Monthly Archives: March 2012

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, 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!”


“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  Follow @askmormongirl on Twitter. And maybe read The Book of Mormon Girl.



Filed under Women

Ask Mormon Girl: “I’m feeling so ashamed. Can I ever be forgiven?”

This week I received a long message from a young Mormon man in Canada.  In several thick paragraphs, he poured out his story—a story of an orthodox Mormon family wrecked by illness and addiction, of divorce, poverty, and growing up on the streets, of an overworked single mother and an oldest son looking out for disabled younger siblings, while taking abuse from his addict dad, who after much struggle is trying to get his life together.

“I’ve confessed all the details to my Bishop, to my mother, and to the Lord. The whole time I’ve had these experiences I’d managed to keep an image of calm, cool, collected maturity that masked the emotional and spiritual turmoil that was occurring within me. But I feel an immense amount of sorrow and shame.

“Thus, this leads me to my question: Am I still a good person, having strayed so far from the path? Will Heavenly Father be able to forgive me for my serious transgressions? I try to live my life in the pursuit of serving others and making others happy to make up for my shortcomings, but I feel that true forgiveness from Heavenly Father will be extraordinarily difficult, no matter how much I confess or repent. I just want you to help me on this one, help me set my mind straight. I sincerely apologize for the lengthiness of this question; I started to type and kept going and going. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

And he signed it:  “Ashamed.”

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Filed under coming back, forgiveness

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?


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Filed under men, Women, working mothers

Mormon Girl Asks: How did the LDS Black priesthood ban impact you?

Forgive me if I change up the format this week at Ask Mormon Girl. Usually, I take questions from the mailbag, but this time, I have a question of my own to ask.  It’s been that kind of week.  In fact, it’s been a hold-your-breath week in the world of Mormonism as the scrutiny of this election year has put Mormonism’s thorniest issues under a spotlight.

Tuesday, a BYU religion professor made national news by presenting as doctrine justifications for the LDS Church’s historic ban on Black ordination.  We gasped aloud, we did, when we saw it there in the Washington Post:  a species of Mormon racist reasoning that many of us grew up hearing in our homes and in our wards and that one can still hear today (especially among older Mormons).

Wednesday, the LDS Newsroom released a public statement disclaiming as doctrine any attempt to justify the Black priesthood ban.

Since then, LDS people have been reading, writing, reflecting, arguing, grappling—some circling the wagons, some embracing with open arms what could be a historic chance to say, “We were wrong. We are sorry.”

That’s where my heart is.  As I wrote here, as a progressive Mormon, I believe it was wrong to withhold priesthood ordination and temple access on the basis of race.  The ban ended in June 1978.  I was six years old.  But I too grew up hearing those old racist teachings about the curse of Cain and Ham, and the fencesitters in the pre-existence, and all the rotten rest of it.  And no one but my gut insides ever said it was wrong, until I attended orientation at Brigham Young University in August 1989, and Professor Eugene England wrote on the blackboard this Book of Mormon scripture:

“2 Nephi 26:33: He decomes none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen, and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

I have lived with the shame of Mormon racism all my life.  It has impacted the way I view the world and my personal and professional relationships. It has impacted the way I view the Church I belong to and its members—though not in the simplistic ways some might assume:  it has deepened my sense of responsibility and hunger for change.  It is ugly painful to see people you love, people you believe are capable of better, satiate themselves on thinly reasoned prejudices.  In God’s name.

Compounding the way I’ve experienced this week is the fact that a great deal of my day-job-professional-life has been about race and religion.  I owe a debt of gratitude to scholars, writers, teachers, and colleagues—many of them people of color–who have helped me get myself educated on the history of race, its deadly impacts, and its intransigence as an element of the American imagination.

What did I learn?

First, that race is a fiction, a concept invented in the service of domination (and later reinvented as a point of collective identification by people of color themselves).  Race is made-up.  It is not a legitimate basis for any form of generalization about a group of people, let alone as a basis for the distribution of opportunity.

Second, that racism is deadly harmful not only to those who become its objects but also to those who allegedly profit from its privileges.

In his landmark book Black Reconstruction in America (1935), the great W. E. B. DuBois observed that during reconstruction, to deter them from organizing with their black fellow laborers, white laborers in the south “were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage”:  deference and preference accorded to them in social and civic settings just because they were “white.”

In exchange for this “wage,” what do whites surrender?  Humanity.  Empathy.  Beauty.  Conscience.  Intelligence.  Courage.

I believe that racism—including the historic LDS ban on–-has provided white Mormons with a weak form of spiritual compensation for which we have historically surrendered a measure of our humanity, intelligence, empathy, conscience, beauty, and courage.  I do not think it is an accident that the murky historic origins of the ban may be traced to a moment in history when Mormons ourselves were being alienated and classified as a species of American “other.”  And in exchange for the small compensations of elevating ourselves over Mormons of African descent, what have we surrendered?

I started this conversation yesterday on my Facebook page.  Hungry, eager, and, yes, perhaps, a bit impatient to continue this conversation amongst ourselves, to take stock of the damage done not only to African-Americans but to white Mormons too. What have the wages of whiteness really cost us?

Since then, I’ve heard friends talk about the fear they felt hearing parents and trusted teachers describe a God so vengeful as to “curse” a portion of the human race.  I’ve heard about distrust of LDS teachers and leaders who espoused racist doctrine, and shame—lots of shame—for having believed it.  I’ve heard about friendships and family relationships lost.

“It has instilled and unwittingly sanctioned a spirit of judgmental discrimination and pride,” wrote one friend. “Selflessness, empathy, love, and kindness are difficult to achieve when you are doctrinally justified in a form of prejudice. Elitism is not the way to faith.”

“Withholding the priesthood from blacks was not a punishment of blacks for ancient/pre-existence transgressions, but was, in fact, a punishment for the rest of us for upholding such perverse beliefs,” wrote another.

So this week, at Ask Mormon Girl, I am turning the tables.  I’ve talked.  Now, I’m going to ask a question of you:

How did the Mormon teachings on race you were raised with impact you?  What did you lose as a result of the priesthood ban and the racist teachings some used to justify it?  What might we have to gain from admitting we were wrong?

Your turn, readers.  I’m listening.  May we all listen.

Follow @askmormongirl.  Read The Book of Mormon Girl.  Send your query to


Filed under ethnicity, race