The Rocky Shore

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Cry For Womanhood

In the latest issue of Dialogue, Molly McLellan Bennion states,
“Some women have found it difficult to see themselves in the Church. We all need role models. We need to see ourselves or our potential selves in our leaders.”

These words, as did the entire article, created an emotion in me I have not felt in long time—woman’s pride. I, too, have often found it difficult to see my potential in the Church. I love the Gospel, and I love its teachings. However, I struggle to find a place in this highly patriarchal society.

To better illustrate my feelings, allow me to share an experience I had not too long ago. The elder’s quorum presidency came to visit our family.They were very polite and even played with my children. They conversed with my husband about his job, and his recent graduation. I graduated a couple of years ago, and was anticipating the conversation to eventually be directed toward me. It never did. The entire half-hour they were over, they did not say two words to me. Why, if you are there to visit the family, do you not direct at least part of the conversation to the wife? Though I do not work, I see my place in our family as important as my husbands—I rear my children, I homeschool them, I nurture them. Shouldn’t this get some recognition? At church, I began to notice how often people would ask my husband about his job, and how often the topic of occupations came up. Rarely does the conversation turn to me and ask, “What are you doing with your children?” “How are your days going?”

We so often hear how important motherhood is, but I hear it rarely being discussed outside these mediocre lessons.

And what about the Young Women? I have had the wonderful privilege of working in the Young Women’s program for three years. I love my calling, and I love the girls. However, I see them struggle in a church where they have no place. As soon as they are twelve, the young men receive the priesthood and actively participate in the Church. They have duties and responsibilities that are vital to strengthening its members. However, the young women are merely promoted out of primary and given callings that benefit only the young women.

My husband is quick to point out that things are progressing and changing for the better. I agree; we have come a long way. Though, I can’t help but feel we need to progress more. My question is this: What can we do now? I’m determined to add the conversation of motherhood to that of occupations, but what about the young women? They, too, need to feel included, needed, and wanted. Like Bennion expresses in her article, I lament over this issue. Though her lament was toward those who have already left the church, I lament for those that may leave the church.

What can we do? What can we do?


  • I think the real problem here is that we make small talk by asking people about their jobs and no one really knows what to ask an at-home mother.

    So I rarely ask people about their jobs. I make small talk by asking "What do you do for fun?" Much more revealing and interesting than what people do for money, anyway.

    By Blogger Julie M. Smith, at Saturday, July 22, 2006 7:07:00 PM  

  • I wonder if this doesn't have something to do with our policy supported deep fear of adultery. I have nothing against policy if it helps people stay in line, but it will have consequences that must be addressed. Because of the very strict guidelines regarding interactions between married-but-not-to-eachother church based relationships I think many leaders draw a subconcious fence around their interactions with other women, especially other married women. (It's most obvious in male leaders because there's just more male leaders around.) Either way, I think it's not that they don't think you're important. I think they were very afraid of being thought to be 'interested' in you. Either way, it was rather tactless of them to so obviously leave you out.
    I agree with Julie too, don't ask about careers, ask about hobbies, books, sports, weather, whatever. We do need to do more to support what we say about the importance of motherhood. Good post. :)

    By Blogger Starfoxy, at Saturday, July 22, 2006 10:37:00 PM  

  • Don’t you think sometimes people are just clods? I was a stay at home mom for a million years and raised a ton of kids. I think I was just too tired to care what people thought of me. I was doing my job….which by the way I loved.
    The gal who made the previous comment has a very insightful point. My husband has noticed the flip side to this:
    He says he can’t get a woman at church to give him an honest, look ya in the face smile. They all scurry past him like he is ready to jump their bones!
    Because of him telling me this over the years I have tried to give men big, bright, “HEY I SEE YOU!” smiles. Especially when I see one in the hallways at church. Maybe I’m branding myself a hussy!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 7:20:00 AM  

  • Our ward recently changed boundaries. I have noticed that the ones coming from another ward into ours are a lot more affectionate between each other, men and women. I don't think this is common-- their affection seems to be an anomoly in the church, but it is nice to see.
    I don't think we need to be really affectionate to be equal, but to notice each other would be a step. We need to dismiss the idea that any attention would lead to immorality and still maintain caution.

    By Blogger Jilopa, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 1:43:00 PM  

  • "It's most obvious in male leaders because there's just more male leaders around."

    Do you think it needs to be this way? I understand that there are leadership positions that require the priesthood, and therefore require a man, but are there some positions women can fill?

