Feminist Click Moment: You’re Against Battered Women’s Shelters?!

“We’ve got to stop those feminists from setting up a battered women’s shelter!”

So proclaimed my piano teacher in numerous post-lesson conversations with my mom. When she wasn’t grumbling about shelters she was remarking on how lovely Phyllis Schlafly’s bouffant looked alongside those long-haired feminists.

I didn’t get it. “Why doesn’t she want shelters?” I asked my mom.

Mom didn’t get it either. “I suppose she’s concerned that they don’t have the right training to run one,” she speculated.

Actually, my piano teacher probably didn’t know why she was against shelters, either. Aligned with “the F-word,” they must be bad.

None of us knew. But as it turns out, the whole family-values agenda that my teacher so revered was intent on maintaining male power and female submission.

My piano teacher was a member of my church. Back then, in the ’70s, Mormonism was in major backlash against the feminist movement. And that gave rise to a series of little “clicks,” leading up to a major feminist “click” moment for me.

In my church’s backlash, women were suddenly forbidden from leading prayer during worship services. Worse yet (to me), girls had to wear dresses to “Activity Night,” and lessons on the importance of marriage overtook other activities.

Priesthood, forbidden to women, is bestowed upon all males at age 12. If gender inequality were not bad enough, watching my late-maturing boy-peers take on that mantel seemed ludicrous. I was especially not happy when my little brother received the priesthood. Worse, my divorced mother then declared him “head of home,” presiding over my grandmother, mother and me. I wasn’t having any of it, so that befuddled notion never became reality.

The final click? The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back? Although Mormonism gave up polygamy (“Mormon Fundamentalists” keep the tradition), from the time I was little I was taught that polygamy was the way of Heaven because, ironically, women were sweeter in spirit so there would be more of us up there. I suddenly realized that if I were the best person I could be, my eternal reward would be second-class status as a woman and marriage to a polygamous man. Heaven? Sounded more like Hell to me.

Interestingly, I attended my old congregation a while back while visiting my mother, and heard an announcement that her congregation was raising money for a battered women’s shelter! I also heard concern that “unequal spousal relationships” were a primary cause of family disintegration. Maybe that’s hopeful. I know many young feminist women who today live in peace with Mormonism. Some have even started a blog: Feminist Mormon Housewives.

Oddly, in some ways my whole trauma has an upside. I don’t know if I would have found my life calling–teaching women’s studies, and writing for the Ms. Blog and creating my own BroadBlogs–if it weren’t for my church’s formidable effort to turn me against feminism. So, in a strange way, I’m tempted to say “thank you.” Too bad the cost is so high.

I originally wrote thisfor  the Ms. Magazine Blog on March 30, 2011.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 4, 2011, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. In response to your experiences with the LDS (Mormon) church I would like to share my experience with it. I was a young married woman, active in this particular faith during the 1970’s. I well remember the Equal Rights Amendment and all the excitement of debate and speculation which surrounded it. While individuals may express their own opinions, and social traditions may influence group norms, the actual doctrine of the LDS church has never espoused anything but equality between women and men. In 1977 one of the church leaders voiced the following, “Where there are inequalities, they are to be deplored. To emphasize this point, I read the official statement of the First Presidency of the Church, in which they take note of these inequities and yet, recognizing them, they set the Church in opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment as a means to remedy them…In Utah, where our Church is headquartered, women received the right to vote in 1870, fifty years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted the right nationally. There have been injustices to women before the law and in society generally. These we deplore. There are additional rights to which women are entitled. However, we firmly believe that the Equal Rights Amendment is not the answer.” (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign Magazine, March 1977.) From this quote it is clear that the issue the church had regarding equal rights was with the wording of the amendment itself. The LDS church simply did not think the language of the Equal Rights Amendment was in the best interest of society and in particular women’s rights.

    I regret that in your particular congregation women were not allowed to pray during worship service. I can assure you this was not my experience, nor was it an edict from church headquarters that such a restriction be imposed. This was more likely an example of one leader acting independently and not in accordance with church doctrine or policy.

    It is true that males at the age of 12 have the opportunity to act in priesthood office. However, they are not, nor have they ever been authorized to preside as “head of the home,” in the absence of their father. You are right in saying this is ludicrous, so ludicrous that it isn’t true. Parents always preside in the home, and in your case your mother as a single parent should have presided, not your brother.

