Zelophehad’s Daughters

A Bloggernacle Bestiary

Posted by Kiskilili

We’re fond of the terms “conservative” and “liberal” to describe a spectrum of approaches to Church teachings, from unwavering compliance on the one extreme to thumbing one’s nose on the other. However, while certainly useful in a limited way, these terms fail to take account of the network of possible methods whereby members can interpret various Church teachings in light of their own behaviors.

For example, you can bring your thinking into conformity with Church teachings; you can bring Church teachings into confirmity with your thinking; and, where they are in tension, you can allow that tension. Obviously this model is only useful heuristically–virtually everyone no doubt employs multiple interpretive strategies to make sense of different issues, probably simultaneously and in ways that mutually influence each other.

Just because it’s more fun, though, let’s expand our palette of descriptive terms in the form not of a theoretical paradigm, but of a bestiary (taking attitudes toward gender as our example). No doubt being compared to a beast is going to offend some of you, but I’ll add the following disclaimer anyway: I’ve striven to choose only animals for whom I have positive associations and to portray them in a flattering light. Remember: I’m calling myself a beast too.

The Dolphin. Using its superior sense of hearing and ultrasonic echolocation, the dolphin possesses an admirable ability to hone in on prophetic oracles and respond appropriately; this creature is known for its obedience to authority and thus its tractability. Dolphins have even been observed swimming in circles around unsuspecting individuals to warn them of sharks.

The Lemur. Sporting an extravagant tail for balance and that most celebrated apex of physical development–the opposable thumb–the lemur approaches trees and other obstacles with facile agility, leaping from branch to branch with ease. Lemurs take it as a given that their own behavior is in accordance with Church teachings, and ably engage in dextrous acrobatic maneuvers to reconcile apparent discrepancies between the two.

The Ocelot. Known for its keen vision and fierce, proverbial feline independence (some would say contumaciousness), the ocelot regards certain Church teachings as unacceptable, but simply does not feel accountable to authority and goes its own way regardless. Particularly vocal ocelots run the risk of being hunted by poachers and extruded from the community.

The Unicorn. Notoriously leery of the empiricist’s investigations, the unicorn cannot be tracked and is only visible to the pure in heart. Unicorns are able to transcend time, space, and other terrestrial inconveniences by engaging in a special form of magical thinking, whereby hierarchy and equality are mutually compatible. This experience can neither be described nor understood by the rational mind, but must be experienced.

The similarities between the sometimes arboreal ocelot and the acrobatic lemur are obvious: both have a tendency to embrace egalitarianism, even when the Church explicitly employs the language of hierarchy, and although they go about it in different ways, some of each may self-identify as feminists. (Both groups might conclude that the Church should not teach a robust model of patriarchy, although they may disagree over the degree to which the Church does.) Similarly, both dolphins and lemurs maintain the position that the Church is in the right (but may disagree as to what it teaches). But the relationship between ocelots and dolphins is no less compelling, though much less obvious: both recognize the language of hierarchy for what it is (in distinct contrast to lemurs, who tend to maneuver out of it). In order words, there are points of agreement between the radical feminists and the patriarchalists: namely, that there are, in fact, venues in the Church in which patriarchal values are endorsed.

Unicorns of course present a special case as a Mischwesen, holding much in common with everyone and no one simultaneously.

Of course, less whimsical terms might be employed, such as traditionalist, revisionist, conscientious objector, and ineffabilist (respectively). In any case, often in feminist discussions on the bloggernacle (and other discussions as well), an entire welter of separate issues is raised in the comments, and descriptive and prescriptive statements are lobbed past each other, impacting at various angles. The fog in which Chicken Patriarchy thrives leaves us with anything but a binary axis of perspectives, and a measure of clarity might be brought to our conversations by parsing out what those various perspectives are.

34 Responses to “A Bloggernacle Bestiary”

  1. 1.

