Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On power differentials

There is no ombudsman for the LDS Church.

Regardless of whether you encounter ecclesiastical abuse, receive church discipline for being raped, or know your son's Mormon scout leader is a registered sex offender, there is nowhere to go to have those concerns resolved. If you have a disagreement with your bishop, the furthest you can go for redress is the Stake President. Try sending a letter to General Authority (no, I really do mean it - go try), and the letter will be immediately be rerouted back to your stake.

Women have even less power in the institutional church. With no representation at any level of leadership, including exclusion from even the ward-level "PEC" or bishopric meetings, women simply have no voice in policy creation. Even the Relief Society organization itself - which claims for itself the title of the "largest organization of women in the world" - must answer to men. At every level from ward to stake to general RS presidency, the RS president must answer to the priesthood authority (male leadership) over her. No RS manual can be released unless its creation is overseen by a man. No book club can be held without the (male) bishop's approval.

Even a Mormon woman's underwear must be designed and approved by a man. She must then report to another man on a biannual basis whether she has worn those approved underwear day and night.

What makes much of the powerlessness of Mormon women most acute is learning that Mormon women once had authority to act in God's name. Pioneer womens' journals contain frequent mention of their administering healing ordinances to one another and to their children. In preparation for childbirth, a dear friend or mother might anoint the expectant mother with consecrated oils, reciting a blessing heavily reminiscent of one given now in the temple initiatories. Joseph Smith Jr. gave his blessing to the early Sisters performing these acts of faith. Brigham Young and later presidents of the church would take those administering roles away from the women.

Common themes on disaffected Mormon blogs speak of "voting with your feet" when letters go returned or unanswered. But leaving the church does not seem a viable option for everyone; there are families, friends, and in some cases even jobs and livelihoods to be considered. Additionally, the church demonizes dissidents; consider the September Six and the use of excommunication to invalidate and silence the dissenter.

It is no wonder, then, that Mormon women have devised various means of taking what power they can from the system. For example, reclaiming her feminine spiritual power in a non-PH-threatening way, Alisa describes her experiences blessing her son in her own way in A Circle of Two: A Mother's Baby Blessing and her "Blessingway" prior to giving birth.

But these are largely personal rituals. Mraynes discusses an effective, if minimal, way of reclaiming power in the ward leadership setting, recommending that sisters take back the word "No." She states:
It is obvious that Mormon women have no real institutional power. However, we do have influence. Yes, if men didn’t show up to church we couldn’t even call Sacrament Meeting to order, let alone participate in sacred ordinances. But if women refused to meet the expectations of their male leadership, the church would cease to exist. Make no mistake, there is power in this.
I know that the sisters behind the LDS WAVE website have garnered a lot of criticism, including from faithful Mormon women. In the eyes of those who believe that the president of LDS Church talks on a Batphone with God, even a mild disagreement with authority is an act of apostasy. Nevertheless, most of their proposed "calls for action" (i.e., letter writing campaigns) seem very limited from the perspective of those who have left the church and reclaimed that spiritual power for themselves, separate from an all-male authority structure.

I struggle with these questions. Until about a year ago, I considered myself a faithful Latter-day Saint. Most of my friends are or were once LDS. I struggle with the relief I have felt by owning my decision to leave, along with a sincere desire that those who stay might find a place of voice for themselves.

When a woman is given no power, she must take it wherever she can.

7 comments:

Quiet Song said...

Curious-how have you taken or gained power since leaving (or have you left)?

And, what have you now achieved with that power?

And why does having "power" or not having "power" mean so much to you?

Lisa said...

I spoke with an LDS friend of mine today, and she told me about last sunday (? it was recently) where she and the other nursery leader took their 15 kids from a sweltering room to a cooler, albeit smaller, room on the other side of the building.

they did not realize they were infringing on the EQ's room until the EQ guys came in and one in particular told them that the kids would deal with it and they should move back.

my first comment was along the lines of "nice job, dude, of exerting your authority over yr wimmenz"

Because that's what it was. A priesthood dude exerting his stupid priesthood authority over someone who had to answer to priesthood authority when she had none at all--a woman.

And my friend agreed.

FIFTEEN babiesin a hot room. It's 100+ degrees outside.

It's like, Dude, you're a grown up. You suck it up and deal with the fucking heat in that room if it's not such a big deal and allow me to avoid as much whining and general chaotic behavior from little ones as I possibly can.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if this guy and others like him have no idea what it's like to take care of one child, let alone fifteen.

Quiet Song (hope you don't mind MC): It's called dignity.

Quiet Song said...

So they quietly and meekly went back to their room I suppose and not so quietly went merrily along their way sniping all over the town or the internet. Those wheels on the bus go round and round.

HMMMMM. Sounds like a bit of a problem with conflict management skills to me. In some quadrants of the galaxy this could be called passive aggressive behavior . . . I take it no child or elder or nursery leader fainted from heat prostration that day.

