Responses to de facto Gender Discrimination

Let me start this post by acknowledging that my assertions are anecdotal, but also note that I know a lot of women in the church. I talk to a lot of women. I’ve lived in several wards of differing personality, and one commonality I’ve found is that most women do not consider themselves discriminated against by the church. They’re at peace with the Priesthood issues, and are too busy worrying about their own spiritual progress to get caught up in gender angst. Like most of my friends, I’m bemused by outsiders who bemoan the role of women in the church. We choose to be members, and understand our decision. So, I’m not making an argument of any official gender discrimination, I personally don’t think that is the relevant inquiry.

What I am concerned about are the numerous instances of de facto gender discrimination that I see in private relationships between members. This becomes more disturbing when one party presumes to insinuate that their position and opinions are “official.” Let me illustrate with a third hand story.

We have a very large Spanish speaking ward in our stake. It is tradition that every stake conference begins or ends with a prayer in Spanish. (This, in addition to the translation services provided.) I personally love this tradition, and find it admirably inclusive. However, at a recent stake conference, some younger men in my ward became really upset at this, finding it totally inappropriate. (For what I assume were conservative “English only in America” reasons….another topic for another day….) A woman, also in my ward, who was sitting near-by challenged them and a heated discussion ensued. One of the men ended it by basically telling her that he was going to the bishop to complain, and that he had the authority to do so. (Insinuating that as a priesthood holder he could, and she couldn’t.)

Okay, laugh at this story if you must. You wouldn’t be the first. My concern is the insinuation that women are powerless to affect change in the church. I simply don’t think that is true, and that we have every obligation to use our time, talents, and means to improve and build the church. Think these situations are isolated? How much attention is payed to the scouts vs. the young women in your ward? Think about the jokes about the frivolousness of Relief Society. I think the relevant question is how do we respond to the numerous cuts, insinuations, and “bone-headed” remarks that we are sooner or later exposed to.

I think we have four options. 1) Over time we start to believe the message that women’s experiences in the church are less valuable than men’s. (Sadly, a common reaction.) 2) We “turn the other cheek” recognizing the ridiculousness of the situation, but not reacting. (My usual M.O.–often accompanied by a dramatic eye roll…) 3) We confront the speaker and point out the problem. (Maybe the most healthy response, but come one….I think our strongest cultural trait is being passive aggressive, so how often does this happen?) or 4) We attribute the motives of the individual actor to the church as a whole and slowly become embittered. (Leading, eventually, to some level of apostasy.)

My questions. What is the appropriate response by women? What responsibilities do men (and women…)have to evaluate their own behavior? What responsibilities do ward leaders (of both genders) have to evaluate the gender discrimination issues in their wards and address them?


  1. “How much attention is [paid] to the scouts vs. the young women in your ward?”

    Honestly? The YW in my ward pull a lot of weight compared to the Scouts. When the YW decide that the third Wednesday of the month is not convenient to have a joint activity, then it automatically gets changed to a different Wednesday. Normally, that wouldn’t be much of an issue, but our Scout troop also has boys from a different ward with a different night for joint activity. And that’s just on one level.

  2. (aarrggh the darn word limit….)

    Also, in the biggest affirmative action bid you’ve ever seen, my classmates at law school (including some of the yahoos over at times and seasons) elected me to be LDSSA president my third year. They’re quite the conservative bunch, and the conversation went something like: “hey we need a woman” all eyes turn to me the only woman in the room. And there you go.

    Finally, everytime I go home, I get reintroduced in my ward as an HLS grad, everyone oohs, ahhs, and smiles and oddly enough, I’m then asked to pray. (Perhaps a testimony test!) :o) My point is that even in my conservative SLC ward–everyone is thrilled that their career girl is working in the big city. Nothing but support and ownership from them.

  3. (continued)

    All of the LDS guys had avoided asking her out. She was far too much of a loudmouth for them to ask out. (According to word we got afterward, there were a few people who wanted to ask her out, but they were afraid of her!). She was fine with this — emphatically “not looking” until we ran into each other and sparks flew. But even now, eight years after marriage, it still amazes me that she never had a boyfriend prior to age 18.

    It’s not a perfect data point — for all we know, she might have gotten asked out a lot in college had she stayed single — but it’s still an illustration of your point that is particularly persuasive to me.

    (I can understand the phenomenon, but I still can’t really relate to the fear of outspoken women. Hello! Outspoken women are so much more _interesting_. But, I’m apparently not a good barometer of mainstream LDS thought).

  4. ***Odd, it reposted the second half now . .. I give up, I don’t understand Haloscan.

  5. 2. Think hard about the roots of gender discrimination. This is the reason I bring up the supposedly “boring” issue of the sustainings. What is behind the difference? Perhaps nothing. But, perhaps something (i.e. discrimination). I think that this kind of “hard thinking” about the reasoning behind various practices and policies are why they change. Why did women start speaking in general conferenc in 1987? Why were women “allowed” to pray in Sacrmament meeting about the same time, etc? Because people were thinking hard (asking questions) about these practices. Here are a couple of questions: Why should there be a member of the First Presidency as the final speaker in the General Women’s meetings? There are no women in leadership in the General Men’s meetings. Why are the RS and Primary Presidencies not pictured in the Ensign with the members of the 12 or 70? Why is the women’s organization of the church called an “auxiliary?”

