The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol.  When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines.  I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene.  I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts.  She agreed with me, and I got the part! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.  In order to pass the Bechdel test, a work has to contain:

  1. Two or more named female characters
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something other than a man

Given this year’s course of study in gospel doctrine, how does the Book of Mormon fare?  Well, it may surprise you to know that there are 87 references to women in the Book of Mormon.  Wait for it.  Only 3 of them are named:  Sariah, Abish, and Isabel the Harlot [3].  That means that 96.6% of the women in the Book of Mormon fail the first Bechdel criterion.  Not only are they not named, but most of them are only named in reference to a man, a seeming further violation of criterion #3.  Some of my favorites:

  • daughters (28 references)
  • women (18 references)
  • wife or wives (17 references)
  • wives & concubines (6 times)
  • women & children as a group (4 times)
  • References made twice for wives and daughters, widows, and queens
  • Only one reference each for the following: sisters, mother, maid servant, mothers & daughters, girls, wives & children, and widows & daughters.

Finally, another woman to talk to!

My personal favorite is Nephi’s wife.  I mean he waxes prolific about speaking with the tongue of an angel, but he never once refers to his own wife by name.  Dude.  It’s also interesting to note the several instances of referring to daughters as “fair” in the Book of Mormon, a word meaning both light-skinned and attractive.  The Book of Ether is particularly daughter-centric, citing daughters both fair and unspecified, for a book that doesn’t name any women.  And by the end of the Book of Mormon, some of these unnamed women are fairly fierce warriors, uniting against the Gadianton robbers, being killed in the Jaredite battle, and taking up arms to fight.  But I’m pretty sure that Angelina Jolie isn’t going to take a role called Riplakesh’s concubine, no matter how much street justice she gets to dispense.

This lack of naming is why none of the three women who are named can have a conversation with another named woman, because they are all from different parts of the book and don’t interact.

Apparently, the Book of Mormon musical also fails the Bechdel test with only two named female characters who don’t interact.  There are also zero women in the creative team.  Behind every failed Bechdel test is a privileged male writer who doesn’t notice the lack of women or worse, who thinks that women don’t put butts in seats.  But I digress.

Behind every great baby is a great mother, er co-redemtrix.

The Bible squeaks by thanks to the book of Ruth, although the sexual content in chapter 3 gives one pause.  The book of Esther deserves an honorable mention because she’s awesome and the obvious hero of the story, but she doesn’t talk to any other named women.  There are also two brief conversations in Mark and Luke that mostly qualify:

  • In Mark 16: 1-3, Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome (a disciple of Jesus) go to the tomb together.  In verse 3:  “And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?”  Yes!  Women, talking to each other, about a stone.  We don’t know who said what, but there it is.
  • In Luke 1: 39-55 Mary and Elisabeth meet and discuss their pregnancies.  Mary opines about the mercies of God.  Now, this one’s iffy because they are talking about their male offspring and God who is male, but they are also talking about religion and being blessed more broadly, so a case could be made for it. [4]

The most obvious reason scriptures often fail the Bechdel test is that they were written by men, then edited and copied by men, some of whom had taken a vow of celibacy and saw marriage as a weakness.  Women are often absent from history books.  It occurred to me today that Gospel Doctrine class is basically a book club.  Which got me thinking how much better the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it.  But that’s another post, for another day.

Discuss.

[1] And I’ve been Scrooge ever since.

[2] For a primer on other feminist terms, see this post.

[3] Classic.  Note that nobody calls Corianton a Man-Ho, but last I heard it takes two to tango, bub.

[4] Any port in a storm, folks.

Comments

  1. ‘It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man having been born of goodly parents and having been taught somewhat in the learning of his fathers must be in need of a wife….’

    I think a Jane Austen edition of the Book of Mormon would make for a lovely read.

  2. Thanks, Angela. It’s startling sometimes just how male-saturated even very mundane passages of scriptures can be. Here’s one of the passages the youth Sunday school lesson cites for this week, each male reference marked with asterisk:

    3 And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My *sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of *God [marked only because later God gets a male pronoun so by the text this is not inclusive].

    4 For it were not possible that our *father, *Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for *he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore *he could read these engravings, and teach them to *his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of *God, even down to this present time.

    5 I say unto you, my *sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of *God, that we might read and understand of *his mysteries, and have *his commandments always before our eyes, that even our *fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our *brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their *fathers, which are not correct.

    6 O my *sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of *Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.

    7 And now, my *sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of *God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the *Lord made unto our *fathers.

    21 to 0.

    Zero. Not one female name, pronoun, or family relationship title.

  3. Oh and I missed one. There’s another “fathers” in verse 6.

  4. Kristine A says:

    #ScripturesSoMale

  5. hinduFriend says:

    This seems like a strange topic to focus on for a group already suffering from severe male drop-out problems. “Churchianity” isn’t doing too well, folks.

