Book Review: Women in Eternity, Women of Zion

Imagine, if you will, that a stalwart member of the Church approached you with some concerns about the theological underpinnings of the Word of Wisdom. What might you do? Castigate him as a rebellious secularizer? Remind her that questioning was the fast road to apostasy?

I doubt it. You’d probably sit down and walk through the scriptures, teachings of the prophets, and your own thoughts and experiences concerning the Word of Wisdom.

So why, then, when someone (man or woman) starts asking questions about the role of women in the Church is it assumed that that person is suspect? Contrast the attitude of the authors of Women in Eternity, Women of Zion:

The secret pain of some orthodox and believing Latter-day Saint women, only recently beginning to emerge, must not be allowed to fester without the rest of the Church community actively striving to receive and impart the divine balm of understanding that will bind up these wounds. We are commanded to ‘mourn with those who mourn; and comfort those who stand in need of comfort’ (Mosiah 18:9). To deny that any orthodox and believing Latter-day Saint woman could also feel some pain and confusion about these matters, or to refuse to succor those who do feel pain and confusion, is to refuse to love our neighbor as Christ would wish us to love her.

Novel, eh?

Seriously, though, if you wanted to direct a Saint who had questions about gender issues to a source that thoroughly and faithfully explored some of the big issues, where would you send her or him? Especially for a topic like polygamy, there just isn’t much out there. The burgeoning LDS apologetics industry seems to focus more on defending the doctrine to outsiders than justifying the practices to insiders. So, above all else, we should be grateful to Sorensen and Cassler for taking a stab at some tough issues.

However, there are several serious weaknesses in this book:

(1) Many typos, poor editing, and odd citation practices (such as replacing periods in a quotation with exclamation marks and then noting in the citation ’emphasis added’) make the book seem unprofessional. In a departure from the usual practice in LDS writing, they confine (almost) all GA quotes to the endnotes. This makes the text look as if they are advancing their own interpretations (and, in some cases, they are), but in many cases, the endnote reveals that they are simply stating the position taken by a Church leader. I wonder why they chose to write this way; it comes off as pretty disjointed.

(2) Several issues that are likely to come up for someone questioning the role of women in the Church are never mentioned. This would include, most notably, the issue of mothers working (especially interesting here since Sister Cassler looks a little too young to have sequenced her six children and her career as a BYU professor and foreign policy expert). They also specifically define equality so that it allows for different roles. Because this is a sticking point for many people, it is a topic (by their own standard) worthy of exploration. But they don’t investigate it.

(3) Their overarching thesis is thus: women ‘preside’ over the entrance to mortal life (i.e., as mothers and –although this is never fleshed out–in the preexistence) while men preside over the entrance to postmortal life (through priesthood ordinances that help us return to the presence of God). Thus, gender parity is created and all earthly inequities can easily be swept aside as paralleling women’s pre-existent preeminence, I have a hard time with this theory. First, what we do know of the role women play in the entrance of souls into mortality is that it is a physical act not related to righteousness. Obviously, the inverse is true for male priesthood roles. This makes it hard for me to find a reasonable parity. And, basically, all they’ve done is shined up the old motherhood-is-equivalent-to-priesthood argument that dissatisfies most women I know. More importantly, they are speculating that women have a more prominent role than men in the preexistence. Not only am I uncomfortable in general with any notion that departs too far (as I think this does) from the teachings of prophets and apostles, but I can think of several items taught in the Temple that would seem to undercut this idea (please refrain from specifics about the Temple if you comment on this).

(4) Another pillar of their argument is that scriptures about equality in Zion include gender equality. Needless to say, I find this idea compelling. But I also find it hard to support based strictly on scriptural evidence. When Mosiah teaches the people that “there should be an equality among all men,” I am inclined to think that, given their historical circumstance, ‘men’ meant ‘males.’

(5) While I applaud the polygamy chapter for the simple fact of its existence, the theory they posit is not convincing. Working off of D & C 132:36, they suggest that polygamy was akin to the sacrifice of Isaac: a test, involving much suffering and requiring actions contrary to normal laws of God, intended by God to be temporary. (In other words, no mandatory polygamy in the celestial kingdom, because the test would be over by then.) While polygamy might have met the criteria for an Abrahamic test for its first practitioners, it is hard to see how it could be an Abrahamic test for later Saints raised in a milieu where polygamy was regarded not as a deviation from moral law but the preferred form of marriage. (This theory also puts the US government–as the agent responsible for the end of the practice of polygamy–into the odd role of ram in the thicket.)

They also get into the (apparently orthodox, but I don’t think I’ve heard of it) doctrine of transferability of sealings. To wit: I’m sealed to my husband and children. What happens if I decide to pack up and head out for a life of wanton hedonism? Simple! A righteous woman who had no opportunity for marriage and children in mortal life simply steps into my place in my eternal family and my husband and children are transferred to her. Their point: all those polygamous marriages can be undone in the eternities without major problems. It’s like Tetris.

(6) I also appreciate their willingness to work on some of the theological consequences of the idea of a Heavenly Mother. But I dispute their specific conclusions. For instance, they write,

The fact that our Heavenly Mother is the eternal partner of our Heavenly Father means that she possesses all that he possesses just as every one of her exalted daughters possesses all things in relationship with her exalted husband.

While we admittedly don’t know a lot about our Heavenly Mother, we know one thing: She does not possess all things that Heavenly Father does. She does not, for example, possess a prayer relationship with Her children. My point here is not to dispute the Church’s teaching that we not pray to Heavenly Mother–as I agree with it–but rather to suggest that the main thesis of the book (that gender equality in the eternities should be our model for seeking gender equality on earth) is a little more complicated than they would have us believe.

(7) In several instances, I think they veer a little too far into unorthodoxy (or, possibly, just sloppy thinking). For example, in their catalogue of deviations from Zion, they include “Subtype II: The separation of sex from the perpetuation of life for women.” I was wondering how they reconciled this idea with our knowledge that sex is not just for procreation. They don’t address this in the text, but there is a grudging acknowledgment in an endnote that “We recognize there may be righteous reasons to avoid conception or otherwise use such devices for the sake of the health and strength of the woman involved.” But they don’t seem to realize how much this undercuts their argument. On another occasion, they claim that mothers have primary stewardship for (and obligation to be with) children before the age of accountability but equal stewardship with their husbands after the age of accountability. If the Church teaches this, I’ve never heard it. And I just can’t force myself to think about their theory that Mary was artificially inseminated.

Because I don’t agree with many of their arguments, I would hesitate to present this book to someone struggling with gender issues in the Church. How I wish they would have presented a difficult topic and then sketched out several possible ways that a Saint might think about it instead of presenting their own (usually atypical) solutions. That said, I did have a few ‘ah-ha’ moments while reading through their thinking on some issues, particularly their reading of the Fall. I (and others) have been repeatedly criticized for reading everything as if it had to do with gender. And I’ve never been able to articulate my interest/compulsion in doing this as well as Cassler and Sorensen do:

One of the first lessons we learn from the story of Adam and Eve is that gender relations are at the heart of human life. God created only two beings at the dawn of human history–one man and one woman. No male-male or female-female relationship can substitute for the critical importance of male-female relations. Hence, in examining any particular culture, we must train our powers of observation on the male-female relations in that society. (Emphasis in the original.)

Despite–or, perhaps, because of–my misgivings about some of their arguments, this was an enjoyable foray into Mormon feminism. When you are the choir to which a book is preaching, you might enjoy singing along, but you probably won’t be thinking very much. But when you find yourself sifting out ideas that don’t work for you while finding some that really resonate, you’re reading a book that is making you think. And that’s a good thing.

Note: Amazon appears to have the title slightly wrong. On the cover, it reads Women in Eternity, Women of Zion.

149 comments for “Book Review: Women in Eternity, Women of Zion

  1. Here’s why you’re wrong that we must respond sympathetically to complaints, feminist or otherwise, or else be untrue to our baptismal covenants:

    (1) In your model, complaints are always a sign of sincere questions. I disagree. Feminists and other questioners are often not sincerely seeking answers to questions so much as using questions as an instrument to force change. Nothing in our baptismal covenants requires that we respond positively to people who are trying to force change on the church.

    (2) Even when questioners are sincerely seeking answers, there is an opportunity cost to responding to them. For one, if the questioners consistently (and, I grant, sincerely) refuse to accept the answers, then the result is a continual focus on and contention about the questioners’ question. As other areas of the gospel recieve comparatively less attention, the result is a distortion of the gospel message. There are spiritual dangers in tapping over and over one key on the gospel piano. Usually we think of the dangers of tapping on one key in the spirit of enthusiasm, but those dangers are not lessened if one is tapping on the key in the spirit of criticism.

    (3) Even if the questioners are sincere, there is another type of opportunity cost. Attention paid to them and their concerns is attention not paid to people who don’t have those concerns. In my experience, the more sympathy and prominence paid to feminists, the more excluded people like my wife feel.

    This is not to say that the book should not have been published. This is not to say that discussion of gender does not deserve some place in the kingdom. This is to say that you were wrong to lead off your review with a swipe at anyone whose ever been less than sympathetic to a feminist.

    [Update: I’ve supplied some crucial context for my and Julie in A.’s dispute here:

  2. I find it interesting that you morph my reference to ‘concern’ to ‘complaint.’

    I wish I had your ability to know what’s in someone’s heart, but I don’t, so I’m going to continue to err on the side of hearing her/him out before dismissing all of her/his concerns.

    Please explain to me why LDS feminism is so very threatening to your wife.

  3. Julie in A.,

    What makes you think I didn’t “hear you out before dismissing your concerns”?

    P.S. Doesn’t your model of not a priori rejecting concerns mean that you should respond to my to the feelings of women like my wife (of whom I’ve met many) with something other than the a priori contempt you’ve shown here and elsewhere?

  4. Adam,

    You wrote, “In your model, complaints are always a sign of sincere questions.”

    I think you’ve badly misread and mischaracterized Julie. What she did was to raise a question— “why, then, when someone (man or woman) starts asking questions about the role of women in the Church is it assumed that that person is suspect?”

    You have given no reason why we should in fact continue to assume the person is suspect other than to reveal your personal bias that every LDS woman who raises these sorts of questions is “trying to force change.” Your response provides a representative example of exactly the problem Julie is addressing.

  5. This is not about *my* concerns. The book was written to address a hypothetical Church member who is concerned about (some of) the Church’s teachings about gender. You seem to suggest in your (1), (2), and (3) above that we are better off ignoring that person’s questions than risk (1) paying attention to someone who isn’t sincere (2) talk about gender more than we should or (3) somehow alienate women who don’t have concerns about gender.

    Stop at this point, Adam, reread the above paragraph, and correct anything that is incorrect.

    The contempt is due to the fact that you frequently present your wife as some delicate flower who will shrivel a la the wicked witch if we talk about gender issues in her presence. I imagine she is made of stronger stuff than that. I further imagine that if she is not interested in the issue, she can shrug, think “ah, that doesn’t interest me” and move on. Please explain to me in detail how having a conversation about gender roles in the Church causes problems for women such as your wife.

  6. “other than to reveal your personal bias that every LDS woman who raises these sorts of questions is ?trying to force change.? ”

    Precisely the opposite. Julie in A.’s comments assume that in every case, people with questions are not trying to force change. I disagreed. Additionally, I pointed out reasons why, even if people are not trying to force change, it might sometimes be a bad idea to occupy ourselves overmuch with the questions.

    I would take feminists more seriously, Mormon or otherwise, if they didn’t have such contempt and scorn for women like my wife. The response is always to deny that she exists (that she’s just an artifact of my presentation) and then to say that if she is, she’s a series of feminist stereotypes–‘a delicate flower who will shrivel like a wicked witch.’ My wife is who she is. She embraces traditional gender roles, and not just as a ‘choice,’ but as a duty and a privilege. Knowing a woman like that–even more, living with and parenting together with a woman like that–is an experience that changes you.

