Monday, November 29

Contradicting Parents

Yesterday in my primary class the lesson was on Jonah, and the discussion turned towards where the Bible came from and biblical inerrancy. At one point an 11 year old kid that comes to church once a month with his Grandma suddenly perked up and started paying actual attention to the lesson. He raised his hand and said, "So, like dinosaurs could be real?"
My mind raced through everything I know about who teaches that dinosaurs aren't real, everything our church teaches about dinosaurs, evolution, science, and reconciling scientific evidence with contradictory religious belief. I was trying to formulate an answer that wouldn't offend the sensibilities of whoever taught this kids that dinosaurs are a myth, while still being as accurate as I could.
All at once I remembered that our church doesn't teach young earth creationism, and biblical inerrancy. This kid's parents (or whoever) shouldn't be surprised that he's hearing things in Sunday school that contradict those beliefs when they're sending him to a church that doesn't teach those things.
I have enough trouble teaching the things I don't agree with that actually are church doctrine, I'm not going to twist myself in knots to teach things I disagree with that aren't church doctrine.

Monday, April 6

On ownership

This Time article points out that touching something increases feelings of ownership, which is something to keep in mind when shopping to help people avoid buying things they don't need:
To prove the power of touch, the researchers placed two products, a Slinky and a coffee mug, in front of 231 undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin. About half were told they could touch the products, while the other half were prohibited from fiddling with them. Students were then asked to express their sense of ownership of the products and to indicate how much money they were willing to pay for each.

The results were clear: those who touched the items reported statistically significant higher levels of perceived ownership. They were also willing to pay more to purchase the products.

I came across the article through the consumerist a few days ago, and it has been in the back of my mind. When my husband came home from work today and asked me if I had heard about the earthquake in Italy, I was not at all surprised. He served his mission there, though he never actually served in the city that was hit. As I considered how this event occupied his mind in a way it did not occupy mine I considered again the notion of ownership.

Though I know about Italy, I've never been there. I've never stood on the streets and heard people speaking Italian all around me. The habits, the idioms, the weather, the smell is all abstract to me. On the other hand I've been to other places. I've been to Sweden and placed my hands on the tombstones of my ancestors. I've sat on the couch in 'the house' at the family farm. That place is real to me, and I feel a sense of ownership towards it.

The article I linked stresses the feelings of entitlement that come with 'ownership.' On the other side of that is, I believe, a feeling of responsibility, or stewardship. In other words, one cares about what happens to those things they feel ownership of. When I've seen the herds of bison in Yellowstone park, I'll care if I hear that they are in danger of becoming extinct. When I've watched a live performance of Carmina Burana I'll care when I learn that it won't be performed anymore. When I've been to a foreign country, I'll care when I learn that there is a tragedy affecting that nation.

It is possible to care without experiencing these things first hand, but doing so makes the feelings come more easily. And so, it is not enough to just read about places, people, things, animals, or whatever. Experiencing something first hand is vitally important for developing a sense of ownership and stewardship for the world around us.

Thursday, March 26

My best nursery idea

You know that awful scratchy carpet that is on the bottom half of the walls of every LDS church building in the world? This carpet hold up felt pieces like magic at just the right height for nursery kids.
In our nursery we keep a little bag of felt pieces in different shapes and colors. The littlest ones just like putting them up, rearranging, hoarding etc. The older ones like sorting, or naming the shapes and colors or making scenes on the wall with the felt.
I've also had good experiences with using felt glued to the back of pictures to hold up illustrations for lessons. I have a bag of animal pictures with felt glued to the back that is very very popular among the nursery kids.
This same idea also works on some pews for quiet fun during sacrament meeting.

Wednesday, March 25

Mouths of Babes

When our oldest was about two years old and just barely talking our drive to church was rather long and involved freeways and all that. One Sunday on the way to church he said "cow?" We shrugged our shoulders and thought that he was probably just thinking about cows. Next week at the exact same spot he, again, said "cow?" At this point we were perplexed. "Maybe he's talking about cars? Hey Nils, say 'car.'" To which Nils said "Cai!" Hmm.
Next week, we get to the same spot and Nils says "cow?"
The weeks after that we started looking all around for anything that could be cow related. This went on for a few months and was rather frustrating. He wanted us to say, "Yes, that is a cow." But we never saw any cows and so did really believe that there was a cow. I was rather convinced that there was some graffiti or something that he thought looked like a cow, but we thought looked like words.
Until one day on the way to church I happen to look up at just the right moment to see this.

