Archive by Author

The Mormon Body Project: Thoughts Toward a History of Mormon Girls

16 Feb

Cross-posted at Juvenile Instructor.

I never knew I had fat calves until I tried on a pair of skinny jeans.  I tugged on the jeans – trying to get them over the bulges of my legs.  When I finally did, it was to no avail.  Pants that were big enough to fit over my calves were way too big in the waist.  I had never realized that I had fat calves before – it had never been an issue because the skirts and jeans that I had worn had never fit them closely or required them to be a certain size.  I soon discovered that the boots also in fashion were equally difficult to fit to my body.  Since then, I have been slightly uncomfortable with my fat calves and chubby knees.  Unfortunately, these areas of the body have proven to be especially unyielding to exercise.

In her book The Body Project, Joan Jacobs Brumberg argues that experiences like mine are not abnormal.  Women’s understandings of their bodies are influenced by pop culture, trends in fashion, and the cosmetics industry.  In the mid-twentieth century, fashion trends that required girls to bare their mid-riffs led girls to be more concerned about the firmness of their stomachs and bodies.[1]  A corset can’t hold your stomach in when you were required to bare flesh.  Brumberg’s project is to explore how the ideas that girls have had about their bodies have changed from the late nineteenth century to the present. Continue reading

Gender Historian Fail and a List of Books for 2011

3 Jan

So Liz , inspired by the Juvenile Instructor, initially challenged me to write a blog post detailing all the great feminist books that had been published this year.  I happily agreed and then quickly realized that I hadn’t actually read enough feminist books that had been published this year to make a full list.  Gender historian – FAIL!  So instead I present a list of the best books that I have read this year – whether fiction or nonfiction, feminist or not.  They are in no particular order.

  1. Julian Barnes, Arthur and George – Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this novel explores the friendship between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalje, the son of a Parsi vicar in the Midlands.  Edalje was falsely convicted of slashing ponies in 1903.  Barnes’ recreation of the trial and Doyle’s subsequent attempts to prove the innocence of Edalje brings up themes of national pride, spiritualism, race, and religious belief all while being set in late Victorian and early Edwardian England.
  2. Lauren Willig, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation – Most of my friends had already read several of Lauren Willig’s romance novels.  Willig was originally a graduate student in the Harvard history department before she dropped out of her program to become a lawyer and eventually a novelist.  Her books, of which this is the first, delight in combining historical detail with bodice ripping romance, and each novel is centered on the story of a young English girl who has happened the safety of her home to become a spy in Napoleonic France.  The novels are also framed by the story of a female graduate student at Harvard who is slowly uncovering this story as she reads the letters, diaries, and papers the women left behind for her doctoral dissertation.  The young girl, Willig’s Mary Sue, of course, has a dashing romantic interest of her own.  Think A.S. Byatt’s Possession – only deliberately girly and more fun.
  3. Elizabeth Elbourne, Blood Ground:  Colonialism, Missions, and the Contest for Christianity in the Cape Colony and Britain, 1799-1853 – The first academic work on this list, Elizabeth Elbourne’s Blood Ground is an exploration of the work of the London Missionary Society in the Cape Colony.  Elbourne argues that historians who have emphasized the dichotomy between indigenous African beliefs and white Christianity have missed the complexity of Southern African history.  By the time missionaries arrived in the Cape, she argues, the Africans living there had already been in contact with Europeans for decades.  Moreover, the translation of Christianity into Africa was something that required significant changes on both sides.  Elbourne’s exposition of British Christianity in the first chapter is also the best that I ever read.
  4. Celestine Vaite, Frangipani – One of the things I learned in undergrad is that if you want to feel productive without doing any real work, you should something read something marginally related to your research.  Hence, Frangipani by Celestine Vaite.   Frangipani examines the mother-daughter relationship between Materena Mahi, the only “professional” housekeeper in Tahiti, and her daughter Leilani.  For an American reader, their relationship is tinged with exoticism.  Breadfruit trees, Chinese stores, surfing, and dancing with French soldiers all mark it as taking place somewhere different than middle America, but the story between Materena and her daughter is still recognizable and touching.
  5. Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in a Revolutionary World – I read this one in Britain with a  different subtitle – The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire – designed to appeal to an audience who still finds the American Revolution a bit unsavory.  The book’s description of violence during the Revolution and the effects it had on loyalists is an important reminder that the American Revolution was for many a loss of identity and a betrayal by their fellow colonists and eventually by Britain itself who signed a peace treaty they could not countenance and then, failed to provide them with a sanctuary.  The book’s far flung geography, which encompasses India, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, and Nova Scotia, is also a reminder of the far reaching legacies of the American loyalists who colonized much of the world after being chased from their original colonial homes in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Moosejaw’s Sexy New Ad Campaign and Miss Representation

