Why LDS Women Turn to the Media

Natalie Brown holds a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. She is currently guest editing an issue on the role of homes and houses in LDS culture for Irreantum, the literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. She encourages anyone interested in this topic to read the issue-specific guidelines and submit by July 31.

This is not a post about the content of the July 21 New York Times article on women’s garments, though in full disclosure I privately wrote the Distribution Center with similar complaints years ago and found them highly responsive. This is a post on why I believe we have seen, and will continue to see, many LDS women turn to the media or to outside organizations in order to voice their complaints, despite the fact that the Church (and I suspect most members) would prefer to resolve concerns internally rather than through a mainstream media that has often sensationalized the Church, its members, and its underwear. The short answer, of course, is that there is no effective channel for most members’ voices to be heard when working within the Church.

In 2013, Kate Kelly founded the Ordain Women movement that supported women’s ordination in the LDS Church. Desire for expanded roles for women in the LDS Church was not new. Ordain Women, however, was unusual in (1) creating an organization to advocate for a specific objective—women’s ordination—and (2) using social media and news outlets to bring national attention to its aims. In 2014, Kate Kelly was excommunicated by her local leaders, who attempted to draw a distinction between holding personal viewpoints about how the Church should approach issues like gender and ordination, which was permissible, and activism and public promotion of those viewpoints, which was not. 


However one might view the Ordain Women movement, this response sent a mixed message to LDS women who had quietly worked within the Church to ask questions and promote more expanded roles for women. On the one hand, they were validated in their approach of working within the authorized channels to raise questions. On the other, it was Ordain Women’s activism, not patient persistence, that finally elicited a response from the Church on questions they too had been asking. Ordain Women didn’t speak for all LDS women, but it was heard.


Like the Church, I believe that problems are more effectively addressed when the parties involved directly talk. However, I also know from experience that there currently is no effective way for women to engage leaders in a dialogue, whether the issue is wanting to ask questions about gender or suggesting operational improvements. We are encouraged to approach general leaders through local leaders, which pragmatically removes burdens from the general authorities but also ensures that messages get lost or otherwise undelivered. This approach is particularly problematic when local leaders are unsympathetic to the issues members want to raise or when their leadership is the problem. While delegation of work is essential to any organization, it’s also critical that members are able to communicate their concerns, questions, and viewpoints to the persons with authority to address them. I sincerely believe that most members who turn to the media do so as a last resort because they don’t know where else to go.


If the Church wants members to engage in dialogue within its channels rather than turn to the media or organize, the obvious solution is to create more venues within the Church in which members (and particularly women and minorities) can be heard and—here’s the important part—have their voices fairly considered by those with decision-making authority rather than dismissed. While wards are appropriate places for addressing local problems, I believe it would be helpful for general leaders to maintain a staff that could read, forward, and address comments from members or host town halls, much in the same way that elected officials and government organizations do. We should also consider ways in which Church publications could be used to foster more discussion around general issues while maintaining the in-person and online conversations between individuals that are so often the roots of understanding and innovation. If we don’t listen to our own members, we shouldn’t be surprised when they find someone else who will.


Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Aussie Mormon says:

    What do you mean by heard and fairly considered, and how would you tell the difference between hearing, fairly considering, and giving and answer of “no” and not hearing and fairly considering?

  2. Kristine says:

    Aussie Mormon, I’d say evidence of hearing would mean that maybe they would read and respond to letters, maybe they would include women in leadership training sessions where there are Q&A periods, maybe they would meet with women when they travel, maybe their talks would show understanding of the issues women and marginal communities face, or maybe they’d even let women speak and model listening to them in public…

    Honestly, it’s not that hard to tell the difference between a place where one’s gender doesn’t mute one’s voice and one where it does. Most women now have experience with the former, which makes patience with the latter more difficult.

  3. Erika Briggs says:

    It would be great if even simple suggestions could be considered. For example, my mom (the ward organist) recently asked her bishop if four priests could be at the sacrament table in anticipation of a large crowd at a sacrament meeting missionary farewell. (She hates playing the sacrament song solo over and over while the priests break the bread.) His response was that he might consider three, but never four and a month later is still not speaking to the woman who dared suggest such a thing. And yes, she did have to play the dreaded 5-minute solo.

  4. Michinita says:

    I happened to be at the conference center when President Oaks read a piece of a letter from a dear sister who shares my concerns about our current practice of polygamy. She asked her question to the proper authority and was met with laughter. I haver never felt so acutely that my community does not want to hear from me.

    I’m a bishop’s wife at the moment. I shared my concern that we often have sacrament meetings were every single voice heard over the pulpit is male. That happens less often now, but the experience of sharing that apparently very unwelcome concern with him was so unpleasant and required so much capital that I have held my tongue for the next two years and counting.

  5. Carolyn says:

    I had a good guy friend once who called me because he had just been called into a bishopric, and he wanted to develop empathy towards the women in his ward. He considered that to be part of his calling. So he asked me to explain some of the top concerns of women, feminists, faith crisis doubters, etc. I promptly handed him two fairly long lists curated over the years by Exponent and Feminist Mormon Housewives. And I just remember his look of … overwhelmed shock. Like for the first five or so items he nodded along with “that makes sense, that makes sense, that makes sense…” and then as the items escalated to 50+ it hit him that there were systemic problems and most leaders weren’t listening, and while he could help with some culture issues in the ward he was powerless in the face of the Church overall. Even that hour-long conversation was more empathy than I had gotten from almost any other Priesthood leader, even the amazing ones, in my life.

  6. Carolyn – I would love to have your curated list of top concerns of women. I have been developing my own and would like to add/compare.

  7. Yes, you are right about there being no other way to get heard, and I’m sure that’s primarily why you see articles like this.

    But I think also that when the Church is doing harmful things (like making women wear underwear that gives them health problems and is frankly absurd and not remotely comparable to actual women’s underwear despite their claims), it deserves to have public scrutiny and deserves to be embarrassed.

    Unfortunately Church cares more about PR than women.

