An Open Letter to the Ex-Mormon Men About Sexism

An Open Letter to the Ex-Mormon Men About Sexism January 29, 2021

I know, I know. It would be better for me to just stay in my place, but I have to say one more thing about the sexism in ex-Mormon communities. I recently talked about this on Facebook and experienced some pretty intense pushback in some ex-Mormon spaces.

It’s clear Mormon feminists have lost ground in our online spaces in the last four years. I guess the ex-Mormon community likes us when we are poking the church in the eye, but not when we are trying to grow out of the environment we experienced in the church.

**Mo-Fems, please plug your ears and hold me. I need to talk to the men for a minute. I know some of you think that I am too nice or accommodating to our men. I am able to afford some grace toward them because I truly believe there are good dudes out there, trying to move on and unpack harmful thinking. I appreciate them. I feel for their own challenges. I appreciate the support many of them have given me.

I do want to thank those men who do try hard to validate our experiences, our work, our voices. Thank you for walking with us in rooting out the things that are hurting us.

To the rest of you- I’m astounded by SO many comments that say, “I don’t see sexism in the ex-Mormon community.” To those I would ask, What do you think sexism is?

footprints in snow on Utah mountain

I want to believe our men are good because there are so many Mormon men that I love. It might not feel like it but I dedicate my work to all of you: men, women and everyone in between. If you are Mormon, you are mine. For better or worse. If you are ex-Mormon, you are mine. We all shared experiences together with a common hope, and much of that hope still lingers. It just takes different forms now.

To me, some of the hope has come in the resilience of Mormon and ex-Mormon women. And yes, the courage of the men that walk with us.

Some of you, though, have abandoned us in the last several years. You know who you are: the guys that sympathized with us during Ordain Women or Wear Pants to Church. You called us brave, remember? You believed in us then, but you stopped listening. You  started taking counsel from men like Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, and all those other dudebros out there that want to exonerate you from your sexism.  I’m sure their messages resonate with you. Someone is finally speaking to your pain and giving an explanation for it. I wonder how healthy it all is, though, since happy people can hold space for the pain of others. It seems so many of you can’t do that for women who talk about experiencing sexism.

 

It’s not real because you’ve deemed it so.

I want to believe that, because your pain isn’t being heard by itself, you need to deny ours. Maybe it’s a scarcity thing. I know really, really well—on a cellular level—what rejection feels like. The pain and forsaking that you feel from family members and friends, I’ve shared that with you, in very significant and agonizing ways. I hold all the space for that pain. I work hard to change things so that hurt is not replicated. I honor it and acknowledge that you’ve been hurt.

But we are not all hurt in the same ways. My trans friends carry wounds I have avoided. My LGBTQ+ friends will suffer in ways I can’t speak to. My black Mormon friends have a very specific kind of wound that I will never have to endure. My friends of color, especially our native friends, carry generational wounds that are more real and more gaping than I will ever, ever know. So, too, do those of us who lived as women in Mormonism.

It is real. Our pain does not diminish your pain. But men, you have to hear me on this: you were part of our pain. Most of you didn’t ask to be. Most of you didn’t even choose to be. It doesn’t mean, though, that you weren’t. The system demanded it.

I don’t hold it against you for it then, anymore. You were doing your best, most of you. But I have to hold it against those still doing it now, claiming to be more enlightened since leaving Mormonism. Especially when I find myself in its wake.  As a part of MY healing and progress as a woman that grew up in Mormonism, it’s important that I speak this stuff out loud.  I don’t claim to do it perfectly but at least I am trying.

I know that nobody likes hearing this. I mean, I don’t like it when my racism is pointed out to me. I don’t want to be racist. I want to be kind and good. I want to have a redemptive path for my mistakes.

I know that Mormon feminist theory can feel like it offers no redemption for men. After all, you didn’t choose this either, and you suffer specific wounds from the pressure of hierarchical power. You suffer the emotional wounds from patriarchy. From the unforgiving culture that taught you that you might be a god someday, but then consistently showed you how you were unworthy to be one. You were abused and brutalized. Many of you (more than are speaking out) have been sexually abused. You’ve been raped and molested, too. Some of you suffer from eating disorders and mental illness because of it. You are still surviving trauma. You, too, know what unrighteous dominion feels like.  So you leave. But in exMormonism, you’ll never get to be a god again. I bet there’s some grieving to be done with that. 

