Easter’s Promise

Posted on March 31, 2010. Filed under: Belief, Changes, faith, hope, Jesus, Mormon Life |

by Heather

One of my favorite writers is the very irreverent David Sedaris. Because I taught English as a second language, I get a big kick out of his tales of studying French–especially the story about the difficulty Easter.  “What is an Easter?” asks a Muslim student.  As Sedaris and some of his fellow Christians attempt to explain the crucifixion, the atonement and resurrection of Jesus, they find their vocabulary sadly inadequate (and indeed absurd).   A Polish student says Easter is “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus.”  Another chimes in, “He die one day and then go above my head to be with my father.  He nice the Jesus.” So, as Sedaris puts it, “Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, [they] did what any self-respecting group of people might do.  [They] talked about food.” 

Even as a native speaker, I can relate to the difficulties of explaining abstract religious concepts.  If I examine my own Easter vocabulary, phrases like “solid dark chocolate,” “lovely decoupage eggs,” “marshmallow Peeps”, and “funeral potatoes” are more common than  phrases like “only begotten son,” “atoned for our suffereing,” and “He is risen.”   One set denotes Easter as holiday, the other, Easter as holy day. 

My earliest memories of Easter reflect this dichotomy. 

When I was a little girl, we knew Easter was coming when my mom did two things. First, she took my sister and me to Sears to get new dresses.  It was so exciting to try on fancy pastel frocks with scratchy lace and skirts that swung out when we’d twirl. Sometimes Angela and I matched. Sometimes not. We never got hats or gloves. New dresses were sufficient–anything more was just showing off. 

The other marker of Easter was the visit to my Grandma Jessie’s grave.   I enjoyed those visits.  The grass was velvety to lie on, the air smelled of roses, and the grooved letters of my grandma’s name carved into stone were fun to trace.  I never knew Jessie. I was 2 when she passed.  Perhaps my parents used the opportunity to speak of the resurrection. I don’t remember. My mother has never been one to sermonize. Yet a connection was made for me that Easter was a time to look forward to reunions.  My mother mourned her loss each April; Jessie was born on Easter Sunday in 1903.  But I also think my mom chose early spring as the time to visit because she cherished Easter’s promise of resurrection, the holy day reminded her that she would indeed embrace her mother again. 

Something else I have observed of my mom in the spring is that her heart turns to the soil.   When I had gone through a particularly hard time a few years ago, some dear friends sent me 4 dozen mixed bulbs. Life in a box.  I don’t share my mother’s green thumb and had never planted anything before and feared nothing would grow for me.  I read and reread the instructions before tentatively planting the first bulb that fall.  I found I enjoyed planting things and imagined the beautiful flowers that would grow.  But a few days later I went outside and saw that my garden was pock marked with hole after hole where squirrels had dug up and stolen my floral treasures.  I cursed those rodents and sobbed my heart out.  It was as if the squirrels had taken my hope from me along with the daffodils and crocuses. But to my surprise, come spring, I had the loveliest flowers in my front yard.  It was a little miracle. Flowers and faith can survive decimation.  

Last spring the kids helped me bury bulbs.  One of us would scoop out dirt with a little shovel, one would plop in a bulb, one would sprinkle it with Tabasco or “spicey wicey” to keep away the critters, and one would replace and pack the dirt.  I can’t describe the joy I feel when the first little green sprouts show themselves.  And these beautiful flowers keep coming back.  Sometimes in winter, when my sweet flower beds are buried under 3 feet of packed, salty snow, I just know nothing can survive. But not too long ago, when it seemed winter would never end, I went out my front door and saw little purple crocuses poking their heads out of the ground.  It called to mind a favorite primary song that beautifully parallels gardens and the resurrection:

 On a golden springtime, underneath the ground,
A tiny seedling lay asleep until the sun shone down.
Awake, awake, O little seed!
Push upward to the light!
The day is bright. With all your might,
push upward to the light!

On a golden springtime, Jesus Christ awoke
And left the tomb where he had lain; the bands of death he broke.
Awake, awake, O sleeping world!
Look upward to the light,
For now all men may live again.
Look upward to the light!