  8. Not a Cougar says:

    Perhaps the Church could set up a process similar to the U.S. Department of Defense process for military members and civilian personnel to elevate requests and other documents to higher headquarters for review and action. The member drafts a request/complaint/notification, etc. and uploads it with any supporting documentation to a Church website, which triggers a notification to the member’s bishop who has the opportunity to review and recommend approval or disapproval (if applicable) as well as upload any additional documentation. Stake president and area president do the same. Then the request makes it way to Church headquarters where it is routed to the appropriate committee or apostle or whatever they have at Church headquarters for final action (whatever that might be). A notice is then required to go back to the member to let them know what, if any, action the leadership is taking or has taken (or not taken). This way, the Church gets to keep local leaders involved, but eliminate the complete gatekeeper function at the local level. I suspect the number of requests would be relatively low compared to overall active membership, but it would certainly be a large number nonetheless. Too bureaucratic?

  9. Even if the church insists on keeping garments in the same general pattern, there is no excuse for their horrid design and material choices. There are many businesses out there that create women’s undergarments, covering just as much skin, but that are incredibly functional and enjoyable to wear. I haven’t worn garments in years, but I own and wear pieces from these companies because they’re comfortable and actually work for me.

    Knee length shorts made of underwear material to prevent thigh chafing and rubbing when wearing dresses in humidity:
    https://www.thighsociety.com/

    Shirt sleeve shirts made to wear under delicate fabric shirts to protect them from sweat and body oils:
    https://wearnumi.com/products/the-signature

    Yes, these are more expensive than lds garments, but that should not be a concern. The health and comfort of female members should be a priority for the church – they can afford to subsidize the making of quality garments with their billions.

  10. BluePlanet says:

    Standing ovation for this post! Key quote: “…it’s also critical that members are able to communicate their concerns, questions, and viewpoints to the persons with authority to address them.”

    I served as bishop and most of the time I agreed with the views of members who brought well-considered concerns to me. But almost all of these concerns were above my pay grade to fix. I would raise them to the stake president (who usually agreed as well) and he’d take them to the area authority. And after that? Who knows. Black hole.

  11. Not a Cougar says:

    Any chance one of my posts can be released from moderation? There are no links and nothing controversial in them.

  12. We’re repeatedly told in conferences that the church wants our voices and our viewpoints, but our lived experiences provide overwhelming evidence that this simply isn’t true. Individual male leaders on the local level can sympathize, but they are usually powerless to change anything, and all women know this, which is why so many women don’t bother saying anything, ever.

  13. @DeAnnS — I’m failing at finding the FMH list I remember most, but a lot of the ideas are also in Neylan McBaine’s book, Women at Church: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MV8VCB0/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

  14. Stephen Cranney says:

    They do have a process in place; the Church regularly conducts surveys among its members on a wide range of issues (including garments). Furthermore, they do so in an attempt to hear the voices of a representative sample of members. This, I think is a better approach than what is being suggested here, which is that people who spend more efforts to lobby for this or that get more of the brethren’s ear than average sister or brother so and so. 

  15. Stephen Hardy says:

    When the church conducts surveys among its members, it means that they, “the church,” have total control over what is being asked/addressed, and to some extent the responses. It may be useful, but it is not even remotely like the grass-roots system that is needed. A survey is usually not public knowledge, and those who have something to say may or may not know that such a survey exists. It is a fine way to collect information. But we need something much more significant than that: We need to know that our leaders are capable of hearing us and able to respond (not be dismissed out of hand.) We also encourage our members to pray: shall we suggest that prayer is the only venue for large or small concerns? One can almost hear someone saying that if “God wants any changes, he will tell President Nelson.” Such a belief misses the very essence of the revelatory process and glosses over the times that a leader needed to be corrected by a follower. Members who feel ignored will be less valiant missionaries, will be more likely to perform poorly or unenthusiastically in callings, will be more likely to just give up on the whole thing.

  16. Why the church has not come out with a slip/skirt bottom option is beyond me. I recommend it frequently and know I am not heard.

    I came across a survey at the distribution center years ago regarding garments but it was so poorly worded and formatted that I can’t image it being very useful. I commented quite a bit at the bottom but I had no ability to follow up or further explain my position.

    Additionally, surveys are in no way a replacement for dialogue and do not suggest that anyone is actively listening. I am sad for the women who experience recurring gynecological issues and have no idea it is because of their obedience. It is hard not to be troubled by the idea that the men who ask women to make these sacrifices will not only never have to make these sacrifices themselves but they also aren’t even comfortable thinking about them.

    A useful survey would ask person questions such as the frequency of yeast infections, rashes, UTIs, etc. I hope the church is considering this.

  17. Anon this time says:

    An experience I had years ago demonstrated the Church’s lack of listening to women. I was in the support group for women whose husbands were porn addicts. When I started the program, we wives had our own 12-step manual, that straight up told us we were codependent and that we had to overhaul our own approach to problems and life. Basically, step one for the wives was to stop trying to ‘fix’ our addicted husbands and address our own problems. It was life-changing. I had so many experiences that helped me along the path to mental health, and heard so many women talk about how they were applying this customized 12-step program to their own anxiety and depression. Some of us were using the 12 steps to overcome childhood abuse, and other traumatic events. The manual even addressed abuse, and admitted that not every husband was going to repent.

    The manual was written by a woman, who consulted with other women. They gathered up women’s experiences and put them in the appendix to the manual.

    Then the men got involved in evaluating this ‘pilot program manual.’ The men didn’t like it. They pulled the plug on the manual that was helping us overcome codependency. Instead, we got a manual that was 100% focused on supporting our husbands in their recovery. There was no acknowledgement that some men don’t repent from a porn addiction. There was no mention that we (the wives) had a problem that needed to be separately addressed. No, we wives were innocent victims and all we needed was to be patted on the head and encouraged while we cheered on our husbands’ recovery. Instead of working the 12 steps ourselves (specifically written by other women with porn addicted husbands to overcome codependency and the emotional chaos that so many of us struggled with), we got told to think of Jesus when we took the sacrament. The spouse’s support group meeting went from life-changing to be nothing more than another anodyne Relief Society lesson.

    The woman who wrote the manual told us that the man at the Church Office Building in the Addiction Recovery Program never even showed the Apostles the manual the women were using to overcome codependency. We wrote letters. But that’s all we really could do. And it didn’t matter. The 12-step manual for women went from being spiritually challenging and healing to being a pat on the head.

    I honestly believe the Brethren thought they were being nice by removing any suggestion that a woman married to an addict needs to repent/recover/change on her own account. But it took all the growth out of the program.

