fuss among Mormons on the Internet lately about Ordain Women. The leaders of OW decided to bring more attention to their cause by hosting an event where they wait in line at the Priesthood session of this October's General Conference. This is because women have never been allowed into the session before, despite it being broadcast and shared publicly after the event. Also, because they see themselves as future priesthood holders. You can read more about the event here. And probably some other locations.


Of course, many Mormons are in an uproar against this. They've flocked to Facebook to tell OW and Mormon feminists how unrighteous and wrong we are. And I'm getting really sick of it. First of all, they are being extremely rude, divisive, and not at all Christlike. Which is pretty ironic considering that they're calling us "apostates." But also, their arguments are completely illogical, offensive, and just plain wrong. 

So I've decided to tear apart some of these awful arguments, one blog post at a time. (I should probably preface this by saying that while I have no interest in obtaining the priesthood for myself, I support the efforts of OW and find it absolutely ridiculous that people are so vehemently against it. I mean really, why can't we even entertain the notion?)

Here's the first argument I've been hearing: 

"If women get the priesthood, they will have no need for men. Women shouldn't get the priesthood because they should depend on men."


These are two different arguments, but they essentially amount to the same idea. Women should need men and if they have the priesthood, they won't. 

This argument is wrong for a few different reasons. I'm sure if the people making this argument really thought it through, they would realize how illogical it is. 

The idea that women wouldn't need men would supposedly have two manifestations:
  1. Wives wouldn't need men in their marriage or as a father to their children. 
  2. Women wouldn't need men to help run the Church.
The problem with #1 is that women do not marry men for their priesthood. Women marry men because they love them. Women and men complement each other not because one is a priesthood holder while the other is a nurturer, but because they are both individuals with unique attributes. 

I'm gonna use my marriage as an example because that's what I've got. My husband and I complement each other in many ways. One of them is that I tend to get passionate and angry much more easily than he does. He's more even-tempered. Neither of those attributes have to do with our sex - come on, guys, we've all seen hot-tempered men and women! 

The other issue with #1 is that most women in the world aren't married to men who hold the priesthood. Even many LDS women have husbands that have never been members or are inactive. Most of those women still need their husbands, even though they don't hold the priesthood. They still have very happy, functional marriages. 

This is also a very sad argument to me. I really hope the women (and men) who use this argument as a reason why women shouldn't receive the priesthood don't really mean it. They may not realize it, but when people use this argument, it makes it sound like the only reason why they are married is for their husband's priesthood authority. What would happen if their husband became inactive and no longer had his former priesthood authority? Would the wife leave him? And for men who use this argument - do you really want your wife to think of you this way? Do you really want a wife who is spiritually dependent on you, rather than able to have her own spirituality?



Now to #2. Again, an out-of-church comparison makes this one fall apart. The Church is an organization, much like a business. Probably moreso like a business than most other churches. And businesses all function with both men and women. Sometimes women are the bosses and the authority figures, often the men are. Either way, businesses absolutely need people of both sexes to help it run to its best capacity. 

If women were to be ordained in the future, men would not be kicked out of the Church. They would not stand around with nothing to do while women covered everything. Men and women would work together, both holding about half of the callings, doing half of the work, and having half of the authority.  


Essentially what this argument amounts to for me is "woman, know thy place." 

I have no problem with a member of the Church believing that women are not meant to receive the priesthood at this time, or ever. However, there are absolutely no good arguments against it. I'm okay with anyone who thinks that we just have to trust in the Lord, but I'm not okay with anyone who does any sort of mental gymnastics in an attempt to come up with any sort of reason for why women don't and never should have the priesthood. 

I had an uncle-in-law who simply and authoritatively said to me "not gonna happen" when I told him about the existence of OW. It annoyed me that he said it that way, but I also appreciated that he didn't have any sort of argument against it.

I repeat: We don't currently know why women don't have the priesthood. That is something Heavenly Father has never revealed to us. Therefore, there is no good argument against it other than "it just is."

I hope you can appreciate that and understand that. If not, well, then, even though it is tough to be a Mormon feminist, I have pretty thick skin. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The "White Knight"

Today I want to talk about teh menz. Men in feminism are great. I really admire them and have had some really great discussions with them.

But there’s also a problem with male allies. They tend to have the “white knight” complex more than they should. What this means is that they’d rather say they are a feminist in order to impress somebody (I really don’t know who. Potential romantic partners? Themselves?) than actually BE feminists. 


Because being a feminist means a lot more than saying you’re a feminist. I wrote this post about how not every feminist should feel the need to be a super marching, protesting activist. That’s still true. But even if you aren't sticking it to the man is in a very obvious and dramatic way, there are still small ways that you need to do it. More than BEING a feminist, you need to actively make the world more feminist in some way.

So what do I even mean? How does one strike the balance between activist and small efforts?

For one, you need to live your life in a more feminist way. This will mean different things for different people, and it’s up to you to determine what that will look like in your own life. It’s not enough to say that men can often treat women terribly, or that women should be treated better by society in general. Yes, admitting that women are oppressed is the first step. The next is working against it.

How, you ask? These are a few suggestions:

Men:

  • Examine the balance of housework between you and your wife/partner. Splitting it 50/50 isn’t the answer for every circumstance, but are you doing your fair share? Do you avoid tasks that don’t seem like “men’s work”? Does your wife/partner pick up the slack most of the time? If so, it’s time for you to actively rearrange your situation. (By “actively,” I mean discussing it with her and agreeing on it, not just making a resolution to do better.)
  • Same thing with childcare.
  • Do you speak out when your dudebros say offensive or sexist things? If not, you are helping perpetuate the problem.
  • When you are on the streets, in a bar, or other situation, do you actively work to make sure the women around you feel safe? This doesn’t mean being chivalrous. What I mean is, if a woman is walking alone at night, cross the road and walk on the other side of the street so she doesn’t feel threatened by you. Seriously, you need to do that, because every woman is going to view you as a potential rapist whether you deserve it or not
  • Do you actively work to make women more comfortable in the workplace? This means not interrupting them, encouraging/allowing them to speak out, creating better conditions for women, speaking up when dudebros say sexist things, and mentoring them. Check out “Lean In” by Sharyl Sandberg for more tips on that.
  • Listen more. Do not dismiss the experiences of women. Pause before speaking up.

