My Big Fat Bad Analogy

Scene: A discussion on family roles in Relief Society. A sister (sitting next to me, nonetheless), pipes up with, “I heard something that really made an impression on me. You see, the man is the head of the household. But the woman is like the neck. She guides and controls the head.”

The sister went on. I was lost in the realization that the warning I had read on the Exponent II list about the proliferation of this analogy in Church classes in the wake of My Big Fat Greek Wedding was not, in fact, an urban legend.

To quote the immortal words of Marge Simpson, “I can’t even begin to tell you what’s wrong with that.” But I’ll try anyway. The movie itself (which I liked, really) shows that the mother is manipulative and deceitful in her dealings with her husband. That’s funny on the big screen, less so in your living room, regardless of which side of the gender war you’re on. That’s one problem with the head/neck analogy. Another, of course, is that necks don’t think; they are merely the muscles that carry out the will of the head, the seat of reason.

At the same time, I appreciate the need for analogies to help us understand, especially in this case. This may be a topic for a separate discussion, but it has always struck me as odd that so precious little direction is given through official channels about what ‘to preside’ in the home actually means. There was an Ensign article on this very topic earlier this year (Feb. 04, “Presiding Righteously in the Home”). But if you were reading it wanting to know exactly what someone presiding does, you would have felt much like a teenager trying determine the facts of life from a dimestore romance: “Yes, but what exactly do they do?”

Think about it. You may be familiar with how your parents did things (if they were members), how things are in your home, and maybe a few anecdotes from others. But there is very little heard from the pulpit as to what precisely constitutes or inappropriately constitutes presiding. I was shocked to hear a woman I respect state that she considers presiding to include the right to having the last word in cases of disagreement. I think that’s bunk. When I was in college, I visited a friend’s family. At one point, the entire family was in the room. Wife: ‘Honey, will you call the family to dinner?” Husband: “Everyone, time to eat.” This struck me as just silly.

At any rate, I am going to offer up a new analogy for your consideration. Here it is: spouses are like hands. Here’s why I like it:

(1) It would be possible for a being from another dimension to sit through a RS, EQ, etc., lesson on husband/wife roles and get the impression that 21st century LDS live in a culture where men and women are radically different people, with drastically different duties, living completely separated lives. How often do you hear emphasized the fact that basically, like hands, men and women, and their requirements in the church and in the home, are virtually identical? (Faith, baptism, repentance, service, prayer, scripture study, etc., etc., are all equally required of men and women.) I think there is a danger to not emphasizing the similarity; Satan would have us think that the gender divide is very wide, and that we can’t really get that close to our spouse. (I’d like to link to Hugh Nibley’s “Patriarchy and Matriarchy” here, but it is, curiously, a bad link from the FARMS page and I can’t find it online elsewhere. I would imagine most of you are familiar
with it.)

(2) Not only are hands virtually identical, most of the time they work in tandem. This is how it should be in the home, as well. Too much emphasis on difference can lead to ignoring the fact that the highest ideal is seemless joint operation between spouses–unity in marriage. I met a woman once with a disability that caused one of her hands to literally wander away. She had to use her other hand to bring the wayward hand back to her side. You can imagine how this impacted her ability to do so many things. I’m sure you see the parallel to spouses who aren’t
united in purpose.

(3) You’ll notice my careful use of the words ‘virtually identical’ above. Hands aren’t identical (but if anyone introduces the word ‘dominant’ into this discussion, I’ll give them a virtual smack. All analogies break down at some point. . .) and, much as we are taught that men and women have different roles in an ideal family setting, hands specialize as well. I write with my right but can hold a baby more easily with my left. But, just as there are people who are right, left, or ‘both’ handed, not every family will assign jobs/chores/roles/characteristics in the same way as other families. My very innovative friends in Provo like to scandalize the missionaries and other guests when the wife calls on someone to pray. If they get any remarks or questioning looks, the husband explains that he has delegated this authority to his wife for the year; they alternate years (nifty, huh?).

(4) Along these lines, people with an injured or absent hand make accomodations and live their lives. Similarly, a single/divorced/widowed man or woman may be at a disadvantage, but isn’t quite as incomplete as a neck without a head, or vice versa.

(5) And, finally, neither hand is really in control. The head of both is God. As each partner seeks to be God’s hands in the world, God can aid them in working together for the benefit of others.

102 comments for “My Big Fat Bad Analogy

  1. I really like the analogy. I think it works for the most part. On the other hand. . .(Pun intended)

    Do you accept the idea that you can or should only partake of the sacrament and sustain people in their callings with your right hand? While I don’t really believe this little Mormonism myself, and I get that you are downplaying the real differences in the gospel roles between the genders, it seems to me that there is some need in your analogy to represent the fact that only one hand on each person is authorized to administer in the office and ordinances of the Priesthood. Personally, I enjoy taking the sacrament and sustaining people with my left hand, just to see if I get any funny looks from people.

    So, um, do I get a virtual smack? Please? DOMINANT. . .DOMINANT. . .DOMINANT. . .Please?

  2. I never liked the head/neck analogy, but it has been quoted at least three times in sacrament meeting talks in the last year, to my recollection.

    The hands analogy you just came up with is a lot better and much more nuanced. I like it.

    But it doesn’t have the pseudo-glamour of a pop culture quote, so I’m not sure if it will catch on. I still like it.

  3. I agree the definiton of “presiding” means vastly different things to different people. To most people outside of the church, my husband and I have a very old-fashioned/male-dominated sort of marriage. My husband brings home the bacon and I stay home to raise the baby. But to some people inside the church it is a very “modern” marriage. One women in particular is startled to see me tell my husband “Hey, it’s your turn.” When it comes to changing a diaper. My husband and I take turns cooking dinner and this sister single-handedly cooks up a feast and has it on the table every night at the exact same time. It is interesting that to some people the husband being the head of the household means he always gets the biggest pork chop.

    Here’s an interesting situation. A woman I know is divorced with two teenage daughters. She refuses to get a full time job but instead feels it is the responsibility of her ex-husband/family/ward to help her out financially. She is very devoted to the idea of her being a stay at home mom and insists on being home when her daughters are not at school. While her devotion to her children is admirable, it seems strange that she doesn’t see divorce as a good enough reason for her to go out and get a job in order to be self-sufficient.

    In the end, I don’t know what I am trying to say, only that this post made me stop and think. I like your hand analogy, too.

  4. Julie, It seems to work pretty well. I know lots of marriages where Matthew 6:3 seems appropriate: “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.”

  5. I think that the hand analogy is good because they often do work in tandem. How about this one: The man is like the head and the woman the heart. In my expericnce men try to be problem solvers, thinkers and working with things in such a manner.
    Women tend to feel things more. This does not mean that they are irrational creatures. I think this would help to solidify the nature we each have. Women often feel the spirit stronger and more intense.
    I also think of the analogy using Star Trek.
    Spock was rational and played out the reasoning in the show. McCoy was the passionate emotional aspect. Together they balanced eachother out often allowing Kirk to make good descisions.

  6. I definitely have problems with the head/heart distinction. Starting out as a bookish girl, I’ve struggled with that one a long time. You are too analytical, too intellectual, too. . . . . Frankly I’ve always thought of thinking as pretty exciting, emotional, sexy. The dichotomy head/heart seems absolutely wrong-headed to me in the first place. Before you start thinking about the male/ female thing. And certainly the husband/wife.

  7. Charles–

    The problem that I would have with head/heart is that it suggests that the differences between women and men go beyond the obvious biological ones to characteristics, attributes, ways of relating to the world, etc., and I simply disagree with that proposition. I don’t think you’ll find anything in the scriptures to support it, either, but you will find Jesus modeling both stereotypically masculine attributes (think throwing the money changers out of the temple) and stereotypically feminine ones (think gathering children and weeping). I think the point is that Christlike behavior does not respect traditional gender expectations.

  8. “all the women readers of this blog are hoping you were kidding . . . ”

    “all of the male readers of the blog are hoping you were kidding, too. . .”

    Well, that’s obviously due to the fact that men and women do not have different ways of approaching things. :)

  9. How about one of the following:

    If the husband is like the President, the wife is like the entire Cabinet.

    “Presiding” does not mean that you get to do whatever you want. Instead, you are obliged to make sure that everyone ELSE has what they need, that things get done, and that compromises are negotiated.

  10. Well, here goes.
    I wasn’t kidding. Maybe I didn’t portray my view as eloquently as I could have. I’m often pressed for time here at work.

    The fact is men and women do look at things from different perspectives. Biology does play a huge role in our differences, but there are different roles that the genders have in society. I’m not trying to make a broad blanket statement. I’m simply trying to illustrate how men and women look at the world through different paradigms, like a set of 3-D glasses. Each eye sees the same world but from a different perspective. When viewed together there is a much clearer image with greater perspective.
    I think we are in our greatest balance when we are trying to look at things equally through both eyes. I simply believe that men favor one eye and women the other. Not by much maybe its as little as 51-49. Some poeple may be as much as 40-60.

    The idea of the head and heart is that these are two organs often credited with directing our thoughts and actions. Neither one is more correct than the other. They need to be used together. But people do clearly favor one over the other.

