Category Archives: Women

How dare you even mention women and ordination on national television? Or, inside the NBC Rock Center special on Mormons.

“Nice job taking a hit on your church by complaining about ordination. Did God discriminate against men when he gave women vaginas?  Why can’t men have babies?  So why can’t your daughter pass the sacrament? Or be a prophet?  I guess that too must be oppression of the woman right?”

We could call this installment of Ask Mormon Girl the “Inside NBC Rock Center” edition.  Because questions like these are the ones I’ve gotten aplenty after my three-soundbite appearance in the Mormons in America special.

As for the behind the scenes scoop—All throughout the process, I found the producers very kind and gracious and sincerely interested in humanizing our faith.  I will say that I wish they hadn’t shown garments on television, or given quite so much time to Abby Huntsman, as beautiful as she is to watch.  I wish they had included the footage they took of my family praying at our dinner table.  And I wish that the three soundbites they used from the two hour interview they did with me had drawn more broadly from my description of the joys of growing up Mormon, the experience of interfaith families, and the broad-ranging concerns of Mormon feminists and not just focused in on the question of ordination and the threat of excommunication.  It’s too often that Mormon feminism gets put in the ordination-excommunication box.  And it’s not a comfortable box in which to live.

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Ask Mormon Girl: Why do we not talk about Heavenly Mother?

Two—count ‘em—two questions about Heavenly Mother materialized in my mailbox this week.  And I realized with a start that in more than two years of Ask Mormon Girl columns, I had never written about this unique and inspiring aspect of Mormon doctrine here.

So here’s question number one:

I have a question for you about Heavenly Mother and why we don’t talk about her. Do you think that the church really does it to “keep women in their place”? Why can’t we pray to her? Why isn’t she worshipped like our heavenly Father. This has been something that I have been wondering for a long time and if you have any ideas on reading or anything like that I would love to hear!! Thanks!

Stacey

And number two:

As a lifelong, 52-year-old member of the LDS Church, I surprised myself yesterday by having a rather basic question occur to me for the first time. It occurred to me that perhaps part of the reason that we talk little of our Heavenly Mother in the church is that she is one of many. That is, perhaps God the Father has polygamous (read polygynous) relationships. Maybe my heavenly mother is not your heavenly mother. What do you think, and what do you think church leaders think? Are there some sources on this subject, or must we simply speculate?

Wendy

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Mormon Girl Asks: What does the word “boundaries” mean to you?

Last weekend, I was spending a wet, gray Saturday morning in Boise.  The bread was hot from the breadmaker.  The home-canned lemon curd was sweet and tangy.  Herbal teas and green smoothies were flowing.  And lucky me, I was sitting around the kitchen table in the home of the legendary FMH Lisa, founder of FeministMormonHousewives.org, having breakfast with five of the finest Mormon feminists in the world: Lisa, Anne, Nikki, Sara, and Emily.

Our talk turned to the latest internet dustup, with so-and-so writing such-and-such about so-and-so.  “I haven’t read it,” I admitted.  “I try not to let that kind of stuff get in my head.”

“Well, it’s clear that someone is just looking for attention,” said Nikki.  “Why reward it?”

“It all reminds me,” Emily began, “of when I was working in this swimsuit shop.  There was a guy who always came in to try on Speedos.  It was his thing to get attention from the girls working in the shop—shock and embarrassment.  One girl thought if she were very circumspect and polite, he would stop.  But he would not.  Even if you ignored him.  He just wouldn’t stop.”

We all groaned.

“But this one time, he came in, and accidentally tried on a pair of women’s bikini bottoms.  He came out of the dressing room and asked how he looked.  He wanted that old familiar flushed reaction from us.  I started to laugh.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I laughed and laughed at him, and he turned around, went back into the dressing room, got dressed, and hurried away.  We never saw him again!”

Something about that laugh, that powerful laugh, denied Mr. Speedo the power of the reaction he craved—the power to make someone feel ashamed, embarrassed, belittled, or afraid.

“Boundaries,” said Anne.  “The issue is really boundaries.”

All of us nodded in agreement.  We’d all seen Mormon women who’d allowed themselves to be bullied or shamed or manipulated or taken advantage of.  Women who couldn’t say no.  Women who did not know how to trust their gut.  Or that they had the right to draw a boundary.

In fact, we’d all been those women ourselves, at one time or another.

“So,” I asked, “How would you define what a boundary is?”