On that first Easter Sunday, that holy day, women came to Christ’s tomb, found it empty, and were heart broken.  Our hearts too are broken by our losses, large and small,  tangible and intangible. Yet that empty space can be filled with hope. Faith can survive a dormant season.  Easter means that the tomb is empty, because He is risen. He is risen. He is risen.

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The Trimurti: A Birthing Poem

Posted on February 11, 2010. Filed under: Changes, death, Friendship, Mormon Life, Mormon women, motherhood, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , |

My new little one.

by Alisa

Twelve days ago, I gave birth to my first baby. As I labored in the hospital, I was aware that I would be missing my dear oldest friend’s great big birthday bash that night. Diagnosed eight months ago with neuro-endocrine cancer, my friend recently learned she probably has less than six months to live. Deciding not to wait for her birthday later on in the year, a huge party was organized in her honor.

While I am overflowing with joy at the birth of my son, and the birth of my motherhood, I hardly know how to begin to say goodbye to someone who has always been there with me, through nursery, primary, junior high and high school, boyfriends, weddings, and more. I am struck by how seemingly polar opposites can hit our lives at the same time.

The Trimurti

I wore a necklace throughout my pregnancy
A trinity charm, swirled into one
Creator, Sustainer, and Purger

For all three sometimes come at once
As they often do at a birth, I suppose.
I crouch upward—breathing, pushing, exhaling
With all I have and more, then sink back,
Eyes shut, catching my breath
All of the moment in my heart.

I smile then—truly
Because I know nothing but love and intensity
For this baby boy

While I lay there
Another birthday is celebrated—
Really, it isn’t exactly her birthday
But if you had less than six months
You’d celebrate early too

Thirty years, her last milestone.
Shiva, do you know you take a mother of five babes?
What do you want to purge? I dare not ask why.

The Creator smiled on us that day twenty years ago
She and I sat over our cross-stitch, two merry misses
When Mother called from two houses down
To witness a birth
My calico calm, near serene, purred her kitten into life
With her hypnotic humming

And I, struggling to do things right
Hastened to tie the thin, red thread around the chord,
When he began to chirp, hardly a mew.

The Sustainer is come to stop time.
I never watch the ticking clock
And open my eyes with ecstatic surprise,
When they place his wet, slippery body on my chest.
And the weather is so mild

February forgot its season
At my back door a crocus pushes its tender leaves upward
Childhood is not unlike motherhood: tenderly aware of only now

Motherhood is not unlike the yoke
Of rainbow connections and pulsing sensations
I love, I feel, I know, I heal
As we vibrate to the lullaby
I sing in the key of present tense

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Creating Your Story This New Year

Posted on December 24, 2009. Filed under: Acceptance, Belief, Changes, Christmas, faith, Friendship |

As the year comes to an end, I often find myself returning to my journals from the year before to see where I’ve arrived at this year. In doing so, I found a particular entry, written exactly a year ago that I wanted to explore:

“I’ve been in a weird place all year. A place that isn’t fully me. A place where I feel like I have to figure things out. Figure things out. Make sense of things. Decide my future. And it’s left me, in this final month of December, quite melancholy and lost. The daily mirror reminders that I am getting closer to death, that in fact, each second that I am alive, I am, in fact, dying too. The pressure of time seems to serve as a reminder of something I have forgotten, or I never knew, or maybe part of me knows but hasn’t told the other part of me. Can you have secrets from yourself?”

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days–Can I have secrets from myself? Are there things I don’t dare to tell myself? For the decade of my twenties I could never admit that I didn’t feel good in the Temple. For that decade I could never admit that I didn’t like the way women were labeled and viewed in the church. For over a decade I made those labels fit. For a decade I went to the temple at least once a month with the faith that someday it was going to get better for me. For a decade I tried to fit, fit, fit. Like a multitude of rich goodies shoved into a generic Christmas stocking. But always, always a part of myself knew that I was never going to fit all the parts of me into that red and white stocking. But, I was trying to create a story for myself that I so desperately wanted to be true that I didn’t listen to MYSELF.

Life in this physical body is VERY short, even if we live to be 100. When I think about this, I have to conclude that I want to waste NO time creating conflict with people I love. I want to REALLY love people for who they are on a day to day basis. I want to enjoy them, and I have learned (in a VERY REAL way this year) that I do this by loving them for who they ARE….not what they BELIEVE. The stories that each of people create for their lives is not what is most important to me. PEOPLE are important to me.

