General Women’s Meeting

It is my nature to be cynical and critical and to focus on flaws, so when I tell you that the General Women’s Meeting was nearly perfect, that’s really saying something.

In no particular order, what I liked:

1. Those incredible Korean Primary children, singing in Korean and looking completely adorable.

2. The anonymous women and young women testifying about the temple, in their own languages. This was very moving.

3.  Sister Marriott–her accent, her list of women’s roles that included leader and wage-earner along with mother, her frank discussion of her own weaknesses being shown to her and knowing that she could apply the atonement to her life to overcome them, her excellent inclusion of girls and young women in her talk without talking down to them. Also examples of other girls and young women as models to those older than they are–including Alaskan girls inspiring her to memorize The Living Christ. (She couldn’t join in the recitation at girls’ camp because she hadn’t paid the price.)

[Side note: if you want to know what’s wrong with the “women are naturally more spiritual” rhetoric, just listen to Sister Marriott talk about her struggles with recognizing and overcoming pride and applying the atonement. That rhetoric denies the necessity, reality, power, and transformative nature of her experience.]

4. The opening prayer by Dorah Mkhabela, in her lovely accent.

5. President Burton–reference to her “cute husband,” powerful talk about temple covenants.

6. The “voice over” at the beginning being a female voice.

7. Sister Stevens–her parents’ unusual marriage can be, I think, a solace to others with difficult situations. And references to 8 and 13 yo girls doing family history and temple work.

8. President Uchtdorf: “a daughter of eternal parents” “Your divine origin alone does not guarantee you a divine inheritance.” Love this! “Thrones, kingdoms, principalities.” Kindness and humor but serious teachings. Blessings aren’t locked in a cloud, but rain down. Sin is our umbrella; commandments are instructions for closing the umbrella–commandments are not just life hacks or motivational quotes from Pinterest! The “why” of visiting teaching. No check-lists. One thing I hope you know: you are dear to your Heavenly Parents. God loves you now, not waiting until you overcome your weaknesses and bad habits.

A general note: I worried that the inclusion of 8+ girls would result in talking fluff. That didn’t happen. There were stunning examples of treating the girls as actual disciples who could influence those around them to be better disciples, now.

I know there are a lot of women out there who feel wounded by recent gender drama in the church and may not have listened to this meeting to avoid having their scabs ripped off. But, please, listen to it. It was a lovely presentation of the gospel, far more reflective of the international church and of women in a variety of realistic roles instead of stereotypes, and focused on real, actual discipleship and not the maintenance and performance of mid-twentieth century, middle class American gender roles. When it comes to the church, I continue to believe, and I think this meeting demonstrated, that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward equality.

Note: notes and quotes are my own and may not be precisely correct.





49 comments for “General Women’s Meeting

  1. There really was a lot to love about this meeting including, as you noted, the more international and inclusive feel.

  2. I also liked that President Uchtdorf said this session opened the conference and the meetings next week are the remaining sessions.

    And international is always so much better.

  3. Kristine A, don’t know about others but at least in our temple, attendance has been increasing year-over-year for the past several years, in spite of the number of stakes included continually dropping as newly opening temples in nearby areas draw some stakes away…

    Agree with the other comments. Meeting was wonderfully done and beautifully inclusive and more representative of the worldwide church — and the talks from Sis Burton, Sis Marriott, and Bro Uchtdorf all resonated with me

  4. Thank you Julie- I was one who avoided it for the reasons you stated, but I take your recommendation seriously. I’ll listen/watch when it’s available.

  5. I also thought the session was terrific for many of the reasons you list. One additional note is that President Uchtdorf seemed to go to some length to clarify that this was the first session of General Conference. That seems significant, as well.

  6. In addition to all of this, I very much appreciated that Sister Marriott talked about the “natural woman.” Why anyone would not change pronouns in scripture when talking to a meeting of all women is beyond me.

  7. Thank you, Julie. My wife skipped the meeting–deliberately–but after reading this, we both mean to check it out. Bless you.

  8. Huh. Thanks, Julie. I was one who skipped it because I love the church and decided it would be wise not to harm my relationship to it by listening to any more gender stuff for a while. This has me optimistic about giving it a try.

  9. I just watched the whole thing online, after my wife and 8-year-old daughter came home from the live broadcast. While they were gone, I had been questioning in my mind again why the invitation to attend a meeting like this extended all the way down to young girls. And then I saw the opening choir number with one example after another of beautiful, faithful, confident, young girls, and I immediately knew why.

