More Strange Loopiness

Or, putting some fun into our dysfunctional discourse on gender.  If you haven’t already ready read Cynthia L.’s excellent post, please read it now before proceeding.

This post introduces a new feature called the BCC Puzzler. Consider the following situations and the questions which follow.  If you think you know the answer to any of the questions, please write the answer on the back of a twenty dollar bill and send it in. And if you just paid your tithing yesterday and can’t find a twenty, please write your answer in the comments.

A.  Through a convoluted set of circumstances involving old college roommates and in-laws, I once found myself seated in the living room of a man who then served, and who now serves, in the Quorum of the Twelve.  What kind of small talk do you make when paying a social call to a general authority?  The conversation turned very quickly to his most recent general conference sermon and we all mentioned how much we had liked it.  He graciously thanked us, but deflected the praise to his wife.  He told us that she had written his talk for him, and that this practice was common for them.

B.  Pornography is harmful because it is immoral and because it can often break up marriages.  It objectifies people and treats them as abstractions rather than as individuals.  It creates a fantasy world full of unrealistic expectations and sets an almost impossible standard which real people cannot meet, which then leads to much unhappiness.

C.  It is often claimed that men’s and women’s roles are separate but equal, and that one is not better or more important than the other. Ponder the title of this book, then go to the questions below.

Questions:

1. Can you tell which sermon delivered last week in conference by a man was written by a woman? I cannot, and I don’t think you can either. What does this do to our assumption, reinforced as recently as last week’s conference, that women are better teachers and more spiritual than men?

2. Because our gender discourse also treats people as abstractions, is it possible that our current interpretation of gender roles is inadvertently creating problems for LDS people and in some cases causing real damage?

3. How many hundred feet of glacial ice will cover hell before we see Deseret Book publish a book written by a member of the First Presidency entitled The Remarkable Soul of Men? In a conference which began with our Relief Society president saying that women don’t want or need to be petted and praised, why did we have so many talks petting and praising women? How have we arrived at the point where our discourse borrows more from Helen Andelin than Emma Hale Smith Bidamon or Eliza R. Snow Smith Young?

—————-

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Comments

  1. It seems like you’re standing in the middle of the battlefield slinging stones at both sides. Yes, I know, it’s all for the sake of discourse.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Which sides are you talking about, jendoop? (assuming that is your real name.)

    My beef is with the essentialism that accompanies every single talk about men, women, and our respective roles. I’m open to the idea that some sort of essentialism exists, but I’m waiting for somebody to explain it to me in a way that is comprehensible to me. So far, all I see is a bunch of stick figures and cartoons which don’t match up to reality.

  3. Gender essentialism doesn’t make any sense to me either. I join you in wishing someone would explain it to me in some way I can understand.

  4. Kristine says:

    I actually do think that there are essential characteristics that generally correspond to gender. Unfortunately, I think we have probably made it more difficult to discover what those characteristics are by reifying worldly constructs of a very particular time and place and class and then claiming the idol we’ve thus constructed is divine and demanding that all men, and especially all women, should worship it.

  5. Not familiar with this concern over gender essentialism. Can you elaborate?

    The only phrase I see is the following in the proclamation.
    Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

    I don’t see much of a problem with believing our genders are eternal and that we’re not androgynous when we’re resurrected. I mean from any kind of postmodern-critique you’d have to be much more concerned with the concept of a resurrected Christ (and the rest of us) to begin with right? Gender just seems minor in that light, no?

  6. I’m not sure what jendoop means, either, Mark Brown (assuming that is YOUR real name). I can’t even identify for certain one of the sides, let alone two. In fact, I didn’t know there were sides.

    Men and Women?
    Prophets/GAs and Members?
    Deseret Book and ….

  7. Mark Brown says:

    chris, in general terms, essentialism means that people behave in certain ways, based on their sex.

    There’s no real problem with that, and it even makes sense in may ways. It is easy to explain most differences in terms of social conditioning or evolutionary biology. But our LDS understanding kicks it up a notch, as you correctly note. Why are women better at taking care of others? Or are they, really? It’s easy to find examples of women who lousy mothers and men who are great with kids, so what does it mean when we say that these characteristics are an important part of our eternal nature?

    I notice that so far nobody has attempted to answer any of the questions. Please, people. Sustain me in my role as a provider and send some twenties my way.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Scott, name the movie.

  9. Kristine says:
  10. 1) President Ballard’s “Mothers and Daughters”?

    2) Does the asymmetry of the existence of post-mortal polygyny but not polyandry count as separate-but-equal? Does this mean that not just gender but also sexism is eternal?

    3) Given the trend of much greater participation of women in higher education than men, we can expect at least that those sexist books will soon all be written by women!

  11. StillConfused says:

    yummm petting and praising. especially the petting

  12. 1. I dunno, but if it was Elder Foster’s, that extra loop makes my head hurt.