A random fiberglass cow on a pole that is visible for barely even a second. It appears just as you come out from an overpass, and disappears behind the ground almost immediately thereafter. You quite literally have to look in just the right spot at just the right time to see it at all. And our poor toddler who spent the whole ride to church gazing up out the window saw this cow every week, and by the time he said "cow?" it was gone.
I'm sorry we ever doubted him.

Monday, March 23

Constructive Criticism

Last night my husband attended a Stake priesthood meeting. During this meeting there were the usual exhortations, and among them was the injunction for all the married men to ask their wives "What can I do to be a better husband." Which my husband dutifully did.


My first thought was a smarmy self-righteous, "I choose to not dwell on your faults." We had a good laugh for a few minutes by trying to make that statement even more ostentatious.

My next thought was that if there was anything important that he needed to be doing for me or the kids I would have told him already. Just as I was getting ready to say that my husband preempted me by saying "I would hope that you would tell me without me having to ask like this."

After that there was the thought that if there were things I wanted him to do that I wasn't telling him about then they weren't the sort of things that matter all that much. I think he'd look nicer if he wore his shirts differently; he knows my opinion, and I know that they're his shirts and he's the one who is actually wearing them.

Then we discussed the fact that I would be really bothered if I had gone to a stake Relief Society meeting and had been instructed to ask my husband how I could be a better wife. He agreed that that did seem rather inappropriate and we talked for a few minutes about why one is A-Okay but the other is not. He put forth the idea that despite the ideal there are large cultural forces at play that result in men doing much less relationship maintenance than women.

As the conversation progressed I realized that the whole time in the back of my mind I had been searching for things that I didn't like about my husband. And sure enough when you look for those sorts of things you can come up with quite a list. Perhaps my first answer hadn't been so smarmy and self-righteous after all. That simple question, dutifully asked by my thoughtful husband upon instruction from a well meaning stake president who was trying to help out the sisters put me into a fault finding mindset which I didn't like at all.

So I gave my husband my answer ("Please find a way to let me know when you buy gas so I can put it in our budget spreadsheet.") and went to bed.

If my stake president were to ask how to be a better stake president I would ask him find a way to encourage husbands to do more relationship maintenance work without putting the wives in the position of having to look for their husbands faults.

Tuesday, March 17


As a teen and young adult I bore my testimony in Fast and Testimony meeting fairly frequently, about three or four times a year. Even though I am active, and friendly, and still have a testimony I haven't born my testimony once in over five years. What changed? I got married. For some reason bearing my soul to a room of strangers, acquaintances, and casual friends doesn't bother me a bit. But the instant someone I care deeply about is in the room you couldn't make me stand up if you tried. Bearing my testimony in front of my husband feels far too intimate to do in public.
Weird huh?

Sunday, March 15

Poor Unfortunate Souls

Several months ago at a Relief Society activity I had a curious conversation with a woman in my ward. She is an older woman who takes care of her appearance meticulously. At this activity she approached me, put her arm around my shoulder and said, "I just wanted to tell you that you are so beautiful!" I said a startled "thank you," and she continued "No, I really mean it, you are so lovely. And you don't even wear makeup. I think that if you wore makeup then you would look phenomenal." To which I jokingly responded "Well, you see makeup would just hide my beauty." She said "Oh no, makeup will enhance your beauty!" After that the conversation came to an awkward end and we went our seperate ways.

I went home confused and bothered by the exchange but didn't know what to make of it so I pushed it to the back of my mind and forgot about it. Months later, in some of my random musings I was thinking about makeover shows, and what a train-wreck the whole premise is. What it all comes down to is the fact that someone thinks their friends, family, or acquaintances are ugly, or at the very least not attractive enough (which they declare on national television in an attempt to 'help' said ugly duckling). I thought about how awful it would be if someone signed me up for one which isn't implausible given my unmade-up ways and comfy clothes.

All at once it hit me, the woman from my ward wasn't just giving me a compliment, she was trying to take me by the hand and start me on the path to learning how to be a better, more beautiful me. What she saw when she looked at me was a poor unfortunate girl, who either didn't think she was worth the effort (ie, "I'm too ugly for makeup to do any good, so why even bother?") or who lacked awareness of my own appearance the way that 7th graders lack awareness of how they smell.

