The Inconvenient Truths about Mormon Lactivism

Recently there has been much talk surrounding a YW leader who is unfortunately threatened of having her temple recommend withdrawn if she does not leave the room or cover herself while breastfeeding at church meetings. (Call to Action – Lactivism)

There are many things wrong with this scenario.  The LDS church is all about the Family, and one would think they would consider the most beneficial options surrounding parenting in their policies and practices to reinforce the “family” way.  We are certainly too uptight about breastfeeding in general in our western society, much less a Mormon one.  The church really doesn’t like being forced, however.  It is a patriarchal authoritarian one and if they feel they are being coerced,  will pull that authoritarian trigger to assert power where they might not normally.  Apparently mitigating factors were omitted from the original petition that would help us determine whether or not this is just a rogue ecclesiastical authority, or if something degraded in the communication between this gal and her ecclesiastical leader that he felt compelled to pull the authoritarian trigger.

Before I explore the nuts and bolts of the topic which has spread like spilt milk across the Mormon social media channels,  I will disclose I rarely breastfed my children in church and when I did, I did it in the nursing room.  I didn’t feel inconvenienced in doing so, in fact I often fled to the nursing room as the perfect excuse to get out of a predicted mundane, repetitive lesson or talk.  I have since left the church for reasons more ancillary to the mundane brain dead aspect and nothing related to feeding my children in a nursing room.  As someone who does not feel the church is ultimately a healthy or authentic belief system, I would be the first to encourage any woman to take her nursing baby and permanently exit the church if she feels strongly enough about the matter.

That said, I have had frustrations trying to engage in a reasonable dialogue about openly breastfeeding in church.  I am a mother of four.  I gave birth to my children naturally and am generally a proponent of all things nature-based.   There are a few main arguments being made in this discussion, however, that must be considered and addressed if the overall point is to be taken seriously.  It is clear there is a bias from lactivists for ignoring certain inconvenient truths about both the biology of the breast and breastfeeding, as well as dismissing clear cultural ramifications along the way.  Ignoring is counterproductive and easily allows anyone with basic knowledge of anatomy to dismiss the argument in its entirety.

Lactivist Assertion One:  Breasts are designed solely to feed the young and any man who looks upon an exposed breast as anything but a pure maternal act is either a pervert or culturally misguided.

Fact one:  Humans are part of the hominid family.  We are the only hominid where the breasts remain swollen at all times.  All other hominids have flat chests, except when lactating.  Furthermore, human hominids walk upright at all times.  As a result of us always being upright and frequently front facing (as opposed to other hominids), humans evolved the permanently swollen breasts as an alternate sexual attractor.  All other hominids use the buttocks as their sexual attractor.  In Desmond Morris’ “The Naked Ape”, he points out the evolutionary design switch of the general shape of the human breasts mirroring the buttocks; rounded with cleavage between them.  The larger the breast, the more closely they resemble the shape of buttocks.  From an evolutionary standpoint, this is the reason why larger breasts tend to be more attractive.  The breasts tend to swell when a woman is ovulating, suggesting fertility.  Additionally, the subconscious part of the male heterosexual mind messages that the larger the breast, the more milk it can produce, thus increasing the survival chance of offspring.

With regards to larger breasts, evolutionary psychology has recently contended men prefer women with larger breasts as it makes it easier for him to judge a woman’s age (and her reproductive value) according to the level of gravitational sag that comes with age (Marlowe,  1998)

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  Males are designed by nature to find breasts attractive.  To insist they don’t is akin to asking a homosexual to not be attracted to his own gender.  Lactivists may not like this answer, but it is a fact.


Lactivist Assertion Two:  The breast is not a sex organ. There is nothing sexual about a mother feeding her baby!(see prolactin’s maternal-inducing traits)

Fact One: Or is it?  They are well connected. If not blatantly sexual,  breasts most assuredly should be viewed as an erogenous zone.   After birth, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease while prolactin and oxytocin levels increase.  Prolactin, which is secreted by the anterior pituitary, stimulates the breasts to produce milk. The prolactin level is very high in the early postpartum period in order to stimulate initial milk production.  Prolactin induces maternal behavior: a lactating mother experiences a form of psychological tension, which can best be described as a feeling or need of always wanting to see and hold her baby (Brewster, 1979).

