Patriarchal Bargains (Ether 6-11)

Monday, November 16, 2020


Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

Hi, I'm Elise. And this is a solo episode of the Faithful Feminist Podcast. But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Ether chapter 6 through 11 for the dates November 16th to the 22nd. I'm so glad you're here today.

Welcome back everyone. Thanks for joining me on this episode. As you may have noticed, Channing is not here. And I really miss her. She's my best friend and phenomenal co-host of the podcast, but I'm going to do my best to navigate us through this set of scriptures in the book of Ether. Before we get started, just a reminder that we are going to be taking a break for the holidays. So, our plan is that we will finish out the month of November, which means finishing out the book of Ether, and then we're going to do one mega episode that comes out the first week of December which covers all of the book of Moroni. Then we will rest and plan and prepare for the new year in Doctrine and Covenants. And we'll come back to the new year with an episode on January 4th to kick things off. 

I don't know about many of you, but we're a bit nervous about the Doctrine and Covenants, so we're grateful that our community is full of supportive, inquisitive members who can kind of help us navigate the Doctrine and Covenants.

But for this week in the book of Ether, chapter 6 through 11, if these chapters felt honestly all over the place for you, you're definitely not alone. In this set of scriptures, we see that the Jaredites make it to the promised land and things are good for a while. But then what follows is a lot of strife, a lot of contention, wars, and this pattern of betrayal between Kings and their sons, which leads the people into secret combinations, murder, and wickedness.

Because this happens so frequently through all of these chapters, at one point,the chapter heading says, Look, one King succeeds another, some of the Kings are righteous, others of them are wicked. When righteousness prevails, the people are blessed. And I think that's kind of the broad brush that gets painted here. We cover a lot of time and lots of different people, but the pattern is consistent. Sons betray fathers, brothers betray brothers. Some kings are great. Some kings are absolutely horrendous. And with these chapters, I think I'm just reminded of the ways that again, the scriptures are an abbreviated version of hundreds and hundreds of years. They are snippets of time and handpick stories that are trying to make sense of humanity and where and how God comes into play. 

Today, I'd like to talk about power and patriarchy and how they affect everyone, but specifically in these chapters, how they affect men and women. If we start in chapter 6, although we're not going to spend too much time here today, I think there are a lot of great lessons that can be pulled from this chapter about the Jaredites, who make their 344-day journey to the promised land. God prepares the Jaredites. God collaborates with the brother of Jared, but as they travel, God is still the one that causes the furious winds, the mountain sized waves and the terrible Tempest to kind of toss these barges above and below the water in a really terrifying type of way. In chapter 6, verse 8, it says the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land. And for me, it's kind of strange to think that the only way to get to the promised land was with wind. There's a BYU talk given by Michael Wilcox. And he kind of riffs on this idea, but I'm sure some of the people said, God, why don't you just blow us gently toward the promised land? Why don't you just let us take a cruise all the way there? We don't need any storms. We don't need any ferocious winds. Just give a sunshine and clear weather so we can like work on our tans and relax a bit on the way to the promised land. But that's not the case. God has prepared the people with light and animals and food and protection. The barges are sealed tight, like unto a dish. God keeps them safe, but God also is the one that creates and knows that the winds and the storms are coming for the people. And it's interesting to think that during this time, when the people were getting tossed about and swallowed up by the sea, it would have been really easy for them to think that God had abandoned them. But that honestly, isn't the case. God is watching over them and protecting them the whole time. And the Jaredites actually sing praises and pray to God out of gratitude for keeping them safe. And when they finally make it to the promised land after 344 days, that's 344 days with fierce winds that are kind of -- I would imagine like speed boating them to the promise land. So I can't imagine how long the journey would take and what different types of challenges might come up if it was just a gentle breeze, would they have even made it to the promised land? So I think for this chapter, my takeaway feels like, if the winds are blowing. I must be on my way to the promised land.

