Gender, Authority and Strange Loops

I want to expand on thoughts expressed by commenters in the Sunday PM General Conference Open Thread, specifically, “…Or maybe, if we’re going to talk about how wise mothers are, and what good teachers, and read sentimental poems about grown men longing to hear their mothers’ voices, we could just, y’know, hear their voices….”

The immediate context of this comment was Brother Foster’s talk, “Mother Told Me,” but the point applies to the entire conference, and more broadly to women’s influence in the church. I’d like to delve deeper into an analysis of some details in Brother Foster’s talk. I want to emphasize that this should not be read as a condemnation of the whole talk. It is both much narrower (a quibble with just one particular example he selected), and much bigger (the whole situation of women in the church), than his talk. Also, on some level, this is just a golden opportunity for me to geek out on some of my favorite geeky topics: logic, paradox and feminism.

To start, I’ll give a brief primer on logic, paradoxes and “strange loops.” This is me in full geek-out mode, so if it bores you, kindly skip ahead to the ** and you won’t actually miss anything critical (only the coolest topic known to humankind, but do as you like).

Logic is the study of truth, and how to derive or discover new truths from existing truths plus derivation rules that we agree are guaranteed to lead us to truth. A classic example is: “All men are mortal (a truth), Socrates is a man (a truth), Therefore Socrates is mortal. (follows from the two truths using rules of derivation)” Logicians would like to think that all statements can likewise be shown to be either true or false using the phenomenal awesome power of logic. But the Greek philosopher Epimenides ruined all that by coming up with the Liar’s Paradox. This is a sentence that can be neither true nor false. It is a self-contained paradox. The sentence is:

This sentence is false.

If we take the sentence as true, then we must conclude that it is false. If we take the sentence as false, then we must conclude that it is true. In both cases, we reach a contradiction. It turns out that when logical statements or systems are allowed to talk about themselves like this, it tends to wreak havoc. This havoc from self-reference is a pattern repeated again and again in logic, geometry, set theory, computer programming, and even art and music. Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach is a feast if this has stimulated your appetite for the luscious excitement that is self-reference and paradox, or, as he calls it, “strange loops.” (This is sufficient to introduce the concepts of logic, self-reference and the resulting paradoxes, and now you can really feel free to skip ahead to the ** without missing anything.)

But since we’ll later go on to tie in feminist issues, we may as well look at another very classic, and very man-centric, example of a strange loop, the Barber Paradox. This is essentially a rewording of Russell’s Paradox, which Bertrand Russell discovered while attempting to bring all of set theory into a nice logically clean and tight package. The [BYU-ified] Barber Paradox:

BYU has one barber, and he’s a man. All the men at BYU are clean-shaven (there are no beard cards). Some men shave themselves, others go to the barber. RULE: The barber shaves all the men, and only the men, who do not shave themselves.

Does the barber shave himself? (if he doesn’t, he must; if he does, he must not!) [1]

** And now we have reached the part of this post that actually relates to Brother Foster’s talk.[2] In his talk, he relates a humorous anecdote about a boy who says, “father is the final word in our house, because mom says so.” Foster is doing two things here. First, and this is the thesis of the entire talk, he is telling us that women’s voices are wonderful and powerful, in some ways more so than men’s. Second, he is training us in a method. He is teaching us that to discover the truth about whose voice has power in an organization, in this case the family, we should disregard the words the boy says and instead focus on the epistemology of what he says. In other words, who delivered the final word (the mother) is more important, more revelatory about the true possessor of the final word power, than the words themselves.

But an interesting thing happens when we try to apply Foster’s method for analyzing power structures to his own talk.[3] Boiled down very crudely, we can state the point of Foster’s talk in a way parallel to his anecdote: “women’s voices in the church matter, because I, a man, said so.” But per the mother anecdote, we are to disregard the words saying that women matter, and examine the epistemology, which says that men matter. Looking at it this way, an anecdote embedded in the talk has told us to disregard the talk. (But if we disregard the talk, then we also disregard the anecdote, reverting us to our default stance of heeding conference talks. Oh, strange loops, how you fascinate me!)

Of course Brother Foster never cited his own manhood as a reason why we should heed his talk, and this is a cynical framing. I listen to conference to be uplifted–and I am!, not to keep tally of male vs. female speakers. But, this time ’round in particular, with so many talks emphasizing women’s roles and motherhood, and–while I don’t keep tally!–seemingly fewer women than I remember seeing in the past, it did get hard to ignore. This brings us back to the suggested alternative to the many we-love-women talks, which would be, of course, to simply hear from more women in conference. RS General President Julie B. Beck made a prescient comment in the Saturday morning session of conference, quoting Eliza R. Snow saying that women do not need to be overly praised and coddled. In closing, I’ll cite a third speaker in this conference, who quoted a proverb that nicely encapsulates the paradox of a parade of male speakers saying that women’s voices are valued, “your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

[1] Ok, I really can’t resist giving just one more set theory example (see how addicting these paradoxes are?). Imagine if you have some lists, and some of your lists are lists of lists, but you are concerned about the possibility of a list that includes itself. So you make a list of all lists that do not include themselves, so you can be sure to avoid those self-including ones. Does your list of all lists that do not contain themselves contain itself? [Cue “dun-dun-DUN!” chords.]

[2] Question: When I insert sentences into this post that talk about this post itself (e.g., “And now we have reached the part of this post that actually relates…”), am I creating an environment ripe for paradoxical strange loops? Answer: Probably. Question: What about when I insert sentences which talk about the self-referencing sentences in this post, including themselves? Answer: oh dear, we might be entering a strange loop right now.

[3] Aware of the danger of paradox that attends self-reference, alarm bells should sound when you see that phrase, “[apply] to his own talk.”


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  1. Steve Evans says:

    Can a man ever credibly tell people that women’s voices matter?

  2. Yes, Steve. When his actions bespeak the truth of what he is saying.

  3. What kind of strange loop happens when women speakers discuss respecting the priesthood?

  4. Put differently, the trouble only comes when the credibility of a man saying that women’s voices matter is derived from his being a male, and when that is understood by speaker and hearer alike.

  5. steve, I would say yes, if they are simultaneously demonstrating that women’s voices matter. For the geeky lawyers, they need mens rea and actus reus. (sp? I totally don’t remember)

    Cynthia, this was a fascinating post. You know what I love the very most about it? One of the smartest women I know is giving us a gentle lecture on the importance of women’s voices, while simultaneously demonstrating how powerful and smart women can be, because she’s doing this with references to logic, philosophy, geometry, and computer science.

  6. Eric Russell says:

    I don’t see the loop. It only works if you make broad and unsubstatiated assumptions about the words in use.

