I stopped going to Elders Quorum a while ago because of the occasional sexist comments that I didn't feel like tolerating, but I figured I should give it another chance. So of course this last week we had a lesson on marriage. I thought about walking out, but I figured God would bless me if I endured the pain. It started off with the obligatory acknowledgement that gay people exist before proceeding as if they don't. Then for most of it, the floor was open to ask questions of the stake president, the bishop, the bishop's second counselor, the Elders Quorum president, and a relatively new high councillor who's at least four decades younger than the previous one. And the first question asked was this: "How do we handle conflicts, like if my wife wants to work and I want her to stay home?" Really, of all the examples he could have chosen, he chose that one. I impulsively said "She should get a better husband" at what I hoped was the right volume for him not to hear but for the row between us to hear. I don't have a lot of patience left for this nonsense. Even before I became an angry feminist, there was never a point in my life when I would have seriously considered trying to stop my hypothetical wife from getting a job, unless the one she had in mind was prostitution or multi-level marketing. And of course I was set to walk out if I didn't like how this question got answered.
The bishop's second counselor answered first. He's very quiet, and I've never had an opinion about him until now. I wish I could remember all his exact words, because in conveying the gist of them it sounds like he was totally shutting this guy down, but he wasn't, he was just sharing his perspective. He said that his wife has a passion for working in special education, and it doesn't bring in much extra income, but it makes her happy and it makes her a better person, so why would he try to stop her? He said it's important to treat his wife like a person and make decisions together and not just be like "I want you to do this" or whatever. He said she only worked while the kids were at school, but different families have different circumstances and just saying the woman needs to stay home all the time to change diapers or wash dishes or whatever (which is pretty close to an actual Spencer W. Kimball quote) is sexist. I was very pleased with his answer and politely pretended not to notice how much it contradicted what the bishop said almost a year ago. If what the bishop taught us about gender roles in his Family Proclamation lesson is true (spoiler alert: it isn't), then the second counselor's wife needs to repent for not being completely fulfilled by motherhood and homemaking. On this occasion the bishop shared how happy his wife was with only motherhood and homemaking, but he held back on saying that God requires all women to do the same. It's a good thing his second counselor spoke up first and that the stake president I complained to after his Family Proclamation lesson was in the room.
(Pic to prove I'm not lying)
On Wednesday I attended possibly my last college class ever as a student. I might get a PhD someday, but I'm not planning on it at this time. So it was kind of a somber feeling. It couldn't have been better, though. We met at the professor's beautiful little nineteenth-century house, had pizza in her massive backyard with her dog and her cat and her chickens, and informally discussed our folklore research. Most of us stayed an extra hour.
Toward the 1:09:30 mark of this video from Thursday evening, if you are so inclined, you will see me reading an excerpt from my story "Do Robots Dream of Electric Horse Debugger?" that won second place in the Graduate Fiction category of the USU Creative Writing and Art Contest. Ironically, the excerpt I read had been cut from my contest entry to fit the length restriction, but the contest director was my thesis chair and after my defense I mentioned this and he said he loved that scene and offered to get it reinstated for publication. My story and some other stuff can be read in the latest issue of the USU English Department literary journal Sink Hollow.
Despite my terror of public speaking, it was a really great experience except that I noticed a typo in my excerpt that I, my thesis chair and Graduate Fiction Writing professor, my eight Graduate Fiction Writing classmates, and the Sink Hollow editor had all failed to notice before, and also when an acquaintance in the audience said "Great job" afterward I responded "You too." I ran into Paul Fjeldsted, a bishop I had years ago who was there to support his niece. I love that man. I won big in bishop roulette with him.
On Friday another stalker came out of the woodwork.
