Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some thoughts on gender and the church

A Thought on Gender Inequality

Since a friend mentioned it on Facebook, I have been thinking about Gender Inequality in the church. I've decided I don't love the term because it's more emotionally charged than precise--we all know inequality is bad, but we can't seem to agree on which practices might be "unequal" in the negatively charged sense. I worry that talking about "gender inequality" in the church is going to end up counter-productive because the term itself switches us straight from discussion mode to impassioned reaction mode. That is: if you think a certain practice is promoting inequality, you are probably going to bring a certain righteous indignation to any discussion of it. And if you think a certain practice is being unfairly labeled as promoting inequality, you're likely to bring a very defensive mindset to any discussion.

So what if we threw the term out altogether? Would we have more room to talk about the differences between male and female experiences in the church if we simply acknowledged that they are different, but withheld judgments about equality and talked instead about what each gender needs to increase the quality of its average experience? 

For this post, I've prepared a list of four gender-related differences in church experience I've noticed. I'm not trying to be comprehensive. I just want to offer a few talking points to test this kind of discussion.

The List

1)  Relationships of children with opposite-gender adults

In general, I think LDS boys are far more likely to have multiple positive relationships with adult women and more feelings of trust toward adult women than LDS girls are to have positive relationships and general feelings of trust toward adult men.

Part of this comes from parenting: the number of mothers who are physically or emotionally absent is rising, but remains low relative to the number of physically or emotionally absent fathers. And even in cases where both mother and father are highly involved in the family, I would imagine that statistically, boys tend to feel closer to their mothers than girls to their fathers.

Part of this comes from the community: while many girls will have positive associations with the Priesthood, girls' childhood relationships with priesthood holders are likely to be more distant than young boys' relationships with a Primary President, Primary Chorister (who may be one of the key charismatic figures in many children's ward experience), and a majority of Primary teachers. Sisters in the ward in general are probably also more likely to give positive attention and signals of approachability to boys than brothers in the ward in general are likely to give  positive attention and signals of approachability to girls.

Part of this also comes from the broader society and media: while there are periodic news stories of female teachers sexting or otherwise harassing male students, people don't tend to internalize them and warn their boys about female predators. There are far more stories in the news of male predators, and many parents have internalized them and overtly or implicitly trained girls to act with caution and fear toward unfamiliar men. Beyond the news, there are probably far more fictional media portrayals of aggressive, overbearing, and dangerous men than of women who pose a danger to children.

For all these reasons, I suspect that boys will have an easier time bonding and feeling safe with women than girls with men.

2) Degree of Scripted Life Expectations for Youth (Mission and Marriage)

Thirty years or so ago, there may not have been as much of a gender gap here, but in today's church culture young men have a much more standardized script of expectations for their early adulthood while young women are left with a somewhat more open story of what to expect from their future.

LDS young men are typically trained to expect to serve a full-time mission as a rite of passage, while young LDS women are taught to seek individual inspiration as to whether they should serve as full-time missionaries. Recent changes in the age of missionary service will make it easier for women to fit full-time missionary service into their lives, but were not accompanied by strengthened calls for young women to consider missionary service as a rite of passage. Probably, the position of missionary work as normative for young men and a matter of choice for young women will continue.

Because marriage is a central religious value, both LDS young men and young women are taught to prepare for marriage. But there's significantly more discussion for young women about how preparation for marriage does not always result in marriage: most young women are taught to consider the possibilities of not finding a spouse or of losing a spouse to death or divorce. Perhaps because most cultures still expect men to initiate relationships, there seems to be less sympathetic attention to the possibility of young men failing to find a spouse. Possibly because of higher remarriage rates for men, there also seems to be less attention to encouraging men to prepare to function effectively as a single parent in the event of a spouse's death or divorce.

LDS young men are also expected to prepare to serve their families as economic providers in addition to their emotional roles as husbands and fathers. Young women are counseled to obtain as much education as possible, but with more varied expectations as to how that education might serve them as individuals, as mothers, as citizens and community volunteers, and as economic providers as circumstances require. 

In general, I think young LDS men are raised with more fixed or rigid expectations for the next steps in their lives, while young LDS women are raised with more conditional counsel and circumstance-based caveats as far as their expectations for adulthood.

3) Volunteering

One small area where my wife and I have noticed what seems to be a gender difference is in volunteer sign-ups within the church. While the calling system seems to work in similar ways for most men and women, Relief Society sisters seem (anecdotally) far more likely to volunteer to fulfill individual assignments than their male counterparts--especially than the younger adult men in Elders' Quorum. Specifically, my wife has noted that volunteer assignments in Relief Society seem to be filled more evenly by members of the group, while Elders' Quorum volunteer assignments seem to be filled disproportionately by a few quorum members.

It's hard to say what exactly is happening here. It may be that the higher percentage of men than women with full time employment is the explanation, though I suspect that women who work full time are still more likely to volunteer than men who work full time. I've noticed that many married men in Elders' Quorums I've served in don't feel comfortable volunteering for something without checking with their wives first--and then often forget to check. My wife has not noticed the same pattern among women--most sign up without waiting for a discussion with their spouse.

Maybe women on average feel more emotionally invested in the lives of other ward members, and are therefore more quick to contribute. Maybe men on average feel less mentally prepared to handle variations from their standard schedules. Maybe Relief Societies, drawing on larger numbers of women, tend to be better organized than the smaller separated Elders' Quorums and High Priests' groups.

Assuming that there are broad differences in volunteering culture between men and women throughout much of the church, and not just in wards where I've served, it suggests a different gender-based experience of how small task volunteer sign-ups are perceived and received.

4) Adult intra-gender relationships, especially across generations

In theory, the Church provides great structures for both brotherhood and sisterhood. But in practice, I suspect that there is slightly more tension and distance on average in a ward or branch's relationships between men than between women--especially across generations.

My sense is that there's a higher chance of annoyance or tension in relationships between men than between women in the church. This is especially clear if you look at inter-generational relationships: most younger women seem to deeply enjoy having older women in Relief Society with them, while many younger men seem a little more susceptible to annoyance or resentment toward some older men and vice-versa.

There are many theories, of course, as to why women may got along with each other better than men. At least in some cultures, men tend to make slightly more rapid and action-oriented decisions about how to handle problems while women tend to take more time, pay more attention to relationships, and work more to build consensus. Women's slightly different average patterns of focus may make it easier for them to manage relationships in a larger group. Conflicts for power between generations of men may be more deeply ingrained throughout our culture than conflicts for power between generations of women, leaving women's relationships with each other a little less complicated by the general baggage of culture.


I chose the examples above because they seem important, but I don't know how they relate to the idea of equality.

It seems like girls deserve better relationships with adult men, but I'm sort of hesitant to call that an equality issue. Maybe that's because our society typically uses "equality" in contrast to active oppression and I just don't see an oppressor here. Maybe it's because our culture typically treats greater roles for women as the answer to gender inequality, while in this case, better quality seems to require more active roles for men. 

While I see a clear difference in how our culture treats life expectations for young men and women, I honestly have no idea which gender gets it better. If we think that equality means treating everyone the same, should we make young men's expectations more open, or young women's more concrete? If we're OK with treating young men and young women differently so long as we're treating them all in the best way we can imagine, then are more concrete expectations good for young men? And are more flexible expectations good for young women? Why?

Volunteer sign-ups seem to be set up basically the same way in both Priesthood and Relief Society classes. So why does there seem to be a disparity in how they're received? Would it be better if men in Elders' Quorums had a different system for small task volunteering than their female counterparts? Why or why not?

And if it's true that women have stronger intra-gender relationships on average, does that mean there's plenty of room for men to improve? Should we be talking about closing a relationship gap? How different are male and female ways of building relationships--and could men be learning something applicable from women on this issue?

We do have trouble talking about gender inequality in the church. But can we talk about gender differences in experience in a way that's more productive, a way that can ultimately increase the quality of experience for men and women in the church? 


  1. You made some good points, and you thought about many things. I thought it was good.
    I don't have a problem with not having the Priesthood, I don't mind wearing dresses to Church, and I consider myself a feminist although I am sure other feminists would say I am not one of them.
    There are many, many, culture problems in the Church and some do discriminate against the females. There are still men who think the Priesthood gives them the right to dominate their spouses and women in general.
    There are men who, as Bishops and Stake Presidents won't allow women to say prayers in Sacrament or let women sit on the stand or let a woman be the last speaker in Sacrament.
    These men who do these things are individuals who can't be controlled but they get some of their ideas about women in the Church from the higher up leadership in lessons, talks, etc.
    In my Ward the young men do not respect the young women and they have not been held accountable for their actions directed towards some of the young women, actions which scream they don't respect the female gender. And the fact that the young men are not held accountable speaks volumes - that this behavior is acceptable even by the female adults, which comes from the culture mentality in the Church. SAD!!
    Also the Young Women, at least in the area where I live, don't get the same recognition for their accomplishments compared to the Young Men and Scouts. Scouts and Priesthood gets all the attention.
    So as a Church there is still a lot of work to do, and the example needs to start at the top - the First Presidency - they need to start attacking the culture mentality in this Church not only in dealing with gender inequality but other issues as well.
    And yes,we can all do better.

    1. The blatant disrespect from some young (and not so young) men is an important issue.

      One of my strongest memories of Pres. Hinckley was a talk in Priesthood session ( in which he strongly condemned verbal as well as physical abuse of one's spouse. The spiritual power of that rebuke was an important part of my testimony of what a prophet can do.

      It would be great if more leaders at the local level were paying careful enough attention to notice verbal abuse and more often had the confidence to speak out boldly about it.

      I also think leaders and individuals at the local level can do a lot by praising positive behaviors--especially among the youth. Wouldn't it be great to have a generation of young men who knew respect and trust in the community came from honoring and respecting others--especially young women.

      And maybe our practices around church awards are a good place to encourage that positive behavior. I don't know a ton about the youth programs--but it sounds like a good idea to make a bigger deal of young women's achievement awards and give young men a better understanding of what work the young women are doing as a way to build more respect.

  2. Very interesting. Some of what you wrote actually made me think that the men are, in some ways, more "oppressed" than the women are.

    I think that some things are actually Utah church culture things: for example, how young men get recognition for their accomplishments-- I guess that Anonymous, above, is referring to maybe the Eagle Court of Honor? Where I grew up, Canada, that doesn't even exist, because there are no Eagle Scouts. Some people started doing that kind of an event when a scout got his Queen's Venturer award, but they were clearly copying what they had seen done for scouts they knew in Utah. The first one I went to seemed like a funeral for someone who was still alive, and actually, seemed really silly to me. I think the Utah culture thing about boys HAVING to get their Eagle Scout is horribly oppressive of young men--no driver's license until you have it? Really?

    Scouting is just not every boy's thing. When we moved to Utah, my oldest son had earned his Chief Scout award from Canada which is almost an Eagle (the Queen's Venturer is more difficult than an Eagle), but BSA won't transfer achievements from another country, so no Eagle for him. At 17, he didn't have time to start over, and it was frankly not that important to us. Oh, and he already had his driver's license! My second son was just not interested.

    As far as women and the priesthood, Belle Spafford, who was the RS General president for a long time, once said, "Power? Why would I want power when I can have influence?" I am so with her.

    About volunteering...I have often thought that men need the priesthood so that they have an obligation to serve because otherwise, many of them never would. Women seem more naturally inclined to serve others, so they don't need to be saddled with an obligation to do what just comes naturally to many of them.

    I come from a long background of feminism, where women received more education while men stayed at home and farmed.

    And I think that equality...doesn't exist. Anywhere. And I am not sure I think it should. Take for example, my own children. Should I treat them all equally (as in, exactly the same)--no. They are all so different. Different often looks like unequal, but sometimes unequal is more fair, and equal is unfair.

    1. I never earned my Eagle Scout--though if I'd been in Canada, I probably would have put in a little more effort to make "Queen's Venturer." It just has such a nice, piratey sound to it. I can almost see it: Sir Francis Drake, Queen's Venturer and Privateer.

      Do they take adult men as scouts in Canada?

  3. I liked Anonymous' comment about the lack of consequences for young men who don't realize the consequences of their disrespect. Growing up in a California ward, one young man made repeated comments about how I, as a woman, wasn't allowed to enter the sacrament preparation room, and mocked me at age 20 because I couldn't go in the temple to attend a wedding and he could just after returning from his mission. Another young man from Texas who was my district leader at the time, stated "Women get comfy chairs in Relief Society, men get the priesthood." These are just two comments for which there should have been swift (and if you ask me corporal) retrubution by a man in authority. Boys and men of any age who make these comments need to be made to feel like abusers.

    I also liked Anonymous' comment "Bishops and Stake Presidents won't allow women to say prayers in Sacrament or let women sit on the stand or let a woman be the last speaker in Sacrament." I see this type of tendancy all over in church. Who is asked to teach gospel doctrine? men. Who is asked to babysit in primary? Women. The home teaching message is drafted by one of the church presidency. The visiting teaching message is not given a credit. I especially have a problem with how women have few examples to draw from in the scriptural heroes who are always highlighted. Alma, Peter, Paul, Nephi: all great examples of righteousness. But where are our women? I know they exist and they should be highlighted and honored equally as models to learn from in both Elders' quorum and Relief Society.

    The "differences" you chose to highlight are sociologically interesting, but you missed the point. The emotional charge is there for a reason. The emotional charge exists where there is something wrong. It is not to be ignored. Choose the items that have emotional charge to explore and decide how you, as a man, will influence other men to correct the problem.

    1. About the order of talks: I am especially baffled by the tradition in many units of having the wife speak first and the husband second. In the logic of our culture, that can make the wife seem like she's there to introduce her husband. In the case of my father-in-law, it also means he seldom gets more than five minutes for a talk.

      It would be easy to simply alternate the husband-wife order when couples speak, and might do a lot of symbolic help reinforcing our doctrines on equality in marriage.

    2. My ward must be unusual. I'm a gospel doctrine teacher there, rotating with two men. Also, we've had both male and female primary choristers, pianists, organists, choir directors, and scout leaders.

