Blog Archives

Why Do Women Fight Against Their Own Interests?

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

Popular Posts on BroadBlogs
Why Do The “Isms” That Affect Men Seem More Important?
Men Are Naturally Attracted To Unnatural Women
Why Hasn’t Open Marriage Caught On?

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.

Popular Posts on BroadBlogs
Cartoonish vs Authentic Sexuality
Men Watch Porn, Women Read Romance. Why?
Why Do The “Isms” That Affect Men Seem More Important?

%d bloggers like this: