Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Temple, Garments, and what Sacred looks like

I've been reading a lot this morning about the speculation surrounding Ann Romney and her wearing of garments. Pictures of her wearing very short sleeves and above-the-knee skirts have led some to question if she in fact wears Temple garments. I think the whole thing is ridiculous and that how someone chooses to explore their faith is no one's business but their own (not to mention that some women's garments don't actually go to the knee), but I don't want to talk about Ann Romney.

Instead, I want to talk about how we think of the sacredness of Temple ceremonies and garments.

If you are unfamiliar, here are some basic definitions: Mormons practice ritualistic ceremonies in Temples which we believe are patterned after ancient Temple ceremonies. We also believe that those who have participated in a particular ceremony, called the Endowment, have the opportunity to wear garments. Garments are white underclothing consisting of a short sleeve top and a bottom which extends almost to the knee (there are some other kinds, such as long-sleeve garments for cold weather and one-pieces). Endowed Mormons are asked to wear them at all times except when doing things than can not be reasonably done while wearing them, such as bathing or swimming. We can compare it to clothing worn by members of other ritualistic religions, because they serve the same purpose: a constant, outward reminder of an inward covenant with God.

To think that we can keep these things from those outside the Church is naive. Anyone can do a quick Google search and see videos and pictures of things sacred to Mormons. Often times, Mormons become offended when someone reveals these things to the public, and for good reason. We are taught that the Temple is the most sacred place on earth and we generally associate revealing it with anti-Mormon antagonism. But even though our first reaction is offense, should we remain offended? I think exploring what sacred means in a Mormon context would help us not to be.

It has been said (which, if someone can source this for me, that would be wonderful) that the difference between reading about or watching the Temple ceremony online and actually experiencing it in person is like the difference between reading the score and watching the symphony. I think this is a fantastic analogy, and one with which I agree. I'll be honest, I have sat in Temple ceremonies and thought, "If I didn't believe in the ancient pattern or symbolism of all of this, I would think it was really, really, really weird." I'm sure if I read about it online before my own Endowment, I would not get the same feeling that I get in the Temple: the active participation of my body and soul feels like the way I was designed to worship God. While I enjoy the intellectual satisfaction of thinking about the Temple ceremony, I go for the spiritual fulfillment.

I often wonder if our reasons for keeping the Temple and garments sacred are misguided. We often use the idiom "Sacred, not secret" in reference to the Temple. But is this how we practice it? I would argue that the reason we are asked not to reveal Temple ceremonies or garments is not a pearls-before-swine rationale. Rather, the experience we have in the Temple is incommunicable to those who have not experienced it. It is more than just words and ritual. The sacredness of the entire experience gets lost when we try to communicate it outside of its context. It's not because it's our own little secret which only gets shared with a select few, but that to willingly share it outside of its context shows a complete misunderstanding of the reasons behind it.

I also think we get confused about what in the Temple is actually sacred. The symbols and the words used are not what are sacred. What the symbols and words mean are what is. One big criticism of the Temple ceremony is its similarity to Masonic rituals. However, I would argue that the symbols and words in the Temple ceremony could be anything, so long as they still represent what God intends them to. So what if someone records it and posts it on Youtube? So what if someone is selling garments on Ebay? The sacredness no longer exists in it. It becomes only a satisfaction of curiosity and nothing else.

I hope that we can get to a point where we get a better understanding what sacred means and how our experience with the Temple and garments fits into our culture of information and curiosity. And I hope for myself that I can be okay with the decisions of others to discount the Temple's sacredness because those decisions do not affect my faith and my Mormon experience.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Mercy and the Transient Community

So I've recently tried to get in the habit of buying a meal, even just a McDonald's lunch, for every homeless person I see. I'm not perfect at this, and sometimes I like to convince myself that I have somewhere important to be (protip: I don't), but I'm trying to get better at it. Today while driving back from some errands in Orem, I found myself willing to buy lunch for a transient man. $6 at a gas station got him a sandwich, carrots, Chex mix, and a liter of water.

