I often criticize black and white thinking, either all of it is true or none of it is true type of thing. This came to mind today in regards to Jeremy Runnells’ disciplinary council for his actions with the CES Letter. It seems to me that so many people who were once orthodox with a shallow understanding of the Gospel read it and immediately see what they knew wasn’t totally true, and they fairly quickly flip to the other side. This post isn’t about Jeremy, though. It’s about myself. Today I realized that just this week I fell into this very trap last week here on Wheat and Tares.
[Backstory] So a few weeks ago I got a treadmill off of craigslist so I can start moving (with my lupus going outside to walk is not an option in Rexburg winters) and start feeling better. Since I was stuck on a treadmill I started listening to podcasts; I caught up on Serial, listened to a few by the Maxwell Institute, and this week I listened to the last two Dialogue Podcasts. At least on the two I listened to so far with Patrick Mason and Lisa Olson Tait, they are recordings of speeches given at Miller Eccles events in SoCal. I enjoyed these much more than traditional podcast formats, mostly because I would have gone to those events myself to hear them if I’d been nearby.
Lisa Olson Tait spoke on the question Was Susa Young Gates a “Feminist?” From the description on the ME website:
Susa Young Gates was a remarkable woman; preeminent in a generation of eminent Mormon women—a writer, editor, Church leader, genealogist, temple worker, political operative, and dynamic personality who claimed she was called the “thirteenth apostle.” She advocated the advancement of women in politics, education, employment, physical health, and domesticity. But she was also largely responsible for formulating the paradigm that “men have priesthood and women have motherhood,” and she firmly advocated a belief in male headship as immutable eternal truth. The apparent contradictions in her life and ideas bring to the fore both the uses and the limitations of Mormon women’s history in speaking to current issues.
Her speech was really excellent and I highly recommend it. And after listening I felt a bit chagrined because of my comments on Hawkgrrl’s “If You Let A Woman Hold Her Baby” here at Wheat & Tares last week:
If you teach mormon women their history,
they’re going to learn that all of their foremothers were feminists
and they’re going to learn they were social justice advocates
and they’re going to learn we have less authority and power than they used to
And they just might not trust patriarchy how you want them to
and that just scares the crap out of everyone
I fell victim to the same trap I criticize others for: seeing things in black and white. I know the stories of many of our foremothers are filled with advocating for women’s rights and women’s suffrage and according to my modern definition, that makes them feminists. But If I look at her whole life and her teachings and the things she advocated for….and if she would ever claim the title….things get much more messy.
Women back then believed in the theology of men being the head of the woman because men were superior and women were subordinate (literally in letters back and forth between Susa and Joseph Fielding Smith they both acknowledged that her husband and JFS were her superiors to her). Thus the man is at the head and becomes a God, a woman can never achieve godhood – but because a man can’t achieve it without her, she shares in his glory. Susa really struggled with the idea that women weren’t ordained to the priesthood, and part of her making sense and coming to peace with it was her teaching that the calling of motherhood was the equivalent of priesthood ordination (not even JFS made this equivalency, in his letters he had motherhood=fatherhood). These days we’ve dropped the idea that men are superior (mostly) but kept the presiding, head of the family bit without the logic that it stood on. And since the logic is gone, we have it rest upon Susa’s motherhood=priesthood theory.
Susa, if you were here I would tell you that you kicked trash in every way, but you also make me want to stab myself with a spoon. Self, lesson learned. Our foremothers’ lives and contributions can’t be painted with such simplistic brushes. And I fall victim to black/white thinking every time I do it myself.