Modern Eve

This past Sunday, during my brief interlude back home from a deposition marathon in Steve’s hometown of Calgary, we had our monthly meeting of the "Radmos" (Radical Mormon Women). The topic of discussion was a look at some versions of the Judeo-Christian creation myth, including the classical Christian, the LDS, some Gnostic views and the Lilith myth. But, as usual, our discussion soon evolved (devolved?) into an inquiry into whether and where our modern-day Eves exist in LDS culture and life. As a group we all seemed to be striving for LDS women in public discourse who provide examples of an exemplary life lived, a model to emulate, a beacon of wisdom. We don’t seem to have any.

Several women raised the example of Sheri Dew; Cheiko Okazaki also came up. We concluded that these few examples notwithstanding, the women in the General Relief Society Presidency talk about little birds and precious moments at General Conference and don’t give us much substance. Nor do we hear about the spouses of the male leadership of the church the way we do about those leaders themselves, and we don’t seem to have too many other women with a public face who also are active and participating members of the church.

I have to admit my ignorance for most of that discussion. Maybe because I grew up on the east coast or perhaps because of my aversion for the cult of personality in whatever form, I never have known – or cared – much about the personal lives of the "elite" of the church. I don’t think about Jennifer Aniston (okay, the breakup shook me a little), and I don’t think about the late Sister Hinckley (see, I don’t even know her first name). I certainly couldn’t name the members of the current General Relief Society presidency. Nonetheless, I do think a lot about ideas and where they come from. I appreciate that our male church leaders have good things to say. That doesn’t obviate the need for our church direction to come from additional and different perspectives, that is, from women. Also, as a feminist, I believe that the public images with which we are presented shape how we see ourselves as women and men. If women aren’t seen as a source of knowledge and wisdom in public, that affects how we see ourselves and each other in private. Even more importantly, it affects who we become and how we treat those around us.

So, first, please tell me if I am overlooking some great female figures in the public face of the church. Second, let’s talk about how we can change that. I don’t mean we need to have women in the public for that sake per se. This is not about seeking glory or fame. I want to know in what ways we as strong women (or as men who love and support strong women as I hope you all do) can participate as part of the public face of and message to the members of the church. Should we publish in Dialogue? Run for public office in our local communities? Win a spot on American Idol? Or, is the problem I outline intractable until women hold the priesthood and therefore have the ecclesiastical and administrative responsibilities and correlative power and influence that run automatically to the men in our church?

As somewhat of an aside, I also offer the query, is this just a silly diversion from our true lives?  I know so many fascinating women who are exemplary in their careers, in their personal lives, in their community service.  In fact, they are so exemplary that they are too tired to make sure that these things are noticed by anyone else.  So, I don’t want this discussion to degenerate into why women shouldn’t seek to be noticed for their good works.  I am really aiming at the issue of why we as a church culture don’t recognize these women and provide them a public forum the way that we do for men.

Comments

  1. More air time in General Conference? Meatier talks in GC? (And I realize this was discussed last week.) Two women’s broadcasts a year instead of just one? Figuring out some way to utilize strong general board members after they’ve been released, so that they don’t just fade into oblivion once their three years are up? Relief Society and Elders Quorum lessons on strong women in church history?

  2. Despite the honor accorded to Eve by LDS doctrine, women are not encouraged to follow Eve’s example. She disobeyed priesthood counsel and failed to discuss an important decision with her husband. Women who are that headstrong might not last long in a patriarchal culture. I often wonder what the dynamics were in Adam and Eve’s relationship after the Fall.

    I’ve wondered about the wives of the Brethren as well. Do the apostles talk to their wives about their spiritual experiences and responsibilities? Or are they told to keep those things to themselves, like bishops do? I wonder if it is lonely to be the wife of an apostle.

  3. Someone at the discussion group made the point that women in the RS presidency are chosen because they don’t have independence and don’t question authority. I don’t know whether that is the intent of the church leaders making the selections, but regardless, it certainly seems to be the practical consequence we see in the women who are chosen. I see this same situation on a local level. RS presidents are intelligent and organized, but I haven’t seen any that are independent and challenge authority, even in a constructive way.

    Given that RS presidents, locally and at large, are chosen by men and are therefore out of our control, what other outlets do women have in a public way?

  4. There’s a reason that BYU has a really popular Women’s Conference every year, but no corresponding Men’s Conference. Having never been to one, I can’t say much, other than that the popularity of the conference suggests to me that there is a real desire on the part of LDS women to find high-profile role models within the church.

  5. Janey: “Despite the honor accorded to Eve by LDS doctrine, women are not encouraged to follow Eve’s example. She disobeyed priesthood counsel and failed to discuss an important decision with her husband.”

    Janey, what’s the support for that claim?

  6. Christina, I no longer have a subscription to Exponent II because it came so randomly, but when it did get here, it had some interesting articles. And I think women are really finding their voices in the bloggernacle. Unfortunately, that all feels kind of clandestine.

  7. Steve,

    My father-in-law, an anthropologist at the Y who studies marriage rituals, thinks that the reason for the seemingly harsh punishment for Eve is not that she ate the fruit but that the issue wasn’t discussed with her spouse. I think it is an interesting point of view. I’ve never hear him cite any source for this other than his own thinking on the matter. It is a useful idea even if it isn’t doctrine. Certainly life altering decisions should be discussed prior to acting.

  8. Cathleen,
    Agreed, women are writing, and they have been doing so for some time. But as many have raised, the bloggernacle (and certainly Dialogue, Exponent II and Sunstone) are read and engaged in by only a certain segment of the LDS population. How do we get women a wider audience in the church?

  9. Random John- in response to your father in law’s theory, do you think that if Adam were in Eve’s position and he had made the same decision without consulting his partner we would even notice?

  10. One interesting consequence of the system now in place for Women general leaders in the church is that they are all from Utah. Probably becauser the church doesn’t want them to move and displace their husbands. Obviously a lot of interesting issues behind this current way of doing things. But one interesting side note is that I think the women leaders are far more products of Utah culture then are the men leaders who are called from more far ranging areas.

  11. Steve Evans – Eve was told by God (who has priesthood authority) to not eat of the tree of knowledge. Then she ate the fruit without discussing it with Adam first. It’s in Genesis, Moses, and the temple movie.

    The exhortations to follow priesthood counsel, and discuss important decisions with your spouse are so numerous I’m surprised you ask for substantiation.

  12. As far as Adam consulting Eve — I always thought it was weird that Adam didn’t go and communicate what was going on after Satan tempted him. “Hey, there’s this weird guy around here trying to get us to eat the fruit!” …

  13. Christina, your comment (not original post) seems to be making the assumption that question authority is a good thing, at least in female church leaders. Am I misreading? If that is your position, can you explain why you think that

  14. Janey — Just wanted to point out according to the Moses version of the story, God commanded Adam to stay away from the fruit of the tree of knowledge before he created Eve. She wasn’t there when the commandment was given.

  15. Julie in Austin says:

    “My father-in-law, an anthropologist at the Y who studies marriage rituals, thinks that the reason for the seemingly harsh punishment for Eve is not that she ate the fruit but that the issue wasn’t discussed with her spouse. I think it is an interesting point of view. I’ve never hear him cite any source for this other than his own thinking on the matter. It is a useful idea even if it isn’t doctrine. Certainly life altering decisions should be discussed prior to acting.”

    Yeah, but, when Adam decided NOT to eat it, he did that without consulting Eve. According to this theory, he should have been punished for that. Was he?

  16. Interesting question Julie.

    In my mind, using Adam and Eve is extremely problematic, because the scriptural account is so sparse and yet so heavily relied upon in literature and culture. Moreover, the representations of the Creation as shown in the temple are problematic because they can’t be discussed in detail and do not entirely correspond with everyday creation interpretations. So it seems to me that we may have a rough time of things if we look for their story to tell us too much about our own lives…

  17. On the mission we held a sister’s conference every six months, which we had to call a “sister’s something” after meetings held exclusively for the sister’s became discouraged. I myself was not a fan of these gatherings. We recieved a large amount of grief for our glorified testimony meetings from the elders and their not understanding the need for such an event seeing that there were no “elder’s conferences”. (This was supposed to be the counterpart to there leadership meetings or something of the sort). Apart from these reasons, the content to the meetings was somewhat disapointing. Not for lack of trying by the organizing parties (presidents wife, etc). We had a dynamic speaker (wife of emeritus seventy, Elder Dallas Merrill) who spoke of Esther. The other sister’s asigned to speak were given exceptional topics such as the qulaities we as women have to offer in these times. Much to my dismay, it turned into a whinefest of girls having the spirit (yes we do! we’ve got spirit, how bout you?!) more readily than men and are therefore more apt missionaries….really that’s all we need, right? Thus encouraging those sisters already under the spell of this (not entirely false) notion, who didnt feel a need to work as hard. I got through my first sister’s conference mildly disgusted, but went back to work trying to confensate for an entire day of proselyting lost. Six months later, the mission president’s wife calls me in an attempt to give the sister’s more leadership duties and puts me in charge of the planning of this semi annual event. Yes, I got a LOT of grief over this, and was nicknamed by several elders (including the ap’s) as the Sister Assistant. I was mad. Mad that this was going to interupt the work and mad that I was seen as the center of this unnecessary interuption. I worked hard to make it something worthwhile. We did end up with excellent speakers and actually talked about how we could IMPROVE our efforts as sister missionaries. It was lovely (I made sure of it, I am a girl after all)we lost little pros time and my companion was strengthened in some of her weaknessess from the number of splits I sent her on. And it dawned on me; it’s not that this focus on the woman of the church is unnecessary, but is ocassionaly lacking in actual doctrine that stretches us. Causes us to grow, instead of relishing in more of the same (we are sweet spirited sister’s and so therefore special). More recently, I enrolled in an institute class focused on the women of the scriptures hoping to be enlightened by some of the duties and challenges that they faced. I learned instead that Sarah was really old when she had Issac (mind boggling) and that woman have the sacred duty of bearing children (duh). Any attempt to investigate further into the charatceristics or reasons behind these things are brushed aside carelessly and instead we addressed the importance of men opening doors (all for gentlemanly behavior, but comeon!) and how all feminists are going to hell in a handbasket. Granted it was ignorance pointed towards a neo-fem nazi attitude of woman taking over men, but offensive to even myself. And I have never considered myself a feminist. I think it is not for lack of trying to support our LDS woman, but possibly the way in which it is done at times. On a positive note, I attended a fireside for single women with Sister Oaks. Fascinating woman. She addressed the angst of being a single woman in this culture and all we have to offer in this capacity. I mean, this woman married at 50, only an apostle would do for her. I was very impressed. I also work for the church presently and have had contact with some of the female auxillary leaders of the church who work very hard in their callings and are exceptional women. I was pleased, and not entirely suprised to discover.

  18. Matt Jacobsen says:

    Another view about the Adam/Eve dilemma (that I think originates with a book called ‘The Silence of Adam’) is that Adam was at fault for idly standing by while the serpent beguiled Eve into partaking of the fruit. Adam failed his wife then and the male psyche has fovever after been trying to save the princess from the dragon.

  19. Ryan,

    I think questioning authority is an important thing. I’m not necessarily talking about openly challenging authority or blatantly disregarding it. I do mean exercising agency and questioning whether or not something is best for me. I believe we all have a right to gain our own witness of anything a person with authority tells us. And I think authority in our church is at times misused. Why else would they have to specifically tell bishops not to add questions to the temple recommend interview? (see manual/transcription from the first leadership training broadcast) People are not perfect, and I’m not going to act as if they are and never question them.

  20. It is important to trust and sustain the leaders of the church (obviously). Especially prophets and apostles, but I think that a healthy questioning of authority helps in gaining a testimony of these isolated principles. What do the missionaries challenge investigators to do? Read, ponder, and pray. Ask questions. If we idly accept everything as absolute truth, we end up with weak testimonies that may break under true pressure. That or we are falsely guided by well meaning leaders that fall victim to hearsay or vanity.

  21. Can we make a useful distinction between questioning and doubting? Questioning to me conjures images of inquiry, research and thought; doubting doesn’t. I like the idea of questioning authority — understanding its foundations and motivations, searching out its purposes and ends. Doubt by itself isn’t as helpful or useful.

  22. Am I correct that for purposes of this thread we are setting aside the question of why women are not given the priesthood? If so, the question then becomes how do women acquire a voice in a male hierarchical society? Obviously, one method is for the men in power to give them a voice. To some extent that happens in the modern Church with women giving GC talks, writing in Church magazines, and for Utah-based women, serving in general Church auxiliary leadership. However, that voice remains within the control of the heirarchy, and even if authentic, is also going to be very institutionalized and thus not likely to be very creative or original.

    If we look at other male hierarchical religious societies, if there are strong women’s voices, they tend to be built up away from the men’s turf. Thus, in Catholicism, women ranging from Hildegard of Bingen to Mother Teresa of Calcutta acheived a prominent voice through independnet art and service. This was the case in 19th C Mormonism as well, where Eliza R. Snow and cohorts built an independent women’s voice through art and service (Relief Society). That is where I would look to see independent women’s voices: writers and artists and women involved with independent service projects.

    continued ….

  23. JWL: “Am I correct that for purposes of this thread we are setting aside the question of why women are not given the priesthood? ”

    Lord I hope so! :)

    Yes, I think so, although for some the story of Eve is indelibly linked to that issue.

