Category Archives: women

Pants (or, this is why the feminists win)

Recently a group of progressive Mormon women decided to organize a Wear-Pants-to-Church-Day.  Really, it’s hard to believe that in the 21st-century that skirts or dresses are still the mandated attire for Mormon women, but it’s true.  Growing up LDS, I was told my some stalwart church leaders that I should not even enter the Chapel (the meetingroom where Sunday services are held) without wearing a dress or a skirt.  Even on weekdays or to vacuum that room when volunteering for weekly church cleaning.

It’s tough not to be a bit snarky about this issue–as if God cares what kind of clothes you are wearing to worship services.  Because Mormons are picky about their clothes.  Men wear dark suits and white shirts and ties.  Women wear dresses or skirts that cover cleavage and shoulders and knees.  And let’s not even get started talking about the mandated skivvies that all faithful LDS wear (so many people have asked me these past few years if LDS really wear underpants manufactured by their church.  The answer is that Absolutely Yes They Do).

So…back to pants…

The thing that is pure genius about this movement is that the feminists win either way.  Win.  Win-win.  Because the church has been forced to come out and state their position on women and pants, which is:

“Attending church is about worship and learning to be followers of Jesus Christ,” LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said Tuesday in a statement. “Generally church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don’t counsel people beyond that.”

Huge.  HUGE.  This means that women no longer have to wear skirts or dresses.  They can be counseled to do so, but the official word is that they don’t have to.

But what it really means is HUGE HUGE.  It means that all of that gender folklore about women and dresses and no-pants was just wiped away with that simple statement (a statement which adheres so much more closely to anything godly than the Women-in-skirts rule).

So that is why the feminists win.  They get to wear pants and they’ve also shown that the church will bend in the face of looking foolish in front of mainstream media.

That the church’s statement goes against everything I was taught about “Sunday dress” growing up is…well, it makes me a bit crazy.  There were emphatic lessons given by prophets about “appropriate” women’s Sunday attire as recently as two years ago, such as in THIS TALK that warned about the dangers of mothers wearing flip-flop sandals or THIS TALK that warned against women wearing more than one set of earrings. And of course card-carrying Mormons are told EXACTLY what kind of undies they need to wear to get into heaven, and they are asked regularly by their bishops if they are wearing said skivvies “night and day.”  So it boggles my mind that the LDS church PR department has back-pedaled so quickly by stating that “we don’t counsel people beyond that.”  Honestly, that is a lie.  They have counseled about specific elements of their adherents’ wardrobe over the pulpit.  Repeatedly.  It’s in print.  It’s google-able.  It’s on their website.  It’s a known fact of LDS culture.

mother work

FYI for any new readers…I was a married-stay-at-home-Mom for eight years–from the time my first child was born until my youngest entered school.  Now I’m the single mother of two teenagers who works full-time at a white collar “desk” job.   The topic of ‘mother-work’ has been on my mind with the recent media kerfluffle about Mitt Romney’s wife and her full-time care of 5 (or 6?) sons.

Then…

Mothering my young ones was a delight.  I relished the hours spent with the babies–feeding them, reading stories, and holding their small soft bodies close to mine.  I kept my schedule fairly wide-open so we would have plenty of time for spontaneity and long swings in the park and afternoons of sidewalk chalk.  My kids didn’t attend preschool or have many ‘extra’ activities because there simply wasn’t the money for it–staying home with the kids meant many financial sacrifices and as a result our lives were simple and uncluttered.  We went to the library and the beach nearly every week.  I sang them to sleep at night with lullabyes in the rocking chair.  I was a PTA Mom and volunteered many hours every work in church and for other non-profit organizations.  I wrote book reviews for a small literary journal and studied French and yoga.  Rarely did I ever tell anyone that I “didn’t have enough time” for visits or hobbies or watching the sun set–because what I did have, then, was time.

