first fig

my candle burns at both ends…

Category: mr. mraynes

The Truth About Pop Music and Feminism

Cross-Posted at the Exponent

This past Saturday, mr. mraynes and I watched High Fidelity for the first time. About fifteen minutes into the movie, the John Cusack character asks, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This question resonated with me because I have recently been asking myself a similar question:

Am I feminist because I’m discontented, or am I discontented because I’m a feminist?

Since leaving my job, moving to a new state and becoming a stay-at-home mother, I have felt a level of unhappiness that truly surprised me. I expected the transition to be hard but I did not expect to feel so vulnerable all of the time. My self-esteem completely collapsed in the space of two weeks and I am left feeling overwhelmingly helpless. Things are starting to get better, I am settling into a routine and I’m sure that with time, I will even enjoy being at home. But that doesn’t negate the very real fact that changing my fairly progressive lifestyle to a traditional one has wreaked havoc on my emotions, my relationships and my general happiness with life.

My question above is a proverbial chicken and egg question and really one of assigning blame; whose fault is it for my disillusionment with domesticity? The answer may seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Let’s analyze the first part of my question, am I feminist because I’m discontented? This begs the question, what in my life makes me discontented enough to turn to feminism? Well, the lack of quantifiable equality within the church and its’ rhetoric on gender causes me a great deal of pain and frustration. The invisibility of women in scripture, doctrine and bureaucracy is problematic at best. The diminishing of women to certain roles by Mormon culture echoes the objectification of women found in our broader society. We, as Mormons and members of society, should do better. This is why I am a feminist, to document, analyze and hopefully make better the small circles in which I travel.

If we are getting more specific to my life, I hate the inequitable division of domestic labor that mr. mraynes and I have now. Yes, he comes home and does the dishes but it doesn’t equal the multiple times I am on my hands and knees picking up cheerios each day. I hate feeling dependent on my husband to cover my basic needs. If I was to look at our relationship through the lens of academic feminism, the power dynamic in our relationship has changed dramatically. Money is power; before we were both financially contributing to our family, now I rely on the good will of mr. mraynes to see his money as “our money.” My knowledge of feminist theory is what I use to empower myself, it is my safety net in case I ever have to remind mr. mraynes not to be a misogynistic jerk. (I should note that this whole paragraph is horribly unfair to mr. mraynes who, himself, has been the stay-at-home dad and who has been nothing but kind, supportive and an egalitarian angel throughout this transition and our whole marriage.)

This brings me to the second half of my question, am I discontented because I’m a feminist? This is a hard question for me to want to answer honestly. Certainly if I didn’t have the framework of Friedan, Steinem, de Beauvoir, Toscano, it would be harder for me to articulate the gender inequities that I saw in the church, society or my individual life. I guess the question is, would I see them at all if I wasn’t a feminist? I can’t answer this question because I have never not been a feminist. I grew up in an egalitarian home and, although my feminism grew from that point, my expectation from life has always been equality. But in my dark moments (like the one that caused me to vow never to set foot in the Denver Public Library again), I really have to wonder, would I be happier if I always had the expectation of a traditional lifestyle and wanted nothing else? The “grass is always greener” side of me says yes, after all, Seriously So Blessed isn’t parodying nothing.

Does feminism make women happy is another proverbial question, one that has had lots of heated discussion already bestowed upon it. (See here, hereand here for a few examples). This is the conclusion I’ve come to: if feminism makes people unhappy it is because it illuminates all of the nasty parts of reality. It is much nicer to pretend inequality doesn’t exist or to not care if it does because it doesn’t affect you. I understand that this is a personal decision for every woman and man to make and I don’t judge anybody for not wanting to live a life where they see sexism, oppression and abuse all around them. But the truth is, these things do exist and some of us are going to see and speak it even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

In the end, attempts to place blame, whether it be on feminism, the church or leprechauns, are always red herrings. Truth is complex and often it is easier to blame an other than to be comfortable with that complexity. I am currently trying to accept my own truth; yes, I am discontent because I’m a feminist, but also because reality sucks and I am pre-disposed to be melancholy. But I gain nothing by blaming anybody or anything for my unhappiness; all I can do is work hard to find some measure of joy in the place that I am.

Dear Readers

I’m sorry I have been slacking on this blog recently, it has been a crazy couple of weeks. Here are my excuses:

First- we went on vacation to New Mexico where I had very little access to the internet.

Second- mr. mraynes graduated and so now he is dr. mraynes.

Third- we had all sorts of family in town and my attention was diverted.

Fourth- the IT department blocked most of the internet so I can’t update or even read from

Fifth- I have had writer’s block.

Sixth- and anxiety.

Are those good enough? Am I forgiven? I promise that I have a couple of really great posts floating around in my mind, including a suprising weekly wacko. Just bear with me until I get my act together. Until then, here’s a poem that I love.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver

Can I whine for a minute?

