Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Protecting our Sisters

Admittedly, the allusion to feminist perspectives in my official blog description is quite a stretch. I've not studied feminist theory, even informally. Apart from general kindness and "respect for womanhood," being raised in a historically patriarchal worldview did not leave me particularly sensitive to the world's list of "women's issues." Making good on the promise of delivering on feminist perspectives will be a challenge (perhaps I should try and outsource it). But a policy announced by our good bishop this past Sunday gives me an opportunity, so I'd better take it.

"Brethren, we need to protect our Sisters." (I think he used the possessive "our" instead of neutral "the"---for whatever discussion that might generate.) Three incidents giving rise to legitimate concern were listed. Two young women taking garbage out to the dumpster after an activity heard a cellphone, and thought it came from the darkness of a nearby grove of trees. An unfamiliar man showed up when only a few sisters were left cleaning up after Enrichment Night, asking where the Bishop was. A scraggly man in an old beat-up van watched in the parking lot as the sisters arrived for another Enrichment Night.

Obviously, everyone agrees that preventing untoward events involving women is of highest importance; the bishop's solution was to institute a policy of women never being in the building alone, but always having two Priesthood holders present, and making that presence known around the building. I am happy to take my turn in helping with this.

One question: Is this an explicit policy in the Handbook that our ward has been neglecting?

Another question: Is this the only (and best) possible solution? Thinking outside the box, we might note that we have women in combat, because it's more about technology these days---a situation that renders brute strength less important. What about providing self-defense classes, equipping women with mace, or even firearms training? Does the fact that such alternatives sound ridiculous in a Mormon context say anything about how we perceive women, their strengths, their weaknesses, their potential to take care of themselves?

A final question: Women, how does this policy make you feel? Are you grateful for the concern and protection? Do you perceive condescension, or experience resentment at needing permission to gather at the Church as women, and only at the convenience of, and with the enabling presence of men?


Interesting questions.

I’d be happy to help clean up after Relief Society events if there was any fear at all of a threat. I share your concern that some might feel this to be a little paternal. My response is, “So what?” I’m happy to be used just as a deterrent. (The first priority is to prevent  an attempted incident, right?)

I’m a pretty big guy, and (hopefully) I still remember how to fight. That said, I know women who’d put you worse shape than I could. But that doesn’t mean that they’d deter some psycho lurking in the shadows. The problem isn’t that I’m a chauvinist, it’s that the would-be criminal is. And whether we install alarms or cameras or just lock our doors, we’re adapting to his behavior and attitudes, not ours.

On a side note, I’ve always considered the term “women’s issues” (like “hispanic issues,” “black issues,” “gay issues,” or any old “x issues”) to be just one more way of refering to “liberal issues.” They’re just the same old liberal platitudes warmed over for a gullible audience. If one believed the verbiage, he’d think that no politically aware member of any group can be a conservative without being a traitor of some sort to that group. 
Comment by Arturo Toscanini | 3/29/2005 10:03:00 AM  

Recently, complete mapping of the X chromosome was completed. Interestingly enough this research shows that the female genome differs from the male genome by approximately 2%, meaning than men share more homology with chimpanzees than with women! Any rational and meaningful discussion of gender must acknowledge this fact, and avoid the deconstructionist tendency currently in vogue to whitewash any differences in gender and to eliminate gender roles. Witness the hysterics of the academy vis a vis Lawrence Summers' comments on the issue. 
Comment by Taylor Cardall | 3/29/2005 10:30:00 AM  

We have a similar policy at our chapel. However, it was instated because a woman was attacked. 
Comment by J. Stapley | 3/29/2005 12:28:00 PM  

Yes, there are some places where a big unlocked building might sometimes attract unwanted visitors, whether they be complete strangers or those who have had some prior contact with the Church but have no particular business hanging around during an evening RS function. One alternative might be to keep the doors locked, but that defeats the purpose of having the building available for use in the evening. 
Comment by Dave | 3/29/2005 01:53:00 PM  

First let me say that this is a specific solution for a specific threat... so we're at a little disadvantage in commenting.

Of course, that hasn't stopped me before.

Assuming that there wasn't inspiration to the contrary, I imagine I would have handled this a little differently: first of all, if there are dark bushes, then perhaps the first step is to step-up the landscape lighting — preferably making it motion-sensitive.

Next, once a specific threat has ebbed (I think having the guys there for the next few weeks sounds like a great idea), I would rely on a more measured response... namely: self-defense training; "requiring" that _anyone_ in at the church late not be there alone; and "requiring" that _anyone_ going out into the parking lot not do so alone. Of course, that's just common sense. It probably doesn't matter what gender the buddy is, just that there is one.

Finally, I would amend Dave's suggestion. He's correct: having a locked-up building is unacceptable... but having just one or two "night doors" that are un-locked while all the others are locked (and alarmed?) — as long as there is appropriate education about these doors — would be a good way to limit risk.

Just a few ideas. 
Comment by Silus Grok | 3/29/2005 08:20:00 PM  

Arturo:  As a lifelong Republican the phrase "womens' issues" feels weird to me, which perhaps is why I enclosed it in quotes. I suppose some would accuse the Republicans of having their own interest, viz., "white male issues," but just refuse to label it.

