I just read a post by Larry L. Eastland titled A YSA Bishop Talks to the Sisters About Intimacy taken from a talk he gave to young single adult women. (He says a companion piece for young single adult men is coming. Someday.) It's been shared on Facebook about a billion times to raves and adoration and group hugs.
The title alone set me back. The article even more so. There is so much wrong with it that I am hard pressed to respond in the time I have to write. There are things I agree with and some I think are quite good and grounded in common sense. You can read and decide for yourself. For the sake of time, I'm not going to address the points I think are positive. In this post, I will simply be countering points that I find problematic or harmful.
[In the next post, Snag Yourself an Eternal Mate – But Don't Use Your Lure, I address some of the objections that came up in this discussion.]
Status Quo Accepted
I understand that in our church men give counsel on every subject. And even though I've long, long been an advocate of allowing women to counsel with female leaders about sensitive subjects such as, say, sexual intimacy, I know it's still, oddly, policy that counsel is done with the bishop. So, for the purposes of this post I'll set aside the fact that I think it's not just uncomfortable, but inappropriate, to require women (particularly young women) to counsel with older married men about such issues.
In addition, it has been been affirmed authoritatively again and again in our church that there are enormous distinctions between genders. If we accept that as truth, I'm hard pressed to believe that a man would be the best source for intimacy information for women, but I'll set that aside for the purposes of this post as well.
So What If You're Beautiful
The author starts out with scriptures about David committing adultery with Bethsheba. This, I suppose, is to show that even men of God inappropriately find women beautiful? I'm hard pressed to understand this.
Then the author segues into his first statement.
You’re beautiful. Do you know that? You’re supposed to be.
No, we're not. Some of us are, some of the time. Most of us are just, well, normal. Having female body parts isn't the same as being beautiful, no matter how you slice it. And having men want to touch the parts isn't the same as being beautiful, either. So don't equivocate here.
It's not that I think valuing beauty is illegitimate, but let's not lump all women into any category, even one you think is positive (and I think it objectifying). Because doing so will almost always be a lie (and harmful).
Men, on the other hand—with the exception of David by Michelangelo—are depicted for power, strength, war, dominance, intellect or virility. But, almost never for beauty.
Following this line of thinking, I hope Eastland's parallel men's universe talk/article includes:
- “Men, you're dominant. Do you know that? You're supposed to be.”
- “Men, you're intelligent. Do you know that? You're supposed to be.”
Obviously neither conclusion follows. Just because women have been painted and sculpted naked doesn't mean all women are beautiful nor does it mean that's how women should be viewed or valued.
Perhaps we should emulate Christ, instead:
But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.
That this counsel was given regarding the same David who couldn't keep his hands to his own wives is delicious irony. He was given his position of power in spite of his appearance and stature, and yet his sinful behavior began with poor judgement based on appearance.
Obvious Isn't Always Good
So, it is little wonder that men look at you, admire you, and to one extent or another, lust after you. They—we–notice just about everything about you, including how you dress. We notice how much of you is showing on the outside.
I don't understand how the dots connect here. Eastland moves from: women have always been objectified and men haven't, to “so it's no wonder we lust after you.”
If by that he means, “It shouldn't be surprising that Mormon men treat you just as poorly as men in many cultures have historically treated you,” then I can get on board. And he should have followed his acknowledgement of the historical norm with condemnation of that norm.
Eastland, however, doesn't seem to be taking that stance. He seems to simply embrace lusting after women and giving undue attention to their bodies as normal and acceptable.
Perhaps the toughest part women have when trying to be accepted as equals, as human, is to get others (perhaps particularly authoritative figures) to see that the historical norm is wrong and harmful.
So, yes, it's obvious that men ogle women, focus on the physical, check out the skin, and lust after women. But maybe that's the problem.
Harping on Modesty Redux
To be clear, I'm an endowed Mormon woman. I wear my garments every single day. I don't tuck, roll, pin, or buy petite size (because I'm not petite.) I think modesty is important (I just don't think we teach it very well). But I have a problem with this presentation.
- You wear a dress cut low enough that they can see even a part of your breasts, the brethren (over there) cannot help but look. You’re beautiful in our eyes.
- If your dress shows a lot of your legs, we admire them.
- If you wear something without sleeves, some male eyes will see any movement that shows your bra.
- If you lean over and you reveal your upper body, Beast will see whatever Beauty reveals.
- “The brethren” can help but look. It is their duty not to look.
- “The brethren” should be able to stop admiring things that are inappropriate, whether they are showing or not. (Heaven help us if a woman wears a (one-piece, church-approved) swimsuit. Because she'll be showing “a lot of [her] legs” and the guys will lose control.)
