A feminist svithe (requesting your comments)


Turning on the computer yesterday merely to write my svithe seemed to be missing the point of svithing entirely, so I help off till today to write this one up.

Part of the reason the computer never went on is related to why it was barely on on Saturday.

We drove to Santa Rosa on a separate but equal path with Fobbie and Foxy and their children to rendezvous with Queen Zippergut and her daughter, visiting from England. Some of the items of discussion during that visit led to talking between me and Lady Steed and we didn't get to sleep till four the next morning. This was wonderful and not to be regretted at all.

One thing that we ended up talking about was this post by Bored in Vernal which I had been meaning to talk with Lady Steed about for a while. In brief, she agreed that your average day at church is very male-centric what with a mostly male hierarchy and so forth. I mean---the Book of Mormon in 99.9% female free. How can church meetings not lean heavily on the male paint-of-view?

This is something I've been thinking about at school a lot lately, as, let's face it, your average English-class curricula is heavily male and heavily white.

The Mormon doctrine of sexual equality seems pretty clear to me, but in practice? I don't know.

I would like to hear -- especially from the ladies -- you all's take on these topics: the maleness of church, Mormon sexual equality, et cetera.

Your thoughts?

last week's svithe


  1. Yep, this comes up at FMH all the time. I do like BiV's post.

    have you read a walk in pink moccasins? here you go, it's just the 1st page of the pdf

  2. Usually, I avoid commenting on posts like this because I don't have anything to contribute. That's to say, the conversation doesn't seem addressed to me. But since you asked ...

    I'm not much troubled by the malecentricity in the church. A time or two it has lunged and bitten me, but matters worked out all right. The vast majority of my profs at BYU were men, and I liked that. A couple of them thought they knew better than I did what kind of writer I ought to be. When conditions showed themselves to be non-negotiable, I left, and they missed me when I was gone.

    Rarely have I felt marginalized because men ran the show. I felt much more pushed to the fringes when I gave birth to my disabled daughter, a complicated set of circumstances I realize was/is difficult for people to wrap their minds around.

    I wish men in the church were happier, that's all. In general, though, I say bring on the masculinity.

  3. My biggest problem with the male-centricity in the church is the fact that I have never, never been in a warm church building. The men wear suits, which are apparently warmer than dresses, and unsurprisingly, the men control the temperature of the building. No matter how many layers I wear, pajama pants, legwarmers, long skirts, boots, several tshirts and a sweater, for example, I am still usually cold enough in a church building to spend all my concentration on not freaking out rather than on paying attention.

    Seriously, though, what bothers me much more than any patriarchal system in the church is what seems to me to be a sick, deformed sense of the female. Women crippled with guilt over how they're "not good enough," or women who, en masse, mindlessly parrot simplified doctrines, or women who worship cultural "doctrines" to the exclusion of true doctrines, or women who treat RS more as a fashion show or gossip time, or women who view a sub-dom relationship as the "proper" type and willingly, unquestioningly go along with it, or women who are only nice to other when they want something from them . . . etc. Going to RS makes me want to kill things. It feels like an unquestioned dogma of spinelessness, inadequacy, falseness, facetiousness, and just plain being in denial of their own hypocrisy. I'm not sure why this is. Widely misinterpreted doctrine? A weird form of social pressure? Simply a critical mass of green? Am I just going to all the wrong wards?

    Other: I have known several LDS females start practicing pagan rituals and the like, because they feel it connects them to Heavenly Mother when normal LDS church worship is completely devoid of a Goddess presence. Definitely not a wide-spread thing, but it's something.

  4. In the interest of equality, I should say I wish women and children in the church were happier, too.

  5. I am neither Mormon nor female, but I would like to clarify that separate is not equal. FoxyJ and I drove an hour and a half while Google Maps puts you at a meager hour's distance from Santa Rosa.

    This message has been approved by Mr. Fob.

  6. Freezing cold church buildings are an issue, but one that I find most often is related more to the fact that the buildings don't heat/cool evenly and to get it to the point where none of the rooms are swelteringly hot, other rooms end up frigidly cold. Including the chapel.

  7. I'm not a female, but I was supposed to be--Mom and Dad wanted another daughter when they got me.

    Not that that's any sort of credential....

    But I do have something I'd like to say just to facilitate discussion:

    I'm taking a New Testament class, and we've been deep into Paul the past couple weeks, and Paul, of course, wasn't much for feminism, I don't think (to understate things a bit more than is reasonable). We discussed it for a while in class, and what my professor said was, "Men and women are equal--not interchangeable." I thought that was an interesting new spin on separate and equal--'cuz men and women aren't supposed to be separate (neither the man without the woman...; it is not good for man to be alone), but we are supposed to be different.