Recently I've been in a few conversations about why and how we help the transient community. One argument that comes up consistently to justify not helping those who are struggling is that they were the ones who made poor choices to get them in their situation, they'll use what is given to them for drugs or alcohol, they're "professional" panhandlers, they aren't doing real work, or some variant of one of these. The underlying implication is that helping them is somehow taking responsibility for their bad actions.

So I was thinking about all of this on my way back home, trying to piece together exactly how I feel about the balance between compassion and personal responsibility, when I thought of Alma 7:11-12.

"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities."

The purpose of the Atonement was for Christ to take responsibility for not only the situations we have no control over, but also our bad choices.

So how profoundly Christlike it would be for us to stop making excuses about why we shouldn't help the transient community, pretending that we are teaching them self-sufficiency, when we ourselves aren't at all deserving of the obligation Christ has taken upon himself to us. How Christlike we would become if we stopped judging homeless people by making assumptions about them and just helped them. How Christlike we would be if we took responsibility for others, including responsibility for their possible poor decisions.

Because, when you think about it, we are all standing at intersections, holding well-worn cardboard signs, begging for mercy.

"For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?" (Mosiah 4:19)

Sometimes it seems like, because we live in a culture that prizes individualism, we seem to forget just how fiercely interdependent we are--how absolutely necessary it is for us to be part of a community. And we use this to justify thinking that we are only responsible for ourselves. However, I argue that as members of the human family, every one of us has an obligation to help better the lives of every one else.

So what ought we to do? I would agree that government programs can be inefficient and sometimes abused. But this is all the more reason for personal action. So I would like to present a challenge. Do something to help a member of the transient community without judgment or assumption. See your action for him or her as selfless as the Savior's work is for us. Christ shows us never ending mercy, regardless of our actions and decisions. Do we not owe it to our brothers and sisters to do the same for them?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Things I've Learned as a Philosophy major

I graduated today! After four years (plus a spring term), I finally got my Philosophy BA. Well, I actually think I have a library fine on my account, which means I won't officially have my degree until I pay it, but formalities.

As I look back on my time as a Philosophy major, I'd like to offer some advice as well as some unapologetic nostalgia:

1. If you are declaring a Philosophy major, or any major in the Humanities for that matter, figure out a way to break the news to your parents softly as these kinds of degrees are usually seen as just a step above underwater basket weaving.

2. If you think you know the difference between analytic and continental Philosophy, then you don't actually know the difference between analytic and continental Philosophy.

3. If you ever say that formal logic isn't *really* philosophy and that it shouldn't be required, a piece of me will die.

4. Take classes from as many professors as you can. Although I enjoyed my Dr. Carter minor, I wish I would have gotten over my distaste for certain professors' specialties and just signed up for their classes. In fact, I think the best classes are the ones from professors with whom you disagree substantially.

5. Every professor expects different writing styles. Therefore, TA's are your best friends for your first paper.

6. Speaking of being a TA, logic TAing was the best job I ever had. Which kind of sucks because I'm only 22 and all of my employment opportunities can only go downhill from here. If there was any chance of BYU approving a petition for me to be a logic TA without being a student, I would do it until the day I died.

7. You get to tell the nerdiest jokes as a Philosophy major. Also, a lot of XKCD starts making a whole lot more sense.

8. Studying logic is both a blessing and a curse. You learn this fantastic new way of understanding rhetoric, but you have a mini aneurysm every time someone commits a fallacy.

9. You stop getting personally offended when someone disagrees with you, and you have to remind yourself that other people still do that when you disagree with them.

10. When all else fails, make up a word.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Compatibility of Feminism and Family Work

I wrote this paper for a class this semester called "What is the Good Life?". It was a special topics Ethics class in which we discussed real methods and explanations of the good life rather than the tedious hypotheticals for which Ethics classes are infamous. I was inspired to write it for a few reasons, partly because of some of the reading we did for that class as well as reading I did for a class in my Women's Studies minor, "Family Work and Relations in the Home".

