Pithy Phrase

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'm, as It Turns Out, Not Perfect!

The other day I was visiting my brother-in-law's hardware store.  The conversation turned to Brother-in-Law's  very large Toyota Tundra.  I jokingly said that it might even qualify as a compensation mobile.  He simply replied that that's a pretty sexist thing for a self-proclaimed feminist to say.

If anything ever cut me to the quick, that did.  After mumbling some embarrassed syllables of admission, I shuffled back to the car with my head hung low and fought back tears all the way home.  Of course he was right.  If he had intimated that women cursed with undesirably small . . . breasts, say, carry bigger purses so men will still want them, I might have bludgeoned him to death with my extra-large handbag.  And yet I have been making the occasional joke about something equally sexist for years.  I felt like the ultimate hypocrite.  I sometimes get the impression that my (unusually open-minded) extended family thinks I just put on a feminist persona for appearances.  This incident is excellent evidence of exactly that.  How could a true feminist say something so obviously inappropriate?  How could I possibly espouse complete equality if I fight the battle in only one direction?  I felt rather depressed and lethargic for the rest of the day.

And several days later, I am still dwelling on my hideous faux pas.  Am I just doing the "feminist thing" for show?  Do I really want equality, or am I simply using feminism as a reason to feel angry and superior?  If it is all a ruse, what do I do now?  Start deferring to patriarchal authority again, trash my career plans, return to the temple and blithely agree to be less-than for eternity?  Make comments in church about women's superior spirituality and role as gatekeepers of sexuality?  Vilify working moms and stay-at-home dads?

The thought sends shivers down my spine.  At this point, I realize that I'm not faking it.  I actually believe in this stuff.  Maybe I just make mistakes sometimes.  As one of my psychology professors wisely stated, "gender roles are in the air we breathe."  Even the most progressive individuals are going to slip up every now and then, because sexism is inescapable.  We feminists are fighting the good fight from within and without.  In a way, I am grateful that my brother-in-law opened my eyes to a hidden bit of sexism that I needed to root out (and I'm sure there are more yet to be discovered).  I do wish that I could have taken on this traitorous bit privately, without the added element of public shame.  Learning the hard way is never fun, but then again aren't we Mormons always talking about difficulties making us stronger?

So even die-hard feminists make the occasional sexist remark sometimes.  Please forgive us, for clinging to feminism in a gender-polarized world is no mean feat.  And if Brother-in-Law reads this, please accept my apology and realize that this post is, in reality, penance for my transgression.  Now back to the battlefield.

Adventures in Ageism

Apparently it's been five weeks since my last post.  Although this is by far my longest period of silence since the inception of this blog, I do not feel guilty.  Within that time, I have:
  • Written a plethora of excellent papers
  • Aced all of my finals
  • Gotten straight As in all my classes (booya!)
  • Performed in the annual BYU Celebration of Christmas concert
  • Experienced my first Thanksgiving and Christmas sans family
  • Taken the GRE (did tolerably well)
  • Witnessed and participated in the weddings of my dear cousin and brother-in-law
  • Traveled to Orange County, San Francisco/San Jose, Virginia, and Washington D.C.
  • Visited one of my top choice grad schools (and I'm pretty sure they want me)
  • Visited the Smithsonian for the first time (was unimpressed by the Hope Diamond, was baffled that the Star of Bombay was so inconspicuously displayed, and appreciated the human evolution exhibit)
And, most impressive of all:
  • Endured living with multiple small children for almost two weeks.
This time has lent itself to self-discovery.  And, after much introspection, I have realized that I am horribly ageist.  Yes, I harbor serious biases against the old and the young.  Here is a short list of things that have contributed to my prejudice:
  • Driving to San Jose with Husband's loveable, crotchety-old-man of an uncle, during which he inadvertently merged onto the wrong freeway and continued on't for several hours while spouting off a fountain of angry, one-sided political "truths", fumbling with new-fangled devices, and grumbling that the world has gone to pot.
  • Driving to Washington D.C. with the same loveable yet crotchety uncle, when he voiced some exceedingly racist opinions and refused to see them as racist (because it's not racist if it's true, dammit!).
  • Sitting in the splash zone on the way to Muir Woods with my sister-in-law and her two kids.  Yes, there was vomit.  A lot of vomit.
  • Experiencing more vomit with my niece at the airport.
  • Witnessing dozens of logic-free childish meltdowns.
My ageism is particularly strong against the young.  I can excuse the old because they've toiled and endured for a long time and they are often in a lot of pain and have seen more sadness and suffering than I have.  I simultaneously honor and roll my eyes at the elderly on a regular basis.

But children are a different story.  My astute niece even asked me why I don't like children the other day.  I sort of lied and said I just don't have much experience with them.  Well, the experience I've gained over the last few weeks has not helped my opinion of the little imps.  I just can't understand their thought processes.  They can't seem to understand that screaming what you want over and over is not an effective way to solve your problems.  They also fail to grasp that their issues are minute.  I want to widen their viewpoint, to show them the ease and comfort of their lives.  I guess I see it as ungrateful.  How can you be so upset about not getting to go to the toy store when you just got about a hundred shiny new toys for Christmas?  Their parents are always bending over backward to ensure their health, safety, and happiness, and yet they scream and cry and act like the world is going to end because they have to take a nap (and how dare they turn up their noses at the heavenly luxury of napping?!).

I believe my prejudices are fueled by my belief that I was a perfect child.  At least that's how my mother tells the tale.  According to her, I rarely cried as an infant, slept all night long, woke up at nine or ten, weaned easily, potty trained easily, etc.  Of course, I imagine parenting is much easier when there is only one.  My parents never had to listen to squabbles about sharing because I had no one to share with.  I never felt the need to act out for attention because I got all the attention I could ever want.  I rarely fought against my parents' rules because I felt I was just another adult in the house.  And when I did try to manipulate them, they didn't give in and quickly conditioned me to use more appropriate methods.  Perhaps my parents should go into more detail with me about my childhood.  I have heard a few tales involving vomitage, and remember a tantrum or two.  Although my mom admits that the one time I ever yelled at her, she deserved it!

Or perhaps I resent children because I envy them.  I wish I had it so easy.  I wish I didn't have to control my emotions.  I wish I didn't have to work and do hard things and be responsible.  I wish I had someone to wait on me hand and foot.  And if I did, I'd be thankful, you hooligans!  I shall earn the title of crotchety old lady yet!

Look, I know my feelings about children are unfair.  I know that their reasoning abilities are limited.  I know that when they whine and scream and cry they are simply expressing their confusion and frustration at a complex world with complex rules.  I know that their immune systems are still developing, which leads to frequent spewage.  But that knowledge does not keep me from getting annoyed (or from hiding in my room for several hours a day to escape them).  I guess I lack compassion for children.  The true manifestation of my ageism, though, is that I feel no compulsion to remedy this void of charity.  I am making no new year's resolutions to fix my skewed perceptions; I do not feel the need to talk to God or my bishop about it.  And I have no idea why.  At least I'm admitting it, right?  That's supposed to be the first step to . . . something, right?

I do not want any parents reading this to feel as though I am attacking them or their parenting abilities.  I do not blame parents for having annoying children because, as far as I can tell, they all get to me to some degree.  Therefore it is the very nature of children that irks me.  Aren't I terrible?  I'm sure I'll get some angry parent commenting and saying that children are a blessing from God and I am going to hell.  Well, if I'm going to hell, lacking patience for children is the least of my offenses.

Thank you for making it to the end of this very stream-of-consciousness post (which I have written while attempting to tune out the dulcet tones of screaming toddlers).  Feel free to verbally crucify me in the comments.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

This Post is Rated "R" for Language

And now, dear friends, a lesson in vocabulary.  You may be interested to know that the majority of insults aimed only at men actually insult women*.  If you ever want to insult a man, simply diss a woman in his life.  So, without further ado, a short list of somewhat-alphabetized examples:

Bastard: your mother was unmarried when she gave birth to you. A classic example.

