Valerie Hudson’s take on Taylor Petrey: A Misogynist in Sheep’s Clothing?

Today I read some articles by Valerie Hudson, a Mormon feminist and ex-BYU Poly Sci professor who’s written on interesting topics like the relationship of gender equality to state security. Here at MSP, we talked about her here.

Back in 2009, she created some hubbub regarding the “real teleos” of marriage: its gender complementarity as an argument against same-sex marriage. She argued that the national anti-same-sex marriage campaign is failing because it’s lead by patriarchal men who focus on reproduction, when the real reason to support traditional marriage is its gender complementarity, and its supposed results: “democracy, freedom, prosperity, and other goods such as state peacefulness [to] continue to have strong root and be sustainable” (as quoted from this article of hers). Her version of Mormon feminism strikes me as simultaneously esoteric and widespread, which is a paradox, I know. There’s plenty of critique out there of her, which I won’t get into that here.

The reason I bring her up now is because I noticed that she’s recently written an article in response to Taylor Petrey’s recent Dialogue article “Toward A Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology.” In his article, he critiqued her notion of same-sex relationships as “gender apartheid.” Speaking of gender apartheid, she notes that, regarding the reception of his article,

Interestingly, the commentary on Petreys article has overwhelmingly been penned by men. Searching for response on Dialogues website for the Petrey article, I can find no letters to the editor written by women. Similarly, at By Common Consent, the commentators [on his article] are almost all male, though there are a few blogs where the issue has been enjoined by women. I find this noteworthy, because I believe that Petreys vision is a veiled attempt at the erasure of women in LDS theology, reminiscent of what French philosopher Sylviane Agacinski calls the nostalgia for the one in philosophy.

I think she’s right there is an androcentrism on the question of gayness in the Church. From the official GAs to gay Mormon organizations, there are primarily men at the highest levels speaking about human sexuality and gender roles. This creates a tension that needs to be explored, explained, worked through and hopefully toppled. Toward a lesbian Mormon theology, anyone?

But regarding the content of Petrey’s article, Hudson says that his philosophy basically renders femaleness absent, the female body as devoid of meaning, female ideas about motherhood obsolete, etc — by employing the philosophy of gender theorist Judith Butler (who Hudson doesn’t note explicitly, which is noteworthy). She labels Petrey’s essay “occult misogyny.”

Here’s a couple quotes from Hudson’s piece, regarding this supposed “misogyny”:

No doubt he would also argue that his vision is meant to be emancipatory for women, constrained as they truly are by unjustifiably narrow cultural gender roles across the world. However, as a woman, I believe Petrey deceives himself and his readers. When I read Petreys essay, I see a different bottom line: Women are no longer necessary for the Plan of Happiness to obtain. Women are no longer necessary for temple sealings to take place. Women are no longer necessary for the work of the gods in the eternities, or for there to be brought forth spirit children: indeed, there need not be a Heavenly Mother, or, for that matter, earthly mothers. Women are dispensable in Petreys rethinking of LDS doctrine.

Does reproduction in the afterlife require male and female parents? Petreys take on this is that the organization of intelligences does not necessarily require reproductive organs (109). He asks, must we imagine that male gods deposit sperm in the bodies of female gods (who menstruate monthly when they are not pregnant), that the pregnant female god gestates spirit embryos for nine months and then gives birth to spirit bodies? (109) Maternity, you see, is absurd. Menstruation is absurd; pregnancy is absurd; birth is absurd. Why, we are asked to consider, would gods choose to do any of these things? Petreys unspoken assumption here is that there is no value in these things; indeed, these bodily activities are in some way contemptible and beneath what it means to be a god.

Hmm…

Petrey’s intent, as I read it, was to ask whether Mormons must necessarily understand Earthly reproduction as Heavenly reproduction so as to continue to discriminate against same-sex relationships and gay parenting. Is Hudson twisting his words toward her own heterosexist ends, or is there truly a misogyny here to address?