  18. One thing to note, is that even though men do have this ultimate authority, the vast majority of men also do not have their voice heard, it tends to be certain ‘kinds’ of men who select those like themselves to continue an ever-self-reinforcing cabal of leadership.

  19. @anon, that’s awful.

    Church leaders who think they are experts in every subject (such as addiction / abuse / betrayal trauma recovery) simply because of their priesthood callings are really dangerous to the well-being of members. You seem to have had the wherewithal to realize what was wrong with the revamped curriculum but I hurt for the women who didn’t.

  20. It’s always irked me that we simultaneously get told not to write to Church authorities… and then hear GAs quote letters they received in General Conference.

    It’s so discouraging to have no institutionally-approved member-originated means of feedback, and it’s spot-on that, without such a method, people turn to third parties to facilitate communication.

    (And, no, surveys aren’t sufficient, though I’ve taken advantage of every one I’ve gotten — this isn’t just about the Church gathering information; it’s about people having some agency in the provision of information, some ownership in the direction of the institution, some sense of reciprocity.)

  21. Mark N. says:

    Five minutes of “Follow the Prophet” while waiting for a sufficient quantity of torn bread might send a message.

  22. Anon this time,

    Is there to find a PDF of the pilot manual you mentioned?

  23. When I was ward RS president, the Stake President requested the bishops include 1 or 2 women in bishopric meeting every week. After that, I was invited each week to bishopric meeting. I was totally part of every conversation. My thoughts about who should be called to a position and which family was in need, were an every week occurrence. Although my suggestions did not always carry the day, my voice was definitely heard.

    While I was RS president, a general authority visiting for stake conference asked to meet with all of the ward RS presidents before stake conference. We weren’t quite sure what to expect (was this going to be just another lecture from on high?), but we sat in a small room and he asked us what our concerns and the concerns of the women in our wards were. The RS presidents in the room opened up, and started sharing many concerns, including that the women in their wards struggled with the men in the church “making all of the decisions”. Although the format of the meeting was wonderful, and the GA was pleasant and seemed to listen to us, he answered every thought and question with textbook, tried-and-true, routine answers. I don’t think that he really heard our concerns, and I would guess that he thought that he had answered all of our questions and walked away thinking that he had actually solved some problems. It was a step in the right direction, but mostly left a bad taste in all of the women’s mouths.

    So, how do women know that their concerns aren’t heard, because sometimes the answer is just “no”? In the first case, I knew I was part of the conversation, and helped shape the outcome even if it was rarely exactly what I recommended. In the second case, the GA didn’t listen to us, and simply recited the answers women have heard over and over. He didn’t share one thought that was unique to him or to us and our concerns.

  24. Mark N: “Follow the Prophet” for 5 minutes. Ugh. That would definitely work! Another option is to just stop playing after the last sung verse. What is the bishop going to do about it? Change will not happen in the church until members—women and men—everywhere learn the enormous power of the word NO. Members can complain all they want, but as long as they keep doing what they’re told, leaders have no reason to change a single thing. It’s all working just fine for them.

  25. Anon this time says:

    @JC – the woman who wrote the codependency manual actually took her book and experience and launched an independent website and program. http://www.healingthroughchrist.org/ You can buy the manual for recovering from sex addition in ebook or print format. http://www.healingthroughchrist.org/recovery-workbook/

    The recovery workbook page notes that: “The Healing Through Christ Foundation began compiling information for the Recovery Workbook in 2013. Each week as the information was being written and developed, it was also being field-tested in 12 Step pilot support groups for those who struggle with pornography and sexual addiction.” I was attending the 12 step program during 2013, and was in one of those pilot support groups for the spouses.

    The Family Support workbook is also available: http://www.healingthroughchrist.org/family-support-workbook/. I don’t know if this Family Support workbook is just like the ‘recovery from codependency’ manual that I have, but based on this testimonial: “It has helped me stay in my marriage and to work on improving me and leaving my husband to God.” I would assume it’s similar, i.e., it starts with the principle that the wife needs to let husband be in charge of his own recovery while she works on herself.

    There are phone support group meetings, with info on the webpage.

    I don’t have a pdf of the manual I used, and my print version is covered in highlighting, underlining and notes in the margin.

  26. I think it is possible to leave someone feeling heard even if the answer is no. I have usually felt heard, satisfied and enabled to collaborate further when leaders have:

    1. Restated my viewpoint so that I know they understood what I was communicating;

    2. Explained their reasoning and the factors behind their decision;

    3. Expressed willingness to hear further input from me; and

    4. Given me permission to act in accordance with my own inspiration on the topic.

    This kind of approach has often helped me see the issue more clearly and felt like a genuine dialogue.

  27. Aussie Mormon, it’s hard to think that women’s concerns are being “heard and fairly considered” when women’s garments are so ill-suited to women’s bodies (especially during menstruation). That we don’t (can’t?) have something so basic, and completely possible, is a big reason I don’t feel that women of the church are heard. Comfortable underwear that functions during menstruation shouldn’t be a big ask, honestly. Since that’s not happening, it makes me extremely skeptical that leadership is listening to other concerns.
    Another reason I’m skeptical is the huge imbalance between male and female leadership. There are 15 apostles, plus dozens of 70s in the first two quorums, plus the presiding bishopric, plus the Sunday school presidency, plus the general YM presidency. And we have 9 female general presidency members.
    (I know there’s RS, YW, and Primary boards, but I have no idea who is on them, how many, or what they do, and they are probably counterbalanced by at least the same number of men in all the other 70s, so I don’t think that changes the calculus.)
    Given the imbalance, I’m very skeptical that the men are listening, because there’s so few women to listen to. Can 9 women really speak for all the women of the church? I don’t think they can, and that’s why I doubt the male leadership is fairly considering female concerns. Even if all 9 women leaders were to say “garments are a problem,” for example, would their voices weigh strongly enough if 10 or 12 of the male leaders said “no, garments are fine”?
    Math really isn’t on the side of the women leaders on the general level, and the general level makes the most important and consequential policy decisions for the entire church. That’s why I don’t feel women in general are heard and fairly considered.
    I really appreciated the NYT article. I’m glad someone was listening. I hope someone in church headquarters listens, too.

