A Funny Thing Happened at the Forum on Mormon Feminism

Yes, really. Actual fun–even laughing. With feminists!

Like good Mormons, the panelists lined up according to seniority. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich spoke first. She said she had been surprised to read the headline question of Peggy Fletcher Stack’s article, since she and the Mormon feminists she knows haven’t gone anywhere. Still Mormon, still feminist, still very much here. She acknowledged that some of the big questions of Mormon feminism(s–it hasn’t ever been monolithic) of the 70’s–the divine feminine, ordination for women–have gone unanswered or been answered no. However, she felt that those may not have been the most important questions to Mormon feminists, even though they got the most airtime. Questions about equality within marriage partnerships, opportunities for women to pursue interests or careers outside of housewifery, fairness in hiring and compensation were all very important to Mormon feminists, and those questions have been answered with a ringing yes. It may be that younger Mormon feminists are quiet because they take the achievements of the feminism of the 70s as a given–they feel free to finish their education, to pursue all kinds of careers, to space their children using birth control, to work as equal partners with their husbands in creating a family life that balances the needs of all its members.

Gently pressed on the issue of women and priesthood, Laurel said that she has “complex feelings” about this issue, and that she really believes that, as promised in the 9th Article of Faith, God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God,” including with respect to women and the priesthood. She told a story of a friend who chose not to convert to the Church, even though her friend felt the spirit and loved the Church, because her friend could not stomach the thought of bringing up her daughters in such a patriarchal church. We will eventually need to more fully live up to the ideal of men and women as equal partners in order to effectively spread the gospel. She concluded by expressing appreciation for the power of priesthood service to help men grow into the full expression of their goodness, calling the priesthood a “brilliant system for socializing men.”

Maxine Hanks echoed Laurel’s sentiment that feminists are not dead yet (cue the Monty Python sketch), although the word “feminism” may be. (By this point, I was furiously crossing things out in my notes, as Laurel and Maxine made every point I had thought of more cogently and articulately than I could hope to do. However, I did have one line I was sad to let go, about the muddling effects of the word “feminism.” Here it is, a T&S exclusive: “When I hear the words “Mormon feminism,” I usually think of Claudia Let’s-Do-a-Musical! Bushman, while General Authorities of a certain age hear “Mormon feminist” and conjure up an alarming image of a hairy-legged, Birkenstock-clad protester demanding immediate ordination. It’s hard to have much of a conversation once those competing preconceptions get invoked.) Maxine asserted that many, maybe most, young Mormon women are feminists in all the ways that 70s feminists hoped for, despite the fact that they eschew the label–they pursue education in many fields, they expect their husbands to contribute to household work, they are aware of methods for family planning. The goals of “Second Wave” feminism are mainstream, even taken for granted by today’s young women.

Maxine suggested that things have changed in the church in part because the church is conscious of ways in which being perceived as too anachronistic will impede the progress of missionary work. If the disjunction between what women are allowed and encouraged to do outside of the church and inside, then the careful balance of being in, but not of the world, is upset, and fewer people will be able to choose membership in the church. She noted that it is in part because of women she called “independent feminists,” those who are no longer working within the church structure, that the perception of anachronism is sharpened. While those within the church tend to discount the voices of those who have “voted with their feet,” over the long term those voices do matter a great deal to perceptions within the church. The benefits of feminism are now mainstream in the church partly because of the work and sacrifice of those who have found it necessary to work from outside the institutional structure. We should acknowledge their contributions and work towards fuller cooperation.

I was next. Sadly for you, gentle readers, you get a fuller version of my remarks than the others, because, darn it!, I’ve already typed them. If you’re getting tired of reading, though, skip down and read my summary of Kate’s remarks–they’re much more interesting.

I chose to address the subject obliquely, by flipping the question and asking “Where do Mormon Feminists Come From?” Broadly, they can be born or made. I was born feminist–there was nothing in my family to particularly encourage feminism. My rather traditional mother has spent her life variously gnashing her teeth and rolling her eyes at my uppity antics. (I related one incident I remember from the ERA era, when, on reading Rex Lee’s catalog of horrors that would befall the nation if the ERA passed, I pointed out to my mother that we had a unisex bathroom in our house and there had been no notable consequences of this lapse in family morality.) I mentioned fMhLisa as another example of one of the kind of feminists who seem “born,” who, without training in feminist theory and without much input from others, just have a sense that there’s something unfair about the way women are treated in the world and/or in the church, and who come to articulate that sense of injustice in ways that eventually are labelled “feminist” by them or others.

Other feminists are made. There are several mechanisms by which this happens, including:

–broad societal upheaval: I think this largely explains the Mormon feminism of the late 60s and the 70s–changes were afoot in the U.S., and some fraction of Mormon women were caught up in that change and sensed the Church’s similarity to other institutions that were being scrutinized by Second-Wave feminism in the broader culture, and sought to apply some of those critiques (as well as some distinctively Mormon ones) within Mormonism

–life. There are many, many Mormon feminists (or “not a feminist, but…” feminists–hereafter NAFB Feminists) who, for one reason or another–divorce, financial necessity of working, or (heaven forbid) strong desire to pursue a career other than homemaking, even something like having a handicapped child for whom they had to advocate in a voice raised above acceptable Relief Society levels–find themselves outside of the expected pattern of Mormon womanhood and suddenly at odds with an institution and a culture they had previously taken as constitutive of their identity. Putting together a new sense of self that incorporates the changes they’ve made requires a renegotiation of how they fit into the institutional framework, and often involves a critique of the institution, either explicit or implicit in their way of living and functioning in the church.

–motherhood (see also, Life). I know many, many women who become feminists, or, more often, NAFB feminists, on behalf of their daughters (or, more rarely, their sons). These are women who have been relatively content with Mormon ideals of womanhood for themselves but who find themselves suddenly willing to roar like mother bears in defense of their daughter’s right to go kayaking instead of learning to crochet in Achievement Days, or insisting that their sons can learn to play violin or to sew and not be mocked for it by their scout leaders at church.

–connection with other women. I don’t think this is often a primary cause of feminism, but it can be a necessary component in cementing a sense of feminist identity. The change in the dynamics of Mormon feminism can be clearly seen in the dominant modes of connection. In the 70s, there was Exponent II–very faithful, careful, focused on personal experience and only obliquely on political issues; Mormon Women’s Forum–a little bolder in tone, more political; and Dialogue and Sunstone–scholarly (and pseudo-scholarly), still largely dominated by male discourse with occasional nods to “women’s issues.” All of these (except MWF??) still exist, though mostly with decreased readership. However, there are new, more immediate means of connecting–listservs (Mormon-L, ELWC) and, obviously, blogs and online publications: fMh, T&S, BCC, Exponent II’s blog, mommywars, Segullah, and others. None, except fMh, is explicitly feminist, but all have regular and ongoing discussions of women’s lives, women’s interests, women’s contributions to Mormonism. These are both more and less “ghettoized” than previous modes of communication–there’s more self-segregation, largely along “conservative” and “liberal” lines, but there’s less gender segregation and less “pink issue-ing”: questions about gender, gender roles, etc. come up as part of larger discussions and not only in separate fora provided by generous male hosts. There still aren’t enough “tech-y” women, but we can manage the technology well enough to publish our own stuff and be full members of the community (my affirmative action hire at T&S notwithstanding :)).

–believing the gospel, following advice from church leaders: As long as we continue to teach that “… there is neither bond nor free, neither male nor female…, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” and “the glory of God is intelligence”, as long as we encourage girls as well as boys to “get all the education you can,” as long as we allow the anarchic influence of personal revelation, there will be Mormon feminism. Whether the institutional church will embrace its uppity daughters and find ways to celebrate their gifts, or marginalize and disown them, remains to be seen.

