Monday, August 8, 2011

Getting Adam to Partake

When we were first married my husband and I spent a summer living in Amman, Jordan. I was doing research for school and he got to tag along. I'd always considered myself to be a modest dresser--I don't wear sleeveless shirts, short shorts, low-cut tops, bikinis or things that reveal my middle-- and in the United States this way of dressing often set me apart from my peers. Yet in Jordan I was surrounded by Muslim women my own age who always wore hijabs (headscarves), long sleeves, and long pants in public (Muslim women don't veil when they are around family or close friends). Dressed in my knee length shorts, 3/4 length shirt, and scooped necked shirt I felt like I might of well have been running around in a tube top and hot pants by the looks I got. I told one of my friends that sometimes I felt like a prostitute among nuns. It was a really unsettling feeling for me.

I had several opportunities to talk to two of my Muslim friends, both of whom wore the hijab by choice, about why they wore it and why they dressed so modestly. One friend explained to me that the reason she wore a hijab wasn't because she was expected to or because she thought men couldn't control themselves it was because she knew she possessed sacred power. She covered herself because her beauty was for her husband and she didn't want to misuse her power or to waste it on any man walking by. She also liked it that the veil drew men's attention to her face and not to her body. Another friend explained to me that she wore a hijab because she had made promises with God and that her veil was an outward symbol of her inward commitment to Him.

Their answers really surprised me. I'd been taught about modesty my whole life but never had I seen women who internalized it like these young women did. They didn't just dress modestly, they were modest-- in their actions, their speech, and their treatment of others. They knew that possessed great worth and that within their bodies they housed divine power which they had promised God not to misuse. Not only did the young women understand this about themselves but so did the young men. One afternoon one of the Muslim girls we worked with took several of the girls in our group out hijab shopping and taught us how to tie and wear them in the fashionable way. Just for fun I decided to wear mine for the rest of the day and I was so surprised when both of the young men who ran the front desk at the hotel we were living at kept telling me that I looked so much more beautiful in it. Women are good at knowing when men think they are beautiful and I could tell that both of these young men honestly thought that being covered made me more beautiful. In their eyes wearing a hijab indicated that a woman understood her worth and that she expected the men around her to respect it as well--and that was infinitely more attractive to them than short sleeves and cute hair-dos.


My husband and I on my hijab wearing day

I do understand that not all men and women in the Middle East understand the veil like this and that in many places it is used as a symbol of oppression and disregard for women's rights and voices. Even in Jordan there were various degrees of veiling and some of them were obviously done out of force and oppression. Yet, I'd say that many of the young Muslim women I associated with who wore the hijab wore it for reasons similar to my two friends. It was a really life changing experience for me to be surrounded day in and day out by women who were so outwardly committed to their religion and their promises to God. I realized that my Muslim friends understood something that, at that time in my life, I was only beginning to comprehend. They knew that because they were women they had real POWER housed within their souls. They knew that they had the power to love men and to attract them to them-- hopefully for life. They knew that within their bodies lay the ability to bestow life and that how they chose to use that power would affect future generations. They fully comprehended the importance and divinity of that power and as a result they protected it and refused to misuse it.

This doesn't mean that these women weren't as preoccupied with boys, clothes, make-up and accessories as American women... they were. Like most young women the world over they were very concerned about fulfilling one of the roles women have fulfilled ever since Eve, that of "getting Adam to partake." Valerie Hudson Cassler explained more about this when she wrote:
"There is an additional role played by Eve that is often overlooked... getting Adam to partake [of the tree of knowledge]. In this act, Eve persuades Adam that the realization of the fullness of life for himself is inseparable from the perpetuation of the fullness of life through future generations. To his credit, Adam hearkens to his wife, and by partaking, commits to life, to love, and to perpetuation of life and love...Eve's love for Adam, his love for her, and the fruit of that love... is the catalyst from which recognition of and desire for the light and its law is built in every civilization... Capturing Adam's attention, softening his heart, stimulating his commitment, and enlisting him in the cause of love and family preoccupy most women during their young adulthood. Our culture frivolizes this endeavor claiming that women are selfishly and narrowly absorbed in "landing a man". Doubtless sometimes the enterprise does seem frivolous, and at times it is conducted unrighteously, but at its heart this female preoccupation with relationship to a male is not frivolous at all. It is profound and important, and if conducted for righteous intent through righteous means, it is sacred. Eve must get Adam to partake, must turn him towards the light, or the plan of salvation and exaltation will be frustrated." (Women in Eternity, Women of Zion, pg. 114)
"Partaking" doesn't just refer to sexual intimacy but means that a man has accepted the responsibility to move the plan of salvation forward by covenanting to a woman that he will create an eternal family and that he will bring, protect, and care for the children she brings through the first veil and help them prepare to go through the second veil. Young women, no matter where they live, will always be preoccupied with trying to get Adam to "partake" because the creation of families and the perpetuation of life is the foundation of the plan of salvation and one of women's main responsibilities on the earth. Nonetheless there is a huge difference in how my young Muslim friends were taught to approach the task of getting their Adam's to "partake" versus how young women in the United States are often taught to approach the task.

