Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Presiding: Its History Within My Marriage

(Pollock, Male and Female)

Long ago, when Mike and I were dating, the question of presiding came up as we sat in a hot tub in Provo. Even as a 21 year old, the concept didn’t sit well with me. It just didn’t jive with my own ideals of equality and true partnership. Mike understood where I was coming from, but proposed that perhaps presiding didn’t involve decision making, but that it instead had to do with ultimate responsibility. After we’re dead, he mused, it might just mean that the man, as the priesthood holder, would bear a greater responsibility if the family went off track.

A reasonable proposition, perhaps. But it made me feel nauseous. It was the only moment in our whole courtship where I thought we might not make it. How could a just God expect more from Mike than from me? How could a just God blame Mike more than me if our family went off track? How could a just God look at me as less than fully responsible for my own shortcomings? These were the questions I countered with, but nothing was resolved and I went away from the conversation feeling sick.

In the first couple years of our marriage, the ultimate responsibility argument seemed to drop out of the presiding discussion. Instead, Mike proposed that we refine the idea of preside to mean that Mike presided over certain religious ordinances. Though I hated the word, this made sense to me on some level and I reluctantly agreed.

Now we are seven years into our marriage, and I have entirely eliminated the idea that Mike presides over me in any way. Though Mike wouldn’t put it like that (he would say that he just has no idea what ‘preside’ means and therefore we act as equal partners), we are in practice on the same exact page. We are co-presiders, and it works beautifully for us.

There is no ultimate decision maker in our marriage. Instead we compromise or take turns when big decisions arise. There is no religious presider. Instead we decide together how religion functions in our home, and we try to make it egalitarian. We take turns asking our home teachers to pray, and we both took part in our baby’s blessing.

I sometimes joke that our co-presiding system is justified in the Proclamation. Aside from the equal partner emphasis, there is that important caveat “individual circumstances may vary.” And my individual situation is that I am personally revolted by the idea of my husband presiding over me.

I feel great about the way our co-presiding marriage works. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – so be it - but I still do take heart when I see other young married couples that have a similar dynamic. They may not articulate that they co-preside, but in practice I see them emphasizing the equal partner model, rather than the man-as-head-of-the-household model.

(cross posted at Exponentblog)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Orsen Scott Card, Toddler Reverence, and Gender Stereotyping

(cross posted at Exponentblog)
Our Sacrament Meetings have been pretty noisy lately. With 42 babies under two in the ward, that's to be expected. Our bishop has recently come into RS and EQ to talk about the noise level and how he wants people to start taking their children out more quickly. After he made this request, I actually thought things were getting better, but today the plot thickened.

This morning, our bishopric sent out a mass email to all its ward members entitled " Tips on How We Can Help Keep Our Meetings Reverent." The email linked to this Meridian article, written by Orsen Scott Card.

There are probably some very good tips in there. Maybe some of you with older children can weigh in on that. But.... wow. That's some strict parenting. My little toddler is 14 months now, and those tips - nominally for toddlers - could not possibly work for him. No food or drink? No interaction (does that include eye contact?) with people on other benches? I don't think so. But perhaps with two or three year olds these could work....?

In the article, the consequence of violating any of the rules is confinement. And this is the most questionable part for me. Card recommends that the FATHER take the child out and confine the child on his lap because

"The fact is that children respond differently to fathers. I don't know a mother who hasn't had the frustrating experience of pleading, arguing, yelling, begging, threatening, even bribing to get a child to do something, only to have the father come in, speak once, and immediately get the obedience that the mother could not get no matter what she did.

The youngest infants respond differently to their father's voice. They turn to their mother for comfort. What they crave from their father is judgment. They fear their father's disapproval; they long for their father's praise. This means that an ounce of discipline from the father can be more effective than pounds of it from the mother, though this varies from child to child. "

Whoa there! What just happened here? Does anyone know if there's any recent research to support claims like this?

I'm uncomfortable by the way he's playing into gender stereotypes. The picture he's painting of the stern, no nonsense, dad and the frantic ineffective mom is pretty extreme. I also question the idea that infants invariably turn to their mothers for comfort and their dads for judgment. And of course, I have problems with the idea that just because I'm a woman my pounds of discipline are going to be negligible compared to Mike's masculine ounce.

But I do freely admit that I my issues with Card's family portrait are based more on principle than experience. I never had a dad growing up, and E's too little to discipline yet.... So I'd love to know how you all feel about his reverence tips and about his stereotypical description of men and women as parents. Does this description ring true to you? How do the discipline dynamics work in your family?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Handing my baby over and feeling great about it

(Cross posted at Exponentblog)
I love my baby more than anything. He’s adorable and funny, and if something ever happened to him, I would be destroyed. But boy do I look forward to getting away from him every day.

Ever since I started teaching school part time in the fall, I’ve been struck by how happy I am to hand him over to Mike (twice a week) and babysitters (three times a week) so that I can go off for four hours to do my thing. What can I say? E’s a doll, but he’s also a whiney kid who is much happier when he has people other than me to look at.

So every weekday at noon, I gladly hand him over. I have no worries about his well being. I have the best babysitters in the world, including my mom, my sister in law, and a neighborhood friend. I know E. has a great time when he’s playing with these babysitters’ kids.

