Friday, August 22, 2014

For the Young Mormon Feminists. From an Old Mormon Feminist.

Recently a brave BYU sophomore named Keli Byers challenged her school's ban on sex for unmarried students, and more specifically, berated the BYU administration for its bias against women. In an article published on August 13, 2014 in Cosmopolitan Byers described how, at age 15, she was assaulted by an LDS returned missionary and then blamed by her bishop for having invited the sexual violation. She then went on to explain:
"When I came to BYU last year I signed its honor code and promised to live a 'chaste life' — students who don't could get expelled. But my attitude changed after I joined the Young Mormon Feminists, a group that's not endorsed by the Church or BYU. We talk about how the Church doesn't see women as equal to men and how BYU is slut-shaming. The school's honor code forces women to dress modestly — no skirts above the knee — supposedly to help men control their thoughts. The group helped me reclaim my sexuality and realize my sexual assault wasn't my fault.”
Predictably, her opinion drew angry and defensive responses from believing Mormons. Read both the article and reader comments here.

As I pondered my own reaction to Keli's brave admission, I concluded that my opinion is probably best expressed in the Vagina Testimony I presented at the 2012 Sunstone Symposium, earlier only excerpted here on Ward Gossip.

So this week for Keli, the Young Mormon Feminists, and my Gentle Readers, I again present my Vagina Testimony, this time in full:

I have a vagina. I have a womb. I possess the procreative power, the fertile valley. I am the sacred feminine. My holy female cycle keeps me in tune with God by way of heavenly mood swings and hot flashes of inspiration. I am a member of the stronger sex.

We women did not choose this role. Rather, it was thrust upon us. And it is a heavy mantle to bear. Every day brings new challenges, especially in these troubled times, when increasing numbers seek to challenge our God-given authority. Even here, in the heart of Zion.

For example, yesterday I awoke, dressed, and came downstairs to take on the day. My helpmeet, Mark, served breakfast. Just the usual. Eggs, bacon, waffles, homemade banana muffins and orange juice for me. Half a grapefruit for him. – I appreciate that Mark works at keeping his figure. It’s important. Especially for men of a “certain age.”

I kissed him goodbye and rushed to an important leadership meeting on the BYU campus. Nine o’clock sharp. I was gathered around the well-lacquered conference table with my fellow sisters. As always, we grappled with the day’s tough issues.

n    First on the agenda: A sensitively worded statement to be read to all LDS wards and stakes. One that tactfully marginalizes all members who are not white, straight, married with at least five kids, living on one income, and fulfilling their gender-specific roles.
n    Second on the agenda: A hip LDS PR campaign that only features Mormons who do not fit the above profile.

Afterward, my colleagues and I headed across campus for some good old gal talk at the Sisterhood Bakery. On my way there I marveled at the many righteous young women I encountered who were striving to live the Gospel. But I had a growing unease about the young men, as some engaged in conduct that was unseemly at best, borderline “vagina envy” at worst.

First, outside the bookstore, I spotted a rather homely young man holding up a placard that read, “It’s My Sperm!” (I chalked this up to his obvious inability to get a date.) Then a few minutes later, as my sisters and I were approaching our destination, another woman-hater shouted, “No fair! Why can’t men eat at the Sisterhood Bakery?”

This insubordinate could not be excused. I drew a breath, mustered all of my patience, and said, “Young man, in the unlikely event that the Lord allows men to hold the keys to the Sisterhood Bakery, which cookie would you want?”

After lunch I headed to the library hoping to do some research. Unfortunately, I found it impossible to concentrate, thanks to a shockingly immodest young man in a pair of Levi 501 Shrink to Fit jeans.

Now, you may ask, “Don’t lots of boys at BYU wear 501 Shrink to Fits?” Yes they do, and for most it is an acceptable choice. But this particular young man had an especially curvy backside that strained the confines of his tightly shrunk pants and left nothing to the imagination. Hot, breathless, and teased out of my mind, I quit the building. Honestly, it’s a wonder that a BYU coed gets any work done in such an environment.

This is difficult to explain to somebody who only has a penis. Because, as we know, God designed the penis for a single purpose -- the impregnating of the holy female womb -- an act that is efficient, perfunctory, and complete inside of a minute.

The vagina, on the other hand, has that sacred spot that God created specifically for pleasure and nothing else. Men don’t have that. So by nature they are naïve and vulnerable to the dangerous power of the female orgasm.

The young men must realize that once aroused, a woman’s passion gathers, builds, swells with quivering anticipation, and finally peaks in hot, wet waves of erotic pleasure that drive the female into a prolonged climax of frenzied desire. Even then she is not sated, and may achieve orgasm again and again for hour upon hour with no end in sight.

