Seeking for Mormon Feminism – Part I

Bloggernacle voices (and I’m one of them) often point out that church structurally disadvantages women in a number of important ways. Women are denied the formal leadership structure of the Priesthood; limited in other official roles; subjected to a variety of messages. Indeed, an outside observer might think, from reading bloggernacle posts alone, that women would be fleeing in droves from this anti-feminist church, leaving behind only a foul-smelling, unshaven, male-populated shell of an organization.

They would be wrong. In fact, women seem to consistently be the most active church members. This is perhaps the trickiest conceptual problem for the Mormon feminist: Explaining the appeal of this anti-feminist church to so many actual women. If the church is such a bad place for women — and conversely, such an unfairly good place for men — then why are women so much more likely to attend church?

*

A few interesting suggestions have been made in the bloggernacle. For instance, Ziff at ZDs has suggested that the church doesn’t actually hold on to women so well — that actually, women are more religious than men in general, and that the LDS church isn’t particularly unique in holding on to women.

This explanation may or may not be enough. It suggests, in essence, that women may be relatively less active in the particularly patriarchal LDS church, as compared to their higher activity in other (also generally patriarchal) churches. So compared to the background phenomenon of female religiosity, LDS women aren’t all that unique. (And may in fact be less religious than their non-Mormon counterparts.) That begs the question though — how do we explain the background phenomenon of female religiosity in general?

There are potential explanations. For instance, one might accept any of a number of gender essentialist premises about womens’ greater natural spirituality — the “women are naturally more spiritual” camp. However, for at least some of us, those premises are themselves troubling. Is there another possibility?

One could also suggest that Mormon women have been collectively brainwashed, and have thus internalized anti-feminist values — false consciousness — even though those values are harmful to them. Again, this explanation is troubling. It is extremely paternalistic (maternalistic?) — positing that outsiders know what’s good for Mormon women, more than Mormon women themselves do. Do we really want to give such a low value to the opinions of Mormon women themselves?

Others suggest that self-selection plays a role. For instance, Kiskiliili has observed that,

A significant number of unhappy people have left. Those who stay represent a disproportionate sample of those who find peace with the institution. Mormon women are, after all, a self-selected group of people whose beliefs are at least somewhat compatible with Church teachings.

This is also undoubtedly true. And yet, it doesn’t really explain the greater participation by women, does it? If the unhappy women have left — and some of them certainly have — then a ratio of greater womens’ participation can only be maintained if the church is even less welcoming to men. That is, if it’s driving away, say, 30 men for every 20 women.

Why on earth would that happen?

*

Notice also, the dog that isn’t barking.

Women’s status in the church is sometimes compared to the status of Blacks, prior to 1978. (I’ve probably made that comparison myself.) Like pre-OD2 Blacks, women in the church are barred from the priesthood as well as many formal leadership roles.

Yet the two groups have responded in extremely different ways.

Blacks, prior to 1978, made up a vanishingly small segment of church members. Even today, 30 years since the Priesthood ban was lifted, Blacks are a very small percent of church membership. Blacks continue to struggle with acceptance in the community (see, e.g., Jessie Embry’s Black Saints in a White Church).

That is, we can say that Blacks have historically been marginalized in the church community. And in fact, the numbers bear out what we would expect if the group were excluded.

Why not women?

*

This is one of the most difficult questions for the Mormon feminist, I think. It’s one that’s perplexed me for a while. I’ve had a number of conversations with smart people — many of them Mormon, feminist, or both — and there’s no consensus that I can see. (Except for perhaps “the troglodytes can’t be right, can they?”) I can’t claim to have a perfect answer, but there are a few possibilities. I’ll discuss one major possibility in this post, and discuss some other factors in a follow up post.

One plausible explanation comes from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s _Good Wives_. Ulrich notes that women in pre-revolution New England were also highly religious, also in religions which denied them full participation. Ulrich notes: “Most congregations were predominantly female, though women were denied full participation in the establishment or the governance of religion.” (Good Wives, 215).

And why were these women active in church? Ulrich continues (216):

Still, church membership was one of the few public distinctions available to women. Men could be fence-viewers, deacons, constables, captains, hog reeves, selectmen, clerks, magistrates, tithingmen, or sealers of leather. Women could be members of a gathered church. In a society in which church membership had to be earned, this was no small distinction. Furthermore, church membership was not contingent upon any other social role. A woman could be admitted to the Table of the Lord regardless of the status, economic position, or religious proclivities of her husband.

Ulrich sets out some other interesting analysis, but let’s focus on this one, for a moment. It’s a fascinating idea: Women were active in churches because, even though churches may have given women only limited participation, nevertheless this was still a greater degree of participation than was otherwise available. Church allowed women real avenues for social position and advancement, independent of their status in other fields which were often entirely closed to women.

So, churches may have been patriarchal, but society at large was even more patriarchal — and given that backdrop, church participation in fact became a net gain for women, a natural movement into an arena where they enjoyed more influence than was otherwise available.

*

Does the same hold true today? (And, could it explain the appeal of the church for Mormon women?)

In some ways, it seems clear that underlying societal sexism continues. Yes, the LDS church is patriarchal and grants limited participation to women — but then, society at large is also still rather patriarchal. Yes, there has never been a female LDS prophet . . . but then, there has never been a female U.S. president. Men outnumber women as general conference speakers . . . by roughly the same proportion that men outnumber women in the Senate.

So maybe the church isn’t any worse on gender issues than the rest of the world. Maybe it’s even a little bit better. And if that’s the case, it could make sense that women remain attached to the community, even if it’s one that does not grant full participation. The church could be _relatively_ woman-friendly, even if it’s not _absolutely_ woman-friendly.

(And if that’s one of the main underlying factors — how will it play out, going forward? Will women’s church attendance continue, if sexism in general wanes in society at large?)

Comments

  1. Kaimi,

    One quick point is that I find that in practice and rhetoric I get a soft anti- adult male feel from the church.

    1. Gender based rhetoric from SP’s on up to GA’s in conference is almost exclusively pro-female and anti-male. AKA bashing males for P*&^, abuse, financial non support whilst at the same time prasing females

    2. The local calenders at the ward and stake level reveal activites almost 100% focused on children and adult females. From enrichment to cub scouts to YW to YM there are literally almost no activites in the church for adult males. Except for supporting children and adult females in their activities

    My bishop dad calls the situation for Adult males as “work and pay 10% no fun for you)

  2. Good read. Well done. If you carry the analogy out to include the treatment of blacks, then it would follow that blacks did not swell the ranks of the church prior to the lifting of the ban because the church was not _relatively_ more black friendly than the community at large.

    Of course, this assumes that people join a religion based on the results of a cost benefit analysis. I’m not sure that’s true, even if it is just an informal one.

  3. Have you been reading ahead in your copy of _Good Wives_, bbell? Cause that’s one of the points we’re going to go over in the next part of this series.

  4. Interesting question. For me, it brings up some further questions:

    Does anyone have a link or a cite to an article about women’s greater participation in organized religious institutions? I had read somewhere that single mormon women are very much NOT participators / not active compared to other mormon women.

    How much of women’s seemingly greater participation in organized religious institutions (and mormonism in particular) is related to their status as mothers? and their more typical roles as the agents of socialization for children? Are women participating for themselves or as part of their job in managing the family — where church is part of family management responsibilities?

  5. On female religiosity, see Michael P. Carroll, “Give Me that Ol’ Time Hormonal Religion,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43 (June 2004): 275–78 who was responding to Rodney Stark, “Physiology and Faith: Addressing the ‘Universal’ Gender Difference in Religious Commitment,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41 (September 2002): 495–507.

    There was an interesting presentation at MHA this spring that posited that educated Mormon women adopt feminist tools to realize a traditional world view.

  6. Sorry one more thing about activities for adult males:

    This is a funny (interesting funny) perspective, because my children’s view is that church activities are all about boys:
    “When will there ever be a dad/kid campout or a dad/daughter campout?”
    “Why do the boys get the priesthood and the girls don’t.”
    “What is the priesthood session all about?”

  7. I pick # 4. Even now that my children are grown, I find myself ignoring slights and forgiving unkind words simply because I want my children to stay active and I don”t want to set a bad example for them. I suppose the question would be, “why do I want them to stay active?” Because this is the true church and I believe that with all my heart. Even if I could justify to myself leaving it, I could never forgive myself if I damaged my kids’ faith.

  8. Interesting points Kaimi. The last theory is the most plausible because the first two only explain why women are currently staying in the church, but do not explain why more women convert to the church. And this, anecdotally at least, is surely the case. 85% of converts in my ward are women, perhaps 65% of which are single women. And none of them are Stepford wives.

    I think this has to do with the fact that the church doesn’t feel very sexist to a member, and certainly not to an investigator. I sometimes sit in church and picture what I would be thinking if I was an investigator (which is not hard because I was one once). And it seems to me that an investigator would see a lot of parity. Women speaking from the pulpit, women teaching Sunday school, women being leaders. And I think this goes back to your theory-in some ways women do get to be much more respected and engaged in the church than they do in other organizations. I think the reasons for the paradox you explore is that while the doctrine is sexist, it doesn’t really feel sexist in our day to day interactions. And of course investigators don’t go to the temple for a year, so that helps.

    I’m looking forward to your post about what bbell brought up. It’s an important issue. Not only are 85% of our converts women, 85% of our testimony bearers are women too. The church is failing men big time, imo.

  9. “Not only are 85% of our converts women, 85% of our testimony bearers are women too. The church is failing men big time, imo.”

    I don’t think this is really a failure of the church. I think more women bear testimony because they are more comfortable sharing their feelings in front of a group. And with the majority of converts being women, that is seen with any church. Women just seem to be more drawn to organized religion, as discussed above. I don’t see how the church can be failing men who are deciding whether or not to be baptized.

  10. Kaimi, I’m not sure I follow your last point: that the Church is about as patriarchal as society. You state,

    Yes, there has never been a female LDS prophet . . . but then, there has never been a female U.S. president.

    But there are several US female governors and cabinet members, but no female Apostles. And no one is shocked to find a female CEO of a big company, or a female mayor, but we’d all be floored to find a female GA or a female bishop. No, I think American society if far less patriarchal than the LDS Church.

  11. #6 – Interesting you should bring up Daddy/Daughter camp outs. Our ward in Arizona is having one in about three weeks. I must admit, though, that it is the first such camp out I can recall ever having seen sponsored by an LDS Church unit anywhere.

  12. Fascinating questions, Kaimi. I’ve had a couple of recent conversations with friends about the contrasts between the university environment and LDS Church life. One of my friends, who recently had a baby, observed that in the university we’ve swept away all barriers to equality on the abstract, theoretical level (all doors are theoretically open to women, no discrimination or sexism officially endorsed, etc.), but that on the ground the barriers remain formidable–no places to change a baby or nurse in the humanities building, tenured professors make sexist remarks in class and engage in sexual harassment, etc.

