If Your Sexual Thoughts Were Like My Asthma

When my mother was at BYU in the 70′s, her bishop came into Relief Society and explained to the college-aged women that they were not dressing modestly enough. Why? Because their knee-length and calf-length skirts were baring their ankles and making it difficult for the men in their ward to control their thoughts. I’m talking about the 1970′s, not the 1870′s.

If you’re Mormon, or simply know Mormons, you’ve probably heard a lot about modesty and the way it’s taught. And if you’re like me, you’re probably sick of rehashing the same points again and again. But this topic keeps coming up because current Mormon culture holds women responsible for things they are not doctrinally responsible for, while encouraging us to judge women who dress “immodestly.” While I’ve never heard advice as extreme as in my mother’s story, I have heard counsel and firsthand anecdotes that paint just as unfair a depiction of male agency and female responsibility for male sexuality. Here are just a few:

An ex-boyfriend chided me when I bent over and my shirt rode up, revealing part of my lower back. He said I’d made it hard to control his thoughts and that if I’d been endowed I’d have been disrespecting the temple garment. He asked me to wear long tank tops underneath my shirts. I pointed out that he always let the neckline of his garments show. To which he replied, “I’m not wearing an undershirt over my garments. That would be ridiculous.”

In a lesson I attended on modesty, a woman said that if men could so much as make out the outline of a bra strap through the fabric of her shirt, they wouldn’t be capable of hearing a word a woman said.

A woman I know was told she could not go over to a friend’s house while that friend’s 19-year-old brother was home. Why? The brother was fighting a pornography addiction, so he couldn’t see real-life women he found attractive, no matter how they dressed.

Clearly, we have a long way to go.  There are already many posts and articles in the bloggernacle that effectively break down the problems inherent to our current approach to modesty. But at the end of the day, my fellow feminist writers have not convinced all men, boys, and parents of boys, that their thoughts toward attractive women are their own responsibility.

So, with all respect for those pieces, I’m going to take a different approach. I’m going to describe my own struggles with the way that others’ attire at church impacts me and the steps I take to manage that impact. You see, I have allergy-induced asthma. In the past, my asthma has occasionally been an issue at church, for instance when overzealous relief society sisters all wore buckets of perfume. But it really became an issue when I moved into a congregation with high baptism rates. Every week, there are investigators. Some of them come to church smelling very strongly of cigarette smoke, strong enough that it sets off my asthma.

Few things set off my asthma like fresh or stale cigarette smoke. When my asthma is set off, things get rough. Fortunately it’s not life-threatening in my case, but it is miserable. Just sitting near someone who has recently been smoking causes my nasal passages to swell shut and the airway muscles to contract, leaving me with little oxygen. I get dizzy, I get lightheaded, I struggle to focus. And the symptoms continue for hours after that exposure.

So I know what it’s like to have a problem that interferes with your life and distracts you everywhere you turn. I walk into a room with lots of perfume, and I immediately feel my airway passage constrict. I walk down the street, and car fumes get to me. And it’s tough to go to church, one place where I’ve usually been able to stay away from cigarette fumes, and have this issue to deal with. How can I teach a lesson when I can’t breathe or focus? How can I be a good member missionary when I can’t sit anywhere near a smoker investigating the church, or a member who has faith but is fighting a smoking addiction?

But at the end of the day, I would never dream of approaching someone and telling them not to come to church without scrubbing away that smell. Why not? Because their salvation is important, and I refuse to interfere with it. And I have no idea what those investigators’ situations are. Maybe they live with others who smoke in the house, and that’s the smoke I smell. Maybe they’re trying to quit and attending church is helping them. Maybe smoking is one area of their life they haven’t decided to change (and we all have an area like that, even if it’s not one that shows up in temple recommend interviews), but they’re still drawn to the truth in the Gospel of Christ. Whatever the reason, I don’t want to drive them away from the church.

