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Unveiled

There is an issue that has had me peering over the edge of the mountain, and a couple of weeks ago I read something that threw my right off the cliff.

I’ll tread carefully so that I do not too harshly judge a religion beloved by millions, once beloved by me, or paint too clear of a picture of practices that are extremely sacred to some. With that thought, let me say this:

I don’t think God likes women very well.

The God I was raised with authored the many policies and rules that governed my life growing up. Those same rules shaped me into a very specific person. I was female, I was always guilt ridden, and now I think I am finally beginning to understand why.

In the most sacred place to me, in the single most beautiful building I had ever set foot in, the sanctuary I believed to be nearest to God, I faced shame. There is no other way to put it.

The sisters in the room will please veil their faces.

In order for a sacred rite of worship to proceed, the voice of God demanded that anyone female cover her face with a thin veil. The veil was required to remain in place during the rite, only to be lifted once the sacred practice was over.

This rite, this practice, was supposed to bring me closer to my God than anything I could undertake on my own. But my face had to be covered.

Because I am a woman.

I used to proudly tell others of the respect and honor paid to women in my religion. Looking back, I realize a lot of it was a lot of honoring the honoring, or lip service paid to the lip service. Because when I stack it all up now, it doesn’t add up to so much respect.

Now I think, why would a prophet of God feel the need to counsel the millions of women within the sound of his voice to wear only a single pair of earrings?

Women all over the world are raped, beaten, abandoned and otherwise mistreated, and that day the message God himself needed to get out through his official spokesman was something like this:

We--the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve--have taken the position, and I quote, that "the Church discourages tattoos. It also discourages the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes, although it takes no position on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings."

There were other things said that night as well, but time and time again I have heard the same basic counsel regurgitated over and over. Whether by satellite broadcast or across the pulpit, the message is the same.

Women, girls, cover your bodies.

Why is religion so consumed with counseling women what to wear? Do a quick rundown of the topics taught to young women and then again to young men. About how many times are the young men warned to wear clothes that are chaste so as not to entice the young women?

Yeah, about that many times.

But as Young Women we heard it constantly. We heard it as adult women as well.

"Keep your dress modest. Short skirts are not pleasing to the Lord, but modesty is. Girls, do not be an enticement for your downfall because of your immodest and tight-fitting clothes.” Ezra Taft Benson

"Since the sanctity of the body is so related to the sanctity of sex, why make the body so common? Why expose to the public eye this sacred thing which is the temple of God? I tell you, girls, when you expose your bodies, whether on the dance floor, or otherwise, you do yourselves a great injustice, and you likewise do your boy friend an injury. I wish you girls could sit behind the curtain sometimes when we have private interviews with boys, and these boys really express themselves, man to man, about how they feel concerning modesty of dress. I have talked to many of these boys. Some of them have told me that their moral downfall began with a girl's immodest dress. They were tempted, right on the dance floor, just by what they could see, just by what was not properly covered up." Elder Mark E. Petersen

"It seems abundantly clear that to follow the extreme fashions of this day is to give credence to the efforts of some who would topple mankind from the pedestal on which we are placed in the divine plan of the Creator. The woman who is too scantily dressed, or immodestly dressed, ofttimes is the portrayal of one who is thus trying to draw the attention of the opposite sex when her natural adornments do not, in her opinion, suffice. Heaven help any woman so minded for drawing such attention.” Harold B. Lee

As a woman in the church it was necessary to remind me if I wore pants, I should not enter the Chapel. Denim was not acceptable material to wear traveling to the temple. Shorts and pants are never acceptable to attend a weekly meeting.

Public statements are made all the time by stake and ward leadership warning the adult women in the church how to dress appropriately.

I knew women who bore the burdens of life on their backs, who had buried children and husbands and worked and toiled until the life was all but sucked out of them.

And yet their representatives of god found it necessary to chastise them over the state of their attire.

Absurd.

Further absurd is the responsibility placed upon the shoulders of young women. In these statements describing the wretched state of a female who dresses inappropriately, I have yet to hear recrimination for the male mind who allows the enticement to foster impure thoughts. The responsibility is heaped upon the female.

Some even go so far as to teach the girls that they are responsible for the mission worthiness of the male population in the ward.

Articles of Faith are taught to the children in Primary, starting at a very young age. We all learned them. Remember number two? We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.

Apparently this only covers the men, because in the temple women are placed under the counsel of their husbands because of Eve’s sin.

It angers me to tears now to think that the leadership of the church that purports to raise the level of women up so high could tear them down with such archaic concern over dress standards. Further infuriating is the practice of placing blame on the girls for the bad thoughts young men think.

So, if a boy lusts after her, it’s her fault for wearing revealing clothing. After all, how far does it go? If you can see the outline of her hips, perhaps she should wear a shapeless potato sack.

If he is swayed by the thought of curves beneath her sweater, maybe long robes are necessary.

And what if the shape of her jaw inspires his lust? What then?

The sisters in the room will please veil their faces.

What does this teach our daughters to think of themselves? Where does the blame go when one of them finds herself abused by a man?

