Men, what will you do when my daughter asks about her place in this church?

Two years ago, when I was writing a book about my own life as a Mormon, of which I am an authority, I was filled with anxieties about not being good enough, not smart enough, and on and on.  My wise editor, Blair Hodges, was patient and listened for many weeks and then one day he said a line that has changed everything for me.  He said, “Listen, no one else is going to take you seriously until you take yourself seriously.” The doors swung wide open. Thea with Net

I have looked back on that experience so often and wondered why it was that I felt so much insecurity about asserting my voice.  Not my voice as part of a chorus of other voices, or one that had offered ideas to someone else, not my voice as an influence, but my voice, as a stand alone entity.  In the two years since, I’ve realized that my panic was much in part because my voice had never been taken seriously up to that point in my life.  In church spaces I had never been in charge.  I had never had a platform that was solely and authoritatively mine in which to speak. Particularly one in which both genders recognized that a female was in charge.  Even though in theory I had been given freedom and power to use my voice within the church, in practice, I had not.

I recently read a quote from the Instagram account, holy_sponge, that gave a scaffolding for the ways I have often felt as a female in the church.  “When people in the dominant group tell non-dominant groups they need to ‘step up’, it continues to lay the workload on marginalized groups.”  This quote was in specific reference to the Recording Academy president, Neil Portnow, and his words to women in the industry when only a single woman received a televised Grammy.  He said, “It has to begin with … women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level … [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”

I don’t think the problem here is women without things to say, it’s that up to this point, we haven’t been made welcome in far too many circumstances. You cannot claim to want to hear my voice and then not provide a single space in which I might do that, particularly in front of both men and women.

I am lucky that in my church experience, I actually have been given several platforms in which to use my voice.  The Maxwell Institute was wonderful and supportive in not dictating stipulations or making me feel like I couldn’t take the lead on both what I wrote in One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly, and then the ways in which I arranged the book tour and events proceeding its release.  The people at this blog have encouraged me to use my voice unfettered and unchecked. The BCC Press has gone to great lengths to make sure that women’s manuscripts are published.  I live in a stake where our Stake Presidency has made sure that women are heard at every conference in equal numbers with the men and they have a place at every meeting that they hold as a stake presidency. In my home my husband does not call on me to say a prayer.  So many women are without a platform though, and even in this space, I am exhausted and frustrated at the hope of ever having much, if any say in the future of the institutional church.

I want to speak for a moment then to the white men of the church.  First, know that I love you. I am married to a very good one.  I have been supported, encouraged and listened to on an individual level by literally hundreds of you throughout my life.  But also, it is not enough.  I want to ask you to take a moment and take stock of how and where you are creating platforms for women to use their voices and take the lead in your own life.  The truth of the matter is that as much as both women and men talk about and want gender equality in the church, there is no space or way in which I can personally take the lead in a church setting.  Leena, who runs the  instgram account quoted previously goes on to say, “Almost everyone experiences some kind of oppression at sometime in their lives—some more than others, and it’s important to know when you have power/privilege and how to step back, how to help shift the conditions, how to make more space for everyone and change what the norm looks like.  It’s important to not lay the workload on the under represented.”

So, men, I cannot simply step up, or be out spoken, or demand anything without you also doing the same.  In part because if I am out spoken or too “progressive” in a church setting, I am silenced by simply not being given a calling in which I might speak out, I am not invited to meetings or councils run by men, or I am not asked to speak in sacrament, stake conference, etc…  If you do not also carry the load in doing the work to build platforms for women to speak, lead and implement their own ideas within the church, they will not happen.  You cannot claim to be pushing for gender equality if you are not in some way working for this.

A few questions you might ask:

“What am I doing before my voice is heard first (and often only)?”

“What am I doing specifically to provide platforms in which women can take equal part in leading, speaking, sharing ideas, carrying out ideas?”

“Am I willing to give up some of my power, time or convenience so that a marginalized group can have a turn, even if that looks different than how I might do things?” 

Honestly, I believe that so many men, at least the ones I know, would answer in thoughtfully and affirmatively to these questions.  I think they are and would be willing to do this work.  That intention doesn’t mean that it is actually happening in the ways it could and should though.

If we want our daughters to stick around, we have got to do the work of taking them seriously.  Ruth Bader Ginsberg, when asked when there would be enough women on the supreme court, answers, “When there are nine.”  I am not proposing, nor do I even think it is anywhere on the horizon to have women take over the leadership of the church, but I do think it’s vital to begin by checking our mindsets.  No one blinked an eye when nine men made up the supreme court for nearly 200 years. Why would we be aghast to imagine nine women there?

Gender equality in the church is not simply a woman’s issue. The work of building has to be done side by side, and in many cases, because of the structure, with men being the vanguard.  My friends are leaving, my family members are leaving, our missionary work suffers, when we simply give lip service to phrases like “step up.”

It should be noted and made very clear that while this post is focused on women’s equality in the church, that phrase could easily be swapped out or combined with the work we are doing for POC, LGBTQ, and any other marginalized group that belongs to the body of Christ.

We all have work to do, myself included.  May we do it with love and courage.

 

Comments

  1. “Step Up” could alse be said as “Speak Up and Speak Out” via President Nelson.

  2. Yes, exactly. One of the talks I was thinking of.

  3. I’ve come to this same realization about racial equality and racial justice. It’s not enough for me (a white woman) to simply hope for racial equality: what am I actively doing to support people of color to have an equal place in the world? How am I using my privilege to do this? I was in the hoping stage for way too long.

    Thank you for giving us all the call to not just hope for, but actively WORK for change. I love you AshMae! – Julianne.

  4. Julianne! I love you too. I have also come to the same realization in my own life, which has asked me to examine everything. Which is hard and vital. Keep up the good fight!

  5. I love this piece. So often it seems like I am shouting into a void, or alienating myself from ward members. Being told to Speak Up and Speak Out and having no assurances anyone will listen or take what I have to say seriously makes it feel like a futile exercise and a waste of my time and energy and mind space.

  6. “In my home my husband does not call on me to say a prayer.”

    As a new member, I’m confused about why this is seen as a positive. Am I misunderstanding something? Thanks

  7. Maquez, great question. I guess what I meant is that in our house, it is important for both my husband and me to take turns calling on people to say prayers. We don’t just default to him always being in charge, especially because I want my children to see and understand that my voice is just as valid as his, in this case, in regards to church practices.

  8. I think this is relevant:
    “In her book [The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap], Baradaran proposes a short litmus test to any proposal meant to address the racial wealth gap: “Does the program require some collective sacrifice or does it place the burden of closing the wealth gap entirely on the black community? If the latter, this is a cop-out that refuses to acknowledge that the black community did not create the problem in the first place.”

  9. I’m not doing enough.

    I spoke last week in Sacrament meeting. I tried to quote as many women as I could (I used more women than men), including you, ashmae.

    The other speaker was a sister I know pretty well. I tried my best to get the bishopric to break the “man always has to speak last” rule, but wasn’t successful.

    Until we have institutional changes, it is going to be a tough road.

  10. Desperately trying to not tangent this post into a “but what about the menz”, but what can be done to make space for women who are actively trying to give up their space? For example, my wife has made if very clear that I’m the one to call on someone for a prayer. She does it when I’m not there. It seems like a little thing, but I hear so many times of Primary and Relief Society Presidents giving up their rights to revelation for their calling to the Bishopric. How do we help women learn that they really are entitled to what they’ve been given?

  11. Start in your own home, Frank. Talk to your wife. Find talks and articles that explain her deference to you in the home isn’t just unnecessary, it undermines her own authority in being equally yoked.

  12. Bytheway, yes, it is. Thanks for starting the work. keep going.

  13. Frank, thanks for being considerate in trying not to tangent the post. For me, I needed someone to get really real with me and say what Blair did. It is a change for many women to take the space that they should have been given all along. Maybe just say that you actually aren’t going to do some of those things in the way you’ve always done them, that it’s her turn.

  14. Frank, here’s my perspective: I don’t much care if my wife calls on kids to pray or defers to me, and if she wanted to defer to me, I’d probably just go with it. But if she refused to teach the kids gospel topics if I were around, I’d insist that she take the lead at least some of the time. In my mind, it’s wrong to deprive kids of half their parents’ testimony and spiritual insight.

    If a RS president (or any other calling) has been called by prophecy and set apart by the laying on of hands, she’s been given priesthood authority to carry out that responsibility, and I don’t think she can pass that off to anyone else. The bishop has the keys to preside over the work of the RS president in the general sense that he has the keys to preside over the whole ward, but it is not his calling to preside over the relief society and receive the day-to-day revelation to direct it’s work.

  15. nobody, really says:

    I’m the father of a wonderful young lady who is done with young women. She’s trying to find a place in Relief Society now, where there’s a 20+ year gap between her and the next youngest active sister.

    When she was still in Activity Days, she asked me why the boys get treated so much better than the girls. She had a sleepover at a friend’s house, attended church with her family the next morning (Easter, and General Conference for us), and was asked to be a “candlebearer” for their service. “I’m not even a member of their church, and they ask me to do things.”

    So, we set out to change a few things.

    I was fortunate enough to be able to foot the bill to take all the Young Women on a pretty spectacular activity each year. We explained that we asked the Young Men, but they only wanted to play basketball in the gym (pretty much the truth). As Laurel President, my daughter taught a basic swordfighting class for YW night. The leaders first revolted, then decided they needed to “temper” the activity by having the night be half swordfight, half cookie baking. On nights when the Activity Days leaders couldn’t be bothered to show up, she assisted me with an impromptu course in building a giant slingshot in the parking lot, stretching bungee cords and flat bicycle innertubes between light poles. When the young men went to do demolition service projects, my daughter and a female friend of hers went with, and the two of them outworked all eight of the young men put together. I made sure my daughter was assigned as my home teaching companion. Now, she goes with me when we take the Sacrament to shut-ins, and she stands in as the presiding authority to double-check my wording of the prayers.

    The list of what she *can* do is far, far longer than what she *may not* do. But more pushback came from the sisters in the ward than anything from the Bishopric. I’m reminded of a former co-worker of mine who married an Iranian national and ended up in Tehran. She told me how if she ventured out on the streets without proper covering, a mob of old women would gather around her, hissing and hitting her with sticks until she conformed.

    I’m sure the YW leaders got tired of my explanation – “If she was the Teacher’s Quorum President, there wouldn’t be any problem with this. We’d consider it to be a great leadership development activity or training for a future career. So why is it a problem for the young women?”

    Sisters can give the opening prayer. Sisters can speak last in Sacrament meeting. Sisters can teach about interesting careers. And dang it, sometimes the sisters need to have the opportunity to swing a sword.

    And sometimes the “Brethren” in the ward need to understand that if you’re going to spend 55% of the ward budget on the young men, that some unequal opportunities need to be created that favor the Young Women.

  16. JKC, re your comment that a RS president should preside over that organization: she does not even have the authority to make visiting teaching assignments without a man’s approval. This is straight from lds.org: “Seek the bishop’s approval for each assignment.” I believe that instruction was not there twelve years ago when I was RS pres.
    I think what we have is more instruction to priesthood leaders to be more involved in what the auxiliaries are doing. I don’t think Church leaders realized that that would cause women to speak less, because when a bishopric member is present, he’s in charge.

  17. Ashmae, thank you. Speaking up is a careful, exhausting line to walk. Speak up enough to offer a contrasting perspective in Sunday School, but not too much to jeopardize my own calling. Recommend books to others, always feeling the need to couch the recommendation that the book is “mainstream” or written by an active Mormon. Offer feedback, but do it through the correct channels (read: Priesthood). And make sure it’s not too much or too strong.
    The risk is real. I’ve sat in Presidency meetings where someone’s feminist leanings were determined to disqualify her from a certain calling. Go too far, and you get the soft discipline of not being asked to speak in church, teach classes, or work with youth.
    The pressure to articulate a thoughtful, articulate voice within the confines of acceptable behavior makes being a member so much harder than it needs to be.
    So men, when women speak, consider what remains unspoken.

  18. “Sisters can give the opening prayer. Sisters can speak last in Sacrament meeting. Sisters can teach about interesting careers.”

    Only when they are invited by a man. This is the problem, and it’s hard to see when one is busy congratulating the men for “letting” the women do so many things.

  19. “It seems like a little thing, but I hear so many times of Primary and Relief Society Presidents giving up their rights to revelation for their calling to the Bishopric. How do we help women learn that they really are entitled to what they’ve been given?”

    That is what happens when women grow up in a system that requires them to get permission for everything, in which that permission never comes from another woman. Every woman who is “giving up [her] right to revelation” is doing so because she has been taught by long and painful experience that her revelation is always, ALWAYS less important than a man’s.

  20. bbytheway says:

    Yeah, I don’t want any thanks. It just shows how far things still are that speaking last, or quoting women in a talk is somehow out of the ordinary.

    I’m grateful for the folks here who have helped change how I think about this.

  21. Beth, I see that more as a check to avoid an awkward situation where an assignment was made without knowledge of some relevant information that the bishop alone had—like something that was confessed confidentially. I don’t it means that bishops should be taking over making RS assignments. But I could be wrong.

    “I don’t think Church leaders realized that that would cause women to speak less, because when a bishopric member is present, he’s in charge.”

    I think this is insightful. Unintended consequences can be a real problem. I think it’s on us to do even more to make it clear that women’s voices will be treated as equal to men’s voices, as ashmae’s post asks for.

  22. Most men in leadership have no idea how to react to a woman who speaks up in anyway different to what they are used to hearing. I’m not sure how to change that, except to have women represented in all councils. Trouble is, even with the strides made recently there are many council meetings without women present because they are not allowed unless invited as guests (and guests doesn’t cut it), specifically high council, stake presidency, and bishopric.

  23. “I think it’s on us to do even more to make it clear that women’s voices will be treated as equal to men’s voices…”

    Structurally, that cannot be true. It would help to stop saying that women’s voices will be treated equally. They really can’t be. Just acknowledging that truth is much more helpful than telling a woman that despite everything she has seen and experienced, she really is equal.

  24. Here’s a fun test: have someone go to lds.org and start playing conference talks by women. See if you can identify even one woman’s voice without seeing her. Then see how many members of the Q12 you can identify without looking.

    Then try to say women’s voices are just as important as men’s in our church.

  25. Lovely, powerful essay.

    And, amen, Kristine!

  26. I see what you mean, Kristine. And maybe you’re right that equality is impossible in the current structure. But if structural changes don’t come, or take a very long time to come, I think there’s a lot more we can and ought to be doing to strive for equal partnership within the current structure in the meantime. But I see what you mean. Rather than saying that women’s voices “will” be treated equally, could we say that womens voices *should* be treated equally?

  27. JKC, I think you’re right that the instruction is there just so the bishop can prevent a sister being placed in an awkward situation. But the instruction puts the burden on the RS president to check every assignment with the bishop before she gives it out. What if the burden was instead placed on the bishop to let the RS pres know when there is a situation that she needs to take into consideration?
    A new RS pres could interpret it that the bishop ought to be in charge of all the assignments. I think it’s weird.
    Yes, Kristine, our inspiration to act is always subject to a man’s approval. I got shut down a few times and now it’s quite hard to speak up.

  28. I hear you, Beth.

  29. “I got shut down a few times and now it’s quite hard to speak up.”

    Yes, it only takes one time.

  30. Yeah, JKC, I think just saying “I will listen to you” is enough. We know that most men don’t have power to make big changes, either. Not pretending, or asking us to pretend, that the structure is benign is a good first step. Women spend a lot of time in church learning to work around their second-class status and often we’re quite able to function well within that system. When a man simply recognizes that we are walking uphill all the time, that’s a lot more helpful than saying, “here, I’ll move that little pebble out of your way.”

  31. That makes sense, Kristine.

  32. YES, Kristine. I think that changing the rhetoric, is at the very very least, a first step. Not allowing rhetoric that shrinks the problem into something much smaller than it is, and again puts the burden on the marginalized group by asking them to align their thinking and action up to crappy rhetoric.

  33. We just had one of those piped in Stake Conferences. 3 GA’s, 1 Stake Presidency Member, and 1 Female Auxiliary member spoke. That was it. It wasn’t even 50-50. It’s not just what we hear. It’s what we see. I live in fear of keeping the status quo, because I have leadership place. I want to be a Woman’s Voice. But the narrow margin I have is more tenuous than the iron rod.

  34. Even the clothes I wear, come under scrutiny.

  35. Thank you for this! Another fantastic insight and I will be sharing. I heard you first touch on the topic of taking our voice/ourselves seriously at our book group last month. I’m so happy to have met you because I feel like I can read this and feel of your heart and sincerity in your words here and as I am re-reading 100 birds. And I have to teach RS this Sunday…so I’m pondering in what I can do to amplify some more female voices and quotes and take myself seriously while I teach. Thanks for some inspiration for me!

  36. Taking this post to heart and asking myself these questions. Thanks Ashmae.

  37. I wonder, thanks in part to the policy of exclusion, if we are getting to the point as a church where when we honestly consider the place of LGBTQ members, we shrug and say “maybe we don’t have a place that is good and safe for you and we don’t know what to do about that.”

    I wonder if structural changes are not made, we are going to have to also shrug and say “we don’t know what to do about the current structure for women.” Because right now, honestly, the answer to the title question is “we will always tell you your place is important, but the reality is that in every single case, it is auxillary.”

  38. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Unfortunately, there seems to be little that can be done that doesn’t originate at the highest levels (COB), or the lowest level (the family). I’ve seen, too many times, Bishops or Stake Presidents make genuine efforts and make substantive changes that expand the roles and influence of women, just to see those wiped out by subsequent administrations. This is not to underestimate the influence we have in our families, but I shouldn’t get too excited by thinking those efforts are going to lead to any real change. Sure, we can hope that those small things will add up over time and lead to lasting change. Not sure I have the patience, or optimism, to wait on it. That pessimism won’t stop me from teaching our children a better way, but I genuinely worry about my daughter (AND son), when they leave the home and end up in a different Ward/city/state and they are confronted with what this really looks like in the Church. It does scare me (seriously, many sleepless nights).

  39. VT assignments may seem a small thing and “explainable.” But not really. What’s needed (or “if I were bishop”) is for the bishop to say “I’m not going to do that. Instead, let’s talk to each other (call it welfare council if we must, and maybe include whoever’s making HT assignments) share what I know and what you know, and then everybody go do their thing.

    Men have to say no. Men have to step back. “I’m not going to manage visiting teaching. “I’m not going to speak last. “I’m not going to stand in that blessing circle without the mother present. “I’m not going to “supervise” or “direct” or “give permission.”

    Or nothing will change.

    [My daughter is long gone (and valued and listened to in her church). I am about as far out of church circles, and especially of male church circles, as one can be while still taking the sacrament on occasion. I’m a little bit angry on this subject.]

  40. A while back there was a push to involve the ward council more in sacrament meeting planning, which I thought would give women a greater say in who did the talking and about what. In practice, however, it has remained the domain of whatever counsellor is up for that quarter and the executive secretary. Leaving this most important (at least the most regularly attended) meeting up to two guys, week in and week out, probably perpetuates blind spots (despite the earnest efforts of the two guys involved).

    Anyway, if it were up to me, the church would be run by those who felt called to serve.

  41. christiankimball: Thanks for sharing. I agree that meaningful change will only happen when people simply behave differently. I know many think they have to wait for the Divine to flip on a switch before they can be justified in changing, but I believe the light as been on all along…and that change will simply a byproduct of acknowledging that women never were inferior (or justifiably marginalized) in the first place.

    Turtle Named Mack: I know this only reiterates what I said above, but I think if we wait on authorities to change, we are forfeiting. I think our only hope is to do and teach what we feel is best within our families–as you describe.

  42. “Anyway, if it were up to me, the church would be run by those who felt called to serve.”
    YES! The problem, IMO, is not limited to women or other marginalized groups lacking equitable power–it encompasses our attempt to appoint other people as leaders in the first place. People who are divinely called to lead will find a way to do it, and people are capable of discerning (or learning to discern) with their hearts the good fruit leaders have to offer, as well anything rotten. I think members have a choice between emphasizing obedience to others and faithfulness to inner light, though I understand and respect that many members believe obedience to others is part of being faithful to the light…I just don’t relate.

  43. I can do so much more to help. Thanks for the inspiration.

  44. “See if you can identify even one woman’s voice without seeing her. ”

    Kristine that’s an awesome test. I could definitely name a few. Truth be told if have equal problem naming the new apsostes by voice other than Rasband.

    But I love your comment and sincerely hope that you also listen intently to those sisters when they speak. How many of your heard the voice of God and hearkened to it when Pres. Beck or Dalton spoke?

    I did. Frequently, I read criticism.

    Turn the question on it’s head. Can you hear the voice of God when those sisters speak? I can.

  45. Hate to disagree with people but the last person I want in any leadership slot is the person going around and saying they want to be bishop or whatever position of authority. I have meet too many guys, mostly, but some women, who think they should be bishop or Relief Society President because they are all that and a bag of chips. When in reality they should never be in charge of even themselves not to mention any group of people. As a general rule if you think you should be in charge because you are the best there is, then you should be the last person to get that position.

  46. Huzzah, nobody! Your daughter (and ward) is lucky to have you.

  47. From Beth post above: JKC, re your comment that a RS president should preside over that organization: she does not even have the authority to make visiting teaching assignments without a man’s approval. This is straight from lds.org: “Seek the bishop’s approval for each assignment.”

    Well it says the same thing for the Elder Quorum Pres and High Priest Group leader too. Technically all callings and assignments are to have the bishop’s approval. In practice RS, EQ and High Priest do their HT and VT assignments and if the bishop really wants to know what the assignments are he can look them up. Only a very bored bishop has that kind of time.

  48. Beth,

    I know it’s probably not much consolation, but the elders quorum home teaching sign assignments need Bishop approval too.

  49. LatamGirl says:

    Scott, JKC, Beth-regarding VT assignments… When I was RS president several years back in a Central American country our bishop largely left the VT assignments up to me but let me know of any issues that would affect assignments. Fast forward to last year when I was called again in a different Latin American country and the bishop reminded me that he would need to approve the assignments before they were given. I stewed about this for a week or so and then approached him in our one on one in a spirit of prayer, mixed with a bit of trepidation and chutzpah, and essentially said, the following. “Look, you don’t have a lot of time, I don’t have a lot of time, and you felt inspired to call me to this position so I need you to consider what I’m saying on this. I don’t have the time or the energy to create companionships outside of the church website for your approval ahead of assigning them. If the church leadership had wanted me to do that they would have not given me access to create the companionships. (He was worried that assignments were visible to everyone; we both later realized they’re only visible to leadership.) Please let me know of any issues, etc.” He seemed almost relieved and agreed to my making the assignments and then taking a look at them. Well, it’s been in fits and starts and we spent time with just the bishopric after ward council one night where they actually helped me make the assignments (our VT coordinator hadn’t fully figured things out and had missed a lot of people). I really appreciated the help because I was new to the ward and didn’t know some of the histories, etc. My point wth this was as others have said-he can see the assignments in the system so he can let me know if there is a problem with any of them.