    In Bennion's article she writes, "I once had a bishop who...called a woman to be his scretary and attend all bishipric meetings. He told me she was actually included to be another counselor, a voice for women, because this wise, dedicated, and highly educated man realized that, whatever his gifts and inspiration, he so often needed the instant advice of a similarly wise woman simply for the the different perspective and avenues of information she brought to the table."

    Perhaps adjusting leadership positions where possible might help knock down unneccesary fences. Men and women would be interacting more in a leadership setting and not just a personal one. What do you think?

    By Blogger Jilopa, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 1:59:00 PM  

  • Thanks for this post, Jilopa. I've had similar experiences from time to time ever since I got married--I was unprepared for the subtle ways I was sometimes erased. Right after my husband and I married, our new home teachers came over, took a look at my books, and asked my husband if he was a philosophy major. When I explained that I was the philosophy major, they looked embarrassed and quickly changed the subject.

    By Blogger Eve, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 4:33:00 PM  

  • Jilopa,
    I don't think it needs to be that way at all. I actually included that sentencce that you quoted to point out that female leaders are just as likely to ignore husbands as a male leader might be to ignore wives. If we had more female leaders we might see an uptick in men feeling ignored in the way you describe. But the increase in female leaders might act as you describe, making people feel less nervousness with people of the opposite gender who aren't their spouse.

    I think that much of the awkwardness between non-married people in a church setting is unecessary. I also find that much of it is unsupported by the policy. Not being alone with a married woman is very different than pretending that the married woman doesn't exist.

    By Blogger Starfoxy, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 4:53:00 PM  

  • Can I ask you guys a question? Why do you think there are "good wards" and "bad wards"?
    I know, I know....."It's not the Ward, it's you"......come on, let's get real here.
    I've been in wards that were just great, and I have been in wards that just stunk. I'm the same person bringing the same things to the table in each ward, so let's talk about the truth:
    Is it the Bishop that sets the tone for a ward? Is it just indivivuals that make the differance? Is it the state/area/country that you live in? Is it the culture of the area and has nothing to do with the church? I would really like you're opinion.

    By Anonymous Ladyinthehat, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 5:44:00 PM  

  • ladyinthehat, It's the Ward. I too have been in wonderful Wards and others that weren't so wonderful while I have been pretty much the same. The Bishopric does have an effect but it is in combination with the membership. I have found that Wards where most of the members have family in the immediate area are not as openly friendly and accepting as Wards where most of the members are far from their families. I have also found that one person who goes out of their way to be friendly and try to make others feel important can change the makeup of a Ward. Usually that one person inspires another etc. and soon you have a much friendlier and connected Ward. Anyone else have similar experiences?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 8:01:00 PM  

  • Starfoxy,
    I think you are probably right. If there were more women in leadership, the women would probably ignore the men, as the men sometimes ignore the women now, (in situations like I had and the one Eve posted.) However, women would have more support in leadership position. And having more female leadership gives the YW and women in general more role models in the church.

    I agree that much of the awkwardness is not supported by policy. I was amazed to see how comfortable some of the new people moving into our ward were around each other. At first, it seemed almost flirty. Then I realized I was just not used to seeing men and women acting like good friends.

    By Blogger Jilopa, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 9:43:00 PM  

  • ladyinthehat and anon,

    I think bishoprics and even stake leadership have a lot to do with the ward. My mother-in-law is in a stake where it is tradition that men say the opening prayer and women say the closing. My mother-in-law questioned the bishop and he indicated that several years back a general authority came for stake conference and said that a priesthood holder should open the meeting. She, being the wonderful woman she is, pushed the issue and got them, (the stake president included,) to admit that it wasn't a true policy at all, but merely a tradition. I said the opening prayer today at church and they even had a woman as the final speaker.
    Now these things might not matter to most, and perhaps they shouldn't matter to me. But, I would feel somewhat second-class if I couldn't say the opening prayer. It isn't a priesthood function, and therefor women should have the right to open the meeting.
    Having said this, I also think that a lot of the unnecessary avoidance between men and women is a people/cultural thing. Perhaps culture plays a larger part in this whole thing more than we realize.
    Has anyone seen other cultures where women are treated differently in the church?

    By Blogger Jilopa, at Sunday, July 23, 2006 9:57:00 PM  

  • Jilopa and Annon,

    Very interesting that your Mom-in-law’s ward doesn’t allow women the privilege of saying the opening prayer….only the closing. The thing that I see wrong with this, is not only does it make women second class citizens, but the arbitrary nature of making up policy like this.
    One of the things I value being a member of the church is that things aren’t wishy-washy policy wise (or at least they aren’t suppose to be.) I mean if you go to church in one ward and than the following Sunday you go to a different ward they are all following the same church materials.
    It seems to me that when Stake Presidents take it upon themselves to start making up arbitrary “rules” things can get screwy.
    So……what should a person do about that? Will we be looked upon as a troublemaker if we push to change arbitrary policies? Will people think our testimonies weak if we step out of the box and try to set things right? Will we be on the slippery slope to hell? Should we just keep our mouths shut and not stir up any trouble?????
    Or would it be our duty to step out of the box and stick up for what we know is right?
    Women should be allowed to offer the opening prayer in Sacrament meetings regardless of the Stake or ward.
    Is there anybody out there who thinks they shouldn’t? If there is, I would like to hear why they think this……..