    2. Yes, if people let that kind of nonsense influence their actual lives. (They don’t, do they?)

    3.

    In a conference which began with our Relief Society president saying that women don’t want or need to be petted and praised, why did we have so many talks petting and praising women?

    I would love to know whether the mixed message was even recognized.

  13. Bro. Jones says:

    #11 High five! :)

  14. Haha. The third question hit so close to home that I had to comment. My teenage daughter who is sometimes a punk and at the same time being a really great kid and thinks herself a bit of a pot stirring feminist sent a text to her friend during conference that said, “Someday when I’m a general authority of a purely matriarchal church I am going to write a book about the inherent value of masculinity and unique abilities of the male gender and title it ‘The Remarkable Soul of a Man’.”

    She really likes Elder Uchtdorf and usually enjoys his talks but was bemused by the title of this book.

    She did feel truly damaged when the teachers & priests quorum of our ward under the guise of “scouting” went of a week long canoeing trip. No such things are ever organized for the Y.W. If you are fortunate enough to know her in real life don’t ever bring this up if you wish to hear the end of it. I am risking it even by putting this out here on the internet.

    Note to self: Must close all windows and delete all history of this visit here today.

    P.S. I like petting and praising, if the rest of the women don’t well then, more for me!

  15. What I mean by slinging stones at both sides is the different stances in question 2 and 3. In question 2 you take issue with gender essentialism. Then in question 3 you use gender essentialism to say that each side should have equal time/attention.

    If you go with the belief that the GA’s operate under, that the genders are different and have differing specific characteristics to be developed, then it isn’t a leap to see that those genders will be treated differently. Including different sermons from the pulpit and publisher.

    A real life example of the inherent differences between men and women is the disproportional number of men that commit violent crimes. Another example would be that women carry the fetus for nine months and then give sustenance from their bodies after birth, I see that as nurturing. Those are just two I could think of off the top of my head. While I’m nurturing my children today I’ll try to think of more.

    Jendoop is more my real name than the abstractly assigned name I was given at birth and the last name I was pressured by society to take at marriage ;)

  16. Gwenydd McCoy says:

    1. Can you tell which sermon delivered last week in conference by a man was written by a woman?

    No I cannot.

    2. … is it possible that our current interpretation of gender roles is inadvertently creating problems for LDS people and in some cases causing real damage?

    Yes, it is possible.

    3. How many hundred feet of glacial ice will cover hell before we see Deseret Book publish a book written by a member of the First Presidency entitled The Remarkable Soul of Men?

    None, because might already be covered in glacial ice, i.e. outer darkness is probably cold and not hot.

  17. Mark Brown says:

    jendoop, are you aware of the recent research (within the past 12 months) that documents how women are as likely to instigate violence (slapping, hitting) as men? Are you aware that women exhibit anger at a slightly higher rate than men?

    How do you reconcile these facts with our current take on gender differences?

  18. Mark Brown says:

    p.s. I was just teasing about the name. I’m very happy you are participating here.

  19. 1. I would expect any good writer to be able to fake man-language.

    2. Yes.

    3. When you criticize women, they get get angry and violent.

  20. why did we have so many talks petting and praising women?

    Was this heavy petting or light petting?

  21. #14 Dovie
    “Someday when I’m a general authority of a purely matriarchal church I am going to write a book about the inherent value of masculinity and unique abilities of the male gender and title it ‘The Remarkable Soul of a Man’.”

    Ha! I don’t know about the matriarchal church, but I’ll bet such titles will be out within the decade.

    As the bishopric counselor over youth, the YW president complained that the young women never get the fun adventures the boys get and all I could say was “you’re the YW president, you’ve got just as big a budget, plan what you want and submit it to the bishop, same as the boys.” Nothing came of it. Why? First, because many of the YW have no interest in anything physically demanding and second, because the YW leaders didn’t do things like that when they were young and therefore don’t feel comfortable with it now.

  22. 1. Nope. I’d love to know who–actually, I’d love everyone in the church to know who.

    2. Yeah.

    3. I’ve been wondering lately about gender essentialism. If women are truly different, don’t we then need our own role models? Not just the idealized, fantasy women we typically hear about, but real women leading real lives that we can look to for inspiration on how to progress? Really, if the only examples we are presented are male (and males are then who we are expected to emulate), does that imply the leadership doesn’t really believe women are different–that gender essentialism is just cultural–or does it imply that men just don’t want to hear about women?

  23. That’s really interesting about not writing their own talk. Although given the time constraints perhaps not that unexpected.

    Regarding the questions

    1. I think this demonstrates that people read into gender more than is there. This is but one example.

    2. I think this is true. By current gender roles though I’m not sure if you mean the stereotypical LDS view or the stereotypical liberal arts view (which in many ways dominated the educated class in America). We often joke about how Mormons demand too much of ourselves. That sort of quest for perfection that is sometimes presented as a sterotype of Mormons. However the liberal arts stereotype tends to do quite the same thing by saying you can do it all. (i.e. have a full time power job, raise several small kids, keep a home, etc. – both for men and women) It’s always been kind of interesting to me that this parallel is so rarely brought up.