  24. continued …

    There are some problems. One practical problem is the Utah lock on LDS media as well as LDS leadership. European voices such as Anne Perry or Cecile Pelous, hey, even East Coast voices such as Christina Taber-Kewene, and others are not going to penetrate that centralized marketplace unless some entrepreneur reaches out to them. Second, in a believing religious society, the nature of any voice which can have any impact must fundamentally conform to the society’s values. Primarily dissenting voices are not going to be influential on the majority. Societies change slowly. For example, Gladys Knight can get away with some very useful criticism of music in the Church only because she is otherwise so vocally faithful.

    Although the follow-the-Brethren crew does not like to hear it, the Church does change, albeit slowly, from below. There is an element of serendipity to the coming of new voices (as in my example above the conversion of a legendary soul singer to the Church). Much of that we can not control. However, we can prepare the ground for the acceptance of strong women’s voices when they emerge, through means such as women’s groups, Exponent II, and blogs with excellent writers such as Christina.

  25. Amy and Sara, like Steve points out, I think there’s a difference between pondering and gaining one’s own confirmation of something, and actively challenging positions of our leaders. It’s basic doctrine that we can all seek a confirmation of any gospel truth for ourselves– no problem. But how helpful is it for us to choose leaders (as Christina sort of seems to support doing) with their willingness to confront/challenge authority specifically in mind? I’m not sure I understand that approach. Again, I allow that I may be badly misreading Christina’s comment.

  26. Ryan, on the questioning authority bit, I think Sarah and Amy put it well. Women in the church, as Jim acknowledges, are without direct access to authority. This leaves us only other avenues for penetrating authority and influencing the church body. And I do think that we women have a voice that can and should influence the church for good. That is what I mean by questioning authority. We do this in private and semi-private ways, with our writing and community outreach, but I am still unclear on how we can do this in public ways that are still constructive.

  27. Christina, I’m a little unsure what you mean when you say you’d like to see more women in the church’s “public discourse”, “public face of the church,” and “public forum.” The church itself is a private organization, of course, and although it does have a few centralized public rhetorical occasions–GC being chief among them–it is largely decentralized in its operations and influences, and becoming more decentralized as it grows. If we set aside the possibility of women holding offices in the priesthood, I’m not sure it would make sense for women to gain any more visibility at those few central public occasions within the church: it would be a little silly to have parity in gender among GC speakers, since female GAs are such a small proportion of the entire corps, and are merely “auxiliary” in any case–they’re probably overrepresented in conference as a fraction of the general leadership as it is. And I’m not sure how the church itself could promote women publicly in other ways: it seems to me that the church doesn’t really promote *anybody* publicly outside the channels of priesthood leadership.

    (On a side note, it doesn’t particularly surprise me that RS presidents don’t tend to be insubordinate–neither do EQ presidents, or HP group leaders, or YM presidents, I’d guess. The church is an organization, and I don’t know of any organization–no matter how progressive–that can function when its bureaucrats don’t observe its parliamentary procedures.)

    Maybe you would simply like more LDS women to have a highly visible, highly successful role model: a public speaker, or a writer, probably, since those are the channels by which most LDS media is circulated. This will happen inevitably as soon as there’s a market for it, I think: that is, when LDS women want to buy books and go to conferences given by highly visible, highly successful role models, then these books and occasions will materialize. This is already happening to a certain extent with Deseret Book’s touring conference “Time Out for Women,” which features the likes of Sheri Dew, Mary Ellen Edmunds, Ardeth Kapp, and others. You might not like these choices (and neither do I, frankly), but at this time, this is what LDS women seem to want.

    In the end, though, I think most of the work you’d like to see done–and I’d like to see it done, too–will be accomplished from the bottom up, at local levels. My mother is a very popular teacher and speaker at youth conferences, women’s conferences, and CES conferences in Southern California–she’s achieved this simply by being willing and able, and she’s touched many, many women’s lives through this local, small-scale work.

  28. Rosalynde —

    I disagree with your contention that the Church is becoming more decentralized as it grows. The trend has been in the opposite direction. To deal with the growth of the church, rather than create new administrative layers of middle management, the Church is trying to leverage technology to reach out from Salt Lake to the local units, at least in the US and Canada. We used to have a visitng GA/Area authority come for every stake conference — now we have a coordinated satellite broadcast from Salt Lake for leadership training every other time.

    As a result, the number of General Conference-like opportunities for church leaders to speak to large audiences at the same time is growing. And while I agree that it doesn’t necessarily make sense to change the mix in GC, there’s clearly room for more balance in these other broadcasts, which will only continue to increase in frequency as the Church grows.

  29. Bryce, I’ll concede the point about decentralization. I don’t know about those broadcast leadership conferences–and since so few women are in leadership positions, I think relatively few women are likely to know about them or attend them–but you’re right, they are another centralized and quasi-public rhetorical occasion. Personally, I doubt that more women will speak at those, unless they have a women-only leadership broadcast, simply because so few women will be in attendance, and there’s such a slim (virtually non-existent) precedent for women instructing men in the church.