The power that my Muslim friend called "sacred and divine" and that she chose to cover and respect is what the world and the media would call "sex appeal" and in America women are encourage to flaunt it, use it, exploit it, and even sell it to get what they need or what they want. Our young women are encouraged to use their bodies to get attention and are often led to believe that their worth in society is dependent upon how beautiful or attractive they are. Very few young women truly comprehend that, regardless of their physical appearance, they have real, tangible power housed within their souls and that this power-- the power to get Adam to partake-- needs to be used with wisdom and virtue. They need to know that it is VERY possible for a woman to misuse this power, just like a man might misuse his priesthood power. When a woman uses her body as a way to get attention, when she uses her sexuality to gain a feeling of power, when she stimulates powerful feelings and emotions in men, when she allows herself to be touched or talked about in inappropriate ways, when her desire to be seen as attractive or appealing is stronger than her desire to be modest, or when a married woman tries to attract the attention of men besides her husband she may be using her power in an unrighteous way. Women need to understand that misusing this power has far reaching consequences because it tampers with the very headwaters of life and effects future generations.

In addition we need to be teaching our young men to honor and respect this power as well. They, like the young men at our hotel in Jordan, need to be the ones encouraging young women to dress modestly by helping them understand that their worth has nothing to do with their outward appearance. Young men need to know that it is important for them to be modest as well, especially in the way they interact with young women and the way in which they talk about them. We also need more young men who understand the divine roles of women and are willing to support and help them in their responsibilities. There are far too many men, married and unmarried, who are unwilling to partake of what Eve offers-- an eternal commitment to marriage, children, and the responsibility to guide those children towards the light. It is a big responsibility but if Adam refuses to "partake" then the work of God can not progress.

Now please don't get me wrong, I am not advocating for all women to veil like Muslim women do, but I do think that we need to re-evaluate our definition of modesty and examine the way in which we teach modesty to our young women and young men. Because in the end what we want is young people (and adults) who don't just dress modestly but who are modest. We want them to fully understand the divine power that lies within their bodies and to act in ways that honors and respects it. When a person has a testimony of their divine nature they, like my Muslim friends, will act and dress in ways that demonstrate to God that they comprehend the gift they have been given. For in the end modesty is truly the outward expression of an inward commitment to God and learning to be modest, not only in dress but in all areas of your life, is something that has to be developed and learned line upon line, piece upon piece until you fully come to comprehend your worth and access the power of your divine nature.

35 comments:

  1. I wish the modesty lessons we had in Young Women's would have explained this. I think it makes a much more convincing argument than what I was taught, which was basically don't give boys bad thoughts. That isn't particularly fair to either girls or guys.

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  2. This was just beautiful. It touches on so many aspects, too -- it's not just about being "modest." There are so many factors to consider in our lives when we choose what to wear, how to act, etc. I think it's hard to expalin this to children and young women/men because it's hard to understand oursleves! But I think you've explained it rather well. It's a combination of... values? Desires? Goals? that creat how we act and WHY we act the way we do.

    It's easy to tip the scale, either way, too. Satan is brilliant in convincing women to obsess about their bodies. Women either obsess about them unnaturally (plastic surgery, excessive diet/exercise, botox, tons of make-up, only "fashionable" clothing), or are shamed into not taking care of them (obesity, overeating, lethargy, depression).

    I honestly believe that when women believe in modesty, a lot of those obsessions fade. But that's a whole other story/post/novel.

    Anyway, fantastic post, Heather! Thank you!

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  3. What a wonderful, insightful post. I'll be sharing it with my daughters, and maybe even their young women leaders.
    Thank you.

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  4. Absolutely LOVED this post as modesty has been on my mind lately and many discussions on the topic have been had. This is a hard topic because Satan has been brilliant at convincing women to flaunt it if you've got it and it is so hard to get through to so many young women and adult women alike on why modesty is important...it is so much more than just choosing your clothes...it needs to come from that inward commitment.

    Thank you! Thank You!!