But of course…my schedule was monotonous, with never-ending housework.  And there was potty training and stomach-sickness and tantrums that could last for hours.  Careful budget-keeping meant a lot of financial pressure at the end of every month as I would cross my fingers and hope that we could stay in the black.  I found little satisfaction in keeping the home tidy when two toddlers could undo a day’s work in the blink of an eye.  My spouse usually took our one car to work so I had little freedom outside of walking around the perimeter of our small suburban neighborhood.  No one noticed when the dishes and laundry were clean, but everyone noticed when they weren’t.  And I found few local friends who shared my bookish interests.  My spouse’s business life included late-night parties and weekend trips and dot.com-era office shenanigans, while my social life was playing hours of solitaire on the computer in our bedroom as I waited for him to walk in the front door. My small monthly allowance ($20 or so) usually went to trips to the Goodwill to buy clothes for myself and the kids.  Or sometimes I would deposit the money in my own long-term savings account.

Now…

When I began working full-time I was amazed to have an office space all to myself.  I can remember having to stifle the impulse to hug my laser printer–never having had such a nice piece of equipment all to myself (not to mention my iMac and PC laptop and all kinds of other tech-toys that were tucked away on my shelves).  Getting up and dressed professionally and commuting early to work felt “real” and adult.  Getting paychecks and learning about everything from taxes to retirement funds made me feel powerful and in charge of my future in ways that I never had when I was dependent on my spouse’s income.  I still feel a bit guilty even taking a lunch hour when there’s always plenty of work to do at the office and I consider how much money they pay me every month.  Perhaps the biggest luxury of my job is my modest travel expense account for conferences, seminars, and institutes–to be paid for travel

But of course there were and still are many days that the alarm rings too early in the morning, or there is too long a long list of “To Do” errands on my way home from the office (in addition to an hour-long commute).  So much so that I walk in the door exhausted and grumpy and realizing that it’s now time for me to cook and clean and offer attention to my kids even though my own physical reserves are spent.  Laundry is done at odd hours and sometimes mildews in the washer before it gets into the dryer, I’m often forgetting something important in my rush to & fro.  Facing the fast-looming expense of putting two kids through college is quickly deepening the worry lines between my eyebrows.  I find that I am constantly telling colleagues and friends that “I don’t have enough time.”

To Compare…

Perhaps there is little to compare between the life of a cash-strapped housewife-Mom and that of a single-mother with secure and satisfying employment.  As a SAHM I had time, but not money.  I had a lot of joy in raising my children, but little autonomy.  And I craved an adult world of conversations and non-snot-soiled clothing.  I now carry many more obligations and have little discretionary time, but there are other kinds of satisfactions that come from feeling valued by my employer and co-workers, and getting tasks accomplished each day.  In both situations I have not been desperately poor or desperately overstretched or desperately unfulfilled.  I chose to be a mother and then I chose to go to work.  Once those choices were made I lived with the consequences–good and bad.

But what’s relevant to the political brouhaha, is that there are challenges and downfalls of both scenarios–so much so that being on one side of the fence and looking down on women on the other side is hardly productive or helpful.  Rather, I would hope that we could realize that it’s hard work to care for children and hard work to balance earning a paycheck with family responsibilities.  Instead of spinning into endless cycles of finger-pointing, I’d like for politicians to work harder to make mothering valued–by, say, making it possible for SAHMs to earn social security benefits or to contribute to Roth retirement plans, and to make workplaces more caregiver-friendly by facilitating flexible work schedules or on-site childcare.

More than anything, we have a long way to go, as a society, in valuing the labor of women–the mundane daily difficulties of maintaining a home and the thankless work that goes into managing the needs of young children.  If, as Mitt Romney says, his wife’s job is more important than his, I would like to know how he will translate that into family-friendly policies that support the important work of caregivers (especially those not married to billionaires).

assertive

One of the biggest compliments that I received recently was from someone that I know professionally, who just learned that I’d been practicing LDS for most of my life.  She was shocked, only because she said that I didn’t behave like any of the LDS women that she knew–who she said were all the kind of women who had no opinions and who weren’t educated or assertive.  Of course she was painting LDS women with too broad a brush with her stereotypes, but it did stick with me–if only because I marvel a bit at how much I’ve changed, personality-wise, in the past few years.

Another connected experience occurred when I was at dinner with some liberal LDS women not too long ago and we were discussing passive-aggressiveness.  Our conclusion was that passive-aggressive behavior is more common among LDS women because they’re disenfranchised by their faith tradition, and have to find subversive ways of expressing themselves because of their lack of institutional power.