- “The brethren” — you know, the guys bestowed with the power of God — can focus on something besides flashes of bras. In fact, perhaps they can even recognize that bras are functional pieces of fabric and not incredibly interesting unless your mind is constantly seeking sexual stimulation.
- “The brethren” can probably be described — and expected to behave — in ways unlike animals.
Am I really asking too much here? Men run on instinct and women have to control them? Sincerely, Larry L. Eastland, Ph. D., if this is where we are, can we at least admit that “the sistren” should be running the church and the men should be doing what we tell them to?
For the love of freakin' pete.
Instead, let's listen to Elder Holland on the topic.
I've heard all my life that is it the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the intimacy in courtship, because a young man cannot. Seldom have I heard any point made on this subject that makes me want to throw up more than that.
What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have, that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability — perhaps even pursue a university education — and prepare to effect the future of of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of this world, yet does not have the mental capacity or moral will to say, “I will not do that thing.” No, this sorry, drugstore psychology would have him say, “I just can't help myself. My glands have complete control over my entire life, my mind, my will, my very future.
To say that a young woman in such a relationship has to bear her responsibility and that of his, too, is the most discriminatory doctrine I have ever heard. If there is sexual transgression, I lay the burden squarely on the shoulders of the young man — for our purposes probably a priesthood bearer — and that's where I believe God intended responsibility to be.
Now, in saying that, I do not excuse young women who exercise no restraint and have not the character or the conviction to demand intimacy only in its rightful place and role. I've had enough experience in church callings to know that women, as well as men, can be predatory. But I refuse to buy some young man's feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology.
Indeed, most tragically, it is the young woman who is most often the victim, it is the young woman who most often suffers the greater pain, it is the young woman who most often feels abused, used, and terribly unclean. And for that imposed uncleanliness, a man will pay, as surely as the sun sets and rivers run to the sea. *
Because God created you to be beautiful in Adam’s sight. It’s called “attractive” because it “attracts” our eyes and more. And, it has worked for 6,000 years.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
And so, you want to look beautiful, interesting, and yes, desirable. God intended it that way. When He said a man shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh, he wasn’t talking about mud wrestling. He was talking about intimacy, the most trusting relationship between a man and a woman.
Right up front I'll admit I have no idea what he's talking about. Someone enlighten me. Nonsensical possibilities:
- The scriptures command a man to cleave to his wife, therefore he made her to be beautiful, therefore she is supposed to be beautiful, therefore he can't control himself and it's all up to her?
- Because married couples are supposed to have sex, women must be beautiful so her husband will be turned on?
- If something has “worked” for a long time, it's acceptable and good?
How Men See Women
There are some differences between how you see the issue of modesty – or immodesty – and how men see it. Men and women are simply different; they process images differently.
It's aggravating to constantly be placed in a gendered box. The assumption that women, in general, all think the same thing about modesty is obviously fallacious. Addressing us so impersonally reinforces the notion that men aren't equipped to counsel women.
Up this point in the article, Eastland hasn't addressed how women “see the issue of modesty” at all. To be fair, the church seems not to have figured out how women should see it. Eastland — as with most of the materials presented to women — make modestly an issue consisting almost entirely of how exposed skin impacts men.
What is typically ignored is that there are many cultures that feature both genders scantily clad (due to climate, availability of clothing, utility) and in which the men don't spend all day ogling and/or groping and/or fantasizing.
There are, likewise, many men in our own culture who have chosen to change/manage how they respond to women and women's bodies.
What you are marketing, the message you are sending—and the message men are receiving—when you dress immodestly to be more attractive are two very different messages. And, here rests the challenge you face when determining how to dress and how to act.
What you may see as being simply more attractive—desirable–by being less modest than you have been taught, men will see as an invitation to touch, to enjoy, to “lie with you” as David did when he saw Bathsheba.
When I read this paragraph, I audibly gasped.
This bishop doesn't get it. And one of the things most appalling to me is that if he were my bishop, I wouldn't feel free to tell him so directly. Because that's not kosher or deferential. But this line of thinking is so incredibly disturbing, someone needs to tell him.
Mr. Eastland, don't you see what you have done? You are saying that when a woman dresses in a way that — by your own admission “works” to get the attention of men — she is ipso facto giving an “invitation” to him to have sex with her, because that's what goes through the man's mind! You have decided that the male perception is ultimate truth. You don't even counter it.
While some men might see immodest dress as an invitation, it would be wrong to do so. That should be the message.
I think we must also point out the false implied analogy here. Bethsheba didn't undress to seduce David. She did it to take a bath. And he was out on the prowl. The implication that this erroneous line of thinking has anything to do with David's adultery is wrong.