Oxytocin is the primary connector between the breast and sexual response.  It is secreted by the posterior pituitary, has two major functions in relation to breastfeeding: a) a new mother feels her uterus contract during breastfeeding, and b) it is responsible for the milk ejection reflex during breastfeeding and orgasm. Oxytocin has the opposite psychological impact as prolactin does: It calms the physiological tension induced by prolactin. Consequently, while breastfeeding, the mother will experience a sense of well-being and contentment. The consequences of these hormones are that each time a woman breastfeeds, she derives great pleasure from the experience and contact with her baby. As a result, all or a very great part of her needs for affection are met through breastfeeding even if she is only partially breastfeeding.  This is obviously healthy and normal. However, one result is that the breastfeeding woman will likely have a decreased need to seek out her partner for pleasure and affection (Also referred to as affection anesthesia).

Oxytocin produces striking parallel effects between breastfeeding and coital orgasm:

  • Both stimulate uterine contractions
  • Both cause nipple erection
  • Breast stroking and nipple stimulation occur during both breastfeeding and sexual foreplay
  • Hormonal emotions are aroused by both types of contact in the form of skin changes
  • Milk let-down or milk ejection reflex can be triggered during both


According to some researchers, anywhere of 24% – 29% of women can experience orgasm solely as a result from oxytocin released during nipple stimulation. The percentage may increase if the woman has her legs crossed, as the uterine contractions released by the oxytocin can trigger a physiological sexual response.  This is otherwise known as a breast orgasm. Nipple stimulation activates the same region of the brain as clitoral, vaginal and cervical stimulation. (Journal of Sexual Medicine, Volume 8, 2011)

Another clear biological lactation/genital connection is the lack of vaginal lubrication when the breastfeeding mother becomes sexually excited.

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  The breast is connected to sexuality.  It is simply unreasonable to expect all of humanity to treat it otherwise.


Lactivist Assertion Three:  Our culture is uptight and just needs to get over it.  Especially Mormon Culture.

Fact One:  There are three uphill challenges in overcoming breast issues in the church.

1.  Modesty in dress, particularly for females is pervasive in Mormon culture.  A quick search for modesty related information on yields 451 results.  This should be a self explanatory challenge for those who are LDS.  Modesty is tied to cleanliness, chastity and purity.  For a cultural environment who emphasizes coverage of shoulders and knees, as well as garments, it should not be surprising they would be less relaxed about having exposed breasts at church.  Regardless of the wholesome reason that may be behind it, exposing a breast for ANY reason is going to fall outside of normal range and the tribe will react as such.

2.  Recent research from University of Westminster, Archives of Sexual Behavior just last month revealed interesting information about the type of man who favors larger breasts.  Researcher’s found that the largest percentage of participants (32.7 percent) rated medium-sized breasts as “most attractive,” followed by large (24.4 percent), very large (19.1 percent), small (15.5 percent) and very small (8.3 percent). However, a preference for large and very large breasts was significantly correlated with overt sexism, benevolent sexism, female objectification and hostile attitudes toward women. This connection was strongest when it came to benevolent sexism [emphasis by Froggie]. In other words, men who tend to idealize “traditional” femininity and perceive women as meek and weak, are also the most likely to prefer big breasts. “It is arguable that benevolently sexist men perceived larger female breasts as attractive because larger breast size on a woman is associated with perceived femininity.”

3. Western culture has made progress regarding breastfeeding.  It does, however, have secondary side effects of pornography, even maternal breast-targeted pornography such as pregnancy or nursing fetishes, that provide a less conducive climate to just simply “understanding and getting over it.”

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  When you add the aspect of “benevolent sexism” along with the already existing Mormon-centric  puritanical, patriarchal, rigid gender role defined environment, layered with a coating of broader Western culture, this is no small uphill battle.  To quote Sun Tzu, “Know your enemy.”  Trying to leverage the breast as a tool when the tool itself has an enormous amount of already existing stigma may not be the best strategy.  It isn’t a situation that one just wakes up and “gets over.”

