Zelophehad’s Daughters

Dalton Discouragement

Posted by Lynnette

President Dalton’s much-discussed talk was particularly hard for me. It’s of course frustrating to hear that if you see inequities, the problem is your lack of righteousness, and if you want more of a voice in your own church, you’re insufficiently virtuous. But I’ve heard those sentiments so often that usually I can take the Teflon approach: roll my eyes, and get back to whatever I was doing. This talk, though, hit me harder, and left me more seriously wondering than I have for a while what the heck I’m doing in this church (even as my use of the phrase “what the heck” makes me feel ridiculously Mormon).

Part of it, perhaps, is that I’m already feeling exhausted by reading the kinds of responses that both Pantsageddon and the more recent Let Women Pray movement have sparked. After a while I finally had the self-discipline to quit reading the insanity, but not before I’d read enough to be brutally reminded that there are a number of my fellow Latter-day Saints who think my concerns are completely trivial and would like people like me to just leave already. On an intellectual level, I can critique that kind of thinking, but on a more emotional level, it’s hard not to feel a little worn down after seeing it expressed again and again.

So cue President Dalton. Sometimes I have this hope that the leaders of the church—whom I genuinely believe to be good, charitable, hardworking people, who have a calling and a stewardship that I don’t envy—will exhibit some sign that they’ve at least taken the time to understand the concerns being raised by so many women. And talks like this are tremendously discouraging. It’s not just that I disagree with them that leaves me so frustrated—it’s the glib dismissals that don’t actually address the issues being raised, leaving me skeptical that such issues are being taken at all seriously. It’s the repetition of the same unhelpful responses that we’ve been hearing for decades. Women are so wonderful and valued, and have important roles and responsibilities. If you really understood your honored place, you wouldn’t have any issues with gender and the church. And so forth.

I haven’t entirely sorted out what I think about activism in the church, and I have some reservations about certain approaches to it, but I have to say this about All Enlisted (as well as the work done by groups like WAVE, or the FMH campaign to ensure young women can do baptisms for the dead): it’s been exciting to see these kinds of things happening. It’s given me more hope than I’ve had in a while. And then to have a church leader assert that women who are virtuous and praiseworthy will see no need to lobby for rights—ouch. Honestly, it felt like a slap in the face. And I’m back once again to wondering if I’m totally gullible to think that things might ever be different, and asking myself why exactly I’m sticking around.

I don’t have a great answer at the moment. But there are little things. Seeing pictures from women across the world wearing pants to church, and feeling happy to be a small part of that. People in my ward who are good-natured about my Relief Society lessons, rather than calling for my head on a platter. Lots of really great priesthood leaders over the years. Getting to be part of a new wave of Mormon studies, which has made me appreciate a variety of aspects of the church. The bloggernacle, for all its craziness, and particularly the people I’ve met through blogging.

I’m still mad. And discouraged. But dang it all, I’m not going anywhere.

43 Responses to “Dalton Discouragement”

  1. 1.

    I feel the same exact way. Thank you for expressing this so well. Needless to say, I am scared for conference when I am sure they will address some of the feminist issues that have been in the news, and I am afraid I will be disappointed with how it is handled. I take comfort in my blogging world where I have found like minded individuals so that I don’t feel so alone. I really don’t know where I would be without you all. The past several years, I have chosen not to attend General YW or Womens conference simply to spare myself having to emotionally recover from certain things that are said. I don’t think they, for the most part, have a willingness to understand where we are coming from. They feel threatened and therefore resort to belittling or dismissing our concerns. How I wish it was different.

  2. 2.

    Which talk are you talking about? A recent one? I guess I have been slacking on my bloggernacle reading, because this is the first I’ve heard of this…

  3. 3.

    I read ZD in my Google Reader alongside all the other my other favorites. It was jarring just now, though, to read your post right after Ta-Nehisi writing about segregation and the military’s policy toward homosexual couples. (Link.) He writes, “During segregation what you effectively had was every avenue of society angled toward telling black people “You’re not a complete person.” [...] I don’t know how you measure the effects of such messaging on a populace. But I have to believe that it has a corrosive effect on the bonds between the recipient and their country.”

    I’m Quaker, not LDS, so I won’t pretend to have a sense of what this is like for you. I’m sorry, though, that you’re not being treated as a complete person. And I’m glad you’re not giving up. May Jesus befriend you in that struggle.

  4. 4.

    Laura, I think it’s this one.

  5. 5.

    Thanks, Ziff–and sorry about that, Laura! I’ve updated the post with a link. And this is the money quote:

    “Young women you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous lovely praiseworthy and of good report. You will also be the ones to provide an example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.”

  6. 6.