    I couldn’t help but think that my daughter, and all young girls, could stand to see more of such wonderful examples. I was at once glad that she was there, and glad that the choir was filled with so many young girls. It was a wonderful thing to watch, and I am very thankful for the many role models my daughter was able to see.

  10. There was a lot to love about this meeting. I would only add that if one of your wounds as a woman in this church stems from the temple, you might be happier just watching the music and listening to President Uchtdorf. Temples were the central theme of all of the other talks. If that’s not an issue for you, the talks were lovely, but if it is, it might stir up confusion and difficult feelings.

  11. P.S. I totally agree with every point that Julie wrote, plus the general note, plus the invitation for hesitant women to take another look. It really was great. If only priesthood meeting were this good. ;)

  12. Sister Marriott was, indeed, stellar. I found it oddly comforting that woman with such a measure of confidence in her public speaking was also a mother of 11. She seemed to really grasp the scope of capacity, potential, ability, and fallibility in the worldwide sisterhood, and took it and ran with it. I hope we see lots more of her.

  13. The announcer voiceover being a female voice is a small thing, but it means a lot to me. A few months ago, I attended a conference about Mormon studies in Berkeley. There were many non-members present at the academic event. The fantastic Melissa Inouye was conducting the meeting, and at the end she sweetly and just slightly in jest wished us all to be safe and courteous and observe traffic laws as we left the conference (using whatever precise language they always do). It was so silly, but I felt my eyes tearing up in that moment, and hearing the words in a female voice–a powerful, spiritual giant of a female voice. Little things matter in big ways.

  14. So wonderful to hear what can be done with a little care, focus and sensitivity. I hope the positive esponse this has seemed to garner across a wide spectrum will moticate us all to do more notnthat it is enough. The returns could be huge

  15. Appreciated the mention of Sister Marriott’s charming accent, which caught my attention right away. I had ruled out the Carolinas or Georgia, and was thinking Texas…turns out that she was raised in Louisiana (which is also where Robert L. Millet comes from), however she did college at Southern Methodist University which is in Dallas TX, so maybe I was not so far off.

    On the side note, I do not agree that all such gender-based rhetoric “denies the necessity, reality, power, and transformative nature of her experience.” Rather, I see her experience supporting the 10,000 hours hypothesis in Malcolm Gladwell’s OUITLIERS. Those who are highly successful only start with their gift, but pay the price to be really good at it. In Sister Marriott’s case, it is the cost of discipleship that she described so well. I think that a lot of times when people note gender-based differences, it can be backed up by science (Myers-Briggs on Thinking vs. Feeling, Deborah Tannen’s work on Mars-Venus communication) although of course should be never used in a way that makes those who aren’t in the majority feel less or unwanted.

  16. How about the fact that a black woman prayed for the first time in a general meeting?! Wonderful! I’m so glad that the leadership is making important changes. They mean a lot.

  17. I watched the meeting with my wife. Generally the meeting was very good. I did wonder a little that all the male GAs were introduced by name and title, whereas only the women who spoke were introduced. Also liked sis Marriotts southern accent.

    The other thing that stood out to me were the ages. The women were 2 or 3 generations younger than the Apostles we will see next week. Obviously when choosing people on merit, and ability to do the job you do not choose someone who is over 80 years old. How many of you have Bishops or SP over 75?

    How do we start a discussion about the succession for the Prophet, so that the next one is capable of doing the job more effectively. My Father is 89 and has just been put into an aged care facility, He has not been able to do too much for 10 years, and it would have been abuse to expect him to.

    If Pres Monson, who we are told, is suffering from dementure were to retire and his replacement be chosen on merit it would probably likely be Elder Uchtdorf who is still lively enough to be able to ask for and receive revelation, and lead the church forward with vigour.

    From there all sorts of possibilities open up for the church.

    How do we get this discussion going. It will not be started by any of the 12 who aspire to the top job so it will have to become an expectation from the memebership.

  18. if you want to know what’s wrong with the “women are naturally more spiritual” rhetoric

    I’d say that comes from empirical incarceration rates and church activity rates.

    How do you explain that? Pro-female bias?

  19. Loved the music and the international emphasis. Really enjoyed the talks, but noticed that my just-turned-8-year-old was struggling. Like Sis. Burton, I probably didn’t prepare her well enough. I do wonder why the 8-11 set is expected to come. Is it just so that they can have a reason to involve the Primary General Presidency and Board with the Women’s Meeting?

