For far too much of my life, I avoided activities I saw as overly feminine. I was no tomboy—that requires a base of athleticism I didn’t have—but, as an intellectually-inclined child, I let my bedroom get messy, never moved beyond boiling water in my kitchen skills, eschewed crafting, and never bothered with beauty routines.
Anti-suffragists respected women:
“To man, woman is the dearest creature on earth, and there is no extreme to which he would not go for his mother or sister.” – J. B. Sanford, anti-suffrage Senator, 1911.
I’ve pretty much always been the kind of feminist who thought women should have the priesthood; I remember telling people this when I was in high school, and while they often laughed it off uncomfortably as teenage rabble-rousing, I was perfectly serious. This hasn’t changed, but, in watching the Church’s response to Ordain Women and some of the baby steps they’ve made towards (and away from) equality, lately I’ve been thinking more about what wanting women to have the priesthood really means to me.
This is based on a talk I gave in my ward in February 2016.
I don’t think I’m giving away too much of my identity on the internet when I tell you that my name is Hannah. Growing up, I liked my name: it’s a palindrome, and, for someone of my age, it was relatively unusual. (I mostly only met Jewish girls my age with the name.) I also liked that, like my brothers, I was named after a Biblical figure; I liked the feeling of being part of history, a long chain of tributary Hannahs, and the sense of weight and importance it gave to the name.
I didn’t much like that Biblical figure, though. The lessons I got about her in Primary and even Young Women’s were always lessons about Samuel that framed her only as the faithful mother of someone important, not someone important in her own right. Moreover, every time her story was referenced the other kids looked at me, more or less surreptitiously, and teased me: “Ha, ha, you want to have a baby!” In Primary I did NOT want to have a baby, and this teasing oddly stung, to the point that I dreaded Hannah references in church. (From this I also learned that kids can tease you about anything; kids, don’t do this.)
In another life I was a linguist, interested particularly in linguistic typology, the field of searching for true language universals—and thus some of the deepest building blocks of human language—through description and classification of existing languages into broad types and comparative features. Functionally, and a little flippantly, this means typologists write papers proposing models of how languages work, and then, almost invariably, other typologists familiar with the languages of Papua New Guinea write a response saying, “No they don’t,” with copious counterexamples. Think that all languages have a word for “blue”? Look at Dani. Think that there’s no language with doubly articulated stops? Look at Yeli Dnye. Think that the verb for ‘give’ always takes three arguments? Look at Saliba. Think that all languages count on their fingers or therefore bias towards base-10 numeral systems? Look at Oksapmin.
Some things I proselytize for:
To say I love books is to understate it somehow; reading’s influence in my life has been second only to my family. When I read, I learn, I enter new worlds, I bask in the beauty of words in the hands of masters (or, occasionally, wince at the stilted prose of amateurs). Most of all, I get a view into the hearts and minds of others. I’m naturally an intellectual person, prone to abstract away from emotions, even my own, and it’s easy to imagine myself, raised in a world without the windows of fiction, as cold, standoffish, and a little heartless. Books have trained me in the paths of compassion, offering me a chance to use my mind to connect, paring and shaping the natural woman with an effectiveness that ordinary social interaction could never have achieved. Everyone should read.
When I was a kid bored in sacrament meeting, finished with doodling on the program and desperate for entertainment, the hymnbook was my saving grace. (I know that’s supposed to be Jesus, but the hymnbook was much closer and more tactile.) Continue reading
I think I ought to say here that I received a copy of Mormon Feminism from Oxford University Press in exchange for a fair review.
When I was in graduate school, far from the heart of Mormonism, one of my favorite pick-me-up-after-a-long-day-of-thinking hobbies was to swing by one of the many used bookstores near the university and hunt for treasures. One day, to my surprise, I found Brigham Young: American Moses on the Religion shelf. On another visit a few weeks later I found Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, and then during yet another visit Sisters in Spirit—somewhere in my secular liberal town, someone was reading and discarding Mormon history, and I was the lucky beneficiary. Continue reading
1 Timothy 2:9-10 for our time:
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works, and lipstick. After all, even a barn looks better when it’s painted.
I’m currently the second counselor in my ward’s YW presidency, and so when we recently had a temple baptisms night and the temple staff asked for us to provide 6 adult volunteers—3 men and 3 women—to accompany the youth, I agreed to go. I find the initiatory and endowment difficult, but I usually enjoy baptisms for the dead, and I always enjoy spending time with the young women of my ward, who are bright, inquisitive, funny, kind, and exploring their lives with faith and verve.
A few months ago I went to a Unitarian Universalist church for a singalong Messiah performance. As I pulled into the parking lot of the church, I found myself overwhelmed by a feeling I couldn’t identify or articulate; I was suddenly shivering and in tears, feeling buoyant and light. Nothing dramatic happened that evening—I sang along with the Messiah, frequently failing to reach the highest soprano notes—but as I dissect my feelings later, wondering what had happened in the parking lot, it came to me: I was happily anticipating entering a church. I was about to do something religious, and all I felt was pure uncomplicated excitement.
That evening at the UU church made me realize that I brace myself each Sunday, and I have been for years. I rarely, if ever, feel the Spirit at church, but I often drive away crying, grieving dogmatism or sexism or boredom or disconnection or my own simple inability to fight my anger or cynicism, and at this point I’ve trained myself to expect this. Sunday is a day I am vulnerable to grief and fear and pain, with little expected joy in return, so Sunday is a day I put up walls. On Sundays I am not the person I hope to be.
Does D&C 132 make you a little confused?
And/or a little angry?
By all appearances, I was a modesty success story as a teenager. For whatever reason, I was naturally inclined to cover up, squeamish even about changing in front of friends, and by 16 I was, without much prodding, essentially dressing for BYU and, later, garments. I owned no skirts above the knee, nothing too tight, nothing sleeveless, and, through the throes of the 90s midriff craze I layered colorful tank tops under my shirts to ensure no one saw a flash of my stomach.
Did you spend your weekend on General Conference?
Encouraged by Primary, I grew up imagining God like my father: brilliant and impressive, but with a lively sense of humor and a deep affection for me; he could alternate easily between interviews with distinguished newspapers and a chatty phone conversation with me about whatever was on my mind. I felt close to my dad, growing up, in part because he was a loving father who dedicated time to his children and in part because we are so similar in personality—we make the same jokes, have the same competitive streak, and geek out about some of the same topics. I’m lucky in this, but I was comfortable and happy with the idea of a heavenly father, thanks to the example of my own. “Divine nature” made sense to me, and it was easy for me to take my concerns to God in prayer, in the same way I’d take my thoughts about an interesting math problem to my earthly father.
Then I went to the temple. Continue reading
The Bloggernacle has always been a competitive place—witness the fiercely contested Niblets—so it’s about time we added some formality to our favorite way of proving we’re better than everyone else: the comments section.
Want to compete, but specialize in a particular style of obnoxious commenting? Never fear; with multiple events, the Comment Olympics offer a way for everyone to win gold! You can try:
- Wrestling with your trials (which are so much larger than everyone else’s)
- Shooting down others’ attempts to talk about their problems
- Boxing someone else into a corner
- Sailing through conversations without really listening
- Cycling through the same old arguments again
- Swimming in your tears over other people’s unrighteous choices
- Skating on thin ice of people’s limited tolerance
- Curling your lip in disdain, then rapidly trying to turn it into a fake-nice smile
- Mental gymnastics
- And, of course, the passive-aggressive triathlon: sulk, blame, run.
Start training today!
Trigger warning: feminism.