Kate Holbrook, batting cleanup, hit the ball out of the park. She also noted problems with the term “feminism,” not just that it has such uncontainable and divisive connotations, but also that it asserts too strongly that men and women face different problems and should have different agendas. Particularly within the church, we have to work together, because the problems facing us are bigger than “women’s issues,” and will be solved only as we work effectively together. [One interesting example of a problem facing both men and women is the pervasive consumerism and overconsumption and the related (I was going to say “consequent,” but I’m pre-empting Frank’s objection!) need for ever-increasing productivity and longer and longer work-weeks. This is a huge threat to family life, to children, to marriages, etc., and the more simplistic versions of equity feminism (women should be allowed to be just as overworked as men!) do nothing to address the problem, and exacerbate its negative effects on children.]

She noted several instances in her experience where priesthood leaders had worked hard to include women and women’s voices in leadership councils without changing the fundamental structure of the church.

Kate said that she also appreciates that young women are taught that they have a direct relationship with God. But she says that the culture of our Church can make women feel that they need to wait around for a man to ask them to marry them, instead of using their own agency to determine what they want to do with their lives. This “waiting” can become a pervasive tendency, and can contribute to women’s overreliance on priesthood authority for direction in areas of their lives that they can and should manage with their own inspiration.

One example of women learning to wait: men don’t have to think about how their wives’ careers may affect their careers, but women plan their careers and lives (which they can and should control) around getting married and having children (which, ultimately, they can’t effectively plan or control).

There were lots of great questions from the audience, and a lively, somewhat hopeful discussion. Rather than try to summarize that discussion, I want to just offer the two emotional impressions that have stayed with me from that discussion.

1) We’ve GOT to figure out a way to include single women in the life and leadership of the church. I’ve thought about this as an intellectual problem before, but (I’m embarrassed to confess) it has never struck me with such emotional force before. There I was, in a roomful of incredibly bright, articulate, fabulously well-educated and capable women, many of whom struggle with the feeling that the church doesn’t need or want them. What a waste, what a stupid, shameful waste of talent and devotion that all the church leadership can manage toward them is an occasional pitying nod and a promise that “someday” you’ll be married and valuable, if not in this life, then the next. NO! They are valuable now and whole and complete and worthy. It is not enough to have one Sheri Dew; it is not enough to promise “someday”; it is not enough to publish the occasional stupid Ensign article on “How to Include that One Pathetic Single Sister in Ward Activities.” There’s only one because all the others read the signs on the wall (y’know, the wall where we frame and hang the Proclamation on the Family instead of the Proclamation on Jesus Christ) and left. To the extent that we do not value or appreciate single sisters, we do not value any of the women of the church–single women force us to confront them as individuals and not as soft-focus Hallmark gender-roles (wife, mother), and WE FAIL THE TEST.

(I did warn you it was an emotional response).

2) Although there are many ways to improve women’s situation at local levels, and lots of hopeful anecdotes about working individually with the fabulous men socialized by the great institutional structure of the priesthood, there is not much individuals (or even groups) can do to change the church at the general level, at least not in any of the ways we usually think of effecting organizational change. The horrible, painful, difficult, wonderful truth is that the only thing to do is to believe and live the gospel, right now, where we are. We can claim the power of our personal connection with God, live by the inspiration of the Spirit, and sustain our leaders by our righteous lives and by fasting and praying that God will pour out his Spirit on them. And that’s it. After that, it’s all about patience and enduring to the end. No letter-writing campaigns, no sending Exponent II subscriptions to President Hinckley (hey, have we tried that? we still should!), no public protests, no mass deliveries of white roses–it won’t work. Institutional boundaries are too entrenched, too impermeable.

This is both the bad news and the best news of all: Mormon women are free–“because of the covenant which [we] have made [we] shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters. …under this head [we] are made free”, and “the power is in [us] wherein [we] are agents unto [our]selves.” There is good work to do, both within the established church and in the world that waits for Zion. We who are blessed to have been taught that we are daughters of heavenly parents, reborn as daughters of Christ, have all the tools we need “to bring to pass much righteousness,” with or without institutional permission or blessing.

71 comments for “A Funny Thing Happened at the Forum on Mormon Feminism

  1. “Questions about equality within marriage partnerships, opportunities for women to pursue interests or careers outside of housewifery, fairness in hiring and compensation were all very important to Mormon feminists, and those questions have been answered with a ringing yes.”

    Have I missed it or is the church now endorsing that women pursue “careers outside of housewifery?” I have read and heard statements that women should pursue education, but never heard that they should pursue a career instead of being a housewife. In fact, every talk I have read on the subject says that women should not work outside of the home (unless a complete financial necessity), but should raise their children. I know this is not popular among many, but I haven’t seen or heard anything to suggest that the church has changed its longtime position on this issue.

  2. I was grateful for the uplifting remarks of our panelists and appreciated the perspective about how far we have come (from the days of the 60s-80s). At the same time, I agree with Shane, that we as women are not only discouraged from developing careers by our leaders, we women are discouraged from accomplishment by the majority of our members (male and female).

    The words of my female institute teacher in Salt Lake City (1995) still ring in my mind “The only reason a woman would pursue a career outside of the home is for her own pride.” I was the only person in the class to raise a point against the teacher. I pointed out that I felt that many women had a lot to contribute to the world and that they might want to use their God-given talents outside the home. My contribution was met with glares by many in the class. I never went back to that class, but I have met similar teachings in many classrooms of our church. I have met the expectation that I drop my goals with almost every Mormon boyfriend, and I am sad to say that I have offered to drop them myself when my career was reason given for the break up.

    I can give example after example of people who have discouraged me from pursuing my PhD because I am a woman. No wonder single women are not appreciated; we have no place if our contribution to the world is considered only a fulfillment of our (sinful) pride or a backup plan because we were not chosen to be the wife of a man.

  3. Kristine,

    Thanks for a wonderful summary. I wish I could’ve been there. It is interesting and comforting that within your emotional response I sense great optimism. Pessimism from organizational realities has to be painfully managed but optimism resulting from emotional experiences is what keeps me in this faith.

  4. Shane, I’m not really up on my conference talks, but if you read Proverbs 31:10-31, you find the description of the ideal woman who is definitely no Stepford housewife. She knows about real estate and gardening as well as sewing and cooking, and even runs a business of her own.

  5. Kristine–

    Thanks for this excellent post. A few questions:

    1. Laurel and Maxine are famous, and you need no introduction around here. But who is Kate? Any background information that would help to give some context to her ideas?

    2. I generally agree with your sentiment re. single women in the church, but I think that might be an ill-defined category. We had this discussion in PEC a while back, and came up with a number of subsets of single women who have vastly different needs–single moms of young kids, older divorcees, women married to less-active or non-member husbands (who, of course, are not single at all, but who are marginalized in a lot of the same ways), young professional women who have never married. Do you have suggestions for how those in leadership roles can make sure that these disparate groups realize (and deeply feel) that we need them and want them? I can only come up with a few:
    -Callings: giving these sisters the same opportunities to serve as their married counterparts.
    -Speaking in Church: our ward has long retired the practice of having couples speak as a pair on any given Sunday, and we’re better off for it.
    -Inclusion: keeping them in mind when planning activities, anticipating possible conflilcts.
    Any others?

    3. From your description of how feminists are made, it sounds like a reactionary phenomenon. That is, women don’t identify as feminists until forced to confront some gender-based injustice. If there is less such injustice, there will be fewer who identify as feminist. Of course, our sense of injustice is shaped by our culture and our circumstances, but at some level maybe there are just fewer provocations that could push a happily content sister over the brink of feminism. Was this really the gist of what Laurel was saying?