  6. 3. Are there women in your ward who read the scriptures in a gender-neutral way or who sing the hymns in a gender-neutral way? Do you ever sing along with them that way?

    4. How well do women get listened to in your ward? I don’t mean about what night to hold YW on. I mean how well do women get listened to about doctrine, about scriptural interpretation. Do you take the women in your ward seriously? Do you know them personally, their challenges, their hopes, their heartbreaks?

  7. 3. Roles of the priesthood? ordinances; Church leadership; blessings; administration of Church resources; service to Church members. Not all of these are exclusive roles. But it’s interesting that the most distinguishing aspects of the priesthood are the Aaronic aspects(outward ordinances). But there’s still this–

    D&C 107, it says that the Melchizedek priesthood is there “to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church – To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” A lot tougher to define, I think, but when we say “keys”, we’re talking exclusivity, aren’t we?

  8. 5. Do you know the members of the General RS Presidency? How about the Primary Presidency? If not, why not?

    6. Are women involved in decision-making on the ward and stake level? Do they particpate in ward and stake conference? I can’t tell you the number of ward and stake conferences I have been in when not a single woman spoke. What kind of message does this send to the women in the audience?

    I could go on and on, but this is good for now.

  9. A lesbian commune in Arizona?! Holy smokes…

  10. A side note for YW/YM, not to threadjack: they may receive equal attention, but YM always get to do the cooler activities. You think the YW get to have pinewood derbies?

  11. Actually there are at least a few Mormon men who sing that way. I’ve done my best to try to kiss them all :)

    Here’s one more comment about this issue and then I’m done (until my paper on Women speaking in GC is finished in May)—why do all the major announcements get made in the Men’s session? I can attend every session of conference, and still not hear about something as big as the say the, Perpetual Eduation Fund, which was announced in the Men’s session, until the Ensign comes out. Single women are out of the loop in terms of announcements like these because they are usually announced when they are not in attendance.

  12. Actually, I’m what you call a faithful unbeliever. I still go, I just don’t believe. Even gave the closing prayer a couple of weeks ago. Boy, was my husband surprised.

    My experience as a divorced parent (and a married one) at the ward level was uniformly supportive. My employment status was a non-issue. I taught gospel doctrine for a year and loved it (high visibility, low management responsibility). I felt I was able to make things happen at the ward level when I was on the ward council during my time as primary president.


  13. All:

    That prior comment references Melissa’s statements over at T & S about LDS women wearing make-up and getting plastic surgery in order to be more marriageable. See comments starting at

  14. Also Melissa / whoever else:

    Re: Marriageability of outspoken LDS women.

    Here’s a personal story that is also a piece of anecdotal evidence. in this area.

    My wife is an outspoken LDS woman. (I happen to like outspoken women). She is known for speaking her mind, and for not letting others tell her what to do. Just in the past year, she has had some heated exchanges with priesthood leadership over support for the primary (which she’s in).

    She grew up in the same place for essentially her entire childhood and youth, and everyone knew her. She never let the boys tell her she couldn’t join their clubs. (If they tried, they got a black eye).

    She is and was smart, attractive, funny, and nice. When we started dating she was 18. And I was her _first boyfriend_!


  15. and finally:

    I guess, reconciling these comments with my earlier blog, I would agree with Steve. Things are looking up, and there are certainly positive experiences. In light of that, the incidents of discrimination are even sadder. Like we should be beyond this and we aren’t. I realize though, that I’m very optimistic, and recognize that others’ (different) backgrounds may have led them to different conclusions….like my positive rather than negative experiences are anomalies.

  16. Ann,

    I was typing my comment while you were posting yours–I didn’t mean to respond to your sincere thoughts with my drivel. Sorry. I too hope you’ll linger…


    I’m getting plenty of traffic, thank you, but few comments (perhaps because half my hits are from my mom’s IP address?)

  17. Ann,

    Sorry to hear about the apostasy. Wish you could’ve found a place with us — you’re always welcome to hang out with us as a substitute ward…

    But I think you’re describing the origins of women’s roles in the church, not necessarily their present-day roles, nor their future potential. I think the church is changing and expanding the roles of women, perhaps a little too gradually for my taste, but still — this is an institution that changes and grows, and I think that sexual discrimination has decreased over the last 20 years and should continue to do so. It’s maybe easy for me to say so (being a man and such), but I think the future is bright for women in the church.

    Edited By Siteowner

  18. Ann, you’ve clearly had some difficult experiences in the church. I’m sorry. And glad you could join us and share some thoughts.

    While I agree with your premise that there are some serious Victorian attitudes (run amok amok amok) I don’t think that it is as pervasive as you represented (or perhaps as you experienced.)

    My own experiences to the contrary: I’m currently a gospel doctrine teacher in my singles ward, and am surprised at how visible that makes me. Something that congregation members and the bishopric alike have commented on. I love being the one leading the discussions every other Sunday, because I get to talk about the things that interest me, and try to stimulate discussion. Really, considering people are in church to learn about the scriptures, it doesn’t seem like the important stuff is for the men only. And let me assure you from the bottom of my heart, there is no breeding currently going on in my life. :o)

  19. aurevoir (sp…)

  20. Back to the main issue of your post, Karen:

    It’s humiliating to women when men claim to have better access to revelation/salvation because of their gender. Yet we have a church where the ordinances are administered exclusively by men. How can we effectively respect the authority of the priesthood (with its inherent powers of church leadership, ordinance-performing, etc.) without demeaning women?

