The argument against perpetuating normative gender roles has two prongs. First, there is the argument that gender roles do not offer anything that is not available to human beings autonomously determining their own roles. Second, there is the observation that no set of gender roles applies universally. There will always be those who, because of individual nature or life circumstance, cannot conform to the prevailing gender roles. In practice, those who conform least are most marginalized. Taken together, gender roles appear to offer little substantial benefit but carry genuine cost. So what’s the case in favor of gender roles?
The strength of the first prong of this argument rests on a misleading intuition. Generally, the more beneficial a thing is the easier it is to identify the way in which that things is beneficial. We all know penicillin is beneficial, and we can all state clearly exactly why. Therefore, the intuition goes, if gender roles are really all that important to society it should be the easiest thing in the world to explain how and why.
When it comes to human inventions, this is intuition is sound, but gender roles were not invented. Like language and markets, they belong to a class of social mechanisms that predate history. (This much is true whether they evolved, were instituted by divine fiat, or both.) Writing of these kinds of institutions, F. A. Hayek said:
It would be no exaggeration to say that social theory begins with—and has an object only because of—the discovery that there exist orderly structures which are the product of the action of many men but are not the result of human design. In some fields this is now universally accepted. Although there was a time when men believed that even language and morals had been invented by some genius of the past, everybody recognizes now that they are the outcome of a process of evolution whose results nobody foresaw or designed.
Because gender roles (in some form) have always existed in human society and because they were never invented or designed, we cannot apply the usual intuition that their primary effects should be obvious. The principles of the invisible hand and of spontaneous order have always been there, for example, but it wasn’t until Adam Smith identified the first in the 18th century and F. A. Hayek the second in the 20th that we had any notion of the functions markets played in society. They existed, but we didn’t know that they were important, let alone the extent and nature of that importance.
In fact, we still don’t know that today. The theories and tools best suited to tackling these kinds of issues have only begun to arise since the end of World War II, when the logistics of warfare on a previously unimagined scale spurred developments in scientific theory quieter but almost as profound as those leading to atomic power. We are still in the early phases of understanding these concepts (e.g. chaos, complexity, emergence, and complex systems) and how they apply to existing disciplines like economics, biology, and psychology.
So we shouldn’t be surprised if the advantages of gender roles are non-obvious, but we also can’t assume that every long-running social practice is beneficial. It’s possible to understand what it is that societies got out of practices like slavery, infanticide, and even human sacrifice (no, really), but that doesn’t mean they should be perpetuated.
One argument for gender roles derives from the law of comparative advantage. This economic principle states that it is always best for two parties to specialize (and then trade), even if one of the parties is better at producing every single good. Applied to families, this law dictates that the parents (men and women) ought to specialize into complementary, non-overlapping roles to the extent possible. This argument doesn’t assume any particular gender role as a starting point. It suggests specialization in general, without indicating what those roles ought to take.
It’s not hard to see why this would lead to fairly conventional gender roles, however. As Julie Hartley-Moore recently explained here on Times And Seasons, the evidence for the comparative advantage of men at attaining resources is shaky at best, and highly dependent on available technology. But the comparative advantage of women at the other primary goal of families (raising children) is obvious and universal. Thus: it would make sense for women to specialize in nurturing children and men to specialize in something (anything) else.
One of the frequent responses to this idea is that there are very few tasks related to childrearing which only women can do, but that misunderstands the principle. The suggestion is not that women are exclusively capable of being caregivers, but that they have a comparative advantage at it, and that the optimal outcome for the family is when the parents specialize wherever they have any advantage at all. In a prosperous and affluent society it is easy to forget that most of human history has been dominated by struggle for survival. In those cases, specialization would have been a necessity. In our society, it is optional, at least for the affluent.
This raises a critical point: explaining why gender roles have existed in the past fails to illustrate why they should continue to exist in the future. Perhaps now that we produce so many excess resources as a society, the time has come to abandon gender roles. >I think that would be a mistake because I believe there is great value in the model of husband and wife as interdependent and complementary roles. Victor Frankl stated that:
If all men were perfect, then every individual would be replaceable by anyone else. From the very imperfection of men follows the indispensability and inexchangeability of each individual.
What is true at the individual level is also true at the level of gender. The idea that male and female genders are imperfect makes them indispensable and inexchangeable. Thus, the question “Why gender roles?” is inextricable from the question “Why gender?”
On one end of the spectrum, every human individual is unique. At the other end of the spectrum, we are all the same. In between, at the level of gender, we are divided into an us and a them. These are the three fundamental ways of learning to relate to the other: as the outsider, as the insider, and as separate groups. Gender is the one and only essential division of humanity that makes all three of these relationship models possible. All three are crucial to the human experience, and without gender as a meaningful bifurcation of humanity we are left with only two.
I don’t think that this is a conclusive argument by any means, but rather an important avenue of exploration. As politically charged and controversial as topics of gender and sexuality are, they are also sacred. Our society depends on the health of its families in ways that are profound, philosophical, and also literal. The inability to articulate precisely the beneficial aspects of our existing institutions should not be taken as an excuse for assuming that they serve no purpose when we know that we’re tinkering with the elements deep, deep in the heart of what makes human society tick. (It’s probably also the ideal example of when to rely most heavily on prophets and revelation, since we are operating well outside the bounds of settled human wisdom.)
As for the second prong of the argument against gender roles: It is understandable to oppose gender roles because of the sinful social judgmentalism that follows in their wake, but it is a dangerous path to tread because virtually all standards and ideals are susceptible to the same criticism. There is no principle or ideal that cannot be taken to an absolute extreme and become an evil. There is no behavior or advice that, while useful or even vital in the vast majority of cases, will not be detrimental to someone somewhere.
The problem with rejecting anything that runs the risk of marginalizing anyone is that we’ll reject everything. Ideals and principles make distinctions. That’s what they do. In a literal and real way, they discriminate. That word has such negative connotations in our modern society that we’ve forgotten that it actually just means “to differentiate”. It’s worth noting that this appears to be the fundamental activity of divine creation. During the Creation God did not create from nothing. God created by imposing order on undifferentiated chaos. God created by separation: light from dark, a firmament to divide the waters, and then land from water. Even the last creation, humans, arose with a division between complementary partners: male and female.
The primary problem is that eternal principles can never be projected perfectly onto our imperfect and fallen world. When the Nazis come and ask if you are hiding any Jews, what do you do? You lie, that’s what you do. You throw honesty out the window and you prevaricate with the best of them. You deceive, and you do it as thoroughly and as convincingly as possible. All of the hard moral questions are not about the conflict between good and evil, but between competing goods. (And not even all of those questions are really hard.) Does the fact that sometimes honesty is not the dominant consideration prove that honesty is not a valid principle? No, it proves that we live in a messed up world, which we already knew.
The quest for costless principles is understandable, but it is also futile. In this life, all principles come with a cost. Sometimes the cost is born by those who violate the principle, and repentance is their only relief. Sometimes the cost is born by the innocent who only appear to violate the principle, and in that case the fault is ours. We can’t control the former, but we can control the latter. Thus, our emphasis should be on learning to minimize the collateral damage of principles, rather than discarding more and more principles until we manage to find the one that offends no one. This is the meaning behind the commandment to “judge not.” If Christ’s only concern had been to eliminate judgmentalism He could have just eradicated the commandments and principles to which judgmentalism clings like barnacles to the hull of a ship. The only reasonable understanding of the “judge not” command is that Christ knew we would face the temptation to pervert righteous principles into marginalization and political power.
In summary: gender is a vital part of the moral human experience because it bifurcates humanity into separate and complementary groups, which has a profound influence on our ability to understand and relate to others. Gender roles (of some kind) are required to make the gender distinction real and complementary. Given the principle of comparative advantage and the scarcity of resource in our society, the general role of women to raise children and men to gather resources is most reasonable, although of course the breakdown is not that simple given resource constraints and other considerations. Moreover, the specific gender roles will shift with social environmental factors and also must be negotiated independently by every couple, who may deviate substantially from the aggregate expectation. These deviations are normal, expected, and shouldn’t cause anyone to judge, but sadly they will. Therefore, this principle will come with a cost that is all too often born by those who do not deserve to bear it. This tragedy is not unique. It’s part of the human condition. As with all unfair trials, the response it ought to call forth from us is compassion, support, love, and acceptance for all those who suffer from trials great or small.
This is my second post on the topic of gender roles. The first was: I Believe in Gender Roles. I plan to do one more in this series.
Nathaniel, you must be a glutton for punishment, to wade back into these waters again.
“But the comparative advantage of women at the other primary goal of families (raising children) is obvious and universal.”
No, it isn’t. That’s the problem–you can’t assume your premise in order to demonstrate it.
Interesting as always, Nathaniel. It’s not clear to me what status you ascribe to your articulation of “gender role.” You write as if is fixed, rooted in human nature, and should be socially normative (binding in some sense on individuals). Yet you allow that how it works out in practice, in real life, will be “negotiated independently by every couple, who may deviate substantially from the aggregate expectation.” And you appear to cite Hayek for the point that gender roles are “the outcome of a process of evolution whose results nobody foresaw or designed,” which suggests gender roles are flexible and malleable, rather than fixed or determined. They change over time.
So rather than being some objective thing that people should conform to, it sounds like you are halfway towards acknowledging that gender roles are nothing more than generalizations about how people choose to structure marriage, family, and society, and that as human behavior changes over time, so do gender roles. In other words, there really isn’t anything out there for anyone to conform to. So it’s not clear what idea of gender roles, if any, you are actually defending and why.
“Thus, it would make sense for women to specialize in nurturing children and men to specialize in something (anything) else.”
Nathaniel, your arguments for why you think gender roles are so important have become more and more obfuscated.
While you continue to reiterate that you think women should nurture children, you seem to have given up on a role for men (other than “anything besides nurturing children”).
At this point, I would probably advise you to take a good, long, honest look at why you have such negative feelings about men’s (your?) ability to nurture children.
I appreciate the balanced way in which your are attempting to articulate your claims here, Nathaniel. However, I see more than a few points in which your reasoning becomes highly problematic, at least:
The principles of the invisible hand and of spontaneous order have always been there, for example, but it wasn’t until Adam Smith identified the first in the 18th century and F. A. Hayek the second in the 20th that we had any notion of the functions markets played in society.
Not really a criticism, but an observation that the very examples you choose here to demonstrate your point privileges from the beginning an econometric scheme of assessment: “comparative advantage” and all the rest. I am not disagreeing that said models are valuable for evaluating the impact of social phenomena, but you’re foreclosing many avenues of exploration when you place them forefront in your consideration. Why not, for example, ask about gender roles and Aristotelian flourishing, or Tayloresque authenticity, etc.? Obviously no blog post can do everything, but don’t ignore how your own rhetorical choices stack the deck in favor of a world of scarce goods which much be specialized in and maximized, etc.
But the comparative advantage of women at the other primary goal of families (raising children) is obvious and universal. Thus: it would make sense for women to specialize in nurturing children and men to specialize in something (anything) else..
As Kristine observes above, you assert this, bur provide no argument for it. If you spoke of the comparative advantage of birthing children, that indeed would be obvious. But “raising” is far more than “birthing,” unless you are equating “raising” with “providing nourishment and a focus for psychological attachment/imprinting for the first X number of months of an infants life”–and if you are, then your argument for the comparative advantage of a gender specialization along traditional lines only holds for, presumably, 2 years after the birth of a child at most.
Our society depends on the health of its families in ways that are profound, philosophical, and also literal. The inability to articulate precisely the beneficial aspects of our existing institutions should not be taken as an excuse for assuming that they serve no purpose when we know that we’re tinkering with the elements deep, deep in the heart of what makes human society tick. (It’s probably also the ideal example of when to rely most heavily on prophets and revelation, since we are operating well outside the bounds of settled human wisdom.)
Just a note: it appears to me that your final sentence in this paragraph, if taken literally, undermines the claims you are gesturing at in the first two.
The quest for costless principles is understandable, but it is also futile. In this life, all principles come with a cost.
I would be very interested to meet an obviously non-crazy and/or purposefully-trolling feminist–that is, an actual identifiable human being who actually talks about feminism and makes critiques of gender roles in her or his own life–who actually disagrees with you here, and essentially affirms that women “can have it all.” I’m not an expert in feminist rhetoric, but I’ve done a fair amount of reading about and talking with people who do make mount challenges against the presumptions bundled into our reigning gender roles, and, discounting obviously fakes and troublemakers which no one (including feminist organizations) take seriously, I’ve never heard even one such person ever argue that a modification of gender role expectations in response to discriminatory abuses is a total universal cost-less win-win and entrance into utopia for every single human being on the planet, hallelujah. The straw man temptation is an easy one to give into, I realize (I’m sure I do it often enough), but nonetheless it doesn’t serve your argument well.
[S]pecific gender roles will shift with social environmental factors and also must be negotiated independently by every couple, who may deviate substantially from the aggregate expectation. These deviations are normal, expected, and shouldn’t cause anyone to judge, but sadly they will. Therefore, this principle will come with a cost that is all too often born by those who do not deserve to bear it. This tragedy is not unique. It’s part of the human condition. As with all unfair trials, the response it ought to call forth from us is compassion, support, love, and acceptance for all those who suffer from trials great or small.
This is a beautiful conclusion, Nathaniel, and moreover, as best I can tell, it renders everything you insist upon in the foregoing paragraphs as essentially meaningless. After all, if you recognize that gender both shift socially over time and are subject to individual negotiation, and if you believe that the Christian response to such is “compassion, support, love, and acceptance,” then what on earth is the significance of insisting upon gender complimentarianism? It becomes an idle intellectual point, doesn’t it? Unless, of course, by “support” you mean “lots of sympathy but no actual material support to any efforts made to challenge arguably harmful socially re-enforcing gender stereotypes.” But if you mean that, surely you wouldn’t have written “support,” would have you?
Gener binary has historically benefited men. Can you please at least acknowledge your extreme privilege in your writings on gender? I really have a hard time seeing the move away from ridged gender roles in modern society as a bad thing. It is a comparative advantage that largely benefited and still benefits men- please don’t pretend that in most of human history or now in most of the world women are at an advantage by being excluded from the cash economy or basic rights- since they get to take care of kids.
I’m really starting to wonder if Nathanial is cleverly trying to showcase how this argument really falls apart if you try to defend it. He’s doing an amazing job if so.
That was the most excruciating pseudo-intellectual, and self-contradicting drivel I’ve read in recent years.
