Friday, August 31, 2012

A Stranger's Kindness

                I had a minor panic episode this morning while walking to a doctor’s appointment.  I was crossing an intersection when a car drove by, the driver yelling something at me.  I jumped in fear; my heart constricted and my lungs contracted as a wave of dizziness washed over me.  My body froze as I stood on the sidewalk waiting to return to a state of equilibrium. 
A crossing-guard noticed my reaction and asked if I was okay.  Without much forethought or conscious effort, I found myself telling this concerned stranger all about my accident and my fear.   Two years ago, I was hit by an elderly driver while walking across the street.  I was on the crosswalk with two other pedestrians – the driver drove up onto the median and hit all of us.  I was the first person to get hit – my head went through the windshield, leaving me with a mild traumatic brain injury and a laceration above my right eye that required 100+ stitches and missed slicing my eye by less than a millimeter.  The crossing-guard was sympathetic – she listened to the babbling of a stranger with patience, her face a mirror of empathy. 
I explained to the kind woman that my life at the moment is about balancing my fears – I panic at the sight of on-coming cars, which leaves me with the option of either panicking while driving or panicking while walking.  A few months ago, when I was trying to drive again, I was almost hit by another driver.  I came very close to blacking out from the incident, which has left me with a deep-seated fear of causing a car accident from my anxieties.  At this point in time, I choose to face my fears while walking.  At the very least, I can stand on the sidewalk until my fear subsides. 
In return, the woman told me about her fear of driving – she was rear-ended last year.  Now whenever she sees a car behind her, she is anxious that she will get hit from behind again.  I told her I was sorry to hear about her accident and we commiserated about Houston traffic.  She told me I was strong, which brought me to the point of tears – I do not feel like a strong woman.  We talked for another ten minutes, about life and marriage and family, before I had to leave to make my doctor’s appointment.  I thanked her and said good-bye. 
I wish I had given her a hug.  Or told her just how much her sympathy meant to me.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Labels And Language

Post-Mormon.  Ex-Mormon.  Agnostic.  Atheist.  Humanist.  Feminist. 
            These are all labels that I have used to describe myself at one time or another.  When asked to define my religious beliefs, the long answer is that I am an agnostic atheist humanist with strong feminist and egalitarian ideals.  For a short answer, I reply either humanist or agnostic, depending on my current frame of mind.  I choose to define myself as a post-Mormon, as I feel the term implies a less negative connotation than ex-Mormon, although ex is also an accurate descriptor.  Sometimes others will describe me as an “anti”-Mormon, although I do not consider myself to be such.
            In science, language has to be precise.  The first important example I was taught – in an introductory developmental biology class – was the difference between cell fate specification and determination.  During the course of embryonic development, cells adopt certain fates – this is how an entire complex organism develops from a single fertilized egg.  During the course of development, cells go from an undifferentiated state to adopting specific fates.  This is how muscle cells, neurons, epidermal cells, and everything in-between develop to form an entire complex organism.  This is what makes developmental biology – and life – so beautiful and fascinating.   
There are two specific stages of differentiation – specification and determination.  A cell that is specified will develop autonomously if placed in a neutral environment such as a petri dish.  If a specified cell is placed in an environment with conflicting differentiation signals, then this cell will adopt an alternative fate based on the signals received.  Specification is a stage that is still labile.  Cell-fate determination is more fixed; the cell will adopt the same fate even if placed in an environment with conflicting signals.  Many of the classic developmental biology studies involved cutting pieces of a developing organism and transplanting from one area of the embryo to another in order to study how development was affected.  As differentiation progressed from specified to determined, the organisms that developed from these experiments became weirder and weirder.  The classic example – performed by Hilde Mangold in the 1920’s – involved transplanting an area known as the dorsal lip region and resulted in the development of secondary body axes in frog embryos. 

Spemann-Mangold Dorsal Lip Transplantation Experiment

Precise language is important in all areas of life.  Imprecise language can lead to fights and to confusion when communicating complex ideas.  Although I do label myself as an agnostic atheist humanist with strong feminist and egalitarian ideals, there are still many examples where the use of labels can hurt rather than help.  The label may be innocent enough – feminism is defined as “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights equal to men – but the emotions associated with the feminist label can be quite negative.  I know my personal definition of the labels I use to describe myself – do others define these labels in the same manner that I do?  When other people use labels to describe themselves, is my understanding the same as theirs? 