  28. Demosthenese says:

    Every single authority in the church is married to a woman. Many of them have been married to a number of them. I’m going to take a risk and say every one of them has daughters. And granddaughters. Possibly, great granddaughters who’ve been endowed as well.

    Do any of us believe they’ve never heard how uncomfortable and oppressive the garments are? I’m sure they’ve heard it in much more direct, personal and immediate ways than any survey or article in national media could achieve. Do we believe their wives and daughters are immune to yeast infections and UTIs? Do we believe that there isn’t one who has a son or daughter who’s an OB/GYN who could explain that the causes of these afflictions include a lack of air flow to that region?

    The question is why have they refused to do something to alleviate the problem? And how safe Sasha Piton’s membership is?

  29. Correct me if I’m wrong, but only 2 women spoke last Conference …

  30. I have wondered about the revelation meme. The idea is that this Church is top down, led by revelation from the very top. This means that our local opinions do not really count. This is just noise in the system. This fundamentally means that unless something happens to impact the Church visibly, particularly in regard to growth, all comments and suggestions will be ignored.

    This is why going to the media really works. Why Ordain Women changed something.

    The only way to modify this system is … there is no way. Women will not be listened to until membership and missionary work is impacted. Do you think that you can change Pres. Nelson’s viewpoint, or Pres. Oaks? Or Elder Bednar who will be president soon?

  31. bob14243444 says:

    One more thing with regard to revelation:

    If revelation were strictly top down, then you-all cannot get more revelation about the organization of the Church, or anything else for that matter, than Pres. Nelson. No matter who you are, how deeply spiritual, you cannot get more. This means that your private revelations about the nature of God and life, about men and women, about the relationship of people, this is all not important and, in their view, probably wrong.

    To me this is vastly restrictive. This means that there can be no Samuel for our Eli. And no matter how much you think that you know about things and how much insight you have and how much you have heard God’s voice, you are SOL.

  32. ShySaint says:

    I’ve got a question. Has anyone ever been a better Mormon because they’re wearing garments than they are because of the way they were raised or their basic human decency?

  33. Excellent post, Natalie.

    A few weeks ago in my ward’s Sunday School class, a discussion that started with “defending our beliefs” turned to why people leave the Church, and several people affirmed that the Church *welcomes* questions and feedback. I can understand how people reach this conclusion. It would be utterly unreasonable for an organization this large to systematically prevent feedback from its rank and file members from reaching the top decision-makers. Surely, a holy organization like the Church wouldn’t be that unreasonable. Therefore, the Church must welcome feedback.

    It would be nice if true. But that is so completely false.

  34. Just a Thought says:

    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but only 2 women spoke last Conference …”

    Would it matter how many women spoke if they’re only going to say what’s expected and authorized? Would it matter if what they had to say wasn’t going to be taken seriously anyway?

  35. Brent P says:

    Seeing as how this article appeared in the NYTimes (which has tremendous influence in shaping opinions and attitudes), I can only imagine that we’re going to get a change about women’s garments in the near future coming from the leaders. I can imagine that they’ll probably hire a female fashion designer to readjust and restyle the garments. But of course, this will happen a little bit down the road, so as not to appear to be making the change in reaction to the article, and very subtly. Probably without announcement too. Women buying garments will just see, “oh, they’re different and more comfortable now.” Something to that effect. Already, I imagine, church leaders are getting a swarm of angry letters in reaction to the publication of this article and feeling pressure to do something.

    Turning to media can be an effective tool for change. Kate Kelly certainly found this. Although she didn’t effectively influence the church to give women the priesthood, I have no doubt that her movement was key in the church’s decisions to 1) have a women’s meeting during conference once a year on the Conference Saturday’s evening, and 2) do away with the special Conference Saturday evening meeting altogether. Change is slow. But activists who shape their narrative persuasively, are persistent, and reach the right media sources, can prompt changes indeed.

  36. Agreed, Just A Thought. It is unaccountable & infuriating, and seems calculated to upset/weed out independent women. Who exactly is making these decisions???

  37. Anon this time says:

    JC – I’ve tried twice to leave instructions on how to find the manual I mentioned. This comment may get stuck too, but there are two comments somewhere about how to find the manual.

  38. Kristine says:

    JC, Anon this time, I’ve freed the comment from the filter, but it posts at the time it was orginally posted, so it’s up above at https://bycommonconsent.com/2021/07/23/why-lds-women-turn-to-the-media/#comment-433050. Sorry about that!

  39. Justagirl says:

    So many comments to address. This is simply my impression and opinion.

    Surveys are loaded PR. Hoping to assuage and delay negative feedback. What are they selling?

    Media and Social media have promoted “Handbook revelation changes” after the media
    attention and excommunication of people who could organize excellent programs for change.

    Garment design seems to be based on the distrust of a member’s ability to be faithful.
    My mother, a convert of the 60’s, along with the active sisters in RS displayed their “porn” shoulders, cleavage and knee caps at every adult dance presented by the ward and stake. Remember Gold and Green Balls? No need to have modesty checks at the door or gossip about unworthy women. My father had the most horrible elastic swimsuit which was acceptable at ward and youth swim activities,and BSA. Totally embarrassing to his children, maybe it was the old wingtips he wore with the suit.
    We could not procure sanctioned hospital gowns for my 95 year old mother with dementia because she had to get permission from her out of state bishop. We couldn’t ask ours.

    Being heard, being respected and understood are a far cry from change.
    Duly noted doesn’t change anything. Head for the exit sign…I guess.

  40. Mortimer says:

    Excellent post. Preach, sister.

    MH- It’s true that GAs quote letters from members in Conference, and turn around and say that letters aren’t welcome/accepted. Here’s the deal- I suspect that most letters that get through are from connected people and relatives (i.e. white wealthy Utahans). There’s likely a major disparity in the voices that do somehow poke through.

  41. Mortimer says:

    Natalie Brown,

    Let’s not forget the childish way the General RS acted toward Kate Kelly and OW. Even the General RS Presidency refused to listen to OW. They denied multiple requests for an audience, citing a lack of time, then turned around and reached out to meet with to the leaders of Mormon Women Stand, an overnight LDS women’s social media campaign for women with no concerns. It was a childish stunt by Salt Lake, that smacked of deceit, as obviously they had “time”. Not only that, they supported social media organizing, as long as women don’t problem solve or raise concerns, just parrot happy-feely memes.