    Thank you for this post. It’s a constant struggle. There’s so much more I want to do to increase the voice of women at church but I have such limited time with full time work and young children. I’m also trying to not do the callings of those others in RS who have been called to specific callings.

  50. Thanks, Scott J and Daveed, I did not know that. It makes more sense now. And thanks Latam Girl for relating your experience.

  51. wreddyornot says:

    What can I do and should I do? I’ve tried to take personal actions by doing things I thought would surely create a dialogue, at least with the ward and stake patriarchies, which I hoped beyond hope might have some further effect up the patriarchy. One step I took (calling out my disappointment and rejection of Kate Kelly’s excommunication specifically to friends of mine, like my bishop and a councilor in the stake presidency, on Facebook, and asking them if I was also subjecting myself to excommunication because, in that public place, I was speaking out against the church for the iniquitous way it treats its women) resulted in an interview with my stake president. He wanted to meet monthly with me and we did for two or three months and then he was replaced, and I never heard from anyone else about it. When I contemplated the inequities between men and women evident in the temple, I quit getting my recommend renewed. Further, when I contemplated those inequities along with the lack of the church’s financial transparency which I had complained about to bishops in interviews throughout twenty or more years, I took another measure I thought for certain would at least raise one of the men in charge’s attention enough to question me as to why. It wasn’t an insignificant move. Silence resulted. Silence remains. I have spoken out in classes,(eg in GD and HPQ) to little or no effect. Truthfully, though, my actions have been somewhat measured and I could have done more. I am, to be truthful, afraid. And sad.

  52. LatamGirl says:

    I’ll just add in general that I agree we have a long way to go, and for the most part, I really think people are trying. One thing that’s been on my mind lately that’s humbled me is that there is a lot to criticize. Everyone is dropping the ball in their callings in some form or another. I can call out many instances when people who report to me just aren’t returning and reporting and I have to gently remind…(I refuse to do it myself because #delegate and #notime). I can call out instances when others are church are dropping the ball. But the humbling part is that just like I want others in the ward to understand that I’m doing my best (and sometimes my “okay-est” will have to suffice), I need to remember that about others, especially bishoprics and stake presidencies whose callings demand even greater time than mine, that for the most part, they’re just doing their best. At the end of the day, we’re volunteers and we all need to cut each other some slack.

    Please note that I do not say the above in an attempt to dismiss concerns about the voice of women at church. That’s not my point. I really appreciated Neylan McBain’s book recently and I’m circulating it to the other female leaders in our ward. One suggestion that I found on the Mormon Women blog–to have auxiliary presidencies meet together in a sort of mini council–we’re planning to implement, even though I’m not a huge fan of more meetings. https://www.mormonwomen.com/2017/10/linking-auxiliaries-leadership-development/

  53. This is beautiful and needed. Thank you.

  54. Ltd.–Congratulations! You are the Lewis’ Law Award Recipient for this post!

  55. Very thought-provoking, ashmae. We need more of this.

  56. Heidi Naylor says:

    Thank you for this post and conversation!! I’m a YW president and we’re holding a “Would You Rather?” career and future roles night this month. We have a busy female business owner coming to speak, it’s going to be great. I want our YW to be prepared and excited about what they can do!

    But we have lots of struggles. I’ve been dismayed at the “him” language in the youth scriptural themes for the past two years, don’t know how to fight that. I put brackets around the 2016 scripture: ”…having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all [people].” My bishop was supportive. The young women and their parents were not. They made a new poster; I pled my case for them to never feel the scriptures were not for them; but we went forward still saying “men….”

    My latest worry comes from the old, discouraging “doctrine” one of the YW brought into class last Sunday, the teaching (not doctrinal, I believe) that our pre-mortal choices determine our situation in mortal life. I was chagrined and upset that any of our girls would believe such a destructive and unhopeful perspective, and pleaded with them to understand and believe that no matter what their family situation was, they had every possibility and opportunity for salvation and eternal progression. Desperate for them to believe this, I turned to our priesthood advisor–a great guy, who is always sitting in with us–for support and explanation. I didn’t get any. As I reflect back on the moment, I don’t know what made me so anxious to turn to him…I suppose I feel less “informed” since I didn’t serve a mission as I knew he had. I want to know the doctrine better; I want our girls–some of whom have truly troubled home lives–to feel hope and possibility. But how, in these difficult moments? How?

  57. And LDS woman who is truly vested in the Kingdom is not interested in the voices of this world. She remembers president Benson’s Counsel on exaltation never take your eyes off the prize and she does everything she can to bring herself and her family to that great day to be exalted. Sounds like many people on this board are vested in third-wave feminism.

  58. LatamGirl: your story is a great example of how this is suppose to work. You sat down and talked it out with your bishop. Most bishops do not want to micromanage your organization for you. They would be perfectly happy to let you lead and run your own shop. And the ones that do will find out they don’t have time to micromanage you after a short while. If you’re a leader, be a leader, act like a leader.

  59. Thanks, Jon, for providing a great example of the shaming women can expect at church if they speak up.

  60. Our stake we recently divided (two to make three). When making the new stake a general authority spent two days interviewing men from all three stakes, not just to know who to call but to ask advice on who he should call. Once there was a new stake presidency, they went around to all the wards interviewing bishops, ex-bishops, any man who had been in a leadership position and asked them who would make good leaders for the new stake. To my knowledge they did not ask any women who they thought would be good leaders and my guess it didn’t even occur to them. An entire stake was organized and staffed without asking the opinion of any women (that I know of). Women are defaulted “out” of mostchurch administration and they have to be purposefully invited back in. This will only happy when men in leadership not just “let” women do things or invite them to meetings but when they feel a burning NEED to have hear women’s voices before they can move forward in making decisions.

  61. bbytheway says:

    Chris, that is a sobering scenario. Even the most progressive (relative) local leader can’t do anything to change that.

  62. Thank you for this post, Ashmae. Your voice has made such a difference to me, and now I’ll take seriously your encouragement to do better and do more.

    Jon: it wasn’t the “voices of this world” that made me a feminist; it was the Spirit, cracking open my heart a bit at a time. Making more room for women’s voices in my life has been spiritually transformative like almost nothing else. This emphatically includes single women’s voices, of whom Benson’s counsel takes no account. Looking back at the Hebrew Scriptures, the divine light of prophetic speech often sounds like righteous indignation speaking a clear truth against entrenched injustice. I see that light clearly in this post, and in comments by women on this thread. And since I see it burning brightly in several Mormon women of color I know, I guess that makes me a third-wave feminist. I couldn’t in good conscience be otherwise, and the church impoverishes itself by sidelining and diminishing these voices. More Spirit! More light! God forbid we ever think we have enough of either. In the spirit of Numbers 11:29, would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!

  63. I teach Gospel Doctrine. I’ve been called quite recently–I’ve only taught three lessons. I’ve spent the last several years in Primary. I’ve been counting the women who comment, both when I teach and when the other teachers do, and they are far outnumbered by the men. I’m wondering what I should do to get more women to speak–why are they/we lacking in confidence in that setting? I like my ward a lot; there are plenty of good people and I don’t think there’s a lot of unkindness or judgment. My point is: this is a perfect forum for speaking up, and there’s a woman teaching, and yet very few women raise their hands. Why is this? Are we so conditioned to be silent that it’s too hard to change? In Relief Society there’s always a lively discussion, and I know these women are smart and thoughtful and have good things to say. They just don’t say them in Gospel Doctrine.

    I think I’m going to bring it up at one of the new Relief Society councils. It’s really bugging me.

  64. Aussie Mormon says:

    Emily, you should see if you can get your Relief Society president to have that as a topic for next months first Sunday council meeting discussion. You could even disguise it as a discussion about participation levels in classes in general. Why they come, when they speak up, why do some people stand in the corridor and talk etc.

