Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mother in Heaven

I'm reading chapter one of Maxine Hanks' Women and Authority, and there's just so much sense here.  Chapter one contains a discussion of the references that were made to the doctrine of Heavenly Mother around the turn of the century, when women's suffrage was a big thing.  I am almost astounded by the freedom with which general authorities and church publications speak of her, and speak of the effect of the knowledge of her on the world.  For instance:

An article in the Deseret News noted that the truthfulness of the doctrine of a mother in heaven would eventually be accepted by the world—that “it is a truth from which, when fully realized, the perfect ‘emancipation’ and ennobling of woman will result.” (“The Divine Feminine,” Deseret News, 4 Feb. 1905.)

Yes!  I agree!  So what the crap happened in the early 1990s, hmmm??  I mean, a popular argument against feminism is that feminism is aiming to separate womanhood from motherhood, that feminism wants women to be more like men, that feminism will destroy families.  And I don't think it's just the popular, cultural understanding, but this fear came from general authorities (This talk, for instance, from 1993.)  Well, say the fear-filled GAs, then we need to squash feminism like the evil infectious virus that it is!  We need to stamp all feminists into the ground!  Excommunicate them!  

Maybe I'm exaggerating.  Elder Packer isn't so extreme in his talk.  (But general authorities did, effectively, do just that.) And he does say in this talk that women can find no real comfort in the feminist movement.  

Ok.  In some people's feminism, maybe it's true there is no comfort.  But what about a church-led feminism?  What about a feminism grounded in LDS doctrine like Mother in Heaven?  Why can't we believe this idea from the Deseret News article (of frickin 1904!?), that a correct knowledge of womanhood, based on the TRUTH of a divine feminine, will yield the very best sort of feminism? Why can't we believe that this truth will lead women--who are hurting, who feel marginalized and left out, who feel driven to worldly (dangerous!) feminism because their church has ignored, disenfranchised and abandoned them--to a steady contentment?  And not just to contentment, but to an ennobled seeking after the divine traits of eternal womanhood?  Why do we have to stamp Mother in Heaven into obscurity, excommunicate those who speak of her, steadfastly refuse to inquire after her?

Mormon feminism could lead the world.  Mormonism has the potential to reveal true womanhood to the world.  But we don't.  Why not?     

Here's one explanation, offered by Hanks in her introduction:

As women, we live in male discourse—culture that speaks a male perspective. We may write a feminist “text” or perspective within a masculine discourse without substantively altering that discourse. This has happened in Mormonism, as well as in every other male-dominant culture: women’s texts are born into an incompatible or unsympathetic male context, and fade; this explains why women’s perspective repeatedly disappears in culture.

...And why feminism must be re-born in every generation, and this is why, when feminism IS reborn in each successive generation, women always feel that they are being revolutionary, even though generations of women have already fought these battles.  Because of male-dominant culture, they must be fought anew with every generation.  That's not to say that some advances of feminism don't remain.  Women are accepted, theoretically, into basically all professions, women have more voice than they ever have--at least in Western society.  

But our culture continues to stamp on motherhood.  There still exists a significant gender gap in terms of wages and salary earned by men and women; the attitude of parental leave in the workplace discriminates against families, and it's always women who lose; divorce consistently results in a lower standard of living for the woman than for the man, due to the low value placed on the work of housewives.

And within the LDS church, instead of teaching women about motherhood using the divine Mother as an example, we say "LDS Women are Incredible!"  Empty, condescending words.  Elder Cook, good though his intentions may have been, asserts that

God placed within women divine qualities of strength, virtue, love, and the willingness to sacrifice to raise future generations of His spirit children.

God placed these divine qualities?  Or Goddess?  And were they placed?  Or inherited?  Nitpick, yes, I know.  But it's details like these that empower or diminish.  

I'd rather it were women, awake to the intrinsic power and authority of womanhood, who taught, strengthened and led women.  I'd rather we not relied on "the priesthood," but on other empowered women, to tell us who we are and why we matter.

In a male-dominated, patriarchal society, authoritative female discourse dwindles into obscurity with every succeeding generation.   


Thursday, February 9, 2012

I'm in the Idealist quadrant: specifically, Healer.

The last few days I've been re-reading information about the Keirsey personality classification system.  I'm not sure what got me onto it this time, but I have always loved these things.  I'm not exactly sure why, but I feel very helped by them.  I've always felt a little lost in the world, like truly I don't quite belong here, so it's kind of a wonder to me that some of these personality tests can be so accurate.

Also, here I am at the end of my graduate degree (MM in choral conducting), graduating in April, getting ready to take my oral exams, and thinking a great deal about my career.  I should say, "my career."  I'm 31, and I almost have less an idea of what I want my career to consist of than when I started college as an 18-year-old.  Back then, I dreamed of a career as a professional musician of some sort...  Mostly I dreamed of being a great composer.  These days, I'm turning toward teaching secondary music.  Tuesday this week I went to observe some elementary music classrooms.  I'm searching.  Because my masters degree is a performance degree in choral conducting, and is really just a preparatory step for aspiring DMA candidates, university choral conductors, I still have a lot of options as I graduate.

I could get into the secondary system, and in fact, that is the career path for many, many university choir directors.  Of course, their path began with a choral music ed degree, which includes a teaching certificate, making the high school job more accessible (the path is something like this:  choral ed. undergrad, MM in choral conducting, several years teaching in a secondary setting, DMA, get hired by a university).  My undergrad was piano performance, so no teaching certificate. If I could convince myself that I was really excited about teaching high school or junior high choir, then I think an alternative path to licensure wouldn't seem like such a big obstacle.  But not only do I wonder about my personality fitness for that setting, I also doubt my abilities (what's new), both to perform well in the job, as well as to convince potential employers, on applications and in interviews, that I really am the one they want.