And, where exactly was the scheduled Elder's Quorum Meeting then to take place? The nursery room? All you had to do was offer them snack and it would be a done deal(Sorry, brethren-I was a nursery leader and I know there are many of your who wouldn't follow a dixie cup of goldfish given the opportunity even if it is to a hot place).

Lots of "Dignity" in all this . . . I'm seeing it. Must go grab my sacrament meeting program and fan myself, I date to the pre AC days of church attendance when sisters still brought folding fans with them in their purses for sacrament meeting . . . .

Were it not for my experience in the HVAC industry, I, too, could take the zoning problems involving my new local building's relief society room as some sort of personal affront as a woman . . . . Or, I suppose march in to priesthood and demand that they come and trade the women rooms.

In the end it sounds as though the person who probably needed this information regarding the heat problem in the nursery room, the Physical Facilities Rep, probably never got it . . . why, because a person was busy feeling offended whether or not it was warranted.

You want to exercise power in the Church you do it through channels, by going to Primary President, talking to Bishop counselor over Primary or going directly to PFR for a solution. They are all more than willing to help when there is a problem. Wish to remain powerless, do as these sisters did and then complain. It didn't work for them, it doesn't work for you, it wouldn't work for me.

Only diffference between those sisters and me is that my Nursery room would be cool the next week because I would solve the problem appropriately, through channels, and without having an external or internal tantrum because someone did not agree with my first proffered solution.

Ah, human being what are you going to do with them?

Quiet Song said...

So they quietly and meekly went back to their room I suppose and not so quietly went merrily along their way sniping all over the town or the internet. Those wheels on the bus go round and round.

HMMMMM. Sounds like a bit of a problem with conflict management skills to me. In some quadrants of the galaxy this could be called passive aggressive behavior . . . I take it no child or elder or nursery leader fainted from heat prostration that day.

And, where exactly was the scheduled Elder's Quorum Meeting then to take place? The nursery room? All you had to do was offer them snack and it would be a done deal(Sorry, brethren-I was a nursery leader and I know there are many of your who wouldn't follow a dixie cup of goldfish given the opportunity even if it is to a hot place).

Lots of "Dignity" in all this . . . I'm seeing it. Must go grab my sacrament meeting program and fan myself, I date to the pre AC days of church attendance when sisters still brought folding fans with them in their purses for sacrament meeting . . . .

Were it not for my experience in the HVAC industry, I, too, could take the zoning problems involving my new local building's relief society room as some sort of personal affront as a woman . . . . Or, I suppose march in to priesthood and demand that they come and trade the women rooms.

In the end it sounds as though the person who probably needed this information regarding the heat problem in the nursery room, the Physical Facilities Rep, probably never got it . . . why, because a person was busy feeling offended whether or not it was warranted.

You want to exercise power in the Church you do it through channels, by going to Primary President, talking to Bishop counselor over Primary or going directly to PFR for a solution. They are all more than willing to help when there is a problem. Wish to remain powerless, do as these sisters did and then complain. It didn't work for them, it doesn't work for you, it wouldn't work for me.

Only diffference between those sisters and me is that my Nursery room would be cool the next week because I would solve the problem appropriately, through channels, and without having an external or internal tantrum because someone did not agree with my first proffered solution.

Ah, human being what are you going to do with them?

Madame Curie said...

I needed a couple of days to consider my answer to your questions, Quiet Song.

There seems to be this conflation, especially within Mormonism, of "power" with "dominion" or "providence over others". That is not the type of power I mean here. I am referring to the ability to
make decisions for oneself, and to take ownership for those decisions without needing the approval or authority of someone else before you can act.

For me, it means the ability to choose who I associate with, what I do to and with my body (what I eat, drink, clothe myself in, what words I choose to use, and what underwear I place on my body), where I choose to spend my time, what books I read, when and how I pray, etc., without having to "check" or confirm my actions with another mortal first.

How have I taken that power back?
I have taken that power back to me by choosing what words I speak in my prayers.

I take that power back to me by asking someone to say prayer at dinner, rather than deferring to my husband to do so.

I take that power back to me by choosing to wear clothing that I want to wear - clothes that are affordable, comfortable, and climate- and activity-appropriate - without automatic deference to how someone else would have me dress.

What have I achieved? Self-confidence in my decisions. Pride at my individual achievements and accomplishments. Courage that I can make such decisions in the future, without fear of submitting to unrighteous authority.

Why does power mean so much to me? Because I believe I own my body, and therefore have a responsibility to act in accordance to what is best for me, rather than what someone else thinks is best for me.

I no longer give any one else more "authority" to speak to God on my behalf than I have for myself.

Quiet Song said...

Dear Madame,

Thank you for your lovely answer. I believe it is quite similar to the calculus I've made in my life choices although my own desired self destiny lead to other choices than where you are currently. I STRONGLY believe all women in the Church must make this same journey of maturity, even though it may be fraught with risk and the unknown, especially questioning of the gospel. Many women have, still more need to.

Yours truly,

Quiet Song

Becky said...

"why does having "power" or not having "power" mean so much to you?"

Haha. I totally thought that was a joke. Was sure it was sarcasm. Until I read further.