The catalyst for this, I believe, was a meltdown on my Facebook timeline from someone I knew growing up who used to be a phenomenal guy but now has a pathological hatred of our the church we grew up in. I have many friends who have left the church, including the majority of peers who grew up in it with me and the majority of my graduate school classmates, but I'm not accustomed to someone on my Facebook timeline going ballistic about how the Latter-day Saint pioneers were the personification of evil and deserved to be persecuted. It was most unfortunate. I didn't waste much time addressing his thoroughly un-nuanced historical sound bites (other than pointing out that the pioneers did not "introduce slavery to Utah" because the native tribes were selling each other's children to Mexicans well before then, after which he moved the goalposts on the definition of slavery) but fortunately another friend was willing to engage with him more and call out his toxic behavior until he stopped. It really just reinforced my sense of where I stand, since I've become more critical of the church lately, but I still feel defensive when it's unfairly attacked, and I criticize it because I want to make it better, not burn it to the ground. I understand that he's angry because he learned a lot of things that weren't in the paint-by-numbers version of history he learned at church. I've been angry about that too. But he's merely traded it for a different paint-by-numbers version of history, one with the colors reversed. It's most unfortunate.
Last night I felt the Spirit pretty well during a session of stake conference, helped by a 19-year-old speaker who inexplicably was even funnier than I am. I went out to eat with some people afterward and we didn't get our food until 10:30, so I was up late and too tired to feel the Spirit today, but these things happen.
Daniel C. Peterson spoke at the Logan Institute of Religion on Friday. He was one of their more exciting guests in my book. I respect his scholarly work. I respect that he resigned from the Republican party and denounced Donald Trump. I respect that he defends Islam against its detractors nearly as much as he does his own church (and the detractors are often members of his own church). One curious fact that's become a running joke with him is that critics of the Church of Jesus Christ constantly portray him as evil and mean-spirited and insist that his writings are full of ad hominem attacks. I could list a few apologists of whom that actually is true, but I just don't get it in his case. I guess he's just the best at what he does and that makes them angry. He's one of my faithful-intellectual role models and it makes my day whenever I comment on his Facebook page or his blog and he likes my comment.
He talked about the official and unofficial witnesses of the Book of Mormon and plugged the film Witnesses of which he and his wife were executive producers, and which the Institute showed that evening. I watched it in the theater last summer and yelled at an old lady the third time her phone went off. After it ended, someone said to her, "That person who yelled at you, that wasn't very Christlike." Right, she disregarded the most basic well-established theater etiquette and everyone else who paid to see the movie, but I'm the rude one. Okay. Sure. /s <- Sarcasm tag because it turns out neurotypical people can't understand written sarcasm unless it's labeled as such. Anyway, other than the three times the old lady's phone went off, the movie was all right. I went home and moved on with my life and woke up in chills that night as the quote at the close of the movie, in which a newspaper reporter in 1888 describes David Whitmer's integrity and sincerity, seared into my soul. That was weird because it's not like I didn't already believe in the witnesses. I think their testimonies are pretty dang incontrovertible. But it's a good movie and I recommend it. This time, during intermission, someone behind me said she likes the humor even though it's kind of sacrilegious. She's the most sheltered person in the world if she thinks anything in this movie is sacrilegious.
I hope to get back to my usual long-winded self in time for General Conference next weekend, but at this time I don't feel like waxing all thoughtful and detailed because I haven't slept well at all this week. Lots of waking up and not getting back to sleep. I spent most of the last three days making a Spotify playlist of the eighties. I'm sure there are thousands of Spotify playlists of the 80s, but this one is going to be exactly the way I want it, including for instance more songs by Bangles and Eurythmics and "Weird Al" Yankovic than most people would be inclined to include in theirs. I typically organize playlists by topic. I have a couple by genre, but usually I prefer to shuffle all the genres together. This is my first one based on a certain time period. Although every decade has countless great songs, the eighties is my favorite by a small margin. In the future when I'm chronically sleep-deprived again and need something easy to do, I may move onto the nineties and seventies.
Oh, I almost forgot. "Marie," a former recurring character on this blog whom I'm now going to out as Elisabeth because I don't bother with pseudonyms anymore and she already found out that I was writing about her so it doesn't matter if anyone else knows it too, felt a need to send me this comment that I made once. The original post no longer shows up. It was one of those Facebook trends that everybody did, a cartoon of how God made you and what ingredients he put in. I can't help laughing at my comment now because it's so pathetic but so legitimately clever at the same time. Unlike the movie Witnesses, however, it may be just a smidge sacrilegious.
