women

Five Tips for Talks

Posted on May 26, 2010. Filed under: Mormon Life, Mormon women, Sacrament talks, spirituality, Women in the Scriptures |

photo by LHK If I were giving 5 tips on how to give a good sacrament meeting talk this is what I’d say… (more…)

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How You Can Help a Victim of Domestic Violence

Posted on March 1, 2010. Filed under: education, Family, Relationships, women | Tags: , , , |

by mraynes

Every month or so I’ll get a call from a friend or acquaintance asking me for information to help a loved one involved in a violent relationship. We all know or will know a victim of domestic violence; the current statistics are one in three women will be abused in some manner during her lifetime. I have two younger sisters and it blows my mind that statistically, one of us will be in an abusive relationship.

Knowing this, it is vital that information on how best to support victims of violence be readily available. I have found, however, that there is a general uneasiness and confusion on how best to do this. In my previous work with victims I gained some very specific knowledge that I thought might be useful to share here. To make things easier, I will use female pronouns since women are more likely to be victims but this information applies equally to men as they can also be victims of domestic violence, too.

So, what to do if you know & love a victim of domestic violence:

First, be a listening and non-judgmental ear. You cannot help your loved one if they don’t trust you.

When or if a victim confides in you about an unhealthy relationship you must first determine the lethality of the situation to determine the best course of action.

If it is not a lethal relationship, meaning there is no current threat of severe bodily harm or death, I think it best to start with domestic violence education. I particularly like the Power & Control Wheel because it covers all the different ways abuse might be present in a relationship. (If you are dealing with a teenage abusive relationship, this version is better suited for their unique needs.) After going through the wheel with the victim I then like to show them the Equality Wheel so they have an idea of what a healthy relationship looks like. (Teen version here.)

At this point there are several choices to be made, all belonging to the victim. Remember, your job is to be a support, any pressure from you will make things worse. Your loved one may choose to stay and work on the relationship. If this is their choice, I would suggest having her attend an outpatient domestic violence support group. There she will receive more domestic violence education and connect with other women in similar situations. Many social service agencies have these kinds of support groups but you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and they can refer you to the appropriate places if you need further help.

If your loved one chooses to leave the abusive relationship, provisions must be made for her physical and emotional support. Despite having worked at a domestic violence shelter, I think it always preferable for victims to be surrounded by family at this difficult time. If your loved one will be living with family, make sure she is enrolled in a support group. If it is not possible for her to live with family then dv shelters are a safe, supportive place to go and they offer wonderful services. Domestic violence shelters will provide food and shelter, support groups and domestic violence education as well as targeted case management to help the victim get back on her feet.  You can get referrals to local domestic violence shelters through the national dv hotline linked to above.

Know that the average woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good. Although this will be frustrating to you, try to be as non-judgmental as possible; the dynamics of abuse are very complicated and it is difficult to extricate one’s self from the figurative strangle-hold the abuser has over his victim. Be patient and remember that your loved one needs your support during these time more than ever. Also, please be aware that the most dangerous time for an abuse victim is after they leave the relationship. I strongly recommend having your loved one do a safety plan with a domestic violence advocate and get an Order of Protection if appropriate.

If, when you first speak to a victim, it appears that her situation is very dangerous, the first priority is to get her and any children safe. I would recommend a domestic violence shelter at this point because they are at un-disclosed locations and it will be more difficult for an abuser to find her.

Next, get the victim an Order of Protection. Many shelters will help out with this, they may even have a legal advocate on staff. If not, most superior courts do have legal advocates on staff and they can help victims navigate the complicated legal system for free. I can’t recommend using a lawyer or legal advocate enough; they understand the intricacies of the system and will be able to provide the victim with the most comprehensive Order of Protection possible. As a side note, if you feel like your safety is at risk for helping the victim, you may get an Injunction Against Harassment. While not as powerful as an order of protection, it might give you some peace of mind.