  11. “The fact is men and women do look at things from different perspectives. Biology does play a huge role in our differences, but there are different roles that the genders have in society. I’m not trying to make a broad blanket statement.”

    err….. isn’t that a broad blanket statement? Me no understand.

  12. Charles — you realize that you proposed that we think of men as having the brains and women having the emotions, right? Just checking. Obviously the client whose prospectus I am drafting right now does not think that way. Nor do I.

    And I’m glad we discussing the “presiding” concept, because it always bothered me. It was never clearly defined, but the word is used prominently in a talk in almost every general conference. An implied definition is always sort of hovering around, of course, and it is never a good one. If two partners are truly equal, one of them does not perpetually “preside”, unless “preside” has absolutely no meaning.

  13. Julie, I think your hands analogy works in explaining the roles of spouses in a marriage, but I find it unhelpful as a metaphor for a relationship in which one member presides and the other doesn’t. I’m glad you’ve asked the question, because I’ve asked it many times myself- what do we mean when we say the husband presides in the home? In our attempts to pacify pretty much everyone, we’ve eviscerated the word until it means nothing at all. I know there are definitely outliers, but I truly believe that in the majority of mainstream Mormon homes, ‘presiding’ means that the husband calls on people to say the prayers, possibly conducts family home evening, and almost nothing else. (By the way, I also had the clever idea of delegating the role of picking people to say prayers to my wife, almost implemented it, and changed course when I heard a general authority read from the manual of instructions about presiding…specifically that the man SHOULD be the one who chooses people to say prayers in the home. Wow.)

    Anyway, we LDS walk a fine line between appearing sexist on the one hand and eliminating all meaning from the word “preside” on the other hand. In the final analysis, politics and gender wars aside, doesn’t it have to mean something that the man presides? I know that you don’t suggest in your metaphor that each hand is identical, but I also couldn’t find any suggestion that either hand is in any way expected to do anything that would bind the other hand. In other words, although I like the hands analogy, it doesn’t enlighten me at all as to the role of the husband in presiding over his home, and the role of the wife in being presided over. Can it be that the idea means nothing at all? I don’t think so. Hopefully this room full of thoughtful people has some clear idea.

  14. Woohoo, Ryan, thanks for actually engaging in a substantive discussion of the issue and bringing up some interesting points. Here’s my thoughts:

    (1) You imply that ‘just’ calling the family to prayer, conducting FHE, etc., somehow isn’t ‘enough’ to constitute presiding. Why?

    (2) I agree that the word should have some meaning, I just don’t think that it means ‘gets the last word in case of disagreement.’

    This goes back to my original point that we hear preside, preside, preside, but we never define it. I wonder how many LDS couples are happy with the type/level of presiding that goes on in their homes, how many feel a vague guilt that there isn’t any, and how many women are calling their husbands at work for permission to walk to the mailbox (extreme but true example).

    I’ll admit that the hand analogy doesn’t explicitly cover presiding as much as it is a general description, but I did say that in most people, the hands are specialized for certain functions and we don’t write with the ‘wrong’ hand unless absolutely necessary. I would consider presiding to be one of those specializations.

    I’m a big fan of Nibley’s reading of the creation and fall to imply that Adam presides, but Eve only follows him when he is doing the right thing, which means that she is put in the position to judge his worthiness to preside, and to reject his presiding when it is unrighteous. There is an interdependency here that I think is sometimes lost, as if presiding were a simple flow chart with MAN and then a big arrow pointing down to WOMAN. Nibley creates two arrows, the one from Adam to Eve says ‘preside in righteousness’ and the one from Eve to Adam says ‘judges righteousness.’ They are next to each other, not up and down. I have found this very useful, mostly because it is so dangerous when women do any fool thing their husbands say.

  15. Response to Julie:

    1. Do you think that’s enough? To me it seems like we’ve overblown the whole presiding thing in the church if all we’re talking about are some tiny ceremonial functions that amount to going out of one’s way to make sure he is the one giving the orders. Yes, picking people to say prayers is probably a part of that, but to me it reeks of an outward ordinance devoid of inner meaning. If that’s all it is, who cares?

    2. I completely agree. In fact, my dad’s definition of presiding in the home was always that he felt the need to make sure my mom was always understood before he got to make his case in disagreements. While I think that’s a useful philosophy in some cases (although it could be seen as condescending in some relationships), it still seems devoid of any real Priesthood meaning. Anyway, we are agreed that presiding in the Priesthood has nothing to do with having the last word.

    Finally, we are also agreed that there is very little meaning given to us from the leadership of the church. Practically, it is an empty concept in dire need of some filling. So I am hopeful that this discussion will tease out some thoughts about that.

    I find your thoughts on Nibley’s theory illustrative in this whole situation. Just as those who push the head/neck discussion, you have sought to answer a question about what it means for the man to preside by offering an answer that focuses on how it’s really not so bad for the woman that the man presides. In other words, we in the church, in our constant hope of not being to offensive or sexist of extreme, always dodge the real question. When the question is “What does the man do in presiding in his home?” we give answers as if the question were really “What scraps can we throw to women in order to make all of us feel better about this strange idea that men preside?”

    In other words, it’s nearly impossible to actually discuss what it means for the man to preside because the whole conversation is so filled with disclaimers and sops thrown to women, who we all imagine will be devastated if there’s not some consolation prize thrown in. Of course I believe there’s a consolation prize thrown in, in that women are obviously meant to be respected and listened to as much as, if not more than men. But isn’t that whole debate beside the point? What we really want to know is not how the women are also to be listened to, respected, given their own roles, etc. Let’s figure out the issue at the core: What does a man do that presides righteously in his home under the Priesthood, regardless, momentarily, of the way women ought to respond to that behavior?

  16. But to respond to your substantive thoughts on Nibley:

    I think it’s a very interesting idea, highlighing the unique properties of the marital relationship. Where else in the Lord’s system has he set up a relationship in which one party is to lead and the other is empowered to judge the righteousness of that leadership? Of course, that whole structure is completely antithetical to the normal functions of the church. In following the prophet, or the bishop, we are told to faithfully obey, even if we are allowed some private moments to prayerfully work out our own doubts.

    Of course this structure could be seen as necessary in marriage, where the mere fact of being a husband is not an implicit endorsement of a person’s basic righteousness, as it is to be a bishop or prophet. So I like the idea of the separation of powers, although, like I say, it’s awkward and difficult to assimilate into one’s understanding of the rest of the church.

    One other idea, however. We are all familiar with the scripture saying amen to the Priesthood or power of any man who exercises unrighteous dominion. Building on that, it is clear that the arbiter of whether a follower is bound to follow a Priesthood leader is Heavenly Father. How do you think that process integrates with your take on the wife’s role as arbiter of her husband’s Preisthood leadership over her?

  17. (1) I think the point isn’t that Dad says, “OK, time for FHE” but that he is taking some measure of responsibility for getting things done. I think a problem for many young families is that Mom and kids create an entire world with rules, procedures, etc. while Dad is at work and he comes home and feels like a stranger and ends up withdrawing. (There have been times when my husband has given me that what-do-you-mean-you-let-them-jump-on-the-couch look, and I know he feels out of the loop.) I think giving fathers this role in prayers and FHE vests him in the process instead of it becoming one more thing the wife is in charge of.

    (2) Settled.

    You make a good point: we begin the discussion with the assumption that presiding is bad for women and/or women will react negatively to it. We then frame the discussion to minimize offense. Let’s start with the assumption that God really does love God’s daughters as much as God’s sons, and wouldn’t put the daughters into a situation that would not be positive for them. Let’s consider how presiding might actually benefit women, marriages, children, and families. It now becomes obvious that having-the-last-word is nuts as a definition. How does presiding benefit women? For whatever reasons, the tendency is for Mom to be IN CHARGE of the house. (It’s easy to imagine men doing housework; harder and rarer to think of them being IN CHARGE of all of those things like doctor’s appts., holiday plans, scheduling activities, etc.) I think putting prayer and FHE on his plate only helps to balance things out. And back to Nibley, I feel no loss of authority in these issues, because if my husband does them wrong, or not at all, well, he’s fired.

  18. Well,
    I’m not trying to make a broad generalization in saying that ALL women, or ALL men, think or act in a certain way (let alone ALWAYS in that way). I’m simply stating my observations about how people interact in society. Certainly I belive there are people in both genders who think and act in ways that are often viewed as consistent with the opposite sex.

    I simply believe there are gender roles. No one sat around a council and made them up. They evolved. Men became, in large part, the hunter gatherers. Women, likewise, became the nurturers.
    Additionally, I’m not saying that one way is better. I’m simply saying that it is the dominant way the majority of that gender is.

    I will admit I do not know of any specific research to support my opinion, but I do know that throughout several classes and documentaries I’ve seen, there is support that men and women view things differently. Sadly, I don’t have the luxury of drafting a response, researching it and editing it prior to posting. Thus it is not fact simply my opinion.

  19. Actually, Charles, in all of the primitive societies that I have read about (and I’m most familiar with the !Kung, but certainly no expert), it is the *women* who are the gatherers and the men the hunters. No one specifically is assigned to sit around and nurture, whatever that means.