Last week some guys from my ward were bragging about how many guys they've kissed and the smaller numbers of girls they've kissed and trying to guess how many guys some girls in the ward have kissed. Their guesses were way off. One girl had kissed zero guys, and I asked if she was waiting until she's over the altar, and she got huffy and people laughed and I thought No, wait, I was just surprised, I was just curious, I wasn't trying to be mean this time. I would never tease about such a potentially sensitive subject. I also had to say my number, and the number was five, and then I figured that's as good a reason as any to write this post that's been sitting in my drafts for twenty-one months. These are those five. Not that the number itself is particularly impressive, but the stories behind it sure are a lot less so.
Mary was at least in fourth grade, maybe sixth, when I was in kindergarten. We rode the same school bus. She had an equally attractive sister in my class, but I was far more interested in older women thanks to the sister missionaries who used to put me on their laps and tickle me. Bullies had not yet destroyed my confidence or turned me into an introvert, so every afternoon when she got off the bus I yelled, "Bye Mary, I love you!" And then one day some older boys thought it would be funny to restrain her so I could kiss her. Nobody taught me about consent when I was five years old, okay? I'm sorry. At least I only kissed her on the wrist. It was the easiest part to reach as she tried to get away. Ugh, I'm going to hell.
For a couple years before they moved from New York to Utah, my family often hung out with the Davis family. Their daughter Natalie was probably twice my age. She had a twin sister, but I knew which was which and I knew which one I wanted. She also had a sister my age, but see my previous comment about missionaries, and also I thought her sister my age was annoying. All of us kids slept on the Davises' trampoline one night, and Natalie told us a creepy/humorous story about a creepy voice that said "I gotcha, where I wantcha, and now I'm gonna eatcha," and her doing that voice gave me a mild case of vorarephilia before I came to my senses. Long story short, one day we were at a Primary activity at a park somewhere and I decided to make my move. Natalie was sitting and talking to a friend, which enabled me to reach her cheek with my lips.
Natalie: "It's okay, we're related."
Yeah, so I had missed the discussion where our families had found out that her grandfather was my mom's grandfather's brother, or something like that, I don't remember. It was something distant enough that we still could have gotten married, but c'est la vie.
Even though she was a few years younger, I danced with Kristin at a school dance one evening and decided for whatever reason that I wanted to kiss her, but by this time I was mature enough to at least take into account the possibility that she didn't want me to kiss her, so after stressing about it a little I compromised by kissing the top of her head as she walked away. She giggled and kept walking. That was probably some time before I asked her to prom and she couldn't go because she was grounded. It was quite a while before she reached out on Facebook, having ignored me for years, and gave me her sob stories and asked for money and came up with excuse after excuse for why she couldn't pay me back when she said she would and needed more money. Long story short, she ruined my life for a long time and by the end owed me more than six thousand dollars (every penny of which, surprise surprise, she still owes me). She said she thought to ask me for help because she remembered that I was "nice" in high school. I wish I had been mean to her like everyone else.
USU has a tradition called True Aggie Night where you stand on a big letter A next to the building with another big letter A on top during a full moon and you kiss a True Aggie to become a True Aggie. I accomplished this during my first week of college ever. I just showed up by myself and got lucky. As I loitered in the crowd, Natalie Hinton asked me something like, "Did you go to Skyview High School?" And I said something like, "No. Are you a True Aggie? Do you want to kiss me?" (I now know that during the first week of school, the requirement for one party to be a True Aggie is waived, but oh well, at least I covered my bases.) And I stressed about it a little, but it was over really fast. I knew her name because she signed a little card attesting what she had done to me. I scanned this card once upon a time but I can't find the scan now, and the card was destroyed in a washing machine, leaving no more evidence for this story than any of my others. We became Facebook friends and she was in my anthropology class a year later but I never talked to her again and we aren't Facebook friends anymore.
