There's been a blog post waiting to happen for a long time. Dane at Agitating Faithfully
asked for submissions two years ago. I told him I would love to write something. I haven't yet. I don't know if he is even still looking. Today I was reading a post at Surely You're Not Seriou
s, and now I'm writing. Warning, it's not a happy post. It's not positive about the church. And I need to share this.
In 2007, every couple of weeks, I'd get a call asking me to come in to talk to the bishop. He'd ask how I was doing, and for the first six months or so, I wouldn't answer him... The first time I opened up to him, I shared something about how I felt worth less because I was a girl... He asked me to write him an email to tell him why I thought that.
"Hi. So, here goes. I don't know what I'm going to write... I can't remember a time when I didn't feel like I was worth less because I was a female. Its hard to say where that came from. I can't imagine not feeling this way."
I then went on to list my history. How I felt about watching my parents together. How I felt when I started dating. About the EQ President in the back of the car... I couldn't tell him no, because I didn't have the right. Then about Larry. It amazes me how aware I was without being aware at all...
"My next boyfriend eventually became my first husband. We were married in the temple, but he never went back to the temple after we were married. Our wedding night was the worst night of my life, and the rest of the marriage wasn't much better. I was the wife, and I didn't have much choice when he wanted sex. I could not stop him, although I tried many times.
I wanted to do a lot of great things with my life. I was in school, working two jobs, and I was also doing public speaking. Larry informed me he was having an affair, and the bishop said it was my fault. A good wife would be home making her husband happy. I couldn't quit work, because someone had to make money, but I did pull back and quit a lot of the other things that I loved. The bishop congratulated me on being a good woman, and said I should be willing to do what Larry asked. He was the leader of the home, and I should let him lead and never question him."
I wrote about how relieved I was and how I finally felt happy after Larry left... but I was supposed to get married again... So I did.
I wrote about how I felt like I was wrong if my thoughts didn't match my husband's. I wrote about how I wanted to be a good woman, but I also hated the way that felt. I wrote about how hard I tried to be good and righteous, but the harder I tried, the darker I felt inside. I wrote about what it felt like to ask for priesthood blessings, but be told I wasn't worthy... That the healing power was there, but I had to ask a man for that power. And that man decided when or if he would share. I wrote about the temple and how although I made the commitment to "hearken to my husband", sometimes I just couldn't make myself do that. I wrote about being called to be a Sunday School teacher by his first counselor.
"I couldn't take on one more thing, but I had no choice. The (counselor in the bishopric) refused to accept my, "thank you, but no," because the calling came from God. It didn't matter what I wanted, what I desperately needed, or what I thought. A man I barely knew got more say in my life than I did."
I got released the next week, but even that... I had to write a really long and painful email to a man I barely knew, and HE still got to decide that it was okay if I didn't want to teach Sunday School.
I felt desperate. I wanted so badly to be a healthy human being. I met with the bishop and just kept asking questions. He helped me start therapy.
I KNEW that the church would have the answers to my questions. I searched and searched and searched. There was nothing. NOTHING that answered my questions. Pretty much everything I found just created more questions. More feelings of worthlessness. More confusion.
In therapy, we were talking about rights... so I searched "women's rights" on lds.org.
I found information on the Equal Rights Amendment. They fought AGAINST equal rights for women. They said that women being treated as equals in this country would destroy families: it would be the downfall of society. How could men of God say that? How could God let them stand up in conference and fight against what was good for me? How could what was good for women be bad for families? Where was God in all this??
One night I read an article in the Ensign. This quote threw me into one of the deepest funks I've ever had,
"When it comes to sexuality, some wives become very concerned about their “rights,” often speaking of their “right” to say no and yes. But marriage is also a relationship of responsibility and
opportunity. In marriage, both partners have the opportunity to give. I believe few wives sense the degree of frustration
and alienation husbands feel when a wife ignores his needs. I believe a wise and loving Heavenly Father has given a wife
the ability to achieve oneness with her husband. The key is
I lived with a husband who raped me every night, although at the time I couldn't use that word. When I tried to use that word (rape) with my Stake President, and the Stake Relief Society President, they gave the same response. "A man can't rape his wife. They're MARRIED. She was his, and it was her responsibility to give him what he wanted when he wanted it." I knew why they thought what they thought... They read it in the Ensign.
Boyd K. Packer had the worst to say. He quoted a letter from a woman,
"I'm upset that I was always advised to go back and try harder
only to get abused more. I need some comfort, I need solace, need hope,
need to know Heavenly Father sees all that I have endured. What hope do
I have for a chance to live with Heavenly Father? If temple marriage is
the key to the celestial [kingdom], where am I? Outside gnashing my teeth
for eternity? Help me."
When I read her words, I felt some relief. There was another woman asking the same questions. Feeling the same pain. Making the same desperate pleas that I felt. And she had a listening ear. He would answer her questions and I would get my answers.
"The woman pleading for help needs to see the eternal nature of things
and to know that her trials -- however hard to bear -- in the eternal scheme
of things may be compared to a very, very bad experience in the second
semester of the first grade. She will find no enduring peace in the feminist
movement. There she will have no hope. If she knows the plan of redemption,
she can be filled with hope."
It wasn't the answer I was praying for... but I guess I learned how to feel anger, and I learned that I could not look to the church for the help I needed. Packer was WRONG. and to tell a woman to go back to abuse, because no matter how much it hurts it's just a childish pain... that man has no idea what he is talking about... or if he does, then he is just plain evil. I HOPE he is just ignorant, or hasn't thought about the things he says, and that is why he says such devastatingly harmful things.
The feminist movement is nothing but women asking for rights... women asking to be treated as equals... women asking to stop being abused... If the church's only answer for abuse is to endure, then the ONLY hope for everyone will be found somewhere else...
I'm going to stop now... I thought about researching... going back and reading all of the things I read back then, but it is STILL so maddening, I can't do it. I don't want that stuff taking space in my life anymore. So... feel free to go to lds.org and research the terms I researched back then. "women's rights", "gender roles", "saying no", "healthy relationships", "abuse", "young women lessons", and a bunch more that I can't remember.
Back to my story.
Time passed. I'd dealt with a lot of stuff in therapy, and on my own. I'd faced PTSD flashbacks and nightmares and months without sleep. I couldn't stand being in my home, because I had a husband there. Husband represented abuse. I couldn't relax with him near. I was miserable trying to force myself to stay with him. I stayed with BJ and looked for my own apartment... Bishop C didn't want me to get comfortable away from my husband, because it was more important that I stay married. He was worried if I felt safe and comfortable without a husband, I would get a divorce... Bishop C thought I should only move into an apartment that wouldn't be comfortable. BJ talked to him. I talked to him. BJ pleaded with him. I called him on the phone while wandering the streets and sobbing while curled up underneath a trailer. Finally, he gave his okay that I live in an apartment where I felt safe. He actually volunteered to have the church help pay my rent for a few months. I lived in my own place for the next year before I finally decided I needed a divorce. It was the only way I was going to recover. I couldn't go back to being a wife, because wife symbolized something I never wanted to be again.
Everyone was okay with my divorce... they let me say that I didn't want to EVER be a wife again... until the divorce was finalized. In therapy one day, my therapist was talking about future relationships,
possibly marriage... I told him I didn't believe in marriage.
He told me that was because I hadn't known a healthy marriage.
exasperation I cried, "ALL marriages are codependent, and I refuse to
be in a codependent relationship... Can you show me ONE marriage that
is not codependent?"
"Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother."
Me: Really? You have to go all the way to the top?
And really? You want Heavenly Mother to be my example of how I should live my life? Her children don't even know she exists. They aren't allowed to even know her name, or to speak to her. And some have been cut off from the church for speaking too much of her.
Him: Its for her protection.
If I said I needed that kind of protection from a man, you'd freak
out... You'd tell me how strong I am, and how I can take care of myself,
and... so WHY does a Goddess need that kind of protection?
Him: Maybe she doesn't need or want to be mentioned.
How is THAT healthy? I'm pretty sure you pushed me to be different
than that. In fact when I tried to suggest that I didn't need or want
people to know me... you told me I needed to find a new therapist,
because you wouldn't help me to be that "indiscriminately
Him: Yes. Well. Umm. Maybe you just need to pray about that...
Maybe I do, or maybe... You're wrong. And the "proper" example of
marriage IS a very codependent one. Maybe I have been right all along
about what women are supposed to be, or at least what it says in the
scriptures about how a woman should be...
And then I went off.
And what kind of a mother doesn't want to be mentioned to her children? What kind of a mother is okay sitting back and watching Dad do everything? What kind of a mother watches her daughters suffer and question so much, but is okay with Dad being the only one they can talk to? What kind of a mother sits back while Dad writes scriptures about powerful men, but nothing about powerful women? What kind of a mother allows her daughters to go through this world without her? What kind of a mother is okay with the idea that the only purpose for her daughters' lives is to have children? What kind of a mother or a father would EVER perpetuate so much of these crazy gender roles and unhealthy relationships? I don't believe in that kind of a God or Goddess. I can't. I don't know what I do believe anymore, but I know I think this is a bunch of shit.
I started referencing all of the articles I'd read. I started showing him all of the things I'd learned about women and rights from the church. I showed him what the church said about abuse. The things they say to victims of spousal abuse... nothing... except "repent and forgive". I realized how DEEP these issues go. To my very core... I had written an email four years earlier talking about how I felt worth less because I was born a girl, but I couldn't put my finger on WHY... It's what I was taught... And I could finally see things clearly... I could see ME clearly....
I have to stop writing again. There's just SO MUCH that I could write about. All of the things that bishops and stake presidents and teachers and leaders and books and lessons said... I feel overwhelmed with the sadness and the anger. I can't put it all in words. I could write pages and pages and still... people would dismiss my experiences and the things I've felt... BJ says I think about things more than most. I try to live what I hear more than most. I believe what people say more than most. I don't know if that's true... I just know that I tried to live what I learned, and what I learned broke me.
I may come back and try to edit this post at a later date... add more to it... until then, your thoughts are always appreciated.