Authority, Power and Seeing Red

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I went to an LDS ward meeting yesterday. Sacrament meeting. I went to support a friend who was singing; she is inactive, but they keep asking her to come sing. I don’t blame them, she’s got a killer voice.

Before I left home, I asked my daughter “Do I look Mormon?” She replied, “No.”

“Good,” I said.

I didn’t want to fit in. And when I got there, it was apparent I didn’t. I didn’t even go sleeveless, folks, but you could tell from my bold scarlet top, a slight hint of black lace from my bra at the neckline and black form-fitting skirt that I was not there to feel The Spirit. I walked into the building with my friend and we were met by two men, admitting that they were out to take a caffeine break. They acknowledged my friend, her husband and their baby, but both men didn’t acknowledge me at all. I could see them studiously ignoring me. No introductions were made, and that was fine. I wanted to get in there and get it over with.

My friend immediately told me that one of the men that had greeted us outside was married to a woman who desperately wanted to leave the Church. She had doubts, questions, and when she brought them to her husband, he “forbade her” to ever speak of it again; he furthermore restricted her contact with any non-Mormon friends, inactive or ex-Mormons, and monitored her email and Internet activities.

My creep factor was very high at this point. I was soon greeted by a man who called himself President something. I said hello, and didn’t give my name. I was never going to speak to this man again; I felt that him knowing my name was unnecessary at best. And he gave me a title. More creep factor.

When we sat, we were greeted by the bishop of the ward. I have to admit, he was a nice guy. Or seemed nice. Had that “nice guy” glow that many men have when they are accepting and kind. He found out that I could sing and asked me if I’d be interested in singing in their ward the following week. I smiled and politely said, “no.” He laughed and said, “Well what if I asked you to sing some other time?”

I replied, “Then I’d thank you for asking, and tell you ‘no’.” He laughed, shook my hand and went on his way. I wasn’t rude, honest.

I began to notice the men in this ward, notice their facial expressions, their attitudes as their wives and children filed in to sit with them. One man scowled as his wife sat, and informed her that she had forgotten something for the baby. He looked at her with such disdain that my heart shriveled and I tried very hard to not judge every man in this chapel by him, and by the imperious ass from earlier who ‘forbade’ his wife to question her beliefs. But I kept watching. I watched women with hurried expressions deal with children while men sat like statues. I watched smiling, happy couples with small children filter in. I watched old men and their wives sitting complacently side by side, winking and smiling at the children in the next pew. I watched a community.

This community was no different than my community at my church, except for one obvious thing: the men. There is a different ‘feel’ to men in the LDS Church. They carry with them an air of entitlement and authority that immediately makes my hair bristle with rebellious bravado. I DARE them to tell me what to do. I dare them. Because I won’t be told what to do. I’d always been a miserable failure at being a Mormon woman because I never did like it or accept it. I never felt cherished, honored and protected as they want to spin it. I felt stifled, suffocated and controlled as a subject to a master. Not good things for my particular personality. Clearly, power over is taught, not power with, despite words such as this:

“Women do not hold the priesthood, but if they are faithful and true, they will become priestesses and queens in the kingdom of God, and that implies that they will be given authority. The women do not hold the priesthood with their husbands, but they do reap the benefits coming from that priesthood.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Bookcraft, 1956, 3:178.)

They try to spin it to seem equal. But what I read is that only in the hereafter can women expect any ‘authority’. The above quote clearly states that men have it on Earth, women don’t. And the glory, er, benefits of the priesthood can be obtained second-hand, just by being married. How exciting.

What does ‘authority‘ mean? According to the dictionary, the first definition is this:

1. the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle
issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or
determine.(1)

No wonder the man from the ward feels he can forbid his wife to do anything. He has the authority to do so, and it’s backed up by the Church’s teaching to not engage with those who would ‘lead you astray’ (aka make you think).I very obviously didn’t take the sacrament yesterday, and made it clear I didn’t want any part of their ritual. I held the little bread basket by two fingers (pinkie out) and moved it far away from me as I passed it down. Now had I been a little hungry…I don’t mind being different and standing out. The feelings I had in that chapel were ones of oppression and anger at the man who is controlling his wife, a very successful professional who probably has her dependent on him financially. She’s trapped in more ways than one. I can empathize. My anger was at the men who take on a mantle that is not theirs to take, all in the name of God. Can’t argue with God, now can we? Yes, I didn’t mind standing out. I felt utterly comfortable in my own skin, even as the bright-eyed returned missionary exhorted all of the ‘non-members’ (I swear to GOD he looked right back at us) to allow the spirit to touch us. No, I didn’t play their game. I didn’t squirm, didn’t wonder, didn’t bow my head and say ‘yes.’ I wanted it to be known that I was a fish utterly out of water there. And I smiled and let my happiness shine.