  6. I am pretty sure that the LDS male drop-out problem won’t be solved by writing more women out of the scriptures. :)

  7. Even more modern day scripture: 1 day during personal study on my mission I tired to see if there were any quotes from women in Preach My Gospel. Zero. I think it may reference sister missionaries once or twice. But… There are pictures of sisters-so we’re good!

  8. Petebusch,
    That is because sister missionaries are mainly to be seen. Any teaching they do is merely coincidental. As my mission president said to my companion once, “you could just stand on the street corner and smile and that would be more than enough missionary work.”

  9. Katelyn Hazel says:

    I’m always amused in Relief Society when incredibly male-centric scriptures and conference quotes are applied directly to us as women, with zero acknowledgement of the gender difference. It results in some weird sentences, like, “It says here that men should… I do this by…” (Not a great example, but I can’t think of the ones I’ve heard.) I’m in a YSA ward and I wonder if this female adoption of male-directed passages is influenced by growing up hearing that we can do anything men can, etc.

    For a church that is so insistent on gender differences, the lack of female voices and role models absolutely baffles me. Gender differences would be an easier pill to swallow if we actually talked about Heavenly Mother, etc.

  10. “you could just stand on the street corner and smile and that would be more than enough missionary work.” Gross.

  11. You forgot two more women that are mentioned by name: Mother Eve and Mary, mother of Jesus. Still, only 5 women is a poor showing.

  12. Rigo: Point taken, but yeah. I figured since they are not “characters” in the BOM but are mentioned in their Biblical role, they didn’t really qualify since they don’t interact with anyone.

  13. “I think a Jane Austen edition of the Book of Mormon would make for a lovely read.”

    We going BBC Jane Austen or Kiera Knightley with this?

    I’m sure written down somewhere is the Gender Prime Directive which I’m about to violate by suggesting – most definitely not telling – the womenz folk to find a great way to sell it. Have the Promised Land be a continent of highly sophisticated, capable, intelligent women just kinda waiting around for the Men folk to show up and do something useful (useful along the lines of move heavy furniture, etc, etc, etc) Just don’t call the womenz Mormon Women because that’s entirely too blatant and obvious. But definitely hire the female equivalent of Arnold Friberg to paint the 200 year Priestesses to look like twenty year old fitness models, because, well, that sells. Don’t worry about getting the specific clothing right either, but definitely something between Roman times and Wonder Women. Also, attention spans are WAY shorter with the young guys these days so no wandering around lost for a long time with a lot of murmuring.

    Thanks. Just a suggestion.

  14. 2 Nephi 8:2 mentions Sarah, wife of Abraham. But she isn’t character in the story either. Plus, that is one of the Isaiah chapters. Anyway, in total six women with name (and only three of them part of the storyline). That’s not a lot.

  15. It’s a very different culture and time. You can’t create a test in one culture, apply it to another and presume it tells the same information.

    What it tells you, is not that the culture or work fails, but that the test fails.

    Btw, the men are defined by their relationship to their fathers, another indication that the test itself is flawed when considering virtually anything other than the progenitors culture; and it’s probably not good for that either.

  16. Funny, because just last week I used the Bechdel test for my ‘leadership training moment’ in YW Presidency meeting (I’m the secretary). I talked about how female relationships in media – especially media aimed at teenage girls – are often either absent or poorly depicted. Therefore it’s extremely important for a YW presidency to show unity, and even that we *like* each other, despite being from different backgrounds and at different stages in life.

    I think it’s really unfortunate that the Relief Society has been stripped of so much autonomy. There was a time when the world’s largest women’s organization was able to elect its own (female) officers, raise and manage its own funds, etc. I kind of wish I had been alive then.

  17. Kevin Christensen says:

    In 1998, my wife (Shauna) and I did a careful study of every state verse and passage in the Book of Mormon that describes or includes women (around 50 pages of material) and came to this conclusion:
    “In researching this essay, we have realized that when women move from the background to the foreground in the Book of Mormon they typically do so for three reasons:

    * to highlight profoundly archetypal situations
    * to show the mutual dependence and independent agency of men and women
    *to emphasize that the promises and obligations of the gospel apply equally to men and women

    There is a consistency and deliberation in this on the part of the authors that suggests a positive intent and attitude.”

    FWIW

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  18. EBK: that story is horrifying.

    Gman might (*might*) have a point if reading the scriptures were purely an exercise in historicism. Unfortunately for his argument, a significant portion of the scriptures’ relevance depends on present application, and well over half of the people doing said application are female. That interpretive dynamic (women reading scriptures in which women are severely underrepresented) merits more discussion than it receives in our culture.

    Don’t get me wrong: I believe pretty strongly in the value of investigating the historical context of the scriptures, but a historian’s job is never simply to recover the strangeness of the past, but extends to making that strangeness intelligible to readers in the present. As recent generations of historians understand very well, that involves complex acts of translation on the part of the historian. The scriptures emerged from patriarchal cultures; seeing that as such is simply part of living in a less patriarchal culture (which is true even of conservative Mormonism, which believes in things like egalitarian marriage).

