Real Change

My thoughts on the new LDS feminist club left me with the same frustration I generally feel with feminist Mormon groups. It’s nice to see at places like The Exponent or Feminist Mormon Housewives that there are many, many people with the same gut feeling that I have that Something is Rotten in Mormondom. Mormon feminists are usually in agreement that their lot in life sucks, but very few think to do anything about it. Those that do realise they have options usually chuck their flowered dresses in the bin and quit going to church. Those that stay rarely attempt any practical changes. After reading the promising but vague rollout of a more coordinated push for gender equality at WAVE’s site, I started thinking of small changes that could easily be the pebbles that preceded an avalanche of LDS feminist thought:

  1. Female missionaries serve at the same age and for the same duration as male missionaries.
  2. Men serve in Primary presidencies and women in Sunday School presidencies, as presidents and counsellors in positions above and below women leaders.
  3. Girls pass (though do not bless) the Sacrament
  4. Women stand in circles when babies are blessed
  5. Elimination of mandatory gender-based dress codes in the chapel
  6. Home Teachers are male and female
  7. Visiting Teaching is phased out, as it’s an unnecessary duplication of Home Teaching
  8. Single men may be called as bishops
  9. Women periodically guest-teach in Priesthood, similar to occasional lessons taught by Bishops and other men in Relief Society
  10. The women’s meeting typically held weeks in advance of General Conference is integrated into the main sessions with the same fanfare as Priesthood Session
  11. Women speak at the Priesthood session of General Conference, as men speak at the Relief Society session
  12. Unendowed immediate family are permitted to attend LDS temple weddings
  13. Women act as LDS temple officiants during the main ceremony
  14. Private prayer to Heavenly Mother(s), or Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother(s) jointly, is permitted

These mundane issues underscore how totally unequal women currently are in Mormonism, now that I look at a list of the most basic things Mormon women can’t do. They are telling indicators of the level of participation and authority available to Mormon women, and changing them would precipitate much more important changes, like changing the temple ceremony so that women swear their loyalty directly to God and not to their husband, who becomes custodian of their obedience. Couples will be equal when they pledge themselves to one another and then jointly or separately promise to obey their Deity. But big changes won’t happen until the little changes erode the foundations of inequality.

Please add any other small changed that you think might begin the erosion of Mormonism’s gender constraints.

While we’re at it . . .

Let’s have the prison system humanely execute women when their families wish to kill them for besmirching the family honour.

Let’s have the police perform ritual beatings of disrespectful wives.

Let’s have surgeons perform gentle amputations of the limbs of thieves.

And why? Because The American Association of Paediatrics wants the United States to create laws that allow doctors to perform ritual female genital cutting to accommodate the cultural values of those who cling to this barbaric cultural artefact, despite living in a country that alleges to respect human rights. If the US is going to legalise cutting children, then we might as well make “humane” accommodations for other customs that are out of step with the twenty-first century.

Let the American Association of Paediatrics know that you don’t believe physicians should be given a pass on the Hippocratic Oath. The vow to Do No Harm supersedes any cultural custom. Parents and physicians who cut their baby girls deserve gaol time, not protection under the law.

Equality Now has provided the contact information of the dozy doctors responsible for betraying their profession:

Errol R. Alden, M.D. FAAP
Executive Director/CEO, American Academy of Pediatrics
141 Northwest Point Blvd
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1019
Phone: +1 847 434 7500
Fax: +1 847 434 8385

Kevin B. Weiss, M.D., MPH
President and CEO, American Board of Medical Specialties
222 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: +1 312 436 2600
Fax: +1 312 436 2700

Alan R. Cohen, M.D.
Chair, The American Board of Pediatrics
111 Silver Cedar Court
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: +1 919 929 0461
Fax: +1 919 913 2070

What’s next, aesthetically perfect ovaries?

Today a friend forwarded me a link to an article about a journalist who got
vajazzled on camera. I was left with the following thoughts: Bizarre, Why, and why is it that a man would never do something so ridiculous, but it’s expected and encouraged for a woman to do it, preferably in public?

Women worked so hard to enter the public sphere, and there have been some hard-earned gains with regards to jobs, earnings, and civil rights. But as far as women as sexual objects, women’s entry to public life has only taken private male sexual ownership of women’s bodies and sexuality and make it a public spectacle.

It’s downright disturbing to see the creeping effect of demands to be perfect. In the past, just your face and figure had to be perfect; now a woman’s lady parts have to be picture perfect as well. The rise of cosmetic labial reduction and insane products like Vajazzle and My New Pink Button are an obsession that make Wonderbras look downright feminist.

Rubbish like this makes me want to bang my head against the wall. The concern I now have is “what’s next?” We’ve figured out a way to wax, pluck, plump, enhance, compress, paint, botox, liposuction, dye, and augment every visible inch of the female body. What’s next? Vital organ modification? Stripping the pituitary gland so that women don’t grow body hair or sweat in the first place? I’ll have to remind myself not to be surprised when I read an article a few years from now describing an exciting new procedure to give women aesthetically pleasing ovaries.

Woman’s Last Stand

I must confess — I saw the Dodge Charger Super Bowl ad and thought it was very funny. The problem I had with it, though, was how it was pitched as “Man’s Last Stand.” As the commercial went on, I thought it was a very funny take on being a grownup. All the little things we must do every day, things that we don’t really enjoy, but must be done, are what define us as responsible adults. The original commercial goes like this:

I will get up and walk the dog at 6:30 am. I will eat some fruit as part of my breakfast. I will shave. I will clean the sink after I shave. I will be at work by 8 am. I will sit through two hour meetings. I will say yes when you want me to say yes. I will be quiet when you don’t want to hear me say no. I will take your call. I will listen to your opinion of my friends. I will listen to your friends’ opinion of my friends. I will be civil to your mother. I will put the seat down. I will separate the recycling. I will carry your lip balm. I will watch your vampire TV shows with you. I will take my socks off before getting into bed. I will put my underwear in the basket. And because I do this, I will drive the car I want to drive. Charger: Man’s Last Stand.