  30. Bryce,

    you’re right and I don’t think it’s something to celebrate. Five or six years ago, our stake president gave a talk at a stake priesthood leadership meeting talking about how the SLC was emphasizing that we need to become more self-sufficient in the gospel because as the church grows, it will be increasingly difficult for HQ to supervise everything as closely as before. Since then, however, I’ve seen only evidence to the contrary. Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves is no longer the mantra.

    This is why what some have called questioning, but what I call “making aware” is so important. Some leaders are oblivious and come to local areas making pronouncements with obviously no understanding of what is really happening in that area. Others are more solicitous. Sometimes the local leaders are paranoid and concerned with appearances. So there are many possibilities for a breakdown in communications. Members should never apologize for pointing out areas of legimate concern to local leaders. Often those leaders will already have thought long and hard about the problem. Other times, you might introduce them to a perspective they otherwise would not have encountered and for which they will be grateful. Those who dismiss or intimidate are not helping the church.

  31. All these threads are fascinating reading. Great stuff.

    One current woman LDS “name” that I really admire is Julie De Azevedo. Do you want depth and self-exploration? Take a listen to “Dive Deep”. Do you want the joy and freedom self-exploration brings out? Take a listen to “Hello Sky”.

    Raising a family (including a new one) and also starting her own therapy and counseling practice has got to be tough, and then juggling in a music career. I’m sure it’s not easy for her. But her art doesn’t gloss that stuff over, either. Plus, she’s really friendly and easy to visit with.

    MRKH

  32. Christina, looking for an LDS woman that can compete with male GAs in terms of celebrity status or visibility is a task that’s stacked against you. It’s like searching for the finest sergeant in the US Army, then asking why he can’t be more like a colonel? Why is he still a sergeant?

    I see “lady GAs” (I don’t know a good term for them) as the Mormon equivalent of sergeants surrounded by a group of officers. Male GAs are quite sensitive to the formal difference between commissioned officers and NCOs, and they are simply not going to tolerate any sergeant who doesn’t get it. The cardinal rule, of course, is that sergeants can give orders to privates or to other sergeants, but never to a commissioned officer. That’s just not the way the Army works.

    I suppose it’s worth pointing out that my dictionary (which I consulted to get the spelling of “sergeant” right) notes that sergeant derives from the Latin servire, meaning to serve. I suppose “helpmeet” might be an equivalent term. From the patriarchal perspective of LDS leaders, all women are helpmeets.

  33. Dave,

    If that is the perspective of LDS leaders, then they need to spend more time with the New Testament and realize that it is the leader’s function to serve, not to be served.

    The best LDS leaders I have known take this approach. They don’t spend a lot of time getting hung up on who is murmuring or becoming a “law unto themselves” nor do they seek to insulate themselves from uncomfortable realities. They take everyone seriously.

  34. On questioning authority:

    Whenever this topic comes up, those who advocate questioning are immediately put on the defensive, as if they must shoulder the burden of proof as to why it’s ok. Yet it seems to be it ought to be the other way around. The Church is loaded with example after example of when authorities have been wrong, or when authorities have disputed amongst themselves.

    Questioning authority seems like the natural thing to do in a culture where we (supposedly) teach that leaders are fallible. Those who insist we shouldn’t question ought to be explaining why, and they ought to have better reasons than “cause that’s how our culture is,” even though it’s the only accurate answer I can think of.

  35. “I suppose it’s worth pointing out that my dictionary (which I consulted to get the spelling of “sergeant” right) notes that sergeant derives from the Latin servire, meaning to serve. I suppose “helpmeet” might be an equivalent term. From the patriarchal perspective of LDS leaders, all women are helpmeets.”

    Dave: I’d disagree on the equating of servant with helpmeet (which should be two words.)

    “Help meet for him” is a bad translation, and means “(divine) aid equal to him.”

    I put “divine” in parenthesis because the only other person so designated by the Hebrew term is God, who is certainly not subordinate to those he helps. “meet for” is older English for “suitable for” “appropriate for” but the Hebrew probably means “equal to.”

    On that phrase, see the articles here, particularly #7 and 8.

    Whether the leaders of the Church actually consider women as “sargeants” or servants or subservient and whether the terminology used diachronically by members of the Church accurately reflects the apparent intent of the passage is another question entirely. I just wanted to quibble with your equation:)

  36. The above on “help meet” may seem like a quibble, but I consider it a significant point of data when talking about Adam and Eve and the role of women in the Church.

