Round Table: Women in the Church, Rounds 2 & 2.5

Editor’s Note: shortly after I sent around the question for Round Two, a certain Gaia burst on the scene. We all took a breather and recommenced with Round 2.5. Also, pinch-hitting for Claudia Bushman this round is Laurie DiPadova-Stocks. As with the previous round, prepare yourself for some interesting, long and fun conversations.

From: Steve Evans, Mon, Feb 14, 2005 at 12:08PM

To: Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Grasshopper, Heather P., Melissa P., Claudia, Laurie

Hi everyone,

Your responses to the first round were great — thanks! Let me say, in the spirit of the McLaughlin Group, that your admirable, thoughtful responses were all wrong. The answer was "no, women are not happy in the Church."

On to round two!

Last night I sat with a group of women discussing Eve’s role in the creation (a fun topic), and somehow the discussion came around to modern day Eves: women that shape the destiny of all and that play a prominent, beautiful part of all our lives. We were able to think of major women in Church history that come close: Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline Wells, Emma Smith, and a couple of others. But no one was able to think of contemporary Great Women in the Church, whose greatness transcends gender roles or other categorizations. Sheri Dew was mentioned, as was Chieko Okazaki and Elaine Jack; still, the sweeping greatness of these women seems to pale in comparison to these great women of the past.

So, the question for round two: where are today’s Great Mormon Women? In our current Church environment, what form will greatness take with women? Are the days of poet-prophetesses, suffrage leaders and groundbreakers over? What are the appropriate criteria for greatness in a Mormon woman — are they, and should they be, different criteria than those for a Great Mormon Man?

Finally, can you name some contemporary Great Mormon Women (yourselves excluded, female participants)?

As usual, we should expect definitive and absolute answers to these questions.


From: Lisa, Mon, Feb 14, 2005 at 6:18PM

To: Steve, Kris W., Jim F., Grasshopper, Heather P., Melissa P., Claudia, Laurie

I just don’t feel like I can be very useful on this thread. Like I mentioned, I just don’t know much, and I don’t feel very educated or well-read. I couldn’t tell you who most the women you mentioned are. Actually, that is probably true of MOST Mormon women.

We don’t know much about Mormon women in history (outside of the Work and the Glory version — which I haven’t read, but hear about in glowing terms on a regular basis, thus I figure it’s a bunch of tripe, and isn’t that fair of me not having read it and all). We are not aware of female role models in modern church. We do not discuss topics that might imply dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. We are vaguely discouraged from reading books by the most well-known Mormon women (those who are suspected of being ambitious, impious, and dangerous).

I know in the past I avoided learning much about Mormon women out of the vague suspicion that this was a forbidden topic. And now that I’ve shed the prohibition and my interest has turned in that direction, I’m too overwhelmed with diapers and dishes and feelings of inadequacy to delve into the world of my foremothers and/or female (or feminist) Mormon literature.

So other than saying, I don’t know much, in the past I always felt like that was for the best and most Mormon women are a lot like me. I don’t have much to add.


From: Melissa Proctor, Tue, 15 Feb 2005

To: Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Grasshopper, Heather P., Steve, Claudia, Laurie


This is another difficult question to answer because you don’t define "great." By "great Mormon women" do you mean those who have had institutional influence on the church, those who’ve had national influence or those who’ve made more personal, yet significant contributions on the home front? Is "great" an immeasurable quality of soul or is it a certain power that comes from being accomplished enough in the right ways to be publicly recognized, respected and admired? I think that the way you answer this definitional question determines to a large extent who would be considered "great."

As an academic, when I think of contemporary Mormon women I admire I tend think of those who are academics themselves. Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Marie Cornwall, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Kathleen Flake, and Jill Mulvay Derr leap to mind, for example. I think these women exemplify insightful scholarship, and so, to me they are "great." However, it seems clear that women like Sheri Dew and Chieko Okasaki have had a more powerful institutional presence because of the callings they’ve held. Their institutional roles allow others to perceive them as somehow beyond reproach (at least for the most part) and thus, engenders trust in both men and women who may otherwise feel threatened by strong women.

There are, of course, other possible perspectives on who the "great" Mormon women may be. For some, perhaps celebrities like Sharlene Wells Hawkes (musician and former Miss America) or journalists like Jane Clayson are more influential because of their national exposure. There are award-winning novelists like Virginia Sorensen and celebrated poets like Carol Lynn Pearson who are popular, even beloved among members of the Church. There are still other LDS women, like Esther Peterson (activist, lobbyist, consumer advocate) who have had a powerful and lasting influence, not only in Mormondom, but in the larger society. However, whether these women are "great" comes down to one’s subjective definitions and perspectives. For example, I think most Mormons would call their mothers or wives "great Mormon women" but be hard-pressed to come up with any others.

It is interesting to note who the outside world lists in the category of influential Mormon woman. Last Spring I took a class at Harvard Divinity School with Ann Braude, an acclaimed historian of American women’s religious history. There was a unit on Mormon women as part of the course in which we read Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, From Housewife to Heretic by Sonia Johnson and had a presentation on Maxine Hanks’ Women and Authority. I thought these were fascinating choices for texts to read on Mormon women, mostly because of how unrepresentative they are. Braude also recently published the talks from a conference on religion and the feminist movement in a volume called Transforming the Faiths of Our Fathers: Women Who Changed American Religion. The Mormon woman invited to participate was Margaret Toscano. Although I have been personally instructed by some of Toscano’s work, I don’t think she fits the qualification of one who "transformed her faith," at least not in the way Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza have. Still, I’m not sure who I would have asked to participate instead. Perhaps one of the scholars I noted above. However, women who are given institutional legitimacy (think Sheri Dew) are usually given that legitimacy because they do NOT intend to transform the faith. They intend to acquiesce to the faith of their fathers. Trying to transform one’s faith as an LDS woman is usually a quick way to draw suspicion instead of support.

For a Mormon woman to be great it usually means that she has given up her worldly ambition, scholarship or career for her family or, less commonly, one who has managed, heroically, to perform both admirably. By this criteria the great Mormon woman is not publicly known because her greatness is believed to be manifested in her self-sacrifice, self-abnegation, her humility, her quiet service, her devotion to home and family and so forth. The criteria for the great Mormon man seems to be quite different—-strength of leadership, church callings, accomplishment, education, professional ambition, worldly success, and so forth.


From: Grasshopper

To: Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Melissa, Heather P., Steve, Claudia, Laurie

Great? What is Great? I think the Great Mormon Man is Joseph Smith, and we haven’t exactly had an abundance of them around lately, either, any more than we have contemporary Eliza R. Snows.

I think that to the extent that men and women really do have inherent differences, there will, and should, be different criteria for Great Women than for Great Men. But I wonder: great in whose eyes? Are we asking something akin to, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Or are we talking about something that would be considered greatness by those outside our faith?

"Finally, can you name some contemporary Great Mormon Women?"

To the extent that I understand what you mean by "Great", I don’t think so; but then I can’t think of any contemporary Great Mormon Men, either. Can you?


From: Steve Evans
To: Grasshopper
Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Melissa, Heather P., Claudia, Laurie

Grasshopper, I think we can easily identify contemporary Great Mormon Men: general authorities, or at least the Prophet, so qualify — or at least that is the message. Absent equivalent social statures for women, what standards can we look to for greatness?

I do like how you’ve brought it back to "who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven." Maybe I am asking a similarly obtuse/blasphemous question. Based upon the standard the Lord set, I would say that there are countless Great Mormon Women. Somehow, that doesn’t satisfy my line of inquiry.


From: Grasshopper

To: Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Melissa, Heather P., Steve, Claudia, Laurie

"Grasshopper, I think we can easily identify contemporary Great Mormon Men: general authorities, or at least the Prophet, so qualify — or at least that is the message."

I think that’s a mistake. Not to disparage these men, but a calling does not greatness make, and I think it’s a deficiency in our culture that we take callings as a sign of greatness. Greatness is in how we serve in our callings, not in what callings we have.

I think the question you ask: "what standards can we look to for greatness?" should apply equally to men and women — but now perhaps we’re getting away from the topic of women in the Church.

