Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dating in Utah: Just Like a Woman

Hey everyone, hope that the last few months haven't been too lonely without my blog, but I'm sure you've managed to get by. So this time around I wanted to address a few issues that have really on my mind when it comes to the culture of dating and to a lesser extent LDS culture in general. Recently, I was at a work conference addressing various issues of social work, including dealing with domestic violence and recovering abused teenage girls. I know, I'm already setting a really light mood but it comes with the territory and really it can be applied to a more general setting. While I was sitting in the conference, the presenter asked the question what does it mean to be a girl to you to the class. Mind you, I'm a social worker so the vast majority of the class were women who responded rather candidly to the question and their answers really caught me off guard. Response were shouted out throughout the room and the presenter began to fill with words like insecure, manipulative, catty, needy, attention hungry, slutty, impulsive, overly-emotional, and irrational. Occasionally, words like beautiful, respectful, loving, and caring would be added between the lines but the vast majority of the words on the board were negative connotations about what it means to be a woman and these were words coming from women. I couldn't get past the fact that when asked about how they viewed themselves, the majority of the time negative stereotypes kept coming up. I thought to myself is this really how women feel about themselves? Is this how society has taught them to think of themselves? It left me with a sour taste in my mouth to say the least.
The first thing I want to say before I start my rant if you will is how much I respect women in general. Contrary to what stereotypes might teach you about yourself, you have immense value in my eyes and that's why I try to make sure that girls that I associate with and date feel comfortable with me. I feel like I've had great examples through family and friends throughout my life that have taught me that women deserve to be treated with respect. For all the negative stereotypes that can be thrown out to minimize the value of women in the world, it's impossible to change the fact that you're extremely giving, caring, loving and beautiful. Don't let society define who you are as something shallow or hollow, you are the crown jewel of God's creations. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I'm a perfect example of how to treat women or anything like that, I'm far from it, however I do believe that it never hurts to reiterate the point that there is so much good that women do for us that never gets acknowledged or praised, and instead of focusing on that, we spend our time focusing on the thought that they are needy, hormonal, emotional roller-coasters. Instead of focusing on the divinity of their role as mothers, we degrade them with hurtful words and dismiss their opinions by calling them too emotional. What scares me the most is that this behavior of belittlement leads to destructive patterns where women are taken advantage of. As frightening as this is, it's estimated that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of severe domestic violence at some point and 1 in 3 will be sexually abused in some form during their life time. This has to stop, we need to empower the important women in our lives through praise instead of destroying their sense of self through abuse.
I feel like the issues of stereotypes of women are often magnified in LDS culture. I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination that the doctrine of the church tries to belittle or alienate women, it often does the opposite( like this fantastic talk by Elder Richard G. Scott ) however do we realize the expectations that are placed on women in the church through our own social stigmas? Too often, the image of an ideal Mormon girl, is a blonde hair, blue eyed petite beauty queen, married by the age of 20, who also is the perfect housewife with 5 kids who is also expected to maintain a steady job and be the relief society president all at the same time. No wonder girls in the church have self-esteem problems and feel overwhelmed. We are setting a standard that is absurd! If you you're 27 and unmarried, or if you aren't a size 2, that shouldn't mean that you are failing as a daughter of God but all too often there are girls who feel that way. We have created a misguided standard for perfection in our culture and the effects are frightening. The Salt Lake area has the highest ratio of plastic surgeons per capita in the country because women don't feel attractive enough. It also boasts the most prescriptions for anti-anxiety/depression medications per capita in the country because women don't feel good about themselves. Imagine if we each took time to tell a girl how beautiful she looked, or how smart she is, or how much we respect what she does for us instead of judging her by an unrealistic standard. I personally believe that many of these issues would begin to dissipate. I recognize that I'm being very idealistic, however I really feel like if more girls had the chance to hear how much they matter to someone, maybe some of these negative social stigmas would disappear and be replaced by self-confidence and self-worth. Most importantly, they would begin to feel and recognize the divinity of their nature. Let's make sure that the women in our lives know how much they mean to us.