  37. Ben S, that’s really quite sharp, thanks. In LDS speak, “helpmeet” gets used as if it were a one-word noun. Alas, I was tempted and did partake of this illicit usage. If the original passage is translated as something like “a helper, meet/suitable for Adam/man,” I actually think that’s a much nicer reading.

  38. It’s not just LDS-speak, it’s everywhere. I think it’s even gone into a few dictionaries as a single word. Dictionary.com provides a [sarcasm] helpful [/sarcasm] definition- “helpmate”. It redeems itself with the note “From misunderstanding of the phrase an help meet for him, a helper suitable for him (Adam), in Genesis 2:18, referring to Eve”

  39. Rosalynde,
    I quibble with your assumption that a public face for women will appear when there exists a corresponding market for it (and the other side of that assumption, which is that there does not currently exist that market). My question was not, in any case, when will it happen, but how can we MAKE it happen.

  40. that are independent and challenge authority

    Gee, missed my mom as the reoccuring RS president (in many venues as we were transferred about).

    As for female speakers, the Womens Conferences have some significant ones, and the books that flow from them are often good. I particularly like this talk: http://www.adrr.com/living/001w.htm and accept the inherent criticism by all of those who claim that the Womens Conference speakers are shallow and inept.

    The Deseret Book tours, referred to above, are also building some interesting perspectives. Enid Green before she self-destructed with the help of her husband, was poised to make a difference. I knew her from law school and regretted very much what happened to her.

    I think that there are a number of reasons we do not have an Eliza R. Snow in our generation that the public knows of. I believe it is because we are not worthy. What to make it happen, live so it is called forth.

  41. Reguarding Eve, questioning authority, and

    Eve is a great example to me partly because she was willing to question authority. She was told that if she partook of the fruit she would die. Rather than blindly obeying to save herself, she thought about the ramifications of her choice for all of humanity. I don’t think the church as a whole esteems any kind of disobedience or questioning, even if choices to do so are based in love. Of course I think there are other ways that public figures in the church are great examples, but I find it hard to compare any of them to Eve. Also, I think the loving way that God handled her questioning and disobedience tells a lot about who God really is. He is not egotistical-ready to punish her or us for questioning or disobeying. Were there natural, painful consequences to her actions? Yes. Was it punishment? No, but rather opportunity with the promise of forgiveness for mistakes made along the way.

  42. Christina,

    Sorry to take so long to respond. The baby is in the hospital. I agree with others that it is certainly a problem that as far as we know Adam didn’t go to his wife and say, “Hey, this guy showed up and asked me to do something that I shouldn’t. Watch out for him.” Oh course without knowledge of good and evil maybe this wasn’t as obvious as it seems it should have been. Still, it seems that the event would have been novel enough to mention.

    I guess we could argue if there is a difference in degree between Adam’s inaction and then silence and Eve’s action without discussion. It had to happen some way though, right?

    As for Women’s Conference, I there are reasons why I should keep my mouth shut. That said, I know that a concious decision was made about a decade ago to focus on RS topics and to move away from inviting professionals and intellectuals.

  43. Christina — a few rambling thoughts — I can’t think of any public figure that you have overlooked and would like to focus on this point:

    “My question was not, in any case, when will it happen, but how can we MAKE it happen”

    Does there need to be some form of collective consciousness? In my expereince, I find Mormon women hesitant to organize (as a group) around much other than literacy, quiltmaking and collecting for the food bank.

    Recently, I was reading something about “Montana Women for Peace” — I was rushing mis-read it to be “Mormon” instead of “Montana”. Wouldn’t that be something? Two weeks ago I read in the David O. McKay manual, that one of the missions of the church is, “to transform society so that the world may be a better and more peaceful place in which to live.” I wonder why Mormon women aren’t involved in the peace movement?

    I don’t know if we will have women leaders until we actually do some leading, instead of following through on jobs that are delegated to us. Right now, I think this is going to happen outside the church instead of from within, as women who want to serve and transform society will seek opportunities in quarters where they are “allowed” to do so.

  44. Kris, I think that you are correct, there are modern Mormon women who choose to change society through their careers. Perhaps it will just be a matter of waiting a generation for us all to grow up in those careers en masse before we see Mormon women changing society in a public way.

    John, my prayers for your baby. All I meant to point up by my previous comment was that your father’s theory made a sexist assumption about who should answer to whom.