  7. Steve: You are allowed to post comments from time to time that deal with some topic other than bloggernacle hygeine, like you know, the substance of a post or discussion.

    Julie: One point that you made that struck me was that the book would have been stronger if it had laid out several possible approaches to a question rather than arguing for a single thesis. There seems to be a strong Mormon impulse to avoid pluralism as a potential response to an issue. We would rather present a single answer, or — more frequently — simply plaster over the possiblity of pluralism with vague and imprecise language. One of my great a ha moments in studying and thinking about Mormonism was when I realized how much more sense things made if I thought in terms of Mormon theologies rather than Mormon theology. Realizing that Brigham Young and Orson Pratt — and their various theological progeny — represent two overlapping but nevertheless different strands of Mormon thought, both of which have fair claims to legitimacy, made thinking about and sorting through issues related to Mormon theology much easier and more illuminating to me. All of which is just my way of agreeing with you that frequently it is much more useful to say, “One can think about X in the following three ways” than to say “the solution to X is Y.”

  8. “Julie in A.’s comments assume that in every case, people with questions are not trying to force change.”

    This is ludicrous. There is nothing that I have said that would lead one to this conclusion. The review begins with a STALWART member with CONCERNS.

    How exactly do you define ‘overmuch’?

    Adam, I notice that you still haven’t touched my question: What harm is caused your wife by a discussion of gender issues? Notice that *I* don’t characterize your wife as a ‘delicate flower’; I think *you* do when you think that she will be somehow damaged if men and women with concerns about gender discuss them.

    Going from “Here’s why you’re wrong that we must respond sympathetically to complaints [sic]” in comment #1 to “it might sometimes be a bad idea to occupy ourselves overmuch with the questions” in comment #7 is some pretty serious backpedaling, if you ask me.

    You write, “Knowing a woman like that–even more, living with and parenting together with a woman like that–is an experience that changes you.”

    If this is true, do you not think there is merit in discussing gender issues so that people who aren’t privileged to be (or be married to) your wife can gain the understanding that you have?

  9. Adam,

    I understand your concern, but I don’t know that your level of vehemence is warranted here.

    On an explicit level, it’s clear that Julie has made no assertions about the validity of all of the conerns raised by our hypothetical woman. She has merely criticized the practice of categorically assuming that the hypothetical woman’s concerns are suspect.

    On an implicit level, Julie’s post must be read as assuming some non-trivial level of validity in some arguments that the hypothetical member raises. This is because, if the concerns are all invalid, then it’s just fine to dismiss them out of hand. If a member approaches me with concerns that the bishop is a shape shifting lizard, I can and should dismiss those concerns out of hand. Therefore, Julie _is_ stating that at least some of the concerns deserve an audience.

    On the question itself, I think you’re both right.

    Julie is right that there are a number of women in the church who have legitimate concerns. These concerns are often dismissed summarily, and that dismissal can have a negative effect. To the extent that this book helps address that need, it is a helpful addition.

    Adam is right that sometimes would-be reformers do use questions as a vehicle to try to effect change, and don’t have any real interest in receiving answers to these non-question questions. In that context, “why don’t women hold the priesthood?” may be for some questioners less of a query and more a challenge, like a teenager defiantly asking “why can’t I go to the mall with my friends?”

  10. Nate: you’re right. Sorry.

    Julie: I really enjoy the way that these authors (and you) frame a compassionate, kind response to questions and doubts. I find it really easy to reprove with sharpness whenever I read somthing I disagree with (Adam can attest to this), but maybe it would be more Christlike, or more productive, for me to approach people with understanding.

    You bring up an interesting point, however, contrasting questions re: the WoW and Women in the Church. Why do you suppose we would react differently to these two sorts of questions? Is it that we presuppose dark motives? Is it that answers are a lot easier to come by for WoW-ish concerns? I don’t know an answer myself, but I suspect it’s the presupposition of political motives that causes the reaction. That’s an unfortunate presupposition, IMHO.

  11. Adam,

    Amen on one point: “The response is always to deny that she exists.”

    I do think that a lot of feminists tend to think that women who choose and enjoy the life your wife has must have something deeply wrong with them. I have a problem with the idea that women for millenia have been spineless and underdeveloped. I do think, though, that women HAVE endured oppression and horrible dehumanization. I don’t want it to seem that I’m denying that. I don’t know…I get so confused about this.

  12. Steve: Now you have gone and made me feel all bad about my snarking by being magnanimous and gentlemanly about the whole thing. Damn you! ;->

  13. Any backpedaling was also in the original comment.

    I would be happy to discuss my wife with you if I thought you were genuinely interested. From your reactions here and previously it would take more convincing than you will likely be able to do to persuade me that you were. For one, you would have to discard your premise that you have a better understanding of my wife’s character and being than I do.

    Tetris was clever.

    I’m temperamentally inclined to agree with you and Nate Oman that presenting a variety of approaches is better than just presenting one. The advantages are obvious. There are advantages to the other approach, though. Jim F. recently talked about the experience of giving himself over to a philosopher the first time he read them. Sometimes presenting several alternative ideas tends to keep them all at an intellectual remove. There’s something to be said for a strong presentation of an idea that allows a reader to taste it from the inside.

  14. Adam–

    “you would have to discard your premise that you have a better understanding of my wife’s character and being than I do”

    I’ve made some assumptions about what *you* think of your wife based on your repeated refusal to answer my simple question: How, precisely, is your wife harmed by discussions of gender?

    That said, I have no interest in discussing your wife per se. What I want to discuss (and what you appear to be avoiding) is your position that women such as your wife are somehow harmed by discussions of gender. Explain.

    Further, please explain the paradox of your (1) agreement with Nate et al over the advantages of presenting a variety of approaches and (2) your starting this thread with the suggestion that we ignore people who don’t agree with us.

  15. Adam,

    I’m still sort of recovering from your comment.

    You write, I would take feminists more seriously, Mormon or otherwise, if they didn’t have such contempt and scorn for women like my wife.”

    I am profoundly sorry to hear that this has been your wife’s experience.

    Having said that, I know a lot of Mormon feminists and I don’t recognize the description you offer as remotely analogous to their attitudes. On the contrary, most Mormon feminists I know are committed to female solidarity and as such are fiercely protective of other LDS women regardless of their personal life decisions or their interest in gender issues.

  16. Melissa,

    I wish you were right. I have not felt this kind of solidarity. I feel that women in the Church with more feminist leanings are not tolerant of women without them and the same goes the other way around.

  17. Great review. I took a few classes from Hudson Cassler at BYU; you’re right that she’s a working mother — she was pregnant when I had her class. She was a great, great teacher; she’s brillian and open-minded and very faithful. I need to read this book.

  18. Nice post, Julie, but as a whole the post illustrates the difficulty in raising such concerns from an orthodox, faithful perspective. Authors that do so are likely to take flak from the right from people who equate any attempt to raise the issue as “using questions as an instrument to force change,” yet also take flak from the left from activists who argue that simply raising questions or fostering dialogue is not enough, that immediate action is required.

    Complicating this is that there are people who actually *would* like to use such questions to force change. But they should not be allowed to team up with the uber-conservatives to shut down reasonable dialogue. LDS leadership ought to be able to distinguish between evil issue-forcers and faithful question-raisers. LDS history celebrates question-raisers, Joseph himself being one of them.

  19. FWIW, I don’t read Adam as trying to shut the dialogue down, simply arguing that one needn’t feel guilty about directing maximal attention toward it. He may well be mistaken about this, but I don’t think that it is the same thing as saying, “Don’t have this discussion.” Rather, he seems to be saying “There are reasons to ignore some who wish to have this discussion.”

  20. Thanks for the review. I’m slowly working on Heather P.s reading list. I’ll put this in there as well.

    Nate: wasn’t it you who first exlaimed, “Stand by your snark!” over at DMI?

  21. I think Adam makes some good points. It seems every ward has one or two vocal people with a gripe, complaint or favorite topic and they try to turn every lesson into a discussion of their hang-up at the expense of everyone else. Other than banning (er, I mean calling) them to the nursery sometimes the only option is to ignore them.

  22. Dave wrote:

    “LDS leadership ought to be able to distinguish between evil issue-forcers and faithful question-raisers.”

    They have: a fine model for the kind of discussion that I think is necessary (and that I think Cassler and Sorensen think is neccessary) is here:

    Daughters of God
    Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 97

    (sorry I don’t know how to link)

    Notice how he treats her question.


    True, but when I start by talking about a stalwart member (i.e., not someone we would assume to be purveyor of a radical feminist agenda) who has a concern, and Adam immediately counters with three reasons why we should ignore him/her . . . what else should I think?

  23. Trenden–

    You raise a good point about the appropriate place for these discussions. I think Sunday meetings are definitely NOT the place to hash this out. (And, apparently, neither do the authors, since they wrote a book about it.)

  24. Julie,

    Here are some specific experiences:

    My mother was a stay-at-home mom (now she’s a stay-at-home grandma). She never went to college or anything like that. She is hyper-critical of women with children who work. She calls them selfish and blames them when their children “go off the deep end.” One of my sisters like to point out that all the kids on Ritalin in her ward are from families where the mother works outside the home.

    Now from the other side. Recently on BCC someone insinuated that women who stay at home are lazy and cowardly (to be fair, she did soften her comments after someone pointed out that this was hardly fair). Also, during one discussion I had with some feminist Mormon women, I felt palpable hostility or horror (I’m not sure what it was, because most of them were rendered speechless) when I suggested that women’s traditional roles are not at their essence lesser than roles normally fulfilled by men.

    I don’t know. My experience has been one of contention on this point. I hope that mine is not the typical experience.

  25. “women who stay at home are lazy and cowardly”

    Minerva, people who stay home all the time are cowardly — it’s called agoraphobia.

    Julie, how comfortable are you with the “evil issue-forcers and faithful question-raisers” dichotomy? It would seem to me that we’re rarely able to distinguish such motives in ourselves, let alone other people. Let’s say I write a blog post on women in the church — why have I done so? Isn’t every outward expression a political act? At what point do you think we can make the distinction?

  26. “FWIW, I don?t read Adam as trying to shut the dialogue down, simply arguing that one needn?t feel guilty about directing maximal attention toward it.”

    This is true with one emendation: I argue that one need not feel guilty about NOT directing maximal attention toward it.

    Julie, perhaps the problem is that we have a different idea of what range of meaning can be encompassed by ‘stalwart member.’ In my mind, one can be a stalwart member and still either want to force the church to change in some respect or else simply want to use up all the oxygen in the room to discuss one’s pet issue.

    I also disagree that radical feminists can’t be stalwart members (though again, this is probably a disagreement of definitions). In my mind, viewing everything through the lens of gender is the hallmark of radical feminism, but you and others who do so are nonetheless clearly stalwarts.

  27. Julie: I would try something like this — “Adam, we seem to be talking past one another. Notice that I am talking about ‘stalwart members’ and Sorenson and Hudson are addressing themselves to ‘orthodox and believing Latter-day Saint women’…”

  28. “and Adam immediately counters with three reasons why we should ignore him/her ”

    Correction: Adam immediately counters with three reasons why we could ignore him or her.

    In my opening reading I took your opening paragraphs to imply that bigotry was the only reason someone would not want to sit down with a church member and have a chat about where they think the Church might be wrong on gender relations. I disagreed and offered three additional reasons. Admittedly, I’m not a very sympathetic reader of feminist writings, so its possible that I overread what you wrote.

  29. Julie in Austin: “Especially for a topic like polygamy, there just isn’t much out there.”

    One of the little-known gems is Jessie Embry, Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle (UofU Press, 1987). I like this book because it uses so much primary source information from women who lived the principle. The book isn’t doesen’t fall squarely into history or anthropology or sociology but instead has a little of everything, which probably explains why it is not often cited.