These experiences both came to mind when I read mraynes post about Speaking Truth.  She writes:

Women in the Mormon Church also belong to a patriarchal culture where they have very little institutional power. We women are taught from toddlerhood that we are to be wives and mothers and devote ourselves fully to our families. It is easy to see how some women can interpret this socialization to believe that their personal feelings or needs are irrelevant.[…]

LDS women must tell their stories. A majority of these stories are positive but there are also stories that tell of the hurt that our institutional practices and culture create. All deserve to be told. All deserve to be heard. Those in power in this church—men—must begin to know what it feels like to be a Mormon woman. They must hear what it feels like to only have the role of wife and mother presented to you.

In my life I’ve experimented a bit with this lately, and have found it quite liberating to say what I think about things, or to reveal my inner feelings in situations where I would have just kept quiet before.  For me much of this has been about speaking the truth of what happened in my marriage (secrets that I kept for many years), but it’s also a large part of trying to figure out what I want now–in personal relationships, in my professional future, and in my family.  There have been times that I’ve probably said a bit too much in my quest to ‘speak truth,’ but for the most part this has been a highly-positive experiment.  I’m weary of pretending to not have an opinion because it would be ‘unfeminine’ or saying only what I think the other person wants to hear, rather than saying how I really feel.  I’m no longer ‘going with the flow’ unless I really want to–I don’t have to pretend to want to do something and then secretly resent it.  Instead, I can be honest and either choose not to do something or find a compromise.  There’s simply no space for passive-aggressiveness in my life now.  I’m not living to please anyone else anymore.

francophilia & future dreams

Recently I told a friend the story of the print that hangs on my bedroom wall.  It’s a Mary Cassatt, called “Summertime,” and I purchased the print in the spring of 1987.  How do I remember that date so well?  Because I’d just turned 16 and attended a local painting exhibit with a boyfriend–my first real ‘date.’  And the first time I remember seeing art hanging in a gallery.  I saw my first Titian and my first Rembrandt, and the accompanying music was beautiful.  Sort of as if I was seeing the world in a new way, to see how painters viewed it.  So my mother bought the print for me and framed it and it’s hung in my home ever since.

Cassatt’s painting resonated with me at some level because of the water–nearly every art-print that I’ve ever bought has a lake/ocean/canal theme.  But it also meant something important to me because of who she was–an American woman who traveled to Paris to study her craft.  She inspired me to reach higher than my own smallish ambitions and to dream of living abroad someday.  Although I’d already begun studying the French language by the time I encountered Cassatt, her work cemented my desire to learn that language and fostered an enduring passion for French culture, too.

When I first committed to returning to school ten years ago, it was no surprise that the first classes I took were to hone up my French.  And then I had the serendipity of finding an amazing French teacher, who understood the power of big dreams (and I just now googled Jody to find a link to her book and learned that she died in March.  Oh. Ouch. I’d long dreamed of getting ‘caught up’ with her again…).
She wrote, of her book:

“There was a theme that was being played out on a daily basis in the lives of practically every woman I knew (not to mention my own): how can a woman satisfy the demands of the creative will and still preserve an intimate life? All the women I interviewed were driven in one direction or another by the fierce imperative of the creative will – whether to art, literature, psychology, or music. And all of them refused to sacrifice the private dimension of their lives: all were unwilling to give up the intimate and sexual rewards of a woman’s life…These interviews document the joys and difficulties of being a productive human being in the shape of a woman.” 

Traveler’s Tales: “Divorced with two children”

Another post in the series of Traveler’s Tales

A Guest Post by Jeanne

When my sons were small, I used to tell people I was divorced with two children. Full stop. End of story.

Of course, people who knew us wondered how I got one Asian child and one pale-skinned red head with only one husband. When I mentioned that Older Son was adopted, that usually satisfied their curiosity.

But then if I happened to mention my years in Japan, and the fact that my ex-husband was Japanese, the cat was usually well out of the bag, and many people would ask me directly at this point … and I didn’t blame them.

