(Re)Conceptualizing our Gendered Missionary Image

First and foremost, let me say that I am absolutely thrilled with today’s announcement lowering the age for prospective missionaries, for many of the reasons that have (and will be) written here and elsewhere: the transforming popular image of sister missionaries, the increase in scriptural knowledge and service opportunities amongst female members, the growing possibilities for female leadership, the adjusted goals of the young women’s program, the larger amount of young adults being tethered to the gospel (and humanity), and many other examples of the slow, uneven steps toward gender equality. All of these are important results that I fervently celebrate; I suppose that such things, if proved true, will make today a significant milestone in our ever-growing progression as God’s Kingdom.

But I’m interested in another impact this policy change could have on our culture: the possibility of re-conceptualizing our highly gendered image of missionary work. [Read more...]

The radical notion that women are people: part three of a million parts

When I was in Young Women, we had an annual activity which I absolutely despised, which was the box social. Each young woman would make a dinner for two and put it in a box and decorate the box, and then all the young men would bid on the different box and the highest bidder would get to eat the dinner in the box with the young woman who had prepared it. (This was all done with fake money so no one would be reminded of anything unsavory, like prostitution. Not that a box social is anything like prostitution, because it isn’t. I’m just saying, everything was on the up and up.) I refused to participate in this activity for the following reasons (in order of importance):

1. I was no fun.

2. I thought it was unfair that the young women always had to cook for the young men. Yes, the young men were in charge of bringing dessert, but big whoop-de-do. Which do you think is easier to prepare, a portable and palatable dinner or a portable and palatable dessert? I’ll give you a hint: Oreos come in a bag. [Read more...]

Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more...]

Why I don’t like the priesthood-motherhood analogy: Part one of a million parts

Over the four years I’ve been blogging at BCC I have written dozens of unfinished (and therefore unpublished) posts about gender issues in Mormonism. I’ve found it very frustrating that I can’t finish them. Yeah, there’s a lot I don’t finish, but blog posts that I can’t finish are especially depressing. Because let’s face it, how “finished” does a blog post need to be, really? Well, at some point I figured out the problem: I can’t finish because there’s simply too much to say. And on a subject like gender or gender inequity, which so many people have such strong feelings about, leaving something out means providing a big elephant in the room for your readers to start a threadjack with in the comments section. (I find that last independent clause extremely problematic, but this is only a blog post, after all; I’ll fix that sentence when someone pays me to do it.)

The only thing more frustrating than not being able to finish a blog post is publishing a blog post and watching everyone else have a conversation about something you didn’t bother to address in the original post because you didn’t want to bite off more than you could chew. #firstworldproblems

But heck, I’ve got nothing better to do, and if you’re here reading this, you probably have nothing better to do either. So let’s do this thing. I’m going to start publishing these unfinished posts about gender issues in Mormonism, and I’ve decided the best place to start is my least favorite threadjack-meat of all time: the Men-Priesthood:: Women: Motherhood analogy. I kid myself that by getting it out of the way first thing, I’ll never have to discuss it again. [Read more...]

A Tale of Two Infographics

Here is an infographic the church’s Newsroom put out to explain the structure of our local lay leadership. (sorry for lack of embedding, I don’t want to hotlink their image, and mine is a PDF)

Newsroom Infographic: Lay Leadership in the LDS Church (Update: this has been changed from the original version)

While understanding they were working within very tight space and reader attention constraints, I thought it could be made a little more complete. Now, dear reader, please understand that I am an engineer and thus have aesthetic sense only for things others don’t think even have aesthetics, such as java code and mathematical proofs. I am not a graphic designer, and this isn’t about whose is prettier–I concede that contest from the outset.

Alternate version: Lay Leadership in the LDS Church (updated)

But, beauty flaws aside, I think you will find that there are some striking differences between the two graphics. Not only in terms of quantity of additional detail, but the qualitative general sense one gets from the image overall. In particular, the ratios of blue and pink in each.
[Read more...]

Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!

