Recently in Feminism Category

See Part I

As for what I think of the rest of the discussion, well, it's complicated. As I've made clear, I think the church sucks. And I figured out before I was 20 that it sucked, for reasons having to do with gender and bigotry in general (I was 14 when the church finally let black men hold the priesthood, and the generosity in extending it wasn't as striking as the perverseness of withholding it) as well as the wacky doctrine.

But I didn't work up the courage to leave until I was almost 26, and leaving was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. I did it entirely on my own, without the benefit of a spouse or a friend to go with and support me; I did it in the face of great resistance and sorrow from my family; I did it because I had a been a feminist since I was 17 or 18 (I say in response to Luke's argument that you can't be both a feminist and an active member of the Mormon church). While I respect those who left in solidarity with and mourning for the intellectuals persecuted by the Church in 1993, I left in 1989 because the hierarchy made it clear to me, a desperately unhappy 25-year-old woman with no virtually authority, that it would not allow me to dissent even on the local level--I couldn't even talk about polygamy in my Relief Society lesson!

People leave the church if and when they're ready, and someone like Luke, who was its staunch, unquestioning defender for many years, should know that. I don't see much point in "destroying" the church because until people are ready to live without it, something else will just appear to take its place. This doesn't mean that I don't work to advance the institutions and ideologies I support and believe in. I'd just rather focus my energy on building something rather than tearing something else down. After all, Martin Luther and Galileo Galilei, two men who arguably did more damage to Catholic hegemony than just about anyone else, did not have its destruction as their goal; Luther wanted to heal and save the church from its sins and errors, and Galileo just wanted to figure out how the universe worked.

The Sunstone panel on "Advancing Feminist Sensibilities among Mormon Men" occupied the final time slot of the afternoon, which meant it ran until 6:15 p.m. I was starving by the time it ended, and would have headed out the door to get dinner, except for two things: One, I'd posed this ambiguous question about sex no one could understand, and people kept asking me for clarification; and two, in attendance at the panel was a man I barely knew who had caught me off guard earlier by telling I was one of his very favorite writers and asking me to have dinner with him, and I kind of wanted to see where things could go. It was only later that I realized I should have learned something from the fact that however great the interest he professed in me, when push came to shove, he would rather stand around arguing about the church than talk specifically with me or fulfill the offers he made me.... But that's another story.

So I ended up as part of this prolonged discussion about the panel and its implications, whether change in the church was possible, and what we should or shouldn't do to encourage change.

An article entitled Czech Exhibit Shows Ads That Degrade Women discusses an exhibit "intended to draw attention to the degradation suffered by everyone--men, women and children--when they must constantly confront advertising that views the human body as a sexual tool for advertisers," said Suzanne Formanek, one of the exhibition's organizers. "These ads are all over Prague, but they are not tolerated in many other developed cities in the world."

Ads displayed include one "for a racy tabloid that showed a woman's bare behind with several cuts in it. 'Everyone likes a good spanking,' read the tagline."

Another depicts a 2001 Nokia ad "promoting a hands-free device to Czechs that featured a cartoon illustration of a man in a car attacking the breasts of a woman with both hands as she screamed. The phone was cradled on the dashboard. 'Free Hands!' read the caption."

You can view some of the photographs here:

Die, Women, Die!

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For a clear statement on why feminism is SO MUCH MORE than merely a political movement, check out this article in the Washington Post entitled "Female Characters, Made to Suffer for our 'Art.'"

The article makes the point that gruesome shows such CSI--or rather, imitating CSI--almost always feature crimes in which the victims are young white women, who are often not only murdered but tortured and raped. These shows are made to appeal to an audience of 18 to 34-year-old men, who don't watch much television, but the shows they do like are Desperate Housewives and CSI--as the article puts it, "we conclude, young men like their older women in teddies having sex with teenagers who cut their grass (or, in the case of Teri Hatcher, naked and in the bushes), but they like their younger women -- well, dead."