    Upon rereading my post, I think I’m probably only adding a layer of fog to the discussion! In case it’s not clear, here’s how I see the four beasts in their understanding of feminist issues: dolphins accept patriarchy at face value, lemurs deny patriarchy is ever taught by the Church, ocelots recognize patriarchal values but oppose them, and unicorns believe patriarchy is compatible with egalitarianism.

  2. 2.

    I thought I was a lemur until I read your comment no. 1, which makes me think I must be an ocelot.

  3. 3.

    Heh–I think we’re probably all different beasts in different ways/on different issues. :)

  4. 4.

    Cool post. I like these animals, too! (my elementary school mascot was an ocelot, so I’m fond of them)

    This sentence (under the unicorn paragraph) confused me.

    whereby hierarchy and inequality are mutually compatible.

    Did you mean equality? Maybe I’m misreading.

  5. 5.

    Whoops! That sentence should confuse you–I guess I’m no longer sure what my position is. ;) I’ve fixed that in the post.

    How cool that your elementary school mascot was an ocelot! That’s not one you hear a lot.

  6. 6.

    can we get an image for “chicken patriarchy”?

    thanks in advance :)

  7. 7.

    Here‘s what I see in my head when I think of Chicken Patriarchy.

  8. 8.

    I love this post, Kiskilili! I like how you highlight the points of agreement between the different positions. And the beasts make it all the more fun.

    But I wonder if there isn’t a group missing. I don’t know if I’ve seen people taking this position on the bloggernacle much, but might there not be people who believe the Church does not teach patriarchy, and are unhappy about it (that is, they want patriarchy taught)? Such people/beasts would agree with the lemurs that the Church doesn’t teach patriarchy, but they wouldn’t reach that conclusion like the lemurs do, in order to reduce dissonance. Rather, they would do it to increase dissonance, so they can correct the Church’s false turn toward egalitarianism. I guess I shouldn’t be too hasty to point fingers at such a possibility, given that I’m someone who probably at times leaps to interpretations of Church teachings to increase my dissonance so I can get irritated. :)

  9. 9.

    This is awesome! lol. Great unicorn pic, btw. That movie both fascinated me and scared the pants off me as a kid.

  10. 10.

    That unicorn is from a movie?

    I can’t figure out what beast I am. Probably like a liger or something.

  11. 11.

    Awesome post. I am sooo glad I recently added ZD to my reader.

    The beast Ziff describes (“I want more patriarchy”) could be represented by the Silverback.

    By the way, congrats for choosing all mascots that are “positive.”

  12. 12.

    cchrissyy, I like to imagine a Chicken Patriarch as a chicken staggering under the weight of a miter too large for its head, and perhaps clutching a remote control with one foot. (Unfortunately I’m having trouble finding such a picture.)

    Ziff, you’re right there are categories I’ve excluded. If we just take these animals as those who follow Church teachings, those who redefine them, those who resist, and those who claim they can’t be understood, the categories are flexible enough to include everyone on different issues. But if we follow the particular application I outlined here, then it’s true we’re missing the group that thinks the Church is too egalitarian. Let’s call them Platypuses. They don’t seem very prominent in these parts. And we’re also missing the counterpart to Lemurs–the group that redefines egalitarian language to be patriarchal. Let’s call them the Marmosets. Once we frame it like this, it seems we’ve predisposed the Dolphins to also be Unicorns.

    I think the second problem with my Bestiary is that virtually no one is going to self-identify as a Lemur and acknowledge the Church is actually teaching patriarchy but that they are nevertheless determined to redefine it. In other words, part of what’s being argued in feminist discussions is what the Church teaches exactly, and rather than leaving it open I’ve assumed it’s teaching patriarchy (to some degree). So I’ve biased the terms.

    Sister Blah 2, I too was fascinated and repulsed as a kid–especially by Haggard’s haunting statement that “nothing makes me happy.” It’s a fun book, though.

  13. 13.