For those who didn’t experience extreme harm, you still had pain. Mostly you just learned to blunt down your emotions until most of it lived as quiet rage, simmering in your chest.

And there is so much more that I can’t speak to, because I just don’t know it, but I do listen when you tell me about it. I believe you. I believe you when you said your wives put pressure on you, that you hated the pressure of supporting the family, that you felt shame from your sexual desires and expression. It’s not fair. You didn’t deserve that.

But please listen: neither did we. Mormon feminists exist because of some pretty specific wounds. Many of us have been brought together and formed community around feminist ideals because they speak to our experiences. Much of what we talk about comes from ideas formed from generations of strong Mormon women who know these wounds.

Listen, sometimes we are still not healthy either. Many of us, too, are surviving our wounds and can’t give too much space for the pain of others. Are Mormon women perfect when they leave the church? How could we be?  Most of us carry with us our racial biases, our gender biases, our shame, our panic, our fear. ExMormon women often have bad sexual boundaries, bad emotional boundaries, and all sorts of other problems. Where would we have learned healthy ones? Racism is a huge issue in our communities. Transphobia is pervasive. Scarcity is a scourge. 

Most women I know are in therapy trying to sort through those and hold themselves accountable. These are the kind of people I try to spend time with. The ones working on their end of things. I am one of them too. When I know better, I do better and I’m sorry if I hurt you when I didn’t know better.  

There are also some ex-Mo women who claim they don’t see sexism. That feels frustrating. The truth of this systemic stuff is, no one escapes it. You just adapt to it. I don’t hold it against women who do this, though. I understand. I know about diminishing the sexism because it’s what I did. I dismissed other women. If I had to admit that their pain was real, then I would have to acknowledge that sometimes our men behave badly. And if I did that, then I would have to contend with all the ways those men have hurt me. I wasn’t ready to do that for a long time, and when I finally did, it hit me like a painful flood. All the times I’ve endured the shitty jokes, the over-talking, the dismissing, the grabbing without asking, and on and on. All the times they wanted to put me in my place. From men that I love and have loved.

ExMormon men who believe that this deeply-rooted bigotry magically disappears, need to stop mocking seer stones on reddit. That’s not how this work goes. It’s doesn’t evaporate into the ether on its own. It lingers.

Leaving the church does not equal healing. Leaving is not healing. It might be part of it, but it’s only the beginning, a small piece of the journey. 

Instead of hearing our stories and being so careless with them, you know what I really wish you Mormon men would do? Help us hold it for a while. It’s heavy.

I know you feel that when we speak up about it means that we are rejecting you. We are not. We are showing some faith in you, that you can hear it. That you can apologize and change. That you will work on your issues. I know plenty of strong ex-Mormon men that do this. They cause pain, and they try to make amends. To me that is what true power and true worth operates as: empathy.

Give yourself some space to be a little messed up after leaving Mormonism. Why wouldn’t you be a little screwed up after all of this? How is that you think you’ve transcended all the harm while so many of us are still working through ours, all these years later? Maybe you were lucky, but mostly (read: likely) it’s too painful for you to sit with. No one wants to be the bad guy, but here’s the thing: we were Mormons, which means we’ve all been bad guys in the name of god. If never individually (which I doubt), then certainly systemically. 

I wish that you would have the moral courage to be vulnerable with other men for once and be honest about yourselves. Not just about your rage, but about the impact of that rage, about how your emotional hurt spills onto ours. Too many women are the victim of your rage. Too many of us remain receptacles for your shame. Too many of us know what the hard hand of love feels like. Too many of us have been assaulted by some of you because you couldn’t help but want to feel power. We are speaking so you can know better. We are putting faith in you that you will do better.

Does that mean Mormon women can’t commit the same issues? Of course not. It just means it’s different. We would love to be able to talk about it, but you have to acknowledge our pain, too. I am acknowledging yours. Will you acknowledge ours?

Most of you don’t, or won’t. That is extremely hurtful. It feels like the same community rejection I feel for speaking out publicly. In it, you are rejecting my worth. Luckily, I’ve now learned my worth doesn’t come from you anymore, and honestly, I know that scares some of you.  But I’ve also endured enough rejection to know this: We don’t have to give up our heritage or community when we leave. Healthy connections and community can happen in the ex-Mormon world.

Still, healing in toxic spaces is hard. But it starts by acknowledging where the poison is first. I want more men in our communities that can heal with us like that.

 

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