Men Like That Are Just Wrong
What men see they want to possess. So, what you show they desire. The more you show the greater the invitation to them, as they see it, to do something they should not because the message received is that it is OK with you or you wouldn’t be dressing, or undressing, that way.
Whether you intend it or not, that is the message they believe you are sending – an invitation to do much more than simply admire. An invitation to caress and possess.
“What men see they want to possess”? Seriously? Why don't we just stop right there. Right at that sentence. Just stop. Stop addressing women. Stop lecturing women. Stop telling women what their problems are.
Instead turn around to the “other half of the room” and say this:
News flash to men. Just because you see it, doesn't mean you can have it. It doesn't means it's yours. It doesn't mean you can touch it or fondle it or keep it or do what you want with it.
That line of thinking should have been outgrown when you stopped being a toddler.
Seriously, that line about “caress and posses” was about the creepiest thing I've ever read under the banner of “counsel.”
When a sister tells me she doesn’t want to take out her endowments because garments restrict her wardrobe, the message I receive is much larger than garments and wardrobe. It is about where she is in committing to live her life God’s way, rather than the world’s way.
This segue, too, was bizarre. From bishop counseling men who are getting oral sex from girls they don't love to pondering why women resist the inherent wardrobe change garments may require. What is the relevance?
In any event, I do know some women who think this way, but far more who do not. Honestly, I question the accuracy of the intel this bishop is getting, because I know a heck of a lot of women (read that: all women on earth) who are just really uncomfortable talking to an older married man they barely know about their underwear habits.
Rather than being a bunch of hussies who want to live the “world's way” rather than “God's way,” here are some other reasons women might have for avoiding garments, all taken from real people I personally know:
- She recognizes the commitment endowment entails and wants to be ready
- She feels uncomfortable discussing personal issues with her bishop, so doesn't want to proceed to being endowed
- She has fears about participating in a ceremony she doesn't know anything about
- She has friends who had a negative experience in the temple and has concerns
- She's in the military and knows her only option is to wear men's military garments
- She knows that modestly dressed women don't get as much attention from guys (even “good” Mormon RMs, particulary the ones who have heard tripe like Eastland's talk blaming their behavior on women)
- She can't figure out how to manage garments with other physical issues
- She can't figure out how to manage garments in various situations (performing arts or sports competitions, where dressing around others is common)
- She knows wearing one more layer in a hot/humid climate can be excruciating (particularly when pregnant)
- She can't afford garments, which are way more expensive than panties
- She has been endowed but isn't allowed to try on garments without buying them, hasn't found any that fit properly, and even after great expense, she hasn't found a workable solution
- People with particular disorders (such as sensory integration disorder) find the material and restrictiveness oppressive
[As an aside, I don't really know what it means to “take out” endowments. Receive endowments maybe? It's a colloquialism that has long seemed odd to me.]
Walk a Mile in My Stilettos — Not in Your Mailman Shoes
I understand the inconvenience garments are for women because of the other things you wear. I’ve lived with a woman – a very modest woman – who is as beautiful to me today as she was when I married her more than 41 years ago.
No, you don't. Unless you have personally experienced pregnancy, nursing, periods, etc. with garments, you don't fully understand. You do not. Unless you've done it in a hot, humid climate, you don't fully understand. You do not.
And, with all due respect, if you've been married for 41 years, you've forgotten a lot of even the second-hand experience. That's normal behavior when experiences are far in the past, but we should at least acknowledge that we really do not understand things that we haven't experienced and that are far removed from our lives. (I'm 49. I don't care a lot about the awful design of nursing garments anymore.)
And, sincerely, why did you throw in the thing about how beautiful you think your wife is? What does it have to do with garments? Why don't you tell us, I don't know, how bright she is? how accomplished she is? what a savvy budgeter she is? Just focus on something besides what a man thinks about a woman's physical appearance!
Don't Judge – But Do Judge
All too often the question I am asked regarding the law of chastity is: “how close can I come to the edge of the cliff without falling over? What can I get away with and still answer “yes” to this question on the temple interview?”
I would respond by saying: let me ask you a question first before I answer that: where does the law of chastity begin?
Infidelity or impurity does not begin with the final act.
- Does the law of chastity begin when a young woman decides just how short her skirt can be and still not be considered too immodest?
- Does it begin when a young man decides just how far his hands can wander on a sister whom he is dating before he has entered forbidden territory?
Eastland seems to be annoyed that his congregants ask him for specifics about church standards and so he throws this back at his them as if they are slackers trying to get away with something. How many people do you think actually asked him those questions? Or did they, instead, want to know if what they had done was problematic or would require repentance?
In my experience local leaders don't like these questions because there are few church-sanctioned answers and leaders really hate looking stupid and uninformed. The informed answer, however, is to note that general church leaders give general counsel and expect us to discern the specifics in most cases.