I've never thought I would ever want to be a stay-at-home mom. It's drudgery, I reasoned. Intellectual stagnation, unappreciated, and menial labor. The thought of getting any kind of personal satisfaction from changing diapers and washing dishes when an entire world of opportunity was open to me was laughable. Added to this is my general disposition to question cultural norms: good Mormon girls get married, have babies, stay home, and force themselves to be content with such a life. And I was going to make sure I never allowed myself to follow suit. In short, there was no room in my good life for this pattern. However, a reassessment of these personal doctrines and an intellectual maturation with which to do so has altered my paradigm radically. This shift in my attitude toward family work owes a great debt to feminist theory, changes in my ideas of what makes something valuable, a new view on the technologization of motherhood, and religious reasoning.

I. Feminist Theory

Second and third wave feminism—feminist thought in the context of the 1960's to the 1990's—are often credited (and often over-generalized) for categorizing the family as oppressive for women. Much of their reasoning was sound, as many of the cultural expectations surrounding housewifery were demeaning of women. For example, Betty Friedan wrote about “the problem that has no name” in her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique. This problem, she argued, was that many middle-class American housewives suffered from what can now be classified as moderate to severe depression in their attempt to fulfill the expectations set for them. The implied conclusion is that something about domestic life is not satisfactorily fulfilling for women, leading to an increased tendency toward depression. Friedan is often credited as a founding mother of second wave feminism due to her authorship of this book and her appeal for women to liberate themselves into more satisfying roles. Furthermore, the attitudes toward and prevalence of domestic abuse in the 1940's up until second wave feminism were generally unchallenged as the domestic sphere was considered private business. To say that family life in post-WWII America—at least for women—was a fulfillment of the American Dream is categorically false. The watered-down superficiality we consume when we assume that all families were like the Cleavers and all women were like June is a dangerous way to set social norms, and feminists couldn't have been more correct in their challenge of such an ideal.

However, where feminism fell short was in its response. With the urging of women like Friedan and Steinem, many women left traditional roles and entered the public sphere to seek personal fulfillment there. This was an accomplishment in the sense of challenging the limited sphere of a woman's perceived capability. However, there was a simultaneous devaluation of women who did not leave their traditional roles. While an unfortunate sentiment held at the time by some feminists, this thought has continued into today's general attitudes of women who are full-time homemakers. Even though cultural expectations still dictate that women should still occupy only the roles of wife and mother, at the same time we, as a society, place them lower on a hierarchy of value than employees of the public sphere. So what should we do with such a paradox?

The answer is a feminist reclamation of the domestic sphere. This means a shift in our cultural consciousness which allows space for a woman to be valued and appreciated for her position in the home on her own terms. It also requires an understanding that claiming paid employment to be more important or valuable than family work comes from a place of inherited misogyny. As men have historically and sociologically been the privileged gender class, their actions and advances of position have been favored over those of women. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, men and women both shared in family work. While men's work was on the farm and women's work in the home, both believed each other's labor was equally necessary for a sustainable family. After the Industrial Revolution, men began working in factories and offices while women remained in the home. As public sphere labor progressed with labor laws and an emphasis on status, men's work days became shorter and less burdensome, and the employment itself more prestigious. Women's work and responsibilities remained much the same throughout this evolution of men's work. It is this fact that lead to the thought that valuable work was done outside the home rather than inside. After all, an advancement of work in the public sphere is evidence of the power and influence of individuals that characterizes the ideal American capitalism. But this progress has favored men more than women. Therefore, the claim that employed labor is more valuable than domestic work, as some second and third wave feminists made (and many more of us still make today), is a claim backed by misogyny.

II. A Reassessment of Work and Value

The first step in the feminist reclamation of family work is presenting more accurate descriptions of what constitutes work and, more specifically, what constitutes valuable work. I've often seen the bumper sticker which proclaims, “All mothers are working mothers.” The fact that this is a sentiment reserved for bumper stickers ought to tell us something about its need for understanding.