Or perhaps not — perhaps we should realize that the real way to measure greatness is in the way we (should) measure women’s greatness: by their often unrecognized contributions in everyday things, by the families they raise up, by the way they serve — as well as by their education and more "visible" accomplishments. In fact, maybe our failure to measure greatness in this way contributes to the difficulties raised in the first round of the discussion.


From: Steve Evans, Fri, Feb 18, 2005 at 3:20PM

To: Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Grasshopper, Heather P., Melissa P., Claudia, Laurie

re: Round Table, Round 2.5

OK, my little chickadees,

Since few of you have had the guts to reply to round two, that says to me that I am asking the right questions (or you’re scared of Gaia).

Let me try again, with a question that’s a little easier and less controversial: what female figure in the Church do you most admire, family members excluded? Why do you admire her?

And because I’ve been accused by some (Heather) of cheaply avoiding answers to my own questions, I’ll give you my answer to this one: Emma Lou Thayne. One of the most remarkable poets I’ve read, highly articulate and yet with a genuine sense of feeling in her writing. She’s activist, pacifist and extremely prolific. To me, she is in many ways the ideal: smart and faithful, beautiful and strong. You can read more about her here.

There you have it gang — a real softball question for you to mull over the weekend. I’m looking forward to your replies.


From: Lisa, Fri, Feb 18, 2005 at 4:21PM

To: Steve, Kris W., Jim F., Grasshopper, Heather P., Melissa P., Claudia, Laurie

My answer, which I think is just sad, is . . . I can’t really think of one. No one, that I have sufficient knowledge of, that I can look up to and say, wow! That’s the way to be.


From: Steve Evans, Fri, Feb 18, 2005 at 4:25PM

To: Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Grasshopper, Heather P., Melissa P., Claudia, Laurie

Lisa, that’s a very telling response, I think — not of you in particular but that any woman in the Church would find herself without role models outside her family (unless your family provides them in spades!). What about the ‘pop stars’ of the mormon women’s world, like Sheri Dew? Or I guess, what would you look for in a admirable female figure?

From: Jim F., Sun, Feb 20, 2005 at 11:39PM

To: Lisa, Kris W., Steve, Grasshopper, Heather P., Melissa P., Claudia, Laurie

Besides not being able to refer to family members, the worst thing about this question-"What female figure in the Church do I most admire, family members excluded?"-is that I don’t have a quick answer. That says something about me, but not what it might at first seem to say because I also don’t have a quick answer for the question if "female" is changed to "male." Perhaps it is a sign of arrogance (I hope not), but I seldom think in terms of admiration, so it is hard to know what I think. Nevertheless, I’ll give the question a try.

I was intrigued by Steve’s answer, "Emma Lou Thayne," because she is someone whom I probably wouldn’t have thought of, but someone I wish I’d thought of. I suspect that will also be true when I read the answers of others. Reading Mary Elizabeth’s Rollins’s diary as an undergraduate impressed me a great deal. She seemed to be a model of a faithful person living with both physical and spiritual difficulty. Among living women, however, I admire several of the women faculty at BYU. One, Julia Boerio-Goates, is Catholic, so I suppose I can’t use her as my answer. The other two who come immediately to mind are Brandie Siegfried and Renata Forste.

Why do I admire them? Perhaps most of all because I enjoy being with them. They say interesting and funny things, but they never stoop to being cute. They are smart. They are capable. They work hard at their jobs and do good work. They are active in the Church, have strong testimonies, and do important work in it, but no one could accuse them of having blinders on.


From: Grasshopper

To: Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Melissa, Heather P., Steve, Claudia, Laurie

I don’t think there is a single contemporary female Mormon non-family member that I particularly admire. I like the way the writings of M. Catherine Thomas challenge me; I like the outspokenness of Chieko Okazaki. My wife particularly admires Mary Ellen Edmunds. I know the family of Elder John Groberg and his wife Jean is a really great lady — and hey, they even have a movie made about them — that’s great, isn’t it…? (Isn’t it?)


From: Heather P. Tue, Feb 22, 2005 at 2:54AM

To: Lisa, Kris W., Jim F., Melissa, Grasshopper, Steve, Claudia, Laurie

I am also having a difficult time coming up with a heroine in the church, or naming Great (Modern) Mormon Women. There are women I admire, but I don’t really know enough about any of them.

I think the message to Mormon women is: Your greatest mission is to support your husband and to raise righteous children. And so being in the spotlight is discouraged. Of course this (raising a family) is a noble goal. But shouldn’t men’s greatest duty also be to their families? And yet being in the public eye doesn’t get in the way of that for them.

One name that keeps coming to mind as I have thought about these questions: Chieko Okazaki. I admire her for her compassion and resilience. I love her teaching that we are all survivors, and that we all can find consolation and peace in Jesus. I want to add one opinion about Sheri Dew. I think that it’s considered "okay" for her to be successful in the business world because she is not married and does not have any children. She’s kind of the "if marriage doesn’t happen to you" example. Of course she can still "mother" her nieces and nephews, but there is no career/family dichotomy in her life, so it’s not an issue.

I think that the Relief Society General Presidency, the Young Women General Presidency, and the Primary
General Presidency turn over too often and are in the background too much for us to really get to know them. I would bet that the majority of the church does not even know President Parkin’s name. Women and men both. (I didn’t learn it until a few months ago.) Not to mention the YW and Primary presidencies. (I don’t know any of those.)

A "great moment" (at least for me) that I remember from a CES fireside in the late 1990’s was when the person who was conducting welcomed "President Pinegar and her husband Brother Pinegar."

From: Kris W. Tue, Feb 22, 2005 at 2:54AM

To: Lisa, Heather P., Jim F., Melissa, Grasshopper, Steve, Claudia, Laurie

There are actually a lot of Mormon women that I admire, although I am rejecting the idea of the "Great" Mormon woman because I think that it is essentially a male construct.

I was discussing this question, with a friend, who said, "Part of me thinks that there is a universal component to greatness, in that human beings can instantly recognize greatness just as easily as they can recognize something that is good or beautiful, or truthful – this idea of a universal, transcendent measure of greatness suggests that men and women are both equal before this judgement, but what exactly are the criteria – they are probably not the ones that man has devised…nor the ones that woman has."

Such recognition of greatness then includes more than just the authors, activists, and other individuals who achieve "fame". Here then are a few Mormon women who I admire:

After surviving the Haun’s Mill massacre, Amanda Smith discovered that her husband and one of her sons were dead and another mortally wounded. She said,

"But I could not weep then. The fountain of tears was dry; the heart overburdened with its calamity and all the mother’s sense absorbed in its anxiety for the precious boy which God alone could save by his miraculous aid … "Oh my Heavenly Father," I cried, "what shall I do? Thou seest my poor wounded boy and knowest my inexperience. Oh Heavenly Father, direct me what to do!" And then I was directed as by a voice speaking to me …"

Mary Fielding Smith is another who seemed to have a fire within her to live the gospel during the early church period. She insisted to her unkind company captain that she would do her part in spite of being a widow and made her way to the Salt Lake Valley arriving there before him. Her fervent prayer to locate a lost team of oxen and her prayer again for sick oxen to be healed are evidence to me of her simultaneous greatness and humility. Finally I love the story of Amy Loader, who looked into the face of death and despair and chose to dance. I see greatness in all of these women.

A more modern pick would be Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who I admire for her scholarly work as well as her contribution to Mormon feminism. Her professional work has done so much to illuminate not only the "invisible" economy of women’s lives and networks but also the nature of whole communities. Her marriage of Mormonism and feminism, of faith and "lusterware" speaks to my soul. I think that her assertion that," … few have noticed the ways in which a demanding private life might nurture a scholarly career" is instructive — both to those who might seek to pigeon hole women as wives and mothers and to women who are seeking "greatness", whatever its form, whatever their path.

From: Laurie Wed, Mar 23, 2005 at 10:10PM

To: Lisa, Heather P., Jim F., Melissa, Grasshopper, Steve, Claudia, Kris W.

Steve, I see from the posts in the roundtable that the discussion went to "Are women happy in the Church?" Given that question, along with what you offered, I here share a few observations:

1. There was copious research in the 1970s about happiness and marriage. The issue was: of the following four groups, which is most likely to report being the happiest, and which group the unhappiest? HAPPIEST: Married Men; NEXT HAPPIEST: Unmarried women. Third Happiest: married women. LEAST HAPPY: unmarried men.

