Round Table: Women in the Church, Round One

Last month I wrote to several friends and Bloggernacle acquaintances and began a round table discussion on women in the Church. Over the course of several weeks we wrote each other with questions and thoughts about this ever-interesting topic, and now we’d like to post the content of those exchanges here for you. This will be the first of three (long) installments.

Round Table participants were:

1. Me, the gadfly of the bloggernacle;
2. Christopher ‘Grasshopper’ Bradford, inventor of the Bloggernacle (an Al Gore-ish claim if ever there was one);
3. Lisa L., who puts the Fem in Feminist Mormon Housewives;
4. Jim Faulconer, whom we all look to for credibility and reasoned answers;
5. Kris Wright, up-and-coming BCCer and Canadian;
6. Heather Pitts from Explorations, woman, sister, and Latter-Day Saint;7. Melissa Proctor, T&S super-blogger; and
8. Claudia L. Bushman, celebrated author.

All of us participated in the conversations as we saw fit, dropping out and in from time to time.

So, on to Round One!
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From: Steve Evans
To: Lisa, Kris Wright, Jim, Grasshopper, Heather, Melissa, Claudia
Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005
Subject: Round Table Discussion 2005

First, let me say hi to everyone, and thanks for being a part of this little experiment. I don’t expect us to come to any resolutions here, but wanted to talk about women in the Church in a more conversational way than single blog posts permit. I respect each of you, and value your thoughts, whether or not I agree with them.I’d like to start things off by asking a simple question: are women happy in the Church?

Does our religion do a good job of helping women be happy and productive people? I’m reminded of discussions about this at T&S and BCC, citing a Mormon sociologist that concluded that a larger percentage of LDS women are unhappy than the national group. But that’s a slightly different issue — I’m thinking now of happiness within the framework of the Church, not overall (although it’s a fair question as to whether that distinction has meaning for Mormons). Let me put it this way: our religion has the power to save souls. So, on that basis, we should ALL be marking “very satisfied” on the LDS Church scantron sheets. But is salvation enough? I know, that seems an odd question, but our Church is more than an ordinance-dispenser; it’s a social network. What’s more, we tie our salvation not just to these ordinances, but to the way this social network serves to bring us all closer to Christ. So, I think it’s fair for us to evaluate its effectiveness in this light. Thus, what more can women rightfully demand of the Church? Are women happy? Are women spiritually empowered by our religion (this leads me to wonder whether we are doing a good job of emphasizing the spiritual power that exists outside of ordinances)? Heather did an excellent job on her blog of posting a list of key texts in mormon feminism. A common thread amongst those texts (among those I’ve read, anyway) is that of Mormon women becoming powerful and wonderful _despite_ the Church, not because of it. Why is this so? Are we reading these stories because books about how the Church makes women great are too boring?
——————–

From: Jim
To: Steve, Lisa, Kris Wright, Grasshopper, Heather, Melissa, Claudia
Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005
Subject: Round Table Discussion 2005

I am not sure I have anything at all to say in response since I am not a woman nor have I done any social science research on women in the Church. The most I have to contribute are anecdotes about my experiences with women in my ward and at BYU, and I don’t think those have very much value. So, under other circumstances, I would sit back, keep my mouth shut, and listen. That is probably what I will mostly do this time as well, but since Steve hooked me into this project, I have an obligation to at least say something. My way of meeting that obligation will be to take the standard philosophical cop-out and ask “What does ‘happy in the Church’ mean?” Surely being happy in the Church doesn’t require that I know of no problems that bother me. That would require either that no one is happy or that the happy ones are deluded. Or, perhaps “happy in the Church” means “happier inside than outside,” but that could still leave room for a lot of unhappiness.

Presumably there is some point for each of us at which we can say something like: “There are things that bother me sufficiently that I am unhappy about them, but I am nevertheless sufficiently happy not to feel uncomfortable with my current situation.” That wouldn’t mean that a person is not interested in seeing the things that bother her changed, only that she can accept the present circumstances without much pain. If I put it that way, then it seems to me (and I want to emphasize “seems” again) that most of the women I know are happy in the Church. That claim is not meant to ignore the kinds of issues raised in some of the texts that Heather has listed. It is just my anecdotal reflection on the women I work with and go to Church with, most of whom wouldn’t tell me if they were unhappy.

Jim

———————–
From: Steve Evans
Sent: Tue 2/8/2005 10:14 AM
To: Lisa; Kristine Haglund Harris; Kris Wright; James E. Faulconer; Grasshopper; Lisa
Subject: Round Table Discussion 2005

I am not sure I have anything at all to say in response since I am not a woman nor have I done any social science research on women in the Church. The most I have to contribute are anecdotes about my experiences with women in my ward and at BYU, and I don’t think those have very much value. So, under other circumstances, I would sit back, keep my mouth shut, and listen. That is probably what I will mostly do this time as well, but since Steve hooked me into this project, I have an obligation to at least say something. My way of meeting that obligation will be to take the standard philosophical cop-out and ask “What does ‘happy in the Church’ mean?” Surely being happy in the Church doesn’t require that I know of no problems that bother me. That would require either that no one is happy or that the happy ones are deluded. Or, perhaps “happy in the Church” means “happier inside than outside,” but that could still leave room for a lot of unhappiness.

Presumably there is some point for each of us at which we can say something like: “There are things that bother me sufficiently that I am unhappy about them, but I am nevertheless sufficiently happy not to feel uncomfortable with my current situation.” That wouldn’t mean that a person is not interested in seeing the things that bother her changed, only that she can accept the present circumstances without much pain. If I put it that way, then it seems to me (and I want to emphasize “seems” again) that most of the women I know are happy in the Church. That claim is not meant to ignore the kinds of issues raised in some of the texts that Heather has listed. It is just my anecdotal reflection on the women I work with and go to Church with, most of whom wouldn’t tell me if they were unhappy.

Jim

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From: Heather
To: Jim, Steve, Lisa, Kris Wright, Grasshopper, Melissa, Claudia
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2005
Subject: RE: Round Table Discussion 2005

I think it’s true that most Mormon women would say that they are happy, and I think that they generally are. But this is just my general observation and I certainly feel ill-qualified to speak for Mormon women as a group and particularly for any individual woman. That’s an interesting observation that most of the books on my list are about women being successful/happy/etc. despite the church. I hadn’t ever looked at it that way. It also seems that a lot of the authors of newer publications are leaving the church, retaining their “cultural Mormonness” but not maintaining official membership in the church. One thing I thought was that maybe it comes down to my bias and what books I chose to put on the list. For example, why are none of Chieko Okazaki’s books on the list? Or the poetry/writings of Eliza R. Snow, or Emmeline B. Wells? Or autobiographies like one I just started to read, _Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860_ by Mary Ann Hafen? Is it because they are not “exciting” enough? I think another issue is the tension between interpretations of feminism and interpretations of Mormonism. I think that there can be a balance of the two, and in many ways they are complementary, but sometimes they are at odds with each other. I think that the more a woman self-identifies as a feminist (or, the more she agrees with the goals of the feminist movement, even if she eschews the label), the more likely she is to be bothered by/unhappy withcertain things about the church. For some feminists, the cognitive dissonance is too great and they choose to opt out of the church. But for others, it’s a balancing act. It’s like what Jim describes below: a point where one can feel sufficiently happy to choose to accept present circumstances (with, of course, a hope for change).

From: Grasshopper
To: Steve, Lisa, Kris Wright, Jim, Heather, Melissa, Claudia
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005
Subject: Re: Round Table Discussion 2005

> Are women happy in the Church?My first question would be: which women? It seems clear to me that some women are happy in the Church. It seems equally clear that some women are not. As a result, the interesting question to me is: why the difference? What is it that makes some women happy and others not? Some of the factors that I could envision coming into play:

Education: Is she aware of issues in women’s studies and feminism? Is she aware of changes in policies and practices in the Church with regard to women?

Family situation: What kind of marriage relationship did her parents model? What kind of parenting? Is she married? If so, what kind of authority structure does she have in her marriage? Does she have children? To what extent does she perceive her family life as hampering her personal development?

Interaction with Church leaders: Has she had negative experiences with Church authority? Is she in a Church leadership position where she feels restricted in her ability to fulfill her calling?

Natural inclinations: Is she unsatisfied with unanswered questions? Is she content with influence in a small circle, or does she aspire to expand her influence? Does she ponder doctrinal and cosmological ideas a lot?

Friendships: Does she have close female friends who are happy in the Church? I’m sure there are others I haven’t come up with (I’d love to see other people’s lists). If we can identify the primary factors that correlate to unhappiness in the Church, then we can assess who can best affect those factors. Are they primarily personal or institutional? If they are primarily institutional, how can the Church address them systematically, and what effect might any resolution have on others in the Church? Without some answers to these kinds of questions, I think we’re shooting in the dark. We have only personal anecdotes to deal with, and it’s difficult to make a strong case for institutional action because of personal anecdotes alone. It’s even hard to answer the question of whether the Church does a good job helping women to be happy.