Conclusion:  If productive dialogue is to occur with the church on the matter of transitioning the cultural climate to allow for ease of breastfeeding at church,  one must acknowledge the above-listed inconvenient truths and be prepared to include them as part of the discussion.  Not ignore them or be blissifully ignorant of their impact.   A special nod of acknowledgement must be given to the current cultural norms within Mormonism  as well if one wants to effect change on this front.


Komisaruk, Barry R., and Beverly Whipple. “Functional MRI of the brain during orgasm in women.” Annual Review of Sex Research 16 (2005): 62.

Levin, R. J. (2006). The breast/nipple/areola complex and human sexuality. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 21, 237-249.

Marlowe, Frank. “The Nubility Hypothesis.” Human Nature 9.3 (1998): 263-271.

Sex and Breastfeeding:  An Educational Perspective. J Perinat Educ. 1999 Winter; 8(1): 30–40.doi:  10.1624/105812499X86962

Sholty, M. J., Ephross, P. H., Plaut, S. M., Fischman, S. H., Charnas, J. F., & Cody, C. A. (1984). Female orgasmic experience: A subjective study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 13, 155-164.

The Journal of Sexual  Medicine. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02388.x. Surprise finding in response to nipple stimulation Lay summary – (5 August 2011).


(edited to fix list marker)

Oh boobs!

Apparently, some Mormons are getting really upset about women breastfeeding in church.  Props to the women who are fighting this ignorance, and double props for the cool name: Latter-day Lactivists.  What’s the big deal?

Now, I used to be uncomfortable around women who were breastfeeding when I was hormonal teenager, so I get that.  That is largely the result of young men who have sexual urges not having good sex education and healthy sexual outlets – like masturbation and porn.  But my discomfort with breastfeeding women, which never led me to tell a woman to “put it away” mind you, is completely gone since my wife and I had our son and she breastfed him.  She fed him all the time.  And I stood up for her right to breastfeed him when the occasional person would give an odd look or even family members would ask if she might be “more comfortable in another room.”  (Nope, she’s fine right here, playing cards with all of us.)  She breastfed him on planes, on boats, on trains, on buses, in cars, in stores, in restaurants, in parks, pretty much every where we went.  (Never church; she doesn’t go there anymore.)  Most of the time, no one said anything.

So, why would adult Mormon men and women have such a problem with women breastfeeding kids?  Is this all about sexual repression in Mormon culture?

And I loved Peggy Fletcher Stack’s last line in the article, which is a partial quote from Jenne Erigero Alderks:

If motherhood is an LDS woman’s highest calling, she says, “get out of our way, and let us follow our conscience on how best to do that.”

Is sweetness next to Goddessliness?

The topic of wet dreams came up with a never-Mormon friend, and I told him, “You’ve just got to check out this ridiculous talk one of the Church leaders gave in the 1970s!” I found the link to Boyd Packer’s “Little Factory” talk and sent it to my friend. I’d read it several years ago, and decided to do so again for the chuckle. I remembered all the asinine counsel for young men not to tamper with their Little Factory’s release valve, but there was one paragraph I hadn’t remembered. After describing the physical changes of puberty, Packer tells the young men:

Your feelings also change. This physical power will influence you emotionally and spiritually as well. It begins to shape and fit you to look, and feel, and to be what you need to be as a father. Ambition, courage, physical and emotional and spiritual strength become part of you because you are a man.

Ambition, courage and strength are all considered an innate part of being male, and essential to a young man’s spiritual development. As a young woman, I really only remember one trait that I was told I should develop to prepare myself for motherhood and womanhood: sweetness. That was it. We were all such “sweet spirits.” We were to be sweet, stay sweet and get sweeter. No ambition or courage for us young women. We would have worthy priesthood holders around us to take care of all those courageous and ambitious tasks in life. Our job was just to be sweet. That was how we would fill the measure of our creation.

