What is Different, What is Strange

There’s a pretty interesting discussion going on at Jezebel.com right now, in a post about the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, who were featured in a photo-heavy article in the NY Times today.

I like Jezebel a lot, and spend a lot of my time at work on the site. The girls (and boys) who comment are articulate, interesting and intelligent, at least most of the time. And when commentors getting into fights, man it gets epic.

I took myself out of this discussion because I simply do not know enough about the Church, their practices, and their abuses to make a fully-cognizant opinion about them. But the discussion over there centers a lot around the rights of and abuses to these women, many of whom are married by 12 and birthing children by 13. It’s deviant and strange behavior, to be sure. But what if they’re doing so of free will? Participating in an oppressive, sexist religion seems to me to be total nonsense and absolutely deplorable, but who am I to say it feels the same way to them? What if they like it? What if they believe in it?

If these women and I were to have a confrontation, the gist of my message would be that they need to leave me alone to live my life as I please, in peace. Shouldn’t I have the same respect for them and the choices they make in their lives? Or do they truly not have a choice, is this truly child abuse?

The scope of human history makes it harder to put into perspective. The idea of child brides is somewhat new — even at the beginning of the 20th century, to make it to 17 without being married made you a social monstrosity. Even now, women in the South especially feel pressure to be married young. Feminism told us this was the way the patriarchy was holding us down, was limiting our freedom and our choice, and was treating us as second-class citizens. I find myself agreeing with that instinctually. At 23, I have no desire to get married anytime soon, and I certainly don’t feel stigmatized by my single-ness. But to marry at 13 was not unusual for many, many centuries, and I don’t doubt that people younger than me can love and love fully.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I want to condemn it, call it bad, demand these girls be freed from their oppressive religion and cult-like community. But is it my stone to cast?

–S

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