Who do you think she is going to blame?

Herself.

After all, that’s what she has been taught all of her life. Her actions are directly responsible for the choices of the men in her life.

25 comments:

lifelongguy said...

Wow! Wonderful post and right on the money. I have been struck recently as well regarding the disparate messages given to the young men and young women, or maybe better stated as the explicitly targeted messages given to the sisters and the lack thereof to the young men - which implicitly allows for the counter messages that you have highlighted in your post. I have blogged on similar topics, as a guy but also the father of four daughters! I worry about this and I want a different message for my girls.

BTW - I simply love the way your write. Post more, please!

Kaylanamars said...

I always wondered about that, too, with women being placed under the "care" of their husbands due to Eve's transgression. I remember crying my eyes out the first summer before my mission when I went to the temple...why did I have to veil my face? What did that mean? Bawled and bawled. My dad and brother had no answers, of course. Just one of many things that finally got me thinking. Beautiful post.

jen said...

Thank you for writing this. As a woman who believed it was my fault he abused me, sexually assaulted me, or raped me, thank you. It has taken me years of FIGHTING to undue this teaching.

Adrienne said...

Thanks for writing this, as I've noticed in Mormonism, YM don't get told that they have to be modest. It's also the mentality that allows rape victims to be blamed because "she must have worn something revealing."

Chelsea said...

What a beautifully written post. Thank you.

k said...

This is so wonderful to read. The Church has harmed me in these ways for years and I am finally standing up for myself in spite of all that. Thank you for writing this and sharing where others can see and hear you. I've shared with other family and friends. I hope it helps someone see where I am.

Travis Butterfield said...

Stephanie, while I disagree with many of the conclusions you arrived at in your post, I do not wish to minimize the difficult nature of the issues you address. I will be the first to admit that I don't have all of the answers about women's eternal roles as conceived of and taught by the LDS church. But, I do think that it is far different from the way you characterize it. I feel to state that it seems you have misinterpreted certain things, based on your negative experiences. I'm sorry you have had those experiences.

I dedicated an entire blog post on my blog in response to what you have written. I tried pasting it into here, but it exceeds the character limit for comments. I don't know if you are interested in hearing what a stranger has to say, but I hope you will take a few minutes to read it, if for no other reason than in the spirit of open-minded discussion. I promise that it is not negative or unkind.

If you, or any of your readers, are interested in reading it, click here, or visit http://travisbutterfield.blogspot.com.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between Utah Mormon culture and the faith of Mormonism. I have lived in wards all over the world and never have I been told not to wear pants. I have been told to wear what is appropriate and my best attire. Depending on where I am living that means different things. No one has ever been looked down on for ever dressing in pants or skirts no matter how short. If it was all they had they were welcomed and people were glad they were there at all. I even was in Nahvoo and had nothing nice to enter the temple in. They said it didn't matter and I went in in shorts and a t-shirt. Most of the world is happy to see people come and worship and don't focus on the trivial matters that seem to get in the way of other's coming to Christ and the true message of the Gospel.

Lisa said...

omg, i love you for this post.

just...love. everything i've been thinking. thank you.

<3

Just Zena said...

Perfectly stated.

Travis Butterfield said...

Apparently you were offended by my comment, which is why it was deleted. Sorry. I did not intend any offense.

Stephanie D. Edwards said...

Travis, I am unclear if your comment is directed at me (I'm Steph, the author:), but I have to say, I was not offended. I read your response and while I disagree with many of your points, offense does not enter in. Not at all. Peaceful discussion. even peaceful disagreement, are never bad things. Just as your post reflects how you feel, this reflects my feelings.
Peace to you.

Krim said...

If you're interested, this post:

http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=2585

explores a lot of different ideas about what the veil is and why it might be present in the temple ceremony.

Anonymous said...

thank you. so much.

Anonymous said...

I found this post befuddling. The church doesn't single out women for modesty; the For Strength of Youth pamphlet says "Young men should similarly maintain modesty in their dress." Currently, fashions for young men simply align better with modesty than fashions for young women, though I do remember days when the young men were constantly told to put a belt on because showing three inches of their boxers wasn't appropriate. I'm so glad that's not fashionable anymore.

I could easily argue that young men are more restricted in what they're supposed to wear (white shirt, ties, closed-toed shoes with slacks) in the chapel. Young women have a lot more choice in self-expression through clothing. And, as Anonymous above noted, if you're lacking in proper chapel clothes, no one throws you out. I've been to church a few times in jeans, due to moving and not being able to find a skirt. Everyone was very kind and welcomed me -- I'm sorry you've had different experiences.

I dress modestly for me. When I'm dressed modestly and cleanly, I feel like I'm respecting myself. I remember, not long ago, being a teenager and wondering if I should dress differently to get dates -- boys paid no attention to me. The lessons on modesty reminded me that those weren't the dates I wanted. I'm glad I respected myself, and garnered dates through intelligent conversations. The men who were interested in me because I could tell a good joke were men I wanted to be on a date with.