  30. OK. Having played all coy with Julie regarding rhetoric, let me simply say that I disagree with Adam. I think that if a faithful member expresses problems, doubts, or questions that our baptismal covenants require that we engage with them in charity. I suspect that this means that we are likely to open ourselves up to the occasional wolf in sheeps clothing. I certainly think that there is a certain amount of rhetorical dishonesty among some dissident Mormons. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. One can always call it when one sees it. (In this, I suspect that I am a bit more arrogant than Julie and a bit more likely to judge.) Those who are phoney poseurs whose primary interest is embarrassing the Church or its members are ultimately going to look like phoney poseurs, and I suspect that the Church will survive. The problem, as you point out, is that there are opprotunity costs of responding in charity to such doubts or questions. However, it seems to me that there are always opprotunity costs to reaching out to those in need. My current obligation to be charitable vastly exceeds my current ability or inclination to be charitable. Such is sin and mortality.

    Finally, I think it is quite easy to see how discussions of challening gender issues could be alienating and hurtful to some women. I think that the basic structure of the problem goes like this:

    1. Intelligent women strugle with gender issues.
    2. You do not struggle with gender issues.
    3. Therefore you are stupid.

    The argument is never made starkly in these terms. Furthermore, I don’t think that most feminists intend to make this argument, and I don’t think that this argument is a fair implication of many feminist discussions. Nevertheless, it is very easy for me to see how this simple 1, 2, 3 might seem to rhetorically simmer just below the surface of discussions of gender issues. I don’t think that this is a sufficient reason to not have such discussions, but I don’t think that it is unreasonable or surprising for some women to feel alienated or belittled by such discussions.

  31. Thanks for the review, Julie. I loved the Tetris comment; very clever.

    The reaction to my T&S thread on “The Sexual Generation of Jesus” seems to suggest that the artificial insemination theory of Jesus’ conception has become something of a latter-day majority view among Mormons.

    To Nate, comment 8: When I’m teaching at church, and someone asks a question, I’ll often respond by briefly outlining the various “schools of thought” on the issue (if there are indeed different viewpoints on it among church authorities), how they’ve develped historically, who holds to which viewpoint, and perhaps offer my own opinion. Most people seem to appreciate this rich background to whatever the issue may be, but it drives some folks absolutely nuts. After all, if we’re led by modern revelation, they seem to feel, there shouldn’t be any “schools of thought,” but rock-hard set-in-stone Doctrine with a capital D.

  32. Julie’s review was very good, though I wonder if there were any other strong points to it? It seems that she likes the fact it exists, and likes it discussion of the Adam/Eve story, but not much else. Perhaps some more discussion of its strengths would help?

    As for Adam – well, I think he came off a bit too strong (something I have been guilty of before – I think we all have at some point, well – except for Julie and Kaimi ;-) ), but I see no reason why Steve should have called for his censure. I think Julie gave him very good responses, and his initial post is justified if for no other reason than because if Julie’s excellent replies.

    And I do (sort of) agree with his critique of Mormon feminists who degrade people like his wife. My wife was in tears after this weeks RS meeting turned into “women who work outside the home are always justified and those who stay home are buying into patriarchal sterertypes” lesson (this might be a bif of a cartoon of what actually happened, but I wasn’t there and my wife was still in tears). At home, she read the conference talk the lesson was suppossed to be based on, and there was none of that in it (it didn’t even discuss work v. home).

    Basically, some Mormon feminists “threadjacked” the lesson and then denigrated people like my wife.

    But that doesn’t have much to do with this thread. I would like to know if Julie saw any more positive aspects in that book beyond its existence.

  33. “To deny that any orthodox and believing Latter-day Saint woman could also feel some pain and confusion about these matters, or to refuse to succor those who do feel pain and confusion, is to refuse to love our neighbor as Christ would wish us to love her.”

    I hate this.

    I hope that we’re all striving to love one another. I also hope that we don’t fall prey to the adversary’s way of turning things upside down. Is it merely a lack of love on the part of the saints that causes division? Or is it possible that feminism (inspite of some of the good that has come about because of it) just might be antithetical to the gospel in some ways?

  34. Or is it possible that feminism (inspite of some of the good that has come about because of it) just might be antithetical to the gospel in some ways?

    “Feminism” and “Feminist” are loaded terms that carry a lot of extra philosophical and political baggage and I think that it is a mistake of LDS Women to apply the term to themselves. Regardless of what feminism may mean to them, or its dictionary definition, the word carries culture-bound connotations and relationships, and when the name is applied, it automatically creates an association with a slue of other issues and movements that are not necessarily compatible with the Gospel.

    Which doctrine do we employ as our lamp, and which is the subject it illuminates? Are we looking at feminism as it is illuminated by the full spectrum of the Gospel or are we examining the Gospel in the single wavelength light of Feminism?

  35. Steve Evans–

    As for the dichotomy, I don’t think it should be made up front. Let the person speak. I think she/he will eventually reveal him/her-self as either a genuine seeker of understanding or a rabble rouser. (oops, I now see Nate said in #25 what I wanted to say, but said it much better)

    Adam wrote,

    “I also disagree that radical feminists can’t be stalwart members (though again, this is probably a disagreement of definitions). In my mind, viewing everything through the lens of gender is the hallmark of radical feminism, but you and others who do so are nonetheless clearly stalwarts.”

    Can you respond specifically to Sorensen and Cassler’s argument that the creation story–by presenting two people who differ in gender–calls us to view life through the lens of gender as an important interpretive category?

    Adam also writes, “have a chat about where they think the Church might be wrong on gender relations”

    arghhhhhh! (big clumps of my hair are being pulled out and flung around the room) This is NOT what this discussion is about. It is NOT about coming at gender issues with the assumption that the Church is wrong about anything. It is more like this (not that this is *my* concern, but it has been in the past, and I know that it currently is for many others): “I know God loves His sons and daughters equally. But it seems to me that by not having women exercise the priesthood, it suggests that men and women are unequal.”

    To which Cassler and Sorensen say: don’t shut this person down or make them feel suspect for asking the question. Instead, treat it like you would any other time an active, faithful, non-ark-steadying person asked you a question about a doctrine/practice she/he didn’t understand. In other words, EXPLAIN how and why it is possible to reconcile these two ideas. (Because it is possible.)

    Jed–thanks for the reference. I added it to my wishlist.

    Nate–I’ve never heard it suggested that you couldn’t be intelligent unless you struggled with gender issues. Adam, is this your point about what feminist thought does to your wife, or are you still refusing to answer me on this one?

    If this is the case, what do we need to do to be sure it doesn’t happen?

    Ivan, which ward are you in? That kind of thing is just so foreign to my experience. But back to Minerva’s experiences: what I have found is not out-and-out hostility toward ‘the other camp’ but rather defensiveness about one’s own choices: “I’m a working mom–but only because I have to” (or, only a few hours per week, or, only with my children) or, on the other side, “I’m at home–but I have three degrees, but I am really involved in ____, (subtext: I’m not stupid or lazy)” I will admit to being somewhat guilty of the latter: I find it almost impossible to tell someone that I am a full-time Mom without also mentioning some of the other things that I do.

    Ivan–Well, I don’t want to be overly critical, but I was not convinced by most of their arguments. I think they deserve points for opening the dialogue, and an A for effort. And, hopefully, someday someone will stand on their shoulders and see a little farther. Another plus is that there are great statements from Church leaders in the endnotes. This might be a great resource for people not yet familiar with what leaders have said on many gender issues.


    Of course feminism is antithetical to the gospel in some ways. But we aren’t talking about bra-burning feminists; we’re talking about normal Mormons in the trenches with questions and whether we should answer their questions or make them feel guilty for asking.

  36. JMW,

    While I think I agree with you overall, I have no doubt that some women have made peace with themselves in how they view feminism within a gospel context. However (agreeing with you a little further), instead of merely “loving” our tormented orthodox sisters in the sense that we send them away with the words “be thou warmed and filled” echoing in their heads, let’s be unashamed and unabashed in our declarations of the supremacy of motherhood–even if it flies in the face of certain feminist views.

  37. “Nate–I’ve never heard it suggested that you couldn’t be intelligent unless you struggled with gender issues.”

    I have talked with several women who stated that they have either been told this, or feel that this is the implicit assumption of feminist discussions in which they have participated in a Church context. Not having been in on the discussions in question, I’ve no idea whether their reaction is justified or not, but I am quite certain that the reaction is at least moderately common. For myself, I have known feminists who were arrogant jerks and feminists who were not. I find Melissa’s claim about the fierce protectiveness of all Mormon feminists inspirational and a common reality. On the other hand, I think that we are being a bit over optimistic if we think that it is the only reality.

  38. I think women who choose the traditional career of wife and mother are scorned (secretly or publicly) because they are seen as doing what they are told to do by the patriarchy, and not thinking and choosing for themselves. Why would any woman actually CHOOSE to stay at home and have children?

    This is a callous dismissal of the aforementioned argument, but, who cares, really, what other people think about your life choices, as long as you and your family are happy?

  39. …let’s be unashamed and unabashed in our declarations of the supremacy of motherhood–even if it flies in the face of certain feminist views

    Jack, I agree. I tried an approach along those lines when I was invited to post at Feminist Mormon Housewives, but I am a hopeless gender essentailist and a male…

    Anyway, if you are interested in my attempt and haven’t read them already, you can read my Mother in Zion posts : Part 1, Part II, and a follow up comment.

  40. Not to worry, JMW, you can be female and hate gender essentialism and still subscribe to the supremacy of motherhood.

    Nate and Elisabeth–

    It may be that since I am both a fire-breathing feminist and a full-time mother, I just don’t get the animosity from either side. I don’t know, to be honest.

  41. “…let’s be unashamed and unabashed in our declarations of the supremacy of motherhood–even if it flies in the face of certain feminist views”

    Well, this is a nice sentiment, but if motherhood actually were “supreme”, women wouldn’t be need to be treated with this kind of condescending respect.

    Jonathan – I just skimmed through your posts on FMH – your mother sounds like quite a remarkable person and a great role model.

  42. I think I’ll take a stab at something Julie said:

    “First, what we do know of the role women play in the entrance of souls into mortality is that it is a physical act not related to righteousness. Obviously, the inverse is true for male priesthood roles. This makes it hard for me to find a reasonable parity.”

    Julie, the performance of many priesthood ordinances involve physical acts not related to righteousness. A priest who blesses the sacrament while drunk, or a father who is secretly having an affair but still baptises his child, can’t ruin the efficacy of the ordinance. The meaning of ordinances is in the covenants associated with them, and the changes they work on our spiritual selves. As such, the priesthood holders administering the ordinances are merely standing in as proxy for the Lord with whom we are actually covenanting. In much the same way, mothers act as proxy for the Lord when they usher life into the world, mirroring in ways the creation of man by the Lord in the garden. That some men and women are more worthy representatives of or proxies for the Lord doesn’t ultimately determine what happens inside of us, or our final destination.

    The true calling of priesthood and motherhood, as I see it, is to bear witness of Christ and his Atonement, thereby preparing others to receive the ordinances and make and keep the covenants that grant access to the Atonement. This is because someone who isn’t prepared for an ordinance doesn’t really receive the fulness and blessings of the ordinance, regardless of the authority with which it was performed. This is true of the ordinances of the priesthood, as well as the entrance to mortal life. In this sense, the “motherhood is equivalent to priesthood” is a false dichotomy, in that, it sets us up to look for meaning in what you have deemed a “physical act not related to righteousness.” If all of us would look to the changes we have helped to work in others, the ordinances/covenants in which we have helped others to participate by helping them feel the spirit, we would understand that there is no other measure of our success as God’s children than whether we have helped to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” a task and mission which we all share, and are all capable of, regardless of gender.

