Thursday, December 13, 2012

finding the worth of a soul. {on mormon feminism and wearing THOSE PANTS!!}




I grew up feeling unequal and unworthy.  Feeling less than.  

Was it unequal specifically to men?  No, the inadequacy I felt had no boundaries, did not differentiate between race, color, gender, religion.  It was all encompassing and all-consuming.  

I have mentioned before that I also grew up believing that God's unconditional love did not apply to me.  That somehow I was missed, skipped over unnoticed, or did not deserve it.  I mention this again to talk about a different aspect of the places of my life--specifically in my LDS religion--where this idea and belief was affected.  

My religion is thick with culture.  One of my friends in high school was not Mormon and I remember his religion being the topic of conversation once, or maybe twice a year.  On Christmas and then occasionally on Easter.  This wasn't because we weren't open to talking about it, but more because these were the only times he would actually talk about attending his church.  As a young girl, I couldn't grasp the concept that religion did not mean giving of your entire life to dedicate to it.  Sundays were sacred and focused specifically on God and Jesus--whether it was attending a meeting to talk about Him, or following up those hours after the meetings to listen to music about Him, read articles and books written about Him, and spend the day thinking and doing as He did.  And it didn't stop on Sundays.  Throughout the week I attended family activities, meetings, and group service projects.  What I'm saying is this: as a Mormon, the religion becomes a way of life.

I also grew up fearing God.  Don't get me wrong, I think a little dose of God-fear can do a soul some good, but I took it to a place of unhealthy.  I was raised in a very black and white world:  don't consume alcohol, don't smoke, don't do drugs, don't have sex before you get married.  No rated R movies, don't date until you're 16, and moderation in all things.  Forgive 70 times 70, turn the other cheek, strive for perfection.  Wear skirts to the knees, one-piece swimming suits, and no swearing.  The list continues on.  I believed that if I--or anyone that I associated with--went against any of these rules, that it meant they were bad.  Naughty.  Rotten to the core.  The black sheep.  

And that...obviously...I, or they, would be disappointing God and he would no longer love or bless the sinner if there was any sort of rebellion against any of these expectations. I remember consciously thinking this about myself or others around me if we strayed, even just for just a small fraction of time.  

I know that this way of thinking is what fed upon my already planted seed of shame and unworthiness. Combined with other circumstances in my life, it is what created the perfect storm to attempt to squash the thread of self-worth that I was so desperately clinging onto, destroying it to become almost obsolete.  

When I finally came to the end of my frayed, self-deprecating rope, I had the choice to dig myself out.  But that meant truly finding a self-worth that was not built upon the often dangerous and even more often--faulty--opinions of others.  It was a heart-wrenching process, and caused somewhat of an identity crisis for a while.  

There has been a lot of talk of Mormon Feminism around these parts lately.  Now there is a growing number of women who are ready to show their feminism by wearing pants to church on Sunday.  From what I have read and researched, it appears there are many Mormon women who feel they have been dealt with unjustly, and they are tired of it.  They are demanding equality!  Respect!  For someone to finally stand up and say they have worth by allowing them to bless, ordain, hold specific callings, and pray over a pulpit!  To band with other women who feel this way and not feel alone anymore!

And, from what I gather, they want to see tangible results, not just hear someone say it.  But for it to be proven to them, in the form of:

-being able to hold the priesthood, along with other callings that are currently only held by men of the church
-going on a mission for a full 2 years instead of 18 months, and being allowed to leave on that mission at the same age as the young men leave
-feeling supported when they choose to work outside the home instead of rear children
-not feel labeled as a failure if they are un-married or child-less
-being allowed to say a prayer over the pulpit during General Conference
-balancing the budget between male and female extra-curricular groups and events so that it is the same amount for both sides

I know there are countless others, these are just the main points I've heard/read repeatedly.

Now.  I can't recall any specific times in my life where I have actually felt from another member of my religion that women are not worth as much as men.  I didn't have a traumatic experience where I was yelled at and told that I was less than by a male member of my ward.  I didn't look upon men in callings of authority as above me and all other females.  I just didn't.  

I understand though, there are women who have had those experiences, and I don't take them lightly.  I don't say, "just get over it" to them, even if I haven't felt their specific pain.  Pain is pain, and should be treated as such, regardless of whether I deem it pain-worthy or not.  

