Gender Roles Are Eternal (unless …)

There I was, sitting in the Hauser Hall basement, typing a seminar paper, minding my own business, when “Josh” burst into the computer lab. Josh was a single, LDS 1st-year law student, and I was a married LDS third-year, so we didn’t really know each other that well. But we did have some friends in common, and would see each other periodically at LDSSA meetings, so he recognized me when he walked in the door. He seemed strangely agitated, like he was in possession of some juicy piece of gossip he needed to get off his chest. He saw me, and promptly approached my cubicle.

“Oh my gosh, something so funny just happened!” he exclaimed. “I have to share it with someone!”

“What?” I replied.

Only minutes before, Josh had been sitting at his desk in his dorm room, mindlessly surfing the internet. For some reason, he happened upon a “full-service” Mormon website. Not a blog (this was the year 2000), but a site put up by faithful Mormons who aspired to provide useful content and links to LDS churchmembers of every sex and age. So, for example, the links page contained a section designated specifically for men. It also contained a section catering to the interests of women. Then there were the “young men” and the “young women” categories. Also, a section for kids. As Josh perused the entries on the link page, he learned much about the differing interests of the sexes. Apparently, women and girls are into, well, you know …. girlie things: Quilting, sewing, baking, fashion, cosmetics. Anything and everything a righteous LDS woman could possibly care about was conveniently linked. Meanwhile, LDS young men could also pursue interests appropriate to their sex: Fishing, camping, auto repair, Popular Mechanics. It was as if the links were tailor-made for every right-thinking Mormon boy you’ve ever known.

Josh found himself annoyed. Yes, there are more vexing problems in the world, but why did the creators of this website think that the interests of Mormon men and women were so easily separated and categorized in this gender-specific way? Josh decided to react. He quickly composed an email to the webmaster, in which he expressed his dismay at the sexist links page. Intuitively, he realized a gripe from a single LDS guy wouldn’t carry the weight of a gripe from a disgruntled LDS Father with teenage daughters. So he posed as the latter. His email got right to the point: “I am an LDS churchmember, and I am enormously concerned about the messages my daughter receives from media, particularly LDS media. The links on your webpage are sending a clear message to my daughter that she should feel limited in her interests by popular gender stereotypes. But if she happens to like Popular Mechanics, why can’t she read Popular Mechanics?!” On and on he went. Once his rant was over, Josh pushed “send.” He admitted to me that he was only “half-irritated, and half-just joking around” when he sent the email, but he thought a small gesture of protest was warranted, and he felt good about it.

“That’s funny,” I said, half-heartedly and a little bored. And then, out of politeness more than anything else, I asked Josh, “Show me this website.”

Josh gave me the web address. I typed in the URL, and then clicked on the links page. Sure enough, there were lots of links to all sorts of wholesome activities, but strangely, there were no sex-specific categories or divisions that I could see. Hmmmmm.

“Oh my gosh! I swear there were separate men and women’s sections on this page like 5 minutes ago! I don’t know what happened!” Josh exclaimed. He seemed concerned I would think he had made up the story. “Let me show you my email!”

Josh pulled up to the adjacent computer and opened his account. He was about to open his “sent items” file, when he noticed a new email in his inbox. He opened it, and both our jaws dropped. Right in front of us was a reply from the very webmaster (a woman) Josh had emailed less than 10 minutes previously. She happened to be sitting at her computer right when Josh emailed her. Her apology was profuse, verbose, almost ridiculous in its earnestness. “I am so very, very sorry to have offended you,” she proclaimed. She assured Josh that she and everyone else at the site had the very best of intentions, that they only wanted to do right by the young LDS men and women who frequented the site, and that the last thing they’d ever dream of doing is offending the parents of their youthful readers. She went on to say that she had immediately altered the site to make it less offensive, less stereotyping of gender roles.

Josh and I were both very taken aback. Never in his wildest dreams did Josh imagine his little email would have such an immediate and profound effect. I also found it a little hard to believe. Was this really all it took to overturn this woman’s presumed attachment to certain rigid conceptions of gender?

I figured this was a good story. But not content with merely observing the story — and feeling the need to make myself a part of the story — I decided that I too would email the webmaster. I too would pretend to be an irate Father-in-Zion, except that my anger would come from a slightly different place. My email (which I regret I didn’t save), started off with the typical “shocked and appalled” boilerplate you might find in a letter to the Daily Universe. I claimed — totally implausibly — to have noticed that within the last 15 minutes, the links page on the website had been changed from its former sex-segregated state, to its current sexually ambiguous one. I acknowledged that the intention behind the decision to alter the links page may have been benign, but I warned that even minor flouting of God’s laws — even casual flirtations with worldly, feminist ideologies of gender equality — would send us all down a slippery slope to Hell. A vivid parade of horribles followed, all guaranteed to ensue if the gender norms originally manifest on the site were not rigidly respected. By the end of my rant, I became completely unhinged, predicting the imminent, widespread onset of “rampant lesbianism” among LDS girls, as well as “unisex bathrooms.”