  20. I really hope having choirs from other parts of the world becomes a fairly standard thing. Maybe they wouldn’t do all of the choir numbers, but having a pre-recorded number (or even a live stream), often in a language other than English, would always be wonderful. There are so many things we can do to allow more people to participate in conference.

  21. @Mary Ann (25) the women general leaders have cited a few reasons. First, because anyone who has been baptized and made covenants to be a disciple needs it, and also, the leaders felt that it was expedient due to the increasingly younger age at which trials, tests of faith, and things like porn are hitting children.

  22. @Cameron (27), sure but don’t those same factors affect younger men ages 8-11? Who are not currently invited to their annual meeting?

  23. “I’d say that comes from empirical incarceration rates and church activity rates.”

    The idea of incarceration as a proxy for (lack of) spirituality seems pretty dubious to me. The fact that male conversation rates are higher than female rates in Africa suggests to me that we are seeing something with a significant cultural component (if not completely cultural). So I do not buy that women are naturally more spiritual for one second (it’s an ex post facto apologia for a male-only priesthood). Rather, I think our current conception of “spiritual” happens to align well with what is considered culturally appropriate behavior for women (meek, submissive, emotional, etc.) If we practiced a more masculine form of Christianity–more turning over tables in the temple and more standing on city walls to preach and more cutting off forearms–we’d be talking about how men are just naturally more spiritual.

  24. I especially loved Sister Marriott’s talk as well. One idea, as Uchtdorf framed this as the first session of General Conference, could we start a letter-writing campaign to the Ensign to get the Women’s session talks printed at the beginning instead of hidden in the back of the Conference issues?

  25. @scw. I don’t know if a letter-writing campaign will be necessary. When we looked it up on line Sunday, it was listed as a session of General Conference. Since President Uchtdorf “framed” it that way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them printed first (perhaps after President Monson’s welcome that will come this Saturday.) If its not, then it will likely be the logistics of President Monson’s welcome.

  26. Several positive comments were made by ward members Sunday about native languages and also the meetings being labeled part of General Conference. 8-11 year olds might not understand much of the meeting however I think their inclusiona is more about Identity & Belonging & Aspirations.I wonder what that means for 8-11 year old boys?? A general comment–if it’s true that there are inherent differences between males and females, then all the more reason for women to be included in councils and planning and speaking. . .I read that no women were involved in formulating the language of —The Proclamation on The Family in the 90’s—how might those truths have been conveyed more clearly?

  27. #29 Naismith — apparently boys don’t enter their covenant path bringing them into full church brotherhood until age 12, so they must not be privy to the same struggles and temptations of the girls who enter their covenant path at age 8. ;)

    Besides, inviting the boys 8-11 to the Priesthood Session would cause other issues. They’d have to change the name, and technically the Primary General Presidency would need to be invited (since 8-11 kids are under their jurisdiction).

  28. I watched the program with my wife, daughter, and granddaughters. We all loved it.

    On the sidebar about the greater spirituality of women: It is a consistent feature of many Christian denominations, with the rate of involvement by women being significantly higher than for men in many of them. Indeed, the one denomination where it is least true is the Latter-day Saints, a fact which I believe is related to the way ordination to the priesthood, callings to leadership and teaching, and the creation of a brotherhood of priesthood holders, encourages them to levels of voluntary activity that are apparently unusual for lay Christian men. I don’t see it as a myth, or one that somehow injures specific women, who can, like individuals on any measure of talent and interest, vary widely in their own particular interest and aptitude.

  29. Re #37: please be careful not to conflate the idea that women are naturally more spiritual than men (which is what we were talking about) with the idea that men may experience increased levels of religiosity under a male-only priesthood (which is what you are talking about). There is no inherent relationship between these two ideas. While I do not believe that women are more spiritual than men, to the extent that I can justify a male-only priesthood (some days I can, some days I can’t), it is based on my observation that the male-only priesthood permits a certain kind of socialization of men that benefits men, women, and children. So the two ideas can be compatible. (And, yes, I know it also causes problems for men, women, and children. But perhaps the benefits outweigh?)

  30. Re 23, about gerontocracy I appreciate your perspective from down under, but please understand that one of our most popular USAmerican presidents ever (Reagan) was over 75 when he was in office, and the US Presidential candidate who is polling highest right now is also of retirement age.