When the Jaredites arrive at the promised land, there is a bit of reluctance to establish a king. In fact, almost none of the Brother of Jared's sons want to take this position’s title because they think that it will only lead to bad things. And the Brother of Jared himself is reluctant to appoint a king before he dies, because he says, surely this thing leadeth into captivity, right? Surely this isn't going to take us in a positive direction, but once one of the sons does kind of take the kingship position, we start to see a pattern of distrust, greed, and betrayal among the sons and the fathers as they fight for power. Now, of course, there are some good kings whose sons take over the rule and they continue to rule in righteousness. However, we also see a lot of talk about sons and grandsons rebelling against their fathers and their grandfathers so that they could get the power and rule instead of them. For example in chapter 7, verses 15 through 20, we just see one small story about this taking place. It says, “And it came to pass that Noah rebelled against Shule the King, and also his father, Corihor and drew away Corhior, his brother, and also all his brother and many of the people. And he gave battle unto Shule the King, and he became king over that part of the land. And he took Shule the king and carried him away captive. And as he was about to put him to death, the sons of Shule crept into the house of Noah by night and slew him, and they broke the door of the prison and brought out their father and placed him upon his throne in his own kingdom, wherefore, the son of Noah.” Noah, the one who had just been slain, Noah's son built up a kingdom in his father's place and the country was divided.

Another example comes in chapter 8. We have a new character named Jared, not the original Jared that crossed the seas, but a new Jared. And it says in chapter 8, verse 2, “And Jared rebelled against his father. And he did flatter many people because of his cunning words until he had gained half of the kingdom. And when he had gained the half of the kingdom, he gave battle unto his father and he did carry away his father into captivity.” So with these stories and patterns in mind, I want us to take a look at how power and patriarchy show up for men in their lives and how patriarchy pits men against each other in this pattern of betrayal and violence.

So just as a brief recap, patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Patriarchy also highlights the ways that men have power yes, over women, but also how they have power over other men. This is a system of domination and oppression by the wealthy, white, straight, cisgender men who have authority and ruling power.

But let's be clear. Patriarchy hurts everyone, not just women, because patriarchy sets up a specific narrow set of rules that not only say this is how society should be, with a hierarchy, with very specific men at the top, but also that this is how people should act, think, and be. And with that said, patriarchy does offer a certain type of power and authority to those who abide by these rules who play by the rules of patriarchy, or for those who kind of follow the paths of least resistance that patriarchy sets up.

In patriarchy, men play by these rules or they follow patriarchy's paths of least resistance, which tells men that there is a hierarchy of true manliness and masculinity. If you make it to the top of this hierarchy, not only will you have the most power, but you will also have the most control, domination, and you will be the “manliest.”

Therefore, men compete with each other for different payoffs that patriarchy offers them. And I think nowadays this type of competition or stratification to decide who's on top and who's not is based around physical strength, appearance, attractiveness, the ability to make lots of money and be successful, a type of sexual prowess, logical thinking and reason over emotional intelligence.

And so if you exemplify all of these patriarchal requirements of masculinity, then you are allotted certain power and privileges, and you're seen as a “real man.” You're respected and valued, and you can move about the world with confidence because you know the world is made for you. You've played by the rules, and you know that you will win.

But if you don't play by patriarchy's rules, you are seen as not masculine. In fact, you're seen as feminine and gay and therefore not truly a man. And I hope with this explanation, we can start to see how patriarchy and power begin to uphold heterosexuality as what is really truly masculine. Anything that is not hetero is therefore not manly, not masculine, and not valued.

Patriarchy's paths of least resistance make it easy and simple for men to disregard ridicule and commit violence against other men who they deem as not real men. So patriarchy not only pits men against each other as they compete for the top spot in the hierarchy as if there's a limited amount of power, but patriarchy also pits men against themselves because they're taught to be cut off from their emotions. That being a real man is all about suppressing your emotions, not telling people how you feel, not feeling what you feel. You're always trying to be at the top spot of this hierarchy. So you're always in this kind of rat race where you're trying to show and prove and tell yourself and tell others that you are a real man, that you are powerful, that you are in control. And that you're constantly in a role of domination. And I think this kind of rat race and competition that we see between the men and the chapters is an example of exactly what I'm talking about here. It's a proving of masculinity in order to get power, to get the top spot, all of the overthrows and the grabs for power show us not only how power is corrupting and how power can be abused, but it also shows us how power and patriarchy are tied up in each other. How patriarchy on the outside seems to offer men a sure path to power. But I think the question here is, at what cost? In this story, families are broken. People are killed. Systems of peace are replaced with systems of violence and wickedness. There is so much competition between the men here, all for an enormous amount of power that continues to get abused. I think I'm also really intrigued by this continued history of rebellions and son/father betrayals. And a question that I've been thinking about is what stories or patterns of betrayal have been told and retold, acted out a hundred times in our family lines that we almost come to see them as inevitable. Because in this story, as you read the scriptures, every new king that comes to power, you start expecting that one of their sons or their brothers or their grandsons will betray them rebel against them and murder them.

