Tuesday, September 2, 2014

If you don't want your kids' pictures on a child fetish site, don't take pictures of your kids

A bit over a decade ago (holy crap, I feel old), I belonged to a wedding planning website. Women would typically stay a member of the website even after their weddings because they had grown attached to the community, so there was a sizable new parent section as well. One of the most popular threads there was about cloth diapering, and there were tons of adorable pictures of babies in their creative, sometimes-homemade cloth diapers that their mothers had put them in.
Obvious stock photo is obvious so I am obviously NOT guilty of what this article is about.
One day, someone discovered that some of these cute baby photos that mothers had been sharing had been copied to a diaper fetish website. (I don't know how this was discovered, but that's beside the point.) Users of this website were sexually aroused by looking at pictures of these children - some of their comments on the photos were pretty disgusting. The mothers who had shared the pictures were horrified and felt horribly violated.

Recently, Jennifer Lawrence, as well as several other female celebrities, had her account hacked and some nude photos were stolen.
"Jennifer Lawrence 2, 2013" by Jenn Deering Davis
Uploaded by MyCanon - Jennifer Lawrence.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
There have been some very good articles about how this is a sex crime, correctly painting JLaw as a victim. However, I've also seen a lot of sentiments saying things like "well, she shouldn't have taken nude photos in the first place. The best way to prevent a scandal like this is to not have them." Reframe that statement with the story at the beginning of this post and you have the title for this post.

Is it reasonable to tell people to never take pictures of their kids? If that is unreasonable, then why is it more reasonable to tell people to never take nude photos? Both of these situations feature photos that were taken for private purposes and shared with only people whom the owners chose. Both situations involve photos being stolen by someone who was never intended to see the photos in the first place. And both situations involve perverts getting aroused by photos they were never meant to see. 

Yes, you can prevent photos from being stolen by not taking photos. You can also prevent someone from breaking into your house and stealing your TV by never owning a TV, you can guard against being date raped by never going on dates, and you can ensure you're never in a car accident by never setting foot into a car. It's not reasonable to expect this of victims, though - the blame needs to reside solely with the perpetrators of the crime.

There is no reason to consider Jennifer Lawrence's situation any differently just because of what her stolen property happened to be. Let's make sure we are putting the blame and shame where it belongs.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

To the PR Department Regarding the Survey on Women's Issues Within the Church

To the PR department:

A friend of mine received the survey you have sent out about women's issues within the Church, and she suggested that it might be helpful to send my thoughts to this email address. I realize that this will not count for numbers as I am not part of the random sample, but I hope that you will at least consider my thoughts in your efforts to understand this very important issue affecting the Church today.

I am a convert to the Church; I was baptized 14 years ago next week on my 18th birthday. I attended and graduated BYU, and I have remained as active as my health has allowed. I married in the temple, and my husband and I have 4 children. I have served as a Primary teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a Relief Society music coordinator, a ward dinner coordinator, and a compassionate service leader.

I was aware of Ordain Women when it started, and I followed its conversations with some interest. In the United Methodist Church I grew up in, there had been an abundance of strong female leaders, so the idea of women's ordination was not something new and shocking to me in the least. Nevertheless, it is not something I felt compelled to participate in - my feelings about women in the Church were not that strong and I was reasonably content with the status quo.

When Ordain Women went to Temple Square in October to try to attend priesthood session, my feelings started to change. I was disappointed that the Church would allow men to attend the women's session, but that women could not attend the priesthood session when priesthood wasn't even a qualifier for getting in the door (ie, non-member men are allowed to attend). What was particularly upsetting, though, was that the sisters were turned away and told there was no room for them at the exact moment when the camera panned over a large empty corner of the Conference Center.

I was further upset as stories started to trickle in about how some women were being informally disciplined for having a voice. Most of them were connected to Ordain Women, but some of them weren't. A couple of them said something in church, but some of them were called in based on Facebook comments. Such discipline is very unevenly applied - it basically depends on the attitudes of your local leaders, and whether or not you are a woman. I'm sorry, but I didn't join the Church of Jesus Christ of 1984. Jesus Christ would not punish people for thought crimes. Additionally, the idea of "informal discipline" is hugely problematic because there are not any limits to what form it can take, or any recourse you can take if you feel it was applied unjustly. Church should be a loving place where we learn to be more like God, not a place of fear, but that is what it has become for many women.