    I was so disappointed with the General RS Presidency, for their unwillingness to address problems- to stick their heads in the sand and ignore fellow sisters who were troubled and seeking help. To say “we’re too busy for you”, then immediately turn around and invite the other group for an audience who passed along “all is well in Zion, yea, Zion prosperith” sentiments, just stank. We afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable. Charity ever faileth.

    It’s not just women versus men, there are women in all ranks of the church who are our own worst enemies- who fully support the status quo and refuse to listen, to pass along concerns, etc.

    So, is it really men vs women or progressive vs conservative?

  42. I personally believe Kate Kelly and Ordain Women had a delaying effect on changes the Relief Society leadership had been shepherding through for years. But I find it had to accept that the leadership would meet with Mormen Women Stand. What a self-righteous group!. How could anyone even hold a conversation with them? Didn’t they want to scream at the end of it?
    I am saddened that church members feel so unheard they need to approach the New York Times. And it is often not that you want only to be heard. You want problems to be solved. “Being heard” is an exercise in meeting with leaders, watching them nod sympathetically, then explaining to you why the way things are currently done is the correct way so nothing should be changed. No problems solved but their duty is done. They pat themselves on the back as they leave the room. Sort of like the old home teaching visits. Check that off the list. My families have been served.
    I want concrete action to solve the problem. Being heard is insulting the way it is practiced in the church.

  43. Minchinita, you were not alone in your feelings about that conference talk. I was appalled at President Oaks insensitivity.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Two-way communication between leaders and members has been key to many revelations and institutional developments in the church. I find it so odd that the communication has been so thoroughly shut down from the bottom up. In the traditional church, pains were taken to ensure that all were edified.

    Yes, my wife and I have been marginalized and demeaned for asking questions of local leaders. I dare say that our experiences are not unusual and are part of the normal LDS experience. The system is broken and one of the major pitfalls for members at this time.

  45. I think of the way I have been treated by my priesthood leaders when I raised concerns, sometimes with respect with my concerns solved, sometimes not. I think of all the stupid things church leaders wasted valuable effort trying to enforce, from only pantsuits for women at BYU to insisting the endowment gave women no priesthood power and authority. And I wonder why? Why offend over nothing or something that will be changed in a few years. Why not listen to people who care enough to want to make things better? Why see every suggestion as a personal challenge to your authority? The gospel is not a zero sum game. There is not only one pie and if I get a bigger piece, you must get a smaller one. We can bake a bigger pie. We could treat suggestions as people going about accomplishing much righteousness. We could see members as more than widgets who need to do what they are told. We as leaders could see ourselves as limited by our knowledge and experience and capable of so much more if we actually counselled in coucils.

  46. Paul Thecla says:

    We need an Ombudsman system. It could reside within the Presiding Bishopric as a Clerical organization and should be staffed with qualified people with a background in HR & law. The strength of a centralized organization like the restored church is that we have the ability to manage issues with from the top rather than having them lost among a lot of mid-level managers who lack the ability to drive organizational objectives –provided issues make it to top leaders.

    A large matrixed organization like the church (and other corporations) is built to prevent issues from being escalated to top leaders. Mid-level managers are tasked with preventing escalating issues as a core job function. The purpose of an Ombudsperson system is that to create a secondary avenue for issues to be escalated internally while still being filtered by a neutral party for seriousness. In it’s absence the press and reputational damage risk fulfill the role.

    Sometimes Saints are fortunate enough to personally know an escalation point outside of an institutional roadblock and other times they are not. In any case it can be a struggle, even inside a strong and positive relationship with an authority, to overcome their pre-programmed negative reactions to what will always be perceived as criticism of the gospel rather than an ‘improvement opportunity’ for the temporal church administration. Cornelius, Peter, and Paul showed this was not a modern challenge of churches run by humans.

    A personal anecdote was sitting through an American Stake Conference in which an Area 70 bore his testimony of the greatness of the Republican National Convention (where he had flown back from to attend the conference) and how God’s party would overcome godless Socialists in a looming election. That’s not hyperbole, if anything it undersells the craziness and problematic nature of his entire sermon. Respectfully disagreeing I contacted our Ward’s Executive Secretary to express my concerns to my Bishop. We met the same day. Speaking privately with my Bishop I asked if he felt the Area 70’s comment aligned with our church’s stance of political neutrality. The Bishop agreed it did not and expressed regret for the political content. I asked if the comments would be clarified and our church’s political neutrality would be reaffirmed.

    My Bishop cautioned me that our Area Seventy was a great man he had deep admiration for and he invited me to repent for speaking ill of him. I reminded the Bishop my concern was regarding the political sermon ahead of an election and was not personal. My Bishop released me from my calling and admonished me to repent before dismissing me from his office. I’m reasonably confident if that meeting was discussed with higher-ranking authorities the discussion centered on my fellowship status rather than our Area 70’s politicking from the pulpit.

  47. Shy Saint says:

    I hear the concern to get to solutions in your response, Paul Thesia. It’s not my intention to offend.
    Women and members who are shut out, put upon and looking for leadership that appreciates the issues that they have to deal with deserve answers and to be heard. I know that’s what you’re trying to get at. But is adding another layer of bureaucracy to an organization that’s already top heavy with corporate structure and reluctant responses while claiming to be lead by a living prophet what’s actually necessary?

  48. Loursat says:

    Shy Saint asked, “Is adding another layer of bureaucracy to an organization that’s already top heavy with corporate structure and reluctant responses while claiming to be led by a living prophet what’s actually necessary?”

    This is a reasonable question to which the answer is yes. The way anything gets done in a large organization is by deliberately allocating resources to do it. Right now nobody is in charge of listening to people, so that job is done only in the most random and haphazard way. It’s usually not done at all. Creating something similar to an ombudsman would be a good start toward better practices.

  49. Mortimer says:

    Paul,

    Sorry, I’ve worked with too many Ombudspersons in academia and corporate culture to believe that the position is anything but another hand-picked, mid-level manager who has more allegiance to the organization than to the persons who raise issues. In organizations, the ombudsperson’s salary and review are overseen by the organization, not the victim. Need we go on? Sure- on paper the system is supposed to work, there are “neutrality” failsafes, but I’ve been disgusted watching most ombudsmen in practice. To eliminate the overwhelming bias, they would need to not be LDS, and not paid by or responsible to the oversight of the church. Since no such unicorn exists, the closest thing is the court of public opinion and the media.