Note and/or WARNING: The following post is a response–or not really a response, but a sister post, if you will, to this piece at Feminist Mormon Housewives. If you are uncomfortable reading about anything having to do with menstruation, I suggest you cast your eyes round about for a more genteel blog today.

Last year my oldest child had her first opportunity to do proxy baptisms for the dead at the temple. A bit of background: my daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome. Church is difficult for her for a variety of reasons, but she is particularly concerned with (and fixated on) gender issues. She was anxious about going to the temple for the first time, not really knowing what to expect (and not being totally down with this church thing in the first place). Her Young Women leaders asked me to come along for this trip to help her feel more comfortable and show her the ropes. (Not that I would have any clue about “the ropes,” as I hadn’t done proxy baptisms myself in about 14 years and never at this temple–but it’s the thought that counts.)

So at the temple they herded all the youth into that little room where they tell you all about what you’re going to be doing. I still had to change into my white clothes, but I realized I had to tell my daughter something first, so I went into the little room and the older gentleman addressing the youth then turned to me and asked, “Sister, are you here to ask The Question?” [Read more...]

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich lecture: “Stirring up LDS History” Live Blog

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Updated to now include video of the lecture.

Sponsored by Sunstone and Friends of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah

Relief Society sisters now have a new resource—a compact history of the Relief Society called Daughters of My Kingdom. The new manual, which is to be used from time to time for lessons given the first Sunday of each month, is not only unusual for its focus on women but for its chronological organization. Most Church manuals are organized thematically, offering little scope for discussing change over time. Despite its uplifting narrative, this manual may require a new set of skills. As teachers of women’s history know, you can’t just “add women and stir.”

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich taught her first Relief Society lesson more than fifty years ago, when she was an undergraduate attending a student ward at the University of Utah. She began teaching women’s history at the college level in 1975 when she was a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of many books and articles on early American history and women’s history and is now completing her first book-length work in Mormon history, “A House Full of Females: Family and Faith in Nineteenth-century Mormon Diaries.” She is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University.

[Read more...]

Twas the Morning of Finals

Twas the morning of finals, when all through the dorms
Freshmen were dressing, disguising their forms.
Sarah’s head scarf was tied round her with care,
In hopes that the boys wouldn’t notice her there.

Students filled desks, not snuggled in  beds,
While visions of straight As danced in their heads.
And Sarah in head scarf, and I in my jeggings,
Had just cleansed our brains from the sight of men’s meggings. [Read more...]

Does hiring a housekeeper or gardener harm your soul?

American GothicThe Wall Street Journal reports today about the business of online micro-service clearinghouses, where customers put out requests for household and other takss (hat tip Rosalynde Welch‘s Facebook wall). The article mentions jobs like taming an out of control muck of a compost pile, purchasing and delivering various items, and fishing a dropped set of keys from a sewer. The conversation on Facebook turned to debating whether or not there is something distasteful, or even morally wrong, about hiring help to perform domestic work (for the purposes of this conversation, let’s consider gardening, housecleaning, housekeeping, personal shopping, meal preparation, and the like. We’ll leave nannies/childcare for another day). My first reaction was an emphatic “No!” there is nothing wrong with it, but in trying to articulate the reasons why, I realized I am much more ambivalent than that.
[Read more...]

Sexual Transgression and Dwelling Together in Love

This is a guest post from Jacob Baker. Jacob is a doctoral student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University and an instructor at BYU and UVU. And he still finds time to post funny things about Mormon life on Facebook.

I remember the first ward my wife and I moved into after we were married. One Sunday in Sacrament Meeting the bishop (a man who was as plain-spoken as any bishop I’ve ever seen) got up and pleaded for us to be less judgmental of one another, to have compassion on each other, for there were many dealing with heavy burdens in our ward. He said that within our ward boundaries alone there were people dealing with illegal drugs, adultery, pornography, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and many other problems. He was especially terribly saddened at having to counsel and try to provide help for women who were victims of rape, one within her own marriage. He then stated that statistically speaking, for other wards and branches about the same size as our ward anywhere in the country, the same sorts of problems were occurring at the same or greater rate, but the problems and violations of a sexual nature were both more widespread and more damaging. Studies, of course, have generally long borne this out. One recent study shows that nearly 1/5 of boys and nearly 1/3 of girls in the United States have had a sexual encounter of some kind with an adult by the time they reach high school. The rates are much higher in less developed countries. [Read more...]

