Monday, February 27, 2012

Being Small for the Sacrament

I just remembered, while reading this post at Doves & Serpents, how my Young Women leaders used to tell us that we should never make eye contact with the boys who were passing the sacrament because we didn't want to distract them from their priesthood duty. I remembered how vigilant I was about that, how I'd try to be unobtrusive in my seat... How I'd always make sure my leg wasn't sticking out into the aisle when I was sitting at the end of the pew, that my hand didn't brush the hand of the boy handing me the tray.

I felt very sad just now when I remembered. I felt sad thinking about how my leaders thought it was impossible for the boys to see their female peers and have anything but a distracting, sexual thought. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it even more, I'm remembering that there was something in my mind that whole time—whether it was put there by a leader or one of the other girls, I don't know (I'm praying it was one of the girls)—about how embarrassing it would be for the boys if they got an erection while they were walking around with everyone's eyes pretty much at their crotch level.

And now I am absolutely mortified that such a thing was on my mind. That I, the most naive and sexually un-experienced Mia Maid in the world, was not only aware of this but felt responsible for it, thought there were actual steps I needed to take to prevent it from happening—without the boys' knowledge, even! That we were supposed to do all this on their behalf, as a way of showing support for the priesthood... It's making me actually feel the tiniest bit sick to my stomach.


  1. Amen. I HATED being taught we were responsible for boys' thoughts in YW's. It made me angry then and more so now. What a load of crap. It's the same thinking behind victim-blaming.

    Also, I really liked the article you mentioned. It makes me think of my wonderful, faithful girl friends who are on missions and the fact that are under the purview of little 19-year-old boys--not even because the boys are priestholders, but because they have penises. At least this is what I understand. My husband said on his mission, male missionaries are not set apart as a APs or zone-leaders--it's not considered a calling. (sorry tangent)

    I cannot understand when I hear (from men and women): the Church isn't sexist towards women!

    Maybe their definition of sexism is just completely different . . .

  2. Haha, I think maybe it is. Actually, from another article on that same blog I saw another point about that that I really liked. “When someone asserts that the church isn’t sexist because the men in the church love their wives (as Boyd K. Packer does in the comments linked above), it should be clear that this is the equivalent of asserting that footbinding wasn’t bad because Chinese parents loved their daughters. How men 'feel' about their wives is completely irrelevant to the question of sexism at an institutional level.”

    I think at least part of the problem is that people associate sexism with some kind of malicious intent. They don't realize that it's quite possible to love someone and still have a sexist attitude toward them.

    I think if I had gone on a mission I would probably have started this whole faith crisis about five years earlier than I did. I didn't go because I had no desire to share the gospel with people; I've always been a private person and I've just never understood the need to go telling complete strangers about my beliefs. But I think a part of me also didn't want to go because even back then, as Molly as I was, I would've had serious issues being under the authority of boys who were younger and less mature than I was. All things considered I am just really glad I didn't.

  3. Yeah. Seriously. I never really had faith crisis, per se. At least I don't see it that way. There are certain doctrines I still believe (agency, personal revelation, the atonement), but there are other doctrines/Church policies that I've never really believed to begin with. For example, I've ways had trouble with gender issues, the role of women, etc. in the Church, but I didn't admit my feelings and just trusted my parents and my leaders. It all blew up when I took out my endowment before my marriage. It was a rough day.

    On another note, I recently read an article about "benevolent" sexism that just flipped a switch for me --oh! so that's what's going on!--sort of a thing. (I can't see to find the specific article again, unfortunately.)The idea makes a lot of sense, less women will get up in arms when a sexist remark is disguised as a compliment. And of course the giver of the "compliment" might be unaware of the sexist undercurrent of what they just said. For example, "oh, you're just so sweet and nurturing--that's why the best place for you is in the home". (Just to clarify, I think it's great if a woman wants to be a SAHM, but I don't think it should be held up as THE ideal, when it's not the ideal for everyone.)

  4. This post breaks my heart. And the title is so poignant.

    I don't remember being told not to make eye contact or to hide my alluring curves, but the sacrament, while beautiful in many ways, is heavy with lots of baggage the way it is practiced in Mormon culture. I remember being taught that the sacrament was the 'ministering of angels' or at least the gateway to such an experience, and I wondered why I wasn't allowed to participate except as a receiver. I wanted to give too.

