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Mormon Men’s Reputation and Purity Are All That Matters

Cache County Mountains

It’s a breezy mid-May morning up in Northern Utah, and I’m standing at the edge of a wheat field enjoying bird calls and fresh air smelling of green growing wheat stalks. I’m waiting to meet up with a client for work to conduct their annual inspection. I’ve never met the main contact for this company, just corresponded by email before meeting here in what is basically the middle of the nowhere most of the way to the Idaho border.

I hear the rumble of an engine and turn toward the end of the road to see a truck coming to meet me.  In it are two men. One introduces himself as my contact, and he introduces the other as his brother. I get in the truck and we begin a tour of the farm.

So much has been written about Mormon purity culture in Utah, and it’s almost difficult to know where to start unpacking and explaining what’s going on in this meeting. Most commonly we talk about the purity culture in Utah from the standpoint of keeping students ignorant of their own bodies and sexuality or just flat out slut shaming women. Those are important elements certainly, but what is at play here is both uniquely tied into Mormon sexual culture and very, very old.

Simply put, I represent the medieval demonic temptress who wants nothing more than to destroy men’s vulnerable souls. My very presence is read as sexually contaminating the morality and reputation of the man I’m here to meet for business. And that is why he brought protection: another man to chaperone and preserve religiously based moral authority and honor.

When I return to the office a female coworker asks me who the client brought with him. Because she knows. Because he did it to her last year, as have many of our other clients. Another customer I met with last week also made sure I wasn’t alone with him. They don’t bring along chaperones to meet with our male inspectors. It’s always about our presence being dangerous, so they’ll defend themselves in ways no one talks about or acknowledges.

A couple years ago, a male inspector was in training to do these kinds of inspections and needed to shadow someone experienced on an inspection. That inspector refused to carpool in a fleet vehicle with my female coworker for a commute that was over an hour long because “he is a bishop.” Her potential sexual availability him (despite being married and being universally professional) is taken as a given, one that has to be protected against because his reputation can’t survive it. There is no question of what seems obvious to people unfamiliar with the overwhelming influence of Mormonism on Utah question: that men and women can work together professionally without sex being implied.

His religious misogyny was given accommodation and two vehicles were allocated to send two employees from the main office to the site. His religious authority allowed him to refuse to work following the same rules as everyone else and let him implicitly state my coworker was a sexual threat to him. By allowing this, management reinforced that my coworker’s dignity and professionalism are beneath his comfort.

The truly exhausting and angering part of this from my point of view is that there actually is an issue of potential risk and safety at play when I meet with clients out in the field, and it is given no consideration or value whatsoever by these Very Concerned men. Mine. The gender safety gap is something inextricably tied into male privilege and rape culture, but it’s impossible for me not to factor the potential vulnerability of driving far into empty spaces without so much a nearby occupied house to meet with a man I have never met alone. My feelings or comparative vulnerability weren’t even considered at this appointment. The client decided not just to meet me on his land far away from anywhere with indeterminate cellular reception, but to meet me with another man I don’t know and didn’t know was coming. If he had considered it, would he have made the same decision to bring another male stranger?

I’m not actively afraid and don’t think I’m likely to be harmed, of course. But that initial hesitation is still here. It’s the same reason I make sure before I go out in the field I tell my spouse where I’m going to be, even if I say it halfway as a joke. The same reason I text to check in at lunchtime afterward. Just to be safe. Because in Utah, one of the crime rates that’s universally higher than the national average is sexual violence. I can’t forget that when I’m living my life here in Utah. It colors everything I do in subtle ways.

When I initially talked about this on Twitter, a man outside of Utah was confused why the chaperone the client brought along wasn’t a woman. Elizabeth Mitchell (@Pixelfish on Twitter) replied first, explaining that this would mean he would be alone with the female chaperone before and after meeting me. Which is true, although it’s also more than that as well; in a lot of ways, bringing another man along for when you’re going to be alone with a women is an extension of companionship on an LDS mission.

Adult men in the general congregation in Mormonism are considered to have religious authority purely due to their gender. Men who would be considered laymen in other religions are considered to have priesthood and that is also part of what’s happening here. Bringing along a male peer is bringing along someone with moral and religious authority who watches your behavior to help you behave righteously. If you brought a woman, you wouldn’t have that aura of upright & moral behavior to counter any sense of sexual tainting by working with a woman.

The most frustrating thing about this is I’m not even surprised anymore when this happens to me. This is my life as a woman in Utah. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to quietly accept sexist garbage as inevitable.

Utah Polygyny Often Intricately Linked with Child Brides

Growing up in Utah, my biases about polygamy and polyamory were deeply marked by the oppressive religious practice of control and child rape practiced by some splinter sects of the LDS faith. The obvious difference is consent, but I had to unlearn years of association of polyamory with coercion and abuse.

It’s easy to condemn those in other places that condone child rape through marriage. It’s safe and comfortable. But the painful fact is, I live in a state where child brides have been (and almost certainly continue to be) part of an ongoing system of abuse. I have a deep rage that the communities where it happens are calculatedly isolated, and they exert total control over the lives of growing children, who have even less capacity for autonomy & consent than most.

We are talking about the kind of subculture that has literally burned books intended for a local library to keep control and maintain ignorance. It’s been almost impossible to find and prosecute the child marriages rapes because the communities have their own police and shunning the outside world is a religious imperative.

What’s even worse, even men who have admitted their child rape may not even be eligible for prosecution because within the last decade Utah’s legal code allowed the rape of girls as young as 14 so long as their parents consent.

At the time, Utah’s marriage age was 14 with parental consent. In 2005, the Utah State Legislature changed it to 16. In 2003, the legislature made any polygamous marriage involving anyone under 18 a felony of child bigamy.

Shit like this shows just how uninterested our judicial system really is in prioritizing the protection of adolescents from predators using religious coercion. When as recently as 10 years ago, parents’ will could substitute for full legal consent to sexual activity, it’s clear that far from being the enlightened moral actors we make ourselves out to be, we are just beginning to question living in the dark ages.

A criticism (I believe fairly) lodged against more moderate religious voices is they give cover to, and downplay the abuse of more extreme versions because they find criticism of religiously backed abuses uncomfortable. There is no more clear example in our modern backyard than the fact that a man like Winston Blackmore may not even have committed a crime under our laws.

The Basic Problem is They Don’t Respect Our Agency

Whether it’s when we’re demanding our right to control our own bodies and fertility, including full abortion rights, or we’re asking those who proclaim themselves our allies to recognize how important it is they always recognize our rights, autonomy and agency without debate, it’s become clear that the problem we face is on a basic level, they don’t recognize that we are the sole owners of our bodies, our time, our energy and our feelings.

Now, those who claim they’re our allies and offer the most insipid & milquetoast kind of pro-choice attitudes insist they’re not like those bad people who’d force us to give birth against our will. They respect us and our choices. But must we always be so adversarial about it? So dogmatic? What’s so horrible about allowing debate or other viewpoints about abortion? It’s not as clear cut a secular advocacy issue as equal marriage rights, after all.

BULLSHIT.

Because every time they tell us we have to support and endorse movements that include and welcome those that devalue us, they are telling us we have to defend our most basic rights of self over and over again. It means that our supposed allies don’t respect our rights to own our time.

They are displaying the same toxic underlying male privilege assumptions they claim to denounce. They are saying with their actions that they do feel they or others are entitled to our time. And that our justifiably angry response to that imposition is wrong.

Let me be clear if you do not consistently support or respect the basic bodily rights and autonomy of people who can become pregnant, I don’t care if you are nominally pro-choice. You may think standard medical care like abortion care should be legal, but you haven’t shown you any respect for my agency. You have shown what you truly think is important, and it is you and your comfort above me and my actual life.