  50. Mortimer says:

    On another note, I’d just like to say that while there have been times when women have had no recourse but to turn to the media, I have a problem with Ms. Piton taking public stabs at Beehive clothing for the following reasons:

    1) The church is actually amazingly professional and technological about garment production.

    She intimated that the church was amateurish at garment production and that women were not involved. Poppycock. And I’m terribly disappointed in the NYT for sloppily accepting her “facts” and not checking into the actual talent and expertise involved and the quality at beehive clothing. Of course the church not cooperating didn’t help. How hard would it have been to have flown the NYT reporter out to UT to tour the manufacturing factories? Argh! Both women would have been gobsmacked. Does Ms Piton know that LDS women who have PhDs in clothing design, fabric and textile marketing and production, historic and contemporary fashion, etc., who curate these programs at LDS universities, and who have worked or do work in some of the most amazing clothing and costume design/manufacturing jobs in the world, are the ones who lead LDS garment production for not only the women, but the men? Holy heck, does she not know that Mormon women and men are kinda good at – um, sewing? I have been in so many wards with LDS women who are world-class seamstresses, who have multiple degrees or experience, and have tremendous knowledge about clothing construction, the science of synthetic and natural fabric looming, etc. I have a grandmother and grandfather, an aunt and an uncle who have worked in this industry as tailors, seamstresses, textile and clothing scientists, and academic textile/clothing faculty, and who have all served the church and beehive clothing. Does she know how much work goes into garment and clothing production? Likely, no. If she did, she’d be able to communicate what was needed more than just saying “buttery”.

    2) The church provides a lot of options and has been expanding and improving g’s rapidly over the past 20 years.

    Did either Ms Piton or the NYT writer assess the quality of the cotton or synthetic blends before complaining about them? No. Can she advise on the 100% natural fine cotton, or the ratios or composition of the various available synthetics, inseam and crotch panels, overlock weaves, etc? It seems like she hasn’t done her homework. As far as design problems, Beehive clothing is one of the most communicative areas of the church, surveying members (not just sampling, but openly surveying anyone who has anything to say), keeping comment boxes constantly open, and staffing stores with one-on-one help. Since about 2007 when the bloggernacle started, beehive clothing has overhauled /upgraded g’s a few times, introducing new styles, new cuts, new fabrics, elastics, and other technologies. I know that they purposefully sent surveys through the bloggernacle on two different occasions- trying to glean as much input as possible from us! And changes have shown they are listening. It’s not as if we’re wearing pioneer chemises (as the NYT and Ms Piton alluded.) I can understand continuing to ask for needs, but not giving credit where credit was due felt icky.

    3) The church has pros on hand to help people and customizes g’s per medical/sizing other needs.

    I realize that not all beehive clothing stores are alike, but my beehive clothing is staffed by amazing seamstresses who don’t just “craft-sew”, but professionally tailor things like suits and formal dresses, support wear, etc. I didn’t need customized g’s, but they measured me, made recommendations, and shared info about the various cuts and fabrics. You can talk to them about problems and they will help you. Like bras, undergarments need to fit well, and most problems are solved when the fit and cut are right for your proportions. They are there to CUSTOMIZE garments for any medical or sizing need. Yes, you can get personalized, professionally customized/sewn g’s if you ask. I’m not sure if it’s possible any more, but one used to be able to buy long Johns/underwear at stores like ZCMI, Pennys, Sears, etc. and have beehive clothing turn them into garments. And military people have long been able to order special green g’s. I’m not doing beehive clothing department justice- they will totally bend over backwards to help you if you come to them. (Disclosure, my family members are retired and I have no current allegiance/bias).

    4) Not cool- talking about g’s publicly with the outside, and not directly with beehive clothing, also feels icky. She could have also have come to the bloggernacle/blabbernacle to keep the conversation relatively “in house”.

    5) There’s a difference between getting customized help for yourself (which I don’t see evidence that Ms Piton sought) or contributing one’s input, versus feeling like one should direct styles/options for and on behalf of everyone else.

    I felt like my input and that of tens of thousands of others has been part of a well-functioning improvement cycle for two decades, so why should all our voices be snuffed by her wants and Instagramming?

  51. Naismith says:

    When I first read the NYT article, I zinged over to the church store in a panic that they had stopped making the breathable nylon mesh fabric that is so comfortable in hot climates. I wore them while living in Indonesia and Brasil without experiencing the problems that others complained about, although of course we all have different bodies and thus different experiences.

    But there are options (that material comes in two different waist preferences) and so it does take some experimentation to find a fit that is comfortable.

    But I should have expected that the distribution center would have emailed me before discontinuing a style that I had ordered. At least that is what they did for my husband, when they stopped making his favorite style (even though he is a man). They warned him that it would not be available after a certain date some months out, and he ordered a bunch.

    I have seen women involved in many important ways in our church. One that I really appreciated was redrawing ward and stake boundaries. Women were on the committee every time, and a sister suggested that we start by defining neighborhood groups, clusters of people who carpooled together and whose kids went to the same school. Then try to draw lines so that those arrangements were not disrupted. Okay, I realize that sounds ridiculous to folks in the intermountain West where there are saints on every block….but it was a big deal out here, and everyone listened to the women.

    And I do think that newer building have a much better ratio of women to men bathroom facilities, which is a sore point for many of us.

  52. I appreciate Mortimer’s response because it brought up ideas I hadn’t thought of. But: ​

    1. Regarding the experts at Beehive clothing behind the design and manufacture of garments: if that’s true (and I have no evidence it’s not), that leaves me super confused about why garments are so uncomfortable and not functional for menstruation. Those types of underwear exist in the market. Why not for garments? If there’s a reason beside cost (which is NOT a good reason, imo), I’d be interested in hearing it.
    2. I appreciate that in-person shopping with a professional seamstress as an aid would result in more comfortable garments. However, I have never lived near a Beehive clothing center, and never will. I doubt that puts me in the minority of members. So if that’s a solution, it’s not a very useful one.
    3. I have ordered custom garments (for medical reasons), and my experience was not positive and did not result in comfortable garments.
    Anyway, I do appreciate hearing from someone with positive views of Beehive clothing, but it doesn’t change my real, negative, experience with garments.