Let me explain.

I don’t care if my mother’s story doesn’t agree with mine (which it doesn’t at all, we are VERY different, and she would like me to be her perfect little Mormon girl again, in a big way). I love my mother, I enjoy her. I have learned not to impose my story upon her (ie, I think she needs to do this and that and be liberated in this way and explore these thoughts). I don’t want to impose my story on anybody. I respect my mother. I respect her path. I listen to her story, and I don’t need to make it wrong.

I have also learned (IN A VERY BIG WAY) that if other people try to write your story, it means they don’t respect you. They don’t respect you because they don’t consider that you are in tune with yourself to know what your story should be, even if it goes against everything in their story. But listen up, I was born to write my own story, and so were you and you know what– WE ARE BOTH RIGHT.

I have learned this year to respect myself so much that I am NOT going to allow anybody else (or my desire to please them or feel accepted by them) to write my story. My story is my responsibility. It’s my creation. I am the artist. I respect my own art. I can compare my art with other people’s art, but I make my own choices, and I take responsibility for my creation.

It’s about respect. It’s about trusting people. It’s about love, really—unconditional love. Love is the most incredible gift in the world. It’s the spirit of Christmas and Buddha and Yemaya and Jesus and every God and Goddess who have ever graced the consciousness of humanity. It’s the most incredible talent to have…better than playing the violin or painting or running marathons. It’s the most powerful force on earth. It’s the most important thing to me.

And I’m sending it all your way. Real Love. Big Time Love. Merry Christmas from Switzerland Everyone! Write your story for 2010 and own it!

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Space Traveler

Posted on December 10, 2009. Filed under: Changes, Family, Mormon Life, motherhood, Poetry | Tags: , |

  by Alisa

This is a poem I wrote in my first trimester, and in preparing for the birth of my son, I enjoyed returning to these expressions of my magnificat. After many years of marriage, including many where I seriously questioned whether or not I wanted or would have children, I found myself waking early each morning in excitement of the new life growing inside of me. I know that birth is incredibly common, yet to me it seems incredibly miraculous at the same time.

Where does this new consciousness come from? If we believe literally in Kolob, how fast would a spirit have to travel to arrive on time? How interesting the process of growth, of cell division, of expansion. How amazing it is to be the observer of new life, up close. To feel like a part of the Creator in the process.

The Traveler

Nearing the end of my third decade
a new legacy, new magnum opus found me
So I decided on space travel

I’m building a capsule
complete with lifeline
Organic material, grounded and earthy
ignites this odyssey

It was at first a microscopic endeavor
a saline primordial sea — the same soup
that broke in life upon this planet

My mission is not to discover life but to invite it
Nothing less than a miracle, a lightning strike
an other, an infinite number of experiences and thoughts
an eternity of potential that I cannot own, nor will I try

And safely, under my skin, beneath this marked veil
my comfort capsule expands in space
from minuscule detection,
grows so large it will not be ignored

And faster than the speed of light,
as swift as thought, arriving from how far off
the space-traveler comes to this vessel full and dark,
with a flowing supply of oxygen
My song-sound is heard within its soft, stretching walls

The messenger, not so much of divinity elsewhere but inside,
fostering the ontology of all I am
without confinement or constraint:
I am Infinite. I am the Universe.

Inside cells divide, each knowing its work
Within the membrane organelles dance with DNA and RNA
the ribosomal protein play
extending in atoms, electrons, quarks
Photons dance like stars in the spinning sea of space

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Save the Women’s Research Institute!

Posted on November 5, 2009. Filed under: Changes, education, feminism, Mormon women | Tags: , , , , |

by mraynes

This morning I awoke to the terrible news that Brigham Young University had decided to shut down the Women’s Research Institute. This is a personal tragedy for me, one that I am deeply grieving.

I have written before about how lonely and isolated I felt as a young feminist at BYU. But that was before I found the Women’s Research Institute (WRI). I was in my junior year when I discovered that a Women’s Studies minor even existed at BYU and was housed in the WRI. I eagerly changed my minor in music to women’s studies and never looked back.

