Labute and the Beasts

Speaking of Mormon masculinity, once-Mormon playwright Neil Labute premiered his new play this week, Fat Pig. Wait, that didn’t come out right. What I meant to say is that Labute, undoubtedly the most prolific and critically acclaimed –not to mention reviled and misunderstood–Mormon-connected playwright working in the professional theater today, has a new play out in which, no surprise here, men behave badly. Labute’s plots tend to be perversely simple until a devastating twist throws the end, and Fat Pig is no exception: Tom finds himself drawn to a woman of size, but he’s also embarrassed by her overweight, and he struggles to reconcile his new relationship with with the caustic contributions of a co-worker and his ex-firlfriend (played by the reportedly Mormon Keri Russell.) A tireless provocateur and implacable moralist, Labute’s cruel wit and poisonous observation of human nature and relationships tends to polarize his audiences, who emerge either praising or cursing the man–and Fat Pig promises have the same effect.

Labute’s 1997 breakout film was In the Company of Men, another story of men initiating relationship with a socially vulnerable woman, and in the creative frenzy of the intervening years–Labute has premiered an astonishing five new plays in as many years–the playwright has returned again and again to the sickeningly pleasurable spectacle of men being first-class jerks. (Labute’s women are no angels, either, particularly in the recent play/film The Shape of Things, but men are his great subjects–and in this limited sense his work can be compared to David Mamet’s unsettling chronicles of American masculinity.) Whether Labute’s world of men is repellently misogynistic or visionarily satiric of American masculinity I will leave to greater minds. What it is not is recognizably Mormon: I have not recognized anything particularly Mormon in the behaviors and attitudes of Labute’s cruel, weak-minded, misanthropic men. Until now. The tendency to fetishize women’s physical beauty, to value women’s beauty over intellect, to relate to one another by means of their relationships to beautiful and ugly women–these aspects of masculinity I recognize in Mormon versions of the same. On my mission I heard nearly daily the time-worn missionary aphorism, “The more obedient the missionary, the prettier the wife.” Back at BYU, the same impulse inexorably dictated dating patterns. There are many blessed exceptions to the tendency, of course–my own husband, and, undoubtedly, much of the present company, chief among them–nor are women wholly innocent of the same offenses.

That this play should distill some recognizable Mormon masculinity is something of an irony, because this is Labute’s first play to premiere since he cut ties with the Church. A convert during his college years at BYU, Labute was disfellowshiped a few years ago following the production of his savage play bash, which depicted violently homophobic and explicitly Mormon characters. According to an NPR interview, Labute recently disassociated himself from the Church, a move which seems to have coincided with the dissolution of his marriage to an LDS woman. The timing of his religious departure and the premiere of this play is doubly ironic, for, in a major artistic departure, this is Labute’s first play to end with a glimmer of redemption–and if there is any sure identifying marker of Mormon literature, it is the redemptive ending. In fact, Labute’s work has always struck me as fundamentally compatible with the Mormon worldview, although his plays would surely offend the sensibilities of many Mormons: Labute’s moral universe, like the Book of Mormon’s, is inexorably “restorationist,” evil being restored unto evil and wickedness never being happiness. And now that Labute’s sense of the evils of the natural man seems to be moderating a bit, and the redemptive ending is making its appearance, his work may become more recognizably “Mormon.” It would be supremely ironic if Labute left the church only to become, for the first time, a Mormon playwright. Whatever the direction of his work, I’m sorry that Labute has left the church, and I wish him the best in his artistic endeavors.

171 comments for “Labute and the Beasts

  1. john fowles
    December 17, 2004 at 11:50 am

    As a female, you talk a lot about Mormon masculinity. I wonder if a male has the same freedom to talk about Mormon femininity? Somehow, I doubt it. . . .

  2. Davis Bell
    December 17, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    And then Kaimi and Kristine and Steve E. jump on John F., and John F. fight back, joined by Adam, and maybe Matt.

  3. john fowles
    December 17, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    No, let’s avoid that. No intent to threadjack, just thought it an interesting observation. Ignore my first comment and give Rosalynde your mind on the substance of her great post.

  4. Mathew
    December 17, 2004 at 12:11 pm


    With your bold writing and willingness to throw the gauntlet at the feet of those whose every word are ruled by the caprices of the PC-censor, you’ve struck a blow for Mormon men everywhere. Thanks for watching out for us–for we were nigh defenseless before you came.

  5. Mathew
    December 17, 2004 at 12:12 pm


    I was obviously composing while you were–OK, threadjack aborted.

  6. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 12:14 pm

    John, if you (or another man) spoke as respectfully and with as many interesting questions about Mormon femininity as Rosalynde has about Mormon masculinity, I’m sure we could have a productive discussion.

  7. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 12:17 pm


  8. December 17, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    Rosalynde, “The more obedient the missionary, the prettier the wifeâ€?? You heard this “nearly daily”? This is a “time-worn missionary aphorism”? I admit that Madison, Wisconsin is very far from Chruch headquarters — and not just geographically — but I haven’t always lived this far from the center(s) of Mormondom … and I have never heard this expression. Moreover, I never heard anyone express this sentiment. Should my RM-wife feel cheated?

  9. Mathew
    December 17, 2004 at 12:18 pm

    I heard it plenty in Riverside, CA while waiting for a visa and occaissionally in Kiev, Ukraine.

  10. Rosalynde Welch
    December 17, 2004 at 12:22 pm

    John, you’re right, I *have* written two posts that deal with masculinity (although this one deals with masculinity only secondarily), and I’ve written one that deals more specifically with female roles. I’ve turned my attention to masculinity specifically to address the concerns of those who argue that feminism should more properly be recentered to gender generally, in the interest of equity. (I remember Brian Gibson making this argument passionately to me in college on several occasions.) I hope, though, that my comments on masculinity have not been perceived as bitter man-bashing; they certainly haven’t been composed in that spirit.

    You’re right, though, that a woman’s comments on masculinity carry a different social valence than a man’s comments on femininity. Given the assymetrical meaning of “male” and “female” presently and historically, it shouldn’t be a surprise that discourse reflects this assymetry: on the other masculinity thread, DKL mentioned what Bertrand Russell calls “the superior virtue of the opporessed,” and I agree that, rightly or wrongly, this dynamic is at work in language about men and women. For what it’s worth, men have talked about women at some length on this very blog (see the “Regret” thread, and parts of the other “Masculinity” thread), and were by and large allowed to do so, though not wholly unchallenged.

    All, no need to pile on John, I wasn’t offended by his comment at all.

  11. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 12:24 pm

    Rosalynde, do you think that Mormon men’s tendency to highly value women’s physical appearance is extreme, or is it just one aspect of American masculinity that doesn’t get filtered much by Mormonism?

    I have to agree with you about the “more obedient the missionary” bit. The thing that always stung me the most about it was the utter lack of sensitivity or embarrassment with which grown men uttered these words *in the presence of young women or sister missionaries.* One can sort of expect young guys to be that shallow, and even excuse them for it–evolution being what it is–but hearing it from men who ought to have had time to learn better how to value women is more unnerving, and suggests that maybe there is something peculiar in Mormon culture that allows that attitude to persist.

  12. Rosalynde Welch
    December 17, 2004 at 12:24 pm

    Gordon, okay, okay, “daily” may have been an exaggeration. But it was a phrase that circulated frequently around the mission, together with a bizarre game where companshionships had to choose the word that best described their ideal future wife. (Ryan, did you ever experience this one? )

  13. John Mansfield
    December 17, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    I’ve never heard anything like that obedient missionary/pretty wife saying. Were the sister missionaries repeating it to one another daily, or were the sisters working in close co-ordination with the elders?

  14. Glen Henshaw
    December 17, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    “The more obedient the missionary, the prettier the wifeâ€?

    Yep. I heard that regularly too — SLC South mission. The other one we heard a lot was that our future children were watching us and learning obedience from us, so unless we wanted apostate D&D playing children we had better be good.

  15. Rosalynde Welch
    December 17, 2004 at 12:29 pm

    Kristine, I don’t think the emphasis on appearance is more prominent in Mormon masculinity, but I think it’s one strand of general American masculinity that Mormons share.

    I’ve heard it argued that because LDS young men have so little sexual experience with women before marriage, they have unrealistic expectations of the female body, supplied by the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, etc. I’m not sure if I buy that, though.

  16. ed
    December 17, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    I have heard that remark exactly once in my life (from a bishop!), but never around the time of my mission.

    Kristine, I agree that using this remark around women is insensitive. But in my expereience, it is women who seem least embarrassed to talk about physical superficialities around the opposite sex. I have little doubt that mormon men are more superficial than mormon women, but a lot of us are a little ashamed of our superficiality and would feel embarrassed talking about it around women. But I’ve hear many a mormon women talking completely un-self-consiously around men about what they like or don’t like in a man physically.

  17. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    “I don’t think the emphasis on appearance is more prominent in Mormon masculinity”

    Nope, there are somethings that are common to all men.

  18. December 17, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Kris: “if you (or another man) spoke as respectfully and with as many interesting questions about Mormon femininity as Rosalynde has about Mormon masculinity, I’m sure we could have a productive discussion.”

    Rosalynde: “The tendency to fetishize women’s physical beauty, to value women’s beauty over intellect, to relate to one another by means of their relationships to beautiful and ugly women–these aspects of masculinity I recognize in Mormon versions of the same.”

    Kris, As you know from our private conversations, I think Rosalynde is terrific, but in what way is her post “respectful”? Yes, Rosalynde observes that there are “exceptions” to her caricature — but that acknowlegement merely reinforces the notion that the caricature is the RULE. Even if her description is largely accurate (and debating that is not something I would consider an “interesting question” about Mormon masculinity, but I suppose that is a matter of taste), in what way are these characteristics “recognizably Mormon”? Go watch a few episodes of Seinfeld if you think those behaviors are somehow “Mormon” in character.

  19. Glen Henshaw
    December 17, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    Jack wrote:
    “I don’t think the emphasis on appearance is more prominent in Mormon masculinityâ€?

    Nope, there are somethings that are common to all men.”

    Yep. I find it interesting that although an attractive wife is sometimes seen as a status symbol, the kind of status is often different. In the general society, an attractive wife represents wealth and/or physical vitality; in the church, she sometimes represents righteousness. As does wealth.

  20. Brian G.
    December 17, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Rosalynde, I think you underestimate how Mormon some of Labute’s work is. Although, I haven’t seen many of his recent plays I find Mormonesque characters in the first two films that laid the basis for his career. It’s a mistake to focus on the most despicable and misogynistic men in Labute’s work when you look for Mormon characteristics. In both IN THE COMPANY OF MEN and YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS there are pairings of male characters where one is overtly misogynistic and another is a less attractive, more square, character that’s an eager listener, enthralled at listening to the hateful exploits of his buddies. In IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, Aaron Eckhart is the more misogynistic of the pair and in YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS he plays the listener character to Jason Patric’s exploits. Aaron Eckhart also attended BYU and I feel that in his portrayal of the listener in YOUR FRIEND AND NEIGHBORS it’s easier to read what I perceive as Mormon-esque qualities. These listening men typically take considerable delight in listening to their counterparts exploits and in at least these two works there is something of a moral indictment against them as well as their more misogynistic counterparts, but I feel that they represent what in my opinion is a decidedly male Mormon behavior of toeing the line to evil acts, being enthralled by hearing about them, but not overtly participating in them. Labute’s work never suggests that these “listeners” as I’ve defined them are restrained by religious conviction, but he does suggest they’re limited by being more nerdy, or basically less aggressive than the men they’re friends with.

