What’s wrong with this picture? More men in women’s meeting than women in general sessions of conference

I was talking to a friend about these images of gender imbalance in the speaking parts in General Conference. In trying to convey how alienating such an overwhelmingly male meeting can be for women in the audience, I posed this hypothetical: if there were a meeting as female as general conference is male, would men in the audience perceive it as a meeting for them, that related to them, where they felt comfortable and welcome? Or would they perceive it to be a women’s meeting? [1]

It occurred to me that this isn’t merely a hypothetical. We do have a meeting that is mostly female, the annual Relief Society meeting. Although we understand it to be a women’s meeting, there is actually more male participation in this “women’s” meeting than there is female participation in the meetings that are supposed to be for women as much as they are for men, the general sessions of conference. This is illustrated in a newly updated infographic (click to enlarge):

GeneralConferenceInfographic.RS

With 25% of the speakers at the women’s meeting being male, and only 8% of the speakers in the general sessions of general conference being female (this excludes Priesthood Session, which is 100% male), there are three times as many male speakers in the women’s meeting than there are female speakers in the meetings that are supposed to be for men and women. If you include prayers and other speaking parts (as shown in the infographic), the women’s meeting has about 50% more male participation than the sessions for “everyone” have female participation.

Men, can you imagine attending a meeting as female as General Conference is male? Have you ever done so? Feel free to share experiences from work, school, or other contexts. What did it feel like? Did you feel your concerns, ideas, and perspectives were adequately addressed? Did you feel comfortable? Did you feel the meeting was just as much about and for you as it was for the women present? In my field, which has a very low percentage of women, there is an annual conference for women. When it was held in my city, a female colleague of mine (one of just two others in our organization of 50-100) urged our boss to attend to hear some of the speakers talk about women’s issues in the field and just see what a room of 1,000 computer scientists who happen to be women looks like. He declined, saying that being one of just a few members of his gender in the room would be really uncomfortable for him and despite whatever benefits there might be to attending he just couldn’t imagine doing it. I’m not sure it ever occurred to him that that is exactly how we felt in our staff meetings!

Women, if you are like me, you did not fully consciously realize just how unbalanced this is. How can we be more clear in our vision despite the sexist views of society that we have internalized? How can we find the courage to speak up and ensure that our viewpoints and voices receive the attention they are due?

Fortunately, the ratios in the inforgraphic above may be changing soon with the introduction of a new format for the women’s meeting, starting in April 2014. According to the church’s announcement, the once-annual YW meeting and once-annual RS meeting will be combined into a twice-annual women’s meeting for girls and women aged 8 and up. Now that the pool of eligible speakers for this meeting will include the RS, YW, and Primary presidencies, perhaps the percentage of male participation in the women’s meeting will be less. Of course, what would have even greater impact is for the percentage of women’s participation in the general meeting to better reflect the percentage of women in the audience.


[1] This post concerns General Conference. One might think that our local sacrament meetings, with typically 50/50 gender ratio on the talks, would be better. Elouise Bell’s classic piece, “The Meeting,” is a gender-swap hypothetical to show how unbalanced things are there as well. Please consider this sentence the prose version of some kind of effusive hug/heart emoticon expressing my admiration of Elouise Bell.

Comments

  1. I’d argue that many people don’t see gender inbalances, they just see prophets, seers, and revelators, who just, in the current set up, have to be male. So most women don’t see it as a problem because the prophets, seers, revelator qualifier transcends any inequality.

  2. I don’t see male or female, black or white, rich or poor, bond or free — all I see are servants of God and fellow Saints trying to magnify their callings in an effort to be helpful.

  3. A more interesting comparison, to me at least, is the percentage of Wasatch Front types (who have very similar worldviews and experiences regardless of gender) vs. non-Wasatch Front types. Less than 50% of the world’s LDS live in the US, and most of those live outside of the Utah/Idaho/Arizona area (I think – correct me if I’m wrong), yet only six or seven of the speakers in all of the sessions in a given Conference represent non-US or even non-Utah voices. It doesn’t really matter if the speaker is male or female if the cultural perspective is roughly the same, especially since most of the topics of Conference talks are gender-neutral, in that they are relevant and applicable to both men and women (and kids, for that matter).

  4. …So to continue my comment, that’s why things like these illustrations are so important.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    For those who may be having difficulty visualizing the kind of thought experiment Cynthia suggests, you may find this helpful:

    http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=6180

  6. Excellent, excellent point, Villate. And it shows that increasing diversity makes life better for *everyone* not makes life better for the previous minorities at the expense of the previous majority—just look what a wonderful breath of fresh air Uchtdorf has been for Utah saint and German saint and New York saint and Brazilian saint alike.

  7. Thanks, Kevin! Indeed I had that piece in mind in the conversation that sparked this. I was remiss in not linking it. When I get back to a computer (not phone) I will add that to the post.

  8. Here is another related link: http://m.hollywoodreporter.com/entry/view/id/13463

    Geena Davis on the lack of women in films, and how dangerous it is the fact that we don’t notice it.

  9. Because I generally appreciate & respect the men in my life (their thoughts, perspective and insight as well) I wish for them the same blessing I have had; to be equally inspired by the women they appreciate and respect in their lives.

    I don’t need to be fed a women’s perspective only. Having more than one point of view can help grow understanding, men deserve this kind of learning too.