    At church, the situation is largely reversed: at the abstract, theoretical level, we’ve got a fair amount of sexist discourse at which the university world occasionally throws up its hands in collective horror at the unenlightened condition of Christianity in this regard–but on the practical level the Church sometimes do much, much better than the university ever does–much more child-friendly, much less tolerance for sexual harassment, for instance.

    All of which makes it endlessly fascinating to travel back and forth between the two worlds.

    Great post! I look forward to more.

  13. angrymormonliberal says:

    I have a theory. It’s going to be rough because this just came into my head. I’m going to call it the Polygamy Hypothesis.

    Assume that Western society is patriarchal. Assume that Church society is slightly less patriarchal, giving women a sense of community but no chance at significant leadership roles. However, Patriarchy is not just about keeping women in check, but also keeping undesirable males and races in check. Thus, there are a limited number of powerful roles in the Church, filled by a limited number of elite males. Males who do not desire or succeed in filling powerful roles, are more likely to drop out.

    Women, never having a chance to have one of those powerful roles have none of the resentment that encourages ‘undesirable men’ to drop out. Thus, women are more likely to participate in the church because they have fewer reasons (in the aggregate) to leave.

    This could be used to explain the higher rates of men ‘checking out’ in other Christan groups.

    Weaknesses? Thoughts?

  14. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that the church generally teaches men to do things that most women want from a husband, especially the things Bbell mentioned, avoid drinking, pornography, spend time with your families, don’t force your wife to work etc etc.

    So the church may or may not be especially appealing to women* in its rhetoric about women, but I think that it is appealing to women in its rhetoric about men.

    That, and for a SAHM of very young children the church is a very easy way to create a social support system.

    *I’m curious if the church is appealing to men in its rhetoric about women?

  15. @Sally-I think the reason men don’t bear their testimonies more frequently is that we have set up the definition for and expectations of testimonies in a very Oprah-esque, time to express your feelings and be emotional and cry, format.

    And I think less men join the church because again, the style of worship is geared more to female participation, with the sharing of feelings. And the church lacks camaraderie building activities just for men, leaving the only role of men, as bbell says, as that of working and supporting the women and children. All work, no play.

  16. Amen, Katie.

  17. Eric Russell says:

    It appears the church is failing both men and women. Serenity now!

  18. My attempts to organize activities for the elders quorum in our ward have failed due to lack of anyone having any free time. The quorum members have verbally expressed interest, but when activities are organized, I’m lucky to see two out of our fifteen or so elders there.

    My point being that, perhaps some of the failings we perceive are natural results of societal forces outside of the church’s control.

  19. Katie #8,
    You may be right, that the church doesn’t feel sexist, at least at first glance, but I do think it feels that way to some.
    To me, at least.
    I guess the only reason I think matters is that most women who are raised in the church don’t know any other way of being. It’s just the way thing are. Women don’t participate in blessing their babies, but that’s how it’s always been.
    Tradition is the best explanation for what I’ve seen, although I am saddened by some of our current practices in this area.

    Starfoxy, what a great question about if men like the rhetoric the church uses about women. I have no idea, but I think my husband would like it if the church encouraged wives to please their husbands more often :)

    Thanks for the post, Kaimi. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

  20. I would wring my hands about how the church is failing men and women, but my wife and I are too happy and busy in the church to recognize how badly the church is failing us. I think that’s not atypical.

    Just saying.

  21. So the church may or may not be especially appealing to women* in its rhetoric about women, but I think that it is appealing to women in its rhetoric about men.

    That, and for a SAHM of very young children the church is a very easy way to create a social support system.

    Excellent points, Starfoxy. As others have said, I think the church demands much more of men,especially YA men, than many of the surrounding subcultures. It’s striking to see the difference in expectations facing the 18-21-year-old boys I teach, who are sometimes expected to do little more than hang out and party in between a little work and a little studying for four years, and the same-aged boys at church, who are expected to go on missions, often marry fairly young, get an education, dive right into really demanding provider roles.

    For some reason the difference seems much less striking for girls in late adolescence and early adulthood. Maybe because (1) it’s somewhat less acceptable for girls to just hang out and party and (2) surrounding cultural expectations for motherhood, once those kick in, are absolutely sky-high.

    Great food for thought.

  22. Doesn’t this analysis presuppose that religion is only about power relations? If you decide it’s not (and I think that’s a superficial way of seeing religion) then I think the issue becomes quite different.

  23. Then there is always the theory that many of those active women see things so differently from those who perceive this as a major problem that it is a non-issue to them. It might be that some understand and even enjoy gender differences. Some might have even found the power in service, whether that power is found in leading or in following. Amazing thought: that someone might be happy and content and NOT be brainwashed! Or—could it be possible—that someone might disagree with popular thought and not be brainwashed!

    No . . . no, it’s simply not possible.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    SilverRain, are you being sarcastic?

  25. Eve, I think the Church demands a lot of women too. Both in terms of education but also many of the demands of men. (Word of Wisdom, modesty, chastity, etc.) The big difference is in career.

    Actually I think more is demanded of women too especially relative to society at large where the old idea of family is either seriously redefined or at least not valued in the same fashion. (Which isn’t to say there aren’t a lot who value it like we do – just that there’s also a lot of pressure the other way) That hits both men and women of course. Men often are expected to turn down excessive work even if it could lead to a promotion because of the expectation that they ought spend more time with their family. (Not all men do, of course)

  26. I am a convert. I’d already served in the US military and taken some women’s studies classes (reading the canon of feminist literature) when I joined the church.

    I don’t think the church fits neatly in a box of patriarchal or feminist as most scholars would define those terms. Indeed, LDS practice includes parts of both, which can be maddening to those who attempt that kind of categorization.

    In the 1970s, BYU was already doing the things described by Betty Friedan in THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE: Making dorms available for women to come back during the summer to finish a degree or recertify, making distance learning courses available to moms so that they could study at the playground, offering part-time scholarships to mothers.

    At the state-run university with which I am affiliated, they sneer at such sexism. They consider themselves perfectly non-sexist, by letting women do things exactly the way men do them. No part-time degree-seeking enrollment. No automatic time off for pregnancy.

    Which attitude is better for women? I would likely not have finished my degree if forced into the latter route.

    I also think it is waycool the way the church avoids the obsolescence of women whose children are grown, which is one of feminism’s arguments with traditional families. Older women have the opportunity to serve missions, work in the temple, whatever (a retired widow is Primary president in her ward).

  27. StillConfused says:

    This may sound strange coming from a single-mom attorney who loves home improvement projects etc, but I actually LIKE that I don’t have to worry about leadership roles in the Church. It is a place where I don’t have to feel like I am required to be an equal.

  28. Clark, yeah, I would definitely agree that the church does demand a lot of women–certainly in all the areas you mentioned. I would also definitely agree that the starkest differences are in terms of career (and parenthood). Maybe the mission requirement for young men just makes the contrast between them and some of the frat boys I teach seem especially stark. (And in my very anecdotal observation, girls as a group are more motivated and work harder in college than boys do–with many exceptions on both sides, of course.) It also seems to me that in general there’s a greater degree of congruence between general cultural expectations of mothers and the church’s expectations of mothers than there is between general and church expectations of fathers and men in general–which may make the church demands of men seem higher than they are for women.

    But these are all very tentative and anecdotal observations, very open to revision.

  29. StillConfused, I agree. I’m terrified about being made EQ President when I already have about zero time and it’s tough just being in the Presidency.

    Eve, one thing that had started in the 90′s was an expectation for women to go on missions as well. As I recall the Church tried to discourage that but I still know lots and lots of women with that expectation. I suspect there’s still a bit of social pressure although I’m out of the singles scene so I don’t know if it is still there.

    I think one problem is that men tend to be caught up in hobbies a bit more than women – especially in the Church. Second I think many men, especially today, are more confused about what to do. Especially if they aren’t married. I think that’s true of women as well, of course. But the differing expectations (one active, one more passive) leads to different stresses. I should add that I’m not sure what the Church can do here. There are some huge social changes regarding dating, marriage and so forth that are affecting the Church. Let’s be frank, once you hit 30 then single men are excluded from leadership positions much more than single women. (I know of lots of over 30 RS or Primary Presidents and temple workers. Not too many over 30 single guys.)

    Not to turn this into a nasty discussion of singles. (For the record I didn’t marry until 35)

  30. The church feels very sexist to me on the ground in the actual wards, though far less so in the rhetoric from general conference, the Ensign, and so on. I do have this feeling when I walk into my ward building that I go from being someone generally viewed in the world as competent and … potent, to someone weak and powerless. I feel like I go from being somebody to being a nobody. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but it has to do with the near total gender segregation of jobs and social groupings in the church, and my social comfort zone being always hanging out with the guys or with mixed groups.

    Seriously, I realized recently that the absolute worst most miserable most horrific 4 years of my life were the time from 4th through 8th grade when I was forced to hang out with all girls. The rest of my life, though I have had many close female friends, I’ve hung out more with guys. I’ve decided this is the reason I can’t seem to find a way to feel at home in my wards.

  31. Tatiana, I think that’s an interesting point. I suspect the separation between groups can be a problem. Especially if one doesn’t fit in with the dominant RS crowd. I know that especially in the 90′s when the generation gap among women was perhaps larger this was a big problem for a lot of people I knew. You had old school women interested in sewing, quilting, crafts and so forth and a new generation largely college educated who just didn’t find that kind of activity terribly interesting.

    I suspect some of this might vary from region to region as well. I suspect that outside of college infused wards in Utah you’d get much more traditionalism whereas outside of Utah things would be a bit more cosmopolitan. (Maybe I’m wrong – I’m interested in what women with actual experience say. I just don’t know. I’m just guessing)

  32. Clark, I think you’re wrong.

  33. Tatiana,

    Maybe it’s the constant prospect of having some random 2nd Counselor in the Bishopric pull you aside at anytime and tell you that he’s received some sort of revelation regarding you (you should have a certain calling/be released from a certain calling, give a talk, etc.). It doesn’t matter (a) what this man’s relationship to you otherwise is to you or your family, (b) whether he has ever made an effort to get to know you, your desires, needs, obstacles, etc., or (c) what you make think of this person’s qualifications to receive insight for you. And you know that regardless of your spirituality, qualifications, accomplishments, empathy, etc., neither this man (nor any other man in the ward) ever walks into the building wondering whether you (or any other woman) will suddenly ask for 10 minutes of his time to discuss what God has revealed to you regarding him. You are forever on the receiving end of counsel from men regarding your calling and life and never on the giving end. And you know that if men had to suddenly be accountable to women in the ward, they would probably approach things differently.

  34. decline 2 state says:

    “This explanation may or may not be enough.”

    can’t object to that…

  35. anonymous says:

    Prior to a minor surgical procedure, my husband opted to receive a blessing from a man he didn’t particularly like, rather than from me. The nature of the patriarchal order (and my place in it) was made painfully apparent.

