For Those Who Have Eyes to See

Posted on March 3, 2010. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , , |

For Those Who Have Eyes to See

When my daughter was 10 she attended a summer camp in Ohio. The couple who ran the program – I’ll call them Mr. & Mrs. Greenjeans – weren’t Amish, but they kept a small farm and had business dealings with their Amish neighbors. In what seems to me a stroke of genius, they began a camp for kids and had them pay for the privilege of living on a working farm for a week or two, doing the chores and participating in all the realities of farm life.

It was a perfect situation for my daughter, earthy-crunchy as she was even then. (For one childhood birthday she asked for a bag of flax seed to plant and the book “Raising Dairy Goats the Modern Way.”) At the camp she kept farmers hours, tended the rabbits, milked the goats, collected eggs, attended Amish auctions, and affirmed her love for life and the planet.

Her experience that summer made such an impression on her that when she applied to colleges, she wrote her essay on the man who ran the camp as a “person who greatly influenced [her] life.”

Thinking that the camp owners might appreciate knowing what an impact they’d made, I forwarded them a copy of my daughter’s essay.

Shortly thereafter I got a letter from the wife of the man whose praises my daughter sang in her essay. The woman was mad. (more…)

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Follow my Lead

Posted on February 4, 2010. Filed under: Gender roles, Relationships | Tags: , , |

Posted by Zenaida

Recently I had a fabulous opportunity to attend a swing dancing workshop. It was so much fun!  It was really satisfying to immerse myself in learning a skill.  At the end I felt like I had made new friends, challenged myself, and learned something more about myself.  Though, also by the end, I felt like I was saturated with being a Follow.

“The Lead’s role is to create and direct momentum.  The Follow’s role is to maintain momentum and follow the lead.  Both partners may add their own styling.”  One moment that stood out to me was being shown that without the lead, the follow does not have directional movement.  She must move her feet in one position until the lead directs her.  Implementing this piece of advice created a partnership that turned out something fluid and beautiful.  Once the Leads learned to communicate clearly, and the Follows learned to listen clearly, then the dancers on the floor began gliding effortlessly in the twisty circles of the dance.

It is not easy to be a Follow.   You have to concentrate on listening and not insert your own interpretation over what is being communicated.  Sometimes this is very difficult because everyone communicates differently.  It really is fun to learn the cipher for each dancer.   But, I couldn’t help but envy the challenges of the Lead.  This seems like the creative center with the decision-making power and the responsibility to insert musicality and style. But, that wasn’t my role!!

I have resolved to learn to lead, but what man would follow Me??

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My Interfaith Marriage: Reflections, Five Years In

Posted on January 24, 2010. Filed under: Family, marriage, Mormon Life, transition | Tags: , , |

By Deborah

This week, I got an e-mail from an Exponent reader who wanted to hear more about my interfaith marriage, as she is currently dating someone of a different faith.   Last weekend, I went out for coffee (okay, hot chocolate) with a member who is 32, single, and wondering if she should open up the dating pool. “What’s it like being married to a non-member?” she asked.  A couple of weeks prior, I heard from an old friend who — as an interfaith newlywed — is feeling some anguish over finding her identity in the church. And that’s just this month.

I understand this desire to reach out. When I started dating my (now) husband, I fled to the Exponent II retreat begging for stories, for insights, for people to talk to.  I knew there were interfaith marriages out there, but I hadn’t seen any up-close-and-personal, and it felt like I was leaving the well-lit path and lighting out into an unknown wilderness.  However, I recently celebrated my five-year anniversary, and I’m happy to report that I’m happy.


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Posted on October 2, 2009. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , , |

Posted by Zenaida

“I’m ready to move out just so we can change wards.”

