This month The Man Files welcomes Sam Bullock writing his first guest post for Girl With Pen. In this personal account, Sam explains what happened when his Mormon religion collided with feminist politics.
My professor assured us there was no reason to fear The F-Word.
I was taking Intro to Ethics at a community college where we were assigned to read An Invitation to Feminist Ethics by Hilde Lindemann. It was my first experience with feminist theory.
The book is a basic overview about sexism, gender roles, homophobia, neo-liberal globalization, and stories about gas lighting and rape. Unlike other books, I couldnâ€™t dismiss this one as â€œjust another philosophy.â€ I couldnâ€™t toss this book aside as I went about my daily life. It was consciousness-raising. Life-changing.
From reading this book I realized I wanted the freedom to choose what made me happy. I didn’t want to be constrained by psychological factors that may have been the product of earlyâ€”and intenseâ€”gender socialization. And I knew that women deserved the same freedom.
Unfortunately, these feminist arguments clashed with my worldview: I was raised Mormon. For Mormons, gender roles are divinely instituted (for the most part) and homosexuality is always a moral evil.
In the Mormon Church, only men are allowed to have the priesthood. Women are effectively barred from positions of authority. No women bishops, no women apostles, no women prophets. Women can fill positions of leadership that are in line with traditional gender roles like young-women leaders, childrenâ€™s group leaders, and relief society leaders (an exclusively female group).
I was told that priesthood, the power to act in Godâ€™s name, depends on individual worthiness. Every man can have it. The traditional Mormon rejoinder to any sort of criticism of this unjust stratification is that â€œwomen can bear children.â€ So â€¦ women canâ€™t become priests because babies gestate inside of them? This argument is sheer nonsense.
The sexism of the Mormon Church became more and more apparent. In one discussion about parenthood, I dared to suggest that I was willing to be a stay-at-home dad. I was instantly assaulted by thoroughly archaic views about women. I was told that women were more virtuous than men and this virtue would be lost in the cut-throat business world. Working women were destroying the fabric of society (I actually heard this more than once). Needless to say, I was horrified.
At a different meeting, the discussion topic was female modesty and appearance. The bishop leading the group suggested that women needed to dress modestly because men couldnâ€™t control themselvesâ€”or something to that effect. Really? Huh.
The bishop continued, saying that women should wear make-up because even an old barn could use a paint-job. The huge double standard leaped out at me. Male â€œbarnsâ€ were not expected to paint themselves, so why should female â€œbarns?â€
As the sexism became crystal-clear, I attempted to reconcile my two conflicting worldviews. I tried to rationalize away the sexism, making arguments like, â€œthe Church isnâ€™t ready for gender-equality yetâ€œ or â€œthis sexist doctrine is not of God.â€ I looked for support online and found it at various feminist Mormon blogs including Feminist Mormon Housewives and The Exponent.
Enter Californiaâ€™s Proposition 8. Here, the second of the big offenders came into focus: homosexuality. In the Mormon Church, homosexuality is a sin. One can be an openly gay, but must remain celibate or enter a heterosexual marriage. Neither is a particularly happy option.
When Proposition 8 (opposing gay marriage) was on the California ballot, Mormon Church leadership endorsed it, and encouraged members to aid in its passing. This led to call centers, special meetings, and Photoshopped pictures of Book of Mormon prophets holding â€œYes on Prop 8â€ signs. Most disturbing was the rhetoric. We were told that homosexuals were like drug-users. Homosexuals were destroying society. They were corrupting our children, our freedom of religion, and our schools. Homosexual-equality was Satanâ€™s idea, an attempt to lure people down the path of destruction.
I am ashamed to admit that in high school I believed this nonsense. I distinctly remember telling a friend that I voted for Bush because he was against gay-marriage. I even wrote a letter to Bush celebrating his wise choice.
But fast-forward and feminism allowed me to see the Church rhetoric for what it was: homophobic, fear-mongering attempts to maintain a cultural hegemony. I still rationalized away the homophobia as yet another doctrine â€œnot of God.â€ That is, until I read about Stuart Matis, a gay Mormon who committed suicide because of homophobic Mormon doctrine.
I could see the suffering so clearly. I could no longer rationalize away the Church homophobia. A crack had formed in the edifice of my beliefs. Mormons were not inspired by God to pass Prop 8. There was no Satan, no tempter out there trying to trick me into believing evil things. This was merely the ultimate fear-mongering device, a tool designed to silence dissent.
Into this small crack rushed my entire philosophical training, all of my religion classes, my ethics classes, and my critical thinking classes. I no longer saw any reason to believe that Joseph Smith saw God when he founded the Mormon Church. I no longer believed that Jesus was the son of God, or that God even existed at all. My beliefs were gone. I was an Atheist.
I guess the message of this story is that feminism is undeniably powerful. It can alter consciousness. It can foster equality. It can even dismantle an entire worldview. And I would say these changes are for the better.
Sam Bullock aspires to be an attorney with hip jazz-piano chops, and is a self-proclaimed feminist atheist.