      But it is bizarre about the sacrament meeting talk order. They don't do the opening and closing prayers that way. They don't do the youth talks that way. They don't even do the talks in primary opening exercises that way.

    3. I also want to mention briefly that in my ward, half the gospel doctrine teachers are women. And that the longest formal interview I can remember having with a bishop was when I was called as a primary teacher for 11-year-olds--because one of his main concerns as a leader was that children in the 8-12 range have solid teachers who could give them the gospel and show them why it matters. Primary is definitely not just babysitting or we're failing as a church.

    4. You don't think these issues are emotionally charged as well? (they are - maybe not for you - but the one where my husband has to consult me for every little thing is a very emotionally charged issue for us)

      I do not think James was suggesting in his post that we dismiss the emotion. As he stated: "if you think a certain practice is promoting inequality, you are probably going to bring a certain righteous indignation to any discussion of it. And if you think a certain practice is being unfairly labeled as promoting inequality, you're likely to bring a very defensive [and I would add, dismissive] mindset to any discussion."

      I think you are right - that emotional charge exists where there is something wrong, but it doesn't always necessarily mean the issue at hand is the thing that needs to be changed. Often, emotional charge comes as a result of pride, and it is the pride that needs to be changed, not necessarily the issue. And emotional response is almost always an indicator that "something is not right", but what that something is can be hard to pin point.

      For example, when my husband gets frustrated, whether with me or with something else, I would definitely describe my emotions as "charged" - but even if he is expressing his emotion negatively, most of the time the emotional charge comes from my pride which has caused me to become defensive. Or if I get frustrated with him and in my emotion say something criticizing, sure the issue is emotionally charged, and surely something needs to change, but it is necessarily him that needs to change? Or is it me? (and I could use an example of me and a girl friend, or my sister, or my mother - and if I was a man it would be the same thing).

      "decide how you, as a man, will influence other men to correct the problem."

      So it's a man's responsibility to correct the problems in the Church now? I thought that's what the whole issue was about in the first place? Men have more influence. But now you're saying that it should be that way?

      Why not have us all decide how we, as disciples of Christ, will influence other people to be more effective disciples? (I seem to remember there being several talks about that exact topic in the past few General Conferences)

    5. Re: James and Merrijane's comments - the experiences that Alana described are not all that uncommon. But that's part of the problem of the whole discussion - when we talk about inequality in the Church we are looking for a universal solution to a completely non-universal problem.

      Which is why I agree wholeheartedly with James' suggestion that we forego the discussion of inequality for a discussion of different experiences - not just between men and women, but also in individual wards and branches - and among individuals (which, I believe is kind of the purpose of the Church structure anyway - to provide a place for the individual to learn and grow).

    6. Becca,

      I agree that we all need to do more as disciples of Christ.

      But I also think Alana is on to something: there are some things men will need to do (and some things women need to do) to take things better.

      Our genders are probably part of the solution to gender-related problems!

    7. Above, that should read "make things better" not "take things better."

    8. In one Sunday School lesson, I heard it taught that the wife prays last so that the priesthood can open the meeting and that the husband speaks last so that he can correct anything his wife said that was contrary to doctrine (just like the presiding authority in the meeting has authority to do). Yeah...that was my stake president at the time (different ward from now). I didn't leave the Church, but I most definitely did leave the meeting. :) I think it goes back to the principles in D&C 107 and is the same reason high councilmen are scheduled to speak last. The person with the greatest authority has the final word for the meeting, which means the person with the least priesthood authority (or no authority, in the case of a woman) speaks first. It's meant to honor the priesthood, but unfortunately, it ends up being at the expense of the woman. It goes back to that "baffling" aspect of gender discussions. My then-stake president just didn't see it from my perspective. We all have blind spots, as this blog post so gently points out.

    9. I am not saying that there aren't things men can do to make things better, I just don't agree that she should have a problem with men taking all the prominent roles in the Church, and then suggest that men should do something to influence other men to change (which would suggest that they are still more prominent). Men should do something to influence other men and women to change. And Women should do something to influence other women and men to change. I guess that was my point, but not stated very well.

    10. I think one thing we women can do to make change is to be gospel scholars ourselves. I don't know why, but some women I know don't like to comment, say in Sunday school. I've been a big commenter at times, and yes, ended up a Gospel Doctrine teacher. Maybe enough women don't participate in the gospel discussion, so others don't think they're able? I suppose some of this is because fewer women serve missions and therefore, feel less qualified? I did not serve a mission, but for some reason (haven't figured it out yet), still feel a drive for gospel scholarship.

      As for the speaking last thing, it is a bit weird, but, more than once, I've not left more than 10 minutes for my husband. Guess there are pros and cons to that one.

    11. Research actually shows that in public school classrooms, boys are called on more often to comment than girls. The same may be true in other contexts. So for some women to make a point of being prepared to share insights in gospel doctrine classes is probably a great way to help teachers and students alike correct for some cultural habits we have which prevent us from following the Doctrine & Covenants' call for all to be edified of all.
      A few assertive women speaking more may help other women to feel more comfortable and confident in commenting. And it may help teachers to pay more equal attention to everyone--there's certainly a risk of men subconsciously being noticed more (for good and ill). Especially if they're six and half feet tall and bearded....

    12. Emily, I agree with your comments that enough women don't participate in gospel discussion. (which I think actually doesn't originally come from Church culture - I think it might be a convert-related thing - women who came from oppressive American society into the non-oppressive Church culture didn't know that they were allowed to speak, and so they didn't. And it just stuck, and it led men to believe that women weren't supposed to speak either).

      Honestly, one of the most disturbing attitudes I hear is the attitude that "I don't want the priesthood, I already have enough to do as a woman." What I hear under that comment is that "I am content to let men learn the gospel for me, interpret it for me, and tell me how to live it." That is absolutely not what we are expected to do.

      As women, we have a priesthood duty, along with men, to become gospel scholars, to minister to the needs of our brothers and sisters, and to instruct one another in the gospel.

      We need to be stepping up, not sitting back. I don't think men are oppressing women as much as women are just being lazy. It's so much easier to just get together and make little wooden Christmas tress than it is to get together and actually talk about the gospel. We would rather just let the men do the talking.

      Women need to step up, and I think men could definitely be more encouraging in helping women to step up and rise to their potential - but then, I hear the complaint that men tell us how to be women. Well, that's because women aren't telling us how to be women. They are telling us how to make tomato sauce. Men are telling us because women won't, not because they aren't allowed to or expected to. We don't nearly live up to the expectations God has for us (as women OR men).

      I should post my notes some time from an excellent class I attended on the Patriarchal Order at BYU Education Week. It helped me really understand what that means, and what it doesn't. I'll post a link when I get them up.

  4. So what if we threw the term out altogether? Would we have more room to talk about the differences between male and female experiences in the church if we simply acknowledged that they are different, but withheld judgments about equality and talked instead about what each gender needs to increase the quality of its average experience?

    Yes. Understanding is far better than judging. Discussion is far better than arguing. Loving another is far better than convincing another.

