As someone who’s been raising questions about LDS teachings and practices pretty much since my Primary days, I find that one of the most infuriating responses to people’s concerns is something along the lines of, “you just don’t understand,” whether the gospel generally or the specific principle being discussed. Because if you did understand, it seems to be assumed, you would cheerfully accept it, no more questions needed thank you very much. In years of feminist discussions, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been told that women who are discontent “just don’t understand” the true, eternal nature of patriarchy; or the meaning of divine gender roles; or the many opportunities the church gives to women. When people try to clear up complicated issues by producing a slew of GA quotes that purportedly explain everything, I find myself at a real loss as to how to best respond.
Because this is the thing. My experience with the LDS church spans decades, and I have more than a passing acquaintance with its teachings. In addition, after years and years of way too much blogging and truly endless arguments about these issues, I’m reasonably familiar with the usual defenses of the status quo. Defenders Of The Faith: I beg of you, please stop saying “but men and women are different,” or “God is in charge of the church and doing things his way,” or “you just have to realize that the temple is all symbolic” in a tone that suggests you think these radical ideas have not occurred even once to the person raising the feminist critique. Because, surprise! I’ve actually heard assertions like these before. I’ve heard them a whole lot, in fact. I’ve heard them over the pulpit as well as in informal conversations for almost my whole life. Believe it or not, I’ve actually already read most of the talks that get quoted at me that are supposed to solve everything. Sometimes I feel that I’m being talked to as if I’d just come across an anti-Mormon pamphlet claiming that Mormon women are oppressed and had naively swallowed it whole, and I just need an enlightened Latter-day Saint who truly understands the gospel to clear up my misconceptions. But the reality is that I didn’t need to read even a single anti-Mormon pamphlet to notice the glaring reality that women don’t have equal opportunities in the church; I was actually asking questions about the disparity long before I knew what an anti-Mormon pamphlet even was (or, to challenge another assumption I sometimes encounter, before I went to college and was exposed to evil liberal professors who tried to brainwash me into becoming a feminist).
So let’s not beat around the bush: It’s not that I don’t understand. It’s that I don’t agree. Those who support patriarchy often seem to assume that it’s so reasonable that anyone who really understands what’s going on with it will be forced to concede its virtue. But I simply don’t think that’s the case. Perhaps it’s just human nature to assume that if people genuinely grasped an issue, of course they’d come around to your point of view. (And yes, I do know that this goes both ways.) But it’s a deeply problematic assumption, one that shuts down any real dialogue and undermines interpersonal respect.
Disagree with me, then, all you want. By all means, share your experience and how it’s led you to different conclusions than the ones I hold. But please, please, respect me enough to stop condescendingly informing me that I “just don’t understand.”