    3. I kind of wish there was a list of GA books from the past decades. Because I’m fairly sure there have been fairly similar book titles only addressing men. I did a quick book search and found several LDS titles with similar male titles, albeit not ones written by a member of the 1st presidency. Although Man, His Origin and Destiny keeps coming to mind even if the content doesn’t parallel well.

  24. My beef is with the essentialism that accompanies every single talk about men, women, and our respective roles. I’m open to the idea that some sort of essentialism exists, but I’m waiting for somebody to explain it to me in a way that is comprehensible to me. So far, all I see is a bunch of stick figures and cartoons which don’t match up to reality.

    In what sense are you defining “gender.” If it’s more the social role sense of the term then I don’t think there could be essentialism. At best perhaps a typical case or ideal case. But I don’t think either side is promoting essentialism at all.

  25. 1. No, but when it comes to novels, I can often tell (or at least think I can)

    2. Silly question. You can argue that teaching people repentance can cause them real problems. A lot depends on how the teaching is received.

    3. Quite frankly, near as I can tell, the majority of women in the church love to be praised and petted. I think it’s a big part of the “peace and comfort” they get from coming to church. There’s a reason the active women outnumber outnumber the active men! (Okay, maybe this isn’t it, but it might be!)

  26. It’s pretty silly to suggest there aren’t meaningful statistical differences between men and women besides genitalia. I mean, the simple fact that we’ve got different brews of hormones which affect brain chemistry and thus behavior makes that obvious.

    That isn’t evidence of a spiritual essential difference between men and women, however. Near as I can tell, we have no evidence of spirits whatsoever, so if our church teaches they’re different, how is that any different than teaching they’re there to begin with?

  27. She did feel truly damaged when the teachers & priests quorum of our ward under the guise of “scouting” went of a week long canoeing trip. No such things are ever organized for the Y.W. If you are fortunate enough to know her in real life don’t ever bring this up if you wish to hear the end of it. I am risking it even by putting this out here on the internet.

    I think this has actually been a topic of a post here a few years back. (Not your daughter, but the asymmetry) I think people have tried to make YW and YM activities more parallel however often the opponents are the young women themselves. (i.e. they don’t like real camping)

    The big problem with any kind of activity is when you have one or two people who want something different. (Say YM who hate the outdoors and camping) Then add in leaders who are used to the more typical view and there’s always an opportunity for disappointing.

  28. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 21
    Why can’t everyone go canoeing together?

  29. re: 28

    They can. You just need special approval (and arrangements) for over-nighters.

  30. Martin in 21 –
    “Nothing came of it. Why? First, because many of the YW have no interest in anything physically demanding and second, because the YW leaders didn’t do things like that when they were young and therefore don’t feel comfortable with it now.”

    I would disagree with the use of “comfortable,” that makes it sound like they don’t want to leave their curling irons, when I think the point you’re trying to make is they don’t feel confident in their expertise to do it – which I would agree with, because by not having scouts or female mentors, that knowledge has been held back from them. All the more reason for the extra work in doing a coed trip.

    Then there’s the whole childcare issue. For most LDS families, it is FAR FAR easier to get men to take time away from their families than for women. Mainly because many* men won’t watch their children. Case in point – every RS activity has a nursery, and it’s not just the kids of single moms in there.

    *not all, not even maybe most, but enough to make a difference.

  31. As to the gender essentialism in conference – it does make me a little batty.

    Anyone who leans toward non-essentialism is fond of explaining that the disparity in abilities is far greater within groups than between groups. Meaning that the difference in gender approved traits between a male lumberjack and a male poet is far greater than the difference between a male poet and a female anything.

    I’m not a strict non-essentialist, so I’m happy to acknowledge that there are differences, but I’m not really comfortable making rigid statements about what those might be. My husband and nearly every man I know in person seems to be a terrible looker. He can be looking right at what he’s trying to find and still ask me for help. But I think generations of scientists and detectives would take exception to me declaring that an inherit male trait.

  32. But Reese–it _is_ a gender-specific trait. He couldn’t possibly have the uterine tracking device!

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    Reese, when you said your husband was a “terrible looker,” I thought you were going to say he looks at other women. And I was going to say that I think you’ve hit on some legitimate essentialism there!

  34. Latter-day Guy says:

    1. Can you tell which sermon delivered last week in conference by a man was written by a woman?

    Easy. Elder Packer’s talk, written by his housekeeper, Lupe.

  35. And, bingo! Kevin demonstrates the dangers of essentialism. Men’s infidelity gets a wink because it’s “natural.”

    I know you’re just joking, Kevin, but just the fact that the joke can be made in polite and educated company (and that people will roll their eyes at me for objecting to it) is problematic.

