Thursday, August 14, 2014

There is More to Life Than Happiness

I grew up in a culture deeply invested in understanding right and wrong. This distinction was the guiding lens through which I interpreted the world around me. There was a right way to do everything, and a wrong way. In any given situation, there was a right way to feel and a wrong way. The ultimate right way was, of course, happiness. In the religious tradition of my youth, it is believed that living rightly, or morally, will unfailingly lead to happiness. Of course, there is also an acknowledgment that bad things happen to good people, but even still, there is the belief that if you are doing, thinking, feeling and being the right things you will be granted at least some measure of peace and hope through any storm life can throw at you. In other words, happiness was linked inseparably to morality. This particular way of thinking is pronounced in Mormonism, but I find that aspects of it are ubiquitous in American culture at large. Happiness is the highest good. And we believe in the individual’s ability to go out there and grab happiness by the horns. That’s mostly kind of an awesome belief. And we’re so lucky to live in a place that really does afford us a great measure of freedom in seeking our own happiness.

Sometimes, however, I fear that we let our obsession with this emotional state cloud our understanding of reality, and more problematically, cloud our ability to be empathetic towards our fellow human beings. It’s easy to forget that happiness isn’t always the healthiest emotional response in any given circumstance. We acknowledge to some extent that there are times when it is appropriate to mourn, as in the event of someone we love or admire passing away. There are a vast array of negative emotions that have their proper place and time, many of which we prefer to ignore or simply label as “bad”. Anger is radically looked down on. We fear many of these negative emotions because of their capacity to overwhelm us or hinder our self-control in dangerous ways. We’re afraid of them because they have potential for horribly negative outcomes. So we label them and try to keep them as far away from us as possible. We see somebody get angry and we think, “Danger, Will Robinson!”. There are reasons for that. But the problem is, we have an even more intense fear of those emotions when they arise in ourselves. Having a momentary lack of trust in someone else makes sense sometimes, but losing trust in ourselves undermines our own sense of reality in a much more threatening way. Our anxiety over losing control can cause us to picture our worst selves when confronted with negative emotions. To experience an emotion that we often think of as dangerous or unpredictable, or at least morally blameworthy, can bring on feelings of embarrassment, lack of worth, and guilt when we think that this negative emotion IS who we are. The intense social pressure to feel the right things is the very root of shame. There have been many times when I was afraid my negative emotions (since they were “wrong”) meant that everything I was thinking and feeling was illegitimate, and that therefore my voice didn’t count. In essence, it seemed as though my very consciousness and identity became moot. As a highly emotive and expressive person, that aloneness and fear was acutely painful.

The irony is, it’s usually our fear of the negative emotions, and not the negative emotions themselves that lead us to do things we regret. The problem isn’t that you’re angry; the problem is that you didn’t attend to your anger because you were afraid of it, and you neglected it long enough that it came out in an uncontrolled outburst. Negative emotions are kind of like these little animals inside us that need tending to and nurturing, rather than simply banishing them. The fact is, they will always be there. They are part of you and part of me, an inevitable part of being human. “Get behind me Satan” is not going to do the trick. (Trust me, I tried.) You need to build a little fence so they have a space of their own, and when they beg for your attention, listen to them. Talk to them. Remind yourself that they are there for a reason and that sometimes it makes sense to be angry. Find a way to express the anger (or whatever negative emotion), give it air and make an appropriate place for it. When you nurture these parts of yourself, you are in control. When you neglect them, they take control. The worst possible outcomes of anger and other negative emotions are fearsome, indeed. But the irony is, our fear of them is what leads to those outcomes. Shame just doesn’t work.

Depression is its own animal. It’s not one that everyone has on their mental farm. But for those who do, it has a life of its own and it can be really tough to manage. While it isn’t exactly a healthy mental state, it’s similar to other negative emotions in the sense that just telling it to go away doesn’t really do anything, but this is even more true for depression. It’s an animal that makes a lot more demands, and screws around with the entire operation of “the farm” in very tricky ways. That’s why we sometimes need help, in the form of medication and/or therapists who have studied this animal and can help guide us in learning how to talk to it, learning how to nurture it and tend to it in healthy ways. If we could simply “try real hard” and tell it to take a hike, it wouldn’t be depression. For those of us who struggle with it, we have to reach a point of acceptance when we acknowledge to ourselves that this thing may likely be with us for the long haul. That doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. But it does mean that we need to stop shaming people, and ourselves, when they/we don’t feel happy. Happiness isn’t permanent. It’s an emotional state, like any other emotional state. They come and go and being able to roll with it is really what it’s all about. 