Leggings, Modesty, and EFY

EFY book cover (1991) To the left is the cover of the official EFY inspirational talks book from 1991. It consists of the title, Feeling Great, Doing Right, Hanging Tough, in 80′s-tastic font design, and a photo of an exuberant young woman doing a sort of cheerleaderish jump for joy [1].

What I noticed immediately when I saw this image was the presence of leggings. It was remarkable to me because I have recently observed some controversy in the LDS community surrounding leggings and modesty.
[Read more...]

Monday Morning Theological Poll: “Reproductive Wrongs?” Edition

Two polls this time. Answer both please.

Please justify your comments below. I promise I won’t turn you in to the bishop for anything you say. [Read more...]

Out of respect for them


The Provo Daily Herald reports “Authorities break ground for new LDS temple in Payson”:

Following his remarks and the closing exercises, Oaks invited the four general authorities in attendance to shovel a scoop of dirt from the shallow trench, followed by the 26 stake presidents in the Payson Utah Temple District, then local government officials, and lastly, any 12-year-old ordained deacons.

Oaks noted that he purposefully excluded women from the ceremonial shoveling out of respect for them because of the muddy conditions in front of the podium. He didn’t want their shoes to get soiled.

No comment.

Uncle Buck Demonstrates the Wisdom of President Dalton’s Counsel

President Elaine S. Dalton, speaking in this morning’s conference: “Fathers, if  your daughter isn’t back from her date on time, go get her!” [Read more...]

Let My People Pray: It’s time to consider having women give opening/closing prayers in General Conference

To my knowledge, no woman has ever given an opening or closing prayer in a general session of General Conference. It is time to reconsider this practice of not calling women to share in the giving of these prayers.

The church has been engaged in a sustained effort to identify and end inequalities between men and women that are without doctrinal justification, such as women not being allowed to give opening prayers in Sacrament Meetings and women’s voices not being adequately included in Ward Councils. In particular, the new Handbook and accompanying Worldwide Leadership Training Broadcast explicitly emphasize this theme. In doing so, the church is showing its awareness that seemingly little things, like restrictions on who gives the opening/closing prayers in Sacrament Meeting, can send a big message that “you aren’t important,” or, when working as they should (as under the new handbook), a message that “we really do value everyone’s voices.” These messages radiate from the little things to all aspects of how we treat one another.
[Read more...]

Thex makes me thad

Theric rides again!

.

You know how sex makes me sad? I tell you how sex makes me sad. Sex makes me sad when people are talking about it and don’t think to invite me. What is that all about? Man alive. I’m an artist! Of course I want to talk about sex!

The problem is, no one wants to talk with me. In a 2009 issue of Irreantum, Bruce Jorgensen wrote a tired retread titled “Reading About Sex in Mormon Fiction — If We Can Read” which basically was the for-idiots version of his much better 1987 Dialogdue article on the topic. On Thutopia, I wrote a response to that article as part of my LDS Eros series (I’ve also written about the 1987 article) in which I pretended that Jorgensen should be reading my blog and know all about the interesting and scintillating and crazy-sexy things I’d been saying. In fact, as far as I know, I’ve had exactly one BYU professor read my blog exactly once. And if memory serves, he wasn’t interested in fictional-sex advice. So even if I am opening new doors and not just revisiting tired antiroach arguments, it doesn’t matter because I’m not part of the conversation. [Read more...]

