04 June 2013

Worthless Gumshoe Cupcake

I just listened to this interesting LDS-centric discussion on how to teach youth about chastity without objectification or shaming implications: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/teaching-chastity.

It's great that there seems to be at least a clear consensus that Elizabeth Smart is not "guilty of consensual sex" (implication that "consensual sex" is something to "be guilty of" being another conversation). Yay for that. It wasn't long ago that she _would_ have been considered by many to be "guilty" for not fighting to her death, if necessary, to prevent rape. Not resisting until death would have meant she dishonorably valued her life more than her "virtue" (apparently, when talking about chastity, there's only one "virtue", the definition of which presumably means either "virginity" or "absolute abstinence enforced to the death except with one's legally married, binary-opposite-sex spouse" or some such thing).

Only absolute physical force was construed as rape, with little or no consideration for non-physical power dynamics or psychological duress. If she stopped resisting psychologically or even became "consensual" at some point after the initial trauma, then being kidnapped into mountains and thrown into a tent alone with an old, crazy a-hole in the middle of screaming-is-futile-nowhere might not have excused her from resisting with all her might every day of every month she was held captive, and she might likely have been shamed and called to repentance for giving in and becoming a willing participant in sin. Thank goodness that has seemingly changed.

It's also great that so many people seem to be listening to Elizabeth Smart when she talks about the reality and psychology of sexual abuse. I appreciate how freely so many offer consolation and empathy for her traumatic experiences and express full confidence in her value and wholeness as a person. But I do think it should be made clear that women have been saying exactly what she is saying for decades upon decades, and I wish it didn't take someone who fits a certain, specific mold of "purity" or "righteousness" to get so many to listen for the first time. Maybe that's not what has happened, or maybe not on a large scale, but it seems like women like Smart often receive unlimited sympathy and forgiveness while women who said the same thing but didn't fit that mold have been scorned, dismissed, and belittled, in addition to the trauma they had already experienced. It's hugely unjust. But I believe people tend to listen more to those with whom they identify, so I try to keep that in check in myself. I try to listen more openly and support more personally without surrendering critical thought or prematurely abandoning what I have already experienced or learned. Sometimes it's a tough balance, to me, between being truly compassionate and open to truth and avoiding being duped by a sob story or crafty spin. But it's a bit hard to look back and realize the people I disrespected because I was more concerned with being right about my ideas of how things are and should be than with seeing and understanding someone as a living, breathing human with real, personal, complex experiences.

It also seems to me that Ms. Ruzicka is either so singularly defensive of an ideology as to become extremely disingenuous about the reality of the influence of lessons taught or messages conveyed by some leaders and teachers, or she is quite ignorant of what has actually been taught and of the power of a few not-directly-challenged, even if relatively isolated, lessons by respected authority figures and loved ones.

I heard several of those object lessons growing up, and the more active, faithful LDS young women I talked to throughout the years, through college and after, the more I realized how pervasive those messages had been, and the more I tried to balance them in my own teaching. Even when I still lacked conviction of their error and would not directly criticize those messages, I defended what I thought people "meant by that" while trying to heal damage caused by the implications, intentional or unintentional.

I have different ideas about "chastity" and "virtue" than I used to, and I'm now just another godless heathen "outside" of the Church. But I'm passionate about this because I regret saying so little back when I still knew of the problem but didn't want to make anyone or the Church "look bad". I don't expect the Church to refrain from teaching youth that sex outside of marriage is absolutely a transgression or sin. I do expect the young women I care about to be taught those ideas in ways that don't degrade, objectify, and shame them with false analogies and powerful but deeply inaccurate object lessons. I don't speak up to attack the Church as an institution, a set of doctrines, or a culture (though I have plenty of beefs with all of the above). I speak up because it's just not enough to say, "That message is ridiculous and is not taught, so there's no reason to address it," or, "Mormons are medieval," or, "Everyone knows those object lessons are stupid and the official doctrines of the church teach something different." Not everyone knows that. Not every kid tells his or her parents every lesson they learn, especially by the age when they're learning this kind of lesson. Many kids quietly question and process and imprint without a word. Some errors are worth examination and correction without defensive over-protection of institutions.

To the young ladies and young men I personally care about: no matter who says it, you are NOT a chewed up piece of gum, even if you have made decisions or had experiences that don't fit your or my ideals. You are your passions, your beliefs, your decisions, your affinities, your integrity, your experience, your  learning, your opinions, your uniqueness, your talents, your strengths and weaknesses, your humor, and a whole lot more things that make you you.  I beleive a truly good, whole person doesn't think of his or her potential spouse as a brand new shoe to wear in to fit his or her own foot. Instead, see if this approach rings true for you:

1 comment:

blj1224 said...

Good advice to all. Since joining the LDS church, there has been a fair amount of counsel with which I've taken exception, but most appear to be man's interpretation of scripture. In a sacrament meeting during my first year of membership, a wise young LDS Institute teacher cautioned the audience not to treat everything spoken by church leaders as scripture. They are imperfect men albeit with good intentions, capable of allowing their personal beliefs to color their interpretation and understanding of scripture. That Institute teacher was a voice of reason, as others have been, including President Uchdorf.

The best advice I can provide those who may be confused by things they hear in church is to prayerfully study the New Testament in the Bible (not in a church text about the New Testament), and learn the teachings of Christ through his words and example. For those who are not religiously oriented, live a life of honesty and integrity, striving always to give of yourself, love your fellow man, forgive those who harm you, and refrain from harming others. Life will be good.