On the surface, it makes a good point. We all have to do things we don’t really want to do, like put up with difficult relatives and go to horrible meetings. But why is it so pointedly aimed at women, especially when a lot of that stuff consists of things a mature man should be doing anyway. And why is a Charger only a car for a man? And more to the point, how many women get to drive a cool car in exchange for all the annoying and depressing things they have to put up with? In my experience, it’s been the husband who gets the “fun car” as a reward for his hard work, and the wife gets the family wagon.

Amanda Hess introduced the women’s rebuttal to this commercial with her usual panache: “What if Dodge focused its ad on all the demands placed on the modern woman, in the hopes that a healthy reminder of that other gender-based oppression might inspire women to go out and buy a big fucking car? What would the demoralized Dodge woman say?” The rebuttal ad drives home the point that men alone shouldn’t whinge about the mighty burden of adult life. Being a grown-up sucks for everybody, perhaps more so for women since there certainly isn’t anyone defending “Woman’s Last Stand.” Except for this:

I will get up and pack your lunch at 6:30 am. I will eat half a grapefruit for breakfast. I will get the kids ready for school. I will ignore your smelly loser friend who is crashing on our couch. I will make seventy-five cents for every dollar you make doing the same job. I will assert myself and get called a bitch. I will catch you staring at my breasts but pretend not to notice. I will put my career on hold to raise your children. I will diet, Botox, and wax. Everything. I will assure you that size doesn’t matter. I will be a lady in the street but a freak in the bed. I will turn a blind eye to your ever-encroaching baldness. I will humour your Fantasy Baseball obsession. I will pretend not to notice when you cry at the end of Rudy. I will watch TV shows where fat, stupid, unattractive men have beautiful wives. I will allow you to cheat on me with other women. I will see Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Twice. I will elect male politicians who will make decisions about my body. I will listen to Rush and tell you, yes, if there were a gold medal for air-drumming, you would win it. I will get angry, and you will ask if it’s that time of the month. I will watch Superbowl commercials that depict men as emasculated and oppressed, and I will feel so fucking sorry for you.

I realise on one hand that it’s just a Super Bowl commercial, but at the same time, it’s a Super Bowl commercial, and advertising has a massive influence on the way people think and the things that are accepted in our culture. Wouldn’t it have been nicer to see the commercial be titled “Your Last Stand”? The commercial could have featured exactly the same language, shown the faces of men and women, and ended with a rallying cry for all of us responsible grown-up types to reward ourselves and have a bit of fun once in a while. Like so many incidents of sexism, I don’t disagree with the central message one bit; I just have a problem with the way it was presented.

Theoretical Theocracy

Have you heard of Joseph Smith’s prophecy that one day the U.S. Constitution would hang by a thread, and that Mormon priesthood holders would be the ones to rescue it? It’s not hard to find references to this prophecy in LDS sources, Glenn Beck and Orrin Hatch had a tea party over it, and some wingnut named Steve Thomas wrote a book on the subject, which is on the tightly regulated approved list for LDS missionaries to read in their spare time.

The prophecy was endorsed by plenty of mucky-mucks over the years and was heavily favoured by LDS prophet/Commie hater Ezra Taft Benson, and now perennial Idaho political wannabe Rex Rammell is trying to use it to get himself elected Governor of Idaho. In a video circulated on YouTube, Rammell explains and defends why he has set up a meeting with only LDS priesthood holders to discuss this “White Horse Prophecy.”

When asked why he only invited Mormon priesthood holders, his response shows that he hasn’t given women a second thought: “To be right honest with you, the reason I invited only LDS elders to this particular forum is I didn’t think anybody else would want to come.”

I don’t doubt Rammel’s sincerity. I also don’t doubt that it never occurred to him that he should consider how exclusionary his attitude is to Mormon women, because to tell the truth his position is in perfect harmony with LDS teachings and practice. Plenty, if not most, of Mormon meetings associated with planning, decision-making, and leadership take place without women present.

As with most things relating to gender, politics, and religion, it’s the implications, rather than the explicit words, that deserve the most attention. Based on Rammel’s speech, the prophecies of Joseph Smith, and the elaborations of Ezra Taft Benson, here’s what we can infer:

  • He refutes the notion that religion and politics should be separated as “absurdity,” meaning some degree of theocracy is desired.
  • Saving the government is the work of the elders (Mormon men), excluding non-Mormons and Mormon women from exercising critical political authority.
  • It’s hard to see how this action could take place without putting LDS males in positions of prominence in the newly rescued U.S. government.
  • Despite all this, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of plan to get from “hanging by a thread” to “constitution saved.”

The problem with the “White Horse Prophecy” is that it’s a bit like the Underpants Gnomes’ business model:

Just as the gnomes haven’t really thought through the nuts and bolts of success, all I really see in this mighty prophecy is:

  1. Elders of Israel step forward
  2. ?
  3. Prophet!

That’s why I’m curious to see what the results of the discussion are. There are plenty of wingnuts out there whose sausage parties I don’t care to listen in on. This is going to be a group of guys who don’t know anything about politics attempting to prove that priesthood inspiration is all you need to run a country. I want to see what these good brethren from Idaho cook up to put in place of the question mark. Are they just going to end up collecting spiritual underpants, or will they actually profit prophet?