  19. Gman: “It’s a very different culture and time. You can’t create a test in one culture, apply it to another and presume it tells the same information.” To wit: https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/06/18/congrats-you-have-an-all-male-panel-allmalepanel/

    I should clarify that I am not proposing we rewrite the history of humanity or that we add female characters to scripture, just that we should be aware that most scripture doesn’t name many women or speak about their experience, and even when they are actors, they are often unnamed and not fleshed out. It’s an observation all women have had to deal with that most men are less aware of as with my 5th grade school play.

    The fact that our scriptures codify cultural sexism and the absence of female voices is only exacerbated by the absence of female voices that the church is beginning to recognize (very slowly) and rectify (very little). If the gospel really is for all, a few more stories about women and a few more talks by women couldn’t hurt.

  20. “EBK: that story is horrifying”
    In my mission president’s defense, from what I hear, he greatly improved the treatment of sisters in his tenure. He started in the mission about 4 months before I did. When I arrived, I was told by both Elders and Sisters that before his time there was a lot of animosity toward the sisters. He came in and changed that. He also told all the Bishops in the mission that they had to invite the sisters to PEC. When he said that to my companion he was attempting to comfort her at a time when she felt that her mission was not going as she had envisioned. And she found it comforting. I was horrified at the idea that in his mind her pretty face was her greatest missionary tool, but I was even more horrified that this made her feel better. Yay for benevolent sexism.

  21. Ryan Mullen says:

    The more I learn about the BoM translation, the more I’m convinced that if it were translated today, most (all?) of those women would be named. Or as Brigham Young put it:

    “Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings.” JoD 9:331

  22. Robin DeSpain says:

    Kind of off topic, but… For those that may be interested. There is a book that is being researched and written by Ardis E. Parshall, “She Shall Be an Ensign”. A history of the LDS church from women’s POV. Frankly I find it sad that the Church isn’t doing something like this and making it the lesson book for the RS. This, to me, is what we as women should be studying in that meeting. OUR past, OUR sisterhood. Anyway, just wanted to share that the stories are out there.

  23. Thank you Robin. I wasn’t going to mention my book (it’s progressing well, by the way), but note that the Bechdel test should be applied to the Doctrine and Covenants, too — maybe Angela already plans to do that. None of the excuses that have been offered for the absence of women in the Book of Mormon — oh, hey, it’s an ancient culture, give ’em a break! — apply.

  24. EBK: Thanks for the clarification. Hooray for benevolent sexism!

    Ardis: I’m glad to hear the book is coming along nicely. It’s a much-needed project. And good point about the D&C.

  25. Lew Scannon says:

    One interesting fact about the Book of Mormon that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere is that it’s actually the Nephites whose women are forgotten and shoved to the background, much more so than the Lamanites. Think about all the positive stories about women in the BoM (all two or three of them). How many involve Nephite women? Can’t think of any, unless you count one of the daughters of Ishmael, who probably becomes Nephi’s wife, pleading for Nephi’s life when L&L get abusive on the trek back to camp. But that’s before the big split. Under the Lamanite category, we have the wife of King Lamoni (unnamed but very positive), Abish (also very positive), the mothers of the 2,000 stripling warriors, and, well, can’t think of any others off the top of my head. But 3 to 0 is pretty lopsided. Even more lopsided if you give the Nephites a -1 for Isabel the Harlot. Even Mother Sariah (who precedes the split) was more a whiner than a positive role model. The Lamanite king’s wife, who ends up being deceived by and marrying Amalickiah, is at least a figure of power (Amalickiah needs her in order to solidify his usurpation of the crown). We see no comparable figures on the Nephite side. Did King Benjamin have a wife? Apparently, since he had three sons, but she is never mentioned. Same with all other kings’ or chief judges’ wives. Among the colony of Zeniff, women end up playing a significant role, but as human shields, not as individuals with personalities and positive qualities.

  26. Thanks for this post. I guess I wonder what and how then do we teach our women and young girls about their place in the gospel (beyond mother, daughter). I know there are books that champion the few women in scriptures, and I do appreciate those, but like you say, the lack of actual dialogue and action makes it hard to really teach much and I don’t want to teach my daughter that her place will always be mere speculation. Lately I feel like I have grown so exhausted of only hearing the male pronoun in many of the spiritual circumstances I find myself. More and more it feels like the absence of women is flashing in neon lights and I don’t quite know what to do about it or if the other women around me find it bothersome (obviously not in this blog space). Do you have any good ideas or suggestions on teaching girls with the scriptures?

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
    ― Abinadi before King Noah (also Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)

  28. Kevin Christensen says:

    Incidentally, the point of Nephi telling the story of Sariah’s complaint was not to depict her as a whiner, but to liken her to notable woman of faith, the Widow of Zarapeth, who similarly offered all she had to God, subsequently appeared to have lost her son, complained to Elijah, was given similar comfort from the prophet, had her lost son restored, and bore a similar testimony. For those who pick up on the allusiveness in the story (taking clues in technique from Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative), this becomes very clear. I’ve written it up a few times.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    “I have not the pleasure of understanding you.”
    ― Alma to Korihor after he was struck dumb [Alma 30:50] (also Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”
    — Lehi to Nephi when the liahona wouldn’t work (also Jane Asten, Mansfield Park)

  31. Clark Goble says:

    Kevin, one thing that’s difficult to understand is why Nephi (and thereafter the Nephite writers) are so uninterested in women in their narratives. Clearly Nephi recognizes notable texts with women such as the allusion you mention. Yet it is also undeniable that women are excluded in a fashion we’d call sexist. One possibility I’ve mentioned (and this probably isn’t the thread for that) is the place of Josiah and his reforms and how Jeremiah (and presumably by extension Lehi and Nephi) viewed them.

  32. Relevant in a sexist way, if not a Bechdel way: Last night my boyfriend told me that on his mission he was told multiple times by leadership that the more people he baptized, the prettier his future wife would be.

    Was anyone else told crap like this on their missions?! How pervasive is this?

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    Morthodox, while I was never told such a thing, I’ve heard lots of stories of missionaries being told this in a misguided effort to “motivate” them.

  34. I used to believe that the Book of Mormon was the most correct Book ever written. And that a man would get closer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book, that is, until I learned that it didn’t pass the Bechdel test. Now I *know* that it is the most correct book ever written.

    Deep thoughts by Jack.

  35. Morthodox, that’s a meme that has long wings and legs across many missions and many generations of the Church but was most predominantly preached during the 80s and 90s. It still flies in some areas even today.

    As for anyone trying to ask the question why are the scriptures, even largely including the D&C so sexist, that is a 21st century question of 1st century and prior cultures. Why would any of this be surprising? You can’t change the past all you can impact is the here and now and influence the language patterns and narratives of the future. What are the narratives we tell today? Who are the modern day heroines of moral strength that we model for our young women?

    Scriptures were written by men. Some day perhaps we’ll find that the sealed portions were all the more insightful parts written by women.

  36. “the Book of Mormon was the most correct Book ever written. And that a man would get closer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book”

    There is no mention of how a woman might get closer to God.

  37. your food allergy is fake says:

    My wife is super hot and I baptized only like one person.

  38. Eponymous,

    Who are the modern day heroines of moral strength that we model for our young women?

    I daresay that young men, as well as young women, need modern day heroines. Here’s a good example. Dr. Sanjay Gupta – The women who changed my life.

  39. Clark Goble says:

    Morthodox while that gets told a reasonable amount, like Kevin says it’s usually a motivational tactic and is usually done somewhat tongue in cheek. I can understand people being upset about it, but at the same time I think the idea is that you’ll find a spouse you are attracted to. Whether one wants to admit it or not most 19 year old men/boys are generally a somewhat superficial lot and worry about appearance more than other qualities.

    Eponymous, I certainly agree we read texts in an unfair fashion as we apply contemporary culture to them. At the same time I think it’s fair to ask why God didn’t push for a more egalitarian culture amongst the Nephites. My typical response is that just by the standards of the text writers Nephite culture wasn’t exactly praised until after Christ comes. Most frustratingly there are no descriptions by design of what the utopia after Christ was like. Just some pretty brief summations until we get back into utterly unredeemable Nephite culture again that is condemned by Mormon. As to why we are only given a pretty bad cultural presentation I think that’s an interesting topic all on its own. I’d note that not only does the text condemn this, but even Jesus has to force the Nephites to even mention one of the greatest prophets, Samuel the Laminate. So it’s undeniable by the standards of the text that Nephite culture, nearly from the start, is racist and sexist. (Remember Jacob – and he’s still first generation Nephite condemning Nephite culture as ridiculously sexist)

    I don’t think by any standard is Nephite culture worthy of emulation. Rather I see it as a type warning for our own culture.

    We should also note that while all ancient scripture is sexist by contemporary standards, some texts do much, much better than others.

  40. Admin, can you help me out? I messed up the link. Dr. Sanjay Gupta – The women who changed my life.

  41. I agree with Clark’s comment that the Book of Mormon does not hold up Nephite culture as worthy of praise or emulation. Jacob in particular is a pretty clear example, and Mormon and Moroni also talk about the wickedness of the Nephites.

    It’s worth noting, also, that in the revelations of Joseph Smith, the Lord speaks of the Book of Mormon as the record of “a fallen people,” and specifically warns “beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.” I’m not aware of any positive references to the Nephites that would balance against these negative ones.

  42. Sariah was not a “whiner.” The text uses the word “complain,” which etymologically means to beat the breast in mourning. Considering that she believes her sons are dead, it’s an appropriate response. If anything, she’s a model of faithful questioning leading to increased testimony.

  43. Jared vdH says:

    Morthodox, in my mission it was said but in a strongly tongue-in-cheek/derisive manner towards that type of thinking. Or maybe that was just my reading of it and some of the people were serious, I’m not certain.

  44. Yes, please give Sariah a break. If Sariah’s a whiner, so is Lehi, and so is Nephi, for that matter, for all the complaining he does about everyone else’s whining.