  10. It’s not the content so much as the delivery. What women say in their conference talks is not starkly different from what men say in theirs. What makes me feel alienated is when a speaker—of any gender—deliberately targets their talk to a demographic I’m not a member of.
    Are we subscribing to the view that men have nothing of value to say to women, and vice-versa?The idea that one half of the speakers must be women or else the female half of the audience will feel alienated is preposterous (and awfully sexist in itself): “I hear you talking about [faith in Jesus Christ] but I just can’t identify with your perspective because I have an innie and you have an outie.”
    For something actually interesting, think about women—unordained women, or it’s blasé again—speaking in priesthood session…

  11. I had an interesting observation in my company’s annual women’s conference for high level female executives. We had amazing speakers like Ursula Burns (CEO of Xerox), Tina Brown (founder of the Daily Beast), and Vanessa Williams (actress and groundbreaking Miss America). When some of our own C-level leaders took the stage, there was one panel run by four men. Two of those men clearly understood that they were talking to strong leaders, the top women at our company, people with a proven track record. Two of them really seemed like they didn’t get it. They kept tripping over their own privilege in their comments and telling women how to adapt to be more successful in the male dominated culture of American business, blind to the needs of the culture to adapt to an emerging female talent pool coming out of our top educational institutions. I’ll listen to Ursie Burns any day of the week and twice on Sunday. However, with very few exceptions, most females who rise in the church are steeped in the same insider privilege as the men, unable to see the groupthink.

  12. Gender imbalance in speakers has never bothered me, ever. In fact I usually don’t notice beyond the fact that many of the women who speak seem to talk about family/children/youth related topics. If you’re needing “balance” then note that half the tabernacle choir are female. There’s a nice balance there. But regardless, to me it seems that General Conference is about the message and not the gender of the participants. I have never felt alienated, truly.

  13. Marnie, I used to feel the same as you. But no longer. Now I feel alienated every time I watch GC; and I sincerely try to listen through the Spirit for messages that are meant for me. Furthermore, when I watch the Tabernacle choir, I wonder why we do not see any female choir directors or organists in sessions other than RS and YW.

    Kevin, thanks for linking to Eloise Bell’s essay. Going to have my dh read it.

  14. This is an excellent point. The disparity is even greater when you look at time spent speaking because the male speaker at a woman’s meeting is given more time than any of the female speakers.

    I do not think returning to the combined women’s meeting format will help. In the past, one rep from Primary . YW and RS each gave a short talk and one male speaker gave a long talk, for the same ratio.

    What would help is expanding the pool of women eligible to speak at general sessions and including as many women as men as speakers.

    Weirdly, the idea is having as many female speakers as male at a meeting intended for everyone sounds radical to many Mormons.

  15. I’m still hoping this increased percentage of female missionaries shakes things up a bit.

  16. Commenters bragging about their gender blindness are missing an important point in the OP. If the situation were reversed, and general sessions included 92% female speakers, you would notice and it would be jarring. The fact that the speakers can be so demographically lopsided toward males and people don’t notice says a lot about our trained tolerance for sexism.

  17. Bonnie Goodliffe has been playing the organ at General Conference Sessions for several years. The Saturday afternoon session often has a female organist and/or director as well because it’s usually a non-Tabernacle Choir group.

  18. I have attended such meetings as a male alone in a crowd of women. I attended local and regional PTA meetings for two years in connection with some volunteer work.

    There were some inside jokes about menopause which were pretty universally funny, but aside from that, I think since no one was there to sustain or promote specific gender roles, the fact that women were in charge was never troubling nor particularly jarring. In fact upon discovery that I was the lone male in the crowd of 50 or so, the trainer apologized for the menopause jokes and proceeded apace.

    In short, there was no gender blindness, and the focus was not on the group, but rather on the purposes of the group. I don’t know whether that extends to an analysis of Church gender dynamics but it doesn’t seem to be a problem which women have in their positions of community power. Frankly I think they were just glad to have the volunteers.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    “Men, can you imagine attending a meeting as female as General Conference is male?”

    I have done so, and it was very enlightening, but even then it doesn’t really do the trick because I knew it was unusual and anomalous. Not so at the main Church conferences.

  20. This gender imbalance was the norm in my LDS breading life. Follow the priesthood, men. Working as an RN Case Manager my supervisors, leaders coworkers were strong, smart often aggressive women, and not just women, women of color. More men are becoming nurses and I like the balance. We need equality ppl.

  21. The imbalance doesn’t bother me as much as the women speakers talking only about children and women. I would be thrilled if just the few women speakers gave talks that made men feel they should listen as much as women pay attention to male speakers.

  22. The women only talk about children and women? Since when?

  23. Antonio Parr says:

    Saying that certain commentators are ~bragging~ about their gender blindness is a bit unfair. I don’t see anyone bragging in these comments, just sharing sincerely held feelings, as it should be.

  24. I understand the point of the post, and can’t argue against it, but I’ve always felt I “should listen as much (to women who speak) as women pay attention to male speakers”.

    Having said that, I wish I was confident all the men in the Church felt that way.

  25. (I hope everyone recognizes the attempt at humor in that comment, given the one before it, but it probably isn’t as obvious as it should be.)

  26. If the OP’s question is to hold any relevance in the context of the gospel rather than just the world’s viewpoint should we not also be asking why there are not more books of scripture written by women?
    And what is the simple answer to that?
    When you have that answer you will have the answer to the OPs question.

    As to the feeling awkward or irrelevant or alienated with another gender speaking and attending en masse, Psychologically speaking that speaks to the OP’s ego and pride.
    It’s the same as me suggesting that sitting in a conference, with mostly people of other races, alienates me and prevents me from feeling comfortable. It likely would if I wanted it to but not if I am comfortable around other people of all races.
    Thus inherent within your question is actually a deep-rooted uncomfortableness with men, that is then fed by society’s faddish misunderstanding of equality.