    1. And I'm guessing it's also more effective.

      Take the example above: let's say you notice that some young men in your branch or ward are disrespecting young women. If you come upset and talk to their leader about how the culture is promoting gender inequality, he may feel guilty or defensive and not know what to do. But if you bring him Pres. Hinckley's talk and mention that he might have concrete opportunities to teach the young men by what principles priesthood works, he's more likely to have the confidence and language to take action that promotes positive change in those young men's lives.

  5. I do want to keep the discourse about gender...relationships?...positive, but I have to agree with Alana that whether it detracts from rational discussion or not, this is a very emotionally charged issue. Most feminists I know are pretty content with the Gospel; it's the culture that often causes pain. Actually it's just certain people. And that pain is very, very real. I've endured all kinds of blatant, misogynistic, verbal abuse (some of the worst examples come from the zone and district leaders I had on my mission) and I knew it wasn't the Church's fault--at least, not doctrine itself. But something let those young missionaries think it was okay to have such little respect for me, and that was the culture. They had certain ideas in their heads about women, and the organization and structure of the mission/church/culture allowed it. So in my opinion, yes, I think something needs to change.

    1. I referenced one talk I remember from Gordon B. Hinckley in a comment above. It's here:

      I wonder whether it would be useful to gather a short packet of talks from male and female church leaders that deal with issues of respect, love, the sin of verbal abuse, etc. to help remind people. A packet like that would be good both to try to prevent verbal abuse and to make clear to those who are disrespected our verbally abused that they are right to feel upset by it and that others' behavior is inconsistent not only with the spirit of the gospel, but also with explicit teachings of current and recent leaders.

      There may also be valuable structural changes to be made--but I can't do anything about that at the moment. Whereas I can direct people to talks that make relevant doctrines clear in both gentle and sharp ways.

    2. Your suggestion to have a packet of talks reminds me of something someone shared about Valerie Hudson's article here. "[Sister Hudson] reminded me that THIS vision of zion (the one described in her article) is the one I should live in, and that when people aren't seeing things that way, I should invite them into that space with me."

      What you're talking about with the articles makes me think of this exact sentiment - when people aren't living in Zion, we invite them to come live in Zion with us.

      It also reminds me of Pres. Packer's wonderful comment that "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."

      As far as structural change - there are (and have been) some useful policy changes that could occur (the change in missionary age for YW is one that comes to mind, and the extension of the priesthood to all worthy male members is another). But we cannot force those changes.

  6. I’m flattered you tagged me to comment on this, but I’m not sure I have anything useful to say. When it comes to “gender inequality,” I feel like an autistic child who wonders why people greet each other by pulling back their lips and bearing their teeth. In other words, I understand what people are saying, but I just don’t feel it. I do have two thoughts that hopefully relate to your post, though.

    First, I was very close to my father growing up—more so than my mother. Mom regulated my life, fed me, cleaned me, made be do chores, etc. Dad sat and talked with me. He believed in my talents and abilities. He encouraged me. As a result, I’ve never felt like I was inferior simply because I’m female. Perhaps I project that experience on my relationships with other men, because I don’t think any of them look down on me, whether they are Mormon or not. My only experience with a man treating me as inferior was on my mission. It was an investigator—a fundamentalist Christian from Africa.

    Second, I appreciated your unique questions about how to address gender differences in church. The things you talk about seem way more important to me than arguments about who gets to “wear the pants” in the ward family, so to speak. I know I shouldn’t dismiss the emotional pain of my sisters in the gospel, but when they start to get accusatory and contentious, I just want to ignore them. It makes me feel defensive of all the wonderful men I have in my life.

    1. I have a friend who grew up without a father and who really appreciated it when other men in the ward took time to mentor her, take her to father-daughter activities, and generally be positive, confidence-building presences in her life.

      Maybe part of building confidence in girls and young women in the church is having a stronger emotional "safety net" so that more and more grow up with regular positive encouragement from men, no matter what their home circumstances may be.

  7. I like your points. We are so tempted to carry the world's discussion and the world's terms and the world's vocabulary into this, and I think that's not only counterproductive but insulting to the creator. If we go back to the scriptures and see how GOD uses the words equal and equality, he talks about three things: the importance of us being equal with each other in terms of resources, the importance of us being equal with each other in terms of authority (teaching), and his plan to make us equal with HIM.

    When we shift our thinking to try to think like God, we become genderblind as well as colorblind and nationalityblind and etc. Instead we want to insure that everyone has what they need to live, that everyone has a voice in the mutual edification of intimate church settings, and we are all focused on receiving the opportunity to become like God.

    When the discussion comes from these defensive and worldly positions, it has a wholly different flavor. Satan is in control of the discourse when it becomes "you can buy anything in this world with money" just as much as when it becomes "you can buy anything in this world with ecclesiastical power." Abraham was a starving Syrian vagabond. If we really chew on that we understand that God is interested in the personal, not the institutional.

    As persons, we can have these wonderful conversations about increasing opportunities for both young men and young women to become well-rounded individuals, to embrace greater opportunities (although I lay odds that those are the conversations happening at every level institutionally as well). I loved your points. Each deserve a conversation. We can do better, but most of that will occur personally, not institutionally. Abraham sits on his throne now not because the institution bequeathed something to him but because he sought it straight from God. I doubt we'll have many Abrahams in our own day until we stop waiting for the institution to tell us what to do and go do it ourselves - offer equality in all we do, search for consecration, approach God ourselves.

    1. I like the idea of consecration as a great equalizer--'cause you can't really give more than 100%.

      I also like your reminder that we are aiming for divinity, which goes a lot further than equality. That doctrine also puts disrespect and verbal abuse into a vivid context: when one person is demeaning to another, it's not just sexism or another form of oppression. It's blasphemy. When you demean another human being, you are demeaning God.

    2. I think that God also uses the term "equal" in a very important way that we often forget about in discussions of equality - and that is that the atonement and mercy of the Savior applies equally to all.

      One of the things that I have thought about a lot in the discussion of inequality is that the purpose of the Church is to bring us into Zion, or "unity" which means that we have to be united. United does not mean "the same" - one definition of unity is "Harmony or agreement between people or groups." I love the idea of "Harmony" because if you listen to a symphony, every instrument is not playing the same part. Usually, in fact, you have several dozen "parts" playing at the same time. The flutes have to recognize that the cellos are not going to be playing the same thing they are playing, but they still have to play their part in time with the cellos, and in the right key, etc.

      I think talking about the different experiences we all have in the Church, validating those different experiences, and then together discussing how to approach all of our different experiences with a gospel attitude make us more unified. We are not all having the same experience, but we are all learning to use the Spirit and each other to approach our experiences with faith, hope, and charity, rather than with doubt, despair, and judgment.

  8. Before I wade into this conversation, I wanted to first comment on the post itself. I admit, as I read it, my first reaction was “This doesn’t address what *I* want to talk about at all.” But as I continued, I realized that in all these instances you were discussing women were the ones in a position of power or advantage, and it was baffling because I hadn’t considered it that way at all. My next thought was that you’ve placed me in the position of the many men and women in the church who just don’t see what we feminists are getting so worked up about.

