Satin’s minion: Is it possible to balance self-preservation and vulnerability?

kk

In my journey over the past two years to stand up and speak up for gender justice in the Mormon Church, I have become a public figure, of sorts. Not Lady Gaga paparazzi level public figure, of course… but Salt Lake Tribune makes a cartoon about you/ any random Joe Mormon feels the right to write about your life and pontificate on your outfits/ your in-laws find out about your major life decisions in the New York Times / lots of people recognize you on the streets of Salt Lake City…. type of public figure. The outpouring of love and support from strangers has been amazing, but this kind of attention can be absolutely bizarre. Why does everyone from here to Kingdom come think they get to have a say in what you say/ how you dress/ what kind of laptop you buy?

As with any socially taboo subject, there is quite a polarization of those interested. For the most part, either people love and adore you, and say they want their daughters to be like you (be careful what you wish for!), or they hate and revile you and tweet unintentionally hilarious things at you. Like this simple Tweet with only the word, ‘vomit.’ (Keep it classy @reaganwhereru, keep it classy.)

 

Untitled

 
An of course, there are lovely messages like this one:
 

2

I have gotten hate mail about my hair (and glasses, and dresses, and smile and ‘evil countenance’.) Perhaps my all-time favorite hater comment: ‘The OW have like the worst mouthpieces. They make dumb arguments and there isn’t a looker in the herd.’ Ok…. it’s a tie between that one and: ‘the politically correct are welcome to find another church. The lesser kingdoms of eternity await them.’

I have often been referred to as Satin (apparently Satan is difficult to spell.) There was also quite the back-and-forth on Twitter the other day about whether I have gained weight, and as a fat person have no legitimate opinions. #Obviously. Seriously, I am 5’8” and weigh 135 pounds, but the internet has declared me fat…. because I have opinions about gender inequality. One hater even came to my rescue saying, ‘guys, she’s an idiot, but it’s not fair to make fun of how someone looks.’ You know it’s bad when avowed haters have to come to your aid on Twitter.

There are even people (several actually) who are willing to PAY ME MONEY in order to insult me. I closed the comments on a GoFundMe campaign I did, so some particularly tenacious internet trolls DONATED MONEY so that they could leave troll-y names along with the donations. They cared enough about comparing me to Satan, that they were willing to put their money where their hand (anonymously typing) is.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 5.10.53 PM

Of course there are people with nuanced views with legitimate critiques or words of caution, but their voices are few and pretty quiet, comparatively speaking. The haters are loud. And they have feminist-vampire pictures as avatars. They comb the internet for ugly pictures of you and compare you to Book of Mormon anti-Christs on the regular. Any sane human on planet earth who wants to retain any modicum of their aforementioned sanity must develop coping mechanisms to drown out the voices that are Hell-bent on dragging them down.

______________________________________________________________________

In an article about Mennonite LGTBQIA activists one woman said something that struck me: ‘I don’t think I’m brave enough to mention this, but in one draft of my speech, I would say: In 10 years, we will thank the conference for disciplining us, because it has forced us to be clear about who we are.’

Reprisals, and discipline can be faith promoting. They force you to have faith in yourself. Solidify your courage in your convictions and make you cross the Rubicon, turning away from self-doubt. It makes you clarify who you are.

Once you are clear about who you are, there are plenty of people who aren’t going to like you. Some are just haters. (Where do they find the time to troll random Facebook feeds of people they internet-hate?? I envy them copious amounts of freetime!) Some just want to pick you apart to hide their own cowardice. If they can dismiss you personally for not doing X, Y or Z right, they don’t have to confront their own fears and join a movement. They can stay safe in their critical corner and not have to move, organize or be. They can occupy their time with internet critiquing in lieu of do-ing. And, judging on the sheer volume I’ve received, there is a kazillion lifetimes that can be occupied by internet critiquing.

I think nowadays, our ability to succeed to create something unique, valuable and brave in this modern world often hinges upon our ability to endure the discomfort of being disliked. Even being really, really, really disliked. Hated. By lots & lots of people. You just have to be willing to put yourself out there, and in a world where a false sense of scarcity (insecurity) often outweighs  giving eachother the benefit-of-the-doubt, you have to brace for it. You have to brace for a culture that will do its very best to shame you into submission. Monica Lewinsky talks about this in her brilliant TED talk. Lewinsky says: ‘We are in a dangerous cycle: the more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it. And the more numb we get, the more we click… Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to a long-held values of compassion and empathy.’

There are also many critiques coming from fellow travelers in the movement. In my case, Mormon women who want their voices to be heard. This would take up an entire post to adequately convey, but much of this criticism comes from what I believe is a false sense of scarcity. This false scarcity that we have in our minds makes us think: ‘if Kate Kelly gets XYZ, there won’t be any left for me.’ If Kate Kelly gets media attention, there won’t be any left. She’ll take it all up. If Kate Kelly gets support (or money, or accolades etc.) it will take that away from someone… more deserving. This mindset likely comes from being raised in a patriarchal structure which forces women to be in competition for praise, worthiness, attention, scarce resources… and even husbands! This internalized patriarchy turns us away from a paradigm of abundance and cooperation and acknowledging there is enough.

I want to emphasize that there is enough attention. There is enough support. There is an abundance awaiting us. Someone else’s success does not rob you of anything. Outside of patriarchy, we can get what we need without putting someone else down.

____________________________________________________________________

Recently I re-watched one of the bravest single acts I’ve ever seen.  I was eleven years old in 1992 when Sinéad O’Connor appeared on SNL as the musical guest. The studio had no knowledge that she was going to use her performance as a protest against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. At the end of the song, instead of the photo she had used in the rehearsal, she defiantly presented a photo of Pope John Paul II to the camera while singing the word ‘evil.’ The studio turned off the ‘applause’ sign & there was no clapping or sound at all at the end of her set. It was dead silent. She ended by tearing the photo into pieces, and said ‘Fight the real enemy,’ while throwing the pieces towards the camera. Now THAT is art people. THAT is courage.

Wikipedia’s description of what happened next: Two weeks after the Saturday Night Live appearance, she was set to perform ‘I Believe in You’ at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary tribute concert in Madison Square Garden. She was greeted by a thundering mixture of cheers and jeers. During the booing, Kris Kristofferson [came back on stage] and told her not to let the bastards get you down, to which she replied, ‘I’m not down.’ The noise eventually became so loud that O’Connor saw no point in starting the scheduled song. She called for the keyboard player to stop and the microphone to be turned up, and then screamed over the audience with an improvised, shouted rendition of ‘War.’ This time, she sang the song, stopping just after the part in which the lyrics talk about child abuse, emphasizing the point of her previous action. She then looked straight to the audience for a second and left the stage. — In the video you can see that she left the stage and immediately started heaving and wept.

Sometimes you have to drown out the bullies & just sing at the top of your lungs.

_____________________________________________________________________

The danger is that when you drown out or ignore haters, you also can lose sight of the importance of legitimate feedback, mistakes made & lessons to learn. Your survival mode can push you into an unproductive space where you discount all kinds of criticism as ‘haters gonna hate’ & that can stunt growth. The temptation is to surround yourself with only people who agree with you & cheerlead you on. Of course, it makes sense to have personal boundaries and spaces where you can just be safe & yourself & complain. That’s why I have my personal Facebook wall. I’ll ban you quicker than you can say Mark Zuckerburg on my personal Facebook wall when you say something distasteful… again, boundaries.

Lots of people thought it was overboard for me to say in the Guardian that ‘the least talented, least articulate, least nuanced thinkers, least likely to take a stand against abuse, and the least courageous people thrive in the Church today.‘ Perhaps I could have made it more clear that what I meant was not that all orthodox Mormons are idiots & Mormonism is an idiocracy, but that they Church squelches dissent intentionally to keep bright people from speaking up. But, as an activist, you can’t spend all day hemming & hawing nitpicking about specific word choice. You just have to… act.

I think I have a naturally thick skin & pretty God-given healthy self-esteem, but the question I get most often from people is: ‘how can you stand it? How can you keep going in the face of such a tidal wave of vitriol and condemnation?’ Given my natural temperament, and innate ability to revel in contrarianism, I usually don’t find it too hard to keep going. I usually find genuine haters to be hilarious (#Satin)… so, so unintentionally hilarious. I have an ongoing feature on Facebook called ‘Random Hater of the Day’ (RHOTD). But, on bad days even the most confident woman in the world can vacillate between defiant Amazonian goddess and scared, insecure teenager.

So, though my modus operandi is to go Taylor Swift on haters & simply try to shake it off, I feel like that can too easily create two rigid camps. The dividing line between them is a false dichotomy: there are haters, and there are unequivocal supporters. Sometimes in the name of self-preservation, those who don’t fall into either camp — those with nuanced views or opinions — become casualties.

So, is there a way to be unapologetic, but know when to apologize? What is the best way, dear readers (and by that I mean mostly ‘Mom’) to balance the need to plug your ears and say la-la-la-la-la to drown out haters, yet at the same time keep yourself open to advice, constructive criticism, and feedback if needed?

 

Newsflash to nag-tivists: complaining about stuff is not activism

Anger

 

[Update: To demonstrate good-faith in responding to criticism, due to the suggestion of some friends, I have edited the title to ‘complaining’ and taken out a fake-quote, as suggested. Both were superfluous to the larger point, which still remains in tact.]

Having been involved in several activist groups and a wide array of causes, I have learned a bit about activist archetypes. Everyone has a role to play in movements, and a unique way to make their distinct contribution. I get this and respect the diverse ways we can all contribute (emphasis on *contribute*).

However, in every movement there is one distinct group of people whose principal contribution seems to be to nit-pick, degrade, complain about others and generally set back progress in the group they are ostensibly a part of. I have dubbed this group of people nag-tivists. (This is an original term people! … I just Googled it & it doesn’t exists)

The prototypical nag-tivist is the person who spends 99% of their waking hours catching up on PC terms so they can out-PC everyone else. They do not integrate this new vocabulary so as to be open and inclusive (as is its intended purpose), they learn these terms so that they can use them against other people as ammunition. It’s the difference between a person who wants to make sure more and more people use inclusive terms so everyone feels welcome in the conversation v. people who WANT to catch people using an outdated term to GOTCHA the crap out of their ignorance.

Sample Conversation:

Activist: GLTB families deserve the same rights and privileges as all other families.

Nag-tivist: Ugggggghhhhhh. OMG. HOW on earth are YOU STILL USING THAT OUTdated term????!?!? The harm you are causing LGTBQIA+ people is WORSE THAN the HOMOPHOBIC IDIOTS you say you oppose. Seriously. YOU should be ashamed of YOURSELF.