    I say this as a nervous priesthood-holder: I respect women, consider myself something of a moderate feminist, but I don’t want to belittle priesthood power and make it sound like a member of the priesthood is just an ordinance dispenser. How to approach it? The delicacy of this problem illustrates perhaps one reason why de facto discrimination is so common in our church. Thoughts?

  21. Back to the YW/YM situation, I was recently quite upset that the stake sponsored a scouting fundraiser where they asked for monetary donations from the pulpit, and made available envelopes and a letter from the stake asking for contributions. No similar action was taken for the Young Women. I debated contributing an equal amount to the YW as the scouts, but couldn’t figure out a way to do it inconspicuously enough not to be labeled a trouble – causing feminist. (We ended up donating nothing)

    I really think this kind of attitude is an unconscious response to patriarchal organization of the church. I find that seldom does this attitude translate into discrete actions, or specific comments where I could voice an appropriate response. More often, these observations just result in my silence and feeling offended after the fact.

    What do others think? Is this a result of the patriarchal organization? If so, is there anything that the leadership can do?

  22. By the way, that last post (“Mwahahaha”) was Kaimi masquerading as Steve, to try to humurously make a point.

    Really, it was me. Not Steve. Sumer, stop throwing things at your husband, please.

  23. cont.

    But my ability to participate and affect change was absolutely constricted by my gender. When I was a single mom, and I had a sick kid, I had to count on others to bless her. The authority to exercise the power of God to bless my family and others is expressly prohibited to me because I’m a woman. I believe that power already lies within all people, regardless of gender or ordination.

    There was a very inspiring article by Barbara Higdon in the Fall 2003 issue of Dialogue about her ordination in the Community of Christ. She had not expected to see that in her lifetime. By revelation, it came anyway. As long as women are prohibited real leadership by the institution (the COB), all the lip service or individual success won’t change that women are begging for blessings to be doled out by their betters

  24. Dave,

    Not sure what you meant by this: “Well, ward leaders aren’t going to see your example as gender discrimination–so why should the members? That’s the problem.” Any further explanation?

  25. Dave, I see what you’re talking about, but I’m not as pessimistic as you are about the outcomes. The problem is that the response to women who choose your option 3 will vary from ward to ward. Some bishops are horrible, and may brand a woman rather than listen; others (such as my current one) are great and would likely resist branding and make some real changes.

    What’s positive to me is that 20 years ago, ALL the bishops probably would’ve been horrible. Doesn’t it mean something that at least some LDS leaders have come around?

  26. Discussion of the Sept.6 is maybe good for a whole new post. But what I found encouraging was that many of them were able to preserve their belief in the gospel despite no longer being in fellowship. The discussion at sites like lds-mormon can be helpful to a certain extent (though I don’t want to address the right or wrong quality of their excommunication).

    Melissa, thanks so much for the ideas. They are, I think, a good start. I’m dubious about the necessity/effect of two of ’em (#3 & #5), but still…

    May I suggest that on this site we follow the time-honored internet tradition of using “em”? It replaces he/she pronouns where the subject’s gender is not determined. For example: “I don’t know who ate Sister Johansen’s jello, but em is going to be sorry tomorrow morning!”

  27. Elder Ballard addressed the impetus for the Proclamation in a talk last year at BYU:,1721,380002177,00.html

    Now whether you choose to believe him or not is another story. From other talks a driving force behind the proclamation were the various cases in Hawaii, Alaska and elsewhere involving same-sex marriage. As far as causing homosexual members greater “paranoia” I do not know what you are talking about. The church’s position on homosexuality is clear and has been for some time. In fact, the church’s stand on chastity has been clear. Any paranoia, then, must be self generated.

  28. Excellent article in the last Dialogue but one by Carol Lynn Pearson about exactly what to do. She suggests writing a letter. She gave the example of Mother’s Day being co-opted two years in a row by Priesthood Appreciation Day. In her letter, she suggested a women’s appreciation day separate from Mother’s Day. She ended up heading a month-long effort to highlight the achievements and accomplishments of women in the church, as a direct result of the letter she wrote to her bishop.

    The main reason the church has gender issues is that the role and purpose of women that the church promotes at all levels is based on a 19th century Victorian upper-class model, with no doctrinal or scriptural basis. We’re here to breed, and let the men worry about the important stuff. Yes, I’m a 4. I’m also apostate. I don’t know if one led to the other.

  29. First, let me say that I’m more than a little pissed that your blog gets 14 comments within a few hours about this lackluster topic, while my recent post on OT about a goat with three nipples has gotten ONE. I guess that means so far BCC is kicking OT’s butt. But I digress…

    In our ward we have had some very assertive women who have been in leadership positions, and have had profound effects on the administration of entire programs (well beyond their own organizations) and the general dynamic of the ward. If that guy mentioned in the post had said that here, I assure you some dear sister would have kicked him in the teeth.

    Also, think about the extent to which tolerance and multiculturalism have emerged in the primary curricula, and especially the primary songbook; if you don’t think women have a hand in pointing the direction of this church, wait til all those little primary kids singing “I’ll Walk With You” get old enough to vote.