  8. Ditto on the cold church thing. And may I say I've complained loudly to my Stake President, who also happens to be my father, and I am still ignored. :(

    Fortunately, in the things that seem to matter more than physical comfort (although I've left church many times because I couldn't get warm--so maybe temperature matters a lot), I've found that once I say something along the lines of, "I'm female, not stupid, and not only am I'm cuter than you, I seem to be smarter, as well," most men stop patting me on the head. Some actually listen.

    Sigh. I suppose I have a tiny bit of bitterness. I'll work on it.

    On the bright side, word verification has just revealed the name I will call my next daughter: Melastyl. What do you think?

  9. Samantha--There have been times (in the summer) when I've gone out between meetings and sat in my car to try to warm up. More recently, however, I've simply decided not to go because the coldness is just one final deterrent that broke the Camilla's desire.

  10. Perhaps this is tangential, but Redoubt comment made me think on a conversation I had back in college about RS. Some friends (both LDS and other faiths) and I were discussing women and religion and I said that I felt many women in the LDS readily gave up power because they had lost the vision of what RS was supposed to be. It wasn't supposed to be just a place to socialize--although that does serve an important need--it was also supposed to be a place where women could work together to change the world.

    Since then I've had a lot more time in RS to think about all that and I think I only sort of right. The question deserves a much deeper treatment, but I think part of where all these kind of discussions break down is in the language. Feminist rhetoric has set, negative definitions of religious words, words like "patriarchy". In the church we have different definitions and it is hard to parse the two. I think this rhetorical gap comes across over the pulpit quite a lot. (Thankfully the GAs are getting better at it.)

    The other place where feminist rhetoric causes problems is in its either/or construction. Feminism is based on a binary opposition and most of its language follows the nature of a binary opposition. But one important facet of Christianity is that it isn't a binary opposition or a competition. Feminism looks at a man succeeding and sees a woman not succeeding. Christianity looks at a man succeeding and cheers him on. It also (ideally) looks at a woman succeeding and cheers her on. A woman doesn't automatically lose when a man wins--and, as we all know, a man can't actually win without a woman.

    Perhaps the ideals of the gospel are not played out well in wards, but our church doesn't have to be male-centric.

    Anyway, this is a long comment. But those thoughts helped me deal with my feminist issues at church.

  11. I've thought about this a lot during the last few years since discovering the world of Mormon blogging and ending up in grad school (where I sort of discovered feminism). Growing up I rarely had the kinds of experiences that many woman list as difficult. I think part of that was due to the fact that I grew up in a partly active family, so my experience with church was largely through my mother. In my family, church was a woman's thing and my mom was usually in some sort of high-level calling. I also generally went to wards with a lot of newer members and little entrenched "Mormon culture". Also, I think I'm sort of naive and unaware. I do tend to look at the bright side of things and assign good intentions to everyone. There probably have been times when I should have been offended at church, but I usually don't realize until after the fact. I will agree with the fact that women's needs (and those of kids) are often neglected in church design. I also do feel like Relief Society could be much better than it is--I've been in some wards where it was really powerful and others where it wasn't. But most of our church programs could be better. We are imperfect people trying to carry out God's kingdom.

    And I'm curious about what could possibly have induced you to stay up that late to talk about...

  12. I also liked Laura's thoughts about the problem of what rhetoric we use to analzye what is going on at church. I worry about switching one binary oposition for another, and agree that we need to find a way to serve both men and women. I can also see ways in which men are underserved in some ways in Church culture.

  13. While I definitely agree that the Church is very male centered, I also must say that when it comes down to the ward level, I do not think a ward would be able to function without the women. Is it just me, or do the women seem to be the ones doing all the real work? In my experience it's women that make all the activities happen, it's women that make sure those in need are helped, it's women that do the physical work. On Sundays women are busy. I look around and see men looking bored--let's put those guys to work! Put them in the Nursery, make them Primary teachers, Youth Sunday School teachers, regular Sunday School teachers, heck, if it's allowed, put a man in the Primary Presidency! Why should women be the ones doing all these things? So even though the face of our Church is male, I have always felt that it's the women that make the wheels go, and I think the men know this but do not acknowledge it enough. If we really wanted, we women could rise up and take over. Fortunately enough of us have strong enough testimonies to know that this would not be right-- and thus the Church is run by men, through the Priesthood power, as the Lord intended it to be.

    Growing up I got the impression that the men, though in leadership positions and bearers of Priesthood power, were lazy. Men don't get things done--if you want something to happen, put a woman in charge. This idea still persists with me--I am still waiting for this impression to be vanquished. So, even though men are at the head, I know women hold the real power.

  14. I have to say that for a long time I agreed with Lady Steed. Then my father was made a bishop, and later a stake president. I've never seen anyone work so hard. There were consecutive days when he got no sleep, meetings locally and with general authorities. Even when he battled cancer, he worked round the clock to make sure he was doing his best to fill his calling.

