22 June 2013

The Ideal

When I was in college, I took several ASL classes.  My school required that every student, as part of their general education, take either an upper level math class or another "language of learning".  I decided I'd rather take four semesters of a foreign language than one semester of statistics.  It was totally worth it.

The first three credits for the language requirement were conversation based classes, but the final class was a deaf culture class.  To be honest, I found this class to be a little frustrating.  The ultimate message of each class at the end of the day seemed to be the same: "You are not deaf, therefore, deaf culture dislikes you because you oppress us with your hearing."  It didn't matter that I was learning ASL and supportive of people doing so - I was (am) hearing, and therefore will always sit on the outside of the deaf world.

My teacher explained all this to us using a rather intricate and complicated series of circles.  The outer most ring of this circle consists of people who fight against deaf culture or have deaf children that they give cochlear implants to.  Slightly in from this are people like me who learn ASL and are supportive of ASL but have no real connection to the world of the deaf.  Next comes family members of those who are deaf who speak ASL, and so on to the core of the circles.  The core consists of the perfect deaf individual.  This person is deaf and born to deaf parents.  He or she attends deaf schools, including Gallaudet University where he or she will meet another deaf person, get married and produce more deaf people.

This ideal, the teacher admitted, is incredibly rare.  The majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents.  Most deaf parents have hearing children.  But the ideal is still there, and still the dream of any proud deaf individual.

I've been thinking quite a bit about this analogy in the last year and how it could, perhaps, be used to explain other cultural conflicts.  For example, in my corner of the world there is a different ideal: A child is born to Mormon parents, who were born to Mormon parents, and so on back to what would, ideally, be Mormon Pioneers who have really interesting conversion stories and were home teachers to Joseph Smith.  (It is also acceptable to be a first generation convert to the Mormon church, because it is a romantic novelty.  Second generation is somewhat more culturally problematic.)  This child will have parents who attended a culturally acceptable Mormon university (or, if they are slightly more rebellious, the other two major universities in Utah, but this is because playful rivalry is the spice of football season and where would we be without it?)  The child will attend one of these universities, where they will marry their eternal companion before graduation (but after a mission.)  If they are female, it is expected that they will be pregnant when they graduate, or that they will work for a year or two after graduation before leaving work to raise their children (like they should.)  If they are male, they will pursue a stable, respectable career.  They will have a decent number of children (somewhere between 4-7 seems to be about average), participate actively in the church and other related programs, and carry on down the line to future generations.

I don't know that I have too much beef with this ideal.  Truthfully, I was raised in it more or less.  My family have been good, church going people for several generations.  I attended one of those previously mentioned "appropriate" schools - as have both of my parents, all of my siblings to date and most of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  For most of my childhood, my dad was a member of the Bishopric in our congregation, thus making our family one of the "best" or "most prominently known" families in the area.  Rock on.

There is that little hitch in the perfect ideal of my plan, though: as has been widely discussed on this blog, I am perhaps the world's worst dater.  I despise dating.  I don't despise men - I actually really like men.  I am totally open to the right kind of relationship.  I just suck at getting them going and, for the time being, my future looks to be a very single one.  I don't meet that ideal.  The longer the ideal slips away from me, the harder it will be to fit.  And, somewhat more problematic, comes the part where I admit that I don't have a desire for a large family.  Never have.  Both of my parents come from small families, growing up with two siblings each.  (My dad had a third sibling who died when she was quite young.)  And things get even more complicated when I confess that I don't have any desire not to work.  I enjoy working.  I love my job.  I'm not opposed to working part time instead of full time - I do think it's important for parents to actually be involved in the lives of their children - but I also know that I will go absolutely stir crazy if I spend all my time with them.  Small children are cute and fun but I get bored by them quickly and I hate bodily fluids and waiting for kids to sound out words makes me impatient.  What's more, it's quite literally in my genetics to need lots of plates spinning at the same time to be happy and content with life.  I need to be involved in the world around me or I'm a depressed mess.

But this post isn't really about me.  Not entirely, anyway.  Lately my Facebook feed has been filled with a number of posts surrounding a presentation given by the owner of a swimwear line that is anti-bikini.  A portion of the argument that is made is that how a girl dresses can positively or negatively impact the thoughts and behaviors of men; therefore, girls should cover themselves as a favor to their male counterparts.  Now, I have major beef with this argument from any way you phrase it.  I simply cannot condone an argument that suggests that a girl should be responsible for the agency of a boy.  That's a load of crap.  It reminds me of an advisor I had during my first year of teaching who told me once that I should never "unintentionally offend someone".  Unintentionally offend someone?  What the heck does that even mean?  If I were to spend my life completely paranoid about unintentionally offending others I would never get anything done.  Ever.  The most productive people in the world are those who act knowing that they probably will offend or bother others and then they decide that they don't care.

The bigger problem with the responses that I've seen to this video, though, go back to that cultural ideal.  For some reason, people in my corner of the world wear their non-Mormon friends like a badge on their arm.  A sign that they are good and accepting of those who do not share their beliefs.  This is what it is.  But we are, as a culture, far less tolerant of those who are different within our own boundaries.  We can tolerate the friend who drinks or has a tattoo who doesn't come to church with us, but we cannot tolerate the woman who dresses her infant daughter in a sleeveless dress in the middle of summer because she should know better than to allow her baby to project an image of immodesty.  We can support our friends who have extramarital sex because they "just don't know any better", but cannot tolerate the woman who comes to church in pants to support gender equality, or the woman who has questions about why she can't be ordained into the priesthood.  Why is it that we are so intolerant of our own kind?  Those who are coming to church because they need so badly to have the support and understanding of those who are supposed to, in one form or another, share their beliefs?  People who have covenanted to lift the burdens of others - even when they don't understand those burdens.

The fact of the matter is, the Utah Valley Ideal is just not going to happen for everyone and, frankly, shouldn't happen for everyone.  One of the primary factors in the creation of the world was the need to promote variety.  A variety of climates, topography, animal life and - yes - people.  We need traditional, comfortable families just as much as we need less traditional lifestyles in the culture of the church.  It's time that we stop punishing people for applying their worship differently than we do.

This post has gone on long enough.  But if you're still up for more reading, then check out this article.  It says so much of what I've tried to - only much better.