Tag Archives: cultural attitudes

An Open Letter to the LDS Church on Breastfeeding

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This letter was written on behalf of an acquaintance who was facing challenges from church leadership to her decision breastfeed “in public” at church (meaning that she did not excuse herself to the Mother’s Room). I spoke at length with her about the situation before I wrote my letter. Out of respect for her request that this situation not become public, I have held this letter for many months. Now, I feel comfortable sharing it.

Given that today is the first day of World Breastfeeding Week and a breastfeeding in church situation just came up again, I feel like now is an especially appropriate time to share this.

While it is addressed to the members and leaders of my faith, the same principles apply to members and leaders of all religious congregations and to members and leaders of the community at large.

Our Little Miss is now 22 months old and still breastfeeding. I still nurse her in public if she needs to. My hope is to encourage people everywhere to support women who breastfeed so that they and their babies can have the benefits of  breastfeeding until the physiologically normal age of weaning.

Dear members and leaders of the church,

I am an LDS mother. I have a beautiful almost-5-month old girl. From long before she was born, my husband and I have been making decisions with her best interests at heart. We have had long, intense conversations about the choices we are making.

It is important to us to give Monkey everything she needs to grow up healthy and strong and smart, with a conversion to the gospel and reliance on Heavenly Father.

One of those keys for us is breastfeeding her.

My husband and I have had long conversations about breastfeeding “in public”, which means anywhere from an intimate dinner with friends to during a trip to the mall. Somewhere between these two is attending church.

After those conversations, we have decided that not only is it appropriate for me to breastfeed M in church – in the chapel, during Sunday School or Relief Society (or during Young Women’s if I got called to serve our young sisters) – it is valuable to more than just M and me.

When Little Miss was born, breastfeeding was not easy for me. Like many modern women, I had not been exposed to it the way my grandmothers were. I had to learn how and I nearly gave up. I wish I had known someone in my ward who could help as my family is all far away. I wish I had grown up more exposed to breastfeeding (and since I am the oldest of four and my mother breastfed all of us, I was exposed to it some and it was still not enough). I wish that it had not been so foreign to me.

Ultimately though, when I breastfeed Monkey in public, my goal is not to offend. It is not to make a statement. It is not to educate others. It is simply to feed or comfort my baby.

When I do not “excuse myself” to another room, I do it not to throw my beliefs in someone else’s face. I do not wish to make others uncomfortable. I simply want to be a part of whatever else is happening or be blessed through participation in church and still do what is best for my baby.

We live in a world that is increasingly sexualized and our exposure to human bodies increases while our comfort level with our own bodies decreases. This is especially new of women and new mothers.

Like me, few women instinctively know how to breastfeed and there are many, many barriers to doing it. Unfortunately, one of these for LDS women is a culture that discourages us from any sort of familiarity with our own bodies. In an effort to stay “morally pure” we are not given the skills we need to be good mothers. This is tragic.

It has long-reaching consequences for the young men in the church as well. They are taught (as girls are as well), that “sex is bad, until you get married”. At the same time, they see semi-nude images almost everywhere they go.

For many, the taboo nature of a woman’s body in the LDS faith coupled with the sexualization of her in modern culture leads our young men to be curious. Some of them turn to parents or church leaders for answers while others, sadly, turn to friends and peers and the internet. This natural curiosity leads some of them down dark paths of addiction to pornography that takes excruciating work to overcome.

When leaders of the church ask women to cover up while breastfeeding their babies at church (or worse, go to another room), they reinforce these world-created narratives of a woman’s body and add barriers to something that is already not easy. They create secrecy or shame where there is none and they alienate women who often need the church interaction the very most.

Church leaders and other members would do woman an incredible service to every member of the church if they actively supported breastfeeding moms who care for their children (sometimes despite personal discomfort or inconvenience and public, cultural and familial disapproval) in the way their children most need. Sometimes this means uncovered at an unclothed breast.

A woman’s body is sacred and should be honored and respected, especially when it is being used to do exactly what our Heavenly Father purposed it to do: provide bodies for His spirit children and nourish and rear them.

Thank you so much for your support of us as breastfeeding mothers.

Lacey

P.S. This little package – a nursing cover – was delivered to an acquaintance of mine this week. It came from the Young Women of her ward. I am beyond horrified that this lesson is being taught to the Young Women by their leaders. Breasts, like nearly every part of the body, have both a utilitarian and a sexual purpose. This attitude creates shame, fear and unfamiliarity with breastfeeding. It should never, ever happen. Let’s work together to normalize breastfeeding, end the modesty debate and support mothers and babies everywhere!

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Traits of a Mother

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In my last post, I talked about asking the question “What is a ‘Mother’?“. I shared some of why I have asked that question. You will want to read that post for background to be able to understand this one.

As I said in that post, I understand “motherhood” is an incredibly sensitive topic. I hope to heal broken hearts, lift others up and shed light on a topic I have come to care deeply about. If you find this topic painful, you may want to come back to the blog another day. The Savior can heal all wounds, but His time is not ours and sometimes the balm of Gilead is slow to heal. This post is not about culturally accepted motherhood, but about a richer, deeper calling that is available to any woman who wants it.

I promised to share some of the traits I felt defined what a Mother is. You might not agree with everything on my list, but don’t dismiss it out of hand. Ponder it and pray about it. Then, consider making your own list. I’d love to hear it.

