So proclaimed my piano teacher in numerous post-lesson conversations with my mom. When she wasn’t grumbling about shelters she was remarking on how lovely Phyllis Schlafly’s bouffant looked alongside those long-haired feminists.
I didn’t get it. “Why doesn’t she want shelters?” I asked my mom.
Mom didn’t get it either. “I suppose she’s concerned that they don’t have the right training to run one,” she speculated.
Actually, my piano teacher probably didn’t know why she was against shelters, either. Aligned with “the F-word,” they must be bad.
None of us knew. But as it turns out, the whole family-values agenda that my teacher so revered was intent on maintaining male power and female submission.
My piano teacher was a member of my church. Back then, in the ’70s, Mormonism was in major backlash against the feminist movement. And that gave rise to a series of little “clicks,” leading up to a major feminist “click” moment for me.
In my church’s backlash, women were suddenly forbidden from leading prayer during worship services. Worse yet (to me), girls had to wear dresses to “Activity Night,” and lessons on the importance of marriage overtook other activities.
Priesthood, forbidden to women, is bestowed upon all males at age 12. If gender inequality were not bad enough, watching my late-maturing boy-peers take on that mantel seemed ludicrous. I was especially not happy when my little brother received the priesthood. Worse, my divorced mother then declared him “head of home,” presiding over my grandmother, mother and me. I wasn’t having any of it, so that befuddled notion never became reality.
The final click? The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back? Although Mormonism gave up polygamy (“Mormon Fundamentalists” keep the tradition), from the time I was little I was taught that polygamy was the way of Heaven because, ironically, women were sweeter in spirit so there would be more of us up there. I suddenly realized that if I were the best person I could be, my eternal reward would be second-class status as a woman and marriage to a polygamous man. Heaven? Sounded more like Hell to me.
Interestingly, I attended my old congregation a while back while visiting my mother, and heard an announcement that her congregation was raising money for a battered women’s shelter! I also heard concern that “unequal spousal relationships” were a primary cause of family disintegration. Maybe that’s hopeful. I know many young feminist women who today live in peace with Mormonism. Some have even started a blog: Feminist Mormon Housewives.
Oddly, in some ways my whole trauma has an upside. I don’t know if I would have found my life calling–teaching women’s studies, and writing for the Ms. Blog and creating my own BroadBlogs–if it weren’t for my church’s formidable effort to turn me against feminism. So, in a strange way, I’m tempted to say “thank you.” Too bad the cost is so high.
Photo of Phyllis Schlafly in 2007 from Wikimedia Commons.