Don?t Stand So Close to Me: On Not Hearing Elizabeth Smart

By May 15, 2013

Please note: This post has been corrected. In earlier versions, the second and third paragraph were inadvertently transposed.

As we continue this month to consider images of Mormonism in popular culture, the Juvenile Instructor is pleased to host guest blogger Megan Goodwin. Megan is currently completing her PhD at the University of North Carolina?Chapel Hill. Her research interests include American religions, gender and sexuality, religious language and literature, religious alterity, and contemporary critical thought. Her dissertation, entitled ?Good Fences: American Sexual Exceptionalism and Marginal Religions,? examines three captivity narratives ? Betty Mahmoody?s Not Without My Daughter (1987), Michelle Smith?s Michelle Remembers (1989), and Jon Krakauer?s Under the Banner of Heaven (2003) ? as articulations of American Protestant anxieties about the challenges marginal religions pose to normative masculinity. Please join us in welcoming Megan to the Juvenile Instructor.

Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour

Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour

Elizabeth Smart made headlines this month when she advocated for human trafficking survivors at a conference hosted by Johns Hopkins University?s Bloomberg School of Public Health.  I?ve spent a lot of time thinking about Smart this year ? I made her kidnapping (or rather Jon Krakauer?s treatment of Smart?s captivity in his inexorable Under the Banner of Heaven) the focal point of a national conference paper and a key element of my dissertation chapter on anti-Mormon religious intolerance.  But I missed that she?d spoken at this conference until the blogosphere erupted over her alleged condemnation of abstinence-based sex education.

During her 13 minute presentation, Smart recounted the details of her captivity and emphasized the need to teach children that they have intrinsic worth, regardless of how others might abuse or exploit them.  She further noted that ?one of the questions that is most commonly asked [of her] is ?well, why didn?t you run away?  Why didn?t you yell?  Why didn?t you scream???

This question immediately raised the hackles of my inner humorless feminist, who was already riled after a year of teaching Women?s and Gender Studies 101.  This question, as Smart notes, is common ? an almost knee-jerk refrain when people feel survivors didn?t resist their own exploitation and abuses enough.  (The metrics of ?enough? are usually a bit murky.)  This question, as I explained to my students this year, perpetuates rape culture: the popular and often unquestioned conviction that men are naturally sexually aggressive and dominant, while women are the natural targets of that sexual aggression and must resist unwanted overtures.  Or to put in simpler terms: women should try to avoid being raped, because, you know, rape happens.  

Such an attitude simultaneously exonerates sexual assailants (who are largely though not exclusively men), accepts sexual assault as an inescapable eventuality (which it currently is, for arguably 25% of American women, 10% of American men, and 50% of transgender persons), and places the onus of assault prevention on the survivors of sexual assault (who are largely though not exclusively women).  The message is ?women, don?t get raped? rather than ?don?t rape,? and questions about whether a survivor resisted enough or tried to escape or yelled or hid or fought back perpetuate this nonsense.  My undergraduates would know better than to ask such a question.  I cannot say the same of National Public Radio, The Washington Post, or The Christian Science Monitor.

News sites and blogs alike latched onto a passing comment Smart made about how her religious education about sex affected her mindset during captivity.  In a thirteen-minute speech about the importance of teaching children a fundamental sense of self-worth, Smart recalled that

?In school one time, I had a teacher that was talking about?well, about abstinence, and she said, ?Imagine you?re a stick of gum.  And when you engage in sex, that?s like?that?s like getting chewed.  And if you do that lots of times, you?re going to become an old piece of gum.  And who?s going to want you after that??  ?I  thought, ?oh my gosh, I?m that chewed up piece of gum!??

Confidential to women:  Don?t get chewed.

Confidential to women:
Don?t get chewed.

In the context of Smart?s speech, the chewed-up gum analogy was one expressing how worthless and dirty she felt after being sexually victimized.  The comment comprised 30 seconds of a 13 minute presentation.  Smart spent nearly five times as long pleading for compassion toward survivors and education of potential victims.  Her emphasis was clearly on the need to teach young people that ?you have value, and you always will have value ? nothing can change that.?

At no time did Smart say that her religious education or affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made her somehow particularly susceptible to sexual exploitation ? though Jon Krakauer did imply as much in Banner (see 2004, pp. 44-53, particularly p. 47).  Smart rather drew on an analogy from her childhood to explain her (very common) feelings of self-loathing following sexual exploitation and abuse.  Here?s how news sites and blogs responded:

NPR lede: ?Elizabeth Smart?said that abstinence lessons she learned as a child made her feel worthless after being raped by her captor.?