It is the goal of all domestic violence advocates to keep the victim safe and help them start a new, healthy life. Regardless of whether your loved one goes into shelter, I would utilize the services of dv advocates because they can provide your loved one with the most resources to overcome this traumatic experience and come through a survivor.

This post is getting too long but if you’re interested, I would be happy to do a follow-up post on what to do if your loved one gets caught up in the justice system or what you can do to help victims of domestic violence more generally. If you have question, please comment and I’ll do my best to answer. Also, I would love for those of you with experience in this matter to share tips that have worked or not worked so that others can learn from them. Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in our society, it affects all of us in one way or another. Only through education and commitment can we come close to ending this evil.

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To Some It Is Given

Posted on February 1, 2010. Filed under: Acceptance, Belief, Doubt, faith, Mormon Life, spirituality, testimony, women | Tags: , , , , |

by mraynes

I was introduced recently to the work of up-and-coming Tel Aviv street artist, Know Hope. I don’t know that much about street art but I was deeply touched by his simple and profound messages of hope and love, especially in a city that knows so little of both. But it was his name that stopped me short; know and hope are two words that don’t naturally fit together for me.

The verb “know” means to be certain of the truth or factuality of a subject. “Hope” means to desire with anticipation. Perhaps it is because of my Mormon education that I see these two words as a contradiction.

When I think of the word “know”, I think of fast and testimony meeting: “I know the church is true…with every fiber of my being…without a shadow of a doubt.”

When I think of “hope”, I think of Alma 32:21: “And now as I said concerning faith–faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”

The distinction is important to me. I have always been a little embarrassed of my lack of knowledge. In a church that places so much importance on personal revelation and truth, my seeming inability to get either has been deeply troubling. Despite my sincere efforts, the hours of fasting and scripture study, the strict obedience and the tearful pleadings with the Lord, I have never received a personal witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, or of Joseph Smith or of the Book of Mormon. I never even got an answer to whether mr. mraynes was the right man to marry. (I hope I made the right choice.)

Instead, my mind is often drawn to D&C 46: 13-14: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”

I do know that Jesus Christ is my Savior so I extend these verses to the answers I don’t have. I have accepted that for the time being, it is not for me to know. I believe that my belief is a spiritual gift. In fact, I believe that the with-holding of answers has been a tender mercy. My heavenly parents know me well enough to know that I could not and can not understand a dogmatic god and so I have not been allowed to be dogmatic myself. I am comfortable in Mormonism and if I knew, really knew, that the church was true I’m not sure that my eyes would be open to the things that could make it better. Not knowing has allowed me to be more charitable with those who struggle with their faith…to see shades of grey and interpret the gospel in a way that strengthens my relationship with God.

In not taking for granted that all choices by fallible men are divinely inspired, I have been allowed to ask questions that are scary and painful and viewed by some as “not useful.” I have asked why God allows horrible things to happen to innocent people. Why do the strong prey upon the weak? I have asked why God allows half of humanity to be routinely oppressed, violated and silenced. If women are equal to men, why can’t they have the priesthood or preside?  I ask why God would allow His church to sanction polygamy, racism and homophobia. And seriously, God, who’s idea was it to make the entrance age for nursery 18 months?

…I haven’t received any answers. But I continue to keep my covenants, fulfill my callings, attend church every week and go to the temple. I teach my children about God and maintain my relationship with my heavenly parents. I try not to let the wound of unanswered questions fester. I do all of this because I love God, because I am stubborn and because I have theories and ideas that work for me. That I can believe in. That I can hope for.

All of this is a long way of saying that just because some of us have questions it doesn’t mean that we are hostile to the church…or to the prophet…or to those who are generally satisfied and know that all of it is true. We just haven’t received the same answers. And that can be a blessing in and of itself. It can be the way that each of us knows hope.

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Guest Post: Polygamy or Priesthood for Women?