From the looks of this recent talk from Elaine Dalton, cited on the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog, that message hasn’t changed:

Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood.  You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report. You will also be the ones to provide an example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.

I was watching Babe with my boys this last week. There’s that scene, where Rex, the male sheepdog and unofficial chief of animal affairs at Hoggett farm, disapproves of Babe’s un-piglike behavior. He tells the animals: “Each animal must accept what he is and be grateful for it.” No switching roles. No breaking out of the established order. No deciding for yourself who you want to be and what you want to do. You are what we say you are.

Sweet would sum up the image I had of Heavenly Mother. I never imagined her doing much, other than smiling sweetly from behind Heavenly Father’s shoulder, tacitly approving of all he did and sustaining him in his fatherly and godly roles.

How can you truly fill the measure of your creation if only some aspects of the Self are nurtured while others are stymied?

What would happen if young Mormon women were told that traits like strong, ambitious and courageous were part of being a woman? What if they were told that their Heavenly Mother was strong, ambitious and courageous, and that part of their spiritual development was to become more like Her? They might decide that they want roles and responsibilities other than, or in addition to, the ones the Church has defined. They might start lobbying for rights.

They might also develop internal lives that are more whole and complete, making them better mothers and marriage partners, and better able to contribute to the Church and to the world.

Leah blogs at Via Media.

Mormon Moment Series on

Ahhhhh! The smell of fresh, juicy, slightly wrong Mormon blog posts. It must be Sunday!

I have been doing a series of posts related to Mormon and Post-Mormon issues that seem to be *hot* this year. With more and more people interested in Mormons, and now the change in rules for when male and female missionaries are allowed to serve, the Bloggernacle keep heating up! So, if you missed the first posts in the series (because I was a slacker and wasn’t cross posting) here is your chance to catch up. If you have been catching them on my blog, you will notice they are a little different. Thanks to Kevin who suggested that I should include the topic of the post in the title, and not jsut which post number it is. Ahhhhh, aren’t friends great for helping you see your blind spots? I am glad I have so many friends looking out for me.

I am using the same introduction for each post, both because I think that it helps keep them uniform, but also so I don’t have to try to come up with 20 ways to say the same thing!

What this series is about:

If you are Mormon, you are probably sick of hearing about the Mormon Moment. There are so many people who are suddenly interested in Mormon culture, and there are lots of Mormon bloggers that are cashing in and sharing their stories. Some of the stories end up being kind of silly, but if you are simply trying to get people to read about what is important to you, the Mormon Moment is one way to draw people in.

I do not want people to think that I don’t respect the bloggers whose posts I am sharing. All of them are good bloggers, and most of them write about Mormon topics all of the time. I have no doubt that they would have shared these thoughts and stories at some point, but as one friend told me the other day, “in the race to the election, bloggers are pushing hard to attract new readers before the Mormon Moment is gone.” So, to help you, I sifted through hundreds of posts to share the ones that I still remember. (This group of posts are nowhere near a complete view of Mormon bloggers. All of the bloggers are either Mormons, post-Mormons, or write about Mormon issues, even when it isn’t election time.)

So, what have you missed?

Mormon Moment Series – Part One – Mormon Mind Control?

Mormon Moment Series – Part Two – Ayn Rand and Quirks in Mormon Culture

Mormon Moment Series – Part Three – Modesty, Perfection and Secrets

Mormon Moment Series – Part Four –Why can’t we seem to say what we mean?

Mormon Moment Series – Part Five –Fasting For Followers!

Mormon Moment Series – Part Six – Who is a Mormon?

While it is not officially part ofmy Mormon Moment Series, please take a minutes and check out this post about Mormons, Masterbation, and the story of a teenager driven to attempt suicide, because of his wet dreams.

But for the Grace of God….