Women:

  • Let men do all of the above things. Sometimes, women also have a hard time letting go of the status quo. It can sometimes be difficult for women to hand over the fair share of housework to men because they like the level of control they feel, or they don’t trust men to do it right. That’s dumb. Let it go. Let him make mistakes. Similarly, women don’t always want to give up the benefits that chivalry gives them. I’ll admit that I've felt special before when a guy opens a car door for me, or a group of men stand up when I walk into a room. I don’t anymore, because I hate chivalry. But I understand that feeling.
  • Demand that men do the above things. You absolutely cannot wait for men to figure it out by themselves. Why would anybody do that? If you are unhappy with your present circumstances, speak up about it. No, you don’t want to be accusatory or call them a huge flaming ball of suckfest. But an open, honest discussion about your feelings is necessary. (“Demand” may be the wrong word because I do think that, lots of the time, you should be nice about this. But I’m keeping it because what I mean is that you shouldn't give up or settle for less. Stay firm in your stance and resilient in your efforts to get it.)

Really, this is all the tip of the iceberg. I could probably go on forever talking about ways that we can all work towards a better, more women-friendly world. Many other blogs have done so in a much better way than I have. I just needed to vent about the men who are feminist only in name, and not in action.


Do you have any experiences where this has happened to you? Do you have any other suggestions? Feel free to share!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

8 Reasons Why Introverts Don't Like the LDS Church

I'm an introvert. For me, this means that I don't like to meet new people, spending lots of time with people exhausts me, and that I'd rather be at home. I only start talking a lot after I've really gotten to know a person, and I rarely ever talk in a large group. This isn't unusual - there are lots of introverts out there, and they've been speaking out more and more about it. Basically, introverts gather their energy from being alone, whereas extroverts gain energy from being with others.



Today, I realized just how much the culture and format of the Church does not cater to introverts. Really, this Church is made for extroverts. Here are a few of the ways I think this is the case:

  1. There is a huge emphasis on fellowshipping. Part of your duty as a righteous member is to befriend others, especially those who are new, visiting, or less active. You're supposed to go right up to someone who looks lonely and start talking to them. Introverts don't like new people.
  2. The other side of #1 is that if you look lonely, someone is going to try to fellowship you. This is only slightly better than the introvert having to muster up some courage to go and talk to someone else. But it also catches the introvert off guard. 
  3. Church activities vary, but there always are sporting events. I hate this because I don't like sports, but also because, as an introvert, I tend to do better with activities where there are smaller amounts of people. Most church activities involve huge groups of people and events that are less intimate. 
  4. Everyone in the Elders' Quorums and Relief Society is asked to be home teachers and visiting teachers. The assignment is to visit with other predetermined people in the ward, either by coming to their home, calling, or leaving some sort of message. Basically, it's concentrated fellowshipping. Again, for introverts, they both have to visit someone and be visited by people, both of which they aren't fans. It's a little easier because it's one-on-one, but it's still uncomfortable.
  5. Mormons are huge on sharing their beliefs. They do so in missionary work, testimony meetings, etc. When it comes to missionary work, this means sharing something intimate with friends or complete strangers. In testimony meetings, you are asked to share your beliefs in front of the entire congregation from the pulpit as a way of strengthening those beliefs. For me, I'm not going to make myself vulnerable like that for crowds, friends with whom I've never had that type of relationship before, or complete strangers. It makes me very uncomfortable. 
  6. The Church relies on a lot of volunteer work, or lay clergy. Since no one is paid to preach, members are asked to conduct meetings, give sermons, and prepare lessons. Again, this could be in front of the entire congregation (100+ people). This could also occur in smaller meetings, anywhere from 10 to 50 people. Because many introverts dislike public speaking, this is definitely more of an extroverted activity. 
  7. Church culture encourages lots of displays of emotion. Feeling the Spirit is an overwhelming experience for many. It is very common to hear members cry or become emotional while they are doing any of the above activities: teaching, giving talks, bearing their testimonies, missionary work, etc. Introverts are not always comfortable with these occurrences, either seeing them or being asked to show powerful emotions themselves. Again, it puts them in a place of vulnerability, which they don't like. 
  8. Similar to #6, members are frequently asked to pray in front of others. Mormons like to have prayers before meals with the family, morning and/or evening prayers with family, and prayers before and after each meeting (not including personal prayers). This combines introvert's dislike of public speaking and their discomfort with making themselves vulnerable by sharing something intimate. 
To me, it's pretty obvious that this church was set up by extroverts for extroverts. And these are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head - I'm sure there are more. Actually, many introverts may find these aspects of Church helpful, because they are learning to become more outgoing in a safe environment. But for many introverts, all of these items serve to alienate them in a culture that is very open, outgoing, and social - something that does not come naturally to me or other introverts. 

I'm also not sure what the Church should be doing to better include introverts. I would say for sure that some of our activities (dances, sporting events, etc.) should become more intimate and productive (honestly, anyone who isn't 16 is sick of those kinds of events anyway). 

But I do want to say that if you are an LDS introvert, you're definitely not alone. 

Thoughts? Comments? Disagreements? Observations? Praise? All are welcome in the comments below. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Feminism Needs YOU


Hey everyone! I haven't written in a while because I finally got a job! It's pretty exciting, especially since I actually got a job in my field that I LOVE. Which means that I generally get all of my need to write satiated at work.

I've been reading Lean In by Sharyl Sandberg (finally!). Really, everyone should check this book out. I've seen some criticisms of it, but overall, it is a genius book. Women and men can really benefit from what she has to say.

I'm all hopped up on empowering feminist juices from reading it. Which is one reason I really love feminism, by the way - it's so empowering! I really feel like I can conquer the world after reading feminist books like this one. So I start thinking, everyone I know should read this. My little sister, who is also growing into feminism, should definitely read this. You see, I kind of feel like a feminist mentor to my sister. Obviously, I'm not the ultimate feminist, but I know much more about it than she does. And she's not as eager to dive into the deep end as I am.

To be honest, my sister began embracing feminism because of me. I'm not saying this to brag or anything. I started a Pinterest board dedicated to feminism, and she saw the images. Some of the things I shared about fat-shaming and body acceptance really spoke to her. She decided to reject all of the societal pressures that made her feel inadequate when it came to her appearance (it's a journey, of course, but that decision is the first and most important step). Eventually, after learning that she liked this part of feminism, she slowly started to listen to and adopt others.

She is not the only one. I'm obviously not a huge star on the Internet, but I can say that I have influenced others to similarly embrace or publicize their feminism. I have had two women actually tell me this, thanking me for my bravery in sharing feminist messages online. I've seen a few other women who are following me start their own Pinterest boards dedicated to feminism, re-pinning some of the material that I first pinned.

