I’ve been thoughtful recently about the cultural privileges that my husband has as a Mormon man in possession of his full male faculties. He is spared a tremendous amount of time thinking and wondering about what it means to be a woman amidst Mormon males. He is simply unburdened by the need to think everything I have to think about in order for this religion to make sense. For instance, a core Mormon belief that God has a body of flesh and bones’ which means he also has a penis, a sexual member. This consciousness peaked for me at aged 16 when I became cognizant of what I wore during my prayers. If I was going to be in communion with God, I wanted to be fully dressed before this ancient supreme male being who, according to the unofficial Mormon curriculum was clearly a heterosexual, polygamous procreator. Not that I thought that he fancied me, but I was growing into sexual maturity, and my experience with contemporary mortal adolescent males was that they had a tendency to be sexually predatory – and this coloured my perception of the entire gender – divine or not.
Thus, the penis, in religious patriarchies is not a culturally neutral physical organ. Over the years be-suited Mormon men have called me into a relationship with the sacred Mormon penis. I’ve been told that my primary role was the pursuit of legitimate conjugal relations (involving a Mormon penis); They have instructed me to sexually reproduce (with a Mormon penis) as a measure of my feminine worth; I’ve been asked by Mormon men to account for any illicit sexual activity; Mormon men have told me to cover up so as not to arouse said Mormon male proboscis; I’ve even been primed against the expectation that I will have exclusive claim upon the matrimonial Mormon penis in the afterlife and, my lack of a sacred Mormon penis has caused me to be excluded, silenced, and under-valued purely on the basis that I am not packing tackle.
So I’ve called it the sacred Mormon penis because they are institutionally sanctified. The penis sets a man’s spiritual usefulness apart, bestows systemic privileges, entitles its owner to police Mormon sexuality, and endows a rarified power that legitimates a call for my institutional submission. From beneath those dark, conservative polyester and wool suits, the Mormon penis is regal and authoritative – a mighty scepter that tears asunder all of my spiritual capacities, yearnings and desires and renders me institutionally subject.
Yes, yes – I know I’m being rude, crude, indelicate and coarse – but lets call it what it is shall we? In Mormon discourse my anatomical fate at conception is the very thing that has and will govern my place through time and eternity. It’s as simple as that. So why not call a willy a willy?
It’s a strange irony that no gendered impediment is placed upon my material, cultural, social, political success or contribution in any other context except the church, where my spiritual capacities are rendered ‘less than’ by virtue of my vagina. I may not call on the powers of heaven and provide spiritual leadership to a ward – because of my vagina, I may not process tithing – because of my vagina; I will never know the liberation of not having to ask for permission, of not being subject to some mechanism of patriarchal approval, simply because I don’t have a dong. This male organ, necessary for copulation and urinary excretion is apparently necessary also for ecclesiastical governance, pastoral care of the church, and the administration of the holy rites of worship.
Or perhaps one explanation is that it is not the penis that sets men ecclesiastically apart, but the attendant hormonal function that affirms the right of male leadership. Could it be that it is testosterone, that gives rise to the secondary male characteristics including increased muscle and bone mass, and body hair, that heightens spiritual capacities? Perhaps it is the masculinization of the brain resulting in increased activity in the left hemisphere that causes God to assign a level of spiritual authority to males?
Or is it indeed that there is some biblical justification for the masculine right to perform religious rites , and all of this priestly exclusiveness does indeed come down to one scripture.
But of course, if we are going to go down the Sola Scriptura track, then we need to invite all of the other prohibitions and domestic prescriptions that gave rise to the cultural traditions of ancient Levant living. I feel pretty sure that that the threat of sudden death for ‘spilling ones seed on the ground’ instead of impregnating one’s brother’s widow might raise some protest about being too biblically literal.
Whatever the case, my sense is that, penises aside, the reluctance to renegotiate the place of women in conservative churched spaces is quite simply about the maintenance of gendered power, and the protection and defense of patriarchal privilege.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of the penis. I don’t have penis envy, I don’t wish all men emasculated, I’m perfectly content with a vagina. I’ve been the happy recipient of all of the matrimonial delights that a well-used penis can bestow. But I have to draw the line somewhere. If supreme spiritual power is, and has been wielded by virtue of the penis (the sedina stercoraria –or the popes historical testicular tester comes to mind here) then its time for an explanatory revelation – from a woman would be my preference.
Those painful and confounding gendered renderings that have me culturally subject in a patriarchal system, are in stark contrast to the searing vision I have of holiness and sanctification as something that stands apart from the sensitive (excuse the pun) issue of genitalia.
One’s use of ones genitalia has spiritual implications and the practice of restraint and pubic governance over one’s personal members, I believe, has a divine origin. But the notion that the possession of one genital form ipso facto becomes a justification for hogging the right of all ecclesiastical affairs is both absurd and incongruous and to my mind more a Western cultural legacy than the will of God.
Does this mean that I am in favour of woman’s ordination. Of course it does. But I’m inclined to believe that female ordination is merely a means to an end – the end being a religious organization whose offering to humanity heals rather than divides, elevates rather than subjugates, privileges scriptural exegesis over cultural conservatism, restores the sex balance to its rightful and divine place, and more importantly is not deathly afraid of the extraordinary, glorious and frightening power of its women.