Christian Science Monitor lede: ?Elizabeth Smart spoke about why kidnap and rape victims might not run, during a Johns Hopkins University human trafficking forum.?

Slate: ?Elizabeth Smart Says Pro-Abstinence Sex Ed Harms Victims of Rape?

Religion Dispatches headline: ?Traditional Mormon Sexual Purity Lesson Contributed to Captivity, Elizabeth Smart Tells University Audience? and the headline for the follow-up piece, ?Did Mormon Morality Teachings Really Make it Harder for Elizabeth Smart to Run??

And the worst of a bad bunch ? the Washington Post article?s headline: ?Elizabeth Smart: Mormon teaching on sex stopped me from escaping kidnappers.?

As a gender theorist, I am exhausted and infuriated by the inescapability of ?why didn?t you run?? (or fight back, or scream, or, or, or).  To her credit, Smart both unapologetically answered and then rejected the premise of this question.  Smart explained that she didn?t try to escape because she was afraid for her own safety and the safety of her family.  She unabashedly defended her decisions not to fight back or to speak out even when initially questioned by police.  ?I did what I felt I had to,? Smart emphasized.  She closed her presentation by insisting that we should not ask why some survivors of sexual exploitation don?t?or can?t?run, or scream, or otherwise resist their assailants.  ?We don?t know why they didn?t run.  We don?t know the circumstances.  And we?re all so different.  We really don?t have a right to ask that question,? Smart admonished.

While as a gender theorist I?m frustrated with the persistence of this question?and with the poor listening skills of her popular press chroniclers?as a religious studies scholar, I?m fascinated and troubled by the impulse to locate Smart?s lack of resistance in her Mormon identity or education.  (I?m equally fascinated and troubled by the liberal impulse to locate women?s oppression in capital-R Religion rather than broad systemic inequalities, but that?s for another time.)  My current project thinks through Americans? tendency to imagine that women are somehow especially vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation on the nation?s religious margins.  This tendency?this habit of intolerance, as Cristine HJ might say?is by no means new (see Sarah Barringer Gordon?s excellent The Mormon Question and Terryl Givens? seminal The Viper on the Hearth) nor uniquely deployed against Mormonisms (see David Brion Davis and Lorne Dawson, among others).  Comparisons of gendered inequality and sexual exploitation of women and children among Mormonisms, Islam(s), and new religious movements are common, and authors who work on these subjects often focus on the titillating and horrific.  Indeed, we seem to assume we that we ?know? what goes on in minority religious communities ? tales like Elizabeth Smart?s only serve to confirm our well-founded suspicions.

But as sociologist Mary de Young notes, ?sexual trauma tales can sustain the status quo by simply reiterating, without critique, the dominant cultural discourse about sex and gender? (1996, 111).  She explains:

For all their horror, [such stories] are conservative and preservative.  Their depiction of female victimization and helplessness so resoundingly resonates with dominant cultural ideologies that the stories, themselves, are pitiable yet provocative tales about the inevitability of sexual violence in the lives of females.  As hegemonic tales, they offer no solutions, map out no trajectory for social change.  They can only be listened to, not acted upon. (de Young 1996, 116)

This is to say that the question of why Elizabeth Smart didn?t run?and the popular media?s willingness to attribute that alleged failure to her religious training?matters, because it tells us something about the way Americans think about gender, sex, and minority religions.  If we are truly invested in preventing the sexual coercion and exploitation of women, we need to think harder about the questions we?re asking.

Religious intolerance does not exist in a vacuum ? it capitalizes upon and exploits other systemic inequalities.  Elizabeth Smart is right to insist upon her inherent worth as a human being, regardless of her sexual ?purity.?  We must not content ourselves, however, with facile and out-of-context appropriations of an activist?s words for our own agendas, no matter how admirable those agendas might be.  Rather, we should question (and resist?) those quiet inner voices making us wonder if she could have fought harder had she not been raised Mormon.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Megan, I sympathize with your analysis of the media coverage of the Elizabeth Smart case and with your outrage at the frequency with which people blame the victim and tell women how to avoid being raped rather than insisting that men respect women’s bodies and choices and not rape. BUT, my perspective on this particular case might be a bit different. I initially heard the criticisms that you mention coming from Mormon bloggers and journalists. The tone wasn’t “Look at those Mormons and how awful they are to women” but “I recognize that language. We teach that analogy. We made that girl feel worthless. We need to repent.” A lot of the blogs that I have read have also pointed out that it isn’t just Mormonism which perpetuates the idea that women who lose their purity are worthless. It’s a lot of conservative religions. As a result, I’m a lot more sympathetic to the news coverage that has come out.