When I have shared this with numerous Relief Societies (in five states and in three decades), in every instance, this made perfect sense to the sisters. They eagerly jumped in with their reasons. I always expected considerable controversy, but never got it, for whatever reason.

I would be interested in the observations of the BCC online group about this.

2. History has a way of magnifying some events and people that did not seem so remarkable in real time. If we have an Emmeline Wells amongst us, I doubt that we could identify her. Steve listed Emma Smith, but until a few decades ago, her name was mentioned in the Church in only hushed tones; she was suspect somehow for remarrying outside of the Church and for not following the Saints to Utah. As late as the 1960s when I joined the Church, the Church was very Utah-Brigham Young oriented and Joseph Smith was prominent for the restoration and the first vision, but he was in the background compared to Brigham Young. Fortunately, we have a healthier view of her and of Joseph now, I think.

3. Do we have great women in the Church? To coin a phrase, it depends on what your definition of "great" is. The Church values the home arena as the proper one for women, which limits potential for public visibility. I do not think that the Church desires for women to be "great". The Church wants women to be sweet, spiritual, married, and have families. Professional accomplishments are not among the expectations and are often liabilities.

For example, we have women (like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich) who meet the standards of "great" (or at least "noteworthy," or "outstanding") in the eyes of the world and their professions, but they are never (or rarely) honored in or by the church. If I recall correctly, Laurel was uninvited from speaking at the BYU Women’s Conference a few years ago or so, no reason given. I did not and still cannot understand that.

Anything like professional capability that can be seen as threatening the value of a woman as a homemaker or mother is downplayed, ignored or denied by the church leadership. Yet Laurel raised a large family, earned her Ph.D. and her dissertation won her the Pulitzer Prize.

Meanwhile, Mormon athletes (who routinely violate Sabbath rules and miss church activity, at least during their sports’ seasons) are headlined and invited over and over to youth firesides.

OTOH, Linda Newell and Val Avery, who wrote an honest biography of Emma Smith, were restrained from addressing church groups in consequence, even though no fault was found with their scholarship and research.

The Church has no place for women’s leadership–it’s all Priesthood leadership. The Relief Society is a Priesthood organization, not a women’s organization–the women have no authority to take action. We hear about these poor branches of the Church with almost all women, and how they need Priesthood leadership for the branch to function. All of the women members and converts in that congregation are discussed as liabilities, not as assets.

To illustrate:

A sister I know well and her husband moved to a university town where she assumed the position as director of a nationally-known endowed named center for civic engagement at the local university. On their arrival, they happened to visit with a local bishop who asked about them what they were doing in the area, and the couple told him about her new position. After some pleasantries were exchanged, the bishop then proceeded to share everyone’s excitement about the fact that the dean of one of the schools at the university had just joined the Church, and what leadership he could bring, and so forth.

This sister became very aware of the fact that no one would ever be excited about the "leadership SHE would bring" to a new area, regardless of her accomplishments and credentials. Women are not thought about in terms of leadership. No matter how many or what types of positions she might hold in higher education and academic leadership, it would never matter to the Church. And it might even be seen by some as an impediment, while for men, such leadership is a valued asset.

Note this: There is a sculpture garden on the grounds of the LA Temple, modeled after the one at Nauvoo. In the Temple itself, one finds portraits of all the Presidents of the Church. In the garden, there are monuments to women–a woman praying; an old woman in a rocking chair sewing; a woman playing with children. Why are men individuals in the Church, while women are always groups and functions, but not individuals?

But it’s not just Mormon women: A few years ago I suggested to our ward Relief Society that "Enrichment" meeting have a "Great American Women" component. We had a session each month, the first of which was making a list of the Great American Women we might wish to study. Several insisted that Eve be on the list, so I went along. Then each successive month, each sister, in turn, chose a GAW to discuss and presented on her. The final month, I invited Emma Lou Thayne to come in and discuss her favorite GAW; Emma Lou selected Anne Morrow Lindberg.

I was saddened by the difficulty these women had in identifying ANY great American women–it is as if the terms "great" and "Woman" don’t even belong together in the mind of Mormon women.

The sisters had a much easier time identifying Great American men than they do women.



  1. Wow, provacative and thought-provoking post, Steve.

    As for Mormon women who I admire and look up to, that’s easy — Kristine Haglund Harris, Julie Smith, Rosalynde Welch, Melissa Proctor . . .

    If my little daughter turns out like any of them, I’ll be quite happy. She doesn’t need to become Sheri Dew. Church callings are strange and unpredictable and (dare I say it?) political. Meanwhile, going to school, earning a degree, raising a family (or preparing to do so) — those are things that require personal initiative.

  2. Good picks, Kaimi, but I think if you were to reverse genders on that question, I daresay the answers might include Gordon B. Hinckley, Neal A. Maxwell, or other contemporary leaders. Assuming for a moment that your answers went this way, why is this so? Are we setting different criteria for greatness? Look at the commonalities with your answers.

  3. Rosalynde says:

    I think the consensus of the group–that there aren’t many prominent, accomplished (which is how I understand you to be using the term “Great”) Mormon women–is correct.

    But I don’t think this is the Brethren’s desire or design, but merely the natural result of certain social conditions. First, Mormon women aren’t “prominent” within the Church because they don’t hold the priesthood. This is not a rant, complaint, or call to action, but a mere observation: most prominent men in the church are prominent because of their priesthood offices, or because of the work they’ve done in or for the church, which is closely connected to priesthood authority. Second, Mormon women are not generally “accomplished” because they have children. Again, not a rant, complaint or manifesto, just an observation: it’s much, much more difficult to attain high-level accomplishment without long blocks of uninterrupted time to work. Mothers of children don’t have these, particuarly during the decades of the twenties and thirties, which is when mental and physical faculties (with the exception of writing!) are at their sharpest.

    I think most Mormons, the priesthood hierarchy included, would be highly pleased to see “great”–that is, prominent and accomplished and faithful–Mormon women emerge. But under the current conditions, which don’t seem likely to change soon, I don’t think this will happen.

  4. Grasshopper wins round 2 by knocking Steve Evans out cold.
    Kris W. wins round 2.5.

    It is true that I would say great men include Gordon Hinckley and Neal Maxwell while great women are the unknown mothers of the church. As some have suggested, that seems to suggest a different criteria in assessing the greatness of each gender. But it’s not.

    Hinckley and Maxwell are great, not because of their callings, but because of who they are – they’re faith, humility, etc. They would be equally great if they were not apostles, or if they were unknown altogether. There are an equal number of Hinckley and Maxwell women out there too, but we just don’t know them, because they don’t have apostolic callings.

    The issue seems to be, not that women aren’t great, nor that they are given patronizing criteria for greatness, but that we simply don’t know who all the great ones are.

  5. Knocks me out cold?? Eric, you are smoking the good weed this morning. Grasshopper and I got along splendidly!

    Rosalynde: doesn’t it point out an inconsistency to say that “most Mormons, the priesthood hierarchy included, would be highly pleased to see “great”…Mormon women emerge” and yet point out that conditions at present do not permit this? How can we say that our leaders want great Mormon women if our organization does not promote their growth?

    Or are we saying that “great” mormon women are mints on our pillow — a nice touch, but not important?

  6. Rosalynde says:

    Steve, I think at the moment leaders are not willing to change the conditions that shape the present circumstance, even though they would be pleased with *some* of the benefits. Of course, giving women the priesthood and encouraging them to seek accomplishment would also entail nearly incalculable personal and institutional costs, which must also be factored into the equation. I assume that leaders, in the absence of direct revelation on the matter, presently see the costs outweighing the benefits, and that is why things stay as they are. Perhaps revelation will intervene, or perhaps the costs and benefits of the equation will change as our social context changes.