  30. Hmmm–when I hear a man sing a song in a gender-inclusive way (especially if he’s a good singer), it makes me want to kiss him!!

  31. I have to say that number one, I agree with your comments Karen, and I have to admit I beahve more like #3, and think more like # 4. I think we as women of the Church need to continue to stand up for ourselves in an appropriate way. There have been times I have experienced this gender discrimination, and I have felt helpless. Mostly this has occured in callings I have held. How do we change that? I don’t know if we can until the men change their own attitudes. First of all, those who behave this way misunderstand the Priesthood completely, otherwise they wouldn’t discriminate. So all we can do is stand up for ourselves and refuse to accept that response (haha, I know, easier said than done).

  32. I read in an article recently about a woman in the early 80s who was Xed for her associations with the ERA. Does anyone know the details here?

  33. I should say to myself, “YHBT. YHL. HAND.”

  34. I think “a guy” can do a number of things to help eradicate this fear that I think is prevalent among women.

    1. Notice the injustices yourself and make it clear that they matter to you (i.e. this is not just a “woman’s” issue)–I have male friends who are more conscious of gender injustice than am I. I feel “safe” to talk to these men because I know their consciousness has already been raised. I don’t have to “do battle” with them because they already notice and care about the issues and I know it.

  35. I was in a circle of LDS sisters last month in which the question “what do we do to affect change regarding women’s status in the Church?” ended up being the topic of discussion. I was interested by the level of real fear that some of these women manifested. Their unwillingness to speak out against injustice was not due to passive agression, but rather fear of being censored, of being punished, of being labeled and distrusted among both men and women in the Church. Some of the single women felt that it would affect their desirablity in the “dating market.” It is this deep fear which leads to inaction and eventually, anger, that is one of the most concerning results of gender discrimination for me.

  36. I was speaking more in terms of how a person’s priesthood is stripped of them de facto, rather than by official sanction.

    In terms of how leaders should respond to pervasive comments, that’s a tough one, I’ll admit. I think maybe an address from the pulpit is a good start, but it’s not enough. Clearly members have a duty to stamp out that kind of behavior when it occurs, in “reproving betimes with sharpness” style.

    I’m at a loss to tell you with any authority how women should respond. Personally, I think they should respond with righteous anger. In our church, are women that speak up about this abuse really dismissed as aggressive? That may be so, but it’s unfortunate (and another form of discrimination).

  37. Kristine says:

    I’m late to the party, and Steve has already said part of this, but I want to say it more strongly. It’s not possible to uncouple the behavior of individual members of the church from the institutional structure and culture that allows and encourages it. The church’s current structure guarantees that from the time a boy turns 12, listening to women is entirely optional–he will never be confronted by a woman whose opinion will have institutional force over his decisions. Obviously, the inverse is true for women–they will have to seek approval for their decisions and will have to listen to men who have authority over them throughout their lives. There are NO words–no official denunciations of sexism, no scripture verses about unrighteous dominion–that have the force of that structure and the resultant acculturation.

  38. I’m writing a paper on LDS involvement in politics, and advocating that the Church institute a stake-wide non-partisan grass roots training camp to teach members how to get involved in the civic life of their communities.

    So, I am doing research in this area and will have an answer for Kristine/Steve on the issue of the timing sometime next week. Note, of course the answer will only confirm/deny whether the date of the RS conference address correlated with either the filing, or oral argumentation, of the LDS Church’s brief in the HI case.

  39. Kristine says:

    It’s too bad we don’t know more about the Council of Fifty–seems like a potentially promising model.

  40. Janice worked with Lavina on the Mormon Alliance, but now that I think about it, I don’t think she was writing _God the Mother_ in or around 1997.

  41. Jeremy, I’ve told you this before: join us or be destroyed. All your blog are belong to us.

  42. Kaimi,

    What is she teaching on? If she doesn’t “back out” I hope you’ll tell us all about her lesson (with her permission, of course).


    I know Margaret Toscano wasn’t excommunicated until 2000 (how she escaped in 93 I really don’t know), but I don’t remember exactly when Janice Allred was excommunicated. Do you know?

  43. Kaimi,

    You made me laugh so hard that the librarian gave me a dirty look!

    To read S. Johnson’s own account of the situation in _From Housewife to Heretic_.

    My point in bringing up the difference in sustaining practices was just to point out that I notice gender differences (which at time, although certainly not always indicate gender discrimination) This doesn’t mean that I am looking to be wounded or walk around with a chip on my shoulder. I, like Karen, teach GD in my ward and through that calling feel like I am very visible and influential. But, that influence is limited to my ward. If I really wanted to affect any change (and protect myself against suspicion) I would need to follow the advice of one perceptive Mormon feminist I know and “marry an influential man.” This is troubling on Oh, so many levels.

  44. Kaimi, I’m an equal opportunity Grinch.

  45. Kaimi, in other words, take God out of the equation for reaction #4? Don’t have the actions of church members call into question the divinity behind the organization? I guess that is a more practical approach for members that wish to remain members…

    My only problem with the modified approach is that it doesn’t address system-wide problems — you seem to be unwilling to consider that the church may be organized in such a way that facilitates discrimination. Isn’t there a way to be aware of the dangers of patriarchy, and to be watchful/wary of the church, while still being a faithful, believing member?