    I wonder if you have considered, when you observe this stereotypical behavior, whether you are seeing something inherent in the person, or something that society has conditioned them to do, by rewarding certain behaviors (Big boys don’t cry! Young lady, sit still!).

    The real issue is how this works out in a Gospel context. You may think these differences are inherent, I think they are the result of cultural conditioning. But everything I find in the scriptures suggests that we shouldn’t go around promoting stereotypically masculine behavior in men or stereotypically female behavior in women, but rather promote Christlike behavior in everyone. As I mentioned above, sometimes His behavior was what we expect of women (weepy, nurturing) and other times of men (acting boldly, etc.). I find here a model for both genders.

    I think your attitude can be dangerous, because it encourages us to assume that men and women will see things differently when they may not. This can be very divisive in marriage, for example. And say what you will about not thinking one is better than another, but it is virtually impossible for humans to do this. For a variety of reasons, we end up favoring one over the other.

  20. One thing to keep in mind is that if we are speaking of evolution (whether social or evolution proper) that we are speaking of the fallen world. To assume that fallen gender roles are equivalent to divine gender roles seems somewhat difficult to assume.

    Afterall many of our instincts would lead us to do improper things. We are to use our minds, will, and the spirit to move from being natural people into children of Christ.

  21. Julie, I’m glad we agree. The endeavor, as we’ve now meticulously framed it, is this: We wish to know what God meant by placing men at the head of the home and family. We need not waste time in pursuing the answer to the question with assumptions that this situation hurts womens’ feelings, or is inherently bad for them. In fact, given what we know about Heavenly Father’s love for his children, we know that this system is calculated to produce the best outcomes for all involved, husband, wife and child. Being able to talk about the meaning of presiding, without the hackneyed gender apologetics is, for me, at least, liberating.

    So on to attempting to answer the question (for the few sad souls still left in this topic undistracted by the bright lights of the newer and more “cooler” threads).

    I think your insights about the alienation of the man from the hurly-burly of the home are correct. Instead of seeing the few ceremonial duties placed on a man as trivial, as I have, these duties can be seen as outward evidences of an attempt to give him a position inside the structure of the home, thereby overcoming his “out”-ness and placing him within the natural hierarchy.

    But while this approach is helpful, I find it…what.. mis-andro-itic (what’s the anti-male counterpart to misogyny??)? It’s the kind of thing that comes up constantly with the kinds of couples in which the husband is simply an unhelpful dolt. In these marriages, the mom is dying to have family home evening, but doesn’t want to do it herself and step on the toes of the Priesthood leader, so she frets about how to let him do it, as if planning how to convince her toddler it was actually the toddler’s idea to eat green beans for dinner. What of those of us (I would guess most of the husbands on this site) who have no feeling of alienation, who are full members of the home on every level? I agree that I will never own the administration of household tasks like my wife does, but in every meaningful way I am, and plan on always being, a full partner in the proper care and feeding of the brood and abode. Bearing full membership in the home, then, as I do, do I really need assistance in securing a proper place among my wife and progeny? Is my presiding position in my home really just there in case I let my membership in the family lapse and need some instant deference thrown my way?

    Or, was this role given me because, for some reason, that’s the best thing for my family and me? This leads me to take a position between you and Charles. I certainly don’t feel comfortable declaring which traits I believe to be inherently feminine and which traits to be eternally masculine. But I do take this position: that femininity and masculinity do have their own distinctive traits. It’s even possible that in the eternities, where gender is defined by our spiritual upbringing, rather than the crass influences of human society, the traits assigned to the genders are the exact reverse of how we perceive them here. Who knows. But it seems clear that the female spirit and the male spirit are different, that each has its own set of characteristics that defines it and makes it a part of its class. Otherwise, God assigned one set the Priesthood and the other set the more active reproductive role completely arbitrarily, and could easily have reversed them on a whim.

    Our question in this discussion, I think, does require some serious thinking about what those traits are. In other words, if I as a man am to truly comprehend my role as a presiding Priesthood leader in the home, I need to figure out what about me is suited for presiding, and what about me is fertile ground for the use and exercise of the Priesthood. Yes, I believe that it’s not all about me being cut out for these things– that in some respects they were given me in order to push and improve me. But it also must have something to do with the gifts and capacities I have by virtue of my maleness, don’t you think? Thoughts?

  22. A quote from President Hunter in 1994:

    A man who holds the priesthood accepts his wife as a partner in the leadership of the home and family with full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions relating thereto. Of necessity there must be in the Church and in the home a presiding officer (see D&C 107:21). By divine appointment, the responsibility to preside in the home rests upon the priesthood holder (see Moses 4:22). The Lord intended that the wife be a helpmeet for man (meet means equal)—that is, a companion equal and necessary in full partnership. Presiding in righteousness necessitates a shared responsibility between husband and wife; together you act with knowledge and participation in all family matters. For a man to operate independent of or without regard to the feelings and counsel of his wife in governing the family is to exercise unrighteous dominion.

  23. For me, that quote is a perfect example of the tendencies we’ve been talking about all along: First the reference to presiding without ever explaining what it is, second, acting like we’re talking about what it means to preside while really talking about not over-presiding. I get sucked in every time– I think I’m going to learn what presiding means, and instead I just get hit over the head with another warning not to overdo it. Thanks.

  24. And believe it or not, that was one of the more precise definitions I could find on when I went in search of a definition. I did note a few quotes in the late 70s and early 80s which discussed the phrase “rule over” and stated that “preside” was a more accurate phrasing of what the Lord wants the husband to do.

  25. ryan/mds: Um…what is so confusing about President Hunter’s definition of Presiding? Doesn’t every sentence in that paragraph illustrate what he means, after the first sentence defines it?

  26. I think “presiding” is actually one of those Mormon lingo words that make little sense to anybody outside of the church. But as I have been reading this thread and trying to come up with my own definition of presiding means, and how it applies to my family and marriage, I am reminded simply of how we use the term in our regular religious meetings. For example, the bishop “presides” over the sacrament meeting, except when a high counselor is in attendance. The Relief Society president “presides” over the relief society meetings. If somebody could tell me exactly what that means, maybe we could get closer to figuring out how the same word could apply to the home.

    On a more personal note–In our marriage, I do most of the driving. I don’t mean this metaphorically. I actually drive the car when our family is in it. The reasons are simple:1) in Boston, Nathan didn’t know the roads as well as I did, and to get anywhere on time without using a map, I had to drive.
    2) Nathan is color blind, and doesn’t always react as quickly to the color of the traffic lights as I would prefer. The result is that I’m always squawking at him to slow down, the light is red, it’s green, watch out, etc, and he has deemed me the worst back seat driver in the world. Thus, to keep the peace, I drive.

    What’s interesting about this is that this arrangement has been commented upon more than once by women in the church. Statements like, “my husband would never let me drive” and “What kind of dynamic is going on here? Why isn’t your husband driving?” have puzzled me. Does presiding over your home literally mean being in the driver’s seat?

  27. I return from the store to find that my wife has been blogging about me behind my back! The shame of it!

    I just want to say one thing about the whole driving issue. While my wife knows her way around Boston better than I do, if you cross the Charles things change. I know Cambridge better than she does!

  28. The more I listen to you all talk about this, the more you convince me that you can’t find a way to make “preside” seem like a very helpful word for talking about a marriage, about relationships between men and women.
    Skeptical in Seattle. . . . . . . .

  29. Ryan–

    Well, you already know that I am not a gender essentialist, so when you write, “Otherwise, God assigned one set the Priesthood and the other set the more active reproductive role completely arbitrarily, and could easily have reversed them on a whim.”, I say, YES. Why not?

  30. Susan–

    I’ve tried to suggest that presiding draws men into the family circle when temporal and cultural realities often draw them away from it. The authority doesn’t diminish the wife, because if he is unrighteous, she is free to disregard his lead. Does this not work for you? I am interested in your opinion as one of the wiser, greyer heads on this board.

  31. Ryan, one other thing, about the mis-andro-itic business–first, do you love the irony that my take on presiding seems anti-male. (haha)

    Seriously, though, I think we learn from the story of the creation and fall that presiding belongs to the fallen world. We would expect its functions to be less and less necessary as the marriage partners more closely approximate a state of unity. Hence, it may be viewed as a ‘crutch’ for men. Maybe it is sort of like HT/VT: in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to be assigned to take care of each other; we’d just do it. In the real world, the presiding/juding relationship may help men and women to recognize their interdependency, identify their own turf in the family, and work together better.

    I have personally been made queasy by discussions in RS that did, in fact, make it sound like getting one’s husband to hold FHE or prayer was on par with toddler taming. I think we’re back to the head and neck here . . .

  32. Heather, I do most of the driving too. Mostly because driving is one of my favorite things in the world to do and Kaimi could care less. So I drive. I often get weird looks and some comments but who cares.
    I always thought that presiding meant: making sure every one gets what they need, and that things are getting run smoothly.