    I may also be more sympathetic to the media response than you are because I can empathize with Smart. I cried on the day I lost my virginity because I felt the weight of my decision… I sincerely believed that no matter how bad life got from that moment, no matter what happened, that I had made my bed and had to lie in it. No one else would want me. It wasn’t about the person I lost my virginity to… It was about me and my own feelings of self-worth. Do I solely attribute my feelings to the religious culture I grew up in (evangelical Protestantism with strands of New Age-ism and a lot of Jack Mormonism)? No, but it certainly played a role.

    Comment by Amanda — May 15, 2013 @ 9:44 am

  2. Rather, we should question (and resist?) those quiet inner voices making us wonder if she could have fought harder had she not been raised Mormon.

    I’m not so sure–I think Mormons might need to resist those voices less, while perhaps secular types inclined to blame Religion for everything bad that happens to women should resist them more, as you suggest. It is an inescapable fact that Elizabeth Smart grew up in a culture in which EVERYTHING is filtered through a Mormon lens. And the chewing gum analogy is actually suggested as a lesson help in a recent Mormon publication: It may be an infiltration from rape culture that does not originate in religion, but Mormons have readily embraced it (and are busy amplifying it with their extreme rhetoric about modesty). There is a specifically Mormon iteration of this broader cultural problem.

    So, while it’s polite for outsiders to let Mormons conduct the questioning of their own religious culture, I think it’s dangerous for Mormons to absolve themselves too quickly.

    Comment by Kristine — May 15, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  3. Thank you Megan. Good work.

    I too was very worried about the potential damage done by a really problematic analogy (though I had never heard the analogy myself, I could see it happening within Mormon culture). I think that a productive dialogue can result from that discussion–I hope that some degree of useful dialogue has already begun.

    But as you very importantly focus on, this wasn’t Elizabeth Smart’s point. We can write in our own concerns and desires into her presentation, but to be responsible we can’t cherry pick 30 seconds and mould it to fit our agenda. I believe doing that negates her larger message of individual value and compassion without judgment.

    Comment by JJohnson — May 15, 2013 @ 10:12 am

  4. Except it WAS actually her point–her point was that we need to do a better job of educating kids about their worth, and ditching the chewed gum analogies, while it wasn’t her only suggestion, is a serious and important one, which obviously resonates with many Mormons. We don’t have to sit around waiting for Elizabeth Smart to perform the requisite critique of Mormon culture; we can, instead, be glad that some of her remarks touched off a necessary, if only obliquely related discussion about serious and longstanding problems that need to be addressed in Mormon culture as well as other conservative religious cultures (and, as Megan points out here, in lots of other places in American society, too).

    Comment by Kristine — May 15, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  5. Thanks for contributing this, Megan. I think you raise a number of important points, and appreciate your measured analysis.

    I would interested in your response to Amanda’s point—that a lot of the response focusing on that one portion of Smart’s talk (including the RD articles written by Joanna Brooks)—came from Mormon bloggers and journalists. How does their participation in all of this play into what you’ve outlined above?

    Comment by Christopher — May 15, 2013 @ 10:22 am

  6. A fabulous read Megan!

    Also, related to some of Kristine’s points, I wonder how you would form some sort of alternative discussion groups around the topic of improving sex education within the Church. What could those look like? Or does it need to happen within the institution?

    Comment by Tod Robbins — May 15, 2013 @ 11:15 am

  7. Thanks, Megan, for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

    I appreciate Kristine’s concern that it’s not only reasonable but right that Elizabeth Smart’s comments, coming as they did from a well-known Mormon, should call other Mormons to discuss the problems relating to how girls’ sexuality is framed and taught within Mormon culture.

    I also agree with Amanda that there *is* a religious element to the kind of self-devaluation that Smart described, and we need to be able to honestly critique the ways in which religion is often deployed as a means of asserting sexual control.