Everyone is so different. If you haven’t experienced depression, don’t give advice on it. You don’t know how it feels. You don’t understand the experience. If you have experienced depression, know that everyone experiences it differently. For a long time, I was afraid to get help. I didn’t have any suicidal ideation, so I thought my depression didn’t count. I thought it would be insulting to those who have more severe depression for me to get help and take up precious time with a therapist who could be helping someone else who needed it more. Looking back now, I see that doesn’t make any sense at all, but that’s just how it works, isn’t it? Ultimately I didn’t think I was important enough to receive help. But I’m so glad that I did. Therapy is awesome! I learned a lot about how I relate to myself, and unhealthy thought patterns that were so deeply ingrained in me I wasn’t even aware of them. I know in this whole conversation everyone means well. Nobody wants people to be depressed or commit suicide. Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot about the condition through scientific study. Our greatest hope in preventing suicide and helping people with depression is to familiarize ourselves with the science, not attach morality to moods or shame to suicide. Yes, suicide is horrible. Obviously. But what use is blaming those who fall prey to it? Our primary object should be finding the most effective methods of preventing it. And compassion is a good place to start.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


     This is a piece I recently read at an event for a writer's group I'm a part of. It's about my visit a few years ago to Zion National Park.

     Tour buses and crowds waiting in line for the bathroom were finally nowhere to be seen as Ben and I approached the deserted trailhead by the side of the road. The sun fell bright and hot on our backs. We stepped awkwardly through the irregular piles of snow which remained only in the sharp shadows of trees, hills and rocks. As we discussed politics, our conversation was noisy at first in our mutual celebration of being opinionated, but we were abruptly quieted by the hard work of climbing a slushy hill.  After some time of watching the ground, trying not to trip, Ben tugged on my arm and pointed up at a hill to the right of our path. I lifted my head and looked around. 

     To our left, the land sloped gently and unevenly downward toward a few hills in the distance. The landscape was desert, with some tough and craggily shrubs and a few lonely trees. It wasn’t exactly a scene that would fit on a postcard, but there was something about it that sucked me in. Its wildness was disconcerting, yet seductive at the same time. To the right of us, where Ben had pointed, there was a steep hill that blocked our view of anything else in that direction. We decided to climb it to see what was on the other side.  The sun had been shining against this hill, so it was happily free of snow. I found myself feeling grateful for the pilgrims that went before as we followed a trail of deer tracks toward the top of the hill. After pausing to meditate on the bones of some small creature that had met its end here, I began to feel like an intruder. I tried to step more lightly, as if I should somehow apologize for leaving something so unnatural as a shoe print in this place. Still, my mind reeled and my heartbeat sped up as I was flooded with the question, “What is on the other side of this hill?”  We reached the top and stood and stared. 

     A sharp boundary lined the ridge, beyond which everything was covered with snow, forbidding us to trespass. We turned our backs to the blank white and sat down to look back in the direction from which we had come. We were quiet. Suddenly, I was confused by the sound of something enormous. My brain said, “Traffic!”, but no. It was the wind. It was so new to hear the wind unencumbered by trees and buildings that I didn’t even recognize it. I felt born again. And then another sound startled me. It was my blood pulsing through me, thumping in my ear. I looked again at the hills that had drawn me in without offering any clues as to how I should judge. Seductive and worrisome, I had found God. Not the prescribed and prescient God of my youth, but the unknowable, incomprehensible God who brilliantly lit the present moment and darkened the future from my view.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"There Would Never Have Been an Infidel if There Had Never Been a Priest"