    So we USAmericans have a track record of CHOOSING old folks to run things. And against that backdrop, church leadership does not look all that unusual.

    Also, I am not sure of the ages of some of those women compared to men. In addition to Sister Marriott’s voice, I loved that she actually had silver-white hair rather the exquisitely dyed hair that many of the other women seemed to have.

  31. @Naismith (29) they wouldn’t be turned away, and official invitations might be coming soon. If they don’t get an official invite though, I wouldn’t be surprised, since girls are more mature in that age window.

  32. Just an interesting aside: my FIL, our stake president, was instructed to not attend the meeting at the ward building. He watched online and waited for his wife to come home.

  33. I thought that there were many positives to the Saturday Women’s meeting that have already been articulated. My only complaint is that, AGAIN, the visiting teaching example used by President Uchtdorf was the same as always…visiting teachers cleaning the house, taking care of the children, etc. Wish he would have used an example of visiting a depressed woman or a woman who is grieving…one who is emotionally upset. How would the visiting teachers coped? Hope they would have offered her empathy, told her it was okay to cry, asked her how they could help… We are not good at helping women in crisis. Certain problems are acceptable to have. We still haven’t addressed mental illness or emotional wellness except for Elder Holland’s exceptional talk. We have programs for addiction, web-site for same sex gender, etc. but if you suffer from mental illness, don’t expect much help! There is no mental illness that cannot be treated now (I’m a therapist), but the stigma of church members towards their fellow sisters and brothers still remains. And the misunderstandings and misinterpretations and lack of knowledge continue to run rampant. When are we going to fix this?

  34. 39 and 40 I would not have a problem with 75 to 80, but I understand Pres Monson is struggling, as is my father at a similar age.

    Silver Rain I too would prefer that person. Do you have any evidence that that is the choice. Would you for example prefer Elder Packer to Elder Uchtdorf on that basis?

    That is the option I would be suggesting. Do you really think Elder Packer would do a better job of moving the church forward than Elder Uchtdorf.

    Really the question is why is the next Prophet chosen by a tradition that ordains the last man standing, rather than the member of the present 12 that would be best for the future of the Church/members?

  35. Geoff – Aus,

    I am curious what you mean by if the next prophet was chosen on merit it would likely be President Uchtdorf? What in the link you provided suggests that?

  36. #34 Really. Because when I just looked very briefly general conference is dated online as 4-5 Oct, and the live stream page is proclaiming “The first session of general conference will be streamed live at 10a.m. MDT on Saturday, October 4th, 2014. Please refresh your browser at that time.”
    So mixed messages at best.

  37. forwardjoe @ 45 Elder Uchtdorf is apparently popular with both conservatives and progressives. I believe this popularity is because he teaches the Gospel of Christ without too much of his personal politics included as do some of the others. Merit 1

    He also teaches in a way that is inclusive, he doesn’t say you should or must , but lays out the path and invites. Merit 2

    The older 10 Apostles are all over 80, while he is 73, so quite a step down in age. Merit 3

    I believe he is young enough/ vital enough and willing enough that he would ask the Lord about modern issues like ordaining women , or treatment of gays for example. Partly because of his background, and attitude. If you read about the lead up to the 1978 “priesthood for all males” you hear the prophet pleading with the Lord to help him overcome his prejudice, the present top 10 would be the same. Having to overcome their prejudice even to see a need to ask the question. Uchtdorf is more open to allowing the Lords will to be implemented. Merit 4

    I think he is more in touch with the modern world (a generation younger, and not raised in the Utah culture)and particularly the youth, who he might be more successful at retaining. Merit 5

    He would unite the members of the church behind him, whereas most of the 10 before him on the list would divide. Packer or Oaks for example. Merit 6

  38. Geoff-Aus,

    “Uchtdorf is more open to allowing the Lords will to be implemented.”

    “I think he is more in touch with the modern world”

    “He would unite the members of the church behind him, whereas most of the 10 before him on the list would divide”

    I honestly find all of these statements to be very strange and almost completely without merit themselves. I love Elder Uchtdorf, but I think the bloggernacle pins all of their hopes and dreams on him in a way that doesn’t match reality… even to the point where you suggest that the church would be better off if we choose leaders “on merit” and of course Uchtdorf would be the most deserving in that scenario. I have not seen him say or do anything that makes me think that he is more or less willing to change the direction of the church or seek certain “progressive” revelation.

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