Again, not bragging - I'm not sure if my addiction to social media is something to brag about (though it did help me get my job!). But there are two takeaway messages in this random post:

  1. Share your feminism! I promise it'll be worth it. It hasn't always been easy to me - I've had people argue with me over the things I've posted, people stop following me, old acquaintances see me in a different light, etc. But I feel that the few people I have influenced are worth it. 
  2. Online activism is important. It may not be as dramatic or difficult as marching in the streets, but it can be very powerful in a different way. Sometimes, people aren't going to be swayed by protestors, though they make a very impacting statement. But you will be able to reach those who are open to new ideas, if only the ideas are presented in the right way for them to digest. Really, there's a lot more someone can learn from reading an article or personal experience than a demonstration. Not to put down traditional activists - they are, of course, doing amazing and awe-inspiring work. I'm just saying that not all of us are cut out for doing that kind of thing, and we shouldn't feel guilty because we can do amazing things digitally. 
So be a feminist! Share the empowerment with other women! 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Do Mormons have Christian Privilege?


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about privilege. If you're privy to feminism and feminist conversations, this term should come up a lot. There are lots of kinds of privilege, including white, male, Christian, cis, heterosexual, and probably more. You can learn more about it here, but I'm also just going to copy part of their definition here:
Privilege is notAbout you. Privilege is not your fault. Privilege is not anything you've done, or thought, or said. It may have allowed you to do, or think, or say things, but it's not those things, and it's not because of those things. Privilege is not about taking advantage, or cheating, although privilege may make this easier. Privilege is not negated. I can't balance my white privilege against my female disadvantage and come out neutral. Privilege is not something you can be exempt from by having had a difficult life. Privilege is not inherently bad. It really isn't. 
Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It's about advantages you have that you think are normal. It's about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It's about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf. 
Basically, privilege is about where you fall in the human hierarchical food chain. Some of my high school friends used to have this joke (that they probably didn't come up with) that in order to be the biggest minority, you'd have to be a black Jewish female lesbian, or something like that. And that's kind of what privilege is.

So, that being said, let's talk a little bit about Mormons and privilege.

Mormons

Mormons are kind of weird. We are Christian because we believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior who Atoned for our sins and etc. Lots of other Christians don't want us to call ourselves "Christians" because we don't believe in the Godhead the same way most other Christians do. We believe in the Bible, but we also have the Book of Mormon. Basically, we're half in and half out of the majority of Christiandom. 

Mormons are also frequently a minority. In my high school, I was one of four Mormons, one of which was my sister. I can remember very vividly the day we talked about Mormons in my U.S. history class. I sat silently while my classmates asked our teacher if Mormons were the ones who never cut their hair and other far-fetched rumors and misconceptions. Most of them had never even heard of Mormons - they were obviously confusing us with Mennonites, Amish, and even Sikhism (I believe). It was only at the end that I revealed to everyone that I was one of these fantastical Mormons. From then on out, I would be called "MormaGirl," or "that Mormon girl," and random students I had never met would come up to me in the cafeteria and ask me if I was "the Mormon." 
The only place where this isn't the case at all is in Utah. Last I heard, Utah is 60% LDS, though Salt Lake City is only 40%. There are obviously other parts of the country where Mormons may not be the majority of the population, but they also are common enough that most people have heard of us and know the gist of what we're about.



Privilege

Christianity is a type of privilege, at least in most of the Western world. Certainly in the U.S. Find out what exactly this means here. My question has been: if Mormons are Christians, do they have all of the same privileges that Christians tend to have? 

Let's look at the article with the 35 privileges that Christians have.

#3 - It is easy to find stores that carry items that enable you to practice your faith and celebrate religious holidays. Finding stores that are specifically geared towards LDS members is extremely hard outside of Utah. I don't think I ever knew of one in Massachusetts. However, finding stores that sell Christmas items – which Mormons do celebrate – is easy.
    #8 - You can practice your religious customs without being questioned, mocked, or inhibited.


No, practicing our religious customs has not been inhibited, at least not in modern times. That is definitely a big deal. But our religious customs are generally questioned and mocked. “Magic underwear” anyone? That wasn't a fun phase to go through.
    #11 - Positive references to your faith are seen dozens a time a day by everyone, regardless of their faith.


Sure, there are positive references to Mormonism. Many consider Mormons to be hard-working, polite, and clean-cut, giving them a reputation of being excellent hires. But there are also lots of bad references. We've been called a “cult” lots of times. People still can't seem to get over polygamy, even though that was over a hundred years ago.
    #14 - It is easy for you to find your faith accurately depicted in television, movies, books, and other media.

No. This almost never happens. Polygamy, Joseph Smith as a gold-digger, polygamy again, missionaries … Mormonism is apparently great fodder for cheap, cliché, over-used jokes.
    #15 - You can reasonably assume that anyone you encounter will have a decent understanding of your beliefs.


Nope. This would be a refreshing surprise. Even in Utah, lots of people who aren't LDS have some confused ideas about us (not that I can blame them).
    #17 - Your faith is accepted/supported at your workplace.

As a Mormon not living in Utah, your faith will probably be mocked and misunderstood in your workplace.
    #20 - Your faith can be an aspect of your identity without being a defining aspect (e.g., people won’t think of you as their “Christian” friend)

Like I said before, I've absolutely been known as the Mormon friend. This will change depending on where you live.
    #24 - You are never asked to speak on behalf of all the members of your faith.


I've done that many times. I've been trained to do that from an early age.
    #25 - It is unlikely you will be judged by the actions of other members of your faith.


Polygamy falls under this again, but also mainstream LDS political beliefs. People think that “Mormon feminist” is an oxymoron because of ultra conservative Mormons.
    #26 - You can go anywhere and assume you will be surrounded by members of your faith.


No. That's why we have special camps and conferences!
    #27 - Without special effort, your children will have a multitude of teachers who share your faith.
I've only ever had one teacher who had ever been LDS at any point in his life. That was the weirdest fluke ever.
    #28 - Without special effort, your children will have a multitude of friends who share your faith.


No, and that was sometimes difficult. But when I was going to elementary school in a very conservative part of California, I definitely had SOME LDS friends. As I've previously stated, that was not the case in high school. So again, this depends on your area.
    #29 - It is easily accessible for you or your children to be educated from kindergarten through post-grad at institutions of your faith.