     When I was active in the LDS Church, I never felt compelled to ask why women didn't bear the priesthood. Most of the traditional answers regarding how the priesthood related to gender roles were ok with me at the time. When I first heard about the Ordain Women movement, I didn't particularly have feelings about it one way or the other. I had already stopped attending when the movement gained momentum, and I was surprised by the reach of its voice. When I decided to read the website for myself, I was amazed at how respectful and sensible it was and how much it resisted being angry or pushy. While some have claimed that it was the way Kate Kelly carried out the conversation that caused problems, I can't imagine anyone engaging the conversation in a more respectful, humble and honest way.
     Yesterday was a really bad day for a lot of people, myself included. I composed about five different blog posts in my mind and deleted them all. I had the strangest feeling all day, which I'm still struggling to pin down and articulate. I was frustrated that I had such strong feelings about Kate Kelly's excommunication. On the one hand, it has nothing to do with me. On the other hand, it hit too close to home to ignore. I didn't feel I had anything relevant to say because my feelings on the matter are inevitably marked by my belief that the Church is fundamentally false. Nothing I have to say has any bearing on those who see the Church as true; so what is there to say? All I could think of was what it is like to be judged by people who don't know your mind and heart. To be told that someone knows what's best for you better than you know yourself. It just burns.
     When I was younger, I remember being struck by a line in a Gordon Bok song. "She knows what's in her heart like she knows her name." I was so moved by this thought; the idea of knowing oneself so completely and intuitively. It describes a person being powerful in their core. There is a place inside each of us that is sacred and divine, a place that no one else can access, see, or measure. It's the place where we find that thing we have so many names for.  Our conscience, the still small voice, or a higher self. It is our only connection to the divine, and cannot be known or judged by anyone but ourselves.
     I suppose I can't have a whole lot to say on Kate Kelly's excommunication because as an organization, the Church has the legal right to include or exclude who and what they choose; they have the right to manage their boundaries. But having the right to do something doesn't make it right. I understand the Church's desire to keep their doctrine pure, but I think this need is a symptom of man's ego, not God's influence. It's the need for control. I see this pride and need for control more as the cultural backdrop of the Church; an unintentional peek into the flaws of a patriarchal culture that has become a system of power. Like any government or organization, it's simply an imperfect system that leads to imperfect outcomes; sometimes downright harmful outcomes. I don't necessarily blame the individuals who primarily see the good in the system and are working within it to try to do the right thing. (i.e. individuals within the Church, including those responsible for Kate Kelly's excommunication.) I don't care about blame, or whose fault it is. I just can't bring myself to support an institution who makes it its business to regulate conscience. Thomas Jefferson said it better than I could-

     Our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to Him, and not to the priests. For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read. But this does not satisfy the priesthood; they must have a positive, a declared assent to all their interested absurdities. My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel if there had never been a priest.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

For Those Who Don't Know What It's Like to Be a Doubter

     With the recent news of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin facing possible excommunication from the Church, I have experienced a mix of emotions myself, and observed mixed reactions from believers and doubters alike on social media. I was heartbroken, especially because of the value I found in John Dehlin's Mormon Stories Podcast when I was struggling most with my doubts. I treasured having a source of information that was totally honest, without any ill-will toward the Church. As I have been weighed down by the sadness of the news, I've also been tempted to respond with anger towards those who don't understand my perspective. I've seen a lot of comments, especially in reference to Kate Kelly, along the lines of "She just wants attention!", "If she doesn't like how the Church is, why doesn't she just leave?" and, "So silly. Doesn't she know anything about the gospel?"

     I exercised a great deal of self-control and decided not to comment on such threads as I knew it wouldn't get anywhere. But I felt I should clarify a few things for those who find themselves more in line with those kinds of comments. I've probably said similar things myself at another time in my life. The main issue I want to address is why people don't "just leave the Church". Because that must be so easy, right? "Just leave." As someone who has stepped away from my activity in the Church, let me express a little of what that is like.

     Growing up in the Church is kind of like growing up in a small country with a rich history and culture. You grow up accustomed to a certain cuisine, language, music, an entire shared sense of spirituality with all the same stories to tie you together as a community. When you are young, you are nurtured with love not only by your family, but by your neighbors and even community leaders. You are flooded with love for your country and proudly wear its colors, and you are praised mightily for this, strengthening the bond. You are taught that your country is better than all other countries and that it is the only country that takes such good care of its people. But as you grow older, you find out that there are more kinds of people than one. You find out that things are not so simple. You find out that certain kinds of people aren't allowed in. And you find out that entire groups of citizens are quietly suffering, and that although the tight government control makes for a very unified and seemingly peaceful country, there is also little freedom.

     In time, you may discover enough uncomfortable information that you begin to feel deeply that the way things are run goes directly against all the core principles you were taught growing up as a citizen of this place. This conflict, and your love for your home, causes you to want to bring integrity back to your country. You need some way to reconcile the conflict between your government's principles and its behavior. You reach a point where you have to decide whether to leave it altogether, or to stay, and through your patriotism try to make it the country you always believed it was and know it could be. The idea of moving to a new country is terrifying and lonely. Everyone you have ever loved is in this place and all that you know is here. You are still loyal to the principles you thought it stood for. What should you do?