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  5. This was very timely for me. My 8 and 10 year old daughters are testing the waters in the modest dress area. This gave me wonderful perspective on how to approach this subject. Thanks so much for sharing your insights!

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  6. I am taking this home and using it for family home evening tonight. It is beautiful. not only about reasons to act modest, but about what modesty really means. Thank you so much for sharing it with us today.

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  7. I'm, too, writing something more along the topics -- thanks for this!

    When I did my student teaching in Samoa we learned so much about the culture prior to going. In Samoa the upper part (above the knee) above the leg is considered sacred and you do not show it. To run around in even a 1-pc swimsuit would be considered immodest because it shows your thigh/upper leg. In prep to go to Samoa, I made sure I had long shorts to wear over my swimsuit. I believe it is very important to respect and honor the modesty-traditions of a culture when visiting -- even if it's just so you don't stand out like a sore thumb! I think it's cool that you did buy the traditional clothing, you probably felt very comfortable in them when you were there.

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  8. Emily, that is REALLY interesting about Samoa! YOu know Jordan is a really interesting place because you get the FULL spectrum of clothing-- from the Saudi women who are veiled head to toe (even wearing gloves) in black, to partial face veils, to the hijab, and then to modern western dress-- aka shorts and short sleeves. It really depended on what sort of people you were around as to how women were dressed. Usually in the city I always wore long sleeves and long pants and a high neckline. But in the more touristy areas I felt okay wearing short sleeves ans shorts. But sometimes I'd run into situations where I really felt like my clothing-- even though it was SUPER modest-- still made me stand out. One of the girls in our group actually would wear a veil to the university because she had the MOST incredible curly blond hair and she was tired of being stared at. I don't know if I would have ever taken to wearing the hijab all the time because it has religious connotation with it, but by the time I left I really felt the desire to cover my head. It was a very interesting place to live!

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  9. This was lovely. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  10. Another great post by Heather! Thank you for those middle eastern insights into modesty. I love it when my way of thinking is taken to new and deeper levels.

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  11. Thank you so much for this, you are truly inspiring.

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  12. Absolutely, Heather - I was thinking how it really is all in the context -- like you said, if you're around other Western-dressed people, you feel fine, but if there aren't any, oh boy, you wish you'd been prepared for that!!

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  13. This was really interesting, thank you!

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  14. I loved this! The angle you approached the modesty issue is perfect and so much better than the awful "modest is hottest" trend that is mostly used. I'm sharing with my daughters!

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  15. Another post to share with my daughters! You have such a gift of insight and expression. Love this post!

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  16. My word I love this blog! Please keep em' coming. You always give me such wonderful things to think about.

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  17. Followed a link from Cocoa, and loved it. I WILL be back.

    I really enjoyed how you approached modesty. I have become more and more disturbed at the modesty lack in our society today.

    My sons are getting older (I have two that are 12 and 10 and a younger one) and notice the small bathing suits, the tiny shorts and very revealing "church" dress. I struggle with what to teach them and how much to shield them from it.

    Thank you for the comparison. I know I will be using the teachings as I try to encourage my boys to seek the modest.

    (and I agree with Cocoa's comment above, the "modest is hottest" is awful...I really love how you mentioned Sacred and Divine, much better words)

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  18. As usual, I love your posts!

    Have you thought about writing a piece about modesty for the New Era? The theme of this post I think would be perfect, and it is always something the brethren are trying to teach the youth. I think you should write an article like this for the New Era.

    I think you might like this article. It is about a young girl from bicultural parents who chooses to wear the hijab even though her mother never did (her father is Muslim).

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  19. The shift in perspective about modesty being divine and sacred contrasted with modesty is so that "bad" stuff doesn't happen seems to make it more tangible. The ambiguity with "bad stuff" and that modesty is more than just covering up parts of the body has been perpetuated partly because of fear that if too much is discuss about the unknown of what might happen children will seek it out.

    In Primary this last Sunday they discussed how the body is a temple and used the Faith in God standards to make the point that each one of the standards brings us closer to being modest in dress, thought, and action.

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  20. I love the way you explained modestly in this post. I 100% agree, although I think in our culture it is so much harder to implement because it is not as socially acceptable to be modest as it is in Jordan.

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  21. The modesty of thought, how even their thoughts are modest, was so insightful. How our beauty and sex appeal is for OUR HUSBAND.. and it's not exactly right to use, abuse, exploit, market, or flaunt that.

    Thank you so much for taking modesty past mere fashion choices. Modesty truly is an attitude, a thought pattern, a lifestyle.