  36. 32 – The UTD, I’ve been working for years on reverse engineering one for my own use. The hard part is finding a place to put it. And THAT is the Essential part!

  37. #35- Bless you for saying exactly what I was thinking. You make me want to resurrect an old post of mine on this very thing.

  38. Kevin – I was afraid someone was going to think I was impugning his physical attractiveness. I didn’t even think about a wandering eye. I guess that proves it’s not an essential trait since he does it so rarely I forget about it’s existence. Either that or I have him terrified to turn his head from side to side.

  39. Kevin Barney says:

    I plead evolutionary biology!

  40. @35 —
    “Kevin demonstrates the dangers of essentialism. Men’s infidelity gets a wink because it’s “natural.” ”

    No, that’s the advantage of essentialism. Men get to hear talks about p0rn all the time. After all, be we poets or lumberjacks, we all enjoy those talks.

  41. Mike,

    They can all go on an adventure together if they want.

    Here is the real issue. Very few of the YW or their leaders will have any interest in any type of outdoor adventure activities in my Exp. So when one of the outliers on this issue either a YW or a YW leader proposes these types of ideas they will almost always get shot down by fellow females.

    In the bloggernaccle this gets played as if there is some type of structural gender discrimination issue with the LDS church that somehow forbids YW from going camping or canoeing. However my exp in Youth leadership tells me that its in fact the individual decisions of YW and thier leaders that prevent outdoor activities from being planned and executed.

    As a YM leader I make a practice of inviting Laurels and Mia Maids (14-18 year olds) on outdoor activities with my YM. I have yet to either get leaders or the YW themselves to agree to any outdoor adventure activities as a group. I did however once have a 15 year old ask if she could come shooting with us. However she was an outlier and constantly complained to my wife and I that she hated the YW activities but could not convince anybody to change

  42. Mark Brown, in #17 I would like to see a link to the recent study you reference. I know it is anecdotal but in my experience my mom was way nicer and less angry and more nurturing than my step dad and even my real dad. In high school all my friends moms were way nicer than the dads. Except one, maybe two that had serious mental impairment that tended angry, there were another couple moms that were impaired and their personalties tended toward the nurturing side. My kidos would say I am the more nurturing parent, except for nurturing their consumption of electronic gaming, then dad wins.

    In the news my impression is that most of the violent crime I see reported is committed by males. Sure there are stories about women doing violent angry things but it seems there are a lot more males.

    I don’t know what reality is, I’m just curious to see the study. It seems so counter to my perceived experience. Maybe I see it the way I do because I expect to.

  43. bbell–shockingly, girls who grow up systematically denied opportunities for camping, and then socialized to believe that their eternal worth is dependent on attracting a boy’s attention will tend to be reluctant to leave behind the possibility of a shower and blow-dryer. You have to start issuing the invitations a lot earlier than 14.

  44. My father was an avid camper, and we went camping a lot when I was growing up. Unfortunately, most of us girls inherited our mother’s hatred of it.

  45. Dovie #42 – If I’m not mistaken, the study Mark cited in #17 refers specifically to domestic violence.

  46. Great, thought-provoking post. I think there’s definitely a double-edged, double-standard sword in almost every way gender is discussed these days–it’s almost constantly condescending or demeaning or obnoxious or, most of all, ridiculously broad to either men or women or (most often, I think) both. Then, when the double standards are brought up, one is accused of being either a raging feminist (which apparently is bad?) or a rotten chauvinist. The same is true of virtually any dialogue about race. As has been pointed out, there are statistical trends, but there are also so many billions of exceptions that they can hardly even be called exceptions. I think once we understand what these inherent, eternal qualities in male and female spirits really are, we’ll go a long way towards being able to actually talk about “gender”. Unfortunately, I don’t expect that to happen in this lifetime.

  47. Latter-day Guy says:

    43, So the real problem isn’t that YW don’t get to enjoy the activities they would like, but that the system creates girls who don’t like the activities in question? If so, are you equally concerned that the Church’s YM program churns out boys who aren’t inclined to scrapbook or crochet? What would the solution be here? Adopt a carefully calibrated coed system that makes sure all LDS youth are exposed to stereotypically masculine/feminine activities in a precisely equal ratio?

  48. @43

    “then socialized to believe that their eternal worth is dependent on attracting a boy’s attention”

    We teach that at church? Hmm… Popular teen media and all my daughters’ friends seem to agree with us, except the eternal worth part…

  49. When the daughter in question was in Beehives she had a leader that did take them on several adventures even over night ones. They went to Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon plus several lengthy bike rides and hikes and even a river run. It was tricky to orchestrate because the leader had to find a woman that would agree to go with her, and the other woman’s husband… I’m guessing so that they would have a priesthood presence?