I am still feeling burned out. Last week I really wanted to write on my blog every day but every time I went to go post, I felt a wave of immense tiredness wash over my body.

Things are really hard right now. My job is depressing and apparently I have compassion fatigue. It’s no wonder when none of the women I work with can get jobs, no longer have access to subsidized childcare and have had their cash benefits cut by 30%. All of this means that none of these poor women and children will be able to be self-sufficient and obtain safe housing. It isn’t fair. Also, mr.mraynes and the kids are sick. I am now feeling sick. The economy sucks, effectively limiting the job prospects of mr.mraynes. And there just doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

What’s a feminist girl to do? (other than be incredibly grateful for a loving, supportive family, a secure job and a comfortable life)…Why, eat her body weight in carbs in a futile effort to self-soothe. Here is what I ate yesterday:

  • 1 bowl of organic chocolate grahm cereal
  • 1 doughnut
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 brownie
  • 2 large scoops of cheesy funeral potatos
  • 1 bowl of chili
  • 1 bag of fruit snacks
  • 1 rice crispy treat
  • 3 chocolate kisses
  • 6 dinner rolls
  • 1 New York strip steak
  • 1 sweet potato w/ caramel sauce and marshmellows
  • 1 ice cream sandwhich

When I gave tihs list to mr. mraynes, he looked at me with horror in his eyes and suggested that I not get on the bathroom scale anytime soon.

I’m still resolved to post more frequently but I’m thinking about lowering my standards of what is post-worthy. So, any tips in dealing with pre- spring, bad economy doldrums? Also, I am taking requests for post topics.

The Woman Without a Shadow

cross posted at The Exponent

mr. mraynes and I are opera geeks. I spent the first years of my college career training to be an opera singer; mr. mraynes has spent the majority of his doctoral program immersed in opera scores, learning how to conduct them. Where a lot of couples have a song taken from pop culture, our song was “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde. Every major moment in our relationship is connected to an aria or opera. Dating…Cosi Fan Tutte. Falling in love… “Liebestod” . Engagement…Turandot. Marriage… “Morgen” . Birth of Baby Monster… “Song to the Moon” . Birth of Baby Valkyrie…Brunhilde’s Immolation. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist sharing these moments with you.)

And so it should not have surprised me that the first thing mr. mraynes said to me after getting an IUD was, “Ahh, die frau ohne schatten,” meaning ”the woman without a shadow.” Now for those not familiar with the Strauss opera, Die Frau Ohne Schatten is a fairytale of love blessed through the birth of a child. As lovely as this sounds and despite the absolutely breathtaking music, this opera is a feminist’s nightmare. You see, a woman without a shadow is a woman who can’t have children…making her not a real woman and therefore, not human. Throw in a little domestic violence and the belief that women are chattel and you have three hours of anti-woman fun.

At the beginning of the opera we learn that the Emperor of the Southeastern Islands will be turned to stone unless is wife, the daughter of the King of spirits, becomes human and gains a shadow. Of course, it is hard to feel sorry for the Emperor when we learn that he captured the Empress and believes that she is “for my soul and for my eyes and for my hands and for my heart. She is the booty of all booty without end.” Despite being captured and married against her will, the Empress goes in search of a shadow so her husband won’t be petrified. The Empress and her nurse meet a human woman who resents her life as a domestic slave to her husband and doesn’t want to be a mother because she fears children will further enslave her. Long story short, the nurse convinces the woman to sell her shadow to the Empress. When the woman’s husband finds out, he threatens to kill her because without her shadow, without the ability to bear children, she is useless to him. Luckily for the wife, the Empress refuses the shadow, saying she will not save her husband at the expense of another man’s happiness. This act of self-sacrifice allows the Empress to gain her own shadow. The opera ends with the two couples united and fertile, singing the praises of their humanity.

As a feminist, there is so much in this opera that I find objectionable. I resent the belief that my only value as a woman lies in my ability to bear children. This belief can be found around the world in almost every culture. Historically, women have not been allowed to become fully actualized individuals, not allowed to explore the things that would bring them the most happiness. Instead women are forced into a lifestyle they wouldn’t necessarily choose. For women who can’t have children, there is the feeling of failure on top of the overwhelming sorrow that comes along with infertility. Women who are childless, whether by choice or not, are often seen as dangerous and are at increased risk for emotional and physical violence.
Of course, the pendulum can swing too far the other way as well. In cultures where maternity is glorified, female subordination often goes hand in hand. The idea of the angel in the home, while romantic, only serves to infantilize women and take away their ability to be agents unto themselves. A doll’s house existence is no existence.