This post is about a teen suicide attempt and some of the actions that led to it. The language is not vulgar, but it is specific. Please read only if, it is emotionally safe for you. A few days ago, I sent an email out to several family members and friends about a post on the Mormon Therapistblog. It deals with a sensitive subject, so please understand that this particular linked post is not g-rated, although it will not include any explicit language either. If you are uncomfortable with discussions about sexuality, masturbation, how to teach adults and children healthy sexual attitudes, or the negative impacts of shame, I suggest you skip this post, and not click onto the linked article.”
You can go here to read the entire post, including the responses from TBMs who are supportive of Mormon Therapist’s view, who also explain how the email about this young man touched their lives, and the lives of their children. This is a bold stand from all sides, as Mormon Therapist boldly proclaims, “Masturbation is not sinful behavior in of itself nor is it a transgression.”
We live in a time of great turmoil, and out youth especially need to love and support to deal with a variety of challenges. From masturbation to Coke, homosexuality to the age of sister missionaries, the church is changing or softening on a number of important issues. I believe that we need to support those who are members of the church, who continually ask questions and look for answers. I also believe that current and former members need to find common ground, in as many areas as they can, and work together on those shared goals. Almost every post-Mormon still has family or friends who are members of the church. Almost every member of the church knows someone who has left, been kicked out, or is inactive. While there are very real hurts on all sides, I believe that coming together and being the chance we want to see in our own lives, the lives of our family members, and in the lives of all of the children we love, can make that change a reality.
Whether you are celebrating General Conference today, or are in mourning because of it, there are always ways to find a little common ground, a little place of friendship, a little piece of shared light. We do not have to change our minds about our belief or lack thereof. What we can do is put the first brick into creating a bridge, that will help span the gap between us, and the children and youth who need to know that it gets better, no matter what your sexual orientation or habits!

One last link. If you have a talent to share, leave a comment, and you could be the lucky winner of a pair of pearl stud earrings!

Mormons love pseudo prostitution?

City Weekly SLC has a great story on the sugar daddy phenomenon and how popular it is in Utah. While Utah isn’t #1 in most categories, it ranks in the top 20 on several. Interestingly, lots of the sugar babies are Mormon – 71% of the users in Utah are Mormon.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning these types of relationships. Ethically, they are a bit murky for me and a discussion of the ethics would be fun. But I can’t see any reasonable scenarios in which this falls within the moral codes outlined in Mormonism.

So, what gives? Am I just so naive I actually still believe most Mormons live their religion?

Gay Trees and Gadianton Robbers

As I have been wandering around the internet, looking for something interesting, there is an election going on. Did you know that? Well most of what is out there is not very interesting, just a lot of people with opinion that they want someone else to have, with an occasional FU to go with it. You too? Wanna be naughty and take a break?

Idecided to sharesome of my finds around the bloggernacle (and post-bloggernacle) of things that might make you laugh. I am including one of the posts inmy ongoing Laugh With Me series, but I thought you deserved more. Especially with the political season ramping up, and many people are losing the ability to agree to disagree, I thought a little levity in the political arena might be in order. Although there are a few interestingposts that have less vitrol than others. I have included a few links that are at polite or funny. No promises on the commenters.


Sharing this story was prompted by a post on Mormon Iconoclast (You rock Eric!) and the story is true. I am not including names (except that I am me) because they really don’t matter.

So, you can go to:

How not to root for a Mormon, when you are one, To see how it all started out.

This was my first comment (and no I am not making it, I wish I was):

This is my first election cycle in this ward, and since I have been on bed rest since most of the primaries started, I haven’t interacted much with my ward. My husband has been a Republican since birth, but even he can’t see the Ryan/Romney ticket as a good idea. He really missed Reagan. A lot.

Given that I haven’t been at church, and I have never actually talked to her before, it was kind of weird to have a ward member call me and ask me which of several days I wanted to come make calls at their home. I was confused and asked her what activity she needed to have calls made for. She then went into a long speech about God, church, country, the terror of Socialists and how wonderful it was to help Sister Romney. I finally stopped her and asked what exactly she had called about.