  33. Just because I’m afraid I haven’t posted enough comments in the last hour, I wanted to add:

    I was thinking about what my boys would assume are priesthood duties, based on the fact that they never ever see their mother do them. Aside from the usual, they would probably add:

    (1) making orange juice from concentrate
    (2) bathing children and putting them to bed
    (3) making breakfast
    (4) getting things off of high shelves (he’s 6’1, I’m 5’1)

    (we share the driving–he’s safer, I’m faster)

  34. Julie, I simply can’t respond sympathically to “lead” or “preside” as structures to strive for in committed relationships. I realize this lack of sympathy says a good deal about where I am in my life. I’ve been trying to listen carefully to this discussion. I don’t want to dismiss the distinctions you’re describing. I know they are important–how fully men and women are engaged together in family matters, the quality of the leadership, and so on. In the end, this notion of “presiding” doesn’t resonate with how I feel and think about things. And I’m far enough from the institutional church that I’m comfortable with this sense of distance. I’ve been very interested to listen to how people deal with this notion–on the surface it can be seen as problematic as some have admitted. You can’t just say–it doesn’t work for me. So where does the discussion go then?

  35. My wife and I share the driving “load” when we’re just going somewhere local, but on long trips, she drives, because I don’t get carsick, so I can read to our boys, and I have long arms to hand things back to the back seat or to try to separate fighting kids.

    Something I have gathered from recent General Conference talks on fathers presiding in the home has been that fathers should take the responsibility for making sure family prayer and scripture study and family home evening happen. This doesn’t mean to me that he assigns the prayers or is the one reading the scriptures or conducting and teaching FHE; it just means that he accepts that it’s his job to make sure these things happen. For us, this mostly means persuading family members to attend to these things and planning them together with my wife. It may also mean being responsible for evaluating the spiritual progression of the children (again, where “responsible for” doesn’t mean “carries out alone”), as well as responsibility for ensuring that there are family goals, etc. (not to imply anything about the formality of such goals).

    The main thrust of all this is that presiding seems to me to describe less what a father “gets to” do (privileges) and more what he “has to” do (responsibilities).

  36. Another driving point: My wife refuses to drive in the District of Columbia. The streets are too confusing, she says. Boston, however, presents her with no problems. Wierd.

  37. >mother is manipulative and deceitful in her dealings with her husband.

    We don’t need a movie to see that. We can read it in Genesis 27. One word: Rebekah

    As for men and women, I’m sure many people would like to believe we are genderless humans with no traits inherent and damned be anyone who says otherwise. If you think women are especially adept at nurturing you are a misogynist who thinks all women should be barefoot and pregnant and uneducated. Plus, you think men have zero feelings.

    God forbid we give anyone the benefit of the doubt and not assume they hold a desperate extreme by just a few sentences.

    I think the Proclaimation on the Family is a pretty good summary on the realities of men and women and their roles in families. But then, I suppose that ensures my demise here.

  38. My comment is not about “presiding,” but I wanted to respond because the stereotypes being thrown around are so different from my own experience. . In my own life I have been nurtured better and much more often by men than by women. Although I have 5 sisters and have had close friendships with many women, by and large it has been men who have listened carefully to me, responded with sensitivity, recognized and tried to meet my emotional and physical needs, treated me with kindness, etc. If I were in trouble or needed to talk about a personal problem there are one of several men that I would call.

    Having said that, the most insensitive people in my life, the ones who have been the most abrasive, and harsh with me have also been men.

    What about women? The women in my life for the most part have been goal-directed, bold, agressive, strong, and outspoken. Some of them are also proud and selfish. I would not consider any of the women I know “nurturuing and weepy.”

    Gender stereotypes don’t hold up.

  39. Renee, I’m with you.

    I’ve been astonished at the amount of intolerant flack folks with views like Charles’ have received here. Clearly the level of intellectual ability amongst the participants of this blog is quite high. So high, in fact, I think it far outstrips that of the average member of the church who is just doing their best to learn, believe and live by what God has revelealed to His prophets. The funny thing is, it appears that many members of the blog do not recognize how different they really are from typical men and women of the church, yet they try to cite themselves as examples of how the common understandings of the larger group are obviously false. Why do some react so passionately and negatively to the idea that there are inherent differences between men and women? More importantly, why is there such intolerance for those who believe that there are and that it is part of God’s plan? Why is it such an insult to women that God has divided up responsibilities between the sexes, and that on gender has been placed in leadership role? Why do we mock those who try to do their best with marriage partners who have insufficient spiritual motivation? Exactly why is it “insane” that as part of having ultimate and final responsibility for the spiritual and temporal welfare of a family, that a father should “have the final word” in disagreements? Why don’t we put our formidable intellectual abilities into helping each other understand the truth and beauty of God’s plan, rather than trying to justify the worldly philosophical chips we may have on our shoulders?
    I think we should be trying to reconcile our beliefs to what the Lord has revealed, rather than the other way around.

  40. Thom,

    I guess my problem is understanding what are the “inherent differences between men and women,” besides the obvious reproductive features. We both come from God’s image, and as far as I can gather, there is nothing that men can do that women are unable to do.

  41. Thom:

    I’m fairly sure that folks here recog that they aren’t ‘average’ Mormons; but the retort is that there is no ‘average’ and that we all have the same divine potential. However, some, on both sides, probably see their views as the ones that are more “progressive” and should be adopted by the rest of the membership.

    As Adam has pointed out often re: me…I’m just not normal…as hard as I might try to be an Average Joe. I suspect that holds for most of those who Blog here…and there friends also…we’all probably tend to associate/gravitate towards others who are more/less ‘equal’ to them. Mayhap that is why Melissa doesn’t see gender stereotypes holding up…because in the population sample universe she lives in…folks don’t have these stereotypes. Or…any other number of explanations…

    just my thoughts.

  42. Thom:

    Re: “final word.” I empathize. I used to think similarly.

    Then I stumbled upon Elder Ballard’s book about “Counseling in our Councils” (sp?). Basically…neither the 1st Presidency nor the Council of the 12 use a “final word” structure, where the prophet trumps his counselors or the 1st presidency can trump the 12.

    And if earthly marriage is anything like heavenly marriage; our heavenly parents certainly don’t have a Father gets the “last word” feature. I know that any earthly marriage I am in won’t. If a decision can’t be made with mutual consent…it shouldn’t be made at all.

  43. Chris R,

    I don’t think it is a matter of what men and women are “capable of.” I think it is a matter of magnifying the role the Lord has given us rather than chafing at it and kicking against it.

  44. Lyle,

    While I agree the General Authorities may not use the “structure” of having the “final word,” it is very clear that after listening to everyone’s counsel, the President of the Church makes the final decision. No one claims that the 1st counselor in the 1st presidency or a random member of the 12 gets the final word if they feel like it. That would respresent a house of disorder. Everyone but me seems so “certain” that the husbands and fathers are not necessarily entitled to the final word on disagreements. Can anyone actually and explicitly spell out the reasons why the are so clear on this? I think it is safe to assume that if a husband and father is being unrighteous or making a clearly unrighteous decision in the face of more righteous counsel from his wife, he is abusing his authority to preside. That however doesn’t make the case that he explicit authority to have the final word doesn’t exist. I’m open to being converted to this way of thinking, but I need clearer help on it.

  45. Thom and Renee,

    My experience is that there are many who feel that the roles outlined in the Proclamation are a good general rule of thumb, but that they do not point to *essential* differences between men and women. (And the fact that the Proclamation itself explicitly acknowledges exceptions seems to bear this view out.)

    There is also a big difference between gender roles as *assigned responsibilities* and our “folk explanations” of the reasons behind those assignments, which is where I think the reaction to Charles comes in. Charles is putting forth reasons for the separation of roles outlined in the Proclamation, whereas the Proclamation gives no such reasons, and Charles’ speculation on the matter doesn’t sit well with some people, especially given their experiences.

    So I don’t think this should be made out to be a conflict between people who follow the Lord and those who “kick against the pricks”. Rather, it should be made out to be a disagreement about how we understand the possible reasons behind gender roles as taught by the Church.

  46. Thom,

    My understanding is that if even the most Jr. member of the Twelve is uncomfortable with a decision and makes this known, the entire counsel will delay making a final decision until the single, soletary Apostle is in conformity with the others…or they with him…etc.

    I’m just suggesting that consensus eliminates contention; and keeps the Spirit of the Lord in our Homes, Families & Councils

  47. Julie, In our home, our children will surely come to believe that taking out the garbage, ironing, and gardening are reserved for holders of the Priesthood.

    I found Grasshopper’s post enlightening– your idea about presiding meaning that the husband is the ultimate responsible party for the spiritual health of the family rings true. For me, that doesn’t mean that the man is MORE accountable than the woman for their children’s righteous upbringing, but that the man is the point person in answering to the Lord in that category, thus making him more active in assessing and satisfying the spiritual needs. This structure seems to be borne out by what we see in the temple.

    Julie, I’m interested that you take the “presiding” structure to be a temporary, earthly one. I don’t want to push us too far into grossly speculative territory, but do you then surmise that the element of presiding is absent in the union of our heavenly parents?

    And by the way, no, I did not know that you were not a “gender essentialist” as you call it. Does this mean that in fact you do believe that the assignment of the different roles to the different genders was completely arbitrary, rather than based on factors and characteristics inherent to the respective genders? I confess I’ve not encountered that position before, and am interested in exploring its ramifications (while I admit at the outset I tend to disagree, for now).