  27. Greg, I’m really curious how much experience you have being at conferences where you were surrounded by people with more race privilege than you. (Note: being at conferences where you were surrounded by people of a different race than you does not necessarily qualify.)

  28. Imagine how we would discuss a Tab Choir that was only 8% women. The imbalance would be glaringly obvious, and the loss of those voices would be felt in every number. Strange that the absence of female voices in General Conference isn’t more obvious or more lamented. Our range is limited when only one gender speaks.

  29. Forgive me, Greg Holden. Are you implying that there is a simple answer to why it is that we have fewer books of scripture by women?

    Unless you are referring to the deep-seated misogyny that systematically denied women equal access to literacy until well into the the twentieth century in the West and continues to deny women basic access to literacy in many other places, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

    Perhaps you are merely referring to the way we have tended to repress women’s involvement in int he process of producing scripture. Jerome we know…Paula, not so much…

    Or maybe you refer to the way that so much of women’s writing, sacred and profane, over time is marginalized, lost, or becomes dissociated with the original author’s identity: “author unknown” or “anonymous.”

    As for me, I tend to think that the reason we do not have more scriptural writing directly attributed to women is a complicated question, which could be attributed to a combination of many, many factors…but the most obvious to me would be that women did not receive the kind of education that they would have needed. To borrow a question from Virginia Woolf: What if Mormon had had a sister?

  30. Leona, after that comment you should stage dive into the BCC crowd and let us carry you around. Awesome.

  31. Leona FTW

  32. Not to pile one, but . . . Bravo, Leona.

    We talk often in history classes about how racial minority explanations of history are so rare specifically because the winners (generally those who have and can use the most power) write the histories, but it can be easy to forget how well that statement applies to women, as well.

    For example, it’s easy to forget that we would have no Biblical proof whatsoever that any of Jesus’ primary disciples were married if Peter’s mother-in-law hadn’t gotten sick enough to have been mentioned – once. Yes, we know that Peter, the person we believe was chosen to lead the Christian Church, was married solely because his mother-in-law got sick – not because the writers thought his wife was important enough as an individual to mention her in any way.

  33. melodynew says:

    Amen, Leona. And Steve Evans. Bravo, Cynthia!

    Last week in our 5th Sunday combined women/men meeting, our bishop, a rather enlightened and truly Christian man, took the podium and spent the entire lesson talking about the Sermon on the Mount and what it means to really follow Christ. He hit all the essential points. He was courageous (and let the uncomfortable silence have its due) when he confronted our tendency to do things for appearances, to look good for our neighbors and ward members when our hearts might not really be in it. He asked probing questions and asked us each to offer our own interpretations of certain passages, “What do you think Jesus meant when he said. . .” or “What does such-and-such phrase really mean?”

    I was profoundly disappointed that the questions were consistently and boldly answered by men. With the exception of mine and one or two other random comments – the discussion was basically steam-rolled by male voices. I kept raising my hand to offer insights and to share my understanding of the topics being discussed. I did this for two reasons. First: I had strong feelings and impressions about the subject and wanted to share. Second: I’ll be damned if another 5th Sunday goes by with a room filled with 50/50 men/women and no women’s ideas or perspectives are even whispered. Literally. God will damn me. He’ll damn all of us if we don’t start working toward equal representation in all settings within the church. We’re already damned, stuck, stopped in our progression as the body of Christ. The body needs some healing. (did I say damn too many times? sorry) Even here, at BCC, it’s a bit of a man’s world. Has anyone else noticed this? Am I in trouble for saying that out loud. Oh, well. Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t.

  34. Greg Holden says:

    It’s also not equal based on society’s definition of equality that women in general get to experience the beautiful emotional connection between mother and child from childbirth and that men do not.
    Based on such inequality should I go seeking to find a way to nurture and carry a child through term or should I accept this is the Lords way?
    Some of you may try to offer the experience to me, “You can have it!” I hear some of you say. But the reality it is not yours to give much like all this other misguided request for ill-defined equality is not men’s to give. Only God.

    So looks like our opinions differ.
    No big deal. One day soon enough we will all stand before our God and be judged. But more interesting to me is how our beautiful Heavenly Mother will react to us when we return. The ultimate nurturer, queen, priestess and mother.
    I don’t think she sees things as unequal, personally.

  35. Greg, there are many problems with your reply here but I do appreciate you attempting to take a non confrontational approach. I personally think it’s a bigger deal that you’re stating, but I’m all for keeping the discussion friendly.

  36. Melody, yeah.

  37. P.S. I love BCC. And thanks, Steve Evans.

  38. Greg, your comment boils down to, “I can come up with one thing that isn’t the same between men and women, therefore we should not ever think about areas where men and women could be more equal or try to move in the direction of equality in instances where that would make sense.” What weaknesses do you see in this reasoning? I’m sure you can find some.

    More to the point, what exactly would be wrong with hearing from more women? Clearly it is not “the Lord’s way” that having a womb and/or experiencing childbirth means not being able to speak in general conference, since we already hear from a few women. Why is it your way to oppose hearing from more?

  39. “Eve, you will nearly die in childbirth.”

    “Adam, you’ll have to work your butt off to survive.”

    Seems like equality in that regard means different types of back-breaking work, neither of which involves the ability to speak, necessarily.

