On Separate Spheres (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a post from yesterday, found here.

To overturn this idea of separate spheres, a shift in focus to acknowledge the public actions of the women in the church would be beneficial. Also, bringing the home life or private sphere contributions of men would pull the historical narrative into better balance. Both men and women are involved in and out of the home, and it is unrealistic to assume otherwise.  Both sexes perform vital roles in both spheres. Perhaps if a rewrite of the history is impossible, a focus on changing how this period of time will be recorded historically could begin. Men and women could live –and record- their activities outside of spheres and their involvement with the church.

As for suggestions on what to include in a revised history of the church, the options are broad, but not limitless. Any source where historians acquire men’s history could also be an opportunity to find similar women’s history. More specifically, themes regarding work outside the home, political activism (throughout the entirety of church history), early sister missionaries, and the relief society are good places to start to look for women outside of their traditional sphere. Much of this may be hard to incorporate in to the mainstream history of the church, as a lot of it is American history. This is just not significant to many members of a worldwide church.

As historians interested in revamping the history of the church work through the existing history, they could look for examples of instances where women went above and beyond what was expected of them for their time. Seeking to balance the number and quality of the stories shared in manuals to reflect men and women equally, so that members of the church can see that men and women throughout church history had valid contributions in many aspects of their lives. Also, acknowledging those who were faithful and disagreed with the actions of the church could provide some interesting insight. If this unity could be achieved, the potential benefits to the members of the church are significant. There is strength in unity and in a blend of the spheres (which by nature complement each other). The united front of men and women working in the area where they are best, regardless of the traditional sphere would bring about major changes in the culture and action of the church.

Through a rejection of the separate spheres notion, women as well as men could be better valued for their actual contributions. For example, in many families, the husband is unable to work due to medical or other problems, thus making the wife the primary breadwinner. Culturally, she is looked down upon because she is not in her ‘proper sphere’. The Proclamation is where many members get their ideas on roles. The proclamation explicitly states that its guidelines were to be adapted depending on individual family circumstances. Those who do not need it often ignore that phrase. If the history of the church better showed those ‘exceptions’, the members who are ostracized for being somewhat different would be able to feel more included, and those who look down on the ones who are not ‘normal’ would be able to learn to fix this problem.

A thorough rewrite of Mormon history would benefit the work of the church and the success of the families within the church. If lessons could focus on themes of unity, proactivity and determination equally between men and women, then it could change the way women are perceived in religion today. Instead of strictly men on the podium and women in the pews, women could be more active participants in their religiosity.

On Separate Spheres (part 1)

Historically, men have been more involved in the upper levels of religion, with the women primarily in the congregation. The theory of separate spheres has evolved secularly but not religiously: In the LDS church, The Family: A Proclamation To The World reemphasized those separate spheres with the caveat “partner” to link the husband and wife together. Many leaders try to encourage members to stay within their appropriate spheres, claiming that those separate task lists will keep their family together. What if that is not exactly true? If so much good can come from overlapping the spheres, wouldn’t Satan focus on the culture to push them apart? This tradition shaped the way that the history of the Church was written. If a more balanced view could be achieved, where the men and women both act as leaders and participants, then families and the Church could be strengthened.

A large part of the problem is that the history of the Church, as given in regular Sunday meetings is a rather sterilized, incomplete history of the growth and development that has occurred. In order to get a fair look at how women played a part in that history, that history needs to be represented in its entirety. There is a fear of the ‘dirt’ in Mormonism, such as Joseph Smith’s involvement with polygamy, or even polygamy in general, as well as the Church’s involvement in suffrage, and the Equal Rights Amendment. The history could address clearly and unabashedly all of the topics that have happened in the history of the church, even if they are unfavorable now. They are still a piece of the story. Explaining women’s views on polygamy makes it feel less weird. Through learning that women were not oppressed and weak minded for being willing to participate in polygamous marriages, my view of polygamy has been tempered. The exposure of the more veiled aspects of history could enhance and be enhanced by the inclusion of women in the story.  If the full and complete history can be shared comfortably, then steps can be made towards including women and their actions in the fuller history.