  53. nobody, really says:

    Mortimer’s never had a problem, therefore, nobody else has ever had a problem.

    The place hasn’t been called “Beehive Clothing” for several years now.

    My last visit and request for suggestions on dealing with bleeding head rash was met with “Oh, that’s nothing compared to what some people have to put up with. You should consider yourself lucky.”

  54. Mortimer says:

    Alice,
    Like going to a professional for a bra fitting, getting individualized help is really recommended and truly does solve so many problems.
    A recent TED talk said that 80%+ women are wearing the wrong size bra, causing discomfort and potentially posture problems. Many women go years w/o re-measuring themselves, meanwhile weight fluctuates, bodies change. I think being ill-fitted for g’s likewise causes problems. One does need some “sewing literacy” to know what to order for your climate, activity, clothing choices, body shape, etc. There are PAGES of instructions and DIY measurement charts for g’s on the church’s website and dozens of options for g styles, but it’s all difficult to interpret if you don’t sew. And, how many people who haven’t sewn before know how to measure their own inseam? Tricky territory. Did you try calling for help? They have 800 numbers. I notice that the church’s website has evolved to recommend sizes based on measurement inputs. The church is growing in this area and can continue to improve.

    But, if you’ve been frustrated fear not, more technology is on the way. Wacoal bras have recently unleashed a tech that uses your smart-phone to scan your body, measure you, and recommend the right size cup/band and bra. You just have to stand in front of your smartphone in your undies or a leotard. They say it’s 100% confidential. Maybe the church can adopt something like that.

    If you don’t believe me about the church’s production quality of g’s, contact BYU’s faculty in the Dept of home and family who lead programs preparing students for these careers https://www.byui.edu/home-family/degrees/family-and-consumer-sciences/apparel-design-careers

    It wouldn’t have been hard for the NYT reporter to have consulted a non-lds textile/clothing industry expert to have fact-checked Ms Piton’s complaints and reviewed the g’s from a neutral place. And, it’s a pity the church wouldn’t give the reporter a tour of its facilities and let her talk to the experts.

    I’m sorry that the custom-ordering didn’t work well for you. What went wrong? I had a family member with severe body-wide dermatological problems. They were assisted by beehive clothing and provided with a few customized solutions that did improve things. It wasn’t perfect, but frankly-the problem was going to be there for any undergarment -lds or fruit of the loom. Going commando wouldn’t have solved anything either, as the irritation would have then occurred with the next layer of clothing.

    Anonymous,
    I did not say that my experience was the only one, I understand people have problems. I just think we need to be balanced about this and be careful about throwing stones because not everyone has bad experiences, despite what the article said. I’m also sorry for your negative experience. I’ve worked in clothing retail and that type of response would be unacceptable from a sales associate and is especially unacceptable for church distribution. You could report it, I hope you do. I don’t think your experience is typical, but I acknowledge you are not alone in your frustrations. You might think about going to your RS ward President for assistance (helping w g’s used to be in the job description.) There are seamstresses/tailors in every ward/stake in the church who would help you and answer q’s. These people would be excellent guests to teach RS or PH classes on clothing/sewing literacy and g fitting. Also, all YM/YW should be exposed to home economics classes (either in school, in church, or in other extra curricular venues) to learn:

    1) about sizing, measurement and fit
    2) how to identify quality vs shoddy clothing (like threads on buttons, selvage alignment on a piece of clothing, how to test seam/stitch quality, fabric type/characteristics, functional aspects of clothing like Oxford pleats, darts, rivets, grommets, cotton gussets, etc.
    3) tricks and ploys (psychological, cultural, representational) of the marketing industry that particularly plays on younger demographic with more disposable income (e.g.teen and YA fashion trends).
    4) clothing care and repair (washing instructions, stain removal, repair, etc.)
    5) history of clothing/fashion and dress (evolution of the corset/bra, underwear/bloomers/chemise, etc.)

  55. Mortimer says:

    Disclosure- I’m female, despite my online name “Mortimer”. I’m speaking about bra fitting from a place of lived experience.

  56. From the OP: “This is not a post about the content of the July 21 New York Times article on women’s garments…”

    The comment thread should probably also avoid getting sidetracked in detailed discussions of underwear.

  57. Question says:

    Turns out Mortimer just demonstrated exactly why women in the Church finally go to the media. That’s an overwhelming stream of criticism and irrelevant information. Does it matter that there are trained people working on the garments, for example? No; every commercial brand of clothing can be assumed to have similar employees, but not every woman can wear every brand of clothing for issues of fit, cost, and material. And the suggestion that women need to be carefully educated on how to wear underpants!

    No matter the claims of improvement, there’s a solid wall of (usually) aggression from women and cluelessness from men around these problems. I’ve experienced it myself when I’ve occasionally tentatively tried to raise some of the issues. These kind of responses tend not to create much goodwill.

  58. Demosthenese says:

    I don’t think how the garments are designed, constructed or modified is the important issue. The bigger ones are that too large a population of the church is imposed upon with a requirement that causes near constant physical irritation that can rise to medical problems and that they, and the church membership in general, are deliberately and effectively blocked from communicating their problems and needs to those in a position to resolve them.

    There can, of course, be disagreement about this but the evidence of the New York Times article that has been picked up by other outlets and expanded upon by a recent Radiowest discussion is that there is growing grievance inside the church that will not go away until it’s acknowledged and addressed. Will the Fifteen, those guided by Heavenly Father to lead the church, choose to listen to the body of the Saints or will they need national and international media to carry the message? Will they go to actual members to find out what’s in fact happening or will they go to a pool of members who will tell them what they want to hear or what they believe Heavenly Father wants to hear? Or will they simply avoid these questions that can no longer be contained within the church community and defer them to some committee in the office building?

