Short Questions About Our Discourse on Gender

On my way to looking up other things, I found the current version of the BYU Honor Code online.  Under the heading “Live a chaste and virtuous life” are seven items.  This is what caught my eye:

The following are examples of inappropriate gender-based behavior or sexual harassment.

Repeated stereotypical gender-based remarks, and 

Derogatory or demeaning comments concerning gender

Here are my questions to all you smart people. 

1.  How is it even possible to talk about gender the way we do in the church without repeatedly using stereotypical gender-based remarks?

2.  To what extent is our discourse demeaning? 

3.  If a person gives a talk in a campus ward about the roles of Mars and Venus  on Sunday, does that person need to be on the carpet in the Standards Office on Monday?  

4.  Is it time to retire the word gender from our discourse altogether?

Bookmark Short Questions About Our Discoursae on Gender


  1. Mark Brown says:

    My answers:

    1. It isn’t
    2. It often is
    3. If only
    4. Yes. Or re-write the honor code.

  2. Latter-day Guy says:

    Re: 1,

    1. Agreed.
    2. Ditto.
    3. LOL. That would be fun.
    4. Definitely the latter. I think that the word can have a legitimate––if very limited––place in our discourse. It just needs to be used with more care.

  3. Hmmm==Repeated stereotypical gender-based remarks…
    That’s rather vague and general, isn’t it. I have been known to say that a lot of guys don’t particularly enjoy reading or writing poetry, and so I have a list of poets for just such guys. These “manly” poets on my list write about guns, plane crashes, hand grenades, etc. (Don’t think I’m joking.) Have I crossed a line? Is my word choice of “manly” as reprehensible as DKL’s use of “chicks”?

  4. The disconnect between these statements in BYU’s Honor Code and the syllabi of courses in their Family Science Department is vomit-inducing.

  5. Or is gender just a taboo deformation of “sex”?
    I think they are trying to discourage assaultive language and deserve some credit. Just read about the northhampton young boys bible controversy from 1740s. Those boys would have been in trouble at byu too. (it’s the event that ultimately led to Jonathan Edwards being fired). Sort of strangely sickly hilarious what they were doing.

  6. Mark Brown says:

    Smb, right, there are other items on the list. Here are some of the other proscribed activities:

    Sexually oriented joking, flirting, or comments.
    Verbal or physical abuse
    Graphic, sexually-oriented comments about another’s body
    Offensive or crude language

    These four items seem to me to cover all the bases, which leaves me scratching my head about the other two. My first thought was that gender was being used as a mealy-mouthed substitute for sex, but that idea doesn’t work given that s-e-x is used in these other points.

    I honestly don’t get it.

  7. esodhiambo says:

    “Repeated stereotypical gender-based remarks”

    Does this mean the Proclamation on the Family breaks BYU standards?

    “Here are some of the other proscribed activities:
    Sexually oriented joking, flirting, or comments”

    I thought most people attended BYU specifically for the flirting. Bummer.

  8. Justmeherenow says:

    Flirt [verb]…2 a: to behave amorously without serious intent b: to show superficial or casual interest or liking—MIRRIAM-WEBSTER

    No, apparently
    *”The lady dropped her handkercheif. Pleased. Name is Johnson. Henry Johnson. May I assist you with your wrap? Here, let me hold your parasol…”
    — or contemporary indications of casual liking (not “sexually oriented”) are still OK.

  9. Authoritarian institutions tend to prefer vague language over specific language. If gives the enforcement body the widest possible latitude.

  10. Eveningsun says:

    Hey, at least NON-sexually-oriented flirting is OK.

  11. lawyers

  12. Christian says:

    Come on, folks! The sort of nit-picking done by Mark in his post isn’t productive. Pick your battles.

  13. Mark Brown says:


    How do you think we are to understand the proscriptions against the use of gender stereotypes? I mean, it is obvious that we use them, so there must be good stereotypes and bad ones. Enlighten us.

  14. “Women are naturally more spiritual than men” = good

    “Women can’t do math” = bad

    Come on, Mark, it isn’t that hard.

  15. “Women are naturally more spiritual than men” = good

    “Women can’t do math” = bad

    I think this is probably what the Honor Code has in mind….Except that the first item is actually mildly offensive to me – toward men AND women. And I think this is what Mark is talking about.

  16. Mark Brown says:

    LOL RJ. Good one.

    But I must offer a gentle correction in the spirit of love. I hope you don’t react emotionally or angrily. It isn’t that hard for you, since you’ve been blessed with ovaries and deep spiritual insights. The rest of us proles just have to muddle through.

    And wrt emotional anger, that is usually the response I get when I exercise my presiding duties and point out to members of the Relief Society that their driving, math, and direction finding skillz could use some work. But I have also found that they get over it quickly if I tell them they look pretty.