    It is just a thorn in her side whatever the cause. To hear of the camp outs that the scouts go on almost every single month of the year just about kills her. Part of her would make it so no one would have fun if she is not having fun. When they go to the beauty college to get their nails and hair done for the umpteenth time she is most certainly not having fun.

  50. John Mansfield says:

    A funny thing about Kristine’s comment is that my wife as a young woman was in a stake where the girls did do things like camping in the snow and multi-day treks to the tops of 13,000 ft peaks. This is funny because Kristine was in that stake also, but I think moved away around age 14.

  51. I just took my teen daughters backpacking over spring break. I told them to invite all their friends, LDS or not. Nobody wanted to come. It wasn’t, “Oh, I wish I could but I’m busy.” They simply weren’t interested. Darn that LDS influence!

  52. 43 –
    I’ll concede you’re much smarter than I, so I’ll try to tread lightly in my criticism, But
    Couldn’t inviting them at a younger age be systematically programming them to be something different.
    I guess this is where it reaches a tipping point for me. I do believe(agree) that a large part of who we are is socialized into us regardless of genetic/spiritual makeup. My issue is that you can’t rid ourselves of that. Our susceptibility to socialization IS genetic/spiritual in nature. So if you don’t program girls to be “girls” you ARE programming them to be something. Demanding that girls be raised as “girls” and boys as “boys” is not much different in demanding that they be raised the exact same. They are both attributing a moral framework to gender differences.
    I don’t have an issue with the bulk of this issue, but that comment bothered me.

  53. I have a brother who works in Walmarts corporate sporting goods department. We have had long disussions about selling tents, camping gear fishing gear etc.

    Most of the gear is used by males. Like 70-80%. Its also marketed to males.

    So this issue of who enjoys outdoor activities is clearly not an issue created by a misogynist church. I know that people like to indulge in conspiracy theories that reflect their world view but come on.

  54. #50 John Mansfield, I need to move to the stake your wife grew up in. My oldest is the first of four daughters. I’m done for. The other three would at least get something out of the beauty college but they will still be annoyed they don’t get to go camping. We do camp as a family but that is not the same for them I guess.

  55. MikeInWeHo says:

    It’s fascinating to read this post from the perspective of someone who lives in radically different subculture. When I’m back in rural Michigan sometimes I’ll hear female relatives make comments about “Oh, that’s mens work…” (or men saying the reverse). It’s always a bit jarring. Of course, I was the boy who won the rosette at the 4-H for making the best muffins in Clinton County.

    I was reminded of my culinary success in 4-H when I read about your 15 year old Mia Maid who wanted to go shooting, bbell. What on earth becomes of these gender outliers in a culture that remains so rigid?

  56. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 53
    But it’s really about the culture, not the organizational structure.

  57. On Saturday night I heard several women bemoan girls camp, asking why the girls can’t just go to a Spa instead. In my mind I went to my happy place, which happens to be very similar to camping (without pit toilets).

  58. xenologue says:

    Yep to all this. We are organizing a fundraiser for the YW/YM and my YW will have fewer responsibilities for it because they don’t need to raise the vast sums of money that the boys need for Scout Camp. I noted that the cost for each girl to go to Girls’ Camp was only $20. One of the girls immediately said she wished we could do cooler things for camp, like the Scouts did. I told her if that’s what she and others wanted, to speak to the camp directors so it would go on the agenda for next year. I doubt she will, though. I was astounded at how many girls brought makeup to girls’ “camp”, showered twice a day, etc.

    But then, I was an outlier at their age, and still am. I’d like to at least take them overnight camping — REAL camping, in tents — but it will shortly get too hot here in S. Texas to do that.

  59. 55
    Meh, I cooked, baked, and even sewed. I got made fun of for sewing stuff – a lot. I was horrible at basketball and baseball and less than average in most other sports.
    I gave up the sewing and worked really hard to become average at sports. I was one of the outliers you speak of and I conformed. Looking back I’m glad I did. I became lifelong friends with the guys I grew up with. I don’t think the culture “robbed” me of who I was.
    I’m not saying all outliers need to conform, but I don’t think we need to shed a tear for those who do.
    And I think our current culture places way too much emphasis on individualism. If we’re all so focused on “being ourselves”, its hard to form a community and even friendships.

  60. Back to the post I am dying to know who general authority was that regularly has his wife write his talk. I am having a hard time finding anything but the audio and video links at lds.org anyone give me some help with finding the text transcripts so I can refresh my memory with out watching all of conference again.

  61. Thomas Parkin says:

    re: gender essentialism. I think it sex exists but cannot be defined except by its names. Male(hood) and female(hood) exist. In much the same way, we cannot be defined except by our name(s). I am a man. One of God’s names is Man of Holiness. (Whole man.) Another person is a woman. Another person may be a woman in the body of a man. (I don’t know.) But it exists, and is a stand alone adjective. Saying you are a man (or woman) is more like saying you are blue than saying that you are a knife. Well, what is the role of blue? The sky is blue – not always. The sea is blue – even less freequently. Clearly the role of blue is not to be the sole color of the sky. And yet, blue definitely exists and remains blue even though many things around it change – and one thing it does is color the sky. A whole man and a whole woman may be as nearly alike as two individual beings can be,- in capacity, in role, in every way,- and yet still remain essentailly man and woman and in need of each other for that wholeness.