I took every class I could sign up for: Women’s Studies 101, The International Political Economy of Women, Women’s Lit, Women in Music, Sociology of Gender. These classes saved my college experience and had a profound impact on who I am today.

As I became more entrenched in the Women’s Studies minor, I started making connections with the teachers and eventually I was hired as a research assistant. That job took me in and out of the WRI office on a daily basis. There I met women who embodied Emmeline B. Well’s belief in”thinking women.” It was the staff of the WRI and its affiliated faculty that proved through their example that I could be a thinking woman and a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Almost three years ago I got a request from the Women’s Research Institute asking me to share my experience as a Women’s Studies minor and as an employee of the WRI. Unfortunately that letter came the day I gave birth to my oldest child and it got pushed aside as I fumbled through the first couple of months of motherhood. I deeply regret that missed opportunity. But today, I will endeavor to share what the Women’s Research Institute has meant in my life.

I do not exaggerate when I say that the WRI has affected every aspect of my life, both while I attended BYU and since I left the university. It was the professors affiliated with the WRI who opened my mind and allowed me to think critically about really difficult things. The director of the Women’s Research Institute took time to individually counsel me about my career and pointed me in the right direction after the disappointment of not getting into grad school. And then when I was working in the domestic violence field, it was the things that I learned as a research assistant that paved the way for me to frequently lecture to professionals and students about the effect of domestic violence on women worldwide.

Of more eternal significance, it was the lessons I learned in my women’s studies classes that influenced my ideas of marriage and motherhood. I have a happy marriage because I was taught gender theory and was looking for equal partnership. I love being a mother because my teachers not only validated motherhood as a feminist choice but provided models of how to be a mother without losing one’s self. I am still a faithful, temple-recommend holding member of the church because my teachers acknowledged the painful and problematic aspects of our doctrine and provided me with enough satisfactory answers to stay. And they were able to do this because of the safety and support of the Women’s Research Institute.

No where else on BYU campus were topics such as female sexuality, the exploitation of women and feminism safe to broach. The WRI was a haven of academic freedom, largely due to contributing over half  of their operating budget themselves. But the WRI was not just concerned with academic pursuits; they actively strived to make every lecture, film, and colloquia a matter of conscience, social justice and faith. This was their foundation.

In the press release, BYU says that they are trying to streamline their programs and there are other campus entities that address women’s issues. It is true that the Women’s Resource Center is specifically interested in issues that affect the female population at BYU. But they address them by offering activities like “Risk Free” Speed Dating.

While the contributions to BYU that the WRC and the Faculty Women’s Association make are important, the academic rigor and vitality that the WRI provides in the field of women’s studies is irreplaceable. For ten years the Women’s Research Institute has been studying the lives of women in a small town in Mali, and offering micro-finance opportunities to the women there. The WRI has published groundbreaking studies on peace and violence, specifically studying women’s perspective. And it was the Women’s Research Institute that almost single-handedly financed the WomanStats project when no other department on campus wanted much to do with the it. This project has since become the most comprehensive compilation of information on the status of women in the world. WomanStats is beginning to have a profound impact not only in the academic community but also where this information can do the most good, in government. Just recently, some of the contributors to this project were asked to testify before Congress. This project, and the many others that  the Women’s Research Institute have undertaken are a credit to BYU and something they should be very proud of.

It is for this reason that it is so hard for me to understand why Brigham Young University is taking this action, one that no other university in the nation has done in the twenty years that records have been kept! I understand the argument that having a separate institution for women’s studies further bastardizes the study of women because it keeps it isolated from the rest of academia. And perhaps this is what BYU is trying to do, mainstream women’s studies. But I fear that this is a premature action. Women and their needs have not been equally mainstreamed into American society, the Academy or the structure of the church. The WRI was the one lone beacon demanding that BYU, academia, the church and the world take notice of the needs and issues of women.

I don’t presume to know why BYU has decided on this course of action. In a time when good PR for Mormonism is hard to come by, shutting down a symbol of social progress and equality seems to be a very bad idea. But I would hate for the genuine frustration over the elimination of the Women’s Research Institute to turn into a conversation on how BYU/the Mormon Church are trying to silence women. While there may be some validity to that argument, I don’t believe it is productive.

