Growing up Mormon, it seemed women fought against their own interests all the time. In the 70’s my Mormon piano teacher spent an hour post-lesson talking to my mom about stopping feminists from setting up battered women’s shelters!
Other Mormon women followed orders to pack a lunch, get on a bus, and vote everything down at women’s conferences, hoping to keep the Equal Rights Amendment from passing.
Today women are still not allowed priesthood, but few seem disturbed.
And it’s not just Mormons.
Over a century ago some women ridiculed and ostracized suffragettes who sought the vote.
Even today sororities receive invitations addressed to “bitches and sluts” and accept
the invite – and the degradation.
Outside the U.S., Egyptian women defend men who murder their lovers because the women “must have done something to deserve it.”
Until recently, Saudi women couldn’t vote. They still can’t drive a car. Some have said they like it that way.
In North Africa and parts of the Middle East women cut girls’ genitals to preserve virginity until marriage. The girls may end up crippled or living in pain. Many die.
Women aren’t the only ones who accept second-class status. “Uncle Tom” brands African-Americans who accept threads of racist society. “Untouchables” accept their lot within the Hindu caste system. And Karl Marx coined the term “false consciousness” to describe workers who accept low wages and poor working conditions.
Why do underprivileged people so often accept limitations?
In a nut shell, it’s all they know, and as such, the world’s ways seem natural, normal and “right.”
Basically, society ends up in our own minds through a little process called internalization.
We are born without many thoughts in our heads. The world seems chaotic. But we must cope. So unconsciously we notice patterns and start classifying things. Reducing a complex world to simple categories leads to oversimplification and stereotyping. “Men are leaders in business, politics, and priesthood. Women stay home with kids or work outside the home as nurses, teachers, and secretaries.”
The stronger the pattern, the stronger the stereotype. Few thought to think outside the box in 1950’s America. Diversity (e.g., coming into contact with other cultures) can offer expanded vision.
Some do move out of “normal” ways of seeing: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gloria Steinem, for instance. These leaders have often had unusual lives that help to remove the blinders.
But if people believe God wants things “the old way,” minds quickly close. Yes, add God to the brew (our ways are God’s ways) and you’ve got a strong tonic.
Other processes specific to sexism add to women’s acceptance of inferior status, like eroticized male dominance and women’s close relationships to men, but I’ll save that discussion for a later post.
So women acquiesce.
Some will call this victim-blaming: blaming the oppressed for their compliance. But you can’t blame someone for doing something that’s unconscious. It all becomes so taken-for-granted that few realize there are other ways of seeing and being.
In the Mormon church I see some improvement. When visiting my mom’s congregation the bishop said they were raising money for a battered women’s shelter. I have also heard “unequal relationships” cited as a primary cause of family disintegration. Though, the “Proclamation on the Family” diminishes that sentiment. “Men and women are equal, but men are the head”? I guess some are still more equal than others.
Change will only come when we take off our taken-for-granted blinders to see the light.
I originally wrote this piece for Feminist Mormon Housewives