Back in August, when yMf was just getting off the ground, I authored the post “i’m the athlete”, which I had published under the pseudonym “Nicias” at the time. In it I hypothesized, in an admittedly convoluted fashion (self-deprecation is a requirement when citing your own writing), a temptation for the hypothetical middle-aged homemaker, a straight-out-of-The Feminine Mystique type, to believe the identity she’s constructed for herself is inseparable from her gender. I was attempting to explain why feminism may prove threatening to Mormon housewives (why else would we think “Feminist Mormon Housewives” a provocative blog title?): why would they want to acknowledge that, contra Ezra Taft Benson, there are “more exciting and self-fulfilling roles for women than homemaking” out there, and that they’ve missed out on them?
Church today got me thinking about the flip side of that particular coin: what about the patriarch? Hearing one sexist zinger after another tends to direct my thoughts toward feminism, I’ve found. Here’s a sample, the month’s most egregious:
- (in Elder’s Quorum) “I don’t know if you can expect creativity from this group. Try the Relief Society.”
- “A lot of girls get the idea they’re ugly from boys, but they’re all beautiful. Compare: I’ve never met an attractive boy.”
- “Thanks to the priesthood for the reverent way in which they administered the sacrament. Now, go sit next to someone cuter.”
Could the ceaseless insistence on “traditional” roles, the snarky digs at any activity or attribute which could imply male-to-female gender confusion, and the solemn injunctions to take care of our ward’s poor-weak-priesthoodless sisters from grown men in positions of authority (ofttimes over impressionable youth) be due in part to an anxiety at having to face “the road not traveled”, the interests or hobbies–the personality–left un-actualized by the cis-male stereotype they’ve spent their lives trying to live up to? In their case, accepting feminism and all it implies would mean confronting the endless possibilities–cooking, nurturing, crocheting, to name a few–left unfulfilled by limiting ideas about gender. Who would want to face up to that?
There are some (many, I think) who would take issue with my argument–a kind of psychologizing as to the consequences of society’s gender constructions–as an old-fashioned (“outmoded,” one might even say) remnant of American feminism’s Second Wave. Who am I to posit a subconscious anxiety in the population of straight Mormon males? Why not work toward institutional change that would increase the visibility of women in the church and otherwise emphasize gender equality, or focus on combating negative messages about female self-worth, or try “converting” these men to feminism, whatever the cause of their original antipathy toward it?
These questions are valid. I wrote this post with them in mind. With it, I hope to re-open the debate over the relative importance of theory and action, critiques of patriarchy and the celebration of strong women, sweeping cultural diagnoses or an emphasis on the relativity of lived experience, in today’s feminist discourse. What say you?