    I too, mourn the fact that Labute’s religious association with Mormonism is over, not because of his accomplishments as a playwright or filmmaker, but only because I believe the Church offers people a chance at salvation and a happier life. Neither of us can say for sure, but my theory would be that if he’s offering his characters redemptive endings it may have have more to do with the fact he played out the “men are bad” theme long ago, and less to do with an ironic move toward more Mormon themes now that he’s no longer participating in church.

    I’ve always felt that his work is interesting, but highly derivative of Mamet, who Labute openly admits is a significant influence and inspiration. Although, I took an interest in it at first I got tired of it quickly because I feel moral wrath aside there is a distinct pleasure and delight in writing about the exploits of vile men that borders on being vicarious for the author. Certainly, this is an unfair judgment on my part, but I feel that way all the same. In my interpretation, Labute himself is that Mormonesque “listener” character getting a cheap thrill listening as he writes down the misogynistic exploits of his characters.

  21. danithew
    December 17, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    Is it correct then to conclude that a man with an ugly wife was a disobedient missionary? :)

  22. Rosalynde Welch
    December 17, 2004 at 12:44 pm

    Gordon, you may have read the post quickly. If anything, I felt like I was defending the Mormon male, arguing that the despicable specimens in Labute’s plays ring false to me in the context of Mormon males. This latest play was the first time I observed a Labute character who had characteristics that I recognized in some Mormon men–but not only in Mormon men: I wrote “these aspects of masculinity I recognize in Mormon versions of the same.” The tendency to value physical beauty, in this formulation, is primarily an aspect of general masculinity (which is not to say that is not an aspect of femininity also), and also an aspect of Mormon masculinity. And when I used the phrase “recognizably Mormon” at the end of the post, I was referring to Labute’s turn to the redemptive ending in this latest play.

  23. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    “watch a few episodes of Seinfeld if you think those behaviors are somehow “Mormonâ€? in character”

    Gordon, that was why I asked the follow-on question of whether there was some uniquely Mormon aspect to this fetishization of beauty.

    I think Rosalynde’s post was respectful because she spoke in general terms (rather than saying something like “the Mormon guys in my BYU ward were jerks who would only date pretty girls”), noted the numerous exceptions, and acknowledged women’s similar tendencies. It wasn’t complimentary, certainly, but I think it offered respectful criticism. From my experience being a not-classically-cute Mormon young women, I don’t think her description is a “caricature’; indeed, the critique seems quite mild.

  24. Glen Henshaw
    December 17, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    “Is it correct then to conclude that a man with an ugly wife was a disobedient missionary?”

    There are no ugly wives.

  25. December 17, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    Glen: “in the church, she sometimes represents righteousness.”

    Maybe I am way out of touch with my own masculinity here, but this strikes me as incredibly bizarre. Honestly, I cannot think of a single instance when this thought has crossed my mind. A few more comments like this and I am going to be convinced that Rosalynde is right.

  26. Rosalynde Welch
    December 17, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Brian, really great observations about the paired male characters in the early films.

    And you’re absolutely right–the irony I observe may be simply a coincidence in timing, a possibility I fully accept and should have stated in the post. And like you, I don’t particularly enjoy Labute’s work–my sensibilities are quite “Mormon,” and I find the constant assault exhausting and, increasingly, predictable. We’ll see if things start to change.

  27. Greg
    December 17, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    I think I’ve mentioned it before, but along the lines of Brian G.’s comment, the Summer 2003 issue of Dialogue contains an article called “Without Mercy: Neil LaBute as Mormon Artist” that explores some of the un-obvious, but distinctively Mormon themes in LaBute’s work.

  28. john fowles
    December 17, 2004 at 12:53 pm

    A male interest in a physically attractive female is by no means “Mormon” or “American” (no matter how vogue it is to blame it on such) but is universal, in my opinion. In what ways do women not prioritize male physical attractiveness over intellect? We are talking about biology here; about what makes men and women want to mate and reproduce. From my perspective, Europe is even more captivated with femaly physical attractiveness: go to any city anywhere in Europe and find a busstop. You will see what I mean based on the advertisement posters at those busstops. Why should a male or female prioritize someone’s intellect over their physical appearance, anyway? How does that fit into “evolution”?

  29. john fowles
    December 17, 2004 at 12:54 pm

    (these are questions that, I believe, go to some undefined assumptions behind such posts and that I think would be interesting to look at, and not a statement that I personally believe that a woman’s physical appearance is more important than her intellect.)

  30. Glen Henshaw
    December 17, 2004 at 12:55 pm

    Gordon wrote:
    “Maybe I am way out of touch with my own masculinity here, but this strikes me as incredibly bizarre. Honestly, I cannot think of a single instance when this thought has crossed my mind. A few more comments like this and I am going to be convinced that Rosalynde is right.”

    I agree it’s bizarre, but that’s exactly what the missionary line about “the more righteous the missionary the prettier the wife” implies.

    I don’t mean to say it’s common, and of course I certainly don’t mean to say it’s a correct perception. But I do think it’s there. The perception that wealthy men are more righteous (or, actually, that righteous men are blessed with wealth) is also there, and somewhat more common, but equally wrong.

  31. Mark B
    December 17, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    I just assumed that Rosalynde’s reports about the talk among missionaries these days was just another sign that this more recent generation doesn’t really measure up to the previous generation, of which her parents and I were a part, Saturday’s Warriors and all that crap notwithstanding.

  32. December 17, 2004 at 12:58 pm

    Rosalynde: “The tendency to value physical beauty, in this formulation, is primarily an aspect of general masculinity (which is not to say that is not an aspect of femininity also), and also an aspect of Mormon masculinity.”

    OK, I must have misread the original post because I thought that you were suggesting that there was something unusually “Mormon” about this. I think I get it now.

  33. Mark B
    December 17, 2004 at 1:01 pm

    Speaking of being old, and not really intending to threadjack, but perhaps there will be fewer knee-jerk reactions to some of these posts when youses have creakier knees.

  34. Glen Henshaw
    December 17, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    John wrote:
    “Why should a male or female prioritize someone’s intellect over their physical appearance, anyway? How does that fit into “evolution”?”

    You mean, is there an evolutionary advantage to producing offspring with a physically attractive mate as opposed to an intelligent one? The classic argument put forward by biologists is that in order for that to happen there has to be some relationship between the physical attribute in question and either health, fertility, or genetic quality. There’s been some effort to try to figure out if that’s true, e.g. if a certain body type is correlated with any of the above evolutionarily advantageous traits, and AFAIK the basic theory is that there may once have been a connection but that our current ideals of beauty are probably more influenced by cultural norms than biology. There are a few key connections, though; for instance, a symmetrical face can be tied to both health and genetic quality. Healthy skin and hair can be an indicator of overall health. But current beauty norms — really skinny with a large chest, for instance — have no evolutionary advantage.

  35. Curtis
    December 17, 2004 at 1:03 pm

    Gordon, I agree. At no time have I ever thought, “Man, Brother Schmuckatelli’s wife is hot! He must be an extra righteous dude.”

    (I have, however, sometimes thought “Man, Brother Schmuckatelli’s wife is hot! Um, how did THAT happen?”)

    That said, however, I did hear the obedient missionary = pretty wife nonsense from time to time during my mission in Germany. It seemed cheap at the time, and even more so in hindsight. Hadn’t thought of it in a while.

  36. Glen Henshaw
    December 17, 2004 at 1:07 pm

    Sorry, I should have added one more line — producing offspring with an intelligent mate has obvious evolutionary advantages.

  37. Rosalynde Welch
    December 17, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    John, what you take to be anti-Americanism is merely an attempt at careful argumentation on my part: because I have very little experience with anything other than 16th-century English (not so relevant here) and American models of masculinity, I compared Mormon versions only to American versions. I take you at your word about European ideals of beauty.

  38. December 17, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    While I am not of the same economic standing, for the last half year I have been hanging out with what are essentially millionaires (because of my new job). In this social circle, there is a much greater emphasis on beauty than any of my previous social circles (including BYU and a mission). In the US, I think that it is not money, but success that one equates with beauty. As Mormons, success is multifaceted (not just good job and lots of money, but righteousness and good kids). So Mormons just have an interesting spin on the common American association of success and beauty. You can’t tell me that being beautiful or having a beautiful spouse or children is not a cultural indicator of success.

    Lastly, as a man, what’s wrong with wanting a beautiful wife? (Noting that equating obedience with a beautiful wife is just plain disgusting).

  39. David King Landrith
    December 17, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    As long as this thread has devolved into a discussion about how silly and prevalent it is for immature Mormon guys to opine about the connection between blessings and good behavior (which is dubious per “Job”) and to identify blessings with the visual appearance of one’s mate, I might as well chime in.

    Now I’m no connoisseur of the female intellect, and I must confess to a deep seated appreciation of the idealized, cartoon beauty shown in the air-brushed depictions of scantily clad supermodels. But I’ve never aspired to have a beautiful wife, since I never felt entitled to one. Perhaps those who have laid eyes on me will understand why; those who have read many of my comments certainly understand. (This may confuse many readers, but my wife chose me, not vice versa—it’s a long story.)

    So given those qualifications, I’d just like to say: My wife is one hot babe. And I’d like to add gratuitously that my four daughters are among the most angelic beauties on Earth.

    Moreover, it is an insult to call somebody ugly and a complement to call someone pretty or handsome. It follows immediately from this that a great many people will make such attributes a priority when they seek a mate. The question is simply how much of a priority it should be. I don’t see why this is a bad thing.

    I remember a song that goes, “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife…,” but that’s just a joke. Rosalynde Welch claims that her husband and most of the people here have grown out of this focus on appearance. But I’m dubious. Seriously. Is there the anyone here that is really willing to brag that his mate is ugly? And how would the chicks who participate feel if their guy came forward to make such a boast?

  40. John Mansfield
    December 17, 2004 at 1:26 pm

    As a think about it a little, I can’t remember more than a couple missionary sayings of any kind. That was just one of the advantages of serving in the spread out Patagonia. The longest stretch was three months that my companion was the only missionary I talked to.

  41. john fowles
    December 17, 2004 at 1:30 pm

    I don’t remember ever hearing that silly maxim in my mission (Berlin), but there was no lack of missionaries who oogled at H&M busstop advertisements. If anything, they went home to America even more obsessed with “fetishizing” female attractiveness than they were when they left.

  42. December 17, 2004 at 1:33 pm

    Glen, there have been some studies trying to discern the breast fetish. I don’t think the “real skinny” ideal is really an idea. Look at the models that tend to be on the covers targeting men (say Maxim, FHM, GQ) and the models that target women (say Elle, Vogue, etc). The former are almost always more muscular, more athletic, and bigger. They look “healthier.” I don’t deny the focus on a lack of body fat in both, and likewise that body fat was attractive are various periods. (Say periods of the Renaissance, in classic Turkey, etc.)