(Sorry in advance if this post assumes a lot of previous reading!)

72 thoughts on “Valerie Hudson’s take on Taylor Petrey: A Misogynist in Sheep’s Clothing?

  1. Parker, I wouldn’t say that Satan is just a bachelor, so much as he is unable to be united with anyone – by choice of his own nature.

    Andrew, I’m not sure that it is clear where the burden of proof is here. Because the LDS position certainly is not that spirit matter experience is exactly the same as physical. That point is entirely unclear. So I’m not sure that a counterexample is required before anyone can say that other speculations are unsupported.

  2. It seems to me that the same spot is Big Rock Candy Mountain and whether it should be stripped mined of diversity.

    My issue is taking bigotry and projecting it on God, and then using God to justify the Bigotry.
    If God is White, then whiteness is ???? I reckon it’s a bit more than delightsome.

  3. re 50,

    Ive pretty much been ignoring Hollys comments for the last few months and not reading them. So if you have an idea you think is worthwhile, I will be happy to try and engage you on it.

    That would essentially involve me copying and pasting substantially all of most comments she has made — at least in this discussion. For your sake, if I were to do so, I would trim out the pointed snark and not even make a comment about whether such was justified.

    But I take it that your ignoring Holly’s comments comes with a TL;DR as well, so I won’t just copy and past. I’ll summarize thusly: how do you justify your own position (which seems to shy far away from privileging the physical childbearing process a divine home) as NOT being one that a) agrees with Petrey’s and/or b) would be eviscerated as anti-feminist anti-woman misogyny by Hudson? You describe things relating to pregnancy and childbirth as being part of the “travails of mortality” — like, who would want that?

    Why Hudson is arguing (IMO) is that “the negatives that people typically attach to pregnancy” are negatives from a male or male-centric perspective — but women and mothers would not see these as negatives at all. What you call “travails of mortality,” Hudson privileges as gifts of the female sex — divine gifts, eternal gifts. You say, “Well, it’s not clear that Hudson believes this is how the eternities will work…it’s not clear who has the burden of proof,” but to me, it seems far stranger that Hudson would so praise the mortal, bodily experience of pregnancy and birth…but then jettison it in an eternal context as being merely a “travail of mortality.”

    re 51,

    Im not sure that it is clear where the burden of proof is here. Because the LDS position certainly is not that spirit matter experience is exactly the same as physical. That point is entirely unclear. So Im not sure that a counterexample is required before anyone can say that other speculations are unsupported.

    The LDS position — especially as agreed with by Hudson is to prioritize and divinize the embodied experience…and for women, YES, that includes the embodied experience of motherhood.

    I am willing to agree with you that the LDS position doesn’t require that the spirit matter experience be exactly the same as the physical — but of course, framing the spirit matter experience in a way that gets rid of the uniquely embodied nature of motherhood (which, yes, includes pregnancy) is what Hudson chastises Petrey for…You keep saying that Petrey establishes a genderless homogenized heaven when a) it is not established that he does, b) you avoid ANY attempt at elaborating how he does this, and c) even if he did this (or even if you were able to elaborate how he does this), you have not made ANY attempt at describing why Hudson would not lob the same claim at you and your position

  4. It’s certainly a good point though that the idea of freedom from suffering (in the idea of “Heaven”) is at direct odds with the need we find here and now to create paradigms that usefully embrace suffering and give it meaning. Mormonism runs into a challenge here because it has the dualism of Lehi where he basically stated that everything has to have its opposite or be meaningless.

    It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a long time. Because the idea of a Heaven where there is no pain and suffering seemed to make no existential sense to me. If everything must have opposites to be meaningful, doesn’t that make the idea of blissful heaven somehow inauthentic? Like some sort of half-existence?