  46. Kaimi, that was wrong in so many ways. Even in an appropriate context, it was a horrible thing to say. Two strikes on one thread!!

  47. Karen et al,

    Isn’t it possible to adopt a “Modified 4” position? In other words, 4 can take us in one of two directions:

    Attribute the motives of the speaker to the whole church, become mad that an organization claiming to be from God has such motives, or

    Attribute the motives of the speaker to the whole church, recognize that the church is comprised of individual members, who are formed by their cultural milieu and, however well-intentioned, are likely to reflect many cultural biases.

    Maybe a little of both.

  48. Karen,

    Those are REALLY good questions. Let me try and tackle them in order:

    1. Priesthood as a conduit for revelation: I don’t think the priesthood is a conduit for revelation per se. I think people receive revelation in relation to their responsibilities/needs, and that includes callings. So priesthood callings may lead to revelation in relation to the callings. But that’s nothing related to the priesthood. So… I don’t see an exclusive role for priesthood in receiving revelation.

    2. Is personal revelation antithetical? No, I don’t think so, in light of the doctrine that revelations given to those in callings trump those given to ‘outsiders’ (e.g., bishop doesn’t speak for the stake). Hmm. Though the scenario where a husband & wife receive contrary revelations is still a head-scratcher…

    (see 3. below)

  49. Kim, good for your ward. In the ward I grew up in, the whole ward turned out for an Eagle court of honor, it was like a rite of passage with displays and proud commentaries. No one, outside of the Young Women leaders and parents even know about the Evenings of Excellence. (Now, let’s be honest, it’s been more than a decade since I’ve been in Young Womens, and I really hope this is changing…)

    Do we have any YW leaders who have addressed, or are dealing with these issues? What do you do?

    Oh, and Steve, I think that I did as much sanding on my brother’s pinewood derby car as he did! :o) Plus, I took it to the grocery store to weigh it…good memories….

  50. Kris,

    At one point, several years back, I regularly wondered how to get women to kiss me. Typical of my usual backwards timing, I’m learning these things _after_ I’m married and no longer trying to find ways to get women to kiss me. (Except for one woman in particular — and I have a pretty good idea of what works with her by now).

  51. Kristine,

    I think you’re right — that our structure facilitates discrimination against women — but at the same time there’s a positive dynamic going on, that keeps the situation from becoming entirely intolerable. Like Bob said earlier, “the wonder is that so many men avoid such boorishness.”

    Why isn’t the church worse than it is? I’m convinced that it is the power of God manifest in the members, softening their hearts and helping them come better people. It sounds corny, but I’m a believer, ultimately, and I think that the Church, while structurally patriarchal and backwards, has power to improve lives. That’s why I’m a deep-down optimist about the Church and its roles for women.

  52. Kristine,

    You know that I value your thoughts on this issue. I guess I’m concerned with how we can reconcile the two worlds or equal treatment and church hierarchy without getting crushed by either. Your post over at the other blog is illustrative of this point (you should have put it on this blog, IMHO — but that’s another issue).

    Why do you think the Church issued the Proclamation? What spurred its release? There may be an important historical context here to consider.

  53. Kristine, I am laughing out of my gourd. You should put that e.e. cummings thing on Ebay, I’d bid for it.

  54. Kristine, I heard the same thing. I’m not sure I believe it, though. I don’t have reason to be paranoid about it :)

  55. Last week at Ward Conference there were the regular “sustainings.” Now the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve and Bishopric were all sustained–I always notice the fact that we don’t sustain the General Relief Society Presidency. Our Ward RS presidency was then sustained, after which it was explained that the Elder’s Quorum Presidency was sustained earlier in their own meetings. Um, what? Why? I would have liked to oppose my home teacher as the new Elder’s Quorum 1st counselor since he has been remiss in his hometeaching duties for the last seven months, but no such luck :) No, really does anyone else think this is odd?

  56. Logan, I want to discuss it as well. How can you cause a patriarchy to not be sexually discriminatory? Wouldn’t it be inherent in the definition of a patriarchy?

    Well, sure it is. A patriarchy makes distinctions based on gender, that’s the “patria” part of the word. What we’re REALLY talking about is how to empower women and make them equal partners in an organization that will still be administered by men. In other words, keep the sexual distinctions harmless.

    The first thing I’d like to see is some more inclusion of women from the top down. More women speakers in General Conference, speaking on topics of substance; women called in as consultants for regional church enterprises; perhaps a woman in charge at BYU. If women were more respected at the top (as Kristine pointed out), they’d be more respected down the line.

  57. Lyle, for your sake I hope you’re kidding. If not, get ready to get banned…

  58. Kristine says:

    Lyle, you’ve read the New Testament account of Christ cleansing the temple, right?

  59. Lynn Kanavel Whitesides (feminist literary scholar and one of the founding editors of Mormon Women’s Forum, an outspokenly feminist Mormon newsletter ?? somebody can correct me on this–I know less about her than the others), and Maxine Hanks (feminist scholar, editor of a book called _Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism_).

  60. Manifesto…. Communist or #1?

    I want to hang the “Man is not an adobe” quote up there somewhere too.

  61. Kristine says:

    Mat–I can help you make a beautiful pressed-flower border for whichever Manifesto you’d like to hang.

