I try to keep my posts light and happy. Because for the most part, that’s how my life is. I don’t like to dwell on the negative–I think we already do that enough as a society. I don’t want to contribute to that. Unfortunately, something happened yesterday that really bothered me and I want to share it. I have put off sharing it for some time now because of the previously mentioned reason but it has persisted and has been a significant part of my DC experience.
Yesterday, our Stake President made a special visit to our ward to talk to both the men and the women separately. Sunday School was cancelled. The sisters stayed in the chapel to speak with the President first and then the brethren took our place for the third hour. Naturally, everyone was geared up for a chastity lesson. The week leading up to this Sunday was full of everything from weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth to quiet nods of respect for the man taking on the uncomfortable topic.
Personally, I am a big fan of our stake president. Like, “groupie” fan. I think he is a super cool dude who was made to be a spiritual leader for single adults. His wife is stellar too. They know their stuff, they know their audience. But as I shall soon reveal, not all of my brothers and sisters in the gospel agree with me.
He started the hour by sharing how he met his wife and asserting that women should feel comfortable asking men out as well. Getting that out of the way, he asked what we thought were the roadblocks to dating, for men or women? Many ladies were quick to air their grievances, stating things like men being too afraid to ask a girl out, having a fear of commitment, and even the plain statistical fact that there are not nearly enough men for all the women to be married. The Stake President acknowledged each concern and transitioned to the issue he felt was particularly important.
The President shared that a prevailing struggle among both single men and single women in the church is pornography and masturbation. This conclusion was not made by making assumptions but by real conversations with members of our stake, bishops, and Church headquarters. We did not discuss the evils of these particular things, we did not discuss why they are wrong–at least not in depth. He knew that we had all heard these answers multiple times before. Instead, the President asked what we would do if a significant other admitted to us that they struggled with one/both of these things?
One sister raised her hand. She expressed in a polite manner that she did not think women should be responsible for holding men to a higher standard. She felt it unfair that women were tied to the success or failure of men. She related it to rape, and the issue of the woman having to say “no.” Our Stake President acknowledged this comment but did not respond extensively.
President taught that when we do things that offend the Spirit, we lose our confidence. We lose our confidence before God, but also in other areas like dating. He mentioned that we can do things to help. He revealed that there would be future chats to continue this conversation and that more would be discussed then, but he left us with one particular request that had everyone surprised. He told us that we should refrain from “enthusiastic, full-frontal hugs” with our male friends. He said it jokingly but with a serious tone. His reason was that it makes them “weak at the knees”, implying more. He demonstrated a casual, friendly side-hug instead.
I will admit, I was surprised. But my default reaction is to assume that the ecclesiastical leader knows more than I do. He interviews with members constantly and consults with bishops. He is blessed with specific Priesthood keys and revelation for our members. I trust his advice and don’t believe that he would have any other motivation for telling us how to hug. (But, seriously.) I do also know that our Priesthood leaders are human and imperfect. I know that there have been some that have made mistakes in the past. That being said, I choose to err on the side of faithful obedience. Even if he is wrong, I won’t be.
I am not entirely sure what President said to the brothers. I heard that it was not quite the same conversation as ours. All I know for sure is that they weren’t told the thing about the hugging. The guys thought that was the most ridiculous comment ever.
So we had a few friends over after Church (as per usual) and you can guess the hot topic of conversation. It got pretty intense. The circle was comprised of me, one male (the sole representative of his gender), one girl who remained silent the whole time, and three staunch feminists (including my roommate Kitty). It wasn’t long before the opinions were flying.
One of the feminists proudly stated that she walked out shortly after the president began his lesson. She just couldn’t handle it. So she read conference talks out in the hall instead. She declared that she was going to keep hugging people however she wanted. The other feminist revived the issue of putting responsibility on women for the actions of men. She was upset that the stake president told us not to do something, period. She feels that we should not be told to help the men. She also declared that women have it harder than men in this world, point blank. The conversation turned to cat-calling and comments on the street.
The feminists agreed that men should just never compliment a girl–ever–unless they have spoken once or twice first. Women don’t feel safe when a man they don’t know approaches them. Coincidence, I actually had a man the day before stop me in the store and compliment my hair. I didn’t feel unsafe at all. In fact, I felt flattered. Was that wrong? Should that be banned? My roommate said that it should. She said that if one woman felt unsafe at all then that was one too many and we should eliminate whatever makes her feel unsafe.
The feminist trio then criticized the Stake President’s complimenting of the women in the ward and went as far as to criticize how he complimented his wife. He had made the common statement that his wife is perfect and helps him be better. (How dare he.) He had complimented our sisters on being such great women. Just so you know, those are two of the worst things you could say, apparently. My friends explained that it puts way too much pressure on women and makes them feel that they have to literally be perfect. It is damaging and again calls in the whole responsibility issue. Why should us women have to be better than the men and pull them up?
Throughout the course of this conversation I tried to play Devil’s advocate. (Because a man complimenting his wife of 34 years is obviously the devil.) I mentioned that he probably doesn’t believe his wife is actually perfect and he says it in a cute way. I personally don’t feel pressure to be perfect every time a man mentions how great his wife is. Granted, it does motivate me to be the best woman I can so that my husband can feel like he has the best wife in the world. I don’t feel pressure, I feel encouraged. (But that is just me. I fully recognize that the struggle is truly very real and a lot of women might compare themselves and feel inadequate.)
Kitty was quick to point out that not everyone feels that way and many people feel pressure by that comment. I asked if the principle of agency had anything to do with it and if we could influence how pressured we feel, kind of like how we can choose to be offended? She said no. That we cannot choose to feel pressured and that we should not put any kind of pressure like that on women.