    I teach high school seniors. As we discuss social issues and ethics, I have taught them something called HOGMET. It is a simple test which one can run information through and see if it is valid. The acronym stands for Hearsay, Out-of-context, Generalization, Mudslinging, Exaggeration, and True. In our text book, Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices, we read that Women’s Studies requires other fields to reexamine and revise basic assumptions (6). We also read, “Understanding cultural attitudes and beliefs about women have often been based on false premises and faulty observations, feminists are working to replace ignorance and fantasy with views that have greater validity (6).” I absolutely agree with this statement. It is a true principle and is an example of how HOGMET works.

    Things we hear, and even experience, might very well be true and we just disagree with the idea. That’s fine. But, often we can be swept up by ideas and opinions that fall in the other HOGMET categories and miss the truth.

    • True, mom’s decision to appoint my brother head of home was not church policy, but a lot of official policy is steeped in inequality. Males hold all major positions of power through priesthood. And according to “the proclamation on the family” (to paraphrase) men and women are equal, but men are head, is double speak (or more accurately, double think). Men allowed to have more than one wife in the afterlife, but women not allowed to do so is also unequal. Just sitting in church meetings as men preside over everything drove me batty. If that’s what you want to call equality, that’s up to you.

  2. “In my church’s backlash, women were suddenly forbidden from leading prayer during worship services. Worse yet (to me), girls had to wear dresses to “Activity Night,” and lessons on the importance of marriage overtook other activities.

    Priesthood, forbidden to women, is bestowed upon all males at age 12. If gender inequality were not bad enough, watching my late-maturing boy-peers take on that mantel seemed ludicrous. I was especially not happy when my little brother received the priesthood. Worse, my divorced mother then declared him “head of home,” presiding over my grandmother, mother and me. I wasn’t having any of it, so that befuddled notion never became reality.”

    Quoting from you of course, I had some interesting connections in thought here with my own experiences with Mormonism. This connection occurred when I moved with my mother, fleeing roughly 800 miles from a lifelong case of domestic violence. Interestingly enough, my mother towed me to into the first church standing like an imperial beacon with its sharp roof.

    Mom told me to join because it would be the only way we could get help. At first I didn’t want anything to do with it. I didn’t even get the reasoning behind my mother’s agenda of me joining the church. Heck no, not me. I knew where I stood with religion without having to explain it for the longest time. But then… I love my mother, and I thought “so what”. So I joined it.

    So I thought, “okay” and looked to my mother in the pews who now I just realize was just… scared- we both were. Going to church was her comfort she wanted me to join, and something her own mother repeated with her. Why not when you’re in a time of crisis to seek out what comforts you? My mother needhed all the support she could get, which is why I joined her. I regret being suckered into this life-changing decision without really knowing the affects it would have.

    My first time going to church I cried- at first because fathers were hugging their children. My father never hugged me unless he was drunk. That wasn’t the kind of “hugs” these children in the pews were getting. At first I thought becoming a member of the church in a way was an “upgrade” for me. The upgrade I realize, was really my freedom in escaping my father, and having a chance to witness other lifestyles and change for myself.

    I just turned eighteen; time to be dunked in a fountain of cold water. I felt the almighty slap of the spirit alright- my own spirit was doused in cold water in a see-through white, jumpsuit. Many showed up for my baptism- many, many male missionaries. My shivering wasn’t just from being cold.

    And it was all over- and that’s the eerie feeling that consistently crept upon me. My name was in the church database. I was expected to wear a skirt and give up all of my Sundays to “praise da’ lawd”. I felt like I was giving up something, and again- being tormented. For obvious reasons, I didn’t like how only men were supposedly in-tuned with God’s radio signal of “super powers”. The powers of baptism- and powers over other people, I observed. One day I was witness to my sister asking the missionaries “why can’t women have ‘visions’ too?”.

    Not that I believed in “visions” or any “super powers” which is the way these men treated their “gifts” from God, but I was terribly curious to find out how her innocent question would hatch out.

    One of the three missionaries teaching us about LDS mormonism started to yell, and I sat like a cold stone in my seat for once. This was all wrong.

    Soon after I was baptized and struggling with three jobs to support my mother and sister, I left. I left the church and moved out of the tiny apartment my mother, twin sister, and I were sharing.

    So, I hope maybe sharing my screwy experience my nose wrinkles each time I mention, over mormonsim and issues facing inequality, may help connect with other people who may think they’re alone. I know I did, and at times still do. It may be hard to leave something that may seem like such a big deal- or what may be controlling you- but it really isn’t. When it comes down to the line, you’re the decision-maker and controller of your own destiny in ways of action. Even in a society that may say that you’re not- it’s a struggle.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience.

