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From feminism to race studies

April 10, 2009

Every so often, in my life or elsewhere on the internet, I get this strange idea that I’ll try to explain some of my experiences. I get this oh-so-strange idea that if I can just explain some of my experiences as a black person, then perhaps someone else will understand a little more about what it is or is not about.

I’m proven wrong repeatedly, of course. It makes me wonder why this strange idea keeps popping in my head, when every time I try, I know my ideas will be denounced, labeled as insane, etc., People will say I “take things too seriously” or am not even “in touch with reality.” Everyone should just be color blind and then nothing would matter.

I guess sometimes I feel insane, but then I find at least a couple of people who seem to get what I’m saying. I find articles that seem to have looked into these issues, etc.,

I guess I feel bad because I don’t know so much about feminism, and I fear I’ll make the same gross misunderstandings that people make of my ideas if I speak further, but I sense some parallels in some of the struggles. It was interested to read on The Exponent about idealistic, pragmatic, and cynical feminism and its role in the Mormon church.

Caroline, the author, suggests something that I would not have expected at first: she says that of the three brands of feminists, it is the pragmatic ones and the cynical ones that are most likely to be able to make life in the church work.

I didn’t understand this at first, because I thought that it would be the idealists who would have this strength to endure, and the cynics who would walk away, but as I read, I began to feel that I understood a little of what she was talking about.

I thought this was an intriguing framework: the idealistic ones who can’t endure the dissonance between what they know in their heart is right/just and what the Church teaches about gender eventually leave, whereas the pragmatic or cynical ones who see patriarchy as inescapably infusing almost all institutions (universities, corporations, etc.) or who decide to weigh the pros and cons and stay for various reasons including community, family, heritage, and root belief in the restoration tend to be able to make Mormonism work for them.

And this made me think about my life…I can’t say that I apply race so similarly to feminism in the church, but in my life in general, I can see the same kinds of ideas. I have talked on the site about truth and Truth, and I feel that this distinction is somewhat illuminating on a matrix. Pragmatists recognize truth with the small t…it is something that is useful, but which must be flexible. As Caroline continues:

Another coping mechanism for the pragmatic feminist, may also be a certain degree of detachment. One can only exist in a world of pain and despair for so long before building up armor for protection. That armor, often in the form of decreased investment or belief, protects. But it also separates and creates some critical distance. I think that transition from painfully believing that God is behind current teachings on patriarchy and gender roles, to believing that some/all such teachings are cultural holdovers from an earlier era is a hugely liberating turning point that many pragmatic feminists eventually experience.

I strongly identify with this. For me, it seems like a big liberating part for me (especially with coming to atheism) was in realizing that God wasn’t behind the injustices I saw in the world. These injustices are not Truth. They are just a convention or construction that have lingered through the actions of many people.

And even from the cynical perspective, one can believe that these conventions or constructions (whether they be of patriarchy or gender roles or racial expectations) are unlikely to change for the better, but then, one can resign himself to a hopelessness that is comforting.

But it is in the idealistic people…who continue to have a bad faith or a bad hope in a Truth that simply is not that will have the roughest time of all.

I realize that I slip into this idealistic spirit so often. I want to believe that the world is a better place than it is. I want to believe that people can be more understanding. I consciously recognize I should be more pragmatic, or perhaps even cynical. But subconsciously, I don’t want to believe that. So that is why I wonder if Bruce isn’t right when he says “we all…treat morality as if it’s an absolute.”

I remember I really didn’t care about black anything a long time ago. But oh, how I didn’t realize that I was just as much a player in this game — it was only when I read up about black nihilism and existentialism, double consciousness and even tresconsciousness, that I realized that I’m not the only one.

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  1. That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I think I fit very solidly into the “pragmatic Feminist” category. Of course, feminism wasn’t the key reason I left the church, it was other belief issues. If I believed in God and in the doctrines of Mormonism, I could probably get by, as Caroline says, by putting the patriarchy in its larger context and making the best of it.

    I think the same is true of my mom, who is herself a pragmatic feminist and a faithful Mormon.

  2. This was a very enlightening post and it rang true to me. Thank you.

    My problem is that I’m an idealistic feminist. I read something last night about what if gender roles were reversed in the church. What if young women got varying degrees of the Priesthood starting at the age of 12 and all young men got was a Manhood Medallion? What if only women were allowed to baptize and bless their own children in the Church? What if women were the ultimate authority to men, even when it came to running and dispersing budgets to their own (R.S. for men) organization? What if women got to covenant to obey God in the Temple, and men had to covenant to obey their wives?
    I don’t think a lot of men in the church seriously place (or try) themselves in the shoes of women. I also don’t think any man in our society would join a church like the one I just described. So it baffles me that so many women in the church go on without complaint.

    Anyways, thanks again for posting.

  3. re chanson,

    I would say something similar, down to saying that race was not the reason I left the church (but then again, race issues in the church are *nowhere near as depressing* as gender issues in the church) and that when I need to, I can put the racial issues in context of where the church or its leaders were in time.

    re Hypatia,

    I agree with what you mean when you said you don’t think a lot of men in the church seriously place (or try to place) themselves in the shoes of women…and I think part of that is because we take a lot of this stuff for granted. As I thought about your scenario, a lot of it…actually didn’t strike me at first…because I realized that so much of the priesthood stuff, I take for granted. (And plus, since I really don’t buy into the whole system anyway, it seems even less worth anything).

    There has to be some way to *experience* the different shoes…because while intellectually pondering about being in another’s shoes can help, one doesn’t get the full impact unless they *live* and *experience* things as the other way. I don’t know how we could go about doing that though.

    So it baffles me that so many women in the church go on without complaint

    I think that a situation that is incredibly common in tough situations — whatever they may be — is that people begin to normalize the situation so that they can live through it. So, people can live through immensely terrible conditions that would astound others who don’t live through those conditions. It’s just what people have come to do.

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  1. And now, back from my fuming depression… « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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