I used to dream of a private elementary school that was LDS-run. Now I realize how weird that would be. But there are a few colleges that are LDS-run. BYU, BYU-I, BYU-H, LDS Business College, and Southern Virginia University (though that is not officially run by the Church).
    #32 - Your faith is taught or offered as a course at most public institutions.
Only in Utah.

So that's 14 out of 35 that I believe don't apply to Mormons. There are a few more on there, like having a jury of your peers that share your religious values, but I think in that case the fact that a jury of our peers would most likely be Christian counts as a privilege for us. (In fact, I think in Jodi Arias's Case, her defense tried to use her Mormon faith/culture in her trial.)

And obviously, almost all of these don't count in Utah. In Utah, Mormonism is the majority and the institution in power, so we do have Mormon privilege. That's an odd phenomenon, huh? 

What's the point of all of this? Absolutely nothing. It was honestly something that I was curious about. Obviously, while Mormons have endured lots of shit, especially in our early days, we are still higher up on the religion food chain in the U.S. than many other minority and misunderstood religions. I do not mean to lessen the experiences that those of real minority faiths. Though I do believe that being LDS in some areas can give us an idea of what it means to be a minority, we still enjoy many advantages that Christians in general have in this country.

EDIT: A few days later, this happened:

Then this:

I've never heard of that before. But I guess it happens.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Is the modern world really that bad?

In Mormondom, you here a lot from leaders, local and higher up, that the world is getting worse with time. Our modern days are some of the wickedest ever seen, they'll warn. Something like that.

President Monson said in the latest edition of the Ensign (the July one):
"In the decades since the end of World War II, standards of morality have lowered again and again. Crime spirals upward; decency careens downward. Many are on a giant roller coaster of disaster, seeking the thrills of the moment while sacrificing the joys of eternity. Thus we forfeit peace."
Now, I'm not going to say that all of this is utterly false. I'm sure in many ways the world has gotten much worse. But I don't think things are as bad as they seem. I think to some of the leaders of the Church (especially the older ones), our present-day situation appears to be a lot worse than it actually is.



Here are some reasons I've come up with for why things SEEM worse, but aren't necessarily:

  1. Crime rates have gone up. This is in part because more laws and decisions have been made, creating more crimes. For example, up until relatively recently, it was still legal for a man to rape his wife. Nowadays we realize that marriage does not give you permission to force someone into having sex with you. 
  2. Crime rates have gone up. This is in part because our forensic sciences and technology has improved immensely. Go read a crime novel written in the 1920s (Dashiell Hammett is the big one). Now go watch an episode of "Castle," "Bones," or "Criminal Minds." There is a GINORMOUS difference in how these detectives solve their crimes - Hammett's characters mainly had to piece together circumstantial evidence and witness testimonies. They didn't have fingerprinting, security cameras, medical technology, or any of the other things we take for granted on our modern-day crime shows (admittedly, some of the stuff Angela does on "Bones" can't be fully realistic, but that doesn't take away from the fact that we have made huge strides in our technology). This all leads to more arrests, more convictions, and more people with jail time. (Admittedly, this does not change the statistic of actual crimes as much as it affects the statistics of criminals. Still, I see those numbers going hand in hand when we mourn the state of this world.)
  3. As our world becomes more globalized, we will hear more and more about horrific events and crimes that happen further away from us. Back in the 1950s, we weren't able to Wikipedia the youngest murderer ever (it's about 8. I checked a few years ago). We didn't have the technology to film or photograph many of the really awful things that happened. Our fiction wasn't even as graphic or imaginative as it is now.
  4. Divorce rates are higher. General Authorities, and for that matter, many of the critics of feminism, love to talk about this one. Lots of people blame feminists for it. But really, why do we assume that all divorce is bad? In the 1950s, a woman could not divorce her husband, even if he was abusive, either because the law was not on her side or because she was not financially dependent. Do we really want to go back to the "good ole' days" of when there was abuse, but it was never reported or talked about? Of course, I'm not trying to trivialize divorce because I know it can have lots of negative consequences for many of the people involved; but I do think we're only looking at the negatives, when in reality, many positive things can come from divorce as well.
  5. Standards are lower. The problem with this is that standards are all relative. For example, it used
    to be scandalous for a woman in the U.S. to show her ankles. Now, we laugh at that. In a hundred years, we may think it's funny that we used to find butts sexually appealing. The LDS church has SOMEWHAT codified their standards, meaning that some of them have not wavered in like, fifty years. At least, we believe that to be true. In actually, many of the more "petty" standards the Church used to promote have changed quite a bit. In the 1950s, the For the Strength of Youth... used to tell young women that it was inappropriate to leave the house with curlers in your hair. I'm serious! Check it out here. So while the Church has never really changed it's position on sex before marriage, it has changed it's position on modesty standards (tank tops used to be okay); alcohol, tobacco, and coffee; polygamous marriages; and many other large and small standards. What I think this proves is ... IT'S OKAY TO BE FLEXIBLE ON
    STANDARDS! 
So what does this all mean? While we should continue listening to our ecclesiastical leaders, maybe we don't need to be quite so depressed when they say the world is getting worse. We don't need to feel like we're so much more righteous than the rest of the world. We might make different choices on what we consider is "worldly" or not. 

And, it might make us a little happier living in this world.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What your clothing "says" about you

Lately, in my internet sphere, there has been this kind of "war" about modesty. There are those who say modesty is important because it shows self-respect and keeps a man from having sexual thoughts about you - and there are those who say that modesty is all well and good, but doing it for the sake of others' is not the right way to go about it.

I think you can guess by now that I'm clearly in the second camp. I wrote about it last year here. You should also check out this great post by another Mormon feminist here; this one is responding to a video that's been making the rounds by Jessica Rey, creator of a "modest" swimsuit line.

One comment the above blog post ("To Every One That Believeth." Not my blog.) was something about what we were "says" something to everyone around us.

Actually, what she said was this:


Of course, I replied something snarky and said she must be exhausted all of the time from "evaluating" and "assessing" people. Although, I truly believe that this lifestyle does sound exhausting. You're already running errands, working, going to school, and trying to have fun - so while you're doing that, you're also turning your head every way to look at people, see what they're wearing, and judge them based on something as shallow as their clothing? 