  7. I wonder if the QUALITY of the women’s talks improved if they would be ceded more minutes? This is not a comment on this particular GC, just a general idea that many times a talk delivered by a woman is construed as being directed at children or women and/or focuses on actions rather than the Gospel. Or infuriates people. But most are quite forgettable.

    Cynthia–I’d love to hear a strange loop talk in the next GC. From you.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    I don’t see the difference between words and actions in this context; we are still talking about messages put forth to an audience. Rhetorically speaking, all you’re doing is shifting the source of ethical authority from religious hierarchy towards the personal observable acts of the speaker. I don’t think that resolves the problem of an authoritative man telling you that women are to be heeded.

  9. Eric, if you’re going to argue that the post is wrong, you should probably spell out the broad and unsubstantiated assumptions you speak of.

  10. I don’t think that resolves the problem of an authoritative man telling you that women are to be heeded.

    I agree. That problem is still unresolved. The loop and the problem stem from the fact that it is widely understood by virtually all GC participants that his authority is bound up with his being male (and not female), and that to speak from authority thus construed and understood about the authority of women’s voices, especially when he jovially suggests that he has authority because a women told his son that he does.

  11. Thanks Cynthia – for me this post has also emphasized which kind of women’s voices matter. I would suspect that the voices that are important in many GA talks are the voice of “my wife” or “my mother” as opposed to the voices of female LDS leaders, as exemplified in Sister Beck’s talk.

  12. …and, as comment 11 points out, the authority of the female voice in question (“mom told me so”) is limited to the domestic sphere (i.e. not “President Beck told me so”).

  13. Eric Russell says:

    As I understand it, to make it work you have to:
    Replace ‘fathers’ with ‘men’
    Replace ‘mothers’ with ‘women’
    Replace ‘Foster’ with ‘men’
    Replace ‘audience’ with ‘women’
    Is this correct?
    Of these, I think only the last is doable without problems.

  14. Eric, those things might have to be technically true in order for this to qualify as a technical strange loop, but the implicit logic still is built on paradox. The speaker playfully invokes the trope of the man (in a domestic setting) whose authority comes from a woman (in a domestic setting) granting it to him, in order to underscore his authority as a man (in a GC setting) to declare that women’s voices are important.

  15. Elder Foster’s authority to make such a pronouncement doesn’t come from his maleness, tho. It comes from his priesthood keys, which he has to be a male to hold (for now), but which do not map directly onto maleness.

    The seems to be assuming the following:
    Elder Foster is a man
    Elder Foster has the priesthood
    Therefore being a man and having the priesthood is equivalent.

    T’aint so.

  16. Wow, Cynthia- my mind is reeling. Amazing work here. Thank you for putting clarity to something that was baffling me.

  17. Also, I love strange loops, because they demonstrate that logic is artificial.

  18. Aaron R. says:

    As someone who has never really taken an interest in logic nor its paradoxes. I appreciated this great post.

    ESO, I agree that there seems to be a cultural disconnect. The women I meet in England never want to hear from Women at GC. They just seem unable to relate to way they express themselves and relate to their lives. My wife encapsulated this well, when during a recent GC broadcast, during a female Leader’s talked she said (qutie audibly) “Bullcrap!” Few batted an eyelid and those that did were nodding in agreement.

  19. ESO, perhaps we could apply a QUALITY measure to all talks regardless of who delivers the talk. It seems some GC talks are given a pass on quality because of who the speaker is. There are significant numbers of highly educated sisters with extraordinary experience who can certainly raise the level of discourse in GC. Perhaps if/when the Bretheren expand their GC speaker pool beyond obviously male only General Authorities, GC messages will become more inclusive. Joseph Smith preached an extraordinarily expansive gospel – hopefully the church will eventually more explicitly follow his lead.

  20. Eric Russell says:

    What john said in 15.

    I hate typing on cellphones.

  21. Aaron R, I am dying to know to what she was referring!

  22. No, John. Here’s the logic (and it has nothing to do with keys):

    Elder Foster’s words have authority because he has the priesthood.

    Only men have the priesthood.

    Elder Foster’s authority is inextricably bound to his being a man (and his not being a woman).

  23. To argue that Elder Foster’s authority is not bound up with his being a man (and with is not being a woman) is wildly disingenuous.

  24. Aaron R. says:

    Tracy, it was the October Conf. So I really can’t remember, but I still feel a sense of guilty-pride at her bravado.

  25. Brad,
    To paraphrase Aaron’s wife, Bullcrap.

    Not just any man can walk in from the street and speak in Gen Conf. Nor can any Mormon man just wander up to that pulpit.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    Brad, sure it’s bound up with maleness. But it would probably be inaccurate to equate priesthood with maleness — indeed, doing so is largely what got us into the male/female divide currently found in the church.

  27. ESO,
    I don’t honestly think that women speakers are received in a fundamentally different way than the male speaker in the PH session who begins his talk with “I would like to speak to the Aaronic priesthood holders.” Everyone shuts down, because there is an (often incorrect) implicit belief that it’s irrelevant to the rest of the audience.

    However, the answer to your question about whether women would be allowed to speak more if their talks were of higher quality is certainly false.

    (as an aside, it seems clear that if quality were the key to mic time for males, then Conference would rock, because we’d just get to listen to Pres. Uchtdorf, Elder Holland, and a few others over and over and over.

  28. Where did I claim that any man could? My only claim is that his authority depends upon his being male. It also depends upon numerous other factors. But the moment he ceases to be male he can only have two kinds of authority:

    1) The authority to tell her children that their father has the authoritative voice.

    2) Whatever authority is granted her by men.

  29. Eric, I think you’re focusing too much just on Foster, which I warned against in the post. Sure, the strange loop thing is a little playful and inexact, but let me turn this on you: do you really think there is nothing remotely paradoxical about a parade of men (9 minutes of women in 10 hours of conference) saying that women’s voices are important in the church? This isn’t just one talk we’re talking about. To answer Steve’s question, sure, any one man taken in isolation saying that women are important is not especially suspect. It is the overall effect.

  30. And my point is, and was, that his authority to speak in that meeting and be listened to by us was derived from the priesthood, not inherently from his maleness. Cynthia’s original post treated it as a male/female thing exclusively (or it seemed to). It lost a bit of its strange loopiness.

    Of course, for now, maleness and priesthood are (unfortunately) linked. But I don’t think of that as anything but a temporary situation (like not drinking wine).

    If nothing else, I think that we can all agree that the anecdote in play is easily the second most objectionable thing in that talk anyway.

  31. I suspect (but have not calculated) that if you chose speakers at random from the pool GC speakers are taken from: “general authorities and auxilary leaders” of the church, that you would hear even fewer women’s voices at GC, because they are so outnumbered in that set. So I suspect that the organizers of GC are actively attempting to increase the number of female speakers.