16 Nov

My husband and I occasionally shop at Moosejaw, a clothing chain that conveniently has a store in Ann Arbor and boasts fantastic sales.  Somehow we ended up on their e-mail list.  Today we got an e-mail saying that Moosejaw was releasing an app that will allow you to see their models nearly naked.  That’s right.  If you were looking through your catalog and thinking, “Man, the layers on these girls totally obstructs their hotness!” Moosejaw has designed an app that will allow you to see right through their warm winter coat, wool sweater and long johns to the lacy black bra they were wearing underneath.  (For an article on the ad campaign, see: OR to see the images, type Moosejaw Nearly Naked Modeling into your Google Search engine.)


This announcement comes on the heals of Oprah’s re-showing of “Miss Representation,” a documentary about the sexualization of girls in today’s media and the effects that it has had on their beliefs about the leadership abilities of women.  The statistics are depressing.    American teenagers spend 31 hours watching TV, 17 hours listening to music, 3 hours watching movies, 4 hours reading magazines, and 10 hours online each week.  Most of those hours will spent watching Jessica Simpson parading around in her Daisy Dukes, Flavor Flav choosing from an array of big-busted, scantily clad woman, and the girls of Jersey Shore grinding on each other.  Even those parents who have banned MTV and VH1 from their households will be battling with movies and TV shows that suggest that the prime concern of most women is dating or getting married.  Newscasters have called Hillary Clinton haggard, asked Sarah Palin if she’s had breast implants, and referred to Condoleeza Rice as a dominatrix.  The film juxtaposes these images with the fact that there is a massive gender gap among 15 year olds who want to be President despite that equal numbers of boys and girls want to be president when they are 7.  The film also points out that only 17% of the U.S. Congress is female and that the last elections actually decreased that percentage.

There will be a screening of the film in Ogden, UT in the Chamber Auditorium at Weber State University on December 1st.  You can also volunteer to host a screening.

To find out more information about the film or to view a trailer, visit:

I should mention the Moosejaw app lets you see men and women in their skivvies.  The ad I received featured a female model – of course.  I only found out about the male models by searching.

Gentiles in Zion

22 Oct

Recently, one of my friends posted the following article to my Facebook page:  In the article, Jennifer Sinor writes about her experiences as a non-member living and teaching in Zion.  She describes the anger that she often feels towards the church for its attitudes towards gay men and women and the way in which she often lashed out at missionaries who visited her door.  I empathized with much of what she wrote.


As a kid growing up in Blackfoot, Idaho, I hated the Mormon Church for what I saw as its intolerance of any sort of religious or social diversity.  I hated what I saw as the cheery hypocrisy of many of my high school classmates, who would smile as they told me that they believed that their church was correct and mine was wrong.  Like Sinor, I took out my anger on the young nineteen and twenty year old Mormon missionaries who visited my door.  Like a lot of my non-Mormon friends, I had read enough anti-Mormon websites and books to know the basic holes within Mormon history.  I enjoyed asking missionaries about polygamy and the weight of the plates.  When I didn’t slam the door in the missionaries’ faces, I delighted in their discomfort when I asked them about the peep stones and various parts of the Mormon temple ceremony.  I was seventeen and feeling as though I knew more about the faith of my classmates than they did made me feel smart and empowered in a community in which I didn’t necessarily feel at home.


In the last part of her article, Sinor recounts how she became reconciled to the church and the missionaries it sent to her door.  As an English professor at Utah State University, she read a lot of essays by returned missionaries.  One recounted the struggles a young female missionary had had trying to hide her bulimia from her fellow missionaries.  Her inability to do so led to her being sent home early.  She also read about how difficult it was to tract everyday and the struggles that some missionaries had with depression.  Eventually, she came to see the missionaries who visited her door, not as representatives of the Mormon faith, but as young men and women who might be struggling with issues she didn’t know about.


I don’t have a single moment that I can point to as the beginning of my reconciliation with Mormonism, nor am I as completely as at ease as Sinor is.  I became more at ease with Mormonism when I moved out of Southeastern Idaho.  In Nevada and then Michigan, Mormonism was less prevalent and less threatening.  I could study it without feeling like someone wanted me to convert at every moment.  Studying Mormon history also allowed me to discover a past much cooler and richer than the one I had assumed I knew while living in Idaho.  I don’t what my reaction would be if I saw Mormon missionaries at my door.  My guess would be I would give them a cold stare and tell them I wasn’t interested.  I certainly don’t think that I would be able, as Sinor was, to laugh and joke with them.  I’m just not there yet.


Sinor’s article is well worth the read – for non-Mormons and Mormons alike.

Size Matters: Plus Size Women and American Apparel’s New Ad Campaign

15 Sep

A few years ago, one of my friends posted a rant about American Apparel, a US-based clothing company that based on its window displays sells enough lycra and spandex to make several 1980s workout videos.  Before I clicked on it, I thought his rant was going to be about how ugly American Apparel’s clothing was.  Every time I walked past that store on my way to work, my thought was, “Who wears this?”  Instead, he, being a bit more knowledgeable about the chain than I was, was ranting about the company’s sexual politics.  Unbeknownst to me, the founder of the company Dov Charney was infamous for sexually harrassing his employees and coming to board meetings wearing nothing but a sock.   There had been several sexual harassment cases brought against him, and teens who worked at the store had reported a climate in which women were constantly devalued and reduced to their status as sexual objects.  As a result of these stories, feminists had lamented the existence and popularity of the chain for years.  The fact that they stocked only the smallest of sizes added to their discomfort with the store’s popularity.  My friend had read yet another article about the horrendous sexual climate of the company and had decided to advertise his anger on Facebook.  Eventually, however, the news surrounding American Apparel calmed down.

Fast forward two years and American Apparel is back in the news.  This time, they have announced their intention to expand their plus-size clothing options.  Traditionally, American Apparel clothing sizes have maxed out at 8/10.  That means that I, at 5’7” and weighing 138 pounds, am almost the heaviest girl who can shop at American Apparel.  Now, however, they are going to expand the number of styles they offer in L and XL.  To celebrate the launch of the new clothing sizes, American Apparel announced a contest for bootylicious girls who needed extra wiggle room.  It invited women to send in pictures of themselves.  Presumably, the girls whose pictures received the most votes on their website would win.

One woman sent in pictures making fun of the ad campaign.  Her pictures showed her covering herself in chocolate sauce, eating chicken wings while in a swimsuit, and generally, stuffing her face with food.  She received the most votes, but American Apparel has announced that she will not win the contest or appear in any of its advertisements.

The coverage has centered on the implications of the campaign on how women view their bodies and how American Apparel views women.  American Apparel’s ad campaign suggests that any woman over a size 8 is overweight and plus size.  The company celebrates thinness and even as it tries to expand its market to include plus size women, it subtly or perhaps not so subtly depending on whom you ask mocks the very women its trying to include.

The feminist blog Jezebel has done an excellent job covering the story and mocking American Apparel so I point you to their website.  The links below are some of their best articles on the debacle.  I should warn you, however, that Jezebel and its readers tend not to mind their language, so if you mind that sorta thing, be forewarned:

To see some women try on American Apparel clothing and the horrible things it does to their bodies:

Announcement of American Apparel Contest:

American Apparel’s letter refusing to name contestant who mocked them as the winner:



Hot Mormon Men in History: Frank Grouard

13 Sep

This one has been awhile in coming.  As my friend pointed out recently while looking for people who might count for this blog post, there just aren’t a lot of men out there from the 19th C who fit today’s standards as hot.  Too much beard and not enough muscles.  But, Frank Grouard is half-Polynesian and was adopted by Sitting Bull as his brother so that’s kinda cool and he has nice eyes.  So without further ado: Frank Grouard.










