An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

A recent Mormon Times article about the Rockefeller Foundation/Time  survey findings that American women are less happy now than women were 30 or 40 years ago drew criticism from the feminist bloggernacle. The MT author, well aware of the biases of both her readers and her bosses at Deseret News, interpreted the survey to pretty much dismiss feminism as a factor in female happiness.

Now I don’t know that any “ism,” including feminism and Mormonism, actually creates happiness. Certainly life is much different for women now than 40 years ago when female attorneys and male nurses were as rare as Democrats in Texas. One change particularly concerns me.  Despite all the gains in legal and occupational equality, modern American women are judged by appearance much more now than before the equality gap narrowed. And by appearance, I mean a youthful, sexy physical image. Back in the ‘70s when the ERA was being discussed, exposed cleavage and see-through skirts were not appropriate business attire for women. Today we women fight the erosion of age with the dedication of Netherlands engineers building dikes to hold back the sea. Our aging bodies have become enemies to subdue rather than friends to appreciate and pamper.

Now, men’s bodies as well as women’s deteriorate with every birthday, but male power and income increase with age. In too many areas, women still access power and income via sex appeal—and nobody has to tell you that sexy good looks do not improve with age. Even Maureen Dowd, the feminist NY Times columnist, posts glamour shots of herself on her webpage. While her photos are hardly cheesecake, they show a lot more leg and chest than photos of her male colleagues.

Why do we women still define ourselves by our desirability to men? Maybe because we don’t notice the problem when we’re young. Denying reality, we think Mother Nature will treat us differently. We won’t lose our looks. But no matter how strenuously we fight the ravages of time—defending ourselves with hair color, make up, diets, and surgery—Ma Nature wins every battle. Sometimes I think Muslim women have the better deal. Hide it all under a burqa.

Maybe if woman united and demanded being valued for our brains instead of our boobs, we’d attain equality. And maybe not. Rebellion can backfire. Look at how the sexual revolution affected women. As part of the equality movement of the ‘60s and 70’s, women demanded the same right to enjoy sex as men. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that idea. Women’s sexual pleasure has been ignored for way too long in American culture  . But by demanding sex with no strings attached, women gave away their best bargaining chip. Eventually the nesting urge kicks in for most women and they want a permanent attachment and a family. Not so with all males. Does a woman have any leverage to encourage marriage if the guy she’s been living with for ten years decides it’s time to replace the old model?

According to the survey (and who would fault the RF and Time mag?), equality doesn’t equal happiness. Since even the best of intentions and plans can go awry, maybe we should be grateful the gap between gender equality has yet to be acknowledged, much less bridged in Mormondom. Maybe pushing for a larger role in the decision-making process at church would somehow result in our being judged even more by our physical attractions. Do we really want to compete with the Hot Mormon Muffin in our ward for a calling as Relief Society president?

Comments on: "Feminism, Sex, and Happiness" (5)

  1. I appreciated your post here. You showed the down side of our movement–and it’s been downhill, that’s for sure. I myself married a guy with leftist leanings and we spent the next thirty years organizing unions and having babies, and then he up and moved in with a young divorcee neighbor of ours, just when the kids were needing financial help for college the most, and I myself was ‘past the prime,’ which in my case had only been a mild bloom at best, although I cooked three course meals while working full time and earning my doctorate. And what did I find out in the experience? None of my neighbors–who had to have seen the whole sordid thing, even before I did–backed me up with so much as a wave. My very best neighbor, who I had sat with many a summer evening, wouldn’t let me talk about what had happened, when I most needed to talk about it with someone, anyone, in order to be ‘fair.’ Some of my colleagues had already slept with my husband, I came to know. My own divorce lawyer (the only person I could get to call me back evenings, and I didn’t have phone access to receive calls during my day job, as a school teacher)started our first session by telling me she ‘wasn’t into vendettas,’ and if that’s what I wanted, to look elsewhere. (And then made a serious error in the settlement that caused me to have to keep paying on a loan for a machine for my husband’s small machine shop business, after he sold the machine and got out from under it–it was thousands and thousands I got stuck with, because she ‘wasn’t into vendettas.’) A counselor I went to with my grief, a counselor advertised in my church bulletin as “Catholic,” told me ‘divorce happens, get over it,’ and six months later left her own husband for another guy, with a three year old and a six year old.

    Burqa? We need machine guns. And an end to no-fault divorce laws. And a little old-fashioned solidarity. But our solidarity was based on nothing but hot air in the first place, you see.

    • Women seem to be able to exhibit solidarity with family, churches and locales–all organizations with males. We’ve been less successful at unified action for ourselves. Some research about the reasons for that would be welcome.

    • I love this! What a great response! I say, let’s get out the machine guns!

  2. Oh dear, when didd this all get so complicate? Makes me want to head for the woods in search of a life as a hermit, that’s with a man, of course.

    • Alice–

      Modern life is complicated, but do you really want to live in the woods with a man who would probably bring you home bloody animal parts to prepare for his meals?

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