Some Black Girl
I swear on the holy books of every religion in the world that this is true. Once I had a roommate who had a woman spend the night, and after a few weeks I realized she wasn't going to leave. The landlord didn't care. I don't know if she paid rent. I know she didn't pitch in for utilities, and my roommate flipped out on me when I suggested it. Anyway, at some point she somehow got it into her head that I should kiss her "so that you can say you've kissed a black girl, and I can say I've kissed a white guy." My roommate did not find that logic convincing. They argued about it in front of me, with her being like "Come here" and him being like "Don't you dare" and me wondering when Allen Funt was going to jump out of the couch. She had to compromise, and brought in one of her black girl friends to kiss me instead. She filmed it. I'm not in touch with her and I've never seen the video, so there's no more evidence for this story than any of my others. Afterward her friend said, "You're a good kisser." I thought, I have almost zero experience; you don't have to lie to make me feel good.
A Gay Friend
I almost forgot about this one. I guess I have to count it. I'll keep him anonymous since he isn't out to his family. On my birthday he told me he was interested in me, and that he knew he probably wasn't my type, but he'd like to kiss me, and when I didn't say anything for a moment he took that as permission. It wasn't, but whatever. Karma. Later he apologized for making my birthday about himself and asked why I let him do it.
I used to post screenshots of myself arguing with people on the internet, usually on Facebook, usually critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a lot more often. I get into fewer arguments than I used to because I'm trying to be nicer on social media and I've figured out that most of them are a waste of time anyway. I'll often give one response to a stupid comment and then ignore whatever the person says next, which I suppose makes me a troll, but it's my compromise. Sometimes I just can't not say anything. I'm not made of stone. Anyway, I got into a couple of arguments recently that I don't regret because I was standing up for important principles - and not with critics of my church, but with members, who collectively do far more damage to it than the critics could dream of.
People who get their idea of gender roles from the 1950s are bad enough, but at least they're almost in the right century. It's a little startling to realize that people live and work among us who get their idea of gender roles from the Bronze Age. (When I say "people" of course I mostly mean men, but I've seen plenty of internalized misogyny, so I can't discount the possibility that some women also hold these views.) I encountered the second one in as many months on a recent YouTube re-upload of Valerie Hudson Cassler's 2010 FAIR Conference presentation "The Two Trees". In this presentation she outlines a potential non-sexist paradigm for the part of the Latter-day Saint endowment ceremony where women covenanted to hearken to the counsel of their husbands (or obey the law of their husbands before 1990) while men covenanted to hearken directly to God. Though I respect her and her work, I don't find this paradigm convincing because a lot of it is pure speculation, because that part of the ceremony was changed in 2019 and rendered most of it moot, and because we know that Brigham Young (who oversaw the all-male committee that wrote down and systematized the endowment ceremony 35 years after it was introduced) believed that men were responsible for leading their wives to salvation. I think placing men between women and God was simply a sexist mistake that didn't get corrected for a very long time. But anyway, I encountered this guy in the comments:
Benevolent sexism in a nutshell: "Women are superior to men, so they shouldn't have rights." Note how I tried to be civil by not attacking him as a person, even though I think nothing of him as a person. I didn't say that he was woefully out of touch with reality and irredeemably sexist, I just said his comment was. Also, yes, Moses 4:22 is descriptive of the power struggle in fallen marriages. The "desire" here is not one of love, but control. The same language is repeated in Moses 5:27: "Satan desireth to have thee... And thou shalt rule over him."
Like, seriously, what is he thinking? Does he think any substantial percentage of women spend all day in bed while men wait on them and buy them things? Yes, I'm sorry, my attempt to be civil faltered under this barrage of stupidity, but I did still say that his behavior, not he himself, was delusional. I should have picked better phrasing than "household chores" to better encompass women's labors in other times and cultures that don't fall under that category, but you get the idea. And studies have found that when both partners in a heterosexual couple have jobs - which is increasingly a requirement in today's economy - the woman still does most of the housework. A better question would be, if men's gender roles are so awful, why have they fought tooth and nail to keep women out of them? Because they're concerned about women? Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. But anyway, I had to let the matter drop until I get some more life experience.
