Zelophehad’s Daughters

Why Do We Keep Talking About This Stuff?

Posted by Lynnette

So BCC is having a poll about what topics people are sick to death of discussing, and “gender inequality” is currently well in the lead. I don’t know if I should be annoyed about this, or pleased by the fact that Bloggernaclerites are clearly well aware of issues of gender inequality, even if they don’t agree with feminists, or want to talk about it ever again. (I’m reminded of my conservative friends in high school who were baffled by my feminist views, but when they heard a talk about gender roles in church would tell me that it was probably good that I missed it. They might not have been feminists, but they were aware of what things make feminists crazy. That’s something. How’s that for taking lemons and making feminist lemonade?)

But I don’t really want to have a debate about how much this particular topic should be discussed–I figure that if you regularly read ZD, you either have some interest in the topic, or just like to make yourself crazy. (Or quite possibly both.) But I couldn’t resist such an opportunity to navel-gaze. Why do we keep having these conversations? Is there any point? Are we–as someone asked on the BCC thread–just rearranging the chairs on the Titanic, since there’s not much else we can do?

And then there is this problem where it doesn’t matter what your actual post is about–almost inevitably someones sees a feminist discussion and come by to say things like: men and women are different; women don’t have the priesthood because their role is to be mothers; we don’t talk to Heavenly Mother because she’s being protected; someone needs to be in charge in a marriage; preside doesn’t mean that you are a dictator; God is running the church, and this is how he wants things; women only have to follow their husbands as long as their husbands are following God. And so forth. And because we’ve discussed this all over and over and over, it starts to feel like every conversation turns into the same one, and I wonder if it’s even worth it to blog about feminism.

But I still do (obviously), and I can think of a couple of reasons why. One is simply that if you’re going to survive as a feminist Mormon, it helps a lot to have a place to talk about it, even if a lot of the conversation is repetitive. When I talk to my siblings we often re-tell the same stories and the same jokes and sometimes it makes me crazy, but it’s also a way of keeping us connected. And when you go to church and hear yet again that women are more innately spiritual, and you want to demonstrate your superior spirituality by gagging someone with that oh-so-feminine Relief Society tablecloth, it’s nice to have an online world where people are critiquing this stuff.

Another reason is that I really do think there’s something important about naming the problem. Because often stuff bugs me but I can’t say exactly why, and then I’ll read someone’s  post or comment and think yes! That’s it! And writing about the things I find troubling can help me clarify where things seem off. Where it hurts, so to speak. And then sometimes people say things that give me an entirely new way of looking at something. And I get to hear all kinds of interesting experiences and intriguing ideas. (And okay, I also get the pleasure of being all self-righteously worked up about something, even though I sometimes have to repent afterward.)

Also, participating in these conversations for years has given me a lot more faith in my ability to talk about these questions. I’m a more confident feminist than when we started blogging, I think–though I hope also a somewhat more nuanced one. And while I hate to say this because it’s such a cliché, it really has given me a place to find my own voice. Which is kind of a classic feminist thing to do.

But probably the biggest reason–at least for me–is the whole community, the “I’m not alone with this,” aspect of blogging. Which really is a big deal, especially if you’re feeling isolated. I’ve always been lucky enough to know some feminist Mormons (given that they were related to me), but now I know tons, and that’s pretty cool. And it makes me a happier Mormon overall, I think, even if sometimes it makes me madder about particular things.

But does any of this actually change anything? In terms of the church, I doubt it. It’s very much a top-down organization, as we all know, and I have to admit that I’m on the pessimistic side about change. (Though I hope I’m wrong.) But I don’t think it’s a bad idea to at least have feminist ideas percolating, and to have more vocal feminists. And in the end, the truth is, I don’t really have grand ambitions for blogging. I do it because it’s generally fun, and because I like to write, and because it’s a way to work through some of my frustrations–and especially because I’m very fond of this blog and the community here, and I think we still do manage to have good conversations even amidst the inevitable re-hashing of the same arguments. And at the end of the day, that’s not bad.

30 Responses to “Why Do We Keep Talking About This Stuff?”

  1. 1.

    Thank you so much for writing this post! I was so peeved when I saw the results of that poll. From my perspective, people being tired of talking about gender inequality is a sign of privilege (mostly male privilege, but also the form of privilege experienced by women who fit the mold and are doing what they’re “supposed” to do).

    Going back to the analogy comparing race and gender:
    We hear a lot these days about how black Americans “play the race card” and won’t stop talking about racism, even though it’s “not really a problem” anymore. (Note the scare quotes!) White people are sick of talking about racism because they don’t really see it themselves in their day-to-day lives. But black Americans doexperience it quite frequently. So when they talk about racism, they are simply talking about their lived experience, the things that go on in their lives every day.