Have you ever said that? I think I have. I’ve had friends who have. It’s interesting that in the church we meet according the where we live. That often means a somewhat diverse group of people that may have no other reason to meet each other outside of the religious gathering. This sometimes means interacting with people that we may be uncomfortable with.  This can mean a mix of very diverse ideologies.  One particular example is of a friend who did not change her name when she married.  This is simply unthinkable in her ward.  Her legal name does not appear in any ward directories, and she is always addressed as Sister [Jones], even though her name is Sister [Smith].  It’s good for us to encounter people who don’t think the same way we do.  It may sometimes be painful, but we need to be stretched sometimes or to just be shown a different vantage point from the same old window.

But, I think it can also be a trap.  When you’re in a ward with people who have been standing at the same window for generations, it can be very difficult to introduce new views.  I sometimes wonder if I had been in a different ward if I would be in a different place in my life.  By random choice of the apartments I have lived in, I have chosen a social group with which I am bound until I move again.

This brings up the phenomenon of ward-hopping.  Singles often visit different wards looking for a better social/dating scene than the one their own offers, leaving them drifting from ward to ward without ever establishing a presence, without a calling, or if they have one, it’s probably part-time and flexible.  I’ve been told in the past on more than one occasion that I should attend the ward I live in.  I’ve only ever done that once, and then it was to stay with the ward I liked, not to ward hop.  I can’t imagine myself ever doing that as a married person.  It seems impractical and “just not done.”  I wonder if I would attend the local ward just as I might investigate the local schools, though.

I have the impression that other Christian groups are more self selecting, and more fluid in their membership. I don’t know whether that’s correct or not, but it seems to fit. If you don’t like the church you are currently attending, whether for theological or social reasons, you are free to find another to attend despite your geographic location.

I do like the idea of rubbing shoulders with those whom I might normally avoid.  I’m only human, and it seems like their should be a safe space to interact with a generation who thinks it’s appropriate to thank my husband for my contributions, the neighbor who doesn’t know how to pay next month’s rent or put a meal on her table, the visiting teacher who has never known want in her life, and the woman in the next row who voted the same way I did.

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Modesty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Posted on August 15, 2009. Filed under: body image, confidence, feminism, Mormon Life, Relationships, religion, women | Tags: , , , , , |

two women

by mraynes

Before I left my job two weeks ago, one of my colleagues came into my office and asked to speak with me.  She immediately started apologizing for the behavior of her adult son who had been volunteering at the shelter for the day.  I stopped her and asked why she needed to apologize for his behavior; she looked at me with some bemusement and said, “Because he’s been checking you out.”

I was surprised because I hadn’t noticed her son looking at me but my co-worker assured me that he had been looking at me in a way that she deemed inappropriate.  We laughed about the situation, my co-worker told me that her son loved redheads and I jokingly said, “well who doesn’t?” and then promised her that I wasn’t offended.  But I left that conversation feeling a little bit uncomfortable. 

Uncomfortable because  the first thing I thought upon being told that I had been an object of lust was, “what am I wearing that would make him look at me in that way?”  I was shocked by my reaction, I am an adult woman who was wearing perfectly appropriate and professional clothing and still my first inclination was to blame myself for another’s behavior. 

It probably comes as no surprise that I have major problems with the rhetoric of modesty in the church and its implications for both sexes.  I will not focus on those reasons in this post because they have already been endlessly discussed on the bloggernacle.  Rather, I want to offer this experience up as a case study of the long-term ramifications of our focus on modesty in adult, Mormon women.

As a life-long member of the church, I have been indoctrinated to be modest like all good, Mormon girls are.  My mother refused to let me wear sleeveless dresses after the age of 8, I sat through modesty lessons at least once a month from the time I was 12 to 18.  At BYU, I signed the honor code, lived through the one-shoulder backpack fiasco, received the modesty talk once a semester from the bishop and listened to the concept reiterated in CES firesides and General Conference.  Even now, as a married woman with two children, I am still told that it is my modesty that determines the kind of disciple I am.  All of this is to say that I thoroughly understand and live modestly in my life.

Up to this point, while acknowledging the problematic aspects of our modesty rhetoric, I had not experienced anything negative from being modest.  Sometimes I think in acknowledging the problems of an over-focus on modesty, we forget the empowerment that comes from controlling how we present our bodies to the world.  By living modestly, both in dress and in deed, I have felt more confident that it is the quality of my thoughts and actions that garner the respect of those I interact with. 

That being said, the modesty indoctrination is insidious and the ugliness which has been discussed in the past undoubtedly rears its head in many Mormon women.  Perhaps the mildest form are experiences like mine where I had to do a mental check of what I was wearing despite being completely faultless.  The more serious cases range from women who blame themselves for a sexual assault to those who are unable to appreciate the beauty of their bodies and let it affect the intimacy they can find with a partner. 

In the end, I go back to the conversation I had with my colleague.  Despite being a zealous evangelical christian, she placed the blame for her son’s actions squarely on his shoulders.  Nowhere was there condemnation for my behavior or the way that I was dressed.  She did not stomp into my office and accuse me of being walking pornography.  She realized that her son was an independent actor and was therefore responsible for treating another human being with dignity and respect. 

If we are to believe as a church that we are only accountable for our own sins, then it is the paradigm of my co-worker that must be adopted by our highest leadership and the members in general.  If, indeed, it is the opinion that women are accountable for the lustful thoughts of men, might I suggest supplying young girls with a set of scriptures that omits the second Article of Faith…it would cut down on the confusion later on.

Have your experiences with modesty as an adult, Mormon women been positive, negative or both? 

Have you experienced any long-lasting ramifications of the modesty doctrine?

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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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Healing Martha, Fortifying Mary

Posted on July 9, 2009. Filed under: charity, Friendship, marriage, Mormon Life, Mormon women, suffering | Tags: , , , , , |


By Alisa

Years ago I had a conversation with an old friend that changed my view of sisterhood. Julie and I had been bridesmaids at each other’s weddings, which occurred in the same year. She and her husband had several blessings that I envied. They had completed their education, and they had owned their own property. However, she had found married life to be somewhat difficult. Early in her marriage, her husband’s faith fell apart. He struggled to become established in his career. They had a child, and she felt it was best for her to stay at home and brave the financial difficulties. There was even a few months of separation before she and her husband decided to reunite. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her.

By contrast, my marriage had gone relatively smoothly up to that point. We were struggling with a serious family illness and other hard issues, but I had completed graduate school, and I was working full time while DH finished his graduate education. We were living in our third rented apartment so far in our marriage, and I was considering taking an additional part-time job so that we could put some money away to pay tuition, pay off student loans, and save for a down payment on our first home.

When I told Julie of my additional job plans, she responded in a way I hadn’t anticipated. She chastised me for “not following the prophet and having kids right away.” I’d like to say I responded with compassion, particularly given my knowledge of how difficult the last few years had been for her, but that wasn’t the case. Becoming defensive, I went to the argumentative side of my brain and began to pick apart her statement. I told her that rarely did we hear that we should throw caution to the wind and have kids unprepared. On the other hand, at least at some point in every General Conference the Prophet speaks about avoiding debt. I told her that we were counseled to do three good things as young married couples in the Church: get the best education and grades we can; avoid and/or get out of debt; and have kids, preferably with one parent staying at home full time to take care of the kids. I told her they were all good things, but without large scholarships, a trust fund, or years and years to pursue education slowly (not an option for DH’s program), it was hard to do all three of those things simultaneously. Doing any two of the three is a more realistic mix. I pointed out that we had decided to put off having one of us stay home full time with a child to focus on education and debt management, but that we might change up that combination sometime in the future.

Julie responded in sobs. She said she felt bad that she was struggling financially. She expressed helplessness and fear, and I sensed that she felt my defense was actually a rebuke on her choices (I didn’t intend it that way, but I had been defensive, and I can see why that hit her where she was hurting). At that point, my anger at having been judged for my procreative choices dissolved into more of an understanding of her pain. Perhaps she told herself that while her life was incredibly difficult and her marriage was fragile, at least she was doing “the right thing.” And to show herself that it was right, she needed to find women whose choices contrasted with her own so she could build a case to make herself feel validated. But it all came from a place of hurt and her need to try to mitigate the very immense pain she felt in her life.

Given a different turn of the conversation, it might have been me crying to her about the frustrations I felt that I had to postpone children in order to do what I felt was right for my family – even my future family – at the time. I would have told her how I wished I was the one getting more education, and that work seemed to be a distraction from my PhD goals. She might have heard how hard my job was, and how I felt uncomfortable talking about my job at Church because I felt I’d be judged for working. How I felt ostracized from the other women in the ward who were, in my mind, privileged enough to be SAHMs (the grass is always greener, right?).

Both Julie and I had made hard choices that inevitably had sacrifices. The good news was that things change. Life changes. Finances can change. We don’t have to have it all right now. It’s a timeline thing, and we each have our own. As James E. Faust said of women in the Church, “She need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.” (“A Message to My Granddaughters: Becoming Great Women”) In fact, in the years since this conversation, we have both taken several turns with happy and sad news, both in finances and in marriage.

Unfortunately, I let that old conversation become a theme in my Church life. I’m often afraid of being judged by SAHMs for my work, and when they ask me questions about it, I hesitate to go into detail. On the other hand, I look at them and think they’re lucky to be in their situation, as difficult as it may be. I am aware that most of the judgment I fear is made up in my head – I am serious when I say I can’t think of one SAHM in my ward who isn’t an amazing, gracious woman. I guess that while I’m such a proponent of diversity, I have a hard time when I am that diverse person who doesn’t fit the rest of the group. And therein lies my insecurity.

I can’t help but think of Mary and Martha in this situation. We have two sisters, each making a choice about what they think is best. One chooses to keep Jesus company, while the other decides to make sure Jesus is fed. Both are good choices, and probably each choice is becoming to the personality and needs of each sister. Jesus’ soft rebuke of Martha stems from Martha’s judgment of her sister for making a different good choice. His compassionate, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” helps me recognize and have compassion for the somewhat defensive Martha in myself. (Luke 10:41)

I look back at Julie and me having this conversation, and I believe we were both Mary and both Martha. We are Mary when we let the Spirit tell us what is needful and correct in our lives and direct our lives accordingly, and we become like Martha when we try to validate our own good but difficult choices by comparing our decisions to those of others in an effort to prove that we made “the right choice.” The right choice just isn’t the same for all of us.

And when we’re feeling like Mary, satisfied in our own groove and feeling good about our life decisions, there are bound to be some Marthas on our path. They may blindside us with their criticism, telling us that we’re not doing the right thing because we didn’t make the decisions they would have made. At that point, it is essential to remain grounded in our own truth and path, and lovingly acknowledge the pain that would bring one sister to criticize another. I hope we can then turn on our Christlike switch and extend compassion and grace to those women who need to know that they have a good, if different, path as well. A little compassion and grace might do wonders in helping us value the diversity of each other.

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Guest Post: A Bedside Confession

Posted on May 29, 2008. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , , |

A solicited guest post by the always witty and grammatically-flawless turleybenson, a longtime friend of Exponent II.

My bed is the perfect kneeling-height, which I discovered in November, five months ago.

My husband and I have had the bed for well over a year.

Upon said discovery, I sort of froze with the realization that I had never knelt beside that particular bed, and tried not to think about the fact that it was possible I hadn’t knelt by our previous bed. Instead, I tried to focus on where it all went wrong.