      I felt very angry and betrayed by a church that told me in so many ways that I was lesser-than. I have been, and continue to be, disapointed in a church that has failed, and continues to fail, to promote equality among people of different races, sexes, and sexual orientations.

      That said, I’ll have to say that I have many family and friends who seem to be happy in Mormonism. It seems to provide something they need. And I do my best not to bash them, treating them the way I feel they have treated me.

    • Organized religion just like organized political parties must keep their people in line- particularly their womankind. We are the majority after all. What would happen if the majority were to become empowered? Why they might try to think for themselves and get uppity enough to…
      You get the point?
      Anyone or any organization who wields power is not likely to easily give it up so they must find ways to convince those they want to keep down to stay in line! Having said that- we find that most folks are happy to belong to a group and remain ensconced on one side or the other. Moreover, security in numbers, they are willing to surrender their souls (pardon the pun) to be part of the chosen group as opposed to “the other” group. It’s a shame that we think it’s a “me or you” mentality – but that is the way it is!
      Humankind are not much different than a pack of wolves at times, unfortunately women more like a pack of cats!
      Have heart- more and more of us are becoming independent thinkers! It can’t come soon enough for women to wise up and turn their backs on both organized religion and political parties both of which have emotionally women and left us behind even now in 2011. We are not well represented and when we try to run we are ridiculed relentlessly because we are women and for no other reason.
      Just like the great wonders of the world and the great leaders who are credited for building them – twas really great management aka be it the strong arm of politics keeping slaves indentured or the deliberate threat of hell fire behind the faithful working their way to heaven and trying to make God proud.
      Without the faithful group members of any organization there is no organization! Think about that! Think about the majority- we women- and how the organizations have polarized us into Conservatives and Liberals in order to divide 52% of the population over a few issues and prevented a majority force from organizing and demanding equality!
      The Majority United – Ideology be damned- Empower Women to Unite & Mobilize!

  3. RideThisHandsomeBlackCowboy

    Well,yeah,basically MORMONS SUCK DONKEY B**LS!!!(They’re not so great for us blacks,either;they denied the preisthood to black men until June 9,1978,reasoning that as the sons of Ham,we were cursed and inferior [they probably let us become priests to fool
    some blacks into thinking them reformed so they-blacks-would go to Brigham Young and play on their football and basketball teams,though VERY FEW became BYU students),of-
    ten using Biblical passages to justify their racism.
    Oh,and there’s a battle here in Canada about relaxing our polygamy laws,lest they be construed as anti-religion-specifically the Mormons.This fundamentalist Mormon off-
    shoot practices child pyhsical and sexual abuse.Great people,eh?

    • I can relate to your outrage as a black man. That said, I do know many Mormons (though a minority) who in the past have fought, and who today fight, for the rights and recognition of the full worth and humanity of women, blacks, and the LGBT community within their church. They are hoping to be more effective inside of their church than they could be outside of it.

  4. Well Georgia I certainly learned a lot from this post. First I had no idea that you write for the Ms. Blog, nor that you came from a strict Mormon home. You are perfect for your life’s goal to teach woman’s studies because you know firsthand what it is like at both ends and as a learned woman you have the insight to glean the best from each and discard the rest!
    I was a fundamental Baptist myself and thankfully finally landed in a commonsense position when I realized that one extreme was just as wacky as the other for me. Funny how womankind is lured to one side or the other rather than to scrutinize carefully for herself from the full spectrum of life’s choices isn’t it? I am so pleased that you decided study and teach women studies and help others learn about women. What fabulous creatures we really are rather than either Right or Left zombies without minds of our own.
    Now if we could only unite – ideology be damned- and as the majority accept our differences and embrace them rather than use them as tools of hatred toward one another.
    Empowered we could achieve so much more; say pass the ERA, work for better/ stiffer DV laws rather than need more battered women shelters, fight against taxation without equal representation. Ideology be damned! The majority united, empowering women as a force to be heard!

    • Thanks so much FreeMeNow. I really appreciate your support.

      • You can count on me- and you will be one of the first I will be nominating for the WOMEN’s seal of approval for 2011!
        Brava!

        It seems those of us who have been tested and who have walked through fire are the only ones with enough fortitude to walk the walk as well as talk the talk- else it is nothing more than empty rhetoric.

        You go sister!

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