Friday, October 31, 2008

The Female Thing

(Thank you, lessie, for the recommendation!)
The Female Thing, Envy, Sex, Dirt and Vulnerablitiy by Laura Kipnis. (BTW, that link is to the review by Salon's Laura Miller and it is excellent. Much better than what I am going to write here, so read it if you are curious for more about the book) Laura put together a thrilling and quick (less than 200 pgs) read that probably pissed a bunch of people off and I totally fell in love with it. Filled with plenty of referenece to (and digs at) feminist theory and plenty of reference to (and digs at) our pop-culture, I think it would make a perfect follow-up read to Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs. (Just in case you were looking for a good book to read along side that one.)

Here's a few quotes...
A little bit about Envy: "Clearly both male presence and male absence are equally capable of causing chagrin, each in its own way. [heterosexual] woman [is] suspended between wanting to have a man and wanting what men don't have to give... The irony is that even women who really don't want a man- don't want them as boyfriends or husbands or sex-partners- usually still want something that men have: their salaries, for one thing, or their social privleges, or their access to those coveted corridors of power... " (pg 16, 24)

Something about Sex: "Let's be honest: Nature herself has not been entirely kind to women in this regard... amoung Nature's little jokes at women's expense is the entire excruciating, immoblizing burden (sorry, privilege) of childbearing (a privilege that can kill you, thanks), PMS, painful sexual initiation... and on top of that, the unkindest joke of all: the placement of the clitoris, the primary local of female sexual pleasure, at some remove from the vagina, the primary local of human sexual intercourse." (pg 44)

The dish on Dirt: "How could anyone think there is anything compulsive about the numerous time-consuming beautifying procedures and absolutions that most of us females ritually perform before leaving the house and presenting our fatally flawed, often secretly bleeding bodies for public inspection- even those of us armed to the teeth with feminist theory or madonnaesque postmodern irony about femininity?" (pg 117)

A revealing glimpse of Vulnerablitiy: "If you're a chick, your sitting on some pretty valuable real estate. Is there any other body cavity quite so laden with symbolic value, not to mention actual monetary worth, particularly for exclusive access?" (She followes that up with the quip: "...women got blessed with these wonderfully valuable vagina's but not necesarily with the body strength to defend them, should it prove necessary.") (pg 123, 125)

I giggled and smirked and nodded my head through the Envy Sex and Dirt sections, and felt uncomfortably exposed through the Vulnerablity section, and really really enjoyed all of it.

anyhoo... anyone else read it? I'd love to hear what you thought.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

resisting belonging

Today I visited a church that I have already been to (UCC). I've become a bit lazy about searching out something new each week and so today without a fresh target in mind it was easier to fall back on one I already knew. I revisited this one because I really liked the pastor, liked her sermon last time I went, liked the music (a live band at the front with a kick-ass 50-something woman on the lead guitar/vocals), and had felt really welcomed there.
So I went again today, and was both unnerved and flattered that EVERYONE including the pastor remembered my name. (It's been a month since I was there last!)
Once again, I really enjoyed the meeting, felt the familiar glow and lightness in my heart... but also noticed something else: FEAR.
I could get sucked in.
I could lose my freedom to wander, become trapped by a responsibility. I might lose my anonymity, have to really learn everybody's names, no longer be the mysterious visitor in the back... I could become a known quantity (all my failings and short comings revealed).
I could become locked into a committed relationship.
And that makes me afraid.

Which pretty much sums up my tendency towards relationships with other humans in general.
Most of my life has been a practice in avoiding entangling alliances...
But yet, to allow myself to become a part of a community...
To have greater capacity for... for what? Making a difference? For touching others?

It would be nice if I had some nice profound epiphany to conclude with here, but I don't at the moment. All I have is a newly-discovered recognition of one of my fears.
And I'll have to figure out what to do with that now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

the intentionally empty womb

posted over at the exponent
melancholy redemption.jpg
The painting shown here is one I did just before I got intentionally pregnant with our son. I found myself using art making to process some of the ambiguity I felt about that decision. The sacrifice, the sanctification, the vulnerability, the fear (and hope), the requirement. (And just because, here is something I did when I was about 9 mo pregnant with our son.)

