Saturday, March 28, 2009

Neck High in Familiar Waters

My initial jumbled and disjointed thoughts on the CGU "Mormonism Through the Eyes of Women" conference

CGU put on this amazing daylong symposium/ conference today. They flew in these rock star LDS female scholars and theologians; Laurel Thacher Ulrich, Kate Holbrook, Margaret Toscano... It was almost overwhelming, I'm not going to lie, and even though I'm not a grad student I went, it kind of felt like the underage kid that snuck into the rock show. It’s a feeling I’m very familiar with. My love for the music always won out over the tiny detail that I was too young to get in the club and today was little different.

My mind is cluttered with so many thoughts and reflections on what the discussions of the day contained that I kind of just want to get them out and down to start the digestion process.

We went everywhere:
* Mother in Heaven
* Presiding vs. domination in male/female relationships
* Cultural contradictions in women's church rolls
* Expanding the concept of "bishopric" from a governing trio to a personal accountability/relationship for the world around you
* LDS's women's rolls in the Feminist Movement, just tons of meaty, sensitive, and imperative concepts.

I have a lot of thoughts on each and there were so many informed opinions in the room that I was so curious to hear I kept my mouth shut for the most part.

The first thing that I mused at was how aware I have always been of all the concepts we covered and how little I felt that I needed to be liberated. There were earnest and agendaed individuals there from whom I felt a righteous and constructive discontent. This is something I've seen a lot as a woman in The Church but it never stops being new to me.

I realize that this is because of how I was raised. I think I talk about my background a lot but just the bullet points. I rarely get into the nitty girtties of it for a few reasons:
1) because I realized today that I treasure my life and I irrationally feel that if I talk about it, give it away if you will, that a part of me will go away, like a picture taking away part of your soul. I realize this is silly but it's also true.
2) If I let people know me I open myself up to ridicule and = scary. blah
3) I fear I might run the risk of boasting. At the risk of being cliché, the older I get the more I marvel at the bubble of awesome that I grew up in. The more I realize that the less I talk about it because, well, people don't really have an ear for the rosy and I don't want to be that girl.

But the truth is my rearing was pretty singular. I'm the daughter of a faithful, educated, Feminist hippy mother and a dedicated, brilliant, wife-adoring lawyer. How they got married I still don't know but they did and out came me and my 3 brothers. Mom had us in books from the time our hands could grip something. She read and read and read to us. We practically took up residence in the museums and theaters of Pasadena. She taught us to think with our hearts and dad taught us to think with our heads. Our house was literally covered in art but not anything you'd find at Deseret Book neither was a single craft or quilt to be found. Mom didn’t have a testimony of crafts like some LDS women do. Mucha, Vermeer, Georgia O'Keef, and Diego Rivera is what we saw everyday. All artists she loved who humbled and loved women and painted them with reverence and awe. We were all talking in complete sentences by 1 and a half, reading by two and writing by 3. I won't go into the 20-year argument about how every one of the kids thinks they're the dumbest one because we're all amazement at the talents and capacities of the other 3 but there it is. That's my home - absent of wall space between the art and the bookcases, full of love, mom's hippy folk music, and my champion dad making time and space for it all.

Growing up surrounded by brothers I was shameless tomboy. I don't think I owned a purse till I got home from my mission or wore a skirt for more than 3 hours till then either. It was all about bikes and the Lakers and sword fights and all that awesome stuff. I was a strange tomboy though. I enjoyed getting dirty and climbing on stuff but I was still a lady. I liked cleaning up and had a dedicated vanity in my room complete with powder puff and a cut out of Audrey Hepburn jammed in the mirror frame that I put together of my own accord. I liked being comfortable and just being me. I was comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t the token girl or sister. I was seen and treated like a rational and respected individual.

My life wasn't angst free by any means. We were the poor family in an affluent ward and neighborhood. We were a liberal family in a conservative religion, members of a scant religious congregation in a big city, usually one of the only white kids in a very multi-colored room and the chubby family among the beautiful people. The rest of my cousins and friends were models, actors, scholarship athletes and Rose queens. Mom was a hyper verbal, strong willed lady and Dad was a passive aggressive genius. Communication was NOT their strong suit. Painful overheard conversations were as regular in my childhood as Star Wars and Legos. I can’t remember a time not feeling like an Other.

My mom and I always discussed the topics we covered today but in quiet moments and the small space between each other. I wasn't ashamed of them or anything, they were present working ideas in my mind that I felt at liberty to think and talk about, I just chose to make that a conversation with my mom. Principally because she is one of the most interesting, informed and insightful people I know.

