The Moral Dilemma of Relief Society

I’m going to interrupt my plans for follow-ups to my last few posts here at BCC to talk about something more immediately relevant to my own life right now, the Relief Society. More specifically, I’m going to talk about whether it’s a good thing or not.

To my mind, gender segregation is a problem. As a member of a church with a massive social division between women and men, a community with widespread, intense, and often explicit anxieties about the propriety of casual friendship between women and men, and with painfully long weekly church services, I worry that condoning the continuance of the Relief Society and Priesthood Sunday meetings is in effect condoning a pernicious problem and a Sunday meeting schedule which may encourage inactivity due to its repetitive length.

I do not doubt that such concerns seem overblown, or downright crazy, to many of my fellow members. But as a person who spends most of her social life outside the church, I have seen first-hand the difference casual, non-sexualized interactions between people of the opposite sex can have in the character and quality of social relationships. Women who have learned to expect respectful, normal conversation from men often find it; men who have learned that women may initiate conversations for non-romantic purposes treat women like people they can, well, have a conversation with. Such interactions greatly expand the social and career opportunities of all involved; and they provide fertile ground for innovation, be it of the social, institutional, or intellectual variety. Should the same not be true in our church?

When I go to church, I hear talk about the importance of gender segregation in our religious lives–Relief Society and Priesthood meetings at least theoretically offer a place we can let our hair down, speak openly about our questions and ideas, and so on. The idea behind this seems to be that such things are not natural occurrences in mixed-sex groups.

I also hear about the danger of unchaperoned interactions between women and men who are not married to each other. Who has not heard whispered stories of the bishop and the Relief Society president who spent too much time alone working on the ward’s welfare needs? (Apparently, people in such situations are liable to speak very personally, and consequently develop an emotional bond which promotes adultery.) Who has not heard of the dangerous, nigh-irresistible temptations bound to arise when a woman and a man carpool alone to a stake function?

Finally, I hear constantly about the incomprehensible differences between women and men. I hear wives complaining that they cannot understand their husbands–men, after all, are clearly unlike women. I know my husband hears husbands’ complaints about the irrationality of their wives’ motives and behaviors. I hear that women are emotional and spiritual, while men are apparently morally defective. (I have heard it said that this is why men need to run the church; they need plenty of practice. According to some people, they need to be bribed with social power to maintain church activity as well.)

Honestly, I feel no more comfortable in Relief Society than I do in Sunday School. My beloved sisters are as likely to understand or misunderstand me as my brothers; they are as likely to judge me; and my brothers are as likely to share in my communion with our savior.

I have spent plenty of time alone with men besides my husband. I’ve even gone on week-long business trips with colleagues, all of whom were male besides myself. No one seemed to feel the impulse to have lots of wild adulterous sex; I know I didn’t. And frankly, if close inter-gender relationships threaten our marriages, we as a church need to work on strengthening the emotional bonds between our husbands and wives.

Last, we are all of us children of the same God. We are all of us, female and male, made in His image. Where we find difference, we should actively promote dialogue and understanding; how else will we all be one? I have known many men more prone to emotional exchange than my female acquaintances; I have known many men more inclined to bare their souls before God and humanity. I have known many deeply spiritual men. I have known many immoral women. Our differences, inasmuch as they exist, are dwarfed by our similarities.

I believe that our continuance of gender-segregated Sunday activities encourages us to maintain false ideas about inter-gender relationships and about individuals not of our own sex. I believe that such ideas can only be harmful to our church in the long run–they limit our understanding of and love for one another; they divide our community; they weaken our institutions. I believe that, since I hold these convictions very firmly, there is something unsavory to my own Relief Society activity.

I’m not willing to give that activity up, however. My husband and I are new to our ward, and my Relief Society calling is helping us in our struggle to become part of a congregation we don’t fully fit into socially or professionally. It helps me meet women and make them aware that my childless state isn’t a sign of selfishness. It provides me an avenue of church service and planning which I, as a woman, won’t have many opportunities to indulge in. Besides, I want to maintain my temple recommend. So I go to Relief Society every week; I attend weeknight activities; and I wonder about the morality of my actions.

Comments

  1. I’m not passing any judgment, but what I’m not getting is how one hour a week spent with one’s own gender necessarily hurts interpersonal relationships.

    What would you replace it with?

    If you say that there is indeed a difference between men and women, then couldn’t there be a real value in gender-specific instruction, geared toward their optimal (I’m gonna make someone mad with my next word) roles?

    Just pondering out loud, as someone who gets infinitely more out of priesthood than Sunday School or Fifth Sunday combined adult meetings. Probably because I love teaching priesthood and hate teaching Sunday School…

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Personally, I don’t like the gender segregation of the third-hour (priesthood, RS). To me it seems fairly ridiculous, like we’re little boys with a “No Girlz Allowed” sign on our little treehouse. I like the sisters in our ward, I like interacting with them, and priesthood would be more meaningful to me, not to mention a hell of a lot more fun, if we all met together.

    Maybe that will happen in another one, two hundred years, but not in my lifetime.

  3. I don’t think it is a question of morality, but I do think it is an important question. I often think of Claire Middlemiss and wonder how that situation ever happened. It must have been scandalous for some.

    Working among those different from you does change a person. This is a good thing, I think. I think the Church tends to take an approach where there is no acceptable level of collateral damage. I just think that there is always collateral damage.

    I do think some gender separation is appropriate. I don’t buy into certain brands of feminism that require autonomous female built and operated institutions, but I think there is something to fostering independent brotherhood and sisterhood.