And then there was this. I'm in this Facebook group that deals with critics and criticisms of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because I've long had an interest in that sort of thing and a desire to defend my faith, but I've butted heads several times with its primary demographic of middle-aged white conservatives. When so many people struggle to get along with me, of course I have to consider that maybe I'm the problem - but I think not.
For one thing, they're still in the mindset that the main threats to the Church are evangelical Christians - which is no longer the case in this secular age when mainstream American society doesn't care about evangelicals' opinions on anything - and not only waste a lot of time arguing with them, but often go from defense to offense, hypocritically mocking and poking holes in their beliefs. For another, they have such a persecution complex that they regard any member who wants to see any kind of change in the Church as an apostate and a threat. They seem to have a particular distaste for everything Jana Riess writes. She's more radical than I am but I would die without more liberal members like her pushing back against the insufferable conservative church culture. For another, they're very big on the apologist victim-blaming game, e.g. "If you experienced a faith crisis after discovering uncomfortable things about church history that you were never taught, it's completely your own fault for not reading everything the Church has ever published." For another - and they certainly aren't alone in this - they bend over backwards to avoid developing a shred of empathy for LGBTQ+ members, because recognizing these members' pain would give them cognitive dissonance over the Church's teachings and policies that cause much of it. (I live in that cognitive dissonance.) So any gay man who's less than enthusiastic about choosing to be alone and celibate until he dies or marry someone he isn't attracted to is seen as a threat.
David Archuleta recently shared an hour-long Instagram video in which he opened up about struggling to reconcile his faith and his sexuality, about his loneliness and depression and suicidality. Now if you want to uphold the Church's teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and if you disagree with the path that he's thinking about taking, that's one thing. But if you are a baptized member, you covenanted to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Not just those you agree with or those whose struggles you can personally relate to or those who will never cause you cognitive dissonance by being the way God made them. And that does not, by any stretch of the imagination, involve constantly trying to minimize their struggles and belittling them for not having more faith or stamina when required to do things you probably wouldn't be willing to do yourself. The desire for companionship is fundamental to almost all human beings. It is not analogous to alcoholism or whatever other temptations these people compare it to. For one thing, even if you struggle to abstain from alcohol, there are still countless other things you can drink. And LGBTQ+ people who get no empathy, no understanding, and no love are killing themselves all over the place. David Archuleta's vulnerability will save many lives. So anyway:
Most of the comments were in agreement and insensitive - a bunch of happily married straight people who think God appointed them to police gay people's adherence to the law of chastity wondering why David Archuleta has the audacity to think God should change the law of chastity. Also, they think young people pretend to be bisexual for popularity points. Emily clarified that in her opinion David Archuleta "is now an anti-Mormon." But there was just enough pushback from the minority of actual Christians that an admin warned about the post being muted or taken down if it escalated too much. So I escalated it. I put the devil's tool of contention to a good purpose. I said something like, "Yes, you are a terrible person. [Something something I don't remember] And all of you people mocking him without having watched the video can go to hell." And then I replied to a few people, including the genius who thought David Archuleta needed to "work through his struggles" but not, you know, actually tell anyone about it or get any support. And commenting was turned off and then the post was deleted. A friend in the group who has been equally disgusted with its direction, and for whom this post was the final straw, tried to make a comment but was too late. I print it here so her effort won't be in vain:
How is it that when we see someone publicly voice the pain and confusion they’re feeling regarding keeping their covenants in the church, this group’s knee jerk reaction is to treat them as though they were the new John Dehlin or Zelph on the Shelf? Did you and I watch the same video? He has literally been struggling with suicide ideation, a hell that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and you say “poor little rich boy”? Seriously, THAT is your reaction?? That “poor little rich boy” is still a human being, and as someone who has frequently struggled with my own mental health issues, HOW DARE YOU insinuate that he somehow deserves less compassion and empathy just because he also says he’s open to having a gay relationship!