Radical Homemaking, Radical Enrichment

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

I first heard about Shannon Hayes work through Laura McKenna’s blog nearly two years ago. I was already disposed to like the sorts of localist, agrarian, and traditional causes that Hayes urges us to consider when I first read about her (after all, Melissa and I vaguely aspire to that sort of lifestyle ourselves), but it was Laura’s concluding line–”There is absolutely no reason that feminism should mean a devotion to capitalism”–that really pulled me in. When I finally got a copy of Hayes’s book, Radical Homemakers, I confess it wasn’t what I expected–rather than a serious, theoretically grounded critique of consumer culture, family life, and the structural obstacles that often stand in the way of adopting a simpler, more communal lifestyle, I found an often sloppily researched but nonetheless impassioned instruction manual-cum-rallying cry. A cry and a manual for what? Very simply, for rejecting the economic demands which insist of dual-income households (p. 17), for relearning how to grow and preserve your own food (pp. 78-83), and for refusing the economically and environmentally devastating materialism of modern American life (pp. 93-94). And I thought to myself: now, wouldn’t this make for a great Relief Society lesson?

[Read more...]

Church-Hacker #4: The Fifth-Sunday Swap

This week’s Church-Hacker idea comes from BCC reader Chris Gordon:

We make it a tradition on 5th Sundays to swap presidencies in Elders Quorum/Relief Society. The RS president comes to priesthood to teach and vice versa.

The focus is generally on something family-oriented, but it’s been fun and enlightening.  The best, though, was in an early iteration when it was done in lieu of a first Sunday presidency message.  The visiting rep from the RS wrapped up with 10 minutes to spare for testimony time.  The class enjoyed 10 minutes of crickets chirping as the brethren stared blankly at this development.

Think your ward could benefit from this leadership swap? Already doing it? Enlighten us with a comment.

[Read more...]

I don’t have to be Mormon: A Mother’s Day Post

I grew up in Northern Florida, which is effectively Southern Georgia. In other words, I am Southern in the cultural sense, not just the geographical one. It is not the easiest thing to be Mormon in the South. [Read more...]

Unfairness

We arrived late to church on Sunday. So instead of entering the chapel, the three of us remained in the foyer during Sacrament meeting. As my wife prepared her Relief Society lesson on the couch, I sat with my 4-year-old daughter, Annika, on a table against the wall. To our left, enclosed behind a protective glass case, hung a large wooden plaque with pictures of almost all the past Relief Society presidents in chronological order of service: Emma Smith thru Mary Ellen Smoot.

Annika: “Dad?”
Me: “Yes.”
Annika: “What is this?”
Me: “It’s all the past Presidents of the Relief Society. That’s the class that Mom goes to while you’re in Primary.”
Annika: “How come there are only girls in the pictures?”
Me: “Because only girls can be President of the Relief Society.”
Annika (after a short pause): “I don’t think it’s fair to the boys that they can’t be in the pictures!”
Me: “Indeed.”

A Short Post About Equality

Br. Otterson on Equality

My children regularly (at my direction) offer prayers and teach family home evening lessons. They are confident and articulate. They participate in Family Council, where they are encouraged to share their opinions, which are listened to and valued. We implement some of their suggestions. They are (with the occasional exception of one uppity teen) content with their place and their role in the family. One of my children even said the other day, “I would hate to have all the responsibilities parents have!” [Read more...]

Why being a “Guardian of Virtue” is a terrible metaphor

I know it has been a couple of weeks, but I only just now read the talk given by President Elaine Dalton of the General Young Women’s Presidency in their annual meeting. The talk boils down to an admonition to be chaste and virtuous, both of which are good things. So, I am not here today to tell you the message of the talk is bad; I am here today to tell you that the way in which that message is conveyed is bad, distorting the message itself. [Read more...]

Reframing Parental Roles in the Proclamation on the Family

Among other ideas, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, emphasizes the importance or gender identity and roles. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on several sentences that relate to the responsibilities of parents within the family as they rear children.  

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations…By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation…

In 1990 Relief Society General President Elaine L. Jack and her counselors Chieko N. Okazaki and Aileen H. Clyde met to decide their priorities for Relief Society. They outlined five points that would become the hallmarks of their presidency. The fourth read:

Strengthen families. Many types of families are part of the church today. All families need strengthening. 

