Outer Genitalia as a Sign of Inner Righteousness

The title is deliberately provocative, but I believe it is a fair and accurate restatement of Elder Packer’s words in October, 1993 general conference, when he said:

“A man who holds the priesthood does not have an advantage over a woman in qualifying for exaltation. The woman, by her very nature, is also co-creator with God and the primary nurturer of the children. Virtues and attributes upon which perfection and exaltation depend come naturally to a woman…”

Elder Packer debunks the notion that men are spiritually superior to women, and instead asserts the opposite, that women are spiritually superior, simply by virtue of being female.

The position elder Packer outlines is generally accepted in the church, and it seems to make perfect sense to many people who are smarter and more spiritual than I. And since I consider the apostles to be inspired, it is with great trepidation that I put forward the reasons that make the idea of superior female righteousness unacceptable, at least to me.

This idea conflicts with our foundational doctrines of agency and accountability. One of the great things about Mormonism is our belief that we will be held accountable only for those actions within our control. Elder Packer appears to be saying that men lack virtues and attributes necessary for exaltation. How, then, can males be held accountable? And if women naturally possess those attributes, shouldn’t they be held to a higher standard?

I also think we need to expand the way we understand spirituality. Consider the case of the parents of our founding prophet. Most of us would, without hesitation, claim that Lucy Mack Smith was more spiritual than Joseph Smith, Sr., since she was a church-joiner and he was something of a skeptic. But the Restoration would never have gotten off the ground if Joseph, Jr. had listened only to his mother. Righteousness is much more robust that simple piety. Our selective association of stereotypical female behavior with righteousness is troublesome, and so is our willingness to discount stereotypical male behavior. The willingness to sacrifice for others is unquestionably a celestial attribute, but our church rhetoric now celebrates the traditional ways women have exercised this virtue while simultaneously overlooking the traditional contributions of men.

I am skeptical of the way we project observed mortal behaviors onto eternity. It is disconcerting to realize how much of what we do is determined by our brain chemistry, and I’m very hesitant to make our eternal rewards dependent upon a lack or imbalance of some hormone or other. Much of the atrocious behavior of males – aggression, anger, sexual promiscuity – is influenced by the presence of the steroid testosterone, which effects the development of the male brain, beginning in the womb. Post-menopausal women who are experiencing loss of muscle mass and bone density are sometimes prescribed testosterone therapy. These women often report side effects which include a heightened libido and feelings of aggression. Also, much of what we call a maternal nurturing instinct is the result of an ounce or two of the hormone oxytocin. Females usually produce this chemical in greater amounts, particularly during during pregnancy and childbirth, and it is also closely associated with the ability to trust and form bonds with others. Since I reject Orson Pratt’s speculations about “spirit fluid”, I don’t see how we can carry our mortal brain chemistry with us after death, assuming we even wanted to.

So there you have it, gentle readers. I know from my own experience that the natural man is an enemy to God. Does the church require me to believe that the natural woman is God’s best friend?  Will the first step of the final judgment occur when I am asked to check the box next to M or F?

And by the way – Happy Pioneer Day!

Comments

  1. Um, Mark, dont you mean “as a Lack of” instead of “as a Sign of”? Your argument is that some people in the Church, notably BKP, are saying women are naturally prone to being more spiritual and men are less prone, right?

  2. Joshua A. says:

    Personal righteousness is a function of personal choice.

  3. Last Lemming says:

    I don’t see how we can carry our mortal brain chemistry with us after death, assuming we even wanted to.

    Do you imagine that resurrected beings will be androids then? Seriously, that is the implication of not retaining our brain chemistry. Personally, I believe that we will then be able to eliminate the chemical imbalances that plague us, but I don’t believe that the existence of testosterone and oxytocin in different ratios in men and women is an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

  4. Nick Literski says:

    As I’ve said before, ovaries are not the equivalent of a Urim & Thummim. To ascribe enhanced spirituality to a particular gender is not only offensive to men, but also to women, who are thereby assumed to have “natural” spirituality, rather than having worked to develop it.

  5. They say our gender is eternal, so you have to face it Mark, we’ve been better than you for a really really long time.

  6. The term is pudenda, Mark.
    Conkin is a major historian of mainline Protestantism in the early Republic. He argues that the evidence suggests the two Great Awakenings were actually attempts by women and ministers to get the men back in church–the women had never become faithless. Lucy and JSS are fairly typical–one striving to attend Presbyterian meetings, the other staying good and far from organized religion. I am not persuaded by the traditional argument on logical, metaphysical, or spiritual grounds, but there is something striking about this question sociologically.

  7. Eric Russell says:

    I’m not sure I read that statement the same way, Mark. In the same talk Packer says, “All virtues listed in the scriptures—love, joy, peace, faith, godliness, charity—are shared by both men and women.”

    In the context of the rest of the talk, it seems to me that Packer is simply that, while men and women are tasked differently, the priesthood is an external construct that offers those who hold it no advantage in qualifying for exaltation. Rather, exaltation is based on virtues which come naturally to men and women, but must be developed. In other words, the priesthood does not make men righteous. Righteousness comes from within, not from without.

  8. How things change. Isaiah, in the conference edition of the Ensign of his day, wrote:

    “The LORD says, The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.”

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Is this just the spiritual application of gender essentialism?