But here's the thing about me. My mom is a beautician, I've been in several stage productions, and I have a sister who was a rodeo queen (read: beauty pageant on horses). I know how to apply makeup, I know how to walk down a runway, I know how to pose for photos, I know how to hold myself so that I look 5 pounds thinner. I know my season (winter), face shape (oval), I know how to dress to compliment my body shape. I know how to shape eyebrows, how to wax body hair, how to color my hair, how to give myself manicures and pedicures (even acrylics). I know how to do ridiculous hairdos, I know all sorts of hackneyed fashion rules and conventions. I know beauty, but I don't play that game.

When I turned 17, I asked two of my friends to go out to breakfast with me on my birthday. Our classes started at 7 am, so we agreed to meet at 6 am. I woke up at 5, showered, got dressed, did my hair a bit and arrived at the restaurant on time. My other friend arrived shortly after me, and the second friend arrived a good 15 minutes later than both of us. We asked my late friend if she had slept in, and she said no, she got up at 3 am, but it took longer to get ready than she thought. I was flabbergasted. It took her 3 hours to get ready for school, seriously? Not prom, not a date, not a job interview. School. I asked her why she couldn't just skip the makeup for a day and she looked at me as if I'd asked her why she didn't walk around naked. Her completely serious, non-melodramatic, dead pan answer was "I'm ugly without makeup." At that point it was my turn to look at her as if she'd said she was going to walk around naked. I'd known her since we were ten and I'd never once thought she was ugly.

Later, as I watched her and other girls around me I came to realize that nobody thought make-up made them "more beautiful." They thought makeup made them look less ugly. They didn't wear makeup to look nice, they wore it to look normal. And their opinions on makeup made sense given the way they used it. If you wear makeup every day, then that is how you normally look; you'd have to wear extra makeup to look extra nice.

That was when I stopped. I didn't want to think of myself as being ugly without makeup, and in order to avoid that trap I decided that I couldn't get used to seeing myself in makeup. From then on makeup was for special occasions, prom, dates, graduation, photos, etc. Now I refuse to include makeup in my basic daily hygiene. I am clean, my clothes are clean and neat, my hair is combed and styled, my nails are trimmed and clean, my eyebrows neatly shaped. I have good hygiene, and take good care of myself. I like how I look.

But here's what sticks in my craw about all of this. Makeup, and other forms of performed femininity are so pervasive and normative that it is natural for a kind hearted person to assume that I'm not doing all of this extra crap because I have bad self-esteem or poor hygiene. For a long time skipping the makeup was hard. I was plagued by doubt that I wasn't pretty enough without it. I worried that people, especially boys* would think I was ugly. I was concerned about my job and whether they would try to make me wear makeup. By now I'm perfectly alright if someone looks at my unmade up face and thinks that I'm an angry humorless feminist. I'm fine if they think I'm ugly. But the thought of people tsk-tsking under their breath and feeling sorry for my self-esteem makes me angry. I can control how I look at my own face, but I can't control what other people read into my behavior.

After realizing that the woman in my ward was trying to save me from myself I'm now paranoid about any compliment I get. People who fall all over themselves to compliment my trendy new hairdo make me squirm. It's almost like they're trying pavlovian conditioning-- they stroke my ego when I dip my toe in the beauty pool in hopes I'll keep it up. I wish I could wear a sign "I look this way for ideological reasons." Until then, the next time someone tries to talk me into wearing makeup by insisting that it just accentuates my features I'm going to respond with, "You're right! my husband really would look better with some eyeliner."

*Oddly enough unless I really have a lot on my husband can't tell if I have makeup on or not, and before I quit makeup altogether he refused to kiss me on Sundays for fear that I'd get lipstick on him.

Sunday, March 8

Male Gaze and the Temple

Among the many symbols in the Temple that I found confusing or hurtful was the veil that women wear on their heads and to cover their faces at times. I spent a lot of time reading varied interpretations of veiling coming from a wide array of sources- LDS, Catholic, Muslim, etc. One recurring explanation is that the veils are intended to shield the holy from the profane, and thus since women are veiled this means that they are holy. This always rang false to me, and failed to comfort me, because if you put a veil between God and me, it is obvious which side is profane and which side is holy. That men didn't wear a veil meant, to me, that men were less profane from women, and that God didn't need to be shielded from them.

Recently, while reading another instance of this sort of explanation the idea struck me that perhaps, at least as far as interpreting the Temple goes, I hadn't internalized the male gaze enough.