Due to the idea of separate spheres, it may be difficult to find history that is not tied to traditional spheres.  In the Church, men are the ones in most of the leadership positions. This is the case in the small congregations as well as the worldwide leadership. Because of this, male stories and discourses are the ones that are more likely to be recorded. The history of the church seldom references women, as they were not the ones speaking in meetings and conference. There may be a lack of available information from which to draw to include women in the narrative of the church. Many of the accounts of women would need to come from diaries and journals written by them, which would bring in a good view of what the day-to-day life of living Mormonism throughout its history was like. I think that having this knowledge of the day to day can help those who are looking back at the history understand better what living in the Church looks like. Women’s accounts will primarily be about the private, home life, as that is what their time dictated they are familiar and involved with. These accounts need a warning with them though: just because the history of the church reflects the separate spheres, does not mean that is the only way for members of the church to live today. The qualities of each sphere complement each other. If men and women could step outside their designated spheres and act as a unified force, their power would be increased. Demonstrating and teaching from examples in the past where families working together in or out of the home would provide incentive and approval for those families who wish to do the same.

Everything is Hard

Being a woman is hard. Being a Mormon is hard. Mothering is hard. Having a job is hard. Being married is hard, and so is being single. The truth is: everything, every role, is going to be challenging at some point. Everyone is fighting his or her own battles, against enemies that no one else understands. We have been taught this our entire lives. Why are we so hard on each other?

Each of us is trying our best to do what the Lord wants us to do, what we feel like we need to be content, and trying to follow the direction and counsel from church leaders. We each have different experiences and contexts for our lives; how we each strive to live within these guidelines will look different. For some sisters this will look like staying at home with her children. Other sisters will feel the need to work outside the home, weather for financial purposes or because it is what they feel that they need to do in order to keep them sane. Some women will have many children; others will feel that their family only can meet the needs of one or two; and still others will want children but be unable to have any by no fault of their own. There are so many ways to be a woman and a Mormon. None of them are wrong. They are simply right for that person, that family, that situation.

We all feel like the path we have been given is hard.  We need to be understanding of the difficulties in other people’s paths. Each of us is doing our best with the circumstances that we have been given. Is it not easier to get through something when you have help? Instead of ignoring, rejecting, gossiping about, or judging the sister who you feel is going about being a Mormon woman incorrectly, help her. Find out what trials she is carrying and see if you can ease them. It is hard enough to do and be everything you need to be, why are we continually trying to make other women feel the need to match up to our personal standard of what a woman should be? The weight of the judgment of others is heavy. Why do we insist on adding to the load of those around us?

We speak of charity and of following Christ’s example. We need to move past simply speaking of and teaching about it. We need to have charity in how we think about and treat those around us. When you feel judgments forming about someone, fight back by introducing yourself, asking how they are really doing. Make an effort to support instead of tear down. Job 4:4 says, “Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees.” What are your words doing? We need solidarity among the women in the church. To do this, we need to stop judging the choices that those around us make. They are doing the best they can. When we as Mormon women can unite, through supporting each other and lifting up those around us who need help, we will be stronger than we know.

Lent

I was reading about what to give up for Lent here and here. It made me think about what would be good for me to go without. I am taking 4 different exercise classes at my University this semester, and I have found myself comparing other’s bodies to my own. I have discovered that when I compare myself to someone else, even if I am “favored” in the comparison (ex. I’m thinner/better/tanner/etc. than her) I am less happy with my own capabilities and features and am less loving of those around me.

The partner trait to comparison is Judgement. In order to compare two things, a judgement must be made about each of them to establish what grounds are available to comparison. I don’t want to be a judgmental person. I find myself doing this more often then I want to admit. I loved what Meg wrote here:

I remember being a little girl and going to school with another little girl. And I remember the moment that someone else said to me, she’s fat.And I said, she is not. She is not fat. How can you say that she is fat? Truth it, I don’t know if she was fat or not. I can’t tell you anything about the shape of her body other than that she was tall.

As a little girl I didn’t look at others as fat or not. My eyes didn’t register that as a thing to take note of.

Sitting in Tom’s office, years ago, I said, I want to go back to that place. I want to not know if someone is fat or not because I simply haven’t noticed. Because it’s not part of my visual vocabulary. But I don’t think it’s possible. Because once you see something, how do you un-see it? 

If I could let go of looking at others and finding them or myself lacking, I would be more able to see all of the good that they (and I) have. When I judge or compare, I am focusing on one thing, and putting one of the two of us down. I love the notion of a visual vocabulary, and removing certain words that lead to judgement and comparison from that vocabulary.

What would you take from your visual vocabulary? How do you handle judgement and comparison?