Anonymity and the Status Quo

Two writers from the Exponent kindly extended an invitation to do a guest post for them. I take that as a kindness since the invitations came despite the fact I was critical of their occasional tendency to dip their toes in the waters of controversy rather than jumping in to swim.

It’s flattering to be invited, but I feel reluctance to accept. The main reason is that my mum taught me Good Manners, and Good Manners means that when you walk into someone else’s home you don’t go round pointing out that a picture is hanging askew, the flat screen TV could be viewed more optimally if it had been hung an inch lower, and that the clutter in the lounge really makes the place look a state. It’s rude. It’s possible that the observations a visitor might make are true or helpful, but sometimes they are dead wrong. I’ve never seen a situation where unsolicited advice turned out to be as welcome as a plate of warm brownies.

That’s the beauty of having your own virtual home. You can say whatever you like, and if a visitor makes an ass out of himself, you can show him the door. In your own web space you can censor or not at you see fit, and if an opinion is flagrantly out of line with your values, you don’t have to let it stay.

So I’d ask the editors and writers at the Exponent how welcome the following questions would be:

  • What is your purpose? Is it to provide a venting space for frustration? Is it to raise issues for discussion alone? Or do you actually seek to bring about change in the status of LDS women within their church?
  • Being an anonymous blogger can encourage greater honesty, but it comes with the price of lower credibility. This is especially problematic for the Exponent, which claims descent from a former official LDS publication and also occupies something of a higher-profile role in the LDS intellectual community. Have you ever considered that having anonymous authors on your permanent staff undermines your ability to appear truly committed to speaking up for Mormon women? How can you really be leaders if your followers don’t even know who you are?
  • The Exponent is a middle ground publication, never openly criticizing or challenging the authority of the LDS church but not running off disaffected and former Mormons. Establishing a middle ground is difficult but worthwhile because it can get people on opposite sides to speak and understand one another. But if the party in the middle only establishes a place for conversation but doesn’t ever commit to an opinion of their own, they aren’t leveraging their ability to help others re-think their opinions. What is the philosophy behind the policy the Exponent seems to have against editorialising on controversial issues?
  • Has the Exponent ever considered establishing a set of goals that would produce tangible positive change for the status of Mormon women? Do you feel that committing to specific goals, such as encouraging women to insist on participating in priesthood ordinances or directly engaging in conversations with the leaders of the LDS church, is beyond your scope?

The issues I raise here aren’t unique to the Exponent. They’re questions that affect all of the feminist sites in the Bloggernacle. The Mormon feminist movement is no longer a movement — it’s broken down by the side of the road. Affirmation doesn’t just speak for the Mormon LBGTQ community. They also provide resources and take stances. And they’ve gotten church leaders to publicly acknowledge that they exist. Does Salt Lake know we exist? If they do, does anybody really think they take us seriously?

Mormon feminists speak out anonymously online, but they silence their voices at church. Can feminist Mormon blogs be more than a digital sewing circle? With they ever do more than murmur from the sidelines, like perhaps blow the whistle and cry foul? Without engagement, the church will not benefit. Feminists will just grumble until they submit to the place handed to them by the men in charge, or they’ll get sick of it all and just leave.

I want to think that blogs like the Exponent exist because they believe that becoming a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t remain a Mormon. The status quo is that very, very few feminist Mormons remain respectable or active members of the church. There just isn’t room for us. Mormons are taught to be almost obsessively open about their beliefs, and having to suppress sincere, conscientious objection is maddening. I’ve left because I got sick of the dishonesty of a double life. I grew too tired of biting my tongue when I heard patronizing, sexist remarks about women at church, but knew that if I said anything my loyalty would be questioned. I knew my words wouldn’t be welcome in the community, even if they were true, so I left. But did it have to be that way? Will the leaders of this community stand up, publicly, openly, consequences be damned, and ask the leaders of the church to take Dieter Uchtdorf at his word when he told us that there is supposed to be room for everyone in this church? Mormon feminists need to come out of the closet. Nothing will change until this happens, especially while their leaders are in the closet too.

10 thoughts on “Anonymity and the Status Quo

  1. Molly:

    I really appreciate what you’ve said here. And in all honesty I’d like to see it said at Exponent (where I’m a permablogger, though one with spotty regularity). I think you raise valid and important questions about the role of feminists within the LDS church and online. You articulate a very old debate amongst feminists about the possibility and value of trying to operate within a so obviously flawed system. It’s something I’d like more Mormon feminists to think about.

    You ask what the purpose of X2 blog is and I would say it’s all of the above. Maybe that sounds wishy-washy and untenable, but in reality we exist as a place for any and all Mormon women’s voices to be heard in a space of acceptance and openness and dialogue. Your voice is a Mormon woman’s voice and it is as welcome there as anyone else’s, even if (and maybe especially if) you write in order to call attention to the problematic nature of Mormon feminism online (including that voiced at X2).

