Thursday, January 10, 2013

Some thoughts on "Mormon Feminism"

After talking about the pants movement with several people, I went back and read the initial statement made on facebook.  Here is what it said:

"We do not seek to eradicate the differences between women and men, but we do want the LDS Church to acknowledge the similarities. We believe that much of the cultural, structural and even doctrinal inequality that persists in the LDS Church today stems from the church’s reliance on — and enforcement of — rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality."
I thought I was in pretty good harmony with the pants movement.  No, I would never choose to make a political statement during Sacrament meeting and so did not ever consider wearing pants myself (although a lady in my ward said she was surprised I didn't :))  but from what I read second hand about the movement the general idea I received was that it was an effort to raise awareness of CULTURAL expectations versus DOCTRINAL expectations of women in the church.

I was okay with that.  Thought the timing was wrong and the method silly (why do we have to dress like men to prove our equal worth as women) but overall not without some merit.  There are always cultural things that creep into worship because we are humans and products of our cultures.  

But I have serious problems with the actual statement.  I wish I had read it before cjane's posts.  Here's the parts that really bother me: "doctrinal inequality" and "rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality."

If there is a group contending that there are problems with the doctrines of the church than I want absolutely no part of that group.  There are many doctrines that I do not yet fully understand.  There are major areas of the doctrine that I think I understand--which leads me to believe that I don't understand it well enough to be confused.  But if I believe, even for a second, that the problem lies in the doctrine and not with my current understanding, than I am walking a very fine line.  Other people view testimony as more fluid and that is fine for them, but not for me.  Either revealed doctrine is true or it is not.  Our understanding of doctrine evolves---that's why we have latter-day leadership--but the essential core doctrines have not changed.  The ability to resist cultural pressure to move with the times is one of the things I appreciate most about the church.

Also, I do not find the gender roles in the church to be "rigid."  I am not sure what that even means.  I interpret it to mean that there are no possible exceptions to women staying home and raising children and men working to provide for those families.  That would be silly, especially in a global church where many of our Sisters must work out of crippling necessity.  Just because we preach an ideal does not make us "rigid."  The term is very off-putting.

Also, "gender roles that bear no relationship to reality."  That part really bugs me.  The sentence is the worst type of sophistry.  There are many ways that spouses split work, but to try and act like men and women's natures don't lend themselves to certain types of jobs and a certain way of thinking and acting is to deny gender.  I am not a genderless individual and I do not want to be.  Neither is my spouse.  The reality is that men and women are different and this sentence is a subtle way of saying that we are not.  

After reading several articles on the pants movement and several blog posts, I found myself very curious to find out what exactly Mormon Feminists want.  I recognize that not all them agree about what they want.  For example, some agitate to get the priesthood and some do not.  That's a pretty significant schism.  I found a list of "inequalities" found in the church at  It was very lengthy.  

Some of the points are worth talking about.

I feel unequal when there are more (a lot more) men’s voices in religious texts, meetings, leadership positions, and decision making bodies.

I think this one is worth thinking about.  Because many of the leadership positions require a priesthood holder I don't worry much about the leadership position part of the first statement, but the incredible joy I felt at having Daughters of My Kingdom is pretty telling.  I would like more religious texts, books, articles written by women.  This is not a doctrinal issue, however, and I think it is happening more and more.  I also think we are starting to talk about the women in the scriptures more often.  Part of this is that in our day and age we live longer, have access to more education, and have more time after child rearing is over.  I certainly don't have the time to write any treatises currently.  I appreciate books like the one about Eve--a woman's voice about a woman.  I think we'll start to see even more of that.

I feel unequal when women doing the same job are called by different titles (i.e. Sister vs. President) and/or are accessories to rather than serving equally with their husbands, i.e. Mission President’s wives.

Many of these points make me think that some women choose to feel lesser.  This is a good example.  I can't imagine how anyone could feel like a temple matron isn't as important as a temple president or that a mission president's wife isn't every bit as important as the mission president.  These calls are never extended without both partners in attendance, understanding the full import of what they are taking on, and both being in agreement to accept.  However, it would be really easy to change the titles the women have if it would make some of our Sisters feel better.

I feel unequal when my value is primarily linked to being a wife and mother rather than by being a child of God.

This is just poor understanding of the doctrine.  Since I have never felt this way, I can only feel deeply saddened for those who have.  Better teaching of the doctrine is always a critical need.

I feel unequal when the men in my life acknowledge that they have no female spiritual leaders in their wards or communities.

Some of the points I found confusing.  Like the one above.  Do men need female spiritual leaders outside of their wives and mothers?  Do they not listen to the talks given by women in general conference?  What would a "female spiritual leader" do differently than the women in leadership positions already do?  I'm sincere in this.  I don't understand what she wants here or what the men she's referencing want.

I feel unequal when women have less prominent, prestigious, and public roles in the church, even before and after childrearing years.

This feels like a slap in the face to people like Sister Beck who changed my world.  I can't imagine a more prominent position than president of the largest women's organization in the world.  The only one more significant is prophet.  So what you're really saying is a woman should be the prophet.  I cannot agree with that.  Also, I find the world's standards of prominent, prestigious, and public to be incompatible with understanding God's view of these things.  I call for a paradigm shift.