  40. Greg Holden says:

    Childbirth is just one of many examples – I didn’t realize I was expected to outline an exhaustive list. Sorry I’ve not been in this kind of environment before where opinion is expected to be backed up so exhaustively. Because really at the end of the day – all of our comments are just opinion. There is only one truth.

    The point made that Adam has his own work to do (“by the sweat of thy brow”). Thank you for making the point for me and more succinctly than I did.

    I care not if The Lord dictates there should be 12 female apostles and conference is now only open to women and I must only read their comments a year later online.

    The relevant point is that I believe The Lord decides. Not us. It just feels very much like this is a movement to pressure the “church” to pressure The Lord to change His ways. That to me just seems like an odd way to look at things.

    Best of the New Year to you all though. I think this is where I take my exit as I sense some do not want to keep it at “agree to disagree.”

  41. Hi Greg, if your initial reception felt a bit chilly, realize that this ought to have been expected given that you did come into our living room throwing out insults about “ego and pride” “uncomfortableness with men” etc. However, your tone has improved in subsequent comments, so do feel welcome to stick around.

  42. Stellar post, Cynthia! This is an excellent (if depressing) comparison.

    April, I really like this point you made:
    “The fact that the speakers can be so demographically lopsided toward males and people don’t notice says a lot about our trained tolerance for sexism.”

    I think this is absolutely spot on. We don’t notice men dominating in any particular corner of the Church (or in its biggest meetings) because men dominate in *every* corner of the Church, so any particular instance of sexism doesn’t stand out. To participate in the Church is to be forced to negotiate some way of tolerating the sexism, whether it’s denying that it exists or denying that it’s important, or waving hands about motherhood and priesthood. But the Church is saturated in it; to not notice is, as you said, evidence of the problem and not of the non-existence of the problem. (I blogged about this issue relating to Let Women Pray at ZD several months ago.)

  43. Unless I’m missing somebody, a quick count says there are 107 male GA’s, 3 men in the General Sunday School Presidency and 3 men in the General Young Men’s Presidency, compared with 3 women in the the General Relief Society Presidency, 3 women in the General Young Women’s Presidency, and 3 women in the General Primary Presidency.

    9/(113+9) = 7.4% — doesn’t seem conference in and of itself has a gender bias…

  44. leonasankhla says:

    Thanks, everybody, especially Cynthia for a thought-provoking post and discussion.

    Greg Holden, our opinions may differ, but I’m glad you feel you may express yours here. What I love about BCC is that it is a place where I feel I may express mine. I can’t say I always feel that way among my people. And that is a tough thing to sit with. So yay for BCC and for listening, understanding, and agreeing and disagreeing respectfully.

    Enjoy church tomorrow, everybody! Mine meets two hours later this year…more sleepy-time for me! Tender mercies, tender mercies.

  45. Steve, there are two ways to correct the speakers problem in General Conference: (1) ordain women and call them to be general authorities, apostles, and prophets, who will then speak in conference, or (2) have unordained women speak in conference, relying on the spirit and the “access to the power of the priesthood” (as opposed to the priesthood authority and keys) that we’re always being told we have and is sufficient. Since the church has so far gone with (2), that’s the direction I’ve implicitly taken in this post. But obviously (1) is another option.

  46. PS: there’s also the boards, each of which has 9 women (RS board, Primary board, YW board). They could be added to the pool of potential speakers, just like the 70s.

  47. Just want to note that so far we have had only two men say that they have ever been in a meeting that was overwhelmingly female in the speakers/leadership (am I missing any?). Wow. Even before we hear their stories, that fact alone really says something about privilege.

  48. Kevin,
    Thanks for pointing out that thought experiment. Very intriguing.

    All,
    Also intriguing was the question Greg brought up and the thoughts Leona offered on why we don’t see many women authoring scripture. Similarly, assuming we received training or preparations of sorts, to think through why the Messiah was slotted to be a male role, and whether there was a contingency female role in case earth’s societies flushed out differently then the Divine Council anticipated and were matriarch instead of patriarch, stimulates my imagination.

    It’s these thoughts that keep me up in wonder.

  49. I don’t see gender. People tell me I’m male and I believe them because nobody got mad when I wore pants to church.

  50. cocacolafiend says:

    The comments here are very interesting. I am no longer a believer in church, but when I did attend church I always hated the broadcasts intended for females. They would always spend a good proportion of the meeting discussing how we, as females, can be so amazing and influential. How can that come across as anything more than patronizing twaddle when they then give a male speaker the most time?

  51. melodynew says:

    Riley, interesting question. To quote Fiona Givens, “If the Savior had been a woman, it’s doubtful anyone would have noticed the sacrifice.”

    Also, echoing Ziff, April put a fine point on Cynthia’s excellent post. I meant to mention this early, but was too busy cursing: “The fact that the speakers can be so demographically lopsided toward males and people don’t notice says a lot about our trained tolerance for sexism.” This is what I experienced in our 5th Sunday meeting. No one seemed in the least bit bothered by the lack of female voices. Of course, it’s possible that a few in the group were aware, but, given the demographic and my observation of our ward’s history, it’s unlikely.

    Don’t get me wrong – this is a stellar ward with good, hard-working, neigbor-loving, intelligent, thoughtful people. Our gospel doctrine teachers include the likes of Neal Kramer and Steve Robinson, so I’m hopeful for our corner of the kingdom. But we’re stuck in a rut as old as time. Just like the rest of the planet. Happy Sabbath. And thanks again for this fantastic post and discussion.

