I’ve heard the “all women are mothers” line at church so many times that they mostly blur together in a haze of Ideas I Wish Would Go Away, but there is one time that stands out in my memory: once, in a ward conference, a stake Relief Society leader was teaching a lesson about the special roles and gifts of women, and, focusing on the nurturing powers of women, started listing examples of how mothers nurture their children: they feed theme, bathe them, clothe them, clean up after them, heal them, love them. She then asserted, as usual, that even women without children are really mothers who can nurture the children in their lives. “For example,” she said, with an entirely straight face, “you can lift a child who needs it up to a water fountain so they can get a drink.”
I read At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women a few weeks ago, tearing through it start to finish in a single day. (My train was delayed so I had slightly more commuting time than usual. Thanks, I guess, BART.) I’m hungry for the words of women in the church, and this was a welcome meal, with a balance of historical and (near-)contemporary women, and a balance of rhetorical types, from prayers to Relief Society sermons to longer theological discourses. Shortly after finishing it, I taught a Relief Society lesson on prayer, and I was delighted to have the book as a source text from which to pull examples of women’s words and women’s experiences of prayer.
White men are 31% of the US population, but hold 65% of elected offices in the United States.
That 31% of the population is also:
- 60% of the authors reviewed in The New York Times
- 82% of film directors and most of the speaking characters
- >90% of Fortune 500 CEOs
- most film executives, movie producers, and sports team owners
- 98% of presidents
- and, of course, 100% of LDS prophets and apostles.
With power in our society so thoroughly dominated by white people, and men in particular, the stories and perspectives we’re exposed to run the gamut, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, from A to B. I like white men–I’m related to them, friends with them, work with them–and their personalities are interesting and their opinions worth considering, to be sure, but still: seeing and hearing from white men so much, in so many places of power and influence, is like eating the same thing every day. Variety is the spice of life, and I’m hungry for more and different foods in my diet.
As an example of a similar effect, since I’m a book lover, think of novels about the Holocaust. I’ll start: The Book Thief, All the Light We Cannot See, Number the Stars, The Reader, Suite Française, Schindler’s List, Code Name Verity, The Last of the Just, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Everything Is Illuminated and I’m just naming the ones I’ve read, and not even including memoirs, non-fiction treatments, or movies. Many of these are great novels, and stories about the Holocaust are important. And yet, can you name nearly as many novels about the Khmer Rouge? I’ve got In the Shadow of the Banyan, and then it turns out the other I was thinking of was about Vietnam instead. And how many novels can you name about the 1990s genocide in Rwanda? I’ve gone out of my way to read about Rwanda after visiting there a few years ago, and I can still only name a few memoirs and non-fiction books. And where are the novels about the genocides in Bosnia, Armenia, Namibia, and many other places? Imagine how much more vibrant our literary landscape would be with a broadened range of cultures, histories, and individual stories to draw from, beyond those belonging to primarily white people in the West.
And on a Mormon note, imagine a General Conference with a leadership roster that reflected a truly international and truly diverse Church, instead of one dominated by white men. We’d be able to hear people speak about their personal experiences of growing up on farms in Utah and flying airplanes in Germany, but also of fleeing Spain during the Civil War, integrating the hospitality industry in the early 1970s, learning about the Church from Reader’s Digest, giving up a child for adoption by a friend, or sneaking through security checkpoints to get to church. I love that I can find those stories online (major shout-out to the Mormon Women Project!) but I want more of them everywhere–in my ward, in the Ensign, over the pulpit in General Conference.
We should end this overindexation of white men and their perspectives for all kinds of reasons–a world with more equal representation would better live up to the exhortation to recognize neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female–but, on top of all the reasons of justice and equality and striving for Zion, let add my complaint: this is boring.
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.
In conversations about whether God really commanded such-and-such a thing, I’ve often heard the argument that “God wouldn’t do that.” God wouldn’t tell Abraham to kill his son, tell Joseph Smith to marry underage girls, tell contemporary prophets to enact a policy against the children of gay parents. Such things go against the character of God, so we can be confident that there was no divine involvement in these cases—just human error at work. The response from defenders of these things is often that God is far beyond our comprehension, that his thoughts are not our thoughts, and we are in no position to evaluate what he might or might not do. Read More
Sixth Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference
Harvard Divinity School
February 24-25, 2017
The Faith and Knowledge Conference was established in 2007 to bring together LDS graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the interactions between religious faith and scholarship. During the past five conferences, students have shared their experiences in the church and the academy and the new ideas that have emerged as a result. Papers and conversations provided thought-provoking historical, exegetical, and theoretical insights and compelling models of how to reconcile one’s discipleship with scholarly discipline.
In keeping with these past objectives, we invite graduate students and early career scholars in religious studies and related disciplines (e.g., women’s studies, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history, literature, etc.) to join the conversation. We welcome proposals addressing historical, exegetical, and theoretical issues that arise from the intersections of LDS religious experience and academic scholarship. Final papers presented at the conference should be brief, pointed comments of ten to fifteen minutes. Please visit faithandknowledge.org for more information on themes and topics explored at previous years’ conferences.
