There seems to be a wide-spread belief, and one that my personal experience would tend to confirm, that the Relief Society runs more smoothly than its equivalent priesthood quorums.
In the current issue of Atlantic Magazine is an article called, ‘The End of Men.’ Its premise is that men are not navigating the new realities of modern life and modern economies well. It discusses how women are becoming more and more the primary earners in households, are graduating with 60% of university degrees (both masters and bachelors degrees) and 50% of all professional degrees, with men’s percentages falling and women’s rising. It then explores the question, “What would a society in which women are on top look like?”
I would like to pose the same question. But let me give it some context.
Mother’s protect their babies with legendary fierceness. This is well known in the animal kingdom—think mother grizzlies. In some primates, others will help with occasional babysitting—mostly sisters and aunts. Only in humans, a few tamarins and marmosets, however, do other troop members, including males, actively provision other people’s young, few are allowed near them. You don’t touch a mother’s baby. Mothers have a keen sense of who is dangerous and who is not.
At the risk of fostering stereotypes consider the following:
I was traveling in a tourist bus on Route 15 through Jordan’s sparsely vegetated Central Desert, directly south of Amman. We were our way to Petra, to visit the ruins, and then off to the Gulf of Aqaba for some play in the Red Sea. Our group was about half LDS, all out of Germany, where I was serving in the Army. I’d come with my LDS Chaplin (well, it was his daughter I was most interested in, actually). Outside of the bus windows, I could see some of the harshest arid lands in the world. On this life-forsaken stretch of highway, we would occasionally pass a Bedouin camp. Our local guide was a Palestinian Christian and the Chaplin asked if we might meet some of these desert dwellers. Our guide seemed hesitant, but our German tour guide talked him into it (I’d seen him bribe the guards when passing from Israel into Jordan in order to allow us take across the border our Israeli souvenirs, which, at the time, were not legal to bring into Jordan; so I knew he could be ‘persuasive’).
At the next group of tents we stopped. About thirty of us piled out of the bus and marched about 200 meters across the desolate desert landscape (very much like the lands near my home in Moab, UT sans abundant cowpies). As we approached the Bedouin camp, something interesting, and decidedly human, happened. As the two widely different cultures approached each other, all the men in our group pulled to the left and lined up facing the Bedouin men who had gathered to watch our approach. Our local guide and their leader (I presume) started an intensely heated argument/discussion. The two men were yelling at each other, gesticulating wildly, and occasionally slapping their left palm with the fingers of their other hand. It was and still is one of the most heated exchanges can ever remember seeing. All of the Western men, ranging in age from me, the youngest, at nineteen, to the oldest at around seventy, were standing feet apart, arms folded and watching. Occasionally, I would glance at the other line of men across from me. They were standing similarly, eyeing us suspiciously, but like us, mostly focusing on the verbal fight. It was tense, and my adrenaline was spiked. We were lined up facing each other like a couple of ad hoc sports teams.
But the women! The woman had moved over to the far right and were cooing and laughing in delight and passing babies around. Several of the tour group people were bouncing babies and laughing delightfully and saying, “How cute!” and “How Delightful!” There were smiles and laughter everywhere. The group of woman were thoroughly mixed.
The men had instantly lined up in a confrontational way. I don’t mean to say we looked like the Jets and Sharks ready to fight, in fact, I was sure we would not, but we might have to turn around, go back to the bus, and leave them alone. We were, however, tense, arms folded, and no one was smiling. And we had spread out to form two lines across from each other. This was entirely spontaneous. There was no obvious communication between us (‘You take the left, I’ll take the right.’). The women in contrast were in a mingled bunch, there was nothing structuring the way tourists and the Middle-eastern woman were standing or interacting.
Suddenly, the arguing men smiled, laughed and shook hands. Money was exchanged. We all moved spontaneously forward and shook hands with the other group. All was well. It was perfectly clear what had happened. We could now enjoy each other’s association.
What was so fascinating is how two groups of humans, across vastly different cultures and traditions immediately fell into, what look like to me now, ancient and well understood patterns of behavior. And what is most amazing, in light of a mothers fiercest instinct to protect their children, is that the mothers passed their babies to complete strangers. All they knew about them was that they were women.