  7. Laurie DiPadova-Stocks says:

    Steve, in response to your post above–11:20 AM–I want to be clear: While there may be no individual church leader conspiracy re: women and leadership, there is no question that as an institution (and not simply due to social cirsumstances) the Church has determined not to value women’s professional accomplishments (except for someone who can be showcased like Gladys Knight). Even those women who have managed both arenas successfully (family–lots of children AND professional achievement) are shunned, not held up as examples, and so forth–unlike the male athletes, for instance, who break the Sabbath. Those atheletes are not threatening to the Mormon world-view; professionally accomplished visible women are. Laurie

  8. Laurie —

    I really enjoyed reading your comments and since I just recently read some of the issues surrounding Ulrich’s “disinvitation” to Women’s Conference, I think you make a good point.

    During the discussion, I struggled with the definition of “great”, but now I am wondering about the term “Mormon woman”. Can we even agree on anything other than a woman who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? (Critics note the small “d” here! :) )How do we define her as different from a “Mormon man” other than her physiology?

    Oh, and I don’t even know what to say about Eve being a “Great American Woman”.

  9. I’m surprised that no one mentioned Olene Walker. She fits all of the LDS ideals as a family woman, but has also been able to rise to some significant heights of power as well. Maybe women don’t admire her as a great public figure because she looks like a grandma instead of someone who would be ‘powerful’? I’m not sure, but she was able to accomplish some great things in her career, and was very popular. Now, the fact that despite that popularity she didn’t have a snowball’s chance of getting re-elected– that might be an interesting discussion for another time.

    Also, it’s interesting to note that many of the people mentioned as possible great women are those whose achievements have focused on women or feminism. Is this because women who achieve notable things only do so in fields related to feminism or women’s issues, or because we are unwilling to pay attention to women accomplishing things in the infinite other fields of endeavor?

  10. Kris, of course Eve is a Great American Woman. Isn’t Adam-Ondi-Ahman in Missouri, after all?

  11. Rosalynde says:

    Laurie, I think “worldview” is far too totalizing a category to be useful in any discussion of specific cases or conditions–particularly when Mormonism is so unsystematized and young an ideological system. Policies are made by individual Mormons, with individual convictions, biases and strengths, not by a generalized “Mormon worldview”; furthermore, policy decisions are, as often as not, the result of local, pragmatic circumstances and not of general principles or agendas. I’ve been troubled by the Ulrich incident, as well, but I’ve never heard any specific evidence that a sinister “Mormon worldview” was behind her absence–or even the actions of men working in bad faith (or “good” Mormon faith, depending on how you see it!).

    My experience with individual male Mormon leaders has been largely positive: they have all encouraged my pursuits (modest as they are), and none has ever shunned or castigated me for my choices in pursuing higher education and a (highly curtailed, to be sure) professional life. I’m as troubled as anybody by official rhetoric and a general ethic in the church surrounding gender, but given my positive experiences with local leaders, I’m inclined to give leaders the benefit of the doubt whenever I can.

  12. Men are given automatic credibility and authority by society, and this is reinforced by the male-only priesthood given to men by the Church. On the other hand, women have to earn credibility to get authority, and for all the glorification of womanhood that the Church bestows upon women, bearing children and raising a family is not seen as a legitimate way to earn credibility and authority in the eyes of society, or in the eyes of the Church.

    Until women are given access to authority and power in the Church, as they have to some extent in society (i.e., women given the right to vote, women given opportunities to excel in business and politics) it’s going to be difficult to find many examples of “great” women role models in the Church (who haven’t “earned” credibility through extracurricular activities such as earning a Pulitzer Prize).

    Access to power and authority doesn’t necessarily mean being given the priesthood, however. I think there have been discussions on this board and on others of the many functions in the church where the priesthood power is not required, but in which women are not allowed to serve.

    As an example, the Catholic church now allows women to administer communion after it has been blessed by the priesthood. Not that women passing the sacrament will change the fundamental biases in society or the Church, but this example and others would provide equal opportunities for men and women to excel and be recognized for their excellence and greatness.

  13. Am I the only one who, if asked what male Mormon is most inspiring, would not mention one of the General Authorities? I think some people might mention them as it is a culturally easy response. While I have known a few GAs, I have not known them that well and consequently, I have no idea how well they balance their lives. I find the old timers fascinating, but I’m not running to pattern my life after Brigham Young.

    So what male do I find truly great? I’m not sure. There are pieces of people that I find truly great.

    The question then becomes: If the lazy culturally easy response to a question of male greatness are the GAs (which, I’m not sure is universally true), what is the corresponding lazy culturally easy response to a question of female greatness?

  14. J., that’s easy: “my mother.” Or “my wife.” But for purposes of the round table, I excluded family members (hence the frustration from Jim and others).

  15. I would also say that I agree with Rosalynde: most male leaders I’ve worked with have been pretty good about encouraging women in their efforts. I’m optimistic about the church and about the saints; but I still think there is a weird culture at work here, a kind of cult of personality around men that women cannot typically access — and when they do, it results in huge popularity (witness Shari Dew).

  16. “I would also say that I agree with Rosalynde: most male leaders I’ve worked with have been pretty good about encouraging women in their efforts.”

    I agree, but I have found that “their (meaning womens’) efforts” have not been taken as seriously as if the efforts were initiated by the men. Women are just not given the opportunities to effect change and to wield authority in the church, priesthood or no priesthood. It’s hard to become “great” under these circumstances.

  17. It seems as if everyone is pretty much on the same page on this one.

    My question is, what is to be done about it, practically speaking? Create more positions of authority for women? Have women speak in GC more often? Will doing any of those things result in any important changes for women? Would it actually make a difference?

  18. J Stapley,
    I’m with you man. Sure President Hinckley is great (you kinda half to be if you’re Prophet, right?), but he’s not greater than my seminary teacher. He’s not greater than a certain professor I had at BYU. He’s not greater than my dad. Yeah, Neal Maxwell gave some profound talks, but my sister’s letters on my mission have had a MUCH more profound impact on who I am. She’s taught me much more than all of Jeffery Holland’s talks combined. And I would imagine number one on God’s list isn’t President Hinckley either.

  19. Eric-

    I think separating the priesthood “power” from the “offices”, and allowing women to participate in the offices that don’t require priesthood power would go a long way to equalizing the genders in the Church (and would relieve some of the administrative burden on the men).

    Part of the problem is that, in the Church, women are not only seen as spiritually inferior to men because they don’t have the priesthood, but women are also, for the most part, seen as inferior to men as far as leadership skills and ability goes because they are not given any “legitimate” administrative responsibilities (i.e., non-Relief Society and child care) or any real power to effect a change in the organization as a whole.

    I know the very enlightened men on this board might disagree, but growing up in a traditional LDS family, my mother pretty much allowed my father to “preside” over the family in all senses of the word – he was the leader of our family and ultimately made all of the major decisions. My mother was treated with love and respect, but she was seen as supporting my father – not as her own individual entity. I think this is how women are treated in the Church – generally as a loved and respected support system for men and their families. Why would men want to give this up?

    So even though there are real solutions that involve opening up the Church to create opportunities for women to become “great”, I think it’s going to take awhile for these changes to be made (although I am optimistic changes will be made in the future).

  20. “I would imagine number one on God’s list isn’t President Hinckley either.”

    Rusty, besides being unprovable (absent revelation), that’s a very provocative statement. It’s not blasphemous, and it’s not necessarily false, but it’s challenging and an interesting test of the cult of personality within the Church.

  21. I’ll echo Grasshopper in asking “Great in whose eyes?” Why should we be interested in what anyone, except for the Lord, considers great?

    Melissa said:”The criteria for the great Mormon man seems to be quite different—-strength of leadership, church callings, accomplishment, education, professional ambition, worldly success, and so forth.”

    While there may be some who hold to these criteria, I believe that there are very many good saints in the church who reject this view of “greatness.” In as far as this view of “greatness” exists in the church it is the encroachment of false, worldly notions of pride and not of the church organization or its doctrine.

    The JST of Mark 9:42-44 gives us what I consider the Lords opinion of “Role Models”:

    And again, if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off. It is better for thee, to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched. Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another.

    We are all familiar with Alma’s oft quoted declaration of a desire for “greatness” when in Alma 29 he wishes he were an Angel. Yet we often forget the subsequent verses:

    But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me. I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction….Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called? Why should I desire that I were an angel, that I could speak unto all the ends of the earth?