The traits that make a mother are wide and rich. This list is far from inclusive, but it does cover the critical basics. Here are a few of my thoughts:

 

1. A Mother is a Life-giver or Life-bringer. This is probably the single-most defining factor of what a Mother is. The most obvious example of this is childbearing. Women who sacrifice their bodies, their health and their sanity to give mortal life to a child are prime examples of the life giving role of a Mother. This is what we typically define motherhood to be. I call it “little-m motherhood”. However, there is so much more to this. Mothers bring life to their homes, to gardens and yards, to communities, to businesses, to ideas, to governments and to the world. Women who write books often compare the process to their experience with childbirth – hard work, sometimes painful, and so, so worth it in the end. To me, there are very few things as wonderful as seeing a seedling pop through the earth and then later to be able to harvest the bounty of a garden. It’s wonderful to know that I am responsible for that life. I’ve seen others give life to businesses. It’s amazing to see their business grow and blossom. I’m doing the same thing right now, watching my own company begin to take life, with the same sort of anticipation as I have had watching others do the same. Giving life extends to every aspect of the world in which we walk and Mothers are the people who bring that life into being.

2. A Mother is a circle maker. Just as Mothers bring life, they also usher in death. Death is simply a necessary step in our growth process and Eve’s choice was key to both. By partaking of the fruit, Eve brought both mortal life and mortal death. Women’s bodies cycle through life and death in a monthly microcosmic way (the book The Healing Power of the Sacred Woman talks about this concept in really powerful ways). We have lost the ability to honor the natural cycle of womanhood the way that many more “primitive” cultures do, but the circular nature of a woman’s life force can be seen in ripples throughout her world.

One example of this cyclical nature of womanhood in the seasons of a woman’s life. First she is a maiden and then the maiden dies as she becomes a mother (little m). For a time the mother lives and then she dies as a woman becomes a crone. Simultaneously, a woman may live through another type of seasons. Many women, especially in Mormonism, have careers or paying jobs prior to and in the early years of their marriage. Then when children are born, they retire from that season of their live to be “stay at home” parents. When their children begin attending school or grow up and leave home, many go back to school to complete degrees (or get new ones) and then enter the workforce again. While men often do all these things at the same time, many women live their lives in stages, closing one circle before drawing the next. Intentional or not, these seasons of life which open with a birth and close with a death of sorts speak testament of the cycle of mortality and the dual role of Eve as life giver and death bringer.

Mothers make circles in other ways. We encircle each other, children, our spouses, our goals and our dreams in the embrace of round arms and warm hearts and we create protective circles around those who have been attacked or injured. Which brings me to my third trait.

3. A Mother is a protector and a warrior. So often we refer to men as the protectors. The protection of a father is wonderful, but no one protects like a Mother. When it comes to childbirth, a woman’s body literally responds to external stimuli in labor to protect her child. In the wild, no one protects like a mama. I was once within a few hundred yards of a mother grizzly bear and her cub. I was too naive to be scared, but I realize today how extremely dangerous the situation was. When faced with danger, a Mother fiercely protects whatever is hers. Mothers will cross oceans, walk through broken glass, take down grown men and governments and ruthlessly remove any obstacle between her and her “child” – be that an actual human child or an adult she loves or a cause she feels called to protect. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop a protective Mother.

4. A Mother is a counselor, a wise woman and a healer. I suppose I could’ve broken these three up, but I feel like they are inseparable. Mothers have incredible intuition. I watched my own mother invite people into our home to treat general family illnesses. Her area of expertise – or at least the thing I remember her treating most – was ear infections. So often, she just knew what to do. Some of this was training and some of it was intuition. In nearly all “primitive” cultures, women have a place among the “medicine elders”. These women are not only physical healers, but spiritual healers as well. They conduct rituals for rain, good fortune and protection. They often direct the spiritual affairs of a tribe or community. They provide counseling. They attend births and deaths – the two places where the mortal and spiritual world collide most clearly. It doesn’t matter if there is a male hierarchy or a male chief at the head of the tribe. When the witch doctor says to do something everybody listens.

Even in our “modern” society, we see this. Our culture so often treats women in a derogatory way, referring to men in relationships as “whipped” and their (female) significant others as “the old ball and chain”. Culture tries to diminish the powerful role of a Wise Woman. But any man, woman or child worth their salt will listen to that guiding voice of a Grandmother or a Mother. Any husband with true respect for his wife knows to listen to the Mother inside his wife when she speaks.

Mothers hold space in times of trial, rejoice in times of gladness, find clarity in times of confusion and speak words of praise in times of clarity. They do all of this with the combined wisdom of generations of Mothers and Grandmothers handed down in their genetic and energetic code.

5. Mothers honor their calling and others’. Because they have strong intuition and because they know to follow that intuition, Mothers are often very confident in their callings. Whatever that calling is, a Mother does not get easily pulled down into the weeds or trapped in the false promises of Ego. They also have no problem allowing others to follow their own path. Honoring their calling gives them a place of confidence and self-assurance from which to operate from. They know that God doesn’t give us all the same path and that each child has to find their own way.

6. A Mother brings light. You know those people who just light up a room? Women who make you feel good about yourself? Those women reflect what a Mother is. Light is the single most essential element for growth. Even plants that grow in the dark (think mushrooms) need light as part of their growth chain. Light provides energy. Energy creates the ability to grow. Some women claim they are not the nurturing type, but I’ve yet to meet a Mother who doesn’t bring light in some form. Even if you don’t light up a room, that does not mean you do not bring light. Some of us have gentle, filtered light. Others light is bright and shiny. Still others of us have light that is harsh and cleansing. All of these forms of light nourish growth if we let them.