That young man in the 501’s has no idea how lucky he was. If I hadn’t had the courage to leave when I did, anything could have happened. And it would have been entirely his fault.

I rushed home to find my helpmeet, Mark, at our kitchen table, hot gluing felt for an upcoming Elders’ Quorum lesson.

I ripped open his shirt. “I have to have you now!”
“Um, okay, but can I at least finish my felt . . .”
“Screw the felt.”
“Darling…please be gentle.”

Five hours later, I left Mark collapsed in a puddle of hot glue and headed to my office at the church. I had only one appointment that evening, but it was a lengthy one, as most confessions are. Sven, a young swimsuit model, had taken a job for a prescription drug company. – It was one of those ads promoting the custom fit vaginal vibrators that are covered by insurance. The commercial featured Sven in a swimming pool surrounded by a bunch of peri-menopausal hotties. When the shoot was over, the women—predictably—lost control and forced Sven to perform oral sex on all six of them.

Wait. Or was it seven? … Just to be safe, I made him repeat the whole story again. It was six women in the pool.

Or was it the hot tub? … I’d better have him back.

Finally I went home, retired to my bed, and drifted off to sleep thinking of all the other privileges I might be entitled to simply because of the anatomy inside of my underpants.

And more importantly, I wondered how much longer I would be able to get away with it.

--Those of you who use Goodreads may check out my new author page here and even friend me! Please be my friend. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain

Rewind 30-some years ago. My girlfriend and I are sitting in my grandparents' den in Glendale, CA, drinking Cokes and watching Mork and Mindy. I can't find the transcript, but here's how I remember the scene. Mork is hanging with some cool earthling dudes, desperately trying to fit in.

Cool Earthling Dude: Hey guys, I need some new tips on how to attract foxes.
Mork: Why not leave out a little raw meat on your doorstep?

And so I was introduced to Robin Williams--spewing Coke onto my grandma's coffee table. His was a special kind of genius. Always outside of the box, he was the comedian who never needed a laugh track.

There are so many magically hilarious moments lodged in my memory.

His manic stream of consciousness performances on The Johnny Carson Show, one prompting Carson to exclaim, "When did I lose control of this show?"

As the D.J. in Good Morning Vietnam who slyly spliced his own questions into a press conference with Nixon.
Adrian Cronauer: "…Mr. President, how would you describe the Viet Cong your testicles?"
Nixon: "That they're soft, and they're very shallow and they serve no purpose."

As Mrs. Doubtfire igniting her fake breasts on the stovetop and then extinguishing them with a couple of pot covers. As the larger than life genie in Aladdin...

And then there were the casual lines he tossed out seemingly as afterthoughts. At the end of the George W. Bush presidency, "The Reign of Error is over"... or, upon learning that the Iraqis were trying to draft a constitution, "Well, why not take ours? We're not using it."

But he was equally capable of delving into his dark side in movies such as Insomnia, One Hour Photo, and Good Will Hunting. (The latter performance earned him an Oscar.) My favorite of his films, Dead Poets Society, debuted when I was on the cusp of leaving Mormonism. At the time I felt like I was a student in Mr. Keating's class, climbing atop my desk for the very first time and seeing the world from a fresh perspective.
Oh Captain, My Captain
For his fellow San Franciscans, the loss hit close to home. On Tuesday we awoke to see the sad news in a banner headline on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. Later that day, Mark and I were dining at an Italian restaurant in the Mission. "I feel like we've lost our neighbor," the waiter remarked as he served our lunch.

But then, the outpouring of grief across the globe demonstrates that people far and wide felt he was also their neighbor. For many of us, it was deeply personal. 

How important is art to life?

On Monday at 4:20 PST I was watching a segment about the ISIL on The Chris Matthews Show when a special report interrupted with the news of Robin Williams' death. From there, the show shifted to an interview with James Lipton and stayed with him for the remainder of the hour. So devastated by the news, the veteran host of Inside the Actors Studio continued to apologize to the MSNBC reporter. I'm sorry I'm not a good interview, Lipton continued to lament. I'm still in shock, etc.

In a statement, his daughter, Zelda Williams, said:
"To those he touched who are sending kind words, know that one of his favorite things in the world was to make you all laugh. As for those who are sending negativity, know that some small, giggling part of him is sending a flock of pigeons to your house to poop on your car. Right after you’ve had it washed. After all, he loved to laugh too…"
From now on, when I think of Robin he will be laughing. Also I will be laughing.

How important is art to life?

For making us think: 1,000 times the cost of admission. 
For making us laugh: Priceless

Friday, August 8, 2014

That Heavenly Father is Such a Tease!