 This illustration of the famous dorsal lip transplantation experiments, as performed by Hilde Mangold, was taken from Gilbert's "Development Biology" textbook, 6th edition, which can be accessed publicly at   The exact figure used can be accessed at

Note: This is an experimental post on my behalf - I would love to hear feedback on how effectively I was able to communicate the biology concept, as I am pretty inexperienced talking about biology to a general audience.  If the example is too arcane or poorly explained, please don't hesitate to give feedback.   

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mormon Urban Legends

            When I was fourteen, I attended a Mormon youth program called “Especially For Youth”, which was a week-long activity meant to inspire and motivate the youth of the church.  The week was filled with talks, activities, and testimony meetings.  Every night, the girls in my group gathered together for a spiritual thought before heading to bed.  Towards the end of the week, my counselor Laura* gave us all a piece of paper with the following message:

You were in the War in Heaven and one day when you are in the spirit world you will be enthralled with those who you are associated with. You will ask someone in which time period he lived in and you might hear, "I was with Moses when he parted the Red Sea," or "I helped build the pyramids," or "I fought with Captain Moroni." And as you are standing there in amazement, someone will turn to you and ask, "Which prophet time did you live in?" And when you say "Gordon B. Hinckley," a hush will fall over every hall, every corridor in heaven and all in attendance will bow at your presence. You were held back six thousand years because you were the most talented, most obedient, most courageous, and most righteous. Are you still? Remember who you are!

            I felt very solemn when I read this slip of paper – I had a great destiny to fulfill.  I didn’t feel more faithful, but here was an adult telling us that we had been saved for a special purpose.  I was both uncomfortable with the idea of having been more faithful in the pre-existence and sad that my youthful levity meant I was failing at the great destiny that was expected of me.  

 A few years later, I discovered that this statement was in fact an urban legend.  In the meantime, I heard this quote from multiple sources – we were special, we had a great destiny, we had been the elect spirits who had been saved for the latter-days for some great purpose.  This quote was repeated by teens and adults alike with all of the solemnity of gospel-truth.  I was grateful when I heard this quote was false, as I was uncomfortable with the implied superiority of this statement. But discovering this quote was false also went a long way towards increasing my cynicism about Mormon culture. 

In 2008 – nine years after I first heard this quote - the Mormon Church issued an official statement denouncing the falsity of this statement.  But when I first heard this quote, I believed.  I believed that I had been saved for a special purpose – and I felt like a failure for not living up to my destiny. 

Note: After posting this, people were nice enough to point out that the truth was a little more complicated than I had thought.  For a more in-depth discussion, I would recommend reading this follow-up post.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Exciting News!

I just wanted to write and say that my piece on Mormon weddings was just picked up by the site BlogHer - if you are interested, go and check it out!  

Update: Sweet Land Of Bigamy

The book "Sweet Land of Bigamy", which I reviewed previously, is having a sale this week on Amazon - the Kindle version is available for only $2.99.  If you haven't read it yet, I would highly recommend giving it a try!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Review: Book Of Mormon Girl