    Amanda’s point, though, in some ways responds to Kristine’s concern about this post. While it is important that Mormons themselves recognize and respond to the elements of Mormon religious teaching that influenced Smart’s experience, this *isn’t* just a Mormon thing, and the discourse shouldn’t only focus on it as such.

    I think perhaps something that Megan didn’t explicitly address here is that we shouldn’t just think about who’s *writing* the responses, but also *who’s reading them.* Whether the author is Mormon or not, when the audience extends well beyond the Mormon community (as I think it does with all of the posts Megan cites), focusing solely on Mormonism’s culpability for Smart’s experience influences non-Mormons’ opinions of Mormonism (and we all know that many non-Mormons know very little about Mormonism, beyond standard stereotypes — like ‘Mormons sexually repress and abuse women’). It also lets non-Mormons off the hook. If they can read the responses as a critique *specifically of Mormonism*, then they aren’t forced to look at their own culpability and that of their communities and cultures in creating the mindset that kept Elizabeth Smart tied to her rapist. I agree with Megan that the conversation needs not only to engage with Mormonism or even with religious culture(s), but rather with the broader culture that teaches girls (and many boys) to regard themselves as chewed gum, badly-mangled Twinkies that won’t fit back into their original wrappers, or, as my own community put it when I was growing up, cows that no man wants to buy because he’s getting the milk for free.

    Comment by Cristine — May 15, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

  8. Thanks, Megan. This provides some important corrective points. I was disappointed with the way that some journalists hijacked Elizabeth Smart’s comments and leveraged her public image in order to criticize a pedagogy of sexual abstinence. And your points about being first and foremost deferential to the abuse victim’s experience are well taken.

    On the other hand, I’d agree with Kristine that Smart indeed seems to be advocating (in a way that’s only incidentally connected with Mormonism) a move away from an essentialist approach to female sexuality that can be devastating to victims of abuse. There are differing views on what paradigm ought to replace that of a virtue that perishes through sexual abuse; moving toward a “performance-failure” paradigm comes with its own problems, as Alan Hurst recently showed at Peculiar People, but there does seem to be a need for discussion and adjustment. I do think Smart addresses this; I just hope that over the course of that discussion people won’t exploit her experience or put words in her mouth.

    Comment by Ryan T — May 15, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

  9. Megan, thanks for a great and *positively* provocative post. The kind of conversation you’ve touched off is important to continue, and I’d echo Tod’s question about how you think the church could make the necessary reforms in its approach to discussing sexuality with youth. I seem to remember a Sunstone article from years ago related to this (and Sunstone has had speeches & papers on this from time to time).
    From a male perspective, I must admit that I felt in my youth both naivete and anxiety about sexuality, due in no small part to a lack of quality ecclesiastical resources–as well as some really confusing conversations with my dad.

    Comment by Nate R. — May 15, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

  10. Thanks for taking on such a contentious issue.

    While as a gender theorist I?m frustrated with the persistence of this question?and with the poor listening skills of her popular press chroniclers?as a religious studies scholar, I?m fascinated and troubled by the impulse to locate Smart?s lack of resistance in her Mormon identity or education. (I?m equally fascinated and troubled by the liberal impulse to locate women?s oppression in capital-R Religion rather than broad systemic inequalities, but that?s for another time.)

    In many ways I don’t think it matters than Smart was raised Mormon, but in other ways, it does. Like Kristine pointed out, Mormonism does embrace a form of hyper-modesty that is harmful to many people (see also Amanda’s point on so many recognizing that language within the Mormon community). So while what happened to Smart could have happened to anyone (lurid details can easily be substituted for other lurid details, as evidenced by the plethora of crime shows that regularly feature such violence against women), I think her Mormonness can’t be overlooked.

    I hesitate to bring it up, because it is so intensely personal, but perhaps that’s par for the course in such discussions. As an abuse survivor myself, I can see the roots of my own abuse in broad systemic inequalities, but most certainly and most convincingly in “capital-R Religion” (Calvinist Protestant, in my case). I stayed in a large part because of a church structure and a theology that told me to, a theology that insisted I was no longer worthy to be saved. And although I applaud the idea that we can stop blaming the victim, negating the (religious) circumstances in which these horrific things happen is also negating the stories of the people that survive.

    So a tricky issue. But in essence, I agree with Cristine’s comment re: religious/Mormon culture and culture at large. Very well put.