Anyway, in the midst of these sorts of thoughts, I came across the Keirsey stuff again, and found it enlightening to take the test again and remember, for one thing, just how introverted I am.  And for the Keirsey stuff to shed light on what very often seems like the incomprehensible aspects of my personality.  And to be validated and reminded that, even if I don't currently understand myself or what I'm really for, there IS something that I am for...  And if I can embrace the things about me that are intrinsic and unlikely to change, I'll be several steps closer to work I find fulfilling and that fits who I am.

I know there are people who will think my approach (and the Keirsey approach generally) is overly self-indulgent.  That I should just get over myself and go out and do some work.  But... I dunno.  There were several times, a notable number of times, that I was told in blessings about a mission, my mission, that is, a life's mission.  That I had work to do.  One was when I was set apart as an LDS missionary, and I distinctly felt that in that context, when the stake president said I had an important mission, he wasn't talking about my 18-month LDS proselyting mission.  When I returned and was about to go back to BYU as a piano performance major, my dad gave me a blessing that said much the same thing.  A few years later, still working through post-mission depression and recently diagnosed auto-immune disease, a boy I was dating gave me a blessing that was remarkably specific about my life's mission.

So... what am I questioning for? Well, because the life's mission laid out for me won't earn me any money!  And furthermore, it requires a level of confidence in my own artistic voice that I've never had.  Never, ever had.

I don't think that my masters degree has been an attempt to avoid this mission, but rather a step towards accomplishing it, and something worthwhile to do whilst doing the slow, soul-work of finding confidence to speak, to express my visions.  And, I do think I'm making progress, slowly, on that score.  Marriage and my recent feminist awakening have been the catalysts.

In terms of making money, incidentally, my little brother is very quickly becoming an expert in alternative, passive sources of income on-line. He  has presented me with a number of ideas I could try, that would ultimately allow the freedom to pursue this mission of mine.  I haven't tried any of them yet, mostly just from being too busy with school and teaching.  But I think he's brilliant and now that I think about it, it's kind of a huge blessing that he's an expert in this area, and also interested in helping me....

Well.  There's my naval-gazing for the day.  Going for a run now.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Inaugural Post, Sunday night, 11:53pm

This is my new anonymous blog.  Oh, blessed anonymity.  I don't know why I didn't try this long, long ago.  Maybe I imagined lofty principles about owning my writing, owning myself, abhoring the disembodied discourse.  Well.  Screw that.

Because I have difficult things to work through, things my culture won't accept, and by culture I mean: family... mother-in-law...  all manner of family-in-law...  students, colleagues, ward-members...

I've just been reading the work of one of Mormonism's heretics, and I love it.  I think it's brilliant.  I'm way passed feeling guilty for reading these things, way past fearing that it's "dangerous."  It's been liberating to come to this place, where, finally, I'm no longer afraid of ideas.  I'm not afraid of exploring.  In fact, I desperately need to explore, if I'm ever going to be my own authority.  And maybe because I've accepted my need to explore, get some freedom, maybe that's why I'm ok with an anonymous blog.  (and that's not to say that I don't still have some fear about it all.  I do.  It's mostly about the judgment of others, but it's also my inner TBM, that person inside who has always pleased others, and who has this conception of God that is based in fear of punishment.... .)  Anyway.  I got side-tracked.  It's Maxine Hanks' Women and Authority, that I've been reading.  And, ah, it's just a relief, to finally read something that truly describes my own experience, that pinpoints some of the problems I've seen but never had the means to really articulate.

Incidentally, last week I went to mass at the seat of a diocese, beautiful large cathedral, incredible choir.  When I got home, I decided to explore some thoughts as a result of my experience there which led me to entertain the idea of being ordained.  All I knew at the time was that Episcopalians ordained women, so I explored that in some depth.  Since then I've learned about other Christian sects that ordain women.  I'm allowing myself to explore the real affinity I've always felt to ancient liturgy, the symbolism, the ritual.

And, as it turns out, Maxine Hanks, after her excommunication, was ordained.  I just learned that today.  Part of me says: I want that!  I think?  Part of me really wants in on the ancientness of that tradition.

So... why was Maxine Hanks excommunicated?  This seems like a really important question.  Trouble is, we can't really know the whole story.  I don't know if Hanks has even told her side of the story, and certainly The Church wont' tell theirs.  Her book:  I've only read the preface, introduction, and a few pages of the first chapter, but so far, she just seems like your typical Mormon feminist intellectual...  Oh.  Right.  But what I mean is, it seems like there's more latitude these days, twenty years later, more room in the church for such thinking, if only because it seems there is a lot more of that thinking going on.  Minus the excommunicating.  Or, maybe it's my vantage point which is quite limited.

But if there are things in her book that are so dangerous to faithful Mormons that it merited her excommunication...   Well, then, maybe I'm done.  Maybe I really can't do this church anymore.

You know, I read some of the writing of Joanna Brooks, which I honestly love, but there's an element of her whole approach to Mormonism that I don't exactly relate to.  That is the deep way that she identifies with Mormon history, Mormon heritage, how deeply she is Mormon.  I'm not feeling that way right now.  She describes being at odds within herself because some practices of the current church go against her own personal liberal, egalitarian beliefs, yet at the same time she can't "leave the church alone" because of her deep identification with its cultural heritage.  Maybe I'll feel differently if I leave Utah.  (Maybe I won't leave Utah?....  duhn duhn DUUUUUUUHHHHNNNN <distant screams>). But really, I really really really want to try something different.  I want to take a break from Mormon culture.

  Ah.  Well.  I already feel better.  Anonymous blog, Iloveyousomuch.  SO MUCH!