Hearing Voices

Two years ago when Segullah made its debut I fielded lots of questions. The most frequent was this: Why a new journal?

My answer: Because Mormon women need an independent forum that maintains a faithful perspective.

“Independent forum” rarely caused any hang-ups. “Faithful perspective” was a speed bump for some (and that’s a topic for another post). But others moved right along to the “women” part. Aren’t male perspectives just as valuable? some of them asked.

Of course, of course. I had radical feminist leanings in college, but I’ve far outgrown the deluded belief that men are, basically, chumps. I believe that the greatest heights of humanity come from the union of male and female, in intimate pairs and in larger communities. And I’d love to see a faith-promoting journal of personal writings by LDS men and women. For that matter, I’d love to see one for men only. But those are someone else’s projects. Mine, as editor of Segullah, is fostering the female voice.

So, what is the female voice? I figured you’d ask. To answer I’ll need a little help from Ursula K. LeGuin and her 1986 Bryn Mawr commencement speech about gender-based dialects. She describes them as the father tongue and the mother tongue. One is the voice of authority, objectivity, division. The other is the voice of relationship, subjectivity, connection. You can guess which one is which. And no, she doesn’t assert that only men speak the father tongue and only women speak the mother tongue. She says both can speak both. And her purpose is to encourage women to speak a third dialect, one she calls art.

Go read the article. I just did, for the first time in fourteen years. I don’t agree with everything LeGuin says–and today I agree with even less than I used to. But I agree with this:

When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.

When we question what the female voice might be, here is a starting point: the collective sound of women offering their experience as truth. This concept embraces not only the simple instance of a woman saying something, but also what she says, and how she says it. And Segullah attends to all three. With few exceptions, we invite women only to speak in our forum, because to share the forum would limit opportunities to speak. With few exceptions, we invite women to share personal writings only–essays and poetry capturing pieces of their lives, their selves–because herein lies their truth. Womanly truth. Human truth.

This truth is nothing short of transformative–for the writer, and the reader. It is a woman’s being, spoken as art. It is spoken in that third dialect LeGuin calls for, the “wedding and the welding” of the father tongue and the mother tongue. And the world has far too little of it.

One thing [women] incontestably do is have babies . . . But we are not to talk about having babies, because that is not part of the experience of men and so nothing to do with reality, with civilization, and no concern of art: A rending scream in another room. And Prince Audrey comes in and sees his poor little wife dead bearing his son; Or Levin goes out into his fields and thanks his God for the birth of his son. And we know how Prince Audrey feels and how Levin feels and even how God feels, but we don’t know what happened. Something happened, something was done, which we know nothing about. But what was it?

Noelle Carter, winner of Segullah’s first annual poetry contest, has an answer.

I swell as mountains break free from their burning
liquid state. As the center grows hotter, the edges
cool, and lapping energy turns to mud, then stone. I
move slowly, for my crust has formed and is brittle.

Does each cell grunt and yell in effort as it becomes
a house divided, the tiny, wordless cries for release
unheard by me, their universe?

Alone in a room full of people; I am lifted, cut free,
and given to myself.

And there’s plenty more truth where that came from. Take a peek at Segullah’s hot-off-the-press summer issue. Here are personal essays about breastfeeding, quilting, womanly power, womanly guilt, the value of domestic life. An interview with a jive-talking convert. Poems about Mary and Martha, Abish, Eve. Each page reveals the inner workings of womanhood–territory that, if left unexplored, leaves the world bereft of half of humanity’s experience. And leaves half of humanity bereft of the power and transformation that come from knowing themselves.

Sure, some of these topics can be found in mixed-gender forums, here and there. But I daresay many of these contributors would have written differently if for a mixed audience. Some would not have written at all. Why? LeGuin has lots of answers. (So does celebrated linguist Deborah Tannen, whose angle is a lot less inflammatory to non-feminists.) But even if none of them were true–even if the as-written contents of this issue showed up in other publications, piecemeal–the effect would not be the same. Sparks scattered here and there do not a mountain make.

And here’s where I end. There are a million and one things more that I could say, and perhaps a few things more that I should say. But it’s getting hot in here.

That’s what I want: to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you–I want to hear you.