    The only real problem I have with what you say here is your criticism of some of the X2 bloggers’ choice to blog under pseudonyms. I’ve perused your blog, reading your “about” section and some of your other posts, and it seems to me that you also recognize the danger and risk involved when it comes to “outing” yourself as a non-believer. You speak of the fact that identifying yourself as a non-believer would jeopardize your relationships with your family. And your name may really be Molly, but even if it is, using only a first name isn’t exactly clearly outing yourself. I call attention to this because I think it’s important that Mormon feminists have the freedom to expose themselves to the cost they’re willing to pay; there shouldn’t be a requirement that to be a Mormon feminist you must be willing to pay the highest cost. Some of us are willing to pay a higher cost, risking even excommunication. Some of us have very valid reasons not to risk such a high cost. Some of us (like me) strike a balance by using their real names but not their full names (though I do that as much as a means of protecting my real life identity in general as a means of protecting my standing at church; I don’t use my full name in any of the blogging I do).

    Anyway, I second (or third?) Jana and MRayne’s (both real names, by the way) invitation to post at X2. I think you have a valid criticism of and set of questions for Mormon feminists. And I think that it could spark a lively and interesting and important conversation. Do let us know if you’d like to take us up on the invitation.

    • Your comment on my (half) anonymity is fair, but I have a perfectly good reason not to out myself; I don’t go to church. Along with believing “apostates” leave because they are prideful, sinful, or offended, the other great Mormon cultural lie about “apostates” is that “they can’t leave the church alone”. Believe me I’d love to, but my family keeps me tethered to it. If I were completely on my own, I never would have stuck around in an organisation that I find hopelessly homophobic, racist, sexist, and elitist. The reason I don’t have a problem using a pseudonym is that I don’t believe the church is true, but I’m stuck in it, so all I can do is work through these ideas, try to help others in a similar position to myself, and perhaps encourage those with the stomach to stay in their efforts to bring about change. As cynical as I am about the possibility of equality in the LDS church, I don’t believe it’s impossible.

      I think it’s more problematic for Exponent writers because the magazine seems to be operating with the idea that the church is true in some fundamental way, and it occupies a higher profile position of leadership in Mormon thought. Anonymity is a catch-22 for your writers. If the points you make are in the wrong, then you are apostates and are using anonymity to escape punishment. If the points you make are in the right, then there’s a certain amount of cowardice in going halfway as a whistleblower. I don’t want to participate in the LDS church. Revealing my identity does no good, but my anonymous status has already given me the great privilege to act as a sounding board to a few others who are going through what I went through. But someone who does want to participate and make changes in the LDS church will be hindered. They will have the power to make a complaint, but not the power to address it. I understand and respect the reasons behind a decision to remain anonymous. I’ve made that decision myself. But those who make that decision should understand that they will have lower credibility and importance in the community.

  2. I wish I were in a position to ask people to write guest posts for my blog. Seriously, at least; I ask, and they generally tend to ignore me. After all, my blog only has a hundred or so regular readers. I, myself, have been asked, on occasion, to write guest posts for other, better known blogs, with disappointing results. Essentially, I’ve been told that writing anything either critical of the church, or, indeed, critical of members (on both sides of the fence) is “angry ranting” and nobody cares. This, clearly, isn’t true. I find it fascinating, and sad, that the bloggernacle is so self-censoring. What are we afraid of? Personally, I’d be honored to publish a guest post, the more critical, the better.

    • Well put. I agree that it is kind of funny when people step into the bloggernacle to discuss things that are invisibly taboo at church, and then impose the same taboos on others. In this case, The Exponent doesn’t encourage censorship. You have to be pretty far out of line for them to step in and moderate. But other sites are not so useful. I received a hilarious e-mail from mormonwoman.org once explaining that they wouldn’t approve a comment I made because I mentioned polygamy. Not a confrontational or argumentative reference, but in passing as a historical fact. At that point I took them off my RSS because I could see they were more interested in marketing than conversation. Deleting troublesome Mormon women from the past because they are inconvenient in the present day is a horribly anti-feminist thing to do.

      But I digress — If any Exponent editors are still following this thread, take CJ up on her offer. She has good ideas and knows how to debate intelligently.

      • This is a religion that lends itself uncomfortably well to marketing. Once in awhile, friends contemplating startup ventures will talk about how they have a “ready made” audience for their product or service, because they’re Mormon. That really bothers me, on so many levels.

        Thank you. Usually people just read my blog and de-friend me on Facebook. Maybe some day you’ll write a guest post for The Narrow Gate…

  3. I think you make a great point here, Molly. Perhaps the Exponent post today about refusing to do things was written by someone who read this and thought about it– no way to know I guess. I do get quite sick of the constant trumpeting of minor acts of feminism, which I suppose are major if viewed in a certain context but don’t really seem major compared to the potential for feminist action that I believe is there. There just isn’t the willingness to take any major action other than dropping out individually. Certainly the idea of collective action is very rarely discussed. It’s disappointing to me. The entire LDS feminist scene is paralyzed by deep ambivalence and a lack of interest in actually rocking the boat. People sure do like to talk about it though.

    • Maybe it’s that we still generally operate in a gender-biased world? In the absence of anything overtly female, it’s assumed that someone is male as a “default setting”?

  4. It’s an interesting object lesson in perception; I certainly think I sound girlish πŸ™‚ It’s interesting, though, how the internet-based insults change, depending on peoples’ perception of your gender.

  5. Hmm, would you consider a guest post at Mormon Matters? We aren’t exponents for much, other than perspective.

    We have an acknowledge anonymous identity even πŸ˜‰ Or you can use your won anonymous identity.

    But think about it.

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