Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Once you see it, you can’t un-see it….

I wear dresses. A lot.

I wear make up everyday.

I shave my armpits several times a year for heavens sake!

And I'm a feminist?

I think I'm a feminist! Huh. I guess I didn't realize it because I was raised by an artistic independent mom, feisty intelligent sisters, and my father was a big strong man whose presence filled a room without any need for him to be extra patriarchal about it. Later I married a man who has a beautiful open smile, wide shoulders, loyalty and purpose in every action he makes, and doesn't care if I talk about my feelings (and everything else) on the internet. 

I wasn't raised in any particular religion, but I was raised amongst Mormons every day of my youth. I was able to partake in many benefits provided by what would later become my chosen religion, but I realize now that I was lucky to be able to do that and still avoid being prematurely subscribed to the consistent and often subtle messages delivered to Mormon youth during their spiritual education. 

I cringe even writing that because I know how it will make some people cringe reading it, but there's this thing I've never been able to put my finger on and the other day I was suddenly faced with a blue print mapping my dilemma so eloquently, I didn't post anything on Facebook for TWO DAYS. 

Two. Days. 

That's, like, a hundred years in Facebook time. I could be dead for all you people know! I'm sorry for any alarm I have caused but I read an article that thoughtfully examines and compares the new LDS youth teaching guides for young men and young women and my head stopped functioning.

(You can read the whole article in here: Exponent II Spring 2013)

Check it out if that's your thing, it's brilliant, but the ten seconds that has been flash frozen in the front of my brain is this:


And all of a sudden I could see. I could SEE. For the most part, we call our boys to action, to leadership, to responsibility, and we call our girls to believe, to understand, to support and edify.  All great things! 

But the distinction--suddenly my brain has been one domino after another of aha! memories clicking into place.

For instance; I all of sudden see the draw I had with the guys in my youth, particularly after high school when I was a wayward 18 year old living a few blocks from BYU campus. I wasn't so far gone to be "dangerous" but I was a sheep just far enough out of reach to need a Shepard.

I have never in my life presumed to have visions on behalf of another person, but, wow! Suddenly in retrospect even I am a little taken aback at how encouraged and appropriate these young men felt it was to tell me what the spirit had impressed upon them ABOUT me. In the context of my love life, not my physical well being or education, but my romantic life was an area which they were being spiritually guided to advise me about? 

If this had happened one time, I would totally not bring it up here. Maybe it was a special case? Maybe I'm being disrespectful of someone putting themselves out there? But the truth is, it happened to me with almost every eligible bachelor I came into any extended contact with during that time. Easily more than 20-25 times in a 9 month period.

What's interesting about the man that eventually did take me and marry me in a Mormon temple is that he was a recovering alcoholic, sober for a little over a year, out of the Navy, and beginning college for the first time at age 27. Though he'd been baptized at 8, he'd never really been active, and to this day has never been "impressed" to advise me how to alter the course of my life. We travel side by side, sometimes we take turns pulling the other through a heavy tide, but our hands have remained clasped and I have taken that for granted in the way it has supported the WOMAN that I am. 

The thing is, the BIG THING, is this is not a Mormon thing. We were watching Swiss Family Robinson for the first time with the children tonight, and oh! The imagination! The adventure! That movie stands the test of time, we were all captivated and Russell has already begun drafting the perfect treehouse in his mind... but the women in that movie. Sigh. I don't know if you remember how they save that "boy" from the pirates and she turns out to be a girl, but watching it tonight... well that's when I knew my transformation into the title of feminist was complete. I will NOT sit here and watch this with no comment. I will not allow my children to absorb her behavior as even the tiniest bit believable despite me voicing no qualms that it only took them ten minutes of movie time and, at most, a couple weeks of real time to build and furnish five levels of tree house including a fully functioning kitchen with plumbing and an ice box stocked with, wait, is that corn?! Corn. 

No, go ahead, believe the corn! Believe the boys took the extra days needed to hang drapes before getting their mother and young brother out of the lean-to shelter on the beach and safely into the tree at night. But don't you (not for one second!) believe that when a giant boa constrictor wraps itself around your brother in the murky swamp and tries to drown him, that the person who was as tough as a boy until you discovered she was a girl an hour ago suddenly can't make it to the side of the marsh without your help before you go to aid your brother from the snake that is trying to EAT HIM. 

She's fine. 

And if she's not? Boy or girl, she is too delicate to live and it's just natural selection doing it's job. Don't laugh! It's an important job.

In conclusion, if feminist means I want everyone to feel like I do; that I can be whatever I want to be, even if that's a stay at home mom, and still be a leader in and out of my home, have strong opinions, nurture friends and strangers alike, proclaim, meditate, apologize, or set someone free with confidence, boss my husband without being called a nag, and be bossed without feeling controlled, then yeah. 

After I read that article, I went to church and had an amazing discussion with my Sunday school class of 14-16 year olds about something unrelated, and when they left the girls went to watch a spiritual movie and have popcorn while the boys had a special guest speaker and were required at the end of the lesson like a "pop quiz" to write a "pop talk." Something about it reminded me of the activity at last years youth conference that was a favorite and involved the boys carrying the girls across the street because they couldn't do it without each other, but I didn't hear about any of the girls carrying the boys across in the same spirit and THAT would be my idea of a powerful team effort. 