    As a feminist woman (that’s not redundant, but I’m pretty sure I’m preaching to the choir here), I need to talk about gender inequality. I need to talk about it because I experience it frequently. When I talk about gender inequality, I’m really just talking about my day-to-day life–and when I talk about gender inequality in the church, I’m really just talking about my experiences in the church.

    I need to talk about gender inequality in the church so I know I’m not crazy! I cannot begin to describe how much these blogposts and discussions have meant to me. They let me know I’m not crazy, I’m not some kind of unnatural freak, I’m not alone–and these posts show me that even though I have these struggles, I can stay in the church, because there are all those bloggernacle women who have these same struggles but they still have testimonies.

  2. 2.

    I’m a bagel gal. I’ll never get sick of it either.

  3. 3.

    From my perspective, people being tired of talking about gender inequality is a sign of privilege (mostly male privilege, but also the form of privilege experienced by women who fit the mold and are doing what they’re “supposed” to do).

    Amen, Whitney. Amen. I get so sick of the people in the normative position and who fit the mold telling me to just be quiet already, no one needs to hear it anymore. Even if they generally do so relatively nicely.

    I’ll add one more reason: in spite of my disaffection with the church (a sometimes very strong disaffection), I still care about it. I cannot simply walk away from the church–Mormonism is far too deeply ingrained in my heritage and my identity. And I don’t think I should *have* to walk away. I keep speaking up because I care. And every time I do, I am thanked. Unexpectedly. By normal women in my ward for speaking up, for giving voice to them and their experiences.

    So I don’t give a damn how tired anyone else is of the conversation. There are too many women in the church who don’t feel able to speak up. I speak for them. I speak because I care.

  4. 4.

    Where it hurts, so to speak.

    Wow, Lynnette you’re channeling Boyd K. Packer! He gave that sermon once in conference where he observed that when you go to the doctor, usually one of the first things she asks you is “Where does it hurt?” He recommended that we do the same in our interactions with each other, as we attempt to minister to one another’s needs.

    Also, I’m not as pessimistic as you are. I would describe myself as cautiously optimistic, in fact.

    mmiles, I’ll see you at the bagel shop.

  5. 5.

    Lol, mmiles! I think my analogy might have jumped the tracks at some point, but I’m happy to have associated bagels and feminism.

    Whitney, I totally hear you. I think there are times when you simply have to keep talking about this stuff because it’s everywhere and you’re trying to hold on. It’s not optional. And as you say–it’s not some fascinating question. It’s your life.

    I will admit that I was kind of cranky too at the poll results, but then I could also see why people would sometimes need a break. There have been discussions that have left me feeling really burned out and thinking I need to do something else for a while. We go through slower periods here, or do less feminist stuff. (Which is why I’m very appreciative of there being multiple feminist blogs, so there are always bagels available somewhere.) And then there are times when we’re kind of on a feminist roll, like now, and there’s a lot of energy, and it’s exciting. So if the poll is reflecting people saying, “I’m personally tired and need a break” for a bit, I can respect that. On the other hand, if it’s more a “this topic is over-discussed and people should drop it already,” I very much agree that that reflects a certain amount of privilege.

    In any case, thanks so much for your last paragraph. That’s one of the big reasons I think feminist blogging is worth doing.

  6. 6.

    amelia, thanks for adding that point about caring. Feminists so often get branded as “unfaithful”–but sticking with a church even when parts of it make you completely crazy, because it still matters to you–there’s some kind of serious faith going on there.

    Mark, I channeled BKP in a feminist post? That is the most awesome thing ever. And I’m glad to have an optimist around.

  7. 7.

    I will add that in my experience, lots of conversations in the bloggernacle often become conversations about gender or homosexuality, regardless of the original topic. However, I don’ think the bloggernacle deserves all the blame. We need to realize that this is how the church itself has framed the discussion. The Proclamation has dominated everything for the last 16 years, and although there are lots of good things in it about how to have a fulfilling family life, we, all, including GAs, often overlook them and instead stress the areas which we think reveal something about gender. And of course the church has been struggling for the past 10 years to recover from its initial position, that homosexuals are simply confused people who are enacting the wrong gender role. We have recognized the error, but we still haven’t undone all the damage.

  8. 8.

    But does any of this actually change anything?

    Yes when it’s creditable it causes consciousness raising which is healthy but it will only be effective in the long run if it carries a significant portion of active women with it.

  9. 9.