Well it turns out she is the chair of a Republican subcommittee of something or other, and she was calling all the Republican women on “her list.”. (I knew as soon as she said it that she was talking about the ward list, but since we aren’t supposed to use the ward list for business or political reasons I decided to play dumb.) I asked her which committee list I was on, and she said she wasn’t sure, that she had just been appointed and given a list of women in our area. I asked if she was sure, since we had recently moved here (15 months ago) and I hadn’t voting in anything other than the primaries. (We vote by mail in Oregon.)

She then made some paper noises on the other end of the phone while she said she would check. She asked me what committee I had been on previously. I told her I had been PTA secretary, scout and cub committee chair and advancement chairmen. (She now seemed very confused.) She pulled herself together and told me that we could figure out what paperwork I needed when I came over, and then rattled off the names of several Oregon lawmakers who would be joining them on a few of the night’s if I wanted to pick one of those times. (At this point, I just wanted off the phone.)

I told her that I was pretty sure there was a mistake and that she must have the wrong list. She then read my address off to me and said she was pretty sure she had the right person. I then told her that I have never been registered as a member of a party, so I was positive the Republican party did not have my contact information. (Now she was mad, and probably feeling trapped.) she asked me is I was one of the gay tree huggers. (I am pretty sure she didn’t know how badly worded the question was.) I told her that like liked my husband and my trees. I giggled, she harrumphed and told me that if I was going to be that insulting I did not deserve to meet (Oregon Republican lawmaker) and then hung up on me.

I have to admit, I am kind of hoping that she remembers who I am when (Oregon republican lawmaker) tells her Hi from me next Thursday. She is right, I don’t deserve to meet him at her house, we both have much more fun playing Scrabble when we get the chance. (Although to be fair, his wife and I often play Scrabble without him.) 😉

Eric’s response:
Wow. This conversation is hilarious to read, though probably less so when it happened. Are you a gay tree hugger? I have no idea which of my trees is gay. . . .
My response to his comment:

Actually she called at the “magic time” when the pain pills were actually starting to work, and I wasn’t totally loopy. The fact that I thought I might know who she was, but we hadn’t even had a conversation, and I could tell she had no idea who I was, made it easier to be patient at the beginning. I also REALLY hate it when someone uses church lists for political purposes. I wish this had been a first time, or first ward. (Don’t get me started on the bishop who received a “revelation” about who the Lord wanted the entire ward to vote for, in a city council race. Really? No clue to the prophet for president, but yes to a city councilman? THAT is the race it is worth breaking the church’s stand of, issues. not individual politicians? Sheesh. Okay, deep breath, calming down.)

I hadn’t thought about the fact that I might have gay trees in my yard. (We have a lot of trees on our acreage, so as a percentage of the population, there have to be some. Since they haven’t been advocating for gay tree marriage, do I just love the tree since I can’t find a sin to hate? Wow, the theological possibilities are staggering. Now I just have to find the “tell” so I know which ones to make sure are dressed appropriately. Hmmmmmm………)

I have found that NOT belonging to any party makes me hard to quantify in wards were there are usually only Nephites (Republicans) and Lamanites (Democrats). It is really difficult for people when I say I am generally more conservative on social issues, and very liberal on economic issues. When I try to tell people that I am about the opposite of a Libertarian, they usually look at my like I am a slow witted child, and helpfully tell me that there is no such thing. I try not to get cranky as I explain that we don’t have a party with that mix of ideals, but that is not the same as saying someone can’t believe in them. Unless some time in their lives a PoliSci class or two were part of their education, they don’t really understand, but decide I am not like them and should be avoided when having future Nephite-Lamanites wars (sorry, political debates) in the church hallway.

Since I partially agree with parts of both “sides,” I am particularly dangerous (confusing) which makes their poor children (interesting and interested teenagers, who don’t necessarily *want* to join a political party they don’t understand) who could so easily be led astray (taught to think for themselves) so that they might have the curse of the Lamanites (Democratic Party Voting Cards) or even worse they might become something truly damaging like a Gadianton Robber (Green Party Member).

Okay, I am done riffing now. Giggle

This is a post on my blog, poetrysansonions

Additions to the Post-Mo Lexicon

A couple of conversations I’ve been in lately have yielded terms I think people on this blog will find useful.

the first was coined a month or so ago by Chino Blanco and defined by me:

Joe-ha-dist n. An excessively ardent and bellicose defender of Joseph Smith: Joehadists rarely have much sympathy for Emma.