Douchebag: you are that nasty thing that women use to wash their nasty (inferior?) parts.  It actually means "you are a particularly annoying man who thinks you're all that, and God's gift to those silly little women creatures, when really you live in your mom's basement and photoshop abs onto your profile picture."  I admit, this is one of my favorites.  I guess I could justify using it by pointing out that it is meant to insult sexist people . . . right?

Lace-on-your-pants/Panty waist: Ostensibly refers to women's inferior clothing.  You have a woman's sexual urges (you're homosexual), so why don't you just dress like a woman?  Insulting men with women's clothing?  Really?  Compare to "wearing the pants in the family."  My parents contributed this old-school insult.

Man up: don't be like a woman.  Be brave, courageous, strong (women do not possess these qualities).  Do the right thing; do what a man would do.  Could be interpreted as "don't be like a boy/child."  I prefer this definition, but it is sketchy since there is no "woman up" equivalent.

Mother f*cker: you had sexual relations with your mother.  Accusing you and your mother of incest (the strongest social taboo worldwide).

Pussy: you are a woman's inferior genitals.  Or, you are weak like a woman (so you must have her genitals.  Penises confer all things strong and fearless).  I absolutely abhor this word.

Pussy-whipped: you let a b*tchy woman control you, when YOU should be controlling HER.  Why don't you just stand up to her and show her who's boss?

Son of a b*tch: your mother is a b*tch.  Another classic.

Your mama jokes: somewhat self-explanatory.  Your mother is [fat].  Your mother is [ugly].  Your mother is [stupid].

You play ball like a girl: Sandlot, anyone?  Girls cannot play baseball because of their inferior muscles/spatial abilities/delicate clothing.  You play baseball like they do.

C*nt: supposedly the most offensive word in the English language.  Similar to "pussy", it refers to a woman's inferior genitalia.  Read the interesting evolution of this word here.**

Woman/girl/lady: you are a member of the inferior and subjugated "second sex."  You are weak, inconsequential, incompetent.  You are meant to be used.  You suck at life.  You do not act; you are acted upon.  Compare to "you're the man!" or "man up", above.  These are probably the most hurtful to women because they are so commonplace.  How is it okay to use "woman" as an insult?  General authorities in the LDS church are constantly saying that women are incredible, that women are God's highest creation.  And yet, I bet the vast majority of LDS men (and some women) have indirectly insulted women in this way before.  The other day my father told me that men will never stop seeing femininity as a weakness in themselves, as insulting and less-than.  I hope to God that is not true.  Research shows that androgynous people are happier and better adjusted people.  I applaud those men who are in touch with their feminine sides, and are not ashamed.

Which ones have I forgotten?

*Conversely, insults directed solely at women usually have to do with their sexual practices.  But that's a post for another day.

**The word "vagina" literally means "a sheath for a sword" in Latin.  The anatomical word for the birth canal has nothing to do with giving birth.  No, it's just a place to put your two-edged phallic symbol.  As such, some modern feminists are trying to reclaim c*nt, as it is more inclusive of the whole of female genitalia, instead of referring only to the bit that pleasures males.

Friday, October 21, 2011

National Chemistry Week!

Huzzah, it's National Chemistry Week once again!  I nearly forgot because (for the first time) I'm not in a chem class during fall semester.  For those of you who have yet to partake of the chemical fun, let me explain my joy.

In chemistry, there is a unit of measurement known as the mole.  A mole is equal to 6.02 x 10^23 units (also known as Avogadro's number).  The units can technically be anything, but chemists use the mole (abbreviated mol) to measure units of atoms, molecules, ions, etc.  To celebrate their favorite unit of measurement, chemists come together on Mole Day.  Mole Day festivities occur on October 23rd, from 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m. (6:02 10/23, see the pattern?).  One day, the American Chemical Society decided that Mole Day was just too much fun to limit to one day a year.  As such, they instituted National Chemistry Week, which includes Mole Day.  Let me list some of the engaging activities you may enjoy during this glorious season:

1. Mole Day parties.  These are typically pot-luck style.  Everyone brings food relating to the Mole.  Some of the most common treats are baked goods with Avogadro's number piped on, MOLasses cookies (which can be quite humorous), chips, salsa, and guacaMOLE, and anything including Mexican MOLE sauce.  Activities include poetry readings and performances of original songs relating to the Mole (I once performed a song like unto the YMCA song, titled M-O-L-E).  Wearing geeky T-shirts is encouraged.  I highly recommend hosting such a party.

2. Chemistry Magic Shows. These shows embody every child's wildest imagination of what chemistry entails: blowing stuff up, crazy color changes, kooky chemists dancing to disco music in tie-dye lab coats while laughing maniacally. . . oh yeah.  Speaking of kids, these are a great way to get kids interested in chemistry/science.  And they're usually free!  So if you're into imploding cans, elephant toothpaste, loud noises, and fire, these are for you!

3. Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream.  If you have not sampled liquid nitrogen ice cream, you are missing out big time.  It's so simple: milk, cream, sugar, vanilla.  Combine in a stand mixer with whatever mix-in you desire (my favorite is Oreos).  Then, get a dewar of liquid nitrogen and pour over the mixture.  Instant ice cream!  All of you organic granola people will love it for its lack of preservatives and fillers.  The rest of us love it because it's so darn tasty!  It is often served outside of the chemistry magic shows, or perhaps at the Mole Day parties.  Liquid nitrogen ice cream is probably my favorite part of National Chemistry Week.  I waited forty minutes for some yesterday.  And it was worth it.

So if you haven't celebrated National Chemistry Week yet, go have yourself some nerdy fun!

How have you celebrated Mole Day/National Chemistry Week?

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Modest Proposal

I think I'm going to start posting regular gender-related anecdotes from my life.  Heaven knows, I have a lot of them now that I'm back in good ol' Provo.

The other day in concert choir, our conductor suddenly insisted that all the men evacuate the rehearsal hall.  This is highly unusual; we never get out early.  She did not explain why she had decided to do this, or what we women were going to do once the boys were gone.  She shooed them out hurriedly and hollered at the few men who lingered.  It was clear that she did not want any man to be present for the unannounced proceedings.  Once she was sure there was no man within hearing distance, she proceeded to give us The Talk.  No, not that talk.  She informed us that a few men in concert choir had come to her and complained about the attire of the concert choir women.  They had claimed that they felt the need to avert their eyes at times to keep their thoughts clean.  Our conductor then laid down the law as to what manner of dress was appropriate and what was inappropriate; let's just say the words "cleavage" and "well endowed" were used frequently.  She assured us that she did not believe any of us were dressing immodestly on purpose; we just need to be sure that the clothes we choose will not shift and expose . . . things . . . as we progress through the day.  She insisted that the boys need us to dress modestly so they can fully contribute to concert choir.  She brought it home with a plea for us to remember that our musical messages can only be conveyed through the Spirit, and that immodest dressing can detract from that because the boys are less focused and less able to feel that Spirit.

At this point I raised my hand.  I said I don't like the idea that our motivation for dressing modestly should be to "help the men"; we all have agency, and the thought that I am the guilty party for another person's sins doesn't sit well in my brain.  I then gave my reason for dressing modestly: self-respect.  Our conductor agreed with me partly, but still stood by her assertion that the men need our cooperation.  I left the hall a bit disgruntled, uncomfortable, and hurt.  A strong, thoughtful, accomplished woman I admire had just committed a cardinal sin in my book.  She had aligned herself (whether consciously or unconsciously) with the phrase "boys will be boys".  That men have certain characteristics that cannot be helped.  Needless to say, I was rather disappointed.