Our family story is complicated, but perhaps not much more than most: I married a Japanese man when I was studying in Hawaii (an M.A. in Japanese language from the U of Hawaii). After a few years in Berkeley to get a second master’s in journalism, my husband and I went to Japan, where we adopted the boy I call Older Son. He is now 26 and well on his way to success in all aspects of his life. (Note my maternal pride.)

Fast forward five years, to a divorce (my idea) and my return to the states with Older Son in tow. We settled in Chico, CA, for a year, where I taught journalism and public speaking and Older Son attended a daycare where–for most of his time there–he was the only child who wasn’t white. There were scarcely any kids who weren’t BLOND. I knew this wasn’t going to work for us long-term.

During this time, I met the tall, blond research scientist who was to become the father of Younger Son. This pregnancy was an accident, but I call it a “happy accident”–I had never been pregnant before and I welcomed the pregnancy and sailed through it happily despite my situation as a (by then) unemployed single mother living on my savings from the Tokyo years.

We returned to Seattle, close to my birthplace of Tacoma and the town where I grew up, Hoquiam, WA. And I raised my sons alone. No, it wasn’t easy. But I was an older mother (30 when I adopted Older Son, 35 when I gave birth to Younger Son), and I would do it again.

Next time I’ll elaborate on my life as a single working mother, especially after my diagnosis with breast cancer when my sons were 13 and 8.

In the meantime, here’s my blog: http://assertivecancerpatient.com/

Support, stories, and a new blog feature

Within moments of John telling me that he was leaving our marriage, I texted a friend:

John is leaving me.  In despair.  Can I come over?

I remember almost nothing of that night except that I had a shoulder to cry on and a friend who listened and offered every imaginable support, while serving me cup after cup of hot herbal tea.  In the days that followed, as I explained my situation to other close friends, a tight net of support emerged around me.  The support often came from tangential relationships, such as the woman who came over to explain California divorce to me.  She’d never been to my home and we’d only met once before–but she was freshly divorced herself and knew she had information that I would need.  She stayed for hours and listened as much as she shared.

Then there was the group of friends who live far away, who daily sent me snail-mail letters and care packages.  These sweet notes arrived both in Pasadena and Irvine–they covered all the bases because they knew I was flitting between two homes during the month of December.  They were envelopes filed with color and poetry and care.  Reminders that I was loved and important and strong.  My Exponent sisters sent the softest-ever blanket with a giraffe-fabric pattern–as a reminder that giraffes are matriarchal creatures and they take care of their own.  That blanket went back-and-forth with me wherever I slept during December and is still folded into a rectangle at the foot of my bed.

Now, as I find myself trying to forge a path forward with this new life of mine, I continue to be influenced by the stories of friends who have followed similar trajectories.  Using the imagery of my blogtitle, I consider myself a fellow pilgrim with these women.  Some of them have traveled on ahead of me and can offer a map of where they’ve been.  Others are traveling alongside me, or are journeying on a similar, but separate, route.

Recently I wrote to several of these women and asked them to share their wisdom on my blog.  Because I feel as though we can all benefit from hearing their stories.  We have so much to learn from each other and we have so much support to offer those who are in the midst of their own difficult paths.  Thus, I’ll be posting the writings of many of these women as Guest Posts on Pilgrimsteps over the next few weeks, under the title of “Traveler’s Tales.” If you have a story or some thoughts that you would like to share for this feature, please send them to janaremyATgmail.

Some thoughts on #genderd, bathroom stalls, and walking in the dark…

Me, at work

Tonite’s post finds me snuggled in on the couch. I’m sneezy right now, and my glands are swollen. That’s probably far more than you wanted to know about me, but this post is going to have a bit more TMI than my usual, so I thought I’d just get warmed-up from the get-go….

