Here’s the transcript from the final round of questions from our little email group. Grasshopper sat out this round, but hopefully will participate via the comments. Thanks again to all the participants for an enjoyable and edifying discussion.
Stay tuned for another Round Table, coming soon!
From: Steve Evans Sat, Feb 26, 2005 at 7:11 PM
To: Kris W., Jim F., Grasshopper, Lisa, Claudia, Heather
Some great replies to Rounds 2/2.5, so here’s a final question for y’all:
It seems that some independent women have managed to be published and achieve some measure of success (see our answers to the previous round). Personally, I would like to see an LDS world where women are more widely-read and more widely respected. I think it would be interesting to see more women join the cult of celebrity worship that we already have for the General Authorities and a select few (Covey, Huntsman, etc.). Do women even want such things? If so, how can this happen? Is it useful for us to fantasize about female mormon CEOs and celebrities?
JWL had an interesting comment on BCC about how this all might happen (see the last two comments to the ‘Modern Eve’ thread, here).
What do you think? Where do women fit into the new mormon society of pop personalities and mass media? Is this part of your conception of “great” women?
Give it your best shot, and let me thank you all for being a part of this little experiment!
From: Claudia Sat, Feb 26, 2005 at 9:29 PM
To: Kris W., Jim F., Grasshopper, Lisa, Steve, Heather
I think the best way for women to develop some additional status is to circumvent the usual system.
So, to suggest a different route, I offer three suggestions. The first is publish anywhere but online. Get some paper and ink behind writing. Exponent II is still an option, a good community that has carried on for thirty plus years. Lots of people read every word of every issue. And write lots of other things as well.
The second suggestion is to put together a speakers’ bureau. Say people in twelve localities enlist twenty people each to hear a monthly lecture and pay maybe $100 a year each. A dozen interesting speakers could be recruited to make a monthly trip and speech. Transportation would be paid. This would create a national network that might support any number of activities and relationships.
The third suggestion is to transcend standard church responsibilities. We would still do those jobs, of course, but might also suggest projects to the stake president or the bishop and then run them. For instance, today, I suggested to the sp that we need some projects for the few older people in our stake. We need socials, outings, discussion groups. I know I could get that responsibility if I wanted, and I would be free to do it however I wanted. I do lots of projects which are not on the books which cut across the wards and stakes in new ways. Having done them gives me the chance to do other interesting things that come along.
Adding to that is transcending the church itself. I think we are missing the boat not to run for local (or wider) office. And if not actually campaigning, getting some position in other organizations. This is not only good as an individual platform, but we are put in positions where we can be very useful to the church. Besides, meeting the wider public is entertaining, and LDS women have the administrative and speaking experience to do it very well.
We should think for ourselves, try to do good things and live interesting lives rather than to seek after celebrity.
From: Jim F. Mon, Feb 28, 2005 at 6:24 PM
To: Kris W., Claudia, Grasshopper, Lisa, Steve, Heather
I find the cult of personality in the Church so distasteful that I have a difficult time thinking about where women do or ought to fit in “the new Mormon society of pop personalities and mass media.”
I am sympathetic to Christina Taber-Kewene’s complaint that “the women in the General Relief Society Presidency talk about little birds and precious moments at General Conference and don’t give us much substance” and the fact that “the public images with which we are presented shape how we see ourselves as women and men.” Both men and women in the Church need to see women with substantive views and substantive responsibilities.
I don’t know the General Relief Society Presidency, but I do know several women in other Church-wide positions. They are women with substantive views and responsibilities, so I am willing to assume that the Relief Society Presidency is too, but we seldom see these women or know what they do. And, I would imagine for cultural reasons, when we hear them speak, they seldom stray far from the “little birds and precious moments” mode–even those who otherwise are quite capable of more than that. So what is to be done?
I don’t have any answers, except on a personal level, but I think that JWL’s point that women will need to make their own space looks like a very good point.
From: Steve Mon, Feb 28, 2005 at 6:27 PM
To: Kris W., Claudia, Grasshopper, Lisa, Jim F., Heather
I’ve decided that my next talk will be about birds and precious moments. Thanks, Jim, for being a part of the group — it’s been fun, even if us chickens have little to say at times.