I couldn't help but see it. And now that I see it, I really don't think I can un-see it. It's not about taking something away from our men, it's about making sure we are empowering our girls with the strength of their voice to speak, of their hands to bless, of their feet to travel. The youth I have been so blessed to teach could not be better examples of what my church is able to give to their children. My girls are sharp and strong willed, my boys are honorable and devoted. I can not speak to the current youth where I was raised, but looking at my California young women I can't help but wonder if they have felt the call to lead simply because they are not the norm for their culture. As they are coming into adulthood with peers who are beginning to make some serious adult choices, more is required of their spiritual sense of self if they continue to stay on this path. 

In the end I was left sitting there thinking about what an important guide my patriarchal blessing has been for me, and also years later sitting across the desk from Mrs. D at cottage preschool when I was just about to sink below the waves while I held my family afloat with sheer force of will and a good husband. These are two Mormon miracles in my life brought about by revelation, and they came at the hands of a man, and of a woman.

As it should be. 

I am a grateful Mormon Feminist.


Kateastrophe said...

Me too!!! OK so I could talk about this for hours and hours but I read this article and it spoke to my soul. It made me realize how SO MANY of the gender equality issues in the church are not because of the GOSPEL but because of some of the/us/we dummies IN the church.

I want to know what you think. I swear it had answers to questions I've been asking in the temple every time I've gone (so, um three? times) since I was endowed.

Anyway,yes. Want you to read and let's discuss over virtual Diet Coke's, or tea, or whatever.

Aimee said...

Amen and amen, sister! This has made my day/week/life!

Taryn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Taryn said...

Fantastic and AMEN!

I was recently told that I am a raging feminist, by a brilliant, self-proclaimed feminist. "I hate to tell you this, but you're way more feminist than I am" she informed me. I was a little taken aback, but also amused, because the idea had never occurred to me. All I could say in the moment was, "I'm just me!" But as I've thought about it, I suppose the title fits in many ways, but I'd still prefer to simply be known and valued for myself...which, after all, is very feminist of me, isn't it? So I guess we're both right.

Anyhow, I could completely relate with your experience growing up in a very open family environment, free of many of the cultural hindrances regarding gender rolls that many people experience. As a kid, and young adult, you go along, assuming your life is pretty 'normal,' (yes, sometimes a little 'kooky', but overall nothing too strange) but then you find out it's actually kind of extraordinary. You just didn't realize how lucky you were to grow up in the family you did...and the more you learn about how others see the world, the more profoundly grateful you become for that foundation.

I had to laugh when you mentioned Swiss Family Robinson, because I got that movie for my kids a couple of months ago from Netflix, because I remembered it fondly. They loved the adventure, but I had to interject from the peanut gallery my opinions of why the women-folk in that movie were ridiculous in most every way, and how the men were equally pathetic in their interactions with them.Suddenly Swiss Family Robinson was not on the top of my 'must see' children's movies list. That baby is a minefield that must be navigated carefully! Who knew?!

Love this post (actually, I REALLY enjoy everything I read of yours), and am so comforted to know that those kids in your Sunday School class are in really great hands. Not to mention your two fabulous babies! Thank you, Thank you!!! We need more people like you to keep this church and world sane! But most of all we need more moms, wives and friends like you to pass on thier wisdom and encouragement to those who they hold most dear. That kind of influnce will spread and change the world one person at a time.

PS I'm going to head over to read that article by Valerie Hudson Cassler. She is a shining light...and one that helped draw out and enlighten my inner "feminist" soul.

Alissa Rae King said...

Taryn, I loved that comment, it made me laugh so hard. I can only say the name of that movie now through gritted teeth like a crazy person. What is wrong with me?! Haha, I feel like my whole life has been about realizing "labels" are not defined by the extreme examples. ADHD. Femism. Healthy eating.

If we all used a little more common sense, strive to be our best and bring that out in people around us, and above all, practice forgiveness for the nature of humanity and how everyday we succeed and fail and try again.... Well, that's the label I can get behind. :)

Alissa Rae King said...

Kate, YES! Lets do this. I will bring the dark chocolate salted almonds.

I have read that post before by Ms. Cassler. The first time, it was a aha moment, a flicker of someone academic and articulate outlining female roles in the church in a way that I had always understood them but seemed to be misunderstood by my Utah culture. On the other hand, as I have progressed into my "feminist" education, the subtleties that you always hear angry feminist protestors raging about really aren't something to be ignored, they just go about it the wrong way. While her article does a good job outlining the information we have now about the role of women in the church and men and women in heaven, it still doesn't address the something we have all become used to, how that information affects how we express our expectations to boys vs girls. It's like you would have to have found that post to know those gospel truths. They are not taught to empower women the way men are empower in every meeting from sacrament to Sunday school to preisthood meetings to be empowered by the gift of the priesthood. It's a subtle thing, her post addresses some of the beautiful facts, but she seems a little complacent that this information does not deserve a larger platform. That becuase it exists that should be good enough, but if only people like us are looking for it, how does it help the whole? There is a whole month devoted to priesthood coming up, why isn't there a whole month devoted to the power of Mormon women that is unique to us I wonder. I think it would be good for us and for the men. Truly.