  36. Interesting–I’d think gender segregation of roles would lead to more opportunities for women, not fewer. On the larger level I see institutional sexism, but on a local level the segregation of gender roles seems to provide women with plenty of leadership roles. Those roles seem predominantly geared toward either creating and maintaining a community of women or teaching children and youth, so they’re definitely in the traditional female purview. I’m probably not going to say this very well, but the fact that those roles are traditionally female probably protects them for women since it seems like men tend to take over more visible and desirable roles.

    As for differences in interests, I think that’s why there’s a move within Relief Society toward fewer enrichment meetings that involve the whole ward (we’ve moved to quarterly meetings), replacing those instead with smaller, more club-like monthly meetings. At least around here in Indiana, that pretty much means we have quarterly enrichment meetings and occasional meetings of like-minded friends at book clubs or cooking clubs or the like.

  37. Tatiana, that’s really interesting; thanks for your perspective. I’ve definitely had that feeling at church too, at times, and sometimes the contrast with the respect and simple personhood (!) I’m granted in academic and professional settings is striking.

    My experience is that there are forms of sexism that are more common at church (being patronized, ignored, not taken seriously, etc., especially while simultaneously and abstractly exalted on a pedestal) and then really different forms that are more common on university or professional settings (being sexually harassed, or having to endure overtly degrading and sexist remarks). The two are completely and maybe almost mutually exclusive brands of sexism.

  38. I think historically based on my research the adult males in the LDS church have always lagged a bit in activity rates. The recent Pew research found a 56-44 female to male gender gap in US Mormons. (In my own 8 generation of LDS family history 5 of the 8 generations have serious gaps in activity for the males.) I would wager that is not much off from 1875 or 1952 levels. There are a host of reasons for this and we could have a large number of posts covering each one.

    #18.

    The reason why adult male activities tend to fail to garner any interest is the following. FWIW I have managed to establish weekly bball at 9PM but had to fight 3 bishops, a SP, a facilities director and a host of wives to accomplish it.

    1. No support from the stake or ward level leaders. In all my years of church meetings I rarely have ever heard any support for adult male activities in fact its almost never even discussed. It gets lost in Primary, YM/YW, and RS plans and discussions.
    2. Time constraints posed by all the activities for children and adult females
    3. traveling jobs, This is a big one. See #4
    4. uninterested spouses (not mine)

  39. I think that Tatiana’s comment (#30) highlights the problem of treating the category of “women in the Church” as if the entire group represented one coherent set of interests. I’ve heard about studies that draw attention to the lower activity rates of single women without children and women with advanced degrees. Their interests may be very different from other women, who may benefit greatly from the social/support networks and the leadership opportunities provided in the church environment.

    bbell (#38): my experience was that the church was one big male activity. During my years as an active Mormon, I developed close bonds with my home teaching companions, the EQ members I moved furniture with, presidencies I served on, etc. We had no need for additional social activities, because on some weeks, we probably spoke to each other than we did with our family members!

  40. In spite of church-wide policies and publications, it’s not really possible to generalize girls’ and women’s experiences in the church. Every ward culture is different. In YW in Maryland I had very sassy feminist leaders who encouraged all of us to be wee Amazons. So YW was very fulfilling– but it was humiliating and annoying at 12 to see the boys recognized with the priesthood and passing the sacrament.

    I guess RS and YW have the power to be safe places for women– communities free of the male-female dynamic and the “patriarchal order.” Once I was teaching a RS lesson and the Bishop poked his head in. I shouted, “Hey! You have to wear a skirt to come in here!” Everybody laughed– including him, and he left. Can you believe it? RS can have some of that women’s mystique which excludes the boys. So that’s possible– a safe place for women to teach each other and build a community. It’s possible to forget that RS is an “auxiliary” to the EQ.

    It gets scary, though, when women act out their own versions of patriarchy– hierarchies and competitions,exclusions and comparisons– rather than embracing the moon-worshipping, pagan sisterhood that I would find more appealing.

    In my current ward we have a Scouts problem. Every week a member of the bishopric stands up to praise the efforts of the scouts– the glorious young men! Their faithfulness, their hard work, their rugged good looks! While their daughters go unmentioned, and then inactive, without a second glance. They are not valued publicly and it is painful– I want to spare my daughter from that self-doubt.

  41. Steve Evans says:

    JohnR, your comment is odd. You want to discuss the problem of treating all women in the Church as if they were one coherent set, and then your description of your experience while you were part of the Church does the same, only to men. Find some consistency, sir!

  42. Becca, I think that highlights a general problem at Church. An irresolvable one. As they say it is an infirmary run by the infirmed. And that means not everything could be as good as it could be. Indeed even great leaders who have areas that are amazing typically have other areas that suffer. That’s true of all of us. (I nightly pray not to be in a leadership position – and heaven help us if I’m put in one. My mission was bad enough thank you.)

    We can talk about general structural problems. We can talk about common social problems. But as you say, the variance between wards entails there being a lot of differences. A lot can be accomplished in the structures we have. It’s just a matter of perhaps better teaching people.

  43. E (#32), wrong about what? About Utah being more “traditional” and outside of Utah tending to be more cosmopolitan? Which one is wrong?

  44. bbell (#38) – True. I thought I had a genius idea when I organized a monthly “dads with kids” game/movie/hang-out night. I thought that would provide a fun gathering while addressing issues #2 & #4 that you mentioned.

    I pushed it for four months, but it never went anywhere. People are busy, driving places with kids is inconvenient, and spouses (male and female both) hold tightly to precious free time. Now my philosophy is, make the opportunities available, but don’t push them. Activities should make life better, not more stressful.

  45. bbell, a few years ago I organized weekly Ultimate Frisbee, monthly men’s book club, and bimonthly men’s game night. The biggest key to my success: I resisted any and all attempts to associate the activities with the ward (even though primarily ward members participated).

  46. Brian, all my successful activities have been done independent of the ward too. There’s a lot more flexibility possible. I halfway wonder if one problem we all have is in attempting to work within the ward structures all the time. There’s a lot we can do on our own.

    That’s not to ignore the real structural problems. (i.e. the oft mentioned YM/YW) But if you don’t like YW and have a teenage daughter organize events on your own!

  47. Women love the church because it is largely a female centered church right now. It serves the interest of women by taming potentially troublesome males, abolishing drinking (the primary outlet for male socializing), discouraging infidelity as the sin next to murder, and exhalting fatherhood as the highest male accomplishment.

    Show me an institution that serves women more.

    The balance of power is now decidedly in women’s favor, but it is possible there will be resistance to this trend–a kind of muscular Mormonism. That is…if it’s okay with the sisters.

  48. Steve Evans says:

    “Show me an institution that serves women more.”

    er, NOW?

  49. Clark (#31) – I have an advanced degree and enjoy the “homemaking” style enrichments (cooking, sewing, crafts, etc…). I find it a nice switch my day jobs (SAHM/part-time software engineer).

    I love this gospel and I stay because I know it is true. Imperfect leaders, doctrinal iffies, activities, etc… aren’t enough to pull me away and I think that is why other women stay too.

  50. YWCA?

  51. DDR, don’t mistake me. I’m not condemning it. For the record a lot of the “traditional” RS enrichment classes actually sound pretty interesting to me too. Had I time I’d love to learn to sew, for instance. Personally I think more men should learn these things. I think a lot of traditional skills are being lost. Unfortunately.

    However I was more speaking in general terms and simply noting what many of my female friends in the 90′s complained vigorously about. As they say though, the except proves the rule.

    SL, while I think the actual power of women in Church is overlooked, I’m not sure I could agree that we’re largely a female centered Church. Far from it. I actually agree we are a male centered Church. The question becomes whether if we were more equitable in our “centering” if that would mean that more men would fall away. I’m not at all convinced they would and think that’s a cop-out. But it is an interesting question.

  52. Krys (4),

    Very good question about singles. I don’t have those numbers, at the moment — let me see what I can find.

    J. (5),

    Thanks for the reference — that looks useful.

    Katie (8),

    That’s a fascinating question, and you’re absolutely right, I think. In conversions, the numbers are even more skewed.

    Your points about how the church doesn’t _feel_ sexist on a day-to-day level may reflect our expectations given societal baselines. As for other possible reasons, stay tuned for the follow-up post. :)

    Sally, (9)

    “And with the majority of converts being women, that is seen with any church. Women just seem to be more drawn to organized religion, as discussed above.”

    Sure. But why?

    BrianJ, (10)

    You may be right. In some areas — business CEOs — society may be less sexist. Or it may not. There aren’t _that_ many women CEOs; there is no woman Bill Gates; the small leavening of female CEOs in an otherwise male-dominated field doesn’t all look that different, to me, than the small leavening of female church leaders.

    Eve (12),

    That is a fascinating juxtaposition.

    I think it’s absolutely right. One can be anti-woman in action while professing all sorts of feminist ideals, and, vice-versa.

    I think there are absolutely area where the church’s anti-feminism _does_ matter to many women. But you’re right; on the ground level, it’s often relatively benign seeming, especially given other aspects of church culture which, while not always feminist in rhetoric, may be very woman-friendly in practice.

    Angrymormonliberal (13),

    Interesting theory.

    I think it’s right that the church makes a lot of demands on men. If those demands are causing men (but not women) to check out — well, we’re back to the relative sexism, aren’t we? Women are already accustomed to that kind of thing, perhaps men less so.

    Starfoxy (14),

    So the church may or may not be especially appealing to women* in its rhetoric about women, but I think that it is appealing to women in its rhetoric about men.

    You are soo cheating and reading ahead in _Good Wives_, aren’t you? :P (Yeah, we’ll get to this idea, a lot.)

    That, and for a SAHM of very young children the church is a very easy way to create a social support system.

    Very much so. (Another idea that we’ll elaborate on in Part II).

    Katie (15),

    And I think less men join the church because again, the style of worship is geared more to female participation, with the sharing of feelings. And the church lacks camaraderie building activities just for men, leaving the only role of men, as bbell says, as that of working and supporting the women and children. All work, no play.

    This seems accurate, I think.

    Dane (18),

    My attempts to organize activities for the elders quorum in our ward have failed due to lack of anyone having any free time. The quorum members have verbally expressed interest, but when activities are organized, I’m lucky to see two out of our fifteen or so elders there.

    There’s a good question. Do _other_ sexist assumptions in society — the workaholic male — impact our ability to recruit free-time-limited men? Is that one reason why women join the church, more — they’re just not as expected, as a group, to spend 80 hours a week at the office?

  53. Jessawhy (19),

    most women who are raised in the church don’t know any other way of being. It’s just the way thing are. Women don’t participate in blessing their babies, but that’s how it’s always been.

    Yep. It’s a lousy explanation for the woman who does start to ask why, though.