I was dismayed at the Church's initial PR handling of Ordain Women's April action. I understand that you didn't want them on Temple Square again, but the PR release painted them with the same brush as the anti-Mormon protestors who curse at Conference-goers and wave pictures of aborted babies at people standing in line. I was also upset to hear about the PR department meeting with Mormon Women Stand when they had been in existence for a month or so, when Ordain Women had been trying for a year to speak to someone with no avail. It felt less like you were genuinely trying to engage with women to find out what their concerns were and how the Church could address them, but more like you were interested in speaking to an echo chamber and insulting Ordain Women.

More hurtful, though, was the Church's response to the April action. I was encouraged to see the pictures and hear the reports from the sisters who attended, that although they were turned away again, they were greeted with love by Kim Farah at the door. At that moment, I thought that the Church was handling the situation very well, that although they would not budge on the priesthood session attendance, they were at least demonstrating that they understood Christ's pure love and welcomed these sisters in fellowship. I was horrified to see the press release that was sent to the Deseret News, characterizing the action as being unruly, as refusing to leave when asked, as causing a ruckus. I felt like I was Harry Potter in the later books, observing one thing but reading something completely different in the newspaper.

Kate Kelly's excommunication was the tipping point for me. I kind of expected that it would come at some point, because that's what happens to people who speak out, but I was disgusted by the circumstances. It was absolutely unfair to call a Church disciplinary council for Ms. Kelly two weeks after they have moved, especially when she was openly engaged with Ordain Women for well over a year prior. The bishop's letters to her contradict what she had described was happening and seem carefully crafted to shape public opinion. The whole thing jarred me to the core, and was the final straw for submitting my own profile to Ordain Women.

I am passionate about the gospel, I love the Book of Mormon, I have a testimony of Joseph Smith, and I enjoy attending the temple when my four little ones will allow. I love the Church, and I have never regretted my decision to be baptized until this year, when suddenly the Church showed itself to be less about loving thy neighbor and more about maintaining the status quo via carefully crafted PR statements. Suddenly it's less about growing and learning to be like God and more like being an identical Stepford wife (which is funny, because wasn't it Satan's plan to make us all identical with identical ideas and identical paths back to God?). My belief in the Gospel tells me that this is the place to be, but the Church is saying that it doesn't want people like me, so where am I supposed to go?

If any message gets to the Brethren, please tell them this. Ordain Women isn't drawing people away from the Church. The Church's duplicitous PR releases and treatment of them as other is what is pushing people out. The bombs intended to destroy Ordain Women have resulted in collateral damage for moderate Mormons who are paying attention. The silence is awful, but the PR department has been worse. Please make it stop. Please show moderate Mormons and fringe Mormons that the Church wants them there instead of saying one thing and demonstrating another.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Friday, July 25, 2014

That's Not Me

Imagine that you belong to the Church of Sportsball. Every month, you are constantly told how good at basketball you are - that EVERYONE is. "We were born with a natural ability to dribble and bounce pass," says one. "Since you have within your divine nature the inherent talent to play basketball, you should aspire to being the best basketball player you can be," says another. "I never fail to be struck by the way that our members, old, young, and even children seem to have an instinctive interest and ability in basketball."

But you take a look at yourself and think, 
"Man, I'm 5'3", I'm totally uncoordinated, and to be honest, I'm not all that fond of basketball."

How would you feel if every week you heard that all Sportsball members are naturally good at basketball? Would you still feel like you belong there? If you were absolutely convinced you were supposed to be in the Church of Sportsball, what would you think about yourself?

This might seem a little incongruous coming from a stay-at-home mom, but mothering is hard for me. Nurturing is hard for me. It does not come naturally at all. I have gotten better over the last 9+ years, and I do absolutely adore my children, but it is a struggle each and every day. I know some people will say "well that's just motherhood" and it is, but there are people who take to it more easily than others.