Also, Pasadena is a gem of a town. In our tiny highly functional East Pasadena Ward I was never once taught or remember feeling submissive or subversive to anyone. The ward was FULL of what I now recognize as healthy feminist women. I was literally surrounded by A-MAZING individuals. A single self-made millionaire was our Relief Society president; lawyers working on Whitewater were my Young Women's leaders. My mom's best friend was a published and successful author who regularly went globe trotting. Ivy league graduates, CalTech grad students, and professional dancers and costume designers peppered every meeting. These were outspoken, highly educated, returned missionary type women who were married to strong, ambitious, successful men who adored them and encouraged us as YW to be the same. None of them were loud or alienating with their dogmas or accomplishments - they just were. It was easy and real. I don't remember any ever even claiming to be a Feminist; they were just their best selves and I hopelessly loved all of them and, despite my Otherness, I always felt loved in return.

It was a fairly regular thing that when couples were assigned to talk that the husband and wife came up together and gave a talk. Together. Standing at the podium for all 40 min giving a talk.

I remember extensive discussions about Alanis Morissette with my home teacher (who was married to that ivy league returned missionary wonder) and talking about Feminist theory and meaning when he came to pick me up to baby sit. My bishop regularly sat us down as a YW group and discussed hard and "taboo" topics with us all the time with total love and respect; polygamy, sex, marriage and sex - the whole schabang. He had monthly firesides (in his home, with a fire) with all of us. Discussions were regular and candid. He never favored male thought over female thought. We had equal responsibility with meetings and activities. I never once felt less than, condescended to or negated. I now recognize that this kind of environment is the exception, not the rule.

I went to a high school of over 3000 kids. 7 of us were LDS, 2 in my graduating class including me. As a youth we were alone in a lot of ways but I never once felt lonely or isolated, not with that ward behind me.

It never ever occurred to me that serving a mission was a social misstep as a woman until I was on my mission and someone (from Utah might I add) pointed it out to me.

So now, in my academic wanderings here I am, almost amiss at how people can think like this, feel as angsty as they do because I didn't come up from that kind of environment at all. It's a double wonder to me. Learning and relearning that 1) dysfunctional conditions persevere and 2) what is proposed to remedy or discuss.

So, explaining the ears with which I heard all of this may inform some of my reaction, non-reaction or thoughts on the day.

I’m beginning to think that Academics are just hyper educated theater types. They live for and adore shock value as much as any thespian. They’re hungry for unexplored concepts and mediums. They have an earnest and honest desire to affect the masses as thespians do too. In turn, they use similar tactics, principally shock value.

LDS theology is singular in a number of respects but one of the most alluring ones is that we are a Christian construct that contains a Mother in Heaven as well as a Father.

We’re all literal spirit children of a Father in Heaven and if God works by patterns (DC 52:14) like He says He does and we live in family groups where He’s revealed that parents are equal partners then a 5 year olds logic would conclude that we must also have a Mother in Heaven as well as a Father. Eliza R Snow wrote about it in one of her hymns that we regularly sing as a church and Joseph Smith later confirmed the idea. She is not someone we worship or pray to but She is definitely involved in things.

There are tons of questions about Her and recorded personal experiences people have had with a distinctly feminine divinity including my mother and I.

... More to come.


Quixotic Healer said...

*Trying to be patient for more*

Love it all so far, how fascinating!

I too never felt looked down on/under-valued, however, it's not the kind of thing I notice if it's subtle. Still, I generally realize later, so I guess I was lucky too....(is this problem supposed to be church-wide, or focused in heavily saturated areas?)

Lol, I never considered myself to be a feminist, or even really thought about the concept until I heard it defined in a class one day. Then it was like, "Oh, I totally believe that, duh, doesn't everyone?"

Rachel said...

Too many thoughts in my head on this one! Must have a girls night! When we just touched on it on Saturday night I was dying to spend the rest of the time talking about it. Although then we would not have had the hilarious recorder/harmonica hootenanny.

But I will say that while I believe there are many women out there who have in some way felt like a second class citizen in the church, I have never experienced it. I have always felt valued, respected and loved. And I think that has more to do with my attitude than anything else.

Liz W. said...

Liz, I second Rachel's suggestion of a girls night! We need to talk...

There were a couple of things in this post that resonated with me:

First, "Academics are just hyper educated theater types" Amen, sister!!!! I couldn't agree more!

Second, while I have never felt like a second-class citizen in the Church, I have come across a number of women who have felt so, and a number of men who felt that's "the Lord's way".

Ms. Liz said...

I think a girls night is DEFINITELY in order. I'm heading out to the funeral on Thursday and will be gone through the weekend so we'd need to do it soon or next week sometime.