  6. Shane, “interests OR careers outside of housewifery” doesn’t necessarily mean being a career woman your whole life. Mothers are strongly encouraged by the church to raise their children hands-on. However, even a woman who has children may have years before children, years after children are grown, or even hours during the day while they are asleep or at school that she can devote to other interests. In these days of microwaves and ready made clothes from Walmart, the art of being a housewife does not require you to cook all day or sew all day just to take care of your family’s basic needs. Mothers of the past raised their children while churning butter and baking bread and knitting socks. If I don’t churn, bake or knit, I may do something else instead.
    I’m a SAHM and appreciate the benefits of the feminism of the past (probably the main reason I can call myself a feminist-I believe in education, having the vote, husbands not beating their wives, etc. but I don’t particularly want the priesthood). I don’t have “issues” with the gender and the church. I am 35 and was raised by a college educated SAHM who was an equal partner in marriage with my father. I think women are important and capable and don’t see the problems that some feminists are passionate about.

  7. What about single men? Are they not less likely to be active then single women. Am I wrong? Just wondering….

  8. Kristine,

    Thanks for the rundown on what sounds like a very interesting evening. Two generalizations from your post struck me as unhelpful:

    1) “General Authorities of a certain age hear “Mormon feministâ€? and conjure up an alarming image of a hairy-legged, Birkenstock-clad protester demanding immediate ordination.”

    I suspect there are many different images covering a much broader spectrum that General Authorities invoke in their minds upon hearing the phrase “Mormon feminist”. I suspect some of them might even classify themselves as Mormon feminists.

    2) “the wall where we frame and hang the Proclamation on the Family instead of the Proclamation on Jesus Christ”

    I for one have both the Proclamation and “The Living Christ” hanging on my wall. I don’t view them as mutually exclusive.

  9. What a wonderful summary! Thank you for posting it. If I had to pick a reason from your list, I ended up as a feminist because of life. I had always planned on being a wife and mother, so being single into my thirties really threw me off. I finally realized I was assuming my life would only have value once I had a man to define my role. The lack of a man made me start to think about what it meant to be a woman.

    And MDS, no, the two Proclamations are not mutually exclusive. However, often you’ll see the Proclamation of the Family, unaccompanied by the Proclamation on Christ. Or you’ll just hear preaching ad nauseum on the Family Proc and never hear a mention about the Proc on Christ. I considered myself the strongest of Mormons, but even I eventually went borderline inactive in a ward that talked about family to the exclusion of anything else, even Christ. Yes, I was the only single sister in that ward, and after being there a year, I could certainly tell them why no other singles came! I think that’s the phenomenon Kristine was referring to – not the literal posting of the Proclamation on the Family.

  10. Thanks, Dennis, you’ve made it so clear to me. All these years I was lost in the darkness of feminism, but with that simple statement, you’ve shown me the light.

  11. I understand, Melinda. I certainly believe that the phenomenon you and Kristine have both described exists and may even be widespread. But I hardly think that those who preach on the family are doing so in a conscious effort to alienate singles or exclude mention of the Savior from their meetings.

    Many ecclesiastical leaders are more conscious of the deterioration of the family because those are the problems they are confronted with on a fairly regular basis. Bro. and Sis. A are thinking of divorce but want the Bishop’s input. Bro. B. wants to baptize his child but his exwife doesn’t believe he is worthy. Should the Bishop issue him a recommend? Sis. C wants to be released from her calling because her workload as a single mom is taking more energy than she can handle. Should the Bishop release her? Are there other resources from the ward that can be brought to bear to help her? Will the YW succeed in getting Bro. D to come to Daddy-Daughter Date night with his daughter, despite the animosity between him and his ex-wife who lives in the ward? What about the fact that ex-wife will be at the ward house the same night for homemaking and has a Restraining Order against Bro. D? Should Daddy-Daughter Date night be moved so that Restraining Order isn’t violated? These tend to get attention, where the single who elects to fade into silent inactivity doesn’t. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The single sister who tries to kill herself because she’s so depressed about her marriage prospects tends to put things in perspective really quickly and will get a lot of time from the Bishop. However, this is not to say that that same Bishop wouldn’t have spent a ton of time with her had she said something earlier.

    I believe more good can be done (both for self and for others) by dialogue with those who might accidentally have contributed to this than by going inactive. Assuming the best about others and giving them the benefit when they err in our eyes is never a bad policy. I believe our leaders want to help all of us whether feminists, singles or otherwise.

  12. Great review and now I’m jealous–what does it take to get some fun forum happenings here in Arizona?

  13. The comment I made about Mormon single sisters at the forum had less to do with us not having anything to do at church and more to do with the way we (I am 29 and single) react to the theology and culture of Mormonism.
    Our doctrine is that marriage is utmost. We get to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom through marriage, our temple ceremonies revolve around it, we have sunday school classes devoted to it, YW themes and lesson focus on it and there’s of course the family proclamation. This is not one of those issues which you can blame culture or the way the “stupid Mormons” react to it.
    I came to Boston a few years ago from BYU expecting to find vibrant, educated, motivated women (and men for that matter) that did things that were interesting to them and their communities. I found that. Many amazingly talented and driven women that were doing good things. But I go to church every Sunday and hear from comments and lessons and also just feel a general desperation because we’re not married. We can’t connect to our inherent value as people, as children of God, as joint-heirs with Christ. Instead, we feel sad and hate ourselves at least a little bit because we can’t find people that want us. And we can’t make a relationship that gets us into heaven.
    Good, interesting callings may help some sisters but I think there has to be a strong language shift before this problem changes. I also think there have to be doctrinal shifts in order to deal with the rising number of never been married sisters (and other singles with other circumstances who may feel these issues differently). I’m not sure when or how that would happen.
    One last thing, please never, ever dismiss anyone who has gone inactive over something like this. It hurts to hate yourself because of a culture or theology and in most cases I would tell anyone to get out of whatever situation made them feel that way so consistently. I understand the urge to leave.

  14. Ah, MDS, my devastating wit and knack for metaphor (and perhaps even slight hyperbole) apparently doesn’t come through without benefit of my wink and adorable dimpled grin. I know the hairy-legged Birkenstock wearer is an exaggerated stereotype, and I meant to invoke it as such. I would be delighted to learn that there are General Authorities willing to claim the label “Mormon feminist,” and there are many of them who regularly demonstrate finely nuanced appreciation for women’s gifts–you’re right to call me out on being so flip.

    And I agree that “those who preach on the family are doing so in a conscious effort to alienate singles or exclude mention of the Savior from their meetings.” The problem is that we need to become more conscious of the effects of such talk and make more conscious efforts at inclusion. It hardly needs saying that our meetings (and our lives) always need to be more Christian.

    I also appreciate your enumeration of some of the difficulties that confront leaders, and I agree that “our leaders want to help all of us whether feminists, singles or otherwise.” I hope I didn’t say or imply otherwise. Maybe what I’m wishing for is less reaching down to help and more reaching across as friends. It simply isn’t true that all single women in the church are in the desperate straits you describe, and the fact that when we say “single women,” those are the examples that leap to mind is one indicator of the problem. It would be great if “single women” suggested instead Stake Relief Society President, Ward Music Chair, Primary presidency counselor, fantastic speaker, Ward Activities Chair, etc. We need less pity and assumption that help is needed and more of a sense that these women can help us!

    Dan, I think the ideas you came up with in PEC are good ones. It’s a pity none of those women are in PEC to give you more specific ideas! There’s always the possibility of just *asking* them.

    I think you’re right to suggest that feminism occurs in reaction to perceived injustice. I don’t know if Laurel meant to say that there’s less injustice to react to these days, but I think I would (with some reservations) assent to that proposition. Janiece Johnston wrote an excellent paper on the topic of Mormon women’s general contentment–it was published in the volume of proceedings of the JFS Institute Summer Seminar from 2003. If you’re interested, I can dig up a more precise reference.

  15. Thanks for posting this summary, Kristine. It really was an amazing forum. It was impressive to hear so many intelligent, articulate voices (especially the panel, but not just the panel) enthusiastically discussing the role and the place of women in mormonism. And your presentation was absolutely wonderful–you shouldn’t be shy about putting your name in bold along with everyone else’s (in fact, when I first read this, I skimmed the article to go to your summary first, but missed it at first because I was looking for your name in bold). I came away both educated and edified by it.