It is necessary for us to classify exactly what differentiates traditional women's work from traditional men's work. This differentiation is time-oriented versus task-oriented work; while traditional men's work is time-oriented, traditional women's work is task-oriented. Because there is no clocking-in or periodic paychecks in motherhood and family work, there has to be a different standard of success against which to measure the two kinds of labor. Nancy Cott explains this distinction between time-oriented and task-oriented work: “The dominant characteristic of work in such an agricultural/artisanal economy is ‘task-oriented,’ in contrast to the ‘time-discipline’ required under industrial capitalism. Task-orientation implies that the worker’s own sense of customary need and order dictates the performance of work” (15). The belief that time-oriented, paid work outside the home is more valuable than task-oriented work performed in the home is likewise the result of male privilege and misogyny and was mistakenly adopted by second and third wave feminism. Our modern conception of work includes a need for some sort of quantifiable means to measure the input and output of work performed in order to standardize placement of various kinds of work in a hierarchy. Dorothy Sayers wrote that “The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done” (4). Hours spent in an office and a paycheck are such measures for traditional men’s work outside the home, but there is no similar way to measure the input and output of family work done in the home by women. Therefore, we must be able to appreciate work by some measure other than its quantifiable input and output in order to better appreciate task-orientation of family work.

Family work is considered task-oriented rather than time-oriented because a mother does not simply decide that she will spend 30 minutes playing with her children, then 20 minutes sorting laundry, 10 minutes driving child A to soccer practice, 25 minutes at the grocery store, etc. She will almost assuredly be interrupted by some other task which must be immediately completed. A suddenly ill child, a clogged sink, or a broken dryer all characterize the need for stay-at-home mothers to remain flexible and task-oriented. Further, there is no definite completion of family work: there will always be work in the home to perform.

One important example of the task-oriented work performed traditionally by women as part of family work is emotion work. The kind of work a mother does when she is patient with children and husband in stressful situations when her primary emotions would lead her to be angry or upset is emotion work. Emotion work is also done when a mother sees to the needs of her home and family when her personal desires dictate otherwise. In short, emotion work is the difference between what a mother actually feels and what she thinks she should feel (Doucet 342). This work—a fundamental characteristic of family work—is not quantifiable and therefore sometimes mistakenly not counted as valuable work.

A common goal of feminism is to eliminate gendered value-assessment bias wherever it occurs. Rather than seek for a solution in devaluing the position a woman has traditionally held in family work, feminists should reclaim that position on the condition that it ought to be valued not by a means to a quantifiable end, but as valuable as an end in itself.

III. The Technologization of Motherhood

In “The Question Concerning Technology”, Martin Heidegger argues that we have mistakenly defined technology as simply a human means to an end (312). He argues that this definition doesn’t actually reveal technology to us. Near the end of his paper, he discusses why our misunderstanding of technology can be a danger to us. He writes, “As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man as even an object, but exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve” (332). Standing-reserve occurs when we order the world according to the way we allow technology to enframe it. Objects discontinue having essence for their own sake when they are ordered as standing-reserve, but rather only become valuable as a means to an end performed by humans. As we do this, reasons Heidegger, we ourselves become standing-reserve.

I believe Heidegger’s ideas surrounding our misapplication of technology and use of standing-reserve can be applied to motherhood and family work. When men’s work evolved at the turn of the nineteenth century from the domestic to the public sphere, women’s work also changed within the domestic sphere. A paradigm of home economics which was popularized at the time of the Industrial Revolution was the scientific management paradigm. This paradigm favored a vertical view of society, modernization, administrative control of the home through management techniques, and empirical science as the only rational way of knowing (Brown 49). According to Marjorie Brown, the results of such a paradigm included a low opinion of human nature, a view of the home in merely physicalistic terms, and an adulation of technology (51-2). The emphasis on the home management paradigm was efficiency. The goal was to do as much housework and child care as possible in the shortest amount of time while expelling the least amount of energy. This same goal for efficiency is still practiced today. However, the overarching implication in this is that family work is not valuable in itself, but rather it is valuable only in its ends.