Yeah, maybe you and I wouldn’t advocate for making that kind of choice, but you wanna know the secret to keeping gay people in the church? Maybe don’t belittle them, even if behind their backs, when they open up about how hard this mortal journey has been for them. “Yeah but everyone has their struggles!” Yeah of course they do, but do you speak of other people’s struggles the same way you do of this? But no, his struggles can just be dismissed and waived away because he’s a public figure, and a gay one at that.
P.S. bisexuality is a real thing. Presuming that those who identify as such are largely just trying win popularity points is beyond ignorant. Even if someone were making it up, it shouldn’t change the way you and I treat them or speak about them.
Emily's next post was, "I am leaving the group." And that brought out a lot of sadness, and a few people who didn't know what had happened asked why, but of course after making the post for attention she didn't stick around to answer questions. One of the few people who displayed any basic decency on her previous post spoke up here too, so I'll give him a shoutout.
Alas, when I spoke up for basic decency on this new post, people got pissed at me. I won't attempt to reconstruct the whole argument, because it probably isn't that interesting and several comments by me and others were deleted. You'll just have to look deep inside yourself and decide if you trust me or not. I said this to one person who lamented the deletion of the previous post:
I felt like this was pretty straightforward stuff, but I was wrong.
Is... is she serious? Is she really serious? Unbelievable. Everyone knows you don't use three adverbs in one sentence. It sounds awful.
I also got a reply from Darryl Barksdale, the founder of FAIR. In keeping with that organization's grand tradition of scholarly rigor and academic standards, his comment was a puking emoji. Then further down in a new thread he said, "I gotta tell you... Emily was the wrong one to go. I'd happily trade her for Nicholson." (Both of those comments were deleted). Now, I've barely had any interactions with this guy, but he's one of the biggest jerks I've ever observed, and I respect him a little bit more than I respect law enforcement. So it was a mistake for him to let slip that my presence in the group bothered him so much, because that knowledge made me happy, and I don't think that's what he was going for. I replied, "Boo hoo." And then he went and made it even better:
Yes, this jerk I've barely interacted with was so bothered by me not being a homophobe that he left the group. I never tried to make this happen, I never tried to harass him into leaving the group, I never would have thought to care enough to muster up the effort to carry out such a thing, and he just dropped it in my lap. Tender mercies.
And then you see this guy Leighton. He was the main guy who argued with me and several of our comments were deleted. I haven't respected him much either - mostly because of his deliberate lack of empathy on this very issue - and he, too, made the mistake of letting me know how much I bothered him. His last comment addressed to me ended with "Shut. Your. Mouth." I could just imagine him seething. I could just imagine his frustration that he couldn't make me take orders from him. He could have just blocked me, and that would have taken less effort than continuing to respond, but maybe he was too angry to consider that. I guess putting periods after every word was his last-ditch effort to intimidate me. That comment was deleted, but my reply to it stayed up and is now a bit of a non sequitir.
Really, all this because I espoused the controversial notion that mocking lonely and depressed people is wrong. I was rather surprised to discover the depth of Leighton's personal vendetta against me, especially when, twenty minutes after I acquiesced to the admins' damage control and stopped commenting, it manifested in what struck me as a rather bizarre obsession with trying to get "the fellow" (me) kicked out of the group. Maybe he has a crush on Emily.
Objecting to objectionable behavior is literally my objectionable behavior that Leighton objects to. Wow.
Please, tell me more about what you think.
I did not make any nasty comments about Emily in her absence. You can't choose to ignore something that doesn't exist.
No, I did not literally say that. Leighton began the argument by replying to my comment pictured above, "Suggestion: shut up." I said, "I have a suggestion for you too, but it would get me kicked out of the group :)" (Both of these comments were deleted.) Leighton said, "On the evidence, that would certainly be appropriate and desirable." I said, "Because I'm the only person here who's even trying to follow Christ?" (That comment was deleted.) So it was a rhetorical question, not a claim, and its obvious intent was to highlight the absurdity of him saying I should be kicked out for speaking up against bullying marginalized people. I also said "trying," and that was a deliberate word choice to acknowledge that I'm by no means perfect, but in this instance I wasn't the one spitting on everything Christ stands for.