    Beauty is more than skin deep.. so is modesty.

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  22. So I am still thinking about this since yesterday, and I was thinking that this is such a good example of what Lynn Robinson taught in the last general conference- you know... the "to be, to do," talk. The "to do," would be to wear appropriate clothing. The more weighty "to be," would be being a virtuous and modest person. He was SO right. Teaching the "to be," as you talked about in this post related to modesty- is so much more effective than just teaching the "to do."

    Neat.

    Thanks again for the post.

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  23. What I've noticed in the scriptures is the word 'clothed' coincides with righteousness or with the Savior. While the word 'naked' coincides with wickedness and being in front of God in Judgement and wanting to hide.

    Really good stuff in this post!

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    1. Another way to view the clothing vs. nakedness dichotomy is that nakedness is sometimes a metaphor for innocence or naivete. Conversely, the robes may represent layers of knowledge and power that accompanies that knowledge. Just a thought. . . .

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  24. I honestly wish that I could wear a hijab every day. I really connect with this way of thinking about yourself and presenting yourself. Especially now that I am married, I would feel so right to present a hijab to the world and the rest of me only to my husband. And if it were socially acceptable (and if it didn't have such sacred religious beliefs associated with it that I wouldn't want to make a mockery of) I would definitely wear one every day.

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  25. One more thought: I taught a lesson on modesty in primary yesterday. To my knowledge, this is the first time that the church curriculum has included an entire primary sharing time on dressing modestly. It is interesting that we are teaching this at such young ages--it must be important! I think it's great. IIt would be wonderful if the children were comfortable with the idea of modesty (and had a testimony of it) long before they get to the age where it becomes a real issue.

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  26. Great Post Heather! I need to check your blog more often. I hope you are feeling well with your pregnancy!

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  27. I really like this post, because the idea of modesty is very troublesome to me, and it's helped me process my thoughts on the concept.

    My most basic reaction to the idea of modesty is that you cannot control other people's thoughts. The naked human body is value-neutral. What we are taught in our culture is what tells us how to feel about ankles and breasts and backs and hair and faces. The fact is, those men who thought you were more beautiful with the hijab probably thought so because they were brought up that way. People in other cultures think differently; I have seen how people lose respect for women who voluntarily wear the hijab, because of a cultural background that tells them that it's wrong. That's not how I feel, but it demonstrates how little control we have over how people will interpret our clothing choices. So to think that specific styles of dress will make any person, man or woman, respect or disrespect you is almost to say that clothing has universal meaning, which it does not. In one culture, brides wear white, and in another, they wear red. There were and are cultures where men and women walk around naked every day. These cultures usually don't sexualize nudity, so whether or not a woman covers her breasts or thighs most likely has no effect on how she will be treated by other people. So, what I mean to say is that I don't really agree that a person has a great deal of power derived from what they choose to reveal or cover in their dress, because the meaning derived from clothing choice is entirely up to the person looking at you, and they might take it an entirely different way.

    Nonetheless, I have no issue with a person who wants to wear knee-length shorts and elbow-length sleeves or a headscarf or veil. Your body is your body and you have every right to cover it as you wish. Whether other people get the message you intend to convey or not, what you wear is how you express yourself to the outside world, and you should have control of that message. I do get upset when someone implies that I do not value myself because I wear my favorite halter-top, backless dress, because covering means something different for me personally. I used to hate my body, and I covered it up as much as I could because of that. Now I love my body, and I reinforce that positive body image by showing it, scars, stretch marks, dimples, cellulite - all of it. I used to care so much about what people thought of how I looked, and I realized how unhealthy that was, so what other people think when they see me in that little dress is no longer a concern of mine. For me, this is healthier, but of course that won't be true of all people.

    Awesome post. For someone who believed for a long time that the hijab was just a symbol of oppression, I still have a gut reaction against the idea, and I'm glad for the chance to see a more positive perspective of it. Thanks.

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  28. "For in the end modesty is truly the outward expression of an inward commitment to God and learning to be modest, not only in dress but in all areas of your life..."

    To me, modesty was a principle that Satan introduced to Adam and Eve. God then stepped in when they had a problem with it. But if Satan had never convinced them that being naked is wrong, then there is no evidence that God would have ever had an issue with it.

    Like @Macha says "...is almost to say that clothing has universal meaning, which it does not." To me, God doesn't think that an Eskimo in full clothing is more committed to God than a Fijian who only wears a clothe covering their crotch. In fact, in cultures where there is nothing but a loin clothe, there is much less issues with sex appeal and the men are aren't obsessed with certain body parts that in most cultures are major problems.