  45. Ashmae: “Do you have any good ideas or suggestions on teaching girls with the scriptures?” Well, you’ve heard my solution. Put on your grandfather’s hat and try out for the role of Scrooge. That sounds like a very second wave solution, which dates me accurately.

    I guess I would say we have to write our own roles for the future. What’s uncomfortable is that the world in which we live continues to become less and less sexist, but the sexism of the past is encoded in the church as well as engraven in the hearts and minds of many of our male leadership as the will of God.

  46. Morthodox, very pervasive idea. I heard that from mission leadership, but it was generally “The harder you work….” One zone leader even had a wedding announcement from an elder he considered to be less than righteous, and he’d show it off as an example of “if you don’t work hard, this might be the best you can do.” Same zone leader gave us a stern lecture about how criticizing him was a violation of temple covenants, so disagreeing with him was making the Atonement worse on Jesus.

  47. “Same zone leader gave us a stern lecture about how criticizing him was a violation of temple covenants, so disagreeing with him was making the Atonement worse on Jesus.” LOLZ. Srsly, this more or less makes my day.

  48. Morthodox says:

    Considering I’m a lifelong member and have only now heard of the cultural phenomenon that high baptisms are directly proportional to hotness of future wife, it reconfirms to me how if you can’t consider a things presence, you can’t consider it’s absence. This is why we need to talk about sexism– and all the other “isms”–more than ever.

    May shibboleths fall.

  49. Clark Goble says:

    Michael there’s no doubt tons of stupid missionaries. Although looking back with a bit more maturity it’s hard not to be a little more sympathetic given that these are typically very young men thrown into positions they have no training or maturity for. Complaining about immaturity among people who are quite literally immature gets to be a bit pointless quickly. Heaven knows I’d hate to be judged by all my many weaknesses from that period. I did the best I could which frequently wasn’t enough.

  50. “Adam and Eve fell that humankind, male and female might be.” I’ve taught many a RS lesson and if a scripture is too male centric, I change it. We should understand when it applies to women as well as men, but some of us are just too literal.

  51. Michael had at least one zone leader who was an idiot, and that proves that the “work hard and you’ll land a hot wife” nonsense was “pervasive.” No, that would be “very pervasive.” Which makes me wonder if there’s any other kind of pervasiveness.

    I don’t know how many stupid things have come out of the mouths of zone leaders or mission president or their wives, but I don’t know that the three anecdotes we’ve heard constitute data.

  52. I wouldn’t discount Mary’s presence in the Book of Mormon – she’s unnamed when Nephi and King Benjamin talk about her, but Alma deems her worthy to mention by name. I’m still unsure of why King Lamoni was so excited to tell his wife that Christ would be born of a woman – maybe he thought she’d be more interested?

    Women have only been considered full human beings in Western Civilization in the last 150 years or so. Many places in the world still haven’t gotten that far. Heck, women still haven’t hit the century mark on getting the right to vote even in the United States. We’re working against 99% of human history here.

  53. I will testify, though, that having names to work with is important to young women. I was one of those girls that had the names “Eve, Sarah, Mary, Sariah, Abish, Isabel” up on my wall when I was a teenager. It was important to me to have those names memorized.

  54. To Ashmae’s great question: Similar to Ann above, if I am reading a scripture in a lesson or to my children I will make it gender inclusive. I am the Primary Music Leader and I will do the same when teaching songs to my primary. For example: the song book talks about how children all over the world are “each saying ‘thank-you’ in his own special way”. My kids sing “each saying ‘thank-you’ in their own special way”. Whenever I give a talk or teach a lesson I use at least one quote from or story about a woman. And some characters in the Book of Mormon get gender-swapped when I read to my kids. Sons and Daughters of Helaman FTW. And when someone repeats something like the ‘harder you work hotter your wife” platitude I snort derisively.

  55. but some of us are just too literal.

    True … but certain passages do seem to refer to men as men, others are inclusive of all humanity, and some are ambiguous. Whether we take a passage too literally or not depends on how sure we are that we know whom it concerns.

    Modern example rather than ancient scripture: I choked while reading a talk by David O. McKay where he gave counsel to “each and every member of the Church” on how to treat their wives. How certain should I be that his other references to Church members in that talk or during that conference or throughout his ministry were inclusive of women?

  56. Another recommendation is to highlight those women who were notable outside of their roles as wives and mothers of important men. Lucy Mack Smith, Mary Fielding Smith, and so many others are usually referenced because of their faithful examples to prominent sons. Often pioneer women are extolled for supporting their husbands – by holding down the fort while husbands were away on missions or other church work. At a stake women’s conference awhile back the keynote speaker was the wife of an apostle. Somehow, I don’t think a men’s meeting would ever put in a position of honor the husband of one of the general auxiliary leaders.

    As far as scriptures go, I think the Old Testament and Gospel of Luke are the best places to mine for stories of women displaying faithfulness outside of family roles.

