Archive by Author

Picturing Female Body Parts

25 Aug

One of the things that is unavoidable in London is the Evening Standard, a free newspaper hawked by dozens of men and women standing in tube stations.  Walk past King’s Cross, Tottenham Court Road, or Euston at any time during the day and someone is going to try to hand you a copy.  Today on the train to Cambridge I grabbed a copy so that I had something to read on the approximately hour long journey. One of the articles was a fun yet nuanced look at the popularity of art depicting vaginas.  Although I get squeamish even writing the word, I appreciated the artwork that was showcased.  Continue reading


From the Archives: Sex Scandals, Feminism, and Touring the States

13 Aug

For the last couple of weeks, I have been doing research at Girton, the first women’s college in Britain.  Located just outside of Cambridge and surrounded by acres of grass, trees, and gardens, the college was founded in the 1860s by Emily Davies, Barbara Bodichon, and a host of other Victorian feminists who were dedicated to the education of girls.  The buildings are made of red brick and are a bit drafty, even in the midst of the British summer.   The other day I found in the papers of Bessie Rayner Parkes a bit of information related to Mormonism.  Parkes and her father were discussing a sex scandal involving one of their friends Emily Faithfull.  Faithfull had been forced to take the stand in a divorce trial, in which she was accused of having improper relations with both the husband and the wife.  Perhaps the oddest story to come from the trial was that the husband had crawled into bed with Faithfull and tried to have sex with her, while his wife was sleeping just inches away in the same bed. Continue reading

The Scarcity of Married Mormon Women in Graduate School

29 Jul

My long research trip in Great Britain has made me start thinking about the difficulties that academic life presents to those with families.  Because my research is as much about Britain and its colonies as it is the United States, a significant portion of my research has to be done abroad.   I have been in Britain doing the preliminary stages of research since May and I plan to be here till September.  The problem: I’m married, and my husband has a job that keeps him in the States and more specifically in Michigan.  We skype and chat on the internet, but it’s still tough.  When I told my husband I was doing a panel called Complicating Domesticities and Sexuality in the Empire, he laughed and suggested I do a presentation on how academic life and research has complicated my own domesticity.   Continue reading

Book Memes

20 Jul

Over the past week and a half, a few friends and I have been participated in the 30 Day Book Meme.  There are a few versions on the internet, but essentially, each day you answer a different question about books.  On one day, you post your favorite romance novel.  On another, the book you found most overrated.  I find myself when I come home from the archives each day logging on quickly to find out what my friends have posted.  Not surprisingly, there are quite a few overlaps – Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and Twilight are favorites.  Catcher in the Rye is consistently rated as being overrated.

What has made me think about is the degree to which books fed and soothed my sense of isolation as a kid.  I felt out-of-place, but “A Little Princess” and “Izzy Willy-Nilly” made me feel as though I wasn’t alone.  The American Girl Books convinced me that history was fun, and I loved every moment of “Les Miserables,” “The Little Prince,” and “Night Flight.”  My little sister just messaged me on Facebook to say that she is tired of reading kiddie books and is wondering if she should read Les Miz.  She also wants a list of suggestions.  I feel a bit responsibility here.  I want to love the books, and I’m not sure if she will if she starts with Les Miz.  Where do I start her – Wilkie Collins, Jane Austen, George Eliot?  Would she be better off with some Frances Burnett Hodgson?

And, how much is this gendered?  I just don’t know.

Belated Post about the Book of Mormon Musical

10 Jul

I am a little bit late to the party, but I recently bought the soundtrack to the Book of Mormon musical –Only $9.99 on iTunes!

On the whole, it wasn’t as shocking as I was expecting it to be.  After seeing Avenue Q and dozens of episodes of South Park, I expected the crude humor and the constant swearing.  Nothing that any of the characters says is any worse than the constant barrage of expletives and crude humor that comes from Cartman and Stan each week. Continue reading

Tracking Mormon Missionaries in British India

19 Jun

The National Archives and the British Library are quite different from the Lambeth Palace Library.  Whereas the Lambeth Palace Library is small, with a bottle of fruit squash in the cupboard and windows that overlook a courtyard, the National Archives and the British Library are modern, with computerized ordering and delivery systems that make human interaction minimal.  At the National Archives, you swipe your card, order your materials, and sip a cuppa tea until the computer tells you that your material is ready.  The stuff you ordered is then placed in a locker where you retrieve it.  The computer system even assigns you a share.  The British Library requires slightly more human interaction – you actually have to speak to someone to retrieve your materials – but everything still seems automated and impersonal.