26 comments for “Hearing Voices

  1. Kathryn, I truly admire your enterprise and fortitude in launching a new magazine; that’s a really big undertaking. I’ve enjoyed several of the pieces I’ve read at the site.

    Are you ever concerned that the kinds of pieces your publish—-not just the sex of the writers—will further ghettoize Mormon women in Mormon internet venues? I would urge you actively to solicit serious scriptural and doctrinal pieces from women for your publication, as well. (Forgive me if you have already done this, and I have simply not read them.) They will not be very popular or much read, but perhaps in some small way they will develop and model the kinds of discourse that women must master if they are to contribute to the institutions of our religious civic life as well as its culture.

  2. A men’s magazine, though? I’m dubious. Odds on it would only be fit for the fire.

  3. I’m with Adam on this one. A men’s magazine seems kinda pointless. I also like what I’ve read on Segullah. So major kudos!

  4. I am glad Segullah exists for the very reasons you mention. Years ago I attended Women’s Conference at BYU. I enjoyed attending the women’s writings winners section each year. It gave voice to women unlike anywhere I had ever been at church. One presenter stood out like a brightly lit bulb in a dark room. Her winning poem was entitled Envying Ruth. She was a young, newly married, convert living in Utah while her husband attended school. Her poem said so much between the lines. I looked forward to reading it again and again in the published volume of the Women’s Conference book published. When I purchased it, it was missing from the book. I called the committee and they simply stated the essays wouldn’t be printed in the books any longer. I was disappointed. Her voice was small but strong, other women needed to read her words. I sighed and moved on.

    Segullah has become those texts. Those quiet voices of women of faith throughout the church aching for as way to express their commitment, worries, struggles and victories. A lighted candle shining forth to lead a way for others on the journey. We are not the same woman, but we tread a common ground.

    That is my main reason for loving this journal. Voices. When the days are short, and time is precious, remember you are all doing a worthy work at Segullah.

  5. Kathy, it’s been a while since I read Ursula Leguin’s talk. Thank you for pointing me to it again, in the context of Segullah. I love what she says here:

    “So what am I talking about with this “unlearned language” – poetry, literature? Yes, but it can be speeches and science, any use of language when it is spoken, written, read, heard as art, the way dancing is the body moving as art. In Sojourner Truth’s words you hear the coming together, the marriage of the public discourse and the private experience, making a power, a beautiful thing, the true discourse of reason. This is a wedding and welding back together of the alienated consciousness that I’ve been calling the father tongue and the undifferentiated engagement that I’ve been calling the mother tongue. This is their baby, this baby talk, the language you can spend your life trying to learn.”

    I love the “marriage of public discourse and private experience” idea. I don’t think that providing a forum centered primarily on that marriage “ghettoizes” those voices….

    I’ve enjoyed the serious pieces Segullah has published–this issue’s piece on pioneers dealing with death, http://segullah.org/summer2007/alliswell, or the historical overview on sister missionaries in the Church, http://segullah.org/spring2006/sisterhistory.html. They are interesting, informative. But they are father tongue, as LeGuin says. While I appreciate their scholarship, and think that women need to “contribute to the institutions of our religious civic life,” I find more power and truth in that “marriage of discourse and private experience” found in personal essays and poetry.

    At Segullah, women speak some of “father tongue” but mostly explore LeGuin’s “unlearned language.” After reading Rosalynde’s post, I wonder if we also need a forum centered primarily on womens’ father-tongue writings…

  6. So your answer to the query is,

    “I started the magazine because I was hearing voices — and I wanted to hear more!” : )

  7. I just clicked over to Segullah, and the front page formatting is very mixed up. When I click into the individual articles that you linked, the formatting displays just fine. I use Opera for my browser. When I opened your front page in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, it looked just fine. It looked fine on a Mozilla browser too.

    My DH computer geek says that means your front page is not WC3 compliant. He said the WC3 standards were established by a group of people who have established html standards so that a page will work in any browser. However, he says Microsoft has made its own standards, and so occasionally a page won’t display properly in every browser.

    I don’t really understand all that, but it means I can’t read your front page on an Opera browser. Just an FYI.

    I liked what you had to say in this post.