Posted on January 21, 2010. Filed under: women | Tags: , , |

by Course Correction

Course Correction introduces herself in this way. “I’m a happily retired mother and teacher who lives in Bountiful, UT with my husband and a big, yellow dog. I read, write, garden and carry petitions for initiatives to improve state government.”

Which would have a more devastating effect on LDS Church membership—restoring polygamy or admitting women to the priesthood?  The Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lost nearly 50% of their members when they extended the priesthood to women. Would half of devout Mormons find it impossible to obey the prophet if he had a revelation that the priesthood was for all worthy members regardless of gender? Extending the priesthood to males of African descent produced little fallout from the church, but it affected relatively few members. Most US wards at the time had no African/Americans.

Extending priesthood to women would affect every ward.  Every family. My elderly father’s reaction to the notion of giving women the priesthood was a horrified, “But then you’d have women telling men what to do!” I’m not at all sure that a majority of younger men don’t feel the same way. Not all women would favor the change, either. Women comfortable with the status quo might be unwilling to give up their place on the pedestal.

To return to the comparison of extending the priesthood to African/Americans, we were always told that their ban from the priesthood would be rescinded at some point. Although early church records show women participating in blessings and anointing and healing other sisters, no tradition of someday receiving priesthood power themselves exists. Indeed, women have always been told they share the priesthood with their husbands.

Restoring polygamy would be an entirely different matter. It would return to a principle officially taught in earlier days and abandoned due to outside pressure. Eternal polygamy is commonly acknowledged today as second wives are sealed to widowers for time and eternity. And some Mormon men include polygamy on their wish list for the restoration of all things in this dispensation. Yale professor Harold Bloom predicted in his 1992 The American Religion that by the early 21st century Mormons would have enough political and financial clout to resurrect the early pillar of their faith. Mitt Romney’s 2008 bid for the presidential nomination has revealed widespread American distrust, even dislike, of Mormons which makes that scenario unlikely in the near future.

But how many Mormons would leave the church if President Monson announced a revelation of the return to plural marriage—assuming it was legal in the US? Would polygamy be sold to women as a means of learning to be more selfless and Christ-like—similar to the rhetoric spouted by the wives on Big Love? Would mostly forgotten pronouncements of pre-Manifesto prophets be quoted and President Hinckley’s statement of never returning to polygamy quietly expunged from church sources?

Although neither scenario is likely, I kind of think more Mormons would go along with the return of polygamy. In my opinion, it’s easier to convince women to accept changes that disadvantage them than to get men to relinquish power and privilege.

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My Twisted Sister

Posted on January 20, 2010. Filed under: faith, Jesus, spirituality, Women in the Scriptures |

A few years ago when I was Relief Society President,  we started out meetings with a scripture, preferably one in which a woman featured. Here’s one of my faves.

It’s found in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath. In the crowd is a woman who has been debilitated with pain and a crippling sickness for 18 years. She’s all bent over and can’t even lift herself upright. (more…)

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Guest Post: I’m Not One of Those Women. I’m Just Thinking, Don’t Worry

Posted on January 17, 2010. Filed under: Gender roles, women | Tags: , , |

by mValient

mValiant is a reformed-Exponent-lurker who lives with her husband in one of the bluest states in the union.  She knows all the words to Saturday’s Warrior, served a mission, and loves visiting teaching.

When I was growing up, I often heard a cautionary tale from my mother about what happens to women who want the priesthood. According to the story, a group in her old stake in the northeast had sat around and talked so much about how much they wanted the priesthood that they all became lesbians and left their husbands and their six children (each).  This was back when I had no idea what a lesbian was, but it sounded scary.  Ye olde LDS slippery slope was alive and well:  IF you want the priesthood THEN you are going to become a lesbian and abandon your children.