    Like others, I have an instinctive backlash reaction whenever someone says that women are innately more spiritual than men. At the same time, we’d be fools to say that women and men are identical.

    Mark, is your post about combating the social applications of gender essentialism, or more about celebrating “traditional contributions of men”?

  10. To anyone who believes that women are naturally more righteous then men: I have some women for you to meet.

  11. There has to be some reason for the empirically observed differences between women and men in regards to religious things. I wouldn’t say that women are more righteous than men, but they are, on average, more prone to religious observance and less prone to the most serious sins (murder, adultery) than men. The cause for those differences could be nature or nurture or a combination of both. Either way, I don’t think the sexes’ respective propensities are rooted in personal choice, so we can’t say that they reflect differential righteousness. In the end, I don’t think identifying the cause of these differences is as important as how we deal with them.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Tom, you’re asking for it in that last comment of yours. “Empirically observed”? Come now.

  13. The argument seems to be women are naturally spiritually superior so let’s minimize their influence in church councils. Hmmm. Sure makes the “spiritually superior” part feel like a sop. Reminds me of the old “we need polygamy because there will be more righteous women than men in heaven” argument.
    Why do we work so hard to configure human relations in terms of “them and us” when groupism is fatally flawed? Gender chemistry, about which we still know relatively little and which changes so over a lifetime, is a small part of who we are. I’d best be more concerned about all those saving virtues which don’t seem to come naturally to me than about my supposed natural superiority. Oh, and be sure to tell my gynecologist about another good argument for hormone therapy!

  14. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think that these wonderful gentlemen, the apostles and prophets, have had a very good sample of how wonderful women can be: loving mothers, wives, daughters. I have a fine, loving mother, as well. Amen to ronito: I have known another kind of woman. Anyone who thinks that woman aren’t, by nature, just as carnal, sensual and devlish as men, not to speak of just as aggresive, destructive, self-absorbed, etc. hasn’t had the full range of experience that can be had in the world. Any person’s nature: man, woman, both or neither, needs to be altered by the Holy Ghost, by, as they say, the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, in order to pass.

    I see these kind of statments as a corrective to some ideas commonly held by previous generations about the inherent superiority of men, the ‘weaker vessel’ view of things. I see them as trying to bolster a woman’s view of herself; but, even more, as taking a certain kind of man down a notch in the way he relates to his wife and the women in his life. As those older generations go the way of all the earth, pass on, return to dust, die out, whathaveyou, we’ll hear less and less of this kind of thing, I think.

    ~

  15. Clair, good try, but “daughters of Zion” as used in the scriptures is a symbolic term for the covenant people. Actually, we are all in big trouble.

  16. Molly,

    be sure to tell my gynecologist about another good argument for hormone therapy!

    You mean the part about the increased libido? lol

    Steve,

    My beef is with the underlying essentialism. I honestly don’t object much to assigned gender roles, they even make sense to me in an efficiency/division of labor sort of way. My main objection is to the projection, both forward and backward, of the roles we see right now, and the assumption that one of those roles is better.

    Eric,

    I’m glad you read it that way. I wondered if I was reading this uncharitably, and I’d be happy to be persuaded to take a second look. But I think we need to be clear that, regardless of what elder Packer might have meant, there is absolutely no question that many church members, I would even say the majority, understand it the way I did, and cite this talk and other like it as support for their beliefs.

    By the way, when I said that we often overlook the forms that male unselfishness often take, I had in mind something like what you are doing. Thanks.

  17. Thomas Parkin,

    I see these kind of statements as a corrective to some ideas commonly held by previous generations

    Precisely. And that is why we need to be sure they are not understood as something of eternal and unchanging importance.

  18. Empirical Observer says:

    Why the retort for citing observed phenomena? If observed behavior is showing a trend, then there is some underlying cause of that trend. Oh wait . . . I forgot that most here deal in anecdotes, not majorities.

  19. Like others, I have an instinctive backlash reaction whenever someone says that women are innately more spiritual than men.

    That’s cause you’re a (spiritually impoverished) man. Don’t worry, Steve — it’s nothing a little gender reassignment surgery can’t fix.

  20. I have no issues with Elder Packers statement.

    Rings true to me…

    Was true on my
    mission
    My 8th generation LDS family the trend is apparent
    Adult life

    So my anecdotal exp backs up Packer.

  21. Alas, Kaimi, it would take more than a trip to Scandinavia to imbue me with the natural spiritual instincts of a woman, for, you see, gender is eternal.

  22. Tom (11),
    Assuming that you’re right that women are more likely to engage in religious observance than men (which I have no reason either to disbelieve or believe): the innate superior spirituality is one possible cause. But it’s not the only possible explanation; it could equally plausibly be said that current mainstream religious observance is more appealing to women. Some Christian men’s groups take this tack, and have alternative groups/services for men—Christian masculanism seems to be pretty popular today.

    So yeah, it’s very possible that the fact (if it is one) that women are more religiously observant than men could be caused by something besides women being more spiritual by nature.

    (I realize I’m not addressing your crime arguments; I don’t really have anything to say except that, while better spirituality could be the cause, so could any number of other things.)

  23. Steve (#12),
    What’s your objection, exactly?

    I thought that the notions that women are, on average, more religiously observant than men and that women commit the most serious sins at a lower rate than men were pretty well-established, empirical facts. I said that there must be some reason for those differences. I use “empirically observed” to distinguish between differences that are actually empirically observable and anecdotal perceptions.

  24. Mark,

    Aren’t there rules against titling a post “Outer Genitalia” and then beginning a comment with, “my beef is . . .”? Have a little decency, man!

  25. Sam B. (#21),
    I’m not claiming that the differences must be due to differences in innate spirituality. In fact, I said this: “The cause for those differences could be nature or nurture or a combination of both”; and I didn’t take a position on the cause.

    In short, I agree with your #21 entirely, you’re just addressing it to the wrong guy.

  26. One time, I was in an argument with my girlfriend. She told me that women are naturally more spiritual. I told her that men used the same argument, except that it was men who were more spiritual, to bar women from voting. We stopped dating shortly after that conversation.

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Tom, I guess I just don’t agree that they are well-observed empirical facts. I have nothing but anecdotal data and my own experiences — do you have otherwise?

  28. Tom,
    Sorry, I didn’t read you carefully. I’m still with Steve, though: I’m not aware of any empirical facts demonstrating that women are more religiously observant than men, etc.

  29. I completely disagree with the third paragraph of this post and onward. Just because someone may be better than someone else at someone naturally…it doesn’t take away your accountability because we are not compared to each other at judgement day. For example…lets say I was given a gift of music. I’m not compared to let’s say John Lennon on judgement day, the only person I’m compared to is myself and the beginning talents and opportunities I was given. I think its rediculous to compare either JSS or Lucy Mack to illustrate your points…we don’t know the complete thoughts and actions of each

  30. Steve, Sam B.,
    Ten minutes on Google. There are a lot of articles that look to explain why women are more religious than men. The conversation among scholars seems to be about the reasons for the difference, not about whether there really is a difference. It’s possible that there is controversy about the claim that I’m not aware of because it’s not my field, but I don’t see any controversy in my quick Googling.

    A few sources:
    From an Abstract

    Scholars of religion have long known that women are more religious than men, but they disagree about the reasons underlying this difference.

    From a report of a Gallup poll:

    A recent Gallup Poll suggests that American women cherish their faith more and are more active in their congregations than men. The poll of about 1,000 American adults conducted last month found that 69 percent of women think religion is a very important part of their lives while only 53 percent of men feel the same. And 48 percent of women polled said they had attended worship services at least once in the past week, compared with 37 percent of men.

    From a report of a paper published by a University of Washington sociologist:

    To examine rates of religiosity, Stark used the World Values Surveys, which collected data in 57 nations. The world’s major faiths were included and the data came from such countries as the United States, most European states, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, China, India, South Africa and Turkey. In all 57 countries, a higher percentage of women than men said they were religious.

    “The gender differences hold up everywhere, even in religions that are very male centered, such as Orthodox Judaism,” said Stark. “This is not some fragile finding, and the fact that it shows up in so many cultures says something.”

    He added that these rates of religiousness are not just a phenomenon of our time. “It is true of all ages. It was there in ancient Greece, it was there in the Roman Empire when the early Christians were mostly women and it was there in medieval Europe.”

  31. Spirituality is not a function of piety and outwards observances. That is one aspect. There are a variety of religious experiences and forms of worship. Excellent book, btw by William James.

    Merely because someone enjoys church services while another dislikes organized religion says little about their spirituality and more about their tastes. Humans experience the divine in so many different ways; from the dancing dervishes of the Suffi’s, to meditation, or ascetism, or any other manner in which we seek the beyond. Even mediums and wiccans seek spirituality just not in the manner most would approve. Then there are those who prefer to sit in a congregation listening to other peoples beliefs. There are those who prefer to read, pray and search on their own.

    Who is more spiritual? I do not know, but gender equating with spirituality? come on. Maybe with preconceived notions about what spirituality is or is not.

  32. Kristine says:

    Tom, outwardly observable religiosity is not the same as righteousness or spirituality, as Jesus was frequently at pains to point out.

  33. Kristine says:

    Oh, and Steve, Tom’s right on this one–there’s LOTS of sociological data to back up the assertion that women are more religiously observant than men. If you take away the gender-essentialist claims about natural spiritual sensitivity among women, there’s actually a decent argument* to be made that a hierarchical structure relying on men is a good way to get them to invest in the organization. And, in fact, churches that ordain women have often seen some drop in participation by men.

    *it’s not an argument I like, and I devoutly hope that we can do better as Christians, Mormons, and humans than this, but the empirical evidence is daunting.

  34. Kristine,
    I’m fully aware of that. In fact, I said pretty much that in my #11.

  35. I tried to make a comment like #32 but it was rejected.

    My anecdotal exp and research into the gender demographics of religion lines up nicely with #32.

    From a personal level my 8 generation LDS family is right in line. The women have always been active and the men have been off and on with a long 4 generation period of male inactivity from the 1880’s to the 1960’s. These female ancestors of mine have offered up a lot of prayers for their menfolk over the years.

  36. Tom,
    Okay, thanks; I take your point that there is empirical evidence that women are more religiously observant than men. I wasn’t aware of them before, but can’t (and don’t have any desire to) argue with your ten minutes on Google.

  37. When you look at founding societies made up of mostly men ie. Jamestown, frontier outposts, they are spoken of as very wild and untamed places, but when women are finally brought in, the women exert a civilized influence. I don’t like to think of women as being more spiritual -seems to let the men off the hook, can’t expect as much of them. There are always exceptions, but by and large, a society of men is generally more violent and lawless than a society of women.

  38. Dan Ellsworth says:

    Are women more religiously observant, or are there other things, such as the social interaction and relationships women derive from Church attendance, that do not appeal as strongly to men? I know we’re swimming in anecdotes when it comes to this issue, but from my experience, the women I know tend to be more consensus-oriented than the men I know, and my guess is women derive more enjoyment from their interactions with people at Church than men do; church may serve a support-group and social function that women respond to more strongly than men, which can be mistaken for religious devotion.

    I’ll run and hide now.

  39. Adam Greenwood says:

    The title is deliberately provocative, but I believe it is a fair and accurate restatement of Elder Packer’s words

    I don’t. I have a hard time seeing that you do. People who think that gender matters usually don’t just think that gender is a question of genitalia.

    The comments have been surprisingly good, considering the title.

  40. Adam Greenwood says:

    Spirituality is not a function of outward observances

    Non-traditional forms of spirituality are even more skewed towards women than organized religion is.

  41. My main objection is to the projection, both forward and backward, of the roles we see right now, and the assumption that one of those roles is better.

    the irony of this statement is that most people who bristle at this suggestion that “women are more spiritual” also often are the ones who want to suggest that priesthood for men suggests that men are better and women will be eternally less than men.

    i also don’t see his statement as contradicting the concept of agency and accountability at all.

  42. Mark IV says:

    Adam G.:

    I don’t. I have a hard time seeing that you do.

    I contend that elder Packer meant to say that women, simply because they are women, are more righteous than men. You disagree. Could you please explain to me what you think he meant?

    People who think that gender matters usually don’t just think that gender is a question of genitalia.

    I’ve read this several times now, and it still isn’t clear to me what you mean. For the record, I think gender matters, it just isn’t clear to me that we have a very good grasp on how it matters.

  43. Neal Peters says:

    While I agree that women are inherently superior in the realm of personal spirituality, I fear that Packer’s statement is no more than a feeble attempt to innocuously complement women in an effort to offset his public image as an outspoken anti-feminist. At BYU’s 2006 Women’s Conference, Packer gave the keynote speech, and in his speech he had the audacity to continue to preach things like, “Women should absolutely stay in the home.” While Mark’s main article seems to extrapolate some interesting ideas based on the quoted Packer statement, when considering Packer’s political stance, and what I feel is Packer’s ultimate aim in making such statements, these extrapolations don’t really make any worthwhile sense.

  44. Julie M. Smith says:

    I know I’m supposed to be this anti-authoritarian feminist and all, but I sure do cringe when I see Church leaders referred to by only their last names.

    Neal, I’d like to see that President Packer quote–I seriously doubt that “Women should absolutely stay in the home.” is an accurate, contextual quotation.

    In any case, it shouldn’t surprise us that (most) women would find current worship patterns more meaningful than (most) men do–we emphasize feelings, sharing, sharing of feelings, personal experience, vulnerability, and all sorts of other decidedly unmasculine things. It is a small miracle that any man ever bears his testimony, given the milieu. But none of these things has to do with the inherent characteristics of men or women.

  45. Steve Evans says:

    Julie, you’re an anti-authoritarian feminist??

  46. Neal Peters says:

    You lost me Julie. I’m not sure what you mean in the last three sentences of your last post. Please explain. I want to understand.

    If you want to see Packer’s previously referenced talk in its complete form, then you’ll have to go download the PDF here:

    http://ce.byu.edu/cw/womensconference/archive/transcripts.cfm#2006

    If you can’t wait to download the PDF, and would like an anti-feminist preview, then here’s a direct quote, “There is another dangerous trend as mothers, sometimes beyond their control, are being drawn out of the home. What could a mother possibly bring into the home that can equal her being at home with the children while they grow and mature?”

    I see this kind of rhetoric as extremely dangerous. It’s this kind of social expectation, i.e. that women should stay in the home, that has laid the foundation for the current social anxiety crisis currently found among members of the church. What Packer, among others, has carefully chosen to ignore, is the fact that throughout history, especially in the short history of the United States, women have never been able to categorically stay in the home. For many, it’s just not financially feasible.

    And now, because a revised history of a woman’s expected role in the home has been handed down from the pulpit for generations, thousands of women in the church are terribly depressed. In my own ward, there is more than a handful of seriously depressed women. I think it’s irresponsible to ignore that ultra-conservative traditional values, especially those that emphasize that a woman’s ultimate place is in the home, is partly responsible for their depression.

    I say this carefully, because I by no means want to say that a woman’s choice to stay in the home is incorrect or not respectable. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What women do should be based on their dreams, desires, and wants, not Packer’s own fantasy social order.

  47. Mark IV says:

    Neal,

    I choose not to address your views on the causes of depression among LDS women at this time.

    However, as the presiding patriarch of this thread, I will preside in the manner the church prescribes. That is to say, I will defer to a wise woman. With Julie, I ask that you please use a title when referring to current church leaders, at least in the first reference.

  48. The first reference was in the main post, and a proximate reference was in the immediately preceding post, both (the horror!) incorrectly capitalized.

  49. Julie M. Smith says:

    Neal, let me try to explain a little better: if you made a list of behaviors common in LDS Sunday services and then compared them to a list of gender stereo-typed behavior, the list would be at least 90% female, even without reference to the males wandering the halls with crying babies. My point is that church is a much more comfortable place for women than for men (in general). So we need not attribute differences in religious participation rates to inherent differences in gender.

  50. Neal Peters says:

    Alrignt alright alright…I hereby honorably swear to only address Packer as President Packer.

    but please, just call me Neal.

    I must go now…..all these titles are making me depressed.

  51. Well, shoot. What can I say, Bill? Sharp eyes.

    My point is that I think church leaders deserve our respect, even if we disagree with them.

  52. I’m going to stay out of much of this, but a couple of things:

    1) I also don’t read the quotes in the original post the same way Mark did. I don’t like the universality of the last sentence, but I also think that carrying and delivering and nurturing a child provide opportunities to strengthen uplifting characteristics in ways that simply aren’t available to men. Of course, there are some real female SOBs (as evidenced by the last word in that acronym), but I read the quote as dealing with the result of being a mother more than the result of being a woman. That’s one reason I don’t like the universality of the statement; it eliminates childless women from the description – which carries all kinds of negative connotations.

    2) My biggest concern about issues of universality deal with the effect of that application on women who struggle to feel spiritual – who read comments saying that they “should” be more spiritual than men and who feel incredible guilt for not meeting that standard, even if others might think they do.

    When we lived in Boston, my wife admired a woman in our ward and wished she was more like that sister. She felt a degree of guilt because of that perceived difference in spirituality. We found out a few months later that this sister felt the exact same way about my wife – a bit guilty because my wife seemed more spiritual. I have never forgotten that experience, and it has made me very careful about what I say in regards to these discussions.

    IMO, this is one case where men need to be told to quit being so egotistical simply because they’ve been allowed to administer the ordinances of the Priesthood, but it shouldn’t be done is such a way that many women feel bad as a result.

  53. Is this BCC or what? I’m amazed we’re talking about titles. In all my time of off and on again lurking on this site I didn’t expect this.

    I’d like to lodge an official complaint. When I want to waste my lunchtime eating onigiri and reading the bloggernacle this is not what I am coming here for.

    ????

  54. Neal Peters says:

    I agree Aaron.

    And please, just call me Neal, no titles are necessary.

  55. Julie,

    I don’t really understand 48 any more than 43. Is your point that the differences between the sexes in observable enthusiasm and participation in social religious expression are the result of conditioned behavior? If so, what are the inherent differences in gender, and if there are any, why again wouldn’t it be reasonable to attribute some causal factor to them? Because I don’t see how your last sentence follows from what came immediately before.

  56. Peters and E. (assuming that is your real last name),

    Gents, sorry, you can’t lodge an official complaint. Only unofficial ones. Your concerns have been duly and unofficially noted.

    Bill,

    Here’s what I think Julie meant to say:

    My point is that church is a much more comfortable place for women than for men (in general). Therefore, it is incorrect to assume that greater female participation at church is an indication of greater female spirituality.

  57. Neal, FWIW, I was not concerned by your lack of using a title nearly as much as I was about how the general tenor of your comment made that lack of title appear. By mis-characterizing the counsel to women relative to child rearing (financial consideration has been a disclaimer in EVERY recent statement of which I am aware, but you say it is ignored), by blaming the Church for “rhetoric” that is “dangerous” that “has laid the foundation for the current social anxiety crisis currently found among members of the church,” (without any proof of this charge), – then using phrases like “carefully chosen to ignore,” “ultra-conservative traditional values” (compared to modern evangelicals or Muslims?), and “fantasy social order”.

    I also noticed the lack of a title – NOT because of the lack of a title, but because of what your comment seemed to say about your respect for the man and his title. It’s hard to read any respect whatsoever into the comment itself.

  58. OK, something more like 37 or 21. I couldn’t quite get that out of it.

  59. Wow, Mark, you really did it! Forgive me for doubting you, but I never thought I’d actually see a post of this title appear.

    I vividly remember Elder Packer’s talk because I and several other members of my family, including my mother (I think both Lynnette and Kiskilili were there, but Ziff was on his mission) sat in those tiny pioneer-sized benches in the Tabernacle on a sweltering October afternoon and heard every word in person.

    Afterward we all looked at each other uncomfortably. No one knew quite what to say on the ride home.

    More to the point, one of my biggest objection to being cast as a member of the innately more spiritual gender is that it completely obliviates my spiritual struggles and my personal sacrifices. When I gave up my own education to follow my husband halfway across the country and put him through school, no one said a word acknowledging how hard that was for me because of course it was “natural” for me, as a woman, to do so (and the assumption being that I had no serious interests of my own, I’d spent my life piddling around waiting for someone to marry me, so what was there to sacrifice, really?) But you can bet your patooty that if my husband had made the same sacrifice, people would have fallen all over him to comment on his selflessness and devotion. Discussions of parenting evidence this problem tenfold. A mother frowns at her kid wrong or her kid runs off at the store while under her care and the criticism pours in. If the house is messy or the child misbehaves, who’s blamed? A father “babysits” once a week, letting the kids run around naked and trash the house while he watches a game on TV, and he’s covered in laurels.

    The point about the alleged “naturalness” of women’s allegedly greater spirituality is also very well taken. I’ve long thought that if it’s really so natural for me to be so spiritual (which it isn’t, but suspending that obvious reality for the moment)–then there’s no point in praising me for it. We don’t praise or blame people for what’s truly natural. We don’t praise anyone for going through puberty, or for breathing. But I suspect that’s part of what’s at work here: if we make women’s spirituality “natural” then we can completely elide all of the backbreaking labor that goes into women’s work. If we make women the “natural” caretakers, men can praise them to the skies for doing all kinds of work that men don’t want to do (Oh, no dear! Can’t change diapers. Doesn’t come naturally to me. But your divinely special nose doesn’t even smell the poop.)

    Bleah to the bleah.

  60. Neal Peters says:

    Ray,

    To ignore the social plight of women in our church is hardly a responsible stance to take. All a woman has to do is say their prayers with regularity, read the scriptures, stay home and rear the kids while the husband is out “working,” and they’ll be happy as a lark, right Ray? I’m sure every ward has a handful of terribly depressed women and men, a situation which is greatly exacerbated by the overly Puritanical social expectations taught in church. I know my ward is full of them, and it’s people that you would never expect. If you want proof Ray, then go ask your local LDS social services office how many people show up when they do a fireside on depression. Even when these firesides are held at large stake centers, they end up turning people away. People come out in droves.

  61. Neal Peters says:

    Ray,

    I sincerely would like a reference to any documented church counsel concerning women staying in the home that was caveated by a financial excuse. I have looked for this for some time, and have found none. You assert that claims made indicating that women should stay in the home are always annotated by a financial disclaimer. Please share.
    thanks
    -neal

  62. A few easy ones, since I am going to bed very shortly. There are many more.

    “I am aware that many of you often find yourselves in circumstances that are not always ideal. I know this because I have talked with many of you who, because of necessity, must work and leave your children with others.” (Ensign; November, 1991; The Honored Place of Woman; Ezra Taft Benson)

    “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World”)

    “Although Church leaders have counseled mothers of young children to avoid working outside the home whenever possible, they have also urged young women to seek education and prepare for careers and meaningful involvement in society.” (Ensign; June, 1992; “Celebrating Womanhood”; Marie K. Hafen)

    “What these statistics boil down to is that young women who believe they will always have a husband who will fully support them, thereby making it unnecessary for them to work outside the home, are living in a dream world. Husbands may die, or they may be disabled by accidents or illness. Children grow up, missionaries need financial support, and most mothers live healthy, vigorous lives for many years after their children leave home.” (ibid)

  63. Neal, don’t assume I am ignorant of depression among our members. I don’t want to get into a calling-bash, but I am well acquainted with LDS Social Services and the existence of depression within our congregations. Well aware. Your first two sentences in #59 are HIGHLY offensive – especially directed at someone who has never once in his life intimated such sentiments and has spent countless hours deeply involved in the lives of people like those you describe.

    You blamed the Church for causing a “current social anxiety crisis”. I asked for proof of that charge. Let me state it differently: I want proof that the rate of depression is higher among current LDS women than among previous generations, that it is at a crisis level (however you choose to define that) and that the level is significantly higher than among non-LDS, religiously devout women. All of those are implied in your charge.

  64. I also want proof that the level of depression among our sisters is caused primarily by the Church, not by its men who do not follow its counsel to treat their wives as equal partners.

  65. Joshua A. says:

    I guess that the problem that I have with the idea of women possibly being innately more spiritual than men is that it’s neither here nor there. Even if true, it’s an entirely useless observation and I’m inclined to agree that it’s just a kind of a rhetorical affirmative action. Why useless? First, because salvation is an individual enterprise (and maybe you could make a case for the family). My opportunity for exaltation (can I say that here?) is not based on my gender; even less is it related to the average spirituality of the rest of the men in the world. It is based only on my individual choice. Second, how can you measure the spirituality of one person over another? Is the person who speaks in testimony meeting more spiritual than the one who doesn’t? Is the bishop the most spiritual person in the ward? The relief society president? Is Gordon Hinckley the most spiritual person in the LDS church? Not necessarily, according to my humble understandings.
    There are other points to make on this, but I’ve got stuff to do…

  66. Steve Evans says:

    Aaron E. (#52), on behalf of BCC I apologize for intimating that we would use honorific titles with respect to the Brethren. I know that you expect more (read: less) from BCC.

    Think of it this way, Neal: it’s a part of knowing and approaching your audience. If you want to be a force for positive change, you’re more likely to be effective if you can properly motivate others. You will me more likely to be understood and appreciated by the likes of Julie, Ray, etc. by using some of the language and forms typically accepted by the community, including honorific titles where applicable. Rocket science!

  67. Neal Peters says:

    Ray,
    You ask if contemporary LDS women have a uniquely higher rate of depression. In response, I think it’s interesting to note that Utah women have the highest rate of prozac use per capita of any state in the union.

    Also, in post # 63 you say, “I also want proof that the level of depression among our sisters is caused primarily by the Church, not by its men who do not follow its counsel to treat their wives as equal partners.”

    Well…if I must remind you, the church, and all of its components, including the men (both members and leaders), should all be considered as “the church.” The church wouldn’t exist without its members, and the leaders wouldn’t be leaders without people to lead. You seem to claim that “the church” and the men in the church are different things. As far as women go, and how the church influences their lives, be it via official counsel or by their member husbands, is all the same.

  68. Mark IV says:

    Neal,

    Often we trade in speculation that is not actually grounded in facts. I think that is what you are doing, albeit innocently, with your claims about increased levels of depression among Mormon women. You can find some actual research here.

    An excerpt:

    The clear and straightforward facts presented in this table show that it is wrong to conclude that Utah women are more depressed than other women based on either sales of Prosac or on sales of all other anti-depressants.

    The more interesting questions may actually be why this rumor was started and what accounts for its perpetuation. A few well-known bits of information may shed some light. First, it is well established that women report more depression than men in almost all cultures. Those living in Utah and unaware of this information are likely to look around and notice that there are a lot more women than men reporting and displaying the symptoms of depression.

  69. Neal Peters says:

    Mark,

    Your site doesn’t refute the fact that Utah leads in sales of Prozac per capita.

    Also, and I hate to be the one to break this to you, but most female Utah residents are Mormon.

    It seems that some of us take offense to realize that a lot of female members in the church are depressed. Some worry that this is a twisted fact created to show that the church is not true, or something like that.

    When, in reality, the fact that many women in our church are depressed is nothing we should be ashamed of, and it is certainly something that should be dealt with in a progressive manner.

  70. Neal,
    I don’t think Mark was trying to refute your assertion of Prozac-per-capita numbers. He’s just suggesting that such data, by itself, doesn’t lead to any further conclusions, such as a higher level of depression among Mormon women. (FWIW, although I couldn’t find the previous discussions, it has been suggested that non-Mormons can self-medicate through alchohol and/or other drugs. I don’t know that it’s been suggested, but maybe Utah’s geography is particularly depressing, so, irrespective of who the majority was, Utah would lead in per-capita Prozac consumption.)

    You seam to argue, in your #68, that, if a woman is Mormon, then everything affecting her is tied into her Mormonness and, ipso facto, if she’s depressed, it must be the religion. If that is what you are arguing, you’re brushing a tad large for my taste.

  71. Mark IV says:

    Neal,

    I’m wondering if we are looking at the same table of data? The one I’m looking at shows that about one percent of prozac and all other depressants sold in the U.S. is sold in Utah, and that Utah accounts for about one percent of the U.S. population. So, the use of antidepressants, including specifically prozac, does not occur more frequently than elsewhere in the U.S. Those numbers come directly from the manufacturers.

    I’ve tried to verify your “fact” that Utah leads in sales of prozac per capita. A few minutes of googling came up with the identical assertion on several anti sites that Eli-Lilly dispenses 62% more prozac in Utah than anywhere else. Based on the table of data cited in comment # 68, I do not hesitate to call that assertion a lie.

    I’m not offended or surprised to hear that many LDS women and some men struggle with depression. I wish it were not so, but I guess that is part of the cost of living in a fallen world. I share your desire to deal with it in any effective way. I’m also willing to consider the idea that there is something about the Mormon way of life that contributes to depressive episodes. Given that post-partum depression is terrifyingly real, and given that LDS women have more babies than the population at large, it isn’t hard to see where we might have some unique struggles. But I think it is pretty simplistic of you to just blame Elder Packer for it all.

  72. I would add that in my recent women’s studies class and psychology of gender class we studied the phenomenon of women being more prone to depression than men. The research seems to indicate (I have a lot of it as I wrote a long research paper on the topic so if you really want the sources let me know) that in fact, women report being depressed more often than men but it’s never been absolutely proven that they actually experience more depression than men.

    Men are loathe to go to a therapist or a doctor with a complaint of “depression”, women have little problem doing so. Men are more likely to have substance abuse issues, whic is often how they deal with their emotional disturbances. The extrapolation of that fact to Utah women would seem likely as well. As stated above, there is less alcoholic and recreational drug use in the mormon culture and ttherefore, women would be more likely to turn to legal drugs rather than those other substances.

    All the research in my gender class indicates that a women staying at home with her children is no more likely than a woman who works out of the home to be depressed as long as both women were able to make the CHOICE to work. Choice is key. A woman who feels she has no choice but to work in a job she doesn’t particularly like is more likley to be depressed. A woman who feels she has no choice but to stay home is more likely to feel depressed. A woman who can freely choose either is less likely to be depressed. Some studies indicate working women are more prone to emotional disturbance because there is good reaserch which shows that women still do the bulk of the work inside the home, even when the work outside the home. This is certainly not true in all cases, but it’s still true in the majority.

  73. Sorry for the typos above, my screen is cracked on my laptop and I can’t see everything as I type.

  74. Sleep it off and you’ll see better in the morning.

  75. bandanamom,

    Thanks for your comment. FWIW, I didn’t spot a single typo.

    Hermano Blanco: ??????

  76. Mark IV (and bandanamom),

    I’ve seen the effects of legal drugs. They include, but are not limited to, not seeing everything as one types.

    Just some simple concern on my part after reading bandanamom’s speculation that Mormon women might “be more likely to turn to legal drugs rather than those other substances” …

    Just cause it’s OTC don’t mean you can’t Just Say No.

    Lame, I know, but there you have it.

  77. Neal Peters says:

    Mark,

    Despite the carefully obscured facts by the BYU study, Utah does have the highest Prozac use per capita. If you don’t believe me, then check out Troy Goodman’s article in the Salt Lake Tribune. Due to the relatively low human population of Utah when compared to other states, the low percentages of Utah Prozac sales compared to more populated states make it seem like hardly anyone in Utah is poppin’ Prozac. When all the data is looked at as a whole, Utah does lead the pack in Prozac sales.

