Sunday, March 24, 2013

Visiting Teaching Message for March

I'm actually really new to visiting teaching. This month has been the first month that I've had good experiences with both the women who come to teach me and the women I go to teach (and teach with. That's a confusing sentence, sorry!). It's been a very good visiting teaching month for me.

But being new to teaching, I mostly kept my mouth shut. For one, even though I felt very strongly about a certain thing, the topic of discussion wasn't going in that direction. For another, I didn't want to spend all day at this woman's house talking about the finer points of what is supposed to be a short thought.

This message for this month can be found here. It's theme is "activation," which centers mostly around service and charity.

I want to start out my thoughts by saying I don't have a problem with the message or with the things the women I spoke to have said about it. All of it was well-meaning when it was said or written, and all of it is a good message.

My companion would read the story about the woman in the bathrobe. I think she may have been the one to say something along the lines of "obviously, we don't have the same problems with people being inactive here." Yes, we live in Utah, specifically in a ward that is mostly made up of BYU students. There probably aren't a lot of inactive members. But I felt odd, sitting right next to her, when I consider myself to be "hactive" (half + active. Yes, I think I'm really funny). Also, most BYU students are probably not going to stay in Utah; many are going to go to states or stakes where there is a much smaller LDS population, and many will be inactive.

So the first thing you should think about when trying to do service for someone who is inactive (or anyone): We never really know who is inactive or why. We don't know who is struggling with their testimonies or not. We don't know why someone hasn't been coming to Church or other activities for a while. Going into a teaching/service moment with any assumptions is going to be a turn-off for whomever is your subject of attention. Going in with lots of questions, compassion, and sympathy will work the best.

There is also this quote by Brigham Young:
“Let us have compassion upon each other, … and let those who can see guide the blind until they can see the way for themselves.”
I think what Brigham Young meant by saying this is that you have to have higher ground before you can pull someone up. You cannot be someone's spiritual guide if you are lacking in testimony or spiritual knowledge. That makes sense.

But I'm still bothered by this quote. I think there are people who see "activation" as being morally superior. This have this attitude of being a savior, of helping a lowly poor person. This view is very condescending, and a huge turn-off for anyone you are trying to help.

For example, when I was a teenager, there was a girl in our Young Women's program who was not active in the Church. She didn't come to very many activities, despite her family being well-known and having been part of the ward for some time. I felt it was my duty to try to talk to her during the few activities she did come to. I didn't really want to, and would rather have spent time with my friends, but I felt like I had to. A few weeks later, I noticed she had part of an Emily Dickinson poem up on her MySpace page. I messaged her, saying something like "Hey! I like Emily Dickinson, too!" This time, I was not trying to communicate with her out of a sense of duty. She messaged me back and said "Stop trying to fellowship me."

I think that was the first time I ever put 2-and-2 together and realized that someone like her, who was a member of the Church, knew that we were told to fellowship, and would recognize my hollow efforts. That time I was being sincere, but she was already turned-off by me.

So the second thing everyone should remember is that we need to actually love the people we serve and have a genuine desire to serve. Blitz attacks of paper hearts and cookies feel impersonal and like pressuring to many less active sisters. A lack of personal effort and trying to get the know the sister can be easily transparent. In those instances, it is probably better for them that you didn't even bother at all. The solution is gentle phone calls, texts, or emails that are not intrusive or pressuring, and that respect the wishes of the sister. If the sister lets you get to know her, you can begin to do real, sincere service that actually reflects her needs.

Those are just some of my thoughts on this great lesson. I'd love to hear what you think about it, or any other thoughts you might have had about March's visiting teaching message.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Righteousness never was attractiveness

I have a lot of LDS friends on Facebook. So when some article comes out saying that BYU is #1 for hots and smarts, it gets reposted 6 bajillion times. (Or just 6).

The article is here. Enjoy. Also, a shout out to BYU Idaho, who rank somewhere. 

Of course, this is annoying, and LDS people frequently need to get over BYU. (That is an issue that has been addressed by Amen Already here. Definitely go check it out because she's pretty funny.) But what bothers me the most is this: 
"Everyone at BYU is very attractive; I've yet to see an ugly person here. Thanks to the honor code, every guy is clean shaven and well groomed (no super long hair) and every girl is dressed modestly (not too much skin). Everyone is very friendly, and it's not uncommon to strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger. BYU is famous for beginning long-lasting relationships and marriages, so dating is greatly encouraged."
Read more:

So everyone at BYU is attractive because they follow the honor code - because they are clean-shaven and don't show too much skin? (You can tell that this was written by BYU students, because very few people in the "secular" world would think not showing skin is attractive.)