     It's not an easy position to be in. It's not as if doubters wake up one day and say, "You know, I really hate the Church. I should just get out of here." Those who leave must learn how to live in a whole new "country", which is disorienting and difficult at times. Those who stay must find a way to carve out enough space to be themselves and stand up for what they believe. Whether we stay or leave, the Church is still who we are; we can't just pluck it out of us, just as you can't snap your fingers and make your family's influence on your identity disappear (nor would you want to, even in times of conflict). We struggle between our loyalty to our principles and our loyalty to the Church. We want everyone to be able to stay with their integrity and dignity intact. We want the Church to be a place where people are actually free to listen to their minds and their hearts; where personal revelation isn't just a nice idea, but a functioning reality for every Saint.

     I'm fine with the Church saying, "This is our doctrine on the Priesthood, period." But to excommunicate those who express different beliefs is to say that you're not allowed a voice unless you conform, now. Whether you're a government or a Church, I don't believe exclusivity helps anyone or makes the world a better place. I don't expect those in the main stream of the Church to agree with Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. I just hoped people would respond with a little more compassion; to at least recognize that this isn't just an opportunity to put others down to make yourself feel right, or more righteous. It's an opportunity to mourn with those that mourn and recognize that this isn't easy for anybody. 


Friday, May 16, 2014

Good Morning!

Good morning, world! I know I just wrote a blog entry yesterday but it's a beautiful cloudy morning  and I'm feeling amazing with the cool breeze floating in. I just felt like expressing some things. For the first time in so very long I'm feeling a real sense of peace again in my life. I have that amazing feeling inside that comes from knowing I'm right where I belong.

If I have to be completely honest, I've felt like my life has been kind of grinding and confused since I graduated from college. I felt like a baby bird being happily tossed out of the nest with everyone around me saying, "Congratulations! Now fly!" And I just didn't know how. I've never felt prepared for adulthood. I struggled so hard for a sense of self, which surprised me, because I thought I was so sure of who I was. Being too sure can really make a person vulnerable to getting knocked on their ass, huh?

It took me a long time to figure out that what is needed is to embrace the ambiguity and be willing to start from where you are and work at something. I've spent a lot of time just trying to figure out where I was. In the midst of feeling lost I recognized that most people feel lost in some way. We have different names for it, but whatever you call it, being lost is really a valuable experience and makes being human so much more interesting. Think of how much smaller the world would be and how much less we would know if people never got lost.

I am so in love with the chaos and absurdity of being human. The pain and splendor of love, the yearning for meaning that drives us to create patterns in the world around us, the discomfort of disagreement, and the sheer joy of having senses, humor and emotion all coalesces in this colorful existence that morphs and changes through time. People change through time, if we let them. I'm changing, and I like it! Don't get me wrong, I like who I was before, too. In fact I'm still me in the ways I think are essential. And that's what's so great- I'M ME, so I can decide what's essential about me and decide what to change. It sounds so basic and obvious, but the freedom to define myself for myself is earth-shattering to me.

The rain is coming and it's going to be here all day.  I'm glad for the drink.

Also, I'm in love with this song. (Ok, the whole album, but this song is my current favorite)

In the Morning of the Magicians by The Flaming Lips

Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Problem With Anger

        It’s been nearly two years since I stepped away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the faith I have loved passionately my entire life. About a year ago, after a lengthy conversation about this with a close friend, my friend gently urged me to consider who I was becoming in this process and observed that I had revealed some unresolved anger. When he said this, my heart sank. I felt aware both of his loving concern and my own desire to avoid becoming a bitter person, as well as my own concern that my friends would write me off as “angry” and not actually hear me. 

In the grand scheme of things, I have found that speaking my truth and then letting go is  healthier than trying to force somebody to understand something they haven’t experienced. But this issue of anger(and negative emotions in general) has been a consistent point of interest for me as I’ve grown into my new self and seen others of my friends who have “fallen away” interacting with active Mormons. Looking back I can see how Mormonism shaped my ideas about negative emotions and how I responded to those emotions in unhealthy ways, which largely contributed to my depression and anxiety. I write about this, not to condemn Mormonism per se, but in an effort to point out something that might help others, as well as myself, be a little more healthy in how we think about our emotions, especially anger.