    Comment by Saskia — May 15, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

  11. I’ve read your post twice and both times have come away feeling frustrated. To me, it’s completely unsurprising that the media and blogosphere picked up and ran with only one of Elizabeth Smart’s several points. Yes, the comments that have been discussed so much are only one small part of her talk. But that happens all the time. So, I kept wondering, does the post have another point?

    However, instead of merely pointing out this failure (which I readily acknowledge), it seems that you would try to advocate and help fill the vacuum that you see. Your post’s failure to spend time with Smart’s main points is, then, especially ironic.

    Which leads to my main frustration: your criticism of the reaction to Smart’s talk is focused only on the Mormon-centric aspects of her talk. I think you are misguided in your approach. Elizabeth Smart is Mormon. She was kidnapped by a man who exploited Mormon-religious themes. Smart’s story speaks to an audience that is wider than the Mormon corridor, yes. But there are distinctly Mormon aspects to her story that still need to be digested by her fellow Saints. So long as Smart’s voice is in the media, members of the Church will be listening.

    One of the fruits of Smart’s talk is that it has spurred a lot of discussion within Mormon society, on the web and IRL. It’s unfortunate that you overlook that, and instead, take an easy swipe at the media/blogosphere. I think in the end, you’ll have to have more trust in the average non-Mormon reader who might be reading Mormon blogs. Yes, there are those readers who will stupidly assume that the Elizabeth Smart story can be reduced to just some crazy Mormon story. But most readers who care about these issues are going to see hints of these problems in society at large.

    The recent wave of posts and articles and discussions about how to teach virtue in an LDS context has focused on an admittedly narrow slice of Smart’s talk. But that wave of discussion has been beneficial for a group of folks working to reconcile adherence to certain standards while evaluating the way that adherence is taught.

    I’ll be looking forward to reading your future posts laying out the other of Smart’s points (i.e., compassion toward survivors and education of potential victims) that we collectively haven’t yet spent enough time talking about. They need to be discussed. But please, in the meantime, don’t poop on the vital discussion going on within Mormondom.

    Comment by Hunter — May 15, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

  12. Cristine, except I’m not sure that all of the articles that Megan cited do limit the critique to Mormonism. The NPR piece is primarily an interview with Kristine and if I remember correctly from when I originally listened to it after Kristine posted it on FB, Kristine was VERY careful to suggest that, while Mormons use a lot of language about purity that is harmful, it’s not a problem limited to Mormonism. Likewise, the Christian Science Monitor doesn’t even reference Mormonism but instead talks about purity language in general. The Slate article also never mentions Mormonism but is a critique of abstinence-only education in general, which leaves us with only Brooks who is talking about her own community and mentions her own feelings of self-worth and the Washington Post. While I think the original post makes some important points, I think its analysis of the media response is lacking some nuance. It wasn’t all Mormonism, all bad. A lot of people who focused on Mormonism were Mormon themselves and calling for reflection in their own communities (something I don’t think they should curtail just because non-Mormons might be reading) and a lot of the other pieces focused on abstinence-only programs and purity language in general.

    Ryan, can you highlight what part of Kristine’s comments you are responding to? I not sure exactly which part of her comments you are talking about, or are you referencing Cristine?

    Comment by Amanda — May 15, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

  13. Hi All,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on my piece. It’s wonderful to have so many smart folks reading my work closely. Y’all caught me on a busy day today, but I promise I’ll get to these as soon as I can. In the meantime, I think Cristine HJ’s doing a great job of articulating my argument for me.

    Thanks again!

    Comment by Megan — May 15, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

  14. Sorry Amanda! My response was actually addressed to Megan. Must’ve just been reading your comment. I’ve edited accordingly.

    Comment by Ryan T. — May 15, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

  15. Amanda, I must admit that I haven’t thoroughly read/listened to everything that Megan refers to here (including, I’m ashamed to say, Kristine on NPR!). I can say, though, that whether Mormonism is explicitly referenced or not, people know Elizabeth Smart is Mormon and can and do connect the dots. And while Hunter’s confidence in the average listener/viewer to know something about Mormonism is generous, based on my research and my own experience it’s not a general reality. Further, I think that Megan’s larger concern — that we shouldn’t limit the discussion to Mormonism or even just to religion as the problem, stands.

    Beyond that, I think it’s time for me to step aside and let Megan speak to your points… which I’m looking forward to her doing in the very near future, as promised above.

    Comment by Cristine — May 15, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

  16. Megan and all: I apologize for my decidedly irritated tone in my comment above. I hope you’ll give me a second chance to discuss this important issue, a little more dispassionately.

