Blessing the Sacrament in a Purple Tie

16 Dec

ImageI need not summarize the saga of the Pantspocalypse; if you’re reading this, you probably know it already. What is relevant is that after last week I decided I would be wearing a purple tie to church meetings on Sunday. My decision came as a result of my sympathies with imperfectly gender-conforming women (and men) who are often marginalized, the desire to show solidarity in the face of recalcitrant and exaggerated norms of gendered dress and behavior (as well as death threats), and the conviction that cultural change often starts with the culture in question – and that culture lags behind Church pronouncements. Also, my purple tie is one of my favorites.

Of the arguments arrayed against the latter-day bloomers, however, I found the most thought-provoking to be that of not marrying “political statements” with sacred ordinances like the Sacrament. Would not knowledge of a grassroots event simmering among Church members distract the congregation from the object of the meeting, Jesus Christ? If I cared not for the sanctity of the ordinance and the value of not distracting from it, I actually would have worn my dishdash (the white, robe-like formalwear of Arab men). Since I did care, however, I was left with some reservations about my violet neckwear, though not enough to dissuade me from wearing it.

Almost immediately after entering the chapel of my YSA ward I was approached and asked to help bless or pass the Sacrament. I intentionally took the spot on the stand next to my roommate, the only other purpled man in the room. There were no trousered women. I’m not sure why I did that so deliberately. I placed a feminist critique of latent, baseline patriarchy into the locus of patriarchy in weekly worship – the Sacrament.

I’ve blessed the Sacrament countless times before, but today was different. I was extraordinarily self-conscious, aware of every single one of my thoughts. As I knelt, I knew that I, with my concerns, worries, and stresses, was coming before the Lord on behalf of the congregation. And as I read, I pronounced the words more slowly and with much more precision than my average. Wearing a purple tie had made me hypersensitive to myself and, in turn, the Spirit, whose presence I found myself seeking more fervidly than I have for a long time in Sacrament meeting. Under this influence, I noticed several things:

“Oh God, the Eternal Father …”

All of worship is humans coming to the mercy seat, laden with their own burdens to be relieved. Some of our burdens might be socially acceptable and widely recognized, but others are not. Some women feel marginalized by the sometimes strict gender roles and norms assigned to them by their fellow Saints (stricter, often, than those embodied in modern Church proclamations). Some do not. A myriad of statements are made tacitly every week in the clothes we bear, statements that, though often not part of a wider movement, nonetheless have some political content. Further, we are constantly negotiating the boundaries between minimalist divine ritual and totalizing cultural trappings.

“…we ask thee …”

Though we partake of the pieces of bread and cups of water each individually, we all are parties to the prayer offered to consecrate them. We – the old and the young, the man and the woman, the new convert and the descendent of pure pioneer stock, the patriarch and the feminist, the conservative and the liberal, the straight and the not-so-straight, the pants and the dresses. All of us together implore God to sanctify unto our souls the emblems of the Sacrament, to soothe the wounds our fallen natures cause with the healing balm of the holy.

“… in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ …”

Not only do we all come before God, but we come before Him explicitly as disciples of Jesus Christ, in representation of Jesus Christ, in our strivings to be Jesus Christ: the friend of women of ill repute and the nemesis of men of good repute; the political radical and the prince of peace; the king of kings and the servant of all. We have made covenants to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those that stand in need of comfort, as He did. While it is problematic if we expect the Church to institutionally affirm every facet of our identities, it is necessary that we empathize even with the most other Other. If we find we cannot empathize with people’s experiences that are wholly different than ours, we are not fulfilling our covenants. Yes, we come to meetings in order to worship God, but we do it in a community in part to be disturbed and humbled by those around us, to serve them in their specific anxieties and infirmities that we probably don’t share. Our efforts to be Christlike require a dedication to diversity; people can be disciples of Christ, oriented toward God, and differ in a million other ways. It would seem that beauty and variety are also values Divinity wishes would adorn Zion’s unity of heart. And given that we seek to convert the world, we had better be ready for diversity in our membership.

Unlike any other time in recent memory, I returned to my seat pondering the Sacrament and its symbolism, all because I, through my purple tie, had bared a bit of my soul before my fellow man and my God.

That didn’t stop me from smiling, though, when I noticed that all the chapel’s upholstery was purple.

Cross-posted at the author’s personal blog.

The Personal Is Political: Counterpoint Conference, Saturday, October 20, U of U

16 Oct

The Personal Is Political: Why Women’s Issues Remain Central to the Public Good

Saturday October 20, 2012

9:00 am to 6:00 pm

Olpin Student Union, Panorama Room East (4th floor)

University of Utah, 200 S. Central Campus Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84112

Preliminary Schedule

9:00 am-10:30 am

Women in the Mormon Church: The Limits of Agency

Panelists: Margaret Toscano, Mary Ellen Robertson,  Kaimi Wenger, Stephanie Lauritzen

10:45 am-12:15 pm

The Woman’s Body as a Political Battleground

Panelists: Susan Chasson, Katrina Barker Anderson, Heather Stringfellow

12:15-1:15 pm


1:30-2:30 pm

Keynote Speaker & Mormon Women’s Forum 2012 Eve Award Recipient

Joanna Brooks

Claiming our Courage:  The Personal, the Political, and the Future of Mormon Feminism

2:45-4:15 pm

Better Communities/Better Lives: Women Working to Promote the Public Good

Panelists:  Rachael Lauritzen, Marina Lowe, Lorie Winder, Bette Hubrich

4:30-6:00 pm

Exercising Dominion: D & C Section 121 and the Abuse of Power

Panelists: Janice Allred, Michael J. Stevens, Alan Eastman, Paul Toscano

Counterpoint Conference—Registration

Counterpoint conference sessions are free and open to the public! Donations are greatly appreciated. Suggested donation per session–$5.  Lunch–$15.00.  Lunches must be reserved by October 18, 2012; you may email or call to reserve your lunch:  Margaret Toscano (801-581-4768;; Janice Allred (801-225-4967;

You may show up at the door without pre-registering, but lunches must be pre-ordered.
The Olpin Student Union is located on Central Campus Drive on the east side of campus; Panorama Room East is on the top floor, on the west side of the building. There is an adjacent lot where parking is free on Saturday.

The Mormon Women’s Forum
P.O. Box 581451
Salt Lake City, UT 84158

Aaaaand, we’re back

16 Oct

Hello. Amanda and I find it hilarious that even in our absence from blogging here Scholaristas has continued to collect a few readers a day. So touching, dear readers! Turns out, I didn’t leave on a mission after all, which accounts for my posting.

Anyhow, we’ve decided to revive this puttering, spluttering little blog. There are still feminist strides to be made, it appears; feminist events to announce; feminist feministings to be feministed. Stay tuned!

Announcement: We’re taking a break–only one of us can wear skinny jeans.

7 Apr

Beginning in May, Scholaristas will be on hiatus. I’m going on an LDS mission, and to make it easier on Amanda, who is writing her dissertation and blogging for our pals over at Juvenile Instructor, we’re taking a break. I know you’re broken up about it. But, it’s okay. Just because Amanda and I will not be blogging together for a while does not mean that we don’t love you.

Also, our post on skinny jeans was bafflingly the cause of our second-busiest day on the blog. I included skinny jeans in the title because I figured it might be the best way to get our note to the largest number of you. And it’s true; skinny jeans are not mission-approved attire. 😀

Habits of Being: Order Yours for Mother’s Day

5 Apr

Buy your copies for Mother’s Day, and support Exponent II and Mormon women’s history!

Gendering Mormon Temple Architecture

3 Apr

Michael Haycock, who has his own blog here, joins us again with this insightful piece.