  5. I think that might be worse, Linds. Noticing things like that, like Taylor did, too... I'm starting to think I actually may have been pretty lucky to never have realized the injustice of it back then. I was so in the patriarchy, it just never occurred to me to wonder why I couldn't participate. I was actually just planning out a blog post in my head on the subject before writing this comment... As hard as it's been for me to have had this awakening as an adult—which is what caused the faith crisis—I think it was actually a great blessing that I didn't see any of it when I was younger. I don't think I would have processed it very well. I am very, very stubborn at my core, and I also have absolutely awful self esteem, which has always made it very difficult for me to not internalize slights. I think discovering that I was seen as less because of my gender would have absolutely crushed me when I was younger, and I would have rebelled violently against it. I'm better equipped to deal with it now (although now I also get the privilege of sifting back through these memories as I recognize things I didn't at the time, which is also quite painful). I guess patriarchy is kind of lose-lose for women, huh? :)

  6. Patriarchy is kind of lose-lose for everyone. Except for jackasses. the more I come to define my own life, the more I realize that equality for women turns out to be equality for men too.

    It's interesting what you said above about not going on a mission. I think a good part of why I went was because it was a right of passage that young boys/men experience, and I didn't accept that I wasn't supposed to have that just because I was a girl. Girls get to few rights of passage in the church that aren't associated with wifedom and motherhood. It is pretty effed up that the way I could rebel within the patriarchal system was to go on a mission in service of that patriarchal religion. I even had a serious boyfriend when I left who all but asked me to stay home and marry him - so I suppose in that way my going on a mission was a sort of rebellion. My efforts were in earnest - I really believed 'the gospel' would help those who would listen - but at least half of my motivation was feminist in nature. That's how you spell 'irony'.
    The all-incredibly-young-and-mostly-immature-male leadership aspect was pretty difficult at times. But the hardest part now is feeling like my efforts at proselyting were now, at best, well-meant and offered some people an avenue for personal growth, and at worst, a waste of time for me and others. That is just hard, and I try not to think about it too much.

  7. I get really upset with teachings like that one. It's so... naive... I mean, people don't realize what they are ACTUALLY teaching when they teach that a woman is responsible for a man's thoughts. It is so detrimental in SO many ways.

    Teaches the boys that they shouldn't have an erection, that it is bad in itself. (although, I can see why a kid might be embarrassed, in an ideal world, that wouldn't be anything to be embarrassed by.)
    Teaches the girls their bodies need to be hidden, which sexualizes them almost as much as pornography. (It sends the exact same message: a girl is just a body and her worth lies in how much she does or does not attract the opposite sex.) It also sends the message to boys that if a girl is dressed in a tanktop or short skirt, she wants to have sex. He will have a hard time hearing her words if he thinks he knows what she wants, and her words are different than what he thinks.
    Teaches the boys that they are not responsible for their own thoughts and actions.

  8. Linds, if my mom hadn't gone on a mission, I would have felt exactly the same way. My parents fit pretty well into the patriarchal structure, but somehow there were random things where they were surprisingly progressive, and the mission thing was one. I have two sisters and my mom pushed all three of us to go, so it never really felt like a feminist thing to do. But there is a small part of me now that wishes I had, because it is pretty good feminist-cred in the church. :) As far as the hardest part for you... that does make me glad I didn't go, because I know it would be agony for me now. I feel for you there. :(

    Absolutely agreed, Jen. That's one of the first things I thought about when I started looking at the church through a feminist lens, and I was absolutely appalled when I started remembering all the horrible, horrible lessons I'd been taught (and hearing from my friends about lessons they'd been taught. Licked cupcakes, chewed gum, boards with unfixable holes bored in them)... It's bad. Christian (in general) and Mormon (in particular) ideas about sexuality are pretty much as warped as it's possible to be. It's so awful.

  9. I used to get an erection every sunday before I passed the sacrament. It didn't really matter what I was thinking about. It would then be a race to see if I could lose it before I stood up. I've talked to my brothers and they said they had the same issue. Now you know.