Reading the documents at the National Archives and the British Library, though, can be like entering into another world.  Continue reading

Heathen Polygamy in the Anglican Archives

1 Jun

I began my archival research for my dissertation at the Lambeth Palace Library today.  To find it, you cross Vauxhall, Lambeth, or any of a number of bridges over the Thames and turn onto the Lambeth Palace Road.  On one side of you will be the river; on the other, a wall with a sprawling complex of medieval buildings, old churches, and gardens on the other.  After a few yards, you’ll come to a small black door with a sign assuring you’ve come to the right place if you want to see the exhibition and that a guard will await you between the hours of 10:50 and 4 and that if you want to use the library, you should ring the buzzer.

Inside the library I read the Papers of the Committee on the Polygamy of Heathen Converts.  Appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the committee was to decide whether or not men who had contracted polygamous marriages before they converted to Christianity should be forced to put away their extra wives as a requirement for baptism.  The committee answered with an unqualified yes.  Strangely, women involved in polygamous relationships did not have the same requirement.  They could continue to live as polygamous wives without jeopardizing their baptism or ability to receive the sacraments.

One of the things that surprised me about the committee’s report and the letters that had been sent to them about polygamy as they were deliberating was how different portrayals of African polygamists were from Mormon polygamists.

Bishop Crowther argued that polygamy sapped men’s virility.  He wrote in his “Notes on the Life of Polygamy in West Africa” (Lambeth Confernece Papers, 1888) that “the lust of the flesh immoderately indulged in leads to excess, which debilitates a man and incapacitates him to perform the marriage duty all.”  He then tells the story of a chief who asked them to help him perform his marriage duty when he and Rev. C.A. Golmer first arrived in the neighborhood of Badagry in the Yoruba Mission – “Mr. Gollmers interpreted and myself being Natives of the Country, and masters of the language; the head Chief very confidently opened his mind to the interpreter, and told him of  a complaint for which he wanted to ask medicine from the white man, because he was told that the Europeans were very skilful in many things.   His complaint was a delicate one; which was inability to perform the marriage duty with his wives; for this he begged the white man’s assistance by way of medicines to strengthen him That the missionary took the opportunity of telling the Chief of the life of polygamy as a breach of God’s holy Ordinance, who in wisdom appointed one woman to each man, I need not waste time to relate.  Though his case was irremediable, yet for the benefit of his health, he gave him some port wine.”

Although Mormon polygamists were rarely portrayed as stunning examples of manhood, they also were rarely portrayed as impotent.  According to the dozens of stories in Fanny Stenhouse, Ann Eliza Young, and Maria Ward, young women were often left alone and pregnant by their polygamous husbands.  This may not speak loads about their marital fealty, but it does suggest that Mormon men were at least perceived as being able to perform sexually.

A lot of work has been done on the ways in which Mormons were racialized.  As Sarah Barringer Gordon has pointed out in the Mormon question, Mormon men were often seen as being kin to the Turks who kept harems.  Reading the Papers of the Committee on the Polygamy of Heathen Converts, however, suggests that there is more work to be done in considering how Mormons were represented and whether those representations differed from the ways in which native polygamists were pictured.

Intersectionality and Religion

18 May

For the last two weeks, I have been participating in a summer workshop on intersectionality.  The idea was developed in the 1980s as a way to think the relationships between different subject positions and social identities.  Scholars like Kimberle Crenshaw had become frustrated with legal theory, which required victims to identify the source of their oppression before bringing suit.  Using several legal cases, Crenshaw argued that it was often difficult for women of color to identify the source of their oppressions because race and gender were so often interlocked with and inseparable from each other.  Their inability to separate and name their experiences as solely the result of racism or sexism meant they were unable to bring suit.  Their cases were dismissed.  Since its development in the 1980s, intersectionality has expanded to think about the ways in which dis/ability, sexuality, class, race, and gender intersect and combine to form different subject positions.   Scholars who think in this way argue that thinking in simplistic categories like black, female, white, working class, etc. ignores the ways in which each of these categories are always in play and misrepresents the experiences of various people.  The experiences white women are different form those of white men.  Likewise, the experience of middle class black men and women are different from those of working class black men and women.

One of the questions that came up for me in the workshop was how religion might play into intersectional analyses.  Much of the language that I hear about religion in academia and those who consider themselves to be liberals is deeply classed.  People who live in rural areas are portrayed as hicks, as backward, as racist, as clinging to religion, etc.  To be religious in these discourses is to be unenlightened.  This language suggests that class-bias is often articulated and expressed through discussions of religion.  To leave religion out of intersectional analysis is to misunderstand class relations.  It is also present in discussions of race and gender.