Taylor: I suppose it's too early to correlate the genetic differences with phenotypic ones... Well, it's not like we didn't already know there are some  phenotypic differences. ;) What would be interesting is connections to behavior, aptitudes, etc.; I guess such things have been determined to be partially genetic via twin studies, but I don't know if connections to specific genes have been possible with behavior-type-stuff.

Regarding Summers, over at M*  Clark Goble links this talk by BYU Pres. Samuelson to women in the physical and mathematical sciences. I chose a different money quote than Clark, in which Samuelson practically claims the feminist mantle at Summers' expense:

"I feel a little, but only a little, sorry for my friend at Harvard, President Larry Summers, because not only is he politically incorrect, he does not have a clear knowledge of the Restored Gospel. Had he this understanding, in my estimation, he would not have made the foolish mistake he made when he said the silly things about women and their aptitudes. I will not say more because I am sure that this group understands exactly what I am talking about. I have, therefore, much less patience for anyone who has the light of the Restoration available and still makes the erroneous judgments that some might make."

J. Stapley: Wow, if you have time tell us what happened.

Dave: Yes, in the discussion this past Sunday the Bishop vowed to keep the doors locked once everyone had arrived, and get a doorbell installed. Don't think I've seen a doorbell on a Church before!

Thanks for stopping by, guys. Unfortunately the women have been AWOL!
Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 3/29/2005 09:10:00 PM  

Silus:  I like your measured responses. Maybe someone could correct me, but my guess would be that two women together would be unlikely to be attacked. And while I would never presume to tell the women what to discuss during Enrichment Night, I would guess that self-defense might be an interesting topic for them.
Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 3/29/2005 09:45:00 PM  

A couple of thoughts here -- on the phrase "protecting our sisters". It could be proprietary. It could also just be a gentle reminder from the bishop that we are all children of our Heavenly Father and should care for each other. Was the protection a request from the Relief Society, was the decision made in conjunction with women, or was it made without their input?

Our building does have a doorbell at each entrance, we keep the doors locked during Enrichment and just have to run a few times to answer it. I have never liked being in the building by myself, since hearing of a woman being raped in a Family History Center, but feel safe with other women there. Personally I feel, in many cases that men don't need to be there, but I live in a very safe city. If personal safety issues are a concern, the garbage could be left in the kitchen and put out during the next day, women could go out to the parking lot in pairs, etc. A self-defense class or just a class on personal safety could be held as part of Enrichment evening, if women really wanted it.

Finally, I have a real problem with the idea of arming ourselves at church, because of a few straggly strangers. Those who find it more comfortable to interact with the well-coiffed and manicured, should re-read Isaiah 53 or Matthew 25. 
Comment by Kris | 3/30/2005 11:01:00 AM  

I didn't ask for details. I just got enough to know why the subsequent policy change. 
Comment by J. Stapley | 3/30/2005 02:29:00 PM  

Taylor: The DNA difference between humans and chimps is small, however the genetic expression, the proteins made, are much more different than we would assume from the DNA difference.

As for feminism in general: I was in a Sunday School class at BYU when a fellow classmember introduced herself by her name and then "and I'm a femenist." I, being smart, thinking that femenists must believe that men and women should be respected as equals, pronounced "I'm Mike and I'm a masculinist, as I believe also that men and women should be treated with equal respect." The reaction was that my comment wasn't appreciated.

I guess the question is whether within the church women are treated es equals. There are many practices that are gender-biased. And as Taylor indicated, there are many aspects of inherent differences. At issue is whether or not we treat each other with respect. This isn't just between men and women, but between parents and children, rich and poor, etc. No man should claim divine right just because he holds the priesthood. Counsel should always be taken and a unanimous decision arrived at. The First Presidency doesn't make and decision independent of the Quorum of the Twelve and then say "since we have the keys, this is how it's going to be." There is discussion and the unity.

I don't know if this has anything to do with "Protecting our Sisters," but I believe that fundamental attitudes determine how we treat our partners in life.

Comment by Mike Wilson | 3/30/2005 08:51:00 PM  

My mother teaches early morning seminary, and a man has to unlock the building for the two female teachers and stay until the first male student arrives. It chafes a little that adult women would need to be "protected" by teenage boys, but, as Arturo points, the simple fact of male presence can be a deterrent.

I guess I'm not too bothered by this policy, particularly because it will probably make most of the women in the ward feel more comfortable. I've attended several Enrichment nights on self defense--and while I could probably outrun an assailent in the open, I would probably still be in some danger from a determined assailent in an enclosed space. Heaven forbid. (And John is on call tonight... now I'm getting a little creeped.)

What does your wife think of it?  
Comment by Rosalynde | 3/30/2005 09:18:00 PM  

Kris:  Thanks for your thoughts and experience. The occurrence of a rape in a Family History Center is truly tragic and sobering. I wasn't serious about firearms---that was what I've heard called "throwing darts," posing provocative questions for the purpose of testing assumptions and thinking outside the box.

Mike: Your masculinist  retort is sweet! Good example about the operations of the leading councils of the Church.

Rosalynde: Actually I hadn't asked her until just now; I've never seen her question, even privately, a doctrine or leader in the Church, so I already knew the answer. But in any case I just asked her and two of her friends in the ward who are visiting this evening. I listened to them talk about all the reasons it was necessary, and after a few minutes I gently asked something along the lines in the post. Nothing like that had occurred to them in the least; they looked at me as if I was from Mars. Which, according to John Gray, Ph.D. , I am!
Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 3/30/2005 10:23:00 PM  



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