When the Phrase “Being Armed” Is Meaningless

This week has been so packed with important, groundbreaking and openly discriminatory news that is has been overwhelming. But there is one underreported thing from the start of George Zimmerman’s trial on Monday that leaves me so angry, outraged and sad that it bears mentioning.

Many places have reported with shock that Mr. Zimmerman’s defense counsel included a knock-knock joke in his opening statements. And it was offensive bullshit, so it’s understandable that people are talking about it alongside Don West’s shitty treatment of Rachel Jeantel in an attempt to make the super white jury think she’s not worth listening to.

But what still makes me feel ill when I think about it is the assertion West made in opening statements that the murdered teenager was not actually unarmed. Dead high schooler Trayvon Martin purportedly “armed himself with a concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman’s head.”

George Zimmerman, we were told, was simply a helpful citizen who was savaged by an out-of-place black kid. He had no choice but to shoot and kill this minor. This idea makes me so angry still that I want to smash things into little pieces.

I cannot believe anyone could be so transparently dishonest to try to contort the simple concept of weaponry and being armed in such a way that no one can ever be “unarmed” because there is always something that can be claimed as a weapon, including the ground you stand on. This is not just insulting, but asks us to throw out any legal standards of proportional response. It asks us to use the self-defensive, desperate tactics of victims as an excuse for their attack or murder.

This asks the jury to ignore the vast differentials in power and physical threat that exist here. Mr. Zimmerman used his vehicle, his age, his assumed justification as a neighborhood vigilante to intimidate and frighten a young man who will now never see adulthood. He’s now using the claim of injuries after he stalked and harassed Trayvon Martin to excuse his murder.

I desperately want to be wrong, but I have strong suspicions that Mr. Zimmerman will not face conviction and prison for profiling, stalking and murdering a minor. This makes me so helplessly angry it brings tears of rage to my eyes. I want to be wrong. I want there to be justice for Trayvon.

What’s Supposed to Happen AFTER You Shut Up and Listen

For the last several weeks, I’ve felt growing jealousy toward those friends and acquaintances who have had the opportunity to attend the second Women In Secularism conference. I felt that twinge of envy die back considerably watching the twitter and liveblogging reactions of surprise and disappointment when the conference kicked off with the remarks of Ron Lindsay, who is the president and CEO of the conference’s sponsoring organization, the Center for Inquiry. Now while I still wish I could have been present for those panels, in many ways I’m relieved I have not given (for my budget, considerable) funds to an organization whose highest leadership seems to fundamentally not understand the purpose of something that means so much to me.

I’d also like to extend my greatest sympathies and support to Melody Hensley, whose task in successfully managing this event has been made harder and harder by the management of her own organization. It is absolutely not her fault that this has become disastrously mismanaged, and my admiration for her dedicated work has only grown in the face of this “PR disaster” as she described it last night (can’t direct link to the comment, which is #40 on this latest doubling down by Lindsay). Ms. Hensley said,

Half of the Slymepit have shown up to support these series of blogs. These are not our supporters or donors. They are harassers and sexists.

I’m completely embarrassed. I feel betrayed that that my allies are upset and the people that wish me ill will are cheering this on. I wish we could go back in time and delete this PR disaster.

I agree. And while I’ve watched this in increasing frustration, the thought occurred to me that maybe Ron Lindsay never actually read far enough to understand what’s supposed to happen after someone with privilege shuts up long enough to listen to the experience of someone who has a better view of the social and legal deck stacking in society. In the hopes that he can learn to listen long enough for understanding, I’ll try to give him a concrete example of how this is supposed to work.

Privilege is one of those remarkably sneaky things where it’s inherently part of having privilege that it is hard to see how you are benefited and how a thousand little things create the microaggressions that wear others down every single day. It can be something as simple as not having choices created with you in mind because you are not considered the default.