    C.S. Lewis dealt with this theme in “The Great Divorce” where the traveler touring the afterlife encounters a man who has shrunken and devolved and speaks entirely through the use of a ridiculous puppet. The debased man meets his former wife in life – who has become a glorious and angelic being full of life and happiness. The man immediately tries to call attention to how wronged he has been and make her feel guilty or sad about his poor state of affairs. She then gently explains to him that the glory of heaven is simply too wonderful for her to have any room for bad feeling on his account. Pain is swallowed up, and all that.

    Something about that story always chilled me and seemed wrong to me. And it didn’t seem in keeping with what I knew about God either. Because while I assume God has the full measure of joy as an exalted being – the scriptures are certainly clear enough that Enoch’s weeping God is not necessarily happy either. So when we are asked to be like God, it makes me wonder what that is really about. Is all pain eradicated, really? I’m not convinced.

    But I don’t see any need to entertain cheap attempts to define heaven as “barefoot, in the kitchen, and eternally pregnant.” Not when they are entirely speculative and obviously juvenile gestures of ridicule.

    Still, the more I think on Hudson’s thesis, the more intriguing I’m finding it. After all, I found it pretty liberating when I finally saw that I didn’t need to apologize for polygamy and started finding the ways it actually makes Mormon theology better. Maybe Hudson is on to something similar and it’s time to make a break from Petrey’s model.

    And oh yes – I do admit that Petrey’s analysis is probably a ready enough method of dealing with the issue of suffering. And I’ll freely admit I’ve participated in his paradigm myself. I grew up in the banality of the 80s-90s homogenized, trivialized, equalized self-esteem movement. I’d be an idiot not to acknowledge that quite a bit of it rubbed off on me. For me, these articles are an exploration. I’m not speaking as one who’s arrived at a final destination.

  5. It’s nice to know that Seth doesn’t read my comments! That means he’ll never be able to refute a single condemnation I make of his arguments.

    As for this, Seth @54

    Still, the more I think on Hudsons thesis, the more intriguing Im finding it. After all, I found it pretty liberating when I finally saw that I didnt need to apologize for polygamy and started finding the ways it actually makes Mormon theology better. Maybe Hudson is on to something similar and its time to make a break from Petreys model.

    Anyone can make a mistake–like, for instance, claiming that polygamy is god’ divine will. It takes a real fool to intentionally perpetuate it.

  6. Something about that story always chilled me and seemed wrong to me.

    Well, the story is an interesting one to incorporate into this discussion, if you care to do a little more work explaining what exactly it has to do with Hudson/Petrey/the previous comments on this thread. You can’t just randomly toss in suffering/bliss dualism and expect everyone to nod at your logic. Last time I attempted to make a connection for you, it was a waste of time.

  7. re 54,

    Seth,

    But I dont see any need to entertain cheap attempts to define heaven as barefoot, in the kitchen, and eternally pregnant.

    One of these is not like the other, according to Hudson. Maybe two of these, I’m not sure those. In other words, while you may look at “barefoot” and MAYBE “in the kitchen” as cheap attempts to define heaven, I think Hudson’s point is that pregnancy should NEVER be considered cheap, and only men would do that.

    Maybe Hudson is on to something similar and its time to make a break from Petreys model.

    So do you admit that to this point, you actually were adopting Petrey’s model on the relevant aspects that would be criticized by Hudson?

    I just regret that you can’t really see anything in Petrey’s model other than “a ready enough method of dealing with the issue of suffering” that comes from “the banality of the 80s-90s homogenized, trivialized, equalized self-esteem movement.”

  8. @57: Petrey uses the term “post-heterosexual.” Given how obvious it was that Seth didn’t even read Petrey’s argument, it seems likely that that single term was enough to mark Petrey as unorthodox and dangerous, someone who must be countered and trivialized at all costs.

    Apparently, If that means renouncing and trivializing views Seth previously held–even if, as I point out @28, they’re among the highest ideals of Christianity–so be it.