  43. Julie –

    You’re lucky! Honestly, I think this animosity comes mostly from people who are insecure with their own choices in life, which is why I don’t get as riled up as I used to about this issue.

    It’s sad, though. I wish Melissa were right about female solidarity, but I don’t think it exists out there very often. Women are just too competitive with each other – either about who has the most beautiful child or who has the most high-powered career (and, of course, who looks the most ravishing in the latest Jimmy Choo’s and Prada).

    Anyway, I love reading your posts, Julie. Keep them coming!

  44. Elisabeth–

    No, I have to disagree. I think it is possible for motherhood to be supreme but for many in the world and the church to not realize it or act accordingly. That said, I can understand that there is a fine line between acknowledging motherhood’s role and putting women on a pedestal and/or being condescending. (and, on a blog, it may be very hard to know which one is being done without all of the clues you would have in a real conversation)


    Great thoughts, thanks for posting. I like the way your parallel encourages us to focus on the righteousness with which mothering is done as opposed to the mere physical fact that it is done. Maybe if our discourse moved in this direction, I would be completely swayed by your argument. But I have some reservations about it, because we emphasize the spiritual aspects of the priesthood and the physical aspects of motherhood.

  45. Elizabeth,

    Maybe you’re right. As a matter of fact, everything would be much less confusing if we removed motherhood from the human equation. All arguments would cease…

  46. “Well, this is a nice sentiment, but if motherhood actually were “supreme”, women wouldn’t be need to be treated with this kind of condescending respect.”

    Unless someone had spread the lie that motherhood were not supreme and it was widely believed. Then it might be necessary to affirm said supremacy.

  47. JMW “Feminism” and “Feminist” are loaded terms that carry a lot of extra philosophical and political baggage and I think that it is a mistake of LDS Women to apply the term to themselves.

    Do give up on Christian or monotheist as terms becasue some have coopeted them? I don’t think we should give up on the terms simply because there are those that we disagree with who have raised it’s banner. Steve H. has said it well here.

  48. I think my comment came out a bit too snotty – sorry about that. I was trying to make the point that talk is cheap, and many people laud the glories of motherhood, but want little to do with the actual work and sacrifice it takes to be a good mother (and are quite ready to point the finger at the mother if anything goes wrong with the child).

    Actions speak louder than words, and women with or without children have not exactly been treated as if they were equal to men, let alone supreme.

  49. To me it seems that the roles of parenthood and priesthood are a lot more complex and a lot more overlapping than would be suggested by the usual way of presenting the motherhood/priesthood balance. While I appreciate MDS’ thoughts about the physical aspect of each role, I’m still trying to figure out where an adoptive mother fits in that system. (Yes, yes, it’s all about me.)

    What I really mean to say is, if we focus on those physical acts and their importance to the exclusion of the other, more important, spiritual aspects of priesthood and parenthood. Those spiritual aspects, I believe, are both open to both men and women.

    Men (and some women) will never give birth. But everyone can sacrifice time, give love, and teach gospel principles as a parent or in at least in support of parents.

    Women may never be ordained to the priesthood, or encouraged as we used to be to bless by the laying on of hands. Yet as women, we serve, we pray, we support, we teach. We attend the temple. Without going into detail, it is interesting to focus on the things that are the same for both sexes in the temple rather than the things that are different, and where they fit into the ceremonies (think outside the endowment box!)

    Seems to me the question of how women can participate in the priesthood structure of the Church without ordination or officiating (as men and infertile or single women participate in parenting functions without giving birth) has yet to be explored. I think we’ve come to value fatherhood and extrafamilial support more than we used to, in recent years. That makes me wonder if maybe the day of real gender equality in the Church is yet to come, and if maybe it won’t come the way some feminists might think.

    By the way, it’s been a while, but when I was in school there was a lot of talk about not one feminism, but many. A faithful Mormon feminism, one that is not at odds with the gospel, is more than possible, it is real. It’s different from mainstream feminism. That doesn’t make it unfeminist.

  50. “Maybe if our discourse moved in this direction, I would be completely swayed by your argument. But I have some reservations about it, because we emphasize the spiritual aspects of the priesthood and the physical aspects of motherhood.”

    Julie, this may not be the thread for it, but I would be very interested in some examples from which you reach this conclusion. I don’t think I’ve imposed a radical gloss on church teachings on motherhood in my earlier post. Indeed, many of the concerns that are expressed in the bloggernacle tend towards the idea that the spirituality of women and/or mothers is emphasized too much, at least with respect to the theory that women/mothers are more spiritual than men and therefore have no need of priesthood. This would seem to me to include the implication that women are better at bringing others to Christ. (I wholeheartedly agree that this is an unneeded/unhelpful comparison, since as I’ve stated, the focus needs to be on each of us, regardless of gender, fulfilling the mission of the church and bringing others to Christ. I think that the most recent talks to women in the church focus on this, and not on the physical aspects of motherhood).

  51. Julie I am not trying to make a judgment about you or about feminism. I am simply describing my experience. I should also add that the most dramatic shows I have seen on this paricular issue were in the Cambridge ward were perhaps issues of intellectual status are more prominent than in most other locations. I am not claiming that my experience is the norm, only that it happened.

  52. JMW,

    Nice post over FMH. I thought this was the best place to pass along a compliment since your guest blogging stint ended there 4 or 5 months ago.

  53. Nate writes,

    “I find Melissa’s claim about the fierce protectiveness of all Mormon feminists inspirational and a common reality. On the other hand, I think that we are being a bit over optimistic if we think that it is the only reality.”

    I think you are right to problematize my comment by recognizing the complexities in this issue.

    I want to reiterate that in my own personal experience Mormon women who self-identify as feminists do not harbor feelings of “contempt” and “scorn” (Adam’s words) for LDS women who have chosen traditional roles and/or are not interested in discussing gender issues. That is not to say that there is no hostility between Mormon women. On the contrary. In my research, most Mormon women report feeling “judged” by other Mormon women (a sad and sorry fact to have to report).

    My point is that while feminism is condemned and Mormon feminists are routinely called to repentance by other Mormon women both in and outside of church settings, I have never heard a Mormon woman who self-consciously identifies as a feminist ostracize, ridicule or demean Mormon women for their choices. Minerva’s comment about her “hyper-critical” mother and sister and their disdain for “selfish” women who work outside the home adds to this point whether or not the working women consider themselves feminist. Whether or not these anecdotal accounts are an accurate reflection, the fact that Mormon women like Adam’s wife do feel put down by gender-conscious Mormon women is troubling and means that there is something there to discuss.

    I think Nate hits the nail on the head by pointing out that perhaps some of this perceived “contempt” is a matter of unintended inference drawn from “rhetorically simmering” premises?

  54. My experience with Mormon feminists has been similar to Melissa’s. In the gatherings and discussions that I have been a part of every effort has been made to make a safe space where no judgemental attitudes can thrive. I think holding Christina’s comment over at BCC is somewhat unfair — she apologized for its harshness the next day.

    Quite frankly, I think women do a fine job judging each other without even involving feminism. (Mormon Mommy Wars has done a good job looking at a few of these issues). In my experience as a stay at home mother, it started from the time I announced my pregnancy with plenty of my sisters willing to voice their opinions about when I should have announced it, whether I would get an ultrasound or not, whether I would learn the sex of the baby, birthing at home or hospital, breastfeeding or not, homeschooling or not, having a TV or not, how many kids I would have …. the list goes on and on and ON! The feminists I know on the other hand seem to be a little more careful about making judgements on personal choices. ( But like others here have noted, this is just my experience).

    Looking back 40 or so years ago, if I had been a woman then, I couldn’t have had a credit card, gotten a bank loan, gone to a rape crisis centre or a battered woman’s shelter if I had needed it, prayerfully decided about family size and bought birth control (that was illegal), played on a woman’s sports team, etc. Hey, now that I think of it forty years ago, I don’t think I could have prayed in sacrament meeting. I think alot of the the consciousness raising done by the feminist movement has been a good thing. By only mentioning feminism in the context of the ERA or reproductive freedoms or even women and the priesthood, I think that we miss the boat.

    Despite the some of the nasty things said here today, I still claim the title proudly.

  55. I don’t mean to enter this debate sounding like Pollyanna, but I don’t agree with this idea that some arguers/questioners should be treated charitably while others should be treated contemptuously or self-righteously ignored. It seems my baptismal covenants require me to charitably engage everyone, including my enemies. So wouldn’t I be wrong to treat uncharitably even the most radical, fire-breathing, mom-hating feminist out there?

    What spirit is in the heart of the criticizers on either side of the issue? Compassion and concern, or self-righteous contempt?

  56. While we admittedly don’t know a lot about our Heavenly Mother, we know one thing: She does not possess all things that Heavenly Father does. She does not, for example, possess a prayer relationship with Her children.

    At least, not on this planet.

  57. A disagreement does not equal nasty in my eyes. Blatant derogatory stereotyping does. For an example, re-read comment # 1.

  58. MDS wrote, “Julie, this may not be the thread for it, but I would be very interested in some examples from which you reach this conclusion. I don’t think I’ve imposed a radical gloss on church teachings on motherhood in my earlier post.”

    Well, think how many talks emphasize that the YM need to be worthy of the priesthood that they hold so they can bless and pass the sacrament, etc. (with little to no mention of the fact that the congregation will still be partaking of the sacrament and renewing their covenants just fine even if the priest is unworthy)

    Now compare that with the number of talks emphasizing that children need a mother in the home .

    (Note: I fully agree with the idea that children need a parent in the home. But mere presence is a physical act, not a spiritual one.)

    I have often thought, odd though it may sound, that the Church should be harder on mothers. I often feel that since I’m full time home, I’m off the rhetorical hook for what is expected of women. I’d probably feel challenged to do better if the message were “Being home is a starting point. Now that you are there, what are you going to do to nurture testimony in your children?” As I was engaged in the radical feminist act of shopping for new stroller this afternoon, I was amazed at how many women were completely ignoring the children they were lugging around the stores because they were yabbering on their cell phones. (Note: I am not saying that mothers who talk on cell phones are evil. But they are doing their job very, very differently than the mothers who were chatting up their little ones.)

    It may be that most talks are a reaction to the fact that (most) women are already so full of guilt for not doing better that nothing positive will be accomplished by asking them to do more.

    But for oblivious slackers such as myself, a call to arms might be useful.

  59. Julie,

    I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. The duties of the Aaronic Priesthood, being preparatory in nature, require strict supervision. Parenting along with other self-imposed obligations such as temple patronage etc. should be free will offerings to the Lord. I had an interesting conversation with a friend last sunday in which we discussed the questions asked during temple recomend interviews. We found it interesting that something like home/visiting teaching statistics are not on the list of questions. We both agreed that such duties should not carry the kinds of impositions inherent in other foundational requirements. At some point the Gospel must be lived as a pure act of agency. IMO, the home provides more opportunities to freely act in god-like ways than any other situation.

  60. Pertaining to comment #64 by Mark N., can I just say, I LOVE belonging to a church where you can just throw out a comment like that and no one blinks!

  61. “And, basically, all they’ve done is shined up the old motherhood-is-equivalent-to-priesthood argument that dissatisfies most women I know.”

    It sure does irritate me, because the equivalent of motherhood is *fatherhood*, priesthood being one component of the father role.

  62. Julie I appreciate your review of this book. I have often been frustrated by LDS books that are written on a variety of topics because they don’t go much beyond “the primary answers”. It’s too bad that this is another one of those books.

    It would seem that we need a solid book about gender in relationship to the church, since there is obviously so much questioning about it.