  52. melodynew – It’s not that way everywhere. In the wards I’ve been in in several Midwestern and East Coast states (5 wards over the course of 15 years or so), the women do much or most of the talking in Sunday School, at least. In my current ward, our SS teacher is a former Stake President who works hard at including everyone in his lessons. Women also give the majority of talks in Sacrament Meeting (which may be due to the men’s lack of interest or acceptance of speaking assignments, I don’t know). I can’t say much for 5th Sunday meetings because I am in YW and miss those, but I have been trying to get the YW and YM to meet together a few times a year (5th Sundays, mostly) and encourage all of them to speak up. So far, the girls are more willing than the boys to answer or ask questions, but that may be a function of age. I don’t think that’s conscious on anyone’s part – I only noticed it because I was thinking about it in light of this and other posts on the topic. It is interesting to me that I had to really work to get the YM and YW presidencies to see the benefit of having the youth meet together.

  53. Also, I think we should be careful not to apply our individualistic cultural lens to the scriptures too much. Very few individuals other than the main actors feature in the scriptures, and even those individuals are drawn pretty broadly. I might even say their depictions are stylized to represent groups or types rather than being actual portraits or representations of the people themselves in most cases. Furthermore, the writers and compilers of the Old and New Testaments and even the Book of Mormon came from a much more communitarian or collectivist culture. They were not as interested as we are in the actions and personalities of individuals. That doesn’t mean that women (or men or children) were somehow more or less important than they are now, it just means that the focus is different. Look at the difference between the ancient scriptures and the Doctrine and Covenants and you can see it clearly – how many sections of the D&C are addressed to individuals, and the group is expected to learn from their example? How much of the ancient scripture is addressed to groups, and individuals must adapt the group commandment to themselves and their circumstances? I think that’s a big part of our problem in Christianity, actually, that our scriptures were directed toward groups and group answers don’t always work for individuals. But that’s another issue. In our current culture, which is what the OP is concerned with, we have a different, more individual focus and so it is important in the Church to point out changes in the culture and adapt to them, and that is happening. More slowly than some people like, but change takes time, especially for an institution.

  54. Something I like about the Sunday School class I teach (14-17 year olds) is that the composition is mostly female. I think this gets them accustomed to answering doctrinal questions without feeling like they have to defer to the males in the class.

    But the are teenagers, and the dynamics change greatly in adult classes, where I think a lot of the subservience is due to males having been more likely to have served missions and held leadership callings.

  55. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I have worked in teams providing medical care where the majority of the team has always been women. The medical staff meetings of providers less male dominant, but still greater than half male. I have great respect for my female physician colleagues, and feel sadness that there is not a greater representation of LDS females there, though I understand well the challenges in pursuing both parenthood and a medical career.

    Back to the medical teams…I have seen some female colleagues who do not command the respect of the largely female support staff. Things that the male providers expect and the subsequent accomplishment that gets taken for granted by men may be issues for some of the female physicians, especially if they do not use an assertive personality style.

    While I enjoy the complimentarity of conference addresses delivered by women, my wife is not into them at all. She does not find them to be as captivating or personally resonating as the addresses given by men. Granted, my wife has never identified with Relief Society or sisterhood in general. Perhaps this tendency could be tied to the lack of a ‘prophet, seer, or revelator’ title that goes with the speaker. Perhaps it is tied to the speakers not being as empowered as male speakers.

    I recently attended the Community of Christ and as part of the worship service, a video recording of a female member of the first presidency was played. She talked about service, but it was interesting that the setting in which she was filmed was her kitchen and she prepared cinnamon rolls while she delivered the message, tying it to traditions being passed down from her mother to her. I have never actually made cinnamon rolls before, so I found both the message and the visual multitasking interesting.

  56. I do have high hopes that more women serving missions will change the dynamics in the church. Frankly, I don’t believe a word of the rhetoric about the moral superiority of women given how little responsibility they are given in the institution. Serving missions will help women increase their confidence, credibility and leadership. It will become increasingly difficult to ignore them.

  57. Antonio Parr says:

    Is perfect gender equality in all facets of ecclesiastic worship and administration a condition precedent to divine justice? For those most troubled by the current structure of the LDS Church, when will the Church have ~arrived~ with respect to gender issues?

    Does the reference to both the “Father” and “Son” in the baptismal prayer delete or dilute the power of the ordinance of baptism because 2 of the 3 beings referenced are done so with male titles?

    Are those most troubled by the male hierarchy in the LDS Church also troubled that the Restoration story is founded upon the Father and the Son appearing to the boy Joseph? Should this event be rewritten now or at some future point to counter the disproportionate presence of male figures present for the First Vision?

    Finally, should there be a bright line test for General Conference speakers where precisely half of the speakers are men and half women?

  58. Wow, Antonio, that’s very thoughtful of you to be concerned about how others feel, even in those very extreme or nitpicky scenarios, that are far far far beyond the extremely modest changes or obvious imbalances I’ve written about in this post. I agree with your approach that we can never go wrong when our approach to others is to ask sincere questions about their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives and really listen to the answers. I’ve found that when I do that, my charity for others grows and I am forever changed. As Stephen Covey said, “First seek to understand, then to be understood.”

  59. I have sat out most of this conversation, because it us depressingly predictable. People will claim there is no problem with the way it us now. People will claim God wants it this way. Someone will bring up the fact that women have babies, making the 9 months in utero, combined with toddler years, mean that women should be happy for the rest of their lives, letting men whine about their divine lack of pregnancy. Women will point out that there is no reason for keeping traditional gender roles, and not letting women into positions of larger responsibility. That will be rebutted by men who tell women that they simply don’t understand how wonderful they are, and Heavenly Mother is, and how much protection they (men) provide women, from having to deal with the big, bad world that is a scary place.

    For me, it comes down to this very basic truth. There are prophetesses on the earth today, just as there have been in every dispensation. There are women who have every spiritual gift that men have, just as there has been in every dispensation. If you met a prophetess, would you learn from her, or condemn her? Would you know what to do, if the Holy Ghost confirmed to you, that she is a prophetess?

    I’m sure there will be those who say that Prophets must have the priesthood, and since women hold no priesthood, there are no prophetesses possible. Our scriptures confirm the existence of prophetesses, priestesses and not only as the honorary title of consorts to male prophets and priests.

    So, men, you meet a prophetess, what do you do?

  60. Craven Moorehead says:

    “Should this event be rewritten now or at some future point to counter the disproportionate presence of male figures present for the First Vision?” I’m trying to figure out if this comment derives from profound ignorance or cataclysmic jerkwaddery.

  61. Thanks, Villate for that perspective. You’re absolutely right. And how excellent for those who are raised in a more balanced environment than others among us.

  62. Antonio Parr, if we can agree that 50-50 is a nice ideal to shoot for, why would you be opposed to us moving away from 96-4 (or whatever it is)? Couldn’t we work out the details once we got further away from having overwhelmingly male speakers/prayers/presiders?

  63. What’s the most important Institution in time and eternity?

  64. NPR? KrispyKreme? FEMA? Can we get a hint?

  65. Hint, none of those. Not conference, pec, ward conference, general conference, or even relief society meetings. But it is the institution all of the aforementioned meetings and organizations are designed to support.

  66. Now I’m even less sure. First it was an Institution, which sounded exceptionally grand, now it’s just an institution, which really widens the field.

  67. The BSA?

  68. More to the original question, I work in a field (physics) where women are more underrepresented than in almost any other. At a large national conference several years ago, I attended a reception put on by the Association of Women in Physics. There were very few men in attendance, and I did feel out of place and uncomfortable. In large part, I think this was because the announcement was too vague for me to know whether or not men were invited, and also because I was afraid people would figure out that I was there mainly for the free food.

  69. PPOE, I think I know how that argument goes:

    It’s fine for the Church to marginalize women and squander their talents, because FAMILY.

    Not really convincing, especially to the members who are not temple-married (who are, by the way, the majority of the membership).

  70. Antonio Parr says:

    Ziff –

    Who says that I am opposed to more female speakers?

    Cynthia –

    Sarcasm aside …

    The questions I pose can be dismissed as “nitpicking” or the jerk thingamagig I was called by the other poster, or I could get the benefit of the doubt and you and others could view my questions as sincere inquiries to those who suggest that gender neutrality is the only valid/acceptable goal for LDS Church administration, priesthood, etc. Respectfully, you, in particular, are such a gifted thinker and writer that the “avoid the questions by dismissing the questioner” approach takes me a bit off guard.

    My questions are not meant as an attack on your original post but, instead, is a curious, albeit probing, inquiry as to how those most unhappy with the Church’s gender roles see what I believe are legitimate questions that flow from complete gender neutrality.

    I would think that those who actively dispute the Church’s practices and who are promoting change would welcome the chance to have their views tested.

  71. I’m interested in hearing how PPOE connects “family” to an actual point.

    Maybe, “It’s ok that leadership of the church is essentially exclusively male, because the leadership of the family is essentially exclusively female. See! Fair is fair!” Except men also preside in the family.

    Or maybe, “It’s ok that leadership of the church is essentially exclusively male, because the family is the most important institution, and if you ignore the “preside” thing and act like “equal partners” is the only instruction on family leadership, then women are exactly 50-50 there. And there is no point trying to worry about fairness or equality in any institution other than the #1 most important institution. That’s why we don’t worry about equality in voting or government (mortal government is even less important than the church, after all).” Except that’s crazy.

    Since he can’t possibly have meant either of those to be his point, I’m really curious where he’s going with this.

  72. ” I would think that those who actively dispute the Church’s practices and who are promoting change would welcome the chance to have their views tested.”

    We do, Antonio. We just wish you’d do your homework and read some tiny fraction of the voluminous answers to your questions that have been published by Mormon feminists over the last 40 years or so, instead of asking us to reproduce them endlessly, using small words, in blog comments.

  73. Kristine, thank you for standing up for those of us single women (I’m 26, never-been-married) for whom the whole idea of wife-and-motherhood being the equivalent of the priesthood is incredibly damaging. Sorry, the guys in my YSA ward all hold the Priesthood, and use it. Men CHOOSE to be righteous, and get to hold the Priesthood because of it. Those aforementioned blessings I desire so badly are dependent upon many factors beyond my control.

  74. Antonio Parr says:

    Kristine –

    I didn’t know that “Mormon Feminists” were one size fits all, and assumed that different individuals, even within the world of Mormon feminism, had their own nuanced perspectives on such things. They write on blogs (even though there is a world of literature already on the subject) and people like me respond (even though there is a world of literature on the topic).

    It seems to me that in many respects, BCC has general standards for orthodoxy that are every bit as cliquish and limiting as the world of cultural Mormonism that so many (including me) find off-putting.

  75. No standards for orthodoxy in play here, just fatigue.

  76. AP, it’s not about you.

  77. I read the reactions to Antonio before his comment, and expected to find something egregiously offensive, and instead found some reasonable questions. While I read articles here and there at Mormon feminist blogs, I’m not privy to everything that has ever been said in the world of Mormon feminism, and I haven’t seen answers given to these questions before. At the very least providing links would be helpful so people like me could go back and see answers that apparently have already been given to the interesting questions posed.