7. A Mother crosses generations. Mothers are simultaneously Eve and modern woman tied up together. They are daughters and mothers, granddaughters and grandmothers. They reflect the past while gazing into the future. Their stories resonate through generations, inspiring their sons and daughters to move forward by looking backwards. They hold the secrets of the past and the promise of the future all in the cup of their hands.

8. A Mother is a teacher. Mothers are naturally teachers. They lead the way when they are called to. They sit back when they know we need to learn on our own. Whoever their “children” are, they show us the way, teach us correct principles and let us walk in the Light. They teach us to value ourselves by caring for themselves. One of the most selfless things a Mother does is to care for herself, teaching us that we can best help others by keeping our own cups filled. She show us that Living Water is the best way to fill our cups and that a critical part of “self care” building a relationship with Deity.

 

This is my “short list”. I am sure that as I keep chasing this topic, I will gain more understanding of what Motherhood is. Those who restrict Motherhood to childbearing and rearing have a limited understanding of what it truly is. Motherhood is a calling that every woman is invited to take part in. Not every woman will. The conflation of childbearing with Motherhood, the pain of not being able to have a “traditional family” in mortality, the pull of other callings will all lead some to different paths. Choosing otherwise, wanting otherwise does not mean there is something “wrong” with you. But every woman who wants it is welcome to take part in Motherhood. As women, as daughters of Eve, this is our birthright.

A response to The Style of Being: Mormon Feminism and Being Snarky

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A couple of days ago, I shared a link on my Facebook page from Feminist Mormon Housewives on becoming heretics and the pain that comes from being outside the box of cultural Mormonism.

As part of the discussion that ensued, a link from The Style of Being was shared. I started to write a response and it turned out that I had a lot to say on the topic.

I am not a member of Ordain Women and I have not appreciated all of their actions. After much study and prayer, I do not know how I feel about women’s ordination. However, I do know that OW isn’t the bogey man that cultural Mormonism makes them out to be.

Here’s my response to Mormon Feminism and Being Snarky

Men and Women are NOT THE SAME…

This is true. But women and women are not the same. Neither are men and men.

If I look at each of my girlfriends, I see a few places where we overlap – we all love each other, for example – and many, many places where we differ. Some of us are driven, headstrong, stubborn and unforgiving of the things that stand in our way. Others are more inclined to “float” through life and are content with what life brings them. All of us have our soft spots and our hard spots. Not one of us is the same as another.

More than that, how are we defining things that are traditionally female? Compassion? Love? Gentility? Easy going? What would you call “female” attributes?

My husband and I often joke that I make a better man and he makes a better woman, based purely on stereotypical roles.

My husband is naturally more compassionate than I am when it comes to someone being injured. He gets a headache or damages his hand or something and I’m like “Well, take some Tylenol and get over it.” On the other hand, when I fell and hurt my wrist and scrapped up my leg, he took care of me for a couple of days before he started to be annoyed with me.

He tends to be more patient, easier going, more inclined to follow, softer than I am. Those are wonderful attributes and I strive to emulate them in many places.

With that kind of background, I have to wonder: how would you define “what makes [you] inherently female”?

Lastly, OW uses a grammatical imperative. That’s their goal. However, they are not telling anyone else what to think. They are telling members of their organization – people who are exercising their right to freedom of association – to gather around a common ideal. They are expressing their opinion that women’s ordination is the only way to fix the gender inequalities in the church. They also claim to be asking the questions: Can women be ordained? And why can’t women be ordained? We can disagree about methods, but it is your interpretation that they are telling women what to think, not necessarily reality.

Priesthood Responsibilities Are Designed to Grow Good Men

Absolutely we need man and woman together. We do complement each other. Of course women cannot do it all. I could never manage two jobs and a child without my husband there with me. We support each other. But what his role is and what my role is are defined by us in concert with God. Right now, my role is to be the primary breadwinner. I currently have more earning potential than he does and it’s helping keep us out of crippling debt. Meanwhile, he is the SAH parent. He’s actually pretty good at it too. And Monkey needs her dad. She needs her mom but she also needs her dad.

Also, while my husband stinks at housework (pretty sure Priesthood is not going to fix that) he is generally, as I stated above, the kinder, softer one and more inclined to follow instead of fight. Soooo… maybe I need the Priesthood responsibilities to teach me skills my husband is already good at.

And, really, I don’t understand how blessing and passing the sacrament or serving in leadership roles is “tailored to [the men’s] needs.” These are positions that are pretty generic across the church and many women could benefit from them as well as men.

Yes, western women do tend to do “everything”. Some of this is because when women work outside of the home, they still find or make time to keep the house and see their children (working moms do more housework and more childcare than their working fathers counterparts). This doesn’t mean that men are slacking or that they are being pushed out by women. Men and women just make different choices. Doing “everything” is a choice women make. Everyone should feel like they can choose how to spend their time. A strong man is not going to be pushed out by a woman. Our goal should be to have strong men to complement strong women, not weak women to pacify weak men. Limiting the priesthood to men only simply because we are afraid men “need” the priesthood to be spiritually equal to women undercuts men and unfairly punishes women.

The Priesthood is Not a Status Symbol, Yo

Yes, I know this. This statement is at best misinformed and faulty. Wanting the priesthood does not mean wanting some kind of status symbol. It means wanting the equal treatment that is incredibly difficult to achieve without ordination to priesthood office.

When Kate Kelly says that equality can be measured, she’s not talking about something theoretical. She’s talking about necessity of having men and women as part of the church.