    Re: the title is horrid … but I’d sure rather have Pres Uctdorf doing it than many of his peers. I think he has been well above average on the subject.

    I think, as I’ve said previously, that our collective conversation on gender does no end of harm. But I think we are doing better, and trust that eventually we will get it right. The strong tendancy is to project our current culture on to heaven (The Celestial Kingdom is an extension of a happy family, and hence the Celestial Kingdom is mommey, daddy and kiddies sitting at the dinner table for all eternity. When polygamy was sitting in the cat bird seat, they did the same thing.) Eventually, though, we should be able to do the reverse: seeing into heaven and modeling it rather than insiting we already are. ~

  62. Kristine says:

    John, it’s true, except that I was 15 when we moved :) But I still love camping. One year (I can’t remember if your sis-in-law was in the group) on our overnight backpacking trip, we got up at 4 am, broke camp in the dark, and hiked back to the main camp on our own. Our leaders were stunned when they woke up all alone at 6:30. The interesting point for this discussion, though, is that camping was something girls and women did in that stake, and they loved it. Geography probably had something to do with it–when you live in a corner of the world that beautiful, how can you not want to be out exploring it?!–but it was certainly a matter of acculturation, too.

  63. I realize that this discussion is supposed to be fun. However, I disagree with the idea of criticizing Pres. Uchtdorf’s book, or indeed anybody’s book or literary work or artistic book, solely upon its title without having actually read it. Whether or not the substance of a book is as simplistic as the title appears to be is unknown until one of us actually reads the book. Titles are marketing tools, and are often not even chosen by the author — a famous example of which is “Peanuts”, a title which Charles Schulz hated.
    Given Pres. Uchtdorf’s track record of thoughtful & original sermons, there may be nuances in his book which we won’t know about until we read it. The book title says more about our culture than it does about the author’s point-of-view.

  64. Realization FAIL

  65. Kristine says:

    bbell, BRuss,

    I’ve nowhere claimed that the church does this socialization all by itself. My point, back to the original post, is that the church ought to be trying to help girls figure out what is essentially feminine, NOT simply amping up cultural pressures from the world (which you and Martin and others rightly point out work in similar directions).

    You might be interested in checking out the Community of Christ’s youth curriculum, which is the same for boys and girls and does not, as far as I can tell, spend any time reinforcing stereotyped gender roles for either. Leaves them a lot freer to focus on spiritual development: http://www.cofchrist.org/onlineresources/PowerLight/YearC/Youth/PLYouthC.pdf

  66. yeah, Steve, I get it, okay, I should lighten up. This is just one of my pet peeves — criticizing someone’s book without having read it.
    I realize, though, that without such criticisms, the gaseous content of the blogosphere would drastically decrease.
    I just disagree with that tendency. However, I am not morally outraged.

  67. Peter LLC says:

    This is just one of my pet peeves — criticizing someone’s book without having read it.

    Another sign of the times.

  68. Femisutra says:

    Zefram, it doesn’t matter what the content of the book is. The matter being discussed is that there is even a book with the title of, “The Remarkable Soul of a Woman.” This statement is exemplary of the type of petting and praising that Mark Brown is addressing, independent of the book’s content.

  69. Kristine says:

    But Zefram, I don’t think anybody criticized the book. What they criticized was, in fact, the existence of a book with that title, which is readily discernible from the linked ad.

    I believe we just had a two-day-long lovefest for Elder Uchtdorf around here, fercryinoutloud!

  70. Well, at least one person referred to the book as a “sexist book”. I assumed that was a criticism. Was I mistaken?

  71. It’s pretty silly to suggest there aren’t meaningful statistical differences between men and women besides genitalia.

    There are physiological differences in the brain as well. Here’s but one example among many. My understanding is that men and women use different parts of the brain for language as well as movement. In women more of the frontal lobe is used whereas in men it’s more balanced but the back is more important. Various connective tissues differ as well. Although I don’t think the reasons for this are really understood. The danger is when people draw unwarranted conclusions from the biological differences. For instance intelligence seems about equal between men and women although the standard deviation may vary between sexes. (Of course the meaning of intelligence is itself a highly controversial topic)

  72. Cherylem says:
  73. Here is the real issue. Very few of the YW or their leaders will have any interest in any type of outdoor adventure activities in my Exp. So when one of the outliers on this issue either a YW or a YW leader proposes these types of ideas they will almost always get shot down by fellow females.

    The single biggest complaint among the YW in my ward is that they don’t enough camping opportunities as part of the formal YW program. There is a massive disconnect between the girls and the leaders.

