I've been thinking about Zoe Lambert's comments regarding autobiography in our recent interview. Zoe states,
Of course, the relation of the self to writing is more complex than the insertion of autobiographical experiences or facts or the creation of characters of the same age and gender as the author.I think Zoe is absolutely correct, the relation of self to writing is really complex, and it's something I've been pondering. My next few blogs are likely to be long and rambling. I'm going to try to organize my thoughts into three posts: Women, Polygamy and Motherhood *gulp*
I grew up in a patriarchal faith community. I wrote a little bit about it here.
As a child and teen I attended church at least twice a week. Men had a divine right to be in charge of the faith community and women were subject to their authority. Women who campaigned for equality were characterized as either misguided or as man-hating feminists.
The quote below is taken from an article published in a church magazine around the time of my birth (full text found here).
There is concern expressed in some quarters that the growing rebellion of youth is a logical extension of the shift toward equalitarianism. In a new way and in ever increasing numbers, the youth today are demanding a voice in education, marriage, sexual expression, and other significant areas of life. As woman challenges the authority of man, so youth challenges the authority of the family and all other related social institutions. (bold added)
Just in case the above quote doesn't make things clear, here's a helpful diagram from Rodney Turner's Woman and the Priesthood, a book that was also published around the time of my birth. This diagram illustrates that face to face communication with God and woman is not possible because 'the man [stands] between Him and the woman' (p.52).
I grew up thinking it was perfectly normal for men to officiate at all church meetings. For men to baptize, bless and interview women about 'personal worthiness' (and it did get very personal). For men to select the leaders of the church's women's organization and to decide who is allowed to go to the Mormon temple. For men to deliver church discipline and act as jurors in church courts. In the Mormon church men 'preside' over women. [Preside (Verb): 1. To be in a position of authority. 2. To be in charge of.]
The book arrived last week, a secondhand, musty-smelling hardback with a water-damaged cover.
I carried the book upstairs, opened it and read the dedication page:
I closed the book and I sat down, suddenly uncertain about revisiting this part of my past. When Woman's Divine Destiny was published I was three years old. Although it was written by a woman, the book is an exercise in justifying and upholding the words of generations of (male) prophets. Many of the women who tended to me at church read books like Women's Divine Destiny. These women loved and cared for me, they sang and played with me in Sunday School, they took me on trips and camps, and they tried to grow me into a good woman; a woman who would eventually become the kind of wife the book describes:
One should choose a mate as he chooses a shoe: if it isn't a good fit, it will be painful. If we consider this shoe-to-foot analogy, we can see the husband as being the foot, having to climb the rocky road to exaltation. A bare foot is going to find the path too painful; it needs a comforter, a shoe...
When I consider what makes a shoe truly comfortable, I see more clearly how to be a comforting wife. What does a comfortable shoe do for a foot? It supports but is also pliant. Good leather molds itself to the demands of the foot, whereas if the foot yields to the shoe, the foot becomes misshapen and doesn't perform as well. The shoe needs to do the yielding as it cushions the hard places. This yielding can be minimal if proper care has been given to the fitting of shoe and foot.
Those of us playing the roles of shoes need to seriously consider what happens to shoes that are painful. They are generally discarded and a more comfortable pair takes their place. Some men are honorable enough to endure the pain of uncomfortable shoes... But far too many pain-producing wives have learned that their husbands aren't that long-suffering, and have found how it feels to be discarded.
To be continued.
[*If I could sum it up briefly, using one experience as an example, this is how it felt to me: Several years ago, a Mormon man I hardly knew telephoned and asked me to play the piano for a Mormon musical production that was happening in a city 20 miles away. There were bi-weekly rehearsals and I was not offered payment for my time or expenses. Back then I had four children under the age of nine, so I told the man I was too busy to play the piano for the production. The following evening the man called again and spoke to my husband. He asked my husband to 'tell' me to play the piano. I didn't.]
'Drink Me' image from UmbrellaLaboratory, a gorgeous, Steampunk, Etsy shop.