If one Sunday, no men showed up for church, Sacrament meeting literally could not be held. If no women showed up, meetings could go on as scheduled (there might be some scrambling in the primary, but otherwise everything would function as normal).

Moreover, priesthood ordination does lead to more influence within the church. Factually, there are very few roles that allow women to influence the direction of the church. I’m not talking doctrine here; I’m talking culture and, especially, policy.

On the ward level, there’s an appearance of near equality. Wards have the Bishop and the RS President, the Sunday School President and the Primary President, the Young Men and Young Women Presidents. However, only the bishopric is allowed to actually extend callings, and a bishop can turn down a RSP’s request (and it is a request; she has no real authority to do anything but ask) for a certain teacher, counselor, etc. Additionally, you have the EQP, which is really more the RSP’s equivalent, and the HP Group Leader. Men outnumber women in leadership positions at the ward level almost two to one. Also, while the Primary President is traditionally filled by a woman, it does not have to be, while the Sunday School President is specifically a male-only position.

When you get to the stake level, that equality of administration lessens. There’s the Stake President and the Stake auxiliary presidencies. There is no Stake EQP and the HP President is the Stake President. However, there are 12 high counselors (which is a priesthood function). There are five men for every one woman in stake leadership (unless you are counting auxiliary counselors which evens the numbers to 2.5 men for every one woman; better but auxiliary counselors have significantly less authority than the high counselors and usually only the presidents are part of ward and stake counsels).

There are no female equivalents to Area Authority 70, General 70 or the Quorum of the 12. We do not even know who the women who serve on the auxiliary general boards are.

Even if we assume for a minute that this is how Jesus Christ wants His church to be run, we still need to address the more policy and cultural elements of Mormon inequality. How many women are involved in the curriculum writing committee (CWC)? I don’t know.

However, Chieko Okazaki did shed a little bit of light on this process:

I was the education counselor, so I worked with one of the men on the curriculum committee. We wanted to change the manual so that it brought up modern-day problems that women have to face and focus on how to implement some of the gospel doctrines and principles in dealing with the problem.

I had written a general outline, and the Relief Society presidency approved it. So I talked about it to a man on the Curriculum Committee. He went to his boss, and the boss said, “We don’t

need a new manual for the Relief Society.” “Why don’t we need a new manual?” “We already are writing a manual for them.”

So he came back and told me that a new manual was already being prepared. I asked what it was, and he said, “Well, it’s the manual on Harold B. Lee.” It was the first one in that series of teachings of the Church presidents. I asked, “Why are they writing a manual for us on Harold B. Lee?” He didn’t know.

I told the presidency, so we went and asked the Curriculum Committee, “What is this all about?” They said, “Well, we’re already almost finished with the first book.” We said, “You’re almost finished with the first book, and you didn’t tell us that you were doing this? Why is this is the first time we have heard about it? Chieko has been writing an outline in relation to what women need.” So I asked, “Who is writing this manual?” It turned out to be five men, and the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society would have the same lessons.

I asked, “Why aren’t the women included in this?”

The RSP was significantly shut out of the process.

There is ONE book that is an official church publication addressing the heritage of the Relief Society. In the first three chapters, Women are mentioned or talked about 1.3 times as frequently as men, but men are quoted twice as often as women. In a book about the Relief Society. If you remove the scriptural references (quotes from the scriptures and scriptural references to women), the ratio of women to men references becomes about equal while the number of men to women quotes stays about the same.

This is not a doctrinal, but a cultural/policy issue which has many ways of being addressed, but ordaining women is certainly one of them. I don’t know that it’s the best solution, but it is probably the quickest.

Lastly, the idea that if women were ordained there would be no need for men in the church is completely ridiculous. Maybe men could spend more time with their families if their wives were administering in the church. We could have YW pass the sacrament as well (that may not be needed everywhere in the Mormon Bubble, but it absolutely has been an issue in some of the wards I’ve lived in). Some branches could become wards and some groups that cannot be branches due to lack of priesthood leadership due to a lack of active men could become branches.

Same Destination – Same Airline – Different Carry-on Luggage

Since we are supposed to become like our Godly parents, it would be really great if we actually knew anything about our Heavenly Mother. Or what “eternal gender roles” look like. Also, my husband can totally have little-m motherhood. He can be pregnant and carry a baby for 9-10 months. Let me tell you what, I am not a fan of pregnancy at all. Once “those little rugrats” are earthside, they need both mother AND father. Studies show that an absentee father is extremely detrimental to child development and healthy adulthood. Fatherhood deserves a lot more respect than we give it.

Priesthood has no other equivalent, as far as we know, and it is not a gender role.

Trust in the Lord with all Thine Heart

Well, yes, of course. I haven’t spoken to one member of OW who has not come to their opinion on female ordination other than through study and prayer. This is not often an easy decision to make. It marks you as an “unbeliever” in the eyes of many. However, many of these women, our sisters, are trusting God who is directing them to be part of this. “We” assume that because they are different, they are not following God. This is silly and judgmental and hurtful. The history of the church shows revelation often comes from the top down in response to a request from the bottom up.

You may not like how the questions are being asked. I agree that tone is important. It is unfortunate that much of the tone of this entire discussion has been set by people who have not taken time to study and pray about the issue (I am not referring to OW). Labeling someone an apostate for not asking a question the “right” way is asinine. It perpetuates a negative tone.

We don’t know why women are not ordained. Full Stop.

