Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mormon Women

I haven't posted for a while. I blame school. I've been going for a very long time and I was finishing up some classes that gave me fits. Anyway, that's over and hopefully now I can vent my spleen with the best of them.

I decided recently to begin cataloguing my issues with my childhood religion and began with an issue that bothers me significantly: Cain and Abel. I acknowledge that my issues with this tale are rather pedestrian and unsophisticated, but it seemed as good a place as any, since tackling Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design is being handled in such wonderful overabundance these days. In the course of it I was distracted by tales of Lilith.

Tales of Lilith, Adam and Eve (there were two?!) turned to discussions on obedience which turned to my recent discovery of New Order Mormon, Zarahemla City Limits, and other sites. While I could easily become distracted again with the overwhelming amount of information and topics that spill out of this line of inquiry, these sites in conjunction with my reading about obedience in the church reminded me of a General Conference talk given a few years ago that appalled me and that caused my wife and I to mock it rather relentlessly.

A Woman of Faith is a shocking opus to the role women play in the LDS church and the degree of indoctrination that permeates the fabric of the religion concerning the expectations of women. I don't believe the link contains the entirety of the talk, as I remember it being longer, but there are no notations that it was abridged, so I'll assume it is complete.

In this admonition to set aside all aspirations of independence, free-will, and equality, we see illustrated the utter contempt some Mormon women have for themselves. I won't break it down point by point, but let you read it and decide for yourself what you take from each bullet point and her illustration of what a Woman of Faith ought to be. What I will do is describe what my wife and I took from the talk.

In it, the speaker describes a woman who is able to put herself after God, after her husband, after her children, and after her social obligations. She trusts God, the prophet, her husband's counsel. In more than one spot, a Woman of Faith is described through her relation to and trust in, the male participants in her life. In almost no written exemplar of masculinity is a man defined by his relation to a woman of any sort. Here, a woman is defined almost solely by her male-prescribed role.

But more than that, more than her utter reliance on the Lord to give her life meaning and more than her life revolving around the utter selfishness of total self-sacrifice is the general message (in spite of several comments to the contrary) that a Woman of Faith is perfect. She does all the right things, prays at the right time and for the right reasons, never loses faith, never makes waves, and glories in her servitude. She is the unattainable, the unfathomable, the unbelievable.

A Woman of Faith is an ideal that makes the fallible women the talk is targeted at feel an overwhelming sense of guilt when they comprehend they are not that woman. No one can be, yet to be a Woman of Faith the highest ideals of the religion must be realized. Self is relegated to a position of unimportance or at least delay as service consumes all. A Woman of Faith is unrealistic, yet set as the standard rather than the ideal.

I'm certain the speaker didn't intend that message. I'm certain she felt that the image she presented was one of the ideal to aspire to, yet the presentation was such that I wasn't the only one to come away from it utterly aghast. My wife only owned up to feeling the same way after an offhand comment I made about Women of Faith being perfect. Perfectly stupid.

As a standard, a Woman of Faith fails. She represents an idealized and pedestal-bound painting, perfect in its execution and humble in its artistry. She never steps outside her authorized territory - never threatens the status quo. She is happy to take patriarchal orders and exercise the little power she has through the moral authority she is automatically granted by virtue of her sex, deserving or not.

In all, a Woman of Faith is complicit in the subjugation of women in the church. By subordinating her will to that of the male authority in the organization, she not only allows control, but glorifies her secondary position to the extent that to oppose it is to oppose virtue and goodness. From within the context of the faithful, the idea is nearly unassailable.

Anyway, I've ranted enough for now. Suffice to say that we use the term Woman of Faith as a humorous derogatory in my house. It's for the Super Soccer Moms, the women that don't exist or that are not-so-secretly dysfunctional and unable or unwilling to cry out for help. Whenever my wife says she's having stress or trouble dealing with the issues in her life, I tell her, "Honey, if you were only a Woman of Faith, you'd have no problems you know." It usually gets a laugh.