  74. #62 – same here: we grew up in California doing church-sponsored camping, and here in AZ our ward and stake YW leaders organize and participate in them too. When these things are seen as normal, they become … normal.

    #73 – yep, our girls appreciate outdoor activity too. No gender essentialism towards YW, please!

  75. Kristine says:

    Zefram, a book with that title can be said to be sexist, because, as people have pointed out, it is impossible to imagine such a book being written about men. I’m sure Elder Uchtdorf’s and the publisher’s intentions are entirely benign (it would be wrong to call the book “misogynist” or something like that without knowing what’s in it), but its mere existence is an artifact of a sexist culture.

  76. corktree says:

    What about the supposed inherent differences in perspective and actions, almost from birth? What about the claims that boys are practically programmed to pick up the first stick they get their toddler hands on and shoot it like a gun, regardless of having ever witnessed such an act? Or that they seem to inherently know what sounds a toy truck should make?

    This is all I’ve heard for the past month since knowing we’re having our first son, and I’ve only recently had a mother of 7 tell me that she doesn’t believe it. She claims her girls did the same thing – but her and her husband are practically opposite traditional gender roles.

    I’m trying to convince myself that I can eliminate expectations and just allow him to “be who he’s going to be”, but does it really start that early, with or without our influence? Does it matter if we ever find out what they came here with? And is it really so wrong to consciously mold them to our hopeful expectations? I agree with 52 in that even if we reject cultural norms, we are still actively influencing based on the choices we offer our children and the choices we make ourselves. And there seems to be no way around it other than to say we shouldn’t wait for the church to offer the choices that we would like our children to have (especially true in the camping argument).

    I could be wrong, but it seems futile to try and separate the issues of nature vs nurture that essentialism hinges on – of course I’m not well versed in all that essentialism entails, still learning. Great discussion.

  77. You know, corktree, I’ve heard all that stuff too, and I guess until recently my whole “I’m not a parent so I can’t comment” perspective kept me from really thinking it through. But now that I am a mom of a son – and therefore allowed myself to think about it – it strikes me as illogical on it’s face. A boy would absolutely have to witness *somebody* *somewhere* using a gun. Otherwise the gun would have been invented by a toddler right after the wheel.

    I think these toddler boys are responding to authority, or power, or a male adult behavior modeled on TV or video games or toys, and I think that authority is so exciting that it doesn’t take a lot of exposure to follow up on it.

    So, in my not terribly well considered opinion, I think the answer is both – maybe *maybe* it’s a gender thing to be wired towards an overwhelming interest in a commanding authority figure, or power, or whatever, and maybe it’s a nurture thing because guns are how boys are shown to have that authority or power or whatever.

    But then again, my son has zero interest in guns, and there are frequent Law and Order reruns playing in his presence, so maybe it’s really not as strictly gender enticing as we are so often told it is.

  78. Cherylem, I don’t see where that addresses what I said. It appears an article about a pop science book that appears filled with more pseudoscience than it should. Also note the essay makes the same point I did: that drawing conclusions to “large scale” behaviors is dangerous. (I even gave an example: intelligence)

  79. Could someone explain to me why a book titled “the remarkable soul of a man” seems so hard to imagine? Honestly it doesn’t seem that different from the book titles out there. But maybe that’s just my cynicism about sentimental book titles in general.

  80. Corktree — I lived in Wymount for several years and saw lots — LOTS — of young children all the time. We parents would hang out all the time, so I saw these kids nearly every day for months on end. In my experience, there’s no difference. There were both boys and girls who enjoyed rough play and shooting games; there were also both boys and girls who were shy, played with dolls, and didn’t like getting dirty. Most kids didn’t fall into clear gender roles.

    I feel like the best policy is to offer all kinds of toys and experiences regardless and let them choose for themselves what they like.

  81. I swear I proofed that before posting, but rereading my comment again now makes me cringe at my wording and punctuation. Sorry — I’m tired.

  82. To Femisutra & Kristine, I understand your points about the book’s existence being a manifestation of a sexist culture. And if I understand you clearly, Kristine, then applying the label “sexist” is not being critical in a pejorative sense, but justifiably using an apt descriptive term.

    However, in the non-academic world in which I spend my time, calling something sexist is a criticism. In the pejorative, negative, sense. And I think it’s too easy for criticisms of a book’s outward appearance or title to morph into criticisms of the book as a whole, or indeed its author. That’s what my initial comment was about. My reaction would be the same if folks were criticizing a feminist book because of its title.

  83. “That’s really interesting about not writing their own talk. Although given the time constraints perhaps not that unexpected.”
    I’m really surprised by this. Mostly from this standpoint: most LDS people i know (that don’t read BCC) express the opinion that words spoken in general conference are second only to the standard works. I wonder how surprised they would be that the general authority in question isn’t writing the words, his non-priesthood-holding wife is. When you say it’s common, do you mean for this couple, or among GAs in general?