  8. Melinda, thanks for that heads up. I’ll let our webmaster know.

    Kaimi, you’re right on.

    Chronicler, thank you. Comments like yours are what keep us going through the untold hours of unpaid labor!

    Adam and Jacob, explain yourselves. Why would a men’s mag be only fit for the fire/pointless? Some of the men who contributed to that Sunstone blog post on the topic (which I link to in my post above) said the same thing. I’d like to hear more about this. Isn’t there value in men describing their experiences, for the benefit of other men and women as well? Is it true (as Tannen says) that men communicate mostly to assert/compete and not to relate? Would a journal of men’s personal writings be a pansy mag? Clue me in.

    Rosalynde–We include a few features per issue that are not personal writing. We have published a couple of historical pieces, as Emily pointed out, and would love to receive more (Ardis?) We haven’t received any submissions for theological/doctrinal articles (I’ve pasted the submission guidelines for those below). I think you’re right, that active solicitation is needed. And so, consider yourself invited!

    Seriously. Who better to break the ice than you? I still remember reading your brilliant personal essay about the first weeks postpartum–even in that genre you couldn’t help yourself from speaking father tongue. (At least, that’s what I remember you telling us.) You and Julie are pros. Show us how it’s done.

    I agree that such pieces are not as eagerly read as personal essays. But it’s important to break the stereotype, to show that women can speak father tongue as well as any man. Much oppression has stemmed from women being pegged as irrational, incapable of objectivity, etc etc. There’s much good that can come from LDS women proving their articulateness (Pres. Kimball encouraged this very thing) and powers of reason. I think this is one reason why Sheri Dew and Chieko Okasaki were such popular leaders–they spoke with a relatively authoritative voice, and women liked feeling that strength coming over the pulpit from a fellow female.

    At the same time, I want to promote the validity of that third dialect LeGuin refers to. I want to show the power of truth rooted in experience. I assume you’ve read Jane Tompkin’s essay about this (“Me and My Shadow”). Here’s a favorite quote of mine:

    “There are two voices inside me…. These beings exist separately but not apart. One writes for professional journals, the other in diaries, late at night. One uses words like “context” and “intelligibility,” likes to win arguments, see her name in print, and give graduate students hardheaded advice. The other has hardly been heard from.

    …The dichotomy drawn here is false — and not false. I mean in reality there’s no split. It’s the same person who feels and who discourses about epistemology. The problem is that you can’t talk about your private life in the course of doing your professional work. You have to pretend that epistemology, or whatever you’re writing about, has nothing to do with your life, that it’s more exalted, more important, because it supposedly transcends the merely personal. Well, I’m tired of the conventions that keep discussions of epistemology, or James Joyce, segregated from meditations on what is happening outside my window or inside my heart. The public-private dichotomy, which is to say, the public-private hierarchy, is a founding condition of female oppression. I say to hell with it. The reason I feel embarrassed at my own attempts to speak personally in a professional context is that I have been conditioned to feel that way. That’s all there is to it”

    So. Yes, the father tongue is welcome in Segullah, in small portions. And I hope you (and Julie and all you other scholarly minded women) will contribute. Here are the guidelines:

    Theological/doctrinal Essay (2-4 pages/ 1350-2850 words). We are interested in publishing theological or doctrinal expositions only if they are related to the issue theme [note: our summer issues have an open theme–any topic would be welcome]. This type of essay should provide meaningful and unique insights into a particular topic or scripture, possibly connected with personal experiences. While a theological essay should be in line with official LDS doctrine, it should not be a simplistic restatement of that doctrine (ie, a “cut-and-paste” research paper of scriptural and general authority references on a given topic). This type of essay may be more formal in tone than a personal essay, but it does not have to be. Any references should be cited with Chicago Manual footnote style. Query the Features Editor at [email protected]

  9. To Melinda (#8) Thanks for the head’s up–you have caught me fair and square. (and you run Opera, that’s very cool.) I have never had the entire Segullah site W3 compliant, though I do believe in doing so. Lately instead I’ve been reinstalling the blog and converting the main site into something that can be managed by WordPress.