It is simply how the Lord put it, maybe period, maybe for now, but any other reason is not true. We have a responsibility to seek after truth. We have a responsibility to ask difficult questions. We have a responsibility to not get stuck in the Mormon Box, to study and pray about this and many other topics. We have a responsibility to not believe what the media says, what the church PR department says, or what OW says without knowing as much as we can about the entire situation, praying about it when we begin our study and then praying about it after our study and listening and following whatever the Holy Ghost tells us. THAT is trusting in the Lord. THAT is not relying on the arm of flesh.

The Restoration continues. We believe that God will yet reveal many great and important truths pertaining to the kingdom of God. We must ready ourselves to accept whatever that is. It may be ordaining women.

Feminism’s make over

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I was recently recommended to a facebook group for Feminist Mormon Housewives (fMh) by a friend of mine, following a number of posts about women and authority in the LDS church.

Some days I really appreciate the sisterhood of the fMh page and sometimes I wonder what I’m still doing there.

There are still many of the liberal leaning (or out-and-out political progressive), pro-choice, anti-gender role, angry, my-way-or-the-highway feminists in this world. There are many of them in Mormon Feminism. Many of the topics that come across the fMh feed are very liberal. It also can be very blunt, black-and-white and unforgiving. You think there’s an evil patriarchy or you’re not a feminist. You support a woman’s “right” to chose an abortion or you’re not a feminist. You don’t think Motherhood and Priesthood are equal and if you do you’re not a feminist.

It’s not always a very friendly place to be and sometimes I feel a little like I’m in the lion’s den. I regularly feel out of place, but that’s pretty par for the course everywhere I am (both online and in “real” life).

One of the things that comes up from time to time in our feministy conversations is about how we know people who are actually feminists but won’t claim the title. It frustrates many people while others have expressed a sort of “wink nod” superiority about knowing their friends are feminists even when their friends won’t admit it.

The truth is that even when you (collective) get beyond the stereotype of what a feminist is, there are still legitimate reasons people reject feminism. Instead of describing what these reasons are, some of which can be overcome by feminists and some of which we have no control over, I’m going to provide a few suggestions on how Mormon feminism (and strictly Mormon feminism, although some suggestions do apply across the board) could provide a more inclusive environment for those who are seeking to understand women’s issues in the church today.

 

1. Drop the phrase “The Patriarchy”

This is a term used differently by Mormons and the rest of the (feminist) world. In Mormonism, there is talk about the Patriarchal Order, about the great patriarchs, about Patriarchal Blessings and all of these things are good things. Patriarchy in the world, however, is a mancentric environment that shows a preference to men while subtly (and not so subtly) oppressing women. It’s a really hard juxtaposition for people to reconcile.

In general, I actually hate the phrase “the patriarchy” anyway because I don’t think the system in place actually benefits men. It just harms everyone. It’s not “patriarchy” when we assume that all men are rapists and pedophiles. It’s not patriarchy when we assume that young women need to dress modestly so that young men can control their thoughts. It’s not patriarchy when we assume a man and a woman can’t serve in a presidency together (with at least one or two other people) because they might develop feelings for each other. None of those are patriarchy, but they are the system the world calls patriarchy. These attitudes aren’t real patriarchy but they are really harmful.

By abandoning the word patriarchy as the descriptor of our concerns about the church, we can remove a significant barrier to recognizing there are concerns we would like addressed in the church.

2. Quit diminishing motherhood.

I’m sure this will ruffle some feathers. However, I see this phrase a lot in feminist discussions: “Mother does not equal Priesthood. Motherhood equals fatherhood. Priesthood equals priesthood.” Although I am certain it is not the intention, this statement’s de facto result is not lifting up fatherhood. It’s lessening motherhood. In a church that claims to put motherhood right at the top of all callings and responsibilities possible, it’s hard for mainstream Mormons to understand that you might want “more” because wanting more makes motherhood less.

Further, Mormon feminists often make statements that come across as critical of not only the motherhood/priesthood comparison but also of the motherhood as a calling attitude that many women in the church hold.

Instead, Mormon feminists should embrace motherhood as the pinnacle of Earthly and eternal callings. We should also lift up fatherhood, explain how difficult it can be on families and on motherhood when fathers spend excessive time outside the home fulfilling Priesthood callings, and address training and policy concerns in the church before seeking for Priesthood ordination as the missing link to equality. Feminists should realize we don’t know everything about Big-M Motherhood. We must know the doctrine on motherhood and understand why leaders hold it up as equal to Priesthood. We should understand that when the church leadership talks about Motherhood they are perhaps talking about something different than childbearing. We should strive to know as much as we possibly can about Heavenly Mother.

When we have done all that and can articulate it, we should be able to tell others that we love and appreciate their calling to bring spirits into the world and that we feel as though there are other things the Lord would like us to take on. Not more, but other. We should point out that there are times and seasons for certain things and that a woman’s childbearing little-m motherhood years will be comparatively short. We should point out that historically women in the church ran their own businesses, studied as midwives and doctors, served in political office, gave blessings by laying on of hands, managed the Relief Society as an independent and full organization (which included hospitals, it’s own budget and magazine) and fulfilled church callings all while still being good and faithful mothers to their children and wives to their husbands.

If Mormon feminists can help others understand that what we want is what our foremothers had and that none of that demeans motherhood or contributes to the worldly attack on women, we have a greater chance of coming to the table with soft and open hearts.