  45. Christina,

    A few things:
    1. Thank you. Your prayers are very appreciated. Things are looking fine at this point.
    2. It was my father-in-law rather than father. I am picking at nits here.
    3. Now that I think about it, he made it clear that each was at fault for not communicating with the other. It was my own sexism on display. He engages his brain before spouting things off, something I am not nearly as good at. I agree that there is accountability to go around. As I said earlier, there is probably a debate to be had about which failure to communicate was worse, but it seems obvious that both Adam and Eve could have done what seems so simple to us, which is talking about this odd thing that happened. Perhaps this illustrates that even simple communication can be difficult and that it is something we can all work on. Perhaps I am trying to find too much meaning in something that was never intended to convey this particular message.

  46. Forgive me for spinning off into geek-ville for a moment, but it occurs to me that the issue of gender acceptance in the church (i.e. creating a community that fosters high profile, successful, and admirable women) can be compared to political philosophy. Two of the theories that exist to explain international political movements are interesting and instructive ideas. One is the idea of constructivism–a kind of top down approach to morality and philosophy. The point is that the general community accepts the ideas or morality or fashions of the top echelon of the community. A great example is the strong effect that hollywood (et al) has on our sense of fashion, interest, consumption etc. Now I’m committing a total heresy (considering the previous hollywood example), but I think in a certain sense, the church can be seen as constructivist. We listen intently and study General Conference talks. We take clues of appropriateness from outright general authority instruction, or even implied general authority instruction. A good example of this happened on our ward list serve today. Elder Uchdorf reorganized our stake presidency last week. The ward newsletter organizer sent out an email soliciting reactions to the meeting from ward members. Almost immediately, someone posted an email to the list reading from the general authority letter on not disseminating personal notes from stake conference. Now, I would argue that this young man’s request was perfectly reasonable and appropriate, but he was immediately confronted with a boundary of orthodoxy–premised upon an inference from a letter from church headquarters. We all get clues from the hierarchy, and the public face of the church is not filled with strong female voices. I’m not implying an institutional lack of respect for women, but that is the reality right now, as outlined by Christina.

    Now, a competing theory of where ideas, morality, philosophy, etc. come from is liberalism…a power from the people position. One could argue that the American Revolution was a triumph of liberalism, the voice of the people created societal change. We are so fond of this model, that we’ve institutionalized it with a Constitution that calls for elections, and a 14th amendment that gives all the other liberal ideas teeth. I think that liberalism is a competing force in Mormon culture. In the church, we see plenty of women on the ground who are successful, admirable, and faithful. My life is full of these women. I met some more of them at the blogger party in NYC this weekend. These are women who are eagerly getting graduate degrees, working in influential positions in the government, succeeding in the top levels of business, volunteering for charities, and helping shape their communities. This may not seem revolutionary to an outsider in Mormon culture, but what was unheard of a generation ago, is common now. And I think that while I’m still a reticent, socially awkward, struggling-to-find-my-voice lawyer, blogger, RS compassionate service committee member, my (as yet unborn) daughters are going to roar–encouraged to be unafraid, believing, compassionate but strong Mormon women. Just give us a few more years. The women I know are breaking demographic boundaries, and that kind of success will eventually be reflected in church culture.

  47. as the Sister Assistant …

    In my mission we had two sister APs. Sounds like your mission did not.

  48. Okay, the slightly less sleep-deprived and more coherent conclusion to my above comment is that more and more Mormon women are completing college degrees, and with the marriage age being put off, more and more women are embarking on careers than they were a generation ago. Education and career opportunities foster women using their voices outside of a church context, and I think that this is and will continue to trickle into a church context. Whether or not women choose to work or to stay home, the increased comfort with education, career and power will start (and in my opinion has started) to change our method of discourse. On the ground, we as Mormon women talk to and influence each other a great deal–we seek to build communities, and as “outside power” increases, I think that inside vocabulary and expectations will change.

  49. Hi Christina–

    Sorry if I came across as a little curt in my first response–take it as a compliment, since I usually skip the empathy-common-ground-building bit with people whose views I largely share! :) I didn’t intend to dismiss your questions or your concerns–I definitely share them, and I think you yourself are a living resolution to some of them.

    I’ve been thinking about why I’m sometimes resistant to interventionist, “cultural” resolutions to the problem of women’s position in the church, the kind of solutions you’ve proposed, such as giving women more visibility and “voice” and public prominence. I think I’m concerned that this kind of cultural response will act as a band-aid to cover up the deeper structural inequalities that remain (and of course I’m speaking about women and the priesthood here): if it *looks* like women occupy the same position in the church that men do–because the same number of women speak at GC, or there are just as many prominent Mormon women as Mormon men–then we might forget that women really *don’t* enjoy that same position, and this might delay real structural change, both by diminishing consciousness and by substituting cultural for structural change. Furthermore, it seems like church-sponsored cultural elevation of women (Karen’s “constructivist” approach) would have to be authorized and initiated by men, whereas a kind of market-based, grassroots approach (Karen’s “liberalism”) is more likely to be initiated and designed by women themselves.