    My guess, with respect to body fat, it that it is tied to the relative stability of the society. When food is valuable, it is status to show you have it. Now that food is plentiful and obesity is a problem, there is the opposite. I also halfway believe that the current views of men and women are cross pollination and are thus more egalitarian. Take a look at the ancient Greeks and their male body fetish. All that’s happened today is to take that traditional view of athleticism and the body in function as inherently beautiful and provide women more function than just making babies. Thus woman as athlete over woman as nurturer becomes privileged.

    As for reading too much into missionaries. They are young men who have been cut off from socializing from women. i.e. they’re horny and fantasizing as much as is allowable about the fruits of their return. Reading too much into this seems a bit much.

    The fact is young men’s focus in relationships is on “appetite” and not more mature views of relationships. One could, by the same reasoning, critique the fascination by young women on musicians, money, and athletes. Go listen to freshmen girls talk about what they like. It’s equally as trivial and focused on their particular appetites of choice as is young men.

  43. December 17, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    Rosalynde, from what I can tell, you and I attended totally different missions. I’m not saying that as if to doubt you, but making a real-life observation that we really did. The farthest south I ever got was Gaia, just across the river from Porto. I spent most of my mission much farther north, or in Porto itself. If I remember right, you spent most of your time down South, Coimbra, Viseu and the like, right? That might explain why we had quite different experiences.

    But to answer the question, no I never heard the line about obedience earning us hot wives. Not sure how I ended up with such a beauty, then. (there I go. . . elevating her physical attractiveness :) I guess it’s likely I heard some other elders repeat the line, but I certainly don’t remember that being spoken by anyone in authority over there. Did you? And the game about naming attributes of one’s future wife is new to me as well.

    However, if you want to find evidence that missionaries elevate the physical attractiveness of women over all other attributes, you don’t have to look farther than the very strange and awkward ritual of passing around photos of (alleged) girlfriends, as if they were pinup models. These pictures were passed around partially for the purpose of morally dubious viewing pleasure, but more so as a means of identifying oneself in a culture that makes such ‘coolness’ identification very difficult. In other words, if chubby little elder Nebeker has a photo of a hot girl that he says is his girlfriend, he stands a chance of moving up in the minds of his fellow-elders. In fact, I can still remember a few elders who were known for having hot girlfriends (and some who were known to have been quite popular among the sisters as well– you know who I’m talking about!). That practice always made me uncomfortable.

  44. December 17, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    Just to add one bit on that “breast fetish” bit. I believe one big question in evolutionary studies is why women’s breasts developed the way they did. One argument is that it helps babies keep from suffocating. An other was that it evolved alongside male sexual desire as a point to attract males. (Much like the feathers of the male peacock, for instance) I don’t think anyone knows. I do recall a rather interesting, and funny, Talk of the Nation a few months back on the subject though.

    I do find it interesting how many women can’t understand men’s fascination with breasts and therefore devalue or attack it. Not that anyone here is doing that. But I’ve heard women talking in a fashion such that because they don’t value something it must be valueless.

    It’s been my experience in watching men-women discussions that there is that tendency to devalue the values of the other sex. Men do it a lot as well. The way men talk when women aren’t around and the way women talk when men aren’t around often demonstrates a lot about how each sex in general views the other.

  45. Glen Henshaw
    December 17, 2004 at 1:41 pm

    Clark wrote:
    “Glen, there have been some studies trying to discern the breast fetish. I don’t think the “real skinnyâ€? ideal is really an idea.”

    I agree with that, in that models who pose for womens’ magazines tend to be skinnier than those who pose for mens’ magazine. In fact, I have read that Elle MacPherson actually had to gain 20 lbs to pose for Sports Illustrated, and then lose it again for Cosmo (or whatever). That being said, both ideals are still highly influenced by society, and even the “mens” ideal is a lot skinnier than it has been historically, as you allude to.

    “As for reading too much into missionaries. They are young men who have been cut off from socializing from women. i.e. they’re horny and fantasizing as much as is allowable about the fruits of their return.”


    “Reading too much into this seems a bit much.”

    Quite possibly.

  46. D. Fletcher
    December 17, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    LaBute is a very good writer, the best playwright/screenwriter “we” have ever had, if we can claim him. Others like Richard Deutcher are… not in LaBute’s league.

  47. Kaimi
    December 17, 2004 at 2:06 pm

    Rosalynde writes:

    On my mission I heard nearly daily the time-worn missionary aphorism, “The more obedient the missionary, the prettier the wife.� Back at BYU, the same impulse inexorably dictated dating patterns.


    Yep, I’ve heard that. I’ve also heard that obedience on the mission will dictate financial success, etc. I think it’s a general pattern — adults assume that the 19-year-old missionaries want to be financially successful businessmen with hot wives. The 19-year-olds, meanwhile, are mostly confused kids trying to learn a foreign language, who have never given a thought to career or marriage. So it’s propaganda that doesn’t exactly work all that well.

    Rosalynde writes:

    There are many blessed exceptions to the tendency, of course–my own husband, and, undoubtedly, much of the present company, chief among them–nor are women wholly innocent of the same offenses.


    Your husband is an exception? So you’re saying that he was a disobedient missionary? :)

    Glen writes:

    But current beauty norms – really skinny with a large chest, for instance – have no evolutionary advantage.


    Definitely. The Kate-Moss-isization of beauty is strangely counter-evolutionary.

  48. December 17, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    Glen: …really skinny with a large chest, for instance – have no evolutionary advantage.

    But large breasts and small waists do:

    New Scientist:

    Article Abstract:,1,14;journal,13,180;linkingpublicationresults,1:102024,1

  49. Rosalynde Welch
    December 17, 2004 at 3:13 pm

    Ryan, thanks for chiming in. You’re right, I was mostly in Castelo Branco and Coimbra, with a few months in Matosinhos. For what it’s worth, I only ever heard the phrase in question from other missionaries; President West, wonderful in every way, was in his treatment of me and other sisters nothing but utterly perfect. and your story about missionaries trading photos perfectly illustrates what I meant when I wrote that men tend to relate to each other by means of their relationships to beautiful and ugly women.

    DKL, I was waiting for you to show up! (And I’m glad you did, really.) For evidence that my husband married me for reasons other than physical beauty, one need only consult my bio photo. Of course, he doesn’t *brag* that he married me for something other than my looks–but I certainly brag about his blessedly enlightened approach to dating.

    Clark and other have rightly observed that mission culture is a special case, not identical to larger LDS culture. Unfortunately, mission culture is also one of the few visible sites at which we can see how, as Clark says, men talk to each other when women aren’t around. But evidence from a more representative context is required, how about this. I was awarded the Benson scholarship at BYU, and every year special social events were put on for the Scholars of all years who were at BYU. The only purpose of these events was socialization, and I and most of the others who attended these things assumed that the powers that be wanted us to meet, marry, and produce a population of super-geeky-nerds who could carry on at BYU. If these men had been interested in marrying or dating women who were their intellectual matches, the women there might have been a good place to start, given the social entry provided. But to my knowledge none of these folks ever married each other, or even dated; furthermore, all but one of my four younger siblings who have (thus far) attended BYU have also received the same scholarship, and none of them have dated or married a presidential scholar, either. (Now, of course, dozens of these couples will come out of the woodwork and my anecdotal evidence will be destroyed; in my defense, though, no randomized double-blind peer-reviewd study of the topic exists.)

    (And I should also note that our own Brian Gibson, himself a Benson scholar, is an utter and absolute exception to what I described.)

  50. Wilfried
    December 17, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks, Rosalynde, for posting about Labute. I got to know his work well when a Belgian theater producer contacted me to help him understand Mormon (and American) ideosyncracies in Bash. A main theater in Ghent produced Bash in Dutch translation a few years ago (Labute certainly is internationally acclaimed). I thought it was best to help them as much as possible, rather than having the play misunderstood “even more”. It was an interesting experience and the reviews were excellent. A mature public understands well that the theme transcends Mormonism and that the characters could just as well be Catholics or Muslims. I felt the power of Labute’s work and the introspection he forces upon oneself. I wholeheartedly concur with you: “Whatever the direction of his work, I’m sorry that Labute has left the church, and I wish him the best in his artistic endeavors.”

  51. Andrea Wright
    December 17, 2004 at 3:15 pm

    Very interesting discussion. I have thought a lot about several of the issues brought up here. As a woman, I have a strange contradiction within myself I struggle with. On the one hand I want to be thought of as beautiful especially to my husband and am very flattered when called that. However, I also really resent the fact that it matters so much (to people in general, not my husband). So basically, I want appearances not to matter so much especially to the exclusion of other more important attributes, but if my husband told me he first noticed me because of my sense of humor I would be a tiny bit offended. Anyone relate to this?

  52. Andrea Wright
    December 17, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    One more totally different thought. I agree with several who have said that the importance of physical appearance is universal. I also think there’s nothing wrong with wanting an attractive spouse. In my humble opinion it’s always worked in the past though because there was enough diversity and differing taste that one was usually always attractive to at least one other person. I think that’s changed in these modern days. The definition of beauty has drastically narrowed in large part due to movies, t.v., magazines etc perpetuating a few types as the ideal. I might be totally off, but that’s what I think.

  53. December 17, 2004 at 3:32 pm

    Point #1: I actually do think that there’s a difference between being attracted to your spouse, and wanting an attractive spouse. The first seems to be a prerequisite for a physically intimate relationship between imperfect people; the second seems to formulate the desire as a status symbol.

    Point #2: My wife is totally hot.

    Point #3: Taking Rosalynde’s challenge, I looked at her profile pic. While she is not as hot as my totally hot wife, she is certainly no slouch on the hotness scale.

    There. Doesn’t everyone feel a little more uncomfortable now?

  54. December 17, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    The reason I think missonaries are atypical is because they’ve been cut off from socialization for so long.

    Regarding Rosalynd’s points, I might agree, but my personal opinion is that such mixers are horrible ways to get dates. I’ve never heard of anyone asking anyone out in such circumstances.

  55. Kaimi
    December 17, 2004 at 3:38 pm


    I’ve anecdotally observed a lot of what your discussing: “Smart” Mormon men who marry “average” Mormon women and “smart” Mormon women who marry “average” Mormon men. There seem to be a number of exceptions to the rule, however — Richard and Claudia Bushman, for example. Nate and Heather Oman. For that matter, I occasionally hear rumors about highly intelligent LDS grad students who date other LDS grad students.

    The anlysis may be more complicated because (I think) there’s not a strong trend towards marrying one’s intellectual equal even outside the church. People date and marry for a number of reasons — looks, brains, emotional compatibility, sense of humor, money, and so forth. So it seems overly simple to assume that the “smart kids” will necessarily want to date other “smart kids.”

    To the extent that this phenomenon is more pronounced in Mormon culture — and it may be, I’m not sure, perhaps Frank has some statistics for us — it may be due to the lower marriage age which makes it harder to project eventual intellectual compatibility. I think that many people figure out their intellectual boundaries between ages 25 and 30, by which time most Mormons are already married.

  56. December 17, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    I thought LaBute was likely on his way out of the church when he shot the photoshoot for the 50th anniversary of Playboy. I brought this up to several LaBute fans who then tried to excuse it as “art.” It’s an interesting bit of context to the discussion of LaBute’s plays and might play into what Brian was talking about in #20.