While the nag-tivist has never actually planned a direct-action, petition, rally, campaign or other mode of change-making themselves per se, they JUMP on the chance to “open-mindedly” critique anyone else daring to do so. They prefer to lash-out… not at the oppressor or oppressive institution… but at the other (lame) people doing an imperfect job at fighting that oppressive institution. Nag-tivists typically criticize the HELL out of any activity/prose/speech they dislike, but when asked to provide tangible solutions or ideas themselves, they usually draw a blank or snarkily retort: “I don’t have to have all of the answers. Can’t you SEE that YOU’RE part of the problem?? Ugh.” If really, really pressed for ANY CONCRETE answers that don’t involve an eyeroll, nag-tivists will make summarily unhelpful & uber-generic suggestions.

Somehow, normal planning and organizing is too cumbersome for the busy schedule of a nag-tivist, but when the person they are protesting is another activist that they find not _____* enough, they spring into action and display hithertofore unutilized organizing talents. (Fill in the blank with: radical, anarchist, feminist, intersectional, diverse, cross-cultural, sensitive, devoted, articulate… etc. etc.)

Sample Conversation:

Activist: We are planning a march against racism and a rally downtown. Join us!

Nag-tivist: I know I missed all of the planning sessions, but I can’t BELIEVE you are letting (this person) speak at this rally. That is so offensive. You disgust me. I am going to spend all of my waking moments and energy to defeat you. Instead of boycotting (racist institution) I’m going to BOYCOTT your rally.

You may be tempted to think when a nag-tivist spends precious time, energy, thought, typed-words on social media etc. tearing other people and groups down….How is that going to help? Why don’t they put their energy into forming their own group/cause/activity if they know a better way?

But, you are misunderstanding a key element of nag-tivist behavior. They prey on the sensitivities of others who are already predisposed to listen to them. If they cry “You’re a sexist” to someone who is an avowed misogynist, they will not care AT ALL or listen AT ALL. If they cry “You’re a sexist” to someone who is already attempting to be a good ally… there is a chance they will feel ashamed and devote a lot of time and energy listening to and coddling the nag-tivist. This is the ultimate nag-tivist victory: to induce crippling guilt upon someone who has their heart in the right place, but has additional work to do to become a perfect human. (Note again that this barrage of negativity is never directed at the actual oppressor or oppressive institution).

Sample Conversation:

Nag-tivist: You are a sexist pig and I demand you retract your sexist statement.

Mysogynist: HAHAHHAHAHahahahahhHAHAHAHahHAHAHAHAHHAH *snort*

….

Nag-tivist: You are a sexist pig and I demand you retract your sexist statement.

Male ally: I am SO sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?

Nag-tivist: *Sparkling glint in eyes* There is NOTHING you can ever do. I hope you are filled with shame and self-loathing until your dying day…. Etc. etc. etc.

Keep in mind that once a nag-tivist has labeled you as sexist/racist/classist/homophobic etc. etc. there is nothing you can do to un-earn that label. No amount of apologizing, good behavior, or genuine gestures will un-taint you in their minds. Most especially if you call them out on their nag-tivism = #1 CARDINAL SIN/ kiss of death… “So, what have you done that you think is more effective?” They have not done anything but NAG, so don’t ask. Nag-tivists’ #1 favorite passtime is “calling out” another person (preferably someone who will give a sh*t, so it is typically an activist)… but they DO NOT like to be “called out” themselves. No, no, no, they do not like it. Trust me, they will react badly.

Nag-tivists will also frequently charge a group/person/cause with: “you don’t speak for ALL (X,Y,Z) people!” Clearly no group/person/cause speaks for all people. But, the classic nag-tivist will frequently ignore their own advice & state unequivocally that group/person/cause has offended ALL (X,Y,Z) people. Somehow, paradoxically, THEY can speak for ALL (X,Y,Z) people. And, they know they are offended/outraged/saddened by whatever you are doing.

Luckily, there is one primary way to combat nagtivism: ignore them! Nag-tivists thrive on (self-induced) drama/conflict/rage. If you do not fight back, they will eventually move on to greener pastures (someone with worse boundaries). They do not have the patience/talent/stamina/drive to actually organize anything. They will not form a counter-movement. Their “boycott” will not amount to anything. The only success they will garner is if you LET them suck your time and energy into engaging them.

Don’t.

Save your strength for whatever real battle you are engaged in. Don’t waste your time on their misguided lateral attacks. Improve, learn, grow… not for their sake … for the sake of the movement. Surround yourself with people who care about the cause and about other people (they will often also mightily disagree with you, but they will express it in a productive way). These people are not hard to find… they just tend not to speak quite so loudly.

A person the world needs so badly is gone

I received truly sorrowful news when I opened up my email this morning. I learned that a dear professor and mentor of mine, Pamela Bridgewater Toure, passed away in December after a long battle with cancer. I only just learned of this news because being away in Kenya keeps you out of the loop in many ways. As my friend Kate put it, “it came as a thunk to the heart, that a person the world needs so badly is gone.”

Pamela
In May 2014 I had a chance to have one last dinner with Professor Bridgewater before I moved away from DC. It was at her house. We ate Thai food and laughed and talked, and talked.