  16. I had an interesting experience as leader of girls achievement day. Our group worked on robotics, astronomy, carpentry, cooking, skating, swimming, running, knitting, reading, collecting books for needy children, and lots of other projects. It was a fun and interesting class for all of us, I believe. The girls seemed to love it. One of our girls became a dedicated runner, and began taking trophies regularly in local 5ks. There was no book from Salt Lake then so the girls and I made up our own program.

    First we had a problem that the boys were jealous because our projects were more fun than theirs. The other kids would wander in and join us in what we were doing. I was usually welcoming of them when that happened. I was told I should make it less fun, so the other age groups and the boys, didn’t feel they were being left out or that it was unfair. So we managed to come up with stuff that was lower key but still held a lot of fun and interest. Then I was told it wasn’t spiritual enough, so we incorporated more prayer and service to others into our program. Finally I was assigned an older sister as an “assistant” who laid the smackdown on me, saying we weren’t allowed to do any of the things we had been doing, and who set the girls to memorizing the Articles of Faith. I was excited about the memorization routine, and wanted to assign her half the classes (in which I would participate with enthusiasm, memorizing along with the girls) and let me lead the other half of the classes (with her participation, if she felt so moved) but I was told that wouldn’t be acceptable either. It really felt to me like I was being told in no uncertain terms “We don’t encourage girls toward achievement in any of those things here. Only by sitting in quiet rows and memorizing may girls be high achievers.”

    Finally, realizing that 100% of what I brought to the class was being rejected, I stated that I didn’t feel anything I couild contribute was wanted or needed so I would bow out unless there was something I could contribute that they felt would be useful. I was hoping at that point that they would compromise and pretend that any of our prior programs were acceptable in the least, and so they would let us do them. I was told that they needed me to stand up there and read from the book (which had come out by that time).

    Was this a feminist issue or just Mormon culture clash? Maybe it was a bit of both. I’ve been pretty inactive in the church since then, and never held another calling. Mostly I’ve dealth with molds by not noticing they meant me, and carrying on with my own program. I’m sure there were a million ways in which I did the wrong thing with the RS ladies. I’m not good at the whole sisterhood thing, having played with and hung out with guys for most of my tomboy life. I think they’re very sweet but I don’t know how to become one of them, you know? Maybe if I had made better friendships among the ward women (something I can’t seem to do) rather than just the young people, I could have carried the day. I spoke to the Bishop about things, but really it was beneath his notice. I felt silly bringing it up. I’ve always gotten along fine with my coworkers, and we focused on accomplishing the job. Usually my geeky lack of social skills is compensated somewhat by my abilities at the task at hand. Somehow in that context I couldn’t succeed. Rather, I succeeded wildly with the girls, and together the girls and I succeeded in fostering and encouraging achievement among them, but I flunked out with the Mormon ladies. I wish I knew what I should have done.

  17. “Was this a feminist issue or just Mormon culture clash?”

    This reminds me of that old line about how if you are an African-American, you never know if the service is terrible because the waiter is an idiot or if the service is terrible because you are black.

    There have been several comments on this thread that have made me think, “Hm, that isn’t about feminism–it’s about life . . . ward politics . . . incompatible personalities, or it is that way for _everyone_, etc.”

    I have noticed among single women a tendency to think that the married women and/or mothers are engaged in One Continual Round of Sisterhood–with the singles/childless being excluded. If this is happening, they are excluding me, too! I appreciate the way that Tatiana acknowledges the possibility that it could be–but isn’t necessarily–all about hostility to feminism.

  18. Just skimmed this, I’ll study it later, but one thing came to mind which infuriates me.

    When the kids were home and I went somewhere, I asked Bill to watch them. He never asked me to watch them for him when he went fishing.

  19. Tatiana, reading your story, I thought, “If a program like that got scuttled for those reasons and my daughter’s were in it, then I’d be livid.” Did you talk to parents about how they felt about the program? Whether or not it’s a feminist problem depends (of course) on how you define the term feminism.

    According to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, my reaction would make me a feminist. She introduced three criteria for categorizing someone as a feminist: (a) belief in equality, (b) recognition of inequality, and (c) willingness to work together to solve it once it’s recognized. This seemed a bit at odds with the less inclusive conception of feminism that I think is fairly prevalent. But I’m not terribly interested in getting hung up on words, so I was grateful to hear her enumerate a clear criteria.

    Julie, I think that you raise an interesting point. There are politics everywhere. An easy example (having nothing really to do with Tatiana’s story): If someone couches an argument for a more dynamic YW program in terms that focus on its current failures, it’s more likely to meet with resistance and inertia. If one instead uses language that focuses primarily on the exciting prospect of duplicating the successes of (say) the YM program, it’s more likely to make allies. The difference here is primarily political, and it is just the way that the world works. In my experience, feminists most often offer feedback in terms of failures, and not in terms of successes (a tendency that was not evidenced at Kristine’s forum, by the way).

  20. Tatiana,

    I wish you had been a leader for that program in my ward when our daughters were that age. Well done. And I believe the Lord would say the same thing, regardless of what your “assistant” or others thought.

  21. Sorry, MDS, but the P on the Family and the Living Christ are not one and the same. We all know, when it comes right down to it, that the Proclamation is merely a ruse to subdue homosexuals. After all, nearly every church believes everything in the proclamation. Why PROCLAIM it? And why the timing…at the exact moment when the gay movement was getting some traction. There is nothing new in the proclamation except for a subtle refusal of gay rights. I don’t believe the Living Christ would have supported such a document.

    And I know most of you here feel the same way deep down inside.

  22. Wahoo! Thank you Kristine! It sounds like a wonderful event.

    Thank you especially for your thoughts on the way forward.

    I was elated to see Laurel Thatcher Ulrich will be speaking at my beloved Notre Dame next week, and then very upset to realize she is speaking during a class I teach, so I can’t go! I will be able to attend a brown bag lunch with her, though, earlier in the day.

  23. Just a comment on priesthood being a great place to socialize men — I think that priesthood is exactly opposite that. It is a horrible method to socialize men. I think that the Relief Society has it right — with its multiple socialization models (Sunday, Thursday nights even though it’s now only once a quarter, midweek activities, Super Saturdays, etc., as well as the unofficial bookclubs, midweek temple trip gatherings, visiting teaching, etc.). An active LDS woman has many opportunities for gathering with her sisters.

    An active LDS man has priesthood meeting, and that’s not even a valid option for men who teach in the primary or young men. What else? Quarterly stake priesthood meeting? The quarterly stake priesthood temple trip? Do Saturday morning moves count? That’s it. Basketball? Please…

  24. The challenge I have with feminists in and out of the church is their tendency to elitism exclusion, self centered ness, and hobby-ism. Your originating post addresses all of my concerns to the point of complete validation. Examples are as follows:

    1-“complex feelings� about this issue,…….

    • I have complex feelings about this issue also. In fact I have complex feelings about all issues.

    2-“that she really believes that, as promised in the 9th Article of Faith, God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God,� including with respect to women and the priesthood.

    • Is something great and important only if it satisfies ones particular gospel soufflé?

    3-“a friend who chose not to convert to the Church, even though her friend felt the spirit and loved the Church, because her friend could not stomach the thought of bringing up her daughters in such a patriarchal church.

    • It is ill advised to allow the stomach to control our mind. Women have been doing it for years on men i.e. using the stomach to control the heart. Such manipulation of the stomach always leads to heartburn. I presume stomaching the thought leads to brain burn.
    • I question the friends love of the church outright. At least two instances of where salvation is difficult, bordering on impossible is A) Not willing to sacrifice all things, and B) Not hearing the Masters voice through the tumultuous din of opinion.

    4-calling the priesthood a “brilliant system for socializing men.�

    • I feel the Relief Society is a brilliant system for socializing women.

    5-careers outside of housewifery,

    • You make housewifery sound like a swear word or worse yet polygamy.

    6-hairy-legged, Birkenstock-clad protester demanding immediate ordination

    • Honest to goodness humor. Give me more, I’m resuscitating here.