Nowadays, having met plenty of perfectly wonderful lesbians (with children, mind you), the “THEN” part of that warning doesn’t sound so bad at all, but I am still very frightened by the IF part.  IF you want the priesthood, and – BAM-  I immediately start to disclaim, “Of course I don’t want the priesthood, I’m just thinking about gender roles in the church, but I don’t actually want anything to change, I’m not one of those women, I’m not trying to upheave everything that makes your life feel safe and secure and comfortable.  I’m just thinking, don’t worry.”

However my “just thinking” on the matter has recently been galvanized by an article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof that calls for an end to discriminatory practices against women in religion including the exclusion of women from the religious hierarchy.  He reports on a group called The Elders (which includes women… and very hopefully lesbians, right?) led by Nelson Mandela that issued a call to all world religions that says (among other things, I suggest you read the whole piece here) that “the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority is unacceptable” and further “we believe that women and girls share equal rights with men and boys in all aspects of life.”

LIGHTENING BOLTS!  THUNDER!  MY HEART LEAPS INTO MY THROAT!  That is what I believe! I have been saying that for years (to people I trust not to throw me to the priesthood-lesbian conversion squad for saying so).  It was the most exciting thing I had read in years.

So I started talking to my LDS friends of all political persuasions.  What do you think this means for us?  What are the implications of such a statement for LDS women?  And I have been surprised to find that very few seem to think that this applies to the exclusion of women from the LDS religious hierarchy.

There are lots of reasons given for why it doesn’t apply to LDS women, and as I listened to them, it occurred to me:  you could have said any of these things about black men pre-1978.  They can still “fully” participate in their own way, they can make their own meaning, they have informal power in the church, maybe they are in it for the community rather than for the power, etc.  But even with all of those reasons to make it OK for excluding black men, we are still horrified that it ever happened.  Our church was racist, gasp, we discriminated against black men by excluding them from the religious hierarchy: a dark era in our church’s history.

And yet, it seems perfectly acceptable to us to choose another characteristic and say, “Ah, but this one is different.  This isn’t just skin color, these are genitals!” as a reason for excluding another group from the religious hierarchy.  I don’t get it.  Like Kristof said, I think there are negative consequences to a fully male hierarchy that is supposed to be ordered and ordained by God.  I want to be in a church where women interview men to determine their worthiness to enter the temple (and vice versa), women receive inspiration from God about men’s callings (and vice versa), women approve men’s expenditures using the church’s assets (and vice versa), women count the tithing, women can be bishops.  I don’t care how we get there, but that’s what I want.

Do you think that The Elder’s call applies to the exclusion of LDS women from the religious hierarchy?  Why or why not?  Do you think there are substantive differences between excluding a group from the religious hierarchy because of their race versus because of theirgender?  Why or why not?  And do you want my six children?  I seem to have started down the slippery slope by saying all of this out loud…

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The Feminist Twelve Days of Christmas

Posted on December 19, 2009. Filed under: Christmas, feminism, history, women | Tags: , , |

by mraynes

On the first day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
The right to fight the patriarchy.

On the second day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the third day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me
Women’s Property Laws,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the fourth day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property laws,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the fifth day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
The Feminine Mystique,
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property rights,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the sixth day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
Protection from domestic violence,
The Feminine Mystique,
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property laws,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the seventh day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
Equal Opportunity in Education,
Protection from domestic violence,
The Feminine Mystique,
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property laws,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the eighth day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
Access to credit,
Equal opportunity in education,
Protection from domestic violence,
The Feminine Mystique,
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property laws,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the ninth day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
Gainful employment,
Access to credit,
Equal opportunity in education,
Protection from domestic violence,
The Feminine Mystique,
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property laws,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the tenth day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
Roe v. Wade,
Gainful employment,
Access to credit,
Equal opportunity in education,
Protection from domestic violence,
The Feminine Mystique,
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property laws,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the eleventh day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me:
FMLA
Roe v. Wade,
Gainful employment,
Access to credit,
Equal opportunity in education,
Protection from domestic violence,
The Feminine Mystique,
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property laws,
Suffrage for all
And the right to fight the patriarchy.