    As for myself, to restate my diffuse warblings above, I think there are limited things we can infer from scripture and proclamation: That men and women, in their eternal, pure states, are different from each other, ‘gender’ holding some real meaning inherent in the male and female souls. What I do not think we can infer is what the native traits of the genders are, since our earth-bound concepts of the genders have become quite muddled as men and women have progressed and evolved, and flung mud back and forth at each other’s concepts of self. So yes, gender is meaningful, males and females are eternally different in their cores, and what those differences are I can only guess at.

  48. I apologize for my sharp tone at the end of my last post. I believe that it stems from the overintellectualizing I’ve seen on some posts. As it stands, it seems most would agree that the ‘Proclomation to the Family’ and others outline different roles without saying why those roles were assigned.
    This is an inherent problem with intellectualizing certain subjects. We simply don’t have access to the revelation behind certain things and all we can do is offer our best guess based on our past experiences.
    Speaking of experiences. Mine is a 30 something college graduate in Nebraska. Guess what? I’m a convert of 3 years. I never knew a single mormon growing up.
    Is it possible that the friction between my (plausable explanitory) views and others is that my background and enviroment supports my views?
    I understand that stereotypes are dangerous, and I completely object to putting people in different categories. When we begin putting people into groups such as us and them, we invite prejudice.
    Just some thoughts.

  49. Thom, I don’t think there’s been any “intolerant flack,” nor do I think anyone has denied the possibility that there are inherent differences between men and women. I think there has been a pretty careful attempt to figure out and try to argue through what might be “inherent” and what might be “conditioned,” and how the differences we observe should guide us in our thinking about what the gospel teaches us. There’s a difference between disagreeing or asking for clarification and dismissing or refusing to tolerate.

  50. Postscript: Julie, I’m glad you agree with me about the condescending tone of discussion where wives trade strategies in reverse psychology and baits and switches in order to prod their lazy husbands into an active family role. I think we would also agree, however, that there are many, many husbands who simply do not take the part in their families that they ought to. The women in these situations are left with little recourse, I suppose, even though I do hate that it’s become a stereotype for all men now. Is this the reason that explicit mocking and deprecation of men is so common in the church, where explicit mocking of women is taboo?

  51. Whoa! You take the kids on a little field trip and all heck breaks loose. OK, I am going to try to respond to all the points raised:

    (1) Susan wrote: “I’ve been very interested to listen to how people deal with this notion–on the surface it can be seen as problematic as some have admitted. You can’t just say–it doesn’t work for me. So where does the discussion go then?” I’m not quite clear on your comment and I don’t want to go off on a tangent. Are you saying the Church doesn’t allows people to say ‘it doesn’t work for me’? You also wrote, “In the end, this notion of “presiding” doesn’t resonate with how I feel and think about things” Why is this? (seriously)

    (2) Renee, I doubt you intended this, but your tone comes across as very rude. You have caricatured the position of those who disagree with you without explaining why you don’t agree with it.

    (3) Thom wrote, “Exactly why is it “insane” that as part of having ultimate and final responsibility for the spiritual and temporal welfare of a family, that a father should “have the final word” in disagreements?” I would respond to this by directing you to D & C 121 I don’t see anything there that would support the ‘final word’ idea, but quite a bit to support the opposite: we work to persuade, convince of love, act with gentleness, etc., in cases of disagreement.

    (4) Thom wrote, “Everyone but me seems so “certain” that the husbands and fathers are not necessarily entitled to the final word on disagreements. Can anyone actually and explicitly spell out the reasons why the are so clear on this? I think it is safe to assume that if a husband and father is being unrighteous or making a clearly unrighteous decision in the face of more righteous counsel from his wife, he is abusing his authority to preside.” Hence, amen to the priesthood of that man. So, when unrighteous, his final authority evaporates. So I guess it wasn’t so final after all.

    (5) Ryan wrote, “Julie, I’m interested that you take the “presiding” structure to be a temporary, earthly one. I don’t want to push us too far into grossly speculative territory, but do you then surmise that the element of presiding is absent in the union of our heavenly parents?” I am arguing for temporariness based on the fact that the relationship between Adam and Eve is delineated *after* the Fall. But if you want to speculate on the relationship of heavenly parents for a moment, can you imagine a situation where two perfected beings would disagree? Where one would shirk their duty? Not be completely devoted to the family? Need crutches or reminders of their interdependency? I can’t, so I can’t fathom what presiding would look like in that context.

    (6) Ryan wrote, “Does this mean that in fact you do believe that the assignment of the different roles to the different genders was completely arbitrary, rather than based on factors and characteristics inherent to the respective genders? I confess I’ve not encountered that position before, and am interested in exploring its ramifications (while I admit at the outset I tend to disagree, for now).” I am not 100% sure that I understand the question, but I will say that I believe, per the Proclamation, that gender is a characteristic of premortal identity, which I interpret to mean that premortal spirits are male or female. I do not interpret this to mean that male spirits are inherently more X than female spirits or vice versa. I have absolutely no clue about the reasons a particular spirit would be assigned to a certain gender, although I doubt it was along the lines of “yeah, Mary seems pretty nurturing, I guess we’ll call it a girl.”

    (7) Several people have commented on the issue of weird Mormons making themselves out to be the norm. I will be the first to admit that in many ways my husband has more stereotypically feminine characteristics (patience, selflessness) and me the reverse (bold, not particularly good with young children). Instead of seeing us as freaks trying to remake the world in our image, however, I think it is useful to see us and others like us as the exceptions that test the rule. If faithful LDS don’t fit the gender mold, do we need to reconsider it? Which parts?

  52. Julie wrote:

    “I have absolutely no clue about the reasons a particular spirit would be assigned to a certain gender, although I doubt it was along the lines of ‘yeah, Mary seems pretty nurturing, I guess we’ll call it a girl.'”

    Or it could be that there was no “assigning” going on at all. We don’t know enough about spirit creation to have a good idea about this.

  53. Grasshopper,
    I don’t know where, but I know I’ve heard talks before that discuss premortal life. I could be wrong but I believe they did discuss gender as a premortal characteristic. However, I’m not sure how that would play into a premortal existence without a body. There must be something that plays into who we are.
    I wonder. If we were to create a scale with male and female gender roles on extreme ends where we as Mormans would fall on this scale compared to the rest of the world.

  54. Re obeying or disobeying a husband who is unrighteous, isn’t the story of Abigail a good example of the proper use (and limits) of disobedience?

  55. Julie wrote:”I am arguing for temporariness based on the fact that the relationship between Adam and Eve is delineated *after* the Fall.”
    Ben adds:

    Exactly. I read the second half of Genesis 3:16 (“in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”) as being *descriptive* of how mortal life will be because of the Fall, not *prescriptive* or how it should/would be ideally.

    With that understanding, I’m not sure it’s necessary to soften the passage to “preside” (whatever that may mean ) Any attempt to make the Hebrew mean something like “rule with” as otherwise good Hebrew profs at BYU have done, fails on philological grounds.

  56. Ben (and/or other Hebrew scholars), how do you reconcile that understanding with the later help “meet” for him? My understanding (from Robert Alter is that that formulation refers quite clearly to someone who is an equal and needed helper–he translates it as “sustainer beside…”

  57. Ben–

    I think the ‘rule’ to ‘preside’ change is mostly due to Pres. Kimball’s ’78 Ensign article stating that he prefered that word in this context. I don’t think it is primarily an appeal to the Hebrew.

  58. Kris,

    The King James Version’s rendering of Genesis 2:18 is unfortunate. The Hebrew for the words translated as “help meet” is “ezer kenegdo” which could be correctly translated as sustainer beside, like Alter suggests. “Ezer” means “help.” Kenegdo is trickier, but means something like corresponding to, counterpart of, matching. Usually “ezer” is used in reference either to God—God is our help (in the Psalms) or to military allies. In other words this kind of helper is one who protects, surrounds, supports, strengthens. Usually it refers to someone or something mightier–hence, with the ability to help, protect, strengthen etc. The addition of “kenegdo” here makes it clear that “ezer” doesn’t refer to a superior, as it usually does, but rather to one that corresponds in strength.

  59. Charles–

    Good questions. If memory serves (can one of you social science types help me out?) there was a study published maybe ten years ago on this very question. The result: Mormons will tell you that they believe in the *most* conservative gender roles of religious groups, but in practice, they are actually the most egalitarian. I think the reason for this is those occasional conference talks where they remind men that women don’t have the market cornered on changing diapers. I don’t know how many other conservative traditions do that over the pulpit.

  60. Melissa,

    Great interpretation! How do you know so much about the Hebrew?

    Who ARE you? Do you run MSN Hotmail (based on your linked address)?

  61. The point I neglected to make is that there’s nothing to reconcile since the description of “ruling over thee” in 3:16 occurs as a result of the Fall not by virtue of Eve and Adam’s creation. The “ruling over” is not prescriptive, it is descriptive. Since the purpose of the Atonement and the Temple is to reverse the effects of the Fall by healing the estrangement that humans have from the earth, from each other and from God–thereby bringing us back into God’s presence— the whole debate about presiding seems somewhat unnecessary to me. Living in covenant mitigates *some* of the brokeness that resulted from the Fall.