  57. MDS
    December 17, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    Rosalynde wrote: On my mission I heard nearly daily the time-worn missionary aphorism, “The more obedient the missionary, the prettier the wife.�

    That is a much more sophisticated way of saying the actual phrase that is so common: “The harder the work, the hotter the wife.”

    Another trend that shows up at an even younger age involves those young men who break the law of chastity, and an evaluation of whether it was “worth it” that looks to how “hot” his partner in crime was. I remember hearing multiple discussions in high school along the lines of: “Did you hear that Bobby and Gertrude had sex and now Bobby’s bishop says he can’t go on a mission?” followed by “Yeah, but at least Gertrude is hot!” or “Yeah, and what a shame to blow it on a girl as plain as Gertrude.”

  58. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 4:03 pm


    Regarding Presidential scholars and social activities:

    I’m not sure that those things are meant as a means of improving the breeding stock of the LDS population. There’s a lot to be said for being able to find others of a similar mindset as yourself in a place like BYU. I lived with Jonathan Green and Bill (both of whom post here) for most of my years at BYU — we met as a result of the Presidential Scholar program. In a large school like BYU, with a student population with a fairly wide range of academic interests and abilities, it makes sense to find ways to connect people with similar interests. Whether that leads to true love or not is beside the point.

    I know that at Duke I get social invitations all the time for recipients of a fellowship I received here — I’m pretty sure the point is not to marry us off to each other.

    I do know that Jonathan Green can probably attribute at least a part of his marriage to being a Presidential Scholar, but I’ll let him tell that story. (snicker — try to get out of that one).

    Finally — a pox on you for making me out myself (and my roommates)!

  59. Jonathan Green
    December 17, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    I would argue that missionaries are less focused on female physical beauty than their non-missionary peers. This still doesn’t make them purely altruistic on average, but I suspect they’re a couple steps ahead of other 19-to-21 year olds. As a missionary, one regularly has a greater-than-arms-length relationship with sister missionaries over the space of several months. An elder can notice that a sister is attractive, but if the elder isn’t totally superficial, he’ll notice over the next several months that the sister isn’t totally superficial either. Moreover, the whole 24/7 gospel and mission context proivdes a certain impetus to looking past physical imperfection. Sometimes, I think, a mission can be a good way to discover that there can be a lot more to the female of the species than physical attractiveness. More than a few of those platonic relationships progress–at the right time and in the right ways–to temple marriages.

    Rosalynde, about dating among Benson scholars–let’s just say I could say something on that topic, but I feel it more urgent at this point to remind Bryce to just keep his mouth shut, if he knows what’s good for him. Besides, at BYU, one dinner a year is an afterthought, not a serious attempt at social engineering. That’s what the student wards in the honors dorms are for.

  60. Jonathan Green
    December 17, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    And I hadn’t read Bryce’s comment before I posted my own. Do I know him, or what? (So, again: Shut up, Bryce! Just shut up!)

  61. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    TOTAL Nathan and I have something in common (actually, many things). We both served in the Japan Tokyo South Mission, and we both married women who served with us in that mission.

    We were both reasonably hard workers on our missions. I never heard the phrase “The more obedient the missionary, the prettier the wife” bandied about. Both of us have our missions to thank for our current martial status in a literal sense.

    I won’t speak for Nathan, but I know I benefitted greatly from meeting my wife when she was at what she would probably describe at her least physically attractive, and when she was not trying to attract a spouse. There was much less pretense and posturing than there might have been otherwise.

    Which is not to say that my wife wasn’t stunning on her mission — she was. Just that she didn’t work too hard at preening during that time.

    BTW, for those of you who missed it before, my wife and Rosalynde are cousins– I’m not sure what kind, since I’m not good at that kind of stuff. Kristen’s great-grandfather is Rosalynde’s great-great-grandfather (through different wives). I think I’ve got that right.

    Also, Rosalynde in her picture looks a lot like my cousin Jill, I think. This should not be too surprising, as Jill is her cousin too (right?)

    /connecting the dots…Bryce is married to his cousin ?!?!?!? No.

  62. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 4:23 pm

    “[Missionaries] are horny and fantasizing as much as is allowable about the fruits of their return. Reading too much into this seems a bit much.”

    Amen to that, and to the rest of Clark’s comment (43) as well. As I returned missionary, I have to chuckle at solemn, far-reaching interpretations of in-house jokes propagated by boys freshly weaned from their Nintendos and skateboards. LDS girls of the same age with pictures of Legolas and Johnny Dep strung all over their walls are just as numerous, just as vapid, just as immature and naive about what makes for an ideal mate. Take a stroll by Helaman Halls sometime and observe the little Britney and J-Lo wannabes pouring over the sidewalks in a glossy ooze with their cellphones and bright chirpy voices, and you will come to appreciate the sad, horny elders, who at least are attempting something serious, no matter how pathetically or ignobly. Labute is cresting a wave; it’s easy to write about deviants; and when your deviants are white, male, and Mormon, why, you’re dealing with fishes and barrels.

  63. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    Jonathan and I seem to be channeling each other, as I wrote my last comment before reading his contributions.

    Come on Jonathan, you know you want to tell!

  64. danithew
    December 17, 2004 at 4:27 pm

    Kingsley, the truth is cutting deep over here. Please, be gentle. :) My medical-student wife has a Legolas refrigerator magnet in its rightful place. I even taped a little cartoon bubble next to it that says “Oh baby oh baby” for her laughter and benefit.

  65. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 4:30 pm

    Danithew: That’s all right; I adore a whole houseful of crit lit gals, the brightest I’ve ever known; you should see their walls (in fact, I purchased a poster of a sweaty, smoking, piano-playing Johnny Dep for them as a Christmas gift just last night).

  66. danithew
    December 17, 2004 at 4:36 pm


    Next time you get them a gift, consider one of those life-size cardboard cutouts.

  67. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    Danithew: Of Fabio, his nipples bigger than his head, his eyes set in a cold blue stare of unremitting stupidity.

  68. Kaimi
    December 17, 2004 at 4:42 pm


    If your bio photo is meant to be an exhibit in the “lack of physical beauty” department, then we probably need to get a new photo put up. You aren’t really advancing your argument with the current photo.

  69. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 4:45 pm

    Many moons and comments ago, John F. wrote this:
    In what ways do women not prioritize male physical attractiveness over intellect? We are talking about biology here; about what makes men and women want to mate and reproduce.

    ahem. I have some examples for you of just that.

    Fugly men who married beautiful women who chose them for intellect over looks:
    Ian Hacking
    Woody Allen (intellect is necessary for wit)

    The average-ugly men chosen for their intelligence:
    Dave Letterman
    John Kerry
    *insert names of unattractive politicians and CEOs here*
    *insert names of ugly professors sleeping with hot students*

    These are not perfect examples because the ugly men are wealthy and/or powerful and successful–but one could argue intellect/talent is a necessary condition for wealth and power. Wealth and power are both obviously advantageous traits evolution-wise and definitely attractive to women. So they no doubt played a big part in their women’s choices.

    However, I challenge you to name ONE woman who is ugly, wealthy, and powerful and married to a hot man. I can think of none. I would even venture to guess most are single. Janet Reno couldn’t get the same action her unattractive male colleagues could. Women care about looks, but not nearly as much as men do, that is a universal truth. There, I said it. * I will also add that I have dated truly ugly men for their smarts or talent but who were not wealthy or powerful.*

    Let the backlash begin, but I will take none of you seriously if you cannot name one ugly, wealthy, powerful woman married to a beautiful man. Or even, one ugly woman without wealth married to a beautiful man.

  70. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    Re: Kaimi’s last comment: no kidding, Sister Welch, geezlouise.

  71. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    Kingsley (#67) —

    And holding a package of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”

  72. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    JL —

    John & Elizabeth Edwards

  73. December 17, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    JL: Janet Reno couldn’t get the same action her unattractive male colleagues could.

    But there is a good evolutionary reason for this. Old men can still propagate, while old women cannot – we are hard wired to recognize this.

    You mentioned John Kerry…have you seen his wife? Many argue that John is a handsome stoic. I don’t know of a similarly flattering phrase for Teresa.

  74. D. Fletcher
    December 17, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    I win. Barbra Streisand is married to James Brolin.

  75. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    OK, she’s not ugly, but she’s not nearly as pretty as her husband.

  76. danithew
    December 17, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    Let me add to JLs list of fugly men married to gorgeous women. But I’m not entirely convinced that women are so altruistic as to look for the most ugly intellectual guy around. A lot of women will simply settle for a guy who can make them laugh (please, no comments about my wife here).

    Here’s the proof:

    Rodney Dangerfield (may he rest in peace) was married to a much younger LDS Kim Basinger lookalike. The Basinger comparison does not originate with me. I was reading his bio in an article and the author brought up the comparison. I saw a picture and couldn’t disagree much.

  77. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 4:52 pm

    Bryce I: And running frenetically in place in those wheels you find in hamster cages.

  78. danithew
    December 17, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    J. Stapley,

    I disagree. Teresa Heinz-Kerry also struck me as a handsome stoic.

  79. D. Fletcher
    December 17, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    One could make a case for Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt.

  80. D. Fletcher
    December 17, 2004 at 4:58 pm

    And Barbara and George Bush the Elder.

  81. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 4:58 pm

    I don’t think it’s quite fair to bring up Janet Reno’s singleness as an example of why men are pigs. Andre the Giant never found true love either. I think you have to pick people who do not look like a special effect from The Lord of the Rings to really bolster your argument. That being said, it seems fairly reasonable to state that men, on average, are more looks-driven than women (like saying that women, on average, are more emotional than men — it’s hard to see how either example comes to vice or virtue status — things are the way they are).

  82. Chad Too
    December 17, 2004 at 4:59 pm

    I, joining Bryce and TOTAL Nathan, don’t ever remember hearing the phrase as a Tokyo missionary, for whatever that’s worth.

    As has been pointed out, men focusing on external attractiveness is hardly an LDS-only phenomenon (and I really want to hear Jonathan Green’s story… c’mon, dish!) I wonder here if perhaps we’re dealing with a parallel to the where-much-is given-much-is-required theme. We want to hold LDS men, even the inexperienced 19-year-old variety to a higher standard; we expect them to be able to look beyond mere carnal attraction and recognize the immortal in any woman. I think that would be the exception rather than the rule, especially since for those two years we expect these men to be asexual. There’s no opportunity for them to develop ANY deeper understanding of LDS women at all, let alone a positive understanding. So what gets projected? The limited and no-longer-maturing understanding they may have from high school.

    I’m not suggesting we open the Pandora’s box of emotional change that comes post-mission to our currently-serving Elders. Perhaps I’m merely trying to suggest that we take expressions like “the harder the work…” with a grain of salt and a little context.

  83. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 4:59 pm

    Kingsley —

    Or you could just send this picture

  84. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    Bryce I: That is the best thing I have ever seen (or close). Especially pleasing is the shot of Mr. F sitting between the two bimbos with that stunned, stoic, stupid look on his face; I cannot be moved.

  85. D. Fletcher
    December 17, 2004 at 5:03 pm

    Power, intellect and talent are very attractive in both sexes, and can often compensate for… less quality in other areas.