          In the first chapter of her book, Joanna Brooks writes
          "I grew up in a world where all the stories I heard arrive at the same conclusions: the wayfarer restored, the sick healed, the lost keys found, a singular truth confirmed. And an orthodox Mormon story is the only kind of story I ever wanted to tell.
          But these are not the kinds of story life has given me."
          I bought this book because I was curious. My life story is an echo of Joanna's -- I was raised in a staunch Mormon family, the youngest of seven children.  I bought this book because I wanted to understand the perspective of someone who is similar to me yet chose a very different path in life.  I wanted to understand how the author balances her personal beliefs with the beliefs of her family's faith. I too struggle to balance the love I have for my family with my reservations concerning the Mormon Church’s actions.
          Joanna devotes a lot of time to her childhood and the security she felt growing up in such a strong religious tradition.  Joanna grew up in the cozy cocoon of California Mormonism, with parents that were strict but loving.  As a child, she thought of herself as a root beer among cokes - a reference to the Mormon practice of avoiding caffeinated sodas.  There are hints of the turmoil that would come later, hints of dissonance between her personal convictions and the teachings of the Mormon church. But mostly, she concentrates on the happy memories. There is a saccharine quality to her recounting, a need to present her childhood as being the orthodox Mormon story.
          Then she very abruptly shifts to a period of turmoil. There isn't much segue from her recounting of a happy childhood to the disillusionment of adulthood. Her recounting of the excommunications of prominent intellectuals --- the September Six --- came across as very rote. There was a lot of heartache bundled up into just a few terse pages. Her battle with the controversy surrounding Prop 8 was more vivid, although there was still only a limited explanation of how the author dealt with the turmoil.
          At the end of reading this book, my questions were still unanswered -- I still don't understand how the author deals with the dissonance between her faith and her personal convictions. The author displays an enormous amount of pride in her Mormon heritage, which is something I understand.  However, she is hesitant to tackle the full issues; I still don't understand how the author has managed to reconcile her convictions with the actions of the Mormon church.  
          I read this book about six months ago and ever since reading it, I have thought a lot about what this book is trying to accomplish and what the ramifications may be.  I find that my thoughts on this book are bittersweet.  My mother is a Democrat Mormon, similar to Joanna.  My mother is very quiet about her convictions; since my mother doesn’t speak up, her open-minded and tolerant approach to religion remains unheard.  I am grateful to women like Joanna who have the courage to speak up and say that they don’t support some of the actions of the Mormon Church.  
          There is also the very pressing reality of the Mormon Church’s actions.  Prop 8 hurt a lot of innocent people who didn’t deserve to have their rights taken away from them.  Mormon authorities has also taken strict disciplinary action against non-conformists within the church.  During Joanna’s time at BYU, Mormon authorities excommunicated six prominent Mormon intellectuals, known as the September Six.  Now we are at a point where mainstream America is focusing on Mormonism.  The Mormon Church has responded by running an expensive ad campaign that highlights groups of people that are often marginalized at church - the minorities, the liberals, the career women.  The cynic in me thinks that Joanna Brooks is allowed to remain within the confines of Mormonism because she provides good PR at a time when the Mormon Church is desperate for a better image.  The true test of the Mormon Church will come after the spotlight is removed - will this new tolerance continue or not?  
          In spite of these reservations, I do think this book serves an important role.  This book is a reminder that there are a lot of good-hearted Mormons out there who don’t agree with everything the authorities say.  My suspicion is that there are more of these members than we realize.  One day, I hope these people feel comfortable speaking up.  I am grateful that Joanna has shown the courage to speak up.  
          I would recommend reading this book; however, the reader should understand that this story only scratches the surface.

Note: This review is of the first edition of this book.  When I contacted the author about any relevant changes, her answer was that the main narrative is the same, however, there have been about two chapters added, including one at the end.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I Am A Feminist

          I am a feminist.  In this day and age, feminism is treated as a joke, an aberration, a word that conjures up the image of emasculating, bra-burning angry women who clamor for a world without men.  Feminist is used as an insult meant to brand a woman as being angry or hateful.  But militancy is not the soul of feminism.  Feminism is the conviction that women should be judged based on their accomplishments rather than their gender.  People should be allowed to explore and develop their own unique talents and when they do develop these talents, they should be rewarded in an egalitarian manner that has no bearing on gender.  
          I am not anti-marriage or anti-family.  I am not anti-man.  I have no objection to a woman staying at home to raise her children, just as I have no objection to a woman pursuing a career or forsaking marriage altogether, as long as these choices are independent of gender constraints.  I believe, in the deepest sense of the word, that people should be given the right to shape their own destiny and that gender should not be an obstacle to achieving dreams.  This belief defines who I am as a person.  
          With the recent cuts to Planned Parenthood, the fights over healthcare coverage of contraceptives, the attempts to restrict abortion rights, and the recent comment by Rep. Todd Akin that belittled the suffering of rape victims everywhere, I am feeling besieged.  I am watching as my beloved country slides backwards in terms of human rights and equality.  My body is not a political battlefield; my convictions should not be a source of ridicule or derision.  
          As a woman, my opinions are influenced by my own personal experiences; my experience is that of a woman’s.  But equality is a two-way street; I do not believe that men should be defined by their gender any more than women should.  My primary interest is in the unique talents of an individual, irrespective of whether these traits are in accordance with gender stereotypes or not.  Male, female, straight, gay, young, old, and everything in between - we all share a common bond of humanity that transcends labels.   
          The time has come to redefine what feminism means to our society at large.  And so, at this point in time, I would like to open this discussion to all of the wonderful people that have taken the time to read this post.  What does feminism - and equality - mean to you?  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Facebook Boundaries And Mormonism