I pushed “send” and then waited. And waited. And waited. In truth, I didn’t really expect a response. My email was so deliciously over-the-top that I knew the webmaster would understand it was a joke. And of course, no response ever came. But almost immediately, it occurred to me that if the webmaster had half a brain in her head, the format and timing of my email would make her realize that Josh’s email was also a joke. Perhaps she wouldn’t find this funny. Perhaps she’d feel that she’d been made a fool of. And so Josh and I were both left wondering what would happen next. Would the webmaster restore the original links page, having realized she’d been manipulated by a phony father and his inauthentic ire? Or had Josh’s point about gender stereotyping really been taken to heart, my juvenile antics notwithstanding? Would the revised links page continue to live on in its altered, androgynous state?

A couple weeks later, I checked the links page to see if it had been changed back. It hadn’t. :)


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    This just proves what we all already know, that Aaron is evil. Deliciously evil, but evil nonetheless.

  2. rampant lesbianism and unisex bathrooms? Wouldn’t the unisex bathrooms actually diminish the rampant lesbianism?

    Logical fallacy dude. What kind of crappy law school did you go to?

  3. That is so funny! I’m proud of that webmaster.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Actually, the unisex bathrooms was an authentic touch. I remember hearing that frequently among the Mormon faithful as a reason not to pass the ERA.

  5. Actually, I feel kinda bad for the poor lady. She’s just trying to help people out, and now she probably is all freaked out and feeling like she can’t please anyone.

  6. You are mean, Aaron B. And by mean, I mean totally awesome.

  7. AaronB, in heaven, when you meet this poor, over-worked webmaster, I hope you’ll apologize to her and I hope she’ll be able to laugh at the whole thing. Thank heavens she didn’t revert back to the first way of linking.

  8. I too enjoy making fun of the unsuspecting in mean-spirited ways. Now that I have kids it is easier than ever!

  9. Wow. I really thought that something significant and funny was going to happen as a result of your phony rant. What a let-down.

  10. Sorry if this was anti-climactic, MCQ. I just found it interesting that despite my childish antics, Josh’s valuable service wasn’t undone. That’s all.

  11. StillConfused says:

    I hope she gets you back… when you least expect it

  12. Hmmm… Causing strangers misery just for the fun of it… Is there a word for that?

  13. hmm. Once you open someone’s eyes to gender equality, they can’t be closed again?

  14. hazing…

    :) I think you should write you another email full of appreciation for her dedication to stick with the more gender neutral website and your curiosity about if she would change it back…. happy positive ending for all involved, including the webmaster.

  15. Natalie B. says:

    My dorm in college had unisex bathrooms. At first I was anxious about it, but after a few weeks I realized that it really wasn’t a big deal. Actually, it was way more convenient than having to run around in search of the women’s bathroom when an empty men’s was nearby.

  16. We had one in the our School of Architecture building. Had a cardboard arrow that could me moved to point at ‘Men’, ‘Women’ or ‘?’ A multi-holer if you will.

  17. Kristine says:

    Kevin, (#4), it was in Rex Lee’s pamphlet about why we should oppose the ERA. I got in a huge fight with my mom about it, she told me not to be so sassy when I said, “we have a unisex bathroom RIGHT IN OUR HOUSE!!”

  18. Out of curiosity Greg, was this a large bathroom with the stalls and urinals?

    Reminds me of being on the Grand Tetons at the saddle. The national park service put two toilets there to cut down on the pollution. I was doing my duty when a young woman walks in and sat beside me. I have to admit I was a bit uncomfortable.

  19. I think equalized building funding is just fine. What I really want to know is if the Church is so financially strapped with the new program that it cannot afford to allocate more than a bare bones discretionary budget to any ward or stake, or whether it just redirects the surplus from tightly constrained ward budgets to other general level priorities.

    I have been in wards where there was an absolute bar on Scout fundraising activities, and certainly there wasn’t any money in the budget for such support. Another (singles) ward was prohibited from even asking for contributions to defray the cost of activities, but of course there wasn’t a (non-trivial) budget to substitute for that either.

    In the Catholic church they have a principle called ‘subsidiarity’, in politics there is ‘federalism’, in the D&C there is ‘stewardship’, but in church finance such concepts don’t seem to register. If there is any sort of theological argument for that I would like to hear it. How could (for example) the law of consecration and stewardship be restored if (in financial terms) there wasn’t any stewardship. Isn’t a centralized command and control economy a step backward from the scriptural ideal?

  20. This reminds me of being a missionary in Europe, standing at a urinal in a public men’s room, when the cleaning lady came in and started mopping the floor. She even mopped around my feet. I swear my aim wasn’t that bad.

  21. Peter LLC says:

    Hmmm… Causing strangers misery just for the fun of it… Is there a word for that?


  22. The single best reason for not having unisex bathrooms is this: womens bathrooms are disgusting.

    What most men don’t know is that women have a classic collective action problem that leads to progressively more disgusting toilets. Women squat over rather than sit on public toilets which impairs aim and leads to urine slopping onto the seat. If everyone just sat on the seat there would be no spillage and everyone would be better off but since everyone acts in their self interests the seat and surrounding area becomes progressively less inviting.

    All women know about this problem. So does, I have heard, the church patriarchy–which is the true reason why they opposed the ERA.

  23. Mark Brown says:

    I remember the bogeyman of unisex bathrooms, too.

    I think of it every time I go to that den of iniquity called the YMCA and see bathrooms for not only men and women both, but handicapped people as well. Who knows what horrors beyond this the ERA might have visited upon us?


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