My approach to anger in my younger years was heavily influenced by several scriptures and teachings of the Church. The first verse that comes to mind is 3 Nephi 11:29:  

“For verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another;”      

Of course, there is wisdom in avoiding a “spirit of contention”.  To me, this implies somebody who is just looking for a fight, or somebody who stands to benefit selfishly by distracting people with anger and in-fighting. And that is an interpretation I can stand by and agree with; but is that how we apply it? Another verse may provide a little more nuanced insight to some problem-areas in our beliefs about anger. Matthew 5:21-22: 

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” 

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount has to be one of the most beautiful sermons ever given in history, and I can’t count how many times we read this verse in Sunday School and Seminary. Again, I stand by these verses as true and insightful. But what I find most telling about Mormonism’s problem with anger is the Joseph Smith translation of this verse. For those who are unfamiliar, Joseph Smith acknowledged the problem of the Bible containing mistakes due to its ancient origin and having passed through so many translations, so in order to correct these mistakes he went through and changed small portions of the text, using revelation to “re-translate”.  He changed the words in Matthew 5:22 to read, “whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment…”, omitting the words, “without a cause”.  I believe this to be the most telling tweak in terms of how we, as cultural/doctrinal Mormons, handle our emotions. 

On the one hand, I see value in the distinction in that anger is something we need to be able to manage, regardless of our reasons for being angry. The reason for our anger may not leave and we can’t always wait around for an apology. We have to deal with that anger and move on.  However, that’s not exactly what the Joseph Smith version of that verse actually says. It actually says that God commands us to never be angry. Hmm…how has that gone for you guys? It hasn’t really worked for me. And believe me, I’ve been trying (and praying for help) my whole life.  

The first time a therapist told me that anger was a perfectly normal, healthy response in life, I just sat in silence for a while, both stunned by the obviousness of it and feeling like I could breathe for the first time. Negative emotions can be so unpleasant, and adding on top of that the belief that they are of the devil puts a lot of pressure on a person. One thing we have to start understanding is that the most powerful glue that binds us to our negative emotions (and bad habits in general) is shame. I’ve seen first hand that feeling guilty about being angry only leads me to fixate on it in an attempt to blot it out. Even when I tried to let go of it, my viewing anger as an evil thing made me afraid of it, which led me to hide it from myself and others, rather than actually negotiating with it, understanding it and working through it. Expressing anger in a healthy way is key to working through it. If we approach anger as a normal emotion requiring sensitivity, rather than Satan’s influence, it’s easier to own it and take responsibility for it. If we’re afraid of anger, we might be more likely to take the passive route of blaming someone else by saying things like, “You always…” or “You never…”. When we own it, we say things like, “I get so angry when….” It’s also helpful to find other healthy responses to the anger that give us the freedom to express it while being less hurtful to others. A physical action like going running or punching a pillow(as cheesy as this sounds) can also be helpful.

One of the reasons unhealthy responses to negative emotions can be such an issue in the Church is that there is a constant reminder that righteousness=happiness and wickedness=misery. The gospel is intended to be a guide for how to live a happy life and be a good person, but teaching it in this rigid, one-size-fits-all way sometimes naturally leads us to morally judge ourselves and others based on whether we are exhibiting positive emotions or negative emotions. This is an automatic recipe for shame, fear and self-loathing when we are inevitably confronted with negative emotions in our daily lives. And that shame can cause us to fixate on the negativity, solidifying the anger rather than resolving it, as well as causing anxiety about our own worthiness. 

While this isn’t something that everyone experiences within Mormonism, it’s an experience that I’ve heard many describe and it’s one of the reasons I personally had to step away. Since then I have noticed how this shame extends beyond how we treat ourselves into how we treat each other. Often when someone expresses something about Utah, or about the Church that has been very damaging to them, the stand-by response by those who feel defensive is to point out that the person is angry, thereby delegitimizing whatever it is that they have just expressed. Within this logic, since anger=evil/the devil, the conclusion that anything someone says when they’re angry can’t be trusted. In reality this argument is a manipulation to get the upper hand, whether it’s done consciously or not. 

It is important to allow people(especially loved ones) the freedom to express their anger in honest, healthy ways. This isn’t always easy. Sometimes when I hear certain teachings over the pulpit that have specifically led me down painful and damaging paths, I feel angry that those ways of thinking are still being perpetuated. But I also recognize that some people find those teachings truly uplifting and helpful in their lives. The fact is, different people are affected by things differently and there’s nothing we can do about it! That’s the challenge of co-existing with people who are different from ourselves. 