    #7–that’s an excellent point. We’re Mormons. We’re in a church that has been heavily involved in the culture wars surrounding gender in the last few decades. Our church leaders talk about this in terms of cosmic significance. I guess it’s not a great surprise if we find ourselves constantly discussing it, too.

  10. 10.

    Lynnette, I really like all your reasons. I dearly love reading other people’s articulations of things that, as you said, bug me, but that I’ve never figured out quite why. There’s something so satisfying about reading a post or a comment and feeling like “Yes! That is *exactly* what I would have said if I had been more articulate.”

    And I also love the community part. Even when I’m often a slacker and do no more than read, I feel more connected to people who I see say things I like repeatedly. And sometimes I even know who they are IRL. (And sometimes they’re even related to me so they can’t get away even if they try! ;) )

    Going back to the first point, though, I’m surprised how often even in repetitive-seeming discussion I will find someone explaining an issue or an argument in a fresh way that helps me see it better than I did before. Kind of like reading the scriptures over and over and seeing them new. (And yes, I do read too many blogs and not enough scriptures. I’m a proof-texter, okay? I only need to know my favorite few.)

  11. 11.

    Bagels, bagels, bagels for me!

    And seriously, can I have some of the pills you guys have been taking the last month or so? This place is happenin’!

  12. 12.

    Nat- I would guess it has more to do with semesters ending and increased amounts of free time. It’s like academics are bears and the end of the semester is like when hibernation is over. Or something.

  13. 13.

    Amen. I’m always of the opinion that more dialogue will eventually bring change.

    Reading Putnam and Campbell’s recent American Grace recently, the importance of contact was reinforced. They argued that religious toleration has greatly increased in America due to the fact that most people know someone of a different religious mindset. In fact, the people who had more friends who weren’t members of the same denomination were more likely to be more sociable, giving, willing to believe members of other denominations will go to heaven, etc.

    I’d like to think that the feminist community plays the same sort of roll within Mormonism. It dispels the myth of a feminist bogeyman who hates family and spits on religion. The more members know that the person sitting in their same pew has the same feminist sympathies that they had previously dismissed, it causes (or should cause) retrospection. I think there have been several comments lately that reveal the fact that many members just aren’t aware that there are faithful, committed feminists. This type of venue and these types of discussions challenge that.

  14. 14.

    Plus, we get introduced to things like Troll 2 in the context of feminism, and that is an invaluable service.

  15. 15.

    I am glad you posted on this, but at the risk of being branded a traitor (I’m on your side! I’m on your side!) I have to admit that every once and a while I personally need to step away from discussion on feminism and gender inequality in the church.

    NOT because I think it’s not needed any more, and certainly NOT because I think that we need to accept the way things are…but because it’s such a loaded topic for me. It causes such emotions of confusion, anger, and frustration. And in spite of the problems, I want to stay with the Church because I see so much good, but if I’m not careful my anger and questions will drive me from something I am sure I still want.

    Sometimes I need to step away, cool my head, hit my knees and look for reasons to stay. And when I find them, I’m recharged enough to jump back into the fray.

    I wonder if other people feel the same. It’s such a divisive issue that it can exhaust one, spiritually and emotionally. Maybe we just need a moment of pause.

    Or maybe I’m weak and get tired too easily. But I like to think not.

  16. 16.

    Small Dog, I think you’re definitely not alone. I think Scott B. expressed a similar sentiment over in the BCC thread.

    Because I’m a man, I suspect, I sometimes want to back away from the issue too. It doesn’t press on me so constantly like I think it does for many women.

  17. 17.

    I like bagels, but I couldn’t actually eat them every day. I get tired of all the chewing. But I could eat breakfast cereal every day. In fact, multiple times every day: breakfast, lunch, midnight snack.

    Sometimes I eat breakfast cereal hoping to accomplish something, make a real change in the world, like when I eat Wheaties in the hopes of turning into Michael Jordan. Sometimes I try new cereals — Organic Three-Fiber Oat Granola With Dehydrated Snozzberries, or Captain Cookie Chocolate Sprinkled Cinnamon Swirls — to figure out exactly what I think about them, and decide whether they have a place on my cereal shelf long-term. And speaking of shelves, sometimes I really do overdose on a specific cereal, like when I ate nothing but Frosted Mini-Wheats for two months before my exams last fall, and had to stop buying it for the rest of the year. But when that happens, I’m not walking away from the whole cereal aisle — just one tiny section of it.

    And sometimes I just eat Reeses Puffs because I love them, and they’re meaningful to me, and I never get tired of them. Also, I opened a new box of Reeses Puffs today, and it had a toy car in it! I feel so blessed.

  18. 18.