I coined this one today:

priest-splain v. to mansplain, as when a man presumes to educate a woman on a topic she already understands, with the additional characteristic of being done by male clergy or priesthood holders on topics related to religion and gender; not merely condescending and sexist, but holier-than-thou and morally judgmental.

I like this term because it applies to a variety of religions, as in

A problem in the LDS church is that in any conversation about gender, the male leaders tend to priestsplain to the sisters, or The Vatican sent some dudes to priestsplain to those uppity US nuns that they’d been thinking far too much about poor people and not enough about stuff like abortion.

I posted this on facebook, and a friend offered this synonym: “clergysplain. Related terminology: Pastorswifesplain. See also: Bettysplain.”

In a related conversation on a friend’s fb page, someone who agreed to be identified as “Katie Sweet Spirit” coined “preachsplain,” my favorite of the terms and the one I think will be most useful here:

preach-splain v. To sanctimoniously lecture someone on a religious topic they understand every bit as well as you, but disagree with you about the meaning of, because you are a devout believer and they, in your mind at least, are not: Yeah, I know the basic doctrine. You don’t need to preachsplain it to me.

I look forward to using these terms here.

SUNSTONE’S Motherhood Issue

This entry is cross-posted at Self-Portrait As.

I recently edited issue 166 of SUNSTONE magazine, aka “the motherhood issue.” I am proud and happy to announce that it is SUNSTONE’s most popular and best-selling issue. It has far outstripped all other issues in terms of people ordering individual copies, while other people (including my own father) who let their subscription lapse have renewed and asked that their resubscription start with issue 166.

I worked very hard on this project and am very proud of the contents, which include personal essays on topics like miscarriage and post-partum depression as well as scholarly articles on Mormon midrash and Mother in Heaven. A somewhat curmudgeonly SUNSTONE constituent commented to the office staff that “the essays in it were truly inspiring, instead of just whining as sometimes is the case at the symposia.” And someone sent in an anonymous note on three-by-five cards saying, “Artist Galen [Dara], the cover front & back of the March 2012 edition (#166) of SUNSTONE is worth the price of a three-year subscription CONGRATULATIONS!”

I admit I am in love with the art, which I think is not just beautiful but important. Shortly after editor Stephen Carter asked me to do the issue, I started thinking about the cover. I could not execute it myself, but I knew what I wanted, and I knew who I wanted to do it. I have been a fan of Galen Dara‘s work since long before I learned that her mom was my mom’s visiting teacher or that our grandparents were good friends in Tucson back in the day.

Anyway, I knew that I wanted a gender-bending version of Michelangelo’s fresco on the Sistine Chapel depicting the creation of Adam. As I wrote in my introduction to the issue,

Michelangelo’s depiction of God animating Adam with a single touch of his divine finger is one of the most famous images in all of art. In the 500 years since the fresco was completed, it has been reproduced, reinterpreted, and even satirized. But as far as I am aware, it has never before been re-imagined as a way to depict the power of the Goddess. I’ve been told of a belief in Gnostic circles that the Goddess is the figure under God’s left arm–but that figure is still off to the side, still secondary. Our depiction here puts the divine feminine and the human feminine–as well as the relationship between them–front and center. The image was created as a celebration of the unique, nourishing, and powerful doctrine of Heavenly Mother. Mormonism is one of the only places in Christianity where such an image could find resonance.

I want to make a couple of things clear: one, I didn’t go rogue on this; I got permission to have a depiction of a pretty robust Heavenly Mother animating a naked and bosomy Eve before Galen and I got started. Two, even still, I had to fight for it–and I did fight for it. Michelangelo’s original image is very horizontal, and SUNSTONE needed a vertical image. There was a point where we were playing with a close-up image of Heavenly Mother lifting up the chin of a forlorn Eve holding an apple, and I put my foot down. Many email discussions ensued with different people, and some different versions. In one, God the Mother and Eve occupied the same position as in Michelangelo’s painting, but Mother God was handing Eve an apple. I wrote,

I still don’t like it, and here’s why: having God the Mother give Eve the apple puts both of them in the position of following patriarchy’s script. It turns Heavenly Mother into the serpent. And maybe she is…. But before we change the story that way, and explore what it means for a feminine deity to be the source of human wisdom (in defiance of her husband’s commands), we need to first establish and legitimate both these female characters as powerful, in their own right, through their own beings and essences.