I have wondered if it was the birth of our son that doomed my faith in the church, opened that perilous door which led to a very diminished belief in it's claims to exclusive divine direction. I'm the kind of woman who has never been 'baby hungry'. I enjoy kids (and love my son) but prefer my exposure to them to be limited to a degree (I'm a much better mother to my son when he is with someone else for a part of the day) and I have never experienced a longing to reproduce. It was with a bit of trepidation and ambivalence that I agreed to conceive; it's what Mormon couples do after getting married, hubby thought it was a good idea, I was approaching 30, clock's a ticking. I couldn't vocalize any good reason not to. So we did. The Pregnancy was fine. Labor and delivery went without a hitch. But then I was suddenly a mom... and I discovered it wasn't a role that worked very well for me. When the other young mothers around me talked about planning for their 'next one' I had a hard time relating. The only possible reason I could see for wanting another child was because it was what God wanted me to do, sort of like commanding Jonas to go to Nineveh. And I was starting to have some issues with the Father's demands upon my body.

I wrote this guest post at fMh a little over a year ago about why people have children. It was really big on my mind at the time, we were coming to that point where my husband and I were asking "do we have another one?" and I was doing some serious soul searching. This year, my son turns five, I will soon become officially "mid 30's", and I have gone through a bit of a cognitive shift. Epitomized, perhaps, by president Beck's Mother's Who Know talk; it wasn't until after I ceased believing in "Prophets, seers, and revelators who... [declare] that 'God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force'" that I could finally come to grips with and admit the fact that I really didn't want any more children. That our family felt complete to me. I think for my mother this is painfully personal. To her it is not only proof of my declining faith in the church, but also an indictment against her own effectiveness as a mother (she wonders if I would be more maternal if she had been a better mom.) Likewise there are women who desire (but are unable) to have a child, and my fully capable but intentionally empty womb must seem like a cruel joke. I don't have answers to those questions. This is just my personal story.

But I am curious, for me faith and family planning seemed so heavily connected, (which is silly- perpetuating the species is what we are programed for) how does this work for others? Are there faithful members of the church who don't feel any contradiction between believing in the restored gospel and happily remaining childless? On the flip side, know any atheists with lots of kids? What has been your experience with the command to multiply and replenish the earth?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

the reality of outside... and how to 'come out'

This weekend my little bro goes through the temple for the first time. He reports to the MTC in November. I'm doing some interesting compartmentalization with this as I interact with him: expressing my support for these mile-stones in his life, separate and distinct from my own feelings on those matters. I am finding that my own change of belief hasn't affected my ability to swap stories and experiences in a non-offensive non-confrontational way. The hassles and humors of mission life, the funny little mishaps of temple attendance.

But this weekend...
This will be the first family temple event where I will be waiting outside. I knew it was coming, I guess I will find out just how ready I am for this. My mom asked if My Lover wanted to attend the session and I think he will. I think he should. He can represent us, be the one on the 'inside' to show our support. She knew not to invite me; by the seams no longer visible under my clothes, by the flesh that flashes where there should be a glimpse of white cotton she knew that I was no longer wearing garments. It wasn't a 'you're not invited' gesture, I think she just didn't want to put me the position of having to say "I can't go" and I appreciate that. What I am more anxious about are the reactions of the rest of my siblings (and cousins, uncles, aunts, etc...) when they realize that G is on the outside.

Holding to tradition, I am sure we will all go to dinner afterwards at the Mexican restaurant across the street. Happy, excited, noisy... And I'll be happy, excited and noisy too. I think. I hope. I may be faking it. Perhaps many of them will be faking non-bafflement at why I wasn't inside. Maybe we'll all just happily avoid the big Non-Temple Attender Issue.
Or maybe not.
This brings me to my point... How do I explain?
I think I'll try to come up with a couple good one-liners for this weekend in case I am asked. Maybe something like "oh, I'm just working some things out." (Yeah, that's lame. Any suggestions?)