    The Lord has allotted each of us opportunities for greatness. We ought to be content with being great in the sphere that the Lord has allotted to each of us. The Lord allows some prominent greatness and the greatness of others he keeps secret.

    President Benson taught that:

    The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others…Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us. There is, however, a far more common ailment among us and that is pride from the bottom looking up… A proud person hates the fact that someone is above him. He thinks this lowers his position…The proud depend upon the world to tell them whether they have value or not. Their self-esteem is determined by where they are judged to be on the ladders of worldly success. They feel worthwhile as individual if the numbers beneath them in achievement, talent, beauty, or intellect are large enough. Pride is ugly. It says, If you succeed, I am a failure.

    Steve prefaced his question with “Sheri Dew was mentioned, as was Chieko Okazaki and Elaine Jack; still, the sweeping greatness of these women seems to pale in comparison to these great women of the past. So, the question for round two: where are today’s Great Mormon Women?

    The problem with this approach is manifest in the words “pale in comparison.” There is little value in this comparison. It is nothing more than an execise in “pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or … other worldly measuring device” against those of the great women of the past.

    This pride-based approach is so ingrained in our culture that we all use it almost instinctively. But shouldn’t we rather be about abandoning the pride of the world instead of indulging it.

  22. Tess mentioned, “allowing women to participate in the offices that don’t require priesthood power.”

    I may just be showing my ignorance about the church here, but are there such offices? What kind of thing would this be specifically?

  23. JMW, a long comment! Thanks for the quotes and the thoughtful reply.

    I would agree with you that popularity shouldn’t matter at all to us, and that greatness in the world’s eyes should be unimportant to all latter-day saints. I’m all for abandoning pride, and I’m glad you brought that out again.

    That said, even if such things are insignificant, I’m disturbed that avenues of worldly greatness or popularity would be closed to women. Why should it be so? I agree that such things aren’t important to our salvation — but if we’re fostering an environment of sexual discrimination, the fact of the discrimination matters even if the object is unimportant. Say that an employer would not allow women to clean the toilets in his restaurant. Admittedly, that’s a poor level of acheivement, but shouldn’t that discrimination be fought?

    So far as bemoaning the absence of great women, I think there’s a distinction to be made — great writers, thinkers, and social architects were once the hallmark of LDS women, and now they’re not. I think it’s appropriate to question why, and to regret that we have retreated from such acheivements. It’s not pride, IMHO, to say that I wish we had more Eliza R. Snows.

  24. HL Rogers says:

    Jonathon Max Wilson (21):
    While I enjoyed your scriptures and all, I can’t help but think you might be writing a bit disingenuously. Surely you are aware that church members, like most humans, have role-models. Those people they think are great. Are you really telling me that in a Sunday School activity you haven’t answered the: who would you most like to meet if you could, with someone other than Joseph Smith, Jesus, Pres. Hinckley, etc.?

    Are we faulted for having role models in the Church? For looking up to people? And though our role models are often Fathers, neighbors, mothers, friends; aren’t they also often Pres. Hinckley, Joseph Smith, etc. Are we all prideful for having these role models?

    And if this is so, is a discussion about what makes those people great, and thus the role models for many, itself patently worthless and prideful. While I do not agree with all that has been said in the discussion, I find it hard to dismiss it all as prideful worthless banter. Perhaps I have misread your intent but surely if we hold so many men in the Church up as public examples it is worthwhile to wonder why we don’t hold up many women as public examples, or if we do who they are.

    Also, I second Jim in the opinion that Brandie Siegfried is one of the great Mormon Women today. Her classes were intensely educational and spirtually inspiring when appropriate.

  25. I’ll ‘third’ the Brandie Siegfried motion. She tackles tough issues; yet brings very insightful spiritual insights to the gospel w/o going the route of apostacy.

  26. HL,

    You are attributing an interpretation of the JST to me that I never asserted. In relation to role models, I only quoted the JST. I think that the JST only cautions against placing too much emphasis and trust in role models, it doesn’t say we shouldn’t have them.

    I do not think there is anything prideful in recognizing greatness or idtentifying greatness in others. The pride comes when we compare the greatness of one to another and ask if they are as great.

    And I think that the comparison of “great” women of the past to “great” women of the present and the comparision of number and quality of male role models to female role models falls into the pride category. I believe it is highly related to what President Benson was talking about when he said “They feel worthwhile as individual if the numbers beneath them in achievement, talent, beauty, or intellect are large enough. Pride is ugly. It says, If you succeed, I am a failure.” The concept has only been extended from the individual level to a gender level.

    The pride comes from the assumed competition and comparison, not from th recognition of great qualities and worthy examples.

  27. Laurie DiPadova-Stocks says:

    I, too, did a double-take with the suggestion that Eve is a great American woman. But the group voted to keep her there, so we did.

    And why do we speak of great Mormon men or women, instead of great Mormons? Are there different criteria? Should there be? It is revealing that we have to dig deeper to identify great women. If the question were asked to list great Mormons, how long would we go before a woman made it on the list? Would a woman appear before Steve Young? Would a woman appear without the explanation; wife of…mother of…? When do men appear as: husband of… father of…? Yet doesn’t the fact that God has selected the title Father suggest that it is the most important role for men?

    I am in agreement with Tess–organizational leadership does not mean holding the Priesthood. It means being in decision-making councils of the Church and being visible. It means not having a separate women’s broadcast (where women listen to women and men don’t have to), but having more women speaking in General Conference where men can listen to them. It means when the new Mission Presidents are announced in the Church News, that the wife’s profession is listed and not only the husband’s. (Perhaps none of the wives have a profession–we will never know. But until they list someone’s profession, the expectation will be clear–wives of successful church leaders do not have professions.)

    There are some offices in the Church that do not require priesthood leadership–the Sunday School Presidency comes immediately to mind.

    Perhaps one of the reasons we might not identify “great” women now is that women were more empowered in the early church. They gave blessings with the laying on of hands, a practice that was discontinued in the early part of the 20th century. They had their own Relief Society organization. They published their own magazine. They collected their own money and used it at their discretion. They determined their own lesson content (before Correlation). They were leaders then, in contrast to now.

    Someone mentioned Olene Walker. Yes! I had intended to say something about her. A great political leader! I expected her to run for Governor after she completed Leavitt’s term; she was well regarded and highly popular. My sources in SLC indicated that in spite of her popularity, and maybe because of it, the Utah Republican party “did her in”.

    By Mormon world-view I am referencing traditional gender-role views which are ubiquious to everything else.

    I do not attribute sinster motives to anyone, and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for priesthood leaders (at all levels) which whom I have dealt. I especially appreciate the patience of those leaders who have listened to the direct and candid expression of my concerns with affirmation and without rebuke. That being said, the impact is sinister on women.

    I want to say something very serious here (not that anything else has not been): the greatest challenging facing the Church is keeping young women in the Church. Between the YW program and RS, they drop out in droves. This is a matter of serious discussion among the General Authorities and the various auxilliary presidencies. Think about it–what holds a young woman in the church? Her bratty pesty younger brother who breaks all the rules is obviously more highly valued by the Church than she is–there are programs for him, the priesthood advancement for him, and people talk about what a great leader in the church he will be. He passes the sacrament. He can break the rule and skateboard down the aisles in the Chapel on Wednesday night and be advanced in the Priesthood on Sunday.

    These young women are aware of the dynamics of distributive justice, whether of not they can explain the concept. They experience these dynamics emotionally and deeply.

    So we are not complaining here–we as a church need to clarify these issues and figure out how best to address them.


  28. HL Rogers says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with Pres. Benson’s insight into the competitive nature of pride. However, I think you have misinterpreted in this context. Comparing great women of the past with great women of the future is not an exercise in seeing which set was better and proudly declaring the winner as such.

    It is instead an analytic tool to explore whether certain cultural or doctrinal issues in the Church have changed through the years, and if they have changed why they have changed. I don’t think anyone is trying to “show-off” their favorite great person and prove their relative greatness against the other candidates. Rather the comparative study is an exercise in analyzing the current state of the particular issue.

    It is like calling the study of comparative literature prideful: after-all comparing literatures from different cultures, times, and writers “assumes competition and comparison.” Rather, by comparing the literature we discover some interesting insights in the shifting culutral nature of different peoples, writers, and times.

