Ali Khamenei and Brigham Young
When I saw these tweets on r/NewIran, no joke, my first thought was astonishment at how much Iran's theocratic dictator sounds like an LDS prophet. I didn't bother to mention it because most Iranians have never heard of the LDS Church and I see no reason to change that, but some of these statements could have come almost verbatim from a conference talk or Ensign article not very long ago.
Of course, I don't mean to insinuate for a moment that LDS prophets are exactly the same as this man or that they should also be publicly executed. Much of my astonishment over the similarity stems from the fact that this man is talking about mothers and housewives to sidestep the more pertinent subject of him having women imprisoned and abused for refusing to cover their hair. But other than that weird bit of misdirection, the tactic of defending oppressive gender roles by praising women, even by claiming they're superior to men, is identical to what the LDS Church has done countless times. And while we're on the subject, the LDS preoccupation with "modesty" stems from exactly the same place as the Muslim hijab requirement - namely, the toxic doctrine that women have a moral obligation to protect men from sexual temptations. One can easily imagine Ali Khamenei, or whoever writes his tweets, telling women without hijabs, as Dallin Oaks told women who don't follow the LDS dress code, that they are "becoming pornography to some of the men who see you." But as the Islamic Republic soon will be, the LDS Church has been forced to back down on this issue a lot.
You know who isn't backing down? Missouri Republicans, who recently voted to require female lawmakers to keep their arms covered. (Insert obvious joke about the right to bare arms here.) No, I can't believe this is real life either. The Republican Party is a cancer.
I recently read Wife no.19, or the story of a life in bondage. Being a complete exposé of Mormonism, and revealing the sorrows, sacrifices and sufferings of women in polygamy by Brigham Young's ex-wife Ann Eliza Webb Young. While I was reading it I met up with an old friend and she asked what I've been reading lately and I didn't mention this book because I assumed she was still a member of the church, but it turns out she's an atheist going through the motions for her parents' sake, so that was kind of funny and reinforced yet again how screwed the church is. Anyway, I had been aware of this book's existence for quite some time but somehow not curious enough to read it. I had an institute teacher who mentioned Ann Eliza Young in his church history course. Mind you, this teacher was/is in most respects a really great and thoughtful and compassionate and funny guy, so I regret that this one anecdote gives a negative impression, but he just dismissed her as a gold digger and portrayed it as funny that she lost her alimony lawsuit because Brigham successfully argued that she had never been his wife because polygamy was illegal. And for some reason that was good enough for me. But I recently was reminded of her book's existence and realized that now I had no reason not to read it.
It's no secret that my feelings toward the LDS Church at this time are primarily negative, but this book's portayal of it is so overwhelmingly negative that I couldn't help being skeptical. Surely Brigham Young wasn't that evil. Surely Mormon vigilantes didn't murder that many people. Surely Utah wasn't hell on Earth for all women. Granted, this wasn't the first time I'd heard claims of Brigham swindling people in business or missionaries lying to European converts about polygamy. After reading it, I went to see what FAIR had to say about it, curious whether LDS apologists could legitimately call Ann Eliza Webb Young's credibility into question or disprove any of her claims about historical events. FAIR has no article about the book and only so much as mentions it a few times, usually to cite it as evidence that even "a later wife of Brigham Young's who divorced him, published an anti-Mormon book, and spent much of her time giving anti-Mormon, anti-polygamy lectures" believed that Joseph Smith took Fanny Alger as a plural wife before Emma caught them having sex in a barn. So I guess I'm free to assume the accuracy of everything she wrote.