I have been in many situations where I was told by both actions and words of an individual that I was not worth much.  Not directed toward all women, but me in particular.  So I know the feeling, I know the pain, and I know what it does to someone's spirit when they actually believe the lies of their worth that are told to them by someone who is inflicting hurt.  

But what I feel about this Mormon Feminism wave, that seems to be gathering more and more force as it continues to progress, is this:

no one can define your worth for you except for you and God.

And whether or not you're granted the priesthood some day, or your mission is extended 6 months, or you're praised for your career choice outside of the home, or there is a parade thrown for you with every single member of your ward attending because you're unwed and not a mother, or you get the phone call from one of the higher-ups, requesting for you to pray during the Spring Session of conference next week, or you get to go on a boating excursion with the new and improved budget....

Those things may provide a temporary relief from your pain, but it will not cure it.  

I have come to know this in a very personal way.  Because it didn't matter how many times someone told me I was beautiful.  Or how many times someone's actions or words said that I had earned--and deserved--their love, or the various ways that I was shown and told that I was good and did have actual worth, 

those good experiences did not cure me because I did not believe it.

I chose to instead believe the ugly lies and thoughts and actions of the imperfect people who told me the opposite.  But guess who's fault that was?  Not the abuser's, not the disgusting pig of a boyfriend, not the teacher's or the bishop's or the prophet's....

It was mine.  My choice to believe it.  My choice to let it fester inside, and build and cause anger and bitterness with tentacles that reached and created,

a victim.  

Which in turn, led to a great struggle.  The tiny slice of my self-worth that was still in there, the last shred of my dignity began to fight this self-loathing victim.  It scratched and screamed and clawed and decided to finally DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT TO MAKE SOMEONE SEE THAT I HAD WORTH!!

When really, the only person who needed to see it and recognize it, 

was me.  

But it worked. This soul-wrenching temper tantrum.  In an extremely painful way...it worked.  I was brought to my knees, and found myself begging God to help me see my way through it and start to truly love myself for the first time.  To rid my spirit of the shame and loathing, to rip the tentacles from my heart and thoughts so I could see a glimpse of clarity for the first time in my life.  Looking back now, almost 3 years down the road from then, I am no longer

a victim.  

The great thing about choosing, even if at first you choose unwisely, you can always change your mind and choose a different path. 

Truthfully, for a while I did have to separate my way of thinking from the culture of my religion.  I didn't stop going to church, but as I walked through the double doors, I began shedding the skin of the little girl who believed she was unworthy if she made a mistake, or didn't live up to the "potential" of what the culture told her she needed to.  The imperfect culture and imperfect people of the church truly give it such a bad name, and a hard reputation to defend sometimes. 

As I shed that skin, my heart ached to find a world inside of this religion that was no longer black and white, right and wrong, good and bad.  Whether it could be defined as "gray" or not I don't know, all I knew was that I wanted to be able to see past another's actions and find their worth, regardless of their choices, because I needed so badly to see my own.

And I believe that I am finding it.  I am a member of this church because I believe in its principles, its doctrine {including all of it, that depicts our different responsibilities as men and women},and that deep-down, underneath all of its layers of imperfection...is love.  My testimony of its truth has never been more solid, and continues to grow daily in its solidarity. I no longer care whether someone comes to church as a homosexual individual, a pot-smoking individual, a pornography-addicted individual, a Mormon feminist, an unmarried individual, or a two-piece bathing-suit-owner.  Let them come and sit by me and know that I love them and am not there to judge them or burn a scarlet letter into their chest, just as much as I'm not there for their approval..... or for the male leader's approval, or for my husband's approval, or for the relief society president's approval. 

I am not there for anyone's approval,

only to worship my God.

I no longer live my life for anyone's approval.  The small and seemingly insignificant choices that I make daily, and the larger, more life-altering choices that I make in the grand scheme of things are made because they are what I believe is good for me, and bringing me happiness.  They're no longer made out of shame or fear.  

My worth as a child of God has nothing to do with which responsibilities I do or do not hold, or which callings I do or do not serve in, or whether or not I wear a dress or pants to church.  