    Of course the enormous numerical differences between men and women in the leadership raises other issues . . .

  32. Mommie Dearest says:

    I was doing pretty well until the footnotes, then my brain kinda went wandering from the overload. It wandered over to the sidebar with the names of the permas. I counted 8 women and 16 men on the active list. (I counted Brad as active in spite of the strikethrough on his name – what’s up with that anyway?) I don’t exactly know what the 3:2 ratio of men to women here means, but at least we don’t have to have the additional imprimatur of being ordained to the priesthood clouding the issue. Do we?

    Maybe a better indicator would be the ratio of men posting to women posting…?

    Sorry if this is a threadjack–feel free to ignore.

  33. All I know is in My house, I make all the big decisions, my wife only little ones. (We have yet to have any big decisions to be made).

  34. Mommie,
    I assure you that the reason the female permas at BCC don’t post more often is because they are intimidated by the towering intellects of the male permas (and Brad). We try and try to tell them that they’re good enough, but sometimes people don’t listen.

  35. Sara Bay says:

    An honest question: Do the female GC speakers ever speak to/about the general membership, rather than to/about women and children?

  36. #17: “Also, I love strange loops, because they demonstrate that logic is artificial.”

    John, for shame. I thought BCC had a policy against blasphemy and offensiveness in the comments.

  37. Sara,
    I tend to think they all talk to everybody, but inasmuch as men are parents and the Primary leadership tends to talk about children, then yes men are definitely address on occasion by women in Conference.

    Prove me wrong, why don’t ya?

  38. Eric Russell says:

    Sure, it’s ironic. But it’s not a paradox and it’s not illogical.

  39. #35 I convinced part of the reason the talks by women are so forgettable is they have no general authority, only well-framed specific authority. You’ll never hear a talk on the level of Elder Oaks’ from a woman in conference, because they’re only thinking in terms of their specific stewardships. Even if they did, they wouldn’t presume to step outside of them.

    It’s truly a shame for feminists. Having a woman deliver a signature talk in conference would be HUGE. It would significantly change the way the church thinks.

    Not that this is relevant to the post, which I really enjoyed!

  40. #18: While I can vouch for the fact that many women in America feel the same way as your wife, I’m curious about your thoughts on how Mormonism might treat women differently in England. Is the same motherhood and gender roles rhetoric that we have in the US common there? Are women given more administrative roles?

  41. #39: Are women assigned to speak on topics in GC that are related to their specific stewardship? Or do they pick the topic? I’d be curious to know.

  42. Natalie (40), I think it’s the assumptions inherent in some of the talks given by women at General Conference that a suburban middle-class American lifestyle is (a) desirable and (b) relevant for women and families that are not part of the American middle to upper-middle class.

  43. Kevin Barney says:

    Cynthia, simply outstanding. Well done.

  44. Kristine says:

    hbar–Edje Jeter over at JI actually did do the calculation and you’re correct that female auxiliary leaders are overrepresented by a strict numerical calculus. As for trying to increase the number of female speakers, I think not so much. The first female speaker was included in conference in 1989 (nope, not a typo), and the number of women speakers was increased from one to two sometime in the mid-90s and has remained constant since then.

    I think the argument that women should be excluded from speaking in proportion to the degree to which they are excluded from leadership and decision-making roles is morally problematic (to put it as calmly as possible).

  45. 42: I don’t think that was quite what I was asking. Let me try again: In weekly religious practice, do English congregations adopt the same gender rhetoric that one hears in the US? If not, how is gender spoken about and how does that difference matter in terms of the roles women are given?

    While I think women in the US often find this rhetoric alienating, too, I think we tend to silently suffer it to persist.

  46. Natalie, it seemed like you were asking why Aaron’s wife had an incredulous response to something that a female speaker was saying at the General Conference. My # 42 was an attempt to guess what might have caused her to do that.

    As to your 45, my guess would be that the gender discourse is exactly the same in UK wards as in the US — after all, women here don’t hold the priesthood either. And over here you don’t get the type of creativity that you sometimes see with bishops on SLC’s East Bench where a woman might be a Sunday School President or an Executive Secretary to the Bishopric. Even those roles that arguably have nothing to do whatsoever with priesthood authority or administration are completely occupied by men.

  47. “You’ll never hear a talk on the level of Elder Oaks’ from a woman in conference, because they’re only thinking in terms of their specific stewardships. ”

    Are you assuming that women aren’t capable of thinking outside of their stewardship? or simply that they don’t? and when you say ‘stewardship’, do you mean assigned calling within the church, or eternal stewardship?

    Sheri Dew and others have certainly given talks of such caliber that relate to everyone about, for instance, the atonement.

  48. This is an excellent post, and a triumph of feminism. You may take that to the bank, because I, a man, said so.

  49. #47—Barbara Thompson’s “Mind the Gap” talk from the RS session of conference last year is similarly outstanding and widely applicable. President Beck’s counselors are truly two of the best speakers we have in the church’s leadership today, and it’s a too bad that they aren’t speaking at the regular sessions.

    But, generally, I don’t recall women speaking in conference to/about the general membership. They tend to stick to women and children.

  50. Cynthia,
    I agree. However they certainly are capable.
    While women’s stewardships within the church are confined to women and children, that will be their primary focus. Usually the General Bishopbric talks about things (like caring for the poor) that pertain to their stewardship also. That has more to do with church role than gender.

  51. 49,
    I saw a cross stitch once about this. It said “A Woman’s Place Is In the Home, Even if She’s Speaking In General Conference to Millions of People.”

  52. (Which of course has everything to do with gender).

  53. So, Cynthia L., are your lists in note 1 allowed to be infinite? That sounds like the lists I get from my wife. (grin)

  54. So, would we discount the Savior’s voice (a male) if He were the one that said women’s voices matter?

    Because in my mind, that is what (or, better said, Who) our leaders are there to represent. I know, I know, it’s a tired argument for some, but at some point, I think we have to accept that reality. Men have always been the ones given the bulk of the stewardship to speak for the Lord institutionally.

    This to me is an example of how easily logic fails us as a sufficient tool to analyze how things work in the kingdom, and nor to propose how they “should.” In fact, I think it’s harmful to look for parity in such ways as “proof” of equality.

    The logic lesson was interesting, though.

  55. I think I would discount it, m&m, if I thought for a second that His authority depended upon His being male.

  56. Kristine says:

    “So, would we discount the Savior’s voice (a male) if He were the one that said women’s voices matter? ”

    Um, no. And he didn’t SAY their voices were important, he just showed that they are by listening.


  57. Steve Evans says:

    It’s not a tired argument; it’s a false one.