  29. Eric-

    That’s a good question, and I think it deserves serious contemplation. Are there positions that men hold in the Church that would be equally well served by women? I think the answer is yes. Another interesting question is when do men actually exercise the priesthood within their positions? I don’t think that just because a man is called to be President of the Sunday School that he is necessarily exercising his priesthood to carry out this calling of assigning teachers to give lessons, etc. What does it mean to exercise the priesthood? Obviously, giving blessings to heal others, blessing the sacrament, baptising people, but there are many important areas in the administration of the church where women are excluded from using their leadership skills because a particular office has traditionally assigned to a man.

    I may be going off in a completely strange direction here, but I think that the issue isn’t necessarily that women be given the priesthood, but that the Church leaders should think of more ways to include women who have leadership and traditionally “male” skills and experience in order for these women to feel that they are able to consecrate all of their talents to the Lord.

    On a personal level, both my husband and I are attorneys and have similar skills and talents in analysis, organization and presentation that we have acquired over the years of practicing law. My husband has had many opportunities to use these skills and be recognized for them in the Church, whereas I’m just seen as an afterthought. I’m not grabbing for power here, I just wish that women were able to use their talents and skills more effectively in the Church.

    Many women are not blessed with a love of crafts or taking care of each other’s children, and they feel that they are relegated to these roles, despite their interests or abilities.

    Not that men in the Church are able to choose their callings, etc., but (going back to the original question of “greatness”), men have many more opportunities to showcase their talents and skills than do women (apart from Enrichment night). And unless your “greatness” is recognized by others, it’s difficult to be a positive role model.

  30. HL said:”Comparing great women of the past with great women of the future is not an exercise in seeing which set was better and proudly declaring the winner as such….I don’t think anyone is trying to “show-off” their favorite great person and prove their relative greatness against the other candidates. Rather the comparative study is an exercise in analyzing the current state of the particular issue.

    I may be misinterpreting. I think that there are non-pride based was to compare as you say, but it seems to me that when we declare that the LDS women of the present who are considered great “pale in comparision” to those of the past, we are certainly asserting their relative greatness against the other candidates.

    I am uncomfortable with language that emphasizes relative opportunities for recognition, showcasing talents, who is “valued” more.

  31. Women are not thought about in terms of leadership.

    I know that in our local JRCLS chapter (Dallas-Fort Worth) that isn’t true.

    The next president elect will probably be female (if she will only attend enough meetings) and another female attorney in my ward has been asked to be on the board. Win & Heather are visiting her tonight over a horse.

    I think that if Enid Greene (I’ll skip her married name) had not imploded, she would have been a major female figure in the Church. I’m still sorry for what happened to her, I knew her when.

    But, in places where a blue collar mentality prevails, there are issues.

    I think that is a survival from when the Church was almost subsumed in protestant farming culture in the 1910s. By the 1940s there begins to be a constant stream of sermons and addresses about women as equal partners and not property that continues through what, the 1980s or so?

    We have a whole new generation growing up now that needs a new model, returning to what God inspired for us, if we can only find it.

    But we need more Chieko Okazaki examples and less of the “pick a fight on the issue, any losing fight” “inspire reactionary responses, even if it destroys the work of God that is striving to overcome them” sort of approach. As Dr. Suzette Haden Elgin has written, succeed, don’t win.

  32. “I am uncomfortable with language that emphasizes relative opportunities for recognition, showcasing talents, who is “valued” more.”

    I agree with this. But the reality is that, in terms of social recognition and opportunities for advancement in leadership roles, men are “valued” more than women in the Church.

    One of the reasons I stay in the Church despite the inequities is that I believe the gospel is true, and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter that my husband is the bishop of the ward and I’m in Primary.

    That said, the cultural gender roles imposed upon both men and women in the Church can be painfully suffocating to some women (and men). And, as part of our progress towards perfection, I’d like to see these barriers to happiness and fulfillment removed. I’d like to see them removed because the central truths and premises of the gospel will remain intact no matter which gender tends to the children or presides over church meetings.

    We can talk about how distasteful it is that we are measuring the relative “greatness” of women and men in the Church, but the reality is that women are seen and treated as subordinate to men, and many opportunities for a woman’s “greatness” to contribute to the Kingdom are currently being lost.

  33. I have been reading with great interest the dialoque in response to Steve’s initial question, “So, the question for round two: where are today’s Great Mormon Women? In our current Church environment, what form will greatness take with women?”

    Where are they and who are they? They are there in every Stake, Ward and home giving unselfish, caring service, influencing lives one by one and most of the time they are not aware of the affect they have had on our lives.

    The influences by these women in my life have been unmeasurable. They were role models of leadership, charity, grace, tactfulness, motherhood, humility, humanity, hard work, and on and on.

    There are some wonderful talented and gifted Mormon women in the public eye; some write meaningful and deep messages and have lead amazing lives but none has had more of an influence upon me than those who I have known intimately over the years who worked with dedication, quietly and unselfishly changing lives like mine without any idea of just how important they were to me and to the many others they taught, both by their wise words and their examplary lives.

  34. M – that’s a beautiful and moving tribute. Certainly, anonymity and greatness are not mutually exclusive.

    I think the quest to find female Mormon role models outside the family is valid, despite the greatness of the quiet, ordinary women who influce so many lives. I know as a youth, I used the apostles and the prophet as my role models. I loved the Brethren, and loved hearing their words. But there did come a time when it really hit home that I was never going to be a married Mormon man in a significant position of leadership, and trying to follow their footsteps was an exercise in frustration. I was also not going to be able to follow my mother’s example, much as I love her too. When I looked around for another role model, someone who matched my gender, there wasn’t anyone. Thank goodness for Sheri Dew. The fact that the Brethren called her meant more to me than a thousand talks by the Brethren on how wonderful women are.

    I’d like to add another comment about finding places for women to contribute that don’t require priesthood. There are many jobs in Church administration that don’t require priesthood, yet are traditionally filled by men. One anecdote: I was having lunch with two other single women who both work in the Church Office Building. They were discussing another woman’s efforts to move up in her department internally. One mentioned that a position had come open. The other responded, “but that’s a management position, so they’ll be looking for a priesthood holder.” She was right – management positions are traditionally held by priesthood holders, even though no priesthood is necessary to run an administrative office.

    The Church could do a lot towards finding places for women to use their talents in the professional side of the Church if they would consciously decide to quit requiring priesthood for professional jobs that require business sense, not the power to perform ordinances. And it will take affirmative action by the Church. Women with business smarts and ambition know better than to apply to work at the Church.

  35. Elder Samuelson counsels women at the Y on graduate careers in the sciences:

  36. Kristine says:

    “One mentioned that a position had come open. The other responded, “but that’s a management position, so they’ll be looking for a priesthood holder.” She was right – management positions are traditionally held by priesthood holders, even though no priesthood is necessary to run an administrative office.”

    That is the most disheartening thing I’ve heard about the church in a long time, Janey. I can’t even begin to say how angry it makes me.

  37. Kristine, I did challenge them on their assumption just a bit. I pointed out that managers don’t use priesthood. They both gave me puzzled looks, hemmed, hawed, and shrugged. I expressed some frustration that women were shut out of jobs like that. They started darting glances around (we were in the COB cafeteria), and changed the subject. It made me sad too.

  38. Rosalynde says:

    Wow, MDS, thanks for posting that link! I thought P. Samuelson’s remarks inspiring and liberating, particularly in his frankness about the non-self-authenticating nature of personal revelation, but also its radically egalitarian implications.

    He repeatedly stressed P. Hinckley’s emphasis on higher education for women and men. This, in my view, will have profound implications for church gender cultures by the time my daughter is an adult. It will change the culture of marriage (as E. Samuelson already hinted), the prevalence of professionally-involved mothers, men’s perceptions of women, and our understanding of “female nature.” With such profound cultural changes, it’s hard to imagine that structural changes will not follow.

  39. Re: comments such as “I am uncomfortable with language that emphasizes relative opportunities for recognition, showcasing talents, who is “valued” more.”

    I think that we all know that motives and intent are important and we need to be aware of pride. We are not to seek for the “honours” of “men”, but we can certainly honour the accomplishments of others, can we not?