God speaks to me now-- daily in fact, if I am listening.  There has been a peace that has come into my heart I have never had before, and I have become a vessel of his. I believe I would be this regardless of my gender, even regardless of which church I belonged to. I believe I would still have the potential to reach this as long as the way I am living my life is inside of truth for me.  As his vessel, when I am open and in tune, I have had the ability to reach those who have been unreachable.  I have had the ability to hear His words meant for others and have Him speak through me.  I do not need to lay my hands upon their head to know it, the words have simply been spoken to me to speak to another.  I also know that when there is no priesthood authority close and I am in need of His voice, or His blessing, or His comfort, I can kneel down and ask for the powers of heaven, and it will be there.

I know not everyone is at this place in their life, and maybe this movement is going to be a piece of getting them closer to achieving it, who knows?  

I have taught, and continue to teach, my children about the "fairness" game.  If they are constantly comparing themselves to another--feeling "less than" and yelling about how this isn't fair or that isn't--I teach them this feeling has nothing to do with anyone or anything outside, but only from the inside.  Insecurities, comparison, jealousy....they all spring from a lack of self-worth, when you really get down to it.  

So I guess what I recommend is asking yourself, while pulling on your church clothes this Sunday, one leg at a time is....

Is this just a cry for someone, anyone {even if it's for yourself}, to recognize and finally acknowledge your worth?  

I don't know....I can't speak for those planning on doing it.  I could be way off base here, and I'm open to the idea that I might be.  Maybe it really is just about women wearing their pain on the outside instead of the inside.  To prove to themselves that they matter, that their pain matters.  But if it were, why does church have to be the forum for that? I definitely have written about my own individual pain, and found outlets to talk about it and own it and show it and mourn it and I didn't have to read it over the pulpit in testimony meeting.  I didn't call my offenders to the forefront and demand change.  As I changed, and healed, the need to bring about my idea of justice and balance and equality to those offenders faded.  It was no longer needed, because I no longer defined myself from the opinions of anyone but me and my Father in Heaven. 

That doesn't mean that another individual's way of working through something is wrong. You want to wear pants?  It's going to help ease your burden, heal some of your wounds?  Then go right ahead.  And I think if I had read an article where one lady had done it and what it signified to her, and how it helped her overcome something, I would be standing up and applauding for her.  It just feels strange that the women who feel this way seem to be unable to voice it individually.  Why the need for a big group support moment?

It just feels like it's more than about being vulnerable and you've been through hard things and you're no longer afraid of showing it on the outside.  Because I believe deep down, that if that's truly what this was about, I would be able to feel that and run to start putting on my own pair of jeans.  But it's coming across to me more like a situation where there's safety in numbers, and hopping on a bandwagon, and proving something, which then eradicates the vulnerability aspect in my eyes and makes me question the sincerity behind the intent.  

I feel like if you really do already know your worth, you don't need to do or wear anything to prove it to someone else.

And I know that, because I have lived through it.  

17 comments:

MeggyT said...

Well stated, and I agree 100%. Now let's see how much crap you catch from it :) Good Luck! I'll try to be the good libra and look for ways to defuse anything I see. Love ya.

Meggan Hayes said...

Well said my friend!

lynsey said...

MeggyT,

Well I was going to write a comment on Cjane's blog but decided against it! :)

Meggan --thank you m'dearie!

Alison D. said...

Brava, Lynsey...couldn't agree more! I've often felt the need to express my thoughts on this very subject over the past several years....not about the wearing or not wearing of pants to church specifically, but about the culture of the Church versus the Gospel itself, and how we so easily confuse the two sometimes. Thank you for putting into words some of the same things I've struggled with myself, as I'm sure many others have, in the area of self-worth/self-esteem. Yes, you're bound to get some flack since most everyone will continue to have their own thoughts and feelings on the matter...but then that's what free agency is all about.

Rachel Chick said...

Oh Lynsey. Thank you so much for this. You bear a sweet and powerful testimony that has forever changed me. Thank you for sharing yourself so publicly on your blog. I know that you have impacted many other people as well.

As I read through this post, I cried and cried. First, I want to just throw my arms around you and hug you and cry with you. Second, I was finally able to put a small pinpoint on why this whole thing is getting me so worked up. Because it's just so sad. (Not that someone wants to wear pants to church or anything - that's inconsequential.) But it's so sad that all of these women are missing the point. They are missing the one thing that can give them the peace that they say they are wanting. My heart breaks for them and it's in my soul to want to fight against the lies that they are accepting.