  63. I am not sure if these comments are leading anywhere. What is feminism? One definition gives the following definition: “An ideology committed to promoting the social role of women and, in most cases, dedicated to the goal of gender equality”. It seems to me that Christ would not be against this aspect of feminism. After all he saved a woman from being stoned to death for committing an act of adultery. He advanced the role of women by doing so. Feminsim is about repecting the rights of women, whether in the home, workplace or in society. But like most ideologies, it is subject to abuse and misuse. The whole debate about whether or not a woman is in the home or in the workplace is a no-brainer. Many women in the church work and many stay home, what is the problem? No problem. There is only a problem when one feels forced into a way of life that one does not want to live. Open mind–open skies….
    In terms of questioning…no one can convince me that God is anti-questioning. It is through questioning that a process of growth takes place. Think of how it would be if in our schools the attitude would be: ” Please do not question the knowledge that I am giving you. I am right and so please don’t think for yourself “.
    PS: There are many feminisms out there…and not just one feminism.
    Most of this discussion is on a primitive level. And ignores my original quotation of what feminism basically is. I

  64. Great review, Julie! My response to the book was largely similar to yours: although I recognize the pain that motivated its writing, and although I share its desire to produce an apologetic that can reconcile the present structure of the church with an ethic of gender equality, I was unsatisfied on several levels with its conclusions and method.

    There were any number of smaller points of argument and style I objected to, not least of which is the fact that their MIH claims are entirely unscriptural. (Then again, so are *any* claims about MIH, I guess!) But the biggest problem, in my view, is that their argument extrapolates gender equality from gender symmetry, and the basic symmetry in their argument–that between women’s stewardship to bring souls across the first veil into mortality (motherhood) and men’s stewardship to bring souls across the second veil into exaltation (priesthood)–is fundamentally false. Meaningful moral progression requires the exercise of agency: this is bedrock BoM doctrine. The biological conception and delivery of human babies does not require the exercise of a woman’s moral moral agency: a raped woman can conceive, and a woman in a coma can deliver a child. (Modern technologies, of course, have now introduced choice into conception and the continuation of pregnancy for women AND men.) Once the conception and delivery have occurred–once the woman is a mother–then of course she faces a host of really crucial moral choices in the way that she responds to and exercises her motherhood–but these choices are no different in kind (that is, in moral import) than the choices a man faces in response to the fact of his fatherhood; indeed, a mother’s choices may be *less* morally meaningful than a father’s, because a woman has biological instinct making many of those choices for her. This is why the moral symmetry between motherhood and priesthood fails, and why their argument for equality on that basis falls.

    I do have to give them credit, though, for the most creative justification for the invisibility of MIH and women in the scriptures I’ve ever read!

  65. Oh, and regarding Nate’s syllogism in #35. It’s a bastardization, I bet, of a syllogism that usually does hold:

    1. Educated women have gender concerns
    2. You do not have gender concerns
    3. You are not educated.

    “Educated” and “intelligent” ought not be fungible terms, of course, but they can be used as such. And in my experience, (with a few exceptions, of course) the higher the level of education a woman has obtained, the more likely she is to have gender concerns. This of course has nothing to do with her native intelligence, her moral worth, or her strength of will. But this is why I think President Hinckley’s very clear counsel that women (and men) should get all the education they can will have lasting and profound consequences in the gender culture of the church.

  66. Rosalynde: I think that your point regarding education is a good one. I would just add two additional ideas. First, most people don’t make a strong distinction between education and intelligence. Saying “you’re uneducated” and saying “you’re stupid and ignorant” are frequently equally offensive. (This doesn’t mean that the statements are false. I know lots of uneducated people, and I know lots of stupid people.) Second, while I agree that increased levels of education lead to increased likelihood of gender concerns, I think that it is important to distinguish between different disciplines. Question of the social construction of gender, feminism, etc. form central issues in the humanities and — to a slightly lesser degree — the social sciences. They are less dominant in the hard sciences and other technical fields. One can be educated without being soaked in the social and political theories that dominate the humanities.

  67. Julie,

    I appreciate your view, but I think the “call to arms” is there to be found. For example, with respect to the scriptures, Sister Beck said in last year’s General YW meeting:

    “When I study the scriptures, the Spirit of the Lord fills my home. I gain important understanding, which I then share with my family, and my love for them increases. The Lord has told us that our time should “be devoted to the studying of the scriptures” (D&C 26:1) and that “the Book of Mormon and the holy scriptures are given . . . for [our] instruction” (D&C 33:16). Every woman can be a gospel doctrine instructor in her home, and every sister in the Church needs gospel knowledge as a leader and teacher. If you have not already developed the habit of daily scripture study, start now and keep studying in order to be prepared for your responsibilities in this life and in the eternities.”

    “I have great confidence in the young women of the Church. Through your habit of daily scripture study, you will be “led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written” (Helaman 15:7). You will be the mothers and leaders who will help prepare the next generation with gospel understanding and testimony. Your children will be men and women of faith who will continue to build the kingdom of God on the earth because of what you teach them from the scriptures.”

    These passages clearly emphasize the spiritual aspect of motherhood, while also recognizing that this particular skill, scripture study, is crucial even for those among us who are not parents, in that it equips us for service in the kingdom. None of the talks in that session had anything to do with the physical aspects of motherhood, as far as I could tell.

  68. Rosalynde,

    Do you think this is more a treament effect or a selection effect? In other words, does education, as a treatment, cause more gender concern or is this mostly just a selection effect that the more gender concerned get more education? Obviously both can operate but your last clause about more education causing a change in the Church indicates you view the treatment effect as important. If so, I would second Nate’s distinction across disciplines. Thus, the syllogism becomes something like:

    1. Women who spend years of their life studying in disciplines that are permeated with gender issues tend to have more gender concerns.
    2. You do not have gender concerns.
    3. You probably didn’t do 1.

    That seems quite reasonable.

    I think we all probably agree that said disciplines hold more attraction for those who already had gender concerns (selection) and they tend to encourage said concerns (treatment). Inasmuch as those disciplines encourage one to feel disaffected from the Church (i.e., one possible treatment effect that happens to some but not all), I would think that would be a cost to studying them, to be weighed against their benefits. If, on the other hand, the disaffection is already there, and the discipline does not increase it, then there would be no such cost to consider.

    Personally, I would guess that a fair bit of it is just selection. The gender concerned go find places to satisfy their preference for studying gender. And so I doubt the costs are that high. As such, gender concern may not so much be a result of learning, as such, so much as either:

    1. A result of being heavily exposed to a particular worldview as taught in certain disciplines or

    2. Causally not very related to learning at all, mostly a selection effect.

    Or maybe not. We’ll find out after the Resurrection.

  69. Nate and Frank: I’m not sure your discipline distinction holds up. The response to Larry Summers’ remarks seemed to indicate that women in the hard and soft sciences can be fiercely attuned to gender issues, too. While it’s probably true that women in critical disciplines receive more formal training in critical theories, I’d guess that the gender disparity in the sciences works to produce an equivalent sensitivity to gender issues among women there.

    Frank, good questions. I think education as a treatment, as you put it, does raise gender awareness. In developing countries, for example, feminist concerns for women’s quality of life–and the ability to take action on those concerns–are highly correlated to education for women. I’m not so sure about the selection effect. It probably does operate, but to a lesser extent: I, for example, entered college planning on going into medicine, with the prerequisites and aptitudes in math and science to back it up. My sensitivity to gender issues long pre-dated my college entrance. I switched to English when I began to realize how difficult it would be to reconcile a career in medicine with the family life I wanted–so in some ways, my eventual major was a result of anti-feminist, not feminist impulses.

  70. Rosalynde: You may be correct. Gender consciousness created by actual institutional conditions as opposed to the frills and fillips of crit theory, however, is likely to take a rarer, more pragmatic turn and have less valence with the complicated ideological superstructures reared in the humanities. I suspect this will have an effect on how these people react to gender discussion couched in the vocabulary of these ideologies. From my — very limited experience — I have seen two reactions. One is that the vocabulary and concepts from the humanities are treated as essentially meaningless verbiage. The second is that these concepts are accepted as powerful and largely self-evidence descriptions of reality. I think that we saw both reactions on display in the Larry Summer’s affair. (BTW, I take the fact that the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard has formally condemned Summer’s as evidence that he is probably doing a fairly good job.)

  71. Then, Nate, I’m the uber-feminist, being both versed in the frills and fillips of critical theory *and* operating within actual institutional conditions (the church) structured by gender assymmetry!

    So what you’re saying is that it’s impossible to take a reasonable approach to critical gender theory, is that it?

  72. Aimee Roo–

    I may have been unclear: they are not giving Primary answers. They are giving answers that would never make it through correlation.


    Amen to #72. Exactly what I thought, said way better than I could have.

    Mark N. and Bonnie:

    Here’s a great premise for a short story or novel: an LDS space traveler winds up on another planet where the men are all up in arms over the fact that they are forbidden to pray to their Father in Heaven but must only pray to their Mother. Everyone finds out that our Eternal Parents have divvied up the planets in order to make life manageable, and to give the inhabitants of each planet a learning exercise (the gender matching the diety that gets prayed to has to learn to overcome unrighteous dominion, the other gender has to learn that it has worth even though it doesn’t know much about diety of its gender). Everyone has a good laugh and goes home.

  73. Frank –

    That’s an interesting idea. My personal experience was to completely ignore gender issues – I just didn’t “believe in” them. I thought women who whined about not being taken seriously, just weren’t working hard enough. Additionally, I majored in Economics as an undergrad, and there wasn’t much room for discussing feminist issues in many of my classes.

    I still sort of believe that women who whine about not being taken seriously are just not working hard enough (for whatever reason – family, personal interests, whatever). But I recognize now that there really are important issues regarding the equal treatment of women and men that shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed as “whining”. It’s just hard to sort through all the rhetoric and figure out what they are (at least for me).

  74. “In developing countries, for example, feminist concerns for women’s quality of life–and the ability to take action on those concerns–are highly correlated to education for women.”

    I am more interested in LDS religious gender concerns. The fact that more educated women are more interested in quality of life for them or others is a no-brainer. The question I find interesting is the treatment or selection effect on LDS women.

    So the Larry Summers thing does not do much for me either. Harvard is a notoriously liberal place and so the result was not surprising– especially at a conference on gender! It is empirically the case that the humanities and social sciences faculty are noticeably more liberal than the hard sciences. But I don’t know how much of this flows over into specific gender issues.

    “…my eventual major was a result of anti-feminist, not feminist impulses.”

    Here I take it you are using a definition of feminist that is antagonistic to motherhood. Regardless, yours is an interesting though wildly unrepresentative example. Surely we don’t think that many English PhD’s are in it because of its good mothering potential and were otherwise heading for med school?! i.e. you are a weirdo.

  75. Nate: BTW, I take the fact that the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard has formally condemned Summer’s as evidence that he is probably doing a fairly good job.

    BYU’s Pres. Samuelson also condemns Summers, in a talk to women in the physical and mathematical sciences that Clark linked to at M*. My money quote was different from Clark’s; what makes it a truly master stroke is that he claims (in his view, probably surpasses) the feminist mantle at Summers’ expense:

    I feel a little, but only a little, sorry for my friend at Harvard, President Larry Summers, because not only is he politically incorrect, he does not have a clear knowledge of the Restored Gospel. Had he this understanding, in my estimation, he would not have made the foolish mistake he made when he said the silly things about women and their aptitudes. I will not say more because I am sure that this group understands exactly what I am talking about. I have, therefore, much less patience for anyone who has the light of the Restoration available and still makes the erroneous judgments that some might make.

    Samuelson says many reasonable and refreshing things in this talk, but I’m curious to know how this appropriation of feminist concerns sits with those who have wrestled with gender issues in the Church. One thing that bothers me about the talk is that several of the reasonable things he says—which I of course am glad to hear—contradict teachings of earlier prophets, so he ends up criticizing people who, in all fairness, were probably just parroting teachings of, for example, Press. Kimball and McKay.