But I’m still affected by their actions, just as many faithful members feel impacted by how others dress. So I take responsibility for my own body and do what I need to in order to minimize the way others’ smoky attire impacts me: I take my allergy medication; I bring gum to church, which helps minimize mild allergy symptoms; I keep my inhaler on hand so that I can use it if I need to. And no, I don’t generally sit right next to someone who smells strongly of smoke. And if I really, truly need to, I leave the building for a bit to get some fresh air. But I do all of this without criticizing others, either to their face or behind their back.

Why would I criticize someone who doesn’t seem to follow the standards I was raised in? I’d rather rejoice that they want to take part in the Gospel.

If you’re attracted to women and you’ve spent years in the church, then I understand that seeing a woman’s bare shoulders or a bit of cleavage (or a bit of her lower back) may feel shocking enough that you struggle to control your thoughts. And I recognize that psychological struggles can be just as challenging as physical ones. So I’m not going to dismiss you as a pervert for struggling. Instead, I’m asking of you the same thing I ask of myself when someone’s attire interferes with my ability to breathe: take precautions to care for yourself, without judging the person whose attire is impacting you.




Diary of a Single Mormon Female: A Review

Few people are brave enough to publish their diary, and yet that is what Aleesa Sutton has done in Diary of a Single Mormon Female. Starting with a recent singles adult activity that Sutton jokingly describes as a savanna, full of competing lionesses but low on prey (I’ll just note that I’ve met many desperate-for-marriage LDS men, so I do not support this stereotype), Sutton then retraces the steps that have brought her to where she is today:

“Mormon and still single at the ripe old age of thirty-two,” Sutton explains, “I am more or less a failure and disgrace to my religion. Well, that’s not actually true. But that’s often how it feels.”

By the end of the book Sutton’s perspective has shifted from the lovesick little girl who first wrote in a diary, to a woman who recognizes the nuance and complexity of a goal that once seemed as simple as saying “yes” to dates. As honest and brave as some of Sutton’s journal entries are, I find myself most interested in the recommendations she makes for ways that we can develop a more supportive church culture, especially for singles.

“There are a lot of singles slipping through the cracks,” she points out. “I wonder if so many would if they knew they were seen and cared about by the members of their wards.”

It’s no secret that many single members slip through the cracks. It’s the reason bishops and stake presidents sometimes cite for requiring single members who have not served missions to wait until they turn 25 before receiving their endowment: if you’re single you’re more likely to leave, and if you leave we’d rather you leave without making this covenant, the logic goes.

In other cases, marriage seems to be the accepted solution to singles leaving the church.  And in the quest to marry off its singles, the church goes to some admittedly great lengths. While singles wards and singles branches sound commonplace to those within the faith, I find friends outside the faith surprised when I describe how entire congregations are organized around marital status.

While the singles ward structure may work for those who stay in those wards for a few years and then marry and move on, is it truly the best long-term congregation for those of us who don’t marry young, or for those who have divorced? Church policy attempts to alleviate the problem by allowing singles to choose a family ward instead if they prefer, but in many regions family wards essentially shove singles out the door.

When I moved to a new state for grad school, for instance, every member I met at the family ward I wanted to attend either asked why I wasn’t attending the student branch or even told me that I should be attending that branch, as if the decision were not my own. No matter how well they meant, or how much I’ve come to love that student branch, I felt unwelcome. So like Aleese Sutton, I wonder if there’s more that we can do within church culture to make all people feel welcome, especially singles.

It’s an issue I’ve written about before, with my own recommendations, but I appreciate the simplicity of Sutton’s request for members of family wards to simply remember to talk to singles. To say ‘hi’ to singles and sit next to them, and even invite them over for dinner on occasion.  In short, to treat singles like fellow children of God.






