September 14, 2005
Male Mormon Feminists
At Sunstone this year, I attended a panel entitled "Advancing Feminist Sensibilities among Mormon Men." The abstract read
Why aren't there more visible and vocal male feminist voices within the Mormon community? The all-male panel will talk about their journeys toward becoming feminists, the challenges they face in maintaining feminist sensibilities in Mormon culture, and ideas they see for encouraging other Mormon men to take more active feminist stances. Audience discussion will follow.
The panel had four members, and I suspect it was rather hard to fill. One of the panelists was 30-something; one was 40-something; I'm guessing one was 50-something and I'm pretty sure the last was 60-something, so there was a decent range. All four panelists were still active participants in the church, though they might describe themselves as more or less devout.
I couldn't help but be thrilled that someone had wanted to put this panel together. I couldn't help but be thrilled that the topic was being discussed. I couldn't help but be thrilled that there are Mormon men who are willing to call themselves feminists.
All four men said interesting, valuable things. There was a lot of talk about how having a daughter broadened and deepened these men's appreciation of the challenges women face. They talked about a commitment to justice and a willingness to be proactive in their efforts to improve the lives of all women on the planet.
What they didn't talk about was sex.
The closest was a comment by John, the 30-something guy on the panel. He acknowledged that he still had work to do in perfecting his own feminist sensibilities, admitting, "I'm still guilty of lookism. I still objectify women."
John, I should mention, is a good friend of mine, someone I like and respect very much. We first met in 2003 when I chaired a panel called "World Religions 101: What Studying Other Faiths Has Taught Me about My Own." John's mother was a Japanese Buddhist, and John joined the Mormon church in high school. His comments were moving and profound–-among other things, he compared attending his grandfather's Buddhist funeral in Japan to helping with his father-in-law's Mormon funeral in the US.
I talked a little about Buddhism in my comments, mentioned how I was intrigued by the Buddhist concept of detachment. I stated,
The idea is that when we become too attached to people, objects, institutions or ways of doing things–-even the best people, the best objects, the best institutions and the best ways of doing things–-we sacrifice something of ourselves, some of our spiritual freedom, our intellectual clarity and our ability to live appropriately in the world. "What can I let go of?" I now ask myself. "How can I be less invested in things that don't really matter?" I myself am someone who can form emotional attachments to something as grand as the entire planet--and it seems obvious that one would, but I am amazed and outraged when I encounter people who say it doesn't matter that our current environmental practices are rendering the planet uninhabitable, because the world will be destroyed in the Second Coming anyway--and I can likewise become emotionally attached to things most people discard easily, like plastic bags (my current favorite being one from the gift shop of the British Library), so these are important questions for me.
This was one of the things John and I bonded over, because he also has a plastic bag fetish. In an email message he told me that his current favorite plastic bag was one from the Getty museum that he used "to carry books, lunch, exercise gear, and other spillover items that don't fit into his bursting-at-the-seams backpack."
The following summer, he and his family went to Paris. When he got back, he sent me a package, which included some very swanky tea samples from a Parisian tea shop, a poster of Shiva (my favorite deity), an antique postcard of Sacre Couer (which I display on the door of my office on campus) and a whole array of very cool plastic bags! There was one from a French grocery store and one from the UC Irvine bookstore and one really elaborate, fancy bag that once contained some Mac computer product. (I admit I am saving that last bag not out of product loyalty but just because it is so very fancy and cool.)
Anyway, all of this is to say that I really dig John. I've asked him to be on a panel every year since then and he always says such intelligent, insightful things. And when I heard him make that single, solitary, understated comment about the role sex played in Mormon men's relation to feminism, I thought, This is what is missing from this discussion.
Continued in Mormons, Male Feminists, and Sex.
Posted by holly at September 14, 2005 5:43 AM