Grasshopper

From: Melissa Proctor
To: Jim, Steve, Lisa, Kris Wright,
Grasshopper, Heather, Claudia

Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2005
Subject: RE: Round Table Discussion 2005

My initial tendency when confronted with the sorts of issues that Steve raises is to problematize the questions themselves. Much like Jim, I would want to know first of all what the questioner means by “happy in the church.” How do we define “happy?” Is there a difference between asking whether Mormon women are happy and asking whether women are happy in the church? If so, what is the difference?

The difference might rest on how women feel about the Gospel as opposed to what their experience has been in the Church. Or, alternatively, it may be that Mormon women are happy/unhappy but do not attribute that happiness/unhappiness to the Church.

I usually think that it is important to get as clear as possible on just what it is that we’re talking about. However, Jim has, perhaps rightly, dismissed such a clarifying project as the “standard philosophical cop-out.” Since many would indeed consider the sometimes painstaking meta-conversation a sure way of hedging the real issues, I too will refrain for the sake of this conversation.

Having said that, “happiness” is notoriously hard to measure. One way that sociologists have attempted to measure this is by reports of depression. Since the late seventies some social scientists have wondered whether the patriarchal structure of Mormonism caused LDS women to suffer from depression more than others. Studies done in 1984, 1987, and 1991 show that although Mormon women are more likely to suffer from depression than Mormon men, they are no more depressed than other groups of women. (See A.E. Bergin’s and K.S. Master’s research). Extensive data point to the conclusion that gender differences are greater than religious differences in the likelihood of depression. (Why women were found to be more prone to feel guilt and shame than men is an interesting question for another time.)

Of course, reports of depression are not the only way to measure ”happiness.” During the Summer of 2003 Janiece Johnson conducted an email survey of 774 active Mormon women to determine perceived well-being. She asked each respondent to rate her contentment as a woman in the Church on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most content. The average rating was 8.7. In fact, only 50 respondents rated their contentment between 1 and 5, while 724 rated their contentment between 6 and 10. A whopping 310 rated their contentment level as a perfect 10. As with any study, there were flaws with this study, the most obvious being that respondents to an email survey are self-selecting instead of random and thus, are unlikely to constitute a representative sample. Despite these problems, the high level of contentment reported is nevertheless striking. These reports of high levels of contentment need to be evaluated in light of the longer narratives offered by the women. Many who rated their contentment at 10 nevertheless indicated a desire for change and progress in their narratives. Further, among those who rated themselves less content, gender issues were often cited as a central factor. Janiece writes that many of “these women see the patriarchal structure of the Church as oppressive and a major hindrance.” (See ”Patriarchy and Contentment”). The results of this study and others like it reveal what might be called ambivalence.

Mary Farrell Bednarowski has suggested that women in the U.S. experience ambivalence towards their religious traditions. According to Bednarowski this ambivalence is not to be identified as a state of confusion, indecisiveness or vacillating equivocation. Rather, ambivalence is the reflective position of religious women who experience both a deep sense of belonging and an equally strong sense of alienation and distrust. Thoughtful American women, she argues, are committed and connected to their religious communities, but also critical of the religious traditions which define those communities. Bednarowski refers explicitly to Mormon women in her analysis as one group of American women who manifest this sort of ambivalence.

A few days ago I received the following email from a friend that demonstrates Bednarowski’s sort of willed ambivalence. She is a 32year old mother of 4 living in Wisconsin, and her feelings are not untypical. Here is what she wrote:

”My basic thought is this – women have quite a work to do on this planet and for the kingdom. In light of that, I desire all tools, understanding, and knowledge to accomplish my mission. I believe our rhetoric can unempower women. I am seeking to be able express my basic beliefs (beliefs that have empowered me) in a Mormon setting without being misunderstood and without the often accompanying energy that leaves me with a lump in my throat and the need to seek out validation from friends like you!!!

I was asked by the stake to come to this discussion group. They gave us a list of questions for us to fill out. Questions like, how do you view the role of women in the church, in the world and how do you feel about this… I quickly wrote, I see the role of women as powerful, foundational and often misunderstood. The discussion took the normal course – women don’t need the priesthood because we can multitask and nurture better – you know the line of thinking. I expressed that the Stake might consider discussing what our true role is and added my questions about the use of mothers blessings and the diversity of women’s missions in the early church. By the end of the conversation, these wonderful women were bearing testimony of different women in the scriptures, different aspects of their upbringing, etc… It seems that only I was restless and frustrated. I left before the tears could flow. We discussed things like women working outside the home and those common topics. I am wholeheartedly uninterested in that discussion! I work outside the home because I’d be on welfare if I didn’t! My husband’s PhD is being pursued for the same reasons yours is – because the Lord asked you to do it. I see myself as supporting that aspect of his mission. I’m also living my own mission, namely having children because I believe was asked to do that.

I know this is in pieces – but my last disjunct thought is this. What does it say to a woman in the church when she shows up for RS meeting and gets a lesson on the priesthood like this – I support and sustain my church leaders by doing what they ask of me…. Or, sharing something like this, Brigham Young said that when he is gone, he wants a wife with the faith to heal…

I need rhetoric that believes in my own abilities and capacities to communicate with the Lord.”

My friend’s thoughts are in pieces (as she acknowledges) but the lastbit is revealing of an ambivalence that lies just under the surface for many LDS women expressed as a fierce need for language “that ‘believes’ in [women's] abilities and capacities to communicate withthe Lord.” That’s a good start for now. . .

Melissa
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From: Kris Wright

In my mind, I have likened responding to Steve’s question to going swimming in June. I keep dipping my toes in, knowing I will be refreshed by jumping in, but at the same time wondering if I really want to get wet. First of all, I would like to acknowledge that any definition of ”happy” in this discussion is hard to pin down and is fairly subjective. I am also hesitant to speak for Mormon women in general. My thoughts come from my experience of being a white married middle-class Canadian Mormon woman. So I will mostly speak personally, with a nod to one academic study in particular.

Am I happy “in the church?” Yes, I think essentially I am happy as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Why would I define myself this way? I think because most of my “spiritual happiness” derives from my relationship with God, which in many ways is independent of the institutional church or social network. Like Enos, I have had repented and had my guilt swept away and wondered how it is done. I have experienced the witness of the Holy Ghost in the temple, church meetings and during my personal prayers. None of these experiences can be kept from me because I am a woman. I feel that one of the central themes of Joseph’s First Vision experience or the tenth chapter of Moroni is that everyone can and should connect with God in an intimate and personal way. All of this is very sustaining.

That being said, I have in the past and continue to experience some very deep dissatisfaction and confusion with regard to Mormon culture, some of our doctrine and with some church policies. However, I think instead of calling this “unhappiness” I would prefer to describe it as feeling alienated. By alienation, I use a similar definition to that of the authors of Defecting in Place: Women Claiming Responsibility for their Own Spiritual Lives (Winter, Lummis and Stokes, 1994). Alienation here denotes “the opposite of ‘in harmony with’ or ‘in full accord with’ and conveys both disapproval and discontent”. For example, women may feel alienated by exclusive language or practices in the church or with certain aspects of the definition of women’s roles or essential nature. There are many degrees of alienation. Some will try to let it just bounce off them, others will roll their eyes or discuss these issues with like-minded women. Some may write letters or talk to Relief Society presidents, bishops and other leaders. Some will simply just vote with their feet. Some will work to affect change. I think it is quite possible to feel alienated from the institutional church, while feeling quite “happy” in our local units which may be influenced by how our bishops, other priesthood leaders, auxiliary leaders even the community approaches women . In her recent essay “Power Hungry”, Lorie Winder Stromberg says, “…while a charismatic woman might have significant influence on a ward or perhaps even a stake level, beyond that point, positional power for women evaporates.”

In Defecting in Place (a study done on 3746 women, many of whom self-identify as feminists, from a variety of religious denominations), the authors findings were that “the women least likely to feel alienated are women in the more theologically conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Are we theologically conservative?) This is good news, but still leaves us with 47% of the Mormon women in the study feeling alienated.

In the end I ask myself, does the institutional church spiritually empower me? In my most honest moments, many times I have to say no. Returning to the book I cited, the authors state, “When the institutional church ignores the feminist agenda, it fosters alienation not only among feminists, but also among other women sympathetic to some feminist values and to the reforms feminist support.” I think it is safe to say that the Church has done more than “ignore” feminism.

In the end, for many women the bottom line is that the majority of our “Mormon” language is male, the main focus of our scriptural role models is male, our conferences are male and our Sunday curriculum is male. I think this leaves many women wondering at times “where is my place” and perhaps questioning, to return to where we started, “Am I happy?”