Which comes to another idea prevalent in the LDS culture: Being righteous and obedient makes you more attractive.

I'm serious. People really believe this. It's somewhat addressed in another blog post I did on how femininity is viewed in Mormonism (here).

It is perpetuated in this famous story (here):

I recently recalled a historic meeting in Jerusalem about 17 years ago. It was regarding the lease for the land on which the Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was later built. Before this lease could be signed, President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, agreed with the Israeli government on behalf of the Church and the university not to proselyte in Israel. You might wonder why we agreed not to proselyte. We were required to do so in order to get the building permit to build that magnificent building which stands in the historic city of Jerusalem. To our knowledge the Church and BYU have scrupulously and honorably kept that nonproselyting commitment. After the lease had been signed, one of our friends insightfully remarked, “Oh, we know that you are not going to proselyte, but what are you going to do about the light that is in their eyes?” He was referring to our students who were studying in Israel.
What was that light in their eyes which was so obvious to our friend? The Lord Himself gives the answer: “And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings.” Where did that light come from? Again the Lord gives the answer: “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” The Lord is the true light, “and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.” This light shows in our countenances as well as in our eyes.
I've never seen such a light. (The idea of it "showing in our countenance" sounds Biblical poetry to me.)  For a while, I believed that I can tell Mormons apart from non-Mormons. And to some degree, you can. But being in Utah means everyone adopts the same basic fashion choices, so unless you're tattooed with a neon green mohawk and showing cleavage, it's really not that easy to tell.

As great as being righteous or obedient is, it does not translate into attractiveness. Someone may find them to be attractive traits in another person (especially at BYU!), but that doesn't mean that being righteous or obedient makes you attractive.

I think the problem with this misconception is the shallowness of it all. As Christians, we are not supposed to be concerned with outward appearance as much as we are. It is especially manipulative to constantly be telling young teenagers and college students that they will be attractive if only they are righteous and obedient. Not fair, in my books.

This phenomenon also gives us permission to judge each other. Do you have enough light in your eyes? Are you attractive? No? Then you must also be a disobedient apostate.

It often turns out that this cultural aspect mainly affects women. Sure, you have here that clean-shaved men are more attractive than their bearded counterparts. But there's nothing in our culture that says not having a beard is righteous the same was being modest is. Facial hair does not reflect one's virtue the way modesty supposedly does. This is definitely obvious if you go read my post on femininity!!! Because, as lowly RMs all the way up to lofty apostles have said, a woman is only attractive if she is righteous and doing exactly what the Church culture tells her to do.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to Talk to a MoFem

With the recent campaigns that have been going on (Pants, Let Women Pray, and now Ordain Women) lots of faithful LDS members seem to have forgotten how to be good christians (lower-case "c" is intentional). I know lots of people who have grown up with the Church a certain way all of their lives are confused about why some LDS women and men are unhappy with the current cultural climate. They wonder how so many people can be discontent with a belief system that has brought them so much joy, peace, and community.

But a lot of them are really terrible at expressing that. So, I have come up with a few guidelines for how to talk to someone who identifies as a Mormon feminist or just someone who supports these campaigns.

I don't know who made this, but it wasn't me, so all credit to that person.

1. Do Not make assumptions about them. Many people approach Mormon feminists with questions of why they want to be a man, why they want to have the priesthood, etc. There are a lot of things wrong with doing this. For one, it's extremely rude. You're forcing the feminist you are talking to to immediately go on the defensive. You're not going to get a good conversation out of this.

Another, you actually have no idea what a particular feminists grievances or goals are. Some Mormon Feminists want women to have the priesthood, some do not. Like general feminism, this is not one organized movement where every member thinks exactly the same. This is a broad spectrum where many feminists are different from one another, though they usually share the common goal of "equality." Equality, however, means different things for different people.

And lastly, quite a few Mormon feminists are men. Assuming that we are a bunch of angry women is discounting the large male population.

2. Do Not use sexist language. For years, women have been called "hysterical," "screeching," "crazy," "overreacting," and more. I saw a woman yesterday wondering why we all "had our panties in a bunch." Again, saying stuff like this is just plain rude and not going to contribute to a polite conversation. It's also being sexist, which is really not helping the problem. (And again, it's also awkward when you are addressing men, even if you don't realize you are.)