Professor Bridgewater (I called her that because I am oddly formal, even though she insisted I call her Pamela) was a scholar, and activist, a professor, a mentor, a creative and thinking person, a writer, a feminist, an artist and a woman I deeply admired. She was someone who perfectly fit the classic cliché and ‘marched to the beat of her own drum’ in such a wonderful, wonderful way. She marched in a way that others watching her, like me, thought: I can hear the beat of my own drum & if she can follow it, I can too. In many ways I was mentored into power by her.

Panel
2011 “On to the Next” Roundtable: Hip Hop, Law and Grassroots Activism/Organizing Moderator: Pamela Bridgewater Panelists: Jemar Daniel, WCL ’10, former BET intern Head Roc, hip hop artist, activist, advocate for DC Statehood/Green Party and DC City Paper Columnist Gabriel Teodros, hip hop artist Mazi Mutafa, Executive Director, Words Beats and Life, Inc. Skim, activist, hip hop/spoken word artist— Neil made her that graphic on the projector screen, which she loved and always mentioned. She called Neil my “sweetie.”

In 2011 I was one of the student organizers who helped carry out her vision in a law conference called Roots & Reality: Hip Hop, Law & Social Justice Organizing. Hip Hop? You might be raising an eyebrow right now as I usually look like a 1950s housewife & am about the least hip person out there. But, Professor Bridgewater didn’t care. She lured me in with her vision and creativity. (DO you know how much law school is an absolutely blackhole of creativity?? That practically sucks creative marrow out of your bones at every step of the way so that by your second year you can hardly think an original thought that isn’t easily footnote-able.) When I told her I badly wanted to be involved, but pretty much only listened to Joni Mitchell, she made me a playlist. A Hip Hop anthology of sorts. She even let me, summarily un-hip and musically bland, give the closing remarks at the Conference. It was an honor that she trusted me. She had that kind of grace that gave others unusual confidence. She certainly gave that to me.

Nation

I took a Reproductive Rights class from Professor Bridgewater & was privileged to give her feedback on a manuscript on her, yet unfinished, book: “Breeding a Nation: Reproductive Slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Pursuit of Freedom.” In this book she explains the beyond-horrifying practice of slave-breeding which was common in the Eastern U.S. at the start of our nation. She exposes the links between the practice of slave breeding and modern reproductive coercion, rape, child abuse, particularly for American women of color. She tackled this heart-wrenching topic with grace and insight. She hired me to help her finish this book right after law school, but I was unable to continue because I got a fellowship. I am awash in regret that I was unable to help her see this work to fruition. Read another one of her pieces here: “Ain’t I a Slave: Slavery Reproductive Abuse, and Reparations.”

Pride
First Salt Lake City Pride Parade

Professor Bridgewater also mentored me with patience and wisdom on my journey to being an ally, particularly of LGTBQIA folks. She had a way of simply expecting the best in people and waiting for them to meet those high expectations. Not in a way that made you feel less-than or inferior in any way. In a way that you knew she trusted in you and your potential & knew that you would get there in the end. She not only modeled how to foster people into giving birth to their own liberation, but also how to stand in solidarity with others. She spoke as though it was all common sense. She unabashedly took her own point of view as a logical and grounded one.

I recall the most shocking thing I ever heard her describe was how she had an abortion as a very young teenager. She described as a medical procedure that for her was a very unemotional event. She told that story publicly and at speak-outs because she wanted to shift the paradigm about reproductive rights. Professor Bridgewater made the political personal in a very day-to-day way.

The last thing I ever talked to her about was my Mormon feminist activism and she just nodded & nodded with her affirming enthusiasm she always shared. “Right on Kate, right on!”  she said. She told me as an activist herself she was just FLOORED that we were able to get over 500 Mormons out for a direct action in the “belly of the beast” downtown Salt Lake City. Like any true activist, she appreciated both the nuance and the logistical details of change-making.

You will be missed, dear professor. I pledge to do right by you. I will embrace life more fully, deeply and forge my own path as you inspired me to do. You taught me so much in school and at your kitchen table. I hope to carry small pieces of the vision we shared forward. Rest in peace.

Who gets credit in patriarchy?

Some have argued online, or in person, that they are sure several (mysterious/vague/unsubstantiated) changes would have taken place to make the Church a better place for women BUT Ordain Women has raised such a stink in public that now the leaders of the Church have retracted all of those wonderful (mysterious/vague/unsubstantiated) changes and they will never come to pass. Or, in other words: ORDAIN WOMEN HAS RUINED ALL OF THIS (mysterious/vague/unsubstantiated) PROGRESS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN IF ONLY THEY HADN’T BLABBED ABOUT INSTITUTIONAL SEXISM TO THE MEDIA.

There are several problematic (feminist’s all-time favorite word) assumptions that accompany this line of reasoning. The first, and most potent, was pointed out to me by my friend Maggie, a DC-based attorney. It is as follows:

There is a strange folk-belief that is very prevalent in Mormon culture that women are the ‘real’ ones in charge & they just let men think they are in charge *wink, wink*. This belief has several iterations, but is typically a version of “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world!” or “men are the head but, women are the neck.” (← which clearly makes no physiological sense since the brain is in the head… but, you get the picture).

The essence of this thinking is that (to have any relevancy or input, given the status quo) women need to make the men *think* they are in charge, and give all deference to men in order for these poor guys to get the credit they need for their weak egos. Therefore, if women have an idea or suggestion, such as how to run an activity or a change that needs to be made, they must communicate it in such a way that the men in charge think it’s their idea. This way women get what they want, but do not have to disrupt the patriarchal order of … everything.