    By Anonymous ladyinthehat, at Monday, July 24, 2006 1:29:00 PM  

  • I have a question regarding the whole opposite gender communication in the church. A while back I taught the Family History class in our ward. Three couples met with me in a small room with some computers. We all sat about a foot away from each other. In addressing the students, I would often pat their knee or shoulder in a small gensture to get their attention or to recognize something they had done well. I did this to both the wives and husbands a like and did not think anything of it. Then one day, one of the wives in the class came to me and told me her husband was offended because I was so physical and she asked me not to touch him any more. I felt really bad.
    Was I in the wrong? Or was this another case of the extreme paranoia that exists in the church. Why can't leaders or teachers in the church address, smile, or touch someone of the opposite sex on the shoulder to recognize good that they have done? Are we limited to stern hand shakes? What do you think?

    By Anonymous Jennifer, at Monday, July 24, 2006 7:36:00 PM  

  • Hey Jennifer,

    I wonder what it was about you touching him that made him uncomfortable. I mean, did he feel turned on? Did he think you were coming on to him? Did he just think it to be inappropriate? Why would only the inappropriateness of it make him uncomfortable?

    Your story is interesting. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with touching a person of the opposite sex in that manner. It is only that Mormons have created a cultural norm that causes many innocent circumstances to become uncomfortable.

    Americans in general are prudish, and Mormons have positioned themselves as prudish Americans, i.e. the prudes of the prudes. So there is nothing wrong with the act itself, only with the social context in which the act was carried out.

    I think such prudishness produces more negative results than positive. I guess there is something to be said for avoiding the appearance of evil, but safe guards can be taken too far. Do people really think that a man friendly touching a woman's shoulder will lead to sex? If that were the case, non-Mormon people would be having a lot more sex.

    By Blogger Jared E., at Tuesday, July 25, 2006 10:24:00 AM  

  • Good thoughts Jared E.
    Interesting to see what a man’s thoughts are on this subject.
    Your comments made me think…”If President Hinckley came to my ward and touched me on the shoulder when he was talking with me, would I think he was trying to jump my bones?”
    Of course not! Actually….the more I think about it this, this might be more of a problem among younger members. I’m an older woman….50’s….and it really doesn’t bother me if people touch my shoulder or arm or back. But when was the last time I had any physical contact with a guy at church besides my husband or son’s???? Let me think back….I use to hug a friend of mine that was a Bishop quite often. But he has been dead for some time. He was a great guy. A convert.
    Maybe this makes a difference.
    Do you think perhaps if you weren’t raised in the church that could make a difference on how you approach the opposite sex?
    As a man, would it make you uncomfortable to be hugged at church by a woman other than your wife? Do you think it makes a difference on what type of family you grow up in? I mean if you were raised to express yourself with hugs and stuff (raised in the church or not) or if you weren’t hugged much…would this make a difference?
    Would you be afraid of a negative reaction if you hugged a woman at church? Sort of what poor Jennifer in the previous post had to deal with?

    By Anonymous ladyinthehat, at Tuesday, July 25, 2006 12:18:00 PM  

  • My mom is a convert to the church and is very affectionate. She has had many experiences like Jennifer's and has become less affectionate because of those experiences. It is sad that the cultural attitudes of the church has made it so we are less affectionate, and in a way less loving toward one another. For me at least, the times where someone has touched my arm or shoulder and asked me how I was doing are the most memorable. I felt truly loved and cared about.
    I don't understand this phobia that plagues the church. Every ordinance we undergo, and practically every priesthood function requires physical contact, (temple ordinances, baptism, blessings, etc.) Christ was affectionate. He blessed and touched others often. I think this phobia is simply a byproduct of a very gossipy and judgmental society. If people didn't worry so much about what other people were going to say, because we all acted loving and Christ-like to one another, men would ask women more questions, members of the church would smile more at each other, and, yes, people would be more affectionate.