          I am Facebook friends with a lot of Mormons from my childhood and adolescent years.  Some of them - mostly peers from my teenage years - I befriended.  Others friended me - some of the requests were from people I hadn’t seen in years and so I found myself at a loss as to how specific I needed to be about my break with the Mormon Church.  Should I be up-front about the issue or should I just assume they either knew or didn’t care?  
          Within the past few years, as Facebook has become more universal, I have gotten a lot of friend requests from the peers of my parents and older siblings.  Some of these acquaintances realize that I am no longer Mormon; others do not.  Every time I receive one of these requests, I hesitate before clicking the “Accept Friend Request” button.  Do they know that I am no longer affiliated with the Mormon Church?  Do I want to open myself up to the possibility of judgment because I am no longer a member?  My policy over the years has been to accept these friend requests but to be honest about my identity as a former Mormon - my profile states that I am an agnostic liberal.  I was never a heavy Facebook user, although after starting up a blog and establishing an online presence, my Facebook activity has increased within the past few months.  
          With these Facebook friends comes an added burden - the constant influx of faith-promoting stories that my friends choose to post to their account.  The Mormon leaders have urged members to view social networking sites as opportunities to share the gospel to the world - a virtual version of the idea of “every member a missionary”.  Mormons treat this directive with the same approach they treat the other instructions from leaders -- some Mormons embrace this advice with enthusiasm while others are reticent to do so.  I am reminded of the talk I heard by the former leader of the Mormon Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, in the fall of 20001; I was fifteen years old at the time.  In the talk, President Hinckley stated that the authorities were taking a formal stance against women wearing more than one earring in each ear.  At the time I had two holes in each ear and I felt uncomfortable when listening to this talk.  I never took the second pair out - and felt quite guilty about my disobedience - but by that time, my faith in Mormonism was already starting to crumble.  The following years there were additional talks by authorities directing women to obey the prophet’s directive on earrings.2.3  There was a lot of guilt wrapped up into my decision to keep my second pair of earrings.  
          Over time, I have read a lot of the Mormon stories that have showed up on my Facebook feed.  Some of the posts make me cynical - if you are gushing to the world about how wonderful your religion/life is, who are you really trying to convince?  Some of the stories have made me quite upset.  I knew, when I saw the posts linking to a story about a homosexual Mormon man happily married to a woman4, that this story was going to cause heartbreak to young Mormons struggling with their sexual orientation.  Sure enough, a few weeks later on one of the Ex-Mormon forums, there was a story of a young man who came out to his parents, only to have them point to this example and ask him “Why can’t you do this?”.  I wasn’t surprised to hear the story used in this manner, based on the adulation I saw on Facebook.  These stories, combined with other articles that describe a church I never knew, have stretched and fractured my normal facade, causing me to become cranky and agitated as I compare my own Mormon reality with the mirage that these articles describe.  Perhaps my own Mormon journey was unique.  Talking with other former Mormons, my suspicion is that it wasn’t.  
          Every-time I see a post that whitewashes an issue that caused me a lot of pain growing up, I wonder what the best course of action is.  Should I speak up and point out either the factual errors or that there are people out there with very different memories of the same issue?  Should I reciprocate by sharing some of my own personal experiences?  Or should I stay silent and respect online boundaries?  After all, even if my friends do not maintain these boundaries, that is no excuse for me to reciprocate in kind.  
          All of this makes me tired.  I am tired of receiving these friend requests and wondering if I am considered a re-conversion project.  I am tired of having my Facebook feed littered with stories I don’t agree with, that don’t reflect the reality I grew up with.  I am tired of having to decide, every-time I see an article that is misleading or inaccurate, whether to speak up or to stay silent.  I do not like choosing between being polite and reminding people that stories such as mine exist.  I also know that if I were to speak up - and within the past few months I have started speaking up - that I will end up hurting these people just as much as they hurt me.  Mormonism is a religion that teaches its members to fear dissension - by pointing out alternatives, I am crossing a line that most Mormons are uncomfortable with.  In spite of all our differences, these are people I grew up with - I do not wish to cause them pain.  
          The dilemma of what to do leaves me with an irritated, itchy feeling as these stories get under my skin.  In my weaker moments, I wonder if the easiest course of action is to just purge my account of all proseletyzing Mormons.  But this does not seem any more reasonable a course of action than the alternatives - after all, these people played a big role during my childhood.  Mormonism - and the people within Mormonism - were an integral part of my childhood.  Is it healthy to purge my life of all things related to my up-bringing?  I may not be a Mormon anymore but there are many Mormons that I love.  
          When I am stressed, I react in a knee-jerk fashion, rather than the studied rationality I have always strived to maintain.  My online Facebook activity, especially within the past few months, has been degenerating into the type of behavior that I do not like, either in myself or others.  I feel uncomfortable with this new version of me that publicly “likes” ex-Mormon stories and who points out differences in opinions; I was also uncomfortable with the old version that never spoke up.  Where is the middle ground, the balance I want to maintain?  Balance seems elusive with each new version of a Mormon illusion I never knew.  
          This is not a problem that is exclusive to my Mormon Facebook friends.  I also have friends from other areas of my life that, for one reason or another, view Facebook as a tool for displaying their sentiments about some very personal beliefs.  Sometimes I agree with their sentiments.  Other times I do not.  And this too can be tiring, although in my situation, Mormonism is something that has caused me much pain over the years in a way that political sentiments have not. 
          I think we all need to step back and remember that although we live in a tidy virtual age, human emotions are still visceral and messy.  Everyone has a different point of view, a different story to tell, different convictions that form their character.  Everyone has their own trigger points.  Facebook is an impersonal media - we throw our thoughts out into the virtual world without understanding the consequences that lie on the other side of the Internet.  We fail to see the faces behind our Facebook friends and to understand what our virtual actions do to our friends in real life.  