    But I could be wrong about this. I don’t have bleeding wounds from women’s current position in the church, but some women do, and maybe the value of a cultural band-aid for those women is worth any drawback. And maybe Marx was wrong, and cultural change really can drive structural change: the two are mutually constitutive in any case, and perhaps gains in the one can only foster gains in the other.

  50. All of Northern California had a televised Stake Conference yesterday (from the Oakland tri-Stake center next to the temple). Not only did Elder Eyring speak, but also his wife was asked to speak, as well.

    I wonder if we’ll be seeing this kind of thing more often.

  51. Laurie DiPadova-Stocks says:

    “Steve Evans – Eve was told by God (who has priesthood authority) to not eat of the tree of knowledge. Then she ate the fruit without discussing it with Adam first. It’s in Genesis, Moses, and the temple movie.

    The exhortations to follow priesthood counsel, and discuss important decisions with your spouse are so numerous I’m surprised you ask for substantiation.”

    Steve, maybe I have missed something through the years, but I have not seen the implied emphasis in your post of husbands consulting their wives on important decisions. To the contrary. Until 15 years ago, husbands were asked by the priesthood leaders if the wife could be called, before the wife was ever informed (and if he refused, she never was). She was not accorded the same courtesy with regard to her husband’s callings.

    On a lighter note, I think Sterling and Natalie McMurrin struck just the right tone. When I asked for their secret for getting along so well all these years, he replied that it was simple: he made the big decisions and Natalie made the little decisions. My feminist antennae went up immediately, and I asked for clarification! He went on to explain that Natalie made the little decisions, such as what house they would buy, how many children they would have, where he would work, where to invest their funds, where and when they would take vacation and so forth. So I asked about his big decisions, and he said: I decide whether or not to admit China into the U.N., what to do about nuclear testing, and so forth.
    Quite a division of labor and responsibility!
    Laurie

  52. Hi LDS,

    I would just point out that the quote you use isn’t from me, but one of our many readers. I consult with Sumer on pretty much everything. She is in charge of all decisions of substance, I get decisions of form. A similar distinction to the McMurrins, perhaps — I get to choose what movie we watch, she gets to choose where we live.

  53. Mark,

    Did Sister Eyring give a substantive talk, or was it the 5-minute warm-up talk that wives are often asked to do?

  54. Steve,

    You get to choose movies? You lucky man! Of course recently there aren’t many movies at all, but after a “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” marathon I feel that a request to watch the extended version of one of the Lord of the Rings movies would be seen as what is just and right.

  55. Christina asks the pratical question of how we can MAKE independent women’s voices heard now. I would not underestimate the practical issue of means. If interesting independent women’s voices exist or will come to exist soon, HOW are they going to be heard? If we rule out official Church means (GC, broadcast regional conferences, Deseret Book) what channel is left right now in the Mormon media market through which a marketable independent Mormon woman’s voice would reach other Mormon women (and men)?

    As I said above, there is a lot of serendipity to these things. I see two present possibilities:

    (1) some crazy entrepreneur(s) starts an independent press to disseminate such voices (which would have to carefully positioned as ‘faith-promoting with an edge’), or

    (2) such women are or become so prominent outside the Church that they can leverage that prominence into access to the Mormon media market (my best example here again is Gladys Knight, who I really hope can do good things for music in the Church).

  56. Rosalynde, sorry for the late response, I have been traveling. Your response wasn’t curt at all, but I’m going to agree with your final comment re Marxism. I think that so much of our collectively held idea of what is right, which in Mormonism nearly translates into doctrine, is created by our public face, that is through the media of church-published or church-sanctioned publications, and GC talks. With such a top-down culture, if women were more visible, our whole idea of who women are and what our power is would change. That being said, I’d like to take up JWL’s suggestion and propose that we women start getting ourselves published.

  57. “Top-Down” in the previous comment strikes me. In an organization where suggestions, ideas, concerns, desires, complaints and pleas must climb, step by step, through hands and minds that are focused on other things, it’s amazing to me that the GA’s have any idea what the membership really thinks.

    Women often talk to their Bishop/Branch president about personal concerns, but rarely about gender concerns. Talking to a new Bishop recently, he asked if women are still concerned about holding the priesthood. I told him about a RS president in another state who asked her RS what would happen if all the sisters in the ward stayed home — just for a month. The overwhelming laughter indicated concensus. The ward house may as well lock the doors.

    How should women’s concerns climb the ladder to the top? How to convince the priesthood to listen and pass the information on? Culture issues may make this a problem for a long time. WBardwin.

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