The memory of this event festered in my mind all week.  The more I've thought about it, the more outraged I've become.  I'm not so much angry at our conductor, or even at the men who complained.  I'm angry at the prevalence of this misguided viewpoint.  It is not a woman's responsibility to keep the men around her from thinking bad thoughts.  I realized that when men gripe about the terrible women who don't dress modestly, they are admitting that they objectify the female body.  They are essentially saying that when certain physical lines are crossed, a woman inevitably becomes a sex object, and they then hold little responsibility for their unclean thoughts.  Herein lies the real problem: the human body is hyper-sexualized.  I once heard the tale of a particularly horrifying achievement days modesty activity. During this activity, adult leaders actually drew garment lines on pre-pubescent girls.  As if to say, "these are the magic lines that, when crossed, automatically turn you (a child) into an object of lust."  What does this tell young girls about their worth and purpose?  This also debases men, and robs them of their agency.

Living in Germany was enlightening.  The human body is viewed quite differently there.  They espouse the Freikörperkultur, or Free Body Culture (Husband and I wanted to participate, but sadly never had the opportunity).  Nudity is tolerated in many public places.  It is so different from America.  It is rare to see a clothed child at a waterfront venue, and many adult men and women also walk around in the buff.  The best part is that no one cares.  The ones who bare it all do not have "ideal" bodies (because the "ideal" does not exist), but they are not embarrassed.  No one is viewing them as sex objects.  The general consensus is "hey, we all have one".  The human body is fantastic and useful in a number of ways, but for some reason, we here in America focus heavily on only one of those numerous capabilities (even in children, which I believe feeds the pedophilia epidemic).

We in the church are not immune to this mindset.  When we insist that women dress a certain way so boys don't have inappropriate thoughts, we are treating the symptoms, but not the cause.  I view Zion as a place where every person dresses modestly out of self-respect and practicality, so that modesty need not have such concrete lines associated with it.  But more so, I see Zion as a place where respect and equality reign supreme; where, even when someone bares their body, it doesn't matter because no one sees that body as a tool to use for their own gratification.  I guess we don't live in Zion.  Is it impossible to teach ourselves not to objectify ourselves or others?  Are we so fallen that there is no hope of escaping the tendency to hyper-sexualize?  Can we not put off this aspect of the natural man?  I believe that if we teach modesty to both sexes from this point of view, we can begin to combat one of the wiliest tricks of the adversary and better appreciate our full worth as the children of God.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What About Evolution?

I recently watched a PBS documentary called What About God? for my evolutionary biology class.  It addresses how modern-day Evangelical Christian students reconcile the apparent conflict between the origin of man as taught in biology class and in Sunday school.  Several students and teachers in STEM fields of study, as well as some ecclesiastical leaders, were interviewed and asked about their viewpoints.  The responses were varied.  Some concluded that the theory of evolution of species is false; some expressed ambivalence and found it difficult to discuss their tentative ideas with their hard-core creationist friends and family.  Still others asserted that there is no conflict at all, or that both evolution and creationism are valid hypotheses that should be taught equally.  In the end we, the viewers, were left to make our own conclusions.

Since the original publication of Charles Darwin’s* On the Origin of Species in 1859, the theory of evolution has been ruffling religious feathers.  Many fear that evolutionary theory contradicts scriptural accounts of the creation of the world and its inhabitants; they also claim that evolution “takes God out of the equation”.  The fundamental question stands: can a person be a Bible-loving Christian and espouse Darwinian evolution?  In my mind, the answer is—it depends.  It depends on one’s definition of Christianity, and on what kind of Christian one chooses to be.  Christianity is by no means a single religion with a single set of beliefs.  In fact, very few Christians of the exact same sect agree on every point of doctrine.  As such, some Christians may very well be evolutionary biologists, while others consider a belief in evolutionary theory a one-way ticket to hell.

If we assume that to be a Christian, one must interpret every word of the Bible literally, then the answer is no.  No, a literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis is not reconcilable with Darwin’s theory of evolution.  One of evolutionary theory’s main points is that change happens gradually over long periods of time.  This means that the creation of Adam and Eve would have taken millions of years.  If an individual decides to believe that the creation occurred over a period of six Earth days, even that the creation of humans occurred in one twenty-four hour period (as is taught in Genesis), then, to that person, evolutionary theory must be considered absolutely false.  However, if there is any room for metaphorical interpretation of the Bible in Christianity, then evolution may be acceptable.  One may decide that the term “day” used in the Bible refers to stages of creation, rather than literal twenty-four hour periods.  One may even conclude that the Biblical creation story is highly metaphorical, and is simply meant to teach that God is behind all creation.  People who align themselves with this view of Christianity can then accept that God may have used evolution as the mechanism of creation, and that the theory of evolution reveals that God is much bigger and better than we could have imagined.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I consider myself a Christian, though many others do not because a number of my beliefs (heck, even a few Mormons think I don't belong).  I believe that the Bible is the word of God, but is not a scientific document, and does not describe the method of creation.  I believe that God has absolute knowledge of natural laws, and that hir** purposes are accomplished through these natural laws.  I believe that God is a man and a woman, that God has a body of flesh and bones, that God reveals things to us today.  I believe that God is more powerful, wise, and majestic than we can imagine; that all of us, to a degree, try to limit God by defining what God can and cannot do (as one creationist in the documentary ironically exclaimed, “man’s wisdom is foolishness before God”.  That logic cuts both ways, my friends).  I believe that humans are currently walking the evolutionary path from intelligences, to spirits, to mortal embodied beings, to immortal embodied beings, to gods.  And I believe in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Many say my beliefs are not concurrent with the definition of Christianity.  If that be the case, then perhaps Christianity is not compatible with evolutionary theory.  But in my opinion, I am a Christian (specifically a theistic evolutionist), and evolutionary theory enhances my Christian beliefs.  Religious convictions are very personal and are unique to every individual.  While several Christians in What About God? determined that the theory of evolution is in direct opposition to all religious beliefs, I side with the documentary’s overall theme: that every individual who calls hirself a Christian must assess hir own unique beliefs arrive at hir own conclusions.

*I'm thinking of naming a first-born son Charles Darwin Herrick in homage to the man who synthesized the unifying principle of biology.  Also one of my grandfathers is named Charles.  Can you imagine the reaction at that baby blessing?

**Hir=the gender-neutral pronoun.  I'm giving it a try.  It's growing on me, if only because writing "him or her" is cumbersome and going with "their" is grammatically incorrect.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Horrifying Historical Parallels

I just had a revelation.

As of late, I've been reading a lot about LDS patriarchy in the bloggernacle (here, here and here).  The typical line in church is that God ordained men to be patriarchs and preside over the family.  "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families."  As I was pondering this stance (and my own personal aversion to it), I realized that it sounds oddly familiar . . .

And then it hit me.

"Divine design" . . . Divine right!  Does the common wording that prescribes the "role of men" not hearken of that which poor leaders of the past used to justify their power?  I am floored.  How did I not see this before?  Historically, kings have rationalized their unrighteous dominion and assured their political legitimacy by asserting that God put them in that place of power, so they are obviously the best possible leaders.  This doctrine is known as the divine right of kings, which we all know went well for everyone (sarcasm).  Men in the LDS church (and others) use the same logic to justify the gender-defined lines of power and inequality.  Thus, my new mantra when it comes to the "divine design" of patriarchy shall be:

Divine Right=A Silly Idea

Patriarchy=Divine Right

Patriarchy=A Silly Idea

Therefore, by the mathematical law of transitive relation (if a=b, and b=c, then a=c), it is proved.  Amen.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Rs of Repentance

As children and youth in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are often taught a list of things that must be done in order to accomplish true repentance.  They are known as the Rs of Repentance, and there are usually about four to seven of them, depending on the teacher.  They include things like recognition, remorse, restitution, reformation, resolution, etc.  I rather dislike this method of teaching repentance, and here's why:

1. It makes repentance seem too hard.  Think of all the bad things you've ever done.  Imagine going through this extensive list for every one of them.  Life is just too short!  You'd never finish!  And what about all the sins you don't remember committing?  If the Rs are really the only way to go, we're all damned.