    What happened to ME, I wonder?


  86. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 5:03 pm

    “Perhaps I’m merely trying to suggest that we take expressions like “the harder the work…â€? with a grain of salt and a little context.”

    That’s all well and good, if it’s the 19-year-olds who are saying it, but (as I said before) there’s something else (something creepy, IMO) going on when middle-aged mission presidents are the ones who repeat it. That may say something about Mormon culture, as opposed to American culture or universal evolutionary drives.

  87. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 5:04 pm

    JL challenged us to “name ONE woman who is ugly, wealthy, and powerful and married to a hot man.”

    One reason why we don’t find “ugly” and “wealthy” used simultaneously to describe women in America very often is because we live in an age where wealth can buy beauty, to a certain degree.

    Of course, this can go horribly wrong (don’t click before eating).

  88. MDS
    December 17, 2004 at 5:09 pm

    Quote: That’s all well and good, if it’s the 19-year-olds who are saying it, but (as I said before) there’s something else (something creepy, IMO) going on when middle-aged mission presidents are the ones who repeat it.

    My mission president did not and would not say anything remotely resembling “the harder the work, the hotter the chick.” For me, this phrase resonates more with my MTC experience than with the time in the field. The three teachers who taught my MTC district had a “who worked the hardest” contest during which they each introduced us to their current girlfriend/fiance. We were supposed to select the winner. While all three had managed to find very attractive candidates, it may comfort some of you to know that the winner was ultimately chosen because of two factors that helped her eclipse the other two:

    1) She was a returned missionary herself, which was worth huge bonus points, and
    2) She brought us homemade chocolate chip cookies that were still warm.

  89. Curtis
    December 17, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    Behold, how great in the eyes of the missionary is the warm chocolate chip cookie.

  90. danithew
    December 17, 2004 at 5:12 pm

    There are cases where a handsome guy will marry a fugly woman. Usually this can be traced back somehow to the woman reminding the man of his mother. At least that’s how I explain one particular case where a friend of mine was having an extended year-long-distance relationship with a rather stormy, demanding and chubby personality. I could not figure out why she had such a hold on him until I made the connection — at which point everything suddenly made a lot of sense.

  91. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    Kristine: I doubt very much if a mission pres. trying to endear himself to his elders by repeating a feeble joke can be taken as an example of Mormon masculinity in general; it kind of stinks having to rely on all these anecdotes, though; I served under two presidents, both tall, grave, serious gentlemen, very respectful of the sisters and of womanhood and manhood and all those lovely important hoods; they probably would have smacked an elder for making the comment, rather than wink jocularly at him. I think the most subtle interpretation of the psychological implications behind the joke is: some people, including Mormons, are morons. I like how C.S. Lewis cites them along with liars, adulterers, gossips, etc., in his list of folks we are required by Christ to be charitable towards.

  92. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    Kingsley: I don’t think it’s quite fair to bring up Janet Reno’s singleness as an example of why men are pigs.

    JL: I never said men were pigs. I wasn’t judging men at all, merely stating an empirical observation. Evolution-wise there is good reason for men not to be impressed by wealth and power the way women are. Men are more impressed with beauty as a sign of health and thus a good carrier for their DNA. Women are attracted to strength and power because being an alpha male signals the best DNA in that its offspring are more likely to survive.

    I think it’s silly for us to pretend there are not gender differences, whether imposed by natural selection, culture or God. Take your pick.

  93. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:17 pm

    “I think it’s silly for us to pretend there are not gender differences, whether imposed by natural selection, culture or God. Take your pick.”

    Agreed. Thus the rest of my comment.

  94. D. Fletcher
    December 17, 2004 at 5:17 pm

    Bryce, that site is the scariest and most entertaining thing I’ve seen all year. Thanks!!

  95. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    I am not going to thank you, Bryce, because now I am sickened and unsettled and I disbelieve in God.

  96. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    I would also like to rescind my Kerry and Terry example. That must be a matter of taste.

  97. December 17, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    Dare I bring in a more controversial aspect to this discussion?

    It seems to me that the way these conversations are ushered in is through the discussion of whether appearance is privileged over intellect. However the way it is often conducted seems like an ever series of assaults on valuing appearance at all. I can understand when women’s intellect and other skills are simply overlooked or worse, seen as a threat. That’s clearly bad. But is it really bad to value beauty?

    Consider the same conversation divorced from the whole battle of the sexes. Consider art. Would we have the same conversation about how people who value art that is attractive or beautiful but neglect all the intellectual aspects? Semiotics above aesthetics, to use the geeky terminology?

    The second thing I find somewhat humorous is that there is that subtle play of the old myth of the blank slate. Somehow intellect is a pure matter of will and desire, and thus “authentically us.” Beauty is superficial and just a gift of good genes (or worse a good surgeon). Yet let’s be frank. Intellect is just as much a gift of good genes as beauty is. And staying attractive takes just as much effort as staying intellectual does. Further I think I am just as much my body, for good or ill, as I am my mind. There seems to be this odd intellectualism at work which reminds me of all those “good-time” Greek religions where the body was devalued and only the things of the intellect were real.

    Am I wrong here?

  98. danithew
    December 17, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    Bryce, whichever plastic surgeon gave that woman Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chin should be taken out to the back yard, beaten and shot.

  99. Frank McIntyre
    December 17, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    Clark, you are not wrong.

  100. December 17, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    Clark: I concur whole-heartedly, with one minor exception. Just as overweight people might receive a svelte body in the resurrection, I sure hope some people get some “work done� during the glorification process.

  101. December 17, 2004 at 5:31 pm


    I don’t think anyone has reported having heard the line about hard work/hot wife from a mission president. All the anecdotes so far have been about co-missionaries. Anyone have their president say this?

    Further, I’d like to discuss whether anyone met anyone that really believed the line. In other words, even though it was a slightly stupid joke, I think it was always a joke. I really have a hard time believing anyone bought the line and actually started working hotter so they’d be able to marry a real hotty.

  102. john fowles
    December 17, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    No Clark, you are not wrong, hence my comment/question # 28, which remained, until your comment, ignored (substantively, that is–JL turned it into a challenge in order to prove that women value wealth and power in addition to looks).

  103. Brian G.
    December 17, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks a lot, Rosalynde. Did you really have to out me as a Benson scholar? Don’t you think you could have at least e-mailed me first? If I wasn’t certain my inclusion in such an esteemed group of people was the result of a clerical error, I’d be really upset.

    And did you have to destroy your credibility by suggesting Presidential Scholar socials were some sort of eugenics experiment? And how convenient to remove me from your annecdotal evidence meant to suggest that intelligent Mormon men are not interested in dating their intelligent female colleagues. I would have been less annoyed if you’d removed me from your informal study on the basis that I wasn’t intelligent.

    We both know I asked you out on more than one occasion and although I bear you no ill will, we can also agree on your lack of interest.

    However, you should know I spent years and years kicking myself for not working harder during my mission–hours in front of the mirror bemoaning the fact I didn’t push jush a little bit harder and squeeze in a few more discussions and street contacts. I whipped myself into a frenzy over the fact that I didn’t get nearly enough new families in the month of December in ’92.

    Then I met Shannon who was much more receptive to my peculiar charms and realized that all was right in the universe and I was certainly without question the hardest working Elder in all of South America.

    Grrrr. Do we learn anything from this thread other than the fact that instead of discussing the work of Neil Labute we’d rather talk about what Rosalynde looks like in her picture and the silly phrases silly Elders say to motivate each other in the mission? I don’t think any of us took such idiotic aphorisms seriously back then, why should we now when we’re supposedly older and better educated?

  104. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    Clark, you have brought us back to earth. Intellectual gifts are constantly pitted against physical gifts (e.g. athleticism, beauty), and found to be superior — by intellectuals, of course. I think you make a great point about how significant the body is when speaking of personality; the way we laugh, share a story, walk, what hand gestures we use, how (and if) we cross our legs, the clothing and hairstyles we eventually settle on, etc., etc. — all these seemingly trivial things are the things I adore and anticipate in my friends — are, indeed, the way I set them apart from one another — and, though I love them with all their warts and idiosyncrasies, or perhaps because of those things, I do especially appreciate an attractive, healthy body (in males and females), lustrous hair, striking eyes, a white smile, etc., when they are present. They are pleasing to behold, like good art.

  105. Will
    December 17, 2004 at 5:38 pm

    JL: I never said men were pigs.

    Will: But we are. I’ll be the first to admit it.

  106. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:39 pm

    JL, I never said we would be easy; I only said we would be worth it.

  107. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 5:41 pm

    I agreed with you until you said this: Yet let’s be frank. Intellect is just as much a gift of good genes as beauty is. And staying attractive takes just as much effort as staying intellectual does. Further I think I am just as much my body, for good or ill, as I am my mind.

    I knew a man had written that before I could see your name. You’re right that we have this Cartesian and orthodox christian prejudice for the ghost instead of the flesh. But there is a reason for that, it’s not geeky arbitrariness. The ghost is eternal, the flesh is not. While intellect is a gift from God and partly a matter of DNA, it is more connected to one’s character than the body. We all have the capacity to make our characters beautiful and change them without surgery. But the degree to which our bodies are aesthetically pleasing is not so much in our power. We can maintain our bodies but you can’t completely change them the way we can with our characters.

    The reason I knew a man wrote that comment is because you were happy to say that your body is as much of who you are as your intellect. Women’s bodies are and have been objectified in ways men have not.Which makes me and probably a lot of other women allergic to identifying so closely with our bodies. For example, after my first semester of my PhD program and finishing my Masters with honors, my mother praised me for looking good because I lost weight. (Because I was too stressed to eat.) I heard no praise for earning an advanced degree nor beginning another. The value of a woman is traditionally the level of her physical beauty, which is a painful thing for us to bear.

    If given a choice now, I would trade my body in for one that was more average so I could hear praise for the work that I’ve accomplished and not my appearance which I had NOTHING to do with. (I don’t exercise, I don’t eat well, I don’t have money for beauty treatments.) But I did literally work my a** off for my education.

  108. December 17, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    Clark: Intellect is just as much a gift of good genes as beauty is.

    True. And I imagine that there are fora (maybe the gas light district in San Diego?) where beautiful people (that work really hard at being that way) bemoan the God given intellect of others?

  109. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    “(I don’t exercise, I don’t eat well, I don’t have money for beauty treatments.)”

    Thus — Clark’s point. Some do. Are their efforts to be discounted because they’re not the same as your efforts? Believe me, I’ll take Proust over Gold’s Gym any day. But I don’t know that I’d agree with your sexist claim that Clark wrote what he did because of his gender.

  110. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    Ok. Ask any woman if she agrees with Clark or she feels the same way. It is sexist but it is also true.

  111. December 17, 2004 at 5:50 pm

    I know several people who did little if any work to reach stellar academic success and graduate honors.

  112. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:50 pm

    I can think of at least 5 women right now, intellectuals all (one just finished reciting a couple hundred lines of Middle English for me, very pretty), who will not only agree with Clark’s post but enthusiastically applaud him.

  113. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    Get them to say as much on here and I will concede to you.

  114. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    I will. It might have to wait till Monday; will that do? (Finals, you know.)