And that becomes the expected pattern here. And I think when patriarchy and corruption are kind of bred into our family lines and perpetuated in our political and economic systems, we not only start to expect and anticipate the worst, but we also start to think that this is the way things have always been.

We think that this way is normal and natural. And maybe even more harmfully, we think that the system must be what's working best for us. Men uphold patriarchy because on the outside, it seems to work well for them. And oftentimes it does. But I think, again, the question here is at what cost. This also means that we forget that just a few hundred years ago, this same land was the land of milk and honey. We forget that this is still a land that holds promises form for a more equitable future. The Jaredites fled here for safety, for protection, for peace and justice, and they had that and then they lost it. 

Throughout all of these chapters, it's noted that the kings and their sons had pretty large families and the text makes a specific note to mention that they had sons and daughters, but in chapter 8, one of these daughters has her very own storyline to help her dad get to be the king.

In chapter 8, verses 8 through about 17, I'm just going to summarize the story here, but a man named Jared that we spoke about earlier, he tried to overthrow his father for the kingship, but he wasn't successful. In verse seven, it says that “he became exceedingly sorrowful because of the loss of the kingdom, for he had set his heart upon the kingdom and upon the glory of the world.”

Then when his daughter sees how sad her father is, she creates a plan so that her father can regain the power and status of king. The text notes that she was exceedingly expert, which makes me think that she must have been incredibly smart and super well-informed. In verses 9 and 10, she recounts her plan by saying, Dad, haven't you read the record that was kept by the previous generations who came to this promised land? It mentions a whole lot of detail about how people used to use secret combinations and secret plans to obtain kingdoms and great glory. So why don't we do that? Why don't you send me to one of the King's closest friends, Akish is his name, and because I'm really fair and beautiful I'll dance before him and I'll please him so much so that he will want to make me his wife. And when he wants to make me his wife and he asks you about it, you can tell him that he can only have me as his wife if he will kill the king, which is your dad and my grandpa. In order for Akish to marry me, or to have me as his wife, he has to murder the king and bring the king's head to you. And so they move forward with the secret plan and as the plan unfolds, as she dances before Akish and uses her beauty and sexuality to kind of lure him in and seduce him, Akish does want to take her as his wife. Akish agrees to kill the king and the text notes that there is so much evil and secrecy in this plan to gain power that murder and plunder lies and all manner of wickedness show up here and okay, spoiler alert, God ends up warning the king about this secret murder plot in a dream so that the king and his family ended up fleeing from the land. Because they leave. Jared is then appointed king by the hand of wickedness. And he also gives Akish his daughter to wife. 

So, wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. This could be, honestly, this could be a full-length feature film or something. The daughter of Jared is a main character in this story who plans and acts and uses what power she has, right? Her intellect and her body and her sexuality to make big changes in order to gain big power. And I think on one hand, her story might be seen as maybe a feminist move, right? She's acting and speaking and moving in the text. And she ultimately makes a plan to bring her and her family into more power. Because if her dad is king, things will obviously get better for her. She'll have more money, more space, more food, more nice clothes and jewelry and treasures. And she might even get to carry some of her decision-making influence with her, too. So maybe from her point of view, she's fighting the system to work in her favor. And that might seem like a feminist thing. However, I think that, although she has a main storyline in the text, I think at the end of the day, the daughter of Jared is actually fighting to uphold patriarchy and power, even if on the outside, it looks like maybe a feminist move. I think the type of feminism at play here is what's called power feminism. And lots of the ideas that I'm going to work through come from the book Feminism and Power by Mary Caputi. Now power feminism sounds like girl power and lipstick feminism and babe feminisms and stiletto feminism, which basically say, Women, we've been focusing way too much on our role as a victim. We focus too much time on our marginalization and our oppression, and now we need to step into our power. We need to focus on increasing our status. Power feminism equates women's progress with earning a lot of money. Getting a seat at the boardroom table, having designer clothes, having a lot of sexual encounters or sexual feats, and flashy displays of physical strength that are now read “feminist.” Power feminism says, Look, don't focus on your past suffering. And it encourages women to pursue what Caputi calls a muscled-up confrontational, traditionally masculine interpretation of empowerment. Stop all that introspection and simply mimic the male experience. And it seems to me that this is exactly what is happening with the daughter of Jared. She's participating in the same type of secret planning, power grabs, and divisiveness that all of the fathers and sons before her and after her do. She looks at the system, sees what the rules are and sees what the paths of least resistance are. And she understands that there are payoffs in patriarchy for women, too. As long as you abide by the rules, AKA, as long as you play by the masculine rules about how to get power about how to move up in the hierarchy. And so she takes a page out of everyone else's book that's gone before her, and she makes it her own. She does it for herself. And I think the daughter of Jared, even though in the text, it's framed as like, Oh dad, I see that you're really sad. Let me help you. I think there's a type of really bold individualism that the daughter of Jared steps into here, right? She's fighting for her wellbeing and for her family only, she's not really seeking to dismantle the entire system of oppression to dismantle the entire system of patriarchy.

No, she wants to work the system to work for her. And not for other people. And so in this story, we forget the people that suffer and we become really comfortable with doing harm or our ability to exploit and destroy because we know it means that we can benefit. We will succeed. We will get the power, but everyone else will suffer. And we start becoming blind to that. We leave behind a bit of our humanity. This type of progress and moving up in the hierarchy offers, as Caputi writes, “Not a more just social order, but new forms of injustice, aided and encouraged by those at the top.” Which would be the daughter of Jared. She would be at the top and she would help perpetuate injustice against everyone that falls beneath her in the hierarchy.

This is one of the ways that patriarchy shows up for women. I think in our everyday lives, women often compare themselves to other women and become jealous, which then makes us feel bad about ourselves. And we take our fears and our insecurity, and we turn them outward and focus and direct all of those fears and anxieties on women, and then label them self-absorbed or sluts or whores. We compete with each other instead of caring for each other. But even more than that, this is honestly one of the largest critiques of white feminism, that white feminism is about fighting for justice and equality only for white women, typically in a way that abides not only by the masculine rules of power, but also abides by white supremacy. That white feminism focuses only on the struggles of white women and its end goal is to keep white women safe, comfortable, and the system of patriarchy and white supremacy fully intact. As long as white women can be safe. White feminism claims to be for all women, when in reality, it actually dismisses the ways that white women oppress BiPOC women and ends up exploiting BiPOC women's voices in order to further their own wellbeing, but not the wellbeing for all women. I think back to June when lots and lots of self-proclaimed feminists were posting black squares on their Instagram pages, right? Taking advantage of BiPOC women, voices to try and appear on the outside as if we were participating in a type of solidarity. But are we, or were we just performing so that we could feel good about ourselves, that we could feel safe and comfortable? Where did our alliance lie? Did it lie with the women who are suffering, or did it lie with a system that could keep us and only us safe? Because we live in systems of patriarchy and white supremacy, we're always already a part of it. It's always already a part of our feminism. And if we don't work to disrupt and dismantle white supremacy and patriarchy within ourselves and within our own communities, we're not really about justice and equality for all. We're only about safety, comfort, money, more power for the few, because in white supremacy and patriarchy, the only thing those systems need to perpetuate harm and continue to oppress people is that every day people do nothing. That we just don't act, but to disrupt and dismantle these systems, to root out this type of white feminism that is alive in the feminism within our community, it has to be an active turning away from and moving away from the benefits of patriarchy and white supremacy. So in my reading of the daughter of Jared, it seems that she almost makes a patriarchal bargain. And this phrase is typically used to describe women who exchange reproductive services for financial support from men. In my own words, it seems like, okay, I'll sacrifice a bit of myself in order to have power given to me from the patriarchy. I want to read a few passages from a blog post titled, Why Do (So Many) American Women Still Support Patriarchy, by Umair Haque. And they write, “Patriarchy makes women, a certain kind of woman anyways, a bargain. It says that if you submit to our power structures, our rules, our ideas, then yes, you will be subordinate to us, white men, but you will be above everyone else. You'll be above minorities, gays, immigrants, refugees. In other words, patriarchy outlines a social hierarchy with men, elite white men at the top and says, ‘White women, you can be in second place. It's pretty good, isn't it? I mean, it's better than nothing! And that's what you'll probably end up with if you don't submit to our bargain!’ Now, what are the power structures, rules, ideas that patriarchy asks women to buy into? It's pretty simple. The idea that male violence is to be the force which solves every problem in society. Not, say, investment, concern, gentleness, nourishment -- when people are deprived, desperate, and afraid. Just violence, the harder, the better. So a certain kind of American woman comes to endorse male violence -- even to other women.”