But eventually, sometime soon, I should find a way to discuss with my family 'what is up with G'.

They don't know about this blog. (I think!)
Initially the secrecy was in part to avoid painful accusations of being deceived, of being unfaithful, etc... But, well... I got a parental email the other day that accused me of just those things. So my secretiveness didn't protect me from that. Perhaps it's served it's purpose and it is time to start opening the door.

Here's a tentative plan. I'll start with my mom, because she is the one who has been the most hurt by seeing the writing on the wall yet not knowing the WHYs of it all. Perhaps I'll email her links to John Dehlin's (extensive) essay on how to stay in the church after a challenge to the faith, and to Richard Bushman's paper on Losing Faith Over History (thanks, Adam, for that one). Sort of laying some ground-work from a fairly faithful viewpoint. Depending on how things go over that email, I will then let her know that I have a blog where I talk about my feelings on these things, perhaps start her off with links to the posts I wrote about returning my temple recommend, where I come to a watershed point, and then where I finally decide to take a break...
Just for starters.
Just an idea.
Sorry... I'm just kinda talking/typing out-loud here. thanks for bearing with me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

love and marriage (and spouses changing)

[posted at the exponent]


Several years ago Elder David Bednar gave a devotional address at BYU where he recounted this story:

"Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. This young man cared for the young woman very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. Now this relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.

The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her nonresponsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times. The young man was quick to observe that the young woman was not quick to observe."

This account has been on my mind recently.

Seven years ago the man who would become my husband found in me a woman who was quick to observe. I was a return missionary, had a fervent testimony of the gospel and the scriptures, held callings of responsibility, (and had only one earring in each ear). We fell in love and married in the temple.

About two years ago, I had my first alcoholic drink. I have written a little about it here and here if you are interested, but for the purposes of this post all that really matters is that drink. And the subsequent ones I had after that. I didn't tell my husband when I had that first drink. (Or the second, etc...) That sounds horrifically deceptive, I know. It is one of those things that I think I will always regret. But I simply had no idea how to approach the subject- ask permission? Announce my intention? Neither of those options seemed at all helpful so I went the passive aggressive route and just DID it with the vague idea that I would eventually find a healthy way to bring it up and talk about it with my beloved husband. But always in the back of my mind was the fear... Would he become incensed? Hate me? Hit me? Be devastated, utterly crushed with grief? Would it be the deal-breaker for our marriage?

To make a long story short(er), we were eventually able to talk about it. He didn't hit me or threaten divorce or fall into a deep depression. We were able to negotiate this change and keep the marriage intact. But going through this experience brought up all sorts of thoughts and issues for me. As exemplified by Elder Bednar's young man looking for a wife, there is a lot of emphasis on finding "the right someone" to marry. There tends to be much less said about what to do when that special someone changes after marriage. We have the young man's rejection of a disobedient woman as the model for other singles; but once married what model does the couple have when one of them loses faith? Acceptance of the 'offending' spouse's actions may feel, to the faithful member, like a slight against god or the church. Yet non-acceptance creates incredible strain in the marriage.

Circumstances like this bring up questions of power, control, and respect. Is the marriage egalitarian or does someone "preside"? The patriarch of old declared "as for me and my house we will serve the Lord" but in today's world exactly whose house is it? The husband of a friend of mine insists that she refrain from herbal teas. Out of respect for him, for his house. For women who are non-wage-earners, there may be the pressure of "you can't buy that stuff with MY money!" But this isn't just a patriarchal thing. Power plays between the genders can go in both directions.

For many members, this just won't be an issue in their marriage; neither spouse loses faith, or if one does they simply won't feel the need to step over any questionable lines. But for some, negotiating these crossings is inevitable and must be dealt with; the challenging question of how much allowance for individual change a marriage can tolerate.

So, what are your thoughts and experiences on the subject? It doesn't have to be Word of Wisdom specific, that is just the example I have the most experience with (For some couples, a spouse joining or reactivating in the church is the touchy issue). Likewise, it does not have to be marriage specific; similar tensions arise in family settings (siblings, parents, etc), between friends, or in roommate situations.