  65. Aussie Mormon says:

    Oops. Didn’t see your last sentence, Emily. Apologies. I agree with your idea 100%.

  66. I don’t know how to answer my own daughter, let alone how to answer your daughter. The answers from the church seem so hollow when she takes the discrepancies so personally.

  67. LatamGirl says:

    Heidi-sounds like you’re doing a great job Ruth your calling. I hope your girls appreciate you.
    Re: the doctrinal question you had…(or rather the outdated interpretation of scripture..
    H

    If so, this is how I deal with it in my head. I do believe that. I do believe that there are reasons we’re born into certain situations and I believe there is some correlation with our choices in the pre mortal world (I think we all agree that there weren’t just two degrees of “valiant” and I think we’ve all moved past the false doctrine of fence sitters, right) but I don’t agree that the correlation is a direct one nor do I believe that our earthly, limited, understanding of what constitutes a good “reward” is how things really played out. For instance, I don’t think there is a linear continuum of circumstances with being born into a several generation LDS family in, say, Alpine, UT at one end of the continuum and being born into abject poverty with no hope of ever learning about the gospel at the other end of the continuum. Who knows, maybe the Lord has some of his most obedient (in pre mortal life) born into super hard circumstances. Not sure if I’m making sense.

  68. This discussion is part of, as the mother of four daughters, my family no longer attends Church. I have championed education and equality for my daughters for so long, proclaiming that they could be anything they wanted to be, do anything they wanted to do…and could not explain to their (or my) satisfaction why they couldn’t do what the boys at Church were doing (in activities, responsibilities, etc). It hurts to not attend Church, but I cannot let them be taught that they are less important because of their gender.

  69. Emily, in addition to bringing up the gap in women’s participation in Relief Society Council, consider bringing it up in the teachers council.

  70. Scott J, I see what you mean about not wanting power-hungry people assuming leadership positions–I agree completely that people who seek dominion are the poorest choices for leadership. I should clarify that I think the definition of leader should be something like, “One who is an example of love and integrity, who seeks ways to be supportive of others.” I don’t think they need to (or should) have authority over others or increased decision-making power. I wish Mormonism was characterized by unconditional ministering.

    mdnan, I still attend with my family because I’m the only one detached from these sorts of church messages, but I feel increasingly distressed about what my kids are being taught. My boys may not be receiving messages of inferiority, but I believe even messages of entitlement are harmful to them and their future relationships–I consider any message of separatism and superiority to be ultimately destructive. My 2-yr-old girl is free as bird right now, and I don’t know if I can stomach sending her to primary next year. It is so complicated to be the only dissatisfied one in the family.

    Jon, I consider messages of inequality to be the words of the world, not of heaven–even if they are spoken by well-intentioned people…which is why I am not interested in them; I will not swallow or serve to others what I believe to be rotten fruit.

  71. It’s interesting that the title of this post is a question for men, but most of the responses are from women.

  72. One of the discouraging disparities that has happened recently for me was the Sunday after President Nelson was ordained the Prophet, we had an apostle come to speak at our stake conference. There were three speakers: the stake president, the area authority, and the apostle. So much for encouraging sisters to speak up and speak out.

    On the upside, though, my Bishop is committed to ensuring equity among sacrament speakers, after I reported that our numbers were highly unequal. It’s been a struggle, though, as women are 2-3X more likely to decline the opportunity to speak than men. There are a lot of ingrained cultural influences that impact that rate, and it demonstrates that there are bigger problems than men just not asking women to speak. How do we enact massive, long-term change?

  73. Emily, I was also called as GD teacher about a year ago. I saw the same phenomenon in my class and wasn’t quite sure why or what to do about it — as in your case, these are the same sisters who participate enthusiastically in RS. One day one of these sisters named it to me. “I hate going to Gospel Doctrine, because it’s a place where people basically compete to show off who knows more doctrine,” she said… and I realized that was not only what was happening in my class, it’s what has always happened in most GD classes I’ve been in. I believe that, unfortunately, the way the manual is set up contributes to this (it has a lot of “Answer this trivia of what happened in the reading” sorts of questions).

    I’ve found that one answer to that is to try to ask questions that are more “How does this doctrine really work in our lives?” And the other, even bigger answer, to which I feel that I was led by the Spirit in the form of several people knocking me over the head with it (including this particular sister and including our teacher council): making myself vulnerable. It’s the hardest thing in the world. When I ask a question about how doctrine works in our lives, I give my own answer by talking about my struggles and/or all the ways in which I’ve fallen short. That is the one biggest thing I’ve done that allows everyone else in the class to open up more. I’d say I get more female than male participation when I do that. And over the course of a year I’ve watched as the GD class has become more loving, more open, and themselves more vulnerable. It has been AMAZING.

  74. …and I forgot to relate it back to the post, which I think it DOES relate to — part of listening to women’s voices is, I think, really listening to the way that things do and don’t work for women. A lot of cultural “men” things that might work for them (“Let’s have a contest to see how much we know!!”) don’t work so well for women as a whole, but because we live in a space that’s been designed for men it’s sort of this blind spot where we can’t change because we don’t even understand the fundamental things that need to be changed.

    This is where teacher’s council and listening to my friend really helped me, because those were spaces where men did not take the lead.

  75. Emily – you can try calling on people directly by name to answer questions, I found that approach useful when I was a GD teacher. Ignore some of the hands that go up and instead ask “Sister X what are your thoughts on this question?”, or “Sister Y I’ve heard you speak on this point before and I liked what you had to say, can you share you’re thoughts with us?”, or “Sister Z I know you’ve had some experience with this and I value your opinion, can you share it with us?”

    It does put people on the spot and I was always charitable and moved on if they didn’t want to speak up, but I found that over time people (both men and women) were more engaged in the lesson if they knew I might call on them at any time to participate and they didn’t want to be caught surfing the internet in the back of the room and admit they weren’t listening.

  76. “When I ask a question about how doctrine works in our lives, I give my own answer by talking about my struggles and/or all the ways in which I’ve fallen short. That is the one biggest thing I’ve done that allows everyone else in the class to open up more. I’d say I get more female than male participation when I do that.”

    Totally agree, this worked for me as well.

  77. I am in no position to give advice to someone I don’t know, but I here share some general thoughts influenced by my reading of an Eastern Orthodox pastor and author.

    Here is the real problem—a devaluation of the role and status of faithful Latter-day Saints as Latter-day Saints, a problem which grows from the hidden root of clericalism. This view presupposes that the really important stuff involves having a title, sitting on the stand, and a having a visually prominent role in the ward.

    Merely being a member–someone who is a child of God, who has been baptized and born again, who has a God-given testimony, who can bear that testimony to family, friends, neighbors and all the world, who can study and learn and teach from the scriptures and from inspiration, who can knowingly address God as Our Father, whose sins have been remitted by virtue of the spilled blood of Jesus Christ, who has the gift and companionship of the Holy Ghost, who receives the sacrament of our Lord weekly, and who can look forward in faith to the unfathomable blessings of the temple–means infinitely more than having “the the chief seats in the synagogues and the uppermost rooms at feasts.” (Mark 12:39). Merely being a Saint and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ restored in the latter-days is worth more than all the world.

  78. I’ve taught GD for about 4 years and my experience, which I’m not trying to extrapolate to the rest of the church, hasn’t been the same as some here. The women in my ward seem to participate in equal numbers, though for both the men and the women, it’s largely the same handful making comments.

    There’s also a bit of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” discussion going on above. I’ve called people I wanted to hear from directly on more than one occasion, and it’s not always gone well. Someone went as far as catching me after a lesson and telling me that if they wanted to speak up, they would do so by raising his hand. So I’ve stopped that approach, because I’m not going to unintentionally embarrass someone just so I can be more Socratic.