And this is the criticism that's so often lobbied at white feminism, that it's essentially only fighting for the right to behave like elite white men. It's the right to be violent, angry, vengeful, ignorant, greedy self-interested and vain. In that way, it's not really freedom from patriarchy. It's just freedom to act like the patriarchs, or maybe more accurately, to please them. And in that way, it reinforces patriarchy as a power structure. For the daughter of Jared, this is exactly what her bargain is. She's made a bargain to sacrifice her body, her autonomy, and her sexuality, which is some of the only power offered to women in patriarchy, but it comes at a huge cost. So she's made a bargain to sacrifice these things so that she can gain some type of power. The daughter of Jared is fighting for the right to behave like a son and the fathers that come before her. She's playing by patriarchy's rules of violence and greed and revenge. For her, patriarchy is the only thing that protects her from seeing what the world truly is -- that it's an unlivable place for all women. And if she had to look and see the ways that patriarchy harms her and those she loves, she'd realize that in the system, she is weak and worthless. And maybe at this point, you're thinking to yourself, boo, on you, daughter of Jared, how could you? But this really isn't about the daughter of Jared. This is about us. This is about all the ways that we make bargains with patriarchy every day. The way that we sacrifice bits of ourselves or bits of the people that we love in order to gain power and to be comfortable and to have a bit more control or authority over everyone else that falls beneath us in patriarchy's hierarchy.

And with that, I have a few questions. What do we end up sacrificing in hopes of a promise? For the daughter of Jared, she sacrifices true lovem her body, her ability to be safe and connected. All of those things she sacrifices for the promise of power and money. And yes, I know sacrificing something isn't always a bad thing, but who are you bargaining with? What parts of yourself are you sacrificing so that you can reap the promises of patriarchy? Some of these promises look like power, esteem, being seen as a good and real and righteous woman. Maybe you want to feel desired by other people, desired by men, or you want to have a seat at the table. My final question is for some personal introspection. How, and when, do we lean into power feminism and white feminism? And what is the path out of it? Remember the only thing these systems need to continue perpetuating harm and violence and oppression is that everyday people do nothing. That we think that we're not involved here. That we read the story of the daughter of Jared, and we simply shake our finger and say what a shame, instead of thinking of all of the ways that we are like her. That we're also like the men who move through for different power grabs. These stories are about us. They're not about other people. 

And I think that's one of the ways we can make the most change. If we make these stories about us, and let the critique look us in the eye, and make us do better.

Friends, thank you so, so much for joining me on this episode today. I'm reminded again how if we slow down the scriptures, and spend time, and put it into our own real lives and think about its implications and its context, there is so much we can learn. There's so much we can critique and so much we can celebrate in order to make big, better change in the world.

Thanks for listening. If this or any of our past episodes has made you think differently, made you slow down, maybe given you a bit of comfort or helped you fall in love with the scriptures again, we'd love it if you left us a review on iTunes so that other people can find us and participate in this community with us. We love you so so much, and can't wait to talk with you next week. Bye!

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