If someone expresses anger it doesn’t mean they’re saying you have to feel the same way. Their anger doesn’t mean they are deceived by the devil, and it doesn’t mean that you have nothing to learn from them. It means that something is hard for them and they need to let it out and move on.  Telling someone they are wrong because they are angry is a lazy and uncharitable way of shutting them down rather than actually taking the time to listen to what they are saying. If you are in a situation where you don’t feel you can be the one to support this person at this time, take ownership of that and be honest. (That’s ok) Maybe you are feeling too fragile, or your feelings are hurt by their anger and they should be talking with someone else about their anger. Own up to that and kindly be honest. But also keep in mind that ideally we “hope to be able to endure all things” and that if someone asks us to go a mile with them, we should go two. (13th Article of Faith; Matt 5:41) 

A year ago when I was talking with my friend and he encouraged me to think carefully about who I was becoming, I took that to heart. He was sincere. He didn’t shut me down. I knew he couldn’t fully understand my feelings, but he listened to me. And he was right. I had unresolved anger. Since then I have been working hard to make peace with my anger and acknowledge that although it is painful, it is also really normal and valid. In doing this, I’ve found it easier manage my negative emotions, rather than letting them control me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Problems With an Economic View of Sex (Ending the Battle of the Sexes)

I haven't posted in a while but I found a topic on which I could not remain silent. Sex and commitment. I recently saw this video entitled "The Economics of Sex" and it was the perfect impetus for taking a critical look at some of my beliefs about sex and men and women. My conclusion is that this video reinforces exactly what is wrong in our conversation about sex. It presents an argument for why people need to be more careful to keep sex connected to commitment, which I think is a great idea. But the way they interpret sex to make their argument is, to me, a major part of the problem.

Let me try to give a basic summary of the argument posed in this video. First of all, this video only addresses the average heterosexual male and female. Within that context, the argument goes, sex is an exchange wherein men and women give and receive different things. Studies show that on average, men have a higher sex drive, are more sexually permissive and are less likely to connect sex with romance. In other words, men seek sex for itself. On average, women seek sex for love, commitment, affirming their desirability, and for the sake of relationship stability. In other words, women seek sex, not for the sake of sex, but as a means to an end which we could call "commitment". As our culture has changed and with the availability of affordable contraception, people are having sex more often and in less and less committed relationships. The result is that in the "sex economy" the "pricing" has been thrown off in that men get what they want for "cheap" (women are willing to have sex without men having to "pay" the "price" of commitment) while women are less and less able to receive the commitment, or the real reasons they tend to seek sex in the first place. This leads to instability in a critical social unit, the family. And it leads to women losing out. The conclusion, then, is that women need to band together and be willing to refuse sex and raise the "price" again in order to encourage a return of commitment and family stability.

I had so many issues with this argument, but I won't go through all of them. The problems of trying to interpret human motivations with economics are so monumental, and I don't have the sociological, psychological and statistical information at hand to address this issue. All I can say here is that the economic interpretation of humans is extremely narrow and missing out on a lot of other pertinent information that would help interpret the data quite differently than how it's presented here.

The most glaring omission in this video's description of how male and female sexuality differ is that a large portion of those differences are social constructs, and even subject to change. It's hard to measure exactly how much of it is social construct and how much is biological, but to act as if men's and women's desires and choices about sex are purely biological and fixed is absurd. You don't have to get very far into the video to find this fatal flaw in its philosophy. Changing this one point affects the rest of the argument. Here is the description of men's sexual behaviors/attitudes.

“On average, men have a higher sex drive than women. Blame it on testosterone, call it whatever you want. But on average, men initiate sex more than women. They’re more sexually permissive than women, and they connect sex to romance less often than women. Nobody is saying this is the way it ought to be; it’s just the way it is.”

Ok. I'm calling it what I want. A social construct. Men initiate sex more because of how we define masculinity and femininity.  And those concepts are fluid, if we allow them to be. Saying that this is how men are and that it's unchangeable is the same thing as saying this is the way it ought to be. Telling women that men inherently get more out of sex itself and that this is "just the way it is" is actually telling women that sex is a competition that they will always lose. It tells women that commitment is the consolation prize for sex, twisting the nature of commitment and devaluing their ability to enjoy sex. It tells women that sex is a tool to get what you want. And I don't buy that it has to be that way.