This is problematic (that word again!) for many reasons. One is that nothing can actually be the idea of women. We cannot get credit for anything (other than being amazing, miraculous, angels of mercy & support to our husbands & leaders …after all, behind every successful Mormon man is a delicate goddess who never EVER complains about anything but is 100% supportive of her husband’s every whim). In a patriarchal leadership structure women cannot have ideas of our own or do anything by our own merit. All changes have to be thought-of, driven and ultimately sanctioned by men.

This has obvious implications, not only on the local level if a woman wants to make a change in her local primary program, but also all the way to the highest levels of the Church. Implicit in the logic that Ordain Women RUINED EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE is that public advocacy and the accompanying media coverage (New York Times, New York Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, BBC News, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, NBC News, ABC News & here, NPR, The Boston Globe, Vice News, The Atlantic, USA Today, Huffington Post, Daily Beast & here etc. etc. etc.) makes it really hard for THE MEN IN CHARGE TO TAKE ALL THE CREDIT for anything that changes.

Seriously. That is the only road that logic can lead you to: the Brethren (capital letter B) are too petty to admit that women came up with an idea themselves and they (Brethren) took it to the Lord, at the request OF UPPITY WOMEN. By that token…They want every, single idea, change & piece of progress to appear at to originate from men and ONLY MEN (plus, maybe God, but mostly MEN ASKING God).

This view, paints the capital letter B Brethren as spiteful and childlike (childlike in the bad tantrum way, not in the meek, tenderhearted way). This also supports the view that the Brethren do not actually receive continuing revelation, which is one of the core Mormon articles of faith. According to this line of thinking…the Brethren have no ability to respond to the needs of their flocks or take concerns (that originate from women themselves) to the Lord. Whatsoever.

This argument paints our leaders into a pretty tiny, confined and small-minded box. Withholding blessings from 7 million women worldwide because other women are very vocal about gender inequality would be like the basketball coach who makes the whole team run laps when one person acts up. Those coaches are the wooooorrrrrst. But, more importantly, that coach implements group punishments because they wants the team members to police each other. In this case, the Brethren if they were actually doing this (withholding blessings because of the actions of others) they would be doing so out of a desire for women to punish other women & push down or poo-poo any efforts they make to speak up. In some ways, whether it is intentional or not, this is already happening. Women are policing other women. Tone, tactics, etc.

Also… let’s have some real talk. Without a shadow of a doubt, any (mysterious/vague/unsubstantiated) changes that were (allegedly) in the works would be WITHOUT QUESTION merely cosmetic changes and without the input of (EXTREMELY VOCAL) women, the fundamental roots of gender equality in the Church would never be discussed by the larger body of Mormons. Period.

I said it in the New York Times (gasp! media-hungry harlot alert) and I will say it again & again “Not only do Mormons believe the priesthood is the power of God, and can perform and officiate in miracles, but it’s also completely intertwined with the governance structure of the church. There is no amount of incremental change, and no amount of additional concessions that the church can make to extend an olive branch to women without changing that fundamental inequality.

Does it matter in the end whose idea gender equality was in the first place? YES, YES IT DOES. True equality won’t come as a crumb tossed down from a table of benevolent rulers. It will come as we take it for ourselves and make it a reality ourselves, on our own terms. Anything else denies us the necessary role of being actors in our own liberation. We need the struggle as much as we need the change. And, in the end, women get the well-deserved credit for their own transformation.

Why was I excommunicated, but John Dehlin has not yet been?

In a recent Slate article it was speculated, “Around the same time that Kelly was excommunicated, the host of the popular Mormon Stories podcast, John Dehlin, was threatened with disciplinary action as well. Unlike Kelly, he was not excommunicated, perhaps in part because he agreed to media silence about his interactions with his priesthood leaders.” This speculation is patently false, for many of the reasons that John Dehlin pointed out himself, including that he did not agree to be silent about his discipline. In fact, he shared the direct text from the letter the Stake President sent him threatening discipline with the New York Times.

JD

It has been an honor to stand side-by-side with John Dehlin this past year. He is a dear friend, and I have my own take/ speculation as to why I was excommunicated and he was not.