I love the fact that I get to step away from my baby for a few hours a day and interact with a different group of people. Not only do I get the stimulation of using a whole different part of my brain, but I also get to see (sometimes) how much it means to certain students when I tell them how smart they are and what great people they are. I really feel like I have the best of both the parenting world and the working world.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Letter to an old friend I haven't talked to for 2 years

Hi _________! That is so exciting about getting published. Very, very cool. When it's out, let me know so I can buy a copy. What is the book about? And sorry to hear about your last pregnancy. That sounds absolutely Awful. I can't even imagine what it must be like to have to go through labor when there's no baby at the end of it all.

Life for me is good as well. Evan is 14 months now. Very very cute, but very very bad. Into everything, whiney, etc. It's a good thing he's so attractive and has such a cute smile, or I'd just chuck him out the window. Things have actually gotten better since I started teaching part time in the fall. He was driving me insane over the summer, so it's actually become a relief to get away from him for a few hours a day. I have also discovered the wonders of the local gym. Babysitting for $1.50 an hour while I get to work out in the morning. It's awesome. Though sadly I'm still chunky. (Lesson learned: never gain 60 lbs when you're pregnant.)

But overall, this year of motherhood has been a great experience. I've decided I like babies, even whiney ones, so I'm sort of planning on having three kids. This is a big leap for me. I never envisioned having more than two. And sometimes when my maternal juices are really flowing, I envision taking in foster kids, or adopting more kids, or maybe even having 4 of my own. Yikes! I'm trying to get pregnant again. My philosphy is to get this baby bearing over with ASAP.

I love the fact that you have this great creative outlet in your writing. I don't work on anything as serious as books, but I too have found a lot of satisfaction in writing. I'm a founder of the Exponent II blog, which is a site for progressive Mormon women. It's been fun to put up personal essays every couple of weeks and get feedback from everyone on my ideas. And to make all sorts of cool Mormon women friends in the cyber world. Sometimes, I even get personal emails from some of these women that read my stuff, thanking me for helping them stay in the Church by giving them a new way to look at a topic, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

But anyway, I'm still trying to figure out how everything will shake out for me professionally and personally. It looks like we'll probably be staying in Irvine for the rest of our lives. But I'm not convinced that high school teaching is really what I'm meant to do. I'm actually flirting with the idea of going back to grad school again. There's a great program in Women and Religion in Claremont which I'm thinking of applying to at some point. But it's a question of timing. Now, while I'm still in the child bearing phase, or later when they are older? Still unsure how it will all work out and even if that's the career path I'm supposed to be following in this life. Luckily Mike is supportive of me doing whatever I need to do to be happy and fulfilled.

Good luck with alll your writing, and to _____ with finishing up his school. Exciting that you guys are almost done with school. Any ideas where you might end up? Keep in touch!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Eleanor Roosevelt

"When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?" Eleanor Roosevelt

From the Writers' Almanac:

It's the birthday of (Anna) Eleanor Roosevelt, born in New York City (1884), who grew up feeling plain and boring compared to her beautiful, fashionable mother. She said, "I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth."But one day on a train to visit her grandmother, she happened to bump into her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They started a secret courtship and got married in 1905.

The Roosevelts' marriage nearly ended in 1918, when Eleanor found out FDR had been having an affair with a secretary. They agreed not to divorce, but after that Eleanor grew increasingly independent. She developed her own ideas about politics, joined the Women's Trade Union League and the League of Women Voters. When FDR was elected president in 1932, she helped institute regular White House press conferences for female correspondents only, which forced many news organizations to hire women for the first time.

She toured the country during the Great Depression togive her husband a firsthand account of how people were doing, and she was a supporter of civil rights before her husband was. In 1936, she started asyndicated newspaper column called "My Day," and after her husband died in 1945, she became a delegate to theUnited Nations and helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I'm some old woman's angel

Today I was getting my car washed. For the first time in 3 years. Quite a disgusting task for those poor guys that had to vacuum my rugs.

While I was waiting, an old lady came into the waiting room crying. Apparently she had just had her car washed and when she got into it to drive away, it wouldn't start. She was convinced that the car washers had done something to mess up her car. She talked to the manager and was very upset when he said there was nothing he could do to help her.

I felt bad. This was a really really old lady. So I went up and offered to give her a ride home. She was grateful, and we had a very nice chat as we rode back. She loved my bumper stickers and talked about all of her interfaith activities. Weirdly, she is actually a former Mormon. As I dropped her off, she told me I was her angel.

Wow. I feel all warm and fuzzy because I got to be someone's angel today. That hardly ever happens.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Mike: How was Brooke's last night? You didn't get in until really late.
Me: It was fun. It was really cool to be around people that watch TV together, laugh together, enjoy each other's company...
Mike: Are you trying to tell me something?
Me: Yes.

The upshot: After some discussion of my perception of the crappiness of our marriage because we don't watch TV together, hang out together, or - let's face it - have much in common, Mike has agreed to watch The Office with me every week. He has also decided that we should try to have some kind of date night every week or two. Yay!