We can use Heidegger’s argument regarding standing-reserve to illustrate that just as family work has become ordered standing-reserve, mothers themselves have become likewise. Evidence of standing-reserve in family work can be found when cooking meals is done with the goal of feeding people, or when cleaning is performed quickly and strategically to get such tasks out of the way. Examples of the technologization of motherhood can be found historically with the popularity of labor-saving devices such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners. With the advent of these devices, women actually started spending more time cleaning floors and washing clothes. In fact, women in the 1980’s were washing on average 10 times the amount of laundry their mothers had done (Cowan). When the tasks of family work become ordered in technological ways, mothers simply become the technology used to perform them; mothers become the standing-reserve. When the tasks they perform such as cooking meals, cleaning homes, and raising children becomes technologized, seen as equally valuable when those ends are met by anyone, and not valued as actions in themselves, motherhood becomes technologized and thus expendable. And nothing is less valuable than that which can be easily replaced.

The answer, then, is that the tasks performed by mothers ought to be valued for their own sake. When a mother takes care of her child, it is not valuable because that child simply has food or clothing, but because it is that mother taking care of that child; neither is replaceable when the value of that relationship is placed thus. When she cooks a meal for her family, it is her specific act of love for them which carries the value, with the act of feeding peripheral. It is only when we see the acts of family work performed by a mother as valuable because she is doing it, and not because they are efficient or productive of the “best” outcomes, do mothers and the work they do become valuable as a means rather than a means to an end..

IV. A Religious Perspective

During the Fall General Conference in 2007, I remember listening to President Julie B. Beck’s talk entitled “Mothers Who Know”. I also remember rolling my eyes and sighing a few times during it. However, in spending more time thinking about the purpose of motherhood in the context of family work, I am drawn to one of her declarations known by successful mothers: “Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally” (Beck). President Beck wants to proliferate the understanding that mothers should make value judgments on their actions, and that we should value choices made by mothers which “bear good fruit eternally.”

When Adam and Eve were made to leave the Garden of Eden, God pronounced blessing-curses on each one of them. Eve’s was to bear children. The account in Genesis 1:16 [1] emphasizes the curse portion, in contrast to a declaration of their blessed state in Moses 5:11 [2]. It makes sense to me that Eve knew exactly what she was doing when she ate the fruit and broke the commandment. As a woman, she also knew the greater importance of the other commandment God gave them to bear children. By sacrificing one commandment for another, Eve sacrificed paradise for motherhood. She understood the eternal principle later extolled by President Beck; she ate the good fruit which allowed her to bear the good fruit.

In her essay, “Why Work”, Dorothy Sayers presents a Christian perspective on the value of work. She said that with any work, “the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation” (8). Motherhood (especially in the act of pregnancy and childbirth) and family work are in every sense—when their meaning is placed appropriately—media of divine creation. Sayers also said that whatever position in which a person is employed, his or her first religious obligation is to perform that employment well (8). Recognizing family work as valuable and productive work then gives to a mother her home and family as her primary religious obligation.

Valerie Hudson, a former BYU professor, wrote that “one of the most profoundly feminist acts one can commit is to share the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ with others” (Hudson). Often, Mormonism (and Christianity as a whole) is accused of acting on misogynistic influence. I would argue that while the culture is sometimes violently anti-woman, the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself is the exact opposite. It allows for woman and man to have the opportunity to receive equal salvation, resurrection, and exaltation, and it requires from all, regardless of gender, self-sacrifice and an offering of will. We are given responsibilities in the Gospel according to our ability and level of understanding to accomplish them, not according to our gender. While some may argue that men are given more of these responsibilities inherent in their exclusive Priesthood authority, this argument is set upon superficialialities and shows nothing more than a misunderstanding of obligations to God in the Restored Gospel.