As for the temple, it saddens me you feel a need to degrade it. When I wear a veil, I feel like the only two people in the room are me and God. Some of my greatest feelings of peace come during this time. Perhaps instead we should pity the men who don't get to wear one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I completely share your interpretation of the veiling and I will go further and add the garment as well. And I am sorry if I offend anyone, but the church is sexist in every way possible once you really look at it the reality and not the "lip service" as you said. Considering that polygamy began as a core teaching, this is is the kind of stuff that remains. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that young women and their behaviors are not the only cause of male lust, I do not understand the supposed correlation between that concept and the sacred symbols of the temple. I think this blog post was well-worded rhetoric with a weak point. I found it highly disrespectful to my religion and to the divine calling of womanhood. Have good taste, ladies. Any piece of writing that exposes sacred ceremonies on the web, no matter the point it is attempting to support, is classless and offensive. I personally am proud to be a woman that follows the prophet and has the opportunity to participate in such amazing temple experiences.

Travis Butterfield said...

thanks for your response, Stephanie. I'm glad that we can talk about things respectfully and peacefully. I don't know who deleted my initial comment - but I'm glad that at least you weren't offended, even if others may have been. I'm still confused as to exactly why it got deleted in the first place. oh well . . . :-)

Stephanie D. Edwards said...

Travis, maybe it was just a Blogger fluke. There are only two administrators on this site and neither of us deleted the comment. Rest assured, no problems. If it helps, I have had comments disappear twice on a friend's blog. We have even had that happen once here to the other admin. No worries.

jen said...

Have you checked the spam?? When I lose comments from my blog, blogger has decided it was spam...

Stephanie D. Edwards said...

Thanks, Jen! That's where it went. Travis, your comment is now published probably where it cam in chronologically. Thanks for your patience.
And now I know to check the spam. :)
Peace and love to all.

Cognitive Dissenter said...

Beautifully written and 100% accurate. The church measures a woman's morality by her clothing, her words (no vulgarity), and what goes on between her legs. In essence, the church effectively turns women into mindless sex objects, tempters of men, and thus in a position of shame when in god's presence -- which is why they must cover their faces. A certain church leader once told me that men would never sin but for the existence of women, and that it has always been so.

I get how LDS women have to construe these sexist and extremely hurtful doctrines and rites to conform with their own beliefs about their identity because I used to do it too. But the truth is what it is.

cleanbooks4you said...

Interesting thoughts. and yet I do disagree somewhat! God loves women, His Son was born of one. And I know God loves me and I'm a woman! Maybe its because of His love for us that he commands us to be chaste, after all, he knows of men's weaknesses and doesn't want our lives to be ruined by them. Just a thought!

Anonymous said...

My wife and I were discussing the treatment of women in the church just last night. In many cases, not only do young women get all the shame and guilt that young men do to help them avoid their own sexuality, they also get guilt and shame for the actions of young men as well. Thank you for this post, Steph.

Julia - Finding My Way Softly said...

I realize I am a little late to the party. I just wanted to add that almost any teaching can be twisted by someone who wants to use it to their own ends. I am an incest survivor, and my biological father was masterful at manipulating quotes from church sources to his own ends. I hadn't lived enough, or gotten enough counseling, and my first marriage was just as abusive as my years growing up. In the year or two after I left my first husband I could have written this post, but not with the same skill.

The last six years have given me a huge amount of perspective and healing. I have a good relationship with my stepfather, and that helped me to be able to find more peace and happiness. I have also continued to study the scriptures, pray and think about the gospel. In the last nine (9) months, medical issues have kept me housebound, and during that time my testimony of the gospel has been greatly strengthened. My Relationship with Christ is strong enough, that I don't have to hide behind what a manual teaches.

Very few of the things I have gained a strengthened testimony of are in conflict with the gospel, but they are in conflict with the culture that is found in parts of the church. I think that the larger the number of members, and the deeper the Mormon history in an area is, the harder it is to sort doctrine from culture. Many of the things you talk about are cultural, and are part of non-doctrinal teachings. For The Strength of Youth is a cultural interpretation, IMHO, and very little of it is based in our canonized scriptures.

While much of it is useful in helping youth keep the commandments, it applies most to saints in North America and Europe. Even then, it is really only needed in areas that have high population densities of Mormons where there is not already a bright line dividing LDS youth from youth of other faiths. In most parts of the world, telling YW and YM to be modest would be clear, and not need a lot of extra explanation. It is only when almost everyone around you professes to share the same faith that you must get down to the tiny details of delineation.

I think that without the other cultural clashes around a woman's body, dress, role in the family, and career choices, I don't think that wearing a veil would carry with it as much meaning. If women didn't feel invisible in other parts of their lives, a few minutes with a veil over their faces as part of a ceremony, would not feel like just another place where women are hidden away and their individuality ignored. I don't know that I would change the temple ordinances, even if I could, but I certainly work hard to change things outside the temple, so that women and girls have affirming, positive, uplifting experiences that are in line with the gospel, even if it means throwing some favorite sacred cows out with the muddy bath water of cultural mis-teachings.

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