Monday, April 8, 2013

What Are Women's Issues?

I am sort of a Facebook moron. I don't have a Facebook account of my own, but I sometimes look on James's page to try to figure something out: to read comments about a contest we're running, to look at photos of friends, to laugh at my brothers' insults to each other.

But since I don't have a Facebook account, I'm not really sure how to maneuver it and end up scrolling around forever. About two weeks ago, I was scrolling and found several people had shared an article or editorial or commentary about how women will give prayers at the next General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sisters did give prayers during General Conference this weekend. They were sincere, heartfelt prayers. Like prayers I've heard from men in general sessions and women during the Relief Society or Young Women broadcasts over the past thirty-odd years.

It's cool. But I have to admit: I've never really thought about who was giving the prayers. Mainly because my eyes are closed the whole time and I'm trying to listen to the Spirit and participate in the thanks and blessings.

I remember when I was a little kid thinking the prayers at General Conference were the longest prayers ever given. Part of me wanted to absorb everything and be able to pray with such calm conviction, but most of me wanted the prayer to end so I could open my eyes again. I didn't think about involving myself in the prayer, nor did I consider any of the thanks or blessings were mine. I knew what amen meant, but I didn't understand the gesture of amen.

So I guess I've always taken for granted that members of the Quorums of the Seventy would be giving prayers since they don't always give talks. It never bothered me that men were the ones praying. And it's cool that women are being invited to pray also. I mean, we all have the capacity and right to pray, so I am fully supportive of invitations to pray.

But I'm also a little weirded out by the number of people who shared the article link. And how some people were touting this as a real gender-equality triumph in the Church. I feel like I am an educated, independently minded woman who believes women can accomplish anything. So why does wearing pants to church and women praying in General Conference feel so arbitrary?

Maybe it's because I think there are real issues out there affecting women that go way beyond who prays in General Conference.

On my way to work a couple of weeks ago, I listened to a broadcast of Fresh Air with author Shereen El Feki talking about female genital mutilation in the Arab world--and how this practice is mostly perpetuated by mothers and grandmothers who have religious, social, moral, or political beliefs that drive the practice. She also talked about college students who earn money as sex workers in Casablanca but are completely unaware of the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Another problem she described is marriage expectations: men can't afford all of the financial demands during this economically and politically tumultuous time, so couples will enter into short-term "pleasure marriage" contracts that last only a few weeks or months.

The broadcast two days before that featured Emily Rapp, a woman whose baby was diagnosed with a terminally degenerative disease and died in February after two years of struggling to live.

And most all of us have heard of the sixteen-year-old girl who was molested, raped, humiliated, and threatened in Steubenville, Ohio.

These seem like very serious issues affecting women. A woman losing her young child to a terminal disease is much closer to my heart than a woman being called as an LDS bishop. Children who are sexually molested by family members, women who are blamed for enduring abuse, pre-adolescent girls on near-starvation diets, and elderly women who cannot afford to pay for heat in the winter, seem like they are at a much greater risk of degradation and suffering than a middle-class, educated woman who thinks equality means sameness.

Maybe I'm old fashioned. But I don't think so.

I like being a woman, a daughter of God, with unique thoughts, attributes, and challenges. I would rather be recognized for who I am as an individual rather than thrown a line because I'm female. I think real empowerment for women comes from valuing what women create, think, feel, and do. It's not a matter of making women into men or men into women. It's a matter of celebrating who we are individually--even if we have been sociologically molded into specific gender roles.

I'm okay with that. I'll keep working here at the university. And scrubbing bathtubs. And changing diapers. And analyzing literature. And praying with my family.

I'll keep doing what I'm doing and thinking how I think.

And those people who feel that women wearing pants to church one week or getting ordained to priesthood offices is better can keep thinking how they think.

But let's consider real issues that hurt women every day. Let's talk a little more about what we can do for each other as sisters, rather than how we can battle against men.

1 comment:

  1. Grandma Gill emailed the following to me, so I am posting this in the comments:

    I am very glad you wrote this and I agree with every word of it.

    One of the sisters I visit teach is a para-legal and divorce mediation counselor. For reasons I won't go into, I often end up visiting her without my companion, and that happened in March. It was probably a good thing, because she really needed to "vent". She attends sessions of the Utah legislature to keep up with what may soon become law in her field. In this session that just ended, a bill was introduced to abolish gender. Therefore if a man felt that he was a woman inside, he could use the ladies restroom, etc. It did come out of the committee, but was tabled. The one who sponsored it assured the legislature that it will be introduced again next year and they will have more support for it.

    How much more wicked can this world get?

    I love you -- all of you,
    Mom Gill