I’m not sure if it’s worth saying any more than that to someone who treats Hayek as an important commentator on social life (though I suppose he’s never sounded more like Marx than in that quote). But then, neoclassical economists are often prone to applying economic models and logics to all walks of life (which themselves are abstracted and idealized out of the complexity and reality of political economy, usually to serve the purpose of making capitalist relations appear natural and neutral).
But if we’re going to use the invisible hand in an analogy with gender roles, let’s go for gold, so we can really get to the contradictory heart of what you’re saying. The thing about the invisible hand is it was there before Adam Smith named it, as you say. It’s not a system you protect or create, it just is. So if gender roles, like the invisible hand, are so natural and beneficial to society, why do we have to keep trying so hard to convince people to subscribe to them? Not just now, after the feminist movement, but always. If they are so clearly natural, then why, since as far back as societies have been traced, are there so many forms of social policing required to enforce, articulate, and perpetuate gender systems? How much evidence would it take to convince that perhaps these institutions and ideologies are producing gender, and not the other way around?
Lastly, you should actually try reading feminist theory itself sometime, as these issues have been considered quite fully and by people who actually spend their lives engaging in the evidence on these issues. Judith Butler has an extremely complex, nuanced, and (in my mind) compelling theory of exactly how gender roles (well, gender, period) has come to appear pre-discursive (what you would call natural), and how this insistence of its naturalness has made precarious and disposable so many lives.
And I believe there was an extremely thorough anthropological response to your last article that pointed out how wrong you were that what you see as gender roles are traditional. You offer an extremely flat definition of gender roles characterized solely by a divide between nurturing children and everything else (as a previous commenter points out). I get that that’s the only tenable definition you can use in a post-feminist age, without sounding like a troglodyte, so I understand why it has to be so flat, it’s just funny from a historical point of view how these definitions change, while the insistence that they are transhistorical remains).
Anyway, there’s a terrific anthropologist David Schneider, a scholar on kinship, who has written a foundational book to anthropology you may find helpful. Schneider takes on the mistake you are most prone to here, which he sees as endemic to anthropology and kinship studies in particular: the reifying of modern categories or constructs by taking them as givens, then reading all evidence that already exists and may be found as further features of already assumed categories. It’s a pernicious, circular form of reasoning which erases complexity and difference (or at best, makes exceptions of them) in order to serve the structuralist ends of contemporary theory. Anyway, the book is A Critique of the Study of Kinship. Check it out.
Unless you want to do the work of studying these issues seriously, I beg you to stick to your field of study. I have faith that blogging can be much more than the practice of wild speculation on the part of unqualified people to justify their own pre-existing beliefs, if only we encourage each other to raise the bar a bit.
Gender-delineated roles ARE incredibly important. Who ever heard of attacking a straw woman?
The core of your argument is that you think God created people to be husband and wife and the rest is primarily a rationalization of that position rather than very much argument for it.
Your values are what your values are.
For example, why do you limit specialization in childbirth and childrearing to just a couple? Doesn’t the same argument lead to the idea that raising children should be done by those most adapted to it? Why should people who do not have a competitive advantage at parenting become parents? The economic arguments don’t really add much beyond your belief that we are purposed to be parents.
To me the argument about reducing gender roles is just a consequence of the increasing valuation of individual freedom. You don’t value individual freedom as highly as you do a certain type of societal perpetuation. It doesn’t matter if non-freedom offers more opportunity to someone that values individual freedom above some particular vision of human flourishing.
Your morality is very much tied up with your belief that God created nature for people and that he did a pretty good job of it. Feminism is pretty much tied up with the idea that regardless of what God intended, historically, women had constraints that were a very, very bad thing. Constraints that make it worth risking the perpetuation of society to change.
I think your post is a good representation of why you should be free to perpetuate (but not legislate) gender roles.
I don’t think it is very convincing about what women will lose if gender roles (as opposed to gendered choices) are lost.
Why specifically do you think we need gender roles (and by roles I think you mean some kind of public or community standard for gendered choices) rather than just the ordinary biological, economic, individual choices that we all make without strong roles.
Why won’t the invisible hand lead us to gendered behavior without gender roles?
It looks like there are many here that want to misunderstand and reject your thoughts here from the start. I think it is their loss that they don’t approach this issue with an open mind.
Do you think feminism increases reproductive fitness?
Mtnmarty, it depends a lot on what you mean by “reproductive fitness.” If infant and maternal mortality rates are any measure, there’s pretty strong correlation between societies that have at least some moderate feminist churn and healthy reproductive outcomes. If you are measuring strictly the number of pregnancies per woman, then feminism is clearly correlated with lower fertility.
But really, we should all go home. Game, set and match to Haley.
I don’t agree with your conclusion and I do not believe you have made the case. In fact, I think your argument devolves to “when to rely most heavily on prophets and revelation, since we are operating well outside the bounds of settled human wisdom”. An appeal to authority is perfectly respectable, but not the reasoned argument you purport to make.
I am most interested in the “so what?” I believe this is more than play (and more than a showcase of how the argument falls apart, notwithstanding a temptation to go there). So let me guess at the “so what?” First guess is that for those (minority of) households comprising a man and woman and minor children, you argue that there is a default or ideal or privileged set of roles (to which there will be exceptions and individual accommodation). (I note that the gender roles you argue for are really nonsense–no sense–in any other kind of household.) Second guess is that for a man and woman making a decision to get married or to have children or to form a household, you argue that selecting for these gender roles is preferred (with exceptions and individual accommodation). Or perhaps you would extend to ANY pair choosing to form a household–that there should always be a division of roles? Third guess is that for any child custody or adoption question, you argue that a man and woman living together in these gender roles should be preferred.
Now I disagree with every one of these positions, but in a soft way, a reasoned, logical, “we can talk about this” kind of way. Some of the other positions that some might think you argue for bring up a more visceral “no way no how” reaction.
“The optimal outcome for the family is when the parents specialize wherever they have any advantage at all.”
Cool. My wife is at least slightly better than I am at just about everything. So I’m just going to sit around while an invisible hand feeds me bonbons for the rest of my life.
Wow, talk about taking the long way round the barn!
The thing I like about gender roles and other such eternal principles is that no amount of convoluted argumentation makes a bit of substantive difference to the reality of human existence.
How many legs does a dog have, if you call the tail a leg?
This seems like a good example of what happens when we try to baptize a vague structural/functional argument about humanity. Pop sociology meets pop theology and no one emerges a winner.
I’m interested in the works you’ve mentioned. Any specific titles? I could take a guess from their list of books, but I was wondering if you had any specifically in mind.
Thank you Nathaniel. I enjoyed your analysis, though I disagree with many points. My major critique is that you approach gender roles fundamentally differently than the LDS church. You view roles as an outgrowth of evolution and thus without design. In contrast, the Family Proc. says gender roles come “by divine design.” Under an evolutionary view, there are no right/wrong roles, just what is best suited for the current environment. In contrast, traditional LDS theory tries to mold us to an eternal unchangeable pattern and allows for temporary exceptions to that mold to account for mortal limitations.
Additionally, you posit that gender differentiation is necessary in order for us to specialize and to need one another. But, of course, gay parents routinely specialize and need each other too. And your quote of Victor Frankl fails to account for the LDS core teaching that God the Father and Christ are both perfect, both male, and yet not redundant or interchangeable. If gender roles are not required to make us need both a Father and a Savior, then why are they needed for us to need both our parents? And if gender roles are so central, why does Heavenly Mother not play any (known) role in the plan of salvation? Somehow the fullness of the gospel can be preached without any contact, instruction, or even speech allowed between Mother and children. Quite an odd situation if evolution teaches us that women are the best nurturers.
Ironically, your post goes the opposite route, claiming (without support) that female’s advantage for “raising children” is “obvious and universal,” and yet conceding there is no real support for any claim to male advantage. So you are not really arguing for “gender roles” but for “women’s role” (singular), with men being given the ever changing scraps of whatever else needs to be done.
Your post critically fails to adopt any specific gender roles or posit how those roles should be supported/enforced. (I apologize if I’m “jumping the gun” again; perhaps you intend to write on this in the future) In this you are not alone. Last conference, Elder Christofferson defended gender roles but only drew lines that apply to both men and women (don’t be crude, vulgar, etc) and falsely asserted that “so called feminists” having something against women who chose to stay at home (they don’t). Failure to provide specific roles can be very damaging as members are left to speculate as to what the lines are and quite often make Bott-like mistakes, such as a YW who concludes she does not need to develop an employable skill because her role is not to provide.
In reality, despite continued emphasis on gender roles, the actions of the church and of church members show that we are giving up this principle. Our women get education at higher rates than men, many in non-nurturing fields (yes, BYU graduates female civil engineers). BYU recently hired a female faculty member who has children at home. The church recently affirmed that women are welcome to wear pants to church. Moms organize FHE and call on prayers, even when Dads are at home. Dads are as likely to change diapers and take kids to the foyer at church. Increasingly, the only real differentiation between men and women is the priesthood, which the church recently affirmed is a difference we can’t give a reason for (see Elder Anderson’s Oct. 2013 conference address), and thus well on its way to being discarded too.
I’ve critiqued a lot. Let me agree with you on one point (oddly, the Nazi one). I have come to find great growth in comparing situations where two “goods” conflict and deciding which “good” is more important. For instance, regarding the well-know “problem of evil,” if there really is a conflict, I choose to follow a God who is good rather than all-powerful.
For me, there currently stands an unresolved “problem of Christ’s gender.” Christ is the example for all mankind; yet he is male. While this conflict remains, I choose to follow a gospel in which Christ provides a full example for all mankind, including my daughters, over a gospel with strict gender roles that would require my daughters to look for salvation elsewhere. In other words, while I’m not *sure* that gender is ultimately irrelevant (like hair color), I do not currently see any reason to believe in unique gender roles or to teach to teach them to my loved ones.
Many here see these blogs as a way to discuss and hash out ideas rather than simply referring people, or praising those who condescendingly refer people (eg “match winner” Haley), to books instead of engaging in discussion. It’s always a bummer for simpletons like me who have neither the time, money, or intellectual chops to read all volumes that exist on feminism, sociology, anthropology, soteriology, eschatology, christology, or the taxonomy of the Dung Beetle, to be deprived of your insights with dismissive book referrals.
Not sure I’m fully on-board with you, but this is awesome stuff to think about.
Nathaniel, thank you for your discussion.
It is unfortunate that some people allow their preconceptions to block them from exploring contra-bias thought. While it might change no one’s minds, it might make for a little less dogma.
You are so right. There’s a reason it took like 3 weeks from the last post to this one (with one unrelated post in between)! Had to take a breather. Controversial topics are definitely not my favorite thing.
I just think it’s an important issue for people to be able to think freely about, and if that involves the occasional laugh-inducing retort (e.g. Haley’s “That was the most excruciating pseudo-intellectual, and self-contradicting drivel I’ve read in recent years.”), well, that explains why so few other folks are willing to talk about it, doesn’t it?
From where I stand, the dominant views of the Bloggernaccle are pretty far-removed from the beliefs of most ordinary Mormons, and I think that kind of push-back explains a lot of the disconnect. When being male is an excuse to discount my opinion, well, I’m not sure if attempting to shut up half the population is the best way to further a really honest and open discussion. (Therefore: I choose to go ahead and blog about it anyway.)
I find it very odd that my posting relevant books with summaries of their arguments as support for my own argument is considered condescending, but Nathaniel’s argument that gender roles are beneficial because, well, isn’t it obvious? is considered “awesome stuff to think about” and not at all condescending. (Though I suppose I am stepping outside my naturally beneficial sphere and entering the male realm of something (anything) else by participating in this conversation.)
To Walker’s question, here’s where I’d start:
Gender Trouble and Precarious Life by Butler
A Critique of the Study of Kinship by Schneider
And then a great volume that provides tons of anthropological cases that demonstrate both arguments quite well, called “Relative Values: Reconfiguring Kinship Studies,” by Franklin and McKinnon
“I just think it’s an important issue for people to be able to think freely about, and if that involves the occasional laugh-inducing retort (e.g. Haley’s “That was the most excruciating pseudo-intellectual, and self-contradicting drivel I’ve read in recent years.”), well, that explains why so few other folks are willing to talk about it, doesn’t it?”
Or, are so few people willing to talk about it because the evidence to support such claims is shaky, at best? Or, are so few people willing to talk about it because they realize that, in this day and age, to declare that certain whole categories of people are *naturally* better suited to certain tasks than others, and society should keep it that way, is bold, to say the least?
The one making vast claims about groups of people has the burden of evidence. I’d have been as likely to write “laugh-inducing retorts” if you’d written a post here making claims out of the Bell Curve, but that wouldn’t mean such retorts are the reason most people don’t make racist generalizations any more.
I just want to thank folks for the great participation in the comments here, especially despite the fact that the blog seems to be periodically unavailable and the controversial nature of the topic. I don’t think all the replies have been constructive and insightful, but many of them have been, and I appreciate that.
I’m going to try an omnibus reply here ‘cause some comments are cropping up from multiple folks, and also ‘cause I can try a copy-paste to get all my comments in at once when the page actually loads. So, here are some of the criticisms I’d like to reply to:
1. Who says women have a comparative advantage at child-rearing?
This is a response to my line: “But the comparative advantage of women at the other primary goal of families (raising children) is obvious and universal.” Examples include:
I didn’t provide an argument because I thought it was obvious, but I guess it isn’t. Women have an initial advantage that is undeniable (in gestating and breastfeeding), but even if we assume that advantage disappears completely by age 4 (just for example), the fact that it existed to start with continues to matter. The problem is transition costs. If a woman is the primary caregiver for a couple of years, she knows more about the kid than the man does. And he knows more about specialized resource-gathering than she does. It is more efficient to continue that specialization, even if there’s no further advantage. The possibility of multiple children seriously compounds this factor because the transition costs (twice per child) are cumulative.
For an affluent society, this cost can be overcome, but from the standpoint of my argument it is enough to note that there is a cost. As I said in the post: I’m not saying men cannot nurture. I’m saying that the most efficient arrangement is for women to specialize in that area.
2. Your position isn’t absolute enough.
On one level, I don’t really understand these criticisms because they seem to boil down to “If gender roles aren’t absolute, then they don’t exist, right?” I don’t understand the appeal of absolutism. But, since the objections are coming from smart, reasonable people, I’ll see if I can explain my position.
Unfortunately, I’m going to start with a technical analogy: abstraction. In computer science, you have this idea of abstraction layers. The lowest layer is the hardware. Above that you have firmware (drivers), assembler, kernel, the operating system (OS) and then finally applications.
