When Woman Means Man

When I was growing up, “woman” meant “woman” and “man” meant “human.” Or “man.” Depending on the context. (I and other women had to analyze and decide for ourselves.)


I like a little turn-about, and that’s one of the reasons I’m fully enjoying my preparation for the Sunday School lesson on D&C 25. In this case, the revelation to Emma Smith applies to both women and men: “And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all” (D&C 25:16).


That makes me read the scriptures in that section differently. Instead of proposing a one-sided relationship in which Emma (and, hence, “women”) should “delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him,” the verse highlights a marriage of equals, a mutually-supportive relationship in which both husbands and wives delight in their spouses and feel that the honor that comes to either is a glory to both. Verse five can be read similarly: it is not just a woman’s role to console her husband in the spirit of meekness, it is a principle of good relationships to comfort each other in affliction. These verses (and the rest of the section) open up from a directed lesson on gender roles to a broad discourse on relationships and righteousness. I like it.


Do women have an easier time of “likening” the scriptures to themselves because they are more used to reading themselves into gendered language? Perhaps. What about you, men? Do you read yourselves into stories, conference addresses, and scriptures about women or by women? In any case, when reading D&C 25, you should.

32 comments for “When Woman Means Man

  1. I taught this lesson last week and it was fun teaching the male of the species to delight in their husbands. (OK. Not.) But I did enjoy the turnaround because I don’t recall that section being stressed to men before. Fun lesson to apply across the board and the teachers’ manual is pretty specific about it.

    Still, I find the whole thing aggravating. Yea, “man” means mankind. Maybe. Sometimes. But, no, we do not generally get to “analyze and decide for ourselves.”

    When that teenage girl wrote to President Hinckley and asked if girls could go to the Celestial Kingdom, too, he seemed genuinely surprised. But why would he be? Sometimes we’re included and sometimes we aren’t. If gender isn’t specified, the question seems utterly sensible.

  2. I hear you, Alison. I remember reading an essay by a woman who said her family added in women as they read the scriptures. It was working rather well, until her one son decided it was fun to add in women when they didn’t fit (as in: the hosts and hostesses of Lamanites fell upon the Nephites).

  3. Left Field: did you (are you male?) ponder how you could “comfort the weary and strengthen the weak” as you sang the song? Or did you sing it and think, “This is for the sisters”?

    By the way, have you ever run across all the verses that Emily Hill Woodmansee wrote for that song? They are fabulous; there are verses about how we’ll sew our own clothing and etc.

  4. At least when “man” is used, there is ambiguity. When “woman” is used, there is no ambiguity. It means females.

    The same used to be true about feminine pronouns–until 20 or 30 years ago they were reserved for females only. That’s why some of us suffer from whiplash when we see a stray feminine pronoun in the middle of a paragraph, as we speed backwards searching, often in vain, for the feminine antecedent.

    [Before anyone has a cow (please don’t read too much into the use of the female of the bovine species–idioms are what they are), please note that my comment is solely intended to be descriptive, not prescriptive.]

    [On the other hand, I’m not sure how broadly the last verse can be applied–surely it doesn’t apply to verse 11, for example. If it does, I’ll be getting that new selection of hymns submitted as soon as I can.]

  5. I think that women should storm the men’s restrooms when they get sick of the big ole queue outside the women’s restrooms. After all, “men” means “men and women,” right?

  6. Do I read myself into stories, conference addresses, and scriptures about women or by women? It depends.

    If the context is one of teaching a general Gospel principle, sure. But if a talk is specifically addressed to the women of the Church, I pay attention but I can’t say that I actively “liken.” [shrugs] I had a roomate at BYU who, during General Conference broadcasts, would stand up and walk to the kitchen every time a female speaker started to speak. “Priesthood break,” he’d say. [Note: I do not condone that attitude.]

    So, I’m curious: What did you women do when President Hinckley would excoriate men for mistreating their wives? Did you tend to liken that kind of talk to yourselves (vis-a-vis your husbands)? I suppose you could.

  7. I wonder if Mosiah 18:8-9 exhorts us to develop empathy for others who are facing challenges, even if they are members of the opposite sex. It seems like Mormon men could take some pointers from Mormon women on how to do this. Moroni 7:45-46, being the motto of the Relief Society, is another possible scripture that Mormon men should read themselves into.

  8. I think we sometimes liken the scriptures to ourselves too much sometimes rather than just soaking up the principle.

    on another note…

    It reminds me when I was in a public speaking class and said, “all men are created equal” and my teacher angrily yelled, “and woman.” My train of thought was wrecked and I got flustered and said, “jeez lady it was implied.”

  9. Mark B At least when “man” is used, there is ambiguity. When “woman” is used, there is no ambiguity. It means females.

    Whether that’s a benefit or not would depend on your personality, I suppose. But good on you for the cow bit.

    Hunter What did you women do when President Hinckley would excoriate men for mistreating their wives? Did you tend to liken that kind of talk to yourselves (vis-a-vis your husbands)?

    My reaction would tend along the lines of “He’s getting on the men for mistreating their wives. I think I’ll sneak about before he sees me and starts in on us.”