3. Do Not bring our testimonies or spirituality into question. So many times I've seen that if only we'd read the scriptures or prayed more, we'd find peace. This is another assumption. People who say this to us are assuming that we haven't prayed or read scriptures about it. Many Mormon feminists have been devout members their entire lives. They hold callings in their regions and raise religious families. Many of them have prayed and studied to find answers. Through a combination of revelation, scripture study, and studying what the prophets have written, they have come to the conclusion that activism is their answer.

Also, many of what the Mormon feminists are working against is not doctrinal. For example, in the Let Women Pray movement, there was no doctrinal foundation for a woman having never said a prayer in General Conference before. This is merely a cultural tradition, or a policy that did not necessarily have spiritual guidance in its creation. When it comes to dismantling cultural norms, I do not believe you need to have the strongest testimony or full activity in the Church.

This also includes not blasting Mormon feminists with scripture quotes or conference talks. Many of them are already aware of what you are trying to share with them. If you honestly are curious about what they think about a specific talk or quote, you may calmly and respectfully ask them. You should not just throw it at them.

4. Do Not tell them that the problem absolutely does not exist. This comes in many forms. There are women who say they are perfectly happy in the Church, so everyone else should be. There are people who like to point out to all the places where the Church/LDS culture excels from a feminist standpoint, so nothing else that goes against that exists. Whether or not you have seen or experienced an inequality or problem that one Mormon feminist sees does not matter. You could live in a great ward where things aren't as bad. You may not have experienced a certain issue that another Mormon feminist has.

5. Do Not tell a Mormon feminist to just leave if they are unhappy. This is not productive, and it is very dismissive of their feelings. People who grow up LDS often find they have a hard time leaving. Many Mormon feminists have a very strong testimony of gospel principles; they also don't want to leave all of the positive parts of the Church behind. Besides which, deciding whether or not to leave or stay is a very personal decision, and one that should not be made by you.

6. Do Not tell a Mormon feminist to "get a sense of humor," "get a life," or to not be so easily offended. Again, just because you think something is a funny joke and not at all offensive doesn't mean it's wrong if someone else does. Just because you think something is a non-issue doesn't mean someone else sees it the same way. These phrases are also very dismissive of someone's feelings. You're also making another assumption - many feminists have senses of humor and very full, enriching lives.

Listen. This should be really simple, but so many people seem to have forgotten this. Mormon feminism is new to a LOT of people. At first, it may seem contrary to a lot of things you have learn in Church your entire life. It is normal to be confused and to have questions. The best thing to do is to ask a Mormon feminist about it. You can ask them why they feel a certain way. You can ask them what their take is on a particular scripture or conference talk. You can ask them what their personal experiences have been with certain issues. You can ask them what they believe. 

Mormon feminists want their voices to be heard and their thoughts to be shared. You do not have to agree with everything a Mormon feminist says, but you should engage with them in a polite and respectful manner. 

If you have any questions/suggestions about how to talk to a Mormon feminist, please comment. If you have any questions about Mormon feminism, you can also comment, and I will do my best to answer or redirect you to a place with an answer. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Existing for others

The other day, this quote was brought up in one of the MoFem communities I'm a part of:

“It is interesting to know how man is put together – how incomplete he is. His whole physical and emotional, and for that matter, spiritual nature, is formed in such a way that it depends upon a source of encouragement and power that is found in a woman. When man has found his wife and companion, he has in a sense found the other half of himself. He will return to her again and again for that regeneration that exalts his manhood and strengthens him for the testing that life will give him. A woman has the privilege and influence to transform a man into an able and effective LDS priesthood leader. However, for this there are two prerequisites. First, she must want to, and second, she must know how. Part of knowing how includes the genius of encouraging him to meet his obligations without replacing him in his role, without presiding over him.”
Boyd K. Packer, Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 2, 1971
I'm sure the quote is meant to be this nice sentiment about how men need women and how romantic that all is. To be honest, General Authorities are notoriously sweet and flattering to their wives, saying romantic things about how much they love their wives all the time.

But, of course, I still have a huge problem with this quote.