    In “The Gospel Vision of the Arts”, President Kimball said, “In our world, there have risen brilliant stars in drama, music, literature, sculpture, painting, science, and all the graces. For long years I have had a vision of members of the Church greatly increasing their already strong positions of excellence till the eyes of all the world will be upon us.”

    Although throughout the article, President Kimball’s main focus is upon the accomplishments of men, he does single our 3 or 4 women, so when he says members of the Church, I am going to assume he means everyone.

    Why does acknowledging public performance diminish private service? I quoted her in my last round table contribution, but I will do it again. Lorie Winder Stromberg notes that some church leaders have, “… suggested that Mormon women ought to choose integrity over visibility, charity over charisma. What is wrong with having both integrity and visibility, both charity and charisma? Members of the Church’s male hierarchy don’t have to make such choices, so why should women?”

    I think it’s a good question.

  40. Anent the comments above re: “only males can be managers,” together with several comments about the positions in any ward/stake which do not require priesthood authority but which are always (not most of the time, but always) filled by men:

    Two that have been alluded to have always struck me as significant: there’s no reason why a woman couldn’t hold the SS presidency and/or a counsellorship in same (in one ward, we had a non-member husband as counsellor in the SS and later as scoutmaster); there’s also no reason to require priesthood for someone to carry the sacrament trays from one row to another. Certainly, I have received the sacrament from mothers, very small children, boys younger than 12 (or 8), as the trays pass along the rows. At least the COC is (or used to be) self-consistent in this matter: they build their chapels with rows far enough apart to allow priesthood holders to walk up and down and serve each individual individually. Like we used to do in Junior Sunday School (if there’s anyone on this list old enough to remember Junior Sunday School!).

    Which brings up the diminution of women’s leadership roles caused by the block program. Jr. SS Coordinator was always a woman’s calling and provided a substantial amount of leadership; now it’s gone, taken over by the Primary President.

    But the real opportunity, as I think about it, which would answer a good many concerns about women’s voices in leadership circles, is the calling of women to be Ward Clerk and/or Executive Secretary. Again, there’s no ordinance relationship, no presiding responsibility, so anyone could do the job. AND these positions meet regularly as part of the bishopric and PEC, and so could provide a valuable feminine presence in the deliberations therein.

    I was in a bishopric some years ago when the bishop ignored the manual and insisted that the RS president be a full member of the PEC, to the substantial improvement of the discussions and decision-making of the ward leadership.

    There’s no question in my mind that the male-centric thinking in the matter of church callings supports a view that women are to function only in support roles. Seems to me that this could be alleviated without the need for new revelation by some such actions as I’ve mentioned.

  41. When I taught at the MTC it was common knowledge that only men could become supervisors in our department, for the same reasons Janey mentioned above. It didn’t really bother me until I’d been there for over a year and noticed my bone-headed colleagues being promoted while I was stuck at entry-level pay and authority.

    After I’d been there about a year and a half, the last straw came when I discovered that a former “companion-teacher” (we’d both taught the same district) (whom I had on numerous occasions observed to be disobedient, dishonest, unprofessional, and a poor speaker of the language) had been promoted to supervisor. I marched in to the department head’s office and announced that I was quitting. I made it clear that I didn’t want to continue to work at an organization that so blatantly undervalued my contributions.

    Anyway, to make a long story short…about a week later the MTC called me and asked me to be a supervisor. I worked there for another year until I graduated. :)

  42. I think that most women in general are great. Anyone who is doing their best in whatever role they are in, be it wife, mother, career woman, and the like, is a great woman. Any woman who is trying to become her best self is a great woman. Any woman who is striving to improve and become who she could become, is a great woman.

    That being said, I could list each and every woman that I know in answer to the question about great mormon women. I could do the same when thinking about great mormon men as well.

  43. No problem, Rosalynde. It seemed too profound not to share!

  44. Good job maria!

    I had an experience where speaking up made a difference. (details are deliberately vague to preserve my confidentiality obligation) I’d been asked to draft a document to guide an advisory committee that would give suggestions in funding Church humanitarian aid projects in a specific area of the world. Eligible members of the committee were identified by calling, i.e., branch president, mission president, counselors and Relief Society President. At the next level up, RS Pres was deleted by a Church employee. I pointed out that the advisory committee was not a priesthood calling. RS Pres was immediately added back to the list, and apologies were made for the deletion. I think it was just force of habit that caused RS Pres to be deleted in the first place. Once I pointed it out, they fell over themselves to remedy it. We need to speak up more.

  45. Maria and Janey-

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s encouraging to hear that most people aren’t intentionally excluding women from non-priesthood functions and positions, but that people are just confused (or neglectful in asking the “right” questions). Hopefully, this confusion will be cleared up in a few years. Although Janey’s experience in the Church Office Building made me cringe. Thanks for sharing.

  46. Stephen M (Ethesis) says:

    He repeatedly stressed P. Hinckley’s emphasis on higher education for women and men.

    I guess I need to quit posting, given the response I get, but people miss that there is profound interest and effort at the top levels of the Church in restoring the truths of the gospel, including these and the implications and changes they will bring about.

    One can pick fights or one can move in ways that supports these changes.

    I personally think that kicking against the pricks and doing ones best to stir reactionary impulses serves only the agenda opposed to what the prophet has been working on for at least ten years.

    Ah well. My computer gets back out of the shop tomorrow.

  47. jayneedoe says:

    Steve, you said: “To me, she is in many ways the ideal: smart and faithful, beautiful and strong.”

    Why is “beautiful” an ingredient in your assessment of “ideal”?

    Every time I hear someone in the Church say what a “lovely” woman she is (and most of the time it IS about appearance), I cringe.

    I believe a woman’s looks are archaically mentioned far too often in public speeches in the Church. Though I know there is never any negative intent, it sends a subtle yet demeaning message to the youth of the church.

    I know it did to the “class ugly” at my school and church during my childhood. Yes, that would be me.

    President Kimball was especially prone to mention a woman’s appearance, i.e., the lovely Mormon bride. It left me with the impression I could never be the ideal woman, and that no Mormon man would ever want me. I was too ugly to be the lovely Mormon bride.


  48. Jaynee, ELT’s beauty (to me) has little to do with her appearance.

  49. Seth Rogers says:

    I’d like to point out something that some of you have touched on, but has not been said explicitly yet. I’m not sure the LDS faith really encourages the kind of greatness we’re reaching for here in ANYONE.

    I first got this feeling when the panelists started coming up with the names of general authorities to describe great men (and in response started looking to women church leaders for corollaries). Then others pointed out that these men were considered “great” more because of their callings than because of any inherent greatness (and said the same for individuals like Sheri Dew and so forth). At this point in the discussion, I’m not sure this discussion has been able to produce any contemporary “great” women OR men in the Mormon Church.

    The only people who really claim to know any great men or women have produced them from their own small circle of personal experience: my mother/father, a school teacher, maybe an outstanding youth leader … Basically, they’ve come up with “the unsung heroes.”

    But is this really what we mean when we say “great.” I’m pretty sure this isn’t what Steve was looking for when he mentioned greatness. A big part of the difficulty with this conversation is a lack of common agreement on what constitutes greatness.

    So what are my criteria for “greatness?” Here goes:

    1. It has to be an individual who transcends time.

    It has to be someone the world will still be talking about, inspired by, and learning from, 100 years from now. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both certainly qualify and possibly Emma Hale Smith as well. Einstein qualifies. Tchaikovsky qualifies, but Britney Spears does not (the Beatles might qualify, but that assumes that rock/pop music will have an appreciable impact beyond one century). Jane Austin probable qualifies as well but J. K. Rowling may not. I’m not looking for the flash-in-the-pan types who are here today and gone tomorrow. I doubt anyone on the CES circuit qualifies for example. I want real transcendence here.

    2. A corollary to #1: this has to be somebody who either is acknowledged by the larger societal consciousness, or will be eventually.

    Here, unfortunately, Britney Spears probably qualifies, but your mother does not (note: this is probably Ms. Spears’ only qualification, which is why I don’t consider her great).