From:Claudia
To: Jim, Steve, Lisa, Grasshopper, Heather, Melissa, Kris Wright
Date: Fri 11 Feb 2005
Subject: RE: Round Table Discussion 2005

Are Mormon women happy? Is there an answer? All the time? When they are in public? Full of the lasting and abiding contentment that living the good life provides? After all, what is happiness, as a friend of mine rhetorically asks, it won’t buy money. I’d say that Mormon women feel they should be happy, can be happy, and are often happy, depending on the circumstances, but that those feelings are easily displaced and undermined by reminders of their secondary status” “being treated badly in Church, working to support the husband’s life they wish they were living themselves, their competition with other women, too much isolation, sacrificing too much for others. The Church does provide connection and opportunity, two very valuable promoters of happiness. We have a community. Many people do not. And it’s a community of willing souls who will sign on to help and thank you for letting them. We know and love people we would never meet without the Church. Potentially this community can meet all our needs. We also have the stewardship to make something of our callings, potentially a great boon. We have the opportunity to do many things.

The Church is a great arena for a project person. I don’t get happiness from having done things in the past, and I don’t get happiness from working on my current projects. What I get are satisfaction and self-forgetfulness–which are more valuable. Looking for happiness is a vain self-centered search, too likely to fail. So having said all that, am I happy? That’s not a good question to ask. Sometimes I am delirious with joy. But there are other times.

From: Lisa

To: Jim, Steve, Kris Wright, Grasshopper, Heather, Melissa, Claudia
Date: Fri 11 Feb 2005
Subject: RE: Round Table Discussion 2005

Hum, well . . .First let me get all my little insecurities out on the table since this will make me feel better. I think everyone at this table is smarter than me, and I’m positive that you’re all much better educated, so while you’re all talking about deep philosophical and/or methodological and/or scientific-ish stuff I’m just going to spew forth on my limited personal experiences and the way I percieve myself and those women whom I know best. As for myself, I wouldn’t say happy.

At peace would cover it much better. In the last decade I’ve traveled from stubbornly happy, by dang it, to totally completely fantastically unhappy, to mildly annoyed, to this spot of peace. I have found peace with the church but it has been a difficult, wild, unmarked road for me to get here, and it’s still a delicate balance every day. I can’t tell you how much sympathy I have for women who choose a different path, any different path.

Being a feminist Mormon is a dizzy and often lonely road. Sorry, I was just getting the flow and now the kids are awake and I have to go.

Lisa

Comments

  1. Fascinating exchange, Steve. Great work in setting it up. A few random thoughts I had —

    1. Is it just me, or are the men at the table getting more into definitional quibbles and discussions of methodology and whatnot, while the women seem to be more focused on individual lived experiences of women in the church?

    And is that perception (if correct) due to innate differences between men and women? (And the bugbear of gender essentialism raises its hoary head). Is it due to socialization within the church? Is it possibly just a quirk of the particular table discussants?

    2. On my initial read, I liked Melissa’s rather detailed discussion; I was a little disappointed the Claudia didn’t say more; I think Kris’s discussion of empowerment is very useful; I get the sense that Grasshopper and Jim are trying to dance on a landmine.

    3. And of course, I’m curious as to what the moderator has to say about the substance. You got to toss out the question and then just sit back and relax, Steve. To put the ball back in your court, do you think women are happy or empowered or fulfilled or all three (if there is a difference) within the church? Why or why not? And what can we take from that?

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to comments, as well as further installments in this series.

  2. Kaimi, I do indeed have thoughts on this subject, which will preface Round Two. One of the benefits of being a moderator is sitting back and watching the fun!

  3. Am I happy in the Church? No, I’m not. But I’ve had enough spiritual witnesses that God wants me to stay in Mormonism that I’m staying anyway.

    I’m not married. That fact makes a huge difference in my satisfaction level in the institutional Church. I do not have a close relationship with a priesthood holder, besides brothers and my father, who live far away. But in my ward, the priesthood holders are obeying the cautions about forming close friendships with women who are not their wives. I can call on a priesthood holder for a blessing, but I do not have a priesthood holder who I would count as a good friend. This cuts me off from the power structure of the Church, and from the chance to have the informal discussions with leaders that are so important to participating in a community.

    There is not much comfort in the scriptures specifically for women. Most of the women who commune with God in the scriptures do so in their status as a wife and mother. Men commune with God as prophets and leaders. There is no scripture in which God comforts a single woman who is dismayed at being single. The scriptures also only record the prayers of a childless woman when they are answered by the birth of a son.

    LDS theology has no place for a single woman besides the waiting room. Women are important because they are/can be wives and mothers, according to the theology. In practice, we also contribute by teaching, giving service, and so forth. But without a husband, our status in mortality is that of a ministering angel, not a goddess in waiting. The ordinance that opens the door to exaltation is simply not available. While I should be comforted by the doctrine that says I will be offered that opportunity in the next life, it is not always easy to feel better because I’ll get a chance after I’m dead.

    I am troubled that the comfort offered to a single childless woman comes entirely from non-canonized, politically correct talks offered by our current prophets. They seem to be responding to our situation with compassion, but I have to doubt if they’ve really understood what they’re saying. Christ himself specifically said there is no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven. Prophets have to re-interpret and contradict that statement to make the promises they make.

    I’ve dug into Church teachings about marriage far too deeply. I’ve read too much history. The doctrines about women and marriage have changed radically from the days of polygamy to today. What if the teachings about getting the opportunity to marry and join the patriarchy after this life is simply another strange doctrine that will go the way of Brigham Young’s encouragement for women to get sealed to the highest-ranking Church member they can so they will have more glory in the afterlife?

    The Church’s emphasis that God has a wife has had the unintended effect of alienating me from God, and it’s affected my ability to pray. If God has a wife, why is she invisible? If being a wife is so important, why doesn’t God allow us a role model? If the marital relationship is the basis of eternal happiness and glory, why won’t God help me achieve it when I want it so badly? Since our role is to be a wife and mother, why would God waste time with me, when I am neither?

    Who am I in the LDS Church if I am not a wife and mother? LDS theology has no answer. The most tempting alternative right now is to abandon Mormonism for ordinary Protestantism, where I only have to be saved from my sins, instead of married. But God foreclosed that option, and I don’t want to fail him in that, as I feel I’ve failed him in fulfilling my God-given role as a woman.

    I don’t want to turn this post (which is excellent, by the way) into a discussion about being single or married, but in your roundtable, you forgot to put the question to a single woman. I hope you don’t mind that I answered it.

  4. Janey, Melissa Proctor is single.

  5. Oh, thanks, that’s good to know.

  6. Very interesting thoughts, Janey.

    By the way, Steve, it strikes me that a strength of this format is that commenters can participate in the same kind of chain as the original e-mails. It’s much more paarticipatory in tone than an average blog post.

  7. Janey: IS Matthew 22:30 as ironclad as you assume it to be?

    I think many of your comments apply to single men as well, particularly in the paragraph beginning with “LDS theology has no place…”

    As for me, I can’t remember the last time I had an informal talk with a priesthood leader, and I also have very few close male relationships in the ward. Though a priesthood holder, I can’t bless myself. Should I consider myself cut off from the “power structure”?

    I’m not trying to tell you you don’t feel what you clearly and deeply do, just convey that you’re not alone in feeling that way and that I perceive some of these feelings as being a social function, not a gender function.

  8. Thanks to all the participants in this dialogue for what seems to be a fascinating discussion! I definitely look forward to seeing how the rest of it turns out.

    Something that seems interesting to me in the context of this conversation is the (widely perceived, at the very least) fact that more women than men are active in the LDS church. I remember from my mission that the worldwide percentage of baptisms that were female (according to F. Burton Howard) was about 60%. In most wards I´ve attended, in several parts of the world, the percentage of active adults who were female was probably even higher than that.

    If, as may well be the case, women are on average unhappy within the church, why are they (at least apparently) more likely to choose to stay than men?

  9. Kaimi, I agree with you entirely. It’s like a blog post with a lot of the head work already done for you.

  10. Kristine says:

    “Most of the women who commune with God in the scriptures do so in their status as a wife and mother.”

    Janey, while I don’t *at all* want to detract from your eloquent rendering of the difficulties of single women in the contemporary church, I don’t think it’s actually true that most women in the scriptures are primarily important because of their status as wives and mothers–Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Huldah, the daughters of Zelophehad, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Anna, Mary Magdalene, the sisters Mary and Martha, Phoebe, Junia, Abish–all are important as individuals and their marital and maternal status are secondary, where they are mentioned at all. This is one of many reasons why I think the contemporary church’s emphasis on family may lead us into very odd doctrinal problems; while the family *may* be the fundamental unit of earthly society, it seems pretty clear that salvation is an individual matter, and that God is no respecter of family status, any more than of any other earthly status markers.

    Tom, you’re not “cut off” from the power structure in the same way that Janey is, precisely because you may, depending on your own actions and abilities, be called upon to participate in it. Janey won’t be, merely because of her sex–your situations just aren’t analogous.

  11. This is really fantastic. What a great group and great thoughts.

    I follow along the same lines as Jim. I tend to think most women are happy, but I’m very hesitant as a male to make the kind of authoritative statements that Church leaders and men on other blogs *cough* T&S *cough* make insisting women are happy and they have no reason to be unhappy. I prefer to hear from the women themselves and take them at their word.

