Last night I was watching PrimeTime Live’s report on a woman from Colorado City who had escaped a polygamous marriage with her five children and returned to confront her abusive father and husband. It was uncomfortable for me to watch–the kind of story that makes me wonder about my polygamous ancestors, and what kind of ownership I have over the current cult problem because of distantly shared religious ideas.
One idea that won’t leave me is the focus the reporter put on the phrase "Keep Sweet." Apparently it is something of a mantra repeated to young girls to remind them of their place–their submissive role in marriage. Disturbingly, this notion of submissiveness is somehow fixed to a notion of femininity–a package presented to these girls, tied up with religious guilt and obligation, that they must accept, whether willingly, guiltily, or painfully. Why femininity? Is it simply an effective weapon used against these girls, or is there some spiritual merit to femininity that we can either responsibly harness or warp in an effort to gain unrighteous dominion?
The obvious role of femininity is as a sexual attraction mechanism. I’m not really an expert here, but I imagine that men are as attracted to the trait of femininity as women are to power and strength. However, this is probably a sliding scale. I personally am not looking to lasso me a body building CEO. I find other traits to be much more desirable in a future spouse. While strength, appropriately manifested, is important to me, there are other traits, such as kindness and selflessness that are far more vital. I would think that femininity as an attractiveness measure is on a sliding scale for most men and depends on their individual taste and experience.
Another way that femininity might be spiritually vital is its relation to motherhood. Again, though, I’m skeptical as to its importance. Obviously, nurturing is vitally important, but I don’t think that nurturing and femininity are synonyms. Further, I’ve had the chance to observe many young LDS mothers, and the ones that I want to be like are efficient but patient, caring but disciplined, and have a sense of humor that they rely on to simply make it through the days of coping with whining children, playing princess despite boredom, and cleaning up various bodily fluids. It seems that femininity is more of an optional trait that falls far down on a list of more important attributes.
The submissive form of femininity stressed by the polygamous cults could be a metaphor for spiritual submissiveness. We know that we must become meek and submissive to God in order to accept and live his gospel. However, this submissiveness to God is not a requirement for women only…men must submit their wills to God as well, and a failure to do so because of excessive pride in strength or power is detrimental to a man’s eternal progress. Clearly then, submissiveness, in a spiritual sense is not a female trait, and therefore it seems illogical that it should be so closely related to femininity.
This entire post begs a more fundamental question, what is femininity? And once defined, what is its value? Is femininity a necessary spiritual trait? Outside the realm of sexual attractiveness, is it even a worthwhile trait? Should instilling femininity in girls be a goal, and if so, of whom–parents or church leaders or both? What role does femininity have in our spiritual understanding?