    (When my ward did framing the Proclamation as an activity in the meeting formerly known as Homemaking, I framed e.e. cummings’ “i am a little church” instead.)

  62. Melissa,

    Assertive, outspoken women can do just fine in the LDS dating market, as long as they put on enough make-up and have enough plastic surgery!

    (Kaimi runs away before Melissa throws something at him).

  63. Melissa,

    I don’t know if it’s an added step forward or a partial cop-out, but she’s teaching a non-traditional kind of lesson. She’s a social worker, and she will be giving a nuts-and-bolts lesson about church social services, church welfare, and how members can use them.

  64. Melissa,

    I will often attend the priesthood session anyway. Typically I’m the only woman in the chapel, but nobody has kicked me out yet…

  65. Melissa,

    The General RS Presidency IS sustained. They are sustained at the sme time the seventy is sustained. “It is proposed that we sustain the other General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, and general auxiliary presidencies as presently constituted.”

    Not only is the EQP sustained in his quorum, but so is the deacons quorum president and the teachers quorum president. The HP quorum president is the stake president by default and the priest quorum president is the bishop by default.

    Why quorum presidents are sustained in quorums and Relief Society presidents not sustained in their class/group is beyond me.

  66. Melissa,

    This is my month for determining the slate of teachers for Elders Quorum in my ward. The teacher currently lined up for March 28th (assuming she doesn’t back out, as my teachers have a bad habit of doing) is one of the sisters in the ward.

  67. Melissa, I can’t remember exactly, either, and you’ve seen my study so you know why I can’t find a reference :). I would have guessed more like ’95 for Janice, but it was definitely post-’93.

  68. Kristine says:

    Melissa, the Proclamation on the Family was first read in the RS General Meeting. Perhaps they were just courteously letting the women know first because the document would be used in employment discrimination against them : ) Sigh.

  69. Melissa, the sustainings question is largely a boring organizational question.

    What I find really interesting and really powerful is your description of this fear that women have. I’ve heard this before, closer to home. I think it’s horribly unfair. What can a guy do, in your opinion, to counteract it?

  70. Melissa: “if I heard a man sing a song in a gender-inclusive way it would definitely signal someone with whom I could talk about gender discrimination.”

    Whereas I:
    1. always refer to sisters & brothers rather than vice versa
    2. write my papers in alternating she/he style; despite feeling that she should be the baseline, as should woman, as both words are inclusive and include ‘he’ and ‘man’.
    3. actively encourage women to follow prophetic counsel re: getting more education.

    Perhaps it is all in vain? Heck, #3 even helped to get me an unasked for divorce cuz my former spouse wanted to let her high school #1 valevictorian (sp?) mind rot and just have babies.

  71. Melissa: “if I heard a man sing a song in a gender-inclusive way it would definitely signal someone with whom I could talk about gender discrimination.”

    Whereas if I heard a man sing that way, it would make me wonder what page he was on.

    I wouldn’t set the bar so high for gender discrimination dialogues, you’re likely not to have too many of them.

  72. Kristine says:

    My favorite example: right after Elder Ballard gave his second talk in two years (as forceful an official rhetorical move as you’ll ever see in the church) about including women in church councils and heeding their voices, he came to our stake and conducted an all-day leadership training meeting that included (you guessed it) no women. The leadership of that stake happened to hold particularly egregious attitudes towards women; they absolutely needed to be SHOWN how to include women, as they honestly didn’t know how. Elder Ballard’s actions spoke a thousand times louder than his words.

  73. My wife has always been annoyed at the relative lack of attention given to the Young Women.


    Sumer: So, you _did donate the same to both groups. :)

  74. no one wants to push this baby over 100?

  75. Nor does it mean they are not supposed to be that way.

  76. Oh Kristine, don’t poo-poo the Proclamation! Aren’t you happy that your role is now defined? You should be! I know I am!

    Actually, I like the Proclamation, for the most part. I just wish there weren’t this unspoken emphasis on framing it to place on the wall everywhere…

  77. Okay, so now I’m doubly intrigued. What was the September Six?

  78. per my post on T&S, I want to know about a just as important topic:

    When is the Church going to stop discriminating against men? Frankly I’m tired of this silent discrimination that no one is willing to address.

    So much for liberals coming to the defense of the oppressed…

  79. Replying to Steve:

    I don’t think “gender discrimination” is a category for most LDS leaders. How would a woman complain given the little scenario outlined in the original post? (1) If she says, “It’s no big deal, but . . .” they’ll say we’re glad you think it’s no big deal. (2) If she says, “This kind of bothers me,” they’ll help her see why it’s just something she needs to learn to deal with. (3) If she says, “This is a BIG problem, do something,” she gets branded a “feminist,” the code word for an uppity woman (= smart, assertive woman who speaks out).

  80. since when is confrontation/contention a strong/positive cultural trait?

    how about option #5:

    rather than whine about it; execise your own talents and agency . . . and work within your own sphere of influence to encourage good stuff/help others to change this problem, real or perceived, over time, generations and one heart at a time?

    nah…that would be too much like missioanry work. :)

  81. Sorry to disagree Stephen, but men and women could not be equal partners in an organization if one group still controlled all of the administration. In a true partnership there might be a division of labor, but to split that along gender lines does not open it up to a possibility that perhaps an individual might be best suited to serve in a role that is reserved for the other gender. I don’t think anyone believes that males have a genetic advantage to being better ward clerks, bishops and high counselors – but isn’t that what the unspoken message of the church is?