The idea that a person "says" something with their clothing comes from pure commercialization. When you shop at Urban Outfitters, you're saying you're quirky and a hipster. When you shop at American Eagle, you're saying that you're preppy. But who decides that? The stores do. The commercials do. The commercials convince you that you need to represent yourself a certain way, specifically their way. And that way, you aren't going from store to store finding items that you like, but you're staying at one store and spending all of your money there. They've got you hooked. 

And are we really "saying" something with our clothes when we all shop at the same prescribed stores anyway? A store produces thousands, millions of the same exact item every time it creates a new piece of clothing. The chances of you running into someone wearing the same shirt as you is actually pretty high. So why do we think that we're "saying" anything unique with our clothing when we clearly have very little say in it anyway? 

Lastly, this is such an unreliable method to get to a decision anyway. Most of the time when you judge someone based on their clothing choices, you are wrong. What about the athletes who sexually assault women? The businessmen who embezzle? In my high school, a group of about 20 of the good-grade-honors-students-teachers'-favorites-athletes-who-got-into-good-colleges weren't allowed to walk at graduation because they got drunk on their way to prom and assaulted a police officer. Last week in the grocery store, despite the fact that my hair was a mess and I was wearing my cleaning clothes (and a wedding ring), I got hit on when I didn't want to. Most of the time when you try to "interpret" someone's clothing, you're going to get it wrong. 


From there, it's a slippery slope into victim blaming. That woman was wearing a low cut shirt and short skirt, which we all know means that she's "saying" she wants sex, so isn't it her fault that someone decided to "listen" to her clothing and not her words? Doesn't that make it her fault she was raped? 

No. It never does. Never ever ever. 

The same thing applies to women in bikinis. This woman, and many other champions of "modesty," are presuming that a woman who wears a bikini is doing it for the sexual attention she will attract. What we should be doing is thinking that maybe a woman in a bikini is wearing it because that is what she is most comfortable in, and she really doesn't care who looks at her. It's a cliche, but there's also that expression that we don't wear makeup for men, but for ourselves. Same thing with bikinis. 

Honestly, I really feel a lot of pity for this woman who posted the above comment. (Of course, I am judging her without meeting her and that's wrong, but ...) I can imagine that she is the type of woman who wakes up two hours before the crack of dawn because she can't stand to leave her house without her make up and hair done. And while many may think "oh, she's showing respect for those around her," really, she's just very insecure about herself. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Diary of a Single Mormon Female"


My thoughts


So first of all, I won Diary of a Single Mormon Female as part of a contest over at Modern Mormon Men, and got a copy signed by the author, so thanks Aleesa! (I feel like we're on a first name basis after reading this. After all, I was basically reading her journals. We have to be pretty tight after that.) I was really excited to read this because I was expecting it to address a lot of the cultural issues of the Church, such as pushing marriage onto people and treating single adults as second thoughts. I was not disappointed on that count at all. I think Aleesa did a fabulous job demonstrating how harmful some aspects of Church culture can be. 

I think the beginning of the book is a little slow. Part of this is because I didn't really need explanations of Johnny Lingo and fasting, seeing how I also grew up LDS. Those sections do make me wonder who the intended audience of this memoir is, or if her editor made her include it. (Who published this book? Did Aleesa do it herself? Wow, that's impressive.) 

I also just didn't find her earlier journal entries that entertaining. I think part of the problem is that I feel like my experience literally mirrored hers. I absolutely had church boys that I had crushes on, and our relationships consisted entirely of my daydreams and the very minor interactions we had, which I would blow out of proportion. (Unlike Aleesa, I actually married my Jon ... Yup, I would totally stare at 12-year-old Colby as he passed the sacrament. Then write about it in my journals. Which I still have, and were a huge source of entertainment to my family after I got engaged to him.) It's an interesting phenomenon, and I'd like to see how many women who grew up in the Church have experienced something similar. 

It definitely picked up for me after Aleesa turned 16-17 and actually started to date. Those experiences began to be different than mine. I'll try not to give any spoilers away here, but I was fascinated and horrified by who she was when she was going to BYU. I loved watching her grow, step-by-step, until she was the person at the end of the book. And I loved the end of the book. My favorite line is
"Church culture seems to dictate that life's trials can be discussed only in the past tense, hand in hand with the feel-good declaration that everything ended up working out just fine. Most people are very uncomfortable acknowledging doubt, anger, grief, despair or any of the other, less sparkly emotions. The injuction Christ gave his disciples to "be of good cheer" has been interpreted by many as the only legitimate state of being for a Mormon at any time - hence robust sales of Prozac in Utah" (218).
Emphasis is mine. I just feel like that's a really true part of the Church culture. We somehow are afraid of acknowledge doubt, even though you cannot have faith without questioning things.

So even though Aleesa's trials in this context revolve around being single and I am now married, I can still really relate to her emotions at the conclusion of this book. I think they are universal, despite her specific context. While I found the duration of this memoir entertaining and informative, it was the ending that really spoke to me.

Your book club

  • When did you start noticing boys? Were they boys from Church? Did you write about them in your journal?
  • How did Aleesa's religious beliefs affect her interactions and attitudes towards boys? Have you had similar experiences with church lessons that revolve around future companions? Have you had any experiences with marriage being taught in different ways or frequencies to the teenage girls than the boys?
  • What do you think of Aleesa's time at BYU? What was her outlook and attitude like during that entire experience? Do you think that outlook/attitude is common (especially among BYU students)? How did she describe the men in her life? What do you think, if anything, went wrong? Did you see any sort of pattern or similarities between all of her crushes (other than them not working out)? Do you think Aleesa's attitudes affected her dating life? In what ways did Aleesa grow during her time at BYU? 
  • What do you think about Aleesa's relationship with Hugh (her first boyfriend)? Have you had a similar type of relationship?
  • Aleesa frequently talks about "potential" with the men she has a crush on. Is this outlook on dating normal or unusual? Do you ever think that way? Do you think it's an effective method? (Read the first paragraph on page 137 about Sam.)
  • On pages 141-142, Aleesa and her friends start discussing sex. Does her experience of learning about sex reflect yours? Do you agree with her about the ways she wishes the topic of sex was taught?
  • On page 171, Aleesa comments that some of the teachings of the Church on dating can be contradictory and confusing. Do you agree? What are some things you'd like to see changed?
  • How does Aleesa represent the men of the LDS church? Do you feel this is a fair representation?  
  • Aleesa sticks to her standard of only wanting to marry LDS men, even though it meant giving up Boris and Amir. What do you think of this decision? Do you think things would've worked out between her and one of those men? Do you think she was being foolish and narrow-minded or strong and uncompromising (or maybe even a little of both)? 
  • Do you agree with Aleesa's assessment on the way Church culture often treats trials, such as in the quote above? Have you ever had similar feelings or feelings that you felt weren't as "kosher" in the Church? Is there anyone you can talk to about these types of feelings?
  • BONUS QUESTION: If you are married, what are some better ways that you can interact with the single adults? What's something you can say other than "oh, you'll find someone some day"?