    Is this how they all feel when we feminists start talking about men being the ones in positions of power or advantage? No, because we are often not as polite or neutral about it as you are, so they probably feel both baffled and under attack. It was eye-opening and, I think, sets the stage nicely for a respectful and hopefully edifying discussion of gender within the Church.

    So thank you for that. Whether it was unintentionally brilliant or (more likely) carefully crafted with that end in mind, it was an impressive post. Just for the pure aesthetics of it, this was lovely and (for me at least) highly effective.

    I’ll actually jump into the conversation a little later today, but I wanted to give you my knee-jerk reaction first.

    1. Baffled and under attack--sounds like my husband! He gets particularly upset about the fact that elders quorum never seems to have a budget to work with because it's a long-standing practice to let the RS and YW take the bulk of the money. He thinks EQ should get to have at least one activity a year that isn't potluck!

  9. I like your analysis, James. You bring up some good points. I particularly like the level-headed approach of what happens in the experience of either sex. I just had a few thoughts as I read.

    1. Just wondering why you thought the gender gap wouldn't have been as bad 30 years ago. I would have thought it would have been worse. Just wondering what specific things your thinking of.
    2. As for not teaching men to single parent, you can also see that even if there is a child in a union, and that union splits, the child generally is more cared for by the mother anyway; hence, making his ability to parent less necessary. It's too bad. Maybe if men knew how to better parent, the greater burden wouldn't be on the mothers.
    3. When I read the part about the guys not signing up to volunteer, my immediate reaction was the wives keep the schedule, so they have to talk; like you say, if you forget to talk, then you forget to sign up. Been there, done that. I suppose I'm also guilty of that one, but I think both my husband and I have gotten better at just signing up individually and hoping it works out. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't, but I sure don't like signing up and then not being able to do it.
    4. I was fascinated by your thoughts on men not working so well together. I guess I'm totally inexperienced, but I hadn't seen this. I just figured men were more easy going and got together fine! Little do I know. Honestly, I wouldn't say women are all peachy. I've seen some jealously amongst women; so, it sounds like it's something both men and women need to work on. When I worked under a woman at the COB in college, one of the first things she asked me was if I was okay working under her. I was really confused. It never occurred to me that I should have difficulties working under a woman. I think they considered switching me to a male supervisor, just in case. I don't know why I share that because Church hierarchy is somewhat different than work hierarchy (maybe?).
    5. I wonder how awkward it would be to promote cross-gender relationships, such as in men/girls. I think as a little girl, men were great, but then as you get older, your hear stories about men and get worried, and then distrust men. It's sad. Maybe some of our segregation of the sexes is from perhaps unfounded stories, and that has just carried into our church culture.

    1. Re: #1. I meant the gender differences in terms of how fixed expectations are. My vague sense is thirty years ago LDS women also had pretty fixed expectations for early adulthood (with the exception of missionary service, which was optional then). Over the past three decades, expectations seem to have opened up for women but not changed much for men.

      I don't know if that's a bad thing--my wife feels like many young men benefit from clear expectations/demands and that many young women struggle more with disappointed expectations than their male counterparts. So maybe we're in a good place now with men having the structure they might need more and women having the flexibility they might need more.

      But I don't know. Maybe we should be changing on men, maybe we should be thinking more about whether it's time to treat full-time missionary service as a normative rite of passage for women.

      I do think it's interesting, though, that there's a clear difference in expectations but without one option clearly looking better than the other from our broader culture's perspective.

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  11. I just wanted to add that it makes sense to talk about "gender-related differences in experience" rather than "gender inequality", for a few reasons: First, because men and women can never be "equal" in the sense of the word that they are exactly the same - because men are and always will be different than women. Secondly, because we can't really agree on what gender inequality looks like in the Church anyway, which inhibits us from having a productive conversation, because we're stuck debating what "inequality" really looks like. Instead, if we talk about gender-related differences in experience (and really, any kind of difference in experience - location-related, perspective-related, differences in experience just by virtue of being individuals) we can then validate each other's different experiences (because no one's experience is less valid than another's) and move on to a discussion of what parts of that person's experience are in line with the gospel, and talk about how to improve our own and our fellow members' experiences to be more of a gospel experience.

    1. Cool.

      In rhetoric, we talk about four stages of argument: fact, definition, quality, and procedure. It sounds like with "gender inequality" we get stuck on definition, whereas with "gender-related differences in experience" we can move on to quality and procedure--what's working and not working, and what action do we take.

  12. One last preamble before I start commenting on the list itself. :) Whether we’re looking at misogyny or misandry, the root of both is hate. A lot of the differences in the way gender plays out in the Church (whether it’s doctrine, policy, or culture) comes from the fact that we’re trying to build Zion in the midst of the slums of mammon. There are zoning issues. ;)

    Another thought that I had was that hatred against women has doctrinal roots and goes back to the Garden of Eden, but not to the Tree of Knowledge. Satan can set up priestcrafts to combat the Priesthood, but he can’t touch the procreative power that resides in Eve and her daughters. God himself placed a protective enmity between Lucifer and The Woman (and that seed of life she bears), enmity that Satan uses to devastating effect. I’m probably misunderstanding a lot of what happened in those verses of Genesis, but I think the takeaway is that the procreative power as expressed in the family is something Satan has a particular, driving hatred for. What better way to attack those sacred relationships (husband and wife, mother and father, son and daughter) than to sow hatred between male and female? Anytime we discuss gender in the Church, I think that doctrinal truth should be in the back of our minds: anything less than love is enmity.

  13. I posted this comment on a facebook thread James started, but I figured I'd add it to the conversation here, since not everyone is engaged in the fb thread.

    I have a few thoughts.

    1. I absolutely agree that the term "inequality" is problematic and that it's often counter-productive to conversations. Personally, I've wanted to get rid of the terms "oppress" and all variations of "equal" in gender discussions for the reasons you've listed. The way I've been explaining it to friends for a few years now is that if all I wanted was for men and women to be equal, that would mean tearing down whoever appears to be doing better until they're on the same level. I see inequality as a symptom of other problems that need fixing. Which means that instances of apparent inequality bear further investigation before anyone tries to resolve them.

    2. The points you raise all seem interesting to me and worth considering. I'm intrigued by your decision to focus on inter-gender relationships, since it's in the personal that most experience the political.

    3. That being said, your discussion didn't really talk about differing and overlapping leadership responsibilities or the way that those experiences impact individual perceptions of gender. Or about rigid gender roles, though you hinted at it a little bit. I know you were looking to talk about some areas not often covered, and I know your discussion is operating in a new paradigm, but leadership responsibilities and opportunities all play into personal gendered interactions. In creating a different paradigm, your discussion veers a bit toward creating a "the other side" approach, which is by definition always going to be an incomplete side.

    4. To respond to a specific area of your post: I'd add to your discussion of how the future is more specifically mapped out for young men that on a cultural level (and it's still unclear to what extent this mapping is backed by doctrine or leadership), the specific expectations swing back in the other direction for life from the mid-twenties and on, placing some very specific expectations on women, while simultaneously offering more options for men. If women are meant to aspire toward a career as a stay-at-home mom, while men are meant to aspire toward any number of unique and fulfilling careers, then that's a terrible position for women to be in, and it's an expectation that doesn't end after two years. But again, it's increasingly unclear to what extent that responsibility is grounded in the gospel and to what extent it's cultural.

