READER POST: Buttermilk, powdered sugar, cream cheese: the cashier is bagging my Target purchases when I hear a familiar male voice, a neighborhood friend’s. “You must be getting ready to make something delicious for conference weekend,” he says. “Are you excited to listen?”
Before I can answer, he starts talking about how eager he is to hear the prophet’s voice. I smile, swipe my REDCard, gather my bag, and leave, voiceless.
His is just another in a long line of Mormon male voices I heard this week, this horrible week before General Conference, voices trying to tell me something about the choices I make in my life, what they believe I should believe, which parts of women’s experiences are valid or valuable.
That stereotypical Mormon male voice—the one of leadership. Its intonation and timbre, its cadence and construction—the surety of it. There is no doubt, when a such a Mormon male speaks that he will be listened to, his ideas given weight, his “suggestions” followed. There is so often pride there, and condescension, and judgement; love, when it is given, seems begrudged. After hearing decades worth of dissonant messages from those Mormon male voices, messages that told me what to feel shame for, how I fail, and which of my ambitions were misplaced, my body responds in a physical way. My heart pounds, my throat tightens up, my legs fill with adrenaline. I’ve been avoiding that voice by skipping out on sacrament meeting almost every Sunday.
But this week, the week before general conference, the week when a certain nominee becomes a Justice of the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault—this week, the Mormon male voice seems inescapable. The specter of the upcoming General Conference, so beloved by my male neighbor, becomes mixed for me with the testimony of that nominee’s accuser. A devastating realization hits me as I drive home: maybe Mormon men with power are no different from any other powerful men. Are the leaders of my faith the same as the leaders of my country? Have they, too, forgotten that their purpose is to serve others and not themselves?
Certainly, the sound of their voices are the same, I realize as I listen to one long-serving Utah senator speak about the need for respect with contempt in his voice. The dissonance is overwhelming, not just between his tone and his words, but also between his actions and his knowledge. Perhaps it is naive of me to expect a politician to be respectful, open-minded, willing to listen simply because he is also a Mormon, but I do. I expect every Mormon to stand as a witness of God at all times and places. But as the Mormon men of the Senate vote, I hear nothing of Christ in their voices, nothing of the Savior who healed and blessed.
Instead, the male voices are dismissive, patronizing. The compatibility of male political voices and male Mormon voices, the way Mormon politicians join their voices with other powerful male voices and not the abused… This is sheer spiritual cacophony to me.
This is why I lost my voice when my neighbor asked me about listening to General Conference. He is not the person I need to tell my decision to, however. The person I need to tell is myself, and I do that in my car, weeping tears of relief, with no guilt or shame:
I will not listen to conference.
Wherever I go over Conference weekend, however, I’ll know those male Mormon voices are there. In the phone calls and texts of friends asking me what I think of this talk or that. From the radios of people’s cars at stop lights. On the cell phone of a man I pass while hiking.
Their voices tell me that I should distrust “the agenda” of homosexuals. That my place is at home and that I had too few children. They tell me that I should be kind while some of them speak cruelly to an audience they know holds people barely hanging on. I’m told that science isn’t the place to find truth, only the teachings of these white, powerful men. I am told what I am allowed to call myself and what I am not.
And I am told to be silent. Of course, men with power will speak carefully. “Women, be silent” might not be well-received as well as “Women, we care about you. We want to protect you from negative influences and impure thoughts. We invite you to fast from public discourse for 10 days.” That’s the voice of my religion.
I didn’t listen to general conference. But what I heard was a reverberation. Mormon men of power are no different from other men with power. They use their voices to divide, to cause doubt in the name of ending doubt, and to spread despair. They are powerful men who fail to represent me—not in Congress and not in Conference.
The world and the church spoke to me in the same voice this week and showed that men with power use their voices without regard for the voice of Christ. The actions I can take against their power is limited: I can listen or not listen.
Who will I listen to? Those white male voices that spur anxiety in my body? The brave, scorched voices of women who are victims but not silent? My own voice, telling me I can put down the weight of shame, regret, and sadness those male voices have shored upon my shoulders?
My fingers shake a little. My heart pounds just a bit. But not with fear or anger. My choice is this: my voice must matter. I must find my words, and someone to listen to them.
Maybe that will be you.
BIO: Amy is a Utah County native who’s always felt a bit on the fringes of her LDS faith, but perseveres (usually). She is a librarian, a mother, a runner, a hiker, a wife, and a person who best experiences the world by writing about it. And reading, of course—poetry and novels and anything that’s well-written.
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