I currently go to a BYU married ward in Provo. I absolutely love Relief Society, but I've been disappointed with some of our recent lessons. We had one on how important it is to get an education. How awesome is that?! Education is awesome, and I'm 100% behind women educating themselves, whether it be in formal schooling or trades or talents. But we got stuck on this idea, as a group, of how our education would help our children. It was essentially said that men get educated for themselves, to get a job, while educating a woman is for her and her family.

The next lesson was on our divine potential and how we will one day become like Heavenly Father and be goddesses. Heavenly Mother was brought up, but only because she shows us that we will be mothers even in the next life.

I think that maybe this phenomenon is occurring in part because we, as young newly weds, have never been so close to starting a family before, and it is always on our minds. (Not me, so much, but I imagine that's how these other women must be feeling.) However, only a few of the women in my ward are mothers or expectant mothers. Where does that leave the rest of us?

I find the culture of the Church is to constantly tell women that they exist to serve others. Whether you are exalted your husband's manhood (innuendo, anyone?) or learning just so you can teach your children, your needs begin to be ignored. There was some great self-esteem, self-love promoting comments during the divine potential lesson. But what I mean moreso is doing something just for yourself.

For example, when I got an education, I did so for myself. I did it because I love learning and I really want to have a fulfilling career. I do want to make a difference in the world, but why is my impact limited to only my family?

The argument against my thinking is that the Church promotes everyone serving everyone. That is what Christianity is supposed to be about. LDS men are told quite a bit that they need to honor their priesthood in order to be able to constantly serve others.

I would say that the difference is that priesthood is an extension of an LDS man's identity. The priesthood does not solely encompass all they are. Culturally, at least. Motherhood, which is frequently taught as the equivalent of priesthood, is not an extension of who the woman is, but more of an inherent part of who the woman is. I hope that makes sense.

I am tired of being told that I need to exist for others. As much as I want to serve my family members, I was not brought into this world for that sole purpose, nor will I limit my capabilities to just that. But I am a very defiant and stubborn woman. What are we telling LDS women when we teach them this?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


So I've been wanting to talk about my SodaStream for a while because I'm kind of disappointed. And what else can I do about it except complain on the internet?

Also, there's not a lot out there about it. Probably because it's kind of relatively new.

SodaStream is a product that shoots carbonation into your water to make it bubbly. SodaStream also makes different syrup flavors to make your carbonated water into homemade soda.

The basis of the appeal of SodaStream is that it is better for the environment because you aren't buying soda cans and bottles. It's convenient, because you always have soda available. And SodaStream tries really hard to market the fact that it is also a healthier option, though I don't know if I'm going to fall for that.

The SodaStream "machine" (it doesn't use electricity, so I don't even really know what it is) works extremely well. The carbonated water is delicious, and it's nice to not have to buy it at the store.

And while there are a million different flavors (seriously, ranging from fruit to energy to cola to everything in diet and natural, etc.), most of them are disgusting. At least half of them. Colby and I hated tonic. We just threw it out immediately. I didn't like the cream soda, diet cola was okay, but none of the colas taste the same as any other cola-flavored sodas you can buy at the store.

My real complaint, besides the flavors that turned out nasty but there's no turning back now because we've already spent over $100 on this whole adventure, is the SPLENDA. SodaStream is really big on the fact that they don't use aspartame. But instead of real sugar (sucrose?) or aspartame, they use Splenda in every single one of their flavors, including the ones that aren't supposed to be diet. After I started getting headaches every single time I drank SodaStream concoctions, I found that this is a huge problem for me.

So, I have a few suggestions for SodaStream and the soda world out there.

  1. Customers should be able to sample soda flavors before they invest in the $80 and up machine. It's nice that 6 flavor samples do come with the purchase of the machine, but I think if I had known that SodaStream's diet cola tasted absolutely nothing like Diet Coke (which, as a good Mormon girl, I am absolutely addicted to), that would have affected my decision in buying this product.
  2. Mainstream soda companies, like Pepsi and Coke, should start selling their own syrups as an alternative to the SodaStream syrups. Sure, you can buy 5 gallons of Pepsi flavor for $80 on Amazon. But think of how great it would be if they just came in little bottles that were meant for home use and not restaurants!!! It would pretty much make my life five times better. I guarantee my quality of life would go up.
What sucks about suggestion #2 is that SodaStream pretty much picked a fight with Coca-Cola. Seriously. They started this -----------> type of campaign, a collection of the amount of soda garbage a family uses in five years. While effective, it featured lots of Coke cans. And Coca-Cola got severely pissed off about this.