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  29. This is a controversial subject. As much as I loved the point, I would teach it differently. For me modesty is for both men and women. As for the last comment goes. I think what Satan was trying to convince Eve was that her body was wrong, that she should be ashamed of being a creation of God. And same with Adam. That he should be ashamed of it too.

    God in teaching modesty in dress was teaching that they should not be ashamed of their bodies. But that they now needed a covering, and that covering was symbolic of Jesus Christ.

    I think that we focus so much on women and modesty, what about men and modesty? Why don't we have a good post exclusively and entirely about men and modesty, and how it is important to men exclusively. No women mentioned.

    I came across a small article once, on how men could be modest. A priest or reverend gave a talk about clothing being tight for men to be sexually appealing. Men can be modest in dress, and choose more loose fitting clothing. And honestly the more layers of clothing a man is wearing under his pants, the more modest he appears. I have a husband, I know this first hand. I feel strongly that we should teach modesty to men, exclusive how men can be modest, and excerize their power (and yes they have a physical power with in themselves too that is just as sacred. We talk so much about the outward priesthood, we don't think about the sacred nature of fatherhood).

    I love this explanation over others about women and their power. It is better then in most manuals. I just would love one talk about modesty exclusively and entirely directed toward men. That doesn't exhort men to tell women to be modest, but exhorts them to be modest in the ways they can be.

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  30. Sarah,

    Amen! I very much agree that men need to be talked to about modesty. It is an issue for them as well, and they too have sacred power within their bodies. I think this message could and should be for both men and women. Being modest isn't just about how you dress, it is about how you innately view yourself and your body.

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  31. While there are parts of this article I enjoy, I don't like the implication from the Cassler quote that women are in some way responsible that "getting" men to partake of goodness and righteousness ("Eve must get Adam to partake, must turn him towards the light, or the plan of salvation and exaltation will be frustrated"). It is not in any way anyone's responsibility to take charge of the decisions, values, perspective, choices of anybody else. Women are not in charge of men's salvation any more than men are in charge of women's. That Eve enticed Adam does not mean we get to entice our husbands into being somebody they are not willing to be. I encounter this idea quite frequently in the church and it stings me every time. My modesty has nothing at all to do with men. It has everything to do with my own relationship with God and the respect I have for myself as His daughter.

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  32. Thank you for writing this post. I really liked it and the added perspective it brings to the subject of modesty. The idea of "getting Adam to partake" is a very interesting idea. I don't know that I agree with every particular of this idea in everything that was said, like Emily above, but in general, it causes me to think and gives me a new perspective, which, I like. As women, we can have a great influence on men for good or for bad. Of course in the end though, it is not our responsibility to make sure they choose God's plan though. We cannot do this, but I do think we can definitely have an influence for good. Men are capable of making good choices on their own though as well even without us having to persuade or turn them.

    I agree that is important to not just dress modestly, but to be modest. To me, this idea of "being" modest encompasses a lot more though than just having an inward commitment relating to being sexually pure and not flaunting that "power" that we have within us.

    In my definition, modesty is drawing attention to God and glorifying him. The opposite then, immodesty, is drawing attention away from God and to ourselves. In this view being immodest is not only evident in our dress, which is one expression of modesty or immodesty, but can be manifested in many ways. One example of immodesty in this definition is being loud and obnoxious, which would be being immodest in our speech by trying to draw attention to oneself. We can be immodest in our actions as well by how we treat people. When we like to talk and not listen, this could be immodest. When we are showy by the car we drive or by having a pink mohawk, we could be considered immodest. When we have multiple piercings or tattoos to draw attention this could be considered immodest. Not all immodesty is necessarily unrighteous or sinful like using the power we have been given for procreation in inappropriate ways, but can nonetheless draw attention to ourselves in ways that might not be pleasing to God, and that doesn't glorify or honor Him. Taking care of ourselves and having things that are nice or colorful are not being immodest in this definition, but the main focus of modesty should be to glorify God and draw attention to him.

    Thank you again for this post and the perspective it brings to modesty. It has increased my perspective and it is greatly appreciated.

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  33. Hi, I stumbled upon your posting when I was looking for some reading about hijab. I myself wearing hijab as I'm a muslim. I found your posting is so interesting, I hope you don't mind if I share it to my friends in fb? thank you

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  34. I am so thankful to have stumbled upon your blog. I have been reading several feminist mormon blogs lately and I could feel my testimony wavering... This blogpost and the one about the veil have helped put a proper perspective on my femininity.... Thank you!

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