  82. Sorry, I should read my comments before I post them.

    I meant to write: I don’t think Janice was exed until 1997 when she was writing _God the Mother_.

  83. Steve,

    #5 is really just an example of another question about which “hard thinking” can be illuminating. If you don’t know the names of the General RS presidency/General Primary presidency why is that? Perhaps it is because they have so little presence, visibility, authority, legitimacy? Do you believe that they are talking to you, saying things that are inspired and revelatory for your life? These women are transient figures whom I have elsewhere described as “faceless and nameless” to the larger Church membership. I think that this invisibility of female leaders has an affect on girls and women.

    We have already talked about gender-inclusive singing and reading of scripture elsewhere, but I will say that if I heard a man sing a song in a gender-inclusive way it would definitely signal someone with whom I could talk about gender discrimination.

  84. Steve,

    I can’t agree more about framing the Proclamation and putting it on a wall. I’ve often wanted to hang the Manifesto on my wall in response–just the thought cracks me up.


  85. Steve, but are the answers pat? To my knowledge, no one is stripped of their priesthood for having a discriminatory attitude. Further, if these kinds of comments are subtle and pervasive (and they are…), I think the question, particularly of how ward leaders should respond, is one that I haven’t come up with a good answer to myself. Has anyone been in a ward that had an adequate response?

    Finally, I really am interested in how women should respond themselves. Clearly I disagree with actions at the margins, as posted above, but both practically and socially, what is the best response? Ignoring it may be more “Christian” but could signal tacit approval. On the other hand, women who speak up are perceived as aggressive and often dismissed. In my professional life, I’m trained to speak up, but in my church life, I edit. How do other women handle these situations?

  86. Steve, I think the historical context for the issuance of the Proclamation may have been the Hawaii gay marriage court case, but I hope I’m wrong. At the time I heard assertions that the Proclamation had to be read at the RS conference because of a need to introduce it as evidence in a hearing the following week in the church’s attempt to be named a co-defendant with the state of Hawaii in that case. I have no idea how one would go about researching such a claim, so I’ve tended to dismiss it as wild-eyed conspiracy theory (not that gays in the church don’t have reason to be paranoid…)

  87. Steve, let me turn your question back to you. How do you perceive that the Priesthood is supposed to function as a conduit for revelation? Is personal revelation that can be received by men or women at all antithetical to that?

    Further, and I’m really curious as to your terminology here, what do you think the functions of the priesthood are in addition to “ordinance dispensing?”

  88. Kristine says:

    Steve, you’re just trying to provoke me, now, aren’t you? : )

  89. Steve, your question, “Do we need to abandon patriarchy in order to completely rid the church of sexual discrimination?” intrigues me. You say you don’t think the answer is necessarily yes, but I’d be interested in hearing other possibilities.

    I’m relatively inexperienced with feminist theory, but it seems like much of the thinking is that patriarchal systems are inherently sexist. What could the Church do to keep a framework of men holding leadership positions, but eliminate sexism?

  90. Steve–“what can a guy do?” First, I’m so glad you asked! Your inquiry makes me hopeful because it represents an openness to learn from women’s real, lived experiences in the Church and to change your thinking/behavior/approach because of them. I think this is rare and precious.

    To be fully fair, a lot of the fear that women feel about speaking out against injustice is fear of being ostracized by other women. Mormon women are harsh judges of each other because there is deep insecurity over the widely divergent choices that we actually make. Judgment of each other becomes a way to justify our own choices. Very sad. This roots of this judgment and the ways in which men contribute to this problem is, of course, another thread.

  91. Steve:

    Um…is that a threat, or just the voice of yet another liberal who is unable to tolerate an opinion that differs from her or his own?

    Seriously, I hope you are kidding…otherwise…ban away.
    I’d wear my badge of censorship with honor; although I’d probably have to report you to the ACLU [I am a member, which probably will shock you…although it really shouldn’t]and try to get them to sue you for practicing some type of discrimination. It might not amount to much; but perhaps I could get you banned from United Way donation campaigns, government sponsored matched donation lists or using camp grounds. :)

  92. Sumer wrote: “Sorry to disagree Stephen, but men and women could not be equal partners in an organization if one group still controlled all of the administration.”

    Hah! That’s clearly not the case. In fact, it’s so wrong that, as the blog administrator, I will now delete that comment, and ban you from commenting ever again! See what happens when you disagree with _me_! Behold the power of the administrator! Mwahahaha!

    (clears throat)

    So, as I was saying, it seems clear that women can be equal partners even though they are shut out of administration.

  93. Aaron Brown says:


    You’re thinking of Sonja Johnson. This was big news at the time. I know there’s a sympathetic essay in _Differing Visions_ about her. I haven’t retained all the details.

    I believe she sued the Church, publicly encouraged non-LDS people not to accept LDS missionaries, was a guest on Donahue while she was awaiting the excommunication decision, and ended up joining a lesbian commune in Arizona.

    I may be wrong on some of the details, but I don’t think so.