And while I tend to side with SodaStream in that particular argument (Coke says the garbage belongs to them, SodaStream says they should be picking it up if the cans belong to them, and that makes a lot of sense), WHY DO THEY HAVE TO BE SUCH HUGE IDIOTS?! Coca-Cola is one of the biggest companies IN THE WORLD. If I had invented a machine that makes soda in the comfort of everyone's home, I would have immediately tried to get a huge-ass company like Coca-Cola on board. Think about it. Both companies would have benefited from a larger clientele. 

But no. Everyone has to go be stupid.

And that's why I dislike SodaStream.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Personal Feminist reading of scriptures

Wow, I haven't posted anything in a long time. Sorry about that!

I decided to take the Women in the Scriptures challenge (outlined here by another blogger). I'm really enjoying it so far, and learning a lot. I would recommend doing this for any religious person, especially women. I feel like there's much we could learn from women in the scriptures, but common Sunday School lessons just pass over them in favor of the easier-to-interpret male stories.

The Importance of a Feminist Reading of Scriptures
Recently, I found a blog that used The Avengers as a way to introduce Book of Mormon heroes to little boys in an FHE lesson. While his goal was admirable (using something his sons already enjoyed to bring a modern and easier-to-relate-to twist to ancient scriptures), I disliked his end result. He included all of the male Avengers and Loki, but did not include Black Widow/Natasha or Nick Fury. You could excuse this by saying that the maker of this lesson didn't want to include Nick Fury because finding a colored character in the Book of Mormon would be racist. But I think it is more troubling to exclude both Nick Fury and Black Widow/Natasha because they have been "othered." By not bothering to find someone who fit into his analogy, even someone who is assumed to be white for Nick Fury, we are not acknowledging the white (assumed white, because the characters in the Book of Mormon were Middle Eastern in descent, but no one seems to remember that) male privilege that exists in Christianity.

And this made me very sad. The man didn't even recognize the implications of what he had done. But instead of attacking this man for racism and sexism, let's think about what was left out. Why was it not important to this man, and many others, to find a female religious example for his sons? Does he not think that his sons can have female role models? Why do we not even recognize the importance of having female spiritual role models for our daughters, let alone our sons?

The Male Gaze
"The Male Gaze" is a term coined by Laura Mulvey in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," an essay that I absolutely love. Basically, the male gaze refers to the bias that men have as narrators. You can see this in different instances in scriptures when women aren't named, women are passive, female characters are depicted as seductresses who lead righteous men into temptation, etc. (I'm really not enough of an expert on feminism or scriptures to name every time when you can see the male gaze.)

As a former English major, I absolutely believe in the power of personal interpretation of a text. Basically, this means that the author's original intent when he/she wrote the text is unimportant. What matters more is what it means to you. There's no denying that somewhere in the Old Testament it says "wives, submit to your husbands." We can assume that the author literally meant for a patriarchal society where the "weaker sex" was controlled by the men with authority from God. But we do not have to assume that God meant that. We can assume that that exact phrase is part of the male gaze and the authorial bias, and not inspiration from divinity.

How to Do It
Characters may exert sexism within the Bible and Book of Mormon, and there's nothing we can do to change the actions of those ancient characters. But what about the narrator? Do we have to accept it when the narrator uses feminine derogatory terms, such as "the whore of all the earth," to describe evil?

I believe we don't. I think it is obvious that not every scripture is inspired by God, and that we can pick and choose meanings. Yes, this is taking liberties; English majors have to have "evidence," have to back up their different interpretations. But when it comes to spiritual matters, we are invited to find evidence through prayer, personal revelation, and personal impressions.

I'll give you an example of what I mean from my personal study and the Women in the Scriptures challenge. When I began to read Genesis, I decided to focus on Eve, especially Eve as a woman. Everything kind of goes okay until you get to chapter 3, where it says
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (16).
Obviously, I dislike the idea of Adam ruling over Eve. But I decided what it meant is that Eve's relationship with Adam will be one of the most important she has. She wants to see him happy, healthy, etc. His needs will always be in the back of her mind, particularly when she makes big decisions. Adam does the same for her - at least, this is how I want my modern-day relationship to be. It does not literally mean "rule over," to me, so much as "preoccupied by."

I hope I'm explaining this okay. Either way, I believe it is up to you to decide what these verses mean. You do not have to take them the way the author meant.