Friday, December 14, 2012

A Portrait in Thirds

My eyes are leaking?

Crying is a much more accepted and typical part of life right now.  This is not a comfortable fact.  It's a strange type of growing pain, just far later in life than I thought it should be.  Perhaps this is the phenomenon known as a "quarterlife crisis," only it shouldn't be.  It's the regular adolescent trauma of self discovery, delayed by several years.  Arrested development, if you will, but this time it's for reals and there's no Jason Bateman to be the calm voice of sanity.

Emotions have always been verboten to me.  I eschewed them as a sign of the weakness I could not let myself show.  I was the poster child for the wall-builder, constructing my safe little oasis bricked up tight within a corner of my heart I had forgotten existed.  But the past few years I have been chiseling away at the grout, creating chinks then gaps then tearing down load-bearing beams.  I can successfully say that I have gone from pure robot to someone capable of emotional health.

But the part they always skip with emotional health is the necessity of pain.  Those walls were built to keep me from having to feel hurt or sad or even empathy.  I was me, and everything rolled off like so much water on bird feathers, fluffed out to repel any drop.  Since letting myself feel I have experienced life more sweetly, cherished moments and relationships I never thought possible.  But along with that comes suffering.  And that's what needs to happen.  Being healthy means being OK with the hurt along with the joy.  But it's difficult, especially when the pain chokes your chest and compresses your feelings.  And that's this week.  A week of pain and frustration.

A teacher perspective on the shootings on Connecticut. 

 I have never taught kids as young as my current students. Even though I am technically in "middle school,"  I am surrounded by children ages 10-12.  Most of my time is spent around the 10 year olds, and I will not lie.  It's... how to say this diplomatically?... not my favorite.  My specialty is older students (who thankfully understand sarcasm and culture references), I didn't go into elementary education for a reason, and I often struggle with connecting with these young students, students who need more nurturing love and care and attention.

Today my fifth graders were practicing musical numbers for their play about the American Revolution.  They sang jazzy tunes about taxation without representation while I read about how children had been shot, how an entire class was missing, how parents and teachers were trying to account for everyone.  And I couldn't stop my breathing from becoming labored, couldn't stop the immediate watering of my eyes.  Throughout the day, I tried to stay abreast of the news, but my reaction was the same every time.  It wasn't until I came home late that afternoon and read the full story that I broke down.  Alone in my living room, punctuated by Christmas lights and the glow of the computer screen, I heaved and sobbed and had the reaction I'd avoided for so long in my life.

 I felt small.  I felt hurt.  I felt tired of this, the second violent incident in as many days.  But I felt so grateful.  Grateful that it wasn't my school, that it wasn't my students.  Grateful for the realization that if that happened, I would do anything to protect my students--even the ones that drive me batty.  I pray that I will never have to do anything like that.  I pray that this can start dialogue, and that we can progress past bickering and stop this from happening. It's not a matter of no guns or more guns or right or left.  It's a matter of changing something.  A matter of regulation and accessibility--regulation of firearm use and accessibility of what the average citizen can attain.  Regulation of mental health and accessibility for those who need care.  And while I understand those who say this is not the time, I still feel the aching heart of the country, my own aching heart crying out for an end.

I guess you care what I'm wearing.

My mind was already wrung out before the shootings dumped on me.  I've followed Mormon Child Bride, the blog of Stephanie Lauritzen (better know as She Who Started the Mormon Women Wearing Pants to Church Day), for a little over a year.  I like it because she is snarky and honest and an English teacher, and we English teachers have to stick together.  And while I have definitely not agreed with everything she's posted--not all the poems she shares are that awesome, and I don't struggle with not having the priesthood--I have understood that she was coming from a genuine place, and I've respected her journey for that.

I haven't officially identified as Feminist Mormon, but I refer to myself as such in my mind.  I've lurked around the community, reading up on WAVE and FMH and so forth, and quietly formed my opinion on the matter.  I wish I could post all I've read, but I worry that it would misconstrue my own thoughts on Mormon Feminism.  Researching it has felt a lot like cherry-picking: yes, I agree with that one; oops, not quite that one; let's avoid this train of thought all together; oh yeah, I can totally get behind that!  The only thoughts I've found that I totally agree with are here, and while that post links to some great stuff, I still want to stress that it's not a wholehearted alignment I feel.  It's an understanding and kinship, one where I believe the spirit of the cause, if not the specifics, are just.

As far as this Sunday goes, no.  I will not be wearing pants.  But not because I think it's "ridiculous" or "evil" or "just those crazy feminists looking for an excuse to leave the church."  In fact, for the record, I understand where they are coming from.  Right now, the pants aren't to say 'let's have the priesthood' or 'let's be more casual.'  It's an attempt to bring attention to the inequality in the church culture, and I support that.  I would like to hear more from women in Sunday School and Sacrament Meetings.  I do think there should be more women speaking in General Conference.  I definitely think the Young Women program needs to be completely redone, and I do think that there should be more open discussion about the role of women beyond that of wife and mother.  We are amazing.  We are strong,  We have a divine nature, worth, and capability that is greater than we are ever told.  It isn't enough to just be told that we are righteous and blessed.  A basic principle of education is modeling,  Unless girls are told about and shown their potential and the many different facets it has, how will they learn self-respect?

Despite my sympathies for the movement, I will not wear pants.  Partly because a piece of me does believe this event has the potential to undercut the sacred ordinance of the sacrament.  Not necessarily intentionally (even though there are probably a couple women who are doing it in that spirit), but because the motion is created to cause upheaval, and I personally don't feel like I would feel comfortable doing it in that setting.

But a main reason for my discomfort is the choice of pants as a symbol.  NOTE: I do not think there is anything inherently wrong in wearing pants to church, and I do think that it is more about the respect in presentation than anything else.  I am far more offended when women wear foam flip-flops to church than when women wear pants.  But in this particular case, holding up pants as a symbol of the masculine reign, shoving that particular gender dynamic in the face for awareness, well.  That makes me uneasy.

My wrestle with feminism vs. femininity vs. what-have-you has been documented before, but I just want to reiterate.  I am not in the camp where feminism means being equal with men which means being the same as men.  I think that a large part of female strength and power comes in the differences.  And not just in how we can have children--there's also the differences in social and emotional dynamics that set us apart and give us value.

But it took a while for me to get to that point.  So much of my youth was spent believing that in order to be respected, I had to be unsexed.  I couldn't be overly girly or feminine.  I had to play by masculine rules--another reason for my detestation of the weakness of emotion while I was growing up.  It wasn't until far too recently that I learned to embrace myself, curves and skirts and attractiveness and all.

How valuable it would have been if someone had told me that I could wear dresses and makeup without trading in my self-respect and ambition!  I would have had such a great head start if I had come to terms with being strong and feminine at the same time.  So no, I'm not comfortable with donning pants as a symbol of male power.  Because I am powerful, whether I'm wearing high heels or sneakers.  And that's a message that I think anybody, males and females and everything in between, can benefit from.