Emily weighed in: “A boundary demarcates your personal space, in person and on-line.  If you enter my space—by contacting me in a friendly or unfriendly way, in person, by sending me an email or instant message or text, by leaving a comment on my Facebook thread or blog entry–I am not obliged to engage or respond.”

“Everyone loves attention,” Nikki added quickly.  “It’s natural.  It can be enjoyed.”

“But when it is to be enjoyed it’s because in your gut it feels safe,” said Sara.

“Yes!  Listen to your gut.  So many women do not trust their own instincts because they have been trained to put the needs and claims of others first.”

“If we could only get it through:  Trusting your guts means trusting your inner light.”

“The Spirit!”

“Yes.”

“Don’t mistake stupor of thought for an obligation to respond to someone who has crossed your boundaries.”

 

“And no sacrifice for the community is more important than your feeling of safety, security, and autonomy.”

“So what should you do when you’re faced with someone who is encroaching on your personal space?”

“Don’t apologize, don’t explain.”

“Don’t engage.”

“And check in with a girlfriend or two if you feel like something weird is happening.”

“Then after your reality check, the three of you can have a good laugh.”

“Don’t talk yourself out of your gut feelings.”

“It is so hard to unlearn this saying yes when you want to say no.  It’s a multigenerational thing.  Children are raised, for example, to give affection whether or not they want to.”

“And then when you go to your first stake dance and the gross boy wants to dance with you. . . .”

“Politeness and codependency can feel remarkably similar.”

“The accusation that one is ‘selfish’ is a huge trigger for Mormon women.”

“There are spiritual reasons for being selfish.”

“Having a sense of self is so crucial to developing one’s spirituality and autonomy.”

“In Young Women’s, we call it ‘divine nature’ and ‘individual worth.’  If you don’t carve out the space to figure out how the Spirit talks to you, you will never learn.”

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we taught young women and men that modesty not just as an issue of hemlines and shoulders but as a matter of personal conduct:  having proper custody of one’s faculties, maintaining and honoring personal boundaries, not getting into other people’s space in unwelcome ways?”

“What if we defined immodesty as boundary incontinence:  patrolling other people, bullying other people, violating other people’s personal space?”

“This is something we have to do and model for our children for ourselves.”

“This is something we have to keep for our own community!  So many women who feel they must give and give and have no sense of the sanctity of their boundaries.”

So, dear readers, I’m asking you:  What does “boundaries” mean to you?  Do women in Mormonism have a challenge establishing and maintaining their personal boundaries?  Where does kindness stop and where do healthy boundaries begin?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com.  Follow @askmormongirl on Twitter. And maybe read The Book of Mormon Girl.

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Ask Mormon Girl: Is Mitt Romney a closet male chauvinist? How do Mormon men really view women?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

I was reading an article about Romney and Mormon feminism, and it struck me that even though Romney stuck up somewhat for the Mormon feminist publication Exponent II in 1980s – 1990s Boston, he still behaved like a Mormon man “keeping control” over the women in his ward (not sure how else to word it). Then, when he was governor of Massachusetts, I’ve read that he had a female lieutenant governor and his cabinet was almost 50% female (and they weren’t concentrated in “feminine” offices).

 I guess I’m just confused by the “cognitive leap” that powerful Mormon men make between their views of women’s roles in the Church and the reality of women’s roles outside the Church.  I’m tempted to see these men secretly thinking that in a “perfect world,” all women would be at home raising kids while they’re husbands are running the world — and if these men gained enough power, they’d try to shape the world in that direction.  Am I wrong — are some Mormon men secretly questioning the Proclamation on the Family?

AP

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I’m a mild-mannered Mormon woman. How do I learn to stand up for myself? (plus an AMG apology)

We have a great question in the line-up this week, readers.  But first I hope you will indulge a personal note. There’s a profile of me up this week at CNN.com.  It includes a story from my book The Book of Mormon Girl about the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign, when, in a moment of emotion, I destroyed some Yes on 8 campaign materials.   In the book, I tried to make it clear that I acted out of anger, and that I’m not proud of it.  Let me reiterate that here for folks who just read the profile:  I don’t look on what I did that day as one of my finest moments, and I apologize.  The fact that I was not able to support Proposition 8 does not mean that I disrespect those who did out of conviction or obligation.

And now, on to this week’s question.

Dear AMG:

Growing up in an orthodox Mormon home, it was important for me, the oldest and the only girl, to be nice and compromise. Usually that meant self sacrificing. While I know that everyone has their own perspective, and everyone deserves to own that, it doesn’t mean that I have to get taken advantage of. In the fine art of learning to stand up for yourself, how do I figure out how to do that? How do I figure out which battles are worth fighting?