    I will also say that I appreciate the ‘nacle for the fora (despite the ghettoization of the mommy blogs) to have a somewhat diverse conversation. I very much appreciate the friends of all sexes that I have made and value the dialogue greatly.

  4. I worry that condoning the continuance of the Relief Society and Priesthood Sunday meetings is in effect condoning a pernicious problem

    “Pernicious?”

  5. Viva gender segregation–for one little ol’ third of the meeting schedule, that is.

  6. Yeah, Guy. “Segregation.” Nasty stuff.

  7. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m interested in finding out why Relief Society became a required meeting at all. It kind of seems like a consolation prize to the women who don’t get the Priesthood.

    I’ve never understood the need for segregation, but I suppose it’s more about the Priesthood than RS — the men don’t want their secret handshakes revealed.

    Ultimately, I think Sunday School, Priesthood, and RS should be whittled down to a second meeting before or after Sacrament Meeting, as a more intimate “teaching” meeting. Maybe once a month there could be a segregated meeting, so the men can do their handshakes and the women can talk about the menstruation cycles of Ruth and Naomi (or whatever).

    :)

  8. By the way, I forgot to mention that this post stemmed in part from a conversation I had with Kevin Barney–though we didn’t discuss my concerns directly.

    Sorry, Kevin, that I forgot to credit you.

  9. My wife infroms me a lot of Sisters would feel uncomfortable saying things they say with men present,especially if that man was her husband.
    I even have been told numerous times that there are certain Sisters who bear their Testimony in releif society who do not feel comfortable bearing their testimony in Sacrament.

    I know a lot of comments which men have said in priesthood I probably wouldn’t say with a woman present, especially if that woman were my wife.

    These comments are not overtly disparaging or sexist comments, but maybe something like comparing the gospel to a football game, or sacrifice to getting kicked in the crotch etc.

  10. I’ve noticed, especially in my new ward which is filled to the brim with young couples, that there more than one man who rather pointedly will not address me directly, look me in the eye, or offer to shake my hand. I wasn’t paying attention to how their wives reacted to my husband (he wasn’t paying attention either) but I’d guess it goes both ways. *Something* needs to be done about the general paranoia we have about dealing with other people’s spouses. Shaking my hand and asking me a question is not the first step on a slippery slope to adultery.

    That said, my biggest interest in getting rid of the gender separated third hour is the kids. My husband and I would take turns taking the baby during the third hour, but I know that once the kid gets into nursery and later primary that the leaders will come to RS to look for me first whenever there’s a problem. If both the parents are in the same place (except for when callings are involved) then there can be more equitable sharing of the kid-duties.

  11. If we didn’t have a gender-separated third hour for the adults, how could we justify separating the 10- and 11-year-old children in Primary :-)

    Oh, and if we eliminate the segregated adult hour, can we just have SS and cut all our meetings down so the Primary kids don’t have to sit through three hours of church just because they need some place to be while their parents are in RS/PH?

  12. I wish we’d give up Sunday School, which somehow doesn’t work, and meet segregated only once a month.

    I wish we were all together when those sign-up sheets go around, so we could decide together to put things on the schedule like inviting the missionaries to dinner, helping with a move, or delivering a dinner.

    I wonder if the 20-something wives would stop dressing so obviously for each other if we were a mixed crowd.

  13. Jonathan, Correct me if I am wrong: by concluding “the Church tends to take an approach where there is no acceptable level of collateral damage,” you are speaking only of the damage of extramarital affairs and other sexual deviance. There will always be collateral damage, as you say, and only a little of it will be adultery. Some policies designed to protect us from infidelity, or even which keep us apart for good reasons, create just the pervasive collateral damage of which Taryn writes. With minor exceptions, what I have seen from the institution is an inability to see unnecessary gender inequities and no inclination to look for them. And as Taryn says, they damage us all. Oh, we get a few platitudes about God loving us all, but no real attention to problems. Smith graduate that I am, I agree with you there are good reasons for fostering same-sex relationships and I would continue RS and Priesthood (how about SS every other week, RS and Priesthood on the odd weeks, and we all go home in 2 hours?).
    However, I am also very sympathetic with your post, Taryn. We have a destructive fear of platonic male-female relationships and way too much negative stereotyping by both sexes. I also think many men and women ascribe rank to priesthood improperly (the Priesthood is not the men who hold it) and thereby complicate what should be equal personal and working relationships between men and women, as well as between men. Seems we ought to be able to work on those problems in both segregated and integrated meetings. It all comes back to learning to love, doesn’t it?

  14. I really don’t care what the details are … I vote in favor the the two-hour schedule. Any two-hour schedule. I’d sit through Primary for the second hour every week if it would end things in two hours.

  15. One segregation in the church that often goes unnoticed is the EQ/HP division. I always prefer priesthood lessons that do not “split.”

    The division is unhealthy in that it generally promotes the segregation of the young(EQ) and the old(HP); and worse, plebians(EQ) and patricians(HP). I always feel terrible sorry for the older Elders, you know, the ones who’ve never risen the ranks, who have to sit there whilst their more polished HP peers go for their secret meeting. And who among the younger Elders does not look in envy at the young guy who’s a High Priest, and therefore a Very Important Person? There is rank and prestige among the men and I don’t like it.

  16. I don’t know if this provides any perspective or not, but we hardly gender-segregate at all when compared to the practices of orthodox Judaism or fundamentalist Islam.

  17. My wife, not a member, is willing to accompany me to church but she draws the line at Relief Society. She says she feels she doesn’t belong, which I suppose she doesn’t, not yet having been inducted. Like Taryn, she spends essentially her entire social life outside of church, so maybe that has as much to do with the “pernicious problem” of RS as segregation.

    Ronan–the key to Zion is size. Keep the group small enough and there’s no point in separating it.

  18. we hardly gender-segregate at all when compared to the practices of orthodox Judaism or fundamentalist Islam

    Or even the Old School Church with men on one side and women on the other.

  19. Brent Hartman says:

    I don’t understand why any woman would want to participate in a “woman’s organization” that has been taken over by man.

    Maybe if the Relief Society had the autonomy and priesthood authority that it once had, then it would cease to be the shell of an organization that it currently is.

    Women have power. My wife provides me with examples of this on a daily basis. Use that power to take back what it rightfully yours. This is your organization. Demand the authority and autonomy that the founders of the Relief Society intended for you to have.

  20. Relief Society can be like torture for me. For a couple reasons—I’m an introvert, and hate sitting in a room full of people I’m supposed to socialize with. Ugh. I can’t sing, and hate singing hymns in such a small group. Ugh. I can’t relate to most of the women there—usually they’re a lot older than me, and I work fulltime. I relate much more to the men, generally.

    These are all reasons it’s important for me to go.

  21. I also spend much of my life outside of church interactions. Guess what? Out in the world, there is also “women’s only” stuff. I belong to a women’s only gym, there are magazines and broadcast media targeted to women, and women’s only colleges. Actually, we find that many converts love Relief Society and hunger for that kind of environment.

    Since the Proclamation on the Family talks about different responsibilities for different genders, I am not sure that men and women should be “one”as you describe, and so I don’t share your zeal to erase gender differences.

    I see Relief Society meetings as a brief interlude rather than a massive divide. Fifty minutes apart–that doesn’t seem like much.

    Sunday meetings are just a small part of the Relief Society organization. And in general the ability to run that organization is a great thing for women. If we were combined with the men, we would likely only have half as much opportunity to learn and grow through serving.

    In my career, I’m a project manager, in a situation that requires some special-event management (retreats, advisory committee meetings where we fly in experts, etc.). It might be a bit of an overstatement to say that everything I learned was from serving in RS, because I do have a graduate degree from a gentile university…but a lot of the skills I use every day came from being a mom and RS leader.

    So I have a hard time seeing RS as “pernicious.” And getting rid of it would deserve a serious cost-benefit analysis.

    As to the issue of platonic friendships, that seems to vary from place to place within the church, and may be easier for those of us who are to old to be a sex object:) I do have good friends inside and outside the church who are male. My husband was a bit uptight about me having male lab partners, etc. when we were first married–now it is less of a problem. When we travel on vacation, each of us will use the opportunity to introduce the other to colleagues who live in distant places but that we collaborate with and hang out with at conferences, etc. and for both of us, some of those friends are of the opposite sex. I frankly don’t see how a mere 50 minutes a week is going to magically change anything in that regard.

  22. Right on, Molly.

  23. Naismith — as you point out, it’s not really an issue of “a mere 50 minutes a week.” After all, “Sunday meetings are just a small part of the Relief Society organization.” If gender segregation limits women, promotes negative patterns of interaction between men and women, or is in other ways undesirable, then the rest of the program reinforces these effects.

  24. Tanya Spackman says:

    I like the gender segregation. I would be sad to see it go. It is only a tiny bit of the week, but it is a nice break. At work, I am usually surrounded by men all the time. I am frequently the only female in meetings. While I enjoy hanging out with men, I was not one of those kids whose best friends were all boys. I am more comfortable communicating casually with women, so the short 50 minutes of gender segregation is a nice break. Viva RS! (And I don’t even like RS that much. The gender segregation is pretty much its only strength.)

  25. If gender segregation limits women, promotes negative patterns of interaction between men and women, or is in other ways undesirable, then the rest of the program reinforces these effects.

    Does Relief Society limit women? I think that I addressed that issue. While I can understand some specific cases where a particular woman feels she is limited, I think that overwhelmingly the benefit to women has been great.

    Does Relief Society promote negative patterns of interaction between men and women? Again, I don’t see how.

    But then, I love my women’s only gym, and would not go to the gym if forced to use the co-ed club with which it is affiliated (which I do use occasionally because it is open longer hours).

    BTW, I’m an Army veteran and my undergraduate major was in a predominantly male field, so it’s not that I’m a wilting daisy who doesn’t know how to cope with men. I also don’t have any trouble voicing my opinion around men; being a convert, I didn’t get the memo about not contradicting your husband in public and I disagreed with him frequently when he was teaching Gospel Doctrine.

    “Different” does not necessarily mean less, negative, or undesirable. I celebrate the differences between men and women, and among men and women.

  26. J. Nelson-Seawright:
    I don’t think Relief Society or the setup of the Church limits women. I think failure to accept difference and diversity limits women. I think attempt to homogenize everyone into one status quo limits women. I think that’s what you are talking about. I do think there is a pretty clear typical line of difference between men and women. It may not work for every individual, but, generally, I think it is very good.
    I don’t think Relief Society or the setup of the church promotes negative patterns of interaction between men and women. I find these “negative patterns” outside the church as well.

    But then again, I think Joseph Smith was inspired when he organized relief society.

  27. Usually I read the comments before making my own but this time I had to jump right down and say what has probably been said already.

    I can understand your intellectual argument. But segregation into RS/Priesthood is “unsavory”? You question the “morality” of attending RS? This is way over the top. You need to re-evaluate the difference between a concept, which you have intelligently articulated, and its application, which you have completely misconstrued.

  28. I’m afraid I’m not really on-board with Taryn here.

    I think it’s valuable to have some guy-time and probably vis versa. Perhaps the women are already socializing with each other enough via non-church activities (like reading groups, play groups for young mothers, etc). But the guys don’t get much time together except for Elders Quorum meetings.

    The LDS Church is one of the few places left in America where a positive male identity is still promoted. Everywhere else, “guy identity” is either:

    a) androgynously merged into some sexless “human identity” or

    b) completely degraded, trivialized and brutalized (think: “Best Damn Sports Show” or “Maxim Magazine”).

    There is almost nowhere left that actually tries to get guys to be better people via “being men.”

    I’m opposed to completely merging everything in the Church.

  29. I agree with Ronan though that the HP/EQ divide is perhaps an area that could use some work.

  30. Naismith and mw*, please note the if in my comment.

  31. I well understand the RS philosophy. Let the wimmin gather in their own private group, where they can engage in unrestrained hen-clucking and gossip and extol their own infinite virtues. And of course, denigrate the men.

  32. Ronan,

    Obviously this varies by place, but all I feel is pity for the guy who ended up a high priest age 28 and attends HP for the rest of his life.

  33. *Something* needs to be done about the general paranoia we have about dealing with other people’s spouses. Shaking my hand and asking me a question is not the first step on a slippery slope to adultery.

    Agreed, is it like this in other churches where all men and women are looked at as one step away from tearing each others clothes off and going for it? We were talking to our neighbors and I mentioned something a friend had done in her garden. The wife actually looked at my wife and asked her if she trusted me to have a female friend.

    When I was growing up our ward had a strange mix for kids my age, almost 80% were girls. So starting very young most of my friends were girls. None of us ever dated, and a few of us remain friends to this day, but for some reason as soon as I became an adult those relationships were looked at with suspicion among many church members.

    It’s very srange.

  34. D. Fletcher says:

    I agree, the men shouldn’t be separated by age. For a couple of years, I was asked to be the High Priests’ quorum teacher, even though I was only an Elder, because the Bishop thought it would be better for me to be with… guys my own age.

  35. When I was eighteen, I was called to be a combined Melkizedek Priesthood group instructor. I thought it was cool back then and didn’t realize how anomolous that type of interaction was.

  36. I think gender-segregation in the LDS church is fairly negligible and reinforces positive interactions between men and women.

    Maybe too positive, since I think in some cases our youth get married too quickly.

  37. In my own experience there is a huge difference between the quality of the lessons in priesthood meetings compared to relief society. In elders quorum it is (unfortunately) common for unprepared instructors to whip out the manual and read it to the class. In RS they have tablecloths, handouts and flowers and stuff. As the Gospel Doctrine teacher I felt much more pressure to be super prepared, and I think its the pressure of having the women there. I agree with prior comments that being in with the women brings out the best in us men.

    BTW, I do enjoy sitting next to those hot 20-something wives in RS who are always dressing to impress each other…

  38. I just met a guy in Guatemala this summer when I was doing some work there and he just got off his mission. HE told me that he was made a high-priet at 18 because the bishop thought he should be because he was called to be a 2nd couselor in the bishopric. I am not a high priest so I asked my dad what he thought about it and my dad thought the bishop did a huge diservice to this young man. He was never an elder. He had to meet with the old guys since he left the priest’s quorem. CAn you imagine that?

  39. Jack,

    There aren’t too many wards in Guatemala that separate Elders and Priests into separate quorums. And many of the High Priests in Guatemala are very young.

    Next time you get a Church News, look at Stake Reorganizations and see the ages of those being called to be in Stake Presidencies. It’s not uncommon for someone in their late twenties/early thirties to be called.

    And if the Bishop had no choice but to choose an 18-year old to the bishopric, I would guess there aren’t too many other HP in the ward.

    There were a few Missionaries in my mission in Guatemala who were high priests.

  40. Porter,

    that last part of your comment was a little strange, maybe even creepy. But you should know that there is a reason those “hot 20-something wives” are dressing to impress …

  41. Lesson quality varies from place to place.

    In one of the wards we were in, my wife was quite envious of my Elders Quorum meetings for the simple fact that the Relief Society sisters were so fragile that any sort of debate or disagreement in class was out of the question – for the simple fact that you’d be throwing a deadly insult at any woman you publicly contradicted.

    Elders Quorum, by contrast, had no problem knocking other people down when they were out of line. Much better debate climate.

  42. I would vote to eliminate RS and separate priesthood meetings simply on the grounds that we would then have a shorter church schedule. (I like Molly’s suggestion too–which comprises a 2-hour block.) Three hours is a very long time–particularly for families with young children. RS sisters already meet for enrichment, so that should fulfill any need some have for one-gender associations (in addition to book groups, already mentioned), and the priesthood brethren have at least two annual meetings (outside the General Priesthood Session)where they meet as a stake quorum. I think that’s enough. By time time I get to Relief Society, I am really tired. I like all of the women there, but I’m just tired.

  43. Taryn,

    I agree with most of what you say. For a variety of reasons, I think men and women in the church struggle to view each other simply as colleagues in the work, and the separate meeting does nothing to help. At the same time, I doubt that eliminating MP and RS meetings would do much to solve the problem.

    I once had a calling where I met with four women once a month, at the church on mutual night. Sometimes I was delayed getting away from work, so I would call ahead and they would just start without me. When I arrived 15 or 20 minutes late I would enter the room, say hello, sit down at the table, and join the meeting. Then two women would stand up, take some folding chairs, and prop the door open. Weird, huh?

    While I love the gospel message that we call one another brother and sister in order to affirm our status as literal siblings and offspring of heavenly parents, I fear we often use those titles to keep our distance, like calling somebody Mr. I have adopted the convention of addressing people by their first names at church. I think it promotes friendship and collegiality, and makes us recognize each other as individuals.

  44. I need the gender separation of Relief Society. Desperately. I have no sisters, and my social life is generally coterminal with my professional life, which is virtually all male. I need a few minutes a week where I don’t have to think and act and speak as a man. I get tired of writing like a man and speaking like a man, which I consciously do throughout the week because my audience is male and doesn’t take me seriously when I express a feminine thought in a feminine way.

    “Mixed group” means masculine. Women speak two languages, men only one.

  45. I’m afraid I disagree with the tone and the content of this idea. First, loads of studies with adolescents and adults show that selective gender separation is healthy and productive. If there is an issue with the content of that separation — if we are suggesting that they are separate and unequal — I would agree. But these days we all use the same manual. I actually appreciate the time with the men. In many cultures, men find it impossible to be open about emotional and spiritual issues in the presence of women (including here in Finland), and it strengthens me to hear them being honest about how they feel. Of course, that demands the spirit being present, which demands reverence and a prepared teacher…

    As for the HP/EQ split, well, I’m too far from the Mother Ship to see this in the same light. The quorums in our ward have little to do with age. (I’m 36 and the oldest member of the bishopric. By 6 years.) The average age of HP is probably about 40, and usually someone’s got a baby with him. I think it really benefits some of the men in EQ. We used to meet together, and everyone deferred to a few HPs for comments, and now the YSAs and recently-young-men have more of a voice, which is great.

    I won’t deny that I think 2 hours would be better than 3, but many many members here have no contact with members besides on Sundays, and they seem pretty hungry for all of it. I think the essential thing is to provide quality spiritual content and not waste people’s time. I personally would die without English Sunday School.

  46. I actually wish we had a fourth hour, where we all ate lunch or dinner together and just talked. We used to do that in the Singles Branch where I first joined the Church, and I knew so many more people better because of it. Of course, adding kids to the mix does make it a lot more challenging.

  47. There will always be a need for gender specific instruction until gender differences are eliminated. Since we know that gender is eternal, there will always be a need.

    I wonder if the awkwardness around those of a different gender is generational? As far as the church goes, It does seem that men in the church are better than those outside it, from my limited perspective, on the respectful and appropriate treatment of women. As far as not shaking hands, that is a manners thing, in a social setting a man does not offer his hand to a lady, but does take her hand if offered. In business, the gender rules are off. As far as not meeting the eye, perhaps you are too beautiful for them to handle?

    Many people enjoy the difference. My wife and I are included in this. It allows each of us to relate to others as an independant person, and not as each other’s spouse.

  48. “There will always be a need for gender specific instruction until gender differences are eliminated. Since we know that gender is eternal, there will always be a need.”

    Then why isn’t there gender-specific instruction? Why do men and women get exactly the same manuals and messages?

  49. If my discussions with my spouse are any guide, our respective meetings are anything but the same. Which makes the discussions we have afterward that much sweeter.

  50. Just because the manuals are the same, doesn’t mean the messages are as well.

    You can prepare a talk on the same subject, but if you had to deliver it to different audiences, the message would vary.

  51. I also would prefer it if there weren’t so much gender segregation in the church. My best friends in my neighborhood when I was a small child were boys, and though I have plenty of individual friends who are girls, I don’t ever feel comfortable in groups of all girls. In mixed gender things I do. Also, I feel a huge difference between the gender equality I experience in everyday life, and the great gender chasm there is in church. I think gender segregation plays a big role in that. LDS boys are lagging behind the rest of socity in their ability to accept women as colleages, I believe. I’m all for Relief Society, but not really the way it mostly is now. I want it to be more dynamic and project oriented, basically changing the world. =)

  52. Many of the comments in this thread seem to support the possibility that women are less comfortable with women than men are with men. I have to wonder if perhaps that is what the ‘gender segregation’ complaint really boils down to.

    Many times I’ve heard women say “I get along better with guys than with girls.” I don’t know why they say this, but I’ve heard it enough times to think there must be something to it. In general, I don’t think guys have the same complaints about interactions with their own gender. At least I haven’t heard them.

  53. Danithew–
    I hear this a lot too–or mothers saying they prefer to have boys than girls.
    I actually think a lot of the time it is pretensious–and that women are so afraid to be girly–that it will make them look weak, that they say they prefer male company etc, as is if they are some how cooler, and more intelligent/stronger if they prefer male company.
    Do women really so loathe their own gender?

  54. I’m not LDS, but occasionally went to church with my LDS ex. I didn’t mind the first 2 hours, but absolutely hated RS. I tried to get into it, but as I was more concerned with getting a BA and starting a career, the ladies had other interests that bored me.

    I’ve already got female friends because we have something in common, and not because we’re stuck in the same room to stay out of our men’s hair for an hour. I also have other interests besides motherhood, quilting, or scrapbooking. I’m not criticizing those interests, but I’m just not obsessed by them like the ladies in RS I met. For me, RS just reminded me of “The Stepford Wives” and isn’t my kind of thing. Sorry if I offended anyone, it wasn’t my intent at all. Relief Society is not for everyone, especially if you’re a non-member who has had female friends all your life like myself.

    My church is over in an hour, which I really like because I have the rest of Sunday to spend with my family, often going for brunch after church. I also volunteer with charitiable organizations, so I serve the community more than the RS as the people I serve are not LDS.

  55. Mami, I have no idea. I once had a landlady who was renting out her basement apartments to a whole bunch of guys. I bring this up because she once said to me “I will never rent to women students.” She said it so emphatically and with such assuredness – it really surprised me. After all, she was a woman … why would she be so certain about not wanting people of her own gender to rent from her?

    But she’s not the only female person I’ve heard say things like that. And I don’t really comprehend what’s behind it. I just get the impression that women (in general) must have more issues with other women than they do with men.

    However, it is really quite touching when women forge deep and lasting friendships. The Ruth story in the scriptures certainly points this out … not to mention almost every single chick flick my wife brings home. (Don’t get mad at me … I didn’t invent the term — and what else would you call a movie like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or whatever it is) So it seems to me that RS can be idyllic for some women and at the same time an absolute horror for others.

  56. Danithew–and Whomever
    I think it unfortunately, and ironically, really may come down to gender inequality. Women are so often caught up in proving they can run with the boys–they don’t want at all to run with the girls–and so often shun anything associated with feminimity as “not me”. Look at what Stapely so aptly called the “gheotoization” of the mommy blogs. They are seen as decidedly not intellectual (enough).
    But really I think a lot of it is women trying to prove they are above that–above thinking like a woman (or at least a mommy). So if you put RS in this category–it’s the same thing.
    So maybe women are putting this in a category, and
    prejudging all the women in RS as women who belong to nothing more than the casserole club. And because they themselves feel like they really want to be equal–they see the segregation as unequal. Yet it appears that maybe they are judging themselves as better (brighter, not “that” kind of woman, etc etc) than their sisters.

    Adrienne,
    “so I serve the community more than the RS as the people I serve are not LDS.”
    You clearly do not know enough about the RS

  57. Tatiana, you said “LDS boys are lagging behind the rest of socity in their ability to accept women as colleages, I believe.”

    I would disagree with this. I don’t know that there is any proof of this. Sure, there are those LDS men who don’t accept women colleagues, but I think they stick out as the exception.

    I do think the interaction is probably different, but I would think that where it counts, such as accepting women as capable performers, LDS men are more able to accept women’s contributions. There might be some reduced social interaction, but I would think this is secondary.

    I would think that femailes prefering the company of men is possibly a function of her feeling judged/threatened in the presence of females, or judging other women herself. It’s kind of like my wife. she is girly, loves clothes, and has fun baking. But she has learned all this since getting married. Prior to our marriage, she didn’t do any of this, had several professional licesense, and organized a juvenile criminal diversion program. She loves to read books (latest the kite runner) and discuss politics. She feels intimidated by many women in RS, and has had women confess to her that they feel intimidated by her. Once they got to know one another, they confess there was a whole depth they didn’t know about.

    In responding to Adrienne, I think many of the women talk about scrapbooking, etc, because they think that most women like these things and try to build bridges. Just like most people in the EQ try and ask you about sports, work, or golf. Not that everyone is all about that, but that’s what they try and bridge the gap with. Once you actually talk to the people you can find out there is more to them. Very few people are 2 dimensional, but we don’t spend the time to find out.

    One of the defining moments of my church career, and one of the few EQ lessons I can recall, was a story about a general authority. He told of sitting in a boring EQ lesson, and thinking less than charitable thoughts about the lesson being given and the lack of preparation. He had an epiphany, and reazlied that his actions were not christlike, and should instead focus on how he could improve the lesson, or what insights he might share or would have presented. Thus he would be spiritual enriched from the lesson, and might help others, instead of wallowing in his pride.

    As a side note I think the movie Stepford wives has been a huge setback for women. Any think that you can shorthand like that usually has a negative impact on the quality of discission.

  58. Jay–well said.

  59. jay, 56 -

    I think Tatiana is correct, and for evidence I point to the counsel that priesthood leaders get over and over and over that they need to do a better job of increasing female participation in church councils.

    But this is a general problem overall, not just limited to men. The general RS presidency also gives training now to women on how to interact effectively with men in the church.

  60. Mark IV, So what is the general RS presidency teaching on how to interact effectively with men in the church?

  61. Mark, I disagree. The reason being is the church structure. The church is structured in a way that leads some to think that women should be limited. I think tatiana’s comment (my interpretation) was that LDS men are not able to deal with female coworkers in the marketplace. Do you really think that LDS men can’t deal with female coworkers? My experience is that LDS men treat female coworkers as gender neutral. If you take my limited experience as representative, I have had no problem working with female supervisors, coworkers and subordinates. I had no problems studying with and working on school projects with married and unmarried females. I generally didn’t go out with them after alone, as did some of my non-lds coworkers, but would go out in mixed company.

    I am not denying that there are some curmudgeons out there. and that we tend to do things how we saw them being done. However, I can’t imagine that eliminating differential gender instruction would solve this problem.