Ah, so he does know how to represent people's words accurately, as long as the people is himself.
Sorry, I'm still confused. Please explain it again.
I don't know about 2 and 3, but 1 did not happen. Boo hoo, Leighton. Honestly, this is one of the most pathetic things I've ever seen.
My friend is biased, but her summary of the whole debacle is good enough for me:
I do want to say one last thing in my defense. I am a very imperfect individual, but in this instance, I was callous toward people who were first callous toward people that I love. In other words, I was callous not because I don't care about people, but because I do. And I won't pretend that Jesus would have said exactly the things I did, but I do think He would have also been blunt and even rude - like He was when the Pharisees were dicks to marginalized people - and I am perfectly confident that on the whole I did the right thing and He's proud of me. I won't apologize for objecting to objectionable behavior. I can't change all the things in the Church that I would like to change, but I can and will refuse to tolerate members choosing to make it a more toxic environment than it needs to be. It did take a lot of time that I could have spent on homework, but now my effort is on record here so it can be magnified by both of the people who read my blog.
"We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord." - M. Russell Ballard
Currently when boys in the United States of America turn 18, we have to register for a thing called Selective Service in order to access some of the rights and privileges of citizenship that girls get by turning 18, and also to not be charged with a felony. This means we get put on a list so we can be drafted into the military and sent off to our deaths if that need ever arises. I don't remember doing it, but I must have because I've gotten federal financial aid. Because women are now allowed to serve in any position in the military, there's a growing movement to replace this blatant sex discrimination with an equal-opportunity human rights violation by making them register for Selective Service too. The thought of abolishing the damn thing altogether doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone in power.
Valerie Hudson, however, argues in a recent editorial that the current status quo should be maintained, with men and women both eligible for military service but only men eligible for the draft. I expressed that same opinion once. My reasoning was that men were more evolved for war-type stuff, so while I would never cite evolution as a reason to forbid women from being in the military or doing whatever else their hearts desired, it seemed like a good enough reason to minimize unfairness by not forcing them to be in the military. I didn't think it was fair to force men either, but it was more reasonable because of evolution. Now I just think Selective Service and the draft should be abolished altogether. What's Dr. Hudson's logic, though?
"And I draw that line," she writes, "not for the reason tradition would give us: That women are weak or delicate creatures that must be protected. After all, most women in the world are not protected in any sense of the word. Would you enjoy living as a woman in Afghanistan, where 87% of women report having been assaulted? Or in Liberia, where the chance of dying incident to pregnancy is 1 in 8? Most women in poor countries do the lion’s share of the work of the household each day, and are given fewer calories to eat despite the fact that their daily work load forces them to expend far more energy than others in the household, including men. They watch their children die of preventable diseases and malnutrition because the powerful men of the country could not care less about such lowly matters. In truth, if women were weak, delicate creatures, the human race would have died out millennia ago.
"No, I do not oppose Selective Service registration for women because of their delicacy. I oppose it because a sex class analysis would reveal that women already sacrifice more for their country than men do, and women should not be asked to bear even more. There should be parity between men and women in the work of protecting our country and giving it a future. Selective Service registration for women would undo that parity, placing an unjustly heavy burden on women, and making their load far heavier than that of men."
She then proceeds to point out that far more women become mothers than men serve in the military, and far more women have died in childbirth than men have died in war. She notes that "The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is now more than double what it was 30 years ago (it’s now 17.4 per 100,000 and rising)." I didn't know that. I thought I lived in a first world country. I did know that black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, and twice as likely to lose their babies, but since systemic racism is a myth and hospital staff (as I can attest firsthand from my experience with Logan Regional) treat all patients with the respect and dignity they're entitled to, these facts can only be explained as unfortunate but meaningless coincidences.