  1. He is a man. It is infinitely easier for men to excommunicate women than men (as April outlines in her Exponent II series). But, more fundamental than institutional procedures that heavily weigh against women is the deep, bedrock divide between women and men in power in the Church. Mormon men in positions of power do not feel (and are correct) that women are their peers. I felt this very acutely in my two meetings with my Stake President before I was excommunicated. I saw him as a peer, and equal. He saw me as … less than. Despite the fact that he is an attorney by profession and undoubtedly he interacts with female legal professionals as peers  on the job, that magically disappears in any ecclesiastical context. The same has been said of Mitt Romney: he treats non-Mormon women better than Mormon women. No matter what hot water John, or any other Melchizedek priesthood holder, gets into he is still a peer of his leaders. Something no woman will ever be until women are ordained… hence my activism.
  2. He is a man. Uppity women have been public enemy #1 in the Church since the days of Emma Smith and her Relief Society rebellion against polygamy and subsequent starting of an entirely different Church (RLDS). Recall that Brigham Young disbanded the Relief Society entirely when it started to become a thorn in his side. Mormon leaders, and patriarchal systems in general, have a fundamental and abiding fear of women who act up. #forobviousreasons
  3. He is a man. Women awakening to the fact that they are categorically excluded from leadership and decision-making in the church affects every single Mormon woman on the planet. A change to the priesthood ban on women would literally touch every Mormon family, congregation, institution in the world. How many orthodox Mormons have problems with the truth claims of the Church? v. How many are women?
  4. He is a man. John clearly states, “I do have some friends/family in relatively powerful places who I know intervened with top-level GA’s on my behalf. I think that this may have made a difference.  I believe it to be very likely that my stake president was told to  ‘step back’ by someone above his pay grade (even if in an indirect way).” Clearly, this is part insider-baseball as I do not live in Utah or come from a well-connected LDS family. But, I know for a fact that leaders in direct contact with the Quorum of the Twelve knew about my discipline before it became public and chose not to intervene saying that it was impossible to intervene in what is entirely a “local matter.” This contradiction (saving the man, and letting the female face the firing squad) is an act of blatant sexism. It is also a sign, in my opinion, that leaders at the highest levels of the Church weighed the costs (extremely bad press) against the benefits (thinking they would scare orthodox Mormons away from asking questions about gender inequality in public) and decided, on balance, it was worth sacrificing me. Likewise, they have decided in similar fashion that is it not worth sacrificing John.
  5. John’s issues are easier to circumvent. John’s major beef with the Church is it’s truth claims. That is something that the Church can dismiss ad infinitum as a cause of faith v. doubt. Institutional sexism in the Church is patently obvious and not something that any leader can deny with any modicum of credibility. It is a matter of fact, not faith. People investigating the truth claims of the Church are easily dismissed as ‘outsiders’ while faithful, active Mormon women asking for a greater role and greater inclusion is far more threatening. This faith-based approach appeals to 50% of their base in a way that is extremely threatening to the status quo.
  6. Mormon Stories is not an activist organization. MS, while a deeply valuable resource and archive, is not an activist organization. To the leaders in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, there appears to be something particularly terrifying about women putting their bodies on the line and demonstrating their sincere desires in public… with a very specific, tangible “ask.” There is something exhilarating, fresh and powerful about leaving our laptops and the endless online hashing and re-hashing to embody change. The Ordain Women in person direct actions were revolutionary and transformative. Not only for the women who participated but, for Mormonism at large.
  7. John’s discipline, in essence, reflects solely on his personal decisions and behavior. Clearly disciplining John will cause pain to many, many people who share his questions and concerns, and his desire for sincere inquiry. However, it is unlikely that those who listen to Mormon Stories podcasts will be directly targeted as a result of his personal actions. The same cannot be said of my discipline since people, like my parents, have been targeted as a direct result of excommunicating me. The message of Ordain Women was so momentously successful that it was starting to reach even the most orthodox of Mormon women. The point of disciplining me was to scare others away and give local leaders an excuse to discipline other Ordain Women supporters. This cut-off-the-head tactic was, and will continue to be, ineffective. But, it is a classic tactic of repressive regimes the world over determined to maintain the status quo at all costs.

*As a post-script, I would also add that reasons 1-4 are also are the reasons that my husband (who had the exact same leaders, and essentially did the exact same things I did) was not disciplined in any way. You can read his letter to that effect here.

Vigilante justice & vulnerability

Initial caveat: I have a goal of becoming a better writer, mostly because lots of people seem to want me to write lots of stuff. Blog posts, chapters for academic books, chapters for books about Zion, chapters about the “future of Mormonism,” a book of my own… I have resisted a lot of these because I’m not a writer. I’m a lawyer. I’m a good public speaker. I’m a damn fine activist, but I’m not a writer. But, if there’s one thing I learned growing up Mormon, it’s that anything! can be achieved by setting a goal and doggedly putting your mind to it. I was never much one for goal setting. I didn’t achieve my Young Women’s medallion, because I thought setting goals for the sake of “achieving” goals was stupid. (I was also a teenager, so in defense of the Young Women’s program, I probably thought everything was stupid). But, as an adult, I can’t give up on being a highly effective person! so easily. So, as Steven R. Covey is my witness, I am committed to the goal of writing stuff. I am not going to edit or re-write. I’m just going to free-ball it stream-of-consciousness style. Here it goes:

I am currently living in Nairobi, Kenya. In preparation to move to Kenya I read travel books and Culturegram type guidebooks that tell the likely old, white, crotchety audience things like: the cheapest form of transportation in Kenya is a beat-up mini van called a matatu which is a “luridly painted vehicle covered in slogans and flashing lights, pounding out deafening rap music driven at death-defying speeds by aggressive young men.” (imagine that with a granny fist shaking in the air).

Matatu
Ok, technically this is a bus, not a matatu, but you get the picture. The graphics range from “Playboy” to “God first, then money. Then more money, and more money” [actual Matatu decal I saw the other day]
Grouchy-ness aside, the culture books have some helpful tips that would be hard to pick up on as a foreigner. One of the things every book I have come across mentions is vigilante justice. The books instruct you not to shout “thief” if your purse is stolen, particularly in a densely populated area. If you do, the books warn, a crowd may catch the thief and issue a sound beating, or worse.

A friend of mine who lived in Kenya for many years said she was riding in one of the aforementioned “luridly painted” matatus to a market and saw a crowd mercilessly beating a young man in the street. She asked the driver why and he replied, “he probably stole something.”