    In the process of watching him, I also saw many other men working just as diligently, as well as women, to keep things working smoothly, to make sure members had their needs met spiritually and temporally, in short, brothers and sisters dedicated to serving the Lord, and doing it to the best of their abilities.

    I'm not sure, when it comes to church service, that one gender serves more diligently or holds more power than the other. I often look at my husband now, serving as a student ward bishop. He's gone all day on Sunday, and on Tuesday-Thursday evenings. Sometimes he's gone on Friday nights for ward activities, and on Saturdays for ward temple trips. I go with him when I can, but mostly, I stay home with our kids and make sure our family stays intact, despite Darrin's absence. Quite honestly, I think I work as hard as he does, being a mostly single parent, and I believe my service in the home is as important as his bishopric service, but perhaps I'm giving myself more credit than I deserve. :)

    The bottom line for me is that I think you can find people of both genders working equally, in their individual capacities, to serve the Lord. You can also find the opposite, without searching too far. Perhaps it's all about perception?

  15. .

    Lady Steed and I were just talking about this so I think I can clarify her position (though this may just be me being male and butting in). It's not all men versus all women, but the median male versus the median woman. And I tend to agree. I see way more women in Primary, and sometime priesthood does seem to be filled with lazy people. But I'll try to avoid passing judgment.

    Thanks to everyone who has commented to far---I've found your thoughts interesting and insightful.

    I would say more, staring with Laura's comment on the necessity of sex-togetherness for eternal progression, but it's 11 and my own dear wife just told me it's time to go to bed.

  16. At the risk of creating too great a male presence in this discussion:

    I can see where positions like those being expressed lately come from, but I think I've also seen the other side of it. For example, I've personally served in all the positions Lady Steed mentioned (short of Primary Presidency) and when I did, I noticed a pretty equal gender balance among my cohorts. I was particularly surprised by the number of male Primary teachers (I always thought growing up that they were all women) and when I served in the Nursery, there was another man with me. I've also been in wards that were heavily male and heavily female (especially in the Sunday School).

    To be brutally honest, there was a time when I held the opinion that a ward I was in had so many female teachers to make up for the dominance of male leadership.

    I appreciate Th.'s comment, giving perspective, but I don't think experiences like mine are unique in the church, though perhaps they are uncommon in certain areas.

    I will also say that I served as a missionary in a ward in which the female leadership was the substance of the glue that held it together. It was an interesting situation - on an Indian reservation that gave birth (a decidedly female analogy) to the first Lamanite ward in the Church.

    Only a handful of men were even willing to come to church, but the women were powerful! The EQP hadn't even read the Book of Mormon through (although that's not a judgment - he was a wonderful servant). Many of the women, however, could rival the best of those in the Pioneer-age Utah ward I grew up in for gospel knowledge and strength of testimony.

    As an aside, Th., I think you ought to do a post that assigns meanings (as words or as acronyms) to the security phrases we have to enter when we post a comment. That could be fun. Mine, for example, is "disheast."

    Oops. I guess I took too long. Now it's "romnusu"

  17. For what it's worth, women are more "efficient" as Primary teachers than men, because current Church policy allows a woman to teach primary, solo, but a man has to have a female partner. So if you're looking for a primary or nursery sub, you have to have at least one woman, regardless.

    From what I understand, this policy was put into place to prevent sexual abuse incidents or accusations. My impression is that the policy is churchwide (or at least America-wide), but other commenters can probably corroborate or disprove that.

    And I'll add a third (?) witness to the idea that Mormon church buildings are generally over-air-conditioned.

  18. Sidenote: On my mission in Idaho, when I went into a ward that I didn't know what was happening in, I would seek out the RS Pres before the Bishop--she typically knew more about individuals.

  19. I feel like I am a confidant LDS female. I am comfortable teaching in front of returned missionaries (male or female) though I am not one myself. Maybe my comfortableness lends me to believe people don't look down on me as a woman, but I choose to believe that the majority of men in the church don't look down on or talk down to women of the church.

    I have never felt like the church is overly male centric (even though it is a patriarchal organization), that the men feel like they are better or more important, or that we are left out because we don't hold the priesthood.

    I've seen hard working men and women in the church. I've seen lazy men and women in the church. I don't honestly think there's one gender more lazy or hard working than another.

    In our ward we have 3 males and 1 female in the nursery right now. We have men teaching in our primary. I see as many babies (or more) go with their dads to priesthood as they do with their moms to R.S. While I think this is good, I have seen that it creates shortages in Elder's Quorum. They can never keep teachers because every other auxiliary takes them first. Since Matt's been in the EQ Presidency the past 2 years, I've really seen how many hours outside of church can be put into a church calling.