Sincerely,

Stiffening Spine in LA

Dear Stiffening Spine:

I belong to a group of Mormon women—most of us 40 and older–who converse regularly on-line, and the questions you’re asking right now regularly bubble up to the surface of our conversations.  How was it we learned over the years to give away so much ground?  How do we unplug all those learned habits that mean we are always deferring, always smiling, and yet—whether we like to admit it or not—often feeling bruised, spent, lost, or angry inside.

And it’s not just women in Mormonism.  Oh, no.  I see plenty of self-sacrificing men in the world of Mormonism too.  I see plenty of self-sacrificing people in the wide, wide world who would, I suspect, be better served and better capable of serving others if they would learn to respect and protect themselves.

But how, how to begin?

I wish I had a clear five-step process for you.  I’m sure the local library has a shelf full of self-help books with glossy, airbrushed author photos and clear five-step processes laid out in bullet points.

What I have instead is an actual, messy life, with lots of missteps and things I wished I’d done differently (note above) as I’ve learned what my work in this world is and how to get it done.

One thing that has helped has been trying to discern what my work in this world it.  Have you started started a dialogue with yourself about what your work in this world is?  Try to discern what really matters to you, what brings you the most joy.  It may not be just one thing.  It may be many things at once, and it may include helping other people.  But it does not mean accommodating everyone who asks for something just because they ask.  To illustrate the concept, I’ll use the old Mormon pioneer hymn, “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel.”  The song says, “Put your shoulder to the wheel, push along, do your duty with a heart full of song, we all have work, let no one shirk, put your shoulder to the wheel.”  Now, imagine—lots of wheels on the big wagon of creation.  God put you in front of a specific wheel.  It does not help the big wagon of creation roll along when you ditch your wheel and run to push along someone else’s wheel just because they’re fussing about it.  You can be kind and encouraging, but you are here to do the work God sent you to do.  If you know what that work is and feel a sense of sacred purpose in it, you can and will be less available to every one who comes to you feeling entitled to take a little piece of you.

Similarly, I’ve learned that it’s okay not to give away your words, feelings, thoughts, heart, soul to just anyone who asks.  You do not need to explain yourself, give yourself, or apologize to everyone who stops by.  It’s okay to know your own mind, hold your own feelings close, and maintain your boundaries when you are dealing with people who you don’t know well enough to trust, or with people who don’t appear to be wiling to enter into a respectful dialogue of equals.  A healthy reserve fosters dignity, and dignity is a form of power.  You decide when to enter the conversation, and how to participate.  If you find yourself in a situation where the game is set up against you—where you’re pretty sure your voice will not be valued—you don’t need to play.  This may sound like contradictory advice—how can I be assertive if I remain quiet?  There is a difference, though, between the quiet that is afraid to speak and the quiet that knows better than to speak where the voice will not be valued.

Along the way, I’ve also learned to face my own perfectionism.  From one oldest daughter to another, sounds like you’re a perfectionist too.  Gently remind yourself that it is not the end of the world to be wrong.  Everyone has been wrong sometimes.  I sure have—see above, for just one of many examples.  Everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves room to learn from them, including you.  When you make a mistake, you can apologize, but you must not treasure it up as evidence against yourself.  God loves you.  Your nearest and dearest love you. And you know I’ll still love you.  It’s Mormon doctrine that we come to this world to gain experience—and not only through perfection or the pretense of perfection, but through choices, better and worse.  When you give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them, you give yourself permission to extend yourself into new situations and new, growthful challenges.

Just as you will be wrong sometimes, you will be afraid sometimes.  I am afraid sometimes.  Okay, let’s revise that.  I am afraid more than sometimes.  I am afraid for reasons I can’t fully explain.  But as long as I am doing my work, I am willing to be afraid.  There are lots of scriptures I recite to myself about how “God has not given us the spirit of fear.”  And I love as well this advice from the African-American poet Audre Lorde:  “We can learn to work through fear the same way we can learn to work when we are tired.” I have learned to work when and even though I am afraid.  When I am afraid, I reach out to trusted friends and share my feelings.  I pray.  I clean my house—yes, housecleaning can be a meditative practice.  I go to yoga (which is very good for the spine, by the way). Then, I start again.  Whenever you are afraid because you are doing your work, remember that you are in good company.

For I would rather have my shoulder to the wheel in the mud with all of the other women and men who make mistakes and are afraid sometimes.  We want you with us too, Sister Spine-builder.  We miss you.  We need you.  The world needs you to do the work you came here to do.