In places, like Kenya, where there is a high level of corruption with public officials and little-to-no expectation that justice will ever find its way through official channels, people often take things into their own hands. I received these warnings about vigilante justice when I lived in southern Mexico and traveled to Guatemala, as well. A robber or someone who commits an act of violence will never be punished, and there is no reliable disciplinary system to deter them. I think we learned something about that theory way back in my 1L criminal law class. Something about how part of having a formal, legal system is to give people a form of redress that prevents vigilante justice. (I got an A+ on that exam, btw, to which I credit having a prosecutor as a mother).

Essentially, the law is a way to keep us from devolving into the Wild West.

The Internet is a just plain weird place. It’s a lot like the Wild West. I say that with some level of authority because I am the founder of a highly social-media involved movement and a person to whom Facebook is as attractive as prescription methamphetamines are to perfection-obsessed Mormon housewives in Utah. aka very.attractive.

I was excommunicated from the Mormon Church a few months ago and, as you would expect, the Mormon “bloggernacle” was abuzz with the news even before I had announced the news myself. (Mormons love gossip so much, we had to make an anti-gossip meme to discourage us before memes were even a thing)

gossip

Almost every Mormon on the World Wide Web had an opinion about my formal discipline. The weeks after my excommunication I didn’t have time to read blog posts for the most part. I went from your casual human rights lawyer// facebooker to doing media interviews literally 10 hours a day. (turns out it wasn’t only Mormons interested in the gossip). I have pretty thick skin, coupled with a rather macabre sense of humor that saw me through what was, to be honest, a pretty dark time. Most of the hater comments I laughed at and the best ones I featured in my pretty hilarious “Random Hater of the Day” series. But, one progressive-y  Mormon-themed blog wrote a lunatic diatribe against me that I felt was unfair and libelous to the point where I contacted the blog administrators to say, “Really? Seriously?”

The admins of that blog (who in the bloggernacle Wild West would be the Sherriff equivalents) declined to take the post down and frankly, though I thought it was suuuuuuper lame and anti-feminist to call a woman a liar on the evidence of crazy detailed witch-hunt analysis of her own words/ the single sentence of a man against her, at the time I didn’t have enough spare minutes to give the matter any more brain cells. (btw I later found out this same author wrote a conspiracy post for the same blog about how I was not actually going to Africa & was lying about that too… a few days before I MOVED TO AFRICA…*shrug* guess that post got scrapped).

A few months later a friend on the longest standing and largest Mormon feminist blog wrote a piece about it. Eons & eons of time in Internet time had passed… it may as well have happened in the Pleistocene era & she followed up by writing about it in 2014 after finding a fossil in an archeological blog dig. Given the WWW had long since moved on, I was even more grateful for this type of backup.

I, of course, followed it with some incendiary comment on the post with the word “bullsh*t” in it (using an asterisks, for goodness sakes) & said (on my personal Facebook wall to friends) that “feminists should reconsider writing for the blog. Full stop.” A dear friend of mine had written this blog declining the solicitation for a post, and told them what they had done by posting that libelous piece was unfeminist & NOT COOL. I really appreciated her backing me up in that way and, naively thought everyone else would see it in the same light.

Many did not & this caused Mormon-internet-mageddeon for approximately 24 hours. That is the absolute longest any Internet anything lasts ever. If you go on a Safari & don’t have an Internet connection for a day, guaranteed you have missed the entire rise & fall of another Internet controversy or trend. (except, somehow that ALS challenge managed to last for-e-ver… don’t know how they pulled that off). Some saw my call-to-arms as vigilante justice or a “loyalty test.” People wrote me messages, some wailed, some gnashed their teeth. Even people I am friends with IRL (humans I know “in real life”) were up in arms about it (again, for a period of, at most, a few hours which correlates to an eternity in Internet time).

I saw it another way.

When I was a missionary there were certain Elder missionaries I didn’t get along with (read: despised) and others I got along with particularly well (read: had a crush on)… and lots in the middle ground. In the MTC there was one Elder I got along with really well. To be honest, I don’t recall his name now (I am too old!), so I’ll just call him Elder Jepperson. Elder Jepperson and I got along famously. We had fun, played pranks and did all of the normal things you do when you are abruptly transported to a highly religious, rule-laden environment almost entirely populated with teenage boys. Suffice it to say: missions cause you to develop some pretty odd behaviors to cope.

One particularly odd thing I distinctly remember doing to this particular “Elder” missionary was in the cafeteria. In Spain grapes have seeds in them. Or at least in the Madrid MTC grapes had seeds in them. I would eat the grapes and spit out the seeds. And, for some odd reason, I would make Elder Jepperson hold the seeds in his hand. I have NO idea why. But, he did it. He would hold them in his hand.

Was it a gross, grape loyalty test? Maybe that was a part of it. But, I also felt vulnerable, out of place and in a pretty topsy-turvey world where my identity was no longer my own. I couldn’t even go by my real name or let anyone know it. Later on my mission I would send letters to Elder Jepperson (he went to a different mission than mine, so don’t worry, that was kosher). In the envelopes I would include several grape seeds.

grape-seeds

Elder Jepperson was a manly, show-offy type of 19 year old boy. And, I think, in a way, I wanted him to have to show some inkling of vulnerability that I felt.