    7-If the disjunction between what women are allowed and encouraged to do outside of the church and inside, then the careful balance of being in, but not of the world, is upset, and fewer people will be able to choose membership in the church.

    • Didn’t they do a television show some years back about disjunction? Oh, excuse me, no that was Petticoat Junction�
    • I thought we choose membership in the Church because of confirming witnesses of truth like The Book of Mormon, the Holy Ghost, the atoning graces of Jesus Christ. If we are going to select salvation based on disjunctions of choice, then salvation will become dysfunctional, meaning there is none, and that is exactly what brought about the need for a restoration. The kingdom of God and its priesthood were no longer functioning because of the machinations and manipulations of a smorgasbord gospel where you pick what you want to believe, and fill up on it, but tomorrow you are hungry again.

    8-But she says that the culture of our Church can make women feel that they need to wait around for a man to ask them to marry them,…

    • The last time I checked, this is a world wide cultural issue, not just a church issue. Maybe it is time to go back to fathers selecting who should marry who, this would eliminate the wait.

    9-We’ve GOT to figure out a way to include single women in the life and leadership of the church.
    • Elitism and tail wagging dog-ism

    10-a roomful of incredibly bright, articulate, fabulously well-educated and capable
    women, many of whom struggle with the feeling that the church doesn’t need or want them.

    • I am looking for the above conference address where any of the general authorities have taught the doctrine of we don’t need you or want you. Could you site the reference?
    • Do you have to be a feminist to be incredibly bright, articulate, fabulously well educated and a capable women? The thought smacks of fabulous elitism.

    11-What a waste, what a stupid, shameful waste of talent and devotion that all the church leadership can manage toward them is an occasional pitying nod and a promise that “someday� you’ll be married and valuable, if not in this life,….

    • The expressed sentiment is stupefying indeed.

    Harold B. Curtis

  25. Harold, as one who attended the forum, I can tell you as that the forum was not at all about self-centeredness, exclusion, or hobby-ism. When I read Kristine’s summary, I saw it reflecting the openness and optimism of the forum–even the portions that you pull out to use as examples.

    Also, not all forms of feminism are exclusionary or elitist. For example, lesbian separatists in the 1970s adopted the slogan “Every woman can be a lesbian” (the spirit of which is aptly captured by Alix Dobkin’s eponymous folk song) in an effort to give their message a more universal basis. Unfortunately, many lesbian feminists have turned more inward, changing this slogan to one with a more judgmental and exclusionary tone, “Every woman should be a lesbian.”

  26. Harold, I’m pretty sure that anything I say to you would merely serve to further confirm your prejudices. It’s hard to get a complete and well-rounded sense of who a person is in a 10-minute presentation about a topic as broad as “Mormon feminism”, harder still to sum it up in a couple of paragraphs as I’ve tried to do here, and impossible in the kind of nitpicky prooftexting that you’ve engaged in. It’s offensive that you would level charges of “elitism exclusion, self centered ness, and hobby-ism” on the basis of such narrow evidence–the fact that the women on the panel are interested in Mormon feminism in no way precludes them from being active in their congregations, involved in their communities, and anxiously engaged in good works of all sorts. Indeed, I hoped that my final paragraph conveyed the sense that there was no reason for feminists to sit around being sad or frustrated about the state of affairs in the church, that there is plenty of good work to do and we should be at it. If that is what you call self-centeredness and hobby-ism, I’m fairly certain we can’t have a productive discussion.

  27. queno, I think Laurel was using the term “socialization” not so much to mean “provide opportunities for socializing” as to mean the process by which men come to understand their place in the community, know what is expected of them, learn what behaviors and characteristics are valued in the culture, etc. I think she meant that the ethic of priesthood service and spiritual striving that informs the Mormon notion of masculinity is (often) productive of men who are charitable, emotionally healthy and expressive, capable of strong leadership, etc.

    (I agree with you, btw, that we don’t really give men enough opportunities for social interaction and bonding, except maybe in wards where the Elders’ Quorum moves a lot of furniture together :) )

  28. Connections, relationships and companionship may not be at the forefront of our minds when we support a cause but they are essential. Rewarding relationships sustain movements and organizations, especially when you cannot pay personnel. I think that you are on to something, Kristine.

  29. Thank you for this, Kristine, and thanks to the other women who participated. I’m curious: Who organized this? Who attended? Also, I’d love to propose that you have Kate do a guest post on the Overspent/Overworked American vs. “voluntary simplicity”. This has been on my mind a lot recently, and I think would be a great topic for discussion.

  30. Oh my! I got a mention! I feel so giddy!

    I’m so glad you posted this, I’d been hoping and hoping you would, and it’s so very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  31. “And I know most of you here feel the same way deep down inside.”

    Your sense of self-righteous omniscience seems a little off there, Judy. Hope the warranty hasn’t run out.

  32. There are a variety of views here, but I always find a subtle double standard persisting in these feminist discussions. I’ll give just two examples…

    As regards priesthood, both women and men think that because women are excluded from it, men have an inborn right to it. Talk to any disfellowshipped or excommunicated man, and you’ll realize that God can exclude men from his priesthood just as easily as he can women. God can exclude anybody, for any reason, from holding the power of God. He once excluded not only women, but every male Israelite without a certain surname. Men have no more “right” to priesthood than do women, and so all questions of “equity” are unrelated to this issue. More applicable is to call the priesthood a gift; and then you can analogize it however you wish… would a girl child really be in her place to demand that a parent give her the same Christmas gift as was given her brother? Would a boy be right in demanding the gift his sister got? That’s not called “fairness”, it’s jealousy; and as soon as either did, the surprised parent might just stop giving them gifts altogether.

    As regards homemaking, the question is, “How about women in the workplace?” insinuating that that question has already been answered for men. Both men and women seem to think that the man’s job is outside of the home, encouraging the idea that it’s the mother’s job to raise a practically fatherless child, and the father’s job to bring home the bacon but otherwise stay out of the mother’s way, and that he absolutely must not set foot indoors from 9 to 5. The conception that men are to be more involved with careers than with childrearing is as far from truth as can be, and this belief will have the same negative impact on homes as will the idea that mothers should neglect their children for the sake of career. And yes, the Church has tried to bind fathers to the home as much as it’s tried to keep women there. If home is really a happy place, and there’s a practical necessity for someone to go out and earn money, it’s true that the burden has traditionally fallen on the man’s broader shoulders… and the children feel his loss. I say, if my future wife wants that demeaning chore of slaving in the workplace, let her have it; let her suffer apart from her darling family, and I’ll be happy here, building souls. There’s no doctrine that says a father’s masculine qualities are any less essential to bringing up children than are women’s traits.

    Not only do “feminists need to understand their true woman roles,” but men in the Church have the same urgency to understand their true man roles. The man who neglects family commits the same sin as the woman who does the same. Men do not and should not occupy any such ecclesiastical pedestal as feminists imply they do. In the world, yes, gender is increasingly obsolete, and things like schooling, money, and prestige are the desired things, and women would be right in wanting total equality in them because they’re obviously at a deficit. In the gospel, however, wisdom, morality, and right living are the supernal goals, and if anything, it’s men that suffer the deficiency, and need more of the Church’s attention.

  33. Kristine,
    What a fantastic rundown. How I wish I could have attended.

    A couple comments:
    You said, “there is not much individuals (or even groups) can do to change the church at the general level, at least not in any of the ways we usually think of effecting organizational change.”

    I think to a large degree you are right. But I also believe there is still room to hope that individuals and groups can at times help the institutional church move in new directions. I am always happy to remember that the 1990 temple change occurred because of a survey that showed that so many women hated the obedience covenant. It also makes me happy to note that the discourse on race by Church Authorities changed in part because of work done by scholars like Armand Mauss and Leonard Bush. So while you’re right, it nearly is imposible for average people to instigate change in the institution, there are rare moments when it seems as if GA’s are listening to people’s concerns, praying, and consequently coming up with new ways to talk or think about certain subjects.