    My apologies if I’ve not only committed a threadjack here—the frequent commenter’s vice—but also managed to commit the sin of poaching, even as a commenter.

  76. Frank, I definitely am a weirdo! By anti-feminist I meant not that feminism is opposed to motherhood (although there are certain strands and certain feminists that may be), but that anti-feminist conditions–that is, conditions that are not good for women–shaped my choice.

  77. I think Dr. Samuleson’s comments are rather unfortunate, as they condemn a cartoon of what Summers said, rather than what he actually said.

    How many people have actually gone back and looked at, in context, the entirety of his remarks? Few. Most (mis)quote a soundbite of his remarks and then discuss some bizarre cartoon that sort of resembles the man in question.

    [I will] just try to think about and offer some hypotheses as to why we observe what we observe without seeing this through the kind of judgmental tendency that inevitably is connected with all our common goals of equality . . .

    . . . There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference’s papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the-I’ll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described . . .

    Go read the original. Summer was not representing his personal belief or attempting to relate any sort of ultimate truth. He was discussing reasons others have given for the precieved disparity.

    But what actuallty discuss what he said? Instead, let’s just condemn, condemn, condemn. Much easier that way – we don’t have to think. ;-)

  78. Elisabeth, so do you think LDS gender concerns varying by discipline are more a treatment or a selection effect? Or do you think they don’t vary systematically by discipline?

  79. Christian, what do you think Samuelson is talking about? It seems to me like he was very smart to stop talking about Summers because otherwise he’d have to actually connect the dots between Summers’ remarks and the Restored Gospel. I have to assume Samuelson believes that were Summers acquainted with the Restored Gospel, he’d have known that exceptional mathematical aptitudes are equally distributed between the sexes. If that’s the case, I don’t know which restored gospel Samuelson could be referring to. By this logic it was pointless to investigate the DNA of Native Americans because Samuelson knew they had Israelite DNA all along. (Or something like that.)

    I agree with Ivan — Samuelson’s comments are unfortunate. And that far too few people have actually read Summers’ remarks.

  80. Frank – I’m not sure if I understand your question, but I think women who are passionate about gender issues would gravitate naturally to those undergraduate majors and disciplines that discuss gender issues. And this education in gender issues gives them training and a foundation to discuss said issues so that they can articulate them intelligently to others (which my Econ degree did nothing for).

    I don’t think gender concerns vary that much by discipline – gender concerns are just not that relevant when one is studying linear alegbra. Because my classes were concentrated in the sciences (if you consider Econ a science), I never was exposed to feminist theory or critique. So, the gender concerns I experienced in college were limited to the women (girls) in my Intro to Econ class who spent their time in class twirling their hair and flirting with the men (boys) usually got worse grades than the both the men and the women who paid attention in class and studied for the tests. I didn’t see that women were being discriminated against – they were just not taking their education seriously enough.

    Honestly, it wasn’t until one of my friends made me read Catherine MacKinnon that my consciousness was raised. Then
    I started to replay all the events in my life that could possibly be interpreted as me being discriminated against – and came up with a few (most church-related). I don’t think, practically speaking, these events made much of an impact on my life growing up, however.

    Anyway, I probably didn’t answer your question, but I wonder to what extent feminist theory allows women to feel justified in claiming they haven’t been able to achieve everything they wanted to in life. I’ve heard similar complaints from black friends when they say they haven’t been able to do this or that in their lives because of their race. I’ve often wondered how much this is really due to racism or sexism and how much is due to individual efforts and circumstances.

  81. Matt, I really don’t know what he’s talking about—which is puzzling, since it seems obvious to him we know what he’s talking about. I put up the quote not because I thought it was a clear, compelling, and authoritative statement that cleared everything up; I put it up because it bewildered me (in calling it a “master stroke” I was being a little sarcastic, referring to its possible chutzpah).

    One possible reading is that he means the eternal destiny of both men and women is so glorious that it far eclipses human abilities of either men or women in this life. That’s an effective way of either keeping an appropriate eternal perspective, or sweeping the present concerns of some with gender under the rug, depending on your point of view.

  82. “Most of this discussion is on a primitive level. And ignores my original quotation of what feminism basically is,” grunted Mr. Fitzsimmons.

  83. I don’t understand feminism. I have a lot of friends who think I’m a feminist, who think I think women should have the priesthood because I’m so bossy and I don’t feel inferior to men, I guess, but I don’t feel that women should have the priesthood. However, I am not mad at those woman who do, I just don’t care about it.

    But I don’t see a lot of pain from feminist stuff (the little I get) in the women I know. They’re strong and capable and their husbands usually defer to them (think Heather, she who must be obeyed). I don’t need or want any more power. Nobody I know complains about emotional pain from not having the priesthood.

    I have a dear friend, highly educated, who feels that women should have the priesthood. She is one of the quietest, softest-spoken, self-effacing women I know. She constantly defers to her husband. Is it possible that women who feel they must defer to men feel cheated? I don’t defer. I told my bishop he had 24 hours to get on the stick with something and he did it. The ladies on T & S don’t seem the deferring sort, but I honestly don’t understand the complaints.

    Although…I had a bishop who sort of thought women should be seen and not heard. I still look at him and think, “One of these days, I’m going to sock you right in the nose.”

  84. Kudos to Adam G.
    If I could, I’d put a smiley face with thumbs up next to your post. No matter what ANYONE says, your concise thoughts are not inappropriate to this discussion!

  85. Some people may be missing the context of the argument Julie in A. and I are having. A little bit ago, Julie in A. linked to a woman named Gaia who painted a wildly distorted picture of the oppression and suffering of LDS woman and then invited us men to put ourselves into that role and see how quickly we’d change it. Julie in A. asked us what we thought. I and others responded that (1) Gaia’s view of women’s place was false and (2) she badly misunderstood us if she thought that we would not embrace any role the gospel happened to give us.
    In the ensuing discussion, it came out that Julie in A. though Gaia had written something really powerful. More to the point (at least as far as putting context on our current argument goes) Julie in A. told us that if we were really good Christians we would have responded with sympathy and understanding to Gaia’s post. It then came out that Gaia was really an ex-Mormon paganist of some sort, but Julie in A. still insisted that our failure to have our views affected by Gaia’s post showed bigotry and close-mindedness on our parts. If you think this is too polemical, check out the exchange for yourself:

  86. “(3) Even if the questioners are sincere, there is another type of opportunity cost. Attention paid to them and their concerns is attention not paid to people who don’t have those concerns. In my experience, the more sympathy and prominence paid to feminists, the more excluded people like my wife feel.” [From comment #1]

    Since I’ve read only the first 15 comments, I don’t know whether Adam has answered the question about why his wife would feel excluded by paying more attention to feminists. I’ll answer how I read that into my own situation.

    If I spent a considerable amount of energy and time reviewing and responding to feminist concerns in web-based forums such as T&S and other blogs, that is time not given to my wife or family. I’d prefer to minimize my involvement in such conversations, unless the setting seems to be one where those in the dialogue (including myself) are open to various ideas and possibilities and learning, rather than headstrong in selling their opinions. Of course, if my future wife wants to partake in such discussions, then we can both be involved, so it could possibly be time well spent.

  87. Melissa,

    You used the term “fiercely protective” to describe your and your friend’s stance, as feminists, toward other sisters in the Church. Why does any woman in the Church need your protection? From where does this attitude spring? And why do they need it from you and your feminist friends? (Please understand that I’m not using “feminist” as a pejorative.) Doesn’t that very attitude betray a certain condescension born of “rhetorical simmerings” that would be the root cause of the tensions between feminists and non-feminists in the Church? Feminists seem to believe there is some sort of oppression, hence the need for protection; non-feminists reject that view. Feminists, as stated by Julie, see the church (maybe only in part) through gender issues, non-feminists don’t. This is not necessarily because non-feminists are uneducated (as is implied by Rosalynde), it may be because we are educated enough to reject it. Non-feminists may recognize issues that women face but reject the importance feminists place on those issues for a variety of reasons or disagree about the way feminists attempt to deal with them and therefore reject the label in search of a philosophy that is more in line with a means that reflect their values.

    A brief aside as it relates to the intersection of gospel doctrine and practice with worldly philosophy: Do those who insist upon inserting “and women” whenever the word “men” is read in the Standard Works do so when the phrase “philosophies of men” is uttered in a gospel context? How delicious the irony if not!

    It seems to me that this very attitude, that the anointed feminists need to fiercely protect the benighted, who ostensibily aren’t educated or enlightened enough to recognize and understand issues of such grave importance, works against _any_ kind of solidarity in the Church, be it among women or among the general membership. If I’m misunderstanding your post and others, please set me straight. Or feel free to email me if your answer would be considered remedial to others on the board. I’d like to know how you’re doing, anyway!

    Please don’t read any hostility into this post. The questions above are devices but also honest questions. You raise an issue, possibly inadvertently, that I want to address. Just imagine that we’re in class in the chapel on Trumbull St. on Wednesday nights, and I’m there causing trouble, inadvertently, of course! Or better yet . . . don’t!

  88. No, Adam, you’re the one missing the context:

    (1) Based on your summation of the Gaia post, I have to believe that you are continuing to deliberately misread me. In fact, I went back and reread every comment that I made on the Gaia post and found nothing that could be construed as wanting anyone to express sympathy and understanding to the post, but rather to consider it. To actually THINK about what it would be like if all of the main players in the eternal drama were in some essential way unlike you NOT so we can force the church to change (it doesn’t need to) but rather so we can better approach men and women with concerns with some charity for their feelings of isolation and help them find peace in their return to the fold. What I saw in the comments was repeated, complete refusal to engage in a thought experiment. I actually believe our prophets when they state that truth is not a market cornered by Mormons, so it didn’t change much for me to find out that Gaia was an exmo. (Rather, it is an interesting perspective: How many times have you heard someone say that they don’t find many women in the Church dissatisfied with gender issues? Is it perhaps because all of the dissatisfied ones have left? A huge, recurring theme seems to be the problem of YW transitioning to RS, but no one ever suggests that the problem with keeping the YW active across this transition is that they haven’t been able to find peace with gender issues and how those will impact their lives. And, just to clarify, Adam, since you have made this mistake before, my position is NOT that the Church should change to better accomodate the YW, but rather that we need to do a better job teaching real Church doctrine about gender and addressing their concerns. One of my favorite quotes is from President Kimball, and I’m going from memory here, but he was addressing the priesthood holders on gender issues and he said that the doctrine was not in doubt, but that many times our behavior was of doubtful quality. This is the best encapsulation of my feelings on the issue: we need to quit allowing false notions about presiding and motherhood, etc., crowd the field when we should be teaching true doctrine.)

    (2) More seriously, this post has nothing to do with Gaia-types. Go back to the review: we’re talking about stalwart members with concerns who want someone to comfort them. I think we may have been talking past each other since #1 if you thought that this post was Round Two of the Gaia Incident, when I am envisioning a teary-eyed 18-year-old approaching an Institute teacher and saying, “Why do men rule? How come women aren’t important in God’s eyes?” All our hypothetical YW needs is a dose of true doctrine and the clearing up of misconceptions. This is why I was so furious with your #1: in my eyes, you’re telling our teary-eyed woman to sit down and shut up because her questions will somehow cause a problem for your wife. I’m thinking: your wife (as someone at peace with these things) may be the best person to talk to her, but your attitude will almost certainly drive this poor girl out of the Church.

  89. Julie,
    I followed the Gaia discussion referenced above when it happened. It was a frustrating experience for me, as it appeared to be for others involved.