Why Mormon Feminism Should Be About Men Too

Anyone who has spent time in a feminist Mormon housewives discussion forum knows how frequently arguments break out over whether a new member has mansplained. So when I saw that the fMh blog had published an article addressed exclusively to wannabe male feminists, I hoped they would publish advice to help new members avoid these miscommunications. Instead, Reese Dixon managed to produce one of the most sexist and narrow-minded articles I’ve yet to see from a contemporary Mormon feminist.

In the article Dixon offers a list of advice for male feminists, most of which boils down to one repeated phrase: it’s not about you. Whether the issue is domestic violence or sexual violence, Dixon argues, it’s not about men. It’s about women. But is that really the message we want to send to new feminists?

Don’t get me wrong – I understand why Dixon wrote the article, and some of her advice is good for anyone who is new to a discussion, especially for a new member whose privilege can blind them to the issues the group is fighting. And I’ve heard unmerited complaints of feminist sexism too. But most of those complaints come from the kind of miscommunication that happens when a person is new to a discussion and doesn’t understand the group dynamics.

So here’s my advice to any new feminist, particularly feminists who happen to be male:

1. First and Foremost, Listen.

When I first encountered the Womanist movement, which focuses on issues that impact women of color, I felt just as hurt as many men feel when they’re new to feminism. Womanist articles seemed to generalize unfairly about white people, and I felt like nothing I said was interpreted the way I meant it. And yeah, it was tempting to storm off and write off womanism altogether. But here’s what I did instead: I listened. I followed womanist blogs and read womanist articles for two years, without commenting. I just read. By the end of those two years, I understood that complaints about “whiteness” weren’t about me as an individual. And I understood why claiming “but I’m color blind; I don’t see race” was a sign of ignorance, not of superiority. And I understood how to enter the conversation.

I’m not saying you should take two years before speaking up online, but just keep in mind that the internet can make even neutral comments sound like rage, so it’s a really good idea to take at least two months to observe the conversation before you jump in.


2. Discuss Male Victimhood, with Sincerity.

Some of the best and worst advice from Dixon’s piece shows up in the same paragraph. On the topic of male victimhood, she says:

“So in a conversation about sexual harassment, quell the impulse to relate issues of male victimhood. It can happen, but with no where NEAR the frequency of female victimhood. So stop derailing the conversation.”

The problem with this advice is that men have every right to discuss male victimhood within a feminist setting. In fact, I think we need to spend more time talking about male victimhood.  Why?

  • Because sexual assault is sexual assault, and it’s wrong no matter who it happens to.
  • Because studies show that male victims of sexual assault have trauma that is compounded by the fallacious stereotype that sexual assault only happens to women.
  • Because male victims of sexual assault are more likely to be victimized by other men, and feminists know what it’s like to be victimized by powerful men.
  • Because there is no other movement as widespread as the feminist movement that does address how men are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

When female feminists attempt to shut down discussions of male victimhood, we aggravate a very real problem and only feed into the cult of masculinity, which posits that men are strong and aggressive and rarely victims. Most feminists I know are highly aware of this issue and very willing to champion male victims. To any female feminists who are lagging behind on this one: time to catch up


3. Open Conversations, Instead of Closing Them.

One of the most important things to remember if you’re new to a social movement, is that one person’s victimhood does not negate that of another. So before bringing up an example of how men have been victims of women, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “what am I trying to accomplish?”

Hint: if the answer is, “convince women that their trauma is insignificant,” you should probably just back away from the computer and take a breather. If you’re trying to add to the conversation, however, and open it up further, try to make that clear. Remember, most people in the discussion don’t know you, so they lack context to guess your intentions.


4. Pay Attention to Who’s Talking.

There are two pieces of advice in Dixon’s post that I’m 100% behind. The first is that you should never assume that being a feminist gives you the right to touch women without their consent. The second? That it’s a good idea to watch how much you’re talking, and back off a little if men are starting to dominate the discussion.