    3. It has to be someone inspired by transcendent subject matter or human events.

    The creation on mankind inspired the Sistine Chapel. The city of God inspired Saint Augustine. The workings of the heavens moved Einstein and Newton. The American Civil War forged Lincoln. The inauguration of the Last Dispensation of God among men empowered Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (who actually reenacted the Exodus). Leaders of the women’s suffrage movement were driven to action by thousands of years of injustice. Jane Austin was inspired by the transcendent reality of the family. Big events! Big ideas! We’re not just looking for contemporary smart people who merely stand on the shoulders of giants.

    4. We aren’t necessarily looking for completely “righteous” people either.

    Alexander the Great really lived up to his title in my opinion. He saw a higher vision of a unified world empire and almost single-handedly forged it. But that doesn’t mean he was a nice guy. Karl Marx certainly had transcendent ideas, and Nietzsche took the vast span of human philosophy and moved it to its logical conclusion. However, the guys’ personal lives were an absolute mess. But we are still interested in these individuals hundreds or even thousands of years later.

    Those are my criteria for greatness. Are they male criteria? You bet. Have women been systematically prevented from achieving the kind of greatness I’m speaking of? Yes, I think so. But I want to point out that we might be thinking too small here. Naming people in our family or neighborhood civic groups seems like a cop-out to me. We seem to be afraid of actually thinking about what greatness is and therefore condemn the whole concept to the obscurity of the individual sphere of experience. I think deep down we all know that “greatness,” as the word was truly meant, transcends time and artificial societal boundaries.

    Now, to get back to my original point … The LDS church doesn’t encourage the kind of greatness I’m talking about. The entire culture is more practical than transcendent. Think about the fine arts for example.

    Musical accomplishment is encouraged in the church. But it is encouraged mainly to provide organists and pianists for church functions. Virtuosity is also approved of, but only when it is applied to tried-and-tested music that everyone already agrees is “uplifting,” like Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, or Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Notice that most approved church art sticks tenaciously to the Renaissance era (and doesn’t always imitate that well). We are not encouraged to innovate. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    I think Hugh Nibley made this point. He said that our faith claims some of the most radical, transcendent and earth-shaking ideas of the twentieth century (and possibly the whole of human history if you agree with LeGrand Richards). But he pointed out that we worship mediocrity, and fawn over petty little works of art and culture. Our culture has an obsession with kitsch and an endless appetite for tripe. Mormon pop music is often sickeningly bad. U2 wrote more inspiring music than any popular Mormon musician in my opinion.

    Mormonism does not encourage us to transcend the current conventional wisdom. It prefers reliable cogs in the machine rather than individuals who rise up and challenge thoughts of our time and lead us to a higher level of discourse. This is reflected in some of the comments here from those who are content to settle for “great CTR 7 teachers.” But do we really think that’s all greatness is?

  50. A hearty HUZZAH! to Seth, both for your willingness to do what no one else has attempted: define criteria for “greatness,” and for your success in creating a definition that makes considerable sense. (Meaning of course, that it expresses my own views perfectly.) Thank you.

  51. “But do we really think that’s all greatness is?”


    Those who have mentioned family, friends, etc. are not claiming greatness in the sense that you’re talking about. I think all who mentioned such people would admit that they’re not great in the same sense that Alexander was great.

    They refer to greatness in the eyes of god. The greatness you speak of is in the eyes of men. Both you and they are correct in assessing who is great in each scenario.

  52. I think that Seth’s criteria for greatness can be distilled into two words: “Lasting Fame.”

    Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-35:
    Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men…

    I think that Joseph in Egypt should be our model. He did not aspire to the honors of men. He did his best in whatever circumstance he found himself. He obeyed God and had the Spirit and the Lord, and at the Lord’s will and in His time, He raised Jospeh up to greatness.

  53. jayneedoe says:

    Hi Steve,

    If my post sounded like I was chastising you, I apologize. That was not my intent. Obviously this has pushed a huge, oversensitive button of mine.

    I decided to raise the question because I believe it’s important to be aware of the potential harm ambiguous descriptors, such as “beautiful,” can have on the women of the church, particularly during childhood and adolescence.

    So please hear me out.

    You wrote: “Jaynee, ELT’s beauty (to me) has little to do with her appearance.”

    That occurred to me, and I imagined that would be your honest response. However, as the reader, I had no way to know that.

    To illustrate, I suspect that if you were to show 50 strangers the sentence: “To me, she is in many ways the ideal: smart and faithful, beautiful and strong.”, and then ask them what it meant, a significant portion, if not all, would include physical attractiveness in their assessments. Would you agree?

    Also, if I had read your sentence when I was an adolescent, I KNOW I would have inferred you meant physically attractive.

    Consequently, because I heard so many comments like yours as a Mormon adolescent, I truly believed I was too ugly for any Mormon man to want to marry me, and the desolation I felt was profound.

    I, of course, now know no one truly meant or believed a woman had to be physically attractive to be “beautiful.”

    Unfortunately, like most adolescents, I was not savvy enough to comprehend the nuance of something more than the physical.

    So, in my opinion, descriptors commonly reffering to physical apperance, even though a physical connotation is not intended, should be used very carefully, especially when children and adolescents are part of the audience.

    I’m an old lady now, and even today it’s embarrassing for me to discuss this. But I promise you, I am telling you the truth that I really thought I was too ugly to ever meet the Mormon ideal, and it had consequences. And I don’t believe I’m alone in this.


  54. Jaynee,

    Here, here! You are certainly not alone. The desolation–perfect word for the feeling, by the way–you felt is certainly present among many of us.

  55. jayneedoe says:

    Thanks Minerva! I knew I wasn’t alone in this. Unfortunatley, every time I brought it up during my adult life in the Church, I was dismissed, and I did try often.

    One time I expressed my feelings to a woman involved in the young women’s groups (can’t remember the title as it’s been twenty years since I attended Church.)

    She chuckled and told me to “quit being so sensitive,” and said something to the effect there were more important things to worry about.

    She had been raised in the Church and was quite attractive, so I knew she had no idea what I was talking about. She thought her response was funny.

    I literally stood there holding tears back as a plain, overweight 13-year-old young woman who had been standing by us slunk down the hall with her shoulders hunched. To this day I don’t know if she heard the conversation or not, but just watching her as this woman dismissed me made me break out in tears. The woman hmmphed and walked away.

    This was the worst experience I had when trying to address this in Church; most of the others were kind, but condescending.

    I realize this isn’t getting any play in this thread, but it really IS a problem in the Church.


  56. Jaynee and Minerva-

    I think the issue of a woman’s self esteem being tied to her physical attractiveness is obviously not confined to the Church. What I do find strange, however, is that so many Church members are unable to look beyond physical attractiveness and focus on the person on the inside to find their “eternal companion”, or even to make genuine friends outside their existing social circle.

    On the whole, I’ve found women in the Church to be more obsessed with looks than most of my non-Mormon girlfriends (well, besides my gay friends). To tie this issue back to the main thrust of this thread, I think Mormon women are so consumed with their appearance because Mormon men are not taught to “value” and respect women for their professional, academic or other extracurricular accomplishments outside of being the supportive wife and mother.

  57. My experience in terms of women and physical attractiveness has been so different from what Tess, Minerva and Jayneedoe has been describing. I find many Mormon women are almost afraid to spend time on themselves, like they don’t deserve it because they must always be serving others or they feel that focus on the physical body and their physical appearance is a form of pride. It is almost like the opposite side of the spectrum

  58. Seth Rogers says:

    I’ll admit that my criteria for greatness are sometimes unfairly applied and given to undeserving individuals who happened to be in the right place at the right time. “Lasting fame?” Yes, probably.

    I should also point out that LDS theology leaves lots of room for interpretations of greatness that don’t resemble my criteria at all.

    “And I beheld that there were many noble and great ones.”

    “he who would be greatest among you must become as a little child …”

    “let him be the servant of all …”

    I know I completely butchered those quotes, but you should be able to identify the passages I’m refering to. Clearly the LDS criteria for greatness are somewhat different and probably embrace a “great mother” or “great Sunbeam teacher.”

    However, I don’t think this is what the actual thread was looking for. The thread was asking for the identification of role models in our church who can serve as a common reference point and inspiration for thousands of the faithful. Your father probably just doesn’t cut it in this respect.