    Comment by Hunter — May 15, 2013 @ 8:50 pm

  17. Near as I can tell, almost no one seems to have heard the message that Elizabeth Smart actually spoke. Instead, it seems that most all commenters have ignored what she said in favor of promoting their own agenda.

    I thought Deseret News blogger and journalist Jay Evensen seemed to catch the intended message. His characterization of the twisted spin most applied to her speech: “bizarre”. I tend to agree.

    No idea why this particular journalist seems so much more perceptive to Smart’s intended message. Media bias, maybe?

    Deseret News Jay Evensen blog entry

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — May 15, 2013 @ 9:41 pm

  18. Well, thank goodness Jay Evensen has no bias of his own, Jim. It seems to me that both you and he, though, ignore the layers of what different media outlets and bloggers actually reported on in the Smart talk, as this post and several comments here have pointed out.

    Comment by Christopher — May 16, 2013 @ 7:14 am

  19. Believe me when I tell you that God is a God of justice. Ultimately, he cannot treat his righteous children differently. Whatever blessings you have gone without will be made up to you in divine and glorious fashion. I give you every assurance, they will be made up to you to the point where you will not be confident that God treated you fairly but embarrassed that he treated you so very generously. (Patricia Holland)

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — May 16, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  20. Because the Deseret News is God?

    Comment by Amanda HK — May 16, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

  21. Not at all, but perhaps because some seem wont to listen to and heed a different set of “quiet inner voices”. Are you asserting that we are not just as legitimate or rational?

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — May 16, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

  22. Megan: The comments of Jim Cobabe above confirm my fear that none of this has anything to do with Elizabeth Smart or her message. The contrived controversy about missing Smart’s point is really only about not liking what Kristine Haglund and others have done with the Smart talk. Am I wrong?

    Comment by Hunter — May 16, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

  23. Hunter, I would like your comment a thousand times if I could.

    Comment by Amanda — May 16, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

  24. Hi Again,

    After a busy travel day, I’m finally getting to sit down with all your thoughtful responses. I’d like to thank you all again for reading and thinking about my piece so carefully.

    I’m happy to respond to specific questions, but I think I should clarify a few things first.

    1) I did not say, nor did I mean to imply, that the “chewed-up gum” analogy Smart briefly referenced might not have deeper or more consequential valences for an LDS audience. My observations were about Smart’s intended audience–a “multidisciplinary, bipartisan and public health framework” comprised of “leading experts on mental health research, law enforcement, survivor advocacy, disruptive technology, epidemiology, criminal justice, and public policy”–and her remarks’ reception in the popular press.

    As your responses clearly demonstrate, Smart’s analogy resonated for many LDS folks. I never criticized that resonance; I merely pointed out that it’s not necessary to read that remark as an indictment of LDS sex education curricula. That is: the remark *can* be read that way, but that’s not the only way to read it. And I suspect that mainstream liberal media outlets latched onto the remark for different (if perhaps related) reasons than did LDS folks.

    2) My piece should in no way be read as an indictment of intra-Mormon dialogues. I don’t engage intra-Mormon dialogues in this piece at all, because that’s not my project. My interests lie in analyzing public sphere discourse on American religious intolerance. What I’m suggesting that it’s possible to read popular press treatments of Smart’s presentation as contributing both to rape culture and to anti-Mormon intolerance. I’m particularly interested in the way that the American public sphere (legislators, law enforcement, popular media, the dreaded Krakauer, etc.) tend to focus on misogyny and sexual exploitation that occurs in minority religious communities while ignoring the broader systemic inequalities that inform and arguably cause misogyny and sexual exploitation.

    I didn’t engage Mormon blogs or other Mormon news sources for this piece because again, they’re not my project. It’s not that I don’t think they’re important; I’m just not focusing on them. I did link to pieces written by Joanna Brooks and a piece that included a substantive conversation with Kristine Haglund, but none of those were intended specifically for Mormon audiences. Given my interest in public discourse, I focused on popular media outlets intended for general audience — who, it’s fair to assume, know little about Mormonisms and probably don’t follow Mormon blogs or news sources closely.

    3) The “we” of my piece was intended to address Americans broadly, not any one group in particular. Full disclosure: I’m a gentile. While I have personal opinions about the way I’d want to teach my own hypothetical children about sex and self-worth, I have no professional opinion or investment in the Church’s teachings. Which again, is not to say they’re not interesting or important. They’re just not the focus of my project.