3. Separate feminism from liberalism

This is incredibly hard. Many feminists, even Mormon ones, are very politically liberal (progressive even). Feminism naturally has a soft spot for issues like gay marriage as both women and homosexuals have traditionally experienced inequality and oppression. However, by hitching the feminist wagon to politically progressive issues, feminists effectively exclude anyone who does not agree politically. If, instead, feminism can “stay on track” and address the social and legal reasons for inequality, we can address real issues instead of getting sidelined by other things that divide us.

3.1. Abandon abortion as a feminist issue

Ok, this one might be a dream. Abortion and reproductive rights are almost a holy grail of feminism. It’s also possibly the single most divisive issue in all of the modern sociopolitical sphere. I think most Mormon feminists – and many feminists outside of Mormonism – will say at the very least that abortion is not ideal. Abortion is especially offensive in Catholic and Mormon spheres where life begins at or before conception respectively and being born is incredibly important.

If Mormon feminism could completely abandon abortion as an acceptable solution to an unwanted pregnancy, and to do so vocally, it would make feminism much more palatable for those taking tentative first steps towards feminism. Moreover, Mormon feminists could lead out by focusing on alternatives (all of them) and by focusing on making men equally responsible for the unborn (and then for the birthed) baby, creating potentially legitimate non-abortion solutions for women outside of both Mormonism and feminism.

4. Focus on the (small) stuff we want

A lot of times feminism is seen as a negative, angry movement. Sure, there are things that we get angry over. That’s human nature. However, sometimes I think Mormon feminists come across as complainers. Instead, we should focus on what positive things we would like to see. I would love to see one lesson a month from the manual Daughters In My Kingdom. I would love lessons that focus on Heavenly Mother, Eve and Mary. It would be amazing to have a Teachings of Emma Smith manual or from Eliza R. Snow or from other LDS women leaders. I would love to have a Relief Society magazine or a whole section in the Ensign just for women (more than the page for the Visiting Teaching message). I’d love to have the RS General Board speak in General Conference or at least know who they are and occasionally hear from them in firesides or the Ensign. These are small to moderate changes but they would make a huge difference for many women.

4.1. Celebrate the small victories

Sort of a subpoint to the previous one, there was a lot of skepticism and actual hurt feelings on fMh when the portraits of the women presidencies were put up in the Conference Center. Small victories are often met with scoffing and even offense. I get it. It also seems like adding insult to injury. However, instead of rejecting them, we should celebrate the little step forward. Change is hard but one small change opens the door for another which opens the door for several more. Many small changes make larger changes possible. It takes time but we should celebrate them instead of feel insulted that they are so small and slow coming.

5. Be educators not just agitators

In the context of this post, agitating means primarily public advocacy in a blunt, straight forward or forceful way, especially an attempt as a group to get a question or issue addressed in the public domain. Of course there is a time when agitating for something is absolutely the right course of action. I won’t fault anyone who, after careful study, meditation and prayer, decides that our Heavenly Parents want them to agitate for an issue. I, personally, am no stranger to agitation on many topics.

However, whenever a person or group agitates they also educate. If the agitation-based education creates a negative perception of a group or individual, that group has actually worked against themselves.

Sometimes, we need to take a step back from our agitating and take control of educating. There is SO MUCH about women in the LDS church that we as a church don’t know (thanks, correlation). Daughters In My Kingdom addresses some of that ignorance and there are amazing things taught in the Relief Society Minutes available from the Joseph Smith Papers project. However, if we’ve preconditioned our brothers and sisters in the church that we will “accept nothing less” than what we are agitating for, we have already alienated them from any future conversations. Getting some of what we want is going to take quiet, assured, well-studied education and we have to lay the education foundation before it will even be possible to get some of the big things we want.

There’s something to Proverbs 15:1 when it says “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grevious words stir up anger.” Sometimes, we need to step back from fighting and speak softly. There are times for both agitation and education, but we cannot forget that education is how you win hearts and minds. Agitation is a secondary, but less effective, tool. Sometimes because it feels more productive, we choose agitation first. Education is always more effective.

6. Never, ever demean or diminish someone else’s experience.

Every one of us is going to have a different experience. Some women really do feel completely comfortable with their position in the church. They do not see themselves and unequal. We have to respect that. Some women have a point or two that frustrates them but are generally content with the structure and hierarchy in the church. We have to respect that too. Just as we hope that no one will diminish our experience, we must never use phrases like “gilded cages” or “flaxen chains” when it comes to our sister’s experiences in the church.

Instead, we should completely own our own experiences. We must not ask that our sisters and brothers accept our world views, only our experiences as real and valid.

 

I am not a typical Mormon feminist. I’m sure there are some who will take issue with my suggestions. I also know that some both within and outside feminist circles I may be criticized for claiming the term feminist at all. However, I am neither ashamed to be a feminist nor to be one who doesn’t fit in the feminist box. My perspective can help bridge the gap between those who struggle with women’s roles in the LDS church and those who are completely comfortable in them. We can’t reach everyone, but we can alienate everyone that doesn’t fit in the box. By considering our approach, ridding our language of buzz words and non essential ideologies that create barriers and sharing our stories and our history, we will create a more inclusive environment that will help us achieve greater equality and unity in the LDS church.

The Modesty Question

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The single biggest question I see when nursing in public is discussed is modesty. There is an attitude that when we talk about nursing without a cover we are going to “just flop out” a breast and let it all hang out while we nurse.

In my experience, most women are discreet (whatever that means) when they nurse their babies and those of us who don’t cover up or remove ourselves to a secluded place believe we can be so without those stipulations.