I came home sick on Monday, my brain fried after attending a terrific 3-day writers conference. Since then I've been in bed trying to lose this wicked cough, drowning myself in NyQuil and zoning out in front of reruns of The Rockford Files, Full House, and Bonanza. To say the least, it's been somewhat uninspiring, leading me to believe that I'd have nothing worth blogging about this week.

Then what do you know, I logged onto that venerable bastion of journalism, Sheep Dip, and found this hilarious report on a press conference with God Himself! Right away I knew this was a must-share with my Gentle Readers.

So! It seems the Big Goofball was pulling our leg all along...

God Admits He "Pulled a Fast One" When He Sent American Troops in Search of WMD's

"Angels close to God told Sheep Dip that 'God is indeed a real joker.  He keeps us on our toes up here.'  One angel who asked not to be identified  by his Heavenly name says that the 'Almighty is always sneaking a whoopee cushion onto my gold chair when I’m off playing the harp somewhere.'" 

Personally, I'm not surprised. I actually saw God do standup in North Beach a few years back -- He wasn't half bad.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eggs Have a Date -- Who Knew?

It's funny how tiny details can trigger big memories. Just the other day, for example. I was cooking, I needed an egg, so I opened the fridge, and my eyes settled on the date stamped on the end of the carton.

Wham. In an instant I was 25 years back in time, sitting in a Relief Society Homemaking Meeting.

--Now, before I go on, I should explain that everyone who is lucky enough to be a member of the one and only true church is conditioned to believe she must attend every single meeting in order to partake of the special knowledge that a poor nonmember isn't privy to. Likewise, everyone who is lucky enough to have escaped the one and only true church can recall a series of "aha" moments when she realized this so-called special knowledge maybe wasn't all that special after all.

Back to my "aha" moment 25 years ago. I was sitting in Relief Society listening to a presentation on thrifty shopping tips. The teacher, a young blonde with a feathery hairdo, picked up an egg carton from her display table, pointed at the date stamped into its styrofoam lid and--with eyes widening--proclaimed, "I didn't know this until yesterday, but eggs have a date."

As the women around me nodded sagely, my eyes glazed over and a primal aha screamed in my brain. I gave up an evening with my family to grab the inside scoop that a raw egg is perishable.

Now, I can't blame the blonde feather-head. After all, she was just doing her best to fulfill the calling her inspired priesthood leader pressured her to accept. (She's a woman. Naturally she loves to cook!) What was maddening was that I was sitting there in the first place, honestly expecting to receive "special knowledge."

Here's another example and another Homemaking Meeting. (For some reason these "ahas" tended to happen at Homemaking Night. Maybe that's why they changed the name to Personal Enrichment.)

Anyway, a middle-aged lady was teaching a lesson on multi-tasking. Mustering the full measure of her special knowledge, she advised, with a straight face, "On cleaning day, I load my dishes into the machine, press start, and while they're washing, I vacuum."

Again, the primal aha. What? You mean unlike the rest of us you don't pull up a chair and watch as the machine goes from wash . . . to rinse . . . to dry?

In retrospect, I'm grateful to these two well-meaning ding-a-lings and the like. The poor things may not have been cut out for our divine role, but they helped me see the light. Hopefully they've had their own "aha" moments, possibly on the occasions I was called upon to share my own special knowledge with the ward.

And I did take away a few good things from Homemaking Night. I recently reupholstered a chair, having learned how in my BYU married student ward. It's been a valuable skill. Although maybe not worth 10% of our income.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pioneers and Proud of It!

pi-o-neer, n: one who goes before, as into the wilderness, preparing the way for others to follow; as, pioneers of civilization, of reform, or in science; also an early settler; a colonist; as, the American pioneers.

One of the many things that I am thankful for is that I never made one of those phony pioneer treks that today's Mormon youth get to are forced to undergo. I imagine they vary according to area, but every participant I've spoken with has recalled the experience with the sort of descriptives one would naturally apply to a bunch of overdressed, sweaty adolescents pushing handcarts in the blazing heat.

A friend of mine, who acted as a youth leader on one of these ordeals, claimed that his ward dressed up like the Utah pioneers, went to a local (D.C. area) park or field and slogged around in circles for an entire week. -- Sort of the antithesis of an actual pioneer journey. Although it could be the ultimate paradigm for the Mormon experience.

There are all kinds of ways that people set off for new territory, not all of them hot and sweaty. And there are all kinds of reasons people choose to get out of town, not all of them altruistic. -- Maybe a man's just robbed a bank, or he's committed murder, or he wants to marry 50 women, for example.

But, in general I think pioneers are honest and brave and true. Especially those who lead themselves and others to a better world.