Why do I agree with Dixon here? Well, numerous studies have found that even when they are the minority in a group, American men have a tendency to start taking over the conversation. It’s not intentional in most cases, and even women don’t usually notice. In fact, if you ask most people who talks more in a group, many will likely say “women” based on stereotypes about so-called chatty Cathy’s. But this problem is easily resolved when men occasionally take stock of how often they’re talking.


5. Please, do not Mansplain.

What exactly is mansplaining? It is not, as some feminists (male and female) occasionally think, simply speaking up on gender while you happen to be male. It’s coming into a conversation about gender and trying to correct all the silly feminists who have everything wrong and only need to “hear things from a man’s perspective.” I’ve seen all sorts of men do it, and they usually have awesome intentions, but here’s the thing: feminists are generally much more familiar with that generic “man’s perspective” which the mansplainer is offering than he is with theirs. So, please don’t mansplain.


6. Clarify when Criticized.

No matter how well you put the last five tips into action, there will come a time when someone will think you’re derailing a conversation, or mansplaining, or ignorant, etc. etc. The same goes for me when I’m in a conversation about womanism. And on the occasion when that happens, the best thing to do is clarify and perhaps apologize for the misunderstanding. Not necessarily because you’re at fault while the other person is blameless – just because saying, “Sorry for the confusion. What I meant with that last comment…” does a lot more to open the conversation than blowing up ever will.


Bottom line: come to the feminist conversation, listen carefully, and join in thoughtfully.




The Nuance of Prejudice: Why Paula Deen’s Racism Terrifies Us

With such strong allegations against Paula Deen, and in light of her own botched attempts at an apology, it’s hard to believe that anyone would not consider her decisions racist. In addition to using a racial slur which is itself a product of centuries of hatred and abuse against African Americans, Deen is condemned by the wedding she attempted to plan and a history of making racially insensitive remarks.

Yet, despite all the evidence of Deen’s racism, the majority of participants in a recent poll maintained that Deen is not, in fact, racist.

Those who defend Deen have maintained that she simply slipped up and shouldn’t lose her career for using one offensive word. Of course, there’s much more to the story than that. And perhaps telling a man that nobody could see him if he stood near a blackboard could be seen as a thoughtless remark. But it takes some strong racism to plan a plantation-style wedding that demeans black male waiters, in a tribute to slavery and Jim Crow era traditions.

So why do so many Americans insist on defending her?

When popular culture excuses deplorable behavior, it’s tempting to dismiss the reaction as ignorance, but I think there’s something deeper at play here. I don’t think very many Americans want to see Deen as racist. It’s the same issue that prevented reporters from recognizing the grave crime committed by the Steubenville rapists. After all, who wants to see a seventeen-year-old athlete as a rapist?

Learning that someone we love and admire has done something cruel can be terrifying. Perhaps we wonder if we’re guilty by association, if enjoying Chris Brown’s music is akin to supporting domestic violence, or if watching The Pianist means we’re supporting a rapist. And sometimes that question of guilt by association is so terrifying that we simply refuse to see the individual’s guilt.

But here’s why I think that fear is misplaced: it’s based on a false binary of good people and bad people. If we believe in that false binary, we believe that there are good people and then there are racist people, and so holding Paula Deen accountable for racist remarks seems like admitting that she’s a 100% bad person. That all her charisma and charm and any good work she’s done in her life cease to carry weight in the grand scheme of things.

And if we see the world through that binary, isn’t it hard to look at 17-year-old rapists and admit what they’ve done? Nobody wants to take someone so young and label them as evil.

So that false binary is precisely what we need to move away from. Moving away from this binary can be frightening. It’s frightening to admit that people who do cruel things have good in them too and that people who do good things also have moments when they say and do something cruel. It’s frightening because it means admitting that despite God’s promise that we’ll be able to tell good from evil, the tool of discernment is usually less like a GPS and more like a compass.

Using a compass takes practice.

And it’s frightening because it means accepting the truth when you learn that someone in your ward abuses their family, or when you learn that a famous church member is involved in a tax evasion scandal, or that the Church sometimes make cost-effective decisions that nevertheless hurt those it employs.