The modesty question is interesting, especially in the LDS faith. More than almost any other faith, especially any other sect of Christianity, we have a strict code of modesty. Adult members who have gone through our temples commit to wearing clothing that covers the shoulders and legs to the knee and nearly everywhere in between. When discussing the modesty question in the context of the LDS faith, we cannot compare to others who might find it acceptable to wear sleeveless shirts and short skirts – an easy argument to make in favor of breastfeeding for the rest of the world. In this, I do not mean to offend those who are not LDS, just to point out we have a much stricter standard of modesty than others may.

Unfortunately, this standard of dress sometimes is seen as the only aspect necessary to be modest and modesty is taught to many young women that “We need to dress modestly so that we don’t make young men think bad thoughts.” That actually makes less sense to me now then when I was in Young Women’s, though it’s a topic for another post.

Since having a baby and deciding to breastfeed her in public without covering up, I’ve had to decide whether or not I believe it is modest and, more importantly, if I believe that God believes I’m behaving modestly.

To that end, I started in my favorite place: the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

It states that Modesty is:

1 : freedom from conceit or vanity

2 : propriety in dress, speech, or conduct

While most of the words there are commonly understood, I would suggest you look up each defining word separately for a fuller understanding. The one that really caught my attention was “propriety”.

The first two definitions of propriety are obsolete, but I still feel they still have value in this discussion:

1 obsolete: true nature

2 obsolete: a special characteristic : peculiarity

3: the quality or state of being proper or suitable : appropriateness

4a: conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech

4b: fear of offending against conventional rules of behavior especially between the sexes

4cplural: the customs and manners of polite society

Clearly, my behavior lacks propriety when defined as conformity to what is socially acceptable. However, in many ways and may places my behavior does not conform to what is socially acceptable. Additionally, just because the culture dictates that a behavior is appropriate or inappropriate does not make it so in the eyes of God.

Additionally, when defined as “true nature” or appropriateness, then my behavior of nursing my baby whenever, wherever has propriety.

Please do not mistake me as dismissing the value of social norms or polite society. They are both necessary and extremely valuable when they are correct. However, when they are incorrect they become stumbling stones that can have long-reaching negative effects on individuals, families and societies.

Left with this failure of clarity, my next step was to refer to material published by the LDS church. In the Gospel Topics section of the church’s website, modesty has it’s own section. It states in part:

Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to “glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I also referred to the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. There is no section on modesty, but under Dress and Appearance it says:

Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God… Prophets of God have always counseled His children to dress modestly. The way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside. Your dress and grooming send messages about you to others and influence the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you.

So then I must question, do my actions accurately reflect who I am? Moreover, do they invite the companionship of the Spirit and are they respectful of my body? If all are true, then I can infer that my actions are modest as well as my dress and grooming.

The section further counsels:

Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”

This is the ultimate question. Would I feel comfortable nursing my baby in front of my Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ without a nursing cover? The answer to that is absolutely, unequivocally yes. It is unfortunate that others are made uncomfortable by something that would not make Heavenly Father uncomfortable.

Finally, I found this statement in A Parent’s Guide:

The scriptures often refer respectfully but plainly to the body and its parts. There is no embarrassment and often there is sacred symbolism. It is the world that makes the divinely created body an object of carnal lust. For example, it makes the female breasts primarily into sexual enticements, while the truth is that they were intended to nourish and comfort children…

Teach your children that they will find joy in their bodies when they use them virtuously after the manner taught by Christ (emphasis added).

This confirms to me the answer to the previous question, would I feel comfortable with my [behavior] in the presence of the Lord? Note that it clearly draws a line between the world’s view of breasts (sex) and God’s view of breasts (childcare).

The foregoing is not a comprehensive answer to the modesty question. It does not include all the doctrine on modesty and on breastfeeding. It does not include a discussion on cultural differences over time and geography, LDS breastfeeding art or historical context.

However, it is my answer to breastfeeding and the modesty question. Not everyone will answer the questions the way I did. That’s ok. Some of modesty standardized. The rest is personal, between God and man.

I do not believe breastfeeding a baby in public uncovered is immodest. I know it challenges cultural norms, but I think that’s a good thing. Change is coming on our attitudes about women and sexuality and breastfeeding. Someday this debate won’t even happen.

In the mean time, there’s more to come from me on this subject, so stay tuned and send me your feedback. I’m dying to hear your thoughts.

A few points of clairifcation

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I’m overwhelmed by the traffic I’ve gotten after my last post and the feedback I’ve received. This blog is very new, but I’m not new to blogging and so this much traffic in the first few months is really amazing to me. Thank you!

Before my next official post, I wanted to make a couple of points of clarification after the feedback I’ve gotten on my last.

First, I’m not anti-mothers’ room. I am thankful that there is a mother’s room at my church. I do not condemn the mothers who want to use it. It can be an escape from the world, a safe place to deal with a worked up baby, a quiet place to help a baby sleep and a place to gather with other moms. I wish that more mother’s rooms were more like the one in my church building: not in a bathroom, in a more quiet place in the building and comfortably furnished. I am certainly not anti-moms using the mother’s room.

Second, I’m not anti-nursing cover. Moreover, I think that there are circumstances where using a cover might be called for. I know that some moms would never be comfortable nursing in public without a cover. Since milk from the breast is the very best (not merely pumped and fed from a bottle) and traveling anywhere with pumped milk is a hassle, I would sooner encourage women to use a cover than not nurse in public at all or to bottle feed breast milk or formula. Also, if nursing without a cover might risk or strain a relationship, it might be worth it to use a cover to preserve that relationship. It is up to each woman to decide that.