For example, the ExMormon pioneers who celebrated Pioneer Day last night at the Hotel Utah Saloon in San Francisco.
Westward ho! Sans handcarts and stupid costumes.
But there were some pretty cool pioneers who celebrated in Utah saloons too. Also a group of 500 pioneers who gathered near Temple Square to resign en masse from the LDS Church!

Cheers to the real pioneers everywhere. Also to the real world.

Friday, July 18, 2014

They Get to Talk, We Get to Listen

Years ago a woman in the ward whom I considered to be an actual friend dropped by my house after yet another meeting that I had missed. Convinced that my lagging church attendance would bring about my ruin, she began her remarks with, "I just have to say this," and then bemoaned the fate of my marriage and fretted over what might become of my poor children.

Because I considered her to be an actual friend, I listened politely. Then, when she finally finished, I countered with, "Okay, then I have to say this," and began to explain my misgivings about the Mormon Church, beginning with the marginalization of LDS women. Aghast that I would actually criticize the leaders of the one and only true church, she shut down the conversation, doing everything short of covering her ears and singing Praise to the Man at the top of her lungs.

--This was back when I foolishly assumed that I also got to say things.

Similarly, a couple of years later, another woman from the ward whom I considered to be both intelligent and sophisticated invited me to watch Gordon B. Hinckley's first interview with Larry King. Because I considered her to be both intelligent and sophisticated, I tuned in on the appointed night. The next day she gave me a call. After gushing over her beloved prophet's performance, she asked, "What did you think of the interview, Donna?"

Me: "Well, President Hinckley is a very genial and well-spoken man."
She: "Yes, isn't he amazing?!"
Me: "Ahem, well, his gift for PR aside, I was alarmed by the number of inaccuracies in his answers. For example, when he said that polygamy isn't doctrine--"
She: "Oh right. I just wanted to hear what you thought."
Me: "Okay, that's what I'm telling you. I also thought he ducked Larry's question about--"
She: "Good. I just wanted to hear what you thought."
Me: "Uh-huh. Well, thank you for that."

--This was back when I foolishly assumed they really wanted to know what I thought.

Not that this dynamic is unique to the Mormons.

In her memoir, My Life in France, Julia Child recalled a dinner party she attended as a young woman. Surrounded by intellectual heavyweights, she came to the both frustrating and enlightening conclusion that her opinions were based on emotions rather than ideas. Later she described one-sided encounters with her didactic father who shut down her every attempt to reason and/or disagree with him.

It seems everywhere you go, the emotion gang isn't keen on listening to the idea gang. Nevertheless, we can't stop trying to voice our opinion, hoping more will switch out feelings for thoughts. Last Friday Robert Kirby wrote an excellent column in the Salt Lake Tribune imploring ultra orthodox Mormons to accept rather than shun their nonbeliever relations. To those (emotion gang) believers who marginalize their atheist offspring, Kirby suggested:

"… consider the very real possibility that you’re an idiot. First for letting theology get in the way of love, and second for believing in a plan/god/spirit that would condemn Buddy for being a wonderful human being but unfortunately not a believer."

Naturally, I couldn't stop myself from sharing the article on my Facebook wall, and, naturally, it drew the expected response--this time from a complete stranger who just had to say:

"So, according to Kirby, throw out all of your beliefs to concentrate on making some people feel better about the here and now. Tomorrow doesn't matter, and you should feel great about the soul of your loved one NOT going to a loving place in the afterworld. If you don't do this, you are an idiot. No, Kirby is an idiot and lost. It looks like the only way he will be happy is if we are all lost as well. Hmmm, I guess that makes him a liberal, too."

Having had my share of what former Congressman Barney Frank once referred to as an "argument with a dining room table," I merely wished the above soul-saver a nice day, privately empathized with his loved ones, and refused to be drawn in to another pointless, one-sided conversation.  

Perhaps Kate Kelly's bishop put the emotion gang's philosophy best. "You are entitled to your views but you are not entitled to promote them," he explained upon her excommunication--an event that has prompted some to bemoan the end of the "Mormon Moment," a supposed six or so year LDS renaissance that has shone the church in a positive light. 

I have a different take on this recent Mormon Moment. From where I sit, it consisted of a failed campaign to block gay marriage, a hit musical, a failed campaign for president, disingenuous ads featuring members who would be marginalized in their real-life wards, a xenophobic LDS rancher whose views on "the Negro" managed to even offend Hannity, and an accomplished civil rights attorney who challenged the LDS patriarchy.

Also from where I sit, the only real LDS goodwill ambassadors seem to have been that goofy but lovable chorus line of missionaries, and the accomplished civil rights attorney. Only the dancing missionaries are fictional characters and the attorney has been excommunicated. --So ends the Mormon Moment.

I just had to say that.