2. It makes repentance seem too easy.  Any of us who have undergone real repentance laugh at the thought of repentance as a checklist.  "Oh yeah, that was bad, I shouldn't have done that.  I feel bad that I did that.  I apologize for doing that.  I won't do it again.  I feel better now.  Let's go get smoothies."  If repentance were that easy, I sure would have sinned a lot more!  Boiling such a deep and meaningful experience as repentance down to a catchy list trivializes it.

3. And what about Jesus?  I don't hear anything about the Savior in this list.  It paints repentance as something you can accomplish by yourself.  For the record, there is no repentance without Christ; without Him we would all be damned.  In the end, He is the one who fixes us, who throws out that old woman of sin and makes us a new creature . . . in Christ.

I propose a different, in my opinion better, way to teach repentance.

Confess and forsake.  Confessing involves coming to God with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, humbling ourselves, acknowledging that God's ways are higher than our ways.  It means asking, begging, pleading for forgiveness, for the mercy and atonement of Jesus Christ to be applied to our faults.  Forsaking our sins means having a mighty change of heart, a complete turning away from our sins.  Forsaking is having no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually.  It is covenanting with God to do better.  It is accepting that we are no longer the person who committed the sin, but that we are made anew through Christ's atonement.  To me, this part is the most difficult.  It is so easy to continue to beat ourselves up about what we did and what losers we are.  We have to have enough faith in the atonement to realize that the people who sinned are not the people we are now.  We have to accept that we have been forgiven.  Then, if we live in a constant state of confessing, forsaking, striving to align our hearts with The Good, we live in a state of justification.  The sacrament itself does not cleanse us from our sins; partaking of the sacrament signifies that we are living in a justified state.  And eventually, after going through this process over and over, we will become sanctified; we will be made holy.

Now, tell me, which lesson on repentance would you rather have?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The "Spiritual" Sex

I recently discovered I have a teeth grinding problem.  I got a night guard and all that, but that doesn't treat the cause, and I can't wear it all the time.  Do you know what would stop me from grinding my teeth down to nothing morning, noon, and night?  I believe this bad habit would cease if all the sexism in the world would also cease.  So it looks like my straight, white, dazzling smile will be a toothless grin by the time I turn thirty-five.

One sexist "doctrine" that really frosts my cookies is that women are naturally more spiritual than men.  Let us have a little chat about benevolent sexism.  Benevolent sexism stems from the interdependence of the sexes.  It consists of ideas that women need to be cherished and protected by men, that men depend on women to fulfill the "essential" roles of parenting and homemaking, and that men need women (to be romantic sexual objects) to feel complete.  It is different from hostile sexism, which branch is more familiar to most people.  Benevolent sexism is a hot topic in sex and gender scientific literature right now because, more and more, studies are showing that it is just as harmful as hostile sexism.  People who embrace benevolent sexism are more likely to also embrace hostile sexism.  Studies have shown that benevolent sexism is a more subtle and cunning way to subjugate women.  As men treat women in a benevolently sexist manner, women often begin to accept male dominance.  This then propagates the cycle of inequality.

Back to women's "innate" spirituality.  This common sentiment in Mormanity (my word for the culture entwined in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is a form of benevolent sexism.  Many members, including general authorities, use this sentiment to justify every instance of differential treatment of the sexes.  It is often said that women don't need the priesthood because they're naturally more spiritual, while men need the opportunity to serve and grow.  Another common one is that a woman must nurture the children because she innately walks closer to God.  Sometimes I wonder if these dogmas are spouted off so frequently as a way to keep women complacent in their places of lesser power in Church authority.  The fact is, women are more active in religion the world over.  Why the difference, you ask?  I have come to the conclusion that, since women have historically been held in inferiority and powerlessness by men, they have become more humble.  This, then, has become a societal norm, and the social differences still present today continue the trend.  As we all know, humility begets faith in God.  Those who have less have greater need to believe in and rely on a higher spiritual power; they hope that this divine being will give them their just reward in time.  Therefore, the humbled women throughout history have turned to God for comfort.

Some other benevolently sexist attitudes common in the Church:
  • We don't talk about Heavenly Mother because Heavenly Father is protecting her name from the abuse and slander of the world (if that is the case, then maybe I don't want to be a Heavenly Mother someday.  This paints a picture of a rather weak and inconsequential divine feminine, don't you think?  By the way, this was initially said by a primary teacher.  Also, there is no doctrine that says that the topic of Heavenly Mother is taboo and should not be discussed.  In my opinion, we should be a little wary when discussing her in a formal church setting only because there is so little doctrine on her).
  • Men have the priesthood and women, instead of the priesthood, have motherhood (as if fatherhood can in no way compare to motherhood.  Granted, only women can give birth and nurse.  But men can bottle feed, hold, nurture, and show just as much love as women can.  Cultural bounds lead us to believe this is not true, but it is).
  • Whereas in the priesthood session of conference men get the third degree, women in the relief society session are patted and praised and coddled for how good they are (in my opinion, women are just as intrinsically bad as men are; culture has just taught them to be more subtle about it.  Any differences in bad conduct is the product of societal norms and not of innate goodness).
In summary, all sexism is bad.  Whether you're telling a woman she's too emotional to work in a high-pressure environment, telling a girl that someday her knight in shining armor will come and whisk her away to the temple, or even telling a boy that he can't cry or a man that he can't love his own child as well as his wife can, it's all sexism, and it's all hurtful.  So don't do it, people.  My teeth are begging you.

To find out how much sexism you espouse, take this quiz.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I didn't change my name

In case you didn't know, my full name is exactly the same as it was before I tied the proverbial knot.  You may be confused as to why I would choose to be unorthodox in this way.  Let me enlighten you.

1. I like my name the way it is.  It rolls off the tongue nicely.  My parents did a good job naming me.  Although I do sort of wish they would have gone by my mom's fantastic French Basque surname: Etchepare (etch-a-pear).

2. My name is fraught with genealogical significance. Yes, Miller is about the most boring last name in America* (and, incidentally, Germany), but it is the name of my forebears, and I revere it for that reason.  I like to remember that it was once the German Müller (we have this cool Amish family history book that dates my direct namesake line back to the first Miller to come to America, back in the seventeenth century).  My first and middle names are derived from the first names of my maternal grandparents, Jean and Olive.  I come from a long line of Basque "Jeans" and "Jeannes".  And besides being the name of my grandmother, Olivia is just a really awesome middle name.  There was no way I was going to scrap it.  I value my ancestors not only because of my religion.  As a geneticist, I find genealogy particularly interesting.  So I chose not to eliminate my heritage from my name just because I decided to change my marital status.  Those of you who have researched your ancestors and done family history know that the maiden name is the only one that counts, anyway.

3. I am the only child of the oldest child, of the oldest child, of the oldest child down the Miller line.  I am also the first female born on my father's side (obviously) in one hundred years.  I feel that this somehow gives me especial reason to retain my original surname.

4. My mother didn't change her last name . . . until I was in high school (I was kind of mad when she did that without telling me).  When she married she was an established, successful person.  Changing her name would have been extra-complicated and would have ruined her impact factor.  I remember people calling for Ms. Etchepare all the time when I was a kid.  I didn't think anything of it; that was my mom's name.  Because of her decision, I have no pre-existing notions that a woman must change her surname to that of her husband upon her marriage.  Also, my mother-in-law hyphenated her name, so Husband doesn't have any problems with my decision either.

5. I eliminated hyphenating because Husband wouldn't hyphenate too.  He likes his name the way it is (plus he didn't grow up being indoctrinated to believe that one day his name would have to change to that of his spouse).  I probably would have hyphenated if he had been willing to take on the hyphenated last name as well.