But seeing the nuance in people and organizations also means seeing the truth. It means learning to be flexible when winds of doubt or anger pummel you, so that you don’t break. And – perhaps best of all – it means finding beauty in even tragic circumstances.



Mormon Affect as Seen in Tap Dancing Missionaries and Laughing Robots

Turn it Off,” one of The Book of Mormon Musical’s most catchy and popular songs, provides a clear example of recent representations of Mormons in popular culture. The musical focuses on the story of two nineteen-year-old Mormon missionaries who travel to Uganda to proselytize and who quickly discover a world that is more complex than their upbringing and their missionary training have led them to expect. In “Turn it Off,” a more experienced missionary attempts to cheer up the elders (as male Mormon missionaries are referred to) by suggesting that negative emotions should simply be destroyed. While the song’s central focus is on the story of a young man who is denying his own homosexuality, the missionary applies the basic formula of “turn it off/ like a light switch” to any negative emotion, from grief to discouragement to fear. As a representation of Mormon culture, the song aptly sums up a common conception of Mormon missionaries who act outwardly happy-go-lucky, while internally refusing to acknowledge their unhappiness.

Similar depictions resurfaced during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, as entertainers compared Romney to a robot and joked that he might be an alien. Jimmy Fallon notably developed an impersonation of Romney that involves a mirthless pronunciation of “ha ha ha” to represent an emotionless creature pretending to laugh. Caricatures of Romney as distant from organic emotions echoed BOMM’s perception of Mormons as emotionally-inhibited: in each instance, a fictional rendering of a Mormon attempts to give the impression of happiness while simultaneously ignoring or suppressing negative emotions. The characters share the same aim and only differ in terms of where they succeed. Where BOMM’s missionaries succeed in creating a convincingly happy front, their inability to “pretend hard enough,” as one character chastises, reveals the private sorrow that they have failed to eradicate. “Turn it Off” transforms the happy-go-lucky demeanor of the Mormon elder into false bravado and a heart-breaking attempt at denying the sorrows of life. Comedic depictions of Romney, on the other hand, suggest a man who has already succeeded at denying negative emotions but at the cost of positive emotions too. As an affectless robot or alien, the comedic vision of Romney repeatedly attempts and fails to create the illusion of happiness. In essence, this version of Romney is a successfully repressed Mormon but a failed happy-go-lucky Mormon.

Mormon culture and theology provide some support for the image of Mormons as outwardly happy-go-lucky but internally emotionally inhibited, though the reality is much more complex. In the United States, one widely-documented Ensign article from 1978 contributes to the culture “Turn it Off” mocks.  Based on conversations with college-aged Mormons, Don Norton created a list of feelings and thoughts likely to occur while a member felt the Spirit and contrasted it with a list of feelings and thoughts likely to occur while a member did not feel the Spirit. The first list, “when you have the Spirit” emphasizes positive affect with items such as, “You feel happy, calm, and clear-minded, you feel generous… you are eager to be with people and want to make them happy… you are glad when others succeed,” and “you feel confident and are glad to be alive.” Even items in the list that discussed thoughts did so in affective terms: “You think about the Savior often and lovingly. You want to know him better.” Norton’s list surpasses orthodoxy and raises ortho-affect as a goal, where positive feelings are evidence of a person’s righteousness and closeness to God.

Norton’s contrasting list, “When you don’t have the Spirit,” mirrors the first list but in negative terms, with items such as, “You feel unhappy, depressed, confused, and frustrated. You feel possessive, self-centered, or resentful… you are easily offended… you don’t want to [perform church duties],” and “you feel discouraged easily and wonder if life is really worth it.” Norton’s list generalizes emotions into two categories that most contemporary Mormons recognize as an inaccurate representation of human experience, and his list even stands in contrast with Book of Mormon descriptions of God’s people as those who “are willing to mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9). Yet the article gained such popularity with American Mormons that 35 years later, it occasionally appears in youth groups and Sunday school lessons. While Norton’s lists do not accurately represent the human reality of Mormon affective experience, they represent a cultural current in Mormonism that aims for perpetual positive affect, a current that assumes unhappiness is a sign of sin.