    The unicorn picture is from The Last Unicorn, an animated film based on a novel by Peter Beagle. According to my sister Lady Amalthea, the movie guru, a live-action version has supposedly been in the preproduction stage for years. I think Christopher Lee, who did the voice for Haggard in the animated film, was slated to play Haggard in the new version as well.

    That’s a fabulous suggestion, Brian J–those who want more patriarchy should definitely be Silverbacks! I’m flattered that you added us to your reader. :)

  14. 14.

    I’ve long identified with unicorns, not the least reason because of that movie. It defined me in many ways. Ironic that I probably fit into that category, too. (Not that I’m a fan of any category.) What can I say, despite all evidence to the contrary, I can’t quite give up my longing for magic in this world that is anything but.

    And you’re right about the live-action version. I pretend it was never thought of so I don’t have to live in perpetual disappointed anticipation.

  15. 15.

    Ziff, there are lots of platypuses–they’re called Fundamentalists (or those with fundamentalist tendencies).

  16. 16.

    I’m looking for something with a fancy looking rooster who is somehow portrayed smaller than or equal to a female chicken. I can’t find that, but here’s some gay equal partner roosters for you

  17. 17.

    Exactly, Kevin–the Platypuses should be the fundamentalists since they try to live among us mammals even though they’re clinging to relics of an earlier order, so to speak. :)

    That’s cute, cchrissyy–definitely post a link if you find such a picture!

    Hi, SilverRain! I’m like you–I also never outgrew my love of unicorns and other magical creatures, and don’t intend to. Especially since it’s not clear how much longer the Narnia movies are going to go, it would be fun if they’d actually make The Last Unicorn.

    I’m relatively suspicious of categories myself–obviously taxonomies are constructs–although I do think they have at least heuristic value. It’s not entirely clear what a “Mormon” necessarily is (or is not), for example, yet I think the category is probably still useful. (Radical feminist that I am, I still think the terms “woman” and “man” are useful.) Labels are no doubt more palatable, though, and perhaps more valid, when people use them to self-identify.

  18. 18.

    To paraphrase the Grandson of one Boyd K. Packer,

    I not a unicorn, Kiskilili. I a person.

  19. 19.

    That’s a cute ocelot! Since felines are my favorite animals, I’m happy to be in that category. Though I have to admit that I probably also have some lemur tendencies; I mean, I’m so clearly reasonable, that when Church teachings are carefully examined and interpreted, it goes without saying that they’ll be neatly aligned with my personal opinions. ;)

    I’m still thinking this out, but perhaps another way of framing this could be something like this. The Church undeniably teaches that men and women should be equal partners. It also undeniably teaches patriarchy. There are a number of possible ways to make sense of this apparent conflict:

    1) See the teachings about patriarchy as the core ones (possibly seeing the equality stuff as a concession to current cultural norms). This gives you two subgroups:
    1a) Those who accept patriarchy as the eternal order of things, and see it as good, as part of God’s plan (the traditionalists).
    1b) Those who see patriarchy as a core Church teaching, but explicitly reject it (the conscientious objectors).

    2) See the teachings about equality as the core ones, and therefore understand patriarchal language in light of them. In this model, angst about patriarchy is misplaced, because equality trumps it. And again, you could divide this further into:
    2a) The revisionists, who see this as a good thing, and therefore revise or reinterpret traditional models to be more egalitarian.
    2b) The additional category proposed on this thread, which objects to this shift and wants to get back to good old-fashioned patriarchy.

    3) See patriarchy and equality as not being in tension, and therefore maintain a commitment to both of them. These, of course, are the ineffabilists.

    4) See patriarchy and equality as in tension, but no clear basis for privileging either one, or using it as the norm. These might just be called the perplexed.