    It seems it’s ultimately an issue of personalities, and we see that from the varied responses. Once we separate into groups (women who are happy, women who aren’t, etc.), then we have to go into the sub-groups and wonder why the women got there. Some women are ironically happy because they’re told to be; the Church is supposed to make you happy, so they insist they are. Does that make them happy, or are they just pretending? Is there a deeper feeling within them? All questions that seem impossible to answer.

  12. Kristine says:

    “Most of the women who commune with God in the scriptures do so in their status as a wife and mother.”

    Janey, while I don’t *at all* want to detract from your eloquent rendering of the difficulties of single women in the contemporary church, I don’t think it’s actually true that most women in the scriptures are primarily important because of their status as wives and mothers–Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Huldah, the daughters of Zelophehad, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Anna, Mary Magdalene, the sisters Mary and Martha, Phoebe, Junia, Abish–all are important as individuals and their marital and maternal status are secondary, where they are mentioned at all. This is one of many reasons why I think the contemporary church’s emphasis on family may lead us into very odd doctrinal problems; while the family *may* be the fundamental unit of earthly society, it seems pretty clear that salvation is an individual matter, and that God is no respecter of family status, any more than of any other earthly status markers.

    Tom, you’re not “cut off” from the power structure in the same way that Janey is, precisely because you may, depending on your own actions and abilities, be called upon to participate in it. Janey won’t be, merely because of her sex–your situations just aren’t analogous.

  13. This is an interesting discussion.

    I´m wondering about the genetic background of the samples of Mormon women in these happiness studies. I admit that I haven´t actually looked closely at this stuff for years, but those studies I´ve read generally sample Mormon women from Salt Lake, or from Utah more generally, and compare them with more randomized control groups. Data on the participants´ family conversion histories is never available. Such things seem important because it´s quite possible that, given the relatively small genetic pool from whence the Utah church grew, our high rates of depression and reported discontent may stem from some biological source. I´d like to see a careful depression or happiness study comparing samples of Utah women with verified pioneer ancestry to samples of Mormon women outside Utah with verified recent conversions histories-say, women from families which joined the Church after WWII.

    If anyone is aware of such studies, would you email me a note about them? I´ve been curious about this stuff for years.

    I should note that I don´t think it unlikely that some aspect of our culture or religion makes women unhappy, by the way. I can think of a dozen things which might do, having been a female Mormon in Utah.

  14. Tom – You’re right, I certainly don’t think that I’m the only one who feels that way. And I am concerned that single men don’t get the kind of encouragement and expressions of love that single women get.

    But like it or not, you *are* the power structure.

    RoastedTomatoes – Excellent question. I’ve had the same anecdotal experiences that point towards the conclusion that women are more likely to join the Church and stay active. I’m sure part of the reason is social. The loving leadership from the priesthood is also a factor – it’s hard to be angry about disparate treatment when all of the priesthood leaders are so kind all of the time (I’ve heard horror stories, but never personally experienced one).

    The Church is also one of the shrinking number of places in the world in which it’s acceptable, even commendable, to be a woman who doesn’t want to be a man.

  15. Kaimi — I think that your landmine comment is very interesting. I cannot speak for how the men in the discussion actually felt, but I think there was great concern about not appropriating women’s feelings or experiences. However, during this discussion, I sometimes felt that I was dancing on a landmine, which of course leads to the question, why are discussions like these so potentially explosive?

    Steve — C’mon answer Kaimi’s question about your own views on the topic!!

  16. Kris, you don’t remember my answer on this question? It’s at the intro to Round Two! And I did not tiptoe about it.

    I agree with the landmine analogy, but it seems to me that my question (are Mormon women happy) is fairly innocuous. Part of the hesitancy to answer comes from the realization that no one can know a definite response, least of all a man.

  17. Of course, I remember your answer, I just would hate your response to get “lost” because we have “moved on” to Round Two.

    I’m not sure that I would say the question is innocuous. I’m sure I’ve heard in Conference that we should be the “happiest people on Earth”. I think it might feel “un-Mormon”, unvaliant, etc. to admit that we might be feeling unhappy no matter what our gender is.

  18. Janey, I’m single too. A lot of what you say resonates with me. (That includes comments you’ve made elsewhere, too.)

  19. Heather, if I’d known you were single I would have tried to fix you up with my roommate Scott!

  20. Heather,

    As you get to know Steve, you’ll learn that one additional burden that single Mormon women face is that Steve tries to set them all up with his roommate.

  21. Janey,

    I honestly don’t understand. But I am curious. How is your situation any different from a single man?

    Is it just because men hold the priesthood? I don’t mean to undermine the priesthood, but in all practicality, holding the priesthood as a single person means nothing in terms of power structures.

    Having just graduated from BYU, I can tell you that I have had the “differences between the experience of single men and women in the church” discussion with people a bizillion times over the last four years, and I think we concluded every time that, while there are multiple minor variations, the experience is essentially the same.

    If you have any good arguments as to why a single woman would be less happy than a single man, I’d be interested in hearing them.

  22. All of this plays well with Dave’s recent post on the LDS Women’s survey. There is a lot going on here and hope that I won’t detract from it. Janey states, “Women are important because they are/can be wives and mothers, according to the theology.” I would simply add that women have Theological significance as Priestesses and Queens. I will readily concur, however, that 19th century Utah theology is rather difficult to translate (for men as well).

    I realize that it is a disparate situation than sinlge women, but single men, while they may receive the Melkezidek priesthood, are barred from church leadership and the higher ordinances of the temple. Moreover (as a good friend of mine who was recently married (in his sixties)) there is no sympathy for the single man in the church. While women are promised, as Janey states, a family in the hereafter, men are told to go get married. But this is not the point of this thread…forgive me my tangent.

    I look forward to further installments, thank you.

  23. Eric Russell – I don’t see much difference between the experiences of a single man or single woman either; you won’t get any argument from me on that point. I wish there was more sympathy and encouragement extended to the single men of the Church.

    I guess I do assume that holding the priesthood is some sort of fulfillment, even if a man isn’t married. God’s role for men is to hold the priesthood, and be a husband and father. Even if you’re single and childless, you’ve got one out of three. God’s role for women is wife and mother, which for me is strike one and strike two.

    I don’t intend to make this an “I’m more miserable than you” argument. Perhaps the spiritual fulfillment you find as a priesthood holder is equivalent to the spiritual fulfillment I find as a nursery teacher. Perhaps I have a romanticized view of the priesthood, but I would *hope* that exercising the priesthood somehow connects you with God.

    J. Stapley – I like your point about priestesses and queens.

  24. So Janey, I guess you’re not too comforted by general authorities who reassure single women that they’ll get their crack at exaltation and happiness, even if no one ever asks them to marry? No such reassurance is provided to men.

    Of course, such reassurance is not scripturally based, and it’s often sounded to me like a platitude, but I believe it nonetheless, out of a belief in a just and merciful God.

  25. Steve, if you can believe that women will be offered the chance of glory based on your belief in a just and merciful God, then surely you believe that men will get the same opportunity? There isn’t scriptural support for either idea, so go ahead and believe both.

  26. Janey — never mind, I read your earlier posts a little more carefully and saw you’ve addressed those points. Thanks for being so thoughtful! And if you’re in NYC and need a close male friend, I’d be happy to oblige.

  27. “surely you believe that men will get the same opportunity…”

    No, I don’t, because we live in a society where relationship power is based with men. Men decide to date and propose. Men decide to form those bonds. It’s unfair.

    Because of the way the power is distributed, I have a tougher time feeling bad for the single man. By and large it’s not a big issue, and I feel bad for anyone who is lonely, but I think that men ought to be held to a higher standard because the ball is so much more in their court.

    (Davis Bell is steaming right now)

  28. Well put Janey. I wonder how much of this feeling extends towards the notion of happiness that was being discussed above.

    I hope my feelings do not offend or are considered sacrilegious, and I’m fully willing to admit that I am wrong and still immature, but I honestly don’t get any “spiritual fulfillment” out of simply holding the priesthood.

    Sure, it was kinda cool to be able to baptize people on the mission, and I look forward to the day that I will be able to bless and baptize my own kids. But aside from these little perks, I don’t think there is anything about the priesthood that automatically brings me closer to god. My spirituality, closeness to god, etc. is all fully dependent on keeping commandments and has nothing to do with whether I am passing the sacrament.

    I’m not saying that Janey does this, but tying into the thread, I wonder whether women (and if so to what degree) do romanticize the priesthood and believe that it constitutes some great spiritual connection with god that they are missing out on. If such were the case, it might explain an unnecessary source of unhappiness and discontentment.

  29. And Steve, I think women have a lot more power in the dating world than they are given credit for. I don’t know what theological implications this holds, but I don’t think they’re as powerless as such a doctrine would imply.

  30. Kristine says:

    Eric,

    The fact that you can regard the privilege of baptizing your child as a “little perk” is a telling artifact of male privilege. I recently stood by and watched (not even as an official witness–despite being the first witnesses of the Resurrection, women are not qualified as witnesses of ordinances in the contemporary church (!)), and I assure you I would not have regarded it as a “little perk” to have been able to participate.