    What I’m really looking for is either an apprentice, someone like me who always wanted to play on a server and be part of the Segullah project, or a mentor, someone who can help mend the gaps in my spotty self-taught ways.

  10. My idea of a worthwhile men’s movement is something like Promise Keepers or a service project, and I don’t see a magazine with kind of ethic getting anywhere. Other than that, no comment.

  11. Kathryn’s post reminded me of an issue I’ve wondered about; hopefully someone can point me to some reading material. The idea of a Man’s Mormon Magazine strikes me as impossible in the same way that a male-only professional basketball or golf association is impossible. I expect that some strands of feminism would resent the WNBA and LPGA as ghettoizing — and for reinforcing the idea that “men” means everyone, “women” means women-only — but I’ve never seen them. Are their feminist critiques of women-only associations? Thanks!

  12. Matt, yes there are. All feminists want to promote the status of women, but there’s a lot of disagreement about how this is best accomplished.

    To indulge in a few generalizations: liberal feminists (e.g. Gloria Steinem, Anna Quindlen, Hilary Clinton) see women’s empowerment as gaining full access to the male domain. Wanna-be liberal feminists pick and choose which elements they want for themselves (equal pay is a big one). Serious liberal feminists want the whole package, including currently male-only obligations such as being drafted in wartime. Since liberal feminists take issue with gender segregation, they’re likely to criticize anything women-only.

    Radical feminists (e.g. LeGuin herself), on the other hand, see empowerment in eschewing the male domain and reinventing society by fostering and elevating female culture. Radical feminists are much more likely to embrace women-only boundaries.

    Your example of sports teams is an interesting one. The leagues you mentioned ARE men-only. Women have their own. Some liberal feminists don’t like this, but it seems most feminists realize the efficacy of gender segregation when it comes to contests which depend on physical strength.

    Would Mormon women protest the formation of a male-only literary magazine? It would depend on the purpose of the exclusivity. Gender segregation for the purpose of community-building is something I think most Mormon women are okay with. Gender segregation for the purpose of excluding supposedly inferior participants would obviously not go over well with many of us.

  13. The LPGA is de jure women only. The PGA is not, so women have participated from time to time in PGA events.

  14. I’m pretty sure the NBA doesn’t exclude women players, either; I think Cheryl Miller tried out. I don’t know that any of the major sports organizations exclude women. Every once in a while a woman makes news for attending training camp or making the cut (car racing most recently).

  15. I guess I”m less worried about the ghettoization of women’s voices than the spectre of LDS women drawing lines between themselves and their sisters, based on someone’s (whose?) notion of what is and what is not faithful. Dialogue, Sunstone, and Exponent II would LOVE to publish things like the essays that appear on Segullah; they end up looking less faithful in some people’s eyes because they are (to a large degree) at the mercy of the submissions they receive. I know this isn’t the topic you wanted to take on with this post, but it’s huge, and I hope you will address it publicly, either here or at Segullah.

    Nonetheless, I add my voice to the chorus of praise for what you are doing. The writing at Segullah is exquisite, the thinking lively–it is a delight.

  16. I pretty sure that I’ve seen the word ghettoization on the bloggernacle more than every other place combined. Or is it just me?

    Anyway, it brings to mind this cartoon.

  17. Kristine, I think the answer is that the reputations of magazines, like everything else, are shaped more by the worst they’re willing to promote than by the best.

    DKL, I’ve never used the word ghettoizing outside the bloggernacle. I think I learned to worry about the “Ghettoization of Mormon Studies” from Nate. The locution that annoys me most: “of late.” It makes me cringe, and of late I’ve seen it used even by some of the better writers. But thankfully not by Kristine, the best writer.

  18. Dialogue, Sunstone, and Exponent II would LOVE to publish things like the essays that appear on Segullah; they end up looking less faithful in some people’s eyes because they are (to a large degree) at the mercy of the submissions they receive.

    They also love to publish things that aren’t much like the essays that appear in Segullah. No one makes them publish the submissions they receive, but they do. Its just silly to criticize Segullah on the grounds that its not Sunstone, etc.

  19. Adam, I wasn’t criticizing Segullah for not being those magazines–I was lamenting the impulse to separate and withdraw from forums that would like to have more conservative and moderate voices.

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