In case you're skeptical about real-life crimes against women, check out this story about hundreds of murders of Mexican women in Juarez and along the border, or this story about the systematic rape of women by the Burmese army as part of a military strategy.

Mormons, Male Feminists, and Sex


This post continues ideas discussed in three earlier posts: Ripe Peaches and Peach Schnapps, Venus Pandemos, and Male Mormon Feminists-–it's Part II of MMF, actually. For background information on all these topics, see Mormon Links.

When the panelists had finished and the session was opened to questions, I was (I think) the first one out of my seat. I thanked the guys for their comments, complimented them on having the courage and the conviction to declare themselves feminists, and said something like this--or rather, this is a more coherent version of what I wish I'd said:

"I've spent most of my adult life in academia in the humanities, which is someplace where almost everyone, male and female, is a feminist. In a graduate program in English or film studies or philosophy or the likes, it's hard to find a man who doesn't call himself a feminist--probably partly because he knows if he doesn't espouse it, chances are good he won't get laid very often. But despite these guys' declarations that they're feminists, they often treat the women they're involved with very badly."

I have dated enough myself and watched enough episodes of Sex and the City that I feel safe asserting that in conventions of heterosexual courtship, seduction and dating, men still retain most of the power of acting and choosing, while women have the role of waiting, and accepting or refusing. It is generally the man who is supposed to say, after a date or after sex, "I'll call you," and it is the man who is generally supposed to call. Certainly, there are women who are take the initiative in sexual matters. But there was only one Samantha to the other three more traditional, passive women in the cast of S&tC--it is not only Mormon women who are trained to be objects rather than subjects.

Venus Pandemos


In 1987, when I was finishing up my bachelor's degree in creative writing at the University of Arizona (at that point I was still primarily a poet), a beloved teacher and friend loaned me a copy of Little Star, Mark Halliday's first book. I loved it. It was one of my major influences. The title poem is about wondering who sang lead on some 1950s pop song. Halliday acknowledges that the poem

is not the first time I've tried to
get a rock-&-roll song into a poem and it won't be
the last; it is my need to call out
This counts too!

After reading Halliday, I began writing all kinds of poems with rock & roll songs in them, or inspired by rock & roll songs; I wrote a poem about the video to Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" and I wrote a bunch of poems about death by hanging inspired largely by "Gallows Pole" by Zeppelin and I wrote a poem called "1812 Overture" but despite the reference to Tchaikovsky the poem is really about how much I love the song "Close to Me" by the Cure, how sad I always was when the song ended, how it was over far too quickly.

Because I was poor, I never bought Little Star; I just returned my teacher's copy after reading it once, then got a copy from the library and kept it until I finished my master's degree four years later. And then it went out of print and I didn't think much about it, aside from the poem "Why the HG is Holy," which is one of my all-time favorite poems.

But a few months ago, I mentioned to Tom how much I loved that book, and as he had a copy, he loaned it to me. And I got to reread a few of the poems I had rather forgotten about, including the longest poem (seven pages) in the collection, which is called "Venus Pandemos."

When I first read that poem, I thought it was funny, mostly because I didn't have much personal reference for what it was talking about. I was an incredibly naive Mormon virgin who had little experience with dating and had never been in love, and though at that point I quit riding the bus to campus because I found enduring the catcalls and whistles I got while I waited at the bus stop on a busy street too upsetting, I still laughed at this poem, thought he was saying something clever. In fact, I once read much of it aloud to one of my friends who ran the women's center before she stopped me, almost heaving with distress. The poem begins

What am I going to do with my desire
for women?

To be more specific, what am I going to do
with my interest in women's bodies?