Mostly, I wanted every man in there to know that their ‘authority’ over me, means exactly dick.

Chowder

*repost from Ravings of a Mad Woman
(1) Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

13 thoughts on “Authority, Power and Seeing Red

  1. Even as a believer, I thought that one had to interpret the priestess language literally. It doesn’t make sense that women are priestesses because their husbands have the priesthood.

  2. Whatever you’ve gone through has clearly made you bitter. How is it that you can somehow know the hearts, minds and intentions of all those guys at church that you’ve never even met?

    You should work on getting over your self imposed persecution complex. Aparantly you didn’t lose that when you left the church.

    While I agree that some men within the church have a bravado about them, this is not the norm. I’m willing to bet that 99% of those guys in that meeting could care less about you or about exerting any priesthood authority over you. They are simply there because they believe it’s true.

    I think your line of reasoning is flawed and unhealthy. If you’re gonna lash out, why not lash out about personal experiences that have left you hurt instead of pretended ones? Comment on something with substance.

    You make some ok points in regards to women and the priesthood, but it gets bogged down and confused with your rant as if these men are actively suppressing your rights.

    Most of these guys would probably rather be home watching football. Given the choice, they’d give you the priesthood and let you run the show if they didn’t have to go anymore.

  3. Simeon,
    How interesting you would be so defensive about something that is very easy for women to pick up on.
    JulieAnn made some substantial observations, giving credit also to the men who made their wives smile.

    I think you have some issues to deal with, and it would be less embarrassing for you to take care of your issues in private with a professional rather than broadcasting them.

    JulieAnn is seeing red because she was seeing the white male entitlement in action in a church. In fact, white male entitlement and Christianity go closely together. Neither Julie Ann nor I say all white males are alike. Some are aware of white Christian privilege and what that means. But I’d say too many white males are not aware of this.

    However, many women who don’t buy into this are VERY aware of it. Those who don’t benefit from such an environment do have to think about it all the time because they are so susceptible to being harmed by it.

    Simeon, maybe you aren’t a jackass, but I do think you have to investigate the white heterosexual Christian able-bodied male package of unearned privileges and reflect on how that affects not only women, but other less privileged groups.

    Then I hope you are less prone to say insensitive things to people less privileged than you who challenge your world view.

  4. Hellmut–I agree. Not logical.

    Simeon, yes, sometimes I feel bitter. When a person blogs, it is a fleeting moment in time; it doesn’t not mean that the person is monumentally bitter.

    Please tell me, where did I state that every man in that ward house wanted dominion over me? I pointed out a couple of examples that I observed, then spoke of MY EXPERIENCE with men in the Mormon Church in general, not in that specific ward.

    Now, speaking of knowing someone’s mind and heart, how exactly do you know mine and know if I have a ‘persecution complex’? From a few posts I’ve written on a controversial topic? So, you think you know me, Simeon? You know nothing about me or my experiences.

    Another conundrum I find interesting: you said that “99% of those guys in that meeting could care less about you or about exerting any priesthood authority over you. They are simply there because they believe it’s true.” Oh really? So now you know their minds, but I don’t. The fact that they are Mormon and believe that they have authority over all women due to their GENDER is my bone of contention, and it’s not their fault; the Church perpetuates this convoluted paradigm, and this was the POINT of my post.

    My posts are my opinion, Sideon, and that’s how I present them. You may find it flawed, but to pronounce a rant as unhealthy shows how little you know about a person’s need to vent personal feelings when they feel anger. That’s what this post was; a rant at an experience that pissed me off and delved into my past, which you nor anyone could possibly understand and know unless I choose to divulge it. If you knew my past, you may have a different view; instead, you pronounce as much judgment upon me as you claim I do to the men in that meeting.

    So question, Simeon; again, you proclaim to know what the men are thinking, proclaim to know their hearts. So my question is, are they ‘true believers’, as you claim, or are they merely there because they’ve been ‘cursed’ with the priesthood and have to show up; otherwise they’d be home watching the Church of the NFL? I’m confused. I’ll tell you what, based on your paradigm of Mormon men from your comment, if I were a Mormon male, I’d choose my assessment rather than your waffled and contradictory one any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

  5. Thanks to everyone for putting yourself out there and sharing your opinion. This issue is worth a debate. In my opinion, however, it is probably neither fair nor useful to attribute motives to people.

    It would be great if everyone could focus on the substance of the debate rather than speculating about personalities.

    It’s great to have all of you.

  6. Phoebe,
    Thanks for ‘hearing me’.

    Hellmut, you’re right. I apologize for personal attacks made about you, Simeon. I don’t know you, and I’m sure our paradigms, although different, can be discussed without character-bashing. Neither of us really have the kind of information about each other to engage in that, do we?

    Thanks everyone.

