mercredi 28 août 2013

I read Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin and here is what I think

There are many memoirs flooding the US book market. Most strike me as contrived, unconvincing and forgettable. Not this one. It is thoughtful, candid and well written (Hardy is a poet). The story it tells is true and rings true. In some ways, it is everyone's story. Growing up means figuring out who you are and what you want in life, identifying the obstacles and contradictions, accepting that you can't have everything, and pursuing what you choose as vital. Hardy chose the writing life and the childfree life and thus had to rethink her relationship to the Mormon Church and risk disappointing her loving and deeply religious parents. Sex, detached from its procreative function, plays a role but not a big one. This isn't a book about unburdening oneself of one's virginity at the ripe old age of 36. It's a book about the struggle for self definition and a room of one's own. One review I read faulted the author for not taking down the Mormon Church for its profound sexism. The reviewer expected a different book than the one she read. I would say she did not read deeply enough. This book does offer a stinging critique of the rigid role Mormonism assigns to women. Its tent is not big enough or generous enough to hold men and women who eschew the traditional family model. Gays, lesbians, men and women who don't want to be parents (and those who can't)* are turned out of the Temple. Virginia Woolf did a little thought experiment in A Room of One's Own, imagining the life of Will Shakespeare's sister Ann. I found myself wondering how things would have gone for Nicole Hardy had she been a boy named Nick Hardy.

*In fact, the Mormon take on people who are unable to have children is that they will be "blessed" with a family in the afterlife, and that their childlessness is a temporary, inconvenient condition. Reading between the lines on this doctrine, I think it is fair to say that "temporary" and "inconvenient" and "condition" are all code words that in fact mean "inferior", "flawed" and somehow "not as good as those with busy, productive wombs". Let's face it, many people - from atheists to Catholics - look upon those who are childless but not by choice with pity. Certainly, religions that put such central significance on breeding future generations of the faithful are sending out a strong message, whether they officially embrace the childless or not. Hardy recounts an anecdote in her memoir about a conversation with a Mormon woman who seemed to think that the desire to have children was something God instills in people and something one could pray for. It is not farfetched to imagine that, for some people, anyone who can't have children is just not wanting to have them hard enough. And the idea that they will be "rewarded" with children in the afterlife underscores the notion that life without children is inferior at best, meaningless at worst.

In other words, when having children assumes such singular importance within a religion, then not having them - whatever the reason - is suspect.

So I will persist in my view that the Mormon Church, like the Catholic Church, frowns on not having children, regardless of the reason, and that this disapproval can take the form of "conditional acceptance" and well-meaning pity.

Photo : So this just happened, at Elliot Bay Books. Took me a sec to figure out what book was trying to sidle up to the stack I was signing. Hilarious.