From: Heather Wed, Mar 2, 2005 at 9:19 PM
To: Kris W., Claudia, Grasshopper, Lisa, Jim F., Steve
I’ve often wondered why women can’t be in high-profile, non-priesthood positions in the church. I would love to see a woman conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I would love to hear a woman host a program of “Music and the Spoken Word.” Why can’t the spokesperson (I mean, like Dale Bills, for comments to the media) for the church be a woman? I suppose there are those who would be uncomfortable with, or who would outright oppose, such an arrangement. I, for one, think it would be great.
As far as success outside the church goes, I think there are some who just happen to be successful, and happen to be LDS, and happen to be women. Pulitzer Prize winner Laurel Thatcher Ulrich comes to mind. JWL mentions Gladys Knight, who certainly has a wider pop appeal. Women like them show that it is possible to make it big (well, even if it’s a big splash in a small pond) and to remain faithful LDS women.
From: Lisa Fri, Mar 4, 2005 at 7:32 PM
To: Kris W., Claudia, Grasshopper, Heather, Jim F., Steve
I guess the reason I’ve failed to reply to this up to now is that I lack sufficent imagination to come up with even interesting theoretical solutions. I’m much better at pointing out the problem. And dangit, that’s easier. I don’t know . . . I don’t know.
One ‘out’ I tried to follow is to say I’m not all that interested in having Great Mormon Women, religious pop personalities . . . nah. That perhaps the lack of them as role models isn’t a problem (I can’t think of many Great Mormon Men either). But when I try to imagine the opposite, that a body of Mormon women did exist, women whom I looked up to and admired, I like that picture. It would be nice. I especially like that picture for my daughters, for some reason. But I just can’t imagine how this would come to be. Even if there was a publisher/group/traveling circus so “faithful Mormon women with an edge” could gather and admire each other, I’m not sure it would really touch the vast body of women in the Church. Women who gained fame in non-traditional non-nurturing ways. Not good role models. My mother encouraged us to avoid everything even close to the edge. And I think even the concept of Great Mormon Women to admire (rather than home cooking funeral potatoes) just plain old gets too close to the edge for most Mormon women.
Maybe it will change with a new generation of girls choosing to take more from life. But if so, it’s going to be a slow process, because most of the teenaged girls I know have very little ambition for their own potential “greatness.” I certainly never have (assuming I had any potential to start with).
From: Kris W. Tue, Mar 8, 2005 at 5:28 PM
To: Lisa, Claudia, Grasshopper, Heather, Jim F., Steve
I have a view similar to Jim’s in that I find the “Mormon cult of celebrity”, like all other celebrity or idol worship to be distasteful. While many discussions of Mormon culture are interesting to me, the loud clamouring voice that claims the ownership and special status of LDS “celebrities” seems to be a somewhat confused admiration or an ill-used “weapon” in what BCC commenter Hugh Stocks referred to as “the We’re not Weird wars”. Would women like to be part of this “cult of celebrity”? As with every other question we’ve discussed in this round table, it would be easier to answer enigmatically, yes and no. I would imagine yes, some women would find being a Mormon celebrity meaningful, while others would not and all of their intentions and motives are unknown to me.
I find the question of how do women acquire a voice in the Church to be a much more interesting one. For me this is the torch that needs to be picked up by this generation of Mormon women.
In a recent Sunstone article called “Power Hungry”, Lorie Winder Stromberg states that, “… women in the Church will never have a voice until, as in the secular arena, they are seen as colleagues — in this case spiritual colleagues — within the power structure of the church.”
I think this is true. While many men and women in the Church think of themselves as equals, particularly in their marriage relationships, I am not sure that we really see each other as spiritual colleagues in broader terms — which would be the basis of moving the work forward together. This is quite different from the men doing it while the women support or sustain them. The notion of our “separate spheres” combined with cautions about working relationships with the opposite sex allow for very little collegiality at church and in building the kingdom.
So, what are my predictions for how women will acquire a voice in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? It will come from the daughters of Zion choosing to put on their strength. I don’t think that this will be an imperative that will come down from the top. It will need to be invented by Mormon women themselves — they will need to “imagine the possibilities of their inclusion as full human persons” within their faith. It will require moving beyond the binary of the motherhood and priesthood debate. It will need to be grounded in scripture, not in the world of business or entertainment. For me, women’s voices will be heard when instead of “trying to get a piece of the pie, we bake a brand new cake.”