    In reaction to Shane’s question about whether the church really is endorsing women having careers, I think the best place to look is a talk Hinckley gave to the Young Women a few years ago in which he talked about a nurse he met who had three kids, served in the church, and worked as a nurse whenever she wanted. He ended his description by telling the young women that this was a woman of whom they could dream of becoming someday. I think that was a watershed moment. (Ensign May 2001)

  34. Bravo-Alpha,

    I’m a feminist 100% comfortable with the current structure of the church. But I found myself disagreeing with your post on several counts.

    “Talk to any disfellowshipped or excommunicated man, and you’ll realize that God can exclude men from his priesthood just as easily as he can women.”

    Can you imagine why being lumped together with dis’ed or ex’ed men might not make a woman with concerns about the priesthood feel much better?

    As for your Christmas gift analogy, any child who got a trinket from the dollar store while her brother got an XBox might wonder why her parents were treating the children so differently. She might wonder if she had upset her parents, or if they just didn’t like her, or if they were unfair. These are the same concerns that some LDS women have. Your analogy is actually a rather good one in that regard until you got to the part about jealousy. Much like we would understand the daughter’s feelings when ‘slighted’ at Christmas, I think we are better off helping LDS women understand why a male-only priesthood doesn’t ‘slight’ them than we are dismissing their concerns as jealousy.

    I appreciated (and agreed with) your thoughts concerning the ‘necessary evil’ of the workplace. Good articulation.

    Caroline, “I am always happy to remember that the 1990 temple change occurred because of a survey that showed that so many women hated the obedience covenant.”

    Is this verifiable? I’ve seen it referenced a few times but . . .

    (And I completely agree with you that the ‘nurse talk’ was a watershed moment.)

  35. >>
    A Funny Thing Happened at the Forum on Mormon Feminism
    by Kristine Haglund Harris

    Yes, really. Actual fun–even laughing. With feminists!

    Did I miss TEH FUNNAY?

    “With feminists!” appears to be true. But I see no evidence of “Actual fun–even laughing.”

  36. Caroline/Julie,

    The other interpretation of the talk (as you probably know) was that he was pointing out that her education gave her freedom, and so he was endorsing education because it gave us freedom to deal with the vagaries of life. He, and other General Authorites, have hit that theme a lot.

    This interpretation has the benefit that it is more unified with other statements he has made, rather than claiming that he was subtly repudiating his prior and posterior statements on the importance of mothers being in the home with their children absent financial need or other difficulties.

  37. Frank, including in the “freedom to deal with the vagaries of life” the option of pursuing a career one enjoys, even while married and with children at home is, in fact, a departure from prior statements. No one’s saying that it trumps the importance of motherhood being one’s primary vocation while children are small, but noting, with apparent approbation, that education and changes in employment practice make it possible for women to do something else at the same time as raising children is something new under the sun.

  38. Kristine,

    Your inclusion of “enjoyment” alone as a qualifying reason to leave one’s chidlren at home is not in the talk. And I agree that that would be a large break from past statements. Thus, we would want to be pretty sure that is what is being said, what with it being inconsistent with other statements. A more reasonable explanation is, if you are in a situation where you have to work, it is better to be in a career one enjoys and that gives one flexibility. In fact, here is what he says to introduce the story:

    “In this day and time, a girl needs an education. She needs the means and skills by which to earn a living should she find herself in a situation where it becomes necessary.”

    I think that context makes it reasonably clear what he is saying. And what he is saying is entirely consistent with everything else I have heard him say on the subject. It is also consistent with the other story of praise he gave in the article, to the woman who worked for a time, but then children came. “She gave her attention to them”. If youread it, the meaning is clear, giving her attention to them entailed stopping her other job.

    The “new direction” reading involves some pretty heavy extrapolation of ambiguous statements and is schozophrenic even within this talk. The alternative reading is consistent within this talk and across President Hinckley’s talks and across recent prophets.

  39. Frank,

    I think you are assuming too much of an either/or dynamic. (As in–either be at home full-time or work full-time) He didn’t say that her husband was not working–and he didn’t say that she was working 60 hours per week. My assumption (which I cannot substantiate from specific wording of the talk) was that she was working part time–perhaps very limited hours, and not necessarily because of financial need. (I’m too lazy to look it up right now, but nothing I remember from the talk spoke of dire straits or the temporary nature of her employment.) I wouldn’t claim that this story supports women with young children working full time without finanical need (which I don’t support either), but I challenge you to find a similar story from a similar talk where a young mother is working–and is not the object of pity or censure. I will admit to some ambiguity in her circumstances as described in the talk (was her husband laid off? etc.), but that ambiguity in itself is a departure.

  40. Frank (everyone), here are the relevant paragraphs:

    “Find purpose in your life. Choose the things you would like to do, and educate yourselves to be effective in their pursuit. For most it is very difficult to settle on a vocation. You are hopeful that you will marry and that all will be taken care of. In this day and time, a girl needs an education. She needs the means and skills by which to earn a living should she find herself in a situation where it becomes necessary to do so.

    Study your options. Pray to the Lord earnestly for direction. Then pursue your course with resolution.

    The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.

    I was in the hospital the other day for a few hours. I became acquainted with my very cheerful and expert nurse. She is the kind of woman of whom you girls could dream. When she was young she decided she wished to be a nurse. She received the necessary education to qualify for the highest rank in the field. She worked at her vocation and became expert at it. She decided she wanted to serve a mission and did so. She married. She has three children. She works now as little or as much as she wishes. There is such a demand for people with her skills that she can do almost anything she pleases. She serves in the Church. She has a good marriage. She has a good life. She is the kind of woman of whom you might dream as you look to the future.”

    I think pulling out two individual sentences about giving one’s attention to children (that anecdote doesn’t actually mention whether the woman had a career while her children were at home or after they grew up) and one phrase about “if it becomes necessary” is reading against the grain of the talk, which is full of encouragement for young women to pursue their dreams and contains not a lot of rhetoric about motherhood.

    And, Frank, if we get into an argument about who’s better at interpreting texts, I WILL WIN, because for once I am the expert in the field about which we will be arguing. :)

  41. KHH, thanks for posting it. You confirmed my suspicion that he wasn’t talking about a woman required to work:

    “She works now as little or as much as she wishes. There is such a demand for people with her skills that she can do almost anything she pleases.”

    My sense is, again, that she wasn’t working full time, but I’ll admit that that is an inference.

  42. OK, I was ready to post those same paragraphs. Glad I checked back first. They are terrific! I am grateful to Pres. Hinckley for his optimism, for encouraging young women to dream big — and, if it is in her heart, to prepare and plan to contribute to society in a significant way.

    Here is another quote I like, from Barbara W. Winder (Gen RS Pres. when I first entered Relief Society):

    “Being a wife and a mother and strengthening the family is an important career. The more education a mother has, the better off she will be in fulfilling that career—or any other career—well. President Spencer W. Kimball told us that our prime priority in life ought to be to enrich, to protect, and to guard the home. There are many ways we can do this. Many women are at the hearth, teaching their children by their side. Some women are in the classroom. Some are in the courtroom, guarding and defending the home. Some are in medicine, helping to protect us against the ills and dangers of life.”

    I think we can take Pres. Hinckley at his word. I don’t think we need to be uncomfortable or afraid of the possibilities available to women — that we can tend to our little ones, and make significant contributions for the Lord and for mankind in other places too.

  43. Ummm….not sure how I posted that twice. The B. Winder quote is from the March 1986 Ensign.

  44. You see, I agree completely with the part about being free to choose a career, making a difference in the world, and getting a great education. I just think you are seeing more than is there when you infer that this talk means a change in policy on women working outside the home while they have children to care for. The reason to do so continues, as it always has been, to be based not on wanting to, but on necessity. There is no reason to interpet this talk as contradicting that.