  57. Ardis said exactly what I wanted to say, only better. This isn’t just a thing that happened in the past either. The recent LDS newsroom article about whether or not the church was going to continue it’s relationship with boy scouts cited that fully 1/2 of the youth of church could not participate in Boy Scouts due to living outside of countries where it is available. It completely ignored that more than 1/2 of youth cannot participate due to their gender. Before that article I never thought I would need to question whether “youth” included young women.

  58. “Women have only been considered full human beings in Western Civilization in the last 150 years or so.”

    Mary Ann, it’s much worse than that — try since the 1970s or so. Not sure on the exact date that coverture was finally abolished but considering women full legal and moral agents in their own right cannot coexist with coverture.

  59. Bet this will get deleted says:

    I wouldn’t use a test that originated from a comic strip about the relationship problems of lesbians to judge Holy Scripture but I’m just a Mormon woman, not a Mormon feminist.

    Also I find applying modern notions of sexual equality to ancient civilizations nonsensical. The past is a different country.

  60. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s a good little essay about coverture for those who are new to the term:

    https://www.nwhm.org/blog/coverture-the-word-you-probably-don%E2%80%99t-know-but-should/

  61. Also I find applying modern notions of sexual equality to ancient civilizations nonsensical. The past is a different country.

    How do you feel about getting your notions of theology from ancient civilizations? At what date does it become sensical to take scripture seriously?

  62. This may be simply rephrasing Ardis’ point above, and others (in which case, I apologize in advance) but in this whole discussion I keep thinking that I don’t hear “ancient civilization” or “different times” when the minimal naming, appearance, and role of women in the scriptures is used to make a case against ordaining women, to argue that women should not participate in Church leadership, to define “essential” gender roles, and to specify approved and not approved marriage patterns. The Bechdel test is just one way (of many) to say that the scriptures are not very supportive of women. That seems indisputable. What to do about it is an interesting discussion.

  63. “a talk by David O. McKay where he gave counsel to “each and every member of the Church” on how to treat their wives.” Spit take.

  64. Clark Goble says:

    Ardis, I think we have to be careful theologically as well. Just compare theology as understood by most scholars as representing a lot of 1st century variation with our own revealed theology especially in the D&C.

  65. “You cannot feminize the church and keep the men, and you cannot keep the children if you do not keep the men.” Interesting statistics from a Protestant source.

    Read more:http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-05-024-v#ixzz3yJzwGY2a

    See also http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Home-Page-News-and-Views/Why-is-the-Episcopal-church-near-collapse.aspx

  66. My mission president regularly taught that the beauty of our future wives would be proportional to our obedience as missionaries. And he was not kidding. Does that skew the data enough Mark B.?

  67. Of course we need to use ancient scripture and be careful how we do it, in all its aspects and with all the tools we can bring to it — that’s the point of my comment. I challenged the unknown commenter with the sarcastic handle regarding his/her misuse of “the past is a different country.” The meaningful aspects of ancient scripture are just as old as the objectionable aspects, so you need an argument other than “it’s old” to dismiss this but not that.

  68. john f. and Kevin – I always love learning new stuff, but that was depressing. We’re going on less than 50 years of full personhood status. Fabulous.

  69. “your food allergy is fake says:
    My wife is super hot and I baptized only like one person.”

    “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how [hot shall be your wife.]”

  70. I’m kind of surprised that none of the comments have yet mentioned Carol Lynn Pearson’s 1996 Sunstone Article, “Could Feminism Have Saved the Nephites” (https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/101-32-40.pdf) or it’s many rebuttals (i.e. http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/review/10/2/S00004-51b758b766fda4Christensen.pdf), both of which tend to come up in these conversations. I’m personally inclined to agree with Grant Hardy’s assessment of Nephite sexism in his “Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide” – See p. 44-50 “Telling Omissions” for suggestions about how Nephi’s family life may have been omitted because it was incompatible with the themes Nephi wanted to promote in his writing. (If, for example Nephi’s wife and children chose to remain with the Lamanites when the split occurred, for which it’s easy to argue.) From the very beginning Lamanites seem more inclined to treat women as autonomous beings with inherent human value than the Nephites, I’ve never seen that pattern changed in the text or that interpretation of it contradicted effectively.

  71. This article explains one of the many reasons why I find myself asking God everyday “Is there a place for me, as a woman, in thy kingdom? Do I as a woman have access to the same spiritual experiences as my brothers? Do my spiritual experiences matter as much as my brothers experiences? And if they do, why are they silenced and forgotten?”

  72. Kevin Christensen says:

    For the record, I don’t think of “Nephite Feminism Revisited” (the 1998 article I alluded to above) as a rebuttal to Carol Lynn Pearson’s Sunstone essay that Emily mentions, but a response. She raised some important questions. We tried to answer them by taking a closer look at the text and context. I think the results provide good news.

  73. I love the scriptures. However, I am often embarrassed reading them with my daughters. I worry about how long it will be before they notice they aren’t being addressed.

  74. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Does this mean that the Book of Mormon was not translated by the power of God???