Here are some actions I do think are worthwhile:

  • Join the Facebook group “Save BYU’s Women’s Research Institute”.
  • If you live in Utah, attend “Save BYU’s Women’s Research Institute” and Parity’s rally on Thursday evening from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in room 270 of the SWKT.
  • If not write a letter to President Samuelson and tell him how you feel about this decision.
  • Or write a letter to the Academic Vice-President, John Tanner whose office has been in charge of this decision. His email is: john_tannerATbyuDOTedu
  • Write a letter to the editor of BYU’s Daily Universe.
  • Call BYU’s Alumni association and threaten to withhold further financial contributions.
  • Send a letter to the First Presidency. Yes, it will get sent back to your Stake President but at least leaders will begin to see that members are concerned about their decisions regarding gender.
  • Talk to anybody who will listen. Talk to ward members, family members, friends, media. The more public outrage over this decision the more chance we have of saving the Women’s Research Institute.

If these measures fail and the Women’s Research Institute closes its doors on January 1, 2010 then we need to keep BYU honest. We the alumni of BYU and the tithe-payers who keep this institution running need to demand that they live up to their word of “significantly expand[ing] resources for research and creative activities pertaining to women.”

This is an opportunity to show BYU, the leaders of the church and the outside world that yes, gender is important. This is an opportunity to demand that women have place and a voice in our religious institutions. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

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Punctus Contra Punctum

Posted on October 26, 2009. Filed under: Changes, feminism, Mormon Life, Mormon women, personal notes, religion | Tags: , , , |

by mraynes

Point against point, this is the meaning of counterpoint. The term describes a musical tool where two or more voices are written in a way that is completely independent of one another but are  harmonious when played next to each other. Indeed, it is the interdependence between the counterpoint lines that provides the interest and beauty to the music.

It was this metaphor that the Mormon Women’s Forum looked towards when they inaugurated the Counterpoint Conference in 1993; a hope that both the church and Mormon feminists could each sing their unique song but still be harmonious with one another. This hope was not realized. In 1993, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Claudia Bushman were banned from speaking at BYU, several feminist BYU faculty members were fired and many of the founding mothers of the Mormon Women’s Forum were excommunicated. There can be no counterpoint without a second voice and the voices of Mormon feminists were all but silenced for over a decade.


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Sturm und Drang

Posted on September 30, 2009. Filed under: Changes, confidence, Family, Mormon Life, Mormon women |

By Starfoxy

In my ward when they want to give you a calling (or release you from one) the ward clerk calls you at 7:30 am Sunday morning and asks if you can come to church a little early to meet with the Bishop. Last Sunday we got a call at 7:30 am asking if both of us (my husband and I) could come meet with the Bishop a few minutes before church. Unfortunately my kids had been sick in the middle of the night and at that point neither of us were planning on attending church. The ward clerk readily agreed that we should postpone the meeting for a later date.
I knew at least half of what they were intending to tell us. We have been in the nursery for a little under a year and a half. They recently called two more couples as nursery workers, and released the leaders of the other nursery. While I don’t know if they will give either of us new callings, they are almost certainly going to release us. (more…)

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Posted on September 11, 2009. Filed under: Changes, Relationships, suffering | Tags: , , |

Today, being the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, is a sober one for many of our readers.  My heart is with those of you who are mourning and remembering.

I like to mark the various anniversaries of my life, both happy and sad.  For example, each year on the day that my leg was amputated due to cancer, I spend a moment reflecting on how my life has changed since that terrible day. And on the happier end of things, my spouse and I just celebrated our wedding anniversary with a special weekend together. As we did so, we reflected back on each of the 17 years since we married and remembered how we had celebrated, which was so very fun. We were married on September 2nd of 1992, so our anniversary is 09.02.92. What an easy date to remember!

Just a few days ago, on 09.09.09, something else momentous happened in our life, which may well be a date that we will mark for a long time to come. On Wednesday evening, my husband was excommunicated from the church on the charge of apostasy. I was invited to testify on his behalf in that somber gathering, and held his hand as we were ushered out of the office door after the verdict was rendered.