Yeah, sorry, I know that's a lot. The great thing about book clubs is that you get to pick and choose what you want to talk about! Some topics may not get a lot of response from the crowd, and some you may end up talking about for hours. Good luck! I hope you enjoyed Diary of a Single Mormon Female and any subsequent discussions!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

2 situations in which women commonly find themselves in movies

I went to go see Oblivion (imdb.com) last week with Colby. He and I are both really into sci-fi. I thought it was a great movie, particularly as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story. There was some beautiful imagery. There were a lot of cool inventions. The storyline was really great. I liked all the characters, including the female ones.

But then, I also have to analyze this movie as a feminist. Interestingly enough, it does pass The Bechdel Test. This is surprising considering that there is a male protagonist and the men generally have all of the violent, action roles. I think a woman picks up a gun and fires it twice in the movie, but only reluctantly (to protect a man in one instance and after another man has dropped the gun in the other). But it's a nice surprise. It's nice that even in a male-centered movie that women can have adequate (maybe?) representation. We just need to step it up by making tons more female-centered movies.

There were two things I noticed about this movie that I think you can find it lots of other movies as well. I don't think you could call them "tropes" exactly, because they aren't character molds. They're just situations that women are frequently found in. Warning - spoilers!

1. Nurturing/Protecting a Random Child - When a child fell down, it was a woman who picked him up and protected him from that point on. Julia was basically a random stranger to this colony of Earth survivors, but when one of their children is somehow separated from the group and left behind, she picks him up. Why doesn't someone else from this band of survivors protect the child? Doesn't he have any friends or neighbors who are interested in his welfare?

I've seen this happen in a few other movies. Katie Holmes does it in Batman Begins. The whole city is under a chemical attack that causes them to hallucinate. Holmes's character, Rachel Dawes, clutches to a random little boy that is for some unknown reason all on his own. (Interestingly, that boy happens to be a young Jack Gleeson, who plays King Joffrey in Game of Thrones.)

I actually can't think of any other movies, so I'm either brain farting or it's just a coincidence that these two movies have incidences of women protecting children during attacks. I don't think it is, though.

The reason why I don't like this is because it puts women in the role of natural nurturers. By having women who are not yet mothers slip into the role of pseudo-mother instinctually, you are saying that all women are potential mothers. This is a naturally accepted role. I wonder why in these movies you don't have men playing this protective part, or even just the child's own mother?

It also generally happens when the man is out doing hero stuff. Jack sacrifices himself as a kamikaze and Batman is off fighting villans. The women just stay out of the way until the fracas is over. This way, they won't get hurt.

I'm sure there are movies that do have men protecting random children, but I think we are meant to respond to that as an out-of-the-ordinary heroic, compassionate act, whereas women are treated as that being the norm.

But I don't have anything to back that up, so you can take it whatever way you'd like.

2. A Baby as a Consolation Prize - At the end of the movie, Jack Harper, the protagonist, and Julia, his love interest, plan to suicide bomb the aliens. Julia is put into "delta sleep," while Jack flies the spaceship. When Julia wakes up, she realizes that Jack has tricked her, and she is actually safe on Earth. Which really pisses me off. Julia volunteered to die with Jack, knowing full well what the consequences were! Who is he to make that decision for her? Anyway, we flash forward to five years later (or whatever), and now she has a daughter. Somehow during that time, Jack impregnated her. This is a frightening implication on its own because we are never aware of them having sex. I guess there's a possibility they had sex before she went into delta sleep the first time, or they did have consensual sex but we don't see it. I guess.

So even though Jack is dead, it's okay because Julia has a baby, who is supposed to be the next best thing. I guess you can see Jack in the child, or the child reminds her of Jack.

I know this has happened in LOTS of movies. It happens in Cold Mountain, where Nicole Kidman's character, Ada Monroe, has sex with her lover just before he is shot to death. Again, fast forward a few years, and she has a child.


It happened in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Jack is cursed to the point where he is only able to set foot on land once every ten years. His wife, Elizabeth, settles down alone on an island after a sex romp. Jack comes back ten years later, and now Elizabeth has a ten-year-old son.


It kind of happens in Superman Returns (2006). When Superman returns, he finds that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) now has a young child. We realize by the end of the movie that this is actually Superman's son, and not Lois's boyfriend's. So even though Superman didn't die and the baby wasn't the consolation prize revealed at the end of the movie, Lois was still left with a baby by herself for a number of years. 

I'm not a fan of this occurrence either. It is insulting to both the male partner and the kids. Your lover cannot be replaced by a child, and a child isn't just a momento of someone you deeply loved. It's also insulting to the women: it's basically saying that they can get over the man if they only have a child. In Oblivion, Cold Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the three mothers stop their adventurous lives and settle down into a domestic one. This is generally seen as much better and safer for them, and a sacrifice the male makes out of the purest most selfless love. It's even worse in Pirates because she's spending ten years waiting for this man while he's running off on adventures - the ultimate working dad who passes off all the childcare to his wife. 

I understand that movies are made this way in order to make audiences less sad. There is more resolution in a movie that ends with this kind of bittersweet ending. And it is very tragically bittersweet - I felt lots of feels when watching (most) of these movies. 

Both of these situations also have a degree of passivity in them. In the first one, women are standing in the sidelines after having been "given" the safest responsibility. In the second, women have no control over reproduction (I know that's historically accurate, but it doesn't stop it from sucking!).

I don't appreciate women being put in this situation over and over again, even in fiction. I believe it has all these implications for "real world" women, including being shuffled into the nurturing/mothering role without any regard for the previous strength and adventurous spirit these women once had. And without any regard to how they felt about the men in their lives before they lost them.

So anyway, if you agree or disagree, please let me know in the comments below! I would also love to hear it if you know of any other movies where these situations happen to women.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How to Read Like a Feminist

Being an English major has taught me that there are a number of ways that you can read the same book. It all comes down to the context in which you want to look at a text. You can look at a book historically, which generally means comparing it to other works that were written around the same time and seeing what they have in common. You can think about colonialism when reading a book, which often means themes of race relations or questions about savagery versus civilization (think Pocahontas).