    But to condense my remarks, I think there is a huge difference between the relations of gender in “leadership of the church” versus relationships in the workplace. Even still I believe that LDS men are able to accept women as intelligent, competent and capable in all circumstances, as least as well, if not better than non-lds men.

  62. Left Field says:

    I agree that having the same manual does not necessarily translate into the same message. Take last Sunday for example. The lesson in the Wilford Woodruff manual was about following the prophets. In the high priests group, we talked all about the fallibility of church leaders, alluding to some less-than-reliable statements of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, and Paul H. Dunn. “A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such.”

    My wife reported that in Relief Society, it was all about how a prophet’s every sneeze is church doctrine.

    Of course, I don’t know that the disparity in message had so much to do with gender segregation as it did with just having a different group of humans who happened to take the discussion in a different direction.

  63. Tatiana said: “LDS boys are lagging behind the rest of society in their ability to accept women as colleages, I believe.”

    I think this can be very true, though a lot of it has to do with the context in which acceptance/resentment might occur.

    If a LDS woman seeks a high-level of sophisticated training in a significant field, some LDS men resent the competition that LDS women (and minorities) present. The reasoning of some is that the woman is taking a limited place that should go to the LDS man who is somewhat entitled (presumably by his hard work and personal righteousness) to become a capable breadwinner.

    Ironically, once that same woman has achieved that training and entered her career, the same LDS guy may resent her even more when she takes off time for pregnancy or even chooses to work part-time (or not at all for awhile) so that she can take a more active role in raising children.

    From his perspective, the woman has not only taken a highly-coveted resource (the training) but is wasting that training by making family a high priority and not working full-time.

    Honestly though, I think many LDS women have an even tougher time accepting the LDS woman professional. Do you give her a calling? How much do you want the LDS woman professional to influence young women or to have a pulpit from which to express her views on things?

    If a man works 60-80 hours a week in a specialized field, he is recognized as a capable person with unusual leadership potential and given a calling that entails more responsibility. On the other hand, if a woman works in a similar field and manner, “her limited time should be respected”.

    Recently in priesthood it was noted that academically, women in general may be achieving more than men. At least that was how I understood the statistics that were being presented. Which means we will likely face these issues/questions more in the future.

  64. mw*, I would absolutely love a social hour after church. Back in my Episcopalian days we had one right after the service, and it was a lot of fun. It also really bonded the congregation together.

  65. Hi Molly,

    This is in response to your question in # 59.

    My wife went to a stake women’s conference where a member of the RS general presidency was the guest speaker. My wife’s notes and her memory show that the talk was about interacting effectively in councils where mostly men are present, so I understand that to show this is recognized as a problem.

    The suggestions were:

    1. Use an agenda and plan what needs to be done. Assign time limits for each topic and respect those limits.

    2. With an agenda that is distributed in advance, much work can be done before the meeting starts. We can think through problems and come up with some prospective solutions beforehand so we don’t spend the entire meeting brainstorming and wringing our hands.

    3. Whenever you present a problem, always also present two or three possible solutions, and be prepared to give your reasons for the order of preference. Everybody would rather work with a problem solver than a problem bringer.

  66. Mark, that’s a really good list. Frankly, it’s one I should try to implement when I go to meetings. (taking notes)

  67. Danithew, you said, “If a LDS woman seeks a high-level of sophisticated training in a significant field, some LDS men resent the competition that LDS women (and minorities) present.”

    I agree – some LDS men might resent this, some non-lds men might. Some LDS men might resent a non-lds female, some non-lds men might as well. I don’t really see how your point responds. Besides, Tatiana’s point was not limited to LDS men and their feelings towards LDS women.

    I agree that there is always going to be the exception. But I don’t think there is anything inherent in an lds man that makes us neandrethals!

    I think that real life experience bears this out. If you look at the BYU law school for example. Cited as an example because it is a high acheiving place that is almost entirely lds. About equal proportion men and women. I don’t think I have ever heard resentment about women at the LS.

    As far as resentment about taking time off to raise a family, I don’t really find your comment applicable. I owuld think that resentment is more found in non-lds, who don’t have the same basis for understanding the importance of the family.

    as to Danithew’s comment regarding time commitments, I would just disagree. I work a lot (the 60-80 hours a week you cited) in a specialized field. My calling? Not one with large responsibilities. I think an analysis of why “high performing people” are called is a topic for another discussion. However, in our ward it applies equally. The RS Pres is a professional with a full time job and 3 kids. The Primary President helps her husband with his work part time in addition to hew own business. Again, however, this has to do with the nature of the church. My comments, and tatiana’s i believe, were directed at the treatment of women colleagues by LDS men.

  68. Taryn(#63) – Thinking about it furthe, I think it worked well for us in the Singles Branch because we had full access to an institute building where we could do it at, and everyone participated in bringng food. (Even me!) I would love to see this meal time utilized in my Ward, but I think there are challenges to consider. For example, My Ward shares a building, so we’d have to schedule around that or find some other place to do it. (Or I need to summon the courage to invite the whole ward over to my little house at one time.)

    thanks for the extra nudge though, I’ll have to talk to my wife and see if we can make an effort of it in our ward.

  69. danithew, mami-

    Sorry for the late addition, but as to women preferring the company of women, my sister once told me she was giving up on having female friends because they are gossiping backstabbers and it disgusted her. Of course, she has many women who are her friends now, so she has changed that opinion, but I think it can illustrate that at least for my sister, she wasn’t tired of women due to a desire to be seen as “masculine”.