I feel unequal because even one of the most inherently female-dominated time periods, having a new baby, is publically displayed at church in an all male ritual of the baby blessing.

This is one that I find downright selfish (and I am a very sympathetic listener to gender issues and concerns).  I do find childbirth very female centered and revel in that.  My child's welcome into the church has nothing to do with the sacred act of childbirth and my personal welcome to my babies.  A husband is also that child's father and his role in the child's life will be profound and equally necessary for the child's development.  That he has a special part in the celebration of new life is a blessing for man and baby. 

I feel unequal when males handle 100% of the church finances.

More paradigm shifting needed.  Who handles the money is only important in a world-centered paradigm.  

I feel unequal when I am taught at church that my husband presides in my family, he is the head, and all things being equal, he has the final say.

I have never been taught that--but I absolutely believe that it has been taught before by people who do not understand the doctrine well.  That it is absolutely false does not really help those who have been oppressed and mistreated by men who did believe it.  This is EXACTLY why I think these doctrines need to be talked about more often.  

I feel unequal when I realize that at church all men have the final say. Good leaders might consult with female auxiliary leaders, but ultimately even after being called to a position via inspiration, men still make the final decisions.

This is one that I struggle with a little bit more.  I like the patriarchal order because I think on earth all organizations work better with a chain of revelation clearly outlined.  President Monson said he makes no decisions until the entire 12 have reached an agreement.  So why have one person in charge?  Why not just have a "round table" approach?  I think, because of experiences I've had with my husband in our home, that stewardships and chains of revelation are important and valid.  

However, it is irksome that some male leaders appear to under-appreciate women's voices in the input department and decision making department.  I chalk this up to human frailty for certainly if I was the final decision maker I would make my own share of mistakes.  However, more teaching of the doctrine of equality of the genders might help to prevent younger men from growing up thinking women don't need to be a part of the decision making process and might make them appreciate the female perspective more.

I feel unequal when cub scouts and boy scouts have a larger budget (they are allowed to do fundraising- although this might be a local issue) than achievement days and Young Womens and thus, they often have better activities.

I wish we had stats on whether or not this is a reality.  I certainly felt this way growing up and was pretty bitter about it, but some people have mentioned that scouts have to fundraise constantly because they do not have extra funds and in our current ward the YM and YW have the same budget (that they both routinely exceed).  

I feel unequal when the Young Women and Young Men’s programs have such different manuals, budgets, activities, etc.

This one bothers me because it again implies that gender is unimportant.  Also it is untrue.  YM and YW have different programs for goal-setting but the Sunday school manuals are the same.  Under the new program they will have the same topics for YW and YM as well--although I am confident that our leaders will approach the subjects in completely different ways because men and women don't teach or understand things in the same way.  Good.  

I feel unequal when fathers and mothers are encouraged to fulfill primary roles to provide and nurture, but only the fathers are given the freedom to seek out the best way for them to provide, whereas, mothers are told the best way for them to nurture—to be stay at home moms.

Thoughts?  I don't know what I think about this one except that the importance of personal revelation is being ignored.

I feel unequal when people do not emphasize fatherhood as much as they do motherhood and when we have numerous annual lessons on the priesthood and I’m not taught anything about the woman’s role as a priestess.

Totally agree with her on this one.  Maybe not the priestess part as it would be hard to put together a lesson about something we're not sure about, but we should talk more about doctrines pertaining to women. I actually brought it up at the last ward council and was met with blank/her she goes again stares.  My bishopric is really nice though and I know they will think about it and talk about it with me again.  I can't expect my feelings and experiences to have shaped their thoughts.

I feel unequal because church disciplinary courts are made up of solely men and there are no female voices in the very sensitive matters of church discipline.

Have never thought about that and so have started thinking about it.

I feel unequal when women have to talk to men about their sins, especially sexual ones, and have no other church sanctioned options.

Don't know what to think about this one either.  I have heard such horror stories of the inappropriate handling of these types of things by male church leaders.

I feel unequal because men conduct, men preach, men speak.  Men teach us how to be women.

Doesn't she attend Relief Society?  I have never felt this way.  Most men speak about core doctrines like honesty and tithing and obedience--not how a woman should feel or act.  Besides that, women also speak, teach, preach and conduct.  If anything we should all be teaching and preaching about Christ and we should all be trying to be like Him.  

I feel unequal in the temple because women a have different script and role.

Again--denying gender.  And I just plain don't know what she's talking about.

I feel unequal when female employees of the Church Educational System and temple ordinance workers are no longer allowed to keep their positions after they have children.

Is that true?

I feel unequal because we know very little about Heavenly Mother and her role in the Godhead and there doesn’t seem to be any emphasis on the part of our leaders to pray and find out more. I don’t know what my divine potential means as a female and that makes me feel less important.

Better teaching of the doctrine.

I realize that this is long but I think this is important.  We have to reach out in love and support to women who feel alienated in the church.  We need to understand why they feel the way they do and we need to come to a place of understanding ourselves of our value and place in the eternal scheme of things in order to teach our daughters effectively.  This type of rhetoric is just going to get louder and more strident because Satan will use anything he can to draw women away from the church.

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