    Along those same lines, I liked the discussion above about how GD sometimes becomes a competition to see who knows the most, and so sometimes the best questions are as to application rather than knowledge. But it’s worth noting that that runs counter to countless comments I’ve seen made on this web site that GD isn’t challenging enough, that our teachers don’t know the doctrine or the history, and that we’re spoon-feeding the members good feelings without actually digging into the real and messy translation/history/essay issues that we need to wrestle with. I think there’s a way to (kind of) have both, and I try to do that in my lessons, but I think we need to recognize the tension between these two positions.

  79. Jimbob, I totally hear you. And I considered digging into the messy issues of church history a MAJOR goal of my lessons last year. And indeed that was a major part of the “how is this applicable” and the vulnerabilities I revealed. If the teacher can stand up and say, “Hey, look, there are these issues with the Book of Abraham. Honestly? These bother me.” or “Let’s talk about polygamy. Here are some issues you are going to hear about. The one that continues to bother me the most is that Emma didn’t know about a lot of Joseph’s wives,” or “Let’s talk about ‘continuing in steadfastness’; here are some times I was this close from leaving the Church, and not because I was offended…” (these are all things I said in class) — well, I’m not going to say that the class members are going to necessarily talk about the things they have problems with, we haven’t opened up that much, but it I think does contribute to an atmosphere of being heard. Some of the “how is this applicable” sorts of questions are along the lines of “Can you have sincere and utter doubts and still be a member of this Church? What does that look like?”

    Um. I honestly will say that I would probably stop going to GD if I thought I was going to get called on. I don’t do that in my classes. It does mean that there are some people who never ever talk. I guess I’m OK with that? I’m OK with there being a few “regulars” (men and women, as you say) who make the majority of the comments (which, yeah, is still the case in my class too) as long as it’s an atmosphere where others do think they can speak up and be listened to.

  80. Not a Cougar says:

    Talon, amen. I’ve done the same, and I found that once I got some of the quieter people to speak up, it encouraged others to do so. Often, I also asked “How many of you have had X happen to you?” I’d then wait for hands, and then pick someone who’s had was up and asked her to expound.

  81. On the GD discussion, I’ve had some success with a line like “I’d love to hear from someone who hasn’t had the chance to participate today.” Often this perks up a few other people and brings them into the conversation, without calling on someone who hasn’t raised their hand. You could also do something similar from time to time by saying “This question is for the sisters/brothers/singles/people with kids at home/etc” It doesn’t have to be a question related to their social status (so not just “How do you teach your kids the gospel?” but “What is your favorite scripture about the atonement?”), but could help bring out groups of people who aren’t typically participating.

  82. Instead of putting people on the spot by asking them a direct question, please consider asking people a day or two ahead of your lesson. That way, the person would have time to thoughtfully prepare a response, or let you know that they aren’t comfortable participating.

    I know several people that would stop attending a class for fear of being called on. But I also know others, myself included, that would be happy to participate, but don’t like to “jump in”.

  83. Not a Cougar says:

    AP, I agree that your approach is ideal. I also know myself and many others aren’t disciplined enough to plan ahead even that minimally on a consistent basis.

  84. Bro. Jones says:

    BeeCee: Great response. I’ve done that in my lessons: “Any thoughts on this from those of us who are mothers/wives/daughters/in Relief Society [etc]”? Also, I find that asking application questions (“How do we use this in our lives as parents/spouses/single people/employees/retired folks etc”) versus strict knowledge questions (“Where does this scripture fit into the context of XYZ?”) is good at getting responses from different types of people.

    On another note: I quoted only conference talks by women in my last Sacrament talk. Partly on purpose to be subversive, partly because I quote Chieko Okazaki at every opportunity, and partly because other great quotes on Christian service happened to come from women.

  85. The problem is the whole concept of having “enough women.” By instituting “enough women” you are causing inequality. That implies there’s a woman out there who is less qualified than a man who gets the position. This is wrong. We need the best qualified people in those positions, regardless of gender.

  86. I also taught GD for four years. I never found there to be a discrepancy between the male and female levels of participation. I don’t know why. Maybe it was just my ward.

    One thing that I did find helpful in regard to increasing participation was to ask a general yes/no question and then have the class vote on it by a show of hands with no abstentions allowed. This meant everyone had to participate at least by raising their hand. I found that people were a lot more comfortable jumping into the discussion after that.

  87. Just saying says:

    Cahn, In my ward, a teacher beginning the type of open discussion you suggest, especially with the teacher admitting that anyone even might have a struggle, let alone opening up about their own struggles, would cause that teacher to be sidelined, possibly forever. Sure, there would be some members who privately appreciated it, but the overall response would be to silence. If such an open teacher were a man with a lot of official church authority, he _might_ be seen as wise and creative and insightful, but not necessarily. If it were a woman, there she goes! She will be silenced both officially and unofficially until no one even remembers why she was silenced, just that she is dangerous for reasons no one can by then articulate.

  88. Corey Abbott says:

    Devil’s advocate here.

    What’s in it for me? If simply allowing women to do what they want isn’t enough, why should I be motivated to rearrange myself and others around me to accommodate the women who will otherwise not speak up? Because it’s good? It’s the right thing to do? I’m afraid that is insufficient to entice the hierarchy of needs to your average church goer who is following the teachings as prescribed in the manuals and scriptures.

  89. Baggles, who is talking about “instituting enough women”? Some kind of quota system for callings? Did you read the post?

  90. Just saying says:

    I should circle my previous comment back to the OP. In a silencing environment, why would any woman ever feel she could really participate. Our legal system considers it child abuse when a child just sees their parent abused by the other parent. In the same way, every woman who sees another woman silenced at church internalizes that personally. Even women in leadership may only feel they can say certain things. The system also often selects women for leadership who will parrot or hold back. A woman comes to walk on eggshells, never knowing when what she says will be “wrong.” So yes, women turn down speaking in church. And yes, women may not participate in class. And yes, women may not say everything they might in a council. Because speaking is dangerous always. And you have been gaslighted to not trust your own point of view. It will take decades of effort to undo this in the overall church.

    The OP asked men what they would do. As a woman, I can only say it anonymously:

    Men, why should you care? If not because you care about the individuals, because you care about yourself—the world and church suffer when we do not have the insights and creativity and abilities of half our population. Men, what can you do? The first step is realizing how systemic and deep this is and creating a safe place, not just in one class or for one year, but for the long term, because it will take lifetimes to rebuild a safe place.

  91. A further thought in reaction to the “everybody reports to the bishop anyway” explanation:
    My view is that “everybody reports to the bishop” is not necessary, not scripturally, doctrinally, or historically. Rather, it a natural expression of the “priesthood in charge” decision of Correlation, which is itself a natural extension of “keep men engaged–‘call on the elders'” choices of the early 20th century. In other words, the root is essential patriarchy.

  92. christiankimball, Amen! The ward RS president used to report to the Stake RS president and all the way up the chain to the General RS president who reported directly to the president of the church. Relief Society was an entirely separate organization where women controlled their own show. Correlation changed that.

    Now women at every level report to the priesthood and the General RS president reports to the Twelve. Also the General RS president used to be chosen by the women of the church and was in her office for life. Now the Twelve choose the General RS president and they can replace her at any time. This significantly changes the power equation and I can’t help but think this may have been done on purpose.

  93. christiankimball and BB, I’ve come to the same conclusions. I don’t expect much to change since change threatens patriarchy, and all the decision-making is patriarchal. Yes, men are subject to patriarchy just like women…the only difference being that they at least have the potential of being involved in significant decision-making (though very little chance of holding the most influential callings), so the larger problem for me is that both women and men feel required to forfeit their power to other mortals in the name of “faithfulness.”

