Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Women in Church History: A Call to Action

In my church, we hear no shortage of words about how important women are. Essential, even. Incredible. Which is nice, right? Because we all like to feel appreciated. 

But sometimes, when confronted with all these general insistences that women are really great and have such valuable roles to perform, my inner Eliza Doolittle bursts into song:

Words, words, words 
I'm so sick of words 
I get words all day through... 
Is that all you blighters can do?

Sing me no song, read me no rhyme,
Don't waste my time, show me!
Don't talk of June, don't talk of fall,
Don't talk at all! Show me!

There are many areas that we as a church could put our money where our mouth is in regards to women (and I won't make a list here, however sorely I am tempted), but one is in recognizing women's contributions to church history, both past and present. 

If women really are essential, are incredible, are important, then why don't we value their contributions more? Why don't we celebrate them and quote them and tell their stories to coed audiences on a weekly, church-wide basis? 

For over ten years, our Relief Society and Priesthood lesson manuals have exclusively contained the words of male prophets. In the future, can we hope for a manual containing exclusively the words of our female leaders? What if, one year for Sunday School curriculum, instead of rotating through the standard works, we focused on women in the scriptures? Imagine a General Conference with more than two female speakers (versus 27 male speakers).* Imagine a woman speaking in the Priesthood Session of conference. Imagine women being invited to address priesthood groups, women given leadership callings that, though they don't require priesthood, are traditionally given to men, women included on all church decision making councils, female stake leadership speaking in wards like high councilors do. Imagine rooting out patriarchal traditions on the ward level by having women frequently speak last in sacrament meeting or having as many weeks where there are only female speakers as there are weeks of just male speakers.

I would trade all of the talks about how wonderful women are for even one of these concessions. The talks praising women would become redundant if we showed that we really do believe women are spiritual and human equals to men in the way that we treat their contributions.

(So much for not starting a list. Turns out I can't hold back that tide. But I digress.)

So why does any of this matter? What's the big deal? Everything on that list seems so petty when compared to the vast scope and beauty of the gospel, right? Why nitpick? 

Because that list, while only the tip of the iceberg, demonstrates that our church culture systemically and subliminally perpetuates the idea that what men have to say is important and relevant for everyone. What women have to say, however, is important and relevant for women and children, but not so much for men. This view (patriarchy) is damaging to both women and men. 

But I'm not going to delve into the harmful effects of patriarchy today. My purpose in writing this and breaking my self-imposed ban on posting overtly feministy stuff on my personal blog (because people get judgy, yo, and I'm not interested in being summoned to my bishop's office again) is to share a rare opportunity to do something about it.

Ardis E. Parshall, my newly discovered Mormon historian heroine, is seeking funding so she can write a book about Mormon history told through the words and experiences of women. So cool, right? And the icing on the cake is that Ardis isn't a feminist hothead like me. She doesn't rant. She is thoughtfully diplomatic and articulate, and she's a legit historian. So don't let my angst turn you off: go check her out.

To explain the need for such a volume, read her post here. If statistics and graphs aren't really your thing, just skim that one and read some of these fascinating posts she wrote about how women, for better or for worse, are portrayed in church history:

Finally, read her vision and call to action here:

"What we don’t have is a history of the Church itself that incorporates the contributions of Latter-day Saint women to any significant extent. The active, achieving, contributions of women are largely reported as the history of women, segregated from the history of the Church itself.

It’s time to change that."  - Ardis E. Parshall

If you want to order a copy of the book or are in a position to contribute to this important project, please visit her Kickstarter page.

*I just found out that the church [finally] recognized the Women's Meeting as an official session of General Conference. The numbers above don't include the Women's and Priesthood session speakers; if you include those, there are 5 female speakers and 34 male speakers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Yay for The Friend

When I Grow Up … I Want to Be a Pediatric Transport Nurse

The Friend is my church's magazine for children. I'm not really a church magazines person because a few of my religious views are a bit heterodox, and every once in awhile there's an article that either makes me flaming mad or makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I let my Ensign (adult magazine) subscription lapse years ago, but last year I decided Kate would probably enjoy The Friend, so I signed up.

For the most part, it's been fine. Sometimes we read it; sometimes we don't. It usually sits benignly on our coffee table. Occasionally there's an article that makes me want to shred the whole thing into a fluffy pile of fiber (I'm looking at you, stories that tell little girls they need to keep their shoulders covered. Hell's bells.) But mostly, Kate enjoys looking at her "maget-zine" and gets excited every time it comes in the mail.