  115. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    Ryan, I’ve heard a mission president say it (over the pulpit in Stake Conference), and a counselor in the MTC presidency, as well as a bishop saying it to the youth at a fireside. It’s not just the elders. I think the fact that those men weren’t conscious of or sensitive to the women in the room says less about Mormon masculinity than it does about the invisibility of women in the church.

  116. December 17, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    The ghost is eternal, the flesh is not.

    Only in non-Mormon religions. It seems that this was fundamentally what Joseph Smith critiqued. Thus Alma 11…

    But the degree to which our bodies are aesthetically pleasing is not so much in our power. We can maintain our bodies but you can’t completely change them the way we can with our characters.

    I rather strongly disagree. I think character and personality, as several said above, are also quite tied to genetics. Thus the very many similar personality traits between even separated twins. That’s my point. We still buy into many of the myths from the beginning of the enlightenment. We are cursed by Hobees, Rousseau, and Descartes.

    The other problem I have with privileging intellect is that the ability to go to college and be successful really is tied to one’s environment and genetics. Not everyone will do well in collge. My wife, for instance, faced a divorce in her family due to infidelity just as she was starting college. Clearly that affected her intellect in a fashion that it didn’t affect “her flesh.” The idea that the intellect is ours in a manner the flesh isn’t is a lie, in my book. Further I think it a rather disruptive lie in our culture.

    Women’s bodies are and have been objectified in ways men have not.Which makes me and probably a lot of other women allergic to identifying so closely with our bodies.

    Oh, I definitely agree. However is that any more healthy than those men who objectify beauty and marginalize intellect? Aren’t you falling into the same trap?

    If given a choice now, I would trade my body in for one that was more average so I could hear praise for the work that I’ve accomplished and not my appearance which I had NOTHING to do with.

    Interesting. I always cringed at complements for anything vaguely intellectual because I didn’t feel like I did much for it. I didn’t work hard in High School and in hindsight I could have been much more focused and had some goals in college. Yet I always enjoy complements for my physique. When out of college I started spending time in the gym and working on that aspect I felt very good about myself. Far more than intellectual achievements.

    Perhaps both of us are victims of the grass is always greener syndrome?

  117. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 5:57 pm

    But Kristine, what about the dozens of stories different from yours about wise and sober brethren who do not make slobs of themselves for cheap laughs? Again, we get 2 or 3 anecdotes and far-flung, damning judgment (if it seems as though I am sitting here with my broken foot waiting for a ride, I am).

  118. Adam Greenwood
    December 17, 2004 at 5:57 pm

    “I know several people who did little if any work to reach stellar academic success and graduate honors. ”

    Take me, for instance. :)

  119. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    JL: I recently lost a good deal of weight, packed on some muscle (though not much — I still look like Gollum), quit my WoW problems, etc.; and I can tell you, the resulting sense of accomplishment was at least as great, in its own way, as my intellectual experiences. I am far, far happier than I used to be; I think more clearly; I can even use the cliché, “I feel like myself again”; and this has impacted marvelously my relationships etc. I can truly say that it’s nigh on impossible for me to separate my body from my mind; when one is afflicted, the other follows suite.

  120. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    Boys and girls never really stop hating each other do they?

  121. Kingsley
    December 17, 2004 at 6:20 pm

    Jack: I merely oppose being savaged for liking pretty girls. Have a good weekend, all; JL, I promise that list for you by Monday.

  122. JM
    December 17, 2004 at 6:29 pm

    Kristine, Kingsley’s comments about overstating negative experiences deserves some serious thought. Isn’t there a tendency to inflate the silly comments of a VERY small minority and make it seem like a systemic problem? Thirty four years in this church–including a mission–and I simply haven’t seen/heard, to any degree that would even show up on the radar, the specific kinds of extreme things you’ve mentioned. I really haven’t. Are we simply living in parallel universes?

  123. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    My comment isn’t pointed at anyone directly, Kingsley, least of all you. I too like the fact that I like the way my wife looks. I’ve never stopped lusting after her, even after 17 yrs of marraige.

  124. Larry
    December 17, 2004 at 6:39 pm

    You beast.

  125. Larry
    December 17, 2004 at 6:40 pm

    Sorry. Forgot :)

  126. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    If those particular instances were the only ones I’d ever had that suggested that there’s a problem with how Mormon women are sometimes treated in the church, I would agree that I’m overgeneralizing from a limited sampling. I may be. However, I’ve lived in enough different places to think that there are problems not just with specific individuals, but with the way the Mormon culture allows and occasionally encourages a particular kind of attitude towards women–one that regards them as essentially sweet and decorative, ornaments rather than partners in the struggle. I certainly wouldn’t say that every Mormon man, or even most Mormon men think or behave that way, only that those whose temperament or experience disposes them to think that way do not meet in Mormon culture the sharp corrective that an understanding of the gospel ought to provide.

    JM, can’t tell from your initials–is it possible that the parallel universe you live in is a male one? Not that men can’t be astute observers of such things, only that one tends to notice things in proportion to the extent that one is directly affected, no?

  127. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 6:45 pm

    We still buy into many of the myths from the beginning of the enlightenment. We are cursed by Hobees, Rousseau, and Descartes. That was my point as well. Even as mormons who disagree with the doctrine we are subject to the cultural bias. Agreed that education is a matter of luck in terms of class and life circumstances.

    I think we are equivocating with ‘intellect’. You must mean the talent of quick thinking or some such?. By using ‘intellect’ I am connoting success and achievement. I should have been more precise, but the main attraction of intelligence is usually the education/success that it can bring. There are many intelligent losers who don’t get the babes.

    I too get embarassed when people say things like “oh you must be smart” b/c I did nothing to earn my talent at school. School was easy for me too until I had to support myself financially at the same time. That is interesting that you are proud of your body because you worked for it and I’m proud of my achievements because I worked for them. But I didn’t work for my looks so I don’t feel I earned them and therefore I prefer to be valued for the things I feel I earned, as do you.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. The problem is that women typically are SOLELY valued and measured by their appearance. Men are typically valued by their achievements. A woman who is born with looks that no surgery or work can fix will always be scorned no matter what she achieves. Janet Reno in point. A man with hideous features can become successful, like Rodney Dangerfield and be revered for his achievements. No matter what Reno does no one will ever stop making fun of her appearance.

    I see your point that success is the result of the genetic lottery aspect too but there’s an assymetry. You did have to work for your degrees even if it wasn’t hard. I did NOTHING to earn my body, if anything I’m probably hurting it.

  128. December 17, 2004 at 6:48 pm

    MAN, these threads move FAST.

    In following up what Bryce said about how the two of us met our wives — I will concede that, although I found my future wife very attractive from Day One (a very ready smile, and I’m always a sucker for big dark eyes), I didn’t marry her for my physical attraction to her. I didn’t even date her for that reason. The biggest boon was that, having both served in the same mission (though never in the same area at the same time), we knew all the same people and places. Eat your hearts out, guys — here was a girl who WANTED to hear all my mission stories for hours on end! By the time we both ran out of stories, we were married.

    Oh, and Kristine, by Occam’s Razor, I propose the following conclusion to your experience:

    Your Mission President was a twit.

  129. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    was the JM comment for me? I’m a girl. And you are correct my views are very colored by the fact that I’ve only experienced life as a girl.

  130. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    Me: A woman who is born with looks that no surgery or work can fix will always be scorned no matter what she achieves. Janet Reno in point.

    Oops, I take that back. Elanor Roosevelt. My bad. But I stand by everything else I said.

  131. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    Also, Kingsley, if it had been 2 or 3 random guys in different wards, that would be one thing, but bishops, mission presidents, and their counselors are supposed to be better than your average random guy. To the extent that being called as a mission president represents organizational approbation, we can infer at least that this kind of attitude towards women is not regarded as significantly sinful.

  132. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 6:55 pm

    JL–I was responding to comment #122, which is signed JM. Was that you, typing fast?

  133. JL
    December 17, 2004 at 6:59 pm

    Oops. Not me. Aren’t I feeling self-important today? I’m going to stop commenting now. Though and would like to hear your opinion on Clark’s comment # 116.

    Looking forward to your list.

  134. JM
    December 17, 2004 at 7:46 pm

    Kristine is right: I, JM, am male. And she’s also right that my gender certainly colors my view of the world.

    So Kristine, can I make a suggestion? As a T&S lurker, I’ve never associated your posts about local church leaders with many positive experiences. You once mentioned a good experience with a bishop, I think, who really listened to you. But I have to believe that you’ve got more such positive experiences to share. I think hearing about them would give us a more accurate picture of you.

    But I’m probably overstepping my bounds now. That’s why I normally lurk, I suppose, so I don’t get in trouble.

  135. Kristine
    December 17, 2004 at 8:04 pm

    JM, thanks–that’s a useful bit of feedback. I think the positive experiences tend not to get written about because I assume they are the norm, and so the negative ones are interesting. Also, I’ve had some doosies for negative experiences, and there’s a certain unattractive bitterness there, I confess. I’ll work on the balance thing.

  136. anna s.
    December 17, 2004 at 8:10 pm

    Though I generally restrict myself to passive interaction with this site, having been invoked numerous times by Kingsley (I am a resident of the “crit lit” apartment and I did today recite Middle English for him; I also was a presidential scholar; hopefully I meet enough criteria to post), I felt beholden to “out” myself before my name appears as proof of his argument.
    I do agree with Clark, mostly. However, I understand JL’s reaction to his comments, having experienced much of what she has described. However, I think that her generalizations are too broad: Rodney Dangerfield was, and still is, mocked for his appearance. Gorbachev will never live down his birthmark. Condoleeza Rice is not stunning, but she is well respected for her achievements.
    Most interesting, I feel, is the pull between attraction towards the stunning (both physically and intellectually), and the mediocre. One may lust after Johnny Depp or Elle Macpherson, depending on your preference, but we all feel more comfortable taking the middle road, both in what we seek and in our presentation of ourselves. We are more comfortable interacting at a distance with those who stand out for whatever reason. Obviously, many people overcome this, but I do believe that it is an attitude prevalent in all societies, simply because it makes things easier.

  137. Adam Greenwood
    December 17, 2004 at 8:52 pm

    It’s actually an attitude more prevalent, mademoiselle Anna S., in close-knit communities like ours. I know that rural folk, Mormons, Japanese, and various Indian tribes that I’m familiar with have the attitude that ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.’ Urban professionals, on the other hand, are less likely to not want to stand our for their accomplishments and glamour.

  138. December 17, 2004 at 8:58 pm

    I see your point that success is the result of the genetic lottery aspect too but there’s an assymetry. You did have to work for your degrees even if it wasn’t hard. I did NOTHING to earn my body, if anything I’m probably hurting it.

    That’s not really accurate at all. For instance while I don’t really appreciate complements for my intellect, there are plenty of other things I enjoy complements for that I also think largely genetic.

    As for doing nothing to earn your body, I’d disagree there. Even if all you do is maintain it, that is something within your control. One need not look far to see women or men blessed with outstanding genetics in terms of physique who “let themselves go.” One might also bring up the parable of the talents. Just like and many in this thread may have been blessed with intellect, we still had to develop those talents. Perhaps it was easier for us than many others. But there was still work involved. If we go the gnostic route and devalue the body, aren’t we really not making use of one of the talents the Lord has given us? Buried them underground, as it were?