  94. Cahn and Talon and BC and Aussie Mormon (and whoever I missed), thank you for your ideas. Cahn, when I teach RS I’m very vulnerable, deliberately, so that people feel safe commenting and sharing. I’m really new to this calling and I haven’t gotten to the point where I can do that yet. I’ve got a BYU religion professor, a former member of the 70, a former mission president, and other people who have held callings with great responsibility regularly attending my class, and I’m trying to stay focused on the text itself. It feels a little like I’m on trial; anything off I say can be put right by people (good people, who I like and respect) who know more and have more authority than I do. Having a voice doesn’t grant you authority in the same way that actual authority does. So in a lot of ways it’s a masculine approach I’m taking, and perhaps if I want women to comment I need to modify that. It’s scary though. I want to be seen as … able to hold my own, you know?

  95. Corey Abbott says:

    “the world and church suffer when we do not have the insights and creativity and abilities of half our population.”
    I absolutely agree. However, devil’s advocate and all, most men think things are just fine. They don’t see a loss in continuing their behavior. Basic needs drive us all. As Mormons, we are mostly motivated by the dictates of doctrine. So I refer back to my question; if a man is following the doctrines as written (interpretation is relative in this context) what drive is to be felt in order to “placate” an initiative such as this?

  96. Corey: “if a man is following the doctrines as written (interpretation is relative in this context) what drive is to be felt in order to “placate” an initiative such as this?” IOW, Not needing to be commanded in all things?

  97. “In the same way, every woman who sees another woman silenced at church internalizes that personally.”

    This really resonates with me. I haven’t personally encountered that much pushback from priesthood leaders, but I’ve seen so much of it happen to other women that I’ve become utterly cynical about the likelihood of my voice being listened to (and exhausted at the prospect of even trying to make myself heard).

  98. Emily: I hear your uneasiness in teaching in your last post. “I’ve got a BYU religion professor, a former member of the 70, a former mission president, and other people who have held callings with great responsibility regularly attending my class” and “It feels a little like I’m on trial; anything off I say can be put right by people (good people, who I like and respect) who know more and have more authority than I do. Having a voice doesn’t grant you authority in the same way that actual authority does. “

    You are teaching a class that has from time to time people who have held calling of leadership in the church. But they are not in leadership now, so they have no more “authority” then anyone else, they are just men, your brothers in Christ. They are not there to judge you. They just want to hear a good spiritual lesson like everyone else. As member of this church we get to be “former” lots of things, it helps us grow. But a former mission president or member of the 70 has not more authority than I do, and if they lived in my ward would have less than me. As for the BYU religion professor, he has none as a professor, he might have knowledge and that maybe intimidating but that is no different than if I was teaching him. There are only two people in your ward who have “authority” over you in your calling. Sunday School President and bishop, but more likely the councilor who is over Sunday School. No One Else. You are the person called and set apart, with all the rights and responsibility to teach that class, and yes Authority to teach that class.

  99. Corey Abbott, the devil needs no advocate. Don’t espouse dumb positions for the sake of argument, especially when you are talking about the needs of people without institutional power of their own.

  100. I thought long about responding, but feel I need to. I want to make clear that my comments are intended to honor your voice, Ashmae. I believe that your voice should weigh as heavily as mine or anyone else’s, and the best way to honor your voice is to engage you in discussion. I agree with this post, but feel it misses the critical point, even though Ashmae, you say “So, men, I cannot simply step up, or be out spoken, or demand anything without you also doing the same”. Men, especially men in the church, are taught, through culture, through explicit “doctrine”, and through implicit rules, that their position is deserved, natural, and God favored. Of course, that does not make it true. To simply ask men to clear space for women’s voices, to step up, is necessary but not sufficient.

    Women MUST insist on making their voice heard. They MUST demand a place at the table. Women can vote NOT because men were simply kind and enlightened; women protested, badgered, insisted, and worked tirelessly for the vote. Yes there were men who supported those women, and it ironically required men to change the laws to allow women to vote, but had those women not spoken up, women may still be waiting for the change they wanted and our society needed.I know the church is different. You acknowledge as such that you will be “silenced” if you speak up. You will be pushed aside, ignored, and isolated if you speak up.

    That to me, though, IS the critical point. The patriarchal structure is designed precisely to do that, to silence those who speak up. It is designed to ensure that women do not speak up, do not use their voice, and remain in the shadows, silent. If women do not do more of what you and many other women do here, change will not occur. If women do not insist, badger, protest, and work tirelessly, the structure and those who view that structure as divine will overwhelm us and the change we desire and our entire society, religious or otherwise, needs.

    Maybe that’s a long way of saying “Shout it out loud. Shout it long. Never stop shouting.” There are men who will support you, but asking us for what you need is essentially giving the power back to us. We, all of us, men and women, need you to take it.

    Thanks for writing this and sharing your voice with us.

  101. Suggestions for the men:

    When you are invited to speak in sacrament meeting, accept only on the condition that the woman speaker (if there is one) goes last if that’s been an issue in your ward. If they don’t want to change the order, decline the invitation.

    When you are in GD, if you usually speak up, challenge yourself to comment only once or twice even if the silence drags on. I promise everyone will survive the silence.

    If you are Bishop, tell the RS President you trust in her calling and that she can pick VT assignments herself without checking with you first and that you’ll pass on info as needed that may help inform her choice.

    If you hold the purse strings, as long as a request from a woman leader (Young Women’s or Relief Society for example) isn’t illegal, immoral, or so dangerous you wouldn’t let anyone do it, give permission quickly and freely. If you’d let the young men do it, let the young women do it. The leader is the one close to the action and best situated to decide if it’s a good idea to spend the money whatever way. Don’t micromanage the budget.

    Challenge yourself to get to know one woman a month. Get to know her for herself – not just who she’s married to, who she parents, or who she serves through a calling. What kind of food does she like to eat? Where did she grow up? What’s her favorite time of year? What are her pet peeves? If you need baby steps, make it one woman every other month – just 6 whole people a year.

  102. Aunt M
    So now you want the men to stay silent during gospel Doctrine? How is this equality?

  103. bbytheway says:

    Jon, “comment only once or twice” doesn’t mean stay silent. It means don’t dominate and leave space.

  104. I think “nobody, really” makes an important point. The women of the church are not willing or prepared to make the church experience more ambitious for the young women. Or for themselves. I think the biggest opponents of women receiving the priesthood, for example, are the women themselves. How many times do women leaders get shot down for trying to organize a 2 week high adventure backpacking trip for the young women? Probably close to never. Because the women leaders wouldn’t want to do it. And so forth. How equivalent is Activity Days compared to the Cub Scout program? Boy Scouts compared to Beehives?

  105. Mike W.–it will take a generation or two to undo the century or so of conditioning women NOT to be ambitious. But that’s some A+ victim blaming.

    Also, Activity Days is not equivalent to Cub Scouts because it’s not staffed or funded at the same level and because it’s supposed to be held only half as often as Cub Scouts. And I have personally been shot down, multiple times, in trying to organize ambitious activities for girls and women. Happens ALL the time.

  106. Just saying: …yeeeeah. This wouldn’t work with every ward. And even with my unusually nonjudgmental ward, I was petrified and kept wondering if I would be released for a while. (In retrospect, my previous calling as RS teacher seems to have been a preparation for everyone — I had some practice in being vulnerable and the bishop presumably knew what he was getting into.) On the other hand, I’m not sure that teaching about the historical and etc. issues would be a good idea for e.g. your ward either, so then you’re back to perhaps less controversial but equally as deep territory about how we apply doctrinal lessons and how we deal with love and pride and the Atonement and all those other big things.

    Emily: I totally, totally get that. I was not planning on being vulnerable in that way at all, but the fourth time in two weeks that someone said something along those lines to me (seriously) I figured it was the Spirit trying to get me to do something, sigh. But Scott J is totally right: you are the one who has been given the authority to teach the class, not the people who are of higher “rank” in the Church.