In Michelangelo’s painting, God and Adam offer nothing but power. They don’t need props, because their power is self-evident, thorough, and innate. They express their power and identity merely by showing up.

If God the Mother and Eve have to express their power and identity through the possession and use of props, they are secondary and subordinate to male gods and human beings.

It might not be as fun as changing a lot of elements, but the most subversive and provocative thing we can do is to show God the Mother as the equal, in every way, of God the Father (except maybe fierceness–he does look pretty mean). She has just as much power to animate human beings with a mere touch of her finger as her male counterpart does. She has just as much interest in human life. She recognizes human women as an expression of her divinity and power, and she doesn’t need to give them anything but life to make them extremely powerful and wonderful.

The final product, because it had to be something the postal service would deliver and that SUNSTONE could stand by, involved getting permission and agreement from several people. But permission and agreement were obtained on some pretty terrific points. You’ll notice, for instance, that Eve’s breasts are bare, because we agreed to expose them instead of covering them with her hair (though we agreed that she couldn’t be very nipple-y). You’ll notice that there’s a black Angela Moroni in the upper-left corner. You’ll notice that there are two lady angels initiating a fairly intense embrace in the upper-right. you’ll see that there is an inter-racial same-sex angel couple holding hands at the right edge of the image just below Heavenly Mother.

We also had A LOT of fun coming up with illustrations for essays by noted feminist scholars Janice Allred and Margaret Toscano. I’m pretty sure it was originally Galen’s idea to depict Heavenly Mother in four different manifestations, and she wanted some sort of way of unifying them. My suggestion: “one thing that struck me was the similarity of the four images you propose with the queens in the tarot deck.” Galen didn’t limit herself to a strict adherence to what the suits represent or how they’re expressed, but that was useful. We played with different ways to Mormonize the images–one easy thing was to add a beehive to each. But the most fun was to make the Goddess of Cups, the “Mother Nurturer,” a hot blonde pioneer woman in a prairie dress offering you a long cool drink of water while a wagon train passes in the distance behind her.

My favorite of those images is the Goddess of Swords, or, as she’s called on the banner beneath her portrait, “Mother Protector.” She’s sort of a cross between Galadriel and Maxine Hong Kingston’s “Woman Warrior.” My second favorite is the Goddess of Coins, or our “Mother Teacher,” a four-armed black goddess reading the gold plates. She has a traditional goddess symbol, the triple moon, above her head, and is in a building that we imagined as a Mormon meeting house, though the details that would have demonstrated that were too fussy and disappeared.

This is what I was working on when the whole Randy Bott thing erupted. One of my friends wrote to ask me why I hadn’t weighed in on it. I said I was too busy, but that what I was busy with would provide some commentary on it all. I think that depicting a Mormon goddess of wisdom as a black woman reading and teaching from gold plates is a pretty good response to all that nonsense.

If you haven’t seen the issue, I hope you will check it out. And if you like the art, you can purchase it on everything from a maternity t-shirt to a shower curtain to a plain old poster at Sunstone’s cafe press page for this collection.

And if you’re coming to the Sunstone symposium this year, there are two sessions about Heavenly Mother I’m organizing. Session 131, Thursday 26 July, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., “Images of the Feminine Divine,” is inspired in part by the art in this issue, though it will encompass other topics. The other, Session 171, Thursday, 26 July, 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., “Heavenly Mother and the Letter of the Law,” is a session in which people will read letters to Heavenly Mother since we can’t have a prayer or testimony meeting devoted to her. You can find abstracts for the sessions in the Sunstone preliminary program online.