    When BYU publishes stuff like this, all it does is push the whole depression issue back in the closet. This is nothing we should be ashamed of. If you don’t think BYU ever has a slanted agenda, then go ask Steven Jones or Jeffrey Nielsen, both members in good standing who were fired by BYU because they had slightly alternative political views.

  78. “As far as women go, and how the church influences their lives, be it via official counsel or by their member husbands, is all the same.”

    That is absurdly reductionistic (especially as regarding our church). Neal, please say something nice about the church soon or I may think you are a troll.

  79. Steve Evans says:

    “Due to the relatively low human population of Utah when compared to other states, the low percentages…”

    yes, but the relatively high troll population of Utah counterbalances this effect.

  80. Efficacy of legal drugs is proven. Why would anyone need to say no? When symptoms of depression are present various prescription drugs can go a long way towards aiding a person towards full health again. Long term usage is not required. Short term usage is preferred with a combination of therapy.

    Men use these drugs less but they also go to therapy less often. It doesn’t mean mental health issues don’t exist for men.

    Often, in our church, members seem to think that admitting there are problems with depression or other mental health issues is to admit that one is not spiritual enough or living the proper way. The idea seems to be that the more spiritual or righteous one is the less likely they are to experience depression. I think this is quite a dangerous idea. Probably more dangerous than legal drugs.

  81. Neal Peters says:

    Okay,

    Listen, I believe the church is true. I was recently the ward mission leader in my home ward, I was married in the temple, I served a mission, I even (gasp) have a B.A. from BYU, and I still go to church every week.

    A close associate of mine is heavily involved in giving therapy to those suffering mental health issues at LDS social services. Certain mental ailments make me wonder about the sources of these ailments.

    I’m not trying to berate the church as a whole or make any other claims other than this: It seems that certain traditional values, and how they are reaffirmed in our religious culture, are partly responsible for the contemporary depression felt by a portion of the LDS population.

  82. Fair enough, Neal (although you still haven’t said anything nice about the church). I agree that certain ideas in some areas of contemporary church culture could contribute (say that five times fast) to depression. However, I doubt very much that the Church is ever the sole causal agent for depression and I also doubt very much that it contributes to depression at a greater rate than, say, the Catholics, the Buddhists, or the Seventh-day Adventists. But in that I could be wrong, having no data for such an assertion.

  83. bandanamom,

    Just Say No to my lame attempts at humor. People start talking about drugs, then start complaining about not being to read their own monitors, and I start looking for a joke in there somewhere. It’s pathetic, really, just ignore me.

    yes, but the relatively high troll population of Utah counterbalances this effect.

    who said we were from Utah? Give that fine state a break, will ya’?

  84. Steve Evans says:

    CB, I wasn’t talking about you! You’re a pillar of the community.

  85. …not being able to read …

    Sheesh.

  86. #84: Great, now I’m all verklempt, carry on …

  87. cj douglass says:

    yes, but the relatively high troll population of Utah counterbalances this effect.

    Steve,
    One more outburst from you and your banned.

  88. Doubtful says:

    Could someone help me with the math in the claim that women commit adultery less than men … I somehow doubt that Steve has the statistics to back that up without any hairsplitting.

  89. Steve Evans says:

    Doubtful, why would I want to back that up? If anything, women are adulterous MORE than men!

  90. Doubtful says:

    Ah Steve, you make me laugh! Thank you – you made my day!

  91. I lurk here every once in a while but I don’t like to come to mormon blogs very often because to often they are like this. I think in many ways they are really “much ado about nothing”. People really seem to get upset over stupid things and often miss the point that is being said. It’s also very important not to assume that just because something a General Authority says goes against something we internally hold true, it means that the General Authority is wrong.

    I have no problem with the saying that women are innately more spiritual then men. I don’t know why men should feel threatened by this unless they feel competitive with women. When I was in high school I used to be threatened by these kinds of things but then I grew out of it. If men are not innately spiritual then I will try to be the exception I would tell myself.

    I have to say that my wife’s spirituality is beyond my own and has helped me in many ways.
    As far as depression and women I would have to say that it has more to do with the culture in the lds community and is not a result of teachings of the leaders. In fact I would say it is in spite of the teachings of our leaders. As much of the depression I believe has to do with internal comparisons sisters make comparing themselves to each other which is against the teachings of the gospel. In a sense its it seems to be Satan taking advantage of the Sisters desire to be better by turning it into something that can cause depression.

    I still don’t understand how people find the energy to get upset over such things (coming back to the original topic of discussion) I can assure you that if you gave as many published talks as President Packer then people would find ample things to get upset about. It would be a waste of time to pick out such things and brood over them, but it would help a lot to understand your general message.

    Remember Charity is not easily provoked.

  92. Renato Marini says:

    Are women more spiritual that men? I think it all depends on what you mean by “spiritual”. Man is more “mind-oriented” and woman is more “heart-oriented” generally speaking. True balance requires to a man to learn from a woman, and to a woman to learn from a man. This is the genius of male-female relationship.
    To me spirituality is not a talent but a skill to develop. I don’t think BKP said women are closer to God than men but only that they (women) posses natural inclinations to loving and giving, which are two essential elements of spirituality.

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