    “Near as I can tell, we have no evidence of spirits whatsoever”
    There’s a cool study where people that had close relationships (I think they might have only used married couples, but I can’t remember) were put in separate rooms. One member was in a room with a two-way mirror and could see their spouse. The other could not see their spouse and was monitored for physiological responses. The first was directed to focus their concentration on the second at specific intervals. It turned out that the spouse that could not see anything has a physical response to being stared out/focused on by their partner, but not by a stranger, even though they didn’t realize it was happening. Anyway, there is *some* evidence that there is a tangible something that exists that hasn’t been discovered yet that connects us….

  84. #20 – RUss B – LOL, Hilarious!!

    Good stuff! Here’s my humble oversimplified take. From the beginning, men have been physically bigger than women. This gives men the self-survival power: men can kill women easier than women can kill men. Men can physically survive (if it came down to one man v. one woman) easier than women can survive. Men are equally matched in the game of self-survival. So their weakness standing alone is that they cannot self-replicate or create additional men to survive the other men–a part of survival. That is, men need women to reproduce additional men (and thus reproduce additional women too–circular). Over time these early, primitive realities have led to and defined gender-based identities and roles. Woman is needed to create. Man is needed to physically survive. Women depend on men. Men depend on women. Those are demonstrable, quantifiable gender differences. We were created with these physical inequalties by design. And these physical inequalities have had huge implications on the socialization and the psychological development of other spectrums of “identity”, like spiritual identity, as man has become more civil. So, could it be that one of the developmental effects on man/women’s psychology over millenia is that women have become more “compassionate, gentle, kind, effectionate,” towards other creations (kids, man, etc.) than men? Could essentialistic characteristics have developed due to women and men both knowing over millenia that men were necessarily the more violent of the two genders due to the primal desire for both genders to survive?

    We don’t think in primitive terms much, especially in church circles or in a “civilized modern society”. Instead we do studies on “temperment” and “anger”. But these physical gender differences are undeniable differences; they are observable and capable of replicating. Although it sounds like very very interesting research results referenced in #17, I would love to ask the purveyors of the research whether the sample pool of angry women could defeat the men in a hand to hand fight for survival. That’s a research design we’ll never see modernly but we all know what the answer is based on tragedies of the past. We all need each other, equally, at the most basic level of survival.

    I think social constructs–like public office, church callings, etc.–that have very little if anything to directly do with survival blur our our sense of essentialistic gender “roles” and characteristics. This is because man has created and occupied these constructs to the exclusion of women, which is wrong and make no sense to us. But if we’re talking about spiritual stuff, and not social constructs, I think gender roles and identity continue to be inseparably connected with man’s (generic man) basic and primitive sense of survival, which dovetails into sexuality and procreation, which in turn influence man’s full and eternal potential.

  85. I wish we DID hear more about the Remarkable Souls of Men, dammit. Was a time you could read great literature and learn something about honor, duty, transcendental sublimity, physical and moral strength, and how it related to the male soul. I want my future son or sons to grow up to not only be good people, but good MEN — to look to positive role models and be noble, brave, and hardy (while being feminist and egalitarian and great cooks, of course). We don’t read these books (whether published by Deseret or Simon & Schuster) simply because being female is marked in our society. Now, it may appear that being a man may simply mean down Bud Lights and being lazy and unkempt and thinking up derogatory zingers, if some streams of entertainment are to be believed.

    And no, I am not endorsing the “oh, boo hoo, pity me and my dollar to your seventy cents” camp of pro-masculinity. However, I do think that, by and large, we lost language to talk about morality and ethics that might resonate with many men. Me? I’m a girl–yes, I DO in fact love emotional tear-jerking movies and “cute” Primary programs and suchlike; but honestly, I wonder if some dudes don’t get fed up with such a girly church sometimes, and opt for the destructive, but machismo, alternative they see “in the world,” to use a cliched phrase. (I similarly fear for women’s moral and ethical models, when they seem to fall into a “consumerist maniac” or “nurturing Mommy Dearest” binariness.)

  86. Oh, and for what it’s worth, I’m a follower of blogs like Language Log, and therefore reject simplistic “male v. female brain” thinking prevalent in the pseudoscience of the day — I think masculinity and feminity are largely socially constructed, but if we can channel that positively, it can be okay. Just as it’s good for black kids to see postive black role models in the media, DESPITE the genetic fact that race is supremely irrelevant, it’s good for boys to see positive male role models, beause boys identify with males, DESPITE the fact that the only measurable difference is in primary and secondary sex characteristics, not the brain. At least I think that a future son of mine might more easily identify with Hamlet or George Washington or Mozart, especially around, say, 3rd grade, when gender is so important and girls have cooties. I know *I* was positively influenced by reading about Laura Ingalls and Jo March and Elizabeth Bennett, and their very femaleness resonated with the preteen me.

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