The purpose of these abstraction layers is to make it so that at any given level, you only care about the level immediately above and below. If you’re writing an application, you can generally get away with only caring about the OS (below) and the end user (above). If the firmware changes you should, ideally, not care.
I’m proposing a similar set of abstraction layers for society, with human biology as the bottom layer, followed by gender, macro institutions (e.g. church, government), micro institutions (e.g. family), and finally individuals at the top. I’ll have to develop this fully somewhere else. What’s germane here is that you should no more be able to draw a straight line from gender roles to human lives than from firmware to applications like Skype or your web browser. There’s no simple correlation, but that doesn’t mean that the firmware is an unnecessary feature.
My argument is primarily about having gender roles exist as an abstraction layer at all, and less about the exact form they should take. I do think there are some generalities (e.g. childrearing vs. resource-gathering), but there the specifics will shift and change in response to other abstraction layers.
I’m not sure how much this will help (and I can already envision the outrage that I have dared to bring another male-dominated discipline like computer science into a conversation that I’ve already sullied with capitalist-apologizing economics!), but I hope it sheds some light on the nature of the case I am building.
3. Economics is the wrong approach.
So this is actually fairly simple. I disagree with Haley’s characterization of economics, but I also think that’s a futile case to make. At the point where someone is dismissing entire disciplines that provide uncomfortable analysis, there’s little hope of reasonable discussion.
However, the main reason I brought up economics is that I want to steer us away from our artificial and idiosyncratic perspective of unprecedented affluence. I’m afraid there’s a risk of mistaking particularities of our prosperous and easy lives for universal human concerns and then coming up with proscriptions that bear little relation to the lives of most human beings (historically and at present). Focusing on a situation where resources are constrained is a way of checking that blind spot. Economics happens to be the discipline explicitly concerned with human behavior as it relates to the allocation of scarce resources. Chuck out that discipline, and you shouldn’t be surprised when your analysis fails to have any connection to the reality of people whose lives are heavily influenced by scarcity.
3. There’s something wrong with you.
I thought of just passing this one on by, but I thought a couple of comments were worth brief discussion.
Anchoring is a very common and very powerful cognitive bias, so I suppose the fact that I mentioned breast-feeding prominently in my first post means that some folks will never be able to see anything I write on this topic other than as being about boobies. I probably should have thrown a couple of other examples in there to forestall this unfortunate myopia on the part of my critics, but oh well. Let me just say this: (1) if the most obvious and important biological differences show up in a discussion about gender roles, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s any hidden subtext. It just means they are the most obvious and important differences. (2) I’m actually pretty happy with my role as a nurturing father. My favorite part of every day is greeting my sleepy little kids with a big smile and a hug when they stumble blearily into the hall by our home office. I think I have an unusually good relationship with my kiddos and I derive more satisfaction from that than anything else in my life except my relationship with my wife. I also happen to spend a lot more time in child-rearing than I think is standard because I have a flexible job working from home and my wife’s PhD in computer science is incredibly demanding. You could say this makes me a hypocrite or you could say that I’m practicing exactly what I’m preaching when it comes to the fact that individual families need to interpret gender roles into their particular circumstances.
In any case, further psychoanalysis and/or speculation about my character and motive isn’t going to be dignified with a response. This is something I intend to say clearly, emphatically, and exactly one time.
The trouble there is that what I have in mind as male privilege and what you have in mind are probably not at all similar, and so I can’t really raise the issue without giving it full attention. Simple preview: I do recognize male privilege is a real thing that does exist and from which I have and continue to benefit. However, privilege is far more nuanced than most reductionist assumptions allow. It’s benefits are contextually dependent and it’s costs are frequently ignored. Imagine if the history of war consisted of men sending women to die by their millions. It would be considered the rankest form of sexual oppression. And yet, the fact that men bear the brunt of war-related mortality is almost never discussed, and male domination of the military throughout history is taken to be yet another example of male privilege. The privilege to get killed? No, I will not be in the business of “acknowledging my extreme privilege” without taking upon myself the opportunity to define it. Male privilege is a real and serious issues, not a cheat code to “win” debates. (And yes, I realize that the issue of gender mortality in war is not simple, but at least in terms of direct mortality, the burden falls on men.)
5. What does this all mean, in practice?
The comments of both Chris Kimball (#13) and Dave K (#19) (and some others) really boiled down to asking about what all this means in a practical, contemporary way. That will be the focus of my last post on this topic, probably sometime in the next few weeks.
Nathaniel, I share your general openness to gender roles, even if I don’t follow you in every particular here, so I just wanted to express solidarity to temper the push-back you’re getting (which is, of course, welcome and absolutely legitimate). I don’t have thick enough skin to debate this issue vigorously with people I like and respect, so I will leave that to you. :)
I consider myself a social conservative in the sense that I am drawn to a thick model of human culture, in which common social norms, complex relatedness, obligation, restraint, and, yes, even taboo and social pressure govern human flourishing as much as ideals of freedom and choice. (I realize, of course, that opponents of social conservatism also probably espouse many of those ideals; it’s more a matter of emphasis and balance than a binary choice.) As a conservative (my brand of conservatism, anyway), I’m deeply suspicious of our ability to deeply know our own natures and to predict large-scale collective human responses. I’m also aware of the high human costs of societal turmoil, and for that reason I’m reflexively cautious about dismantling long-standing social forms, even though I absolutely recognize that sometimes that is the only moral response. (Again, the same caveat applies: no doubt there are progressives who also share some aspects of that outlook.)
Despite my philosophical disposition to accept gender roles, I’m often leery of the way they are framed. I find that thinking about my daughters has a remarkable way of focusing my mind away from theory and onto social reality. :)
So would I want gender roles framed for my daughters? I think I probably will try to frame them exactly the way they were framed for my by my parents and church culture. I don’t want my daughters told they are not capable of, not suitable for or not permitted to undertake certain forms of human endeavor. Instead I want them to know that, ultimately, not all endeavors are created equal, and that their worth to their community does not depend on a career, on recognition, or on making good in any other public way.
I am a glutton for those autobiographical cri-de-couer from post-academics, often female, who for whatever reason have not managed to thread the brutal needle of succeeding in academia while managing a family, and I am struck by the magnitude of their sense of failure, and the hit to their self-worth. I AM one of them, in every single respect except the despair they feel. I always feel so grateful that my sense of self and value was built on my efforts to create loving relationships in my home and community, and that consequently my opt-out has not left me scarred and adrift.
THAT is what I want for my daughters, and yes, I worry about it more for my daughters than for my sons. A humane form of gender roles has protected me from insecurity and disappointment, and has given meaning and value to the life as a SAHM that was inevitable anyway, given my choice to pursue a PhD in a ridiculous subject and marry a fellow academic.
I’m currently working through a recent volume published by Columbia University Press entitled ‘Gender and Parenthood’. I think the following observations are worth noting:
“Although expressing all emotions other than anger stronger than men, women are better able to regulate emotions than men. Women’s superior ability to manage emotional expressions may aid their relationships with men as well as with women…Females are also better able to inhibit emotional expression than males, and this ability, in addition to helping them regulate social relations with men and other women, may serve to make them better mothers. Caring for infants and young children often requires delaying one’s own gratification and the inhibition of aggressive responses, areas in which a female advantage is consistently found.” (David F. Bjorklund, Ashley C. Jordan, “Human Parenting From an Evolutionary Perspective,” in Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives. Columbia University Press, 2013, 68.)
So, there is something to the “comparative advantage” aspect of female nurturing. Psychologist Paul Bloom made a similar point:
“I have a genetic condition. People like me are prone to violent fantasy and jealous rage; we are over 10 times more likely to commit murder and over 40 times more likely to commit sexual assault. Most prisoners suffer from my condition, and almost everyone on death row has it. Relative to other people, we have an abundance of testosterone, which is associated with dominance and aggression, and a deficit in oxytocin, associated with compassion. My sons share my condition, and so does my father. So, yes, I am male” (“Free Will Does Not Exist. So What?” Chronicle of Higher Education: https://chronicle.com/article/Paul-Bloom/131170/).
However, the conclusion of the “Human Parenting” article makes an excellent point:
“Mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. Millions of years of natural selection have shaped male and female psychologies to be somewhat different. However, humans also evolved a large brain and intellectual abilities that permit them to *rise about the inherited biases that direct the behavior of other animals and influenced the actions of their ancestors.* Patterns of parenting evolved because they were associated with success for our ancestors. In many respects, the evolved biases of modern men and women continue to enhance the survival and success of their children, although cultural changes, also enabled by humans’ evolved intelligence, have and will continue to shape these biases” (Ibid., 80, emphasis mine).
Thanks, Rosalynde, for sharing your perspective. I know there are lots of folks who are reluctant (quite reasonably so) to wade into controversial issues. To the extent that a post like this encourages greater conversation, I’m really happy with the outcome.
I also really like your term “humane gender roles”. I may have to steal it.
Not sure if you were being intentionally ironic, but illustrating a defense of gender roles with a quote from a female rear admiral is pretty brilliant.
However, I think you lost the cause when you wrote that gender roles “must be negotiated independently by every couple, who may deviate substantially from the aggregate expectation.” I don’t know how you can still call them “gender roles” at that point and not “stuff we agreed to as a couple based on what made the most sense for us.” If they were gender roles, you wouldn’t be negotiating them, would you? They’d be assumed without negotiation based on the gender of the person in question. I tried to pin you down on your last post as to what work you saw gender roles doing for you (given your own family situation) and you declined to answer. That’s your right, of course. But I think you should give serious thought to how exactly you are defining “gender roles” if you see them as things to be negotiated, because negotiated roles is pretty much the feminist alternative to gender roles.
You always have the greatest research, Walker! I just wanted to comment that–for the sake of my argument–I adopted a minimalist view of the connection between gender differences and gender roles. It’s a matter of strategy to take an absolutely minimal position (in this case roughly: women can gestate) and show that it’s sufficient for a basic argument about why gender roles have existed, why they should continue to exist, and some real basics about what those roles ought to be.
But my argument is deliberately minimalist and therefore misses quite a lot, and your quotes fill in a lot of that info. I really all of them, but this line is probably the most important to me: “Mothers and fathers are not interchangeable.” The argument about advantages is really and important but–as you show–it’s nowhere near the whole story.
Just a note on ‘The Bell Curve’ and “racist generalizations” (which I think may help when it comes to approaching gender):
Nobel laureate James Heckman, who penned what is considered *the* critical review of ‘The Bell Curve’ in the March 1995 issue of Reason (found here: http://reason.com/archives/1995/03/01/cracked-bell), stated in an interview by the Minneapolis Fed (found here: http://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications_papers/pub_display.cfm?id=3278) that
“the book was very important. It broke a taboo by showing that differences in ability existed and predicted a variety of socioeconomic outcomes. So, I thought the book was important in raising that issue, but it failed totally when it focused so much on genetic determination of ability…I thought the book played a very important role in raising the issue of differences in ability and their importance. It stimulated discussion if only by being a target of attack. There’s an awful lot of convention in academic life. And ‘The Bell Curve’ was important precisely because the topic of ability had become off-limits to “right-minded” people. It forced scholars to confront important facts about differences among people. I think that was the contribution of the book. So, actually, I’m a bigger fan of it than you might think…The brilliant feature of that book was that most of the analysis in the first part of the book is for whites. They show that the AFQT is very powerfully predictive of a whole range of behaviors for whites…My review didn’t attack them on the grounds frequently raised. I did say that they misinterpreted their own data by focusing on genetics…Everything we’ve learned since then suggests that the traditional way people measure genetic effects ignores interactions, and ignores a growing body of important literature about gene-environment interactions.”
It was the interpretation of the evidence that was problematic (i.e. genetic determinism), not the evidence itself. Much can be said about the data regarding gender.
And anyone who doesn’t think economics has anything to say about the human condition should give Tomas Sedlacek’s ‘The Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street’ (Oxford University Press, 2011) a read.
Nathaniel, I look forward to your next post. If I wasn’t clear enough in my (too lenthy) comment above, I very much value this discussion too, even if I tend to focus on the points of disagreement. I’m a big believer in Thomas Edison’s belief that “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Putting forth a defense of gender roles is a valuable exercise and I am grateful you make the effort.
“But really, we should all go home. Game, set and match to Haley.”
Indeed! Because starting with an attack and descending further into outright contempt is how everyone should conduct themselves in life. That’s more the Charlie Sheen version of “winning” than I’m comfortable with, but I suppose whatever works for you…
I knew when this topic came up that things would almost certainly get acrimonious, but I at least salute the attempt, Nathaniel. I don’t fully agree with all of your points, but I can appreciate some of what you’re saying and it has helped me to think a bit more critically on this issue. I consider that a win for you and me both, sir. I’m looking forward to your next post.
I’m glad you brought up The Bell Curve, Walker. I was going to let it go, but as long as it’s being discussed I’ll chime in that studying The Bell Curve was one of the most formative lessons of my adolescence.
My sophomore English class in high school was taught by a brilliant African American woman who also led a faculty group for black teachers at my school. I remember that we studied The Trial of Socrates, the Gettysburg Address, and other classics. We also studied controversial topics, including a classical article on radical feminism (which I don’t remember) and an entire unit spent on The Bell Curve. (Not the book, but a 20+ page article written by the authors defending their book.)
Obviously this was a difficult and challenging topic. There were tears and there was shouting. Years later I have no idea what conclusions we reached about the research itself, but that wasn’t the point of the lesson. The point–and this is what I have never forgotten–was to model the intellectual integrity and courage it takes to look at any argument on its own merits.
That’s the spirit of inquiry I believe in. I can’t think of anything more antithetical than the spirit of free inquiry than Haley’s pre-emptive dismissal of the entire discipline of economics and The Bell Curve (which wasn’t even up for discussion!) based on the political impurity of their conclusions rather than on their methods, evidence, or reasoning.
A female rear admiral who was also one of the earliest founders of the entire discipline of computer science. So she’s an exemplar of gender exceptionalism in two male-dominated fields: the military and also computer science.
Irony? No. But it was quite deliberately chosen to complicate the way I knew my post would be inevitably characterized by doctrinaire defenders of some strains of feminist ideology.
Think about that picture again, Julie. Is possible that I’m not the only one who may be in need of reconsidering the position of his/her ideological opposite?
1. Absolutist Gender Roles – Men and women have to do x and y. Period.
2. No Gender Roles – Men and women can do whatever they want.
What about in between:
3. Negotiated / Customized Gender Roles – Men and women can save a lot of time and error by starting with some basic assumptions about what they should do, but will need to experiment to find out how applicable the generic roles are to their individual case. The roles exist, but some assembly is required.