  7. It was probably a little unfair of me to comment on just this one post. I know that posts are usually made at the height of anger and have seen that in my writing as well.

    I didn’t intend on coming off so harsh. I’m a guy. I know lots of guys. I’ve discussed power and priesthood and authority with lots of members. While there may be some out there that get caught up on that, my experience has been that most I’ve talked to could care less. By default, they’re the ones that have this pretended power and authority. If they were told that women could have it too, I think most would be just fine with it. There’s more apathy about priesthood power, authority and reponsibility than you may know. It’s not that great, it’s not even real, and even most TBM guys don’t really feel superior just because they have it.

  8. Thanks Simeon. I know how we can all see red sometimes! I was simply asking you to walk in my “pink moccasins.” :0)

  9. I hear you too, JA. However, I will take a different tack, and tell you not to treat your anger as a red-headed stepchild. It’s there for a reason, and not just a collection of harmful instincts that need to be vented. There’s a reason we, as human beings, get angry when we see children harmed, the defenseless taken advantage of, and the innocent cheated.

    It is true that there is the anger that is bitterness, regret and indignation, and that this kind is not good to hang on to beyond its shelf life. However, there is anger that is outrage at wrong, injustice and wanton harm, the things that cause people to suffer unnecessarily. It is the anger of someone who feels compassion and responsibility for their fellow beings, and finds the wronging of them intolerable.

    In other words, it is the anger that seeks to right wrongs and eliminate injustice. It is love given teeth. *That* kind is healthy, good and right, and to abdicate it is to go calmly into someone else’s good night — to express patience at another’s suffering.

    JulieAnn, I loved your post, I think you’re dead on, and I’m sure that that anger, whatever portion is based on tears of personal past trauma and whatever portion is the conviction built from them, is mostly the good kind that needs to be expressed. Own and embrace it, sister.

    Simeon, it’s been a while and I’ve enjoyed your writings before, and I want you to know
    I mean this in a loving (human being to human being) way — but I think you’ve waxed a little judgmental and willfully ignorant here, and you’re a bit presumptuous of subject matter wholly out of your understanding.

    To deny the arrogance of power merely because those holding it express boredom and disinterest in it is a rather significant mistake of logic and human understanding. Indeed, the more solidified one’s power, and the less challengeable it is, the less likely it is to be on the holder’s radar at all. After all, consider the cliche’ of the bored nobleman who assures those who serve him and tend to his every need that he is powerless, that it’s not so great, and that he longs for their simple life (though he certainly does not abandon his privilege for it).

    It is true that there is variation, and that there are exceptions, with men feeling truly powerless in their own homes, but that is a deviation from the norm.

    It is well-acknowledged that the system of white male patriarchy in which we live confers serious, decisive privileges to the men within it over the women. It is evident everywhere in our history and literature. One of the reasons it is so invisible is that it has been relatively unchallengeable until recently in history, and then the blame is placed on “uppity” women.

    Thus, if this is off your own radar, you now need to expand your horizons a bit further to understand the plight of the other half.

    I do not mean to be arrogant or demeaning here — I would have agreed with you 7 years ago at the height of my believing-Mormon period, and I was very resentful of having to read “women’s studies” books. I learned that it isn’t an issue of social propriety, but one simply of justice. And that is one which concerns us all — injustice to anyone, anywhere, is a threat to justice for everyone, everywhere, as one man said.

    I highly recommend you read The Women’s Room by Marilyn French.

    Cheers to you all.

  10. Thanks Gluby
    It’s true, I think we’ve been conditioned to think that anger is a weakness and you aren’t ‘enlightened’ if you feel it. That’s utter bullshit. Anger is what propelled me to gain custody of my two kids because their dad was abusive; anger helped me survive my divorce. Anger can be good if it’s the catalyst of positive change. And I HATE people who try to pigeon-hole others into the “bitter-ex-Mormon” catagory. Excuse me? I am not a bitter person; but bitterness can exist or rear its head when certain injustices are perceived and observed. It’s human nature and not a character flaw.

  11. I fully agree with Gluby’s comments here, and with JulieAnn’s post. I admire Simeon as well, and hope that he can see the other side of the issues she has raised here.

    I also HIGHLY RECOMMEND “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French. It is by far the best book I’ve read in a very long time ~ it describes women’s roles in society so very well. Have you read it, JulieAnn?? You should, so we can discuss it! I recommend that all men read it too. Now, if I can just get my husband to read it…..

    🙂

  12. I didn’t convey something very well in the last paragraph of my comment, but I thought it was important enough to the message to correct it.

    I should have written that “… I was very resentful of having to read ‘women’s studies’ books when I was strongarmed into a class on the subject matter by my adviser. But I learned that it isn’t an issue of ‘political correctness’ or of acceding to the wishes of hypersensitive people, but one simply of justice. . . .”

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