    Julie, I’m glad you pointed out the full-time/part-time difference. Nursing right now seems especially flexible in terms of working part time with pickable hours, making them great for dealing with the necessity of work when children are at home.

  45. Frank, I don’t think anybody claimed it was a change in *policy.* After all, there has never been any church policy on women working! It IS a change in emphasis, and a recognition that a well-educated woman can be productively engaged in the world even while her children are small. I agree with you that there’s no reason to suppose that the sense that caring for her children ought to be central to the life of any mother has changed. Thank goodness!

  46. Frank, can you point me to what specifically in this talk leads you to conclude that she is working out of economic necessity? Because I think “She works now as little or as much as she wishes. There is such a demand for people with her skills that she can do almost anything she pleases.” suggests otherwise: economic necessity and “wishes” and “anything she pleases” don’t line up in my mind.

  47. Frank,
    I feel a little like I’m butting in to someone else’s conversation, but, I guess I don’t see this as such a radical departure from other messages given by Pres. Hinckley either, but for different reasons.

    I think Julie pointed out one of the basic problems in thinking–that we tend to think in either-or ways about women either working or staying home. I don’t think we have ever been told that women must stay home all day with their little ones on their laps. Maybe I have selective hearing, and I will admit not being an expert on the subject, but I have definitely heard the following: 1. Avoid having a full-time career if at all possible while you have children at home. 2. If at all possible, be there at the cross-roads when your children need to connect and know you are there. 3. Do not let personal pride or aggrandizement, or materialism become more important to you than raising your children (ie don’t be selfish–it’s not about you anymore, it’s about your children–and that’s good advice for both women and men).
    I know a lot of women, myself included, who spend some time each day away from their children. I will admit it, I put my infant in childcare for an hour or so a day while I work out at the gym, and I feel no guilt whatsoever about it.
    I don’t think there is anything magical about whether or not you pay or are paid for those few hours a day or week away from your children that keep you healthy and sane, as long as you don’t allow them to become more extensive or important to you than they should, which I suppose can be more difficult if financial remuneration is involved (bad materialism, bad, bad). I don’t think Pres. Hinckley does either. I don’t know a good reason to think he ever did. So, in that light, I guess the illustration he used of the young nurse was more of a clarification than a departure from former statements. I think we often put words into the brethren’s mouths for them through our own interpretations and extrapolations. Then, when they further clarify, we think they have changed their minds when we just really understand them better.

  48. The high (skyrocketing?) inactivity rate of single men (including and especially RMs) is much more troubling to me than any issue involving active, single LDS women. At least they’re active.

  49. Tatiana,

    It bothers me to read of your experience. Maybe it was just a case of old fogeyism, and we need to be patient with it because we will all be practicioners someday. But I can relate, at least a little. I once served as scoutmaster, and somehow I just wasn’t able to figure out how to teach boys how to tie knots in the one true and living way. Some of the parents wanted my head, and eventually they got it. A few years later, in a different ward, I had a much better experience in that same calling. So, even though you didn’t ask for advice, I’ll tell you anyway to hang in there, and try again if you possibly can. You very obviously have a lot to offer. Service is good for the soul, and your ward needs you.

  50. Jerry (#57), well said. It’s not to disparage the issues single women face. But they are really accorded much more welcome than single men – especially those over 30. I considered myself to have an extremely strong testimony and even I struggled in my early 30’s.

  51. Re #49, President Hinckly’s actual quote (thanks for actually posting that, Kris–)

    What I get out of that is that he’s not only praising the career choice (maybe because: not only because of the obvious “benefit to humanity” it gives, but because of its inherent flexibility, its being in a growth market — as opposed to, say, college academics, and its fairly traditional feminine associations), but he’s noting that what’s worthy of emulating in this woman is her peace in the BALANCE between marriage, Church, children, and paid work. That seems to be the “take-home” message for me – that the balance is possible, and that young women needn’t feel conflicted about the order in which any of those things might ever happen in their lives. Marriage, Church service, children and career – none of those elements of a fulfilling life are entirely within our control, and a life can be whole and complete whether ALL of those elements are present, or not.

  52. I think Pres. Hinckley’s example of the nurse is also just a reinforcing of the importance of education and the benefits it provides. Pres. Hinckley is not the only one who has talked about women being able to do more than just homemaking, and for that reason I didn’t think his nurse example was all that watershedish. I’ve never felt women are expected to sit home all of the time, all of their lives. But I think it’s too easy to take a comment like his and somehow say he doesn’t really hold the same perspective about mothers at home. That’s simply not true. Our leaders just recognize the value of education and that education opens up doors for opportunity, flexibility, choice and preparedness. (This last point was brought up in the latest leadership broadcast…that SAHMs are counseled to keep their skills current.)

    Anyway, if anyone is interested, following are some examples of other quotes.

    “A sister may finally come to see why we stress the importance of mothers staying at home with their children. She understands that no service equals the exalting refinement which comes through unselfish motherhood. Nor does she need to forgo intellectual or cultural or social refinement. Those things are fitted in—in proper time—for they attend the everlasting virtue which comes from teaching children.”
    Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Children,� Ensign, Feb. 2000, 10

    “Women today are encouraged by some to have it all: money, travel, marriage, motherhood, and separate careers in the world. For women, the important ingredients for happiness are to forge an identity, serve the Lord, get an education, develop your talents, serve your family, and if possible to have a family of your own. However, you cannot do all these things well at the same time. You cannot eat all of the pastries in the baking shop at once. You will get a tummyache. You cannot be a 100-percent wife, a 100-percent mother, a 100-percent Church worker, a 100-percent career person, and a 100-percent public-service person at the same time. How can all of these roles be coordinated? I suggest that you can have it sequentially….The book of Ecclesiastes says: ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under … heaven.’ There are ever-increasing demands on women that challenge their traditional role of caregivers. But as women, the roles of wife and mother are in the center of your souls and cry out to be satisfied. Most women naturally want to love and be loved by a good man and to respond to the God-given, deepest feelings of womanhood—those of mother and nurturer. Fortunately, most women do not have to track a career like a man does. They may fit more than one interest into the various seasons of life.

    “I would encourage you sisters to develop all of your gifts and talents to move forward the work of righteousness in the earth. I hope you acquire all of the knowledge you can. Become as skillful as you can, but not exclusively in new careers at the expense of the primary ones, or you may find that you have missed one of the great opportunities of your lives….

    “I cannot tell you young women what educational skills you should acquire. That is for each of you to decide. You have your agency. Each of you will have to work very hard to learn all you can and develop your talents. It is not easy to achieve anything really worthwhile. I want only to tell you what will bring you identity, value, and happiness as a person. I also challenge you to reach your potential, to become a person of great worth, to become a great woman. Because most of you have the examples of great women in your family, each of you has a model to emulate.”
    James E. Faust, “How Near to the Angels,� Ensign, May 1998, 95

    “There is no career more meaningful, no calling more divine, than being a person who truly makes a home in the sense of creating and maintaining an environment of human warmth, intellectual stimulation, and spiritual strength…. Motherhood is above all a teaching task…. Mothers, then, are teachers who contribute to the world and thus need educational preparation to fulfill their noble teaching task. For me, that fact is reason enough for all women to take education seriously, even if there were no other reasons. [However,] your education is not only for your possible career or for your children; your education is also for you…. Women who are prepared for life can celebrate [womanhood] with confidence. Never have opportunities for prepared women been greater—in the home, in the Church, in the work force when appropriate, and in the community.â€?
    – Marie K. Hafen, “Celebrating Womanhood,� Ensign, June 1992, 50

    “With all the contradiction and confusing voices, we are going to need our own clear direction more than ever before. A young woman should always keep the goal of marriage and family foremost in the choices she makes. But she must also be prepared for other rich and wonderful experiences in building the kingdom….
    “What you become when you grow up will be what you prepare for now.�
    -Ardeth Kapp, “The Treasure You Will Take with You,� New Era, Jan.-Feb. 1985, 9

  53. Here’s a newsflash: there’s no way to “keep your skills current” without WORKING in your field. If women are being encouraged to do that, they are being encouraged to have at least a part-time career. That’s a watershed.