I will never be able to tell you the great example that you have been to me. How often I think about you. How deeply I admire you.

I know that the Gospel is true and I know the the Atonement works for me. It is so incredible to see it work in another person's life as well. Thank you for sharing that with {me}.

Toby and Tammy said...

One of the seven million reasons why I am not liking living here in Utah. Being LDS vs living LDS is soo different here.

I for one will be wearing a dress-or skirt like I always do at church.

You are amazing and your writing is amazing.

One day I hope to meet you. So glad you're my cyber friend.

Kris said...

I'm so glad I stopped doing my "to do list" to read this! And yes it really is after 1am and I'm still doing my "to do list" for the day.
There is so much I want to say right now but my brain is FRIED! I'm tired and i've been going going going for the last three days and it looks like I won't be stopping anytime soon....Anyway....totally off subject...so tired..must comment...

YOUR ARE AMAZING! That's what it all boils down to. Thank you for sharing your wise words. I so, look up to you and have so much respect for you and your courage and faith and love for others. THANK YOU for being my friend! Thank you for sharing your experiences so openly with the blogging world. You truly are amazing! The end :) and good night! I need to sleep for three days now. Who knows why I'm still typing.....zzzzzzzzz.
Love you my dear friend!

SusieQ said...

Amazing. Lyns, you totally nailed it. Thank you. I wish I could be so eloquent (and as far along in my recovery, but that's for another day :) I know I don't comment much, or ever maybe, I'm not sure, but I love your writing. I love you honesty. I love your vulnerability. Also, thank you for writing about this subject specifically. I haven't been online much this week and didn't know about this issue (Seriously!). I need to be prepared for any sisters who may show up in pants (I'm the RS Pres in our ward)! Your thoughts have given me the perspective I needed just in case all aich-ee-double toothpicks breaks loose, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.
Love you, Lyns!

Jared Crookston said...

I think you are absolutely correct about how pants aren't going to fix the core problem. And I think you've got the right perspective towards people who will be participating in this.

I've read so many comments in different places where people are so angry at and critical of any woman who is planning on wearing pants to church on Sunday (and their husbands who will dare to let them!) and it just doesn't make sense to me. If any of our sisters come wearing pants to church on Sunday, rather than coming to harsh conclusions about the state of their testimony, we should realize that this is a sister who, for some reason or another, hurts due to this felt inequality. Or maybe she is acting in solidarity with someone she cares about who has been hurt. Or maybe she's a nursery leader tired of crawling around in a dress. Or possibly she really likes wearing pants.

Supposedly we are a big tent church, accepting of all types. Hopefully that love and acceptance will help us overpower any of the Dolores Umbridge types out there who may judge and complain. There's already enough of that judging guys with facial hair and colored dress shirts.

I don't have strong feelings or experiences with the church and its "institutional sexism", but I'll definitely be wearing pants to church this Sunday.

Nana said...

Oh Lynsey, Amen and Amen! I love you for your perspective but I love you because you are wise beyond your years and you remind me of me!
You are awesome and I love you!

Pam said...

It truly is amazing that as you have found that strength inside, you can then use it as a force for good to be reckoned with in the lives of others. True and lasting change can only be brought about by love...the love of God, the love of ourselves, and then love of others. You are such a bright, lovely light in this world!

Julia said...

You are incredible! I love this - well said.

lynsey said...

thank you so much for your comments friends! i thought this post may offend or hurt someone & am grateful to see that so far it has been taken in with the intent it was written.

your supportive words have lifted me up today! <3

Aubrey and Jardan said...

I love your post--thinking about it from this perspective is so empowering and uplifting. Thanks for your clarity, insight, and empathy. You are such a blessing :)

In the church I haven't ever been told that I'm of less value than men, but I have felt it through more subtle ways. I want to be clear that it has never been the result of the doctrine of the church. I love its principles and I agree with them. For instance, I have not felt a loss resulting from not personally holding the priesthood, because the blessings of it are available to any person seeking them, and I have always felt the power of God flowing through my life as a result of the power He has blessed us with when He gave us the priesthood.

