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Mormon Men’s Reputation and Purity Are All That Matters

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.

I Feel Like a Puppy Has Followed Me Home. And I Don’t Know What to Do About It.

I’ve mentioned I’m going to be laid off, and soon. I have my good days and bad days, and I’m largely tending toward anxiety and stress lately.  There are things I like and hate about my workplace, some of which are generic office things, but many of which have to do with an overtly Mormon office culture.  I have to edit not just my vocabulary for professional standards, which is fine, but I also have to edit out things in my life that would make my workplace extra uncomfortable and filled with judgement.  If someone asks about a weekend where I had a nice time with family or friends, I edit out the parts that include drinking, etc.

One of the few really nice things about my office is there are a number of nice people, some LDS and some not.  I’m on close terms with a number of people here, but I’ll be honest, I’m really not planning on hanging out outside of work.  Because all they know is my office presentation.  I might loosen up slightly around people I know, like and trust somewhat, but I’m pretty sure that were they to actually know what I think about shit, I’d scare the hell out of them.

Which brings me to the lady who reminds me of a lonely puppy.  She was recently hired on in the building maintenance department. She is nice.  And I treated her like I treat anyone else here: like a nice human being.  Basic chatting with her, keeping everything in the relatively superficial office-speech bubble.

Then something weird and a bit off-putting happened.  She announced that I was really cool and nice and interesting, that I treated her with respect (which was unusual, apparently, and that makes me terribly sad), and that she wants to be my friend.  And not just in the “let’s grab lunch together” sort of office friends way.  She demanded that we exchange contact information, which I did mostly because I didn’t know what else to do.  I still don’t.

Here’s the thing: I’m a busy, stressed and currently am a very grumpy curmudgeon.  I feel stressed and hurried most of the time.  I’m planning on taking advantage of not having a job to finish up my education quickly, while hoping the economy has recovered enough by the time I finish law school that I can find a position.  I am not in a place where I’m looking to spend time with someone I don’t even know when I am currently neglecting family and friends I already have.  (My internet friends don’t count here because it’s easier to juggle with other real life stuff.)

She and I are simply not in the same place in life, and that’s bound to make creating a friendship tricky.  What’s more, unless I’ve read this woman very wrong, she and I are not exactly compatible ideologically.  So I feel like she wants to be friends with a perception of who I am, and not me.

I know she’s deeply lonely and she’s just trying to connect with someone who treats her with respect and dignity.  I don’t want to crush her by rejecting her out of hand, but I feel like I’m being dishonest about what she could expect from me outside of the office.  What happens when she finds out that I reject many things that make her feel happy, safe and comfortable?  What happens when she finds out that I’m actually this angry feminist atheist progressive?  I feel like I need a disclaimer:

Warning: you don’t know me.  You don’t have any idea what I am like.  You met me in a professional office where public personas don’t match reality.  Individual is not responsible for unsatisfied acquaintances.

Nuke It From Orbit

It’s the only way to be sure.

Today I had an otherwise liberal dude in my office (who actually knows I’m an atheist) tell me that he doesn’t care if gay people have relationships, kids, whatever, but*

he think that they shouldn’t want any more rights than he has any “special rights.”

What planet do these fucking people come from?  How does any otherwise normal, happy person who claims to deliberately not judge others as long as they are happy/not hurting anyone come to this sort of bullshit?  No matter how many times I read about people saying this or hear it from privileged assholes, I still can’t grok what exactly they imagine these “special rights” are.

For some, it’s clear that they don’t actually know any gay people and thus have this invented straw-gay that governs every stupid thing that comes out of their mouths.  For others, it seems more likely they actually do hate gay people, but are afraid of being really open about it, so they weasel about with claims of supporting equality but not some invented special consideration.  Or they waffle about with talk about how they should be allowed to force people into the closet to avoid discomfort, because their private just-how-I-feel beliefs trump others rights.

Days like today make me want to wipe out the entire state population as a way of wiping out this kind of bullshit.

*You can always tell you’re about to get hit in the face with some massive bigoted fuckery when a sentence starts this way.  There is always a “but…[insert stupid bullshit here].”

To the Lee of the Stone

I recently had to move my office, because it was just about that time again.  My department has been moved regularly since even before I worked here every year and half, on average.  This is my third move in maybe a year and half.

But although it’s always hard work to transport lots and lots and lots of files/banker’s boxes, this time I encountered something wondrous.  I don’t have the pictures available yet, so I’ll wait to do a full post on the item in question, but I have to say, I love technological archaeology.

Past Tense Makes My Brain Scream

Today I had a conversation that made my want to break things in exasperation.