    5. It looks like someone might have brought this up on your blog, but simply feeling close to a female leader, does not mean that a boy will grow into a man who respects women when they are in authority positions or who even perceives women as capable of having stewardship over men in the way he sees men as having stewardship over women. And those perspectives have repercussions. We've all seen it in little ways, such as when a recent RM closes his notes during general conference because the speaker is a woman. But what are the subtle repercussions of nearly one-half of the church population (men) being deprived of leadership from women? As a woman, I am under the stewardship of both men and women. And I like it that way. I think men would benefit if more at least recognized ways in which women in the church do have some stewardship over them, even if that stewardship isn't direct.

    1. Except that women do have stewardship over men in many instances, both directly and indirectly. We don't hold priesthood leadership positions, but that doesn't negate all areas of stewardship. Maybe I'm not understanding--what areas do you think women should be given stewardship over and how do you think that should work?

    2. She does say it would help if "more at least recognized ways in which women in the church do have some stewardship over them." So it seems like at least part of what Emily is calling for is just better education.

    3. Re: #4 in Emily's comment.

      I've been thinking about career and church, and one thing I think is worth mentioning is that the church doesn't seem to care whether a man's career is self-actualizing or interesting or anything like that. The church message on career for men (in my experience) is primarily that as a man, you have a responsibility to strive to provide basic economic security for your family.

      Now, I don't remember anyone in church taking me to task for choosing theatre as an undergraduate major. But there certainly was some concern in my extended family. And I certainly felt significant internal pressure to reconcile my field of study with my responsibilities: was I being foolish or selfish in pursuing arts, or doing something that would be useful enough to justify the risks in the end?

      I don't want to say the church pressure for men to provide is bad. In fact, I think it helps keeps us family-centered rather than self-centered.

      I just think it's possible to think that the church wants men to enjoy their careers and women to endure the difficulties of home-making...when actually, I don't think the church sees careers as routes of self-actualization at all. As far as the church is concerned, joy comes from relationships with God, family, and community and work is a fairly tangential (though necessary) way to support those relationships.

  14. 1) Everything in this list are observations, not questions posed for the sake of conversation, so I’m left to ask (and answer) my own questions about them. So why does it matter that little boys are taught to trust their Primary president but little girls are kept at arms’ length from their bishops?

    This goes back to my comment about zoning issues when building Zion within Mammon. The fact of the matter is that there ARE child molesters among us and, like it or not, the majority are male. In a fully Zion community, there probably will be much closer relationships between children (particularly girls) and adult men. As a Cub Scout leader, I would add that in Scouts, at least, there’s no double-standard here. Women leaders are also subject to the “Two-deep Leadership” and “No One-on-One Contact” rules that the men are.

    This is relevant to the “Pants to Church” issue because, from the time they’re little, girls are being taught that men are dangerous. How can we ever have a discussion about gender in the Church and NOT have it be emotionally charged when fear of men is being instilled in our girls? The roots of some of these gender issues run very deep.

    At the same, there is a genuine need to protect these little ones. Perhaps the Scouts are on to something that could be helpful more generally in the Church. Each Cub Scout manual has an insert for the parents to discuss issues of child abuse (how to avoid it when possible and telling someone if abuse occurs), but the responsibility for keeping these boys safe rests squarely on the leaders. In particular, the policy of “No One-on-One Contact” is driven home with a pile driver. We are charged with actively preventing even the possibility of abuse and the adults are to watch each other for problems, not leave it up to the kids to keep themselves safe. The adults police themselves, or to put it in a more doctrinal parlance, the shepherds keep vigilant watch over their sheep and drive out any wolf from among them (Alma 5:59).

    Of course, that policy would have ramifications for things like bishops’ interviews, and so I’m not sure how or if it might be implemented (though I think it could be). Regardless, if EVERY adult, male and female, were expected to make the effort of preventing one-on-one contact, this fear would probably be lessened. My mind would certainly be more at ease.

    Going back to “zoning issues” though, Western society expects men to be more aloof. I’ve commented to my husband about it before, that it’s just as unfair expect men to be the strong, aloof dominant male as it is to expect women to be submissive, emotionally-driven beings. It’s becoming more socially acceptable for men to be moved to tears, but we’re not anywhere near comfortable with the idea of men being as free to express their emotions as women are. In a fully Zion society, men would be as open with their emotions as the Savior is (see 3 Nephi 17 in particular, where he weeps because his joy is full in the children before him). Until that ideal of masculinity is achieved, we as a Church culture have much work to do in helping the brethren feel more comfortable working toward that ideal. I’d love to read THAT priesthood lesson or conference talk! :)

  15. I'll write a real response next, but in case it takes awhile, I was wondering if you would also be interested in hearing some of the things others have noticed as gender-based differences in the church and whether they think those are positive or negative. I personally have seen a variety and with different results and often mixed results as opposed to all good or all bad, though some of them seem to lean more in a positive or negative direction.

    1. I think the part of the discussion we need to get to is whether they are good or bad (and more importantly, how the experiences reflect adherence or opposition to gospel doctrines), and also even further than that in the discussion is what we can do to help the experience be in line with the gospel - whether that involves, as James has suggested, sharing messages from our leaders, or if it involves strengthening one another to deal with and endure less-than-Zion circumstances.

      I, personally, would love to hear some more examples of gender related differences - but only if we can also talk about what makes the in line or not with gospel principles and what we can do to help improve the overall experiences of members.

      And as long as we can keep in mind that a negative experience for one person may be a positive experience for another, and visa versa - which is why I think focusing on "differences of experience" is much more useful than talking about "inequality".

      I look forward to your responses :)

  16. James,
    You start off your post with a plea for neutrality, yet I did not find any of your explanations in your “list” neutral. Your interpretation of anecdotal events seems clearly set.

    You start off with male/female relationships. This is an important point of discussion, yet I could not find evidence to support your broad generalizations. You jumped from issue to issue extensively throughout that portion and I am still unclear as to what exactly you were trying to say. I believe that you are saying that men have a good relationship with women in the church due to primary (if that is not what you are saying, then let me know). If boys are more attached to women because women are more present in their formative years, then wouldn’t it make sense, in order to “fix” the girl/man relationship, to call more men to primary callings? Women are often placed with children both in the home and in the church. This can be infantizing and limiting to women’s spiritual and personal growth.

    Your second argument is equally convoluted. Male and female expectations within the church are different, but I don’t think that women have much more choice. Young women are groomed for temple marriage in ways that young men are not. As a young woman I had lessons on how to dress for a date and designing temple gowns. Such activities would never be a part of a male curriculum. Even in the new young men and young women lesson books there is a great disparity in male and female leadership. Leaders are frequently asked to have young men assume leadership roles, where the equivalent lessons for young women still remain more passive.