OK, I'm not quite this bad.
There are lots of things that come naturally to me. Math, languages, reading, computers, organizing people - all these come to me pretty easily, and because they are things I'm naturally inclined to, I tend to get excited about them. And you don't have to be an adult to identify your strengths and what comes naturally to you - I just did an activity with my Girl Scout troop where they had to do just that. The girls were excited to talk about what they were good at and what they enjoyed.

The thing is, the LDS Church is constantly saying that women have specific innate qualities. Replace "members" with "women" and "basketball" with "mothering" and the above quotes are actual quotes made at General Conference about women. All women have the talent to mother. All women are naturally nurturing. Women have these natural abilities, and that's just the way it is.

For me, someone who doesn't feel like she has this natural ability, it is really hard to hear these messages over and over. It makes me feel like there is something wrong with me. And for years, I prayed, and I asked why this mothering nurturing thing isn't instinctive like everyone tells me it is. I asked why I'd been skipped over in the pre-mortal Earth Travel Pack line. And I thought that if I prayed harder, then He'd change my heart, and I'd be totally into this motherhood thing.

That's not how it works, though, and in reality I was just sending myself into a depression. Once I finally realized that there was nothing wrong with me, but instead there was something wrong with the blanket statement of the Church, I made peace with myself.

And you know what? Once I wasn't caught in the vise of depression and focusing on why I wasn't what the Lord's representatives were telling me I was, I felt like I was much more able to work on this nurturing thing that wasn't coming naturally at all. I feel like even though it's still hard, I've figured out how to make it work for me. As a result, my kids and I are happier with this mothering gig than we have been in years. Just call me the Muggsy Bogues of motherhood.
Lack of stature? He worked around it.
We all know how harmful stereotypes hurt people, but we don't think about how positive stereotypes can be harmful too. Instead of saying "All women are natural mothers," can we start saying "Some women are natural mothers, and some have to struggle at it"? Instead of saying "Women are inherently nurturing" can we start saying "Some people" (because my husband's a killer dad and nurtures the heck out of our kids) "are inherently nurturing and for some it's a goal to achieve"? By recognizing people as having individual strengths and weaknesses instead of painting groups with a large brush, we can avoid inadvertently making someone feel that they do not belong.

The one thing we all inherently are? We are all inherently loved by God. Let's make that the only inherent thing we preach.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On Cars and Non-Universal Life Experiences

Just because I've seen this coming up in debates often, here is an extended analogy.

So, there are two people, Pat and Jamie. Pat lives in New York City and has never owned a car. There are subways, there are taxis, there are busses - plenty of options. Pat doesn't even want a car - they're terrible for the environment, insurance is expensive, and seriously, where would it even be parked? No thanks - Pat sees car ownership as an unnecessary luxury that is preferable to forgo.

Jamie, on the other hand, lives in a rural area - Eagle Mountain UT, Bailey CO, it doesn't really matter. Jamie was desperate to get a car upon earning a driver's license because there's nothing but highways connecting Jamie's house to everything else. Grocery stores, work, friend's houses, etc. - it's all a 15-30 minute drive minimum, and there is no public transportation around. Jamie sees car ownership as a vital component of being an independent, functional adult.

The problem comes when Pat and Jamie get to talking, and Pat doesn't like that Jamie owns a car. "Seriously, owning a car is such a terrible decision. There is public transportation everywhere! You are killing the environment for an unnecessary luxury." What would you think of Pat?

The obvious answer is that Pat is a jerk, because living in New York City is a completely different experience from living in rural America, and things that are true in New York City are not true in rural America and vice versa. Just because Pat can truthfully say "I have never needed a car" does not mean that is true for everyone. Pat's experience is not representative of all Americans, nor is Jamie's. Instead of belittling Jamie, it would be much better for Pat to say "Wow, I've never even considered what life would be like without public transportation so readily available. While owning a car is not a choice I would ever make for myself, I can see why it would be important for you."

Too often, when confronted with an uncomfortable problem, it seems like people are quick to say, "I have never experienced that, and no one close to me has experienced that; therefore, it must not be true." We need to stop doing that! Just because it hasn't happened to you doesn't mean it hasn't happened ever. Instead of dismissing people's experiences, we should earnestly try to be compassionate and put ourselves in others' shoes, even when our knee jerk reaction is to deny it. Please think about that the next time you engage in or even read a debate.