    With that in mind, I truly would like to find some common ground here before……..well, you know. Let’s try to find something we can agree on!

    Paralleling the assignment that you gave Adam, would you please reference some General Authority quotes on gender that you unequivocally, whole-heartedly endorse?

  90. “I think we may have been talking past each other since #1 if you thought that this post was Round Two of the Gaia Incident, when I am envisioning a teary-eyed 18-year-old”

    I wish it hadn’t taken a full paragraph of spleen and invective before you were able to make this concession (buried in another paragraph of spleen and invective). Even so, I think this is probably right.

    I was thinking of your attitude in the Gaia incident and you were thinking of your attitude here:

  91. I don’t think your challenge is going to turn out the way you you want, Julie K., if you mean it as anything more than a rhetorical way of saying that you see Julie in A. criticizing the leadership when it comes to gender more often than not.

    If even the devil can quote scripture to his purpose, then what odds that a committed Latter-day Saint, no matter how wrong you think they are, will find any area of life in which there aren’t at least some general authority ruminations that they can agree with? Pretty low. There’s a lot of wriggle room in Mormonism.

    Thanks for the support a few comments above, by the way.

  92. I didn’t throw down the gauntlet. That was the furthest thing from my mind.
    I really want to know if there is any common ground.
    It doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?

  93. Julie K–

    My list would be a mile long! For reasons I am not clear on but suspect have to do with Adam’s perpetual misreading of almost everything I say, I’ve somehow been branded as a malcontent when I am in complete agreement with official Church teachings about gender issues. My only objections are to false doctrine about topics like presiding and false teachings about things like the Fall that are frequently (mis)articulated by archconservatives in the Church. In some cases, Adam falls into this catagory. (In other cases, he does not. One example where he does is in his misreading of the Fall here:

    That said, some talks that I would recommend to people struggling with gender issues include the Pres. Hinckley talk I mentioned above (about gendered language in scriptures and its implications).

    The best talk about the Fall is from President Kimball. won’t work for me right now, but I think the talk is April 1978 and you’ll know it when you see it because he talks about O My Father as a summary of the plan of salvation and states that the word ‘preside’ is preferable to ‘rule’ in the Genesis account.

    I’ve said elsewhere that Adam and I are probably 90%+ in agreement if we could get down to it, but we tend instead to (1) talk past each other and (2) read each other uncharitably.

    Which reminds me, Adam, that it sure is convenient for you to dismiss most of what I say as spleen and invective instead of actually, you know, engaging with my ideas.

  94. Please check out the link Julie in A. provides. I’d hate for anyone to accept her characterization of it.

    I think there’s a lot of room in Mormonism for different ideas. Whether its accurate for Julie in A. to describe her views as official church orthodoxy and my views as false doctrine, judge ye. My conclusion is that this has less to do with heresy on my part and more to do with that famous feminist openness to different views, but you’ll have to make up your own minds.

  95. Wow, I hope everyone has their 72-hour kit handy, as Adam’s advocacy of a Big Tent of Multiple Permissible Interpretations and my insistence on orthodoxy are almost certainly harbingers of something frightening.

    (I’m with Nate’s comments way up this thread that there is room for multiple Mormon theologies, but there are also limits. There are things outside of those limits, and Adam’s reading of the Fall is one of them.)

  96. My reading of the Fall being that one should not view it as (1) an unalloyed good (2) that Eve singlehandedly brought about through her supernal wisdom and all-around excellentness.

  97. You’re out of date, Kingsley. I shaved the mustache a while back. The cape’s at the cleaners. And I haven’t been very arch lately–my humor has gotten drier.

  98. Adam–

    I assume that your (2) is meant to reflect what people like me are supposed to believe. I will engage in the futile act of telling you that I am not the caricature that you have made me out to be. (Which feels especially ironic in this moment when I am having a hard time typing for the babe slung over my lap, the six year old asking me questions, and the three year old wanting to report on Brother Bear.)

    I would have no problem with your reading of the Fall in #109 except that it has little resemblance to the Eve-blaming in the post I linked to. If #109 is what you meant to say, then fine.

  99. An interesting side note stemming from commnets by Rosalynde and Nate.

    Rosalynde argued that women and I suppose people in general with more education often have gender concerns or more gender concerns than less educated persons. If we take that statement as true, I think it is intersting that the LDS church is the only religion where self-reported activity and commitment/belief goes up with more education (all other religions the more educated you are the more likely you are not to be active/believe in your religion–taken from LDS Social Life, RSC publication).

    Thus, if both the above statements are true a loose link might exist wherein people with gender concerns are more likely to be active than those with out. I find that possibility very interesting and rather counter-intuitive. Granted, even given that both gender concerns increase with education and activity increases with education, a link bewteen the two would be loose if existent as it is quite possible that a direct empirical study would find that people with gender questions are less active on average than those without. But still, the possibility of a connection intrigues me.

  100. Adam’s comments aren’t all that far from Paul’s — “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). I’m not saying I agree with Adam (or Paul); but their views are certainly not “outside [the] limits” of Mormon theology, nor are they limited to the savage mutterings of “archconservatives.” Good golly. As Clark says on the other thread, the issue is a very, very complicated one, & probably Eve the Conquering Hero & Eve the Dupe are both a little simplistic.

  101. “If #109 is what you meant to say, then fine.”

    Actually, in the post you linked to I didn’t mean to say anything in particular about Eve. It was the gender goggles group in the comments that thought I was.

  102. I read Gaia’s post, and didn’t see a “wildly distorted picture of the oppression and suffering of LDS women”.

    The church is lead by men, who have a different perspective than women. While Gaia may have had her own agenda of sorts, I think her depiction of Sacrament Meeting from a female/male perspective was a pretty accurate description of my family ward in Logan, Utah during the 1980s and ’90s.

    Why all of this animosity on this thread? It makes me so sad to read it. I hope all of our concerns can be resolved, and that we can find peace with one another’s different perspectives on these difficult issues.

  103. Julie-
    Thanks for the response. I am processing it…

    Delicious irony, no hostility, honest questions…Wow!
    Great musings.
    Thanks for your ideas.

  104. I conquered heroin long ago. At least we can all agree that “poetess” et al. are better dead & buried than otherwise.

  105. This is the correct reference to the Pres. Kimball article I mentioned above; I had the date wrong:

    Spencer W. Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 70

  106. Julie,

    “To actually THINK about what it would be like if all of the main players in the eternal drama were in some essential way unlike you”

    I have trouble keeping track of all the players but, Julie, I thought you were a gender-essentialism hater. Is that right? If so you’ll need to stop referring to men being different from you in _essential_ ways.

    By the way, you and Adam are amazingly incapable of communicating. You guys should get an award.

  107. Frank,

    I maintain that we need to just turn them both loose with a few cans of silly string. That will solve all of their disagreements.

  108. Honest question, Frank:

    Is it that we’re uniquely bad at communicating, or is it that we’re uniquely bad at understanding what other people are saying? Or is it, heaven forfend, both?

    P.S. Let me know if you couldn’t figure out what I was asking. :)

  109. By communication I meant both the sending and receiving. Like I imagine a therapist would use it. Not that I have a clue about how therapy works.

    I mean it is just laughable the way you lay out this careful case against indulging radical feminist propoganda and all the time Julie thinks you are talking about abusing 18 year olds, because, you know, that was what she meant in her post.

    By the way, Julie, More YM leave the Church than YW. And it seems unlikely that the guys are having these gender concerns. It seems even more unlikely that they have more of them than the YW. Thus I am skeptical of the claim that gender concerns drive YW inactivity. It probably has more to do with the mundane stuff like lack of testimony, sin, lack of socialization, etc.

  110. I’ll suggest a legal analogy. Remember the famous “Peerless” case, where the parties were talking about different ships. That’s the best known example of the legal doctrine of mutual mistake in contract law. If Frank and I agree that I will deliver 10 bales of cotton to him that are en route on the ship Peerless, but we’re talking about different ships, then the contract is void.

    Adam and Julie are arguing about two different ships. They haven’t yet had what we would refer to in contract law as “a meeting of the minds.”

  111. We haven’t yet achieved second order agreement, i.e., agreeing on what we’re disagreeing about.

  112. My take away from the Julie-Adam exchange: People are frequently particularlly bad at carrying on conversations on topics about which they feel passionately. The result is that we can opt inevitable boredom or inevitable misunderstanding, but probably not both, which is good news, right? I mean who wants to be perpetually bored AND misunderstood?

  113. Frank–

    Essentially different in that essential roles are different, not essential natures.

    And stats notwithstanding, there is (judging by frequent Ensign articles, references in talks aimed at RS, visiting teaching topics, etc.) a great concern at the general level over YW not being a part of RS. (Given what you said, I do wonder why we don’t hear more about the YM, tho.) I don’t think it is nuts to suggest that some (certainly not all) of those YW are having gender issues. I’m not sure that arguing backwards from YM’s experiences are relevant, just because we don’t know the causes. It is also not implausible to me that a YW with concerns about gender roles would have a lower commitment to the Church. So, it looks like she’s leaving because she’s living with someone, but what led her down that road was doctrinal issues.

  114. I was surprised to find the Julie-Adam exchange as it is. In my 3 months following various threads, I’ve repeatedly enjoyed comments by “Julie in Austin” as a refreshing voice of reason. In fact, I’ve even thought that if/when I have teenage daughters, I might want to move to Austin where they might have another good LDS female role model in YW leadership.

    I simply write this off as a hot-button topic between Adam and Julie, and still look forward to many meaningful future posts from each of them individually.

    Now… what was this post about anyway??? Oh yeah, that’s right, a book review…

  115. Can someone point me to the stats that suggest that we are currently losing more YM than YW during the transition to adulthood.

  116. Is there evidence to suggest that women with more education are more likely to have gender concerns?

  117. Hi Andrea– I’d probably put the situation a little differently: women with gender concerns are more likely to be educated. But no, I really don’t have any hard evidence for that; it’s just a hunch based on my own experience. And let me reiterate: this is simply, purely a descriptive statement, not an evaluative statement in any way. Women with more education are no more natively intelligent, valuable, or strong of character than women with less education. And there are exceptions, clearly: in my last ward, the woman who spoke about gender issues most forthrightly had a bachelor’s degree (this in a ward where a number of women had or were pursuing advanced degrees).

    And to Brian Jeffries, (#96): You misread what I said, my friend. I didn’t suggest that non-feminists are uneducated. I suggested that feminists are more likely to be educated than to be uneducated. The two propositions are distinct. Furthermore, my comment was, precisely, a descriptive suggestion–not a judgement, dismissal, or condemnation.

  118. I’ve been feeling guilty about comment #109 all night. It sounds like I’m mocking Mother Eve. I don’t want to. I feel like I owe filial piety our First Parents. So let me rephrase the thought. I believe that Adam and Eve our types for us in a great many good things, but they are also types for us in that they fell from grace.

  119. This is probably not the best place to mention that Slashcode would be of great help in preventing the destructive quality of threadjacks while still allowing Adam’s conversation to take place off in its own corner of the world. Or is it?????

  120. Julie,

    I have never heard the phrase “essential role”. Is it the same as purpose? Because I did find this:

    “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

    As for YM and YW, I am fine with them being different and so forth, but it does seem odd to say, “YW are leaving and I think it is because of gender concerns even though the YM are leaving even more and for them it is because they sin and lack testimony and aren’t socialized.” The reason it is odd is because observationally, the two groups of leavers seem to have similar issues like sin, lack of testimony, etc. You wish to put the gender concern as the causal agent, but just for the women. This is possible. But why do that when we have the far more obvious candidates available that we know cause people to go inactive all the time all by themselves?

    Naturally, the Church is a big place. Undoubtedly plenty of YW have gender concerns, some of which are causally what makes some of them leave. But no, it seems a stretch to say that this is why there is an inactivity problem moving from YW to RS.