A while back, Greta Christina wrote about something that drives her crazy. (Me too!) When organizers for events order merchandise, somehow it seldom seems to occur to them to order t-shirts in women’s styles for their female attendees.

Here’s where the shutting up and listening portion comes in: my spouse, after hearing about this concern, one he never would have known about had he not been receptive enough to listen and learn (the shutting up and listening part), realized he’s seen this done on a particularly egregious scale in his own professional life.

Spouse’s office has to do with programs that feed children, and so disproportionately deals with women rather than men. Far more women than men attend their conferences and training sessions. Yet every single time they’ve ordered shirts for these, events, they’ve ordered unisex men’s t-shirts. How is it that for years, it had never occurred to anyone to order women’s style shirts for these events when they vastly comprise those they work with?

Simply put, shutting up long enough to be receptive to a criticism of Greta Christina’s, spouse has learned something he can be aware of and implement that will make one less message these women will receive in their day that men are the default and nothing can be done about it. It makes their lives slightly better and costs my spouse nothing but a moment of consideration during the planning stages of events. This isn’t about silencing. It’s about caring enough to learn how to be a better person.

Now I realize that Lindsay does not believe his opening remarks were primarily about how he fears privilege is used to silence critics. He may certainly not have intended his speech to launch Women in Secularism to tell attendees, speakers and panelists to say that asking others to check their privilege is a silencing tactic, but that is what he did.

I’ve read his prepared remarks. They open by discussing religious traditions of deliberately disempowering and silencing women, move on to telling this audience he does not welcome them because there’s too much work to do, then express concern over what kind of feminist foundation is being built in the secular movement before they get directly into criticism of the critically important concept of privilege. Your remarks are about how uncomfortable you are with how many of us use privilege as a key tool to educate and change behavior. There is a clear line of reasoning (that you yourself cite!) that links the opening statements of religious silencing tradition with the straw-stuffed explanation of privilege checking in your remarks.

Mr. Lindsay, I ask you to take this opportunity to stop, listen, reflect and learn. Stop and consider that the criticism of your remarks came from your own hosted panelists as well as attendees at at the conference while the loudest applause you are getting is coming from the very people who want to tear down the work of Women In Secularism and the dedicated efforts of those in your own organization.

Sorry they got caught?

UPDATE: Hospital Is Fucking Lying Their Asses Off, Plus Police Abuse, Homophobia, AIDS Hysteria

I have to say I was not surprised to hear that the hospital in the Kansas City area was lying. I was surprised just how blatantly they were lying because the truth is so much more sickening and horrible than I suspected. A new interview on AMERICAblog is just utterly horrifying and heartbreaking. Please read it.

Here are some highlights.

  • Gorley’s husband, Allen Mansell, although in and out of consciousness, clearly expressed his wish that his husband stay & his brother leave. As Roger Gorley was physically hit & pulled by police, Mansell attempted to hold his husband’s hand to keep him from being removed.
  • The “belligerent” conduct being referred to is the outraged reaction Gorley had when Mansell’s brother challenged the spouse’s right to make medical determinations under their power of attorney. Hospital staff, despite knowing better, sided with the brother, and insisted & facilitated a violent removal of his husband over the patient’s objections.
  • Police were brutal, discriminatory, unnecessarily violent and utterly cruel.
    • In order to break his hold on the hospital bed & hand of his husband, police bashed at his wrists
    • When they knocked him to the ground, they dislodged his glasses & hearing aids and drew blood
  • Massive homophobia and AIDS stigma and ignorance
    • One officer would not touch Gorley with his bare hands, even refusing to touch his own handcuffs (because they recuffed him three additional times) when they were handed back to him
    • All officers acted as if there was an AIDS concern obviously because Gorley was gay, and not because of any routine reason

When I first read this, I cried. I got weepy again writing this update. These assholes are not only liars, they are brazen asshole liars who treated a gay couple like dirt.