Second wave feminists worked hard to give women like me the choice to become mothers and also follow our dreams of self-fulfillment. But socialization dies hard. When mr. mraynesreferred to my shadowless status, I felt guilty. I cried while the IUD was being implanted. Even now, when I think about that small piece of plastic floating around in my uterus I have to fight off the urge to reach inside and yank it out. I admit that I have felt like less of a woman knowing that my fertility is compromised. Intellectually I know this is ridiculous and I am ashamed of myself. I have no right to feel this way. I have two babies and though I have chosen to see them as the crowning achievement of my life, I don’t want my choice perverted by some outdated notion that my worth lies exclusively in the fruitfulness of my womb. Getting an IUD was absolutely the right thing to do; it was right for my marriage, for my children, for our current financial and life situation and for my own state of mind.

And yet…I am haunted by my shadow.

Family Blog

So mr. mraynes decided that we needed a family blog. If you are interested, come and check us out.

Reasons why I love mr. mraynes

(In no particular order or importance)

  1. He lets me call him mr. mraynes.
  2. He never complains that I legally changed my name to his name but continue to use my maiden name for just about everything.
  3. He likes my nose, even though he agrees that Adam Banghert had a point when he called me “butt nose” in the 7th grade.
  4. He loves babies. I cringe a little each time he pinches Baby Valkyrie’s cheeks, sticks his finger in her mouth to feel her gums or kisses her to the point where she can’t breathe and starts crying, but I think his love for babies is really cute.
  5. He doesn’t believe in gender roles.
  6. He loves to snuggle and likes it best when I snuggle into his bum.
  7. He is single-minded and incredibly persistent.
  8. His sperm makes really cute babies.
  9. He supports me in all of my pursuits…except for the art projects I do with Baby Monster, he hates those.
  10. He lets me rail against “the patriarchy” and never gets offended.
  11. He tells me he loves me at least 50 times a day.
  12. He makes me think.
  13. He puts up with my neuroses.
  14. He makes me feel warm inside.
  15. He has allowed me to love more fully and deeply than I ever knew was possible.

I love you, darling. Happy Anniversary.

How a Feminist Falls in Love

I have been asked on more than one occasion how I managed to fall in love. I think when people ask this question, they’re not so much making a statement on my personality qualities but rather my general cynicism towards patriarchal institutions such as marriage. I think it is a fair question so I thought I would share the moment my feminist self fell in love.

I was a full blown feminist well before I met my husband. I had plans of going to Oxford, studying women’s history and becoming a brilliant academic. Falling in love was not in my life plan. I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty details of our courtship; it involves a lot of flakiness on my part, a hero’s share of patience by DH and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Suffice it to say, I knew by the second date that DH was perfect and I spent the next five months trying unsuccessfully to get rid of him.

An effective tactic that I often used to scare away BYU boys was going on frequent feminist rants. It was always amazing to me that as soon as I started talking about equality and how Jesus was a feminist the conversation/date/relationship was over.

I tried doing this to DH but he agreed with me and found my thoughts refreshing. When my soft feminism didn’t work, I pulled out my pro-choice, socialist, anti-patriarchy stump speeches hoping that would do the trick but DH only found me more fascinating and invigorating.

In May of 2005, we went to go see three one act plays about Mormon women performed at BYU. During the intermission I was flipping through the program and noticed an advertisement for one of the local jewelry stores in the Provo area. It was your typical engagement ring ad, a flaxen haired beauty with a dreamy look in her eyes bathed in warm light. What got me was the caption, “Show her how much you really love her.” Of course, the only way to show the girl of your dreams that you really love her is to buy a 3 ct. princess cut diamond ring.

This presented the perfect opportunity for me to make some comments about the materialistic nature of the marriage market which, of course, morphed into a tirade about the misogynistic symbolism of heterosexual marriage. It went something like this:

“The engagement ring is the western world’s answer to a bride price. It symbolically says that a man has paid a price for a woman and that she now belongs to him. The ring is a symbol of ownership and objectification that women wear to proclaim that they belong to somebody. With that ring, a man has bought a woman’s body, her sexuality, reproduction and domestic labor. It is blood money that requires women to give up their individuality and become domestic and sexual servants.”

Without missing a beat, DH looked at me and said, “Oh M*, that is ridiculous!”

Usually DH would nod in agreement or ignore my more militant feminist snipes but this time he proceeded to give me his perfectly reasonable and romantic view of the engagement ring, something he saw as a gift of love, freely given.

I was delighted by his response; not because I necessarily agreed with him but because he hadn’t let me walk all over him. I had had other boyfriends who always acquiesced to my opinions or, even worse, thought that my opinions weren’t worth having a conversation about. I didn’t want to be in a relationship where I was placed on a pedestal for my intellect or divine womanhood. Likewise, I didn’t want to be with a man who thought my ideas were silly and not worth responding to. I knew that with DH, we might not always agree but he respected me enough as a person to engage with me as an equal.

When I look back at our courtship, I always pinpoint this moment as the one that made me fall in love. I was looking for a man that I could be equals with; three years later, I know I made the right choice.

As for engagement rings, I still think that they are a type of bride price but my opinion has moderated somewhat. Did I get an engagement ring when the time came? Yep…but it was also my wedding band which is a symbol I can totally get behind.