  58. Brad,
    Foster’s sex is significant, but Christ’s isn’t. Explanation?

  59. Steve Evans says:

    Foster =/= Christ, John, in many ways. That point doesn’t need explanation. Plus who said Christ’s sex wasn’t important?

  60. I don’t think Jesus’s right to be listened to and taken seriously as one having authority is in any way dependent on His sex. I don’t think Foster’s right to be listened to and taken seriously as one having authority should be in any way dependent on his sex, but obviously it is for most of the folks he wants to listen to him. I have a problem with the latter in that I view it to be out of harmony with the former.

  61. Cynthia L. says:

    Oh Kristine, (swoon), those are my favorite three letters.

    WVS, what a blessing to you to have such a well-organized wife, an infinitely well-organized one, even! The lists could indeed be infinite. I must confess something now. I cringe a little when you call that note #1. In my mind, it is list item 0, because all good computer scientists start counting things at zero. You have no idea how much restraint it took not to number them that way, but I thought surely there must be a limit to the amount of geekiness a post can handle.

  62. The fact is the Jesus was a male. It is not explained why, to my knowledge.

  63. Cynthia (61), you sound like Lothario in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

  64. Jesus = Male =/= Jesus’ authority depends upon His being male…

  65. Steve Evans says:

    John, she gets that a lot!

  66. No doubt.

  67. Steve Evans says:

    Actually Brad, we don’t know. Jesus’ authority comes from himself – He is the source of the priesthood power, ultimately. As such I think we should consider whether his sex is part of the totality of His personhood and in turn part of what made Jesus the Son of God. I don’t think we can eliminate sex as part of that equation — now, whether we can eliminate it as a factor in representing Christ and being bearers of His power is another question entirely…

  68. As far as I can tell, all we’re talking about here is whether a person’s voice is more relevant and more authoritative by virtue, in part, of that person’s sex. I’m not arguing that Jesus’ sex had nothing to do with the totality of His personhood or personality or relationships with others. I’m arguing that no one’s voice is more or less relevant or important or worthy of attention than anyone else’s simply by virtue of their sex (or, for that matter, their priesthood).

  69. Steve Evans says:

    As always, Jesus is a special case, invoked by M&M as a proof for why any male GA ought to be authoritative in telling us to respect women. If we are to consider why Jesus is authoritative, then I think we need to consider the totality of His person, as we would any person. It just gets complicated with Jesus; as He represents perfection it becomes difficult to separate or rule out any one characteristic as irrelevant to His authority. Far easier to approach mortals.

  70. That’s just not true, Brad. Certainly everyone has an option to be correct and to speak the truth, but we pay attention to Pres. Monson primarily because we believe his priesthood authority is significant, not because we just like listening to tall men.

  71. And, of course, the larger point still stands: it is very problematic in a venue where the men’s voices are considered orders of magnitude more relevant and authoritative than women’s — for reasons that depend upon their being men — for man after man after man to lecture speak about the importance of the basically non-present female voices. What if Joanna had decided that the best way to demonstrate the importance of women’s literary voices was to invite a bunch of men to talk about how important they are? The absurdity would be obvious, glaring.

  72. we pay attention to Pres. Monson primarily because we believe his priesthood authority is significant

    I’m not arguing that this isn’t the case. I’m just noting that I find this very problematic.

  73. It seems like we are commingling two issues.

    Taking the example of Joanna, it would be perfectly fine for there to be a conference about women’s literature attended mostly by men if the men are acknowledged expert’s in women’s lit and if women were also invited to participate and then chose not to. Being a man doesn’t inherently disqualify your opinion on the feminine (or shouldn’t). The problem is when women are systematically excluded.

    While it may be true that church culture at large dismisses women’s opinions, it is harder, I think, to argue the same for church leadership (which is what General Conference represents). As has been noted, women are overrepresented as speakers considering their percentage in leadership.

  74. Perhaps we agree, then, that women’s under-representation in Church leadership is a more pressing problem than their representation as a percentage of GC speakers relative to the former?

  75. Interestingly, Jesus of Nazareth’s authority did indeed stem in large part from the fact that he was male. Thus Jehovah needed to be Jesus (a man) for his ministry to work.

    Of course, that says nothing about why Jehovah is “male”.

  76. What a fun approach to a heavy issue, Cynthia!

  77. Of course, that says nothing about why Jehovah is “male”.

    Or why Jehovah is Jesus, for that matter. Though that is an entirely different conversation/can of worms…

  78. m&m, by the logic of the post, if Jesus tells us that women’s voices matter because those voices tell us who has true power, then Jesus’s statement would also be logically self-defeating, just like Foster’s. Your comment doesn’t work because the rules of logic apply regardless of the identity of the speaker. So playing authority cards can’t change the argument.

  79. I declare, with the authority present in me (an authority that depends for its existence upon my maleness) that women have the power to declare that I have the authority, as a male, to declare that women’s voices should be valued.

  80. Cynthia L. says:

    But the real question, Brad, is, do you shave your own head?

  81. “Strange loopiness” is how my brain feels after reading this post.

    Actually, it feels like that all the time.

  82. Brad,
    Sure. We don’t disagree there. But you are still really, really wrong about the priesthood thing.

  83. Cherylem says:

    #56 Kristine and #61 Cynthia,
    You remind me of the statement in the statement that goes like this:

    “Men are our fathers, sons, brothers, partners, lovers, and friends. Many of them also struggle within a system that equates leadership with hierarchy and domination. We distrust separate-but-equal rhetoric; anyone who is regularly reminded that she is “equally important” is probably not. Partnership is illusory without equal decision-making power.”

    Great post.

  84. Cynthia, this is brilliant and entertaining all at once. Thanks.

  85. Which priesthood thing am I really, really wrong about?

  86. Brad, I do think that the priesthood of the speakers matters. Part of conference is hearing from those with authority, not just those with the spirit, or who speak well, or whatever. I think this can be readily conceded without really undermining the original post.

  87. But it would probably be inaccurate to equate priesthood with maleness

    I might quibble with that, but beside that point, it isn’t inaccurate to equate institutional, prophetic authority to maleness. That’s pretty front and center — prophets in our Church are men. They have authority to speak to and about men and women. Their authority transcends gender lines.

    I think at some point, we can’t really understand the truth of equality until we actually accept gender differences and stop insisting that it’s wrong not to have women with exactly the same responsibilities or experiences or verbiage or pulpit time as men. I think such expectations are a huge part of the problem. Where is it written that parity is a requirement for equality to exist? It’s written that men and women are equal, but that is a truth independent of any mortal measure.

    To me, there is an irony here, because such a mode of analysis and expectation of parity essentially keeps women’s value tied to men, rather than seeing equality independent in its own sphere, a truth in and of itself. Equality IS. It just exists. We don’t need any proof of that
    for it to be true.