    By Blogger Jilopa, at Tuesday, July 25, 2006 3:44:00 PM  

  • Jilopa,
    That is very interesting. Especially about your mother. My mother has had very similar experiences.
    Overall, I believe physical contact can be very healing. It means a lot to me when someone puts their hand on my shoulder. A smile can brighten up my day. Small gestures of this nature are not sexual, they are simply one human being connecting with another. We are put on the earth for many reasons and one of those reasons is to serve others. Serving is not limited to raking leaves, helping someone move, or walking an elderly woman across the street. Serving can be as simple as a smile, a kind word, or a touch on the shoulder. In this way I think we can serve both men and women. It is one of our purposes in life.

    By Anonymous Jennifer, at Tuesday, July 25, 2006 7:33:00 PM  

  • Well said, Jennifer. Well said.

    By Blogger Jilopa, at Tuesday, July 25, 2006 8:21:00 PM  

  • I suppose that's one advantage of being single; when the home teachers or presidency of whatever come to visit, they pretty much have to talk to me. ;)

    By Anonymous Lynnette, at Wednesday, July 26, 2006 10:51:00 AM  

  • I love this thread of conversation that has been taking place.
    Does anyone have any ideas about the Young Women and what we can do to make them more apart of the church function? Our YW are invisible in our ward, and I wonder what could be done.
    Does anyone have any advice?

    By Blogger Jilopa, at Wednesday, July 26, 2006 2:50:00 PM  

  • (FYI I am a male)-My 2 cents: I personally have a problem with the idea that such relatively abnormal inter-gender behavior is merely a symptom of a larger cultural norm. Though I admit it's a nice thought, the fact is that within the context of general American culture-where feminism and sexual liberation are hardly decried attributes-even these most basic of social graces like looking in one another's eyes when speaking, passing along an innocent smile, inquiring about another’s (yes even a woman’s) interests, ect. are absolute norms and, in fact, the opposite is usually considered rude and antisocial. Even to just say that it is a phenomenon of Mormon culture is to negate the less palatable yet, likely, more accurate explanation for what’s behind this.

    If we're looking for a context under which to understand where these neurotic tendencies comes from, sadly I'm afraid it may be a religious one and perhaps particularly an LDS one. When you’re implicitly conditioned from childhood to be suspicious of your sexuality as something that, by and large, is a ‘tool of Satan’ and thus inherently evil, it’s no wonder that as adults men a women alike are not able to fully distinguish between platonic affection and their androgenic urges because (perhaps) during their maturation they were never able to fully integrate their sexuality into their personalities. Yes, along with sexuality comes the intrinsic potential for transgression-just as with a hand comes the potential for theft, a tongue brings with it the potential for lying, a jealous mind can potentially lead to murder, and so on. Potential is only that...potential. Only we have the freedom to turn potential into reality. So why this obsessive focus on the suppression of this most natural of aspects of our constitution? As natural as hands, tongues, and minds-some of which could conceivably lead to even worse transgressions. I think it is worth noting that under the several thoughtful responses given on this topic many have cited individuals who don’t behave in these ways, individuals who have also been identified as converts and who presumably didn’t grow up in the aforementioned kind of environment.

    I believe another contributing factor to this problem is the undeniable fact that this is a male dominated religion. I’m not suggesting that woman be granted rites to priesthood authority or that the fact that they aren’t given the priesthood is an inherently bad thing, but I do believe it is this exclusive anointing of men that can cause them a tendency to over assert their importance in all other areas, which may or may not have anything to do with priesthood authority ie.opening prayers, bishops’ secretary, ect. In my opinion this tendency has slowly lead to a pervasive nominalization of the infinite contributing potential of the female spirit. After all it is women with whom sensitive traits like intuition and compassion are most organically a part of, so if anything at least on a practical level they are likely more effective conveyers of truth and wisdom. Having said all of this I sense a lot of hope on the horizon. These are not easy questions to ask and the fact that these concerns are being voiced in open like this is of enormous importance; everyone in here should be commended. If this kind of open dialogue can continue then it is only a matter of time until a critical mass is reached within ALL religions and the innate rights to real meaningful equality are reached, uncolored by any erroneous extensions of claims on unrelated-to-priesthood

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, July 27, 2006 6:45:00 PM  

  • anon,
    Thank-you for that thoughtful and insightful post. Recognition and open discusssion of the problem is a step in the right direction. We just need to have these discussions in Relief Society or Priesthood, then we'd really be heading somewhere.

    I was recently at a wedding, (non-LDS,) and I noted how warm and open the men were to the women. I even was asked about my degree. We were all interested in each other, regardless of sex.
    I hope we are headed toward a more open, Christ-like church, where men and women can freely interact, and women are given a place earlier.

    By Blogger Jilopa, at Tuesday, August 01, 2006 8:27:00 PM  

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