When I was a single gal (which was up until the ripe age of 25), I was pretty devout. From the time I was a teenager, I was so straight-arrow that I can’t remember a time I didn’t read scriptures at least 5 of the 7 days of the week, and when I didn’t kneel to pray morning and night. By my bedside. I also journaled (forgive me) RELIGIOUSLY, and lived the gospel principles with few exceptions (though I feel compelled to interject, I have always been a free-thinking woman with a tiny bit of a rebellious streak). I had a crisis of faith in my early 20s, and I faced it head on, and for me, once I decided to stick with the church, I decided not to look back. (more…)

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The cost of criticism in relationships

Posted on May 23, 2008. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , |

bleeding hearts flowers

By Jana

“Never criticize your spouse’s faults; if it weren’t for them, your mate might have found someone better than you”~Jay Trachman

When my future husband and I were preparing for marriage, we took an Institute class where the teacher told us that there was no such thing as “constructive criticism.” He challenged us to never criticize our spouses and to find other ways of solving problems. He suggested a standing weekly meeting where each partner could air grievances, but without being critical, rather just explaining and owning our own feelings.

I’ve thought a lot about that advice over the years. There’ve been many times that I abandoned it completely in favor of a biting word. Often those times have been behind the person’s back who I was criticizing. I suspect that very little of my criticism effected positive change. If anything, I found that such criticism led to a cycle of more critical thoughts that became habitual. As I reflect on the times that I’ve said these things, I feel a sense of ugliness. Criticism is not uplifting or enlightening.

Now, do let me add the caveat here that I don’t view honest conversations about tough topics, even discussing how someone’s behavior is out-of-line or has brought harm to others, as wrong. I believe in speaking plainly and pointedly when there are problems. But that is different than criticism.

I love this quotation:

“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.”~William Arthur Ward

I think about this often as I teach, as I parent, as I interact with my spouse, and as I progress in my spiritual journey. Is there value in criticism? Are their ways to offer feedback to people without using criticism? What is the cost to my own psyche when I fall into patterns of criticism?

Today I am thinking specifically about the cost of criticism in our closest relationships–with family members and good friends. Can you share how you’ve experienced criticism in your relationships? Do you have any suggestions for those who might want to remedy their own criticism habits?

Photo taken in my garden

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The Long-Distance Family Phenomenon

Posted on January 24, 2008. Filed under: Family, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , |

Living far away from my family isn’t as bad anymore. It used to tear me apart inside each time I’d hear of this sibling’s latest concert and that niece’s recent cuteness, the dinner everyone had together for someone’s birthday, or the trip to Island Park for a weekend at the cabin. It still hurts, but it’s bearable. On the other hand, it’s nice to have that grand trip to look forward to, where my husband, children, and I are the guest stars for a week or so.

But something inside me feels that this isn’t right. I worry that I’m missing out—losing time that could be spent getting to know my mother better (and my sister for that matter). I know her well as “mother.” It’s only been recently that I’ve felt that perhaps I only know a small part of my mom. As I slowly grow into the role of mother, I began to realize here and there the ways I don’t yet know my mother.

Things that don’t help the matter: 1) I’m not a great phone person. I would rather be there, in person, and phone conversations sometimes frustrate me. Not always, but they are really not my thing. I know plenty of women who love a good chat on the phone, but I’m not one of them. 2) When we do make a trip to visit everyone, it’s just that. We are visiting everyone (parents, siblings, cousins and friends) at once. And there’s not much time to REALLY talk. And we are busy, doing this or that. We sometimes just don’t have the right set-up during those visits to bring up and delve into the life topics—to bring out our inner selves. 3) We are kind of a private family. My mother doesn’t talk a lot about herself (I heard most of the stories I know of her childhood from my aunt). But I don’t believe it’s because she doesn’t want me to know that part of her. 4) Maybe I’m shy about it too. It’s not only with my mother that I feel the impatient longing to know someone better but don’t know how to go about it without being completely awkward. I wonder, if my mother and I were forced into a situation where we had to talk about real stuff, what would eventually be said?

My mother did the long-distance relationship with her own mother. Growing up, I lived about 460 miles away from my maternal grandma. And, if I remember correctly, we might have visited her in Oregon once a year. I’m not even sure I know how my mom dealt with the distance? Did they write back and forth frequently? Or talk on the phone?

Do you live near your parents and/or siblings? If not, do you feel sad about it? And how do you keep close despite long-distances?

{Image of my mother in college.}

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