The male gaze is the idea that when viewing any sort of presentation the presumed audience is a heterosexual male. So, for example, movie directors assume that the audience would like the camera to linger on a woman's chest, rather than a man's physique. There are all sorts of reasons this is a bad thing, not the least of which is that girls and women have to relate to almost everything indirectly, by first imagining it from a male point of view and then interpreting that in a way that is applicable to themselves.

So when I go to the Temple, without my male gaze goggles on, I put on the veil, and then ask myself "what does this veil mean to me and my relationship to God?"

Perhaps what I should be asking is, "what would this veil mean to a man and and tell him about my relationship to him and what does *that* mean to me and my relationship to God?" In this way the reading that the veil denotes holiness could actually work, if you assume that the veil is there for men and not for women.

So perhaps the most feminist way to approach the Temple is to assume that everything there is actually for and about men.*

Friday, March 6

Public Service Announcement

The other day in the store a woman walked by, saw my kids sitting in the cart next to each other and said "Oh, what cute kids! Are they twins, or irish twins?" After an awkward moment of stammering out some sort of answer, she then explained "Irish twins means that they aren't really twins, but look a lot alike." After she left I turned to my husband and said, "That's not what 'Irish twins' means."
So, lest anyone else accidentally insult a stranger while trying to compliment their kids, you should know that Irish Twins is a rude way to describe two kids born to the same mother within 12 months.

Tuesday, February 24

Moral Wrongs or Societal Ills

Unwed motherhood seems to be the bane of our nation because it combines the moral failing of premarital sex and supposed root cause of delinquent childhood. I say 'supposed cause of delinquent childhood' because I am unconvinced. Certainly there are plenty of statistics that point to the correlation between single parent homes and a failure to thrive in children.

These kids do poorly in school, they engage in risky behaviors and commit crime. I'm inclined to believe that this has less to do with the marital state of the mother are much more to do with the financial state of the mother (present and future). It is the financial state of the mother that determines what neighborhood they live in, what school they attend, what daycare center they use, how frequently they see a doctor, and what sorts of extra curricular activities they can participate in. That single mothers are more likely to be poor is not an argument against single motherhood per se, but an argument against a society where caregivers are undervalued and herded out of the workforce.

The idea that single mothers are more likely to be poor due to some connection between their fallen state and their wallet is wrongheaded at best. First not all single mothers (parents, really) are ones that engaged in extra-marital sex. Divorce, death, and rape are all reasons why the 'righteous' may find themselves raising a child on their own. These parents at not excused from poverty due to their righteousness. Also, there are several financially successful single parents, who got their children either through adoption, IVF, or good ol' fashioned premarital sex. These parents aren't poor despite the unrighteousness of their behavior- and these parents have children that are likely to thrive.

And so it is that I can believe that a moral wrong, in this case extra marital sex, is not necessarily a social ill, and does not need to be regulation for our benefit. Governments and responsible parties should be involved in determining the actual causes of social ills (poverty), correcting those causes (helping single parents obtain gainful employment), and abstaining from moralizing the issue.

Saturday, February 21

Why Gendered Language Matters

Ads for Italian clothes designer Relish depict Rio de Janeiro police assaulting women (who are wearing fashionable shoes, that you want to buy. Really!). Officials in Rio are bothered by the ads, even trying to have them removed, though mostly because it tarnishes the reputation of the police force and the community.

In discussions of these ads women have described showing these ads to male friends and relatives who are bothered by the ads, but like the officials in Rio, are more bothered that it makes the police look like bad guys than by the sexual assaults depicted.

It seems clear to me that when these men look at these ads they identify with the police, and see *themselves* being implicated. When someone accuses you of a mugging, you probably care more about proving your own innocence than you do about the victim's lost his money or mental trauma.

At first I was inclined to say that at least we all agree that such behavior is unacceptable, especially from the police who are supposed to be a source of protection from this very sort of behavior. But as I thought about it I started dwelling on the idea that supposedly progressive pro-feminist men were looking at these ads and completely incapable of seeing how the sexualization of violence is the real issue because they were so hung up on defending the police and by extension themselves.

So here's the thing. There is no reason that men shouldn't be able to look at this ad and identify with the women and not the police. However boys do not read books about girls the same way girls read books about boys. Girls hear 'men' and train themselves to assume that they are included. Boys do not do the same. Groups of girls are called guys. Groups of boys are not called gals. All of these things conspire in the lives of men to stunt their ability to identify with a woman, or female character-- even for the five seconds it takes to look at this ad and imagine themselves being so brutalized by the police.