In recent research for a term paper on Mormonism and native Hawaiian culture for my history course on the American West, I came across Frank Salamone’s essay on “The Polynesian Cultural Center and the Mormon Image of Body.” Salamone discusses the alterations made in traditional Polynesian dress made at the Center to accommodate LDS conceptions of modesty, gender differentials in bodily coverage, and subversions of modesty through manner of dance and personal comportment.

While I will save for another day his analysis that greater male bareness at the Polynesian Cultural Center is reflective of Mormon gender ideology, I would like to focus here on another observation he makes, taking a cue from another researcher: “As Knowlton mentions, Mormons are surrounded by phallic symbols in their religious imagery, including the architecture of their temples.”

My immediate reaction was a sort of revulsion; how could one relate the ethereal heaven-reaching spires to something so base?  Furthermore, I felt that this analysis reflected a sort of Freudian phallomania. Could temple spires truly be conceived as symbols of such dramatic masculinity? I do not think it is anywhere near that simple.

Here is the church house, here is the steeple...

Even as Salamone qualifies that “American Mormons are a bit more subtle and shy about these images [than Pacific Islanders],” I think that cultural context must be considered when judging Mormon architecture. First, it arose in the American Northeast and West, were the country church reigned supreme: a rectangular structure, roof pitched to the sides, and a steeple housing a bell by whose ringing the community might measure time in the absence of clocks. This, in turn, was influenced by hundreds of years of European church-building, wherein the spired bell tower was literally the pinnacle of community achievement and served as a significant civic and ecclesiastical landmark. The dramatic Catholic cathedral, roughened and simplified by frontier Protestantism, has had an enormous impact on Mormon designs. The Kirtland and Nauvoo temples, save for the interior arrangement of their assembly halls and other ordinance-specific designs, had more to do with the neighborhood church with its amalgamation of folk architectural vocabularies than the Mormon theology reflected in incidental surface details (sunstones and moonstones, for example). If the spire is a phallus, it’s a democratized European one. (Were Tocqueville an architect, he’d have written a book on this.)

Moreover, sometimes Mormon architects tend to do strange things. There’s a reason that the Washington DC and San Diegotemples are likened to fantasy castles: they articulate architectural movements of their times in ways that are mostly unparalleled in the modern world. People don’t quite know what to make of them.

You should see it with a Hollywood marquee. Yup.

(Humorously, the South Park creators knew exactly what to do: they based the stage frame for the Book of Mormon musical on the San Diego Temple itself, and play on the peculiarity of its design by shifting its lighting throughout the production.)

Continue reading

Disney explains menstruation

29 Mar

Newsy news

9 Mar

Hey! So, if you are around the bloggernaccle, you’ve probably already seen the excitement. Our Amanda is now a permablogger at Juvenile Instructor. Follow her posts here and there.

Second, the aforementioned Amanda is presenting at this weekend’s Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies at the Huntington Library. If you happen to be in San Marino, catch her paper, “Zion in the South Seas: Mormons, the London Missionary Society, and the Politics of Domesticity. Here is zee program. Good luck, Amanda!

I am a vacuumer of worlds

29 Feb

From here.

Gertrude Stein home movie, ca. 1927

25 Feb

Late one night I was browsing the Beineke Digital Collections, and I came across this haunting home movie taken of Gertrude Stein. Shot on 16 mm film, and now made available through the wonder of the Internet, the film shows scenes from her everyday life in France. We don’t get a good shot of Gertrude until she takes off her hat to reveal her close-cropped head as she walks down a set of stairs at minute 2:50. The record for the video says that Alice Toklas is in these scenes as well, but I can’t pick her out among the hatted ladies. The film is, of course, completely soundless and is very much like watching ghosts as they pass through parks and restaurants and yards and streets. It’s completely mesmerizing. The final two seconds of the film show Gertrude beckoning to the cameraman with her index finger before all is dark. I also found a couple more cool old clips, including Richard Wright’s screen test for the role of Bigger Thomas (!) and a home movie of Sigmund Freud (!).