Instead, I've felt these messages more through the culture of the church and through policies that are antiquated...and I think it's important to have this discussion on a larger scale so that we, as a people, can shed light on areas that can be improved. One think I've seen that I feel as changed somewhat recently has been the use of more inclusive language by speakers at general conference and in other official church areas. Logically, I know that women are included in phrases like "the sons of men" and "that men might have joy" etc. But when Elder Uchtdorf, for instance, says things like, "that men and women might have joy," it feels personal and so powerful. I think it does cause damage when women were being left out of the church's discourse! I love that Apostles seem to be making a specific effort to include us. And it seems that officially the leaders of our church have been evaluating the way women have been included in the church, like changing the age to 19 (which I think is HUGE and sends an important message to women).

There are still important areas that need to be addressed. One that is really a concern to me is that the young women generally have less access to resources than the young men. Yes, it's through Boy Scouts, which are not PART of the church. But the program is endorsed by the Church, wards fund their scout programs (and donations are asked for during church), and importantly CALLINGS are given through church. So, I'm not only talking about resources in terms of money, but also in terms of personell and the time they give to the scouting program. Girls and young women do not have access to anywhere near the same level of resources, and the church does not sponsor any comporable organization for girls/young women. Girls and young women do not have anywhere near the same number of callings devoted to them. I think this is a serious issue, and our young women would benefit from access to that amount of resources, especially because the culture we are surrounded with is so hypersexualized and girls/women are bombarded with negative and objectifying messages.

So, after all this, I think what you said is essential, but I also believe that this conversation does need to happen on a larger scale. And, I love you :)

Anonymous said...

Amen! From the moment I converted, I have never felt "less than" anyone in the LDS church, let alone my husband or any other brethren, for the express reason that you stated so eloquently. If your testimony is based upon what someone else thinks, instead of centered in Christ, you are bound to be offended at one point or another---and probably more often than not. People are human and make many mistakes--some knowingly, but most unknowingly. Throughout my 40 years of activity, many of my friends were "offended" by our culture, the doctrine, fellow members, the leadership of the LDS church, etc., etc., etc. and many used it as their excuse to become inactive. There will always be something or someone to blame for the way that you feel, if you choose this option. It takes a ton of courage and hard work to "look inside" and find that "center". You've faced and conquered so much in your short life. Thank you for addressing this controversial subject in a truly poignant way.

ClancyPants said...

Love this. You put words to many of the thoughts in my mind and feelings in my heart.

The whole "feminist" collective, be in the form it wearing pants, or speaking out or whatever, just feels divisive in a time where we need to be more united than ever.

Alex K said...

lyns, i read this post before, but since im locked out of fb for the next week, i started hunting down blogs instead (master of procrastination, i am), and i came back to this one.

i wanted to comment when i first read it, but i was one of the first to read it and i was really hesitant to comment. im still hesitant to comment because of the above comments, but ill give it a shot.

i really appreciated your perspective and the empowerment you have found. and i also really appreciated your understanding that there are many who have not. i, like aubrey, have never felt alienated by the gospel, but have rather felt a strong sense of do-not-belongness that emanates from the culture of mormonism. this was particularly strong in utah, but its pervasive through all of lds culture. you know me though, i usually buck this by amplifying those parts of my personality that make others uncomfortable and just let them deal with it. but im an outspoken and outgoing person, and i am able to confront the discomfort and weirdness head on. most other women that ive met that have also felt like the culture has made them feel less worthwhile arent as upfront about it as i am. and while choosing not to be a victim may very well be part of it, choosing not to let it offend you doesnt change the fact that you have to hear the same offensive things over and over again like its the gospel truth.

does that make sense? i think so much of the unrest among mormon women stems from knowing that they are loved daughters of heavenly parents, but constantly feeling that their brothers and sisters are trying to tell them they arent, simply by being different or by being a woman.

so. i wore pants. i wore pants for wonderful women like you but who still feel like victims and need the empowerment to choose not to be a victim. i wore pants for wonderful women who dont fit the mormon mold and feel like outsiders in their own culture but dont know how to be themselves and ignore the ugly. i wore pants for me, who at first was terrified by the idea of wearing pants because of how i would be judged at church, not because i thought heavenly father would care. at first i thought this was a silly way to start dialogue, but then i saw the horrible way members were reacting, and realized that if people were going to tell women they should be excommunicated for not conforming with the dress code, there was a serious problem with the way women were being viewed by their peers. and that needs to end.

i love you, and i love your beautiful way of expressing yourself. i hope i conveyed my thoughts half as coherently.