  31. I’ve three children I buried without being able to baptise. Interesting comments Kristine.

  32. Eric,

    Leadership positions in the church such as bishop, stake president, mission president and so forth, that are only available to men do require immense spiritual strength and communion with God in order to be effective. Presumably, most men who have held these positions would agree that they have grown a tremendous amount in the calling and improved their relationship with God. And although there are callings available to women in which growth and communion with God are also important, there are simply not as many. I know women who look with envy at the spiritual growth of their husbands in these kinds of callings.

    So, yes, in a sense I do think that because I can’t hold the priesthood that I will miss out on some opportunities to improve my relationship with God. And I am personally not interested in the ideas that either 1)my motherhood experiences make up for lacks; or 2) women are more spiritual anyway and thus do not need the growth that priesthood leadership provides. Of course, I will have many opportunities to experience growth through many facets of life, but because I am a woman, I am necessarily excluded from experiences that require the preisthood.

  33. H. Wimmer says:

    Mimi-

    A just God wouldn’t deny half of his children necessary opportunities to improve their relationship with him. As a child of God I have just as much right to a personal relationship with Him as any of my brothers has.

    Should I feel excluded because I was born into the church and so I will never feel the growth that comes with a convert baptism? Shall I mourn that because I have never committed a truly heinous sin that I am necessarily excluded from an experience that requires tortuous repentance? I don’t think so.

    I think as women in the church we are blessed to be in a culture that celebrates strong, articulate, and decidedly feminine women. (Think of Elaine Jack, Chieko Okasaki, Eliza R. Snow, and Sheri Dew) Much of what the world presents as equal rights and feminism is merely selling out who we really are and what we as women really want and need.

    Happy in the church? Yes!

  34. Steve, you said “Because of the way the power is distributed, I have a tougher time feeling bad for the single man.”

    I used to feel this way too, and probably have much more reason to because I am a single woman supposedly at the mercy of the romantic preferences of men. As I have had more experience with single men in the Church, however, I see that they are just as vulnerable to and sad about this whole single mess as I am. I think many more of them than we as a church are willing to acknowledge have sustained a lot of damage from being told over and over again that they are irresponsible louts for not being married yet, from unrighteous dominion of their fathers, from not having a compassionate forum in which to “come out” if they are homosexual, etc.

    I don’t think single, dateless Mormon women can be simply framed as victims of callous playboys or pathetic sitting ducks. Though of course this does happen, I am suprised by how many women are willing to just sit and wait for something to happen to them. They do not act as agents in their own future and happiness because of this idea that the ball is in the men’s court. And for this they are pitied and told that everything will work out in the eternities.

  35. H. Wimmer said – “I think as women in the church we are blessed to be in a culture that celebrates strong, articulate, and decidedly feminine women. (Think of Elaine Jack, Chieko Okasaki, Eliza R. Snow, and Sheri Dew) Much of what the world presents as equal rights and feminism is merely selling out who we really are and what we as women really want and need.

    Happy in the church? Yes!”

    You must go to a different church. Think about where those women are now- Elaine Jack, Chieko Okasaki, Sheri Dew- they all became too popular and so were removed from their leadership positions. Why do you think we’re correlated? Why does the church limit the General RS presidency to a limited term of years? Why is there no RS website? We certainly aren’t celebrating strong articulate women – actually it appears quite the opposite.

    Yes, women can be happy in the church- but unfortunately it’s most often in spite of the organisation, not because of it.

  36. Sumer,

    Can you give evidence beyond your personal speculation that indicate that those women were removed specifically because they were too popular?

    That is an interesting observation, and if it is true, it indicates that there is a concerted effort to curb the influence of women rather than just a sort of absent-minded cultural insensitivity. I tend to give the Church the benefit of the doubt through the latter; I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist.

    I must admit that I can’t get all worked up about my inferior position in the Church. I used to, for sure. But I don’t get worked up anymore because I just straight up don’t accept or FEEL that I am in an inferior position in the Church. Maybe I’ve been lulled into complacency, but I don’t think so. I’ve just had shifts in my relationship to God in the last few years that somehow gave away to this kind of zen feeling. Maybe it won’t last. I don’t know.

  37. I find it interesting that the question, “are women happy in the Church” seems to take on several meanings for women. For some, it refers to involvement, authority and participation. For others, it refers to their personal relationships with Christ. For still others, it refers to societal aspects.

    I don’t think that there is one best method of ascertaining whether one is happy in the church, but personally, I lean towards results. The best result of the church is salvation — how good is our church at providing it? Is salvation purely an ordinance matter? How can the church better help women come unto Christ?

    and Minerva, you’ve asked Sumer an awkward question — what proof would suffice for such a claim?

  38. Steve and Sumer,

    Yes I know it’s an awkward question, but the statement that gave rise to my question is rather bold in its assumptions. I mean, the only real proof, I guess, would be an actual statement from the powers that be alluding to the idea that popular women must be removed from leadership. I just feel that Sumer’s assumption is couched in an expectation that men in power are likely not to tolerate women sharing that power. If you have this core belief about men vis a vis women, this belief will color your perceptions of the interactions between men and women in the Church.

  39. Minerva,
    I find the problem with your thinking is in the idea that the ptb are fully self-aware of the gender assumptions that underlie their decision making. As though when Summer points out that popular women are removed from power, and any vehicle through which women’s organizations might become more independent are forbidden, that she is also implying that the PTB are deviously plotting-out ways to stymie strong female voices. The two are not the same thing. All kinds of oppression takes place with the best of intentions with no one plotting to do harm, without any awareness of being the oppressor, and even believeing that they are doing what is right. According to their cultural and social core values. And all that.

    I’m very sympathetic to your feeling as though your own powerful nature is appreciated within the church, and your determination to disregard oppression because you do not personally feel it. I feel much the same way, always have.

    My experiences within the church as a vocal strong woman have been overwhelmingly positive. Even in my darkest ugliest moments of disillusionment, I could not deny those good experiences.

    But for me, I just couldn’t find peace in the platitudes. I could no longer accept the disparities in theology without closer examination. It was important to me to be fully honest about the details that don’t hold up under scrutiny, because I’m like that, I analize everything nigh to death, and ignoring or denying the existance of problems only made me feel dishonest.

    Even if the truth benieth the truth is, that I was always pretty much happy with the way I was treated as a woman at church. (There are minor exceptions, but overall.) And why shouldn’t I be, I was repected, honored, treated kindly and fairly. And it was all I had ever known, my whole world. And there are soooo many postitive things to say about it.

    I can see why this is enough for so many women in the church. I don’t know why it isn’t for me.

  40. Lisa,

    I think it comes to a misreading on my part of Sumer’s original statement. I agree with you whole-heartedly that there is not some kind of devious plot but rather that the ptb (I like that!) are not necessarily self-aware in marginalizing women. I believe I intimated this in an earlier post. My misreading of Sumer’s statement is that I thought she WAS saying there was some kind of plot. The problem with gender bias, of course, is that it often does go unnoticed by or is unintended by its practioners.

    I can really relate to your struggles. I find absolutely zero peace in platitudes. The peace that I have found has come directly from my personal relationship with God, not from any well-meaning explanations about women’s roles.

  41. Kristine,

    You are right. I’m afraid that was a mischaracterization on my part. I realize that it may be a “big perk” or even a “very big perk” for some. This, I believe, is something that cannot be explained away and for which I simply have no answer for.

    I still believe, however, that however big a perk it may be, a perk it remains. It is not a necessary component of our individual relationship with God, our own spirituality or our own salvation.

    Mimi,

    I disagree. I think it’s that I do not view spiritual growth as a reflection of one’s environment. Spiritual growth is a personal decision to be like Christ – to be humble, to love, to be unselfish, etc. That opportunity is ever before us, no matter who we are, where we are, or what we’re doing.

    Steve,

    Talk about awkward questions,
    “The best result of the church is salvation — how good is our church at providing it?”

    Let me just find my stat sheet and we can go over the numbers.

  42. H. Wimmer says:

    Food for thought:

    Perhaps the church is set up to bring us salvation by helping us work out the flaws we personally struggle with. We’ve often heard that the church is to comfort the sinner and keep the righteous uncomfortable. After all, a refiner’s fire certainly doesn’t sound comfortable, does it?

    Perhaps more sons of God really need to work on righteous dominion of power and learning charity? (I doubt many feminists would disagree with me here.) Perhaps more daughters really need to work on humility and relying on faith rather than our own understanding? (Harder to see our own faults, isn’t it?)

    Minerva- I liked your post about assumptions. I have found that it is easier and happier for me to live without feminist assumptions, especially within the church, where my experience would indicate that they just aren’t very true.

  43. A definition of happiness?

    Would it be possible to say that the purpose of the gospel is to enhance the dignity of the sons and daughters of God? I think I read that somewhere in the bloggernacle (maybe on this site?).

  44. “spiritual fulfillment you find as a priesthood holder” Liek someone else who responded to this, I don’t find any particular spiritual boost solely by nature of holding the priesthood. More often it’s a spiritual burden.