    The crux of a recent conversation I had w/ a friend was that once you don’t *expect* parity, the process of engaging with Church teachings, the temple, priesthood, gender roles, etc. is so different. You can then try to understand it rather than force it to look like you think it “should” according to what you might learn in a feminist theory and practice (or logic!) class.

    BTW, I understand the logic behind desires for more institutional ‘parity’ but I think the reality is that logic is insufficient to get to truth.

  88. Steve Evans says:

    M&M, there is so much incorrect in your #87.

    “it isn’t inaccurate to equate institutional, prophetic authority to maleness.” Yes it is! There is no inherent institutional, prophetic authority from maleness.

    “prophets in our Church are men” Prophets maybe. But not prophets. You’re ahead of the curve in terms of denying the spiritual gifts of women.

    “we can’t really understand the truth of equality until we actually accept gender differences and stop insisting that it’s wrong not to have women with exactly the same responsibilities or experiences or verbiage or pulpit time as men.” Unless, of course, it is precisely an understanding of the truth of equality which drives people to insist upon change and to reject artificially imposed gender differences. Your recommendation that we simply lower our expectations in this regard simply expands the problem. A more vociferous person would label you a traitor to your sex.

    “such a mode of analysis and expectation of parity essentially keeps women’s value tied to men, rather than seeing equality independent in its own sphere, a truth in and of itself.” This is pure drivel. Equality is by definition a comparative term.

    It’s true, though, that once you don’t expect parity anywhere in the Church, things start to look a lot better.

  89. Kristine (44). Thanks for pointing out that the calculation has been done. That is quite interesting. When I said there is likely an effort to increase the number of woman speakers, I meant increase relative to the number of woman speakers you would expect given random speaker selections. This is born out by the calculation you cite. I didn’t necessarily mean increase over time from where we are today. I’ve no idea what the intentions are moving forward, and the numbers are small enough that distinguishing change from random chance would be difficult.

    As far as the representation of women in the church leadership, both at the local and global level, I wholeheartedly agree with you — it is entirely inadequate. I couldn’t tell if your apparent need to restrain yourself in stating that calmly was inspired by you percieving that I had views to the contrary, but I assure you I agree with you wholeheartedly (read the last line of my original post!).

  90. The first female speaker was included in conference in 1989 (nope, not a typo)

    Oh the irony, Kristine (44).

    It was 1988.

  91. Kristine says:

    HA! Thanks, Scott. I was sure it was Jayne Malan in 1989. (I kind of wish it had been the first–it was a great talk!)

  92. There is no inherent institutional, prophetic authority from maleness.

    Steve, all I’m saying is that those we sustain as Prophets, seers, and revelators are male. I don’t think that is arbitrary or a mistake. But that is not the same thing as saying authority is inherent to maleness.

    Would that we could all be prophets to get inspiration for our lives and to know truth, sure. But no personal gift of prophecy of man or woman is sufficient to speak for God to the Church or to trump prophetic authority. I’m not at all minimizing the gifts of the Spirit women and men can have by still reinforcing the reality of what it means to have Prophets and Apostles sustained and set apart and with priesthood keys to direct the Church and teach doctrine and receive revelation for the Church. That to me is fundamental to the Restoration. Otherwise, it’s too easy for “Lo Here” and “Lo There” variation in opinions, attitudes, etc. to affect us in our quest for Truth.

  93. Kristine says:


    Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, the Quorum of the Anointed…

    It _is_ arbitrary that those we currently sustain as General Authorities are male.

  94. Kristine says:

    hbar–I did not suspect you of the crime of disagreeing with me ;)

  95. Equality is by definition a comparative term.

    But my point is that I believe equality is a Truth that exists independent of what the Church organization looks like. I think so much focus on the institution and what seems ‘unequal’ misses the mark of what our doctrine is all about — a husband and wife being sealed, together to receive all that God has.

    That to me is the ultimate, eternal evidence of equality. As Elder Maxwell once said (paraphrasing) — if we are promised all that God has, there isn’t any more to want. That is my view.

  96. M&M, go back and read your comments – that’s NOT “all you’re saying”. You explicitly equated maleness with the priesthood. Moreover, you are quick to limit the prophetic gifts of women to individual revelation – a sixth sense as to when the clothes are dry, perhaps?- when throughout all of the standard works women are vastly more important than this.

    It never ceases to amaze me that those quickest to limit and kneecap the role of women in the Church are women themselves. Stockholm syndrome? Collaborators? I don’t know the word for it, but it’s extremely disheartening. Maybe now that a man is around to bolster the role of women in the Church you’ll get on board yourself.

  97. And please don’t come back and say that that means I don’t care about any of the interim stuff related to efforts toward equality in mortality. I just don’t agree with all the notions of what that ‘should’ include in the Church.

  98. Deductive reasoning isn’t the only way to gain knowledge. While our own logical thinking is important, the Spirit also plays an important part in the learning process. Logical fallacy or not, I, for one, was inspired by Elder Foster’s talk and I don’t doubt that he was inspired to give it, as were the several others who spoke on similar themes. What we learn from GC talks is, in my experience, mostly dependent on our willingness to approach them in the same Spirit in which they are offered. While the logical fallacy may exist, I can’t help feeling that focusing on this coincidental aspect of Elder Foster’s talk draws our attention away from the message he was trying to convey.

  99. re 96 this amazes me too on an almost constant basis…

  100. I think I understand what you are saying, m&m, but I don’t think anyone is complaining that God’s promises for the eternities are unfair. They’re talking about the 1earthly, temporal problems that naturally result from a hierarchical power structure that favors men. It’s not a problem for you, of course, nor is it for a great many women in the church, but it is a problem for some of us (and for some of us a bigger problem than it is for others of us). I think it’s useful to point this out, even if this hierarchical structure is destined not to change. It’s important that the (male) church leadership understands how this affects the real lives of a substantial number of people in the church.

  101. Steve, a more vociferous person might say that your #96 was condescending and presumptuous.

  102. RTC,
    What was the inspiring message you got from his talk? Please share it with me.

  103. This whole talk (meaning Elder Foster’s) was severely distracting to me… there was the not-so-veiled reference to the dad giving the “final word” instead of the couple working as “help-meets”, there was a very strong separation of the genders, and there was the references to farm animals (I really wish he has been a goat herder) in relation to the role of motherhood… by that point, I was done. I tried… really I did. I listened to every conference talk this session, I even read the live blogging of the Priesthood session as it was going… but honestly, I’m tired of hearing how great mothers etc are. Can we talk about how great fathers are now?

  104. My main take-away was an increased appreciation for the women in my life, particularly my wife. And a renewed awe at their ability to emulate the love of our Savior.

