A few months ago I was googling around on the Internet and happened to find an interesting discussion which might be familiar to many Mormons. There were two factions participating in the discussion. The first group asserted that you could predict what kind of person a baby would become on the day it was born. Baby A would grow up to be independent, assertive, and to value getting things done. Baby B would become an adult who was non-assertive and more of a follower than a leader, but who would excel at empathy, listening, caring for others, and building inter-personal relationships. The second group in the discussion claimed that this was all a display of confirmation bias and presented evidence which contradicted the claims made by the first group.
In this case, the discussion focused on birth order in a family. The argument was that a firstborn child tends to get things done but isn’t much of a people person, whereas a middle child will be people-oriented rather than task-oriented. Much of the language in the discussion reminded me of the way that LDS people often talk about masculinity and femininity. The claim is often made that women are born with an innate ability and desire to care for others.
There is nothing wrong with that belief, as far as it goes, but the part that is left unsaid is that women, because of their eternal nature, are better than men when it comes to caring for others. Even though this idea is held to be true by many among us, I believe it is a folk doctrine which is not only false but actually antithetical to the gospel and damaging to the church.
Do we really believe that there is a difference in the quality of love and caring that men and women offer to those around them? When a father puts the children to bed (baths, pajamas, teeth brushed, book read, prayers said), is it any less valuable than when Mom does these same things? While the fierce love that a mother often has for her children is a wonderful thing, it is deeply wrong, and more than a little insulting, to suggest that fathers love their children any less. When a hometeacher performs a car repair for a family he visits, is he less caring than when the visiting teachers bring meals? For that matter, when a man makes a meal for someone in the ward, is his offering somehow less worthy than a meal delivered by the Relief Society?
It has pleased me greatly that over the past few years our leaders have encouraged the men of the church to be more involved in the day-to-day life of their families and to share responsibility for meal preparation, laundry, caring for the children, and other household chores. When I was young it wasn’t unusual for a man to not know how to operate the washing machine. I remember a testimony borne by an older man who expressed gratitude to his wife and marveled at her ability to do laundry. I have known families where the boys were excused from washing dishes on the grounds that their sisters needed to learn their womanly role of caring for the home. The fact that attitudes like this are becoming increasingly rare among us is a sign of progress.
Often when people write about the superior and loving heart of a woman, they write it like this: “Mother’s heart”. The use of quotation marks is understandable, given that we really don’t know what we are talking about when we use that term. It is also revealing that even women who claim to have some kind of innate talent for caring for others will acknowledge that they have had to learn and develop skills. On one hand we believe that women have a reflexive instinct to care for others — notice the example of the car wreck in the article linked previously — but we then follow up that idea with the admission that caring for others does not come naturally and that it requires work and effort. Finally, it is ironic to the point of hilarity that people who claim to have an extra measure of empathy and sensitivity to the feelings of others apparently do not realize how callous, insensitive, and harmful it is to make that statement.
The belief that female charity is superior is an apostate notion. It is reasonable to expect that anything so fundamental to our eternal lives would have a solid foundation in the scriptures. It does not, and it is therefore time for us to put this false belief and all its implications behind us.