    Maybe women are just more accustomed to taking counsel with gender-inappropriate pronouns–just in case it applies?

    Except for porn discussions. If I never hear another porn talk it will be too soon.

    Kipling jeez lady it was implied.”

    Years ago my dad was the associate chairman of the math department at BYU. One day he got a letter addressed to “Math Department Chair.” So he set it on the side chair in his office and left it there. When asked about it a couple of weeks later he just said, “I gave it to the chair, as addressed.”

    I still, just out of spite, call the mail carrier the “mailman” and I’m not too keen on most of the PC stuff, so I understand your retort. But there is something to be said about your statement. The truth is “all men are created equal” did NOT extend to women. It wasn’t implied and it wasn’t practiced. And it’s not in the church either.

  10. The lingistics nerd in me wants to point out that this centers around marked vs. unmarked words (wikipedia).

    In this case, it’s a reversal, in which “woman” becomes the unmarked form.

  11. I hear you talking about how woman only refers to women. Typically I have to agree. But what do you do when the scripture specfically says “What I say unto one, I say unto all”? Consciously inscribe “women” as a last word? I think God could have arranged for that to be done, if he had wanted to.

    As for priesthood, rise-up-men-of-zion, and pornography talks, I actually do try to apply them to myself–bettering relationships, avoiding evil and addictive things, etc. I read the entire conference Ensign.

    I like the question about taking “likening” too far. I had never specifically thought about it, but obviously one can be too literal, I suppose. [it’s apparently still too early–I’m not coming up with an example off the top of my head]

  12. #5–you are right. There typically is no ambiguity when using “woman.” That’s why I’m finding this section of the D&C so interesting–it explicitly includes “all” where most would find only females.

  13. Was the fact that your post was in a serif font instead of sans-serif somehow symbolic?

  14. Nope. Just a cut-and-paste job from Microsoft word. Are you saying that serif font is more feminine?

  15. I had never specifically thought about it, but obviously one can be too literal, I suppose. [it’s apparently still too early–I’m not coming up with an example off the top of my head]

    Well, you could leave on a mission tomorrow or cut off some drunk guy’s head.

    Nitsav, thanks for that link. Didn’t know there was a term for that. Interesting.

  16. “Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself: ‘Mankind’. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words – ‘mank’ and ‘ind’. What do these words mean ? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.” — Jack Handey

  17. #6. I already do that. It must be because I was raised by Mark B (you’ll have to decide if that is due to an emphasis on grammar and thus the ambiguity of “men” or a predisposition to be contrary). :)

  18. We shouldn’t get hung up on imperfections in the English language. Other languages have their own peculiarities, such as the fact that a “madchen” in German gets a neuter “das” rather than a feminine “die”.

    In Japanese, the pronoun for “he” (kare) also covers women, while there is another pronoun that refers only to women (kanojo). Human (ningen) and mankind (jinrui) are totally geneder neutral words. The gender neutrality of these words has done nothing to raise the social status of women versus men. I think we should note that and realize that gender equality and language are two different things, and one does not determine the other. I personally think that people who concentrate on changing everyone else’s pronouns (as in certain feminist liturgies and Bible translations) are missing the big picture, which is that God created men and women as mutually necessary.

    One of the great things about Mormon doctrine is that the ideal of exaltation is a married couple. While some single women (and men) think this slights them, it also puts the kibosh on the notion that men (and women) can be holier and approach God closer if they are singletons. No priesthood office alone can get you to the highest level of exaltation, but a celestial marriage can do it for any elder and the elder’s wife. Clearly, marriage relationships are eternal, while church callings and authority are not. And anyone who has witnessed a Mormon sealing knows that the great promises are equally to both husband and wife. In our doctrine, the office of an exalted woman in a celestial marriage clearly outranks the office of a bishop or stake president in terms of permanence and ultimate power.

  19. I apologize that I do not have time at the moment to read all comments. I hope I am not repeating something already said. But, I think, in our efforts to liken the scriptures unto ourselves, we are a bit too superficial. I think it is important to delight in our spouses, male or female. But I think the Lord may have been saying something different to Emma here. The conjunctive phrase about the “glory that shall come upon him” leads me to believe that He was addressing Emma’s specific situation as the wife of the Prophet of the Restoration. Perhaps she was being told to welcome and delight in the calling or role or situation in which she had been placed, not (only) that she should be a supportive wife. Perhaps what we are being taught in Section 25 is something broader or deeper than trying to be good wives, or even good spouses. Maybe the Lord’s voice until all is that we look at the calling God has given us and really embrace it.

    The concluding phrase about God’s voice unto all clearly suggests that Section 25 has a universal application, but the revelation really is a tangle of very personal, specific directives and more general commandments. I am not sure we can just read on the surface what the Lord told Emma, and think that we can do the same. Otherwise, there would be a lot of hymnbooks out there.

  20. Kylie – I know this is off-topic, but it is a great opportunity for me to recommend one of my very favorite Windows utilities (for those running windows). I use it all day:


    It strips all of the formatting from text when you paste it, allowing the text to arrive in the default font of the new location.