  105. April,
    As you will note from my liveblogging, even I–the archorthodox GA-admirer of BCC–couldn’t quite figure out what to say.

  106. Thomas Parkin says:

    The ongoing seeming inability to address women as human beings instead of as a host of dainty comfort angels is the single biggest difficulty I have with the culture of the church. My life has been filled with women who perhaps haven’t had a particularly easy time emulating the Savior, and have had manifold difficulties of all kinds, but I hope I haven’t loved them less for this.

    If you are going to love a person it must be for what they are, not for an image of what you, or someone, wishes they were, or what they may possibly be. In so far as we can’t see a woman clearly, we can’t love them truly. And all this rhetoric gets in the way of seeing individual women as they are. It denies their reality; it tends to find us walking in a false world where no true spiritual thing can be accomplished. It is no less so with men, only different, and my long standing sense of not being seen truly is a lot of the basis for the strength of my feeling. I just can’t stand these kind of talks. I see them as a terrible problem, and not merely irritating. ~

  107. Steve Evans says:

    RJ, sure — you don’t even have to be vociferous to say that my comment was condescending or presumptuous. A normal everyday person could say it, too. You’d be wrong, though.

  108. Thomas, I had no idea you are such a romantic. That’s a beautiful, if sad, comment.

  109. Cynthia brilliant.

    And as per our friend Kurt Gödel: There are existing truths about women that cannot be reached from inside the formal system.

  110. Cynthia my friend, this is stupendous. Well done you.

  111. Thomas: well said.

    One of the reasons I am so deeply troubled by issues of women and church leadership is that I have had really terrible experiences with male leaders not fully appreciating situations of abuse. While none of these men really approved of abuse, I believe many of these situations would have been handled much better if the RS president had been involved every step of the way.

    Since I am far from the leadership of the general church, I’ve thought a lot about how to improve things on the local level. I think local leaders can do a lot to make progress on these things. For example, in my stake, most wards have added RS presidents to “PEC.” I think this is a nice step forward, hopefully to be followed by many more. Sometimes I’ve even had the chance to be part of further progress.

  112. Beautiful comment, Thomas Parkin.

  113. Scott B (106) – I find that odd since this whole discussion, to me, centers around things he didn’t actually say. What ideas are particularly problematic in the talk? That he started with a humorous exchange between a boy and his father in which he talks about the father being the ultimate authority? That somehow he’s advocating unrighteous dominion or that husband and wife shouldn’t be equal partners? Because I just don’t get that message from his story. Perhaps I’m being dense, but to me the story highlights the need for father and mother to work together.

    Is it problematic that he states that men and women are different? That he says this: “by divine design, nurturing seems to be part of the spiritual heritage given to women”? My own experience has been that that is often true and I don’t think it’s condescending to say so. Now, that doesn’t mean that men can’t or shouldn’t be nurturing. Nor does it say, to me, that women can only find fulfillment as mothers or that motherhood is the One True Path for women. Nor does it say that nurturing is the only spiritual gift given to women.

    I find that I agree with many of the ideas expressed about having more women in Church leadership. And I would welcome the ordination of women to the priesthood. I personally think the “spiritual heritage” women are given would be of great service to the Church as a whole – and as I said that is not limited just to nurturing.

    And Thomas, RE #107, I can appreciate your feelings – my own mother is one who has “had manifold difficulties.” I don’t wish to downplay the strength of your feelings but, for me, talks like Elder Foster’s help me to see the good in my mother and appreciate those qualities rather than focus on negatives.

  114. It’s not a problem for you, of course, nor is it for a great many women in the church, but it is a problem for some of us

    I understand this, and I should probably be better about expressing my sympathy for those who feel that way. I know the questions and concerns are real. (It’s not that I haven’t had questions myself, although that may be hard to believe.) I would argue that our leaders know it, too.

    think it’s useful to point this out, even if this hierarchical structure is destined not to change.

    Fair enough. I understand the desire to sort through or share frustration or explain why things are hard.

    Here’s where I am coming from, though. I think it’s also useful then to have those who are ok with things to share why without being made offenders for a word. Many of the women I know who are ok and aware of the discussions online don’t want to share their point of view on the blogs where these things are discussed at length because of the hostility that is often found when people do.

    I participate in conversations because 1) I like talking and thinking about these things and 2) I think people come to the internet to know more about Mormonism, and I would like them to know that not all Mormon women are frustrated, and it seems that in the context when frustrations are brought up, that can be helpful.

    I alternate between thinking that is ok with the powers that be here, and thinking that maybe it’s best for me to not jump in at all.

    I’d be most grateful if y’all would just tell me flat out what your feeling is on this. Because if differing points of view are ok, then I would appreciate not being insulted when coming to share mine…because even as my style may annoy some people (and I know it does), I don’t think my perspective is so wildly off from what a majority of women in the Church feel that I deserve to be called an enemy to my sex.

    Or if it’s more of “m&m, others can come but we are tired of you — go away” then just tell me straight out. I get mixed messages, and I would like to know what message you want me to get. You have my email address. Please let me know.


  115. Cynthia–wonderful post. I’m guessing you’re not an old-school scientific programmer, since indexing in Fortran does start at 1.

  116. Indeed, kristine. [wide grin]

  117. (So, maybe for my benefit, sometime, Cynthia, you can do a logic lesson about a topic that is less charged so I can focus more on the lesson (which was interesting) instead of the content?) {avoiding a smiley to avoid the wrath of SE}

  118. All this talk of women being told how valuable we are reminded me of a little gem from the late Utah Phillips:

  119. Brilliant post, Cynthia.

  120. m&m,
    I have a tendency to think that a lot of life is learning to deal with things that are just plain unfair. So, I don’t entirely disagree with your analysis. However, I most certainly believe that men having the priesthood is completely arbitrary (but then I don’t equate it with maleness).


    I agree that there is a lot of good to come from this talk. For Elder Foster, it was a sincere expression of the role good women have played in his life. However, the lengthy human history of women being treating as property and the recent use of “heifer” and such as signifiers of a certain attitude toward women (and women’s lib) means that another analogy could likely have been chosen that didn’t have such associations with it, even admitting that the use of cattle as analogy is not morally wrong or mean-spirited. Frankly, if Elder Foster was 30 years older I’d ascribe the cluelessness of the analogy simply to a generational thing; at present, I ascribe it to a background thing.

    It’s also wrong because, ultimately, all the calves that need to follow their mother are going to get sent to the slaughterhouse, but that’s a whole different issue.

  121. Cherylem says:

    #118, here are the words:

    I was invited to the State Young Writers’ Conference out at Cheney, which was a
    Eastern Washington university. And I didn’t want to embarrass my son, you
    know, and I was gonna behave myself cause I had to live there then – it was a
    chore. But I got on the stage – it was an enormous auditorium; there were
    twenty-seven hundred young faces out there, none of them with any prospects
    anybody could detect – and off to the side of the stage was the suit-and-tie
    crowd of people from the school district and the principals, and the, the main
    speaker following me was from the Chamber of Commerce.

    Well something inside of me snapped.

    And I got to the microphone, and I looked out over that multitude of faces and
    I said something to the effect of:

    “You’re about to be told one more time that you’re America’s most valuable
    natural resource. Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources?
    Have you seen them strip mine? Have you seen a clear-cut in a forest? Have
    you seen a polluted river? Don’t ever let them call you a valuable natural
    resource! They’re gonna strip mine your soul! They’re gonna clear-cut your
    best thoughts for the sake of profit, unless you learn to resist, cause the
    profit system follows the path of least resistance, and following the path of
    least resistance is what makes the river crooked! Hmph!”

    Well there was great gnashing of teeth and rending of garments – mine. I was
    borne to the door, screaming epithets over my shoulder, something to the effect
    of: “Make a break for it, kids!” “Flee to the wilderness!” The one within, if
    you can find it.

    Well, I wrote them a nice letter though, as I oozed out of the state, headed
    for Nevada City. I sent it to their little literary magazine. I respect kids.
    I love especially little kids. Little kids are assholes. But they’re their
    own assholes, see, it’s when they, when you grow up and become somebody else’s
    asshole we’re all in trouble, you know, like bankers or B-52 pilots and such.

  122. Kristine says:

    m&m, part of the problem is that in your eagerness to accomplish your 2), you fail to engage the discussion at hand and simply end up asserting over and over again that all is well in Zion, where the men are benevolent, the women are nurturing, and all the children are above average. It tends to derail interesting conversations.

    I really don’t think anyone who learns anything about Mormons will be under any illusion that all the women are feminists. I don’t think you need to worry so much.

  123. Damn hippies!

  124. Cynthia (108), you should have been able to tell from the use of ~.

  125. m&m, I know you invest a lot of time and energy trying to leaven negativity you perceive in online discussions. I think that’s an admirable goal, in theory. But I believe this disparity in audience (ostensibly you’re addressing blog readers en masse, but in actuality you’re you’re deliberately speaking to a particular subset) causes a lot of misunderstanding. If you want to effectively engage in a conversation, it’s essential to speak directly to those who are conversing, not to those who might be listening. By attempting to influence the tender perceptions of the latter you speak past the former, and that exacerbates the very negativity you’re striving to defuse.

    I say this with respect, acknowledging that you have the very best of intentions and that you weather a great deal of strife in the course of your efforts.

  126. I know I’m really late coming into the discussion here, but work emergencies and having to do things outside of the home will do that… I just had a few thoughts I wanted to throw out there.

    First, I know that this was quite a long time ago, but in response to Natalie (41), nobody who speaks in Conference is given a topic. They are simply given a speaking position and length of time. Speakers pick their topics.

    Second, john f. (46) what is this about women serving as Sunday School Presidents and Executive Secretaries? I don’t see how this is possible, as both callings require the Melchizedek Priesthood.

    The one other thing I wanted to throw out here is that I see a lot of complaints about the male leaders speaking about the roles of women in Conference. The complaints seem to focus on the fact that we have men saying what women should be doing. But then, when we have female leaders speak about the roles of women, there are still complaints. So what is the actual problem? I have a hunch it has nothing to do with the gender of the speaker and everything to do with the content.

    Okay, I lied. One last thing: since we are discussing logic, I must ask this question: why do so many people assume that the leaders of the church believe that women should be nurturers only? I have not heard this in my 27 years. I hear that it is a primary role, but not that it is the only role. I have heard talks about the other roles women have, but nobody seems to discuss those. Why?

  127. Kristine says:

    Name some, Alex. I’m sure we’d be glad to discuss them.

  128. Cynthia L. says:

    #124, excellent point.

    Others, quite enough meta, I think. Surely email is a better medium for any further meta.

  129. For you, Kristine (and Alex)

  130. John C,

    That’s the problem with analogies – they are imperfect and break down eventually. I guess my real issue is that while I agree with many of the ideas presented regarding women and the Church, I find it distracting to use logical fallacies or stretched analogies as springboards for discussion.

    My impression as Elder Foster spoke was that he was very sincere, a bit nervous, and that he was drawing upon his life experience to try and share a message that is important to him. And as I listened to understand what he was trying to teach, I was edified. And I suspect that many members of the Church would feel the same way.

    Quibbling over his use of a cattle analogy (problematic as it may be for some), or focusing on the logical fallacy his gender creates in delivering this message (even though it is there), is likely to distract many members of the Church and detract from the points you’re trying to make.

  131. Kristine says:

    But RTC, that’s precisely the problem. All of the men who give talks and who reinforce the sexist structure of the church are kind and sincere and genuinely believe that they are exalting women. The need to show the problems without attacking their sincerity or their intentions is exactly why we need posts like this one that abstract the issues from the personal intentions of the speaker.

  132. Steve Evans says:

    RTC, when you’re a General Authority your messages should be clear. We shouldn’t have to sift through pained analogies and problematic logic to get the point. I agree that as listeners we need to have charity, which may be your only point, but charity in accepting Elder Foster’s message isn’t difficult (as the O.P. and almost every participant on this thread has demonstrated).

    What’s important to remember is that while we need to understand and accept his message, that doesn’t mean that pointing out the serious problems in his mode of speaking and rhetoric is “quibbling.” It’s addressing a very flawed framework that is pervasive in our discourse.

    You say that you see the problems in Elder Foster’s talk, and understand the central logical fallacy, but I don’t think you do. I mean, you probably cognitively perceive them, but it’s obvious that you don’t care about them, and that they don’t bother you in the least. That may be because you are a dude and aren’t affected by what happens to women. Who knows. But it’s poor form to downplay problems affecting women simply because they don’t affect you.

  133. Steve Evans says:

    Sorry, that came off as harsh, RTC. I don’t mean all the rancor.

  134. I got something entirely different from this. Listen to Elder Monson’s first talk, where he teased about his wife and her power over him. This is the same sort of thing that Elder Foster seemed to foster.

    What I read from this was an alogical statement that, “We are just men caught in an odd, paradoxical condition. Here is how I see myself.”

    In particular, Elder Monson’s talk seemed to reach his great need to humanize himself, which may be Elder Foster’s need, also. I have tried to imagine sitting in Elder Monson’s seat, the one first held by Jesus and then by Joseph. Then think of all of his relationships to other people and his own inward vision of who he is, a man sitting in a high chair. These talks are about setting the perspective straight, both internally and externally.