Members in general, often don't feel confident in their ability to discern these answers. When I have attended Education Week at BYU, one of the most popular classes (including a packed room and multiple packed overflow rooms) is one on how to identify the Spirit. So it's no wonder some members anguish over decisions and want more clear guidelines. But the hard lines often aren't there. And, even though it's challenging , it is our work to work out our own salvation. Local leaders should give up trying to look omniscient and just tell the truth.
If you have not made the decision to dress and act modestly, do so today. Be attractive. Dress attractively. As the songwriter Johnny Mercer wrote:
In other words:
Be attractive, but not so attractive that men get the wrong idea. Dress attractively, but not so attractively that it's “an invitation to caress and possess.” Accentuate the positive, unless your positive assets include anything that will make a guy think dirty thoughts.
I have been told that my remarks today should be like your dress: long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.
Good heavens. This was supposed to be clever, I suppose, but here we go again.
Women, take note! Your dresses should be long enough to cover the parts that are interesting, but short enough to still be…interesting.
So now we're back to asking Eastland just how short is interesting enough without being too interesting — which will lead Eastland back to calling us slackers who are trying to get away with stuff.
So, I’m not asking you to look like the Amish or wear a burqa, I’m asking you to be conscious of the message you are sending, and to send a message of interest and intrigue, yet modestly and wonderfully attractive.
Amish and Islamist are too modest. Pasties and thongs are too immodest. Somewhere in between is the perfect “message of interest and intrigue.” But don't ask where that is, slacker.
Sex is Natural – Don't You Forget It
Sex is natural. It is basic. It can be overpowering. You do not need to advertise it. We know it’s there.
The segue to this topic must have missed something in the translation to text. I have no idea what this was about.
- Did someone dispute sex being natural?
- Is it always “basic”?
- “You do not need to advertise it”? I think Eastland is saying that women shouldn't try to be overtly sexy. But it works. Maybe he should tell the men to stop rewarding women who “advertise” sexuality.
Honor Your Sisterhood and Keep The Brotherhood In Line
Help him honor his Priesthood by honoring your sisterhood.
Honor my “sisterhood”?
The funny thing about this statement (I actually burst out laughing when I read it) is that the (false) comparison is usually made between priesthood and motherhood. But since these are singles, now it's sisterhood.
I'll have to look up that conference talk: Honoring Your Sisterhood. And I'm sure right next to it will be: Honoring Your Brotherhood.
I’m counting on you to make him better than he thinks he can be. Good women have made men better from the beginning of time.
“Men will be punished for their own sins…”
Although I haven't figured out the formula for when man = mankind and when it just means men, I'll have to take the leap to assume this applies to women as well.
So, Mr. Eastland, let me explain that it's not my job to “make” any guy better. Particularly not any guy I'm dating. Historically, I've had enough trouble making myself a decent person. I don't need you to lay the character building of “the brethren” on me, too. Keep the responsibility where it belongs. What was it? “Squarely on the shoulders of the young man…”
Almost never does this lead to dating or a relationship. Guys make that decision in the first 30 seconds—well, maybe not 30 seconds—but certainly not six months later.So, don’t keep getting your heart up when in reality it is not going to happen.I decided the first time I saw my wife across a ball field at a single’s ward picnic in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D. C. that I wanted to ask her out. Guys are like that. Dating and hanging out are two different things. Don’t confuse the two.
One of my daughters is getting married next month — to a guy who was her buddy in high school. In fact, her first date on her 16th birthday was with his best friend and she thought nothing romantically of him until she was out of high school and he was home from his mission.
While I understand the problem of girls pining over guys who are past their shelf life, the idea that there is no chance on earth with a guy who didn't jump your bones in the first “30 seconds” is bizarre. Another “guys are like that” pattern that we can debunk and change if we can move beyond inane culture and stereotypes.
Idea: Teach boys that putting a girl in either the “yes-I'd-date-this-hottie” or “not-a-chance-in-heck” box within 30 seconds of meeting them is stupid.
Can we just stop this nonsense?
I've been asked in the comments and on Facebook for a reference to the Holland quote. Here it is.
One day, years ago, I was watching a BYU devotional on KBYU with Holland giving a speech called Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments. His speech was later repackaged as book/DVD Of Souls Symbols and Sacraments.
At one point I heard him refute the “counsel” I had heard all my life — and over which I despaired. I felt inadequate enough keeping myself on the straight and narrow. Being responsible for every guy within line of sight was just too much. I ran to get a piece of paper to write down every word I could remember.
Years later I found the audio of the original talk on BYU's website. It is from that audio that I transcribed the quote. It was too big to upload here, but I just found the same talk on YoutTube (or course). Listen from 31:55 – 34:04. It's even better live.