    Ray (20),

    You’re just blinded by the patriarchy, which uses green jello to lull you into submission. :P

    Eve (21),

    I think I’m just going to kick back and let you write Part II for me. Thus, delegating all of the labor to the women, while keeping the glory and power in male hands. :P

    I think you’re absolutely right. There’s a lot of this coming up in Pt II — the phrase “Apatow masculinity” will appear — and I’ll probably rob your comment for a few points. :)

    Clark (25),

    Eve, I think the Church demands a lot of women too. Both in terms of education but also many of the demands of men. (Word of Wisdom, modesty, chastity, etc.) The big difference is in career.

    True. The church tends to support men in careers, while women are often actively discouraged (though this trend may be fading).

    Naismith (26),

    I don’t think the church fits neatly in a box of patriarchal or feminist as most scholars would define those terms. Indeed, LDS practice includes parts of both, which can be maddening to those who attempt that kind of categorization.

    In the 1970s, BYU was already doing the things described by Betty Friedan in THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE: Making dorms available for women to come back during the summer to finish a degree or recertify, making distance learning courses available to moms so that they could study at the playground, offering part-time scholarships to mothers.

    At the state-run university with which I am affiliated, they sneer at such sexism. They consider themselves perfectly non-sexist, by letting women do things exactly the way men do them. No part-time degree-seeking enrollment. No automatic time off for pregnancy.

    Which attitude is better for women? I would likely not have finished my degree if forced into the latter route.

    That is a fascinating, fascinating comment. It echoes what others (particularly Eve) have suggested — despite apparent limitations on women in church structure, in practice the church often comes across as more woman-friendly than other entities.

    StillConfused (27),

    That’s an interesting perspective. But wouldn’t it (in theory) apply equally to men. “I’m already an attorney, a professor, a student, etc — why do I need to be a &*($% ward membership clerk as well?”

    Eve (28),

    It also seems to me that in general there’s a greater degree of congruence between general cultural expectations of mothers and the church’s expectations of mothers than there is between general and church expectations of fathers and men in general–which may make the church demands of men seem higher than they are for women.

    /begin shameless theft for Pt II . . . :)

    Clark (29),

    I think one problem is that men tend to be caught up in hobbies a bit more than women – especially in the Church. Second I think many men, especially today, are more confused about what to do. Especially if they aren’t married. I think that’s true of women as well, of course. But the differing expectations (one active, one more passive) leads to different stresses. I should add that I’m not sure what the Church can do here. There are some huge social changes regarding dating, marriage and so forth that are affecting the Church. Let’s be frank, once you hit 30 then single men are excluded from leadership positions much more than single women. (I know of lots of over 30 RS or Primary Presidents and temple workers. Not too many over 30 single guys.)

    Quite correct, I think. There’s a suspicion of the guy who is unable to fit into LDS culture and get married. (Is he gay?)

    What’s an over-30 LDS guy to do? Hmm, good question. Here’s one answer — it starts with B, and ends with log . . . :)

  54. Tatiana (30),

    I do have this feeling when I walk into my ward building that I go from being someone generally viewed in the world as competent and … potent, to someone weak and powerless.

    This is one reason the culture discourages female careers, I think. Career women (and highly educated women) seem to experience that drop-off; others, I’m less sure.

    Red (33),

    And you know that regardless of your spirituality, qualifications, accomplishments, empathy, etc., neither this man (nor any other man in the ward) ever walks into the building wondering whether you (or any other woman) will suddenly ask for 10 minutes of his time to discuss what God has revealed to you regarding him.

    Amen, sister. (Brother?)

    Not that all male leaders abuse their authority. I think the instances of actual problem behavior are often, as Eve and others suggest, less than the rhetoric might imply. But when it does happen, it can be infuriating.

    Anon (35),

    Ouch.

    Just as Eve correctly notes the important little areas in which the church is woman-friendly; it’s similarly in little disparities like that, that the remaining differences can be particularly painful.

    Kristine N (36),

    Fascinating. It’s a lot like the question of gender-segregated education. Do you do away with girls schools even if it looks like they’re helping girls? Is RS a form of net-helpful girls-school?

    “The fact that those roles are traditionally female probably protects them for women since it seems like men tend to take over more visible and desirable roles.”

    Hah!

    I think that’s quite accurate. And sad. And ironically funny, in a dark humor sort of way.

    Eve (37),

    My experience is that there are forms of sexism that are more common at church (being patronized, ignored, not taken seriously, etc., especially while simultaneously and abstractly exalted on a pedestal) and then really different forms that are more common on university or professional settings (being sexually harassed, or having to endure overtly degrading and sexist remarks). The two are completely and maybe almost mutually exclusive brands of sexism.

    I really just need to put “I agree with everything Eve said, and she said it better than I could ever hope to” on hotkey.

    I think that there are different models of masculinity in play, and that the church, in its efforts to redefine masculinity, may be doing so in a more woman-friendly — damn, I’m giving away Part II again. Stop tempting me with that apple! :)

    Bbell (38),

    I think historically based on my research the adult males in the LDS church have always lagged a bit in activity rates. The recent Pew research found a 56-44 female to male gender gap in US Mormons. (In my own 8 generation of LDS family history 5 of the 8 generations have serious gaps in activity for the males.) I would wager that is not much off from 1875 or 1952 levels. There are a host of reasons for this and we could have a large number of posts covering each one.

    I don’t have the numbers myself, but that’s a really good question. I ought to try to dig these up.

  55. once you hit 30 then single men are excluded from leadership positions much more than single women.

    One of the counselors in my local bishopric is a divorced man over 30. A single over 30 serves as ward mission leader.

    Hard to see that they are underrepresented in leadership here.

  56. This is one reason the culture discourages female careers, I think. Career women (and highly educated women) seem to experience that drop-off; others, I’m less sure.

    Do you have data to backup that assertion? It doesn’t mesh with my experience.

    I have a graduate degree and have pursued a career (albeit on a part-time basis in order to balance with family and church demands–but I am taken very seriously in my field, never dismissed as a mommy-tracker).

    I don’t experience any sense of being treated as incompetent at church. But then, one of my church callings uses my graduate degree, and I was called to it because of that degree.

  57. I think it should be noted that sexism and feminism are not antonyms. Of course there is sexism at church, just as there is sexism anywhere. I just finished writing a letter to BYU continuing education complaining that there were no female speakers at my daughter’s EFY session this summer.

    But just because I don’t tolerate gratuitous sexism does not mean that I am a feminist.

    Feminism is a movement. According to many, and I’m thinking of Linda Hirschman’s comments in GET TO WORK, part of being part of that movement is making choices that benefit the movement, even if they are not the best for your family. This is why she thinks feminists should not be full-time parents, because it is bad for them, bad for society, etc. I am not willing to make that priority, so I am not a feminist.

  58. I’m impressed by the quality and diversity of opinions on this matter. Kaimi, you’ve inspired some enlightened conversation. What stands out most is the next generation of feminist thought and how it both sustains and challenges early feminist critiques.

    My wife definitely draws more delight and self-identity in her church roles than I do for her. She has had a number of church positions that have challenged and developed her in ways that she doesn’t get as an accountant.

    The one area where I believe the church got off course with this issue was when the Relief Society became an auxiliary of Priesthood leadership in the mid 1900’s. At that point, the church left its previous antebellum feminism foundation and adopted the patriarchal assumptions of the post-WWII suburbs. Yes, many feminists would cringe at the suggestion that early 1900’s Mormonism was feminist, but that is, again, due to the narrow focus of the original critique.

  59. I’m impressed by the quality and diversity of opinions on this matter.

    Yeah, me too. Interesting stuff.

    I wonder if a difference plays out between cultures which are more or less woman-friendly. Finland, for instance, is considered fairly woman-friendly, but the female/male ratio remains high at church.

  60. It’s probably an error to think that women in general are especially devoted to feminist concerns. Many men (perhaps most of those commenting here?) identify themselves as feminists. You would probably be better able to guess if someone is a feminist by knowing the person’s marital status or political views than by knowing his/her sex. In many corners, abortion has long been promoted as a prime feminist concern, yet the people I’ve encountered with the strongest views against abortion have usually been women.

    So, the apparent discrepancy noted in this post starts with the incorrect assumption that women all share feminist positions.

  61. #24 Steve—Yes, I was being sarcastic. Sorry. I try to avoid that, but this is a particularly sore spot for me right now, having engaged in some personal persecution-like experiences recently on this point. I apologize for the sarcasm, but the point I was trying to make is still valid. The base assumption for this sort of discussion is faulty and rather insulting.

  62. Bro. Jones says:

    For what it’s worth, my wife has never felt “oppressed” or marginalized as a woman by any Church structure or doctrine. She feels far more oppressed and marginalized by Relief Society sisters who refuse to talk to her because they have nothing in common (my wife is a professional and we have no children; in our current ward, 99% of the sisters are SAHMs). So she has no particular desire to “leave” the Church as an institution, but she also has no particular interest in attending Sunday services or participating in her ward. Seriously, the women in our ward have made my wife feel more unwelcome and unvalued than any GA or President Beck talk ever could.

  63. StillConfused says:

    I agree with #62. I don’t really have that much of a problem with sexism. My careers have been accounting, air traffic control and law… all very male dominated careers. So I see sexism professionally and, frankly, it doesn’t bother me at all.

    But going to RS really bites when there are the factions of women behaving in a jealous school girl fashion. When my daughter was a baby and after my breast cancer, I was a SAHM, which I loved. But because of where I am now, I am presumed to have certain opinions and beliefs.

  64. “Show me an institution that serves women more.”

    er, NOW?

    How effective is NOW in second and third world countries? I know that the organization works on global feminist issues, but how much of an effect do they have on families (and particularly men) on the ground in those countries?

    The LDS Church isn’t amazing in this regard — lots of inactive males. But it is a force for good (and for the rights of women and children). Or at least such was my experience in Romania.

  65. Our circumstances germinate our attitudes. A single woman in the church sees the disparity between her career world and her religious world, something a married man may be blind to. A man in the church sees the lack of sanctioned, approved male sociality as a glaring lack, while another sees the whole church as one big male social.

    It wasn’t until I became the father of two boys that I started to notice something that illustrates that power and influence take many forms.

    While adults may see a male-centric patriarchy what does an LDS boy see? His father is at work for most of his waking hours and his mother is almost completely in charge of his day to day life. At church his Primary is run by women, and new church policies make it likely that most if not all of the classes are taught by women too. And if his elementary school is like my boys’ school, the only male influence there is the janitor.

    A little boys’ life in and out of the church can be completely female dominated. That is real power and authority in his life.

  66. Steve Evans says:

    No Wm, I meant, like right NOW? I was querying the immediate nature of the question. Sorry for the confusion.

  67. My initial response to JohnR’s comment 39 was a big LOL. All these years I’ve been in the church, and I’ve never figured out that moving projects and hometeaching lists with 17 names on them are really just cleverly disguised opportunities for male socialization! And if we regender that thought, it is even funnier. Women have visiting teaching, Enrichment, and compassionate service projects. Therefore, the church is one big female activity. So what’s the problem?