    On the other hand, it is true that we need to engage these girls in their interests, and if RS isn’t doing that, then this is a problem. Maybe this is all you meant, that Enrichment bores them with too many crafts. This is gonig to be a problem with any organization trying to encompass those age 18 and age 75. Elder’s Quorum would appear to be institutionally better able to deal with the problem because demographically it only takes in the younger men. So most of the EQ is young enough to play basketball or whatever other manly bonding physical activity they wish. 75 year old women might be able to play basketball, but the 18 year olds would probably hurt them when they fouled. On the other hand, it is really cool to hear from all ages in one class, so there would certainly be costs to breaking it up by age.

    Apparently those costs are worth it for the men. For the women, this division only happens through single wards. Even then, perhaps some single RS organizations run it like their grandma’s RS, instead of taking advantage of available flexibility to mix things up in a curriculum compatible way. Or maybe the curriculum could benefit from more flexibility, which is the kind of feedback the curriculum people would probably like to get.


    In #134 you are talking like it is largely a selection effect, that causes education to be correlated to gender concerns (i.e. the gender concerned tend to get education). Before you sounded like you thought education lead to gender concerns (treatment effect). So I’m a little confused about your position. Maybe you are too. That would be understandable since it is difficult to know which one matters more.

  121. Frank–

    That’s because I made it up. I meant “essential” in the sense of “important” not “inherent” but I think there is a gremlin on or near this thread that prevents people from communicating clearly.

    I think what would be great would be to have statistics on why 18 year olds go inactive. But I don’t know of any, and i’m not convinced that they would report accurately if asked, anyway. But I don’t find it inconceivable that they might look something like this:

    Why did you go inactive?

    Young men:
    –general lack of testimony, apathy, etc. 50%
    –entangled in sin 25%
    –too much pressure to serve a mission/didn’t want to go on mission 25%

    Young women:
    –general lack of testimony, apathy, etc. 50%
    –entangled in sin 25%
    –too much pressure to get married and have kids and/or didn’t like/understand Church’s teachings on gender and/or didn’t think RS/HFPE was relevant to my life

    Now, I just made all of that up. I’m not claiming it is accurate. But I think it is possible. In reality, I’m sure the factors would interplay. What I’m really curious about is, if what you say about greater levels of inactivity among YM is accurate, why we don’t hear about it nearly as much as we do the YW.

    Using RS to engage interests is a sticky issue (perhaps worthy of its own thread). A talk Sr. Parkin gave at the RS open house castigated an RS Pres. who wouldn’t hold a day-time HFPE focused on young mothers because it would alienate too many non-young-mothers. It is very, vrey hard to plan HFPE that isn’t (1) Sunday School or (2) alienating to people who don’t need new cake decorating ideas at this point in their lives.

  122. Frank, I didn’t say “Women with gender concerns are more likely to GET educated,” just that they are more likely to be educated. If I gathered a group of fifty Mormon women with gender concerns, I’d predict that a majority of them had obtained or were engaged in higher education. This does not bear on the selection or treatment issue, which deals with, alternatively, WHY the women pursued the education or WHY they developed the gender concerns. You’re right, though, that I don’t know which matters more. I continue to think there’s a stronger treatment than selection effect, but I have (of course) no hard evidence for this.

  123. Julie,

    If we were to make a direct comparison between the two lists you’ve proposed, then should we assume that encouraging young men to go on a mission is a matter of false doctrine?

  124. RW: I understand your final point, but am baffled by why you think it matters whether you say “get” or “be” educated. Those who “are” educated is simply the accumulation over time of the ones who “got” educated minus the ones who have died.

    Julie: I think those categories are fine and I would encourage the idea you note about the interaction. Lack of testimony and sin are probably the key issue driving the fact that young men do not want to serve missions. And I would be very surprised if the real factor in a fourth of YW was gender concern. The fact that you think this 25% number is is plausibly in the ballpark explains why you spend so much time on gender!

    Of course, such concerns take many different forms. How many women leave the Church because some guy in Church is a jerk and makes sexist comments? Is it more or less than the number of YM who leave because some guy is a jerk, plain and simple? But for the woman, we might label it a “gender issue” whereas for a guy it is just the fact that someone is a jerk. If a woman does not feel comfortable in RS because she doesn’t like cooking, that might be a “gender concern” but if a guy is a little less active because his EQ doesn’t play enough B-ball (or plays too much), we don’t call it a gender concern. It is a basketball concern. There is a tendency to overlabel problems women have as being related to gender when they are problems common to all.

    More generally, I think it is rather rare that the real driving issue is purely a doctrinal one for someone who otherwise has a testimony of the Restoratation and is obedient to the commandments. It happens, but I don’t think it is first order. I see no obvious way to verify this though.

  125. Frank, I wasn’t making a causal statement like “[Because] Women have gender concerns [then] they are more like to seek higher education”–which would, indeed, support the selection hypothesis. Rather, I was making a merely descriptive correlative: “Women who have gender concerns are more like to be highly educated than to be uneducated”–which, as I see it, doesn’t address either the selection or the treatment issue: they could be more highly educated because their gender concerns motivated their education, OR their higher education could have honed their gender concerns.

  126. Oh yes, I understand your point. You were quite clear about it. I was just confused at your use of “be” vs. “get”.

    Your reversal of Andrea’s phrasing made it sound like you were thinking of it as selection. Because when talking of correlations and not causality, the order is pretty much irrelevant.

    “Andrea: Is there evidence to suggest that women with more education are more likely to have gender concerns?

    RW: Hi Andrea? I?d probably put the situation a little differently: women with gender concerns are more likely to be educated. ”

    Anyway, I understand you now.

    Side note, your use of “honing” gender concerns seemed funny to me. “Gender concern– the blade of the modern woman!” So I looked it up: Check out the first definition I found.

  127. Jack–

    No, that wasn’t my intention at all. Frank’s point (if I understood him correctly) was that in a world where more YM than YW leave the Church, it seems wrong to suggest that gender issues would be a large reason behind the YW leaving. My point was simply that there could be a largish number of YW with gender issues, masked by an even larger number of YM not wanting to serve missions.

    (In case any clarification is in order, I think it is a really good idea for YM to serve missions.)

    Frank write, “And I would be very surprised if the real factor in a fourth of YW was gender concern. The fact that you think this 25% number is is plausibly in the ballpark explains why you spend so much time on gender!”

    It is probably pointless to try to have this conversation without statistics, because all we are left with is our own impressions, but let me suggest that a YW with concerns about gender is very unlikely to approach a Mormon male with her concerns. If she’s going to talk to anyone, it’s going to be a woman who appears to (1) be aware of gender issues and (2) suggest that she has attained a measure of peace about them. That would be me. I hear from YW (or youngish women) a LOT and 25% does not seem unreasonable in my experience.

    As for your two examples, I agree with the first (has nothing to do with gender, the guy is just a jerk), but if she doesn’t like homemaking-y type things, and her perception is that the RS is overfocused on them, I think it *is* a gender issues, inasmuch as she perceives that the Church is telling her that because of her gender she should be interested in this when she isn’t. But this is a minor point.

    Again, with your final paragraph, we’re talking about anecdotal data, but I know several people who began their move away from the Church for purely doctrinal reasons. Of course, by the time they asked to have their names off of the records, they were engaged in all manner of sins. So, if you didn’t know them as well as I did, you would conclude that sinful behavior led them to leave. But (inasmuch as you can ever know anyone else’s heart) I’m fairly well convinced that at least of them, the doctrinal problems came first.

  128. I have no problem with the idea that 25% or 50% or more of young women could at some time benefit from a chat with a helpful member about gender and the priesthood and so forth. In fact, such chats probably would be useful on all sorts of doctrinal subjects. What I doubt is that it is the causal agent behind 25% of inactivity. For one thing, I do not think that it is the mission that drives the YM out so much as the other elements with the mission as the precipitating factor, and I am inclined to think the same way about YW.

    Also, I tend to think that pure intellectual issues are relatively rare. Regardless of what chronologically comes first, I still tend to blame a lack of testimony and obedience more than a pure doctrinal issue in most cases. So, for example, my G-G-G-grandfather Lindsay left the Church in Brigham Young’s day. He disagreed with some of the doctrinal teachings about the Fall (and I suppose in those days he had plenty to choose from!). But I would still say that Lindsay’s problem was he lacked a strong testimony and so he let these things bug him when he should have stuck with it. Thus the doctrine really becomes a concern because one is still “testing” the Church’s truthfulness based on your private evaluation of the doctrine instead of taking faith as the assurance of things not seen.

    But I could be wrong.

  129. OK, if your point is that you only have doctrinal problems if you don’t have enough testimony behind them then, fine, you’re right.

    Again, for the YM/YW, we’re just going back and forth on anecdotal evidence. But I still think you”re wrong. :)

  130. As long as we are serving up merely anecdotal evidence, mine supports Julie’s claim, not necessarily the percentage, of that I don’t have a clue, but the claim that many young women in the Church are concerned about gender issues in a way that is dangerous to their testimonies.

  131. “How, precisely, is your wife harmed by discussions of gender?”

    I am happy with my role as a woman in the gospel. I feel loved by my father in heaven. I feel loved and respected and as an equal in my marriage. I was loved and respected by my father and mother as an equal to my sisters and brothers.
    I feel harmed by some feminist discussions of gender and the church. I thought that we’d come a long way, baby, and that in the US men of newer generations respected women as being smart, capable, and important. We were all people. Yet women whose feelings are different than mine want to have discussions about women and the priesthood. In those discussions, they seem to think, for instance, that women not having the priesthood makes them less than men. It is in the wording. They accept things as givens.
    You can’t actually expect a reporter to not be biased. They will report “A tragedy in Localtown this morning. A young child was beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend.” There was an opinion there….that it was a tragedy.
    In many ways, some feminists are the problem. I don’t want to be the same as a man. I want respect for being a woman. And some feminist thought assumes that the feminine is automatically less than the masculine.
    Feminists who don’t respect women are asking for us to take a step back and that bothers me. For instance, I don’t work, but I have equal financial power in my marriage. I don’t like people telling me or telling my husband that I do not have equal financial power since I don’t work. What if one of us starts believing it?
    In the past weeks, the blogs have wondered about more female leadership, more female voices, more famous mormon women, more female accomplishment outside of the home, and even while asking about more famous women I’ve heard a call for less praise (or super-praise) of women, motherhood, etc.
    So because I am not famous, I am not a great woman? I don’t accomplish things outside the home (and the church doesn’t encourage it) and this is a shame because my accomplishments at home are second class? No one pays me to teach a class so what I have to share is not important?
    I guess I wonder why it is such an issue to so many. Of course no one should treat you badly because you are a woman. And of course the priesthood should never be lorded over anyone. And if your father or brother or husband is a jerk, then I feel so sorry for you. Living the gospel should eliminate poor treatment.
    I would tell some to pray about their feelings, but I am reminded that I spoke with my inactive sister (since 20 years ago) recently. I suggested that praying to know that God loves her might help. And she told me she had tried as a teenager and he hadn’t given her comfort. I believe she is still mad at him for that.
    How could I tell her what I’ve learned over those same 20 years about prayer and the gospel? You don’t pray and tell God what to do. You pray to ask God to tell you his will. To align your will with God’s.
    So as much as prayer can give you in terms of comfort in times of heartache. And answers to questions that are troubling you. Prayer is only effective if you put your trust in your God and in your Savior.
    There are a million why questions to ask in this life. Will God answer them all? No. But as many who have gone through true mortal struggles in this life, it is the faith to put your trust in God that brings peace.
    I will still define myself as fairly feminist (hard to quantify or label). I have a problem with men who don’t respect women. And I think men and women are different but equally important. And I think every person is an individual and not just a stereotype.

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