    That being said, I always prepared the heck out of my Church History lessons because of just that fear, most of which prep didn’t actually make it into the taught lesson — I wanted to make sure that if anyone did start bringing up some titchy doctrinal point that I’d at least enough reading and knowledge under my belt that I would be able to be confident in responding. Which did happen several times. But also remember that as the teacher you have the ability to say, “You know what? This is a great discussion and I would love to continue it after class, but I don’t want to focus on that, I want to make sure we have time for talking about love [or whatever the next big topic of your lesson is].” I’ve had to do that… more than once.

  107. How many times do women leaders get shot down for trying to organize a 2 week high adventure backpacking trip for the young women? Probably close to never. Because the women leaders wouldn’t want to do it.

    Why do you demand that girls and women propose precisely the same activities that attract some (but no means all) boys and men? Because you don’t see proposals for identical activities, you assume that women don’t yearn for ambitious activities of other sorts, supported at the same level, with the same deep preparation, adequately funded, and you suppose that we shoot down any that are suggested because of a supposed lack of ambition! You show such contempt for women!

  108. Brady Quist says:

    Thanks for sharing this perspective. It’s good to hear. I definitely think that there are things that need to be done by men exclusively (as wrong as it is, the privileged calling out inequality often carries more weight). That being said, I don’t feel that women are voiceless at church. Many of the take home messages that I hear at church come from women. Either way, I appreciate your post and would love to discuss this more in person. I’d like to understand your perspective better and share my own as will. Thanks again for your words.

  109. ShawnH, thanks for your words. I believe the only reason the sexism exists and is perpetuated is because so many women actually believe (even if not intellectually) that they are somehow inferior and need permission from men to change, progress, etc. However, as many have already explained, this message of inferiority is embedded in girls so young and so deep that overcoming it requires nearly miraculous healing. My heart weeps.

  110. Bbytheway
    This post reminds me of something I heard once
    feminists don’t want equality they want Supremacy

  111. megelaineconley says:

    Jon, your comment is really pretty telling, tbh. Put women in the roles traditionally occupied by men, amplify their voices to the extent men’s voices are amplified, act like women matter as much as men do right now. This makes you feel that she is calling for female supremacy. Ahem. Does that not tell you even one little thing about our current state when it comes to men? (It’s a rhetorical question. I’m not engaging beyond this comment. Godspeed and all that.)

  112. How many times do women leaders get shot down for trying to organize a 2 week high adventure backpacking trip for the young women? Probably close to never.

    Mike W., that’s frankly a stupid an uninformed comment. How often do women get shot down for wanting to do two weeks of hiking? You say probably never; I suspect (based on the experience of friends and loved ones of mine) just about every single time.

    My personal experience: there was recently a week-long day camp organized for Cub Scouts in our area, and our stake was unwilling to (a) invite girls too, or (b) organize a similar opportunity for the girls. I wrote to and then talked to our Stake President. It had never occurred to him that this was unequal, and was unwilling to commit to providing an equivalent camp for girls. And I live in a relatively progressive part of the country.

    You might be right that women often don’t ask for things. But it’s not because they universally don’t want to—it’s because they’ve been shot down in the past, and so the cost of asking outweighs the (non-existent) benefit. Once you start having the ambitious activities approved, I suspect you’ll have an exponential increase in YW activities matching YM activities in ambition and scope.

  113. Sounds like you’re a little sexist toward men. Hmm.

  114. Sounds like you have men/husband issues. There are WAAAAAY worse things in life to worry about. I’ve been LDS my entire life & I have NEVER wanted to be a leader in anything!!! My heavenly calling was to be a mother and to bear children. No man can do THAT!

  115. Plenty of women can’t, either.

  116. I am a guerrilla fighter. Every time some unpleasant task comes up in Church, I simply raise my hand and state that women should not be doing this. This is a Priesthood task so I will not be there to help because I do not want to infringe on their rights. People will get the idea and I will laugh privately until the idea finally sinks in that we are equal children of God.

  117. Angie S., Seems like you have a woman/wife issue. Like a total lack of understanding who your Heavenly Mother actually is and what she wants you to become.

  118. No Deanna. There’s a problem with people who bash our religion. No wife problems. Just a problem with not trusting God.

  119. Ashame, I eagerly await your posts. While I am old enough to be your mother, my senses resonate with yours. I see and understand the concerns you have about equity in your home and in the church. I am more hopeful about your home than I am about change in the institutional church. I am inspired that you and other women in your generation are aware of and encouraging the rest of us to speak up and step up. This may take a while as those in power are extremely reluctant to share that power especially if they can use doctrine or history to keep it in their grasp.

  120. Ashmae, thanks for writing this. I haven’t gone through the comments yet, but I wanted to tell you again how much your book means to me, to thank you for how much your perspective and experiences have taught me, and to say again that I’m committed making our faith a better place for women.

  121. I’ve been LDS my entire life & I have NEVER wanted to be a leader in anything!!!

    This truly has to be the saddest comment I’ve read anywhere. To willingly — eagerly, enthusiastically — class yourself among the things always to be acted upon, and never to act? I can’t believe it. I can only hope that the speaker has no idea what being a leader really is, and that she has in fact been a leader, to her own children at least.

  122. Really great response Ardis — my thoughts too, about the act vs. be acted upon angle.

  123. I too am saddened by the comment about never wanting to be a leader for several reasons, but especially because it reflects a common assumption that leaders have power over others and are categorically different in privilege, authority, and accountability than “non-leaders.”

  124. Angie’s comment about never wanting to be a leader in anything is because she truly respects the men’s positions in the church and does not feel envy towards them. There are truly more important things to concern yourself with like being a very incredible mom, which she is. We all have different opinions on whether we want to be leaders in the church or not. Maybe some don’t feel comfortable with a leader position, so why are you putting others down if you don’t know the full story? Really sad to see people judging someone like that without knowing the person and their situation.

  125. Sounds like some of the commenters (Angie, Madie) may need a quick introduction to some basic concepts and terminology.

    How about Andrea R-M’s “Mormon Women, Patriarchy and Equality” from Juvenile Instructor. “As a professor of history at a predominantly Mormon university,” she wrote, “lately I have been a magnet for students with questions . . . especially considering the recent public attention to the roles of women in our traditional religious culture.”

    Her explanation is a clear, basic introduction to the issues, written for first-year college students at a very traditional religious institution.

    Mormon Women, Patriarchy and Equality

  126. I’d rather not. Thanks though. I would much rather trust my Heavenly Father than anyone who doubts him.

  127. So just because you personally don’t want a leadership position, no woman should have one? That doesn’t make sense. I mean, I don’t like coconut cookies – should I ask leadership to ban them from church buildings because I don’t want any?

    My issue with women being barred from leadership positions in the church isn’t because it thwarts my personal ambitions. It’s because it cuts women out of important conversations that impact female members of the church. It means women’s points of view aren’t included. And that has all kinds of ripple effects, as has been outlined here and elsewhere. Namely, it also sends an implicit message to all members that women’s voices are less important – after all, a woman can never institute a decision or revelation that affects anyone outside her family without a male authority confirming it. So why bother? If her insight is important for me to hear, a man will repeat it.

  128. I have a very late comment on the people who teach GD and get equal participation from women and men in the class. I’m (probably) not in your ward, but I think it might be worth considering that it *seems* like you’re getting equal participation, but this might be caused by a perceptual bias that leads women’s contributions to be overestimated. For example, here’s a study where the authors concluded: “Across a large group of subjects and four dialogues, we found that the contribution of a female speaker to a mixed-sex conversation was systematically judged as greater than that of a male speaker, although in fact the contributions were identi-
    cal.” (http://pubman.mpdl.mpg.de/pubman/item/escidoc:68785:7/component/escidoc:506904/Cutler_1990_Speaker+sex.pdf) I’m sure there are better examples, but my Google-fu is failing me.

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