    I’d be really interested to see how many here would respond to Jeff Spector’s post over at W&T today.

    I think the question of how to acknowledge progress is pretty relevant to why we keep talking about this stuff, but I’m interested in how others think progress should play into the discourse. Acknowledging progress could make for a more safe/balanced/open discussion and one where people don’t feel that the church is being attacked from within by those who don’t really believe or something like that. But then again, acknowledging progress could also make it seem like constant apology for the church, an excuse for the problems, or a mitigating factor for inequalities.

    I really value the solid thinkers here at ZD (so much so that I have felt myself pulled from perennial lurker to infrequent participant status), so it would be great to get some thought either here or over at W&T on how progress in the church is or should be viewed in the context of controversy.

  19. 19.

    I think the question of how to acknowledge progress is pretty relevant to why we keep talking about this stuff, but I’m interested in how others think progress should play into the discourse.

    Acknowledging progress is a tricky thing. If feminists (or any group) never acknowledge progress in an area or only cursorily acknowledge progress before moving on to the next “campaign issue,” they can get the reputation of never being satisfied with anything less than the fulfillment of the most extreme agenda. (This is part of what drives the slippery slope fallacy—we can’t ever give in to such a group on anything, because they’ll just ask for more and more and one capitulation will inevitably lead to another.)

    On the other hand, institutions can use some small area of progress as an excuse for not making greater or more meaningful changes. (And for those who see themselves as campaigning against injustice, partial justice is not sufficient cause to give up the fight.)

    Of course, the very idea of acknowledging progress is dependant on being able to admit the existence of some change over time, which is a non-starter for people who maintain that Church doctrine and rhetoric have been exactly the same for the last 150+ years.

  20. 20.

    in re: #18 and #19:

    It’s also important to realize that “progress” insofar as it relates to women in the church contributes directly to chicken patriarchy. So much of the “progress” people point to for women in the church is in reality just some aspect of a double rhetoric about women in the church and, as such, is as indicative of failure to progress as it is of actually progression.

    That’s actually another reason I keep speaking up on these issues. No matter how much as been said. Because when I look at the good changes, I can’t help but see them in their larger context. And that larger context makes it very clear to me that the good changes aren’t really all that great when seen in relationship with the rest.

  21. 21.

    Katya, your final paragraph sums up why I am actually somewhat optimistic, as I mentioned in my previous comment.

    When it comes to gender and sexuality, the ground is shifting rapidly under our feet, and it would be a mistake to try to take whatever we see right now and insist that it is eternal, unchangeable doctrine.

  22. 22.

    Lynnette,

    And then there is this problem where it doesn’t matter what your actual post is about–almost inevitably someones sees a feminist discussion and come by to say things like: men and women are different; women don’t have the priesthood because their role is to be mothers; we don’t talk to Heavenly Mother because she’s being protected; someone needs to be in charge in a marriage; preside doesn’t mean that you are a dictator; God is running the church, and this is how he wants things; women only have to follow their husbands as long as their husbands are following God.

    Here’s the thing–and I can only speak for BCC, really (I read ZD in a reader and am not much of a commenter)–I go over the recent posts at BCC on gender issues, and with the exception of “men and women are different” (and really–is that honestly a major point of contention in and of itself?), no one is saying those things. There are infrequent exceptions, but they aren’t typical and are generally run off so quickly that it’s not worth dwelling on. Part of the reason I find the discussions so exhausting at times is because it’s become soooooooooo echo-chamberish. If there were 25 people fighting against the 200 in a massive flamewar, that might be something. But there just aren’t. Honestly, it’s hard for me to really even imagine someone at BCC saying something about Heavenly Mother being “protected” without being thoroughly chewed to pieces or quietly ignored. These people may exist in our home wards, but not in the commenters at BCC.

    The fact is, relying on this thinking is effectively the flip-side of what someone at BCC said yesterday–that it’s annoying or tiring to hear feminists constantly griping for priesthood ordination. I was more than happy to point out that there is not a single OP at BCC which does that, and claiming otherwise is a sloppy strawman.

  23. 23.

    Threadjack deleted, in which it was established that:

    A) This discussion is meant to be about feminist blogging, and not a critique of BCC’s experiment with taking a vacation from some topics (so let’s please just stick to the former).

    B) Blogs which focus on feminist stuff have somewhat different conversational dynamics and challenges than more broadly-focused ones (Scott’s #22 describes some of the dynamics of BCC; obviously some of this is different at ZD), and we aren’t trying to propose how other blogs should behave (on either side.)

    C) Feminists are awesome. So is BCC. So is blogging.

  24. 24.