    (I’d be interested, btw, in precise quotations from that leadership broadcast, SAHM’s by definition not being “leaders” and invited to hear such things…grrrrrr!)

  54. KHH (62): The last “leadership” broadcast (I presume we’re talking about the Feb 2006, “Supporting the Family”?) was open invitation to all adult members. It was announced in our sacrament as such; in the introductory remarks the open invitation was reiterated.

    The talks are available here.

  55. I think the quote m&m is referring to (apologies, m&m for putting words in your fingers) is Elder Perry:

    “We need to maintain good skills to be gainfully employed. In a changing world, we must keep up-to-date, or our skills will become obsolete. Even though we are busy in Church assignments, we should not pass up opportunities to increase our development and improve the welfare of our families. This requires that we invest adequate time and thought to preparing for the future.

    This counsel applies to the sisters as well as the brethren. Although the responsibility to provide for the family belongs primarily to fathers, the proclamation indicates that “disability, death, or other circumstancesâ€? may also require you sisters to use and develop your skills to provide for your families.”

    Along the same lines, Sister Parkin said:

    “Education and training enable parents to provide. Encourage your children to get all the education they can. In some countries, young people cannot qualify for Perpetual Education Fund loans because they have not completed secondary schooling. In today’s world, it is so important that parents continue to learn.”

  56. Thanks, Edje–that’s really interesting. I think it’s also a classic double-bind for the sisters, as it’s nearly impossible to be home full-time and keep a resumé up-to-date.

    (Don’t remember how I missed the open invitation!)

  57. Tom Jones was just knighted (here’s the news story). If this isn’t a debate-ender for feminists everywhere, then I don’t know what is. It’s basically irrefutable proof that the opinion of women is given higher regard than the opinion of men.

  58. I was at the broadcast (in our ward it wasn’t an open invitation, but all priesthood leadership and auxiliary presidencies were invited), and like Kristine (#62) I thought it was pretty much a watershed moment. The context was laying out proper priorities, which they listed as 1.Spouse 2.Children 3.Providing for our families 4.Serving in the church, and specifically indicated that this applied equally to men and women. This gave me a lot to think about; the church was pretty much the one institution that until this point I had felt was not strongly encouraging me to somehow stay current in my field. As Kristine notes, I can hardly imagine how I could do this at this point with a 3 and 1 year old at home without having someone else care for them at least some of the time.

  59. Jerrie, #57, I’m interested in knowing what the actual statistics are for young single men leaving the church, and corresponding ones for women. And the source? I’ve heard in the past that young women actually are leaving the church in large numbers.

  60. Here’s a newsflash: there’s no way to “keep your skills current� without WORKING in your field. If women are being encouraged to do that, they are being encouraged to have at least a part-time career. That’s a watershed.

    Actually, my comment about the watershed was re: comments made above referencing Pres. Hinckley’s nurse talk. My point was that his comments about how education can open up opportunity were nothing new. I didn’t see that as a watershed moment.

    As for the comments made in the most recent leadership broadcast, thanks, Edje, for posting the quotes. Again, though, this wasn’t necessarily anything surprising. Anyone who knows of the importance of education knows that it’s good to keep skills current to some degree. In our house, we call this another form of insurance.

    I have to say that I disagree that it’s impossible to keep updated in one’s field without leaving the kiddies. I think we need to think outside the box a little. “Part-time career” is not the only way to keep skills current. I have a graduate degree and through the course of staying home, I have been able to do things here and there to keep bullets on my résumé. This does not require working all of the time — gaps on a résumé are not the end of the world, especially because it’s easy to say “I had two young children during that time” or whatever. I can do a little bit here and there…and I have. I did some consulting for a few months from home; I did some work about 10 hours a month while hubby took a couple hours here and there to help out for about a year; I attempted to start my own company; I have participated on an advisory board at our local university; I have given talks/presentations a few times to young women on these very subjects…. I have left my kids with someone other than Dad maybe a handful of times each year on the average (for about 4 of the 7 years I’ve been home) to participate in such activities. Does this mean I’m razor-sharp in my field? No, but I feel very confident that I have kept active enough that I could jump in and work if I had to. That’s a great feeling.

    What are other ways women can participate in “increasing development” as Elder Perry counseled? They can take classes, work from home, network and talk with people in their field, read material from their field, keep up certifications as applicable…. My sister tutors in her field. My friend continues to do things in her field, doing most of her classwork and activities during naptimes or when hubby’s home. I think if we get stuck in the “double-bind” mindset (“I am stuck between being told between staying home and keeping my skills current”) we set ourselves up for frustration? Let’s be creative! If staying current is important, we can pray for help that opportunities will come that won’t require sacrificing that precious time with the children, but will allow for personal development and résumé bullets that keep some continuity in our chosen fields, at least a little bit along the way. I also think this is an example of how husband and wife working together can find solutions. It is because of my husband’s support and help that I have been able to do the things I’ve done.

    I also think we can also potentially be a force for change in the workplace, trying to suggest ways that employers can keep connections alive with women who want to do a little on the side without having to regularly turn their children over to someone else’s care. This is not something I had thought about when I first was home. I suppose I could have kept a connection with my company had I thought of asking for something flexible and relatively minimal. For example, I heard something interesting about what Microsoft is doing. They have different classifications of employees. One class of employee does not have a set schedule and can work here and there when desired (as long as he/she is not working for anyone else), for as long as desired (like a few hours a week even, for a week or two or whatever…it sounded to me like the employee could set the time parameters). I think there are possibilities out there that haven’t really been explored…if we think outside the box a little, maybe we could find ways to have a little of the work life without so much of the sacrifice of family. Thoughts?

  61. I think the priesthood issue and feminism is an interesting one. One response is to say, “Well, go join a more liberal religion.” The liberalized religions generally don’t do as well as the conservative ones (the Ostlings in the book Mormon America make this point). Why? The usual answer is that the actual demands on the people are softened and limited to the point that the demands (and the religion) lose meaning. What’s the difference then between the sacred and a social network? If gender is of eternal importance, as the Proclamation on the Family tells us, then what gendered divisions exist that make the genders complementary to one another in that union that is marriage?

    The wisdom of religious traditions usually comes out in the long historical view, keeping the needs of “the seventh generation,” as it is said, in mind when making our present day decisions. Given that thought, there is a naturally conservative bent to religion, and my point isn’t to say that therefore you can’t expect to make huge changes to a religion without massive resistance (that goes without saying). Rather, the changes you contemplate may have effects that you can’t imagine; that the wisdom of the religious tradition is there for a reason, a long experienced and tried reason that you jettison not only at your own peril or your society’s peril but at the peril of generations to come.

    As has been said already on this board, the church does a good job of socializing young men. In an age when young men are falling behind in school, when the numbers of young men in college are decreasing, is it really wise to take something like the priesthood, a mechanism and a power after all that is about service, and make of it an object in secular society’s battle of the sexes? Is that even a battle that the church wants us to assume? Does any of us want to war with our sons and fathers and husbands or daughters and mothers and wives? A war after all is about total victory, absolute submission, domination, the destruction of the enemy. Is that what we want to engage in? Do we want to dispirit more boys and young men?

    If you love the young men in your life, from twelve year old deacons on up, then you’ll not drag the priesthood into the war or battle of the sexes. You’ll keep your religion out of it too if you love your religion. If you don’t love your religion, then you go work to destroy it from within I guess or you can move on to another religion that desanctifies gender and with that, inevitably, marriage. You only have to look at secular society and see what has become of genderless norms and of marriage to see the difference that the church can make.

  62. “Men don’t have to think about how their wives’ careers may affect their careers…”

    Great. I’ve been thinking about this with every woman I meet. Now I see that it’s one more burden to free myself of! It’s all on her. Phew!

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