6. The name Herrick reminds me of two things.  The first is Robert Herrick, the famous poet (whose father was, coincidentally, named Nicholas).  The second is the species of fish known as herring.  While I find Robert Herrick's poetry amusing for its irony (a clergyman writing sensual poetry that urges young, unmarried women to be sexually active), I loathe seafood.  Wikipedia describes the herring as an "oily fish", which does not help matters.  Miller reminds me of a happy, pleasant middle-aged man living on the outskirts of a small village in Germany in a quaint cottage with a windmill behind it.

7. This motivation is shameful and perhaps immature, but I've included it anyway: I want to see people's reactions.  I have already had the pleasure of explaining to members of our branch that Husband and I have different last names.  No one seemed very taken aback by this.  Everyone calls me Sister Miller.  But I really can't wait to get back to Utah and ruffle some feathers there.  I'll try not to be annoying about it.  If someone calls me Sister Herrick, I won't correct them.  But I'll make it clear in my introductions what my full name is and what Husband's full name is.  I am confident they will all catch on eventually.  Am I being too optimistic here?

If you are married, why did you/your spouse keep or change names when you got married?  If you are single, what would you do with your name if you got married?

*I've found that famous people with average first names and boring last names tend to go by their full three names.  For instance, Sarah Parker becomes Sarah Jessica Parker; Catherine Jones becomes Catherine Zeta-Jones, etc.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's a Great Day to be Alive

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers told a tale of some women she knows wishing they lived in Jane Austen or Victorian times, when men were "gentlemen".  She scoffed at this ignorant viewpoint, and so do I. Wearing rose-colored glasses when viewing the history of the treatment of women may make the past look romantic, but it's incredibly inaccurate.  I decided to post about this topic myself rather than leave an annoyingly long comment on her post.

Husband and I have discussed this a lot recently. We concluded that the din of complaints about our current state of affairs is a bit louder than it needs to be.  Are there things about our culture/government/economy that need tweaking these days?  Of course.  But when we complain about these things, we are often failing to recognize just how good we have it.  Injustice and fear have been facts of life for thousands of years.  But back in the day, instead of worrying about the injustice of social programs or fearing credit card payments, people were worrying about the injustice of tyrannical leadership and worrying about their town being pillaged and burned.  The injustice that humans have inflicted upon each other throughout history is horrifying.  I am especially disturbed when I think of the historical suffering of women, usually at the hands of men. I'm not just thinking about the unfulfilled 1950s housewife or the stifled, weak Victorian lady on a pedestal whom some ill-informed women envy. I'm thinking about the ancient Roman armies that always came equipped with a harem of sex slaves. I'm thinking about the women who were raped and abused, often by their own husbands, while everyone perceived it as business-as-usual or else blamed the woman (granted this still happens today, but it's much less widespread . . . I hope). I'm thinking about the religious leaders who taught that women don't have souls and the philosophers who taught that women are incomplete forms of men.  Of innocent virgins brutally sacrificed to pagan gods, of women whose children were slaughtered at the command of rulers, of the millions of women who lived as slaves, whose life was not their own, but belonged to someone else.

Add in the many women who were goaded to marry for monetary or political purposes, whose talents weren't recognized due to their sex, who had no method of birth control and constantly risked pregnancy and thereby death, who were molded into the unrelenting stereotype of frailness, daintiness, and illogicality.  History sounds pretty bleak for women. Would you really like to be Elizabeth Bennett, who was subject to a sexist contract that would render her homeless upon her father's death?  Or Juliet, whose parents were pressuring her to marry a smarmy man at thirteen years of age (okay, I suppose few people actually want to be Juliet; she was kind of an idiot)?

We can fantasize about living in another time all we want, but I would rather live now than at any other time, when the status of women is almost equal to that of men. People complain about the world but, at least in my culture, 2011 is a time of incredible decency and safety and respect. It fills me with gratitude.  I am so grateful that God did not send me to Earth at a different time.  I probably would have been lynched for being a witch (for my sinister handedness alone), thrown into a mental institution (which were hell-holes themselves back in the day), or would have become some sort of mass murderer (the misogyny would have gotten to me eventually).  I'm perfectly happy to live in 2011, without the Mr. Darcys, the knights in shining armor, and the theory of wandering womb syndrome.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Marriage is Really Like

After reading several blogs that portray marriage as nauseatingly idyllic and husbands as perfectly adorable and righteous beings, I have decided to set the record straight. The following is a factual story from my life. In "choose your own adventure" style, I have written two endings. One is the actual ending to my tale, while the other is a tweaked version in the style of these other blogs. See if you can tell which is which.

The other day I was laying in my bed attempting to read a classic novel on an iphone. This was proving somewhat difficult, and so I adjusted the substandard, oddly large and square pillow provided in our furnished apartment here in Germany (I forgot my Tempur-Pedic pillow of the gods at home; my mom sent it to me forever ago and I'm starting to fear it has been lost in transit. Sob). As I did so I found, to my horror, that there was a big squashed bug underneath said substandard pillow! Such an experience would be awful enough for the average person; I, however, have especial reason to panic.

When I was around twelve years of age, I found myself in a similar situation. I was laying in bed reading a book (this is one of my favorite pastimes). I noticed there were some short, bent-looking hairs on either side of my pillow. I gingerly lifted my pillow to find none other than an enormous flattened daddy long-leg spider! What I had perceived to be hairs were actually detached spider legs! Lots of screaming and hand-wringing ensued. For years to come, even after the pillowcase was banished and the sheets washed, I never moved my pillow to reveal the fateful spot, and never let my feet touch the corresponding area at the bottom of the sheet, just in case it had been put on the other way. Obsessive-compulsive disorderly behavior? Perhaps. Suffice it to say one day I got new sheets and felt safe again.

Ending One: I rushed to my fearless knight in shinning armor, who proceeded too hold me in his arms and quiet all my fears. He then attacked the offending insect with a tissue {he's so smart like that!}, and that night he went without a pillow and we fell asleep cuddling on his side of the bed {but not before reading scriptures and having personal AND family prayer because we're way spirchul}. Isn't he the BEST husband EVER?!?! We're SO in LOVE. The next morning I washed the sheets because, duh, that's women's work! Luv him!

Ending Two: Having grown up just a bit, there was no screaming or hand-wringing. There was, however, a sharp intake of breath and a rush to big, strong, husband man. He, having been asleep, was not thrilled by his awakening and did not see the dire nature of the situation. He promptly flicked the bug onto the ground and told me I was being ridiculous. I did not appreciate this reaction. I asked him would he at least trade pillows with me? This request was met with equal derision (at this very moment he is making the noise of "bugs crawling over your face at night" for my listening pleasure). Feeling slighted and as though my supposed lover did not care about my feelings, I proceeded to sulk for the rest of the day (immature? Yes. This is what happens when you get married at 21). At long last, he relented and traded pillows with me, but not without that "this is insane" attitude.

Ah, marital bliss. Can you tell which is the true story?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thank You Autotune

If you shift your gaze upward a couple inches, you will see that I have found a sufficiently pithy phrase to go underneath my blog title!  It is a quotation from the fabulous Madonna episode of the hit television show Glee.  To those of you who are judging me for watching such a depraved show, know that I even watch it on Sundays!  Gasp!  Yes, it is depraved, but it also has fantastic music and hilarious one liners.  Therefore I deem it to be a pleasant way to pass the time.  Plus, as I was the most celibate teenager on the planet, I find the subject matter of Glee particularly interesting by comparison.  Yesterday, while Husband and I were having an epic Glee marathon (aka laying around in our jammies all day watching reruns and gorging ourselves on Oreos and root beer [good old Amurrcan food]), we stumbled upon this awesome phrase and decided we needed to call attention to it somehow.  So now it is my blog's subtitle.  I hope, by and by, the content of my blog will do it justice.