On the other hand, Christianity is such a prevalent part of American culture and Christian groups have denied access and respect to many groups of people.  Religion seems to function differently than either class, race, or gender.  Placing it within intersectional analysis seems more difficult than any of these other sectors.

I’m not quite sure how to do it.  Thoughts?

“I have too Many Children:” Leaving the Quiverfull Movement

26 Apr

There’s still a couple of days left before I’m completely done with this semester, but I wanted to share one of the websites that I have been using to procrastinate:

This website shares some of the experiences of women who have sought to leave the Quiverfull movement, which forbades the use of birth control, encourages women to stay at home, and requires women to wear conservative clothing.  The most restrictive groups won’t let women wear anything but skirts and dresses, and many of the groups encourage homeschooling.

The movement that they are talking about is profiled on the TLC Show 16 kids and Counting (Is it now 17 kids?)  and has received a lot of press in recent years.  One of the posts that I read today is called “The Beautiful Girlhood Doll.” It chronicles the story of a young girl who desperate to find a future for herself that includes something beyond motherhood and submission to her husband.  She writes about how she longed for her father to give a boy permission to court her and cherished her purity ring.  She also talks about how she was never  able to fell pure – in spite of the fact that she had never kissed a boy, never held his hand, and knew few boys her own age.

The stories on the site are beautiful and haunting.  When I was first discovered it, I spent two hours on the site.  I had never been raised in a house that conservative, but something about it resonated with me.  Check it out.

*Note: The quote in the title is also from this website.  I can’t remember which entry I found it in, but I liked it too much not to use it.  The quote if I remember correctly is from someone who had 10 or 12 children, if not more, and found herself wishing that she had fewer so that she could devote time to each one.  She stressed that she loved them all, loved them so much in fact that she regretted her decision to have so many that she couldn’t adequately provide for them.

Happily Ever After is the Name of a Kid’s Movie, Not a Description of Reality

2 Apr

I must admit I’m a bit ashamed that as someone who studies Mormonism I had no idea that the Young Women’s Conference was coming up or even that such a conference existed.  After reading Liz’s post and the explosive feedback that resulted, I was reminded of my favorite poem by Adrienne Rich called “Living in Sin.”

She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,
a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman’s tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night’s cheese and three sepulchral bottles;
that on the kitchen shelf amoong the saucers
a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own–
envoy from some village in the moldings…
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;
while she, jeered by the minor demons,
pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
a towel to dust the table-top,
and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
though not so wholly but throughout the night
she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
like a relentless milkman up the stairs.
Although the poem is about someone living in sin, it reflects my general feelings about marriage.  As a kid, I never thought about the day-to-day aspects of marriage — washing the dishes, cleaning the toilet, mopping the floor, all the things I hate to do and yet have to get done.   Yet, these aspects make up a significant part of my day.  The poem also captures the general ennui that sometimes catches people by surprise when they have been married for awhile.  Marriage isn’t a happily ever after.  Even after they get married, people fight.  They get annoyed and sometimes even bored with another.
The message that marriage is like a fairy tale as suggested by the promo video for the Young Women’s General Conference seems innocuous, but I am not sure that it is.  One of the things that sometimes strikes me in discussions with my friends is how much we expect out of relationships with men.  We expect to find someone that completes us, that continually makes us happy, that shoulders our burdens.  It is ridiculous to expect another person to fulfill us.  No one person can do it.  Although my husband listens to my complaints and tries to help lift my burdens when he can, I don’t expect him to fulfill all of my needs.  I need other people to connect with and talk to.  Whenever I hear that marriage is a fairy tale and that girls should aspire to it, I shudder.  It’s as though Betty Friedan never wrote the Feminine Mystique.
Sometimes I think that the nineteenth century Mormon women that I write about were closer to the truth than those men and women that I hear about today.  In the Woman’s Exponent, Mormon women argued that monogamy was a problem because it expected women to find happiness just in their husbands.  They saw love as a potential part of the oppression of women because it tied women to men who were unworthy of them.  They argued that women should have careers outside of marriage and encouraged women like Romania B. Pratt to attend medical school, even if it meant leaving her family behind for years to do so.  It seems difficult to find such rhetoric within the Mormon Church or even Christianity as a whole today.

Part of the reason I am so invested in this is because of my little sister.  Although I am not Mormon, she is and she attends the Young Women’s group in her ward.  I don’t want her to hear such messages.  Laura, if you ever read this, know this:

1.  You may never get married.  That’s okay and is preferable to getting married to a jerk or someone who’s not worthy of you.

2.  Even if you do, marriage will never be all that fulfills you.  You need some other purpose.

3.  Happily Ever After is a myth.

To view the video, visit this link: