Friday, August 31, 2012

look away, I'm 'bout to talk politics. and religion.

Mitt Romney gave his acceptance speech last night. Where were you? I was watching it while stuffing my face with froyo.

There were a lot of things in Romney's speech the irked me: the invitation to have a giggle at climate change, the implication that Obama raised taxes on middle class (he did not), his contrived emotional outbursts while talking about his family. But really, I was most annoyed by his short monologue regarding women in leadership. After telling a short story about his mom running for the Senate because “Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation," he ticks off the positions to which he appointed women while he was in office. Prior to his speech, Jane Edmonds even claimed that Romney had increased the number of women in senior-level leadership positions while he was in office. The GOP is clearly trying to paint Romney as a president who would protect women's rights, despite evidence to the contrary.

I have not, in this blog, really discussed my personal history with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (from here referred to as the Mormon church). Long story short, I was baptized into the church at 19, practiced faithfully and dutifly, and decided to disengage when I was about 24. None of these decisions were decisions I took lightly. I feel obliged to say that I do not resent the Mormon church for anything, and in fact, there are many practices from the church that I still (attempt to) follow and respect. Nonetheless, there were many reasons why I left the church, one of which being the regard for women.

In the Mormon church, women do not hold any leadership positions over men (although they can hold leadership positions over other women). They are not allowed to bless sacrament (or communion or Eucharist or whatever you call it). They cannot baptize or confirm members. They are not given authority to offer blessings of healing or comfort to other congregation members. They are not allowed to consider serving missions for the church until they are 21, and then only for 18 months, unlike their male counterparts who serve 24-month missions at 19. These are simple, doctrine-based truths. Of course I knew all these things when I joined the church, I just didn't know they would bother me later.

I remember the moment I started to think I needed to move on. It was General Conference (a meeting during which church leaders address the membership), and they were broadcasting reruns of old talks, one of which was the church president's 2003 address to women. During this talk, in an attempt to praise us I suppose, President Hinckley labeled women mothers, housekeepers, chauffeurs, shoppers, companions to their husbands, and nurses.

Aaaaaaaand that was it. That was the end of the list. I remember thinking, aside from being a "companion," I'm none of those things. And (at the time) maybe I don't ever want to be any of those things. My worth as a woman in this context is being measured only by how self-sacrificing I am to my family. While admirable, I always planned to fill roles other than wife and mother, and being told from the pulpit that I may only ever be valued for the cleanliness of my house and the punctuality of my children is insulting. It's condescending and defeating. It negates our individuality. It reduces us to servants who would have no purpose were it not for the existence of husbands and children.

So Romney standing at a podium professing his respect for women and their authority to make decisions on behalf of men is a little unbelievable to me. Of course there are Mormon men who respect and treat women as equals. But I find it hard to believe that any male feminist would ascend to the ranks of Stake President as he did. While he was there, he likely never challenged the traditional roles of women in the church. He likely never rallied for them to be allowed to hold priesthood authority or to have an equal voice in church leadership. He was probably just a normal Stake President who followed all the rules and served the needs of his congregation well. Good for him. But that doesn't make him a trailblazing female-identified-man. That doesn't earn him the chops to finally narrow the many gender gaps in our society. And it certainly doesn't make me believe any of his pandering bullshit about how "heroic" we are for raising kids when our men aren't around.

As it turns out, Romney did not actually increase the number of women in senior-level positions. And the fact that he only discussed women he appointed or hired suggests that women can only achieve these things when hoisted up by men. It also suggests that while he may believe it's okay for women to have a say in inconsequential matters of a temporal nature, he ascribes to a value system that disqualifies women from presiding over more important matters of an eternal nature. Nonetheless, while a lot of the inequalities that exist for women in the Mormon church are doctrinal, a lot of them are cultural, and for which Romney cannot be held responsible. So, I'm not saying a Mormon should never be president. I just don't think he should be the first.

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