  59. Question,

    Have you seen this TED talk? https://www.ted.com/talks/laura_tempesta_you_ll_never_look_at_a_bra_the_same_way_again Women’s support and underwear is not well understood, over 80% of women (lds and non-lds) wear the wrong size. Did you know all these facts before watching the TED talk? Do you think that if we quizzed the bloggernacle most people would pass with flying colors? I don’t. You mis-represented what I said. All I said is that most people (non-lds and lds) are wearing the wrong size, don’t understand fit and sizing, and are consequently uncomfortable in lds and non-lds foundational clothing. To throw the church under the bus, and ignore the gorilla in the room- that most women struggle to be comfortable in underwear, is making the church the whipping boy and denying a much larger issue. Sure, going commando causes less chaff, and everyone likes throwing their bra off after coming home from work. But studying history, you’ll find that the introduction of gusseted underwear was (in cold climates e.g. Europe and similar latitudes) a hygienic improvement that prevented disease. There are a myriad of functions for chemises/under clothes that have evolved over millennia. I acknowledge that more solutions are needed for tropical climates. But again, this is an issue much broader than Mormonism- it’s a western cultural clash, a cold climate/warm climate cultural misalignment, but yeah- Ms Piton and the NYT caught us out alone because Mormonism is a favorite whipping boy.

    And no, not every clothing label has expert textile professionals working on design. There are a lot of crappy labels out there, and some excellent ones. And no, not every store has knowledgeable sales staff.

    I worked for a bespoke women’s lingerie and undergarments store (a small business) that made bras, panties, swimsuits, lingerie, exercise clothing, and night wear. Just gonna say that the church will make bespoke items for you, but essentially no other mainstream label will do that. You have to find a small boutique or custom shop. Do you know how rare those shops are? For the church to offer bespoke services is really wonderful. You’re not going to get bespoke tailoring at the big box stores, or at the mall. The more high-end mall shops will measure you, but it ends there. They are going to sell you products off the shelf. At my local mall, while there are more color options (duh), there are by far fewer fabric and fit options for someone my size, than what is available at distribution.

    Again, throwing the church under the bus by comparing it to mainstream shops essentially cherry-picked details and failed to recognize significant positive attributes and services provided by distribution that are head and shoulders above industry standards.I cry foul play.

    And unlike essentially every other area of the church, distribution clothing accepts 24X7 user feedback, provides personalized service and customized solutions, and frequently offers open (not sampled) surveys. Unlike most other areas of the church, they close the loop and have been introducing more styles, fabrics, technologies, etc. in response to feedback over the recent past. They’re changing, growing, expanding, and trying. So, comparing this particular area to the other problematic and misogynistic areas of the church was not just a poor comparison, but a inaccurate one.

    If anything, we should be urging the church to follow distribution clothing’s example- it’s low hanging fruit that would be a realistic stepping stone standard for everywhere else. They are innovating model solutions that we should be cheering, not backstabbing.

    I’d take their model any day:
    female leadership
    female (and some male) expertise
    communication-focused
    applies feedback and re-works
    Upgrades technology
    No superstars- everyone is a humble worker just doing a job- not out rooting their own horns and starting last-name legacies. Just quiet dedication.

    Yes, everyone has the right to speak up, but do so in constructive, not destructive ways. It’s intellectually lazy to deconstruct, but much more difficult to actually build or bring about a positive program. While Ms. Piton can complain that the fabrics aren’t “buttery” enough, neither she nor the NYT had cracked a book or did their research to suggest another fabric or blend. And as I said above, they conveniently ignored the fact that the church has been implementing changes in an improvement cycle for many years- so why should Ms Piton’s independent voice over-ride everyone else’s input? I personally don’t like her style or inarticulate recommendations, nor do I find her complaints generalized. I’m just rolling my eyes.

  60. Mortimer, I live on the Wasatch Front in Utah. I have worn garments for 40 years. I have NEVER had an experience in purchasing garments that matches your description in any way. The Distribution Center employees I have dealt with are typically clueless about the products offered, generally unhelpful, and sometimes actively rude. I’d really love to know where to find the kind of help you describe.

  61. I’ve had the experience Mortimer describes, multiple times, most recently at the distribution center in Midvale.

  62. I haven’t read the NYT article because paywall, but I have heard Sasha Piton interviewed multiple times and she talks about the ability to getting garments custom made which I think she did with moderate success. So I think the original coverage may be more balanced than one might think from reading second and third hand summaries. But if anyone has read the actual article and finds it to be one sided, I couldn’t argue against that. Yet. At least not without paying for a NYT subscription first.

    My impression is that Piton didn’t “go to the media” with a press release or public protest. She wrote a blog. As far as I have seen so far, she treats the issue respectfully. Like all of us, she’s looking for a community to discuss issues of interest and importance to her.

    I do think the OP is right on the money about the main point, that there really is no way for women to be heard in the church. They get a nice pat on the head and a dismissive “we love women” statement that is given without any thought, for the most part.

  63. Jessica Brown says:

    I think sometimes women are afraid to speak up because there are very real ramifications. I was talking to my bishop about something I was frustrated with. It made it to the stake leaders, they were concerned with my faithfulness and then didn’t give my husband a calling they had planned for him. My husband was upset. My honest and legit concerns were never addressed. I left the church not long after that (Nov 5 policy ) but learned that a women who wants her husband to keep moving up the ladder needs to be quiet and never complain.

  64. Jessica, that mindset that a man has to keep his wife in line to be considered for “promotion” at church is galling, but I too have seen it. We had a branch president in my home ward whose wife was definitely not “in line,” but that’s also the difference between a struggling branch and most LDS wards, flush with willing leaders.

  65. nobody, really says:

    Why, pray tell, would anyone want themselves or a spouse to “move up the ladder” at church? Better pay? Better hours? Access to vacation property? Priority seating at Applebee’s?

    A calling isn’t a form of promotion, even if it’s the kind of calling that takes you away from your family, or guarantees that vacations must be spent with all the kids that aren’t your own.

  66. nobody, really, we all know this is how we’re supposed to feel about callings. We also all know that there are plenty of people who don’t actually feel or behave that way. There’s a reason that folks say “congratulations,” when someone is called into a leadership position.

  67. Nate Daniels says:

    nobody, really, I believe there are some people who enjoy the prestige and attention that comes with a leadership calling. People want to feel important and well, a calling allows them to feel important. There is also the guilt aspect. People are called by a leader to a leadership position, and unless they have a convenient excuse, such as, “we’re relocating because of work” they don’t want to disappoint the leader who called them.

    There is a strange taboo against saying that you wanted to be bishop or stake president or any other calling. You’re always supposed to say, “I didn’t want this calling but I am doing it out of love” or some sort of humble brag reason. You can’t tell me that people in those callings don’t enjoy some prestige aspect of the calling. Otherwise they wouldn’t do it at all.

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