    Aaron B

  94. Sumer, the “September Six” has become the shorthand for the September 1993 excommunication of six (more or less) prominent LDS intellectuals: Paul Toscano (wrote a book called _The Sanctity of Dissent_ in which he publically called leaders of the church to repentance, also a theological work called _Strangers in Paradox_ which, while very intriguing, is far from orthodox), Avraham Gileadi (Isaiah scholar, never spoke about the reasons for his excommunication, has since been rebaptized), Michael Quinn (historian, long history of controversial writings, his _Mormon Hierarchy_ books were probably most responsible for his excommunication), Lavina Fielding Anderson (former editor of the Ensign, freelance writer, founder of the Mormon Alliance, which collected and reported incidents of “ecclesiastical abuse” and sexual abuse in the church)

  95. Thanks for the reference Brent! Good to see you on the Dark Side :)

    And, to top it off, I think you’re right on the paranoia issue — gay members shouldn’t be surprised by the stance of the Church. I think any paranoia or discomfort may stem from rising expectations based on how society as a whole is adjusting towards homosexuality. Gay members (probably) feel like since acceptance and co-existence are gaining in general, perhaps the church could reflect those trends as well. I don’t necessarily agree with that.

  96. Thanks Kaimi, for helping my marriage to Sumer grow ever stronger.

    Look, I know that it seems a contradiction in terms that a patriarchy serve both genders equally, but that’s what we’re striving towards, isn’t it? The church doesn’t teach that men are genetically superior to women (at least, it’s not something that’s been taught for a long, long time).

    Why is the priesthood given exclusively to men? We don’t know — except to say that it IS. It’s not a justification, just a statement of the status quo. It’s not very satisfying, I know. Perhaps someone else can provide more insight.

    I would point out though that in our church, callings aren’t given to those with the best qualifications. They’re given according to inspiration, not resumes. So your idea that patriarchy prevents better qualified members from having certain callings is only partially satisfactory, because there’s no guarantee that callings ever go to those most qualified.

  97. To get the ball rolling:

    Karen, the problem you’re going to
    have, I think, with this post is that the answers are very pat, or at least seem that way at first blush. The Church very clearly denounces such discrimination, and says amen to the priesthood of men like the one in your story.

    A question I have is, why do we have such discrimination even though the church’s policy is so clearly against it?

    Does a patriarchal church necessarily result in this discrimination? Is it a regional/cultural problem (i.e., with a Spanish ward)? I wish I could say I’d never encountered it, but I have.

  98. Um, in case it was unclear, I didn’t necessarily mean to tacitly endorse abandoning the current setup. I’m just interested in discussing it.

  99. Kristine says:

    Um, nope, the lesbian commune was in New Mexico, and she didn’t just join it; she founded it. (Also, she was exed in 1978–sheesh I’m old; you kids weren’t even alive then, were you?!). Besides the essay in Differing Visions, there’s her own book called _From Housewife to Heretic_. I think what happened to her was the perfect storm to drown an LDS woman–completely sheltered LDS life and unexamined faith, total jerk of a husband who divorced her right at the time she was getting in trouble for her views on the ERA, insensitive local leaders, and public-image hypersensitivity influencing the proceedings from SLC. Sad story all around.

    I do think that the Church learned some things–the September Six, as ugly an episode as it was, still was handled better in many ways than the Johnson case.

  100. Wait–I should have put that last in the conditional mode; I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard a Mormon man sing that way (no doubt my husband is glad!)

  101. Well, now, don’t agree with me too quickly, Karen, I don’t want to become complacent :). Like you, I’m optimistic for the future of the church, but at the same time I’m not so content with the status quo.

    What frustrates me? Well, it’s not as much the treatment of women (though yeah it bothers me), but more the role of the priesthood. It seems to me that we are in a transitional phase for the priesthood, from all-encompassing authority and voice of the church to…. ?

    OK, so I’m a member of the priesthood — what does that mean, exactly? Perhaps a topic for another (not sexual discrimination-related) blog post.

  102. Well, ward leaders aren’t going to see your example as gender discrimination–so why should the members? That’s the problem.

    It’s a patriarchal church, I’m sure you know the history. So why expect any better? The wonder is that so many men avoid such boorishness, not that a good portion still embrace it.

  103. Why is the priesthood given exclusively to men? Perhaps the answer can be found in Mosiah 1:5 – “because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.”

    Just because things are a certain way doesn’t mean they are supposed to be that way.

  104. Yeah…reinforcements! j/k Steve…

    although Steve, just wanted to let you know that I have the copyright on the phrase “turing to the darkside” and the “darkside” as being the GOP. :)

    It has do do with Elder Packers talk on the Candle of the Lord & taking a step or two into the dark first… ;)

  105. […cont]

    The role of women in church leadership was obvious on my mission as well. We even had a name for it: “mujerdocio.”

    [The translation drains it of its wit, but anyway: mujer=woman, -docio=the last half of the spanish word for priesthood.]

  106. [part deux]
    It’s true that “NO words…have the force of that structure and the resultant acculturation.” That’s why I have to believe that God’s hand is in there, preventing the worst of ourselves from harming the church. This only provides a limited amount of comfort, though, since we still have work to do to nullify all discrimination. Your example of Elder Ballard is a good illustration of where we need to improve — more ACTIONS.

    Do we need to abandon patriarchy in order to completely rid the church of sexual discrimination? The answer to some may be an immediate and resounding “yes” but still, I’m not sure…