  62. I understand President Kimball’s gloss to be based on his understanding that this verse describes what we are *supposed* to do. Ruling over is what a king does to his subjects, it is what Joseph’s brother’s accuse him of wanting in Genesis 37:8. A marriage is not supposed to be a master/servant sovereign/subject relationship, hence his need to soften it.

    I view Genesis 2:18 as being a statement of what we should recognize as Eve’s true relationship vis-a-vis Adam. No one else in the scriptures is called an ‘ezer besides Eve and God:) That’s an awfully small group:) Genesis 3:16, then is what will happen. (Paraphrasing here…) Though man mistreats woman (“rules over”) and causes her pain through pregancy, yet her desire is to stay with him. That’s Eve’s “curse.”

    There’s a great paper on this that I assume you’ve read, but if not I posted a copy at
    There are some other things on my temple page.

    One BYU Hebrew prof. who will forever remain anonymous and one of his graduate students have argued separately that the verb in Gen. 3:16 means “rule with” as opposed to “rule over.” It’s a very weak argument. I was disappointed to hear it, because his other work is so good. Too many start playing fast and loose when they have an LDS audience…

  63. Ben wrote, “Genesis 3:16, then is what will happen. (Paraphrasing here…) Though man mistreats woman (“rules over”) and causes her pain through pregancy, yet her desire is to stay with him. That’s Eve’s “curse.””

    I’m with you on everything else you have said, but I don’t know about this. First, I don’t like blaming the male for the pain of childbirth. Since we take Adam and Eve as archtypal, I don’t like the assumption that (all? most?) Adams mistreat (all? most?) Eves.

    As I imagine you know, Eve isn’t cursed. I like to think that this little speech is the divine version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Seriously, Eve gets no mother, older sister, or midwife to walk her through all of this, and what I see here is a kind God explaining to her what will happen so she doesn’t freak out.

    I guess the one thing I haven’t pinned down here (that I am not clear about in my own mind) is what exactly the phrase ‘desire . . . husband’ means. Is this just clarifying that despite the numerous and painful births, she will still desire him? That women have a natural sexual desire for men (please, send all differing opinions to one of the hundreds of homsexuality threads . . .)?

  64. “Who ARE you?” is a harder question to answer than why I know a little about Hebrew. How does one answer that kind of question?

    In fact, that’s a question for everyone. How do you define yourself? Is religion, ethnicity, gender, race, class, marital status, profession, hobby, income, sexual orientation (had to include that one here!) or something else your defining trait in your own mind? Or is it just impossible to rank our traits in that way?

    I don’t think I could say something like: first and foremost I am X. I am a woman, a Mormon, a student, a feminist, a friend and lots of other things all at the same time. Last night at a dinner party somebody suggested that I write a book entitled “From BYU to Brown,” as though that would sum things up. I don’t think so.

    I dislike the tendency that people have to ask others “so, what do you do?” after a few minutes upon first meeting. I tend to prefer, “so, what do you LOVE?” It always amazes me how difficult this question is for people to answer. They could tell me very quickly with pride or shame what they do. But, rarely can they promptly say–oh, I love X, Y and Z and let me tell you why. Still, despite the awkwardness that this question regularly produces at first, it offers a window into someone’s world, can evoke much better conversation and sends a clear message that you think that person is more than their profession.

    This is not an indictment of your question Steve, just reflection on your question.

  65. I’m not blaming the male for the pain, but she clearly becomes pregant because of him:) Touch a hot stove, and you won’t do it again. But as for Eve, in spite of the pain of childbirth, her desire remains towards here husband.

    The meaning of this word “desire” in Heb. is debated. Is it sexual desire? Is it a power struggle, as the NET translation and notes prefer- “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.”

    Mashal (our verb “to rule”) has implications of unrighteous dominion, which is why I paraphrased as “mistreat.”

    And you’re right, the only cursed thing there is the ground, which is cursed for Adam’s own good. But ADam and Eve have personalized consequences of their choices- Adam now has to work the cursed earth to survive and Eve has to deal with childbirth and her husband.

    Of course, the whole thing is etiological anyway, so how we extract “doctrine” or practice or personal philosophy from that, I’m not sure, and I’m not inclined towards philosophating :). I’ll leave that to the others.

  66. Julie,

    The KJV translate the Hebrew word “teshuqa” as “desire” in Genesis 3:16, implying sexual desire on the part of the woman. However, the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, translates the word as “turning.”

    The true meaning of teshuqa is, in fact just this— “turning” with no implication whatsover of sexual desire or lust. Of course, lust can be a motive for turning! What Genesis 3:16 is actually saying is something like this:

    Eve is turning away from God toward Adam, putting him between herself and God. God is warning Eve that this turning away from God and toward the man will result in her coming under domination.

    All of the best ancient versions of the Old Testament render teshuqa with the idea of “turning.” The distortion of the meaning of this passage apparently arose through the influence of the Talmud. The teaching that God cursed Eve , and through her, all women, comes not from the original Hebrew version of Genesis 3:16, but from the Babylonian Talmud, which, in fact, teaches 10 curses of womanhood. The 5th curse is, “Thy desire shall be toward thy husband.”

    This distortion was first introduced by Jerome through the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible in A.D. 382.

    A valid rendering of Genesis 3:16 is:

    “A snare has increased your sorrow and sighing. In sorrow you shall bear sons/children. You will turn toward your husband and he will rule over you.””

    “Teshuqa” is also the word used in Genesis 4:7 when the Lord is talking to Cain and says, “if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” This is a very interesting verse because of the parallels in language to Genesis 3:16. It is amazing to me that it is usually often overlooked. The Lord is certainly not prescribing this for Cain—this is the language of description of what will happen if Cain doesn’t “do well.” Further, it is obvious that this passage isn’t saying that “sin” has sexual desire towards Cain. This word means “turning”–Sin is seeking after Cain, so to speak. This is informative of will take place (not what should take place).

  67. Wow. I just got a quick lesson or two.
    I rather like the idea that the Temple Covenant supercedes the biblical injunction. Further support for my theory of consensual decision making.

    ah…to find someone with cooresponding strength; who not only compliments you; but complements also; and Vice Versa.

  68. Melissa, what a FANTASTIC answer! I must confess, I was shooting for plain vanilla biographical information, but you’re provided much more than I anticipated.

    The question of identity is fundamental, and you’ve raised a great point that one’s sense of self rises above gender, religion, schooling, family and occupation. Is it the sum of those parts or something greater? Wow, my head is spinning (not just because of my heavy drugs).

    I was just trying to pry some more information out of your training, background, etc. You can email me if you’d prefer to keep that info offline.

  69. Steve,

    Can’t find your email address. Clicking on your name just sends me to common consent and there’s no email addresses there either that I can see. I assume you are more tech-savvy than I and can figure out how to get my email off this site. Feel free to email me.

  70. Steve,

    Can’t find your email address. Clicking on your name just sends me to common consent and there’s no email addresses there either that I can see. I assume you are more tech-savvy than I and can figure out how to get my email off this site. Feel free to email me amd I’ll respond.

  71. Sorry about that Melissa — my email is [email protected], I think I’ve fixed it so that works as the link now.

    I can’t email you — clicking on your link brings up, and I can’t figure out your address… I guess neither of us are all that tech-savvy!

  72. Melissa–

    Thanks for the background, now help me think through the implications. If this is a warning (similar to Cain) that if Eve turns to Adam when she should be turning to God, then the result of this is that he will rule (negative) over her, then the lesson for us today is . . .

  73. I tend to resist this kind of question when I teach Sunday School—because it reduces the scriptures to parables with one particular take- home message. I don’t have a “the moral of the story is” answer for the passage in Genesis any more than any other.

    But, I do think that what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7 is often true:

    The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure unhindered devotion to the Lord.” (verses 34-35)

    Make no mistake! I am not advocating that women should stay single instead of marrying. But, it seems to me that single women have a different relationship with God then married women do. LDS married women give themselves to their husbands in the Temple. Does this mean that married women can’t give themselves to God or that single women can give themselves to God more completely? I don’t know the answer to this.

    LDS doctrine equates womanhood with motherhood. Women’s role, according to LDS doctrine (at least according to the rhetoric) is to become mothers. Single women pose a rather serious problem to the model, I think. The message is that single women have no significant role to play. They don’t have priesthood and they don’t have children so their place and purpose is vague. Since an LDS woman cannot be approved as a mother unless she is also a wife (the increasing rate of single women who adopt children would be an interesting thread, by the way), women only exist in the Church if they are mothers. So what does that mean?

    On one possible reading of Genesis informed by Paul a paradox is created: If LDS women want to give themselves to God, they must in reality give themselves to their husbands. Yet, in so doing, they will actually be turned from giving their full devotion to God because their daily concern will be the “proper care and feeding of husbands” (to quote the new book by Laura Schlessinger which some Mormon women I know are reading).

    Enter Mormon doctrine which says that husbands will actually become gods. This leaves things rather unclear to the female Latter-day Saint. Does her role in this life amount to worshiping first God by allowing her husband to rule over her here, bearing his children and submitting to him, and then, in the next life, worshiping her husband who has become her god? Think about the Temple language. This is rather troubling to many Latter-day Saint women I know.