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my fore-mothers gave to me
Our Bodies, Ourselves
FMLA,
Roe v. Wade,
Gainful employment,
Access to credit,
Equal opportunity in education,
Protection from domestic violence,
The Feminine Mystique,
Equality in marriage,
Women’s property laws,
Suffrage for all…

And the right to fight the patriarchy.

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Women Have a Greater Stake in Keeping their Marriages Together: Vulnerability Part II

Posted on December 16, 2009. Filed under: women | Tags: , , , |

by Caroline

After writing and reading all the comments on my last post on women’s vulnerability, I articulated something to myself for the first time. Perhaps I always knew this, but I had never put it into words – that Mormon women have a greater stake in keeping their marriages together than Mormon men.

I say this because of the replace-ability issue. My husband could rather easily replace me. If we divorced, there would be a long line of high quality, smart, good Mormon women who would jump at the chance of marriage to a nice, responsible Mormon guy like him. Even with his two children and alimony payments to me.

However, the situation would be markedly different for me. The chances that I would find a high quality Mormon man who would be willing to take on a woman with two children, a woman whose post-childbirth body is not what it once was, a woman whose earning potential (which was never all that great) is decreasing rapidly the longer she stays out of the work force to raise children, well… they aren’t great. They’re downright grim, I’d surmise.

I don’t bring nearly as much to the table as I once did, when I was slim, young, unencumbered, and getting my graduate degree. Mike, of course, isn’t as young as he once was (though he still looks almost identical to the 26 year old I married), he’s not unencumbered, but he sure would bring a lot to the table in the form of his paycheck, which has only increased as his career has progressed.  And of course, as a Mormon man, his pool of Mormon people from which to find a mate would be far greater than mine.

So all this cold clinical evaluating of our divergent opportunities should a divorce occur has made me think to myself, “Holy cow, I better keep this thing together.”  Not that I’m thinking of letting it fall apart – I adore Mike and love being married.* But I do wonder how many other women, women who are not married to such nice guys as Mike, likewise look at their options should a divorce occur and choose to put up with unkindness or irresponsibility, or who knows what else in their marriages.

All this also leads me to another point I’ve been thinking about – how glad I am that the Mormon church does emphasize the importance of having one partner. Of course, there are situations where divorce is absolutely the best thing, but overall, I really appreciate the focus on finding ways to try to make marriages work, despite difficulties. I think that might slightly mitigate my vulnerability, as a woman married to a great guy who could easily find someone else.

What are your thoughts about this issue of replace-ability? Do you agree that women have a greater stake in keeping marriages together, that women are more easily replaced?

And what are your thoughts about the positives and negatives of church teachings to work through problems in marriages?

Single women, how do you view the Mormon pool issue? Do you feel at a disadvantage compared to the men because of the greater number of single Mormon women?

*I don’t mean in any way to imply in this post that leading a single life is an awful possibility. I know several single people who find much meaning, joy, and fulfillment in their lives. I’m just speaking as a person that really likes being married and appreciates the benefit of having a partner around to help raise children.

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Woman Am I: A Blessingway Night

Posted on November 12, 2009. Filed under: female divine, feminism, Friendship, Heavenly Mother, Mormon Life, Mormon women, motherhood, transition, women | Tags: , , , , |

blessingway2

by Alisa

Woman am I
Spirit am I
I am the infinite within my soul
I have no beginning, and I have no end
All this I am

 
We sat in a circle and sang this song three times before focusing on our intentions and blowing out the candles. At that point, my Blessingway came to an end.
 
I had read about Blessingways, or Mother Blessings, on Feminist Mormon Housewives, and my doula told me her personal experiences with this women’s ceremony for new mothers based on Navajo traditions. When I heard of them, I realized that this is what I desired as I take my first step into motherhood. I have previously had a mixed relationship with religious or spiritual ritual, favoring the intimate nature of Priesthood blessings offered by my husband to the more public and time-specified rituals of baptism or endowment. I was ready to find out more about ritual and ceremony and what I could learn from these outward actions that represent internal transitions.
 