For quite some time now I’ve been meaning to follow up on my #genderd experiment. At the close of that day, one of the things I realized was that I never tweeted about using the bathroom. And I should have. It’s one of the most explicitly gendered choices I make several times per day at the office. I work on the floor of a building that has two restrooms. They are both single stalls with locked doors. One has signage for men, and one for woman. Or at least, they did back on September 1st when I did my #genderd experiment. But shortly after that day, I received an email from Chapman University’s SafeSpace Committee saying that they were working to locate all single-stall bathrooms on campus and change them from an assigned-sex bathroom to a gender-neutral bathroom. So I replied to them about the ones on my floor and suggested that the change would be particularly welcome because the floor primarily has women’s offices, so there can often be a line for the women’s bathroom, but I’ve never seen any men waiting in line for their designated stall. And honestly I thought many times about just using the men’s stall myself–given that it had a locking door, what would be the harm in doing so? But because I still felt so new at my job and I felt too uncomfortable to push the social boundary of using the opposite-sex bathroom stall in front of my colleagues. So I didn’t.

When I returned from my trip last week I discovered new signage on the men’s stall. It now has a men/women/wheelchair sign, while the women’s bathroom stall signage stayed the same. I think that’s peculiar, but I haven’t yet written to the the campus sign-maker to see why both stalls weren’t given the same signs. But perhaps what’s more interesting, are the surprised looks on the faces I’ve seen when I use the now-gender-neutral stall. After I exit that door I’ve seen colleagues walk up very close to the sign as if to see if it’s “real.” I’ve only seen one other woman ever use it, and she wasn’t a regular on our floor.

While I think having one neutral stall on the floor is certainly progress, I still think it would be far better to have two neutral stalls. Because it seems that as long as there is a women’s stall, the other stall will be “not women’s.” However, it could be that the reason they kept one as women’s is that it includes the wastebin at the side of the toilet for “hygiene” products (what a janitor friend of mine affectionately called the “cigar box”), and the formerly-men’s bathroom doesn’t have that feature. I’ve also noticed each time I use the not-women’s restroom that the toilet seat has been left up. I’m going to guess that that’s a leftover from when it was a “men’s” stall only.

And…speaking of men…

Last week I had the strangest concurrence of experiences. By the third time it happened I was so rattled, I could hardly make my way back to the place where I was staying for the night…

Three times in three days I had men call me out in public space, yelling sex-laden obscenities. What is probably most bizarre about this experience is that I’ve never had a man even so much as whistle my direction before (unless, perhaps, it was my partner being playful). Catcalls from strangers seemed like something that happened to streetwalkers and not to women that look like me. I suppose I’ve never experienced this because I don’t often walk in urban spaces–I’ve tended to live in middle-class suburban areas. But I also suspect that women who are disabled are far less likely to garner attention from male strangers.

The third time this happened I was alone and in a fairly deserted area of a city where I knew I probably shouldn’t be walking at night. But I was hungry and there was a corner store a few blocks away. I was sure I’d be just fine. And I was. But having a group of men following behind me and hurtling obscenities my way as I walked down the block? I was so scared. What was I scared of? Scared, knowing that I couldn’t run if they came after me. Scared, because I didn’t think I could dial anything coherent on my cellphone of they neared. Scared, because there was no one else nearby to hear if I should scream. Looking back on it now, it’s possible that these men might’ve even thought that they were flattering me with their opinions about my body. Perhaps they thought that I would respond back playfully or provocatively. But I think they knew that what they were doing was cruel and that I was scared shitless, despite my attempt to walk even more tall and confidently down the block as the vulgarity continued.

There was nothing in my clothing or in my behavior that indicated that I would be a target for men’s attention. I have a “boy” haircut, I’m nearly 40 years old. I was not wearing makeup and I was wearing “Mom” jeans (read: not sexy). But I was identifiably female, still, which is why I suppose I was a target.

I deliberately choose to raise my kids in an upper-middle-class neighborhood where just about anyone can safely walk at night. Though there are occasionally some college rowdy college students around, there is little to fear in my environment. There are, of course, costs to living in such a homogeneous suburban community, and lately I’ve wondered if we haven’t veered towards being too “safe” in choosing a place to live. For example, I relish the vibrancy of the urban neighborhoods that I found on recent travels through Oakland, San Francisco, and in San Diego, and felt the contrast to our “vanilla” community quite keenly. And while I usually don’t feel that I fit in my neighborhood (I am not really a vanilla gal, myself), it would be hard for me to change now if it meant facing the kind of jeering that I experienced last week on a regular basis. I suppose I would get used to it–perhaps even expect it. But it’s hard for me to imagine that now, I suspect I might just always be afraid.