Often, when I think of the anniversaries of traumatic events, I mark the time as “before” and “after.” For example, I think of how carefree and confident my life was before I was diagnosed with cancer, I remember how secure I felt before the 9-11 attacks, and so forth. I’m not sure yet how I will come to think of the impact of our 09.09.09 anniversary. I imagine that it will be very complicated, just as the event itself was.

If you’re inclined to leave a comment on this post, please tell me about a day that changed your life–for the good and/or the bad. (Note: please, please don’t comment on excommunication in a general way. My emotions are too fragile for that at this time.). I want to hear your stories, friends. That’s what I need most right now.

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The Truth About Pop Music and Feminism

Posted on September 7, 2009. Filed under: Acceptance, Changes, confidence, Family, feminism, Gender roles, marriage, motherhood, personal notes, women | Tags: , , , |

by mraynes

This past Saturday, mr. mraynes and I watched High Fidelity for the first time. About fifteen minutes into the movie, the John Cusack character asks, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This question resonated with me because I have recently been asking myself a similar question:

Am I feminist because I’m discontented, or am I discontented because I’m a feminist?

Since leaving my job, moving to a new state and becoming a stay-at-home mother, I have felt a level of unhappiness that truly surprised me. I expected the transition to be hard but I did not expect to feel so vulnerable all of the time. My self-esteem completely collapsed in the space of two weeks and I am left feeling overwhelmingly helpless. Things are starting to get better, I am settling into a routine and I’m sure that with time, I will even enjoy being at home. But that doesn’t negate the very real fact that changing my fairly progressive lifestyle to a traditional one has wreaked havoc on my emotions, my relationships and my general happiness with life.

My question above is a proverbial chicken and egg question and really one of assigning blame; whose fault is it for my disillusionment with domesticity? The answer may seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Let’s analyze the first part of my question, am I feminist because I’m discontented? This begs the question, what in my life makes me discontented enough to turn to feminism? Well, the lack of quantifiable equality within the church and its’ rhetoric on gender causes me a great deal of pain and frustration. The invisibility of women in scripture, doctrine and bureaucracy is problematic at best. The diminishing of women to certain roles by Mormon culture echoes the objectification of women found in our broader society. We, as Mormons and members of society, should do better. This is why I am a feminist, to document, analyze and hopefully make better the small circles in which I travel.

If we are getting more specific to my life, I hate the inequitable division of domestic labor that mr. mraynes and I have now. Yes, he comes home and does the dishes but it doesn’t equal the multiple times I am on my hands and knees picking up cheerios each day. I hate feeling dependent on my husband to cover my basic needs. If I was to look at our relationship through the lens of academic feminism, the power dynamic in our relationship has changed dramatically. Money is power; before we were both financially contributing to our family, now I rely on the good will of mr. mraynes to see his money as “our money.” My knowledge of feminist theory is what I use to empower myself, it is my safety net in case I ever have to remind mr. mraynes not to be a misogynistic jerk. (I should note that this whole paragraph is horribly unfair to mr. mraynes who, himself, has been the stay-at-home dad and who has been nothing but kind, supportive and an egalitarian angel throughout this transition and our whole marriage.)

This brings me to the second half of my question, am I discontented because I’m a feminist? This is a hard question for me to want to answer honestly. Certainly if I didn’t have the framework of Friedan, Steinem, de Beauvoir, Toscano, it would be harder for me to articulate the gender inequities that I saw in the church, society or my individual life. I guess the question is, would I see them at all if I wasn’t a feminist? I can’t answer this question because I have never not been a feminist. I grew up in an egalitarian home and, although my feminism grew from that point, my expectation from life has always been equality. But in my dark moments (like the one that caused me to vow never to set foot in the Denver Public Library again), I really have to wonder, would I be happier if I always had the expectation of a traditional lifestyle and wanted nothing else? The “grass is always greener” side of me says yes, after all, Seriously So Blessed isn’t parodying nothing.