After reading The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd during my first trimester, I had been craving ceremony in communion with other women. While I don’t believe Kidd mentioned Blessingways, her book awakened me to the power of ceremony, which I define as any action we attach special meaning to. Because I had waited eight years of my marriage before taking this plunge into pregnancy, I felt that I wanted to enter motherhood with deliberate intentions of how this experience would lead to more self-knowledge and discovery of my divine nature, and how as a mother I would grow in taking care of the needs of another human being.

I also felt a longing to have a ceremony that would manifest the support I have from the women around me as I take on these new responsibilities, and I hoped that in the process all of the women attending my ceremony would feel some awakening of their divine nature as well. All in all, we were nine women, most (but not all) with an LDS background, and most participating in our first feminine ritual together that night.
 
The ceremony consisted of two halves, marked clearly by two quilts we laid on my living room floor. After a brief blessing by D’Arcy on my home, we sat entirely on the first quilt, which represented the past, and connected to our maternal ancestry by telling the names of our mothers and grandmothers. As we did so, we each wrapped a piece of yarn around our wrists, connecting ourselves to each other as well as to the women of our past. After each woman created an intention of love and support, we cut the yarn and tied a piece around our wrists to remind us of the connection to each other. After meditating on our intentions, each woman crossed over from the quilt representing the past to the one representing the future. I was the last one to cross over, and with that action I mentally crossed the boundary and symbolically declared my intentions for entering motherhood.

On the quilt representing the future, each woman presented a bead she had selected for a necklace that I’ll wear during labor and a blessing that she wanted me to have. My first friend presented me with three beads: one large turquoise bead with a balance of dark and light color, to remind me of the dark and light found in motherhood; the second bead was a small acorn charm to remind me of the little seed that is my growing baby; and the third bead was a bear, to give me the fierce strength I’ll need to draw on during labor. The next friend presented me with a blue and white bead resembling the ocean and sand, to remind me of Iemanja, the powerful goddess of the ocean.
 
One bead and blessing represented the simple gift of a child to his mother, and one was made of recycled glass by African women and paired with the poem “Pied Beauty” to remind me of the beauty of imperfections that I will discover in myself during motherhood. Another was a wooden bead, a toy used by the giver’s children. Other beads were given and shared in the context of the giver’s sacred experience with her Heavenly Mother and inviting me to reflect on my future as an imperfect mother while accepting my divine potential and nature to endure and to bless the life of my child in the way our Mother in Heaven would mother us.
 
What amazed me about each blessing was that it came from the unique gifts and insights of each woman present. There was no pressure or judgment on the beads or blessings offered, but each blessing stood out and represented the beauty of the giver and her connection to what is divine inside of her. In that safe space, I gained an enormous appreciation for the uniqueness of women, and the divinity of such individuality. 

Some of us who were there that night are single, some of us are married, some have children, and others do not. Each of us is at a different spot in our religious journey. But that night I felt we are all goddesses, drawing on the gifts and blessings that we each have been given and are willing to give. While I have so often experienced the pressure of women in religious settings to conform to each other, to compete with each other, or to desperately suppress their imperfections, on this evening stood my friends, each so different from the next, offering her gift and blessing without shame or apology while she represented the best she had. I wish that we as women could always be like that – our unashamed unique selves – when we come together spiritually.

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The Maybes of Parity

Posted on October 20, 2009. Filed under: feminism, Gender roles, leadership, women | Tags: , , , |

by mraynes

Yesterday, in an effort to conquer a melancholy mood and get a break from the endless toddler demands for my attention, I went to the gym and hopped on one of the fancy elliptical machines with an attached tv. In the course of my work out, I happened to see an interview with Marie C. Wilson on CNN. Wilson was president of the Ms. Foundation for Women and more recently founded The White House Project, an organization dedicated to advancing women’s leadership in all sectors of American society.