    But I think John really does have an important point. The best friendships occur when people are working together to accomplish something meaningful, not just goofing off. To the extent people feel alienated, they either do not feel needed, or they feel that what they have to offer is not wanted. I think those sentiments are pretty evenly distributed among males and females, but it shouldn’t surprise us that women might feel them more acutely, especiall women who are unmarried or childless.

  68. There is almost always a disconnect in the LDS faith between the official structure and the reality on the ground.

    The official structure is overwhelmingly male.

    The reality on the ground is overwhelmingly female.

  69. Likewise, the official structure in our church is overwhelmingly authoritarian.

    The reality on the ground is overwhelmingly egalitarian.

  70. I’ve always said that we belong to two distinct and different churches – the global, vertical one and the local, horizontal one. Much of how one approaches discussions like these is determined by which church dominates one’s immediate view – and by the personalities of the individuals who lead the local church one attends.

  71. Naismith (#55). I’ve had counselors who were single and over 30 too. But they are rather rare. How many over 30 single Bishops or EQ Presidents have you had? (I believe for the former it is church policy not to do it) And temple workers is a problem. I remember when I was over 30 and got that letter that you couldn’t work at the temple. (Maybe they’ve change the policy recently although I’d be surprised)

    Seth (#69), good point. Church authority is often pretty thin in reality. I think this is why I roll my eyes at many structural criticisms of the Church. Formal power lines don’t give a good clue about actual power lines. Even the formal lines tend to emphasize “soft power” rather than “hard power.”

    KLC (#65) A single woman in the church sees the disparity between her career world and her religious world, something a married man may be blind to.

    I think in general men are blind to a lot of things. Sort of part and parcel of being a man sometimes. (grin) Put an other way I don’t think most men care about that sort of thing.

    However I do think that for most men there are big disparities between career and religious worlds. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think the typical man is looking to ‘move upward’ in Church callings. I doubt most women are either. I just don’t think most people look at religion as analogous to a kind of career track.

    There are people (both men and women) who do view religion that way. I find them pretty annoying and while sometimes they make good leaders more often they do not. But by and large I think the typical male sees Church duties as an imposition rather than seeing it as an imposition that they don’t have more Church duties.

  72. I’m not sure where the conclusion that the pro-family nature of the church means it is “women-centered” or pro-woman (ie #47). Women are not the only, nor even the primary beneficiary of family-focused relationships.

    Count me as one who still sees the church as more patriarchal than society. Every role I have in the church is ultimately accountable to a man. I have been denied female leadership callings due to the value of my husband as a worthy priesthood holder (there are more callings to fill with fewer prospects than for women), at times when I was in the throngs of staying home with little ones and longed for an outlet for my drive to be productively involved with adults. I had to look outside the church for it. And so it goes . . .

    That said, there are many good, good reasons to stay, and I do. More because I find the story of God revealing himself to a 14 year old magically divine and inspiring than because my interests as a woman are served there.

  73. hawkgrrrl says:

    Seth R – good points.

    In many ways, women are far more powerful than men in the church for that very reason. There are generally 2 kinds of power: authoritarian power (leadership) and soft power (general membership & women). The authoritarian power structure is completely bound and restricted by “the party line” or the accepted way of doing things; they have no right to contradict anything official, reducing their role to one that is largely administrative. Soft power can do what it wants and still ostensibly conform. Risk is low. There’s a reason they say the meek will inherit.

    I agree with the comment that feminism is a movement with its own objectives. Rather than feminism, I prefer respect and freedom to choose how I want to live my life. Which I have, in or out of the church.

    Society is sexist, much worse than the church on the whole, mostly due to the vast influence of society. In society, women still make about 72 cents on the dollar in equal roles to men. In the church, men & women both tithe 10%. And for those who want to give women the priesthood, thanks for the gesture, but I already do plenty of extra work (outside of my career) for no pay.

    The RS generally does a great job at helping all women to feel valued. I have been in wards where there was a predominant flavor I didn’t enjoy (SAHMs were “more righteous,” crafts somehow consituted enriching my already full life, and women insisted that if you were boiling weevils out of your wheat, you didn’t do food storage right). But, just like in my work life, I am pretty good at tuning out stupid stuff that has no actual bearing on my life.

    When you’re the only woman in the first class cabin, you can either sit & stew about the surrounding idiotic males who are loud, self-important and swilling cocktails at 9am, or you can sit back in your comfy seat with your noise-cancelling headset and relax with your hot, lemon-scented towel.

  74. In #71, Clark said

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think the typical man is looking to ‘move upward’ in Church callings

    It depends on the man. Especially single men sometimes seem to be “campaigning for higher office.”
    However, fathers with big families and busy careers are often not the ones who want the busy calling, but tend to get it anyway.
    It happens at BYU. I had a professor who was being considered for the position of Dean. He didn’t want the job, he had waaay too much on his plate anyway. Two other men did want the job, bu they didn’t get it. They issued it to my Professor as a calling, despite his objections.

  75. Also keep in mind that authority in our Church is often illusory.

    There are a lot of “white” personalities in the Mormon Church, and passive-aggressive behavior is almost the norm.

    Any Church leader who actually tries to act like he has the authority that it looks like he has, is going to run into almost a wall of untraceable setbacks and untraceable resistance. People will “forget” to make phone calls. Family conflicts will suddenly appear. Key people will not be contacted. And the grand designs of the said leader will die an obscure death.

    I’ve sat in on Bishopric, PEC meetings, Correlation, and EQ Pres. meetings. I’ve seen it happen. You try to lord-it over a group of Mormons and you will fail – miserably.

    The most unhappy people are the vocal types who feel that an open confrontation is necessary to stop something from proceeding in the ward. Those people always end up in fights with people, and fail in their principled opposition.

    Newbs.

    It’s always easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission in this Church. And it’s always easier to suffocate a dumb idea through lack of interest and follow-through than by yelling at the bishop in the foyer.

  76. hawkgrrrl says:

    Seth R: “it’s always easier to suffocate a dumb idea through lack of interest and follow-through than by yelling at the bishop in the foyer.” A perfect understanding of soft power.

  77. Seth,

    Of course you are right about how unpopular ideas/policies go to die in local Mormondom ward/stake operations. One of the differences between leading a LDS congregation and leading a business org is the fact that your “workers” in an LDS setting are all volunteers. Plus there are always revolving chairs in callings so if you do not agree with how things are being handled you simply wait it out and they will be released eventually.

  78. John Mansfield says:

    Seth, you can kill things that way, but moving something forward through neglect doesn’t work so well.

  79. Seth, you can kill things that way, but moving something forward through neglect doesn’t work so well.

    I agree, and further, I would say that just as there is a cadre of “volunteers” who kill stupid ideas through lack of interest and follow-through, there is an equal and opposite cadre of “volunteers” who will kill brilliant and progressive ideas through the same mechanism. The downside of soft power.

  80. The two largest organizations in each ward are the RS and the primary, both run and staffed by women. My wife is currently the RS president in our very large ward with lots of diverse needs, (and has in the past been a part of 4 different primary presidencies in different wards). I know from personal experience that she has had all of the leadership experiences and challenges and then some. The bishop relies on her heavily in her calling and he feels grateful for her service.

  81. John, to move things forward you have to persuade. But the mere fact it requires persuasion points to soft power. Of course most of us (myself included) give the benefit of doubt to people in authority (as we should). So it’s not entirely soft power.

  82. To echo what some others have said here, if you take the money from the ward budget that goes to the RS, the Primary and the YM/YW, there is really is almost nothing left for the dudes. As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.”

  83. In our ward the EQ budget is $60 for the year. The RS uses more than that on just one activity. And lets face it, unless it is a moving or a yard work party, the men are not going to get out of the house without taking at least the wife if not the whole family. We once tried to have an EQ social for just the men. As the plans progressed, most of the men found they couldn’t get out of the house alone so when it was all said and done it ended up being a ward party which totally defeated the purpose.

  84. Clayton (80),
    Be careful of such generalizations: in our ward, the RS and the EQ are the largest organizations. The Primary is a distant third, even taking into account our relatively large nursery. YW has four girls, and YM has 2 boys.

    My parents’ ward had a miniscule Primary for a while, too, as young families were being priced out of the ward boundaries.

    Which is to say, undoubtedly you’re right a lot of the time. But not all of the time.

  85. In every ward I have been in, the EQ and HP budgets have been in surplus—or even untouched—by year’s end. Not so with the other organizations. So it always made sense that the men were given small budgets: it’s the parable of the talents.

    James, 83: my former bishop saw all this extra budget money and decided to throw a real EQ/HP party: he used it to pay for a night of indoor paintball. Yeah, no wives came. (Don’t worry, “former” does not mean that the activity got him released; he’s actually stake pres now.)

  86. I’m sure I speak for every man in the bloggernacle, BrianJ, when I say –

    Indoor paintball? Dude, I want to move to _your_ ward.

  87. Sam,

    Thank you for your point. You are correct, that demographics are different in each ward.

    As far as the number of people to staff the organization, primary with all of its classes, needs for singing and sharing time, etc. takes the cake as the largest with the most complex staffing needs (and almost invariably, the most spots that need filling in on Sunday with substitutes).

  88. Clayton,
    That’s the thing: over the summer, our primary divided into two to three classes. The chorister moved out, so one of the members of the primary presidency filled in. The pianist hasn’t been there in months, so I play for sharing time and senior primary and, when I go to teach, I assume someone else fills in for junior. I’d say we’ve had six to seven people staffing primary all summer, max. I assume our Elders Quorum has a presidency, secretary, and more than one teacher (although I don’t know–I’ve been in primary since I moved into the ward). Just two teachers gets Elders Quorum up to six people.

    While primary often eats up people (and ours certainly should have more), it’s not a given that it does. Many of us cover two or more spots, and it functions fine.

  89. More, perhaps, on point to the post: I get lost at discussions of power in the Church because I don’t see any power at church. Sure, the bishopric directs meetings and callings, and the primary presidency directs who I teach, but frankly, none of the can make me do anything. And, frankly, I haven’t seen any try. I do what I do at church because it’s what I’ve been asked to do and because I want to help things work. I realize that there may be some people and places where leaders actually try to impose some sort of authority on the ward, and there may be some people who feel that imposition where I wouldn’t, but my perception of the utter lack of a power relationship makes it hard to fully understand power issues within the Church.

  90. It’s true, as many of you point out, that women have a fair amount of control over budgets and organizations (mostly the ones with the highest work:glory ratios). However, every decision made by any woman is subject to review at any time, for any reason or none, by a man. Women have control only as long as they exercise it in ways that do not displease the men in authority over them. Saying that they have plenty of power is like saying your two-year-old has plenty of power when he’s steering one of those tricycles with the handles on the back for parents to push.

    Many (most?) Mormon women don’t mind these strictures and find very effective ways to function despite them. That is not an argument for the justice or righteousness of the restrictions.