    I think the answers to these difficult questions have to do with the nature of covenant relationship–which is beyond what I can discuss right now.

  74. Melissa–

    Thanks for your comments; they have given me a lot to think about. However, your description of Church values/practices/etc. just doesn’t jive with my experience. Perhaps I could be accused of selectively ignoring evidence that I don’t like (and I certainly don’t like a lot of what you describe as attitudes and beliefs of the Church in your post), but this isn’t my experience as a married woman and mother of (young) children in the Church.

    I don’t serve God less than single women, but I might do it differently. For one silly example, I may be able to go to the temple less often than someone w/o little kids, but, since I am home, I can do things like watch the kids of people who are sick, make dinners, etc. This isn’t focusing on God less, it is doing it differently.

    Again, you can accuse me of selectively ignoring or magnifying aspects of the Temple to suit my own needs, but in my mind I have given myself to my husband no more or less than he has given himself to me. For the sake of propriety, of course, I can’t say all that I would wish to about the Temple here, but I will say that *before* I ever went to the Temple, I was extremely worried about how I would take it as a feminist. I was not only relieved but thrilled, and not for the reasons you usually hear, but for other parts of the narrative that, quite frankly, I sometimes think I am the only one in the room hearing. (One of these days in a weak moment, I am going to stand up right in the middle of the whole thing and say, “HELLO? Did you people just hear that?”)

    As for equating motherhood and womanhood, maybe I am just a Bad Mother with a great ability to ignore things I don’t like, but if pressed, I would define myself as having about 1/2 dozen major identity factors, one of which, and not the most important, is mother. So I guess I just read all of this differently. I am a mother, it is about 15% of my core being, and no more or less important to my identity than being a teacher, writer, Mormon, waster-of-time-on-the-Internet, and lover of weird ethnic food.

  75. Melissa,

    It seems that your comment establishes a basis in LDS doctrine for convents. At least, one could draw that kind of inference from the idea that the single woman’s relationship to God is different or somehow more direct than the married woman’s.

    I’m not sure that our church necessarily makes such a distinction, though. The arch-traditionalist would say that before women are married, they are subject to their parents’ rule, and that the husband merely is substituted at the time of marriage. Someone less traditional (say, me) would argue that a woman’s relationship to Heavenly Father is ALWAYS direct, and that the questionably subservient or intercessory roles you lay out are cultural leftovers, not doctrinal notions, and that the true nature of the covenant relationship necessitates direct interaction between all involved.

    I’m not sure where you come out in all this — but your comment takes a line between harsh conservativism and a more ‘modern’ perspective. Perhaps that’s what you get for studying ancient languages?

  76. Enter Mormon Doctrine:

    Wives & Husbands actually become Gods. I think this actually should clarify the discussion/concerns of LDS women. We are commanded to worship Father w/110%. Part of that worship, per Temple Covenant, is for the married man & woman to ‘worship,’ i.e. love & take care & nurter & obey, each other.

    I guess I either miss, or ignore, any talk of ruling, his children, submission, etc. Isn’t it all reciprocal?

    Isn’t an easier reading of Paul’s advice above simply that single Saints are focused on God while married Saints are focused upon their families because God has asked them to be? Maybe the husband is to become a God in the next life; but so is the wife. Maybe she will worship him…but you can bet it will be more than mutual if they are going to make it that far.

    Having thought about the Temple language…the above seems to fit together fairly nicely. Everyone has roles. Everyone is loved. Everyone is taken care of. What is the problem? I only see opportunity…

    [maybe even for me if the Lorde takes pity on me. lol…]

  77. Melissa, I hardly think of Paul as an authority on women (pace Jack Welch ;)), but I do think that something fundamental shifted in my relationship with God when I had children. Not so much in my level of service, but certainly in my devotion. Before I had babies, I think there were moments when I honestly could say that I didn’t love anything in the world more than I loved God and wanted to serve him. That just isn’t true anymore–I’m invested in the world in a way I never was before. When Peter was about 3 months old, I wrote in my journal (in my typical melodramatic style), “I think I will end up going to hell, because I’m never going to be able to love God as much as I love this baby.”

    Perhaps other mothers are more righteous than I.

  78. My mother covenanted to obey the law of her husband when she went through the temple. My father covenanted to obey the law of God. One could strain to come up with a postmodern interpretation of those words that results in the view that her relationship with God didn’t radically change at that moment. Or one could take them at face value. Granted, the ceremony later changed, but my mother didn’t get to update her covenants accordingly.

  79. Kristine: How does the love you hold for your child somehow take away from your love for Father? I’m not a parent; but it seems to me that your love for your children is what Father would want…and is accepted as a reflection & increase, not decrease, of your love for Him (& Her of course).

  80. As fate would have it–I don’t have time to adequately respond to all of these comments, but I will make a brief reply.


    You wrote “I don’t serve God less than single women.” I didn’t say that you do. Paul’s words are interesting to me because in the context of LDS doctrine they raise the paradox I tried to point out.

    Also, I didn’t and won’t accuse you of anything including “selectively ignoring or magnifying aspects of the Temple.” I think these passages of scripture (Genesis and Paul) combined with what we learn in the Temple present some interesting questions. I think asking questions is at least an important as offering answers. You’ll notice that my post was posed as a question.

    Further, *I* don’t equate womanhood with motherhood. And of course you have 1/2 dozen major identities. See my post to Steve last night on this thread about the complexity of identity. My point was that in official church discourse single women are often not on the radar screen. Participating in the Relief Society and in the Church as a single adult woman is sometimes alienating because women are spoken to (and about) as though all of us are are (or will be) mothers. If we are not or will not, it is unclear what kind of roles single women might have in building the Kingdom of God (don’t deluge the thread with suggestions–missionary work, taking care of other people’s children, visiting the sick, being President of Deseret Book–none of these are on par in church discourse as equal substitutes for mothering) Anything that a single woman does is a secondary (or temporary) mission and not the highest thing she could have (i.e. should have) done. Perhaps as a wife and mother with young children you miss these overtones? (a genuine question, not an accusation).


    I would certainly not advocate the establishment of an LDS convent. Nor did I mean to imply that a single woman’s relationship to God is more direct than a married woman’s. As a careful student of scripture, I am quite willing to believe that Paul is speaking in these verses of his own opinion and nothing more–in fact, he practically says as much. I was simply raising questions that intrigue me. Although many of my married friends say that they pray less, read their scriptures less, spend less time in their callings and attend the Temple less than when they were single, I don’t think that these are the only ways of worshiping God–they may not even be the most important ways. Further, there may be many more who spend more time doing these things than they did when they were single for any number of reasons.

    While I think it is possible to place the devotion we should have for God onto human beings whom we genuinely love, my post was not to suggest that marriage necessarily or even very often leads to such misplaced affection (which one might call idolatry).

    Wish I had more time to explain further, but I have a deadline!

  81. Wendy, I don’t think it takes a straining postmodernist. It’s more a matter of personal interpretation with those covenants.

    On the other hand, I’m not going to try and make a silk purse out of all the sexist stuff the church has ever done. I’m a firm believer in ignoring the past when it suits me. Live in the now, Wendy!

  82. Wendy: interesting question. Does the covenant change retroactively? I bet Nate could come up with an interesting answer for you.

  83. lyle, I hope you are right, but if somebody held a gun to my child’s head and asked me to deny God’s existence as the condition of his survival, I would do it in a flash. I would have done differently if the gun had been at my head before I had children. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

  84. Melissa–

    I think we might be talking past each other (correct me if I am wrong here). I realized from the get-go that you, personally, did not necessarily favor many of the things you mentioned as church doctrine/attitude toward women.

    Hence, my point was not so much to debate the doctrine, but to suggest that several of the items that you mention to not seem to me to *be* Church doctrine (i.e., the idea that a woman’s relationship to husband might overshadow that od God, or that women give themselves to husbands more than husband do to wives). Bottom line: I think you are presenting as church position/doctrine things that, maybe a few ultraconservatives belive, but are not defensible as doctrine.

    Did this make any sense and sorry to distract you from your deadline; perhaps we could take this up in a few weeks.

  85. Julie –

    Please share as much as you can about your thoughts on women and the temple. Unless, of course, you already have. I’m in the camp that feels the temple isn’t discussed in detail nearly enough (as mentioned in another thread).

    Kristine –

    Your comment about guns to heads reminds me of a (probable urban legend) story I heard in seminary. A Mormon family with Utah plates was driving down some lonely highway in Nevada and was followed and bullied off the road by another car. This was during the seventies, pre-offical declaration 2, and the other car contained a few hostile African Americans carrying guns. The family was ordered to exit their vehicle and the father was asked if he was Mormon, with a shotgun barrel put up to his nose. He answered, “No” without hesitation, and after a few comments the family was ‘released’. Later, the father expressed no regret at his answer and felt that was what the Lord wanted him to do. At the time, I remember being disappointed that the father didn’t tell the truth and receive the protection of God as a reward. Maybe God protected him by prompting him to lie, a la Abraham. Or he was just afraid. Now that I have children, it is much harder to imagine showing supposed courage in that situation.

    Sorry about the diversion. Back to the thread.