If all I do is convinced some feminists that absolutist gender roles aren’t the only game in the conservative town, that will be something.
I think that we all have an ideal to aspire to, and that is the example the Savior set. Yes, on average there may be innate, generalized gender differences that can be observed across the board, but He didn’t set separate examples for men and women, he told all of us to be perfect[ed] even as He is. And He had a full array of traits that we now consider to be either male or female ones – He was authoritative, decisive, bold, and self-assured, but also sensitive, compassionate, forgiving, and nurturing. I’m not a naturally nurturing person, but I take it upon myself to learn to be more nurturing – not because I’m a woman and a mother and that’s what’s expected of me, but because the Savior was nurturing and I want to be like Him. I think we ALL need to work on ALL Christlike traits in order to be more like Him. I’m also working on being more bold and decisive and because I don’t subscribe to my culture’s gender roles for me, I feel uninhibited in developing those Christlike qualities in myself. I don’t feel like I have to be a good woman or a good man, just a good PERSON. What more could any of us want?
Some of us will have natural “advantages” in one area or another, even predictably “male” or “female” advantages, but I still think the only thing we accomplish by assigning gender roles based on average, culturally-constructed gender differences is to limit the potential advancement of complex, nuanced individuals based on their genitalia rather than their actual divine, eternal potential.
“It is unfortunate that some people allow their preconceptions to block them from exploring contra-bias thought. While it might change no one’s minds, it might make for a little less dogma.”
That really isn’t the problem, Silver Rain. Rosalynde’s comment, for instance, runs counter to my intuitive bias, but I could concede several of her points and recognize that she is raising an important objection to some modes of liberal and feminist thought.
The problem with Nathaniel’s “contra-bias” thoughts is not that I can’t entertain them; it’s that they are not persuasive when I do.
Nathaniel, again, this is why I’m pressing you to define what work you want gender roles to do. If you see them as some sort of “default setting” that people should use unless they have a good reason to depart from them, say that. Argue for it. If you see them as something to be “customized” or “negotiated,” I’m not sure “gender role” is the term you want to be using here. If you really mean that your only goal here is to support something other than “absolutist” gender roles, please explain in what ways they are not absolute. Can you explain what work you want these roles to do, what they are, how/when/why people should/could/not depart from them?
To be frank, I think your posts have been generating more heat than light because you aren’t specifying your definitions and parameters.
Interesting thoughts Nathaniel. Thanks for posting.
You know, in Greek mythology, humans had both genitals and 4 of each limb. Zeus separated them so that they’d have a longing for each other. A sort of checks and balances if you will. If there was anarchy of individuals at the first existence, when we were all intelligences, the assignment of gender would have been a sort of check and balance. Women are more mysterious only because less is said about them on the other side. However, Eve knew before Adam, and Mary saw before Peter. Women often see things spiritually before men do. I do not know why, but I have polled as hard as I can and found that that is the common experience. I’m sure there are exceptions where there’s a husband who’s better at it than his wife.
The success of feminism and equal rights is/was dependent on the progress of civilization, including science and technology. It is only through these things that women can literally be allowed to be on an equal playing field. Take these things away and men will dominate / enslave women or do what they want. This is why in lawless communities or when there is anarchy, the women and children suffer the most.
The next life is one we do not understand. However, if we are all spirits and Gods and the same class of beings, there is a sort of government there. To suppose that because that progression in this life therefore means that there will automatically be no difference in genders in the next is a big leap on its own.
Insisting on gender roles guiding us here is a difficult thing to swallow. Perhaps it has less use right now, especially compared to in the more primitive past. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something in it in heaven, or from God.
I, for one, would appreciate it if more single LDS men respected the gender roles a little more. :D
So, Kristine, out of curiosity, what is the essential difference between Rosalynde’s and Nathaniel’s arguments that make one persuasive, and the other not?
I found this interesting-
I do wonder how much of current viewpoints of many Mormons is “moored in Victorian attitudes about gender and the roles of mothers in natural history.”
Silver Rain–Rosalynde is consistent about gender being a social construct. Nathaniel vacillates between that and the assertion that it’s natural or obvious. Can’t have it both ways. (As others have said more eloquently above)
Ah, I see. I find a little more nuance than that. But I see it as a social construct built around biological (natural/obvious) realities.
Yes, obviously I’m restating in a crudely reductionist way.
Your discussion of a “gender role template” with details that can be negotiated and the different views remind me of parenting discussions of giving children coloring books versus blank paper to draw on. The coloring book side thinks it saves time to give them a place to start. The opposite thinks it keeps them from becoming more creative.
So, what if the template begins with something like “since nurturing is the most important part of life and since women have a comparative advantage in that role due to breastfeeding, then women should receive greater relationship decision-making authority in a marriage and a man’s role is to comply with the female’s direction.”
You have such a wholesome view of life that it never seems to cross your mind that as women gain power they will use gender roles the way men previously have, that is to dominate others. Men ought to get rid of them as fast as they can before they become an even greater shackle for men than they were for women.
Nathaniel, one final comment before I bow out for the night. I appreciate your clarification in comment 36. But considering this is an LDS blog, I hope your future post(s) include a discussion of the follow two approaches to gender roles. Much of the difficulty I and others may have with understanding your position may simply be a false assumption that you are advocating for the church’s definition of gender roles.
LDS Proclamation on the Family:
Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. … Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations. … By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
Nathaniel (comment 36):
Men and women can save a lot of time and error by starting with some basic assumptions about what they should do, but will need to experiment to find out how applicable the generic roles are to their individual case. The roles exist, but some assembly is required.
I think I am advocating the Church’s definition of gender roles, but I think many folks are confused about what that definition entails. You quoted the Proclamation. I accept the Proclamation. I’m a big fan. But I believe that the Proclamation, in isolation, is not an accurate reflection of Mormon teaching on this issue. To be simplistic about it, I think that you always need to put Mormon teaching next to this quote:
To get the Mormon position on gender roles, you need both statements. The general rule and the understanding that exceptions are real.
In other words: general doctrine + individualism = Mormonism. (Or, to phrase it another way, doctrine + common sense = Mormonism).
This is frustrating. Folks want to assume that Mormonism = Mormon doctrine. But Mormonism is bigger than doctrine. This is the necessary reality of an atheological faith. This isn’t a design flaw or a random bug. It’s an emphatically existential approach to organized religion. Doctrine, hierarchy, and institution augment and co-exist with private, personal religious experience. They do not replace it.
The desire to reduce Mormonism to general statements of doctrine is, at least in part, an attempt to abdicate our duty to make our own choices.
Some interesting and thought provoking ideas here.
I suppose I come from an unusual place, as someone who utterly rejected gender roles, was directed to them, and experienced a complete change of heart. I see them as a valuable example of a general guideline.
Any true artist knows that one most often works best when given flexible constraints as opposed to no constraints at all. I think the Proclamation to the World does an excellent job of providing just that.
To be fair, Nathaniel, the Proclamation itself contains the essence of that quote. You don’t really need it to strike the balance. People just don’t pay much attention to that part.
Am I the only one that doesn’t see the Church’s definition of and preference for gender roles as extremely rigid? I mean, even the proclamation notes that “circumstances necessitate individual adaptation”. Every recent GC talk I can think of has a disclaimer that more or less gives people an out.
I have known Stay-at-home-dads and working mothers who seem to thrive in the church. Perhaps I am being naïve, but it seems to me that Nathaniel’s argument doesn’t sound all that different from what I see in the wards and stakes I have lived in.
I guess I’m a little surprised that Elder Oaks believes it is his duty to teach general principles, not to minister to the exception. Wasn’t Christ’s message that we leave the 99 to find the One? Focusing on the needs of the privileged (i.e., the ones who are blessed enough to fit the pattern) over the needs of the less-privileged does not make much sense in the gospel of Christ.
I’m pretty sure Elder Oaks does both. :)
Once you say that being married and having (many) children is the preferred template, then gender roles will take care of themselves.
However, in 2010 in the USA only 20.2% of households were married people with children in the home, so many people are doing things other than raising children and a lot of those don’t want roles related to raising children to affect their options based on gender.
FWIW, I’m sure Elder Oaks was probably responding to the feedback he gets as an apostle of anytime they say anything, someone says “But what about _______!?!”, and the fact that is it impossible for them to comment on every single human situation. But I think the way he said it, it kinda sounded like the problems of the few aren’t worthy of the same care, time, and attention as the problems of the many.
I am not sure why the % of US households doing a particular thing has any bearing on the conversation. I imagine that 80% of households do not conform to a lot of the stated ideals of the church.
So would I want gender roles framed for my daughters? I think I probably will try to frame them exactly the way they were framed for my by my parents and church culture. I don’t want my daughters told they are not capable of, not suitable for or not permitted to undertake certain forms of human endeavor. Instead I want them to know that, ultimately, not all endeavors are created equal, and that their worth to their community does not depend on a career, on recognition, or on making good in any other public way….THAT is what I want for my daughters, and yes, I worry about it more for my daughters than for my sons. A humane form of gender roles has protected me from insecurity and disappointment, and has given meaning and value to the life as a SAHM that was inevitable anyway, given my choice to pursue a PhD in a ridiculous subject and marry a fellow academic.
The Marxist in me feels obliged to observe that your suggestion here, thoughtful as it is, is not exactly a defense of gender roles as Nathaniel presents them–which is, as best as I can tell, something that, thanks to a combination of human nature (women=biologically advantaged nurturers, men=otherwise) and Ricardian economics (specialization as a way of combating transaction costs and diminishing marginal returns), maximizes various necessary goods. Rather, this observation presents us with gender roles as a kind of class consolation, a psychological resource available to those who are engaged with the capitalist economy is such a way as feel its pressures but constrained in reach for its rewards. In that sense, the cynics might say it’s really not all that different from my own employ of arguments in support of rural or communal or “second shift” lifestyles. The difference, of course, is that it is not clear to me the prioritizing a certain socio-economic value system can have the same degree of consequences for those who feel drawn to a different lifestyle, as is the case of prioritizing certain gender roles for people who understand their own identity differently.
I don’t think that Elder Oaks doesn’t care about the problems of the few, he just understands that the problems of the few probably are best addressed directly with the few and probably by those who know them best.
This conversation and Part One have been very interesting to follow. I see a lot of frustration from both Nathaniel, who seems to feel willfully misunderstood, and those who are, I think, genuinely confused by his arguments and positions. Maybe I’m dense, but even after reading through two posts and a bunch of follow up comments, I still don’t think I really understand your position, Nathaniel. Maybe in that third post I’ll get there.
I’m almost certainly oversimplifying, but what I see here is a basic personality divide. We’re all looking at the same information, the same quotes in the Family Proc. and church talks, but because we take in information and make decisions in different ways, we process it differently. I keep finding myself going back to the thinking-feeling axis on the Myers Briggs. Nathaniel and others who are very comfortable with the way gender roles are taught in the church seem to thrive on rules based on general principles without worrying too much about how they work out on an individual level. They don’t see any trouble with focusing on the rule because the rhetoric does, in fact, allow for exceptions. Hurt feelings and abuses are an unfortunate but unavoidable side-effect of what is otherwise a fair and logical system. On the other hand, those who are uncomfortable with the rhetoric about gender roles seem to be naturally more focused on dealing with what is best for the well-being and feelings of individuals. Though they are perfectly aware that individual adaptation is technically allowed in church rhetoric, they still feel hurt by the rule because their focus is on individual people and their feelings.
I get the sense that if Nathaniel were to boil his position down to some concrete statements that deal with real-life situations, we would all probably find much–though of course not everything–to agree upon. At any rate, I think we would all feel less frustrated if we could see more clearly that we are approaching these highly sensitive topics the way we are not out of dogma and inflexibility, but because of basic differences in how we see and relate to the world.
Nathaniel’s post begins with a categorization of arguments against gender roles. He appears to me to be arguing from general premises not just from religious tenets. When he asks what gender roles are good for he doesn’t seem to be leading up to salvation but instead talks about “moral human experience”.
I am trying to point out that his categorization is incomplete and his argument doesn’t appear to add anything beyond the beginning religious premises. I think we should be clear when we are making a “because God said so” or “because I like it and it works for me” type argument and when we are attempting to make an argument that will appeal more broadly to people who do not already share all the same premises. Now, i also admit that Nathaniel may not share this same bias because he believes that honesty takes a back seat to doing good(see nazi example in OP), so he may not be presenting an argument he believes is valid but just posting it because he thinks it will do good because feminists are coming to put gender roles into boxcars for genderroleicide.
Now, I admit that in the context of this blog that a certain LDS presumption is understood, but the language he is using does not seem to appeal to a specifically religious set of beliefs, but without those beliefs there doesn’t seem to be much “human moral experience” going on.
Who do you think he is trying to convince of what with his post?
I’ve loved these posts precisely because they articulate positions and argument which I thought I was alone in endorsing. I think that there are, however, a few places where the argument needs to slow down a bit. For example, I think the following three points get lumped together a bit too much:
1) When it comes to gender roles, dedicated specialization is the best way to go.
2) It is better for these dedicated specializations to be assigned by society, god, etc. rather than chosen by the individual.
3) As members or representatives of society, god, etc., it is best that we assign these dedicated specializations to individuals along the lines of the currently accepted gender roles rather than some alternative.
As near as I can tell, feminists and the like do not push too hard on (1). I think they have serious objections to (2) though, and I think (3) would probably go with (2). Thus, I see the fact that gender roles are assigned rather than chosen as being THE primary objection of feminism….. But I could be wrong.
The Elder Oaks statement conveniently (self) serves as a retroactive apologetic for all past one rule fits all positions of the church and the apostles who spoke them, suddenly broadening the church’s stance on numerous subjects simultaneously with just a few words. I suspect this is the reason it was offered.
Some of your work is excellent but this was pretty loosey goosey and very convoluted stuff. Negotiated “gender roles”? That’s your main message? I don’t think you’re introducing anything new here to your audience except when they are negotiated calling them gender roles becomes an oxymoron!
You seem to enjoy the apologist role defining the middle ground as you nuanced niche. It makes me wounder how committed you are to each of your positions given this apparent one size fits all topics template.
Russel Arben Fox, your argument is interesting, because it draws out where I think some confusion with Nathaniel’s post is coming from. Those of us who are social constructivists don’t necessarily deny that there is a material basis to gender roles as they exist now or to those that existed previously. It’s one thing to acknowledge the function a set of stereotypes or divisions play in a society; it’s quite another to make these stereotypes normative, to insist that our society SHOULD be organized to incentivize the roles.