    “So, men, you meet a prophetess, what do you do?”

    That’s what Julie B. Beck was for me. I tried to listen to her every chance I got. I wish her position would have been more permanent like members of the Q12 or something like that.

  78. “At the very least providing links would be helpful”

    Kids these days! When I was your age, we had to actually find our own books and journal articles. Harumph!!

  79. SteveF, the problem is that it comes across as a kind of filibuster. If your wife came to you and said, “Gee, the TV is on so loud there are pieces of plaster falling off the ceiling left and right, could you turn it down a bit?” Would it be considered reasonable to reply, “Turn it down you say? To what? To zero? Is that what it would take to make you happy, complete silence? Do you also get irritated by the sounds I make when I eat, and when I breathe?” I write a post about something that is currently a whopping 92%/8% unbalanced, and emminently fixable with no doctrinal or other changes. Antonio comes along with a bunch of challenges about whether I won’t rest until everything is precisely 50/50 including the baptism prayer. It really is like the above TV scenario. It’s not playing fair, and I’m sorry to see Antonio choosing to behave in that way. Kristine and I are refusing to be dragged into that kind of dysfunctional interaction. Just as we would be quite right to refuse to be dragged into that kind of dysfunctional interaction over TV noise in a marriage.

  80. SteveF–Antonio’s questions were neither reasonable, nor were they interested in teasing out the nuances of particular feminist positions. They were smarmy, passive-aggressive attempts to ridicule feminist ideas in the guise of curiosity. He knows perfectly well that no one is going to ask to have the account of the First Vision revised–even people who are concerned about the dearth of women as examples or subjects of sustained moral attention in the scriptures. He knows, similarly, that there is a great deal of real estate between where we are now and “perfect gender equity” which seems so extreme as to be absurd.

    Those questions are like the ones the Pharisees posed to Jesus, as traps. For instance, when feminists do answer questions like the one about “when will the Church have ~arrived~ with respect to gender issues,” by, for instance, asking for serious consideration of women’s ordination to the priesthood, they get told that they shouldn’t be telling church leaders what to do, and that they obviously don’t believe in revelation and just want to impose their preferred solutions. There is no productive way for anyone to engage Antonio’s questions, which is why we’re all annoyed and not taking the time to go through the basics of Mormon Feminism 101 with him for the 47millionth time. (Seriously, go look at any thread on gender on this blog–the discussion is exactly the same, over and over and over again. Can you imagine if every couple of weeks, someone expected you to explain, carefully and politely, why you should be allowed to vote, while they repeated the same tired arguments that people had been making for 100 years about why you shouldn’t be–arguments that you and others had considered in every possible forum and medium and shown again and again to be deficient, illogical, and unjust? Don’t you think you might display just a *bit* of pique??)

  81. Way upthread, but Rigel and AaronM thanks for your comments sharing your experiences in different gender ratio environments.

    Many great comments in this thread. Thanks.

  82. Antonio Parr says:

    I assume that you mean “Pharisee” in the best sense of the word?

    Respectfully, my questions are not as meritless as you describe, nor is your position as perfectly reasonable as you portray them to be.

    That being said, I recognize that a lot of good people feel deep pain over issues such as this, and I understand the lack of enthusiasm over positions that are not completely in sync when there is so much of one’s passion invested in a cause. Sorry if this comes across as passive aggressive, but I admire those who ache for something more, even if my vision is not identical to that of the well intentioned dreamer. So no counter charges if Pharisee will come from me. Keep up the good work.

  83. I don’t know if your perspective comes from previous conversations with Antonio, but I guess I didn’t read “challenges” into his questions. Perhaps they were extending a little further beyond the topic at hand, but in the interest of understanding the paradigm in a more complete way I found the questions interesting. Because if we are supposed to automatically accept that gender administrative or speaking assignment imbalance is bad, because more broadly we are supposed to accept that gender imbalance itself is always bad, then some of those questions seem to follow.

    I guess I can see why that can be annoying to have to extend the conversation to a larger view when discussing a more narrow point, particularly when what is at hand seems to be enough to tackle already, but even so I find the questions interesting. If we should accept that gender imbalance is always (which seems to be the underlying assumption which I haven’t formed an opinion on yet), then I am interested in how in that paradigm these other issues should be viewed.

    That said, I do feel that female perspective/input/talent is largely still a largely untapped reservoir of potential not yet fully utilized in our current structure the higher up the hierarchy we go. I believe in time this will change. Just my personal feeling on the subject though. I do appreciate the article that points out the disparity, even if specific conclusions can’t necessarily be drawn. I feel having an awareness of what is, is helpful in and of itself.

  84. Antonio, this really isn’t about anyone’s pain. It’s about what is right. And, actually, I’m not sure I have any more of my “passion invested in a cause” than anybody else. I was born a Mormon woman, and a thinking human being, and the two are often in conflict–it’s not that I chose to be a passionate crusader for some cause and I can be patted on the head for sharing my pretty dream.

    I do appreciate the attempt at empathy, though.