Recently, though, I've noticed a few things in The Friend that have made me happy and hopeful. Things that mark the beginning of a trend toward inclusion and openness that challenge (just a tiny bit) our intensely patriarchal, gender role oriented culture. 

Here are a few of them:

The October 2014 issue had a centerfold titled "Stand as a Witness." It talked about how to, well, stand as a witness for God and then had several examples of people from the scriptures and church history who stood as witnesses. The cool part, the part that literally made me yell with happiness, is that three out of the five examples given were women (Emma Smith, Abish, Mary Magdalene, Enoch and Alma). Do you know how rare it is to see even one woman used as an example for a mixed-gender group, let alone a majority? Granted, there are far more male than female central characters in the scriptures, so I don't expect there to be 50/50 representation all the time, but I could tell that whoever wrote this article had really made an effort to include female role models. I loved it. I meant to write a letter to The Friend to tell them how awesome and wonderful and heartening I found that simple two-page spread, but I never did.

April's issue had an article titled "When I Grow Up... I Want to be a Pediatric Transport Nurse" that's part of a series highlighting different careers. I was excited to see that the woman they interviewed appears to have children at home and have a career. I was also pleased that the article just focused on her job and didn't say anything about her kids, showing that a woman can have kids and a career and it's normal and good. The best thing about this article was what it didn't say (for example, excuses like that she worked because her husband lost his job, or she only worked part time, or that her career was a back-up plan, etc.). She appeared to work because she wanted to and because she liked it.

March's issue had a story called "Telling Secrets" about a girl who decided not to keep a secret her friend told her because she was afraid her friend would get hurt. At the end, it says,

 "What would it be like if Luisa told her secret and Carlotta didn't want to be her friend anymore?....Then she had another thought. Right now the most important thing was what was best for Carlotta--not what Carlotta might think about her. Carlotta needed a true friend, a friend who would help her be safe. ....Carlotta might end up being mad, but Luisa knew this was the right thing to do. She would be a true friend."

But the really cool part was the article on the next page, titled "When Should I Tell?" It has a fairly comprehensive list of things that should not be kept secret, and I was so pleased to see these included:

  • If somebody shows pictures of people without clothes
  • If somebody asks you to look at or touch their body or let them look at or touch your body
  • If somebody asks you to keep a secret about something that makes you feel bad
  • If something makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable
Then it has a list of people the child can go to for help, and concludes with this: "You don't need to feel alone with a secret. An adult can help you know what to do. Keep telling people until you get the help you need."

In our church, we're pretty conservative, which I view as a good thing. Unfortunately, however, this can cause us to be really tight-lipped when it comes to teaching our kids about sex, including consent and abuse. When abuse is perpetrated by an adult who is a trusted friend, family member, or authority figure (as it often is), children get scared and confused and often keep silent. These topics are ugly, but we must educate our children. We need to have casual conversations about it frequently. I hope to see this list taught in Primary sharing time to all of the children at least once a year. 

Yay for The Friend!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

That One Time We Bought a Dental Practice

{Kate in daddy's soon-to-be office}

Jay is closing on his dental practice tomorrow. We are two days away from being Business Owners. Though, technically, on paper, I'm not a part of this thing at all. It's weird how this huge endeavor, according to the government and anyone else that matters, is all solely in Jay's name even though it's affecting both of our lives astronomically.

Sometimes I think we're getting into the wrong racket. I mean, if you're going to buy a business, why not go for something that makes people happy, like a Krispy Kreme franchise? But then I think about how all I would do is eat donuts. There's a time in my life I would have wanted nothing more, but now that I'm getting older, my body likes to treat me like I'm a five year old by punishing me anytime I do something fun but slightly irresponsible. I get a headache when I eat too much sugar now. I can't even blame it on something else (my kids) because it's a specific kind of headache that coils like a spring right behind my forehead. And I seriously hear my body talk to me in a patronizing tone (she likes to blather on about choices and consequences) while my five year old self sits sullen with folded arms and says, "well, it was worth it!" even when it wasn't.

So I guess, all that considered, it's a good thing we're buying a dental practice. (When you think about it, a dental practice is kind of the anti-Krispy Kreme.) 

Jay has made so many spreadsheets for the business that I can't even keep track of them anymore. It's all he can talk about. He's excited and anxious and passionate about the potential of this fledgling practice. For all the time and attention it requires, I'm pretty sure it counts as our third child. Or triplets. 