Joanna Brenner, a respected Marxist feminist, places the origin of the sexual division of labor in the 19th century, and acknowledges women’s biological role played a part in this. She argues:
“There is no reason why women should care for children rather than men and there is no reason why biological parents make better carers than anyone else. But in a world where choices are limited then there are lots of reasons why women rather than men are left holding the baby. In the 19th century rich women led a life of enforced isolation and leisure, paying others to perform the ‘women’s tasks’ of childcare and housework, but being denied any role in the public world. Poor women found that theirs and their husbands’ wages were not sufficient to pay for others to carry out these functions therefore it seemed the least bad option for them to be the homemakers.” – See more at: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/theory/37-theory/16276-mens-feminism-and-women-and-the-politics-of-class#sthash.GfCfMyz8.dpuf
But note all this stuff in there about not having enough options to do otherwise, being denied a role in the public world as a result of one’s expected role in reproduction, not having wage earning capabilities when they needed it. This division of labor was the only plausible one in the sense of maintaining production, but also very bad in many other respects. This is why you have to do better than this abstracted sense of “efficiency” when you claim we are, society-wide, better off with these gender roles than we would be if we started from the premise that individuals should have the chance to maximize their own happiness and productivity based on their individual skills…
Robert Heinlein on specialization:
Oh, sure, we should be able to do all of those things moderately well. But to get REALLY good at all of those things places us well beyond the human condition. In this life we are left to choose a small handful of things to get really good at, and it seems like child-rearing ought to be one of those things.
This is why you have to do better than this abstracted sense of “efficiency” when you claim we are, society-wide, better off with these gender roles than we would be if we started from the premise that individuals should have the chance to maximize their own happiness and productivity based on their individual skills
Matt Ridley’s ‘The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves’ is an excellent read for anyone who thinks specialization or efficiency are unimportant to human flourishing and well-being. As he states in the WSJ, summarizing the thesis of his book,
“Once human beings started swapping things and thoughts, they stumbled upon divisions of labor, in which specialization led to mutually beneficial collective knowledge. Specialization is the means by which exchange encourages innovation: In getting better at making your product or delivering your service, you come up with new tools. The story of the human race has been a gradual spread of specialization and exchange ever since: Prosperity consists of getting more and more narrow in what you make and more and more diverse in what you buy. Self-sufficiency—subsistence—is poverty.”
Nathaniel, maybe I should wait until you engage my previous comment before I launch another thought, but . . .
Your “efficiency” argument strikes me as contrary to how the church works to perfect individuals. By way of analogy: it would be far more efficient for your ward to provide professional-quality training for various callings and then keep people in those callings forever to maximize their performance, but this is, of course, precisely the opposite of what we do–and for very good reason, I think. It would seem that we could make the same argument regarding gender roles: to the extent that biology gives women a leg up on nurturing, wouldn’t we then want to remove women from opportunities to nurture and expand them for men, so that they both can strengthen their areas of weaknesses as they seek perfection? Why, then, would gender performance be a carve-out from the general gospel pattern of providing people with callings that give them a chance to expand their abilities?
Yes, the efficiency argument argues for working mothers and childcare provided by other more specialized women.
If you launch directly into a complex, sophisticated explanation of something that skeptics assume ought to be simple, no one is going to listen to you. That’s why it was necessary for me to lay out the groundwork and explain why we shouldn’t presume the function of gender roles in society should be either obvious or simple.
I mean look at my examples, I’m primarily drawing from systems (emergence) and computer science (abstraction): both of which are disciplines obsessed with complexity. This makes sense, because the definitive example of a complex system would be a human society: lots of individual agents with their own information and incentives who nevertheless find ways to coordinate and cooperate, sometimes intentionally sometimes on accident.
To give a preview of some of the things that I think gender roles do, however, here are some quick thoughts.
Gender Role – A set of expectations for how a person ought to behave based on that person’s gender. (Note the “ought”: that’s why these are normative rather than merely observational.)
Now, some ideas about the work they can do in society:
1. They help young folks make good choices. If you wait to get married and have kids to start figuring out what your role is going to be, you’ve missed out on essentially all of your available training. Those for whom gender roles are not a great fit aren’t worse off, but those for whom the roles are a great fit are better off.
2. They help regulate relations between the sexes. This is partially about social and individual flourishing, but the bifurcation of humanity into gender (such that it makes sense to talk about male-female relationships as well as just person-to-person relationships) creates an important new facet in our ability to relate to the other.
3. They provide a basis by which every single human being is automatically needed by society. The need to be needed is elemental, and if part of that need is predicated on gender, it means every human being is presumed to have an important role to play in his or her society. This is crucial in several ways. First, it ensures that we all feel needed even before we have a good sense of our individual strengths and weaknesses. Second, it ensures that we all feel needed independent of our abilities. We are valued for what we are (male or female) independently of what we can do.
4. They provide a framework of meaning which can assist in the construction of individual identity. Being man (or woman) comes with a presupposition towards particular strengths/weaknesses/characteristics. However, these are usually vague enough that there is enormous latitude in how we personally interpret them in relation to our own lives and experiences.
5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if gender is truly an eternal aspect of our identity (as our Church teaches), then gender roles (to the extent that they are correct) help us to come to know our true selves.
This list isn’t exhaustive. It isn’t fully explained. And none of those benefits are free. It’s a general outline of some possibilities, however.
I disagree pretty vehemently with this. First of all, I believe the Church is very efficient at what it does. Your suggestion stems from a misinterpretation of what it is doing. If the goal is to efficiently execute the callings, yeah: hire some professionals. But that defeats the purpose, which is not for the calling to be done, but for us to do the callings. We have a lot of mundane tasks that need to get done. We have a lot of people who need to be challenged and grown in interdependent work. What could possibly be more efficient than having the members do the work? That alternative (hiring professionals) makes about as much sense as hiring a bodybuilder to do your workout routine at the gym because it will save you time. Is that an efficient way for you to get healthy?
The reason I feel so passionately about this is that I believe it stems from a horrible malaise of complacence. We in the developed world have not earned our affluence and comfort, but we too often take it for granted. We continue to dally in absurd and discredited theories (like Marxism) precisely because efficiency has provided so much surplus that we can afford the extravagance of such backwards thinking.
The entire notion that, you know, maybe we should just try a little less hard seems like an affront to the staggering weight of human want that continues to exist in this world, and that will only go away as we become more efficient.
Look, a human life has only but so many years. We’ve only got but so many thoughts to think, breaths to take, and muscles with which to labor. The amount of productive input into an economy is more or less fixed. This means that the only difference between a society with enough and to spare and a society that is drowning in deprivation is how much output you can wring from that input. Efficiency.
Should we hand over the Church welfare department to some bright-eyed deacons to administer because it will provide them with a great learning experience? Or, when the product of labor really matters, should we perhaps let the experts run the show? I’m sorry to get so worked up about this, but I hope it explains why I don’t take the concept of efficiency lightly. As long as we live in a world where children starve the word “efficiency” is very close to sacred in my heart.
i.e. There is far more “privilege” in the disparaging of “efficiency” and “specialization” than there is in this post about gender roles.
Well, if nothing else, gender roles appear to be good for crashing the T&S server.
Nathaniel, re: your transition cost argument: even assuming there is a transition cost to shifting from mother as primary (exclusive?) caregiver to including father as caregiver, those costs don’t end the inquiry. Any such costs have to be weighed against the benefits inherent in transitioning, and have to net out the costs of mother-as-primary-or-sole caregiver. I see you recognizing some costs in the shift—which, again, may exist—while ignoring the costs of maintaining the status quo and the benefits of any shift.
“Well, if nothing else, gender roles appear to be good for crashing the T&S server.”
Touche, Kristine. Touche.
Archaeologists excavated kurgans of the Russian steppes.
Because everyone knows warriors are male cuz it’s a guy thing, it was years before someone noticed that some of them were women.
If you have Amazon video service, then this tale of “Amazons” is interesting–
Here’s something else I found interesting–
“Archaeologists believe that they have found the remains of a woman metal worker from the Bronze Age, a discovery that challenges ideas about the division of labour in prehistoric times.”
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2212375/A-woman-s-work-Researchers-evidence-women-did-metalwork-Bronze-Age.html#ixzz2szguLy8Y
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
It would probably be more “efficient” to let professional day care centers take care of all the children while their mothers go to work, because they can specialize in staff training and skill, facilities (swing set), and materials (toys, paints, full range of developmentally appropriate books), and efficiently serve many children at once in one place rather than duplicating this infrastructure in each individual household. If that is more efficient and thus, per your impassioned recent comment, would prevent child starvation, would you support that model for society?
Nathaniel, I’d agree with you on first world malaise and complacence, which I often see in feminist discussions that centre on self-fulfillment, when in many parts of the world survival is the issue.
However, I don’t think that patriarchal structures & gender roles, are the way to escape third world problems. Indeed those structures would seem to be more entrenched there. A more equal society benefits everyone.
As I commented posts ago, you seem to be arguing for flexibility, but trying to frame it in a gender role paradigm, which simply comes across as contorted apologetics, and IMO doesn’t work.
If gender roles are eternal and essential, why is God the Father the nurturer/caregiver? Using your logic, wouldn’t it be better that we prayed to our Heavenly Mother for comfort and guidance?
It seems like the “absence” of heavenly mother in our lives indicates that she is the one working outside the home and our Heavenly father is more equipped to help raise his children into godhood. We are their children after all.
The same principle could apply to any nurturing role that the church has as well. Wouldn’t it be better for a woman to be the ward Mother- fulfilling her role as a bishop? She is more able to empathize and teach with love and kindness after all, since she is a woman.
Nathaniel: Your response to Julie in #72 seems to me to mainly prove her point. Callings stretch us and help us grow. Abandoning gender role might put us outside of our comfort zone and result in spiritual growth and development. Just like a new calling makes you look at your life, at the ward, at others in a new and hopefully more loving way, as would some serious gender-bending in our roles. Joseph Smith was basically deacon age when he got started, and that worked out. God qualifies those who are called.
And when you say: “…when the product of labor really matters, should we perhaps let the experts run the show?”, it seems to me to suggest that when things really matter a lot, then men ought to be in charge, because they are the experts.
One of the interesting things about roles and complexity and social conservatism is how notions of moral utopias connect with values.
More specifically, people arguing that we should be careful changing social arrangements have to deal with the fact that we should be careful eliminating sin and hypocrisy because all historical societies are replete with sin and hypocrisy.
Nothing would have such an unpredictable effect on society as an increased adherence to moral standards.
Take for example that the number of sexual partners in real societies is distributed roughly as a power law. How do the gender roles we are discussing deal with this? Are the tails of the distribution “poor choices” that good gender roles are eliminate or do the gender roles accommodate different standards for different places on the distribution as “negotiated” arrangement.
In other words are we talking about utopian gender roles in theory or are we talking real gender roles that cover not just the exceptions but the incredible diversity of lifestyles and preferences. Its just a fact of present society that there are more choices and I don’t see how strong gender roles will make even a slight dent in that diversity.
Its all so 10K GDP.
I am not in favor of “normative” gender roles. I don’t think that gender roles should be so prescriptive as to make anyone feel like an outsider if they don’t do things a certain way. I love the balanced approach that the PotF uses, of acknowledging individual adaptation (not “exceptions,” a word I dislike because it makes an inspired adapter into an outsider).
I do agree that there is a strong biological basis to gender roles, and that they serve to support and empower mothers. For example, I do NOT believe that the husband has an equal say in how many or when the couple should have children. At least in our family, the final say was up to the mother, whose life is likely going to be impacted the most. (Although I understand that not every woman has as brutal a pregnancy as I personally do, there are so many different ways that a woman can be impacted, from gestational diabetes that doesn’t go away, to complications from surgical delivery, and so on.)
I think that differences in gender should be acknowledged and legitimized. I think that any woman who chooses a nurturing role should be respected, and that contribution should not be seen as less than what a man does. This is where I do not buy into the notion of “traditional” as an apt descriptor for LDS teachings. In the 1950s USA, it was “Father Knows Best.” LDS families, however, view parents as equal partners. Earning a paycheck does not entitle one to a greater say. That was actually pretty radical when President Kimball was teaching it in the 1970s.
Also, while it is absolutely true that the gender roles are most pronounced and significant during the childbearing years, this is not so minimal to folks who are actually going through that phase of their life. Our children were born over an 18-year period, and in between there was a lot of soul-searching and prayer about whether to have another child, trying to deal with the realities of the kids that were there, and struggling to keep a marriage alive amidst the pressures. It can be pretty intense.
Nathaniel, thanks for the clarification in #49. I guess I misunderstood your approach when you said “[m]en and women … will need to experiment to find out how applicable the generic roles are to their individual case.” That sounded to me like more than just an “exception” or “adaption,” but a full invitation to reject the gender roles if they don’t work. In my experience, leaders think of exceptions as narrow and temporary. They are not inviting us to determine that the general rules are eternally inapplicable. It’s fine for a widow to work outside the home to provide for her children. Not so fine for a couple to say in gospel doctrine class, “we prayed about it and our divine design is for Sally to provide and preside and for Harry to nurture.”
I also add my support for Julie’s comment #70. In the scriptures, the Lord routinely calls upon the weak and the least qualified to perform his work (Enoch, Moses, Joseph, etc). So too with church callings. So why, when it comes to raising children, should we only give the responsibility to the strongest and most well-suited? Seems like male nursery workers and SAHDs are a great way to build the kingdom and confound the wise at the same time.
You were right the first time. My position would be that if a couple said that in Gospel Doctrine, the correct response would be to give them the benefit of the doubt. My own family is something like that, and I know multiple stay-at-home fathers. Providing for your family is much more important than fulfilling a gender role. The first priority is the health and safety of the family by whatever arrangement works.
I continue to be confused at how difficult this concept seems to be. Gender roles matter, but they are not the most important thing at all times and in all places. Isn’t that how all principles and commandments work?
The idea that commandments give us free reign to shut our brains off and not use common sense is incredibly strange to me.
With you and Julie and stephenchardy, that’s at least three people, but the case isn’t getting any stronger.
Yes, the Lord calls the weak. Why? Because (1) it demonstrates His power, (2) it is a protection against pride and (3) it helps strengthen us. Now, given those objectives is calling the weak efficient, or inefficient? It is obviously efficient. It is only inefficient if you think the Lord actually cares very much about tasks He could do himself in an instant.