Does feminism make women happy is another proverbial question, one that has had lots of heated discussion already bestowed upon it. (See here, here and here for a few examples). This is the conclusion I’ve come to: if feminism makes people unhappy it is because it illuminates all of the nasty parts of reality. It is much nicer to pretend inequality doesn’t exist or to not care if it does because it doesn’t affect you. I understand that this is a personal decision for every woman and man to make and I don’t judge anybody for not wanting to live a life where they see sexism, oppression and abuse all around them. But the truth is, these things do exist and some of us are going to see and speak it even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

In the end, attempts to place blame, whether it be on feminism, the church or leprechauns, are always red herrings. Truth is complex and often it is easier to blame an other than to be comfortable with that complexity. I am currently trying to accept my own truth; yes, I am discontent because I’m a feminist, but also because reality sucks and I am pre-disposed to be melancholy. But I gain nothing by blaming anybody or anything for my unhappiness; all I can do is work hard to find some measure of joy in the place that I am.

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The Feminist Domestic

Posted on July 18, 2009. Filed under: Acceptance, Changes, Family, fatherhood, feminism, Gender roles, marriage, mental health, motherhood, parenting, personal notes, women, work | Tags: , , , , , , |


by mraynes

A few months ago mr. mraynes was teaching an Elder’s Quorum lesson on unity, specifically unity within the family.  A brother in our ward called him out and dismissed what mr. mraynes was teaching, saying in effect “your wife is a feminist and I know how your family works.”  mr. mraynes was understandably bemused at the situation mostly because this brother had entirely missed the point of the lesson but also because this man had presumed to know what our family was like based on his own stereotype.

One of the reasons that this brother in our ward felt comfortable judging our family was because we do fit the stereotype of what many people think a feminist family looks like.  I have been the career woman, mr. mraynes the stay-at-home daddy.  I financially provide for our family, mr. mraynes does the child care and housework.  But role reversal does not necessarily assume a feminist household.  In fact, most of the feminists I know lead a very traditional lifestyle and still manage to have perfectly progressive marriages.  Having a rigid stereotype of what other people are like does not allow for the natural fluidity of life.  Yes, mr. mraynes and I have been living a “non-traditional” life but it will not last forever.  In fact, we are only weeks away from doing a complete 180 and switching roles once more.  mr. mraynes has just landed his first job since finishing his doctoral program and so we are moving to Denver where I will be a full time stay-at-home mom.  (By the way, I am waving desperately at all you Denver feminist out there and hoping you’ll be friends with me.)  I admit to being nervous; our life for the past three years has worked really well for me and I’m not sure that I will cut it as the primary nurturer.  mr. mraynes and I have had many discussions specifically addressing our concerns with this transition.  We have had to be open and honest with one another and share things that have been quite uncomfortable to say out loud.  For example, I knew that I could not stand the isolation of living in the suburbs while mr. mraynes commuted to his exciting job in the city.  I did not want to live on my own Revolutionary Road and so we decided that we would sacrifice space and money by living downtown in a small condo. 

While we both feel a little guilty for not following in the prescribed pattern for upper-middle class families, in the end you have to be self-aware and do what is best for everybody in the family.  We both knew that isolation was dangerous for my mental health and so we made a decision together about what would work best for us.  There is nothing groundbreaking in this wisdom; having a feminist marriage does not mean I get to walk all over my husband and make all of the decisions.  Rather, it guarantees that both parties are respected and affirmed in the relationship.  It is perhaps this subtlety in a feminist marriage that is difficult to see from the outside.  (I am using feminist marriage in the broadest sense here–meaning gender-equitable. You don’t necessarily have to self-identify as a feminist in order to have a feminist marriage.)  The worldview of people like the brother in our ward assumes that women like me are “ball-busters” and that I “wear the pants” in the family but this has nothing to do with my marriage or any other feminist marriage I know.

The truth is none of us can really know what another’s family dynamic is really like.  But it serves us nothing to remain in the ignorance of our own (mis-)understanding and not at least try to explore our differences and similarities.  Ever since that Sunday I have though a lot about what it means to be a feminist and part of a family; I realize there are a lot of misconceptions out there about feminists and there is almost nothing positive written about their relationships with their own families.  Perhaps this is our fault, so I thought I would endeavor to fill that gap by writing a series of posts on my experience as a feminist and how it affects my relationship with my husband and children, how it affects my parenting style and domestic prowess.  These are, of course, my own experiences and I would expect that many of you have experienced something different.  I invite you to share them here.  We are all striving to do what is best for our families no matter what role we play; perhaps in sharing our individual experiences we can maximize the good effects of our feminism on our families.

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