Speaking of Glee, I have been meaning to write about this topic since my blog's inception: autotuning.  I have heard many a music enthusiast deride autotuning as a disgrace to music and a slap in the face to truly talented musicians.  The argument is that by digitally altering singers' voices to hit every note perfectly, vocalists appear more talented than they actually are.  Make no mistake; this argument has truth to it.  Autotuning is used to catapult semi-talented yet highly marketable individuals to fame.  My question is, why is this a problem?  Let's face it, marketability will win out over talent every time (think Milli Vanilli, every season of American Idol, etc.).  But with autotuning, my ears don't have to suffer for it.  Reader, I'm going to be frank, at the risk of sounding conceited.  I am musically gifted.  I know when something's in tune and when it's not.  And when it's not, I may become uncomfortable.  Thanks to autotuning, when I watch my beloved Glee, my ears are not assaulted by ill-sounding chords or poor intonation.  Every song is absolutely flawless.  It's incredible.  We use technology to enhance every aspect of our lives.  Why not this one as well?

Plus, autotuning resulted in this gem:

So here's to autotuning: my impeccable pitch thanks you.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Amurrca the Beautiful

 I really like writing posts in list form.  So here's another one.  You're welcome.

Last Saturday I went to an early 4th of July celebration at the Vogelweh army base in western Germany.  We went there to visit Husband's aunt and uncle and their four kids, who are stationed here.  What better place to celebrate Independence Day while in Germany than a United States military base?  It was like an oasis of American culture in a desert of Germanity.  Seeing all the stuff I've been missing has made me realize just how much I love "Amurrca".  I have compiled is a list of reasons I'm proud to be an Amurrcan, in light of my recent experiences:

1. Food is cheaper and comes in bigger quantities in America.  I've never been an "I break for Costco" kind of person, but our current state of poverty has shown me the virtues of buying in bulk.  Our charitable relatives took us to the Commissary, the American grocery store on the base.  It was like Christmas had come early.  We ran from aisle to aisle, collecting as much nonperishable food as we could carry.  This included huge cans of fruit, four packs of Kraft macaroni and cheese, a 12-pack of root beer, Craisins! and several jars of real salsa (as opposed to the German version, which is basically ketchup with chili powder in it).  We peed our pants when we found the enormous jars of peanut butter (due to the prevalence of Nutella, peanut butter is virtually extinct here.  We have found this to be problematic as PB&Js are pretty much the only thing we can afford these days).  There's no such thing as a gallon of milk in Germany, and the rare package of Oreos contains a mere sixteen cookies within.  Apparently Germans are used to going grocery shopping every day.  This does not suit me, not only because it reeks of inefficiency, but also because we live at the top of a very steep hill and the only way to the top (for us car-less folk) is on foot.  Hopefully the substantial amount of food we purchased will last us for the rest of our time in Germany!  Okay, that's exceedingly optimistic.  Especially considering that we ate half a package of Oreos just on the drive home.

2. In the U.S. everybody realizes that smoking kills.  I have observed the most peculiar phenomenon here in Germany.  Yes, the prevalence of cigarette smoking is high, but that's not the strange part.  The strange part is that the people smoking are young adults.  You'd think the only people smoking would be those older individuals who just never managed to kick the habit.  But the number of young people smoking suggests that German youth either don't know or don't care about the risks of smoking.  Doesn't everyone have at least one grandparent who died of lung cancer due to a smoking habit?  I have two.  I just don't understand it.  Oh yeah, I'm tempted by fancy cocktails and wines, but smoking is one activity in which I have absolutely no desire to participate; this includes the second-hand variety, which I've been inhaling a lot of lately.  So it was nice to get away from the unending cloud of smoke for a while.  I smelled all of one cigarette at Vogelweh.  It was heavenly.

3. We do not tolerate graffiti in the U.S.  In this neck of the woods graffiti is viewed as self-expression.  I'm all for self-expression, but please do it on your own property.  My heart breaks a little bit every time I see an ancient, historical building desecrated with spray paint.  I will admit that the graffiti is quite well-done here in Jena.  Graffiti artists strategically tag around words and signs, making sure not to cover up important messages.  Some taggers even employ stencils in their craft.  I'm partial to a widely-used stencil that depicts busts of two bearded, early modern-day prophet-looking men with the words "boys in the hood are always hard" underneath them (oddly, a ton of the graffiti is in English).  That said, it still makes our quaint town look trashy.  So it was nice to get away from that for a while.  Of course there was no graffiti on the base, and I don't remember seeing any in the surrounding area either.  This is probably because the area is largely inhabited by American military personnel.  While with our relatives, we also visited this awesome touristy town called Cochem, in the Mosel river valley.  It boasts an incredible castle on a hill in the middle of the town.  You better believe there was not a trace of graffiti there.  It's beautiful hamlets like Cochem that make me realize just how visually unappealing Jena is in many places.  Decrepit buildings may be charming, but adding graffiti to them makes them look slummy.  Legal graffiti is an acceptable art form, but I fully support the practice of destroying misdemeanorly art that we employ in the States.

4. America really is a melting pot.  From the second I walked on the base, I realized that I had been missing the diversity that we enjoy in the U.S.  And this is coming from someone who has lived in Utah for the past four years.  It was so refreshing to see an even mix of all different races.  There were Hispanic kids playing with Asian kids, interracial couples with their halfie children, and even some Polynesian people!  My favorite moment of the whole day occurred when a funny little black boy approached an elderly Asian couple and started making silly faces at them.  The Asian couple laughed, the boy laughed, and I wept with patriotism.  I knew I would never see that in Jena.

5. We have a dang good national anthem.  On a seriously patriotic note, I was touched to watch all the military people stand at attention while "The Star Spangled Banner" played before the fireworks show.  I particularly enjoyed watching one man try to look solemn and reverent while simultaneously attempting to discipline his rowdy kids.  While I stood there, I thought of how the national anthem plays at BYU every evening while the flag is retired.  You're supposed to stop walking and talking until it's done.  Whenever I have the misfortune of being outside during this occurrence, I usually keep walking to my destination and try to avoid the judgmental glances coming my way.  I don't hate America, but I feel like people who stop and gaze misty-eyed in the general direction of the flag are just doing it for show.  I don't need to prove my patriotism to anyone.  And yet I'm writing a blog post about it.  Anway, when I stood for the national anthem at Vogelweh, it was not for show.  Something about being out of the good old US of A has made me realize that I really am a patriot.  I'm exceedingly grateful that I hail from the sweet land of liberty.  I'm still not going to stop for the national anthem at BYU, though.

God bless Amurrca.  I miss you.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ode to Nickolas Pickolas

Well, today my Old Man got even older.  That's right friends, Nickolas Pickolas has reached the ripe old age of six and twenty.  In honor of the anniversary of his birth, I have compiled a list of the reasons why I'm rather partial to him.  I hope you do not find it nauseating.

1. He has a beard.  This is desirable not only because it makes him look rugged, but also because it's fun to watch people get their panties in a twist about it.  Like this one time after a choir concert when a couple of elderly women came up to him and asked, "So, why the beard?" His sage reply: "I don't know, this stuff just grows out of my face!"  Classic.

2. He uses his brain.  This may sound obvious at first, but if you ponder a little more you will realize that we perform all kinds of rote tasks whilst our brains are totally disengaged.  I can't count how many times he's steered me into the obviously shorter of two lines, while everyone else is inexplicably causing a huge backup in one line only.  The other day, we went to a ropes course for a young adult activity (it was an institute activity, so we were allowed to be there.  But we go to lots of YSA stuff too because practically everyone our age is single and what else are we supposed to do, stare lovingly into each others' eyes?).  There were several different courses to choose from, and we decided to try The Most Difficult Ropes Course in Germany.  They actually charge you if you want to quit and need to be rescued, because without the fee the employees would be rescuing people all the day long.  Undaunted, we took up the challenge.  It began with this awful rope wall, and some could not make it to the top.  Well, I'm a bit of a monkey*, so I got to the top fairly quickly, although my muscles were screaming at me.  Then it was Nick's turn.  The other guy up there with me plainly stated that he didn't think Nick could do it.  Well he did!  And how?  By being a smartypants.  He came up with a way to hook his arms through the ropes that made getting up a lot easier.  Nick then proceeded to find lots of clever ways to cheat our way through this ropes course of death.  In the end, we triumphed and gloated at our accomplishment.  I feel no less triumphant that we cheated, because we used intelligence and muscle.  Moral of the story: brains will always win out over brawn.  This is why Nick is always saying he'll be the one to stick to in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

3. He's always coming up with strategies for suriving in the event of a zombie apocalypse.  This makes for great conversations and vivid mental pictures.