1 “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother”, Gordon B Hinckley, General Conference, October 2000.

2“His Word Ye Shall Receive” M. Russell Ballard, General Conference, April 2001.

3“Quick To Observe.” David A. Bednar, Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, May 2005.

4“Club Unicorn: In Which I Come Out Of The Closet On My Ten-Year Anniversary”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Price Of Honesty: Why Ex-Mormons Keep Quiet About Their Lack Of Belief

          The Daily Beast recently published an article featuring an interview with Sue Emmett, who is the president of the ExMormon Foundation and the direct descendent of Brigham Young.  Sue talked about her experience as a Mormon woman with clarity, insight, and compassion.  I am grateful for Sue’s courage in going public with her experience as a Mormon woman.  
          For years, I have been standing by the sidelines, wanting to tell my Mormon story but too afraid to speak out.  I want my family to listen when I tell them who I am as a person.  In all the years since my exit, no one in my family has ever asked me what I believe in and what my values are.  No one has ever thought to ask why I left.  I remember the Mormon mindset very well - even the slightest hint of criticism felt like religious persecution.  And so I have been keeping quiet, out of love for my family.
          I have reached a point where I realize my silence is doing more harm than good.  Ex-Mormons keep quiet because we love the Mormons in our lives.  We keep quiet because we are afraid of what will happen to us and to our families if we speak out about our experiences.  We keep quiet because we do not want to face the condemnation of the people we once thought were our friends.  However, silence does not fix the problem - at best, silence is a temporary solution.  
          In the ten years since my exit, there has been some progress within my family.  My mother treats me with all of the love and affection that she treats her other children, although even my mother does not ask about my beliefs.  My love for my mother strengthens and balances me, soothing a broken heart.  My father has dampened his rage towards me.  I feel more comfortable with my identity as a liberal agnostic woman.
          But in other aspects, life has not gotten better.  One of my brothers has been treating my husband and me badly.  He makes snide comments about my husband’s ethnicity, cracking jokes about how all the Indians in this country either own Motel 8’s or 7-11’s.  We live three hours from my brother - in the three years since we moved to Texas, we have visited my brother a dozen times, during which he pokes fun at my husband’s vegetarianism, oblivious to the irony of mocking a Hindu’s dietary restrictions when as a Mormon he abstains from coffee, tea, and alcohol.  On the rare occasion he visits our home, he feels comfortable bringing meat with him, when my husband and I refrain from bringing coffee into his home.  And yet I have kept quiet about my brother’s behavior; I still do not feel that I am an equal within my own family.  I am still afraid of losing my family, as so many other ex-Mormons have lost theirs.
          I had a difficult exit process - I first started questioning Mormonism when I was fifteen and I stopped believing when I was sixteen, when I was still living under my parents’ roof.  I survived for two years by concealing my unbelief.  The pain of living a double life - exacerbated by the very negative reaction I got when I confided in a Mormon girl I thought was my life-long friend - drove me to the brink of suicide.  When I did leave, my decision was made harder by my mother’s heartbreak and my father’s rage.  
          Last year, I read the book “Heaven Up Here” by John Williams.  I was astonished by his honesty in chronicling his mission experience.  Although I never served a mission, I recognized much of his Mormon mentality in the young girl that I once was.  After reading his book, I cried.  I cried and I cried and I cried, hiding my tears from the world.  I had started writing about my Mormon experience six months before, attacking the subject with an honesty that I never dreamed I could talk about publicly.  And here was a man, living in the heart of Utah, married to a faithful Mormon woman, who had the strength to leave the Mormon Church and then to write about the good, the bad, and the messiness of his experience with a candor that I had never seen before.  He gave me hope that I too could one day be as honest.  