It began with someone wanting a cookie for being a more reasonable version of a conservative in the U.S.  He explained that Michelle Bachmann’s ability to win in Iowa and exist as a major candidate typifies everything that’s wrong with where conservative politics are headed.  (For the record, he also thinks the Paul Ryan “budget” was ridiculous too, but it’s less important to this rant.)

What followed was “agreement” without any substantial agreement.  I agree that Ms. Bachmann’s success (among others) is indicative of a fundamental problem in politics and government administration, but I can’t agree with this coworker that the problem is that we need politicians that are just a little less religious than she is.  While we think it’s crazy that she’s a creationist who believes the earth only thousands of years old and that evolution is a crazy evil lie, that doesn’t mean that I agree with you, either.

I think you’re just as wrong as she is when you say that your god created the world is six ages (“days”) and that evolution happened but was guided; if changes were guided, then you wouldn’t see stupid or flawed design in species, which exist all over the damned place.  You think evolution happened, as in past tense? That’s just as nuts as what Bachmann thinks, because it means you don’t understand what the hell evolution is any more than she does.

Evolution is the current ongoing change in species through countless generations and is both fact and theory.  The fact is the reality that evolution has happened and is happening.  The scientific theory portion (think of the level of clear reality behind cell theory or germ theory, kids) only comes into play when discussing the actual mechanisms by which speciation and change occur.

So no, evolution didn’t “happen” at some distant point in the past to make the current range of life on this planet.  It’s happening now and won’t stop until this ball is dead and lifeless in the distant future.

P.S. If your main complaint with the republican party is candidates like Michelle Bachmann, then “the unions” are not to blame for everything going wrong.  This may come as a shock to you, but unions are generally a liberalizing force.

On the Likely Government Shutdown

BREAKING NEWS EDIT: Turns out that husband’s department is already funded through June 30th, leaving them unaffected by the shutdown.  Why they were unable to figure this out before and announce it is mystifying, though.

It seems more or less certain now.

On Monday, when someone calls my husband’s office, emails him or checks the department’s website, they will not be able to get information on the programs that feed children in Utah.  Instead, there will be a message along these lines:

Due to the shutdown of the Federal government, this office is now closed.

I have no idea what the full ramifications will be on school districts, poor schools and neighborhoods, and the children who rely on these programs for healthy nutrition, but it is sure to be ugly.

And while most of the news media I see insists on talking about this mainly as a true good-faith negotiation between the parties about cuts to avoid a shutdown, I find I’m really starting to agree with Rachel Maddow on several points.

  • Speaker of the House John Boehner is either bad at his job or confused about what his job actually is*
  • Many within the Republican party actually want the government to shut down and are working very hard to make sure that negotiations fail**
  • Conservative lawmakers don’t care about hurting women, if they can appease the anti-abortion donors by cutting non-abortion services in the name of a pro-choice ideology

I’m tired of people being allowed to lie about the games being played when they’re holding my husband’s job along with millions of others hostage.  I’m tired of people pretending that defunding Planned Parenthood is about abortion (given the already heavy regulation of where funds can be used) instead of providing medical services like cancer screening, pre-natal care and contraception in communities with no other option.  I’m tired of the hyper-conservative wing of the Republican party (including our own Mike Lee, Jason Chaffetz) pretending they don’t represent the whole of their constituency (me).

* Hint: it’s providing leadership to conduct the affairs of government rather than shut it down through games, it’s passing a budget since minding the purse-strings are pretty much the main job of the legislative branch, it’s making sure that you keep your separate party interests molded into a solid agenda rather than being ruled by divisive elements in your own party, it’s making sure you actually show up to work on a regular schedule and work to pass real legislation and not empty gestures of defiance.  Whatever your opinion of former Speaker Pelosi, she ran bills through that body like nobody’s business.  The Speaker’s constitutional job is to run the House, not to be obstructionary in order to prevent the current President from winning re-election.

** Evidenced by the cheers at news of failed talks as well as Representative Ryan’s remarks that his odious, Medicare-killing budget wasn’t a budget, but a cause.

I’ve Angered the Technology Gods

It’s relatively frustrating when you’re mired with computer glitches in the best of circumstances. These are not the best of circumstances and this morning’s problems go beyond mere glitches.

The motherboard on my work PC is fried, and while most of my work is on the network, a few things I had been helping other people with were on my desktop because I didn’t need to keep the data. I’ve been doing as much as possible through my phone (seriously, aren’t smartphones a lifesaver?) but it is rapidly approaching the point where I could really use a computer, any computer to get some urgent stuff taken care of. We are supposed to be selling property this week and I urgently need access to some electronic forms in my files.