    I am not certain what volunteering has to do with inequality. I just do not understand it’s place in your post. While the anecdotes and the differences are interesting, I don’t see it’s place in a discussion of inequalities. I do think that women are more likely to volunteer their time, without speaking to a spouse, when the service would not affect the husband (example: bringing a meal to another family would not have a great impact on the husband, as it would most likely be prepared when he was away and be delivered in a short amount of time). If a husband is working his time with his family is valuable and so, he may need to check with his spouse before committing that time to service. If we’re speaking from personal experience, I have been far less likely to volunteer when I am the working spouse than when I am a SAHM. When I am working, I feel my time belongs to my family first, where as when I am staying home with my children I feel more freedom to serve and volunteer. Also, when I was staying home I felt more pressure to volunteer, because otherwise I felt that I was disconnected and would not be seen as doing my part.

    I know that you do not see which gender “has it better.” I would urge you, as you pursue this task of discussing gender differences in the church, to look at this fabulous blog post about Mormon male privilege. I think sometimes it is difficult to recognize our own place of privilege.

    Happy writings and thanks for inviting response 

    1. I certainly don't feel like I've proven anything with this post.

      What I wanted to do is to call attention to differences in gender experiences without labeling them as inequalities and then to suggest that we could probably work on several things to improve the quality of each gender's experience of church without having to argue over definitions of inequality.

      For instance--I don't think someone has to accept a premise of gross gender inequality in the church to see a good argument for more men in primary. All you have to believe is that a) girls benefit from positive relationships with adult men and b) many girls don't have enough of those relationships in their immediate and extended families. We can discuss those issues without feeling why not do so?

      If we're comparing privilege, I have all kinds--I'm highly educated, I'm filthy rich on any fair historical or global scale, I come from several large and supportive extended families, I have a voice that carries and a face people remember, I know how to make food that makes people like me better...the list goes on and on.

      But I think there's a straight shot from acknowledging any of my privileges to figuring out what our community can work on. I think it might be faster to start by discussing how different people experience the church and then go from there. What do they need? What could be better?

    2. James,

      I appreciate the tone you're trying to create here. However, when Anne tries to bring up legitimate points about your approach you label her as "defensive." That's a label that shuts down dialogue rather than encouraging it.

      Again, I appreciate your motives here. But to discuss gender in the Church without addressing the larger issues involved (purposely limiting yourself to much smaller, less controversial issues) is a bit confusing to me. What's the purpose? Personally, it seems to be a bit of a smokescreen that talks around the issue while telling people to ignore the elephant in the room.


    3. Mahonri,

      I feel like you are purposely misreading James's point here. I understand that you believe the two of you have completely different ideas about gender, but you may find that you agree on a lot of things. If you read carefully, you will notice that he isn't addressing larger issues on purpose. And he certainly didn't say Anne was defensive (just because he mentioned defensiveness in his response to her). I found that he was making a more general statement about how people respond to controversies rather than a pointed remark to Anne. In fact, I see that he is merely clarifying.

      The purpose, as I see it, is to discuss people's experiences with gender differences in the church. I can see that has happened throughout the fifty-five comments listed here. I think it's good we're talking about curriculum and weird activities like designing a temple dress. I also think it's good we're saying we need more men in Primary and that the scout rule of no one-to-one contact is something to consider.

      But, again, the point of this post, as I see it, is not to talk about inequality (as he points out upfront) but quality. How can we make sure people have good experiences as men and women and girls and boys and teenagers in the church? I think it helps us redirect responsibility to each of us. We are the ones responsible for how we treat those around us. And if we want our daughters to feel empowered in church, then we need to step up and make that difference.

  17. Interesting that you see less inter-generational accord among the men than the women. Watching my teenagers' experience, it seems that the young men have quite a few more institutional opportunities to interact with the men, than the YW do with the RS. The men have opening exercises together with the YM, do service projects together, fill home teaching assignments. When I was RS pres., it was like pulling teeth to get the RS and the YW pointed in the same direction (though we did do the optional program of having opening exercises together once a month). We received a lot of encouragement to facilitate transition into RS, but we had to do it outside of existing programs.

    Of course, that's youth, and you're talking about adults. Funny that it's the men who are later divided into quorums, while the women from 18-108 meet together.

    From my perspective, the boys have more opportunities for real, recognized, meaningful service than the girls. The boys are at church early and late every week, getting the sacrament ready, shoveling the snow, ushering, collecting fast offerings, taking the sacrament to shut-ins. My daughter pretty much just has to show up. Which leads to a lot more over-the-pulpit commendations for the boys--they're the ones doing most of the work!

    Interesting discussion, and comments

  18. So in reading all the post and comments, I'm still not precisely sure what kind of response you were looking for-although my intellectual ego was quite puffed for being asked. So here's some thoughts:

    Yay for talking nicely. That is a good thing, though I don't think you'll be able to eliminate completely the intense feelings because for some of us (hey, I'm being all sneaky and mean ME), it was those intense feelings in spite of trying to be objective that got us down this path of questioning in the first place. Perhaps I shall share the specific details of my own experiences eventually. Then you could have the privilege of saying you were the one who got me blogging again, hehehehe.

    OK, now for this list. I like numbered thoughts.
    1) I think we need more men in primary and nursery. Theories on why they aren't as often involved with children:
    1-Traditionally this is viewed as "woman's work" in both church and American culture. In some culture-pockets this is viewed as "lesser" work, though I have never experienced that in the church itself, but that's not to say some members don't subtly carry that belief whether they are male or female because it sometimes comes from the outside culture.
    2-We have hammered into our church culture the belief that women are somehow inherently better at dealing with children simply by virtue of them being a woman, whether they've had kids or not. While I would argue women are infinitely better at birthing children than men are, I have known many men who are stellar with kids (my own hubby included.) I believe if we were more open to letting men develop their nurturing attributes, we would be surprised by how many stellar primary teachers we would have who would actually enjoy it too! I can't tell you how many women in primary have told me they crave adult interaction after being with children all week only to be back with children on Sunday. I view this as a negative result of our over-emphasis of rigid gender characteristics. Many of those characteristics are encouraged or omitted from youth-age onward (YM aren't given lessons on nurturing their families because that's what "women do" and YW aren't given lessons on providing for their families.)
    3-Your point about sexual/physical abuse is well-founded. I have several friends and family who have suffered abuse at the hands of men in the church and it's a real concern. However, the children themselves are not likely to think they should be afraid, so it's more about creating an environment of accountability and safety for everyone. I also wonder if men are taught to have relationships/work with children, if it will help because they will not view themselves as so separate and removed and can engage emotionally in their community where most American culture does not often give them an opportunity to do so.

    1. Primary has been my favorite callings. I'm all for more men there.

      As far as children's fears: I know a woman whose rule for her young kids is that they can only go play at friends' houses when the mom is home. Mom--dad at home doesn't count.

      She probably has her own good reasons for making a rule like that and I certainly am not going to argue with her right to do what she thinks she needs to to protect her children. But surely an eight-year-old who grows up with a rule like that internalizes a little of the implicit fear. I don't think kids are that oblivious.

    2. Because of the history of some of my extended family, I would have to say that unless I knew the family well, I might have the same rule when my wee one is a little older. However, there are some families I know personally where I may actually be more comfortable with the dad there than the mom, but it's a family-by-family thing for me.
      I think it depends on a child's age as to when they start contextualizing gender/generational separation and how it's explained. Sadly, the church doesn't help much with its modesty rhetoric that implies men cannot control themselves and are just that much more likely to do something inappropriate. But that will get me on a whole other tangent.....