"And this doesn’t account," she continues, "for the 'mommy tax' on a woman’s lifetime earnings of having a child, which can amount to more than $1 million. The greatest risk factor for being poor in old age in the United States is to be a mother (and not a father). And the COVID-19 pandemic has made especially clear the profound economic cost dealt to working women - when the nation needed an army of mothers to step up, they did so at great cost to themselves." These facts, like the foregoing ones, are ----ed up. They speak to the profound sickness of a capitalist society that punishes people for valuing their families over increasing their employers' profits (which of course disproportionately affects mothers because pregnancy and childrearing responsibilities disproportionately affect mothers). Many things need to be reformed and many employers need to be put in their place. Capitalism is not pro-woman, pro-mother, or pro-family, it's pro-profit, full stop.
"But socialism is -" Did I say anything about socialism? Did I? No, I didn't, so don't change the subject.
I have been accused (by a man) of "denigrating motherhood" because I reject the fallacious analogy between motherhood for women and priesthood ordination for men that some people in my church are so fond of, and I suppose I'll be accused of it again after saying what I have to say next. Ahem: With a few possible exceptions, I actually don't believe that women or men deserve to be venerated just for reproducing. Yeah, the miracle of life is cool and all, and pregnancy is a significant sacrifice, but being fertile says nothing whatsoever about your worthiness or competence as a parent. It's literally the least important part of parenthood. Many people have given birth who really shouldn't have. Some parents abuse, some parents neglect, some parents warp their children for life with their unconscionable stupidity, some parents try to cure their children's autism by making them drink bleach, and so on. Have you ever read about Donald Trump's father? When I did, I realized that Donald Trump never had any chance of growing up to be a decent human being. I actually feel bad for him.
After attending my sister's temple sealing a few months ago, I reflected on the oddity of focusing so much on the commandment "Multiply and replenish the Earth." First of all, it's a bad translation that we keep repeating verbatim because we'd rather sound "scriptural" than make sense. In order to be replenished, the Earth must once already been plenished. This phrasing kind of implies that Adam and Eve were actually the sole survivors of a disaster that killed billions. Well, Lillith was there too, but the nuclear fallout turned her into a demon.
God: Multiply and replenish the Earth.
Eve: Uh, you do realize we need about five hundred breeding individuals to ensure a viable, genetically diverse species, right? You do realize our kids will have to -
God: Don't worry, I'll perform a miracle to make it not incest.
Narrator: But he didn't, and that explains the state of humanity today.
(I was going to say the narrator was voiced by Morgan Freeman, but then I remembered that he also played God in a couple of movies, so that felt weird.)
For sure, my church devotes plenty of time and energy is given in other venues to telling people to be good parents and advising them on how to do so, but taken at face value, this commandment to make babies for babies' sake just seems odd. A couple who has four kids and sells them all for drinking money is following this commandment, while a couple who adopts twelve kids, moves heaven and earth to meet their needs, and teaches them to be productive members of society is not. You could, of course, argue a broader and more figurative definition for "multiply and replenish", but then it would have to also include many things that have nothing to do with parenthood at all. I wouldn't object to that, but it seems like a stretch.
While reproduction is, as Dr. Hudson points out, obviously crucial to the future of the United States and every other nation, it's a group effort that transcends any individual birth. Not every person brought into this world improves it just by existing. I think of Derek Chauvin's mother, who recently told him at his sentencing that the day he was born was the happiest of her life. She isn't wrong to love him even though he's an abuser and a murderer, and she couldn't have possibly known he would turn out to be an abuser and a murderer - though she is wrong to deny that he's an abuser and a murderer when the entire world has seen his handiwork - but the fact remains that this country would have been a better place without him in it. I'm not going to thank his mother for giving birth to him anytime soon. Actually, come to think of it, if your child murders someone, the Earth's population has a net increase of zero and your attempt to multiply and replenish it has been retroactively thwarted. Let's hope they only murder one person and you have backup children who are better behaved.
Anyway, I guess I kind of agree with Dr. Hudson and kind of don't. The facts she points out should anger any reasonable person, but I don't venerate people for reproducing and I think her overall argument is moot because Selective Service and the draft should be abolished altogether.
BONUS: Recently I showed my true misogynistic colors. I am ashamed of myself.
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About the Author
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.