Fun Facts about Grouard:

  • Frank Grouard was born in the Society Islands to Benjamin F. Grouard, a Mormon missionary, and his Tuamotuan wife Nahina.  Addison and Louisa Barnes Pratt would adopt Grouard as their son, raising him when they returned to the United States in the 1850s.
  • Grouard was quite a restless child.  Louisa’s diary describes her constant anxiety that he was going to just run away and not return.
  • Grouard worked as a mail carrier.
  • In 1869, Crow Indians captured him in Montana.  He was later released and found by Sioux Indians who brought him to their camp where Sitting Bull would eventually adopt him.  Grouard married a Sioux woman.
  • Seven years later, Grouard acted as a guide for General Crook and helped him to find Crazy Horse’s camp.  Grouard described Crazy Horse as having “somewhat peculiar features” – “sandy hair,” “a very light complexion,” and “a few powder marks on one side of his face.”  According to Grouard, he looked much younger than he was and lacked the high cheekbones associated with Indian features.
  • Grouard has recounted his adventures in his autobiography “The Life and Adventures of Frank Grouard,” in which he describes his reunion with an elderly father who had since forsaken Mormonism and had believed his son dead after false newspaper reports.
  • Frank Grouard also has his own Facebook page.  It’s largely based on the wikipedia article about him, but you can like it.  Right now, it has three likes.
Next week, back to the Smith Family.

The Duchess, Homosocial Relationships, and Patriarchy

2 Sep

Last week, the BBC showed The Duchess, which stars Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.  The film focuses on the life of Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, who was famed in the eighteenth century for her beauty, sense of fashion, and political liberalism.  She was also involved in a loveless marriage in which her husband took Bess, one of her best friends, as a long-term mistress and then forced her to live with the woman and raise the daughter of another mistress as her own.  The film is based on Amanda Foreman’s bestselling biography and winner of the Whitebread prize.

In one of the film’s scenes, Bess who has yet to marry her friend’s husband is trying to convince Georgiana that their mutual friend Charles Grey has feelings for the young Duchess.  Georgiana rejects the idea that the young politician is anything but her friend.  Bess, not deterred, informs Georgiana that sex doesn’t have to be boring.  To convince her friend, she has her close her eyes and imagine Grey kissing her neck and unbuttoning her shirt.  In an effort to add realism, she kisses Georgiana’s skin softly as she does so.  The scenes ends there – appropriate heterosexual barriers intact – but the movie leads us to believe that it was partially Bess’ touch that awakens Georgiana’s sexuality and leads her to eventually have an affair with Grey.  Indeed, it is ultimately Bess, in an effort to apologize for her affair with her friend’s husband, who arranges for the first clandestine encounter between the two.

Watching the scene reminded me of a book I read for prelims and may have already mentioned on this blog, though I couldn’t find the post: Sharon Marcus’s Between Women.  In this book, Marcus argues that the Victorians believed that relationships between women helped to prepare for more mature relationships with men.  In playing with other girls, caressing their hair, tending their wounds, and declaring their affections, women learned how to love and be in a relationship – skills that would do them well in their later marriages.  The scene in The Duchess illustrates Marcus’s argument quite vividly.  Without Bess, without their emotional closeness, physical contact, and shared gossip, it is unlikely that Bess ever would have had the emotional ability to be a relationship with Grey or ironically would come to terms with her husband later.

Although it is far removed from the drawing rooms in which Marcus sets her book and the palaces in which the Duchess lived, it might be useful to use her thesis to think about the relationships between Mormon men and women.  When Emily Faithfull visited Utah in the late nineteenth century, she focused on the ways in which women supported and reinforced patriarchy.  In her work, Eliza R. Snow is not the feminist that she claimed to be but an angry woman who used her influence to force women to stay in unhappy marriages and accept polygamy.  We might also ask whether bonds between sister wives could sometimes strengthen the marriage between husband and wife.  Such questions are important because they challenge the ways in which feminists have approached history.  As Marcus points out, there has been an assumption that relationships between women are necessarily transgressive when it is just as likely that they at times worked to reinforce existing power structures.  We might also think about the ways in which the current Relief Society might be examined through these lenses.  Posts on women’s blogs suggest that while such places can be important for building relationships between women that allow them to create alternative spaces of belonging.  They also, however, suggest that going to the Relief Society can be painful and work to limit what is acceptable rather than expand it.