  91. Kristine, our Church does not work by checks-and-balances.

    It works for the mere fact that everyone involved agrees that it’s going to work. If the people weren’t on board, it wouldn’t work. It’s that simple.

  92. I wasn’t talking about checks and balances. I was suggesting that we are obligated to think about a structure appropriate to an organization dedicated to a God who is no respecter of persons, regardless of whether the people “on board” can manage to make an unjust system function well enough. Being on board does not require ignoring the barnacles of worldly notions about gender that weigh the ship down–indeed, being fully on board might require that we take some risks to scrape them off.

  93. John Mansfield says:

    For nine of the last sixteen years, I have served my wards’ cub scouts and reported to Primary presidents’ counselors. I guess that makes me the stuffed animal dragged around by the two-year-old on Kristine’s tricycle. All those powerless, controlled Primary teachers too.

  94. Explains a lot John.

  95. John, you must love _The Velveteen Rabbit_.

  96. Kristine hardly needs my backup here, but I did want to elaborate on her tricycle analogy. I just wrapped up a term as Primary President, and though I had loads of autonomy and support from the Bishopric, there was a tricycle handle present for them to hold; they did so with a (blessedly) light touch, but it was there. The church’s system runs pretty well for the most part, i.e. you can get pedaling at a rapid clip and serve many people while driving from house to house on that trike. (And John, I’m sure the stuffed animal [bunny?] plays a significant role in that service. :) But it’s worth asking, as Kristine does, whether the scheme for who sits/drives/steers where is an edict from the captain or a quirk of a barnacle. On this go-around in Primary, it hit me that one of the things I like about it so much is that it is the only female-led, co-ed auxiliary in the church. (Why this could not work in another auxiliary, I do not know. I do not [usually] complain, but I do not know.) When I looked at those sweet (but jaded!) 11 year-old boys grumbling in the back row of Singing Time, I realized that our presidency was the last female leadership (though not the last female pedagogy) they would know during their lifetime in the church. That realization was sad, both for me and–though they might never appreciate it–for them, too.

  97. I just wrapped up a term as Primary President, and though I had loads of autonomy and support from the Bishopric, there was a tricycle handle present for them to hold; they did so with a (blessedly) light touch, but it was there.

    But is the handle being held by the particular men who serve in the Bishopric, or by Jesus Christ through those men? Do you have a problem with Jesus Christ, arguably male, being the one in charge of the church?

    I guess it’s all those years of sleeping with a bishop, and taking those calls at obscene hours, but I don’t think of a bishop as having power or being in control. I think of him as being the servant of last resort.

    And he also reports to men, should he have a problem with that?

  98. Why, yes, of course I’m furious that Jesus was a man.

    (You didn’t really want me to respond to that question, right?)

    I guess I might as well admit that I hate bunnies, too.

  99. Steve Evans says:

    Sleeping with the bishop is the most powerful of all positions.

  100. depends on the “position” you had that one coming.

  101. Steve Evans says:

    bbell, you don’t have to explain every joke…

  102. I’m just wondering about Steve’s personal experience to support his claim…

  103. I think some tales are better left untold, Brian J.

  104. Steve (#41), thanks for pointing that out. If you read closely, though, my second point tries to present a personal experience more than it makes a blanket assertion. I should have made that clearer. That said, hopefully my first point was valid enough to not to be entirely dismissed offhand. :)

  105. I just scanned the last dozen responses or so, so maybe I missed someone making this point:

    Maybe the reason women are active in the Church is because it values and appreciates the traditional work that women do in the family.

    Women bear children, men can not. Women clean the home and do housework, more so then men. Women tend to the needs of the babies and children, again, usually expending more time on it then men.

    Women end up doing this- even feminists. Secular women are not immune to this unequal division of labor. Complaints still abound that women are disproportionately stuck with the drudgery.

    If you are a woman and you have children, you are going to end up doing a lot “drudge work” regardless of how liberated you are. (Unless you have the money to spend on a maid and nanny- and even then, many women don’t want to have strangers raise their children).

    The Church teaches that these things are not drudgery. They are the most important things in life. Women in the church are praised for work and efforts that gets little but derision from secularists- including feminists. “Women’s work” is not a derisive term in the Church.

    Men who help women in this home labor are praised, while those men who leave all the work to their wives are scolded.

    Furthermore, Mormon culture has always valued education in women. Wives and Mothers were seen as natural repositories of the families book learning (this is probably due to the early Mormon’s New England Puritan roots). This means that women held a place of respect and influence within the family. This has lessoned now that Mormon men are no longer predominately subsistence farmers, but still, Mormon women are encouraged to seek higher learning.

    Is it any surprise that a church that:

    1: Praises the traditional “women’s work” of caring for home and children (work that many women want to do) as being the most important work,

    2: Encourages men to aid their wives in this work of caring for the home and children, (something that women want from their husbands),

    and 3: Encourages women to develop their minds through education,

    Is it really such a surprise that women find this church attractive?

    Add in the fact that historically, the feminists movement has been an enemy of Mormon women’s power, while the Brethren have been their allies? Who was it that supported female suffrage in Utah? Who was it that opposed it? On the grounds that “Mormon women vote like Mormons and not like women.”

    Mormon women have inherited a deep distrust of feminists, while the Brethren have a well of trust and good will to draw on. So even if they sometimes ask something of the women of the church that might be considered less the intuitive, (such as opposing the ERA), women are willing to trust and support them.

  106. Cicero, read any B.H. Roberts lately? The Brethren were far from unified in their support for women’s rights. And the antagonism between Mormon women and feminists on the national stage is more recent and less monolithic than you suggest.

  107. The Church teaches that these things are not drudgery. They are the most important things in life.

    Sorry, I think cleaning a toilet is indeed drudgery. And I don’t think I am a bad Mormon because I have and (will) use a cleaning service.

    Confusing housekeeping with motherhood is not fair to either.

  108. As Kristine says:

    Women have control only as long as they exercise it in ways that do not displease the men in authority over them.

    It seems that men have control only as long as they exercise it in ways that do not displease Him who is in authority over them. D&C 121:33-44.

  109. In the original copy of Websters’ dictionary, compiled by his wife, the word “drudgery” was accompanied by nothing but a picture of a woman scrubbing a toilet. Webster didn’t appreciate it and used his editorial authority to alter it in the official publication.

    Just thought everyone should know that factoid of truthiness.

  110. Steve Evans says:

    Cicero says:

    “Add in the fact that historically, the feminists movement has been an enemy of Mormon women’s power, while the Brethren have been their allies? Who was it that supported female suffrage in Utah? Who was it that opposed it? On the grounds that “Mormon women vote like Mormons and not like women.”

    Mormon women have inherited a deep distrust of feminists, while the Brethren have a well of trust and good will to draw on. So even if they sometimes ask something of the women of the church that might be considered less the intuitive, (such as opposing the ERA), women are willing to trust and support them.”

    I gotta tell you Cicero, that’s a pretty interesting view of women’s history and of the Suffragette movement.

  111. Women have control only as long as they exercise it in ways that do not displease the men in authority over them.

    Do they have classes that teach an XX type how to do that? Because, you know, I don’t mind being thought of as a b*tch, but being plain speaking and (usually) armed with bullet-point lists doesn’t usually get me anywhere.

  112. Mark B., that is undoubtedly true, but it would appear that the amen to the authority of a man is frequently deferred to some as-yet-unspecified future date, and it seems a pity to let men continue so long in their wickedness while women are reproved betimes with sharpness…

  113. MoJo, don’t know about classes, but a stint of living in the South can be extremely helpful :)

  114. re: #112
    I’ve read D&C 121 many times, and it never occurred to me that it was exonerating men and indicting women. Then again, I’m a man, so what do I know?

  115. Who said D&C 121 was exonerating men and indicting women?

  116. Teancum,
    Perhaps I misread 112, but it sounded as though men were somehow favored and received better treatment than women….

  117. Well, that is different from exonerating or indiciting. But I think what Kristine was saying is that the withdrawal of authority referred to in Sec. 121 is rarely as obvious, direct or immediate as your Stake President telling you, “I don’t think we will do that.”

  118. MoJo, don’t know about classes, but a stint of living in the South can be extremely helpful

    Snarf. Seems very inefficient and exhausting to me. I was hoping for a night crash course with maybe 3 CECs in … something … attached.

    Let me add that I don’t find this circumstance to be limited to church or priesthood holders and I wish women would just say what they think instead of playing these behind-the-scenes games. All in all, there’s plenty of blame to spread around. This method of getting things done is simply cluttering.

    (This could be my ADHD talking. I don’t like knickknacks, either.)

  119. Teancum,
    In the stake president example that you mention, I don’t understand what gender has to do with it (maybe I missed some earlier comments). Would the stake president have responded differently to a man?

  120. Jim: The gender aspect seems pretty clear to me. The Stake President is always a man. Women working in the Church always report to a man. In contrast, men working in the Church never report to a woman. Even if the Stake President treats men and women similarly, the inequity is institutional. And the analogy to Sec. 121 is not that apt, for the reasons Kristine outlined.

  121. Jim, sorry I wasn’t clear–Teancum’s translation is good: I just meant that the consequences of men’s displeasing their Superior happens on an entirely different time scale than it does for women. In terms of the earthly institution, women always have less scope for mistakes or even for innovation in their stewardship. Of course it’s fine for folks higher up in the org chart to exercise judgment and “hire and fire” at will–it’s that way in all human institutions. The problem is only that, in this case, women are excluded from all positions where they would have meaningful independence or oversight roles, because of their sex rather than their worthiness or skill.

  122. cj douglass says:

    even then, many women don’t want to have strangers raise their children

    I guess Cicero has never lived in NYC.

  123. Excellent point, Kristine.

    Re: 96
    I haven’t thought about it before, that after boys are 11, they never have female leaders. I wonder if this translates into the way they perceive their mother’s authority?

  124. I haven’t thought about it before, that after boys are 11, they never have female leaders.

    Just saw this as I was passing through. That isn’t exactly true if you include those who are involved with boy scouts. For example, my friend has been the advancement coordinator for years, and she has a significant impact on those boys. FWIW. Also, as a YW leader, I have felt that I have had connection and impact on YM as we interact at joint activities, temple trips, etc. One of my ym invited me to his sealing, and so I can’t imagine that my role in his life was minor. Again, FWIW.

  125. Steve Evans says:

    m&m, I am not sure ‘IW’ very much here. Having an impact and being a leader are two different things.

  126. Really, Steve? It matters more to have some leadership title than to change some person’s life?

    What do people want? Some sort of earthly “power” which as the scriptures tell us is meaningless, ultimately, or do we want to serve others and help them to be a better human being?

  127. Steve Evans says:

    Mark B., no, but by the same token let’s not confuse institutional decision-making authority with the ability to have an impact on people. Nobody questions the ability of women to do the latter; it is the former that as ever is the sticking point, and remembering the latter is certainly important but quite possibly something of a distraction when talking about treating women as equals.

