HAVE A SEAT, BUT DON'T GET THE CHAIR YOURSELF



When I dropped my oldest off at her church class on Sunday, we were still a bit early. The first part of her class is held in a big room, with several children meeting together to have a special devotional and sing before splitting up into separate classes. There were no other children there yet, just a few leaders setting up chairs.

S asked if she could help out, eager to assist. She helped to straighten a few rows of chairs and I stayed with her to make sure she wasn't in the way. One of the leaders surveyed the rows and decided they could use a few more chairs. S asked if she could help grab some. I told her she could help me carry one, to which she responded that she knew she could carry it herself.

So she did.

She was carrying it a total of fifteen feet, at most. She wasn't struggling to carry it. She wasn't in the way. No one was in any danger of tripping over her.

And yet, two people, two different women, in the forty-five seconds it took her to carry the chair from Point A to Point B, commented:

"That chair is too heavy for you."

"You can't do that by yourself."

I responded with an immediate, "She's strong," and, "She's got it," each time. Because she is strong and she was completely capable. Beyond that, she was willing and happy to help.

But all of that seems to get lost somewhere in our church buildings; in our church community. There, qualities of strength and ability and willingness are seen second to her being a girl, if they're seen at all.

I continued to think about it after I left, bothered, and quickly came to see a common theme emerge: Mormon women and chairs just don't seem to mix.

It seems ridiculous, I know, but for every large gathering held in our church buildings, whether it's a meeting filled to capacity that overflows from the chapel to the adjoining gym, or a performance or event during the week, it is the men and boys of the congregation that are called on to set up the chairs. It is the men and boys that are expected to take them down.

When Jason was a youth leader, before we had kids, I would often join him. Mainly because I wanted to help hurry things along, and also because it would have been incredibly dumb for me to just stand there watching. Without fail, I would get a steady barrage of comments and questions as to why I was helping. I never could get an answer when I asked why the young women hadn't been asked to help, though.

And let's not forget the times I've shown up to help someone move or shovel sandbags. You would think I was attempting to lift a small car by myself instead of a box of dishes. Never mind that, often, most of the men there were really not in any shape to be doing any sort of lifting.

But that's the thing. They're men, and as men, they lift things. Women, well- women lift tablecloths.

Oh, and refreshments.

And babies. But not chairs.

Once, a leader in the women's organization of my church stood, tearfully, to tell us we didn't have to put our chairs away after class, because the men were finally going to come do it for us. She went on to say that the men of our congregation just hadn't realized that was something we, as women, needed them to do. I put my chair away myself that day.

My issue isn't really with chairs, just so we're clear.

My issue is with a problem so deeply rooted that chairs and the men who lift them and the women who refuse to only begin to hint at it.

There is a lot that I have accepted for myself as a woman in my church, knowing it is problematic, but not necessarily speaking out against it; more or less just letting things go. I cannot, in good conscience, allow that for my children, though.

They deserve better.

They deserve what is right.

When a person is willing and able to help, why should their service not be readily accepted?

When a four-year-old little girl is eager and excited to set up chairs for her class, what right does anyone at all have to tell her she's incapable of doing what she's already in the middle of doing?

The fact that not only one, but two women would stop to tell her she couldn't do it and that it was too hard for her is indicative of the internalized misogyny that seems entirely unshakable for so many. Wide acceptance of a damaging mentality does not make it any less detrimental. The fact that so many women allow themselves to be treated as less than, without even realizing it, complicates and perpetuates.

What does it speak to that I cannot trust that my daughter will be lifted up and encouraged when I send her to church?

What does it speak to that I am already doing damage control for the messages being conveyed to her there?

In time, she will move on from her Primary classes to attend class with the 12-18 year-old girls in our congregation, and from there, the main women's organization. It should be expected that she will support and inspire others, and be buoyed up as well. It should be expected that, even if she were struggling, someone would help her rather than point out that the task is too difficult before walking away.

Women need women. We need to support each other and encourage each other. It is a powerful thing to be able to join together in love, strength, and encouragement; in the embodiment of what Christ taught and emulated.

The inability to do that is sad. It is wrong. It allows for existing misogynistic cycles to persist and permeate and poison.

I can teach my daughters to be strong. I can teach them they have infinite value, that their ideas are important, that the work they choose to do matters. I can teach them their worth is anchored in something that cannot be shaken. I do.

I can teach them that the world might try to tear them down, but through courage, and determination, and Christ, they will stay standing; they will rise. I do.

I should not have to teach them that it will happen within the walls of their church. Yet-until things change- I do.

2 comments:

  1. Wow I needed to hear this today. As a single parent I have had to learn to do a lot of things.. Thank you

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    1. I'm so late responding to this- I'm sorry. I can only imagine the extra layer that you have to deal with. Sending you strength and support!

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