I did a bad thing.
I yelled. On Sunday, I yelled in Relief Society. I was so upset by a quote and the direction of the discussion that I forgot to politely raise my hand, and I stood up, shaking with anger, and raised my voice. In my defense, my anger was at the topic and context, and not at the teacher or at my fellow sisters, but in the heat of the moment, I acknowledge it’s often very hard for both the affronted and the recipients to finesse that out. It takes work.
I left Relief Society and sat in the foyer until I stopped shaking. I am fine now, and care has been extended to me by both RS leadership and members of my bishopric. Those details are not actually relevant to what’s on my mind now…
I want to talk about anger. Specifically, I want to talk about women’s anger. How do we talk about women’s anger? We don’t.*
Of course we all know women get mad. We all know women can lose their tempers and are capable of the gamut of human emotions. And yet… we are also battling against the ever-present folk-tale of our dear Angel Mother who never raised her voice in the home, who instead raised a General Authority, and who patiently and spiritually tended to the needs of her family without ever losing her temper. We have the trope of the woman/mother who is cherished and wonderful and who is propped up on a pedestal where she really doesn’t have much room to move. A pedestal is for admiring something still and precious, not for something dynamic and living- and it’s a very small space. Telling women they’re incredible is a way of silencing their full experience, of keeping them confined to a narrow slice of human expression. Incredible is…nice. But it’s not real.
Culturally, when we only allow for one facet of an archetype (and that’s what the Angel Mother is), we end up repressing the whole. Repressing whole aspects of a person—in this case specifically a woman—often causes damage, and can manifest in self-harm, eating disorders, manipulation, passive-aggressive behaviors, depression, and the need for excessive control, among other behaviors. This a problem. It’s not a uniquely Mormon problem, obviously, but it can manifest in particularly virulent ways within our culture.
I’m not claiming my anger on Sunday was righteous—maybe it was, maybe not—but how do I even figure it out unless we talk about it? We don’t have a vocabulary for discussing women’s strong emotions or anger beyond the narrow scope of our pedestal. And that, frankly, cripples us all. We apologize for slipping off the tiny space we’ve been placed, and for taking up more room than intended. It’s got to stop.
So how do we talk about things that are challenging? How do we move from the milk of comfortable things to the meat of hard things? When our vocabulary is limited on one small slice of a large emotional pie, how do we learn to hear each other through emotions that don’t fit neatly on the pedestal? How do we bear the burdens of our sisters if we’re busy clutching our pearls?
Because until we learn to witness one another as fully embodied people, capable of all that is human, there will be no Zion.
* This conversation needs to include men, too. Women need to start it, but men need to stop talking about us like we’re something better, something finer, than they are. We’re not. We’re human. We’re fallen. We want respect and personhood not admiration and a china cabinet.