  86. Matt–

    sorry, but I feel that I have already said everything that I can say without crossing the line.

  87. One personal note about how my view of husband & wife changed as I got married.

    I have always been uncomfortable about the notion of entering the celestial kingdom and becoming as a god. It sounds cool, but way too presumptuous. It’s laughable to even think of it as a reality. Christ and his atonement is the most stable part of my testimony, and still I couldn’t envision anything more than an angelic existence praising God forever.

    After meeting and marrying, Sarah, that has all changed. She is an incredible complement to my weaknesses. She teaches me about what is divine in both of us. I cannot express in words how my heart feels. She is literally my savior.

    Instead of a 0% chance of obtaining the celestial kingdom, there is maybe a 1% now. Maybe the biggest thing holding me back is the fact that I don’t know what it means to preside! :-)

  88. Wow, it takes a while for us latecomers to read all these comments.

    Frankly, all this talk of “presiding” and “gender roles” has my head spinning. T&S may have a topic in the running for its coveted top two most-talked-about spots (currently homosexuality and abortion).

    Since I’ve been married, I’ve done away with even thinking about “presiding”, really. It has next to no meaning in my life. Why should I worry about it? My wife can think, act, and “preside” just as much as I can. I have no reason to define what our “roles” should be because they are constantly changing. They are whatever is best in the moment. There’s no “women are generally better at this, therefore my wife should do this” thinking around here.

    In reality, we have it backwards. Women can do everything men can, but the baby can only come out of the woman. So men have the “disadvantage” (it just happens to be one we’re very comfortable with having). :-)

  89. My running buddy is late this morning so I thought I’d check back on this thread quickly


    I certainly believe that husbands do and should give themselves to their wives as much as wives give themselves to their husbands. However, that is not the language of the sealing ordinance. Don’t you think that ordinances say something about doctrine? Steve talked about the idea of cultural leftovers. Are you suggesting that there are elements of our ordinances that are cultural leftovers?

    I’ll check back again tomorrow to hear what you have to say

  90. Melissa–

    While I certainly would not want to be too quick to discount any aspect of anything that happens in the Temple, the reality is that parts have changed through history (as I am sure you know) and, therefore, we would not, in my opinion, be on safe ground assuming that every jot and tittle was the perfect, complete, final, and total will of God.

    Dang, it is always frustrating to get into a topic where some/much of our knowledge comes from the Temple, since we don’t want to speak too freely about it. There’s more I’d like to say, but won’t.

  91. They should set up internet kiosks in temples so that we can blog on sacred things. I can see it now: white keyboards, white monitors…

  92. Ha ha. Better yet, why don’t a group of cool, intelligent people go to the temple together then have a big, long discussion together in the celestial room after the session?

  93. Dang! I failed in my good intention to work with controlled concentration today and not even look at T&S. I admit it, reading this blog has become an addiction. I’ve tried to quit, set strict schedules for myself, posted comments publicly declaring blogging to be a waste of time, set up incentives for success. But, here I am again. The temptation is just too great. I think I may need professional help! Yesterday when the library was evacuated because of a fire, I was away from a computer for a couple of hours and got a lot done. But, fires just don’t happen everyday!


    I couldn’t agree with you more. The changes to the Temple ordinances were just what I was getting at in my question. The underlying question, of course, is what is doctrine? If even elements of the temple ordinances might not be doctrine, then what is? I know that this has been explored at length in another thread, but the issue is still an open one for me. How do we decide what is “doctrine” and what is “policy,” to invoke these over-used and under-defined words? How are we going to define doctrine? Is doctrine an eternal truth or can doctrine change as much as policy? Who decides what is doctrine and what is policy? I am uncomfortable with the too-easy solution that whatever I like, works for me, seems theologically sound or ethical is doctrine and everything I don’t like, is difficult or theologically obscure is just temporary policy or cultural leftover. I am fallible and proud and weak (weakness exposed by my addiction to T and S) so I cannot be the one to determine these things based on my own reason and revelation.

    The last time I was in the Temple I did sealings. I broke my rule (more evidence of weakness) of never talking to the temple workers about the temple (they never seem to know much and if perchance they do, they are instructed not to talk about it anyway) and asked her about the sealing ordinance–not to get an “answer” but just to hear her thoughts (it is always nice to know you’re not the only one thinking certain things in the Temple—see Julie’s comment above). In response she told me to repent. In no uncertain terms she called me to repentance. Now, I regularly get told to repent (which is usually a good thing too because as we’ve seen I’m very weak : )), but this time it hurt. We were the only ones in the Celestial room and I had been in the Temple for many hours by myself–thinking and praying. That was a bit tangential–but, my point is that I don’t think most members of the Church would say that there were elements of the Temple that were not doctrine. In fact, I’ve heard some people explain that the changes in the Temple were made to make the Endowment less frightening to the young people, but that they still apply to the covenants we make even if they are not mentioned in the ceremony. Of course, there are many other explanations for these changes too.

    I guess my more basic questions are still “what is church doctrine” “how do we know,” “who decides?” There are obvious answers to all of these questions–but also things which complicate those obvious answers.

  94. Maybe we need to start a support group for people addicted to T & S. I, too, keep setting rules for myself and breaking them left and right.

    Oooh, now I’m dying to know what you said that made the woman tell you to repent, but I imagine that you don’t think you can be more specific. Dang again.

    I have no good answers to your question about what is doctrine. None whatsoever. Although I do like the Millet talk at Ben’s site. (He doesn’t address the Temple at all, however.)

    I think our discussion as run out of stream, over not being able to define what doctrine is. Doesn’t quite seem right, if you ask me.

  95. Maybe we need to start a support group for people addicted to T & S. I, too, keep setting rules for myself and breaking them left and right.

    Oooh, now I’m dying to know what you said that made the woman tell you to repent, but I imagine that you don’t think you can be more specific. Dang again.

    I have no good answers to your question about what is doctrine. None whatsoever. Although I do like the Millet talk at Ben’s site. (He doesn’t address the Temple at all, however.)

    I think our discussion as run out of stream, over not being able to define what doctrine is. Doesn’t quite seem right, if you ask me.

  96. OK,
    Back to what it means to preside-
    I really like the Jolene Edmunds Rockwood essay, I think the argument made there, and the argument Julie is making about pre and post fall differences and the “rule over” statement was part of the effects of the fall.

    That does, however raise some questions:
    Are there times in the eternities where one or another would preside? The council in heaven seems to be discussed in terms of Father in Heaven presiding and presenting a plan. Although that could be viewed entirely differently if we view Elohim as a plural noun.

    To Thom and the idea of having the final word:
    Couseling with our councils was already mentioned, Steven Covey has spoken about the same idea in a few different books-
    Ruling by consensus rather than majority rule or decision of one all knowing individual who is in charge. That seems to be the way the quorum of the 12 do things.
    Have there been times of dispute? Yes. But it seems that the contrary members of the 12 left that body, and the actions taken were things the remaining quorum agreed upon.
    Likewise, the council in Heaven- it was not that God simply said this is how it will be, or that one side voted and lost, but that those in the minority did not seek to come to understanding or persuade others. Satan sought to impose his will upon all others and thus he and his followers were cast out. All who kept their first estate agreed and participated in the decision made there.

    So what does it mean to preside in righteousness? I look to instructions to missionaries and conversely how things actually played out. One companion is designated as the senior companion. BUT when both missionaries were obedient, and had desire to work AND neither was lifted up in pride was there much difference at all between the two? When both missionaries wanted to be obedient and work hard and teach there seemed to be little difference between the senior and junior companion. It isn’t as if most missionaries have so many people to teach that they have to pick and choose. YOu work hard to find people, if you find people who want to be taught you teach them, and you don’t break any rules. Doesn’t seem to be much room for conflict.

    And, although the senior companion was given “final say” the junior companion wasn’t supposed to follow him when he was breaking rules or being disobedient.
    I am not certain that presiding simply means “final say” or that it even includes that.

    So, we keep adressing what presiding isn’t, but what IS it?

    Most dictionary definitions speak about acting as president, ruling over, regulating, watching over. I suppose that it refers to responsibility. The Bishop in presiding over a meeting is to ensure that everything is in place and will run the way it is supposed to. He makes sure people are asked to speak and to pray but doesn’t always do the asking.

    Because of that, we assume presiding in a home means making sure people have the lesson in FHE and that people are called on to pray.

    But it really should be so much more than that, shouldn’t it? I do think that part of presiding is bringing the father into the family life to keep him from being divorced from such, but I don’t think it is just through superficial things like calling on some one to pray. I think the priesthood is inexorbly tied to the presiding that is to take place. The father rather than having final say may have final accountability in a way that is different from a mother. Both Fathers and Mothers should seek revelation for their family, but it is the father who confers priesthood blessings. A father also has the responsibility of having regular PPIs with each member of his family. Does preside mean to be “in charge”? hmmm, kind of. But I think that being in charge means less that you have the final say than that you make sure there is a final decision all agree upon. Is that hard? Dang skippy. Should all members of the family contribute to that? Of course. It is simply that it is placed upon the Father to make sure that it does happen.

    “It is interesting that to some people the husband being the head of the household means he always gets the biggest pork chop.”

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