Efficiency is a meaningless concept unless you first ascertain what the objective is. So, if you want to save time, it is efficient to hire someone to go to the gym for you. If you want to get stronger, it is not efficient to hire someone to go to the gym for you. If you want to maximize your success rate for cardiac surgery, it is efficient to operate on young, healthy people who do not have any heart problems. If you want to actually treat heart problems and save lives, it is inefficient to operate on young, healthy people who do not have any heart problems. If you want to minimize the time it takes to clean a car, it is efficient to only clean cars that are already clean. If you want to make dirty cars clean, it is not efficient to only clean cars that are already clean. I trust you can create your own examples at this point, but here is a realistic one:
It is inefficient to have your young children help you clean the house if your objective is “to get a clean house”. It is very efficient to have your young children help you clean the house if your objective is “to teach my children”. You have to state what the efficiency is supposed to be of. Otherwise the concept is meaningless.
So that’s the problem with your logic, and Julie’s, but let’s not stop there. Let’s be really clear about exactly what a terrible, awful idea this is. According to your logic, we should go ahead and let the weaker parent specialize because it would be good for them. The problem with that is that your children are not obstacles for you to overcome. They are not trials sent for your benefit. They are not things, like spiritual exercise equipment for you to exploit in some kind of self-fulfillment quest. Being a parent is not about you. It is about your child.
The entire attitude that other human beings ought to be viewed as objects which we can be put to serve our needs is poisonous. Let’s try to remember that being a parent (and being a human being) is supposed to be about service, not about selfishness. When we turn service into a narcissistic exercise, something has gone truly horribly wrong.
Re #71: Your preview of the work gender roles can do is full of problems (confirming my belief that we need to see where you’re going):
1. The gender roles you argue for, even if arguendo given weight, would have application to 0-10 years of a woman’s life for those women who choose to partner with a man and have children. (I focus on women because “anything else” for men has no substance to work with, and “to gather resources” is all of us all the time.) For educating “young folks” and guiding their choices, 0-10 years of the life of some of the girls is pretty short change. Furthermore, “those for whom gender roles are not a great fit” are very likely worse off. Training for gender roles is NOT pareto optimal, for individuals or for society.
2. “regulate relations between the sexes” is really disturbing. You would perpetuate patriarchy, the man in charge, the women taking orders? A provider/nurturer model? How is “the general role of women to raise children” different from “barefoot and pregnant”?
3. How is “every single human being automatically needed by society” in a system where the “general role of women” is to raise children? Haven’t you left out a whole lot of people? By “every single person” do you mean “those who count”?
4. and 5. I would grant that a discussion of gender roles may assist in the construction of individual identity and help us know our true selves. But I suggest that construction and self-knowledge is as likely to come in the form of “that’s NOT me” as in “that’s what I’m like too”. I’m not sure that’s the direction you mean to go.
“But it was quite deliberately chosen to complicate the way I knew my post would be inevitably characterized by doctrinaire defenders of some strains of feminist ideology.”
I was also struck by your use of RDML Grace Hopper in this post. Help me understand your thinking here–in the above, are you saying that you anticipated that some would wrongly accuse you and/or the post of sexism, and you thought that putting a picture of Hopper in your post would make you and/or the post ok in their eyes? I’m not sure how it would make something ok, or even “complicate” it, that’s why I’d be very interested in follow up thoughts.
Is the thinking here that the categories “is sexist” and “is the kind of person who knows who Hopper is” are mutually exclusive, and so evidencing membership in the latter by including a photo is sufficient to demonstrate one is not the former? (Or was the thinking something else entirely?)
Thanks in advance for clarifying. It was a striking choice.
NG said: When we turn service into a narcissistic exercise, something has gone truly horribly wrong.
NG: quotes Hayek as saying “everybody recognizes now that they are the outcome of a process of evolution whose results nobody foresaw or designed.”
There is always a bait and switch in arguments that shift between what is and what should be. It can been seen in your strong evaluative judgments in the comments versus what starts out in the post to be more a description of what has happened in the past.
So, on the one hand you seem to be saying that gender roles evolved rather than were designed and that they have unpredictable effects but then later you assume that you validly assess that gender roles are a good thing and that God designed us to have them.
This is confusion.
You also shift back and forth between what is good for individuals and what is good for societies in a way that ambiguous.
Talking of evolution and comparative advantage is talking of people as objects and as objects that compete. Morals are part of that competition.
One can pick a moral and evaluative from of reference and list the things that are wrong with the world or one can explain in a non-normative way how morals came to be but doing both just doesn’t work very well, particularly if one is hoping for universal values.
Here is one more try at an argument for why you should be wary of societal gender roles in our current society.
You mentioned that gender roles are sacred. I agree. Do we want to society at large to play a role in what is sacred for us? No gender-union way! The result will be a diminishing of our ability to live our own lives.
We need the protection of the diversity of the sacred, a freedom of religion for our gender roles in our to carry out our unique role.
We need a thin version of the societal role in sacred, not a thick one.
If society as a whole needs to compromise on what gender roles are, it will be bad news for religion, bad news for diversity, bad news for freedom, and bad news for your posterity.
Chris, thank you. Your point 1. is huge.
Nathaniel, the entire reason that the notion of gender roles is controversial is because those who don’t fit the role ARE worse off. Someone who figures out that he shouldn’t marry because he is gay, or shouldn’t feel less important because she is infertile, or should be happy having chosen a career because that is what the Lord wanted her to do, may eventually become “fine”, but they likely suffered the psychological trauma of deviating not only from a social norm, but a a norm that is supposedly divine. If we preach one thing at church, and then tell people that they can go home and negotiate different terms with God, can we do that with other commandments, too? Why not spend the precious time and resources we have as a church preaching laws that are universal, like baptism, repentance, patience, forgiveness, love, etc.?
Re #71: I look forward to reading your more fleshed-out post on these issues, but I’m already troubled by some of it, particularly point 3:
They provide a basis by which every single human being is automatically needed by society. The need to be needed is elemental, and if part of that need is predicated on gender, it means every human being is presumed to have an important role to play in his or her society. This is crucial in several ways. First, it ensures that we all feel needed even before we have a good sense of our individual strengths and weaknesses. Second, it ensures that we all feel needed independent of our abilities. We are valued for what we are (male or female) independently of what we can do.
I have found this to have the opposite effect in my life, as a single woman. The fact is that I’m not needed in this model. While I understand that mothers need encouragement and reassurance that their work is equally valuable to work performed outside the home, we sometimes swing too far the other way and end up predicating women’s worth almost entirely on gender/child-nurturing skills. Though my brain often tries to correct this message, the way my heart often processes this kind of rhetoric is that being a mother is the most important; I’m not a mother (or a school teacher or an aunt or even a pediatrician); the work I do is therefore unimportant and unneeded. Teaching young girls that much of their worth to society is because they will one day nurture children may give them a sense of being needed independent of their other abilities in the short term. But for those who remain unmarried, those who can’t have children, or those who struggle to feel the nurturing bond that has always been promised to them as the inheritance of their gender, it can be difficult not to internalize the message that no matter what your other abilities, you are not needed unless you conform to this role.
If you mean that men and women are needed by society as men and women in ways other than mother/nurturer and father/provider, please let me know. I’m not sure that I can think of anything else in my life, from my job to the good I try to do in my relationships with family and friends, that are dependent on my “role” as a woman. Like I said earlier, I understand that you are trying to build a system of general rules in which individual adaptation is allowable, but in my experience, individual adaptation–by necessity or choice–comes with a hefty dose of existential anguish.
NG, is the Lord calling a “weak” person to Bishop as part of that person’s growth really so categorically different from a “weak” person parenting a child, such that people making the comparison between the two deserve your harsh words against their “poisonous” “attitude that other human beings ought to be viewed as objects which we can be put to serve our needs”? Are’t ward members whose lives will be impacted for good or ill by a bishop people too, not objects? I’m sure we could draw distinctions of degree, but you’re being rather unfair to speak quite so harshly against people who made that comparison.
Also, if God can demonstrate His power by helping people in their callings, why can’t He help parents in their calling as parents? I don’t know about you, but I find that parenting requires more desperate pleas for divine power, insight, and general support than anything else I do.
Good points. Its not just child-raising that Nathaniel thinks is vital but the whole concept of complementarity. That males and females are complementary in a way that is a very, very good thing. Additionally, the focus of this complementarity in a husband and wife bond is central to his vision.
What is lost in this model for me are opportunities for deep friendship bonds between adults of opposite gender outside of marriage. The focus of male-female relationship in this role is about marriage and child-rearing. There is always the danger that male-female relationships outside of marriage will threaten marriage.
Mixed gender workplaces and societal groups have changed this dramatically. One of the best aspects of “thinner” gender roles is that they create a space for person to person rather than male to female relationships among adults.
The benefits to children from men having rich friendships with women and women from having rich friendships with men are substantial.
People are very, very different and the more contact we have with varying types of people the more refined is our ability to empathize and nurture each other.
I’m pretty sure he’s talking about gender roles in a marital, teamwork relationship.
The straws just keep getting more and more scattered.
Look at NG:s comment in #71. For example #3.
3. They provide a basis by which every single human being is automatically needed by society.
I’m pretty sure that’s not about a marital relationship. That’s part of the whole point; that he’s arguing in a very general way about society and gender but many are here are taking it as “gender roles are good for an LDS marriage”. If so, why bring in all the extraneous, general points?
He wants the thought that “I’m a man and not a woman.” “I’m a woman and not a man” to be fundamental in how we experience the world. Its informed by religion but I don’t think he is limiting it that way and he doesn’t want to put a “gender roles are good when married” disclaimer on it.
Please check the post again. The purpose of the Hayek quote was simply that many core institutions of human society were not invented by humans. Not necessarily that they were evolved. I stated this explicitly:
I realize there’s a lot else in your comments, but it’s hard to have a productive exchange if we can’t even start with a good grasp of what was in the original post.
I meant evolved in the change over time sense not in the natural selection sense. But in an attempt to be productive, you go on to say they weren’t invented or designed. You gave the possibility of divine fiat but then both the Hayek quote and you saying they weren’t invented or designed and quoting spontaneous order made me think you were thinking of something other than the process you are talking about now which seems to be a conscious and designed support for gender roles.
Am I wrong that you have a testimony of the sacred and beneficial nature of gender roles?
I just think all of the explanation of the why’s obscure rather highlight that testimony. It’s tricky because to have that testimony means that others that don’t share that testimony may think that you think That divine revelation is telling you things that they think are mistaken.
I hate to see a testimony of something sacred sullied with an argument that won’t convince many people that don’t share that belief. I mean are you calling the gender role erasers to repentance or are you not?
mtnmarty—I’m sorry if this feels condescending but…The marital gender roles can help someone feel valued to the larger society even before they have developed their strengths and weaknesses. That has absolutely no ban on other ways to relate. It provides a structure, a framework, a starting point. Not a definition. Gender roles have value even if they are not absolute or utterly proscriptive. He’s stated that quite clearly several times.
Seriously, you’re wanting to read what he says a certain way, and you’re reaching pretty far to twist his meaning to match your expectation. He has a great deal more patience than I to continue addressing the increasingly ludicrous acrobatics, in my mind.
Nathaniel: Do you see any practical difference between these two statements?
1. Roles that are prescribed by one’s gender serve a valuable purpose and are part of God’s plan for us. They allow us to take advantage of the comparative advantage that each gender has and this promotes the welfare of individuals and families. However, because of the wide variety of individual personalities, talents and circumstances that apply to different men and women, these roles cannot be rigidly applied, and it is up to each of them to determine whether any particular gender role should apply to them and to adopt those roles only to the extent that doing so will maximize the welfare of their family.
2. There are no roles that are prescribed by gender. However, all individuals have particular talents, personality traits and other personal circumstances which will be best suited to specific roles. Men and women should both examine their personal circumstances, personalities and talents to determine what roles best suit them and their family. They should maximize the welfare of their family by adopting those roles which gives them the greatest comparative advantage.
I don’t see a distinction between them and so I don’t see how arguing that there are gender roles adds anything to your basic argument. Furthermore, doesn’t the second statement preserve the good that is accomplished by gender roles, while reducing the cost that comes from the risk that too many people will try to force themselves or others into roles for which they are not well suited?
So according to INC.COM, if efficiency rules, we should get rid of all of half the male CEOs. Maybe even move to a female pope, among other religious leaders.
Prescriptive rules do not work. We tried this once before with Blacks and slavery, or Sunnis against Shias, etc., ad nauseaum. Whenever we have in our minds that some group or other is consigned to doing such and such, or is lesser than, evil will result.
I also disagree with the fact that ascendency is paid for by some cost, that if you pay the cost you should have this privileged. Somehow, men fighting and dying in war, in the ultimate act of insanity, should grant them some sort of privilege is perverse. That is the ultimate bedrock of patriarchy: if I (or my gang) can beat you up, I am the leader. If we, males, follow Jesus, we will gladly use our gifts and talents for love and protection, just as any woman would.
Oh this post stirs up a lot of sadness for me. After a long day with the children, my husband came home but had to spend the next few hours working on a presentation he was giving the next morning.
I’m a middle-aged Mormon woman with several young children. I stay at home and my husband has a very respected job. If I could have been given a glimpse of my life as a highschooler, I would have been just delighted with the way it all turned out.
However, I feel deep DEEP resentment towards my financial dependence on my husband. Not my husband, who is great and kind and all. My financial dependence.
Financial dependence IS my gender role in a sense. And it hurts. It does great damage.
I look back to my Freshman year at BYU and it’s very clear to me that I was basing EVERY important decision on gender roles. Rigid gender roles. I mean, when the prophet tells women that they should make a career out of motherhood, there’s not a lot of room to doubt the wisdom of that.
When the best most valiant Mormon boys work their tails off in college so they will be able to provide for a large family, they usually are faced with a many many years of training ahead of them…..they go years putting in the kind of hours that do NOT lend well to a spouse also trying to eek out a part-time gig.
So we did everything right. And my husband now has children and earning power. I have children and a lot of sadness. Oh it’s painful. I actually feel used and useless at the same time.
Here’s what it boils down to for me….I truly have NO IDEA what I would have answered if someone had asked me as a BYU student “What career would you pursue if you were a man?”
Well, now that I think about it I probably would have said “something that can provide for a large family.”
And that is what is so heartbreaking. To not even KNOW what I would have studied “if I were a man.”
I know that the men are objectified as well from a young age by gender roles. To be providers.
It’s a bit vulgar so we no longer harp on how the whole point in being a “good” provider is that you can provide for a LARGE FAMILY. But it’s clear that if your priorities are in the right place and you are able to welcome more children financially, physically, and emotionally, you are supposed to do so.