  75. Reading a gender neutral translation of the Bible was really powerful to me. Since then, when I read the scriptures with my children, who are all girls by the way, I either change the words to be gender neutral or replace them with female pronouns.

    However, as pointed out above, how do you know when it’s exclusively male and not female? All verses in D&C about the priesthood are male, which is an argument against ordaining women. Does that mean that all the pronouns are not universal? How on earth are we supposed to know which ones are universal and which ones are male exclusive?

    It’s pretty depressing.

  76. When a newlywed spoke in my Rexburg ward he joked he mast have been super obedient comparatively to other RMs to earn such a hot wife; the wife loved it, the ward cracked up.
    Me: -_-

  77. That is a serious cultural sickness, Kristine A — I am sorry that you experienced what can only be described as unconscious performance art in 2016.

  78. I admit, I laughed when a brother in my ward declared from the pulpit that his wife must have really slacked off on HER mission, because she ended up with him.

    My husband was told the same thing on his mission – the harder you work, the hotter your wife – but insists that it was never anything more than a joke. But the idea of women as prizes is sort of endemic to Christianity. One of the first (and biggest) cracks in my shelf came while watching the temple video and noticing the way that Eve is created and handed to Adam as sort of the world’s first birthday present.

  79. We were all told that on our missions. Even in the 1990s some of us were capable of rejecting it as nonsense.

    I truly feel sorry for the men who believed it as a Gospel truth just because a Mission President uttered it. I feel sorry for them not because I worry that it didn’t come true for them (every man presumably married someone who was the most attractive person in the world to him, I hope) but because it means that a sexist trope without any redeeming qualities became culturally ingrained in the way they perceived cause and effect or consequences of actions in the Gospel. And a woman was an effect or consequence of a particular action. This reduces women to an object to the same extent as pornography does. Of course you don’t have the graphic images that tend to lower men’s inhibitions to commit sins but you have the same underlying problem of viewing women as a thing to possess for a man’s gratification. (Not to mention it reinforces the doctrinally incorrect notion that outward physical beauty, measured by society’s standards, is anything remotely relevant to the Restored Gospel.) It’s a real shame.

  80. Back to women in the scriptures, I think we often operate with a fundamentally bad premise. We believe that if God has an ideal way of doing things, it should have been revealed to ancient cultures. That’s not really how it works. The Pharisees assumed that their understanding of the Law of Moses was how God always wanted his people to act. Christ disagreed, and said there was a better way. Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians dictated that life should be lived according to first century biblical standards, but with the Enlightenment people started searching for better ways. We see the establishment of the United States as divinely inspired, even though prophets weren’t directly involved (King Mosiah in the BoM wasn’t inspired to form a democratic society until he was practically forced to). Feminism came out of the same secular ideas of the Enlightenment. The early Mormon feminists were allowed to actively participate in the feminist movement mainly because the church was being accused that polygamy oppressed women. Once polygamy was out of the picture (and the accompanying accusations of oppression), the church backed off encouraging feminist goals. The church’s reaction in the 20th century has gone back to the traditional reasoning, “Things have always been done this way, so this is the way God wants it.”

    It was that exact same reasoning that caused the Nephites to start practicing polygamy in Jacob’s lifetime (because David and Solomon did it). It was a major part of the reasoning in D&C 132 for polygamy (because God commanded Abraham to do it, so it needs to be restored). God specifically stated in the BoM that polygamy was NEVER the ideal even though it was sometimes allowed, but you still had church leaders teaching that it was. “If God is telling us to do this now, and others were told to do it in the scriptures, clearly it’s the way things are done in heaven.”

    We have scripture stating “Things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (D&C 128:18) and “Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof.” (D&C 101:32-33). It would be a mistake to teach our daughters that those in the scriptures always had our same understanding of gender relationships today. And it would be a mistake to teach our daughters that they won’t have a better understanding in the future.

  81. The British version apparently has it that the wetter you get (on account of all that being out in the rain) the hotter the wife… uttered by the mission president’s wife of all people, speaking at stake conference just a couple of years or so ago. Appalled.

  82. b00tstrap says:

    I’ve often wondered what a gender-bent Book of Mormon might look like:

    http://pastebin.com/tkbwu65q

  83. Clark Goble says:

    While this can be damaging nonsense I also think people are overreacting a bit that people want to date attractive people – which is pretty common and not intrinsically sexist. (Maybe some people think it is – I don’t know) Also wanting to be in a relationship of a certain type does not intrinsically mean the other person in the relationship is somehow an object or something like pornography.

  84. Clark (at 2:59), you should have stopped at “damaging nonsense.” There’s no redeeming a bad joke(??) that makes a pretty woman a prize in a church contest and physical attractiveness a product or characteristic of righteousness. Just damaging nonsense.

  85. Clark Goble says:

    Again, I think the responses are going well beyond that to something more.

