Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mormonism & Femininity

So much pink ...
When men in the LDS church say things like this, it makes women feel special. Words such as "delicate, radiant, sensitive, creative, charming, gracious, gentle, dignified," and possessing "quiet strength," are very complimentary.

My problem is that those are the ONLY words used to describe LDS women, or really the ideal LDS woman. This quote comes from the talk Womanhood: The Highest Place of Honor, and can be in full found here

What bothers me first about this quote is the very limited way which a woman can be in Faust's eyes. It sounds like he is basically describing a china doll, and I for one do not want to break. I've head before that "if you put a woman on a pedestal only the thing she can do is fall," so I disagree with saying things like "womanhood is the highest place of honor." 

But also, this quote tries to make it so beauty is no longer dependent on shallow things, such as hair and makeup, but making beauty based instead on levels of spirituality. "Inner beauty," becomes the strength of your testimony. In this sense, it is almost as shallow as the physical attributes. To judge a woman's spirituality and to find her attractive based on that quality alone is wrong. A person's spirituality is just one facet of her life. Why are we not attracted to her based on her personality? 

What disturbs me even more about that talk is this quote right here:
"Unfortunately, we see some very poor role models of womanhood in today’s society. We see women boxers and wrestlers as we flip through the television channels trying to find something uplifting. I believe the women of our time need to be strong, but not in that sense. In my opinion, these activities demean the nobility of womanhood."
 Women are only allowed to be strong in a "quiet" way, possessing only spiritual strength. Women who engage in typically masculine activities, such as boxing and wrestling, are all the sudden bad people because they are not feminine enough. How in the world could female boxers and wrestlers be bad examples for women? We glorify female pioneers who pushed handcarts across the country for their physical strength, as well as emotional and spiritual strength - why not a modern woman doing what she loves? 

Talks like this rigidly define gender roles in the LDS culture. "Femininity" is a social construct, but many in the Church teach it as a divine characteristic of women. 

The same type of rhetoric can be found here at Meridian magazine (link): 
"• Be a lady.
Is there a difference between a woman and lady?  When a female client was recently asked this question she said, “Woman is a gender, lady is an attitude.”  An excellent definition of the difference.  One man said, “My wife is my yardstick for womanhood.  She acts like a lady, she dresses like a lady, she talks like a lady, and expects to be treated like a lady.  And she’s fun to be around.”
Men love being with a lady. They’re surrounded by men all day, or some women who are trying to be like men, so give him the gift of having a wife who is a true lady. He’ll love it. And yes, ladies can do all kinds of tough tasks and still be a lady.  Does that mean she has to wear a skirt all the time.  Of course not.  That’s not even practical. It means she acts in gentleness, but can work like a trooper.  She is strong, and yet is respectful and gentle in her strength. She doesn’t curse or act vulgar. She speaks in loving ways. She embraces her femininity. That’s being a lady.  Remember, it’s an attitude.
President Faust said, “Femininity is part of your inner beauty.” (Ensign, May 2000, 96) So let it show by how you act."
This comes from a list of how to be a good wife (which I mostly agreed with until this part).

This type of language and these very specific expectations on LDS women are not only among the older in the Church (whom I believe are still living in a Mad Men era). I see it a lot in the people my age as well, for they are internalizing everything they are hearing.

Here is a blog post from a "gentlemen" at BYU, wondering where all the truly beautiful women have gone:

Here is an article published in BYU's student newspaper, The Universe, on gender roles and the recent announcement that women can now be in the front lines of the army:

All of this may sound very nice, saying nice things about women and their divinity.

But it is all extremely SEXIST. You may not immediately recognize it because of the benevolence with which it is said. And I am sure all of these different people only had good intentions when they wrote the things they did. They probably aren't aware of their sexism either.

Why is this all sexist if it sounds so complimentary? You are putting all women in a very narrow box. You are limiting women to very specific roles, instead of allowing them to make decisions for themselves based on their personal needs. You are putting women on a pedestal, instead of treating them like equals. You are treating women respectfully, but not actually respecting them.

I have a fairly good example of this in play. When I was living in my ward in New England, there was a young girl there, about 12-13, who wanted to be a boy. And I don't just mean that she was a tomboy - for whatever reason, she wanted to be a boy. She dressed in only boys' clothing, tried hard to cover up anything that revealed she was anatomically female, and always kept her hair short. This was a problem for the leaders in my ward who didn't know what to do with her. She couldn't be in the Young Mens program because that would be improper. She didn't want to be in the Young Womens program. This wasn't just a phase she was going through, and I believe that to this day her family respects her decisions and treats her as if she (I should be saying "he") is a man. But while he was still young, the actions of our ward made him feel very isolated.

There are many LDS members who believe that such behavior is wrong, the same way acting on homosexual attraction is wrong (to them). In my opinion, you are free to believe that, though I would disagree with you. Regardless, as christians and members of a welcoming church, we should not allow someone to feel isolated because they do not fit our description of what they should be doing. We should not judge others, spiritually or otherwise, based on whether or not they act more typically feminine or masculine. 

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