I know this is sensitive topic, feel free to comment anonymously if you're more comfortable that way.

Monday, October 6, 2008

bring it to the alter

"Alters and Their Purposes". That was the name of the Adult Education for Pagans seminar I went to on Sunday. I had no idea what to expect, but ironically enough, it was yet another group of oldish hippie-ish folk (similar to what I have been encountering at the other faiths I have been visiting) and we met in the local library.

About two years ago I got up the courage to check out a book about Wicca from the library. I don't remember the title, "Wicca for Beginners" or something like that. I was searching for "The Divine Feminine" and had really enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd's Dance of the Dissident Daughter (I'll have to blog about that book sometime.) But I did have a harder time relating to most of the books I found about modern paganism- the appropriation of ancient culture's gods and goddess for use in spells for prosperity and love... I just couldn't get into it. The book that I enjoyed the most, The Body Sacred, ironically was also the last pagan book I read as it really brought home to me that a faith surrounding the Goddess (or Lady) had several problematic and contradictory aspects just like the patriarchal tradition I was questioning.

But yet when I heard about this Wiccan seminar, I couldn't resist, ditched the last session of General Conference to go have a "pagan experience". Like the books I had read, there was a lot that just didn't resonate with me and the gendered language that the group leader used (equating feminine with passivity and masculine with action etc...) was off-putting. But the concept of making a special space in a little nook or cranny of the home, collecting items that have meaning to help focus, remind... Well, I have had that thought before of making a little alter/shrine/something but never quite known exactly how to go about it. And I still don't, even after attending this seminar, but it is back to the front of my mind. One of my flickr friends posted a picture of her family alter in her home and that really stuck with me. Also back to front of my mind are the various alters of Christianity and Mormondom, sacrificial alters of the old testament, the sacrament table, the marriage alter (and the many times I passed out at that marriage alter while doing work for the dead in the temple. did anyone else ever do that? Something about kneeling for long durations, I passed out almost every time. Weird.)

Anyhow, in honor of the various little connections between Christianity and Pagan, and for your viewing entertainment, a little Dar Williams:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

preside, marital rape, and I love kiskilili...

If you're interested in the subject, or even merely bored and looking for something to do, check out Kiskilili's brilliant post about the importance of fathers and the useless-ness of the word "preside". Not only is the post itself amazing, you can then go on and read over 200 comments worth of precision sparring back and forth on the subject (and a few others as well). However, you won't be able to add your own input, the thread had to be closed shortly after the bible quoting, GA quoting Howard confirmed everyone's worst fears, that presiding could even include marital rape ("Please explain how they would multiply if Eve refused to have sex.")

Personally, I'm just sad that fMhLisa beat me to the proposal. I want to marry you too, kiskilili! Do you do the polygamy thing? Can I be ya'lls third wife? Pleeeeease?
(fMhLisa can preside, Kiskilili can nurture, or however they want to work that out... I will merely humbly and obediently submit to their obvious authority! WooHoo!!)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


When I lie in bed and all the wheels are still spinning with no sign of slowing down. And poor hubby sleeps on while his wife crawls in and out of bed trying to find some outlet for the little things running around frantically in her head. Wrote in my journal, played the guitar, played around on photoshop (and ended up with a rather disturbing photo-illustration. woke up and though "wtf?" when I looked at it in the morning light.) Then tried one more time to lay still under the sheets, only to have my stomach start itching with hunger. "It will go away" I think, and lay there for 15 minutes before finally giving in, getting up (again) and eating some bread and butter. There, that does the trick. Now I finally lay quiet and go down easy. (3 am. Not as bad as it could have been...)
(Other times when I can't sleep I take picture after picture after picture with the camera...)

Now for you viewing pleasure (because OF COURSE you want to see this), my tired eyes: (ironically, I took this pic after a night where I actually GOT a good night's sleep, but was still very tired!)
tired eyes