Generally, a feminist novel is one that has a female protagonist and deals primarily with the relationships between women. (Do we apply The Bechdel Test to books? Comment and tell me your opinion.) But that doesn't mean we can't look at other kinds of books from a feminist perspective.

(It's also worth noting that a female character who isn't "strong" can still be a feminist novel. Sure, we feminists love a strong, kickass woman, but really, who doesn't? But that's also not realistic. Just as men aren't always strong - and many novels focus on the low and pathetic points of a man's life - women aren't always strong either. We can definitely have feminist novels where the women don't come out looking great.)



Reading Like a Feminist

When reading, ask some questions about the book. 
  1. Are there women in this book? Is the protagonist or antagonist a woman?
  2. What is the relationship women have to men? Are they primarily girlfriends, wives, daughters, mothers, sisters? Do you experience female characters outside of their relationship to men?
  3. How do men treat women in this book? Does it seem like the book or narrator condemns or condones the actions of men towards women?
  4. Do the female characters seem realistic and fleshed-out to you? Do they experience growth or learn any lessons? Do they change in any way?
  5. If this is a historical book, are the roles and actions of women much different than they are now? Do they women have anything to say about their roles? Do the men? Does the book take time to point out how the roles of women back then are different from women today? 
  6. If there are multiple female characters in the book, are they different from each other? Do they have different personalities and make different life choices?
  7. Do women come out looking good or bad? 
  8. Do the female characters drive the plot of the novel at all?
  9. Are the female characters passive or active? Are they acted upon or do they do the acting?
  10. Is the author of this book male or female? Do you think that the sex of the author somehow colors the way they write about men and women?
  11. Are the female characters dependent on men?
  12. As a feminist, what do you like about the book? What do you dislike? (This is different from asking you what you like and dislike about the book generally. You are allowed to love any kind of entertainment or literature that makes the feminist in you angry.)

An Example

Let's use the Harry Potter books as an example, since almost everybody has (or really, REALLY should have) read those.

Harry Potter is obviously about a male character. There seems to be an equal balance of male and female characters (but I haven't actually counted, so there could be more men than women). Harry, as a character, has varying relationships with all sorts of women. These female characters have a large range of diversity, displaying traditional femininity, vapidness, intelligence, athleticism, loyalty, cruelty, kindness, villainy, determination, heroics, etc. They all (for the most part) have distinct personalities from each other. Many of the more important female characters have both strengths and weaknesses, and they change over the series, making them round, fleshed-out characters. While they all have men in their lives, none of them seem to be dependent on men, and they are all generally pretty active. 

So even though this is a book with a male lead (and a male antagonist), we can still look at the women within the story. There may not be a ton to glean from different books about the female characters (because LOTS of books center on men), but it is always possible to pick out little bits and pieces.     

Go try this and tell me how your experiences turn out. If you can think of any more helpful questions to ask yourself when reading, please comment below and tell me!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"Bossypants" and "How to Be a Woman"


My thoughts

I just read Tina Fey's Bossypants and Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman back to back. The funny thing is, they really are very similar. On the cover of Caitlin's book, someone has reviewed it as "the British Bossypants," and it's true! They both talk about the horrors of puberty, being a woman in a male-dominated workplace, their family, and their experiences as mothers.

The thing I like about both these books, besides being hilarious and easy to relate to, is that they're both gateway drugs into feminism. I mean that in the best way, of course. They are two individuals' experiences with feminism. Because it's so easy to understand, these books are a great introduction to feminism.

They aren't, however, the bottom line of feminism. Tina Fey has been criticized for this one line she has about how beauty standards have evolved to the point where one woman is expected to have body parts from all sorts of ethnicities. The way she comes across in the line is derogatory to women of color, or so I have read from women of color (I didn't find it offensive at first, but that could easily be my white privilege. It might also be that I read it differently than those critics did). I didn't like that both of them criticized other female celebrities, though the reasoning behind it made sense.

So while the books aren't hardcore feminism, or even inclusive, intersectional feminism, they are brilliant, funny, lighthearted, and have some great criticisms of everyday sexisms.

Your book club

Because these books are both very personal, your book club might get very personal too when talking about these books. It might just turn into story time. But that's okay! I think that's the point of both of these books, and that's what reading them encourages.

Here are some questions that will hopefully bring about awesome discussions in your feminist book club:

  1. Talk about your experiences with puberty. Did your parents give you "the talk"? What are some conversations you had about growing up with siblings or friends? 
  2. In Caitlin's book, she talks about what we call our private body parts. Do you think the names we use for our breasts and vagina are important? What are some of the names you hear that you do or don't like? 
  3. What are some of the beauty standards you come up against? How have you had to fight them and learn to accept your body? Do you still struggle with some of them?
  4. Both Tina and Caitlin have mentioned gay friends that they had. What do you think of their relationships with people who are homosexual? How do you think the gay community and feminism relate to each other? Can gay men understand some of the experiences of women in the patriarchy? (You could also talk about lesbian women in this discussion, but this is also a REALLY BIG discussion. You might have to try to reign it in.)
  5. Both Tina and Caitlin use humor to talk about feminism. Tina even uses humor to bring feminist issues to a national audience. How does using humor help feminist causes? You could use rape jokes as an example in this discussion.
  6. Both Tina and Caitlin have experienced sexism in the workplace. Both of them have had to fight for more female representation in male-dominated industries. How do you think things have changed for women as comedians and musicians? Are we making progress in those two fields? You might also want to share some experiences you have had in your own workplaces. 
  7. Caitlin describes her first experience of being in love with Courtney. It's obviously an awful relationship, and Caitlin seems to know that, but she sticks with it. Why does she stay with Courtney for so long? Have you had a similar experience? Why was it so important for Caitlin to be in love?
  8. What do you think of Caitlin visiting a strip club? What are your personal feminist views on women working in the sex industry? Do you agree with Caitlin's conclusions?
  9. Caitlin describes her wedding and all the issues she has with the wedding industry. Do you agree with her? Did you have problems with your wedding, or have you been in a similar situation as her sister, Caz? 
  10. Tina Fey tells a story about Amy Poehler saying to Jimmy Fallon "I don't care if you fucking like it." Talk about that. Talk about male privilege, too. 
  11. Both Tina and Caitlin talk about motherhood, as well as how they bring their feminist outlook to motherhood. If you are a mother, talk about how you try to bring feminist ideals to raising your child. If you aren't, you can bring up goals you have for raising children in a feminist way. Is motherhood a feminist act? (Discuss Caitlin's chapter about giving birth for the first time. I absolutely loved that part. She made giving birth seem so empowering, like a she-warrior.) 
  12. Talk about Caitlin's chapter on abortion. Do you want children? Do you think not having children is a feminist act?
  13. Both Tina and Caitlin are white, mostly middle-class feminists living in developed countries. Discuss some of the privilege that comes with that, and maybe some of the privilege you saw in Tina and Caitlin. 
  14. Now that you've read both books ... which one did you like better and why?
So there's a lot in there. SORRY. You could probably talk an entire 24 hours if you went thoroughly through every one of those questions. So just pick and choose what you and your book club will probably like. 

