A few weeks ago, while traveling, I met an American woman with whom I had a lengthy conversation. She was in her late 50s or early 60s. She wanted to know about my work so we discussed philosophy for awhile among other things. I quite enjoyed talking to her. But later that evening I mentioned that I had met people at church who let me stay in their homes for free. She immediately asked me what church I attend. When I told her I am Mormon she was quite shocked. She asked me how I could be so educated and part of such a sexist church, thus allowing myself to be repressed. I said, “Women are encouraged to get as much education as they can and I’m not repressed.” She told me that yes, I am repressed. When I asked her how I am repressed she just said, “Well, you have to admit that you belong to a sexist church.” I said, “the church is patriarchal, yes. But that doesn’t make me repressed. How am I repressed?” Our exchange continued in this way as she got increasingly more distressed and insistent. She never explained to me in what ways I am repressed. She simply insisted that patriarchy and conservative religion necessitate my repression.
She asked me how I could be politically liberal and belong to a conservative religion. I told her there were many liberal mormons, that one could be socially and politically liberal while being religious. This is the point at which she lost control of herself. She said “How can you be so educated and a philosopher and believe in such superstitions? Yours is a superstitious religion. Are you a true believer? Do you really believe that God spoke to Joseph Smith and all of that?” I responded, “Yes, I do believe it. I’ve questioned the doctrine and studied it and don’t find it contrary to reason. So there is no conflict between my religion and my academic work.” Her face got red and she screamed, “That’s scary. I find that truly scary!” Then she stormed out of the hostel kitchen.
This whole exchange lasted about 30 minutes. Every time I challenged one of her assumptions she changed the subject instead of answering my questions. By the time she left, I found myself extremely angry and insulted. Though I kept my cool with her the whole time. I sat down at the table to finish my meal and smiled at the smirking German. Then the woman came crashing back into the kitchen saying, “The sad thing is that they are truly beautiful people, the mormons. So are most fundamentalist Christians.” I smiled at her and then walked out.
In order to resolve my anger I had to recognize that she had issues with herself, not with me. Even though I felt insulted, she really fought against her own fears. My faith threatened and scared her. At one point she mentioned that she grew up in the Church of Christ and knows what it’s like for fundamentalist women to be repressed. So at some time in her life she turned her back on her family’s traditions. The fact that an intelligent, educated, liberal woman could believe in a religion like mormonism, which she obviously equated with all fundamental Christianity, rocked her worldview. She must hold a fundamental belief that religion is only for the ignorant women. Once I realized this, my anger turned to sadness for her.
There are at least two issues for discussion here. Are Mormon women repressed? And if so, then in what ways? I don’t feel repressed but maybe, as the woman insisted, I am repressed and just don’t realize it. I’m also single and childless so maybe I have escaped the repression that comes with having a family. Wives and mothers, are you repressed by your families?
The other issue is the perceived conflict with intellectualism and faith/religion. This woman could not accept the existence of a religious and educated woman. She obviously absorbed the Enlightenment ideals of rationalism over ‘superstition’ or faith. Our popular culture is similarly steeped in such ideals. So, lets explain away this false conflict or justify it as a real problem or rant about it or whatever else your hearts desire.