On a theological and doctrinal level, Mormonism actually approaches affect in complicated terms. For Mormons, affect is both essential to faith and the reason why humans have bodies. The Pearl of Great Price, a book of Mormon scripture, describes two parts to God’s creation: spiritual and physical, stating: “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth” (Moses 3:5). This belief in a premortal existence hinges on the assumption that bodies are eternally necessary. While some Christian sects view the body as an obstacle between the soul and God, Mormonism defines a soul as a spirit that is joined to a body: God and Jesus both possess bodies, while Satan and his followers only possess spirits. The body is not just important to Mormon theology, but pivotal – particularly because of the connection between affect and the body. The Book of Mormon interprets The Fall as a positive and necessary step in God’s plan, stating: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). Mormons take this verse to mean that Adam and Eve chose to the leave Eden in order to have children and that humans are born in order to gain bodies, which enable them to feel joy. Based on this interpretation, positive affect is seen as the purpose of mortal life, as well as the purpose of life after death, when Mormons believe that all who have died will gain an immortal body.

While Mormon theology establishes joy as the purpose of existence, it also maintains the importance of misery. In the same passage of scripture that defines joy as the purpose of life, misery is described as its necessary counterpart. The passage argues that if Adam and Eve had not fallen, “they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery” (2 Ne. 2:23). This passage still elevates joy over misery, which is only mentioned as necessary for knowing joy; yet it complicates the “Turn it Off” image of Mormonism as a faith that teaches the suppression of negative emotions. Despite the cultural current fueled by Norton’s list, Mormon theology requires members to experience negative affect in order to fulfill the purpose of their existence and know joy.


Mormon women and the priesthood of God

The first time I was asked to teach Sunday School, I was petrified. Though I’d grown up with a mother who teaches for a living, surrounded by other family members who were interested in teaching in one form or another, I’d never considered myself a teacher and didn’t imagine I could be at all effective in that role.

The joke is that since then I’ve fallen in love with teaching and am in fact a teacher by profession, but I’ve never forgotten how frightening and difficult that first teaching experience can be. At the time, I was team-teaching the Sunday School class with someone else, and when we came upon a lesson about the priesthood, I was grateful that it was his week to teach. As a woman, I don’t hold the priesthood, and after growing up without anyone in my home holding the priesthood, I felt like I knew nothing about it and felt like I’d make a muddle of the manual’s lesson plan.

But when I tried to express my relief to my male co-teacher, a funny miscommunication occurred: “I’m so glad it was you teaching this week,” I said, “and not me, given the topic.” To which he responded, “Me too. I know you feel, as a feminist.” I’d never expressed any of my views on the topic with him, but knowing that I was a feminist, he assumed a) that I resented not holding the priesthood and b) that those feelings would make me unfit to teach a lesson on the topic.

It’s no secret that Mormon feminists tend to have strong feelings about The Church’s gender division when it comes to leadership in the church. It’s also no secret that the gender division is largely mediated by the question of who possesses the priesthood, and which roles and callings require a member who holds the Melchizedek priesthood (held by most adult men who are active in the church). But the way Mormon feminists approach this issue varies greatly from person to person, as one article pointed out last year, many Mormon feminists take moderate stances, looking for changes in church policy that do not require extending the priesthood to women.