    Anyway, I am grateful for the RS/PH split. I think it adds value to the Church.

  70. Jay, I probably qualify things too much in an effort to show I know there are exceptions. And I don’t mean to say I think LDS men in general are neanderthals. Certainly not. But I was surprised at some of the experiences and feedback we received when my wife was in medical school at the University of Utah. The assumptions people made about what happened in the admissions process there were pretty biased and self-serving – and for years we were hearing about these perspectives just about anywhere we went in Mormon circles. My comments were based to a great degree on those experiences and observations.

    It’s probably about time to re-adjust those views a bit anyway – though I’m not completely sure that things have changed all that much in the two years since we left there.

  71. Danithew, I am sorry your wife had that experience. I would think the treatment that she felt was more a view of medical school admitees than it was LDS. A slight joke, but rings true. I know that during the time I spent at ASU that there was a lot of resentment about women and minorities. MOstly from the Non-lds. I am not saying it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think it is a function of LDS beliefs.

    I also think we are talking past one another. Most people have ideas about how things should be done. Usually their own life is the best way! So, they see a woman who is in a very demanding career (I would think 60-80 hours a week would be low for residency), and one that has little space for going off the track, and they wonder. Our priorties are reflected by how we spend our time, and if we spend all our time at work…. This is reasonable. Should they condemn your spouse or you for your choice? Certainly not. Maybe that is why I didn’t see as much at the LS, or my other experiences, as these careers leave room for flexibility. Yep, you can work at home, work flex hours writing briefs etc. So you were focusing on the church as a whole’s acceptance of a high-demanding career. While I am talking about lds men’s treatment of those within the field.

  72. Jay, I think you are right when you say that many conclude that “their own life is the best way!” People become very invested in their choices and they feel challenged by people who make different decisions.

  73. Here’s a nightmare: A two-tier EQ-HP-type division in Relief Society, tied (or not) to the office one’s spouse holds in the priesthood!

  74. Re EQ and HP — my kid brother, whilst attending graduate school with the other Happy Lions, was called to be a high councilor at age 25 or 26. That required him to be made a high priest. At the time, he’d been married just a couple of years and had a small child.

    In their little Happy mixed student ward (marrieds and singles), it didn’t really mean anything, but it was funny when he and his family would visit my parents in our home ward, where he was raised. My father said the HP group leader (who was probably the bishop when my brother was born) seemed uncomfortable that this 20-something (who most people still remembered as the high schooler who went off to school) was now attending the HP group (as was his right).

    I think someone asked him if he would prefer to meet with the elders. I don’t know his reply, but if it had been me, I might have replied as one late-40s elder I know who was invited to meet with the high priests, because he’d “feel more comfortable”: “I’d feel most comfortable meeting with members of my quorum, despite my age.”

  75. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, most of them really strike a chord. I have seen overbearing and harsh realities occurring from the gender gap and the “morral defectiveness” problem. Have to say the women are affected by the morral decline too, although probably to a much lesser degree. In general there seems to be less reliance on the Holy Ghost and more on “do what leadership says”. I’ve lived in 4-5 wards in past 5 years and it’s been a problem in each.
    I have been in a “inner circle so to speak during this time allowing me to observe this. It is sad to observe as it deeply affects others lives especially the sisters.
    In keeping with the suggest a solution idea, I offer the following to men and women of the church: fortify, fortify, fortify ourselves with the Holy Ghost.

  76. *Continuation of previous note —(oops, accidentally pushed add)
    I realize to some, the solution may sound very simplistic. It may be good to remember our leaders have been warning us, “we are in a (recent) moral decline” and to me, the gender difficulties seem to be a result of that as much as anything else, along with the accompanying lack of trust that goes hand in hand with moral decline. I would suggest that this is a good portion of the root of the problem (versus attendance at Relief Society) and note sadly that I have definitely noticed a decrease in willingness of males in the church to correspond with me in matters of politeness or casual friendship over the past 4-5 years. I have tried to make up for this lack, by making a sustained effort to be in closer contact with my brothers and father. (I work in an enviornment where my collegues are almost all women.)

    For me, I enjoy Relief Society, but there does seem to be something missing, especially more so in these days, but perhaps I will share my thoughts on that another day.
    Kara

  77. Relief Society President says:

    Follow the Prophet, he knows the way.

    I love Relief Society even though I have been the president of our ward for 3 and a half years. Women are different from men in case you haven’t noticed and that is good thing. Celebrate our differences, enjoy our sisterhood, serve and love each other.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Taryn’s thought provoking post on RS over at BCC has reminded me of a concept that I’ve held for a while. It is based on the Hisenburg Uncertainty Priciple which I only claim to understand on a hand wavy level. In fact, while doing some reading in preparation for my post I found that my understanding is the “Common incorrect explanation” listed on the rather detailed article found on Wikipedia. Luckily for us we are large enough for this to not be a problem in our everyday lives, as we are not sub-atomic particles. However I have observed that a modified version of this scientific principle does apply on our scale, specifically in Elders Quorum, and I have named it the Elders Quorum Uncertainty Principle. The idea here is that women are unable to accurately observe or participate in Elders Quorum. They can show up, but their mere presence changes EQ into something else. So what is being observed is no longer EQ. This generally occurs when a new member of the Elders Quorum Presidency is set apart. This usually leads to a testimony meeting by the incoming and outgoing presidency, which is a bit alien to EQ anyhow, so I don’t expect that these observers believe that they are observing your typical EQ. [...]

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