The conversation was very generalized with many of the comments starting out as “men shouldn’t do this….”, “men should do this….”, “men make women feel unsafe…”, “men need to learn…”, etc. I honestly expressed how uncomfortable it made me feel that we were demonizing men so much. I related that our conversation seemed to imply that majority of men were base rather than the opposite. I have brothers, uncles, cousins, male friends and neighbors that are intelligent, generous, kind men. I have had male strangers on the street offer me their seats, hold doors for me, and offer immense help in all areas. It makes me upset that women might look down on these very upstanding men, especially the ones that I know. (I might get a little defensive and protective. I think it’s an oldest sibling thing…?)
I kind of got in trouble for that comment. They didn’t like that observation. They told me that that was not what they were saying. They just wanted there to be a conversation. They want men to know how women feel and what they should do differently to make women feel safe. Fair points.
I know that many of the people who read this may also agree with my feminist friends. They do have good points. I guess my argument is that we shouldn’t over-generalize or over-exaggerate. Rape is a serious thing and certain aspects of how we treat the topic, the victims, the perpetrators, should be changed. Cat calling is awkward and uncomfortable and I wouldn’t mind if we eradicated it from the streets of D.C.. Each gender should be responsible for his/her own actions and struggles.
We should also make sure our actions are motivated by charity. Love. Sure, women shouldn’t be expected to fix a guy’s pornography problem, but shouldn’t she still offer compassion out of human decency and as a disciple of Christ? We are asked to help one another despite gender or whether or not someone deserves it.
Shouldn’t we learn safe ways to avoid/escape cat calling on the street, not because it should be allowed, but because we can’t make it go away overnight and we need to learn to deal with it while it is still here?
Shouldn’t we take responsibility for our own actions and rely on faith and ingenuity to help us navigate through life’s unfair and trying moments?
But wait, where was the man in all this you ask? He was there. He was conversing. He would listen to the women and respond with kindness. He would graciously accept their views and concur. He would give the thumbs up to each of their points. But then, when they were distracted, he leaned over to me and gave this convincing “thank you” under his breath after my defense of men. What gives, buddy? I still don’t really know whose side he is/was on.
Alright, so I have rambled on forever regaling you with some standard feminist talk. Why does this bother me? Well, that alone doesn’t. There is more. Feminists are one thing. I get that that is a thing right now and I totally respect it. But among my little congregation there are other “progressionist” views. I have breezed over them in posts past but as I have continued to hear them and they seem to get more real and more serious, it worries me.
After our talk about men was roughly out of the way, one of the women (who is a returned missionary) went on to share how she doesn’t know if she believes that our Heavenly Father has a female counter-part. She voiced how she doesn’t know if she believes that a Heavenly Mother would be an equal counterpart, active in all goings-on, with God. Maybe God is both and gender is fluid. Maybe there isn’t one. She believes that the writers of scripture have erased her from the Bible and the rest of the cannon. One of the other feminists agreed and revealed that she has long desired to feel a connection to a Heavenly Mother, even to the point of praying to her.
I believe that this Gospel encourages questions. After all, that is how the church was reestablished on the earth! Our Heavenly Father has told us that He has not revealed everything to us so I am sure that He expects questions. We are told in scripture that we should “ask, and it shall be given you.” We also state in our Articles of Faith that we believe that God “will yet reveal many great and important things….” It is completely okay (and encouraged) to want to know more! But I think that how we search for answers to our questions can either bring us closer to God or can be a stumbling block.
I worry that these girls I love so much are looking in the wrong direction. Not just the girls I have described in my story but the others who I hear comment in Relief Society or the ward members that bring up concerns in Gospel Doctrine. They admit to not reading scriptures or praying. I personally know that our Heavenly Father communicates through these means. I have a very strong testimony that we will receive the answers and confidence we need when we approach Him with our questions and concerns. Looking elsewhere will only bring confusion and enmity.
The people in my ward are so good! Like, really good! They may have doubts but they still come to church! The fact that they are taking place in these conversations at all is awesome! They could just give up and leave but they are trying. And it is admirable.
But Satan is really good at what he does. Even if we are trying hard, if we are not reading the scriptures and praying daily then we risk our happiness. One of my roommates drafted a letter; a letter she intends to send to the Stake President as well as our Bishop. The letter contends what the Stake President said. She and my other roommate were discussing it in hushed tones and with murmurs of validation. This is what worries me.
A handful of ward members talk about how they believe that church standards are outdated and policies are not in line with doctrine. They agree that garment lengths should be changed to match the changing times. They request that lessons in church start addressing alternative choices like marrying outside of the temple. This makes me sad.
I love the Gospel with all of my heart. I know it to be true more than any other truth out there. I know that some things we are asked to do may seem uncomfortable or unfair but the blessings that come from obedience will far outweigh any inconvenience we suffer. I know that Heavenly Father loves each and every single one of his children individually and unconditionally. Everything He does is for our happiness. Because I know this, I want everyone to know this. Because I know this, I want to do what I can to help others learn it for themselves. But I also know that He has a plan for each of His children and He knows their needs.
There are things I don’t know and I am sure there are many things I have gotten wrong. Whatever it may be, I know that Heavenly Father will help me to learn. I am thankful for the opportunity to strengthen my testimony and to dive deeper into the doctrine and better understand it for myself. I hope that I can get to know my ward members better and create relationships with them that will help me to understand their concerns and relate more.
I didn’t expect this kind of refining fire when I came out here for grad school but it is good. It is helping me learn all sorts of patience and love. And those are two great things! I can always use help with those. 😉