Both rigid gender roles are potentially damaging, but I believe they are much more damaging for the girls who internalize them than the boys.
The boy who sees their worth tied up in their ability to provide for a large family often ends up as the mid-thirties LDS man who, with experience and age now feels comfortable enough to make jokes about how he “knows” they are done having children and four is enough.
It’s a much harder transition for a woman who gave up her twenties and thirties and has a laughable resume to decide that she would now like to be able to support herself financially.
We all know SO many women who are suffering for their lack of career aspirations in their younger years. Every ward I’ve ever been in has them.
Gender roles hurt people!
Basically, I wish someone would have sat me down twenty years ago and helped me to see myself as a person instead of just a female potential future nurturer if I played all my cards right.
Oh to have those cards back in my hands.
I appreciate the original posting. Somehow, to me, it would be unseemly for a man hearing a gunshot to duck behind a woman, but it makes perfect sense to imagine a woman ducking behind a man. Does this exemplify a gender role for men to be protectors? If so, gender roles make sense to me — at least, this one does.
That instinct stems from protecting children I believe, since any woman could potentially be carrying a baby.
Now if YOU were holding a baby and I heard a gunshot, it makes perfect sense to me that I (a woman) would instinctually step in front of you to protect the baby you carried.
People are protectors. Good people. Not genders.
Anon, you’re right about the children. But doesn’t what I wrote hold true even if there are no children around? Wouldn’t be be unseemly for a man to duck behind a woman? We never purposefully teach men to stand in front, or women to duck behind — and yet it seems so normal and natural.
My point was that even when it looks like there are no children around, any woman could potentially be carrying a baby inside of her.
Now my point falls apart if you are envisioning standing to block a 70 year old woman. I’ll give you that.
What a poignant post. Thank you.
It seems to me with that story that it isn’t gender roles which caused the problem, but absolutist dependence on them. When there are no gender roles, you more often than not get two people building careers, and strangers raising your children.
I am the daughter of a woman who worked outside of the home as necessary, but put her husband’s career first, and focused on her children. Even now, an empty nester, she cooks, cleans, and makes herself available to her family. She also continues to keep her hand in her career field.
Many people would pity her. Even she struggles with feeling of worth. Yet without her, I, as the ex wife of a man who believed that a woman should also be making money for him to spend, would be constantly afraid of having to take unpaid time to nurse my sick children. I would be straining my limited budget with late fees when I can’t pick up my children on time. My life as a working mother would be even harder than it is.
I would have loved to have a man who took his family obligations seriously, who felt a duty to provide and protect. But instead, I have lived a life struggling in debilitating fear, PTSD, and torn between two oppositional roles for the rest of my life.
Sadness comes, not from teaching ideals, but from misapplying them.
Sorry to try your patience. There appear to be a range of interpretations of the post. I was trying to read it in a grand and comprehensive way based on the sweeping scope of the setup and his language around gender being so important to humanity.
I really appreciate your comment.
“We continue to dally in absurd and discredited theories (like Marxism)”
Made me smile.
That seems to be what the OP was saying.
SilverRain — I’m without adequate words.
Oh, I’m always late to the game. It’s good for me, I guess, to get to read through all the comments.
I have to laugh, because this conversation totally reminds me of discussions between me and my husband. As it turns out, in most arguments when we actually define our terms we are arguing very similar points, but he is equally baffled by “[t]he idea that commandments give us free reign to shut our brains off and not use common sense,” while I see evidence that for many in our own and other religions, a commandment trumps common sense. In that understanding, we may pray for confirmation (or to come to terms with something that doesn’t make sense / hurts us), but we do not question whether it is true / right / helpful, because it is a COMMANDMENT. Thus, my husband and I not infrequently think we are disagreeing about ideas, when in reality we are simply disagreeing about terms (his terms are ‘the thing that makes the most sense’ while mine are ‘the thing I think most people in the church believe’).
I think the more complex the argument, the more important it is to define your terms up front. It’s very obvious that it’s been a frustrating conversation for you, but I don’t think the misunderstanding is entirely the fault of your readers. You’ve apparently been defining and thinking about gender roles as much more fluid and much less morally binding than I would say is typical.
My concern with supporting gender roles is that I think there are very few who understand gender roles as *I think* you do, and thus I believe they are more harmful than you understand them to be. If gender roles are simply a suggestion based on averages (e.g., “If you’re a woman, you should probably drink more milk “), they’re stripped of a lot of the moral judgment which you have apparently never come up against. (Again, I think positive statements like “Women’s bodies appear to need more calcium than men’s in order to function properly” are not gender roles and are not harmful, while statements like “It is the divine role of women to drink at least two glasses of milk a day” may lead us to pass judgment on those who are incapable of getting two glasses of milk, or who get their calcium in tablet form.) I think most of us (women especially) HAVE come up against that moral judgment, though, and I remember lying awake at night with tears in my eyes wondering why it was so evil to want to be something other than the ‘generic woman’, and to want to do something other than raise children.
“I remember lying awake at night with tears in my eyes wondering why it was so evil to want to be something other than the ‘generic woman’, and to want to do something other than raise children.”
Maggie, after such a great post you can’t leave us with that cliffhanger…what was the answer?!?
It’s too bad that most of this debate seems to devolve into the personal, which practically necessitates hurt feelings based on disagreement.
Someone bringing up feelings sadness at the (im)moral judgments of others is not a trump card against moral truth, standards, or in this case a fundamental aspect of mortality. In some sense you might say *the* fundamental aspect of mortality.
You set the post up as a rebuttal to arguments against normative gender roles. I may be miss-reading you (again) but which of the two prongs does “gender roles are bad for women” fall under. It doesn’t seem to fall under either to me but it does seem to be argued for by some commenters.
Are them some specific people you are rebutting or another source of why your two prongs are the argument against gender roles?
So are you saying that the fact that people are sad that gender roles take a back seat to the fundamental aspect of morality, justice and equality, is not a trump card against justice and equality?
Luckily, my gender role socialization also minimized respect for the personal and hurt feelings.
Dang, you said mortality whose fundamental aspect is death not morality. Oh, never mind.
ji, anon, I’d hope anyone hearing a gunshot would throw themselves and the neighbour to the ground.
For a moment, I am going to grant your argument regarding the natural evolution basis of some form of gender roles and their potential usefulness as a default but individually “negotiable” for the benefit of couples argument. Not that I don’t have issues with it, but my biggest issue with the defense of gender roles as useful comes from an honest look around all of humanity to see what they have gotten us. You want to remind us that we shouldn’t look to affluent Americans as the normal by which we should judge the usefulness of said roles. Fine. That makes sense.
So what I object to is the vast evidence which shows us that the fruits of the gender roles for most of human history and humanity have been really, really awful for the daughters of God. They have been virtually excluded from political and economic power. You like to use economics as your discipline of reference, even it ‘uncomfortable facts’. The economic dependence and disenfranchisement of women almost everywhere, except maybe in post-feminist movement Europe and US, is a pretty uncomfortable fact for what happens when women specialize in nurturing and let their men specialize in resource accumulation. Seriously, lets say you had to send your infant daughter off to live in another society than post-feminist 20th century America and the like? Are you going to choose to send her to a society with strong (dare we say traditional gender roles) where she has 1) no right to property, 2) no access to her own economic production, 3) faces exclusion from professions and crafts due to her gender. Do you send her to society where she is politically disenfranchised due to her gender? I think this is why you get such knee-jerk push back to defending gender roles especially from women. For them gender roles have been used as much as a bludgeon and tool of social and economic oppression for their sisters as they have anything else. They share a gender with those who suffer genital multilation as a “norm” and buttressed by beliefs about women’s role in society. They live in a society where domestic violence and abuse is proportionally taken out on them. Abortion and infanticide are both incredibly sad and incredibly disproportionately gendered. We belong to a church in which their gender excludes them from all decision rights now and for the foreseeable future (read keys for decision rights). A religion that until 20 years ago had them covenanting asymmetrically to obey their husbands and now assymetrically hearken.
If I could look around the world and see empirical evidence where gender roles were just as likely to lead to societies where women were privileged to men or even just equal to men in these basic outcomes then maybe it wouldn’t be such an uphill battle to justify them. Until we can prove that gender roles, in the real world do not lead to systematic and importantly detrimental outcomes for women, then I have trouble trying to defend their origin as godly and as an arrangement to be given the benefit of the doubt. Especially outside a very narrow, privileged corridor life for women is not only nasty, brutal and short, it is nastier, more brutal and shorter for women than men. So I tend to think that the women expressing skeptism to the usefulness of gender roles deserve the benefit of the doubt. Empirically its their blood, literally, that tends to be on the hands of societies and their execution of gender roles. I think that historical and empirical context matters enormously when deciding how to approach this debate.
Nathaniel, I’m looking forward to your third posting.
Whenever people speak of a problem, I tend to try to envision a solution. I can’t for this one. If any concept of gender roles is unacceptable, and the words masculine and feminine must be driven out of our vocabulary and daily lives, what is the replacement? Androgyny? If so, who is the arbiter of the new standard (the new norm) to be laid on all of us?
If the current societal expressions of masculine and feminine were set in place by a God or are the product of evolution, well, how does one committee change all of that to make everything fair? A government-established committee? A United Nations committee?
No, I think it is best to leave it alone, and to let each mother and father raise their own children, teaching correct principles as best they can, supported by societal institutions that help them. In our modern world, each individual can largely choose his or her own path — men and women are already free to break or sustain masculine and feminine stereotypes as each individually chooses.
Rah, that argument, with very little adjustment, could be easily used to discontinue teaching the Gospel. Again, it isn’t the principles that are the problem. It’s misapplication of them.
I see Nate arguing that there is SOME value in gender roles, and those arguing that there is none using absolute heavy-handed application of then for examples. EVERY good principle can be misused when taken as an absolute, when misapplied, or when used as a hammer against others rather than a measuring tape for oneself. You might think you are arguing successfully against his points, but you are not.
In order to truly see what he means, you would have to also examine the harm done to women by the multitude of men who abandon their responsibilities and familial roles. Or even harm to men and children when women abandon theirs. Sadly, there is much evidence there as well. Our culture is increasingly celebrating only duty to oneself at the cost of spouses and children. If you can’t see how teaching gender roles and correctly applying them can help alleviate this devastating trend, then I suggest you get involved in domestic violence shelters, drug recovery centers, and nonprofits which minister to single mothers in poverty.
I recently looked at an app which told me what a typical family like mine looked like. According to it, as a single mother I should be black and making less than $30K per year. If I remember correctly, that demographic describes nearly two percent of Americans, and is most likely to occur only five short years ago. That was sobering for me. I am so very, very lucky and blessed. That statistic will only grow more as more people decide that gender roles are oppressive and harmful.
Women can’t abandon their responsibilities as easily, so they will increasingly carry the bulk of the cost of raising a family alone, trying to carry the duties of two on the shoulders of one.
But when a man is taught that he had a duty to provide for his family and protect them, and is given community pressure to live up to those duties, he is more likely to do just that. Such application of gender roles does not require rigidly adhering to only one definition. It doesn’t require female oppression. But it does give a starting point, a sense of obligation which, when lacking, has such devastating cost.
Thus balance is the key. Gender roles not by force, but by principle. Which is exactly how the Proclamation to the World couches it, and is what I understand Nathaniel trying to defend.
I don’t disagree that gender roles have been bad for women in the past. But what I see in the church, and what I would like to work toward, are new gender roles that are pragmatic and adaptive, that recognize the biological differences but appreciate women’s nurturing/homemaking contributions to be equal to what men do. A “third way” that is distinctly different from either the oppressive patriarchy of the past OR male-normative feminism.
I live far from Utah, and every day must operate in an environment where the concept of “equal” is operationalized as “the way men have done things.” And this hurts a lot of women, too, even though it is supported by feminists and a female provost was the architect of these policies. So women returning to the workplace after some years at home find that their extensive volunteer work cannot be considered as experience. Moms who want to return to college while their own kids are in school are told they can only attend university on a full-time basis. Assistant professors who hear their biological clock ticking loudly are not guaranteed time off from tenure deadlines.
So I don’t see erasing all gender roles as working well for women, either.
Silver Rain, your arguments seem to be for recognition of and for parental responsibilities. I don’t think anyone would disagree that parents need to be responsible for, and care for their children. I. Don’t see a compelling argument for employing gender roles here however.
And to Naismith’s point, both men and women benefit where employers and workplaces recognise the importance of the parenting role to society.
So Chris, at #115, you’re right – as an economist by training and trade, I agree that the experience of one person does not define truth, and should not be used as a trump card. However, I can also tell you that people tend to hear and understand personal stories more readily than they do statistics. I told my story so my argument would be heard, but I can understand your frustration if you felt like I was attempting to be emotionally manipulative. I hope you’ll be able consider the argument separately from the story.
mtnmarty – the rest of the story is that I decided it was not evil (SURPRISE!), and now live in the best of all possible worlds, where I get to work from home, with the help of a nanny. My son runs in throughout the day to steal things from my desk, have tickle fights, show me things he’s made, etc. We have lunch together, I intervene when he’s being naughty, and I still get to ‘specialize in an area where I have comparative advantage’. It’s a pretty sweet life.
SilverRain – I’m with Hedgehog on this one. I think if we keep our focus on ‘Loving our Neighbor as ourselves’, the whole ‘not abandoning your family’ and the corollaries of making choices to support the proper functioning of family and community will follow naturally, even without gender roles.
So again, I have no problem with acknowledging that people are different. I even acknowledge that there can be very real value in making observations about the differences between groups of people. However, I think one has to weigh that (in this case, small) benefit against the very real cost of normative statements about the importance of following and maintaining those differences. If you want to support the acknowledgement of statistical differences between the genders, we should perhaps come up with a term that is less fraught with history than ‘gender role’.
Ah – one more thing. I also want to point out that the context in which you measure differences is important. In studying the relative competitiveness of men and women in the US, researchers (List & Gneezy) observed that women chose to be less competitive than men. The same was observed in a hyper-patriarchal Masai tribe, but was reversed in a matriarchal Indian community (in that community, women chose the more competitive route, but the genders were actually closer to each other on that measure).
In a different study (which I can’t find at the moment, but will research), US women given a test and told that it was a math test, which men generally did better on, performed more poorly than men. When told it was a standard test and that there was no observable gender difference, women did just as well. Even telling people that you expect them to do less well at something can be harmful.