4. He's gotten me to expand my horizons.  This includes things like getting me to jump into waterfalls, but it's more than that.  He has gotten me to take a good, hard look at why I believe what I do and at what my true motivations are.  He's helping me to grow up, make decisions, and be more assertive in life.  Well, he better, since he insisted on robbing my cradle.  He's also breaking down that prejudice toward the Democratic party that I, as the product of two Republican people, inevitably hold in some degree.  It couldn't have been that strong to begin with if I married a Democrat though, right?

5. He's really good at using the internet to stalk people.  This has come in handy many a time.

6. He sticks it to the hypocrites.  In a church culture full of facades, Nick tells it like it is.  He does not pretend to believe something he doesn't, he will openly question doctrine and policy, and he isn't one to publicize his righteousness.  I get the impression that some people think he's apostate (apparently his family is jokingly called The Heretics in his home ward).  He is critical of BYU dress and grooming standards (see beard, above) because it encourages judging by one's outward appearance and, therefore, alienation.  He's all about honesty and getting your heart in the right place.  He understands that making mistakes doesn't make someone a bad person (he usually likes people better once he learns about their problems, because then they seem more "real").  He recently shocked the members of our branch by openly telling them that he doesn't believe in blessing food.  He thinks saying a prayer of thanks is well and good, but has noted that there is no scriptural precedent for blessing food (unless it's being miraculously multiplied or is being used for an ordinance).  Well, our friends did not like this, and proceeded to pray over the Texas sheet cake again, because apparently his opinion invalidated his prayer.  I laugh heartily over this occurrence now, but I seem to remember it was not quite as hilarious at the time.  Is it just me, or is discomforting people with unorthodoxy much more fun in retrospect?

7. He's a self-proclaimed feminist.  I had no intention of getting married within the next five years or so, but how many male Mormon feminist scientists with fantastic tenor voices do you think there are out there?  Lately he's been encouraging me to think outside my career path tunnel vision, maybe even about going to medical school.  How many BYU students do you think want their wives to be physicians?  I just had an imagination of a faux-hawked BYU undergraduate waving a Family Proclamation in the air and saying that it's a sin for a wife to make more money than her husband.  Heh.

8.  He's got good hair genes.  I flatter myself that I, too, have good hair genes.  This bodes well for any future offspring we might have.

9. He's got a cool family.  I "finally" agreed to marry him after we spent a weekend with his family. What could be better than having a biologist dad and a feminist mom for in-laws?  'Twas a match made in heaven.

Alright, to make it fair, I'll list a few attributes that do not contribute to my partiality:

1. His sleeping habits.  Snoring, talking, blanket hogging, elbowing me in the face, you name it.  Plus when he sleeps he turns into scary sleepy zombie Nick, not at all like the awake version.  There are a lot of references to zombies in this post.  If you know Nick, this should not be surprising.

2. His eating habits.  He's not a messy eater like me (I try so hard, yet all the bread crumbs still manage to get all over the place).  But he doesn't know how to enjoy his food.  He just snarfs down as much as he can as fast as he can, I'm pretty sure without even tasting it.  And then he can't bear the mention of food until he's hungry again.  For a budding foodie like me, this can be distressing.  I see the eating of food as an experience to be savored.  He sees it as a means of staying alive.  Except when it comes to Hostess brand pastries (gag me).

3. His social ineptitude.  Somehow he did not learn how to say please, how to not play games on his phone during dinner with friends, or how to not tell the missionary that her dad sounds like an idiot.  We're working on it.

As you can see, the positives outweigh the negatives.  So I guess I'll keep him.  Why do you like Nickolas Pickolas?

*One of these days I will post about evolutionary theory and will discuss how I literally am a bit of a monkey.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Chiasmus of Blather

I had an epiphany while writing this post.  I realized that the flow of my thoughts often conforms to a chiastic structure.  I start on a topic, get sidetracked several times, and then have to backtrack to finish each tangent.  Since time and a patient audience are usually lacking, the chiasmus is rarely completed. This is precisely why I have a blog now!  Without further ado, a torrent of tangential thoughts that testify of my thought process:

Last Sunday I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting.  I actually enjoy speaking in church, mainly because I get to bloviate for at least ten minutes and everyone has to listen to me.  Well, at least they can't interrupt me.  So I was excited at the prospect of sharing my pearls of wisdom with the members of our little branch here in Germany.  And then I looked at the date of my speaking assignment.  July 24th.  And my heart sank.  Pioneer day.  I always hate the 24th of July sacrament meetings because invariably some old guy gets up and rambles about his pioneer ancestor no one cares about.  This even happened in a singles ward once, complete with old guy.  I was initially dreading this subject, because not only do I have zero pioneer ancestry, but I really don't hold any allegiance to the pioneers.  It's great that they sacrificed so much for their beliefs.  But the pioneers have no saving power.  Pioneers are not a principle of the Gospel.  Also the Church was a bit different back then and it kind of freaks me out sometimes.  For these reasons, I prefer not to worship them.  I fear that sometimes people make pioneers into false gods.  I was hoping to talk about oh, I don't know, maybe Jesus or something.  Instead I have to talk about dead polygamists.

But here's my actual topic: We are all pioneers.  Phew!  Not a single dead polygamist need be mentioned!  Are we not all pioneers on our sojourn through the lone and dreary world?  Do we not all have tests of faith, patience, and sacrifice?  Are we not all working to build up the kingdom of God (especially in a tiny branch in a godless nation like Germany)?  The majority of the members of our branch are converts.  I think I'm going to go along this route.  Husband suggested I just talk about Jesus with a little pioneers thrown in.  I'm not sure how to do this, but I'll think of something.

I also may try to work in this quotation by Brigham Young:

The worst fear that I have about this people [the saints] is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell.  This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of persecution, and be true. My greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.

I may do this because it's a good contrast between the trials faced by pioneers and modern trials.  The difficulties we encounter today are different from, but no less challenging than those endured by the early saints.  Then again, perhaps I won't use this because the Jena saints are significantly more humble than those greedy business majors at BYU.

I attempted to teach the principle behind Brigham Young's quotation in gospel doctrine this last year.  A bunch of guys started going off about how it's okay to seek after wealth if you seek it to do good.  They were bringing up examples of wealthy members of the Church, like the Marriotts, who are really good people and donate money to charity and such.  That scripture in Jacob is true, but I think most people use it as an excuse to feed their greed.  How many of us really only want to gain wealth so we can give it all away?  And finding examples of individuals who did it right is the worst.  Just because another person's heart is in the right place doesn't mean yours is.

This makes me think of the doctrine of Christian liberty.  You may do whatever you want that is not addressed by the scriptures or other valid revelatory sources (prophets etc.).  However, if something you do that is neither good nor bad results in someone else sinning, maybe you shouldn't do it.  This concept is explained in 1 Corinthians 8, where Paul talks about the idolatrous temples built to the Roman gods.  People used to like to go visit these temples because they gave out free meat that had been sacrificed to the patron god or goddess of the temple.  Paul explains that it is not the least bit wrong to go eat meat offered to idols, because we know they're figments of someone's imagination (plus meat is yummy and expensive).  However, these temples also had free prostitutes to go along with the free meat.  This is a potential problem for those who lack willpower.  If you can partake of the meat but not the prostitutes, go for it . . . unless your friend sees you hieing to the pagan temple, follows you up there, and ends up getting a little more flesh than was intended.  In that case, Paul says you stand condemned for causing your friend to sin.