And I hope you enjoy the books!

Monday, May 20, 2013

5 Ways to Make Modesty More Spiritual


One issue that Mormon feminists have is that of "modesty culture." (For more on "modesty culture," you can check out the definition, an awesome blog post at Experimental Criticism, and a blog post by me.) I think that most MoFems, myself included, wished that modesty revolved less around the length of your skirt and more around spiritual traits.

But that got me thinking - what is modesty that has nothing to do with clothing? When the For the Strength of Youth isn't talking about the specifics of clothing and appearance, it says
"Your body is sacred. Respect it and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him."
That part was great, but none of the rest of the For the Strength of Youth was super helpful for what I was trying to figure out. Upon some further exploration of LDS.org, I found this entry (here):


I like this one a little better. Modesty is transfered from clothing choices to an "attitude," and behaviors.

Elaine S. Dalton said this in her talk Stay on the Path:
Virtue encompasses modesty—in thought, language, dress, and demeanor ... When we are modest, we show others that we understand our relationship with our Father in Heaven as His daughters. We demonstrate that we love Him and that we will stand as a witness of Him in all things. Being modest lets others know that we “cherish virtue” (“Dearest Children, God Is Near You,” Hymns, no. 96). Modesty is not a matter of being “hip.” It is a matter of the heart and being holy. It is not about being fashionable. It is about being faithful. It is not about being cool. It is about being chaste and keeping covenants. It is not about being popular, but about being pure.
This is a little more helpful in describing the attitudes, thoughts, and behavior. Essentially, what I get from this paragraph is that it is more important to have a relationship with Heavenly Father than to be popular, fashionable, etc. Modesty is about what is inside of you rather than what is outside of you.

So how do we figure that out? Telling us that modesty is an "attitude," "behavior," "thought," and "demeanor" isn't very specific. What thoughts are we supposed to be thinking? How exactly are we supposed to be behaving?

Behaviors of Modesty

So what are the behaviors of modesty? That's really not an easy question to answer. The definition of modesty outside of Christianity probably has something to do with being humble. But how do we have a demeanor of being humble without putting ourselves down all of the time?  

Here are a few answers that I've thought up. These are obviously not perfect and may not work for everyone, but I think they're a good start to answering this complicated question. 

1. Love yourself - We've all heard before that it's hard to love others if you don't love yourself first, but it's true! It's also difficult to take care of your body if you hate it. So much of our society and media today tries to tell you that you aren't good enough, that your body isn't perfect enough. Start working today to undo the harmful messages that are all around you. Try daily to think of parts of your body that you genuinely like. Stop buying magazines and comparing yourself to celebrities that spend hours a day working out and then are photoshopped in the pictures (check out Beauty Redefined to learn more about harmful media). Don't let yourself look in a mirror for entire day. Skip makeup.

2. Take care of yourself - You don't need to spend hours a day exercising and restricting yourself to an oppressive diet. But you should also take care of yourself physically. To me, all this means is maybe going out for a leisurely nature walk or trying to cut out fast food. It also means letting yourself relax and not get too stressed. Do some yoga or have a dance party with your friends. There can be good, helpful ways to maintain some healthy habits without making yourself unhappy. Also, eat the cake! If you want dessert, go reward yourself with some. Just make sure you don't binge eat on anything either - keep a healthy balance of eating good, supportive foods and fun, helpful exercise. Nap in the middle of the day if you feel like it. 

3. Love others - This one relates to #1. If you are constantly criticizing others around you, those thoughts are going to turn inwards. If you are worried about someone else's clothing, you're also going to start worrying about your own. That kind of poison doesn't leave you. It stays inside of you and hurts you. Mean thoughts towards others is also not Christlike in the least. How can you love and serve others if you're secretly calling them fat or slutty? Answer: YOU CAN'T! Next time you catch yourself criticizing someone else in your head, try to replace the thought with a positive one. Think about instead how their hair looks great, or how they're really good at making friends, or how talented they are. You don't have to go overboard and make yourself feel bad (because we're not comparing ourselves to others, right???), but you should try to banish the negative thoughts you have about others.

4. Be grateful - It's not always easy to be happy with what God gave us. All of us go through a terrible combination of puberty, high school, and more that make us dislike at least part of our bodies. But think about how remarkable we are. Our bodies are so miraculous and complex that scientists still haven't figured it all out - we still don't even know why bodies need sleep! And God created that all. When you pray at night, thank Heavenly Father for the individual amazing things your body does. Go outside and feel the sunlight on your skin. Lay with your eyes closed and pay attention to your breathing. I believe that an attitude of modesty is caring more about what your body DOES rather than how your body LOOKS. 

5. Be creative - There are so many awesome ways to make, recreate, recycle, or decorate clothing on Pinterest. I've got a million of them right here. Try a few of the ones that appeal to you. Learn how to sew or crochet or whatever. Learning a new skill will again help you to value what you can do over your appearance. Take pride in your work and wear it boldly. Personalize it to show off your unique personality. Even if you've made a mistake in your artwork, no one else will notice. Go up to people and brag about it (I don't mean really get in their face brag, but more like "hey look! I made this! I'm pretty proud of myself for making a goal and accomplishing it! Now I have this awesome product I love!"). Creating your own clothing pieces will allow you to make it as modest as you like it. You'll also begin to care less about the cost of clothing or the brand names. You can spend your extra money on more worthwhile things, like having fun with friends. You'll feel more comfortable, because your clothes will actually fit your size, unlike clothes at stores that are very hit or miss.

Those are my ideas, at least. I would love to hear if you have any great ideas for how you make modesty more spiritual! Please share your thoughts, comments, or questions below.