    If men overstate the potential growth and spirituality that can come of being prgenant, women romanticize the priesthood.

    ptb? What?

    Oh, and all generalizations are false :)

  45. PTB = Powers That Be, I believe. Watch a season of “Angel”.

  46. Sumer asked, “Why does the church limit the General RS presidency to a limited term of years?” I can give a partial answer. The first five general RS presidents served life terms. The sixth president, Clarissa Williams, was ill and asked to be released in 1928 after serving 7.5 years (she died 2 years later).

    She said, in her final address as RS pres, “You will recollect that it has always been my policy to advocate to you that we do not retain our positions too long, that there are many capable women and that such honor and dignity as comes with positions of this kind, should rotate.”

    Thus ended the tradition of life terms for RS presidents. I said it was a partial answer because I’m uncertain if it really answers all of the whys in regards to it being so readily accepted as a tradition.

  47. Not long after Clarissa Williams was released as RS general president, Belle Spafford was called to that position (ok, it was 17 years after, but that isn’t long anymore). She served until 1974 or 1975–out living George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee. Any move toward shorter terms seems to have come after her, not Sister Williams.

    And Barbara Smith didn’t get canned after her 20 minute long opening prayer/lecture at the BYU centennial convocation in 1976–although I would have voted in favor of such a “canning” about 4 minutes into the prayer.

    It seems that the move to shorter terms has coincided with the move to shorter terms of service for men as general authorities–emeritus status didn’t exist until the late 70’s–until then everybody served for life (except Carl Buehner–sorta made everybody wonder what was happening) and Richard R. Lyman (and we all know what happened there). And now all the members of the 70 serve for five years, except the first quorum, who serve until they reach 70 years of age.

    Sumer, with all respect, I think that your assertion that the women you named were released because of their “popularity” among the women of the church cannot be taken seriously in the complete absence of evidence. You have given none, and I won’t accept any post hoc, ergo propter hoc arguments.

  48. Sumer just got burned!!

    I love you honey….

  49. Maybe someone should learn how to spell “Latter-day Saint” if they want to be taken seriously.

  50. Sal, what are you talking about?

  51. I think Sal is referring to the fact that some people have typed Latter-Day Saints rather than Latter-day Saints. I hardly think this renders their arguments invalid.

  52. If that is indeed the objection, I can say without hyperbole that it’s the most ridiculous statement I have ever read in my life.

  53. Davis Bell says:

    Steve,

    I completely agree. There’s no question that the ball is more in the man’s court, and as such is more responsible for his state (in most, but not all cases). Guilty as charged.

    Davis

  54. It is a truly unfortunate statement. I could only figure out what Sal meant because I was once upon a time a proofreader at BYU Studies.

  55. Davis,

    I think there is a question about this (see my first post on this thread). I don’t like the thought that I as a single Mormon woman am a mere victim and thus am not responsible for pursuing my own happiness.

  56. I think the original questions posed by grasshopper have very much to do with whether or not women are happy in the church. I am such a woman who is happy in the church. There are things that bug me, but I’m at peace, as Lisa said. However, I have never had a truly appalling negative experience with a member of the bishopric. I have a loving husband who does not use his priesthood to rule me. I have a loving father who treated his wife with love and respect. I have pioneer ancestors up the wazoo, and stories of their faith and sacrifices have been passed down as torches of strength through our family. Mormonism is my heritage and my life.

    Ok, let’s take a look at another story. I know a woman who came from an abusive background. She joined the church in her late 20s, and immediately started dating a member of our single’s ward. This particular man was a jerk, simply put. He acted like he could get away with certain things on a physical level with her because she was not a virgin. He definitely pushed the chastity envelope with her, and she was confused. Was this how Mormon men were supposed to treat Mormon women? Then the jerk dumped her, and quickly got engaged to a woman he hardly knew: a Salt Laker who had a long history of Mormonism in her family, a blond haired, blue-eyed Molly Mormon. My friend was from Puerto Rico, and looked nothing like your typical Wasatch front family. She was devastated. Then the jerk, WHILE ENGAGED, made a hugely inappropriate sexual advance towards my friend, and she wasn’t sure what to do about it. Go to the bishop? Talk to the jerk’s intended? I think she decided to do nothing except leave this church where men like that with the so-called holy Priesthood could treat her so horribly. I have to say, it was hard for me to talk her out of it, and I don’t think she’s stepped foot in a chapel since.

    It’s probably safe to say that she’s not happy in the church.

    Individual situations and experiences are so different, I think it would be very difficult to quantify why some women have some major issues, and why some women do not.And conversely, it would also be difficult to come up with a solution that addresses each situation and could make all women “happy” in the church.

  57. Thanks Heather — great remarks. I guess so much of our happiness can depend on others, it’s tough to form an organization that can be completely fail-safe.

    That said…”I have pioneer ancestors up the wazoo..” OW!

  58. Steve–

    I guess that phrase does conjure up some unpleasant images huh?

    Eric-

    Sorry, but I’m gonna hafta go with Kristine on the whole “baptism is a perk” issue. I understand your point, but you might want to choose a different word to describe performing a saving ordinance that is deemed necessary to enter God’s presence. “Perk” makes it sound like you equate it with hanging out eating buffalo wings in the box seats of an NBA game.

  59. Agreed on the “ow,” Steve. But you must remember, Heather comes from a blog where the participants spend large amounts of time talking about what’s in or out of various wazoos.

    Heather,

    That’s an awful story, and it drives home the point that often womens’ experiences in the church have little to do with vague official statements and much more to do with jerks who try to take advantage of them on dates, individual church members who look the other way during abuse, or other individual-based experiences.

  60. Heather, Kris,

    Yes, baptism is a saving ordinance for the baptized. But for the _baptizer_, baptism could be described as a perk. I probably wouldn’t describe it that way myself. But that fact is that I don’t receive any saving blessings myself from being the person who physically baptizes another.

    Not to say that men don’t receive gratitude, warm fuzzies, or personal satisfaction from being the person who performs a baptism. But the baptizing man does _not_ receive any personal priesthood blessing for merely performing the act.

  61. To use a little analogy:

    In order to practice law, I have to be sworn in. Any judge can do this.

    Many times people who have a particular relation to a judge ask for that judge to swear them in. This is a little perk for a judge. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who swears me in, as long as I am sworn in. If I’m sworn in by a friend, or a complete stranger, all that matters is proper authority.

    Similarly, look at temple sealings. Many couples are related to a temple sealer, and so they get their dad / uncle / granddad to perform their sealing. This is a little perk for the sealer, who gets to see his kid or grandkid married and officiate at the sealing.

    However, many other couples just get sealed by whoever is in the temple that day. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. What matters is the validity of the ordinance. The identity of the person performing the sealing is a pretty minor detail.

  62. I don’t know that I agree with where the last few comments could potentially be going. That it is only “abused” women or those who have bad experiences with “jerks” who have “issues” (another loaded phrase) with the place of women in the church.

    I have had great experiences with all of my bishops, felt respected at the Ward/Welfare Councils that I have attended, have an amazing open-minded husband,etc. but I still don’t understand, for instance, why women couldn’t pray in Sacrament meeting until 1980 (is that date correct?). Despite all of these good experiences, when I step back and look at the institutional church, I cannot help but see women in a secondary role.

  63. In my mind, it’s just another example of how men don’t appreciate the priesthood as they should. Baptizing your child? Women I know would kill for the chance. That would, of course, affect somewhat their ability to perform said ordinance, but still…

    While women help themselves feel better about not having the priesthood by reducing it to mere ordinance-dispensing, when men do the same thing it sounds insulting.

  64. Ben S. summarized: “If men overstate the potential growth and spirituality that can come of being pregnant, women romanticize the priesthood.”

    Yep, I guess I do romanticize the priesthood as being some sort of automatic spiritual opportunity. I’ll work on that attitude.

    I liked H. Wimmer’s points about working on our faults – and the current structure requires men to work on charity and righteous dominion, and requires women to work on humility and faith. In other words, we’re all supposed to develop Christlike qualities. Darn, that wise conclusion pretty much eliminates the need for all this interesting discussion . . .

  65. Steve,

    I understand that it’s a chance to share an emotional, personal moment. But beyond that, what’s there? I appreciate the Priesthood power. But it gives benefits that can almost never be used for individual gain. I can’t baptize myself (the Alma exception excluded). I can’t bless myself. I can’t confirm myself.

    All I can do is baptize/bless/confirm _others_. And while that’s no small thing, it’s not a direct benefit to the bearer, in any eternal / religious sense.

  66. Kaimi, I think you’re devaluing the experience by labeling it with slashed adjectives. The mental picture of a parent baptizing their child is a very powerful one, IMHO.

  67. Ok, Kaimi, you can’t bless or confirm yourself, you can only bless others. Guess what? WOMEN CAN’T EVEN BLESS OTHERS! Not a direct benefit to the bearer? YOU GET TO SPEAK FOR GOD! Women can’t even participate in such a thing. Yes, the benefits are not for personal gain, but at least you get to participate. Sounds like a pretty wicked awesome perk.