Proposals should include a paper abstract of no more than 250 words and a brief CV. Please submit proposals by December 2, 2016 to Christopher Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notifications of acceptance or rejection will be sent by December 16, 2016.
The registration fee will be $25 for graduate students and $50 for early career scholars. For individuals whose paper proposals are accepted, hotel accommodations for two nights and all meals on Saturday will be provided; travel expenses will be reimbursed based on a sliding scale.
Further information will be posted on the website faithandknowledge.org.
Michael Austin has a great post up at BCC about how small a percentage of the faculty at the BYUs are women, and what a bad message this sends to students, both female and male. I thought it might be interesting to look at the IPEDS data he used in graphical form.
Here’s a scatterplot showing each institution’s percentage of faculty who are women as a function of total faculty size.
I’ve been thinking about some of the things that lots of people I know absolutely rave about, or I feel a lot of social pressure to like, but in reality I just don’t get—for whatever reason, they simply don’t click with me. A sample:
Podcasts: Sometimes it seems like all the fun discussion these days is happening on podcasts. Because of that, I want to like them. But somehow I don’t have the patience to listen, and I find it hard to stay engaged with them.
Museums: I have a really hard time with museums; I just find them boring. Looking at objects and displays doesn’t do much for me.
Strawberries: It amazes me how much people love strawberries, how they’re widely seen as a treat, how they’re even dipped in chocolate. I simply can’t stand them.
Breaking Bad: So many of my friends love this show, and I see it appearing all the time in lists of the best television. I’ve tried to watch it twice, and seriously found it unwatchable.
Nature: It’s not that I dislike nature. I genuinely enjoy being in the mountains or visiting the ocean or being in a forest. But for me, it’s not a transcendent experience. It doesn’t really move me emotionally. For years, I felt tremendous pressure to be having certain experiences when I was out in nature that I just wasn’t having. It’s been a relief to let that expectation go.
The sacrament: In 41 years in the church, I have yet to have any kind of spiritual experience related to the sacrament. I’ve tried various ways of making it meaningful, but in the end it’s a ritual that leaves me cold. People talk about it making a difference to take it; I’ve never felt that way at all. I still take it, but I’ve stopped driving myself crazy trying to make it into anything special.
I’d be curious to hear what other people would put on a list like this.
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.
Supporters of chicken patriarchy like to cite calling on family members to say prayers as an example of a duty that the father in a family, as the presider and priesthood holder, must perform. I suspect this is a preferred example because it carves out a required role for the man, but it avoids the offensiveness of men’s supposed duties that fans of paleo-patriarchy might cite, such as the duty to be the final decider in matters of schooling, employment, or spending.
Because this is such a oft-cited example (in blog discussions at least), it is with some glee that I report that as the husband and father in my family, I have abdicated this duty to an algorithm. And not even one of my own making! One of my kids came up with it. And to be fair, calling it an algorithm is making it sound way more complicated than it is. It’s a very simple system. In case you’re curious, here’s how it works. Family members are ordered by age, and each family member is assigned a number from zero to number of family members minus one. The day of the month is then divided by the number of family members, and the remainder is matched up to one of the assigned numbers to find who gets to say family prayer. For blessings at mealtime, the meal number (1, 2, or 3; no allowance is made for things like second breakfast) is added to the date. For example, today is May 26th. There are five people in my family. To decide who says the blessing on lunch, we take 26 (day) + 2 (meal number), divide by 5 (number of family members), yielding a remainder of 3, so this means it’s my second oldest child’s turn (since the family is numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 in age order). Read More
The Exponent II blog is having a fundraiser this weekend. You’re likely familiar with them, but if you’re not, you should definitely check them out. They do amazing work keeping women’s voices alive and drawing attention to women’s issues. This is a great cause to donate to, and there are even prizes! Click on the link below to find out more.
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.
US civil rights law prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of characteristics such as race and gender. Prohibited discrimination can take the form of disparate treatment or disparate impact. Disparate treatment is easy to spot: it is simply treating members of different groups differently. For example, an employer who refuses to hire women would be liable under disparate treatment. Disparate impact is typically more difficult to see. It arises when a test or procedure the employer uses has the effect of discriminating against members of one group versus another. An employer who gives applicants a speech test that is scored by software that picks up lower pitches better than higher pitches might be liable under disparate impact, as women would likely perform worse on the test. (Employers are allowed to discriminate, though, if they can show that the characteristic they are using to select employees is a requirement to do the job.)
I think the concepts of disparate treatment and disparate impact are useful for talking about how the Church discriminates. In using these terms, I’m not suggesting that members are like employees; I’m just borrowing the terms to have an easy way to refer to different types of discrimination.
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. Read More