Women of Covenant. Page 402  [Read more...]

Join BCC this weekend at Restoration Studies

A number of BCC permas will be presenters this weekend at the annual Restoration Studies / Sunstone Midwest Symposium. The symposium kicks off Friday night with an address on the conference theme: “‘A Woman’s Place…’ Ideas, Impacts, and Experiences of Restoration Women” given by Gail Mengel.  (Now retired, Gail was one of two women who became the first female apostles in the RLDS Church, now known as the Community of Christ.)

Russel Arben Fox chairs a star-studded panel that includes our own Kristine Haglund and Tracy McKay, along with Christian Harrison and Chris Henrichsen, in a session entitled “Homemaking Radicalism and Homemaking Realities.”  Kristine will also be joining Stacy Mengel Keenan, JWHA Executive Director Sherry Mesle-Morrain, and Sunstone Executive Director Mary Ellen Robertson, to explore the topic of “Getting Educated: How Attending a Church University (or not) Shapes Restoration Women’s Experiences.”

My own presentation will look at the histories of two small American denominations that initially embraced problematic doctrines that they eventually jettisoned before they each ultimately became “just another Protestant church”.  The Worldwide Church of God (now Grace Communion International) believed in Anglo-Israelitism (the view that the Anglo-Saxons were the lost tribes of Israel), and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church (now Christ Community Church) famously believed that the world is flat.  How has becoming just another Protestant church worked out in these two examples and what lessons might these experiences hold for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ)?

[Read more...]

The Reciprocity Resolution

One of the significant memes from this past General Conference was a concern that so many of our people are not getting married. As usual, men just aren’t getting with the program and need to shape up and hop to it. [Read more...]

A very short post about Elder Cook’s talk

When women are really allowed to work “side by side” with men in the church,  talks like this will be unnecessary.

For R* in Miserable Days

As a close friend has suffered a particularly difficult miscarriage recently, I want to pause from the usual vocations of life to express solidarity to and love for the many women who have similarly suffered. [Read more...]

Mormon Women Project: Liz Shropshire

Neylan McBaine shares with us some background on a new interviewee at the MWP.

“I can never forget how much I want to get married,” a 30-something friend told me recently after returning from an exotic trip half way around the world those of us with spouses and dependents can only dream of. “I was standing on top of a mountain looking at the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen and all I could think about was how I’d rather be home with a husband and kids! I’m sick of being reminded that I should be pursuing marriage when it’s the one thing I can never forget.” [Read more...]

Going Back, III: Gossip

Yet another installment in my series about returning to Argentina, 2 years after my mission. Previous installments here and here. Yes, I’ve changed the names for privacy reasons.

Behold my bi-monthly, post-mission ritual: I’d be strolling across the BYU campus, minding my own business, when suddenly I’d bump into a returned missionary from my mission who’d returned home after I did. I myself had only been back for 6 months, but this was long enough for me to view each RM as a potential gold mine of information and updates about my old areas. So I’d make the predictable inquiries … about my baptisms, my investigators, my favorite ward members, my mission companions. Interesting tidbits of information were few and far between, but the potential was always there, so I never stopped asking. Occasionally I’d get some morsel of gossip, but nothing to write home about. Until one fine afternoon – as I interrogated a recently returned elder about each of my junior companions – I participated in the following bombshell exchange:

RM: “Dude, did you hear about what happened to Elder Sorenson?”
Me: “No, I didn’t. What happened to him? He was my comp, you know.”
RM: “Yeah, he got sent home a few months ago. Something to do with homosexuality.” [Read more...]

Women of Courage

Happy International Women’s Day to BCC readers.  This is, unfortunately, a rarely celebrated holiday in the U.S., but is recognized around the world as a moment to celebrate the achievements of women, appreciate the women in our own lives, and most importantly think about women’s issues and what work remains to be done to achieve safety and equality for women.  Today, ten women from around the world were honored at the U.S. State Department as Women of Courage.  In the case of some of these women, “courage” is an understatement.  [Read more...]

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