    Kris W–

    Thanks for your thoughts. I guess my comment did sound like if everybody had good relationships with the men in the church, then we’d all be happy with the roles assigned to us by the men. I guess my general point was that women are coming from so many different places that I think it would be hard to come up with a general solution that would speak to all women in the church.

  68. Kaimi, I didn’t understand Kristine or Heather to wish for the attendant blessings of baptizing someone, but to wish for the opportunity to participate in an important and emotional event for someone they love. I want to be the one to bless and baptize my children not because I’ll receive extra blessings, but because it’s lets me share something special with them.

    Kristine and Heather, I understand why you don’t like sitting on the sidelines for something so important in the life of your child, I wouldn’t like it either. My consolation would be to point out that fathers are on the sidelines for many other intimate moments in kids lives — especially pregnancy and nursing — that allow mothers to connect with their children in ways fathers can’t. Even when I hold my wife and nursing baby, I’m the fifth wheel, the unecesssary ornament.

    I spend oodles of time with my kids, and they love me and love to be with me, but they still like mom best.

  69. Steve,

    I don’t know how they classify words up in Canadia, but down here in the lower 48, we usually consider bless, baptize, and confirm to be verbs, not abjectives.

    Heather,

    Yes, it’s a very nice perk. I’m glad we’re in agreement. :)

    (By the way, as I’m sure Nate would have pointed out by now — because he’s a nitpickety attorney, not because he’s a man — I was deliberately a bit wishy washy in my assertion that ordinances “almost never” give personal gain. There are some ordinances that _do_ give personal gain. For example, blessing and administering the sacrament. Dedicating a home. More indirectly, I could bless oil which another person could use to bless me. So there is _some_ element of personal gain. But it’s mostly about the ability to serve others.)

  70. “Even when I hold my wife and nursing baby, I’m the fifth wheel, the unecesssary ornament. ”

    Matt, that’s coming dangerously close to the forbidden “men get the priesthood, women get childbirth” tradeoff. Please revise.

  71. Steve, I don’t understand your complaint against my feeling unnecessary while watching my wife nurse my daughter. And why should we foreclose models explaining that God doesn’t treat men and women unequally, only differently?

  72. “why should we foreclose models explaining that God doesn’t treat men and women unequally?”

    Because God is no respecter of persons, man. Yeah! tough to beat that scripture.

    And I wasn’t trying to make light of your experience, just trying (unsuccessfully) to steer clear of gender essentialism, which I really, really hate.

  73. catherine says:

    Matt,

    I think the tricky part of what you are saying lies in the fact that not all women will get to be pregnant or nurse children, but all worthy men will get to participate in administering saving ordinances like baptism, etc, even if not for your own child.

  74. Steve brings up an important point about the way men speak about women. I then realized that I, unwittingly, had broken one of the unwritten rules about how men can talk about certain issues. These are the rules,

    Men cannot say that women are more righteous.
    Men cannot say that women are more likely to receive exaltation.
    Men cannot say that they would prefer a woman’s role to their own.
    Men cannot speak very positively of motherhood in general.
    Men cannot undermine their own gender roles in any way.

    I understand that there’s a reason for these rules, and I agree fundamentally. Too often these things are said insincerely, condescendingly and patronizingly. Too often they have been quips or justifications for a lack of equality. Too often it is genuinely insulting.

    At the same time, I feel uncomfortable banning such statements from men altogether – especially if they’re sincere. It was Matt Evans, I believe, who made a pretty good case for women being generally more righteous on M* a while back, and I thought it was a justified claim.

    Is there any way men can break any of the above rules without being insulting?

  75. Steve,

    That’s funny that you hate gender essentialism. I’ve found that it’s usually women who have this reaction. I think it must be something about the female character.

    ;)

  76. Eric, I think your ‘rules’ 3-5 can be broken, it all depends on your tone and intent. I see nothing wrong with rules 4 and 5 at all.

    And I don’t think breaking those rules means people should be shunned, but they’d better have good motives.

  77. Catherine, you’re right that my explanation is imperfect, at least when we look only at mortality. (Things will be different in heaven — presumably all women will be able to have children.)

    And my guess is that even in the church today, the average women’s emotional with their children is greater than men’s. Blessing and baptizing a child doesn’t create an emotional bond to equal childbirth and nursing. In other words, if we summed all of women’s emotional closeness stemming from activities exclusive to women (childbirth and nursing), and summed all of men’s emotional closeness stemming from activities exclusive to men (priesthood), I suspect we’d find that gender-exclusive emotion-enhancers benefit women more than men.

    Even if this is correct, it is a response only to the point that the male-only priesthood is discriminatory on the basis of Emotional Opportunity.

  78. Matt,

    I disagree with your assessment of what promotes and help maintain emotional ties between parent and child. Although mothers (who actually bear children, to say nothing of women who cannot physically have children but become mothers through adoption) have the physical experience of carrying the child and perhaps nursing the child, these experiences take place over a relatively short period of the child’s existance. So, even if mothers have a leg up on fathers by the time the child is one, with regards to emotional connection, many other experiences available to either the father or mother are much more shaping of the overall connections shared between parent and child.

    I believe that the reason why, as you say, “the average women’s emotional [tie] with their children is greater than men’s” is because women spend more time, on average, with their children and provide the role of primary care giver. If children were exposed in equal parts to mother and father, I think that, again on average, the emotional ties would be similar, notwithstanding the mother’s unique experiences in childbearing and that father’s in performing blessings, baptisms, and ordinations.

  79. catherine says:

    I see what you are saying, and for some cases you may be right. But consider that I can remember my dad baptizing and confirming me, and can remember how special that was. While bonds are formed during pregnancy and nursing, I can’t remember any of that with my mother. Nor was she able to ever give me healing blessings, or big-life-event blessings that fathers can do for thier children. I don’t mean to create a tit-for-tat type of argument, I not sure that “gender-exclusive emotion-enhancers” (nice term, by the way) could be quantified or compared. Some kids will have moms that don’t engage on an emotional level with them, while thier dads did through giving blessings, or by just being thier dad. Or vice-versa.

    I realize that I’m not making too much sense, but I’m being sneaky at work at the moment and am trying to be quick.

  80. catherine says:

    Mimi,

    Thank you, that is also what I wanted to say.

  81. Do the emotional bonds we have with our children really fit into this discussion? Sure, a nursing mother creates a bond with their child. I have seen stronger bonds form with nannies than parents, when they are simply not around.

    I don’t remember being baptized or confirmed. But I do remember priesthood blessings and being filled with the power of God. I remember my father sitting me down after meetings with “the Brethren” and having him teach me what he learned. Definitely the power of God at work there. And why? Because my dad has the Melkizedik priesthood. And there are non-biological ramifications to holding the this particular priesthood.

    Is it not generally accepted that it is only the Aaronic and Melkizedik priesthoods that are proscribed to women? Even though she wasn’t active her whole life, my Grandmother had the gift of visions and was a prophetess. She was a single mom and had a huge effect on her posterity. Are we not all actively pursuing a mortal realization as priests and priestesses?

    I feel that just as there are biological disparities in the way we *can* bond with our children, contemporarily, there are disparities in how we can minister to them as well.

    I admit that this does not address the institutional power structure…I’m not sure how to.

  82. Hi Mimi and Catherine,

    I agree that gender-neutral emotion-enhancers are more powerful than either sex’s gender-exclusive emotion-enhancers, my point was to say that women’s gender-exclusive emotion-enhancers are, on average, better than men’s. (That sentence is sure to kill your affection for the GEEE term, Catherine!) Even though children usually can’t remember pregnancy and nursing, their residual emotional attachment is presumaably not lost, and more importantly, the *mother* remembers and is more emotionally connected to her child because of it.

  83. Davis Bell says:

    Minerva,

    You’re not a victim. You’re welcome to pursue any course of action — in terms of relationships or not — you desire. However, the fact remains that in most cultures, and moreso in LDS culture, the power to initiate and formalize relationships remains with men. You can try to buck against this norm, and you may have some success doing so (although I doubt it). In reality, though, it’s not anyone else’s job to determine if someone is culpable for their single status; rather, we should have love for all and empathize with their plight.

  84. Davis,

    Why do you doubt that I will have success in bucking against the norm of men’s power to initiate relationships? This makes me feel that you are indeed relegating me to the role of victim in a power structure that I have no hope of subverting. If women’s inability to initiate relationships successfully is accepted as a cultural norm, then women ARE victims, if victimization equals being in a weak position in which desires are useless. Because I have been a single woman in Mormon culture long enough, though, I know that you are more correct than not in doubting my success in initiating relationships with Mormon men. But in order to be able to be happy in my situation, I have had to become more active in pursuing my romantic desires. I cannot act as a victim, even if I am perhaps framed as one in the single Mormon culture. I just think it’s rather ironic that you say that Mormon men are in a power position in initiating relationships and yet they so infrequently EXERCISE this power (I tend to think it’s less because they are jerks than because of the reasons I outlined above). I wonder how long it will take for this power structure to dissolve because of the staggering numbers of men who don’t date.