The argument for the economic view of sex heavily implies that the sexual liberation of women is a negative thing and that it will ultimately lead to their undoing and the undoing of society. While I think the sexual liberation of women is a positive thing, I can understand people feeling uneasy. As social change happens, some things can get off balance for a while. I agree that serious, committed relationships leading to stable family units are critically important to the health of society. But so are healthy, liberated women.  While encouraging women to withhold sex is one possible solution to the commitment problem, it is also a step backward with very negative consequences as well.

I think whether you are a man or woman, being careful and selective about who you have sex with is healthy. Viewing sex as sacred or special is something I highly value.  To turn sex into a commodity, a transaction or a power struggle is fundamentally destructive to a healthy relationship between the sexes in our culture. In fact I believe it is THE fundamental sickness in the male-female relationship. Here's why. Feminism came along and people started to say, "Wait a minute, our ideas about men and women are largely holding women down and oppressing them. We shouldn't shame women into being passive weaklings who don't have a voice or a choice! We need to liberate women!" This was and is a critical first step, and while we still have a long way to go, we've made a lot of headway. But there aren't very many people who are talking about what the next step will be. And we need another step to follow feminism, because if all we do is liberate women we will end up stuck with a lopsided society. This is why people are afraid of feminism. As the world becomes more feminist, traditional masculine roles become more obsolete and there is a possibility that men can lose out in some regards. Rather than moving backwards we need to keep moving forwards and acknowledge that at some point we need a "masculinist" movement. Just as it is unfair to tell women that they can only have sex to get commitment, it's equally unfair to tell men that the only motive they can have for commitment is to get sex. Perpetuating a macho definition of masculinity holds men back in their obsolete and unhealthy role of "oppressor" when there is no one left to oppress.  Rather than telling women to get back in the role of the oppressed, let's liberate men to be the sensitive, emotional beings that they are. Let's end the battle of the sexes and admit that we aren't inherently at war with each other. We're here to relate, not to compete. Sex is a relationship, not a competition.

If we allowed men to liberate themselves from outdated definitions of masculinity and stopped shaming boys for the qualities that are so useful in healthy, committed relationships (namely expressiveness, emotionality, sensitivity, meekness, etc) we wouldn't have to control women. Men could control themselves. And we could all come to a greater actualization of ourselves, not just as men and women, but as humans. We are all expressive, strong, powerful, sensitive, vulnerable, inquisitive, aggressive, passive, confident and meek. Because that's what it is to be human.

I believe if there was legitimate equality sex wouldn't have to be about a power struggle, and with that there wouldn't be anything to prove. Sex could be a relationship, pure and simple. And that is where the inherent connection between sex and commitment really lies.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Empowering LDS Women

Hey, readers!  I recently wrote a guest post for one of my favorite blogs, "Empowering LDS Women" and it just went up last night.  I recently shared here on my blog that I've been less active in Church for some time.  This guest post is about my experiences growing up Mormon and why being part of the Church empowered me as a woman.  Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Daydreams of Being a Skateboarder

I've spent the last few days working through a stomach flu and being stuck inside.  I'm now at that point where I'm feeling a million times better but I have to be a little careful because it's so tempting to run around like a maniac and overdo it. So what am I doing instead of running around like a maniac? Watching skateboarding videos, of course.

I don't skate. I'm an outsider looking in, so for those who actually skateboard, I might just sound like an idiot, or maybe I'm just stating the profoundly obvious, I don't know. Ben grew up skating most of his life, and has recently been doing a little bit again. He has always watched skate videos. I started watching too. At first it sort of all looked the same to me, and while it was impressive, I didn't really see how someone could just sit and watch other people skateboard.  I could do a 5 minute video, but three of them back to back?  Not so much. Until something switched and I started noticing things that I appreciated.  While I still couldn't name each trick, I started noticing how they did their tricks; their style. And the artistry of the video-editing in skate videos started to blow my mind a little.  Over time I realized I was developing favorite skaters and favorite video sections.  And I found that I wanted to watch them MULTIPLE times. Who knew? As an outsider, here is my brief opinion of what makes skateboarding so awesome and why it should be more broadly appreciated than it is.