At the end of my mission I had an exit interview with my mission president who is a jolly car salesman from Layton, Utah. I told him, “President Watson, I’m going to be a lawyer.” He didn’t discourage me. He just said, “it doesn’t matter to me what you become. Whatever you are going to be, be the best at it.” The was especially generous advice considering a few weeks before been chastised by him in a zone conference for racking up hundreds of dollars in cell phone charges talking to another Elder missionary. But… that’s a story for another blog post.

Surprisingly, I learned more about vulnerability in law school. I made a film for my feminist jurisprudence class about reproductive rights. I interviewed my dear friend Ashley for it. At the time she was pregnant and preparing to give up her daughter for adoption. She taught me a lot about searing vulnerability at the hands of men. Ashley told me that when she was pregnant, she wanted a group of allies to go to the impregnator and stand up for her. A community to compel him to see things from her perspective, since she had no alternative but to face what her biology forced her to face.  She said, “There is nothing quite as lonely as doing what society says is wrong and then needing support from that same society.”

Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom from Kate and Neil on Vimeo.

So… what does it all mean?

It means that the Wild West of patriarchy and the Internet is a harsh, harsh place, even for the women with the thickest skin. It means that sometimes, even though I am loathe, loathe, loathe to admit it, people hurt my feelings. Even strangers. Or… especially strangers?

Of course, the internet can also be a wonderful place. In less than 24 hours, the internet raised enough tuition money for my friend Tinesha to continue her education at BYU & get out of debt. That was a beautiful 24-hour internet millennia.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 1.53.16 PM

But, the Internet can also be a lone and dreary world that is lacking in fundamental justice. There is no court of Internet etiquette to say: hey, dudebro, don’t be a douchebag. Or: feminists have feelings too! And, sometimes it feels unfair. It feels violating. Just… so… wrong. You don’t want to display vulnerability. Sometimes you’re hurt. You want men to be forced into a vulnerable position, as you have been. Even as a lawyer-activist, and against your better instincts… you don’t even remotely feel like promoting “free speech” (whatever that means) is fair.

You just want to shout: thief! and hope the internet will kick the digital shit out of them.

The Joys of Homemaking in Kenya

Settling in has proven more challenging than I had expected. Finding an apartment in Nairobi wasn’t particularly difficult, but making it comfortable has been an uphill battle.

Kate walking in our apartment parking lot.
Kate walking in our apartment parking lot.

For starters, apartments in Nairobi don’t include a fridge or stove.  This little factoid came as quite a surprise resulting in two weeks of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before we could find some good used appliances.

Another issue on our plates is the roaming troop of monkeys that has broken into our apartment multiple times and stolen all of our fruit. These cheeky monkeys are fun to watch, but not to bankroll.  They have no fear and even my best imitation dog bark won’t scare them away.  The only solution is to remember to close all the windows when we leave the apartment (which we often forget).

A cheeky monkey trying to break into the apartment even through we are in the room.
A cheeky monkey trying to break into the apartment even through we are in the room.

Additionally, there isn’t much used furniture for sale (and no Ikea) and most we could find was either unusable or way too expensive. The obvious solution to this dilemma was to make our furniture…this means we’ve been without furniture for a month.

Me sitting on the floor because we don't have any furniture.
Me sitting on the floor because we don’t have any furniture.

However, this doesn’t mean making our own furniture can’t be fun. Making furniture in Kenya is great because you can get jua kali welders to make anything you want out of metal – as demonstrated by our amazing table legs.

We made our dining table from plywood and metal jua kali legs.
We made our dining table from plywood and metal jua kali legs.

Until today, the sticker shock of buying curtains meant our indoor lives have been an open book to the outside world. That changed when we spotted and purchased these old billboard advertisements on the side of the road. Yay for mitumba (second hand)! Now our apartment, while still without furniture, has blackout curtains even Andy Warhol would envy.

Kate fixing out new curtains made from old billboards.
Kate fixing out new curtains made from old billboards.

From Georgia to Germany

After a long cold flight from Fargo, ND to Chicago, IL Kate is making me write this blog post under Burnsian duress. If I don’t get it done before our flight to DC she plans to sic the dogs on me. So let’s jump straight in.

[Update: I did not finish the blog in time but only because the airport wifi was only free for 30 minutes. When I ran out of time I lost half of this blog post.]

As mentioned in the previous post during our travels to NY in November we hit up both German and Georgian restaurants. Both were delicious although a tad expensive for my taste – especially two nights in a row. The first night we met our friends Ashley and Renae for dinner and a play in Brooklyn. The dinner at the German restaurant Berlyn was much better than the play which was a confusing story about family, lovers, and climate change. Dinner, however, was much less confusing, also had some lovers, and hardly touched on the subject of climate change. Germany of course is a leading nation for renewable energy and produces more than 20% of its electricity from renewables.

20131114_192331
Renae, Ashley, and Kate outside the restaurant Berlyn.

Continue reading From Georgia to Germany

A Nice Finnish to a New York Trip

Kate and I went to New York in November because Kate was attending a meeting at the Union Theological Seminary and I wanted to tag along to visit friends and have a grand old PIG Project time. On the way up Kate rode the train because her work was reimbursing her and I rode the bus because it is so dang cheap. While the train is a more comfortable and faster than the bus, the bus stops at a Cinnabon in Delaware.

neil_bus           
Continue reading A Nice Finnish to a New York Trip