    And Katya brings up a good point about needing 2 males to 1 female in teaching positions. We have had primary classes taught by 2 men and no women, but one male can't teach by himself. People are worried about child molestation or the possible problems that could arise because of it.

  20. When I taught primary about six years ago I was a solo teacher. It was the oldest class and all boys, but still.

  21. Adam - I think this change in policy is more recent than that.

  22. I taught Primary solo in the latter half of 2004. The change came sometime in 2005 (I was on my mission, and there was some impact on policy for missionaries as well).

  23. Katya - thanks, I was wondering about that.

    Schmetterling - that's interesting. Where did you serve? We had some tight restrictions on teaching kids and women in Arizona a few years prior to the time you mention. I work with the missionaries in my ward a lot right now and, although I haven't asked them, they don't seem to have any more rules than we did. I wonder how much location (within the states, I mean) has to do with it.

  24. Boise, ID.

    We always had restrictions regarding entering homes that had no man present &c. I don't remember what exactly the changes were (it was toward the beginning of my mission), but our mission president took quite a while one zone conference to explain the differences in policy. All I really remember is that he mentioned that, in addition to changing the circumstance under which a man could teach a primary or Sunday school class, the Church was mandating (at least in the area, I don't know about worldwide) that all classrooms have non-opaque windows installed on the doors so passersby could see in, which I thought was interesting.

  25. .

    This issue is something I'm becoming more aware of all the time. By my nature I'm always trying to understand others' feelings --- praticularly those who may be relegated to ther perception of lower status.

    I feel our current ward has lessened issues here, but I speak from a position of uncertainty. My initiating conversation with Lady Steed proved the question has more wily answers than I necessarily expected, and I can tell this will be something I only watch more closely.

    Interesting, but not tragic.

    I'm of the opinion God lets us humans figure most things out for ourselves. Not the most efficient method to be sure, but probably better in the long run.

  26. I don't think I've been bothered much by the Maleness of the church (except for the whole coldness of buildings thing =).

    For me, the church is a very empowering organization for women that allows for a lot of leadership opportunities (even as a youth). Maybe because I've liked Church History for so long and seen how strong and independent and powerful the women of the early Church were and how much the men relied on them? Maybe because I think the system is not about equality of power, but about empowering both genders (with their strengths and weaknesses) to be something more than they would otherwise be? Maybe because I grew up with such great examples of strong women in the church like Sherri Dew and Cheiko Okasaki (and now Julie Beck) (besides those found in my own family and teachers and leaders)?

    I'm sure I could get all riled up about the Maleness of the Church if I wanted to, but I just haven't. Yet.

  27. .

    Edit: added the link to the previous week's svithe

  28. I know I'm late to this conversation, but I'll chime in anyway.

    The maleness of the Church hasn't bothered me, and still doesn't.

    My thing, though, is that I don't feel comfortable in RS. I don't hate it to the degree that Redoubt does, but I've never felt completely comfortable. This could possibly be because RS has felt "too girly." I seem to frequently hear lessons where a phrase to the effect of "this is meaningful to us as women" is used. For me, the gospel isn't very gender-specific, and I'm okay with that.

  29. .

    I feel the same way (but then, I'm a man). And, through indirect observation, I suspect that RS culture varies greatly from ward to ward and, in more transient wards, year to year. I wonder if there is female support for this?

  30. Oh, there's definitely a lot of variation and I've tended to enjoy single RS more than RS in married wards, I think because we were all students or working, so a lot of the traditional female fights could be sidestepped.

    That said, I don't know how I'll ever go back to RS after being in Primary for the last year. It's 100 times more fun and interesting.

  31. I'm commenting a year and a half after the original post because Theric tweeted about this today.

    How much I am bothered by the male-leadership hierarchy of the church depends a great deal on what ward I am in. There are fantastic bishoprics, like in my current ward, with whom I can't even imagine ever having a gender-related conflict. Unfortunately, there are also bishoprics who aren't so egalitarian.

    Here are some things I have personally seen, or heard of bishops or stake presidents doing to friends or family members, which I feel are examples of over-reaching male dominance:

    - pressuring women to stay in emotionally or physically abusive relationships
    - micromanaging the Relief Society (vetoing their book club selections, as one minor example)
    - refusing to issue mission papers to young women with boyfriends
    - punishing female law of chastity violators more harshly then their male partners (bound to happen some of the time when church court decision makers are all male)

    What I'm saying is that whether a ward practices sexual equality doesn't depend on Mormon doctrine, but on the men in charge. Obviously, ideally our leaders would lead through persuasion and long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned...but D&C 121 was written for a purpose, and bishops and stake presidents are not immune to this sort of thing.

    Does this mean the church's male-dominated hierarchy is unfair and sexist? Well...I guess it depends on where you live.