    Wow, Melyngoch (#17), you really weren’t kidding about having gone loopy on that 5-hour energy stuff . . .

    Traitorous Small Dog (#15), that actually makes a lot of sense to me. I sometimes find it exhausting, too, and have in fact been known to go months and months without making a single feminist post (or any post at all, for that matter).

    Starfoxy (#12), I do think we’re like bears. We hibernate and then wake up grumpy and wanting to chase things.

    Enna (#14), how much did Melyngoch pay you to make that comment?

    Ben Park (#13), I really like that point. Talking about something a lot does normalize it, and that in and of itself makes a difference. Maybe you and Mark Brown can convince me to be more optimistic.

  25. 25.

    I offer myself as a member of the hibernating bear society. I’m the sort of person who itches to fight things that I think wrong, but it’s exhausting and requires levels of fortitude and sheer pigheadedness that I find personally unsustainable. So then I nap (metaphorically) and eat (not metaphorically) until I come awake snarling. It’s a vicious cycle.

  26. 26.

    James (#18), I’m so glad we’ve lured you out of lurking, because I really enjoy your comments. I think Katya articulated nicely some of the challenges of talking about it in either direction. I notice that I find myself more comfortable using the word “change” than “progress,” and I’m not sure why–maybe because it feels loaded to labeling something as progress. I might want to first clarify what measuring stick I’m using.

    In any case, I do think some things have changed quite significantly, though maybe more at the grassroots level than in terms of official teachings. For example, we likely all remember President Packer’s recent talk suggesting that gays couldn’t be born that way. This caused an outcry, the talk got somewhat redacted in its printed form, and President Uchtdorf made a statement conveying a somewhat different message.

    The interesting thing is that this wasn’t anything new from President Packer. He gave a very similar talk two decades ago, including the example of voting on a kitten’s gender–I remember because I was there, sitting with Eve in the uncomfortable tabernacle pews and wondering if she was reacting the same way I was. And I didn’t hear any kind of pushback. Though that was before things such as the Bloggernacle, which means that people might have been objecting with no forum in which to articulate it. But while it may not have been a change in teaching, it was definitely a change in context.

    I’d say a similar thing about hierarchical marriages. With some exceptions, I know very few people of my generation, even the more traditional ones, who really think that the man should get the final say. Again, even if the content of the teachings remains similar, the context has seriously shifted.

    And as critical as I am of chicken patriarchy, I do want to acknowledge that the church rhetoric has gotten softer on a lot of things. There’s the whole “equal partner” discourse. I do think the shift from rule to preside, and obey to hearken, represented a sincere desire to tone those down (even if I don’t think it was successful), which reflects some concern for these issues. Still, like amelia and Katya, I dislike it when the form gets changed but not the substance–that’s a rather slippery move.

    But that’s a helpful question, because it gives me a framework in which to see blogging. I don’t want to make wild claims about our influence. We’re a small blog. But we’re a piece, even if a small one, of the context of the church–the context which shapes the way church teachings are heard and understood.

    And nat (#11), I’ll confess–I submitted my dissertation and something happened to my brain chemistry. Though I can’t account for the wildness of my co-bloggers. I have noticed that we have a tendency to be active in April. Which might be due to procrastination of final papers for those in coursework, increased boredom with academics because of it being so late in the semester, or perhaps just increased sunshine.

  27. 27.

    Whoah. Since when did Eve have no pre-existence?

    That was a total blindside.

  28. 28.

    Did a whole bunch of comments just disappear?

  29. 29.

    Sorry, I know there’s now no context for that question–I deleted that conversation due to its zipping right over the line of our comment policy (I’m on a roll with being a moderating dictator today). I don’t want to pursue that particular discussion about Eve in this thread, but if you’re curious about the question, check out:

    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2009/12/29/where-was-eve-in-the-pre-mortal-existence/

  30. 30.

    I don’t comment much, but I wanted to say that I’m really, really grateful that others keep blogging about feminist issues in the church for two main reasons.

    1. When I had questions and doubts, it gave me somewhere to go. I felt like I had hit the jackpot when I found the blogs. The fact that there were current topics where people were discussing these things in real time meant a lot to me. It made me feel much less alone.

    2. Like others have said, the way things are laid out so clearly helped me a lot. I felt such a jumble of thoughts that seeing others outline exactly what I felt was so clarifying. Without the careful reasoning and thought going on I don’t know if I would have been able to parse things well enough to stay in the church at all. I think I would have possibly thrown the baby out with the bathwater in frustration.

    So even though I don’t chime in much, I am so, so glad you guys do. Please keep fighting the good fight. :)

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