Hot Men and Lovely Ladies in Mormon History

31 Aug

One of our most popular posts, even nine months after it was published, is Hot Men in History, which links to a blog that publishes pictures of attractive men from history and a quirky, interesting descriptions of their accomplishments.

In honor of the continued popularity of this particular post, I’ve decided to do a short series of hot men and women from Mormon history.  I’m not sure how long the series will be or how frequent the posts will be, but if you want to see someone covered, put their name in the comments and I’ll look them up and see if they fit the bill.  As a warning, I’m not going to do one on Joseph Smith – it’s a bit too sacrilegious to me.

First up, Ina Coolbrith, cousin of Joseph F. Smith, librarian, and poet laureate of California.

Facts about Ina:

  • Born to Don Carlos Smith and her mother Josephine in 1841
  • After her father died, her mother married the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.  She felt neglected in the marriage, however, and went to live in Saint Louis, Missouri, after his death.
  • Ina’s mother tried to conceal her Mormon past and used her maiden name throughout her life.
  • During her long literary career, Ina corresponded with Mark Twain, John Muir, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Charles Warren Stoddard.  Twain and Tennyson praised her work and called her “divinely tall, and most divinely fair.”
  • During her work as a librarian, she mentored Isadora Duncan and Jack London.

A Sample from her poems:

A Last Word (To My Mother)

Not more removed with the long years ’increase,
Through hours when storms upon thy roof of clay
Have beat, or when the blossom of the May
Has to the fettered winter smiled release, –
Not from my heart one thought of thee could cease,
O loved and mourned to-day as on that day
When from my sight thy presence passed away,
Thou spirit of all gentleness and peace.
Nay, in the long, long ways I walk alone,
Still with me! On my brow thy touch is laid
Softly, – when all to great my burden grown . . .
And I shall go, serenly, unafraid,
Into the dark-well knowing what dear tone-
Whose hand to mine- O thou beloved shade! 


Rape on a University Campus

29 Aug

A few days ago, the University of Michigan sent an e-mail to its students, faculty, and staff updating them on the police investigation of the recent rise of sexual attacks near campus.  The women involved were attacked in stairwells, parking structures, and on the street.  Although some of the attacks happened at night, at least one occurred in the afternoon as a woman went to a parking structure to get her car.  Initially, the university’s response seemed inadequate and almost laughable.  It urged young women to be careful and to never walk by themselves.  It was as though most women were already worried about being attacked, and that it was up to us to make sure that we weren’t attacked.   One of my friends, angered by the university’s response, posted the following guide to men on how to avoid sexually assaulting women.  It began simply, “If you see a woman walking alone, don’t follow her.  If she is wearing clothing you think are revealing, do not think that she deserves whatever she gets.  And, no matter what happens, don’t rape her.”

As time passed, however, the university’s response got better.  Officials at the university agreed to meet with one of my friends who was particularly concerned about what the campus’ response was going to be.  She had been assaulted once in New York and was determined that the university should do everything in its power to prevent other young women from being assaulted after the reports initially began to circulate.  The university has also sent out multiple e-mails about the investigation and was supportive of a Take Back the Night Rally.

I applaud the university’s response to the rapes, but I think we need to expand the way that we think about rape and the way in which we respond to it.  Although the university’s efforts have been commendable, most rapes do not occur in parking lots, elevators, or staircases.  They occur in apartments, bedrooms, and at parties.  Most women are raped by men that they know, not by strangers.  I would like to see campuses like the University of Michigan become more involved in preventing these everyday, more frequent types of rape.  There needs to be education and activism to stop sexual violence within relationships and by acquaintances.  Focusing too much on one type of rape without being equally vocal about the others spreads the misperception that the danger of being raped is one that exists primarily in the streets and not within the walls of your home and those of your friends.

Picturing the Female Body, Part II: A Historical View

27 Aug

Last week, I went to the exhibition “Books and Babies: Communicating Reproduction” at the University of Cambridge Library.  The exhibition is a collection of prints, anatomical drawings, comic books, novels, and science texts from the medieval period to the present that attempt to understand human reproduction.  Looking at them is a marvelous reminder that the way that we think about the body has changed over time. Continue reading