    By the way, I think I’m in your ward.

  85. “By the way, I think I’m in your ward.”

    Minerva, I empathize with Davis’ plight: he needs a take-charge woman. If you’ll ask him out, I’ll pay for dinner. :)

  86. RE the social significance of being allowed to perform ordinances:

    I left the church as a teenager and rejoined after I’d been married for several years. My husband baptized me; without thinking about it, he kissed me while we stood in the font. Half our ward was there, and they practically applauded. We both heard about it for weeks afterward; apparently, we cut an appealing image. Our marriage, and my baptism in particular, became a sort of romantic legend to our neighbors. We already had friends in the ward. I already felt welcomed, and even loved, there. But our kiss at my baptism had immediate social consequences. We began receiving more invitations to ward members’ homes, I gained status as a giver of advice on marital relationships, and people began to treat my husband as a spiritual superstar—a couple of months later, an incoming EQ president actually reversed a calling he’d extended to another brother in order to make my husband his second counselor. (And that was awkward). Our social status had increased, our visibility in the ward increased, and the leadership’s willingness to trust my husband with serious callings appeared out of nowhere. (I hate to refer to my husband’s calling as a sign of social status, because it shouldn’t be one—but the fact remains that some people see it as such; a family member actually congratulated him on his place in the EQ presidency).

    If I had stayed in the church, if my husband had left and rejoined, I would not have been able to baptize him. The famous kiss would never have taken place. We would have missed social opportunities because I am not allowed to perform the saving ordinances; and neither of us would have had the opportunity for service and growth my husband has received with his calling. And it stands to reason, so long as we are an imperfect church with human proclivities toward unequal social hierarchies, so long as priesthood provides any social benefits, that my gender-based inability to enhance our status among our friends is at least potentially unfair.

    Should social status be tied to religious authority or responsibility? Of course not—in Christ’s arms we are all equals, and so we should be in His church. But we are only His imperfect followers; and since we haven’t yet overcome our own unfair natures, we shouldn’t deny that those natures exist. We should therefore not pretend that the authority to perform priesthood ordinances provides no social or personal benefits.

  87. Addendum to my post, above:

    I grew up in a part-member home; my mother was a member. I cannot describe the incredible social awkwardness my brother and I felt when our uncle had to come in from out of town to perform public ordinances such as baptism for us. He loved us and we loved him; his close connection to our family made him our preferred priesthood provider; but he lived in another city, and was unknown to my ward. His periodic appearance reminded my mother, my brother, me, and our neighbors that we were different. We were bereft of an important symbol of family legitimacy. At some level (often overtly, in fact) we weren’t treated as a real family at all because our home was devoid of the priesthood.

    While I realize that the best and most righteous solution to the awkwardness of such situations would simply be to destigmatize women and children with nonmember or inactive husbands and fathers, our social stain would at least have been less severe if my mother’s gender had not disqualified her from performing the ordinances. And my uncle wouldn’t have had to pretend he was comfortable assuming the role of parental authority which he felt belonged to my parents.

  88. Davis Bell says:

    Minerva,

    Really? Inwood 3rd? Is Minerva an alias?

    I’m a bit confused by some of your post. You first say, “Why do you doubt that I will have success in bucking against the norm of men’s power to initiate relationships?” Then you say, “Because I have been a single woman in Mormon culture long enough, though, I know that you are more correct than not in doubting my success in initiating relationships with Mormon men.”

    “I just think it’s rather ironic that you say that Mormon men are in a power position in initiating relationships and yet they so infrequently EXERCISE this power.” I agree this is indeed ironic, and while I’m sure it comes as small comfort, I don’t envy the predicament this irony places you in.

    Finally, I admire the fact that you have recognized that men have their own demons to struggle with, and aren’t neglecting to date merely because they’re jerks; I think too many LDS women fall prey to the temptation to oversimplify the issue in those terms.

    Davis

  89. Yes, Inwood 3. Minerva is indeed an alias.

    And yes, I wasn’t very clear in my post. What I meant in the first question really was “For what specific reasons do you doubt…” (instead of just plain “why”). As I said, I suspect you are more right than wrong, but I want to know from your perspective exactly why this is.

    Believe me, it took a very long time–and some insight/advise from someone more experienced–for me to be able not to consider jerks the men I was “suppposed” to be dating but wasn’t.

  90. Davis Bell says:

    Minerva,

    You have me at a disadvantage then, don’t you? Maybe you can wear a white carnation to church to signal that it’s you? I guess it was inevitable that I’d encounter someone from my ward in the Bloggernacle, but now that it’s happened I feel kind of wierd about it. I guess I’ll have to be more careful about what I say.

    “For what specific reasons do you doubt?” Well, first and foremost, men and women have been conditioned to think of man as pursuer and woman, as pursuee. I believe this conditioning goes much deeper than simple role assignment, and reversing it a tall order. Given that it’s deep-seated, I think it takes much more than simply being open-minded and progressive to overcome it. The laws of attraction are mysterious and mostly subconscious, and conditioning informs these laws to a great extent. Thus, a man who is pursued by a woman is not likely to be attracted to that woman (I know there are exceptions to this, so spare me anecdotes). His lack of attraction will most likely not be due to a conscious rejection of her reversal of roles (“The nerve of that woman!”) but rather because it fails to fall into a familiar pattern. That’s my take. I could be wrong.

  91. Don’t worry. I will not betray you. You need not be careful about what you say…

    I will give you no anecdotes, but will only say that your reasons are the ones I anticipated. They make me sad, and I still think, though not with the adamance I had when I was younger, that being open-minded and progressive (not to mention, say, Christ), can help people overcome so-called natural inclinations. In fact, I think that is one of the blessings of being a single adult in the Church: because the traditional man pursuer/woman pursuee narrative has not worked for most of us, we get a chance to explore other options, subvert norms, etc. I just don’t think very many of us are brave or secure enough to do it, though, or we insist on holding on to outmoded, unrealistic fantasies (which conditions are perhaps perpetuated by the junior-high atmosphere that prevails in singles wards). And, of course, I am not immune to any of this.

  92. Davis: “a man who is pursued by a woman is not likely to be attracted to that woman”

    I believe this is true, but only because the pursued is not attracted by the pursuer in 4 out of 5 cases, regardless of gender. People are more likely to pursue people more desirable than they are, so in most cases the pursued won’t be interested, but not because they’re being pursued, but because far more fives are interested in tens than vice-versa.

    However, and this may be what Davis was getting at, because the pecking order is amorphous and perception-based, some people assume that they’re being pursued because they’re more desirable than the pursuer, and therefore see the pursuer less favorably.

    My guess is that the first explanation accounts for pursuit-dynamics more predictably than the second.

  93. a random John says:

    Alright, I want to know. Did anyone wear a white carnation to church today?

  94. Davis Bell says:

    Random John,

    Yes, she did. She was radiant. We’re engaged. Just kidding. I’m in Utah today, so I can’t say if Minerva wore one, although I doubt it.

    Matt,

    I agree with your characterization of pursuer/pursuee dynamics, but my statement has a distinct gender-related element that goes beyond the general dynamic you describe. I believe that if an attractive (and by this i mean attractive in every regard, not just physical) woman pursues a man it’s quite possible the man might not be interested, even though he would have been interested had he pursued her.

    Minerva,

    I’m not saying that we ought not to try subver the norms; I’m simply expressing doubt in the ability of very many people — myself included — to do so.

  95. Seth Rogers says:

    Hope I’m not butting-in or anything, but …

    This has been interesting to read. I think I’ve been guilty myself of many of the “male sins” discussed. I’ve sometimes trivialized the privileges of the Priesthood when responding to women who seem to desperately want it. I’ve also dismissed female concerns with platitudes about how much more “spiritual” women are than men. Guilty as charged. I shall try to do better.

    Just a thought about the role of women in the church … I think we can find some useful parallels in society outside the church as well.

    I feel that at some point the women’s rights movement in American took a wrong turn. The “women’s lib” movement in the 60s and 70s was a response to some very real abuses from the male power structure. It is unquestionable that change was needed. But here’s where the wrong turn occurred.

    Instead of challenging the evil patriarchal order, the women’s rights movement sought to become perpetrators of it. Instead of questioning the validity of male obsession with career and power, women sought an equal place in the job force. Instead of giving motherhood the respect it deserved, feminism chose to join the males in mocking it. Instead of forging a new female identity, feminism sought to remake women into men.

    Of course that’s a gross generalization of a complex social movement and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that the law shouldn’t give women equal access to careers. I only wanted to illustrate a problem that this discussion is likely to run across.

    We need to make a careful distinction between those who wish to change the current regime and those who wish to become a part of the regime. Giving women the Priesthood won’t solve anything if the privilege is still being abused. Women will just become a part of the problem.

    So how do we handle women’s exclusion from full participation in the church? Beats me. Maybe someone else can offer some insight on this because I’m at a loss for conclusions.

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