At some point during the interview I was struck by an assertion Wilson made, that adding women to leadership within cultural institutions, businesses and politics would change the foundation of our society…that it would change everything. Generally assertions such as these make me uncomfortable. They make me uncomfortable because behind them lies the sticky ideology of gender essentialism; that somehow, somewhere inherent in women’s nature are kinder, gentler, more moral beings. Although it is a nice ego-stroke to believe these things, especially when they’re being used to promote female leadership, these same arguments have been used to keep women out of the public sphere, deny them the vote and keep them cloistered in a cult of domesticity. And as we Mormon women know, gender essentialism has been used as a handy, “god given” tool to place us on an out of the way and inescapable pedestal.

It has always been more comfortable for me to believe that both women and men have good, bad and ugly qualities. That women are just as likely to be despots, only they historically haven’t been given the chance. And I still believe this. I believe that men and women are equally as beautiful and virtuous, equally as capable and intelligent and equally as subject to human frailty.  But I also find myself concurring with Marie Wilson; I do believe that adding women to positions of power would drastically change our society. And while I can’t be sure that women’s increased presence would lead to an increase of virtue, it seems irrefutable to me that evening up the power distribution would change society, simply because the decision makers themselves would have changed. Currently women comprise only 18% of the leadership across all sectors: government, business, culture and religion. Surely even striving for parity would bring profound change to our society.

As I was running and contemplating these things, I remembered an experience I had a couple of weeks ago watching the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. mr. mraynes is an orchestral conductor by profession and so we often go on dates to classical music events so that he can watch and learn from other conductors.

This particular concert was conducted by the former music director of the Colorado Symphony, Marin Alsop. Now for those of you who don’t follow orchestral conductors, Marin Alsop is currently the most famous female conductor in the world. A protégé of Leonard Bernstein, Alsop has conducted some of the best orchestras in the world and was recently appointed as the first female music director of a major American orchestra. And yet she has had to work to overcome the amazing sexism of a profession still firmly rooted in the traditions of the 19th century. At the beginning of her career nobody would hire her, so she started her own orchestra. When she was given the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to lead, the musicians revolted.  Despite this, Alsop’s leadership has been an undeniable success; the BSO had a deficit of $19 million when she took over in 2007, today the orchestra is debt free.

But it was not Maestra Alsop’s leadership that impressed me; her conducting and musicianship were astounding, and frankly, it was like nothing I had ever seen. Alsop bounced, crouched and jumped, literally dancing on stage. Her physicality was erotic and erratic, but she was always in control. It was exhilarating to watch and by the end of the concert I found myself breathless, knowing I had experienced the music more fully than I ever had before

There was something, some ineffable quality in the way she feels the music and then interprets it in the movements of her body, that seemed to me uniquely feminine. Marin Alsop strives to make her conducting and appearance androgynous, she does not want the music to be about gender, and yet she is betrayed by her body, by her muscle memories. Because you could see the innate understanding in her body of the irony in the final movement of Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. It was as if her body were saying, “I know what it is like to put on a happy face while I’m being discriminated against.” It was her personal experiences, experiences that she has never turned into victimhood, that made the music come alive.

This made me wonder, what are we losing in the gap between current reality and true equality:

How would Wall Street or Capitol Hill be different if women made up that extra 32% that would give them equal representation? Maybe it wouldn’t be different…but maybe it would.

Maybe a conductor like Marin Alsop is truly unique, above gender, but maybe women really have something profound they can offer classical music.

And maybe Mormonism would be the same if women were equally represented in the leadership of the church, but maybe we would have a fuller, deeper understanding of our purpose in mortality and eternity. Maybe we would see and feel God more clearly.

I don’t know the answers but I grieve for these maybes.

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