    Thanks, Flyleaf. The blogging world has been really helpful to me, too. And I also tend to skip listening to GC-YW and GC-W, just because I find them exhausting. (Though then of course I have to read about them online to see what I missed. ;) )

    Hi, Julie! Nice to have a Quaker reader out there. And that question sums it up nicely: do women get to be complete people, or (highly honored) roles? Thanks for the support!

  7. 7.

    But dang it all, I’m not going anywhere.

    Amen. Because there’s nowhere else to go. Because this is the place — the right place — the only place. My specific personal heartaches are somewhat different from the ones that are taking center stage right now, but the brush-offs and dismissals and the resultant isolation and alienation are the same.

  8. 8.

    I didn’t make the connection until just now. This discussion of Elaine Dalton’s speech is taking place on the eve of Martin Luther King day. This is from Dr Kings Last speech, it is quite a contrast to Sister Dalton’s “don’t lobby for your rights” advice”

    “Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on…Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

    And I don’t mind.

    Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMLdP2eNGcQ&feature=share

  9. 9.

    Yeah.

    Recently I’ve had reason to remember one of the most excruciating periods in my religious life, almost twenty years ago. I took my endowments out the week the September Six was unfolding, and I left on my mission about three weeks later. It was an awful time. Most of my non-Mormon friends thought I was completely crazy for going on a mission. I lost touch with most of them in the process as our lives became mutually incomprehensible to each other. And of course there was no one in the MTC or on my mission itself I could say much to about my issues with the church. I don’t know when in my life I’ve felt so lonely, so shattered into irreconcilable pieces.

    Sometimes I think we all bear the wounds where we were wounded in the house of our friends.

  10. 10.

    I haven’t entirely sorted out what I think about activism in the church, and I have some reservations about certain approaches to it […]

    I am highly sympathetic to this. But I admit that I lack the faith to trust in the “proper channels” when it comes to these issues. Even (very optimistically) assuming a majority of sympathetic local leaders, it only takes one person somewhere on up the line to cancel out an entire segment of the membership’s voice.

    So, like you, I feel excitement about what groups like WAVE, All Enlisted, and FMH are doing. In the face of comments like Sister Dalton’s, their efforts gives me hope for my daughter.

    I’m already mourning her pain over these issues while she’s still too young to even know they exist.

  11. 11.

    “Sometimes I think we all bear the wounds where we were wounded in the house of our friends.”

    This made me cry, Eve. What a sad truth.

  12. 12.

    This was just depressing. I almost want to turn to my husband and cry, “Can we please, please, please, not expose our daughter to tripe like this?” I mean, it would be one thing if it were coming from one of the moronic commentators on Facebook, but it isn’t. It’s coming from one of the top female leaders in the church, yet it’s every bit as bad as the moronic stuff being posted to Facebook.

    My daughter has been edging towards my church for the last year or so. I want her to be evangelical (for obvious reasons), but with this kind of anti-woman garbage coming across the LDS pulpit, she can’t edge fast enough.

  13. 13.

    Everybody has misunderstood Dalton’s words. She is talking about asserting one’s gun rights without first asking for government permission:

    “Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous [gun-toting] womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report. You will also be the ones to provide an example of family life in a time when families are under attack [an obvious reference to self defense, defending the family with the family guns], being redefined and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities [as law-abiding citizens exercising your right to keep and bear arms] and thus will see no need to lobby [ask permission from the government] for [the exercise of your gun] rights.”

    ;)

  14. 14.

    I take this as an encouraging sign. The fact that President Dalton felt inclined to mention female lobbying means that someone in church headquarters is paying attention. Its not much different from prior statements by church leaders that they could not (or would not) change the racial priesthood ban. The words themselves are not what we want to hear, but they are a sign of better times ahead.

  15. 15.

    Let’s be clear: people aren’t talking about Sister Dalton’s talk, they are talking about a few words from her talk, ripped out of context.

    So instead of celebrating that women spoke at BYU devotionals for two weeks in a row, which should be a good thing for feminists, instead it is Dump on Dalton time.

    Has it occurred to anyone that perhaps one reason that women don’t pray in Conference is that every woman in a church leadership turned the opportunity down because they know people will make fun of their voice and criticize part of what they say, and they don’t want to detract from the meeting?

    As for Pres. Dalton’s talk, there are many ways those words could be interpreted.

    It might mean, you won’t have to lobby for rights because you will know you are a full-class citizen in the kingdom of God.

    Taken with her earlier brilliant comments on confidence, it might mean that you won’t have to engage in lobbying efforts because you will have the courage to speak up whenever you see a problem. You won’t have to wait for someone else to organize an event.