  21. Interesting info, Raymond. I agree with you that the change of pronouns is often missing the mark (particularly when they aren’t even pronouns, as in “herstory” and “hernal”).

    But may I ask if you do think we were “getting hung up on imperfections in … English”? I didn’t see that, so much as an expression that the so-called imperfections leave some things unclear. I wouldn’t call that “getting hung up,” but maybe you meant something else?

    The gender neutrality of these words has done nothing to raise the social status of women versus men.

    To me, at least, it’s not about raising the social status of women–at least not in regard to this post–but being clear to whom the counsel is directed and to whom it is not.

    As I referred to earlier, the teenager who wrote to the prophet had found that women were not included in many of the references to “men” and didn’t know if that exclusion also applied to the celestial kingdom. It’s probably not a trivial point. And I see no clear way to determine whether the scriptures mean “men” or “mankind” in many cases–other than to write a letter to the prophet and ask him.

  22. Thanks Will #22. Don’t you find it easier to read serif fonts, though? Especially after a page or two? Maybe we should re-format the entire site. Ha.

  23. Absolutely, #21. One official hymnbook is probably enough. However, I think your interpretation of the previous verse being a command to “really embrace” our callings probably makes even that verse somewhat applicable to all. We may not have the specific calling to create a hymnbook, but should we not “delight in the calling” we’ve been asked to do? I think your interpretation would make that verse applicable, as well.

  24. Allison (#24): If the teenager has done his Seminary homework and read, for example, D&C 132, it would be clear that the highest level of the Celestial kingdom is only available when women and men enter it as partners. A good deal of the commentary I have read from general authorities suggests that, if we are going there, the Atonement is going to do a lot more than just make each of us immortal; it will also transform our natures so that our annoying habits and character flaws will be eradicated. Some of this commentary was offered in the sense of women not demanding that their husbands become perfect in mortality (with a clear subtext that making such demands is also a shortcoming).

    I think this point, of gender equality in the process of exaltation, is made pretty clear in the Ensign and in General Conference talks, not to mention the Proclamation on the Family, which as a statement officially issued by the First Presidency and Apostles and ubiquitous publication is nearly official scripture. The teenager (if real and not apocryphal) was demonstrating a very limited comprehension of the message of the Church. If the question displayed a failure, it was of the priesthood classes and auxiliaries and seminaries and his own parents, responsible for his education in the Gospel, not of the Church’s doctrinal teachings.

    For that matter, D&C 25 is very explicit that Emma can receive the full blessings of eternal life, and the concluding statement of its application “to all” surely encompasses all women as well as all men.

    When I hear a sister give a talk in sacrament meeting, stake conference or general conference, I assume it applies to me, because I have cannot recall any talk that was directed at women only. The fact that both Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood lessons are coming from the same manuals makes it clear that the gospel message is the same for all.

    Anyone who claims “I don’t think I have to live that principle because of my gender” comes across to me as someone who is looking for excuses to disobey the Lord, or perhaps thinks the Church and its leaders should be chastened for not using sufficiently inclusive language in its offer of blessings and admonishments.

  25. Re: #27. I think that is right. The counsel is universal. But I am not sure the counsel is to be good spouses, or only that. I think it might be more about submission to God’s will and humility and magnifying our calling.

  26. If the teenager has done his Seminary homework…it would be clear…

    There you go using the unmarked pronouns again. Just to be clear, the “his” was a “her.” :) And, if I remember correctly, she was 13, so cut her a break on “homework.” Her experience to date hadn’t made that clear. (And she was real, at least President Hinckley said she was.)

    But which section has the “homework” that shows that the priesthood is for only male “men”? (I don’t want to get caught with my homework down.)

    I think this point, of gender equality in the process of exaltation, is made pretty clear…

    I suppose it would depend on what you mean by “gender equality.” If you mean something like “will have eternal life” then I agree. If you mean something else, I might not. We don’t have many clues as to what the exalted women will be doing for eternity.

    The fact that both Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood lessons are coming from the same manuals makes it clear that the gospel message is the same for all.

    Or that those PARTICULAR messages are.

  27. Funny, I have been thinking about this topic lately.

    Yes, what God says to one, he does say to all. But he also sometimes says things specifically to one group because they need it the most (but his emphasizing that particular group does not mean it doesn’t apply to others). Hence we have General Priesthood meeting as well as General RS and YW meetings.

    A great example is D&C 42…”men” are told not to lust after “women”. Everyone knows the rule applies both ways, but I don’t believe that the inclusion of specific genders in certain places in those verses was done just because God was using linguistic conventions of the time. The same goes for those (albeit few) directives to women in the New Testament. The counsel applies to men too, but women may have been in particular need of the counsel at the time.

    Does gender matter when trying to discerne God’s will? Yes, I think it does sometimes. But I also think as humans we sometimes tend to read in an exclusion where none was intended. E.g., “husbands love your wives” means just that. It does not mean wives are exempted from loving husbands. Similarly, because D&C 25 is directed to Emma Smith I think that women might identify more with that section as something given directly to one of God’s daughters. It shows that God cared about her and had a mission for her. If one reads it that way, instead of “wait…don’t I get to be consoled too?” it will be most productive.

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