    It has been my experience though that many very attractive women are very insecure about it. They either overcompensate by seeking attention to their looks and building their lives around it or else worry so much about it and are unfortunately too touchy about it. It is odd. To follow Kristine and bring up an other stereotype of men, men often talk about how the ideal woman is a woman who is hot and doesn’t realize it.

    Personally I’d like to see everyone recognize their blessings, regardless of where it is located and yet be humble in their appreciation of them. I can’t say I do that yet. But I try.

  139. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 9:10 pm

    JL, be greatful!

    You could be like me – no intellectual talent, no good looks.

  140. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 9:13 pm

    Be grateful, this is. (I’m proving my point!)

  141. ESO
    December 17, 2004 at 9:17 pm

    After my first year at BYU, I went to visit my friend, whose school (UVA) was still in session. I was stunned at all the fat girls on campus and even more astounded that many of these girls had boyfriends. Not at BYU; I never saw a fat girl go on a date with a male BYU student. I don’t think Mormon boys are any more guilty of valuing temporary beauty than other men, I just think they should know better, and that is what makes the difference.

    I also served a mission and later raught at the MTC. I heard ugly connections between an Elder’s work and his wife’s appearance on occassion, but saw such beliefs demonstarted regularly. I stll can’t believe that I was able to bite my tongue at district conference when several elders were discussing their much revered MTC teacher’s upcoming marriage. One had received an invitation with photo. “How did she look?” “He could do better.” 19-year old boys. It is a mystery to me that we allow them to be the face of the Church to the world.

  142. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 9:23 pm

    I’m surprised no one has brought up the subject of BYU co-ed jokes yet. They seem to be relevant to the discussion. Note that I’m not asking anyone to share their favorites.

  143. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 9:23 pm


    I’d wager the BYU boys are more interested in finding a wife than the UVA boys.

  144. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 9:33 pm

    If a BYU co-ed and a UofU co-ed were standing on the roof of the Marriot Center which would fall first?

    The Marriot Center.

    I read that on the back of a sacrament meeting program at a BYU singles ward! My first impulse was to chuckle but it quickly turned to a disgust.

    How does a BYU co-ed take a bath?

    First she fills the tub, then she turns the water on.

    I heard this one when I was working at a paint store in california, of all places. I can laugh at this one because that’s how I bathe as well.

  145. ESO
    December 17, 2004 at 9:43 pm

    Do you mean that, while BYU boys are looking for a wife, they are only looking amoung the thin girls? Is that OK?

  146. Jack
    December 17, 2004 at 9:52 pm

    Of course that’s what they’re doing. Whether or not it’s OK….

  147. December 17, 2004 at 11:25 pm

    Given two people you could date, one who you find more attractive than an other, who will you date? No offense, but this seems a no brainer.

    Once again, to echo John’s comments, what’s so back about bodies?

  148. December 17, 2004 at 11:27 pm

    Whoops. “…what’s so bad about bodies?” Heavens, I’m overweight right now and I consider that a sin on my part. Thus my attempt to head off to the gym in a few minutes. It seems odd to me that we defend the Word of Wisdom as a law of health, avoid the substances mention, but seem to not see obesity as a problem with our stewardship or respect to our bodies. Not to mention the food we eat.

    And hopefully I’m not being a hypocrite in this, since I recognize that especially of late I’ve fallen short and am trying to do better.

    But seriously. If we cut out an hour of TV or other such activities a day and spent that time weight lifting and jogging I think we’d be much more in harmony with how the Lord values our bodies. (Just as I think we also ought be exercising our brains)

  149. David King Landrith
    December 17, 2004 at 11:44 pm

    Rosalynde Welch: DKL, I was waiting for you to show up! (And I’m glad you did, really.)

    I’m speechless. When did I become so predictable?

    Rosalynde Welch: For evidence that my husband married me for reasons other than physical beauty, one need only consult my bio photo.

    Hot chicks are always complaining that they’re unattractive. Here’s a tip, Rosalynde: if you want guys to fall for your “poor little ugly me” act, use a different photo (or at least let someone play with it in Photoshop® first).

    JL: Women’s bodies are and have been objectified in ways men have not.

    Indeed, and rightly so. Women’s bodies are more fun to look at.

    Since I run no risk whatever of being objectified for looks, money, power, or what have you, I have no conflicts of interest. I therefore have a rather priviledged and detached position from which to judge objectification, and I don’t think that it is necessarilly bad.

    I remember a single-frame cartoon where a cartoon guy and a cartoon chick (it’s got to be OK to call ‘em chicks when they’re just drawings) were eying each other as they walked toward one another on a (cartoon) sidewalk. Both were heavily stylized in the stereotypical cartoon sexy mode: the chick with an oversized bust, no waist, and a bubble butt; the guy with a huge chest, broad shoulders, and no hips or rear-end. Each had a cloud above their head, depicting their thoughts. The guy envisioned the chick in a skimpy bikini. The chick envisioned the guy dolled up in a tuxedo. There’s something to this (see Nate Oman’s My Only Real Regret thread to see how enthusiastically Mormon men embrace the guy’s viewpoint in the cartoon). And I agree with you (I think) that it warrants no apology from either sex.

    True and Living Nathon: there’s a difference between being attracted to your spouse, and wanting an attractive spouse.

    Even so, I observe that nobody has taken up my challange to boast about how ugly their spouse is, even if they’re attracted. (Though Rosalynde has honorably—if not credibly—taken up such a boast on her husband’s behalf.)

  150. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 11:49 pm

    To elaborate just slightly on the point I made earlier in haste:

    The mere existence of BYU co-ed jokes as a well-established genre seems to speak volumes about the attitudes of LDS men towards the physical appearance of women. That one would appear on the back of a sacrament meeting program (comment #144) is inexcusable, but sadly not too difficult to imagine.

  151. Kevin Barney
    December 17, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    I haven’t read the thread (148 messages is a bit much to try to wade through!), but I thought I would share my Neil LaBute story.

    I used to be ward executive secretary, and one Sunday Neil’s records came in to the ward. I knew right away who he was (having seen some of his plays at Chicago Sunstones, back when Chicago used to hold regional Sunstones, and I had seen all of his movies at the time). Of course, no one else in the bishopric meeting had any idea who he was. He had just moved from Indiana to Barrington, Illinois.

    So I volunteered to go and visit him. My intention was to make myself his hometeacher, and do what I could to shield him from church discipline. But it never happened. I tried to find his house one day, but the address appeared to be bad. And later, our bishop called his old bishop, and got a (negative, of course) report on who Neil was and his theatrical and movie work. And that was that. We never did find him; I think maybe he actually moved to a location just over the line into the stake to our north.

    I lament that it didn’t work out. It would have been cool being Neil’s home teacher!

  152. Bryce I
    December 17, 2004 at 11:52 pm

    I have not much to add to Clark’s recent comments other than to say that I generally agree. Keep it up man!

  153. Shannon Keeley
    December 17, 2004 at 11:56 pm

    Brian, cool your jets! (as you always say to me when I get worked up).

    Brian claims that his post was intended to be “sarcastic� and “satirical,� but I don’t think it reads that way. . .so, sorry if it offended anyone, especially Rosalynde. I’m sure he will be posting his own recant soon, but he had to rush off for the final day of shooting. . .

    Anyway, a few thoughts. . .

    I don’t think it’s really fair for Brain, or others, to dismiss the “hard working missionary = hot wife� philosophy merely as “silly phrases by silly elders� or “idiotic aphorisms.� As Kristine points out, she heard it from leaders in positions of considerable authority. And even if it were an aphorism spread mainly by elders, intended to be silly and or humorous, the mere pervasiveness in the mission culture is not only troubling, but clearly points to larger issues and damaging attitudes about women AND men.

    Also, on the subject of this thread getting misdirected from Neil Labute into a discussion of beauty vs. intellect, I don’t see a problem with that either. It seems that this thread was a continuation of Rosalynde’s earlier discussion on Mormon Masculinity, and the objectification of women (whether it be in or out of the church), is one of the ideas at the very core of Labute’s work. So, to me, it seems right on topic.

    And finally, regarding the issue of Benson scholars and intelligent BYU men marrying less intelligent but attractive women. . .

    I have to agree with Kaimi (comment #55) in that determining whether two mates are intellectual equals is a tricky business. First of all, I have issues with how intelligence is measured and quantified (especially in academic contexts). Certainly, the Presidential Scholars are always among BYU’s brightest and most promising students. But there are only so many spots available. Many intelligent students aren’t eligible for it, and I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are any less intelligent. Benson Scholar socials were probably held to make these students feel valued and important to the university, not to pair of all the super smart folks. I’m not trying to diminish the achievement that these scholarships represent; I really respect and admire those who earned them. I just think it’s important to keep in mind receiving a Presidential Scholarship (or, for that matter, attending an Ivy League school etc.), shouldn’t be a litmus test for intellectual capacity.

    I know that Rosalynde’s post wasn’t arguing the opposite (that only Benson Scholars are super smart, etc.). It just strikes me after reading all these posts that we’ve given a lot of thought to the problematics of how women are judged by a standards of beauty which are impossible for most women to meet (and some will go broke or die trying).

    But what about the standards by which a woman’s (or man’s) intellect is judged? When we observe that smart Mormon men are marrying hot but not-so-smart Mormon women, by what standards are we evaluating that women’s intellect? Advanced degrees? Great vocabulary? Number of books on her shelf? Is it possible that this endeavor could be equally as demeaning and problematic as the “beauty contest” mentality?

  154. David King Landrith
    December 18, 2004 at 12:00 am

    JM: As a T&S lurker, I’ve never associated your posts…

    How much do you normally charge for your objective, 3rd party, lurker T&S posting habits analyses? Can I get one?

  155. December 18, 2004 at 1:41 am

    Regarding the connection between the thread as it evolved and its origins in LaBute, I think #20 makes the connection fairly clear. LaBute portrays men behaving badly, even though he may be somewhat hypocritical in this, depending upon how you view his actions and his art. (One might also say that he is merely bringing out demons that worry him. Or it may all be coincidence. I’m not one to connect too strongly the artist to their art.)

    The question is whether men behaving badly is something symptomatic of LDS culture. I’m not sure it is, although heaven knows we still have a long way to go as a people to reach the City of Enoch’s status. However, as I’ve said several times and I’ll not belabor, I worry about a general anti-materialism that sees this “behaving badly” in terms of a kind of intrinsic evilness of the flesh. It might not appear that way in genteel way we discuss it. But I do think there is a certain devaluing of our bodies that is unhealthy.

    Personally, were I do criticize our people, it is there, more than the “problem” of finding women attractive and beautiful women more attractive.

  156. David King Landrith
    December 18, 2004 at 9:15 am

    Clark, my take was slightly different, though such things often go over my head. I thought that part of the conversation about LaBute concerned the issue of whether the notion of “men behaving badly” was unfair to men. Are the so called “obvious problems” with most American mens behavior (including LDS men) really problems? or are they projections from overaggressive feminists who want men to be just like they are? It seems a given that men are fairly forgiving of the foibles of women (with the superior virtue of the oppressed and all); why can’t men expect the same kind of leeway in return?