    In this scheme (which is no doubt flawed in numerous ways), I’d probably label myself as some combination of 1b and 4. But I think one of the most interesting things about this–as also brought out in Kiskilili’s original post–is the basic agreement between the traditionalists and the conscientious objectors, who might in other ways be seen as on opposite ends of the spectrum. Both see patriarchy as having a central role, and are wary of too quickly adopting egalitarian readings of patriarchal texts. In many feminist discussions, it seems that there are (at least) two arguments going on at once, as the 2a’s argue with both versions of 1 about whether particular teachings should be interpreted as an endorsement of gender hierarchy, while at the same time the 2a’s and the 1b’s argue against the 1a’s that egalitarianism is preferable. Add in the contributions of the 3s and 4s (and perhaps an occasional passing 2b), and it’s no wonder these conversations get confusing.

  20. 20.

    I think there is really only two kinds of members, those who look at everything throught the lens of patriarchy and those who don’t.
    More seriously, I think Lynette, you are leaving out the group that doesn’t care, the dismissives. I’m not one of them mind you, but am tempted to impersonate one when in a snarky mood.

  21. 21.

    I think there are really only two kinds of bloggers: those who read and comment on topics that interest them, and those who read and comment on topics they find tedious.

    The dismissives in any argument–let’s call them Warthogs–are, in my opinion, the most difficult to deal with on any thread, as their problem (boredom) is entirely the result of their own poor choices (perusing, like righteously indignant grade school children with book reports to write, sites they find laboriously dull).

    My advice? If you don’t like baroque music, don’t show up at a Bach concert. If you’re uninterested in feminist blogging, don’t read it. There are approximately one trillion other things to do online.

    In real life we’re obligated to listen to people politely even when they blather on about something we find unengaging. The advantage to the online world is that we can simply click away without being rude.

  22. 22.

    Thanks, Lynnette–you’ve parsed out the positions much better than I did. Should we assign animals to all of them? It seems like someone in the feminist camp ought to be a hyena.

  23. 23.

    I’ve been called a baboon before, how would I fit in?????

    I agree that there are more categories than two. In fact, there are more categories than the four you suggest.

    For instance, there are those of us, who claim in public that we’re all for the patriarchy of the Church, realize and know privately that it is actually our wives who run everything…. Re: I’m the king of the castle, but she’s the boss….

  24. 24.

    It’s true people sometimes say patriarchy is justified by the fact that “no one” actually practices it. I’m not sure how to make sense of this, since the argument for patriarchy then seems self-vitiating; help me understand how you resolve the disconnect in your position better. Is it that you lament that you’re not adequately living up to your own values? Or by patriarchy do you envision a system in which women wield power and men are ineffectual figureheads? If it’s the latter, (a) why should the figurehead be different from the individual in charge, and (b) why doesn’t the Church teach this explicitly?

  25. 25.

    I used to fall into this Rameumptom’s camp so I will give your question a shot. I would envision a system in which women hold the power and men are figureheads and here is why. Power corrupts. If the individual in charge is the figurehead you have a setup for unrighteous dominion. If you separate the two, perhaps there is less tendency for abuse by one side or the other. If the church taught this explicitly it would blow the whole desired effect apart.
    In the long run I don’t think this is sustainable, and I am starting to think that in the end it may damage both parties more than it helps.

  26. 26.

    re Lynnette 19,
    I can see why Kiskilili uses animals. By the end of the paragraph my head was spinning between 1a, 3, 2b, 4, and all the other options.
    But, I think Ziff would really dig that explanation. He’s pretty good with numbers. ;)

    BTW, Kiskilili
    I loved this:

    I think there are really only two kinds of bloggers: those who read and comment on topics that interest them, and those who read and comment on topics they find tedious.

    It seems good enough for it’s own post . . .

  27. 27.

    Honestly, I feel that the men are given the priesthood and put in charge so that they may learn how to lead righteously. Priesthood is the authority by which men lead, and their priesthood is null if they don’t lead righteously. It’s a self-checking power.

    Why women aren’t given this to the same extent right now in this life is a moot question to me, because we simply don’t remember enough of the Father’s Plan to answer it. I suspect that once we do remember, much of this angst will seem silly unless we focus so much on it in this life it becomes part of our defining character. At that point, the tragedy will only be ours.