  9. re 58,

    Holly,

    But here’s the thing…Seth isn’t exactly the bastion of orthodoxy himself (as is evidenced through his budding concessions that maybe — just maybe — some of the same stuff that rubbed off on Petrey rubbed off on him.) He can’t renounce and trivialize this so easily, even if he renounces and trivializes specifically held views.

  10. And whose fault is that Alan?

    Not saying it’s yours necessarily. But I’m pretty darn sure it’s not mine either.

  11. I take full responsibility for engaging Seth R, when apparently he has a history of derailing discussions with his own pet ideas and having no intention of getting back on topic.

    v_v

    So, how do we get back on topic?

  12. I’m done for the afternoon. I’ve got a gap in work and professional studying I’ve been doing this morning. So I can spend a bit more time reading Petrey and Hudson than I got during the quick law-school skimming I did of Hudson’s article.

    I don’t think my observations were completely off-topic, but if I discover otherwise, I’ll be sure to admit it here.

    Anyway, see you later this evening.

  13. Andrew, re 59– Hudson isn’t all that orthodox, either, as Parker points @47. But I think that’s fairly standard for many Latter-day Saints: a particular orthodoxy (The Book of Abraham really truly is scripture, for instance, or polygamy is necessary to get into the celestial kingdom) is easily sacrificed if it supports some greater good, like maintaining the church’s respectability — or denying the validity of queer relationships.

    This point is made quite forcefully in a book Im currently reading: The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle by Kathleen Flake. http://www.amazon.com/The-Politics-American-Religious-Identity/dp/0807855014

    Flake documents the fact that the first vision wasn’t an important part of Mormon thought or belief in the 19th century. (Perhaps because, as Mike Quinn shows in Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, it was all the rage for teenagers to have visions of God and the son in early 19th century New England — ALL the cool kids did it.) But when the church was forced to renounce the practice of polygamy around 1905, the 100th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth, it was able to substitute a focus on the first vision for polygamy as unique and special evidence of Smith’s prophethood and divine favor.

    So if the standard accepted logic or “truth” of LDS next-world views — that all the messiness and bloodiness of this world won’t be a part of the afterlife — makes possible unpleasant challenges to eternal Mormon heterosexism, then by all means, change the accepted truth!

  14. Drifting off to sleep last night, it occurred to me to wonder: if Mormon goddesses menstruate, conceive, carry infants to term, and deliver babies, do they ovulate? Are they endowed, at the moment of resurrection, with a slew of eggs, which they release periodically? Do those eggs eventually start to deteriorate, the way human eggs do? Or are celestial eggs always fresh? What about celestial sperm? Is every sperm sacred in heaven?

    In short, what of fertility? Are goddesses fertile only at certain times in their reproductive cycle? And is there such a thing as celestial contraception? Do gods and goddesses have recreational sex, when they don’t necessarily want to create a spirit baby and don’t care about the sacredness of godly sperm? Or does being a goddess mean that you’re always willing and anxious to get knocked up? Are spirit babies just as helpless and ignorant as human babies when they’re first born? Do their parents love them just as much as the best human parents do? Are celestial parents as responsible for proper education and upbringing of their spirit children as earthly parents are?

    And if so, what kind of asshole would banish a third of them from his presence, set up a test for the remaining two thirds that require the torture and execution of his favorite (do good parents have favorites?) in order for the rest of them to come back to see him, and still ensure that a great many of his children, even after going through this test he’s set up, are never again able to abide in his presence?

    Sounds pretty jacked up. I think we’re probably better off saying “We don’t know” what will happen in the next world and hoping that things aren’t left quite so much to chance and the whims of a really crappy parent who makes mom invisible once she’s done all that indepensible reproductive work that Hudson says defines goddesshood.

  15. …it occurred to me to wonder: if Mormon goddesses menstruate…

    Now i wonder what they would menstruate, since Mormon gods have no blood (i.e., they have bodies of “flesh and bones” rather than “flesh and blood”).