VI. Conclusion

The anthropologist Dorothy Lee wrote often on the culture surrounding family work and the kind of value which ought to be placed on it. She wrote:

We built homes as if they were backgrounds to set off our imaginatively selected furniture and our fabrics, our artistic arrangements and color combinations, and particularly kitchens as if they were there to set off the wonderfully designed new household equipment, in which we can perform our time-saving operations most efficiently. Somehow we forgot to build a home for zestful, boisterous, untidy existence, full of the opportunity and invitation to real talk and quarreling and anguish and absorbing spontaneous activities (68).

I’ve always acknowledged, however begrudgingly, the possibility that I would end up a full-time homemaker. The realizations I’ve here addressed go beyond the scope of a term paper for a class and into my very personal self. No longer do I see homemaking as menial, non-intellectual, unmeaningful work. It’s no longer vacuuming the living room in pearls, hosting dinner parties for the husband’s boss, or having the best-made cookies for Relief Society. It has become something much more. It has become dirt perpetually under my fingernails from gardening, the sounds of chickens and goats coming from out back, and muddy footprints from active children racing through the kitchen. The bitter smells of bread rising and cheese culturing. The cries from a child with a skinned knee or a need for a new book to read. Producing more than consuming. It has become the search for value and meaning. It has become poiesis: growing vegetables—and family—in rich, nourishing soil. Indeed, it has become the good life.

Works Cited

Beck, Julie. “Mothers Who Know.” 4 April 2012 .

Brown, Marjorie. “Home Economics: Proud Past—Promising Future.” Journal of Home Economics 76.4 (1984): 48-54.

Cott, Nancy. The Bonds of Womanhood. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1978.

Cowan, Ruth. “Less Work for Mother?” American Heritage 38.6 (1987): 4 April 2012 .

Doucet, Andrea. “You See the Need Perhaps More Clearly than I Have.” Journal of Family Issues 22.3 (2001): 328-357.

Freidan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. 1963. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings: from Being and Time (1927) to The Task of Thinking (1964). Ed. David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: Harper, 1993.

Hudson, Valerie. “The Curious Appeal of Roman Catholicism for Certain Latter-day Saint Intellectuals.” SquareTwo. 4 April 2012 .

Lee, Dorothy. “Home Economics in a Changing World.” Family Work and Relationships in the Home. Ed. Jenet Erickson. Provo: BYU Academic Publishing, 2008. 68-69.

Sayers, Dorothy. Creed or Chaos. 1949. New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1995.

1 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

2 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Favorite Classes

As I approach graduation in April, I can't help but think about the hundreds of hours I've spent sitting at desks. Some of these hours were better spent than others. By the end of this semester, I will have taken a total of 52 university classes. I was talking to my husband tonight about the classes we enjoyed the most as BYU undergrads, and I thought I'd make a list here of mine.

Philosophy 205: Deductive Logic, Dr. Codell Carter
I took this class the 2nd semester of my Freshman year. I actually added it at the last minute when I decided to take it instead of American Heritage and when I was still considering a Philosophy major. This class was the first time I studied something that I not only enjoyed, but was really, really good at. I had never really considered myself analytically-minded before, but when I realized how easily the subject material in this class came to me, I thought of my brain and the world in which it existed entirely differently. I've been a TA for this class for 5 semesters now.

Religion 122: Book of Mormon II, Drs. Kay and Earl Stice
Since I thought it would be a good idea to get all of my religion credits out of the way my Freshman and Sophomore years (wrong), I didn't get a chance to find the "good" religion professors. I picked religion classes based on who got the highest ratings on (wrong again). But luckily I fell into this class. The Stice brothers are accounting professors and Bishops, and they co-taught this class. I loved it because they actually taught the Book of Mormon according to the Book of Mormon. Not the Book of Mormon according to [religion professor] or [obscure/not-so-obscure GA].

Women's Studies 222: Into to Women's Studies, Sharee Bench
This was the very first class I ever sat down in at BYU. I loved the discussion, the book, and the topics. I feel like it gave me a great springboard to study specific topics in Women's Studies and Feminist theory throughout my career as a student.