          My family deals with my lack of belief through willful blindness.  And maybe this will never change.  But the burden of silence has been lifted.  I still don’t know what the full price of my honesty may be.  But the freedom is worth the price.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mormon Modesty

          I went clothing-shopping with a friend yesterday.  I have a phobia of clothing-shopping - nothing ever fits and all of the cute outfits are not designed for my body type.  But my wardrobe is becoming a ragged affair of tattered jeans, worn-out dress pants, and pitiful shirts.  My friend is also very good at finding clothing to flatter your body type.  We walked into a store that was having a sale on jeans.  I picked out a pair of boot-cut jeans and headed to the dressing room.
          Trying on the jeans, I felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment.  The jeans were too tight and the thought of going up another size was a devastating blow to a woman already struggling with body-esteem issues.  
          “How are the jeans?” my friend asked, her voice coming from the adjacent dressing room.  
          “Um - they’re OK.” I said, my voice small.  What the hell I thought - I walked out into the common area of the dressing room, tight jeans on display to the world.     
        “Do you think these jeans are too tight?” I asked.   
          My friend walked out and a look of shock appeared on her face.  “Oh my goodness!” she said, a note of surprise in her voice.  “You look so thin!”  She kept looking at me, looking at the jeans I felt so embarrassed to wear.  “You look completely different - I never knew your legs are so thin!”
          I blushed, embarrassed but also pleased.  And I was reminded, once again, of how different my up-bringing was and how the teachings of Mormon modesty - especially womanly modesty - still lingers in me to this day.  
          Starting at age twelve, once I was inducted into the Mormon Church’s Young Women’s program, the lessons on modesty and chastity began in earnest.  I was never taught about the mechanics or pleasures of sex - I was taught that my virginity was a precious asset that should be preserved as a gift for my husband.  I was also taught that my appearance needed to be modest at all times.  Mormon women are raised to be example of modest femininity - pretty but not sexy.  
          We were all given a pamphlet - “For The Strength of Youth”.  This pamphlet was considered the ultimate resource for the standards by which we were expected to live.  An entire code of living was described in this booklet.  There was the directive to dress modestly at all times - no tight clothing, no sleeveless shirts, no low-cut tops, no shorts or skirts above the knees, no shirts that exposed the stomach.  Sometimes I would flout the rules, only to feel guilty for doing so.  We were also strongly advised against any intimate premarital behavior that would arouse passionate feeling. As girls, we were counseled to dress modestly to avoid arousing lustful thoughts in men.  
          For girls’ camp one year, a Mormon police officer came to teach us self-defense.  After the lesson, he start talking about the prevention of sexual assault.  He told us “Some of the prevention of sexual assault is in your hands.  The more immodest your appearance - extra earrings, tight clothing, low-cut tops - the more you expose yourself to the risk of assault.”  I was fourteen and I nodded along with him in approval of his message.  As an adult, I remember all of the times that members said something similar and I wonder just how much the indoctrination still lingers.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Review: The Girls From Fourth Ward