Here's where things get a little murky.  I dislike the thought that I am responsible for the sins of another person.  What about agency?  Did the friend not choose to indulge in the prostitution?  Was that not his choice?  That reminds me of this quotation by Dallin H. Oaks to young women: "Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you."  Sometimes I like this statement, and sometimes I dislike it. I dislike it because it seems to place the blame for one person's sins on the head of another.  This way of thinking can lead to a horrible mindset, such as rape myth acceptance ("she's such a skank, she was going to get raped eventually", "that's what you get when you go jogging late at night", etc.).  On the other hand, I sometimes approve of this comment because it subtly calls out the fact that many women want to be objectified.  Looking at it this way illustrates the higher law: that choosing to dress modestly should be because you respect yourself, not be because "those poor boys can't help themselves" (again with the negation of agency).

I suppose that choosing not to go get free meat at the idolatrous temples could be considered the higher law (the lesser law being that if there's no doctrine against it, it's okay).  That's how Paul portrays it.  But I see a different higher law here: charity.  If you choose to abstain from the meat at the temples, it should be because you love your friend and don't want him to be unhappy.  It should not be because you fear being punished for your friend's sin.

That doesn't really relate to the few people out there who manage to be wealthy and righteous.  You can't tell them to stop being wealthy lest they lead people astray.  You also can't tell them to be an example of the pride cycle so people won't try to emulate them.  Let's try to be honest with ourselves about your motives instead.  Do I really want to buy a mansion,  put a bunch of orphans in it and feel warm and fuzzy?  Or do I want to buy a mansion, put a bunch of expensive crap in it and feel superior?  Am I really going to need a seven-figure salary to take care of my family?  Is that underground basketball court absolutely necessary?

To finish off the story of my Sunday school lesson: I responded by saying that Jesus said it's easier to put a camel through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, so if you want to take on those odds, be my guest.  Needless to say, the rationalization promptly ceased.

As for my Pioneer Day talk: any suggestions?  Has anyone ever heard a Pioneer Day talk that didn't put everyone to sleep?  Or included actual doctrine?  Or mentioned Jesus?  Dankeschön.

And there is a little insight into my brain for you all.  I'll try to be more concise and on-topic in the future.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why I Love Wikipedia

This post begins the saga that shall hereafter be dubbed "Things I Learned on Wikipedia".

I love Wikipedia and you should too.  There's power in having so much information at your fingertips.  I really don't know how people survived before Wikipedia.  Apparently some didn't; curiosity killed the cat you know.  If the cat had had access to Wikipedia, he could have just looked it up instead of ignorantly engaging in lethal activities.  I know there were encyclopedias before, but I defy anyone to find one half as comprehensive as Wikipedia (or as compact!).  Wikipedia is the fountain of knowledge.

I was taught in high school that Wikipedia is not a valid source of information.  I respectfully disagree with that opinion.  Do you know how many times I have utilized Wikipedia in my undergraduate education?  More than once an entire semester project was drawn from a Wikipedia article.

Example 1: Developmental Biology.  An eight page single-spaced original grant proposal?  Holy crap.  My life is over.  Uh, uh, choose an organ.  Okay, heart!  Wikipedia, don't fail me now.  Search heart development.  Result: big article on heart development!  Score!  Read article.  Find this sentence.  "Whether Dickkopf-1* and Nodal act directly on the cardiac mesoderm is the subject of research".  A question that has been researched (aka sources!) but does not have a conclusive answer?  Hallelujah!  Proceed to research topic and write paper, referring back to Wikipedia article multiple times a day.  Final grade: A.  Wikipedia wins.

Example 2: Readings in Biotechnology.  A ten page (mercifully double-spaced) review paper on pretty much anything I want.  Well, that's not too hard--gene therapy!  A great topic!  Hello, Wikipedia, my old friend!  What can you do for me today?  Wow, that's a really good summary of the development of gene therapy!  Look at all those references!  What's that, Professor?  More specific?  Alright, Wikipedia, I need your help again.  Gee, you reference two great studies of gene therapy for retinal disorders!  Add that one retinitis pigmentosa paper Fellowstudent referenced in class and we've got ourselves a topic!  Proceed to analyze the three papers (with numerous visits to you-know-where) and write the review.  Final grade: A.  Wikipedia wins.

Example 3: Bored to tears with nothing to do at work.  Wikipedia, I'm about to die of boredom!  Help meeee!  I've been wondering about the Equal Rights Amendment ever since I read that the LDS church was against it.  Search Equal Rights Amendment.  Wow, Wikipedia, you really knocked yourself out with this one!  Read article.  Notice it discusses the involvement of one Coretta Scott King.  Proceed to article on Ms. King.  Read article.  Wow, Wikipedia, this was one amazing woman!  Look at all the things she did to fight prejudice and promote peace!  Look at all of those awards she won, which you've so neatly organized at the bottom of the article!  Result: time passed pleasantly, boredom remitted, and role model found.  Wikipedia wins.

If I haven't yet converted you to Wikipedia, this surely will:

Nobody could say it better.  Love you, Wikipedia.

*Note: The protein Dickkopf-1 was named by a German scientist.  The name means "big head", because if you take this protein out of the system, the developing organism will have an abnormally large head.  And yes, it is pronounced "dick-off".  It is commonly referred to by its abbreviation, DKK1, for obvious reasons.  I was once reprimanded in a class for using its full name.  One American scientist presenting at a conference said, "Tell the Germans to consult me the next time they decide to name a protein I'm interested in."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hello World

I think usually a blog begins by discussing its reasons for existence.  So here are my reasons for entering the Bloggernacle, in no particular order:

1. I just got married, and apparently young married Mormon couples must start blogs.  Perhaps this makes for a convenient way to tell their extensive family they are expecting, which often happens soon after the nuptials.  Seeing as I have a very small family and do not plan on becoming a parent within the next decade or so, this scenario does not apply to me.  Nevertheless.

2. I have been inspired by the like-minded Mormon feminists whose blogs I've been frequenting since my move to Deutschland.  There's been a lot of downtime at work; blog reading helps kill time and boredom.

3. I always have a million things to say.  Hence the name of this blog.  Anyone who knows me knows that I often get sidetracked in my thoughts and then say, "what was I thinking about just now?" Unfortunately, since none of my associates have mind-reading abilities, some of my best thoughts get lost in the cosmos.  Nevermore!

4. My brand-spanking-new husband often responds to my snarkier commentary with, "that's why you should have a blog."  This makes me believe that some people may actually want to read what I have to say.  Then again, perhaps the larger populace isn't interested in the differences between Mendelian and additive genetic disorders.

5. Which brings me to another point: often my musings are met with apathy, boredom, or disgust.  This sometimes leads to sadness and/or embarrassment on my part.  By saving these less savory thoughts for the virtual world, no one has to sit through any unpalatable discourses.  You can just stop reading, and I'll never know!  Win-win.

Now for a couple things that are not reasons I am starting this blog:

1. To tell the world about my daily life.  Well, maybe a little bit, but mostly my comings-and-goings will be tidbits within a larger context.  If you want to know about our adventures in Germany, please see Hubby's blog.  He's good with pictures and such.

2. To assert how perfect I am/my marriage is/my life is.  I'll just tell it like it is.  No Seriously, So Blessed! here (moment of silence for the now-deceased genius blog).

I conclude this first post by extending a word of caution: this blog, and the things contained herein, may be exceedingly random, revolutionary, ridiculous, heretical, and generally outlandish.  It is not for the faint of heart nor closed of mind.  If you consider yourself prudish, judgmental, or in favor of sexism in any way, you'd better just close the browser.  For the rest of you, enjoy the ride!