Philosophy 300: Philosophical Writing, Dr. Codell Carter
So I'm probably biased because this is the professor I work for, but this was the only class I've taken which actually taught me to be a better writer without following some tired formula. Most of the "work" was done outside of class to be turned in, and the in-class portion was comprised of discussions about anything and everything related to writing. I've reviewed my writing before this class and after this class, and there is definitely a marked difference in the quality.

Biology 100: Principles of Biology, Dr. St. Sinclaire
I'm going to be honest: I took this class twice. The first time I made a C in it and wanted to replace my grade. That first time, the class was taught like you would imagine a biology class being taught: a thick textbook with small print and weird graphs, boring lectures, and an is-this-over-yet lab. But the 2nd time I took it I discovered they completely changed the curriculum. The class focused on general scientific literacy rather than specific topics in biology. We read a biography on Charles Darwin, a book on contemporary neuroscience, and a book about the discovery of DNA, among others. It was fascinating the 2nd time around. I loved that the biology department realized the need for university students to become more scientifically literate, a very practical skill that is on it's way of being eradicated in modern society, against the backdrop of issues in biology.

Statistics 121: Principles of Statistics, [I don't remember the professor...]
Like Biology, I thought this was one of the more practical classes I've taken at BYU. I think that factor, along with it's analytically-based intellectual challenge, is what made me like it so much. I feel like it goes right along with the importance of scientific literacy: knowing how to understand the quantitative analysis of research is so important to making decisions based on the results of social and scientific studies.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Myth of Effortless Beauty

This happened on my facebook today:

I posted this status as a sort of tongue-in-cheek remark 1) about how I'm too lazy/cold to bother shaving my legs and 2) in sarcasm about the stereotype that men and women "let themselves go" upon marriage. However, I was particularly interested in the three men who declared my status as "TMI." As any good philosopher would do, I thought of other similar hypotheticals and how one might react. I ended up with the postulate that if a man bragged about Movemeber, he would not receive a response of "TMI." If he posted about shaving his legs, he would probably just be called gay (which is another topic on misandry and inherent homophobia in social constructs of masculinity entirely). I guess I missed the memo that women shouldn't publicly talk about shaving their legs. So this got me doing some research.

What I discovered what a social phenomenon called effortless beauty. This essentially says that women should always be socially attractive and presentable and hide the effort behind it. It comes from the idea that women's bodies are inherently obscene, and much more so than men's (E.G. why it's okay for men to go topless in public and not women). And because her body is obscene and is yet required to meet the beauty standards of her society, she must not discuss how she manipulates her body to meet those standards.

I also think the TMI could come from the fact that I haven't shaved my legs in almost a month and therefore don't currently meet standards of attractiveness. We live in a culture where it is expected that women be objectified by society, even if there are men who consciously don't objectify them (which, by the way, there are). We dehumanize women by compartmentalizing them into body parts. We live in a culture where society somehow has a right to the objectification of women (see: victim blaming and catcalling), even if a large population of men necessarily don't. When a woman chooses not to shave her legs (or smile when a man asks her, or conform to weight standards, or says "no" when a man asks for sex), she is infringing on society's right to objectify her. It's being taken for granted that it's totally okay for society to put women on a pedestal when the women do conform to their standards of physicality. And only when that is taken for granted is it wrong for women to infringe of society's rights of objectification.

My husband also pointed out that because I am married, I am no longer sexually available to any other men, which is another way I (and other monogomously married women) infringe on men's rights to objectify.

I had a friend who waxed her upper lip and chin and was mortified to let anyone know she did that. She (and so many other women) fall into this idea that the people around us have a right to our attractiveness and a right not to know how it got there. Thus, the myth of effortless beauty.

Which is why (some) men don't want to hear about a woman not shaving her legs.

I can see why this post could be construed as anti-man, but I'd like to here offer that my brand of feminism (and that of many, many other feminists) doesn't see men as the enemy. Rather, the enemy is the false and harmful social constructs of masculinity and femininity to which we are bound. However, I do think it's interesting that those who called my status "TMI" are men.