  85. This thread was a lot more awesome yesterday than today. If anyone feels confused and needs a feminism primer, there is much to be gleaned above that is specific to the OP. Y’all might try re-reading the comment thread from the beginning through the end of the day at 12:09am, and pay particular attention to Leona’s stellar and concise answer made to the bumfoozled Greg, (4 Jan 7:47pm) and my personal favorite, melodynew. (4 Jan 9:48pm) This comment resonated with me like it was poetry, because I see so many men, both in the church and in other venues, given the opportunity and encouragement to develop, progress, and participate in all the ways a human can, and women are not mentored in that kind of development and participation (at least very little, especially in the church,) and thus we remain damned, or not fully developed, like eternal children. (The term for this is infantilized, and it’s deliberate in many instances, because a childlike woman is much easier to deal with.) Damned, dammed, or otherwise stuck, I felt that comment deep in my gut. I could testify to its truth.

  86. Antonio Parr says:

    No one is patting anyone in the head. You compared me to a Pharisee. I wished you well, but even that is met with derision.

    Peace to you and yours. Sincerely.

  87. I didn’t compare you to a Pharisee, Antonio, nor would I–just noted that your questions were like theirs in being impossible to answer in a way that couldn’t be turned against the answerer. And I did mean my thanks for your empathic response quite sincerely.

  88. Antonio Parr says:

    (Any time one makes a post about oneself, then a failure has occurred. Apologies. Ok with me if the administrator deletes this and my prior post. I’ll take a break and circle back another time. Best wishes.)

  89. I once was asked to play the violin at a young women’s camp when I was in my teens. I was one of three males present and terribly uncomfortable, but I think that was more due to my age and desire to impress the ladies more than anything else.

    Last summer I was invited to be an adult chaperone at a similar girl’s camp and had a blast while doing it!

    I’d love to see more female representation at General Conference and throughout the Church. Good luck to those who keep asking in faith. It is a fine balance you maintain.

  90. There is a reason that fewer women speak in General conference. The liberal/feminist women in the church can’t stand them. The vast majority of women in the church, the “prophetesses” if you will, are rather conservative. They are devotedly loyal to the leaders of the priesthood, really don’t want to agitate for anything, because they have found so much joy and happiness in gospel living.

  91. My wife just made an awesome comment I wanted to share that is somewhat related to this topic.

    She’s concerned that in the quest for balance that women will seek equality rather than greater balance. Seeking after the priesthood is not the end goal, in her mind. Seeking after priestesshood, along with its differing goals and purposes, should be the end goal for women.

  92. Simple question, does BCC have a post counter that essentially lights up the WordPress dashboard with the question: “Which of the seven controversial topics do you wish to write a post on today?”

    I’m not dismissing the issue. Women taking a greater voice in meetings at all levels of the Church is a very real problem. I find myself in any collaborative meeting with a side conversation going on in the back of my head (I think of it as the IRC back channel) as I ask myself whether I’m being too dominating in the discussion, why aren’t women speaking up, how do I encourage them to speak up more, etc. We want and need the diversity of voices and leadership in order to effectively work as the true body of Christ in helping each other work out our personal pathway toward salvation.

    It just seems like this particular question of women representation gets hashed out after every General Conference and then when no particular significant events have created an opportunity to hash it out again, the details get rejiggered a little to strike up the conversation again. Like juliathepoet commented earlier, I held back from commenting because this discussion is entirely predictable on BCC. I just wondered if Cynthia felt there was something new that was going to change the discussion today vs. 3 months ago.

    In response to your question, yes, I have attended women dominated conferences as a result of my professional work where I was in the very small minority – these were nursing and technician medical conferences for a specific specialty that I was supporting as a consultant. The national presidency is all women, they drive everything and make the key decisions for the conferences and overall organization. In most large hospitals for this specialty the nurse managers who run the show are usually all women as well. I did not feel out of sorts at all because we were all focused on the same questions and issues and trying to find ways to move improve patient experience, disease detection, and outcomes. I can appreciate why someone might feel that way, but it was not at all disorienting for me.

  93. Cynthia L. says:

    Hi Alain, I hear your frustration, believe me. And yet, can we admit that it is strange that you think lack of improvement means we should *stop* talking about something or bringing it up? I thought it would be a good idea to bring up now, because I’m often hesitant (really!) to harp on it *during* GC, because I don’t want to detract too much from what is being said.

    Thanks for sharing your experience in nursing. That’s sort of the flipped version of the field that I’m in (a woman in computer science). I wonder if it’s exactly analogous though. In the same way that being the lone white person in a black audience is not quite the same as being the lone black person in a white audience. There is a power and privilege difference that may be active even in settings where there is a numerical disadvantage (certainly this is ubiquitous on the macro scale: a lone monarch and small elite class vs the masses, white minority in South African apartheid, etc).

  94. To add to the number of males who have been in an all/mostly female conference %tc, I’ve had a couple of times, and try to be in that situation as often as I can. It feels like coming home. It’s frustrating being in CS (like Cyntha L) and in Utah, where the confluence means almost never hearing a female voice and wishing/praying for more to come in.

    Yes, the ration of men and women in the Church leadership may be exactly what God wants at this time, but that still doesn’t stop us (as a people) from first learning to see that things could be better and second hoping for it to be better. It’s not about demanding a line, it’s about trying to be patient while waiting for those many “great and inportant” things.

  95. You’ll note Cynthia I never said we shouldn’t talk about it. There’s no frustration, just trying to understand the insanity. My query was whether you thought you were going to get something different from the discussion or if it’s simply an echo chamber exercise. Kristine was complaining because some of the typical tropes were surfaced and questions asked that seem to be nothing but a lather, rinse, repeat experience. Progress is glacial sometimes it seems and yet, with the word of a leader, it can move with great rapidity as well. Here’s to more global warming on this particular issue.

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