I just want to share a couple of quotes that hit my heart especially hard. Page 395: "When flippant newspaper correspondents, after a visit to the valley of the Saints, go away and write in terms of ridicule of the Mormon women, calling them fearfully ugly in looks, they little know what bitter, hard, cruel experiences have carved the deep lines round the eyes and mouths, and made the faces grow repulsive and grim, and taken from them all the softness, and tenderness, and grace which glorify a happy woman's face, even if she be ever so plain of feature. If these men, who write so carelessly, could only see the interior of the lives that they are touching with such a rough, rude hand, they might be, perhaps, a little more sympathetic in tone. It is no wonder that the women of Utah are not beautiful; there is nothing in all their lives to glorify or beautify their faces, to add at all to their mental or physical charm or grace. They are pretty enough as children; as young girls they can compare favorably with any girls I have seen in the East; but just so soon as they reach womanhood the curse of polygamy is forced upon them, and from that moment their lives are changed, and they grow hard or die - one of the two - in their struggles to become inured to this unnatural life. This system either kills its victims outright, or crushes out every bit of hope and ambition from them, leaving them aimless and apathetic, dragging out existence without the least ray of present happiness or future anticipation to lighten it."
This claim of polygamy making women ugly would easily be dismissed as her subjective opinion if not for the fact that, as she mentions, outsiders noticed and commented on it - most famously, Mark Twain in Roughing It: "With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform [on polygamy] - until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically 'homely' creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, 'No - the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure - and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.'" Not so funny anymore, is it?
After escaping from Utah, initiating divorce proceedings, and going around speaking against polygamy with the help of Gentile friends, Ann Eliza Webb Young writes on pages 589-91: "I had felt [polygamy's] misery; I had known the abject wretchedness of the condition to which it reduced women, but I did not fully realize the extent of its depravity, the depths of the woes in which it plunged women, until I saw the contrasted lives of monogamic wives.
"I had seen women neglected, or, worse than that, cruelly wronged, every attribute of womanhood outraged and insulted. I now saw other women, holding the same relation, cared for tenderly, cherished, protected, loved, and honored. I had been taught to believe that my sex was inferior to the other; that the curse pronounced upon the race in the Garden of Eden was woman's curse alone, and that it was to man she must look for salvation. No road lay open for her to the throne of grace; no gate of eternal life swinging wide to the knockings of her weary hands; no loving Father listened to the wails of sorrow and supplication wrung by a worse than death-agony from her broken heart. Heaven was inaccessible to her, except as she might win it through some man's will. [Outside of Utah] I found, to my surprise, that woman was made the companion and not the subject of man. She was the sharer alike of his joys and sorrows. Morally, she was a free agent. Her husband's God was her God as well, and she could seek Him for herself, asking no mortal intercession. Motherhood took on a new sacredness, and the fatherly care and tenderness, brooding over a family, strengthening and defending it, seemed sadly sweet to me, used as I was to see children ignored by their fathers....
"Women are the greatest sufferers. The moral natures of men must necessarily suffer also; but to them comes no such agony of soul as comes to women. Their sensibilities are blunted; their spiritual natures deadened; their animal natures quickened; they lose manliness, and descend to the level of brutes; and these dull-witted, intellectually-dwarfed moral corpses, the women are told, are their only saviours.
"What wonder that they, too, become dull and apathetic? Who wonders at the immovable mouths, expressionless eyes, and gray, hopeless faces, which tourists mark always as the characteristics of the Mormon women? What does life offer to make them otherwise than dull and hopeless? Or what even does eternity promise? A continuation merely of the sufferings which have already crushed the womanhood out of them. A cheering prospect, is it not? Yet it is what every poor Mormon woman has to look forward to. Just that, and nothing more."
Oof. Until reading this passage, I had believed that the LDS Church was progressive on women's rights in the nineteenth century and had merely gone astray by refusing to progress further with the rest of society during the twentieth century. Ann Eliza Webb Young says otherwise. This could, again, be her subjective opinion, but I have no reason to doubt it. This isn't presentism. She wrote contemporaneously. She didn't look back through decades of hindsight, with the benefit of modern assumptions about women's equality founded on multiple feminist movements, to condemn the church. She looked around at what was, for her, the here and now, and she saw that the LDS doctrine that men intercede between their wives and God, which was explicitly taught in the temple ceremonies until 2019 (and arguably remains implicit in some ways), was already sexist by the standards of 1876. That's pretty damning. Of course, if some apologetics for this doctrine are to be believed, it's really placing an extra responsibility on men because women are superior to them. Ali Khamenei, or whoever writes his tweets, would be proud.
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C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.