    Which is what I saw as one of the failings of the pants event. That it would give women a false sense of having done something when in reality, they should be speaking up rather than suffering in silence and running to a blog to complain.

    Also, I wound comment Elder Holland’s words about how not every talk is for everyone, and we should listen through the spirit for what is for us, and appreciate that others need to hear another talk. And her audience was BYU students, so this was delivered over a lectern, not over the pulpit.

    I appreciate the pain that people in the church feel for various reasons, including women with issues of gender. We all bruise easily, even when no harm is intended. But I am not sure that treating women just like men would be a panacea that would make it all better.

  16. 16.

    Yeah, Naismith, that’s right, it’s strictly an out-of-context issue. Those dastardly feminists with their poor listening/reading comprehension skills are just “dumping on Dalton” for no reason.

    A friend of mine once told me, “Never underestimate the ability of a Bloggernacle Mormon to make a quote from a leader say what they need it to say.”

    Wise man.

  17. 17.

    This talk was a WTF moment for me as well, and my only daughter isn’t even old enough to speak. I can only pray that our church’s understanding of women is in a more enlightened stage by the time she reaches the Young Women program.

    Because, based on the principles I plan on instilling in her, I’m not sure she’ll have any interest in attending a church where this kind of stuff is served.

  18. 18.

    [...] Reassuringly, my concern with this address is not unique. It instantly set off a widespread flurry of blog posts from all around the Mormon corner of the Internet: Dear Sister Dalton, Dear President Dalton — I have a daughter…, Dalton Discouragement [...]

  19. 19.

    Ms. Jack, your sarcasm in response to Naismith reduces your credibility. Please be civil. Thank you.

  20. 20.

    Naismith,

    If you want to continue to comment on ZD, you’re going to have to tone it down. You’re welcome to respectfully disagree, but quite frankly, your history of comments here not only often fails to be respectful, but also frequently threadjacks conversations back to the same tired topics. We’ve repeatedly discussed, at length, the question of whether feminists just want women to be treated like men, don’t appreciate the differences between women and men, etc. We’ve repeatedly discussed, at length, the question of whether women are in fact full citizens in the kingdom of God. That’s not to say that those issues aren’t worth discussing, but we don’t want to have to re-hash these questions in every single conversation we have.

    Our blog is an explicitly feminist blog, based on the premise that feminism has good and important things to contribute. If you find that problematic, you’re more than welcome to start a blog of your own to critique feminists and feminism. But this is our space, and while disagreement is fine, we ask that people address the specific issues brought up in our posts without resorting to negative generalizations and unsupported assumptions about feminists.

  21. 21.

    Everyone else,

    Please drop it—whether it be sarcastic responses, or policing other people’s comments (that’s my job!). I’m feeling a bit trigger-happy today. You’ve been warned.

  22. 22.

    My apologies, Bouncer.

  23. 23.

    Thanks, MB. You are officially un-bounced.

  24. 24.

    Your moderation is appreciated, Bouncer. I apologize for my sarcasm; I should have kept it in check.

    BTW, this was directed at me, but I neglected to respond to this earlier:

    And her audience was BYU students, so this was delivered over a lectern, not over the pulpit.

    In case you haven’t forgotten, I am a BYU alumna. This was a Tuesday morning devotional, not a forum address, so spiritual edification was its aim. “Pulpit” is quite the appropriate term in conjunction with that type of speech.

  25. 25.

    Thanks, Jack. Consider yourself un-bounced as well.

    And now, back to our previously scheduled discussion . . .

  26. 26.

    Orwell #10:

    I am highly sympathetic to this. But I admit that I lack the faith to trust in the “proper channels” when it comes to these issues. Even (very optimistically) assuming a majority of sympathetic local leaders, it only takes one person somewhere on up the line to cancel out an entire segment of the membership’s voice.

    That’s a really good point. “Proper channels,” as I understand them, are to take things up with our local leaders. But for the majority of feminist concerns, the local leaders can’t do much about them. My bishop might be completely sympathetic to and supportive of feminism, but it’s not as if he can storm Salt Lake and get things changed at a church-wide level. And as you point out, getting anything up the hierarchy is very difficult. So maybe these kinds of activism aren’t ideal–but what other options do we have? That’s a question I keep coming back to as well. It’s the catch-22 that if you don’t have a voice and you want that changed, you’re stuck, because you first have to have a voice to get anything changed.

    Dave K. (#14):

    I take this as an encouraging sign. The fact that President Dalton felt inclined to mention female lobbying means that someone in church headquarters is paying attention.

    Nice. I like that interpretation.

  27. 27.

    It’s the catch-22 that if you don’t have a voice and you want that changed, you’re stuck, because you first have to have a voice to get anything changed.