  16. @65: There’s the homophobia in Hudson’s logic, and then there’s the anti-feminism. And then there’s the just plain bonkersness.

    whims of a really crappy parent who makes mom invisible once shes done all that indepensible reproductive work that Hudson says defines goddesshood.

    I wonder how much Hudson talked about Heavenly Mother as a professor to her BYU students. Talking about Heavenly Mother in conjunction with ordaining women is a big no-no, but if you regiment Her to divine reproduction, that’s probably acceptable and lauded.

  17. But do the bones have marrow? Is there Haematopoiesis ? And if resurrected bodies don’t need an immune system, then why do they need sexual reproduction?
    When I consider the zillions of spirit children and fecundity, two words that come to mind are Parthenogenesis and Paedogenesis.
    But maybe there are celestialized parasites, and since God the Father doesn’t have access to advanced technology, we need the mystical union of man and woman.
    But in celestial kingdom, is it the uterus’s temperature that determines sex?

  18. @66

    Now i wonder what they would menstruate

    Star plasma. hell, maybe that’s what star plasma is: goddess menstrual fluid. Or maybe star plasma is god sperm. Who the hell knows. Like Alan says, it’s bonkerness.

    @67

    Talking about Heavenly Mother in conjunction with ordaining women is a big no-no, but if you regiment Her to divine reproduction, thats probably acceptable and lauded.

    One thing to support your assessment: a couple of years ago I sat down to discuss Mormon doctrine with half a dozen polygamous women from Centennial Park. They were shocked and horrified to learn that the main branch of the church doesn’t talk about Heavenly Mother much. They talk about her — or all the various heavenly mothers — all the time, because her divine reproductive role is one thing that justifies the doctrine of polygamy.

  19. Oh, and the Milky Way — it’s Goddess breast milk that was strewn in droplets across the sky when Heavenly Mother discovered that Heavenly Father had somehow tricked her into nursing one of his illegitimate sons.

    When you really try to work with Hudson’s ideas and start from the belief that God and Goddess are JUST LIKE US in physiology, only immortal and divine, and try to come up with a working idea of what divine physiology might be, you realize that these collective ideas are every bit as limited and unlikely as any ancient polytheistic mythology. It’s fun to play with them and entertaining to see just how far you can take things, but frankly the whole business of insisting that there’s a super hero in the sky having as much sex as he can is something most of humanity has outgrown. THIS is why people say Mormons aren’t Christian, and frankly I’m inclined to agree with them.

    Almost makes me sad that Joseph Smith didn’t live longer and couldn’t develop further the whole mythology/astrology thing he was working in the Book of Abraham. Who knows, instead of just the boring, derivative war novel he wrote in the Book of Mormon, he might have written a decent science fiction/fantasy novel about gods in outerspace.

  20. Hey, I liked the war parts. I think Amalickiah would look spiffy in a Romulan uniform.
    I would have liked to Joseph Smith to have lived longer to see what he would have made of parasitic wasps. Interesting insects that lay their eggs in other critters, where the larvae eat their way out.
    Victorian theologians were horrified by implications towards the idea of a just and benevolent God. Nowadays as a culture we’re highly entertained by spectacular special effects found in Scifi/horror flicks.
    I can’t blame the old guys running the church for not being up on current science. Heck, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that it was determined that having Y-chromosome made you male, rather than lacking an X. And the SRY gene, after a whole lot of looking, was discovered in 1990. And the The Human Genome Project was completed in 2003.
    It seems these days, instead of the God of the gaps, we should have the God of the switches.
    And University professors who go on about empirical research, ought to look at modern biology and not fantasy projections.
    When organisms have two different sexes, you have two different fitness strategies. Two competing strategies lead to Sexual Conflict. I think that if you lock in two competing strategies for time and all eternity, not only will you not get world peace, but celestial war is inevitable.
    How’s that for bad science fiction.

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