    That said, Cristine raises an interesting point. While I myself do not work on reader response per se, thinking about the reception of Smart’s speech is just as interesting and important as the questions I’m raising in this piece. I’d be very interested to see a follow-up that really digs into conversations among Mormons on this topic.

    There, that should do for starters. If there’s anything folks feel I didn’t address, I’m happy to answer specific questions.

    Comment by Megan — May 16, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

  25. Megan, I found your article fascinating and fair. Excellent work. I think it’s hilarious that some people are so wrapped up in their own pet issues that anything that obliquely touches on them is grounds for a full blown rant. This last bit is for them.

    OK, I’m a bit confused. We are supposed to stop telling young people to have sex before marriage because what if someone who was raped might hear? Really?

    The problem here is that some psycho RAPED a little girl and now she has to live with that pain for the rest of her life. As far as I can tell she is a remarkable women who is using the pain of her experience to teach others.

    Incidentally, young men in the church are told that they bear ultimate responsibility for protecting their own virtue and the virtue of the girls they date. They are never told that the clothing and behavior of women has anything to do with their own responsibility.

    Comment by Jacob Smith — May 17, 2013 @ 11:21 am

  26. Jacob Smith: As far as I can tell, no one is advocating telling young people to go have pre-marital sex. That is a fake argument you made up.

    Megan: Thanks for your explanation. I already knew you weren’t a member of the Church, but I was glad you took the time to explain what your specific interests are. I confess that I get tired when people dismiss wholesale an idea or story merely because it comes from the so-called liberal mainstream media. It doesn’t sound like that’s your sole intent here, though. Thanks again.

    Comment by Hunter — May 17, 2013 @ 11:42 am

  27. Hunter, I’m afraid your comment above confirms my fear that none of what you’re saying has anything to do with Elizabeth Smart or her story. No one’s complaining about mainstream media, but leftist media did shamelessly leverage Smart’s story against abstinence sex ed. No one’s contriving a controversy on that point or or making it up. The discussion this has induced inside Mormonism, as Megan suggests, is important but a separate issue.

    Slate, ?Elizabeth Smart Says Pro-Abstinence Sex Ed Harms Victims of Rape?

    NY Magazine: Elizabeth Smart?s Abstinence Education Made Kidnapping Ordeal Worse

    Gawker, Elizabeth Smart: Abstinence-Only Education Kept Me From Running Away

    Elizabeth Smart On Abstinence-Only Education: It Makes Rape Victims Feel ‘Filthy’

    Comment by Ryan T. — May 17, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  28. Ryan T. says:

    No one?s complaining about mainstream media

    No one except the author of this post. (See her title, her post, and her comment no. 24.)

    Comment by Hunter — May 17, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

  29. I am complaining about mainstream media, its complicity in rape culture, and its failure to think through its own protestant biases. Loudly and frequently.

    Comment by Megan — May 17, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

  30. Hunter, I didn’t say anyone was advocating telling kids to go have sex. Are you purposefully being obtuse, warden?

    You, good sir, are a troll. 😉

    Comment by Jacob Smith — May 17, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

  31. Jacob Smith: I was responding to your faux question: “We are supposed to stop telling young people to have sex before marriage because what if someone who was raped might hear?”

    Comment by Hunter — May 17, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

  32. […] both written about the public perception of Mormonism on this and other blogs.  (For examples, see here, here, here, and […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » THE CHURCH: Non-Mormons, Ex-Mormons, and the Perceptions of Mormonism — May 22, 2013 @ 5:01 am

  33. I don’t think it matters that she was raised Mormon. I’m Mormon, and I understand quite clearly the difference between rape and consensual sex. When you are raped, you are still a virgin! Losing your virginity MUST be a consensual thing. So, I honestly don’t see what pro-abstinence sex-ed would have to do with anything. Being taught to save yourself for marriage, and then being raped would be traumatic, yes, but you’d still be a virgin, because you did NOT consent to sex. It was forced on you.

    Personally, I think it’s up to the parents to talk to their children about sex and teach them what they want them to know. I never had a sex-ed class in school, because I never wanted one. I chose not to take one, instead I will have that discussion with my mother on the night before my wedding. Until then, I don’t need to know. And that’s my choice.

    Comment by Chantel — June 13, 2013 @ 1:20 am


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