    You would have loved the lesson yesterday in the priest’s quorum. The topic was Righteous Fatherhood, and the attention-getting activity calls for the teacher to have the boys role play a FHE where nobody is in charge and everybody argues. Then to show that the solution is for the paterfamilias to take charge and I guess give direction and adjudicate the competing arguments, from the three year old to his wife, presumably. What is so funny is that as often as not, there is more chaos, rather than less, when El Padre is in charge. Anyway, this is what we are teaching our young men in April, 2009.

  17. “Sexually oriented joking, flirting, or comments.”

    So all those BYU students who have “That’s what she said!” on their Facebook pages need to be reported to the Honor Code office?

    Seth R (#9), You hit the nail on the head.

  18. Eveningsun says:

    #12 Christian, I do think there’s something important at stake in critiquing the Honor Code. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d like to see an honor code be a little more narrowly focused on, you know, honor. Talk that is demeaning or that reinforces undesirable stereotypes can certainly be a bad thing, but I’m not sure it’s “dishonorable.” (And I’m definitely sure that being clean-shaven has absolutely nothing to do with “honor”–yet there it is, along with other grooming and dress standards, in the Honor Code.)

    In 2002, David A. Bednar of the Twelve pointed out that “honorable” shares the same root as “honest” and offered this definition: “Honesty is the quality or condition of being truthful, sincere, candid, and worthy of honor…. These expressions share the notion of being genuine, trustworthy, upright, respectable, and decent. As President James E. Faust…has taught: ‘We all need to know what it means to be honest. Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.'” (See here.)

    Seems to me one can be all these things while holding, and expressing, heterodox notions about gender. Not to mention while wearing a beard. To package universal values like truth-telling and sincerity along with highly culturally specific prejudices about the shape of a man’s moustache or the length of his Bermudas is to diminish the idea of honor itself.

  19. Eveningsun says:

    Oh, yeah — the main point of my comment above is that the honor code as written could discourage honor. That is, it could discourage perfectly “trustworthy, upright, respectable, and decent” people from being “sincere,” “candid,” and “genuine” about their views on gender, even though sincerity, candidness, and genuineness are by definition key to being honorable.

  20. Mark, I want you to know that I did not react emotionally or angrily, even though you forgot to tell me that I look pretty.

    My husband runs FHE in our house because he knows if I took charge, I would just send everyone straight to bed. Including him.

    Actually, I think my husband considers it his priesthood duty to run FHE and choose who says the prayer and whatnot. I think he also thinks it’s his priesthood duty to make sure we all read the scriptures together every night, but I’m the one who makes it happen before 10 p.m. because the priesthood holder is often too busy playing video games to notice that it’s bedtime.

    I think our current discourse on gender is frustrating because it either contradicts itself or what it says is essentially meaningless. Men and women are equal, except that men are more equal in terms of authority and women are allegedly more equal in terms of spirituality.

    Actually, I think the discourse has become more confusing than that. My husband, who has always been very secure in his role as the head of our household, went to a priesthood leadership meeting a couple years ago, where they talked about the patriarchal order and were emphasizing that while it was hierarchical in the church, it was not meant to be hierarchical in the home. (There was an article in the Ensign about this–I’ll let less lazy people look it up for me.) I asked him what he thought about that, and he said, “I don’t know. But I did leave the meeting not having any idea what it meant to preside in the home.”

    I wanted to say, “Welcome to my world,” but I discerned from my ovaries that that wasn’t the godly response, so I just looked thoughtful and nodded. (And put on some lipstick.)

  21. Mark Brown says:


    I think our current discourse on gender is frustrating because it either contradicts itself or what it says is essentially meaningless.

    Yes, exactly. To the extent I had a point here, it was to observe that our discourse is literally all over the place, and that is is therefore hard to take seriously. And, because we emphasize it so much, it becomes frustrating.

    …because the priesthood holder is often too busy playing video games to notice that it’s bedtime.

    A presider’s work is never done, sister J. I find that I too must often answer the call to preside over the game console, as well as the TV remote control and the computer. Work, work, work. I envy you wonderful sisters whose spirits are not bogged down with such mundane, worldly pursuits.

  22. I’m still waiting for some opening to being allowed to “preside” in any meaningful way over anything in my house. I can’t even get first choice of songs or instruments on Rock Band. How do you get to preside over the freaking game console, tv remote and computer, Mark?

  23. Mark Brown says:

    MCQ, just tell her she’s pretty. That should work.

  24. Grovelling (and “Yes, Dear.”) works best in my house.

  25. Ray, you might not have realized this yet, but grovelling and “Yes, Dear” do not fall within the definition of “presiding.” Sorry to burst your bubble, man.

  26. Oh, yes they do, MCQ. Oh, yes they do.