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Today we’ve learned about a man in Lee’s Summit, MO who was removed from his hospitalized husband’s bedside, handcuffed, escorted off the property and arrested because he refused to leave. There have been some conflicting reports about a restraining order*, but that much of it has not been disputed by anyone.

Since this morning, the local Fox affiliate (the ultimate first source on all the pieces I’ve seen written) has put up an update that Roger Gorley is now free to visit his husband again, but there is no detail or explanation of how & when this development occurred.

It definitely was not there when the Change.org petition to have the hospital stripped of its Medicare and Medicaid access was started. So the cynic in me is wondering whether they actually realized they did a bad thing or whether they just want people to shut up about it so they stop looking bad.

Hospital statements have been cagey about the details of how & why Gorley was removed and frankly what is reported as part of a statement to the police is in direct contradiction to how he describes what happened. What I think explains the difference is that the hospital staff probably has different rules for family and non-family visitors of patients.

According to Roger Gorley, he arrived at the hospital and found that his husband’s family was already present in the hotel room, and it was one of them that told him to leave, even though he and Allen have been in civil union for years and Gorley has power of attorney for medical issues. (What’s more, apparently that power of attorney is on file and Allen has received treatment at this facility previously so there can be no reasonable claim of ignorance one the part of hospital staff.)

The local news report says that hospital staff asked Gorley to leave because they “did not want to have any visitors to Allen’s room.” To be frank, I do not believe the hospital here and this is why:

  • No mention of Allen’s family in any statements about visitors
  • Allen has previously been treated here without any problems of visitation for Gorley & Allen

So yeah, I think they’re trying to cover their asses here. Especially because they keep claiming they’re totally respectful of same-sex couples and the only problem was that Gorley was “belligerent,” “disruptive” and physically resisted being removed. I won’t believe them until they answer one key question: Why was it necessary to remove a spouse from a patients’ room?

Because I do not blame Gorley one bit for causing a scene when he was told to leave by his spouse’s family. I would be belligerent and disruptive too.

I don’t think this is just some misunderstanding. I think the hospital was sorry they got caught so publicly & are covering themselves to make it go away.

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*The local affiliate may have updated the story to remove reporting about issuing a restraining order, because I have seen sources linking that site as the source of a restraining order filing. The most recent public statement by the hospital was on their Facebook page claiming they never asked for or issued a restraining order.

“Turd-Pong” Or, Some of the Best Feminism 101 I’ve Read in a Long Time

Today someone linked* to a wonderful piece by Lindy West explaining feminism to the dude who wants to talk debate the existence of privilege and misandry. And it’s fucking wonderful.

I was sold before I hit the phrase “turd-pong” which just made my damn day. Here’s the end of the introduction:

It is nearly impossible to address problems facing women—especially problems in which men are even tangentially culpable—without comments sections devolving into cries of “misandry!” from men and replies of “misandry isn’t real” from women. Feminists are tired of this endless, fruitless turd-pong: hollow “conversation” built on willful miscommunication, bouncing back and forth, back and forth, until both sides throw up their hands and bolt. Maybe you are tired of this too. We seem to be having some very deep misunderstandings on this point, so let’s unpack it. I promise not to yell.

The rest is organized by sections.

Part One: Why Feminism Has “Fem” in the Name, or, Why Can’t We All Just Be Humanists?

Part Two: Why Claiming that Sexism Isn’t Real Is a Sexist Thing to Say

Part Three: Why People Being Shitty to You Is Not the Same as You Being Systematically Disenfranchised

Part Four: A List of “Men’s Rights” Issues That Feminism Is Already Working On

Part Five: I’m Sorry That You Are in Pain, But Please Stop Taking It Out on Women

You should read it.

* I don’t regularly read Jezebel, mostly because stuff there is problematic more often than I’m happy with, but feminists write some wonderful pieces there that I usually find through links and/or Twitter.