The whole experience has been rather overwhelming and all-consuming. I'm not nearly as much help as I would like to be because it turns out that it's difficult to get anything done when I only have sporadic time chunks when my two year old isn't trying to lie on top of her baby sister. I used to be super strict about Kate's TV consumption (meaning she only watched three specific movies and only at times when there was no other option), but that has gone out the window this last week. And I mostly don't feel guilty about it because I'm sure I've heard a saying that goes, to every thing there is a season: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to be a great parent, and a time to be a really sucky one.

Mostly I am just tired. I have told Jay that I want to be sedated for the next year because it's going to be a doozy, but he seems to think the girls need a caregiver who is not a medicated zombie. 

I'm going a little bit crazy, but we're excited and hopeful and grateful for this new chapter in our lives.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hospital Diaries: Part III

The story of Jayne's hospital stay last September. Part I here. Part II here.

We were released on Friday with a handful of prescriptions and care instructions. The next week was long and incredibly taxing. I was overwhelmed with both a feeling of gratitude that my baby was going to be fine and with an uneasy terror that if we'd lived in a different time or a different place or if we hadn't taken her to the hospital, she would have died. I love living in a time with so many medical advances, but in a weird way it feels like playing God.

Jayne still wasn't sleeping well; the antibiotics ravaged her GI tract, and she just couldn't get comfortable. She pooped constantly, and her little bottom was raw and ulcerated. We went through 20 diapers a day. My head buzzed atop tightrope-tense shoulders and my eyes ached from constant sleeplessness. I broke down multiple times, at one point crying tears that had nothing to do with emotion for nearly 24 hours straight--it was like my body was telling me I was sinking by springing a leak. I was so spent that I couldn't fall asleep--a cruel, spiraling irony. I found that gratitude for a living baby and bone crushing exhaustion are not mutually exclusive. I wasn't a good mother to Kate, and I couldn't take care of myself, let alone two tiny girls. I gratefully accepted dinners and playdates for Kate from wonderful friends, Jay did what he could while he was home, and even though it all helped, none of it was enough.

I know this is personal, but draping reality with doilies and daisies isn't my style, and I don't want to paint over the situation with high-gloss varnish. It has been hard. It is getting better. 

Since being released from the hospital, Jayne has had more tests and doctor appointments. She will take prophylactic antibiotics and be reevaluated after a year. There is a chance she will need to have surgery in the future. She had finally adjusted to her original antibiotic when we had to switch to a different one, so we went through another bout of diarrhea and sleeplessness, though it's much better than it was the first time. 

Living in the hospital for several days taught me how to be an advocate for my child, especially toward the end of our stay. I think I drove the doctors and nurses crazy with all the questions I asked, but I didn't care. I stayed on top of Jayne's meds and called as soon as she was due for more. If she was sleeping, I asked the nurses to wait on taking her vitals until she woke up. Sometimes I would make them wait for a few hours if she was taking a long nap--since she was in stable condition, her rest was my priority. If a nurse or tech came in to run tests on her, I always asked how long they'd been working with kids and if they had frequently done that procedure on tiny babies. When a nurse came in with a student, I allowed the student to stay and watch but insisted the nurse do the procedure. I called the nurses whenever I needed anything and requested to speak to the doctor when I hadn't seen her in awhile. I wrote things down and called competent friends and family for second opinions.

I lost all sense of "modesty" and nursed Jayne when she was hungry regardless of who was in the room. I slept during the day when I could (which wasn't often) and barely held on to my sanity most days until Jay came home at night. I took showers and choked down hospital food and didn't leave Jayne's side. I couldn't. 

Our journey isn't over, but the hospital stay is. I am so grateful things played out the way they did. My heart is full, but there is a shadow there now from the knowledge that there are millions of mothers throughout the span of history who lived my experience but had different outcomes. If any of the variables had been different, Jayne could have, would have, died. 

But I lived in America in 2014; I noticed Jayne had a fever; I knew to take her to the hospital; she responded to antibiotics; everything worked out. And now she's a completely normal almost five month old with a huge open-mouth grin. You would never know that she once tiptoed around death's long shadow. 

And I have the luxury of productive exhaustion, of complaining about diaper blow outs, of watching my baby's eyes grow heavy over the video monitor. I have the uneasy peace of knowing I could have lost her but didn't. 

Tonight as I walked Jayne to her room, she snuggled into my shoulder in slumber, curled like a comma against my chest. I stood by her bed, my heart aching with a love that filled the room, my lips pursed in a silent prayer of gratitude for all the nights like this, for all the nights she's mine.