Male Mormon Feminists

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At Sunstone this year, I attended a panel entitled "Advancing Feminist Sensibilities among Mormon Men." The abstract read

Why aren't there more visible and vocal male feminist voices within the Mormon community? The all-male panel will talk about their journeys toward becoming feminists, the challenges they face in maintaining feminist sensibilities in Mormon culture, and ideas they see for encouraging other Mormon men to take more active feminist stances. Audience discussion will follow.

The panel had four members, and I suspect it was rather hard to fill. One of the panelists was 30-something; one was 40-something; I'm guessing one was 50-something and I'm pretty sure the last was 60-something, so there was a decent range. All four panelists were still active participants in the church, though they might describe themselves as more or less devout.

I couldn't help but be thrilled that someone had wanted to put this panel together. I couldn't help but be thrilled that the topic was being discussed. I couldn't help but be thrilled that there are Mormon men who are willing to call themselves feminists.

All four men said interesting, valuable things. There was a lot of talk about how having a daughter broadened and deepened these men's appreciation of the challenges women face. They talked about a commitment to justice and a willingness to be proactive in their efforts to improve the lives of all women on the planet.

What they didn't talk about was sex.

A Happy Marriage with a Good Man

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Here's something from "Confessions of a Mormon Boy: An Autobiographical One-Man Play Written, Created and Performed by Steven Fales" (SUNSTONE December 2003). After serving a mission for the Mormon Church, Mr. Fales told his female best friend he was gay, then proposed. She accepted; they married, and stayed married for six years, until his "same sex attraction," to use the Mormon term, put too great a strain on the marriage.

As the divorce got closer, I got confused and scared. I didn't know how to be alone, and I didn't want to give up "hugging time." Emily and I shared a tradition her parents had started. You know how early kids wake up? Well, we would try to sleep in--trying to put off their needs as long as we could. Then, when we couldn't put it off any longer, we'd yet out, "HUGGING TIME!" In our two children would run and jump on the bed. We would then hug and kiss and snuggle--all warm and safe and happy. How many gay men get to experience that? Let alone watch their children being born. Couldn't I give it all up for the sake of hugging time? I was going to fight for hugging time!

I turned it all on Emily. It was her fault! She never wore lingerie! [Never mind that Mormonism has its own ugly underwear faithful members are required to wear.] She wouldn't watch the better-sex videos I ordered from the back of GQ. Emily knew going into this marriage it might come to this. And now that I've finally cracked, she's going to just throw me out?! How dare she watch Will & Grace and laugh when I was trying to change! She had failed me!

Mormon Social Taboos


Tuesday evening I got home from work and found a load of mail, including two cd's of original (and spectacularly good) music from Wayne, and the Fall 2005 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. This is one of the primary publications of liberal Mormonism, and I've subscribed (and published in it) for years. I sat down to my dinner and watched part of a movie, took care of some teaching stuff, had a bath. Then I picked up the issue of Dialogue and checked the table of contents, and found this:


Getting Out by Ben Christensen 121

Homosexual Attraction and LDS Marriage Decisions by Ron Schow 133

Thoughts of a Therapist by Marybeth Raynes 143

Staying In by Ben Christensen 148

I gave the section a cursory scan--that was about all I could bear--then went to bed. I fell asleep quickly, stayed asleep for an hour, got up and read Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun for a class I'm teaching on war literature (because after the Dialogue thing, I needed something cheerful and lighthearted), tried to medicate myself into oblivion, eventually succeeded.

Wednesday morning I got up and reread the whole section carefully.

Here is what Ben Christensen, a 24-year-old gay Mormon married to a woman by whom he has fathered a nine-month-old daughter, has to say about the fact that he can't mention to his friends that he "can't stop thinking about this guy in religion class":" "It ticks me off that Mormon social taboos force me to lie about who I am."

Mormon social taboos.

That's what's to blame for the fact that he can't discuss his same sex attraction: Mormon social taboos.

Not Mormon doctrine. Mormon social taboos.

Nothing wrong with the doctrine--which says that homosexual behavior is a sin; no, it's just Mormon social taboos.