  128. #125 – They are different things. Having an impact (at least the type of positive impact m&m described) is always a powerful and wonderful thing; being a leader in title only (as the focus of the comments at least implies) can cut both ways – to equal extremes. Leaders can lift and inspire; leaders also can drive people away and do almost irreparable harm. If I had the choice between having an uplifting impact or simply being a leader without regard to impact, I would choose the impact minus leader title every time.

  129. I was typing while #127 was posting. I don’t disagree at all with #127.

  130. Perhaps the reason that Kaimi is still looking for Mormon feminism (just as Thomas Frank is still trying to persuade Kansans about what’s wrong with themselves) is that “institutional decision-making” is not, for most of us, “ever the sticking point” and that most members of the church care more about people who love and serve and inspire them than about the “institution.”

  131. I don’t know, Mark. I think I’d say that I mostly care about the people I get to work with in the church, but last week, when I was at an 8-year-old boy’s baptism and each speaker mentioned how wonderful it was that he was working towards priesthood ordination, it was hard not to wonder how the structure of the institution was coloring my daughter’s experience. I don’t see how she can avoid thinking about the structural issues–what does her baptism mean if it’s not preparation for ordination? How can she serve when she turns twelve and can’t pass the sacrament? How can she inspire her brothers who grow up with the sense that women are not leaders?

    I get that it’s not the most important thing–I really do. That’s why I’m still here, why I love participating in the church. But I can’t agree that it’s unimportant, that excluding girls and women from decision-making and from positions of institutional influence is either benign or trivial.

  132. Steve Evans says:

    Mark, it’s hardly controversial to say that “most members of the church care more about people who love and serve and inspire them than about the “institution.”” You’ll find no debate here about that. But I think you’re overly dismissive about how important it is in this Church to hold offices and make decisions. I don’t see why one cannot find meaning and purpose in loving and serving others while also giving some thought to structure and hierarchy.

    PS you are a horrible sexist.

  133. You may be right Steve (about my being a horrible sexist, that is–I don’t know if I’ll concede any of your other points).

    Maybe it’s too many years of holding offices and making decisions that makes me dismissive of their importance. And maybe just the opposite of what you suggest is needed–perhaps we all need to forget about structure and hierarchy. I’m reminded of an encounter I had with a BYU religion faculty member who was serving a mission at the old visitors center here nearly 20 years ago. I told him that I had had a class from him while at BYU. He asked what my position in the church was (mistake number one–what does it matter??) and then congratulated me on “progressing so far” in the church (a damnable heresy). I decided not to go apoplectic on him–although my face may have betrayed me.

    Over and over again I try to help people get over the idea that ordination to some office in the priesthood or a calling to serve in a leadership position is some prize for past good behavior–but I see little evidence that I’m succeeding. (The interviews for those offices/positions unfortunately send exactly the wrong message, since they focus on “worthiness” narrowly defined rather than on Christian service, both as qualification to hold and purpose for the office/position.)

    And most of the talk in the church about preparing to become something or other also sends the wrong message. You’d think that there’s some ladder that we’re all climbing and the one who climbs highest wins.

  134. Mark, there’s lots of sociological evidence suggesting that jobs opened to women become less prestigious–maybe the best way to get people to quit worrying about climbing the hierarchical ladder is to ordain women ;)

  135. Steve Evans says:

    “You’d think that there’s some ladder that we’re all climbing and the one who climbs highest wins.”

    I think that’s very apt way to describe pretty much what we teach our young men until they get married.

  136. Kristine,

    That would certainly make some leadership decisions a lot easier. And, to counter the argument that this would lead to a substantial exodus of men from activity in the church, perhaps the response should be “Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out,” the modern equivalent of “Depart from me. I never knew you.”

    Steve,

    Then we should all repent. (And perhaps we should stop wondering why we lose so many young men to inactivity–if we’re teaching false doctrine they probably ought to leave.)

    Did I just pull a Sonia Johnson? Maybe that’ll get me released!

  137. Researcher says:

    Looking back at comment 130, I think Mark B has a point that these issues rarely make or break many members’ involvement with the church. I have known and worked with many “inactive” and former members of the church and I can think of just three whose departure involved (in any degree) feminist complaints with the church structure.

    By the way, I was at the baptism of two (darling) eight-year-old boys about a month back and not a word was said about priesthood ordination.

    My experience working as a parent with the public school system has been much more of a sexist experience than church ever was. It was particularly bad in our California school district. Dads had a say, moms rarely. It was rather weird to observe and both the men and women staff acted this way toward parents. The teachers also acted with more respect toward male staff. (I don’t think any of the staff was a member of the church.)

    And, Steve, “Horrible sexist?” That really raises the level of discourse.

    [Ducks and runs for cover.]

  138. Steve Evans says:

    Researcher, you gotta read between the lines. I am known on occasion to be the jocular sort.

  139. Researcher, would it have been better if Steve had called Mark a very good sexist? or a nice little sexist? or a more spiritual sexist?

  140. Researcher says:

    I wouldn’t be able to tell. I’ve never met him. You’d have to ask him.

    Jocular? That’s defined as going for someone’s neck with a smile on your face, right?

  141. maybe the best way to get people to quit worrying about climbing the hierarchical ladder is to ordain women

    I’m afraid this is absolutely true, winky-emoticon or not. Perhaps this is why I’m ambivalent about women being ordained to the priesthood. The hierarchical nature of the patriarchal order troubles me, and the more people insist it isn’t really hierarchical, the more troubled I become–because while I believe that most people in the church care more about serving than about wielding power, you can’t get around the fact that the power structure is hierarchical and women are at the bottom of that hierarchy (right above young children). That’s not to say women don’t have influence or leadership opportunities, but that form of “wielding power” is qualitatively different from the hierarchical priesthood power. Well, for one thing, it’s not hierarchical, and that’s exactly why priesthood service holds a distinct prestige, regardless of whether it’s “supposed” to or not.

    On the other hand, I personally feel that gender is an essential characteristic–I not only believe that, but I like that belief–and I see the merit of the argument that one has a unique contribution to make as a woman or as a man, because gender is so crucial to my sense of self. Not like if they started ordaining women tomorrow, I would think, “Oh, gee, now I don’t feel special as a woman.” But I’ve often thought I could stomach the patriarchal order better if I had a better sense of the female role in the eternal scheme. (Perhaps being a priestess to my husband isn’t as lame as it sounds; my earthly brain just doesn’t get it.)

    Clearly it isn’t just a handful of feminists imagining that this hierarchical structure sends girls a harmful message. It’s now standard practice for the church to give girls more public acknowledgments–whilst their young brethren are being recognized for moving up in the priesthood ranks, girls are recognized for moving from one YW class to another–and while I appreciate the spirit behind this, it does seem lame at best and condescending at worst, when you consider that a boy’s ordination represents his receiving actual power (something he theoretically merits through his worthiness) while a girl is just getting older (something she’ll do regardless of whether or not we wish her happy birthday every two years). It’s absolutely true that priesthood is about service and obligation, not prestige, but you can’t remove the prestige without diminishing the importance of the priesthood itself. It’s the POWER AND AUTHORITY OF GOD. Really hard to make the POWER AND AUTHORITY OF GOD un-prestigious. (Unless you gave it to women, of course. ;) )

    It’s a quandary, and now I have a headache.

  142. I trust that Ray was joking too, but if not . . . .

    Just as an aside to Rebecca’s comment: “moving up in the priesthood ranks” or “advancement to the office of ______” are both heresies we would do well to eradicate. But they’re sort of like cancer that has metastasized. It’s blasted difficult to destroy every last diseased cell.

  143. I agree, Mark B. That would be awfully hard to do. The claim to authority is a the heart of the message of the restoration, so whenever we reinforce the importance of various priesthood offices, it’s hard NOT to also think of the people in those offices. And ironically, when we say that it’s not the man we respect but rather the office he holds, we make it even worse.

  144. Just to clarify, I’m sure I’ve never heard anyone in church use the phrase “moving up in the priesthood ranks,” at least not from the pulpit. I was only referring to the way we tend to think of it. By my observation “advancement to the office of” is also on the way out, replaced with “found worthy to be ordained to the office of”–whioh is inoffensive, but does reinforce the glaring fact that girls don’t need to be found worthy to be Mia Maids, or whatever.

    As I said earlier, it’s not possible to make the priesthood less prestigious without diminishing its importance. Priesthood authority is central to our religion. And as I said, I am ambivalent about female ordination. I don’t believe most men consciously think of their priesthood as a prestige thing. But it is what it is. Perhaps if the female role were as well articulated as THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF GOD (sorry, I find myself incapable of typing that in anything but all caps–I want you to imagine James Earl Jones saying it), the issue would be less troublesome.

  145. Rebecca, exactly!! Thanks for putting it so clearly.

    I so often feel as if we want to have this one both ways in the church. On the one hand, we’ve got the Restoration! THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF GOD are again on the earth. I mean, wow! What could possibly be more significant to us as human beings? Then, on the other hand, when the uncomfortable fact emerges that starting at adolescence men receive THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF GOD and women receive–a Personal Progress book and some make-over night activities–then all of a sudden we want to stuff THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF GOD into a corner and start downplaying it as much as possible so that we can hang onto our ideas of equality.

    P.S. Love the call caps, Rebecca. I’m going to steal that one from you!

  146. Inspired by the new nursery manual, just last night I was looking at lds.org’s stuff on parenting young children and pitching FHE’s at their level. And right there in the discussion of what to do at each age, parents are instructed to “help boys get ready for priesthood service.” No need to prepare girls for anything whatsoever, evidently. Parents of adolescents should “discuss how priesthood and service activities express the principles of love, brotherhood, and forgiveness.” Priesthood, but no mention of anything specific to women; brotherhood, but no sisterhood. And, of course, all children are referred to as “he.”

    Sigh. We have such a long way to go.

  147. Sara Youwish says:

    I honestly don’t understand why everyone gets worked over this. Why? Men and women aren’t equal. I understand that there are women who would very much like to be a bishop or the US president but I have no such desire. I want with all my heart to stay home pregnant, baking cookies and canning. I think the power of my cleavage and cookies is fabulous. Why do I need to hold the priesthood? Would this make me a better person? More powerful? In line for more blessings?

    There is some serious power in submitting and for some reason, even though the gospel is based on submission, no one ever talks about it.

    I am active in the church because I love God. I like that the YM presidency walked me to my car after mutual when I was in YW. Yes, I feel patronized when people praise my jello more than my time serving as a soldier, stock trading or resume but that happens at scrapbooking club too and most of them are defiantly not Christian. Who cares? I roll my eyes at most things people say at church. I go to church to be obedient and submit my will to God. IMO the real problem is most wards are full of morons and women in leadership positions wouldn’t change that.

  148. Probably, Sara, if I had cleavage I would feel the same way.

  149. Steve Evans says:

    Sara, are you making/holding the cookies with this cleavage? Powerful indeed.