What I do oppose is the cultural attitude that forces women to be embarrassed by breast feeding. I am anti-hiding and anti-culture that shames and forces nursing moms into hiding. I’m anti-telling women breastfeeding is normal and natural but don’t do it where I can see. I am anti-making it mom’s responsibility to make sure you aren’t offended. I am anti-moms being told they are contributing to someone’s pornography addiction by breastfeeding openly. I am anti-women never being exposed to breastfeeding until they try to do it. I am anti-failure because we don’t give women the tools to succeed. I am anti-moms not getting the help they need because it’s about their (whisper) breasts.

Above all, I am anti-the objectification of breasts that put them in a box that is inconsistent with God’s will.

I see the cover-clad moms in the mothers’ room in general as a symptom of that. I feel the same about the babies being bottle fed in church meetings. I recognize that on an individual basis, each case is different. I’m speaking in generalities.

I am for normalizing breastfeeding. I am for supporting breastfeeding moms and babies. I am for making it easier to succeed. I am for de-shaming women’s bodies. I am for helping women trust their intuition. I am for teaching men that breasts are primarily for feeding babies. I am for teaching women that breasts are primarily for feeding babies. I am for teaching them how to do it before they need that skill. I believe this will help increase success.

Above all, I am for honoring the sacredness of women, of mothers and of the relationship between nursing mother and nursing baby.

Despite all the hype, breastfeeding is still foreign to us. That makes me sad. I can’t ignore the symptoms because they are everywhere and in the end both mother and baby suffer.

We need to change. My voice is just one calling for it. We will have change. And maybe someday every mom and every baby will have the breastfeeding support they deserve.

Why the Mothers’ Room makes me sad

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Our church building, like many church buildings, has a “mothers’ room” in it. It has a small carpet-covered counter top, a garbage can for baby diapers and two easy chairs. Unlike many of the mothers’ rooms in the LDS church houses, it is not in a bathroom.

In the five months since we started attending church in this building, I’ve been to the mothers’ room only a handful of times. Mostly dear, sweet Husband does diaper changes at church and I never use the mothers’ room to nurse (dang hippie).

When I occasionally do change a diaper at church, there are often other moms sitting there, nursing their babies. Often, these women have their backs turned to the door and a nursing cover draped over themselves and their babies. It makes me sad.

Now, I understand sometimes a nursing cover is helpful. I do own one and use it on occasion, mostly when Monkey is too squirmy and distracted to pay attention to eating. I also realize that I am kind of a hippie. I am swimming against the current, rejecting and challenging cultural norms. Not every woman is going to ever be comfortable nursing a baby in Sunday School (truthfully, while I am more comfortable than I was six months ago, I’m not totally comfortable doing it).

However, if there is any place women should feel comfortable nursing openly it should be the mothers’ room at church!

Good heavens, if a woman cannot feel comfortable nursing her baby – doing one of the things her body was designed by God to do – surrounded only by other women who also believe in the sanctity of motherhood, is there any place that nursing will be acceptable?

This may not seem to matter (who cares if you can’t nurse openly, in public or without a cover?). However, this attitude has long-reaching effects.

Breastfeeding has been stigmatized over the years. When I was born, formula was “the way to go” if you could afford it. Thankfully, my mom could not. However, this past preference towards formula – funded by a nearly $8 billion industry – has resulted in a generation of women who do not know how to breastfeed.

It is not always innate or instinctual for mom or baby in the beginning. Anecdotally, almost all of the women I’ve talked to who have had their first babies in the last two years have had issues with breastfeeding. We have not been exposed to it and it is not easy in the beginning. Many give up. By creating a culture supportive of breastfeeding, we support women, teach that it is normal to breastfeed, raise healthier babies and, possibly most importantly of all, help change the cultural attitudes about women’s bodies and help them trust those bodies.

American culture glorifies a woman’s body (as long as it is “perfect”) as sexual, using it to sell everything from cheeseburgers to tires. Simultaneously, it reinforces messages like “birth is dangerous” and “breastfeeding is natural, but so is pooping.” We are taught be exposure that if we have an airbrushed, supermodel body we are valuable as a sex object and otherwise we should not trust our bodies. They are imperfect, broken and dangerous. It is no wonder women hate their bodies!

God’s message is much different. In Genesis, we are told that we are made in His image. In the LDS church, we believe that this is literal, that God does in fact have a body and our bodies are made in the likeness of His. There are very few areas where we are fulfilling a divine role nearly as much as when we are succoring and sustaining our little babies. And yet women hide away in a little room and tuck themselves under a cover as though what they are doing is shameful.

It is tragic and has long-reaching consequences, including breastfeeding “failure” and a twisted view of women’s bodies.

I don’t blame the women who I see in the mothers’ room. I wish they knew to think differently and then had the courage to act differently. I wish we didn’t live in a culture that objectified and shamed women. I wish we didn’t live in a culture that didn’t teach us to disconnect from and hate our own bodies while we envy other women’s. I wish we didn’t live in a society that had a messed up view of modesty and sexuality.

I am not condemning the mothers’ room or women who cover while nursing. To me, they are just symptoms. And it makes me incredibly sad.

That is why I will continue to nurse my baby wherever and whenever she wants to eat, generally without a nursing cover. Hopefully I will be a part – however small – of changing attitudes about what it means to be a woman and how sacred our bodies are, especially nursing mothers!