I’m definitely among the moderate camp when it comes to Mormon women and the priesthood, but I still have strong feelings about the way members discuss the priesthood, and this past Sunday all those feelings resurfaced when I sat in yet another troubling Sunday School lesson about the priesthood. I want to make it clear before I continue that I’m not trying to criticize anyone in my current congregation, and in fact there were some really wonderful, inspiring, and interesting comments and questions mixed in with the issues that troubled me. Plus, I’m grateful to any teacher who tackles this topic, since it still intimidates me a little. But given that the standard Sunday School lesson manual has Mormon congregations all over the world covering that lesson in February, it seems like an opportune time for the Mormon feminist in me to talk about the way we talk about the priesthood.

1. The priesthood is not just for men, so let’s stop discussing it like it is. I know some of my fellow feminists will differ with me as to whether the priesthood is about men, but that’s not the type of discussion I’m critiquing: what I’m concerned about are all the times that, with excellent intentions, members nevertheless approach lessons with one take-away for men: you need to hold the priesthood, and an equally male-centered take-away for women: you need to encourage the men in your life to hold the priesthood. But as the church leaders make clear, “the blessings of the priesthood are available to all” (see Conclusion). If the point of the priesthood is service, then let’s focus on that aspect when we discuss its purpose in our life. Let’s all, male and female alike, share stories of times we’ve been blessed by the power of the priesthood, which is God’s power, not the power of men. And yeah, priesthood holders should probably also share stories about being able to bless others through the priesthood.

2. Men are not synonymous with the power of the priesthood, so let’s not use “priesthood” to refer to both concepts. Linguistically, there are reasons why we occasionally refer to the men who hold the priesthood as “the priesthood.” Linguistically, there is some precedence for using it that way, and I’m not going to deny that. BUT because we Mormons use that term to refer to God’s power, it is incredibly important that we not conflate the two. So please, if you’re in the habit of saying “the priesthood” as a general term for a group of Mormon men, STOP. We’ve all done it, I’m not judging, but let’s try a little of President Uchtdorf’s good old advice to STOP IT. Not convinced? Well, peruse the lesson manual and you’ll note that the church went to great lengths to use the term “faithful priesthood holders” when referring to the men who hold the priesthood. Let’s respect that distinction.

3. Priesthood is NOT the male counterpart to motherhood, so cut the “separate but equal” crap. As a feminist, I am actually okay with not having the priesthood in my mortal life. If President Monson announced tomorrow that the priesthood would be available to all faithful, worthy women, you can bet I’d rejoice. But I accept this current division of roles, on faith. What I’m not okay with is other people spouting silly speculation to explain this division, because the speculation itself tends to be hurtful to men and women alike. For instance, telling women that motherhood is their version of the priesthood is hurtful to all women who can’t have children yet, despite living a faithful life.

And it’s hurtful to men who are excellent fathers when we take fatherhood out of the equation. And when we say that men have the priesthood because without it they’d be lazy, or that they need it in order to grow close to God, while women are already there – that’s incredibly hurtful to men. So let’s just cut the speculative crap. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have thoughtful discussions on these roles, just that we need to stop presenting speculation as if it were doctrine.

4. Lessons should help us change and improve our own lives, so let’s make sure that when we’re assigned to teach lessons on the priesthood, we always come back to questions and comments that can relate directly to members’ own lives. In past congregations, I’ve been in some lessons where we spent all class diagramming hierarchies on the board. While I am not opposed to learning about the leadership hierarchy in the church and how it relates to the priesthood, those discussions do us no good if we don’t also discuss specific ways to apply that knowledge in our own lives. And no, “it’s just good to know” is not a specific application to anyone’s life. So teachers, if the church’s hierarchy is the one aspect of the manual’s lesson plan that you choose to focus on – you better have and communicate a very good reason.

5. Everything we study in church should be centered on the Savior and his Atonement. We all know that, but sometimes in the midst of a lesson we can forget. Well, we can’t afford to forget. So, no matter what sub-topics of the priesthood we choose to cover as teachers, and no matter what comments we choose to make as students, let’s take the time to ask ourselves what it has to do with the Savior. If what you’re teaching and saying is doctrine, I promise you, the connection is there – we simply might need to tease it out.