  157. December 19, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    It’s interesting to me in this thread is how evolutionary game theory is nearly taken as a given for reasons behind male and female behavior. Do we really take that at face value?

  158. John Mansfield
    December 20, 2004 at 7:27 am

    These comments bring to mind The Girl from Jones Beach, a fun little movie starring Virginia Mayo and Ronald Reagan.

  159. December 21, 2004 at 1:22 am

    thank you for your thoughtful comments about my work. i hope you get a chance to see “fat pig” or at least read the text–i think you will find that you are on the right track…a glimmer of redemption did indeed make its way into this particular play. i don’t know if it will become a trend or not, but it’s a start. and as for ‘mormon masculinity’ finding its way into the work–like you, i too will leave that to the scholars and critics. i simply write the things, so i’m the last person to be asking…
    thanks again for your kind, insightful words about my writing. best of luck with your own work.

    neil labute

  160. Rosalynde Welch
    December 21, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    Neil, I’m surprised but very pleased that you’ve found your way to this thread. (Of course, it’s impossible to verify identity in this forum, so it’s possible that I’m responding to an imposter. But I’ve read that you often respond to reviews of your work, so I think it’s just possible that this really is you!) I too hope that I will soon be able to see or read “Fat Pig.” As a student of 16th century literature, it’s an unusual experience, to say the least, for me to encounter a writer’s response to my analysis of his or her work. You disclaim any special insight into the ideological implication of your work–after all, you simply wrote the thing, as you say. But certainly you have insight into the *formal* properties of your work: I recently rented the DVD of your film “Possession” (which I, unlike some other critics, greatly enjoyed–both because I loved the book and because its gentler sensibility better suits my own. And because I secretly feel that Gwyneth Paltrow is my long-lost twin sister (fraternal twin, unfortunately)), and, unbelievably, I watched the entire “director’s commentary” track, in which you comment in some detail on the circumstances in which you made the film. Most of your comments, as I recall, dealt with the novelty and difficulty of filmmaking for you. But you did comment thematically, as well–on the difficult of human relationship, of coming together and communicating. If you were to provide a similar “director’s commentary” track to your plays, how would your observations differ? Would you have more or less to say on the formal properties, since the theater is your home medium, and on the themes, since the story is your own creation?

  161. December 21, 2004 at 3:20 pm

    you catch me out–i’ve responded to my own work many times over and, no doubt, will do so again. i took the ‘beckett defense’ this time around because it was easy, and easy gets a bad rap. every so often, i opt for easy…
    hopefully, most of what i had to say about the play is ‘in’ the play, but one can always elaborate–unfortunately, sometimes to the edge of tedium. and beyond.
    if you have specific questions about the work i’d be happy to answer as best i can. thanks again for caring enough to ask in the first place!


  162. Rosalynde Welch
    December 21, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    Neil, easy is okay, especially during the promotional period of the premiere, when you must get sick to death of answering questions about the play. I saw Keri Russell doing just that on the Today show this morning. (Although it strikes me that promotion is far less strenuous in the theater business than in the movie business–but I may just have less knowledge of the theater business.) And as for the edge of tedium and beyond… the DVD seems to foster plenty of this. I don’t watch many movies, comparatively speaking, so others could probably find better examples, but I remember watching a little of Robert deNiro’s “actor’s commentary” track on “Meet the Parents.” Beyond the edge of tedium, indeed.

    As for “Fat Pig” in particular… last night we went to a large local mall, more for atmosphere than for shopping. (As I’ve said on another thread, I’m a glutton for holiday punishment, enjoying not only the mall but also commercial Christmas music stations.) Being a new transplant to the midwest from the west coast, I was shocked at how many stores were devoted to large-size women’s clothing, including one called “Torrid” with, uh, spicier fashions for the woman of size. Is Helen the kind of woman who would shop at “Torrid”? Maybe more interestingly, would Carter and Russell’s character, who seem to be dutiful cogs in American industry, market a line of Torrid-style clothing? that is, how does the corporate dimension, which shows up in a number of your plays, work with the personal dimension of Tom’s dilemma?

  163. December 21, 2004 at 6:10 pm

    Rosalynde: I was consistently interested in very smart women at BYU and I went hopefully to the social gatherings that you referenced. The problem is that with a few exceptions, smart women at BYU were utterly uninterested in me. Indeed my heart was shattered into little pieces on more than one occasion when one of the high-IQ objects of my hopes and dreams went off with a dim-bulb pretty boy. Of course the lack of interest in me may simply have been evidence of how smart the women I was interested in actually were.

    I am happy to say that I was eventually able to marry a very intelligent woman, albeit one who attended school in Boston rather than Provo. She insists, however, that she married me for my body and not my brain. Apparently in college I lacked the raw animal magnitism that I later developed when I was wooing Heather in DC…

    In short, a pox on all the smart BYU women who complained that no one was ever romantically interested in them!!

    [Whew! I have been wanting to get that off my chest for several years.]

  164. Brian G
    December 21, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    Mr. LaBute,

    I just want to say that when I said your work was derivative of David Mamet—I meant it in the best way possible. I wrote a play once and woke up the next morning and realized it was Oleanna. So, please, take no offense. Mamet’s great and so are you.

    I admire any writer who gets a film or play produced. Any other disparaging comments I may have made were pure speculation on my part. I suppose it’s a poor defense, but I never thought you’d actually read them, or maybe you didn’t, I don’t know. In any case, now that you’ve commented, I think it’s great. Please resume talking with Rosalynde.


    Brian G.

  165. Adam Greenwood
    December 21, 2004 at 6:20 pm

    Like Nate Oman, I found that all the smart women at BYU were utterly uninterested in me. Also all the non-smart women. Also every woman at the place. My wife appears to have had bad upbringing or something, because apparently no one ever clued her in that I wasn’t dateable, let alone marriageable, material.

    Those who accuse me of mysogyny may ascribe to my BYU experience whatever causative role they wish.

  166. Shannon Keeley
    December 21, 2004 at 6:58 pm

    I find the current state of this thread interesting. We have returned to the ideas put forth in Rosalynde’s original post about the themes of LaBute’s work—a discussion that LuBute himself has even chimed in on! And’ we’ve also returned to our previous discussion about smart men vs. smart women at BYU, and who rejected who more.

    For what it’s worth on the BYU subject. . .
    For the sake of the argument I’ll have to consider myself a “smart� woman, (which may be debatable), but this was my experience. I pursued a number of “smart� BYU men who would probably not be considered dashing or handsome by Hollywood standards of beauty, but who peaked my interest nonetheless. Sadly, I was rejected by most of them, and even stood up by one of them.

    And, regarding LaBute’s work:
    I haven’t had the chance to see any staged productions of LaBute’s work, but I’ve seen most of his films, and my favorite by far is Nurse Betty. I thought the story was compelling and thought provoking, Renee Zellweger and Greg Kinnear were outstanding, and I can never get enough of Krispin Glover.

  167. December 21, 2004 at 6:59 pm

    “torrid!” now that’s a good one–i wish i’d known that before i started writing, i might’ve tried to fit that in somewhere. to answer your question, rosalynde, yes, i think ‘helen’ (the titular character in the play) might very well shop at “torrid” for some romantic clothing, or she might scoff at it and walk down to penney’s. i tried to create a woman who does what she pleases, when she pleases and because it pleases her–although she doesn’t mind pleasing someone else along the way. the fact that a person shops at “torrid” or “victoria’s secret” says precious little about them, ultimately, other than their taste (or lack thereof) in undergarments. as for the business side of things–writing about business interests me because of the work environment itself, the physical space in which people are asked to conduct their public lives. it creates the potential for ripe drama, simply because workers are asked to exist in a world in which they can constantly be scrutinized by others–co-workers, superiors, the public, etc. fascinating places, actually–the cast of “fat pig” visited the corporate offices of microsoft in nyc when we were in rehearsals and i think it helped immensely in setting the tone of the ‘office’ scenes. they needed to sit in a few cubicles to understand the dynamics…

    as for publicity–yes, it can get old but it’s a part of the work. if you’re not willing to promote what you’ve created, i worry that there’s something wrong with it in the first place…

    and brian, no worries–i’ve been accused of much worse than what you wrote during your assessment of me and my work. plus, a ‘cheap thrill’ or two never hurt anybody…


  168. Rosalynde Welch
    December 21, 2004 at 9:17 pm

    (okay, I can no longer restrain myself, and I will abandon every appearance of sophisticated blase to gush about how very, very incredibly cool it is that Neil LaBute has visited the site and commented. I will even allow myself to use an exclamation mark, which I ration strictly: wow!)

  169. Brian G
    December 21, 2004 at 9:46 pm

    Thanks, Mr. LaBute, for throwing a little forgiveness and redemption my way. I feel much better–like my writer’s karma is now restored.

  170. Rosalynde Welch
    December 22, 2004 at 12:23 am

    So Neil, is “Fat Pig” a study of the culture of overweight, or a study of our culture’s anxiety about obesity, or neither? Your recent work has proved eerily relevant–in topic, at least–to popular reality television shows: I’m thinking about “The Shape of Things” in relation to the host of makeover shows, and “Fat Pig” to “The Biggest Loser,” for instance. But is “Fat Pig” really more about Tom’s and his co-workers’ difficulty in moving between public and private lives than about Helen’s weight? That is, is the matter of obesity merely incidental (though undoubtedly culturally relevant) to the drama, or is it integral to the way the characters interact? Could Helen have been, say, simply ugly, rather than fat?

  171. December 22, 2004 at 10:49 am


    it is definitely a fill-in-the-blank situation with “fat pig;” the issue of weight is important to the construction of the piece, but i hope the situation is somewhat universal upon viewing it. no matter what the difference–race, weight, same sex, etc.–if a person finds it easier to keep their relationship a secret than to share it, “fat pig” hopefully speaks to them and their situation. the play is a study in weakness; much more about ‘tom’s’ dilemma than ‘helen’s.’ she is, in fact, quite well adjusted and only asking ‘tom’ to be truthful with her, something that seems to be a failing of his (his ex-girlfriend keeps asking the same thing).
    ‘tom’ works in a competitive environment, one that judges everything from his choice in sweaters to his girlfriend–in that world, it is regrettable but understandable that ‘tom’ has trouble being straightforward. it takes guts, after all, and those are often quite hard to come by…
    as for my writing of late–i’ve gotten lucky to hit the zeitgeist a few times along the way, but i’m one of the least ‘current’ writers around. i rarely rip stories from the headlines or keep an eye on the pulse of the nation. true, i wrote one play about 9/11 and one about the church–or a few members thereof–but look where that got me!
    and as for helen being ‘ugly’ instead of ‘heavy’–oddly enough, people often seem more understanding about looks than weight. after all, you’re born with your looks but we view weight as something that one can more easily do something about, i.e.-stop eating so much. and looks are also often considered more subjective than weight–beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but fat is fat… many is the time that i’ve heard, “well, she’s got a pretty face…” when someone tries to find something appealing about a person who falls outside of our own acceptable limits of weight. nice ‘eyes, personality, smile, laugh, etc.’ are also employed.
    i’ll quit babbling now, but that hopefully answers a few of your queries…


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