    In my opinion these are the messages of these talks. It is not logic, it is the limbic brain.

  135. Cynthia L. says:

    My impression as Elder Foster spoke was that he was very sincere, a bit nervous, and that he was drawing upon his life experience to try and share a message that is important to him. And as I listened to understand what he was trying to teach, I was edified. And I suspect that many members of the Church would feel the same way.

    I 100% agree with everything in this paragraph.

    His choice of analogy simply happened to occasion a good “teaching moment” (as a good Mormon mother, I am highly attuned to detecting these!) about a topic I love (logic), and how it can relate to a problem pervasive in our treatment of, and discourse about, women. I believe I did address the simultaneously very narrow and very broad focus of my analysis in the intro of the post, but you chose to overlook or discount that very sincere disclaimer.

  136. RTC, when you’re a General Authority your messages should be clear. We shouldn’t have to sift through pained analogies and problematic logic to get the point.

    Yes, but, just because I like being a pain to Steve I’m going to push back a tiny bit. One thing I really appreciated about Bro. Foster’s talk, probably what I liked most about it, was the simple authenticity and life experience aspect. Some of my favorite conference talks are always the ones from the “unknowns” because they have interesting stories (Elder Choi’s “Loud Boys” from last time–can I get an amen on how awesome that one was?) and because this is their first talk, they can really milk all those great life stories and topics they’re passionate about for all they’re worth.

    This affinity I have for that kind of talk actually relates to the problem of not enough women speakers, and women not having the same authority/stewardship that men do, I think. (By authority/stewardship, I mean like what has been discussed on this thread as a reason women’s talks are more forgettable or only concentrate on women/children.) I think women could easily give a “Loud Boys” talk, or a Bro. Foster talk. I think it would be fun and edifying to hear from random members of the church each conference—a kind of “slice of LDS life” thing. Just like in all the stakes I’ve been in, each stake conference features not just the SP and GA speaking, but also the newest convert in the stake, or a teenager, someone very unlikely like that. We have a lot to learn from each other.

    That said, agreed that that kind of amateurism carries its own risks, vis bad analogies, problematic pseudo-scientific allusions, sketchy doctrine and theology, etc, that Steve noted.

  137. Push away. I don’t think what you’re saying is inconsistent with what I’m saying. Indeed, Elder Choi’s talk was great, and it didn’t have any of the problematic aspects you mention.

  138. I remember the numerous times that President Hinckley spoke of encouraging his wife to pursue her hobbies and interests. I believe the phrase “opening her wings and flying” was used. I have heard many talks encouraging women in the church to seek out higher education, and not plan on relying on their husbands to provide. (This is particularly noteworthy in light of the teaching that husbands are to be the primary providers in the home.) Sheri Dew became (and probably still is) the poster child of the older single sister doing amazing things. And we have the talk that John C. cited above.

    All of this indicates to me that the church recognises and regularly teaches that women are not to just be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. And yet whenever we hear talks that focus on women’s roles as nurturers, we have great crowds getting up in arms about how demeaning it is – even when those who say these things are women.

    I do think we need more talks discussing women in roles other than nurturers. And I also think we need more talks about fathers nurturing their children. We kind of get this when we hear about fathers spending one on one time with their kids, but not nearly as much as I would like.

    I don’t want to come across as someone who thinks that things are great the way they are. There are a lot of places where I think we could see some very healthy change. At the same time, though, I don’t see the situation as dire as some would portray it. And I see a lot less charity being offered toward those who speak in Conference than perhaps we should be willing to give.

  139. Kristine says:

    Alex, it’s very, very different to suggest that a woman should be educated and able to support herself in case of catastrophe, than to encourage her to seriously pursue a profession or avocation.

    And if a wife needs to be encouraged by her husband, rather than believing that it is her divine birthright to pursue her passions, well, that might suggest that something has gone wrong in the cultural conditioning of wifely types, don’t you think?

  140. Kristine, in regards to the latter part of your comment, I totally agree. I shudder every time I hear a young married woman say something about “performing her wifely duties” (in fact, just writing that made me shudder).

    However, I don’t see anything wrong with a husband responding, when someone says, “Why is your wife so awesome?”, by saying that she is awesome because he kept out of her way, which is what I understand Pres. Hinckley said. I never took it as him saying Marjorie was awesome because he encouraged her. I always took it as him saying he encouraged her because there was no way he was going to do anything but encourage her.

  141. Kristine says:

    And yet, if she had wanted to be a chemist, or a pilot, or a diplomat, it is exceedingly unlikely that he would have encouraged her. If her wishes had required that he spend more time parenting, or (heaven forbid) that their children spend some time in non-parental care, she would not be held up as an example in General Conference. The wings can only be spread so far; we don’t really want Mormon women to be the sort of birds that fly very far from the nest.

  142. My daughter, my only daughter, whom I love, is starting to ask questions. Why do only papas baptize, lay hands on heads, while the mamas watch? Why do I bless her littlest brother, hand-to-shoulder with men who hardly know him, while mama can’t even see into the circle? Why do I hold him up for the congregation’s first acclamation?

    So the walk I have dreaded has starts in earnest For all of the light ahead, I knowingly lead her into the shadows. I hope, I pray, the Lord will provide.

  143. Cynthia L. says:

    My daughter also asks those questions. The other day, she asked if we have a Father, if we also have a Mother. She’s five years old.

  144. Perhaps Sister Foster prepared the talk for Brother Foster.

  145. I think it’s interesting that so many of the blogs of the ‘nacle have far more men’s than women’s voices, too. Why is that? I don’t get it. Can anyone explain?

    In a class I was in this past Saturday, there were 3 men and 13 women. We split into 4 groups of 4 each to do an exercise, then a spokesperson from each group in turn told the results. Guess how many of the spokespeople were men? That’s right, 3 out of 4. How did you know?

  146. Cynthia, I’m very late in reading, but I wanted to thank you for an interesting and fun post!

  147. De rien, cher Ziff. An approving word from the patron saint of bloggernacle mathematics is a real honor.

    Tatiana, it’s true and it is a real problem. I think maybe in church women get used to the idea that men are the authority when it comes to the meaty church stuff (doctrine, history), and we mostly excel at the domestic sphere (and of course society at large is hardly free of blame when it comes to branding men as the authoritative and scholarly gender). That plays out in blogging as the big serious blogs being majority men while there is the mommy blogging phenomenon from women. Even within BCC, I find myself perhaps covering “lighter” topics than some of our other permas (this post being one exception), and I think some of the other women feel the same.

  148. Cynthia, I can out “light” post you any day of the week. No one can touch me when it comes to superficial nonsense.

  149. Well I won’t argue with you there, Scott. ;-)

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