  150. The Token Average Member says:

    As a TAM, I would have to say that I agree with Sara about everything but the moron stuff. I know many smart, competent, hard working women who are LDS, but most of them are kept in Primary, music callings or the activities committee because they can make fewer waves there.

  151. Back in the drugged out days of the 1960s, the motto was “Better living through chemicals.” Now, can’t it be “Better living with surgery”?

    No more of those phony creams or machines like the ones Uncle Rico was peddling.

  152. The Token Average Member says:

    Mark B – Are you suggesting women have a sex change done? That would be a pretty stange way to become worthy of the Priesthood. :-)

  153. I think I’m going to put cookies in my cleavage before I go to church on Sunday to see if they make me feel powerful, or just crumbly. I’m hoping for the first, but being of shockingly little faith, I confess I’m expecting the second.

  154. Eve, I am no expert, but I advise you to avoid oatmeal raisin or chunk cookies of any kind.

  155. Starting at #147, I am totally bewildered….

  156. Cookies in the cleavage sounds like a waste of cookies to me. Possibly also a waste of cleavage. But mostly I’m worried about the cookies.

  157. Steve, your comment illustrates everything that is wrong with the patriarchy. I can’t even stick a freakin’ cookie in my bra to discover my feminine power without some man presuming to tell me how to do it.

    ;)

  158. Rebecca, yeah, undoubtedly. But one hot summer night on my mission found my companion and me painting beards and mustaches on each others’ faces with Nutella. For some reason it was hilarious at the time.

    Wow, this is a threadjack, even for me. Sorry, Kaimi. What were we talking about…Mormon feminism, or something?

  159. Cleavage cookies and bearded ladies are much more interesting and important.

  160. Sara Youwish says:

    But Token why is the stance that serving in the primary is being held back? Why the focus that by not being “in charge” we’re not reaching our full potential?

    I love how my submission comment was ignored in favor of boobs and cookies. :D

    Kristine, anytime you need cleavage drop me a line.

  161. Sara, I’ve actually heard a number of variations on the submission-is-power, the gospel-is-all-about-submission argument many times, both on the Bloggernacle and in face-to-face church settings, and I’m guessing Kristine and others here have as well. In fact, it bears a certain family resemblance to Mark B.’s comments earlier on this thread suggesting that feminist critiques give too much weight to institutional power and hierarchy, if I might venture the heresy of a paraphrase. Personally, I find such arguments problematic, and although I don’t doubt the sincerity of their proponents, I’ve never been persuaded. But that’s probably material for another thread. And I think that’s precisely why we’re addressing the cookies and boobs aspect of your comment rather than your ideas about the power of submission–it’s an old, old fight that’s been had, had, and had. I mean, we can always have it again, I suppose, and I’m more game than most, but after awhile it’s kind of like Prop. 8 or the MMM or women who know. You know?

    For the record, I have absolutely zero desire to be bishop or stake president, I actually enjoy the domestic arts I know how to do, and now, to top it all off, I have cookies in my bra. As such, I tremble at the thought that if you met me in your ward you might mistake me for one of those legions of morons you mention. But what any of these quite trivial and downright embarrassing facts about me have to do with submission, I’m at a loss to know.

  162. Yes, what Eve said. I’ve been wondering whether I *really* have to write about the difference between personal ambition and distaste for structural inequity again. I’m sick of having that argument, and I’m sure that everyone is heartily sick of listening to me on the topic. I’ll just note, for the record, that like Eve, I have little interest in being a bishop–I’ll happily die as ward choir director or Primary pianist. And although I’m sadly flat-chested, I make really good cookies. Alas, baking has not yet reconciled me to the joys of institutional sexism.

  163. I also make great cookies, and I have fabulous cleavage. Alas, it hasn’t made me good at submission. So I’m afraid you can’t assume that it’s all you need to make you a Good Woman, Kristine.

  164. Steve Evans says:

    All this TALK of good cookies. Bring forth the proof!

  165. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m going to have cleavage if I don’t stop eating cookies.

    ~

  166. Thanks for that visual, TP. How do you wash out your brain with soap?

  167. #146 and others — I think lack of guidance for women in the Church runs even deeper than just the emphasis boys and priesthood. There is a massive void created by two of our main principles:

    1) “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” and

    2) The purpose of this life is to learn to become more like our Heavenly Father.

    We tell women and men that they are intrinsically different, but then tell both to try and be like the male god they hear about and worship.

    I know that all Christianity shares the basic lack of discourse for female deity, but the LDS Church is particularly frustrating precicely BECAUSE it has the tools ready to bring female deity into the picture. It’s not just that it’s implicit, it’s sitting right there in the Procl on the Fam: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly PARENTS, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

    Unfortunately, the whole topic is taboo, so I think we are a long way away from this enormous part of the Restoration coming through.

  168. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ray,

    I don’t know what you think of Weird Kate, but I find a little Wuthering Heights will usually get the yuck out. This is the song I use for Elder Packer’s sing the song to steer around the bad thought trick.

    ~

  169. What the? …. Just when I thought this thread couldn’t get any more bewildering.

  170. #167 – It is worse for women and girls that we have a concept of a Heavenly Mother and tell our daughters they can be queens, priestesses and goddesses than if we didn’t have that concept? I can understand being frustrated by not knowing more about Her, but I can’t understand how having that theology is more frustrating than not having it.

    The topic is taboo? You just quoted it from the Proclamation to the World; it is explicit in Gospel Principles and is taught openly in the Sunday School class for investigators and new members; it is mentioned not infrequently in General Conference talks; etc. Taboo? We just don’t have many details.

    Granted I’m a man, but I have heard hundreds of women express deep appreciation for this concept and (now) one express that it would be better if we didn’t have it. Maybe I’m out of the loop a bit, but that’s my experience.

  171. Thanks, Thomas – for the link and for contributing to Cynthia’s bewilderment.

  172. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ray and Cynthia,

    I’m here to serve.

    ~

  173. The Token Average Member says:

    Sara, I only meant that those positions are not likely to be policy making positions. Certainly they have a great influence on the spirituality of a Ward. Primary, especially, is such a huge job that most of those called to it have little time to worry about anything else.

    On a more personal note, has anyone noticed how cleavage is more visible at curch than shoulders? Is that because we a patriarchal church?

  174. The Token Average Member says:

    Sorry, that word was ‘church”. My fingers aren’t awake yet.

  175. The topic is taboo?

    The September Six.

  176. MoJo,

    That was over ten years ago. The mere fact that the bloggernacle hasn’t been attacked through official channels seems to indicate that kind of reaction may be behind us. People around here regularly say things more “heretical” than anything the September Six were saying.

  177. Bloggernacle is one thing; it’s a fairly closed loop. I think if you started addressing the Heavenly Mother/Heavenly Parents concept in any further detail, perhaps scholarly (e.g., as a comparison to fertility goddess worship throughout the ages and/or current goddess worship amongst pagans), printed it and disseminated it outside this closed loop, you’d get trounced immediately.

    And I’d sure like to know: Does the GA brigade read the blogs? Do their clerks? Does someone from the church office building monitor what’s said in the bloggernacle enough to get a general feel of things or what is being said and in what tone? Could they find me based on my username? Sure, but do they care what MoJo has to say in a provincial section of the internet? No.

    IOW, does the bloggernacle even matter to church leadership? Doubt it. Bits and bytes, as ephemeral as hedge-row speculation with a couple of neighbors.

  178. MoJo,

    Peggy Fletcher Stack has quoted the nacle enough times (on controversial positions, I might add) that people in the official pipeline are most certainly reading. The big blogs are being quoted in Utah (and sometimes even non-Utah) newspapers fairly frequently.

    As for readership… Times and Seasons alone, probably has more readership than Dialgue does.

  179. Seth, if you’re wanting to talk “big blogs,” you may as well know that BCC has the highest readership. (Which is not to negate your larger point, that more people should subscribe to Dialogue. That was your point, right? ;))

  180. Fwiw, our visiting GA for Stake Conference spoke at length with the stake leadership about expanding our vision to include bogs, in particular, to further the work. Yeah, the Brethren are aware of blogging.

  181. Steve Evans says:

    Aware of blogging? Sure. But let’s not get a deluded sense of self-importance. I think MoJo’s last sentence is about right.

    re: Seth’s estimations of heresy, I think you’re both overemphasizing current heresy and underemphasizing what happened with the Sept. Six. Worlds apart.

  182. Steve, you’re wrong, actually. Much of the opposition to Prop. 8 goes well beyond anything most of the Sept. 6 did, in terms of open and public defiance of leadership.

    It is also a mistake to treat the September Six as monolithic for the purpose of such a discussion.

  183. That is, of course, I think maybe you might be sort of a little bit wrong, at least from my perspective, but I could be totally off?

  184. BAN HER!!

  185. Kevin Barney says:

    MoJo, I have exactly such an article as you describe on MiH coming out in the next issue of Dialogue, so it will be interesting to see whether and to what extent I get trounced for it. I honestly don’t think I will, but I’ve been wrong before.

  186. Kevin, I’ll be interested in seeing it, even if I have to buy a subscription. :cheeky grin:

    Kristine, I was under the impression this discussion was about taboo topics such as the Mother in Heaven (or, as I prefer to call her, the Goddess), not Prop 8. Regardless, I don’t see Prop 8 as being taboo in the least bit, but I do see frank and wondrous discussion of the Goddess to be so.

  187. MoJo, I completely agree; sorry I misread you. Maybe I’m just not paying enough attention to discussions of MiH in the bloggernacle, or my taboo-meter doesn’t work very well, so I only notice explicit public opposition to an announced church directive :)

  188. :)

  189. MoJo,

    But there’s an obvious parallel for Prop 8 opposition, too — Sonia Johnson, who was excommunicated for (rather emphatic) public opposition to the church’s position on the ERA.

  190. Has there been someone excommunicated for speaking out in (rather emphatic) public opposition against Prop 8? (I honestly don’t know, which is why I’m asking.) If so, I can see the parallel. If not, I can’t.

  191. Not yet, Mojo.

  192. Eric Russell says:

    Mojo, I don’t think the topic is as taboo as you seem to think it is. I was assigned a term paper on Heavenly Mother in a class at BYU a few years ago. It really wasn’t an issue for anyone.

  193. Kristine, I think your taboo meter is off.

  194. Mojo, I don’t think the topic is as taboo as you seem to think it is. I was assigned a term paper on Heavenly Mother in a class at BYU a few years ago. It really wasn’t an issue for anyone.

    That’s good to hear and I truly hope I’m wrong.

  195. Kaimi, I’m exceedingly late to the party but wanted to thank you for the post just the same. If I come up with anything intelligent to add (after having some sleep, hmmm sleep) I shall.

    Certainly discussing HM wasn’t taboo when I was growing up and mentioning her isn’t even here a stone’s throw from temple square. I think postulating on her particular duties is where people get all edgy. Maybe.

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