If you're not Mormon, you have no idea how big this issue is. Many religions venerate celibacy; many other religions tolerate it. Not Mormonism. Celibacy is unnatural; sex before marriage is, according to some leaders in the church (and one of my friends from college, one of the very few people whom I will never again speak to), a sin akin to MURDER (that's right: sex before marriage is the moral equivalent of killing someone in cold blood); and the entire reason we are sent to earth is to get bodies, have sex, and create children. So there's some room in many other religions for reconciling religious faith and homosexuality by choosing celibacy, but almost none in Mormonism--at least, not if you want to be respectable and happy.

Christensen writes of his engagement to Jessie, who knows about his attraction to men, that

Difficulties arose fairly quickly.... It bothered Jessie that she was usually more interested in kissing than I was. This bothered me too, but I didn't know what to do about it. I definitely loved her, and out of that love an attraction was growing, but to be honest it was nothing compared to the strong desire I had for men. But then it's not accurate to even compare the two feelings. My attraction to Jessie, the drive that made me want to hold her in my arms and feel her body next to mine, came entirely from my heart. On the other hand, the drive that made me want to feel a man's body next to mine was purely a libido thing. I've never allowed a physical attraction to a man to become any more than just that. Apples and oranges.

He marries Jessie for a variety of reasons, one of which is that "God told [him] to." Another is that he feels his only two alternatives are a conventional, monogamous straight Mormon marriage on the one hand and "[running] off to San Francisco and [embracing] a rampant life of unrestrained queerness" on the other.

A year later, at the ripe old age of 25, he is able to critique his earlier essay and the responses to it, by writing

Critiquing my essay, a friend asked, "Can you really separate love and sex so easily? I can't." I discarded his concern, believing I had a deeper understanding of love and sex. After all, he writes novels about missionaries who fornicate and teenaged boys who make out with cow udders. For me, the distinction between love and sex was clear. As I've become more honest with myself, though, I see that Marybeth states my dilemma more accurately when she says that people in my situation choose "between a deep love and erotic attachment plus love." This choice is a good deal more difficult than the over-simplified choice I thought I was making. By choosing heterosexual marriage, I've denied myself the experience of loving someone I am naturally attracted to and my wife the experience of loving someone who is naturally attracted to her.

Glad he figured that out eventually.

Aside from a few lines of dialogue in which Jessie reassures the author that she still wants to marry him despite the fact that he is gay, we never get to hear from her.

Ron Schow and Marybeth Raynes, the two respondents, are very respectful of the deliberate choices Ben Christensen is making at the same time they underscore the challenges and difficulties he is setting himself up for. Perhaps I might respect those choices more myself if I hadn't heard it all before, some of it almost verbatim. I'll never forget being told by the love of my life, "Look, I'm not really gay, and I still want to marry a woman. It's just that I prefer sex with men to sex with women." I could think of no response to that statement.

I'm grateful for my two closest friends on earth, both of whom are gay (formerly Mormon) men, and I'm also grateful that neither of them married me.

I'm not done.

One of the Boys

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Right now, I'm kind of one of the boys. My two best friends here are Tom, who is married, and SBJ, who is not, but as I said, my affectionate mocking of him is tinged with the fond feelings of a slightly snotty big sister.

By a significant margin, most of my colleagues are male. I do have some fabulous female colleagues, but most of them are married with small children. These are women with PhDs, diverse research interests, cool husbands, and very busy schedules. For various reasons, it is harder for these women to socialize than it is for the guys I work with. Although I manage to meet these women occasionally for lunch or coffee, a more common event in my social life is to find myself the solitary woman at a table with three or four or five guys, drinking a round of Arrogant Bastards (a local brew), talking about poetry and tattoos and bowel disorders and gross medical procedures and how the fact that SBJ likes neither Pink Floyd nor Led Zeppelin is one more thing that makes him odd.


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