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.

Online Orthodoxy

Plenty of conversation has focused on inclusive versus exclusive definitions of Mormonism. Organisations are free to define what they are and are not. After all, if there are no defining criteria at all, an organisation would vaporise and cease to exist. While I fall on the side of the argument that the LDS church is too rigid. I don’t believe anything Jesus said justifies throwing people out, and I oppose the generally hostile environment that exists inside chapels when it comes to dissent, alternative thought, and concerns of those outside the structures of authority.

The existence of the bloggernacle, which is populated with believers, doubters, and post-Mormons, is proof of this. If the LDS church supported lively dialogue and debate, the discussions that go on at various Mormon blogs would happen at church, not online.

That’s why I found it puzzling and sad that the Bloggernacle, a word that conjures up the idea of an enormous tent full of individual and equal voices, would decide to follow the pattern of the LDS church and provide an orthodox definition of what is and what is not part of the Bloggernacle.

This action is largely meaningless. The Internet is by nature an open thing. Anybody can set up a blog and while I suppose is free to say who is and who isn’t part of their little clique, anybody can make what they like of the Bloggernacle. Unlike within the LDS church, declarations of authority made by a web site are meaningless. There’s no threat of shame or excommunication. Anyone can participate, and those who are idiots, trolls, wise, or kind are identified for what they are by the community. The announcement of Bloggernacle Times’ new online orthodoxy was a mixed bag;

Throughout 2010 the rebooted Bloggernacle Times will feature the best posts, blogs, and bloggers of the Bloggernacle as chosen by a representative group of Bloggernacle elite bloggers. We will not post very often but enough to herald and attempt to better define this wonderful community. No doubt this venture will irritate the heck out of a lot of you. Nevertheless, we hope you will join us.

It is important to determine what style any written publication will have, so readers seeking particular content can find it. But, tongue-in-cheek though it was, I don’t like the way that “elite bloggers” are described as the new apostles of online orthodoxy. If it’s really a bloggernacle, shouldn’t it seek out the best of all Mormon-oriented writing? While I appreciate the honesty that everyone is welcome to read, even those who don’t like what they do, it is disappointing to think that a group using the word that represents Mormondom on the Internet — the only place where Mormons can be diverse and outspoken in their opinions — would try to be as limited in defining what makes a good Mormon as the LDS church can be.