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  20. 2) I gotta disagree with you on this one my friend. As my mission trainer said "There are 3 lessons in YW/Singles Ward RS: Preparing to be a wife and mother, honoring the Priesthood, and chastity." I remember shocking my Sunday School teacher when I was 12 or 13 when I told him I wanted a career and didn't have being a mom as my foremost goal(but if that happened, then that was cool too.)While I thankfully had awesome YW leaders who were more concerned with helping me develop a relationship with God and the Savoir than teaching me the divine purpose of deodorant (yes, there is a hygiene lesson), I was even then bothered by how MANY lessons seemed to be about being a (stay-at-home) wife and mother and no other options were really discussed. Education was important, but that was just the thing you did before you became a SAHM. Now being a wife and mom is totally important, but COMPLETELY dependent on another person. Even then this disturbed me that my male counterparts were preparing for things they could do independently (priesthood duties, prepare for the temple, serve a mission), and I was supposed to prepare for something that potentially may not happen. I guess in that sense women do have a lot more open possibilities, but they can make some feel like they did something wrong.

    3) I don't have too many strong opinions on the volunteering thing. I have seen a variety of responses in different wards, but that seems very dependent on the local church or surrounding culture.

    4) The last one is suuuuper complicated because you're looking at how men socialize in groups vs. women, which is a huge thing that has been studied in many different cultures all over the world. It would probably best be learned about from a cultural anthropology or a sociological point of view with some evolutionary biology thrown in there for good measure. But since you have me instead, I'll just say that men and women can be separately but equally dysfunctional. I do think women are more attuned to the emotions of others, and it may be due to biology, spitritualogy, social conditioning or (likely) a combo of all, but just being attuned doesn't always mean that ability will be used for good. Now the church encourages people to be good to each other, so often this ability IS used for good, but I don't think the male groups have any kind of monopoly on treating their own gender with rudeness or disdain. Women are often just better at hiding it (not always though.) That said, neither hubby or I have experienced anything that bad apart from some "meh" Priesthood/RS groups in the wards we've been in. I know he has actually enjoyed getting to know some of the older men and one of the men who blessed our baby was a HP he had become friends with just from church interaction.

    I used a lot of acronyms.

    Also, I'll leave with one thought that this has made me think about. On a FB discussion, someone brought up the point that in marriage we're commanded to become one. Perhaps instead of thinking this means we have to get into some really extreme gender-roles/jobs to become the absolute most masculine/feminine we can, it's actually about learning the characteristics of the other and trying to incorporate that into what we already have so we can increase our capacity.
    I hope that makes sense. It's a wee late. Looking forward to continuing this conversation, though I have noticed there is a severe lack of calling anyone to repentance on your blog for such a heated topic. Perhaps someone will do me the honors, but I'd prefer an up-front, dramatic denouncement. The passive-aggressive ones are just not fun.

    1. I hereby call you to repentance. For, um...using acronyms! Don't you know that every time you use capital letters needlessly, an angel gains a pound? Or something! Dramatic like that!

      I would like to point out, though, that when I call someone to repentance, it's not a denouncement. People I've denounced I always encourage to sin...

    2. Re: YW/YM curriculum. It will be interesting to see what the new curriculum is like. I don't know much about it, but it was on the second cover of the Ensign and people in my ward seem pretty psyched. So we'll have to watch what changes.

  21. Here's a couple of side by side look at two of the lessons in the new young men/ young women books. and

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  23. Thank you for the post. I appreciate that you focus on things that really are more local in nature. I think we would do a lot more good to look at our own local church experiences, speak with local leaders, and try to come up with local solutions, which is what I think you are encouraging here. Holding the church up to a worldly standard of political-correctness is the wrong way. Like others have said, look where there is dissatisfaction, look at where there are hurt feelings, watch for disrespect, and try to address things locally. I think many of the people reading and commenting on this post are probably in presidencies, ward councils, or at least live down the street from people who are and can really get some change into the works by looking locally instead of trying to find "the fix" for all the church's perceived equality problems.

  24. I know I'm late coming into this discussion, but I felt like sharing my experiences and ideas about these issues. I love the idea of just talking about differences rather than inequality. Because even in this world with equal rights for genders, cultures, etc., we all experience the world differently because of those factors. My experience in the church and world is fundamentally different from my brothers' though we grew up in the same household and have extremely similar lives.

    Growing up in Utah with a 95%+ LDS high school, I felt like I had an altogether positive experience in the church. There are things that I would like to see improvement on, but I felt like I had many positive relationships with adult men in my ward. I also felt that, in general, my relationships with young men in my ward were positive. I never experienced comments similar to those above. However, I have witnessed comments of other nature that disappointed me. Those comments have to do with the intra-gender relationships of men in the ward. For some reason, perhaps the socioeconomic situation of my ward, there was a huge emphasis on what men wore to church. When I was about 14, the young men in my Sunday School class essentially mocked my teacher who was wearing a colored shirt instead of a white one. I was really disappointed because the only thing that brother was expected to do that day was teach Sunday School. He wasn't officiating any Priesthood ordinances. But even if he was, would the color of his shirt have made a significant difference? Around the same time, our YM President made it very clear that he expected every young man to be dressed in a suit every Sunday. While the vast majority of our ward had the means to do this, some did not. And at an age where young men are growing so quickly, I almost think it's unreasonable to purchase a suit. It set an expectation that, though I didn't witness it, likely lead to some disillusionment for some young men.

    On another note, one of my greatest disappointments in my education as a young woman was lack of knowledge about the Priesthood. The young men are taught from an early age about keys and procedures and having a respect for the Priesthood. Why? Because they are given the Priesthood and begin using at a very early age. Unfortunately, I missed out on that. I got that education to a degree, but not nearly as much of it as I would've liked to.

    Another thing that I would like to see is mixed gender leadership for mixed gender organizations. Sunday School and Primary are mixed gender, so why not the presidencies? I think we'd be able to have a much more balanced and effective experience if we started seeing more this.

    As far as the structure of young adult lives for men and women, it's tough. I'm considering missionary service and marriage and it's difficult to navigate all the counsel that has been given and the expectations of family and leadership. However, I hope for one thing to come of the age change. I hope that young men feel less pressured to go at a specific time. I hope that they are given more room for reflection to see if this time is right for them to go or if they need another year at college. There should be less expectation on men to serve as soon as they fit the requirement, and more expectation to serve a mission in general.

    As a young single adult at BYU, I actually feel pretty good about the things we've been discussing. I have female gospel doctrine teachers. I have female Sunday School and Missionary leadership. I feel like a lot of the problems that exist in family wards that have been discussed, aren't nearly as much of a problem for my ward. This gives me hope. I believe that as time goes on, these changes will take place because my peers will begin taking leadership positions in wards all over the place. It will be a slow process, but I believe that it's happening as we speak--and it's wonderful.

  25. Do you know why Male Primary Teachers are not Interested to do Job in Primary School? I Think Low Amount of Salary. Are you agree with me?



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