  86. Maybe it was Mormon who pulled out all of the references to women.

  87. Ashmae: Are you familiar with the “Girls Who Choose God” books? There’s one for the Bible and a recent one for the Book of Mormon. The artwork and stories are great, and my 5 year old really likes them. At times it feels like the authors had to stretch in some of the stories, but I like that it’s an entire book devoted to examples of faithful women in the scriptures.

    Valerie Hudson quotes:
    “I think it is important that women aspire to being something other than their brothers…I don’t think it’s the optimal aspiration for women. But, for us to aspire to something else, we need to know Her. We need to understand Her powers, Her authorities, and we need to understand the steps of the great dance that the divine male and the divine female are engaged in.”

    “I taught at BYU for 25 years and while there I saw our daughters…they’re hurting. They’re hurting because they don’t know who they are. And the way our religion is currently constructed is of powerful men of authority, and oh, these women. That’s how it appears to them. And unless we do the hard work of excavation and restoration, you will lose them…..They are going to be lost because they don’t understand. They know they have a Mother in Heaven. But they can’t talk about Her. Nobody knows anything about Her…..How long can you expect these intelligent, bright daughters of ours to keep running on fumes.”

  88. I get frustrated when the women who ARE named in scriptures…even the good ones, are down graded. Sariah is a whiner, and for me much harder…we completely deny, ignore, downgrade Deborah and Huldah (assuming we know who she is at all).

    I noticed the 1/2 the youth thing too.

    there is the odd place of the relief society or women session of conference..off the weekend and not really a session at all.

    We had a young girl ask about activity days last week. why is it only twice a month when cubscouts is every week. It’s a very simple thing. a very small question.

    I do try to make scriptures inclusive, but I struggle hard to know when they are meant to be actually inclusive.

    one of my lovely mission memories consists of the Branch President looking over and around my companion and I to see where the missionaries were. He was wondering-hoping, we had delivered the missionaries, because he was promised missionaries. and got…us. good times.

    back to the scriptures. I find it safest to focus on Christ. He is very inclusive and doesn’t care about social norms. He has very female centered parables and likens himself to a nursing woman or a chicken gathering her hens. He understands and there is safety there.

    outside of that…sigh. big huge sigh.

  89. Girlpower

  90. In a joint temple recommend interview with a member of our Stake Presidency, the suit asks my husband. “What kind of missionary were you?” My husband shrugged and said something like “probably average.” The suit said, “I think you must have been a terrific missionary because your wife is so pretty.” I was sitting right there. It was awkward and embarrassing for both of us. As my husband is fond of asking, “How do you even respond to that?”

    No, I’m not so pretty!

    Thank you for weighing in on my physical appearance, but I have a name and an identity outside of “wife.”

    I wish you had said that my “spirit” was so pretty.

    Brother So-and-So your comment is sexual harassment.

    I’m being treated unfairly.

    I hope you were trying to be funny, but um, the spirit just left this interview…

    At the time I felt having a “current temple recommend” was worth nonsense like that. So awkward laughter and we moved on… Now I have considerably less patience.

    But let’s get real, here. No one is saying “Dude, your wife is so pretty” ten years and two kids later. This whole eye-candy thing has an expiration date–not that I’m saying I was ever eye-candy. No. And not that I’m saying women can’t have it and don’t have after kids or into their golden years. But I have known women who were great beauties and even though in their 60s they are still very attractive, that part of their identity (#1 hottie) is gone. And they suffer. They feel invisible. And it is compounded by being a part of a church where the men their age say stuff like this suit said to my husband and yeah… me too.

    I’m tired of being told that I have been and always will be female, but that I can aspire to become like “My Heavenly Father”–who has been and forever will be male. I’m tired of being told in church that my divine role is to birth and raise children (which is a younger woman’s game too, y’all). I’m tired of being told that I am to nurture, without any divine guidance or divine example as to how I can do that,

    AND I am very, very tired that when I am hurting. When my soul is withered from policy changes or from some pretty tough leadership roulette or just from all the meaningless errands and tasks that I am supposed to do at church in my calling, out of my calling–that I am always to blame. It’s my fault because I lack faith. It’s my fault because I have let my lamp run dry, I didn’t bring extra oil.

    Y’all, I had exrtra oil that was all used up last November.

    You bet I lack faith. You bet I come to church every Sunday hoping for some succor. Some support. Good news. Confirmation that I am part of this. That there is room for me in this party. I am running on fumes. I thought this was a gas station. Turns out they don’t serve my kind… But I get to watch as the other half fuels up.

  91. powerful comment Amy

  92. Amy’s comment is powerful because it is so true.

  93. eponymous says:

    You can do joint temple recommend interviews? If only I had known that when I was trying to stay ahead of the list of expiring recommends.

  94. Amy’s comment is true for Amy, not for me. I wish I could put into words what the gospel and church membership has brought me, in spite of some ham handed leaders whose every word is not inspired. We expect too much from very ordinary men, and women. I’ve heard some pretty awkward things from women over the years too, and probably said some myself. They are usually doing their best, and sometimes their best is not much. Please give them the benefit of the doubt, just as, I’m sure, you would wish to be given.