Can I get an amen, readers?  A word of support for Sister Spinebuilder?  Who else has spine-building wisdom to share?

Follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.  Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com.

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I’m a stay at home mom with professional dreams and daycare guilt. Is it possible to strike a balance?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl,

I’m a Mormon woman in my early thirties with two young children. Right now I stay home with them (they aren’t yet school age) but I’ve been wanting to pursue a profession. It’s important to me that my kids see me taking myself seriously–pursuing education, goals, etc. The thing is, though, I have so much mother-guilt associated with all things daycare. I don’t know a lot of working Mormon moms. How do you find the balance between professional life and family life (and guilt for having a professional life in the first place)??

Thanks,

Aspiring
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I’m a 30 year old virgin. With lots of questions about sex. Help?

I grew up 100% believer.  About 2 years ago I started asking questions. I have now decided that there are many points where I totally disagree with the church, but I still see good in it…I haven’t completely figured out where I stand in terms of activity and so on…and I’m okay with that.

The biggest issue I have right now pertains to sex.  I’ve never had sex. I have a boyfriend who is fantastic, and we’re in love. He never pushes me–totally respects my boundaries. I want to have sex with him. But I have a gnawing sense of guilt over this issue.

Does sin exist? If so, who decides what sin is–who defines evil? Who can tell me if I’m right or wrong? Is it God, is it me? If I do give it all away–am I going to hell? Does sharing love with someone you care about make you evil?

Beyond the idea of sin, there is the question of what is healthy and unhealthy for a relationship…Is this best for our future happiness? Or is it healthier to wait?  In my perfect Mormon family sex was never talked about. I wasn’t even allowed to go to sex ed. I had to learn about it from reading the encyclopedia. Now I’m having these questions…and don’t know where to find answers.

One day I’ll feel great about giving it all away, and the next day I’ll feel guilt over it. What gives? Do you know?

Sincerely,

30-year-old-virgin

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Ask Mormon Girl: Where is the Great Mormon Novel?

Dear “Ask Mormon Girl”:

I ran across this article, “The Great Mormon Novel:  Where is it?” about Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist.  The article really struck me because I’m a graduate student studying literature, and I often feel like an outsider–socially, politically, and intellectually–around my peers at church.  Either I belong to a ward where higher education is viewed with suspicion (being a less “worthy” pursuit than “real” jobs), or I belong to a well-educated ward where I am the lone humanities student amongst aspiring lawyers, physicians, and those studying business.  The Slate article references a slightly older article in Dialogue that I have read many times and continue to enjoy. So, to quote the Rectors, “will we ever see the day prophesied by John Taylor, when ‘Zion shall be far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind?'” And “can we, and this is the heart of the dilemma, humbly ask the Spirit to guide us beyond our safe and certified, conventional selves?”

Nick from the STL
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Ask Mormon Girl: No one in my ward understands me. Help?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

My husband and I are getting really frustrated by not being taken seriously or treated like grownups in our ward. We both have gone to college and have good jobs. We own a home. We have been married for seven years. But we don’t have kids. This is not just a choice because of infertility but also because of health issues. We are in limbo at church and get only nursery callings. We also get unneeded advice about how we are missing out on our ‘blessings.’ How do we grow closer to people in our ward without everyone assuming we are newlyweds and/or infertile? No one seems to want us for our own sake. Living in the most conservative county of Southeast Idaho might have something to do with it, but we like it here because of the mountains and climate. Moving isn’t an option. The sisters in the ward don’t want to be friends unless I’m in a playdate with them or reading church books in a book club. Help?

Thanks,

MS

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Ask Mormon Girl: I did everything I was supposed to, and still, I have no husband. Help?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

I’m a 36 year-old single Mormon woman facing a real struggle. Basically, I’ve spent my whole life checking things off the list: graduate Primary, Personal Progress, graduate Seminary, go to BYU, go on a mission, fulfill callings, pay tithing, and so on thinking that doing all of that would yield what I wanted most: a family. God provides husbands to the good people: I don’t have one, so I must not be good. I recognize that this is incredibly flawed logic, but it’s how I feel. What makes matters worse is that my ward isn’t a great place for women like me. I’m not invited to get-togethers, not included in conversations. My bishop admitted the ward didn’t really know “how to deal with me,” since I am single and have no kids. Lately, it’s been all I can do to drag myself to Church, and sometimes I just want to take a hiatus. Help?

RJ

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