    Exactly. This is the conclusion I came to as well — and why I decided that I’m in no position to criticize the methods of these groups. Because, well, I don’t have any better ideas.

  28. 28.

    “it’s the glib dismissals that don’t actually address the issues being raised, leaving me skeptical that such issues are being taken at all seriously.”

    Exactly. This applies to several issues.

    Also, Lynette nails it in comment 26.

  29. 29.

    “Proper channels,” as I understand them, are to take things up with our local leaders. But for the majority of feminist concerns, the local leaders can’t do much about them.

    Also, it’s an overarching issue that “proper channels” disproportionately minimize women’s voices and concerns, which means that concerns about how “proper channels” affect women can’t be addressed through “proper channels,” by definition. (It’s a bit like waiting around for an election so that you can vote out your dictator who won’t let you hold elections.)

  30. 30.

    I’m with you, Lynette. And not because there’s no where else to go.

  31. 31.

    May I recommend, as a sort of homeopathic remedy for the after effects of Dalton’s disparaging remarks about people who lobby for rights, that you listen to this past Sunday’s episode of Music and the Spoken Word, wherein the Mormon Tabernacle Choir pays tribute to human rights activists. Apparently, some Mormons are duly impressed by those who would lobby for rights.

  32. 32.

    Here is the link: http://www.byuidahoradio.org/music-the-spoken-word-4296/

  33. 33.

    Lynnette,
    I’m totally with you. This is super frustrating and exasperating. Honestly, it’s mind-blowing that this could happen in 2013. At BYU.
    But I still would like to see a reaction. That’s the way I imagine change happening (ahem, yes I did start WAVE, so that makes sense, I guess).

    I’m not sure whose idea it was, but my favorite response is for everyone to donate in Sis Dalton’s name to charity supporting international women and children. I’d love it if we could say it was from Mormon feminists. I’m not sure if one large donation or many small ones would be effective, but I love the message it sends.

  34. 34.

    Why do we care so much as to what Sister Dalton has to say, she is only a person with her own thoughts. Obviously, she is not our advocate, she is not on the same plane as a feminist. She is content to live in her reality.

  35. 35.

    #34 ~ Why do we care? Because the church has set her in a position of being a leader of our children. We don’t want her reality becoming their reality.

  36. 36.

    Well, the BYU press release about the talk doesn’t mention the offending quote. Go figure.

  37. 37.

    Link:

    http://news.byu.edu/archive13-jan-daltontalk.aspx

  38. 38.

    Is there really such a thing as ideal activism? I mean doesn’t the whole concept kind of denote messiness? I continually hear people critiquing all enlisted, and yet it seems that in general it is reaching its goals of making people rethink mormon gender norms. I guarentee early feminism was super uncomfortable and awkward as well. Movements that make everyone have warm fuzzies probably don’t accomplish much

  39. 39.

    The Bouncer – I fail to see why you found Naiasmith’s comment inappropriate.

    I thought she brought up a couple of good points. I myself listened to the first 19 minutes of the talk so I did NOT get to the line about lobbying for rights. I did however listen to 19 minutes of some good stuff! As Naiasmith pointed out, as feminists we should want more women to speak in these types of events as the main/sole/key speaker. She is right that two women speakers in a row is something.
    Remember, it is rare that a man in the church listens to a woman he feels has the right to tell him what to do based on her position in the church. Men need to have these experiences in order to incorporate females’ ideas into their thinking and perspective.
    Secondly, I thought the 19 minutes was an excellent talk!!!! I didn’t hear anything about not lobbying for rights (which must have come later?). Instead I heard a talk about taking action–taking an active role to be a disciple and do good in the world. I really heard so much more in the talk and I am sure she wanted many parts of her message to be remembered.
    Also, I agree that when a speaker speaks to a certain audience we should take that into consideration. And we hope she has inspiration for the people in that audience. Just because she might feel inspired to say it there, doesn’t mean that she would feel she needed to give the same instruction if she came to speak in your stake. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay attention or listen, but it is valid for Naiasmith to bring up that she may or may not have had a special message to just BYU students.

  40. 40.

    Just wanted to say Amen! to the post, Lynnette’s #26, and jenna’s #38.

  41. 41.

    [...] them an oblique smack-down — telling women not to lobby for their rights, without actually acknowledging the existence of the organization doing the lobbying. Many people were not happy with the reminder that women should be invisible — and even found [...]

  42. 42.

    [...] Dalton Discouragement [...]

  43. 43.

    [...] and thus will see no need to lobby for rights” has caused somewhat of an uproar in the bloggernacle.  Jimmy Jones wrote a letter to her in response to her comments, and he has given [...]

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