Hedgehog: the gender roles espoused by the Proclamation to the World teach familial responsibility and duty. That is what they ARE. This is how it applies. It is teaching men and women how to care for their families. It is giving each gender a particular realm of responsibility, a stewardship, and an obligation to help each other accomplish their respective stewardships.
I understand that some believe that it “flows naturally,” but I have to gently suggest that this is an incredibly naive belief born from a position of privilege built upon such gender roles and responsibilities interwoven in the foundations of one’s lifestyle. Measure the gender-role-caused deaths against the deaths caused by those who neglect those exact gender roles to nurture/protect laid out in the Proclamation to the World, and it can’t even compare. Take away all gender roles, and you will see how long the “love your neighbor” and “don’t abandon your family” hold up.
You have a specific assumption of what gender roles mean that is so rigid, you are unable to hear the nuances. You insist on shoving ALL concept of gender role into a narrowly defined box. Which is unfortunate, because the entire point of this series of posts, as he stated, is to show that such a box is inadequate to accurately contain the reality of what most people who support the Proclamation to the World believe and are willing to fight for.
But I’ve reached my limit of trying to persuade against a chosen worldview. Overreached, actually. *L* Mazel tov.
I think SilverRain and Rah both make great points. Undoubtedly, things are better if fathers support and value both mother and child. Undoubtedly, mothers have had less power and resources in many historical circumstances due to gender roles.
There is an asymmetry in the consequences of reproduction for men and women. In wealthy societies, what wealthy, educated women give up economically to have children has been increasing. The more education a women has the fewer children she has pretty much the world over.
There seems to be little doubt that gender roles for women are changing. The number of children they have has decreased, and their political, economic and social role has been increasing.
However, at the same time, there is less consensus about what society in general will support for women who have children. Childbirth is increasingly seen as a choice by a man and a woman and the societal role in the USA is mainly to deliver benefits to the child in the form of education and healthcare and a joint parental duty to support the child.
There is not much formal societal support for what women are owed for taking on motherhood. You choose motherhood, its on you to pick the man and bear the economic consequences, after all, its your choice.
Now within cultures, both family, ethnic and religious there are stronger societal forces for duties but in individualistic cultures like the USA there is relatively little sanction for violating these norms.
Nathaniel has said relatively little about what level of society (world, state, religious, ethnicity, family, couple, etc.) should be the one we look to for the gender roles.
SilverRain points out that lack of adherence to good gender roles creates suffering. But if we know that a significant proportion of men and women will not be nurturing parents, shouldn’t gender roles encourage them not to be parents?
Or take ANON’s case. She seems to think that the bargain of a provider for a nurturer was not a good deal. Do our gender roles need to increase the price men are expected to pay when the have children with women. In other words, not only an obligation to support the child, but the obligation to fund the lost wages of the woman (say a gender role IRA) that would restore her financial independence?
I can’t really tell whether Nathaniel wants the gender roles to create a desire to be a parent and a good one, or whether he takes that desire as a given and is just trying to improve the efficiency of successful parenting.
The people who support gender roles tend to think they improve people’s morality. Those who don’t support them tend to think they give false hope for what they can expect from others or mislead them about what they give up to be a parent.
It seems that Nathaniel thinks there is a sweet spot where people are good enough that gender roles help but not so good that they don’t need them.
Today, I’m more pessimistic. I just don’t think a very high proportion of men are that fit to be parents and nurturing spouses, so women need to take that into account in their choices and be free to craft their gender roles in accordance with that reality.
If women don’t procreate with non-nurturing men, evolution will fix things in a hurry.
“…both men and women benefit where employers and workplaces recognise the importance of the parenting role to society.”
At face value this is true. But it could be argued that men benefit more because they don’t desperately NEED the time off. I think it is great when dads take time off to bond with a new baby. But his choice is very different than that of a female colleague who had to be on bed rest for two weeks prior to delivery, and then has a C-section.
Please let’s not pretend that their situations are the same. And yet, a lot of organizational policies do.
Let’s put the blame for women’s disadvantage squarely where it belongs: On the dumb Creator who made two sexes so different, and put an unfair cost of reproduction on one.
Haley #23: Thank you for taking the time to post the materials. Just so you know, at least one person benefited from your comment. Thanks.
Dave K #19: Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
Rosalynde #26: This has given me a lot to think about today. Thank you.
Basically, I’ve spent way too much time reading the comments on this post. Nathaniel, thank you for evoking so much thought.
Here’s my one modest contribution. Both my wife and I have careers, and both of us run the home when the other is working. (I’m not sure if I recommend it to others, but it works for us.) Here’s my thought …
It’s not clear to me what “nurturing” children means. I have a general fuzzy-warm feeling about “nurturing” mothers, but if pressed for a clearer definition, I wouldn’t have too much to say.
If I had a cogent understanding of “nurturing,” I’m not sure what I’d do with it. It’s my parenting experience (admittedly limited) that children need (1) expectations, (2) accountability, (3) to feel “useful,” (4) to feel listened to, (5) necessities of life, … (99) “nurturing.”
My wife and I could argue about who has the comparative advantage when it comes to parenting skills. Actually, I think we have argued about such things. Since she’s not here, I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m better. :-)
Naismith I don’t think anyone is pretending women don’t give birth. Indeed, for my own two children it was almost a year each time before I began to feel human again.
Leave for both parents allows both for the father to take time off to care for the recovering wife, as well as to bond with the child.
I don’t like the framing of gender roles however, which clearly goes beyond the biological realities. Parents have roles to care for their children and for eachother, and it’s down to them to sort out between them what will work best for them, without the spectre of gender role expectations getting in the way.
My husband grew up with his father as breadwinner in a demanding job that took him away from the home, and out of the country (Japan), for months at a time. Even when posted abroad with the whole family he would still be away for most hours of the day, leaving before the children got up in the morning and returning home late at night after they’d gone to bed. My husband hardly saw his father growing up, and determined to do things differently.
A year or so ago he had a moving conversation with his father in which he discovered the things his father had been able to do to spend time with his family. That his father had refused to participate ins some expected team-building activities, expected by his employers at weekends he was in the country. His father had very much wanted to be able to spend more time with his family, but the Japanese expected gender roles, and employment practices simply did not have that flexibility.
Comments in favor in gender roles which focus almost solely in marriage (SilverRain in #128) read to me as basically equating “spousal and familial commitment” with “gender roles”–which is dangerous, dangerous. For nearly everyone I know, navigating gender roles began early in life and had little or anything to do with marriage.
Nathaniel, I think, should include discussion of gender roles beyond marriage–and it looks like he might from his “list” in 72. To do not do so falls into the same fallacy I just pointed out.
regarding comment 104:
I realize that principles aren’t rigid and no one is arguing that many women haven’t felt burdened under patriarchy, but for me, anecdotes such as this are the ones that move me. If we really believe women are going to be more inclined to nurture, why insist on it? Why not promote mothers and fathers as partners in nurturing and providing for their children? I wonder if at times, when some of us have been privileged with education and parents who helped us reach for the stars, we forget what it’s like to want to be humble and obedient and hear that your most important job is to be a mother and not know how you can do that and fulfill any of your other dreams. I live now in an area where college isn’t a given and it’s not uncommon for the girls to say, when asked about their plans, “I want to get married as soon as possible, drop out of school, and start having babies, because that’s my most important role on the earth.” One of my Mia Maids just said that last week in a lesson. They feel righteous expressing those feelings and they turn off any talents or desires they have, sometimes with relief because considering developing a practical skill sounds scary and hard, and then the women grow up and have the kind of sadness and regret that this woman in comment 104 expresses. I have heard similar regret so many times, and the worst part is that the women feel guilty for feeling bad that they wish they had finished school or whatever it was because it makes them feel like they’re saying they’re not grateful for their children and the opportunity they had to raise them. So for me, the costs aren’t worth the benefit to hold on so tight to gender roles, which I don’t really equate with gender differences. That there is something special about being a woman or a man, sure? That above all we are individual children of God with something beautiful to share with the world, yes. That women, especially particularly vulnerable, less educated women, should feel pressure to equate their worth with marriage and childbearing, no. I’m guessing Nathaniel that you wouldn’t want that and I agree that general frameworks can be inspirational and helpful for many, but if we are going to make these lines we better be very clear about teaching women to have skills that allow them independence, and why and how that will only strengthen their relationships and their lives. I really believe we have stronger relationships when we are full ourselves and I feel like strict gender roles make that harder for many.
Your list 1-5 all fall under a common definition of nurturing which means to care for and encourage growth and development.
I’m sure you’re right. No doubt, we could continue to define “nurturing” with other actions or examples. My guess is, after we had a substantial list of “nurturing” types of things, we’d look at the list and realize it had nothing to do with gender, or roles.
… except folding socks. If the prophet came out tomorrow and said “God made woman to fold socks” I’d stand up Pentecostal style and squeal “Amen Brother!”
Dang, I love folding socks, can I still hold the Priesthood?!?
Sorry, I thought you were critiquing the idea that children should be nurtured not critiquing the idea that women are better at it by nature.
Every college student should fold children’s socks before reading Waiting for Godot. Nothing makes me question the point of existence like folding socks.
I’m sorry I wasn’t clear above. My point is just that the term “nurturing” is so vague and ambiguous in the context of parenting that it really doesn’t have any meaning. The moment we try to flesh it out, we realize that both sexes are equally capable of doing it.
That might be a challenge to those arguing that women are naturally better nurturers. Name an activity considered “nurturing” that women are better at.
(I’ll concede breast feeding … and folding socks.)
I also appreciated the heartfelt openness of Anon’s comments in 104. But her situation is not the only one that women are unhappy with. I know a LOT of women who have great careers but who also feel trapped and desperate. According to research that Pew has been doing over several years, fewer than half of mothers who are employed fulltime consider that ideal, and more than half of married moms think part-time work is optimal:
We may have many more people in a family with each parent having a part-time job and and 0 or 1 kid.
I don’t think we can operate on a “in the best of all possible worlds there are no problems” paradigm when discussing this issue, especially the way Nate framed it. As a guy I certainly don’t think I have the right to take that stance given what my gender has perpetrated with our access to power. The roles that Nate espouses (women nurturing, men providing) have the clear, predictable disadvantage of creating economically vulnerable women, because they matter at such a fundemental level for a persons power and basic security and freedom in life. The consequences of unbalanced models in this regard are just so clear both now and in the past. I think Nate’s post should begin – “Recognizing that throughout almost all of human history in all but a few societies – including today in our in our church – gender roles have been used as a justification for excluding women from economic rights, property ownership, and political power for which they have payed a dear, dear price in pain in suffering – even until their blood does cry unto God for justice – maybe there might be something salvagable…”
I say this as someone who as a nuclear family has followed the nurturer/provider model. It has benefits of specialization, no doubt. We have a strong relationship, but the longer and longer we go the inequalities and their downsides are more and more apparent to us. I want my daughters to embrace an expanded identity well outside the church’s teaching on gender roles and if it were up to me I wouldn’t send them back to the 1950s or to Nauvoo or to almost any other time to better live out their lives as a daughter of God on this earth.
Naismith 139, that sounds more an argument for an environment in which men and women are free to share the child-raising, breadwinning roles. Not gender roles. Something my police officer brother and sister-in-law have managed so far, because they have the same employer who is prepared to manage their shifts accordingly whilst children are still at home (they now have 6 children). Many years ago I also heard a great programme about a husband and wife academic team employed on a job-share basis by a university.
Referring back to my #132, the lack of flexibility in the traditionally very strict gender divisions in Japan, doubled down on post war, when the US economic model was adopted. The country is now facing a demographic crisis. The younger generations are often not marrying and reproducing. The women are not prepared to put up with that environment, and they are making a choice. But I don’t believe its one that will be solved by preaching gender roles, rather by enouraging employers to be be more flexible and family friendly.
Another problem with gender roles:
“By continuing to see the male role in such constricting terms – as breadwinner or nothing – we are inadvertently contributing to the slow death of marriage in our most disadvantaged communities.
Here, the traditional marriage needs to be turned on its head. In many low-income families, it is the mother who has the best chance in the labor market. But this doesn’t make men redundant. It means men need to start doing the “women’s work” of raising kids. Although there is a lingering determinism about parenting and gender roles, recent evidence—in particular from Ohio State University sociologist Douglas B. Downey—suggests that women have no inherent competitive advantage in the parenting stakes.”
“Naismith 139, that sounds more an argument for an environment in which men and women are free to share the child-raising, breadwinning roles. Not gender roles.”
Well, yeah, it is a good thing for a lot of reasons, and I am happy to work towards a common goal joining with people and groups with who I don’t agree with on other things.
But I do think it applies to gender roles. I believe to the core of my being that mothers have a right to be supported by their husbands. Because she is “primarily responsible,” it is up to the couple but especially to her to prayerfully decide how best to care for those children. That decision is going to be different for every couple, and of course each couple should decide for themselves without fear of social censure of any kind.
But the employed mothers I know who are utterly miserable feel forced into their paid jobs because of the notion that the couple should share income-earning because that is the only way to be equal. Their husbands don’t think their wife should get the chance to “freeload” at home and are unwilling to be a sole provider, even for a season. Some of these women have said they envy Mormon women who are equal partners with their husbands although their various contributions to the family are different.
The lack of gender roles can be just as harsh on women as the strict interpretation thereof.
Because she is “primarily responsible,” it is up to the couple but especially to her to prayerfully decide how best to care for those children.
Huh? Especially who decides how best to care for the children? Why?
Their husbands don’t think their wife should get the chance to “freeload” at home and are unwilling to be a sole provider, even for a season.
I honestly can’t name a single soul in the world who approaches marriage like this–either man or woman. It could be that I’m out of touch. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)
I’m probably misunderstanding your argument. But, it seems unlikely to me that there are bunch of men out there demanding their wives to join the workforce so the men can raise the children. Again, I’m almost certainly misunderstanding your point.
One way to tell if you might be out of touch is to ask yourself what percentage of the people you know who had children in the last 5 years were not married. If you live in the USA and the answer is less than 35% you might very well be out of touch with the range of marriage mores.
This just in …
Everyone who has posted on this list may be “out of touch.” While we were busily figuring out boring ol’ male and female genders, Facebook is publishing 50 different kinds of genders. Zoinks!
Nathaniel, as the original poster I think you need to sort this out. Is a Genderqueer more nurturing than a Two-spirit, or does a Cis Female have a comparative advantage in providing for a Neutrois?
(I have a headache. This is my last post today, though I’ll continue reading comments.)
That’s 2500 combinations of potential marriages – you better stick to folding socks.
he he he
Gender roles are good for courtship and marriage.