It is as much an art form as it is a sport.  It's actually really similar to dance in that while it is brutally athletic, it's also expressive.  The attention to detail is intense; having to apply just the right amount of pressure at the right time and place to flip the board exactly right all while maintaining the right speed and balance for both a physical and visual affect.  The video component adds to the whole visual art of it as well. It involves just watching and appreciating how tricks look when done in different locations, on different surfaces, and from different angles, even in different lighting. In addition to video-editing, there is music.  Oh, the music! Skaters get to pick which song they want to go with a particular section they've been shooting. And to me, this is where you get to see if a skater really knows himself well.  I can never get into sections that have thrasher music- but that's just a matter of personal taste.  I guess my reason is that thrasher music does little to express a rhythm for me.  My favorite sections are often the ones where a skater can pick a song that has a rhythm and a feel that just matches the way he skates.  Skating definitely has rhythm. And depending on whether a particular skater specializes in a lot of smaller stuff (smaller not necessarily being less impressive), or jumps a lot of big gaps or what have you, that rhythm varies from skater to skater. Some of the best videos come about when a skater knows his rhythm and style and can pick music to match.  While I still don't have extensive knowledge of skate videos, my absolute favorites thus far are Cory Kennedy's and Marc Johnson's sections in Pretty Sweet, as well as Andrew Reynolds' section in Stay Gold. I couldn't get a hold of any sections from the Pretty Sweet video on youtube (we bought it on iTunes). I did, however, find the Andrew Reynolds one on youtube. He skates some big gaps in this video, and I think the music fits perfectly with that.

Why isn't skateboarding more widely appreciated?  There are too many reasons to go into, and it gets weirdly political too. Unfortunately, there are some skateboarders who get caught up in alcohol and drugs and end up getting in trouble all the time and they're the ones people look at and say, "Skateboarders are a bunch of dangerous punks." There are always the bad apples that give everybody a bad name. There have been attempts to make skateboarding more mainstream, like the X-Games. My issue with that is that it removes most of the things I like best about skateboarding. It tends to leave it kind of stale and soulless, although admittedly still impressive. To me it seems like the X-Games wants to make skateboarding about the angry/rebellious image, about competition and money and energy drinks.  And I guess a lot of skateboarders do like those things. But if you look at skateboarding itself, as this thing that began organically from people just being creative, it's not money-driven, angry, or even competitive at all.  It's cooperative.  It's about taking all these pieces and creating something new out of them that didn't exist before.  They took roller skate wheels, attached them to a board and began redefining space. Railings, stairs, bushes, mailboxes; I've seen all these things made into something totally different in skateboarding. And when you watch videos, what are all the skaters doing?  Are they trash-talking and competing?  Nope.  They're cheering each other on, and supporting each other.  They're celebrating when another skater finally lands a trick he's been trying to get all day. When you watch interviews with the skateboarders themselves, they spend time talking about other skaters who inspire them and whose work and attitudes they appreciate. That's kind of what I like about it so much. While I do think skateboarding deserves wider appreciation, I'd be satisfied to leave it as it is if it means it can maintain its cooperative, expressive and artistic nature.

Also, this:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Date Yourself

I'm officially in the off-season from work, so I have a couple months to be as productive with my time as I wish. I'm recalling a lesson that Ben and I taught together to the Relief Society in the Singles Ward we served in. At the time, there were a ton of stellar single women who were often frustrated because guys never asked them out. So we taught a lesson called "Date Yourself". We talked about the value of getting to know oneself and love oneself and finding satisfaction inwardly before going out and trying to find all those things with someone else. Liking yourself and knowing yourself will never be a waste as it can only improve your relationships with others.

I've been spending more time with myself this week and I'm rediscovering that, hey, I do like me! I went for a hike and took photos. The sun beating down on me was like a welcome visit from an old friend. There's nothing like sunshine to make me love being me. I love that I have skin that can drink in the warmth. I love I have limbs that can take me places. I also listened to music, which I haven't done in a long time. I don't know if everyone feels this way, but I think my willingness to be emotionally vulnerable allows me to enjoy music in a unique and intense way. I did some cleaning, which isn't exactly a blast, but it did feel good to be otherwise productive.

I've been through periods of time when I really didn't like me, when I really thought I wasn't enough. I've spent a lot of time trying to force myself to be better than I am. Improvement is a worthy goal. But my own quest for perfection often led me to inwardly do violence to myself without realizing it.

So here I am, just taking a moment to share the happy news. I like me today!