    Perhaps this is why I probably fall into that “unicorn” category. I believe there is much more to my existence and my sphere than this life. Rather like magic, I think there is a great deal we simply don’t understand, and I’m willing to suffer the tide of Church society I am currently in, since I feel that God has placed me here in this life at this time. I don’t want to worry too much about what was or what will be, only live in what is and learn what I can from that. If that means I must learn to humble myself and accept leadership I don’t always agree with or understand and which may in fact be wrong, than I will do my best to learn to be humble. If it means I have to learn to honor the leadership of imperfect people, than I will do so in the hopes that some day someone will give me the benefit of the doubt.

    To me, this is the meaning of Christian discipleship. Christ may have reproved the Pharisees (the ones in authority) at times, but He also conformed to many of their traditions. He rarely seems to have derided their mistaken customs, but only to chide when they judged others for not following them. He also taught his followers to subject themselves to unrighteous dominion, to give even more than their slavers asked. I think there is a lesson in that that applies to this.

  28. 28.

    “It’s a self-checking power. ”

    No such thing.

  29. 29.

    Priesthood is the authority by which men lead, and their priesthood is null if they don’t lead righteously.

    Heaven may nullify a man’s priesthood the second he is unrighteous, but humans just don’t have that sort of response time. Unrighteous men continue to perform ordinances and fulfill their callings even when the power’s of heaven have withdrawn from them. This matters.

  30. 30.

    Steve—Perhaps not temporally, but certainly spiritually. Godhood itself is a self-checking power.

    Starfoxy—I don’t believe it does matter, when talking about the Priesthood. Sure they continue to perform ordinances and fulfill callings, but only to their own condemnation. That has nothing to do with how we react to priesthood power and authority. I think of it like taking the sacrament. We can’t always know if someone is doing so unworthily, but it doesn’t matter whether we know or not. Their unworthiness does not nullify the ordinance for others, it only condemns themselves. That is where faith comes in: being willing to do one’s best in imperfect circumstances because one knows who one is and who God is.

  31. 31.

    SilverRain, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on whether humility requires us to defer conscience entirely. I’m uncomfortable with any theodicy that absolves us of moral reasoning under the premise that God’s justice will be enacted in the life to come (or is being carried out in the here and now in some inscrutable way, as Calvinism would have us believe). I like to think religion at its best calls us to relieve oppression and rectify injustices in this life to the degree we’re able, that asks us to question the legitimacy of slavers rather than slaver before them, that, rather than allowing all injustices in the name of God’s holy inscrutability, calls us to action against them. Like obedience, submission itself is not an inherently moral act.

    I certainly don’t remember The Plan in its entirety; undoubtedly there are things that would make more sense if I did. But I don’t think that need prevent me from critiquing its particular implementation in my life or the lives of those I know, in the same way that I don’t think we should accept slavery’s rightness simply because the Bible does.

  32. 32.

    Hey Jessawhy–maybe an even better post would treat the following issue:

    There are two kinds of members in the Church: those who object to patriarchy, and those who object to those who object to patriarchy.

  33. 33.

    I guess I’m a unicorn. I’m an equality guy, one of my best friends is a patriarchy guy, and we happily co-exist.

    “My Horn can pierce the Sky!”

    But maybe I’m a Lemur because I don’t think God is in favor of the patriarchy that’s in the world, and I don’t think the priesthood = men above women.

    Of course I could be an Ocelot, because I am against certain things in the church like Men making decisions without their wives input and concent, but then maybe that’s more Lemurish, as I find those things to be in the church, but not of the church.

    Or I could be a Dolphin because I have a big nose.

  34. 34.

    Or I could be a Dolphin because I have a big nose.

    Awesome. I’d go with that one, too.


    There are two kinds of members in the Church: those who object to patriarchy, and those who object to those who object to patriarchy.

    Better than a post, make that your blog subheader :)

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