“The only thing you can’t repent of is leaving the Church.  Then when you die you go to Outer Darkness.”  Sarah Renfro, from “The Girls From Fourth Ward” by Donna Banta

          In her book, “The Girls From Fourth Ward”, the author Donna Banta draws on the  key strength of fiction - she takes a real-life issue and then twists her characters into the situation in such a way that leaves you thinking “What if”?  What if Mormon theology gets mis-construed in such a fashion?  
          This book is a murder mystery centered around the murder of the Mormon bishop Brent Loomis.  The quandary in this book is the fate of four young Mormon girls, who are determined to achieve the highest level of Heaven.  Since Mormon theology teaches that you can only attain the highest level of Heaven by marrying a Mormon man in the temple - and that polygamy exists in Heaven - these girls are determined to get into Brigham Young University (BYU).  BYU is where all of the high-achieving Mormon boys study and is where the girls have their best shot at finding a suitable mate, so that they can spend eternity as top-tier first wives.  These girls are smart, ambitious, and boxed in by the narrow expectations of life as a Mormon woman.  
          Standing in the girls’ way is Bishop Loomis.  Loomis is, to be frank, the bishop from hell.  Sanctimonious and controlling, he runs his ward with an iron fist.  One of his powers as bishop is deciding whether or not to recommend students for admission to BYU.  He is the roadblock standing in the way of the girls achieving the highest level of salvation.  And so the girls find themselves contemplating the relative nature of sin.  As one of the girls Betsy says, “You can repent of anything, even murder.”  
          The narrative weaves between the Lieutenant Matt Ryan, who transferred to Abbottsville for a quieter life; the four girls of Abbottsville Fourth Ward; as well as an assortment of other peripheral characters.  There were a lot of characters that I recognized, both in myself and in the people around me.  The sweet, naive housewife; the overworked mother of nine; the girl expected to shoulder her mother’s burden; the brainy girl who wishes for the forbidden pleasure of graduate school, her own apartment, and a dog.  Donna describes the everyday details of Mormon life in a way that is very intimate and real.  Reading this book brought back a lot of memories for me; memories of being a Mormon girl frustrated about the narrow future that was ahead of me.  
          This is a excellent book to read if you grew up as a Mormon girl or if you want to understand a little more about the frustrations of life as a Mormon woman.  This is also a fun read, as Donna takes you on a romp through the darker underworld of Mormonism in such a way that you end up laughing and shaking your head at the girls that just won’t break free of their narrow world.

Donna is also the author of the very funny blog Ward Gossip, which features some of the characters portrayed in her book.  

This book is available both in ebook and softcover from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell's.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Postmormongirl's Week Off

Last week, I went to visit my parents.  When I was there, I got to enjoy my mother's flower garden as well as the peace of the surrounding woods.  

My parents' very relaxing porch

Hiking the woods by my parents' place - I grew up roaming these forests!

Now that my mother is an empty-nester, she spends all her spare time flower-gardening.

All in all, I had a very peaceful week - I am now recharged and ready to start writing again!