Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reflections of a Mormon Feminist: the role of women and men in and out of the church

God's anti-discrimination Title VII: "For none of these iniquities come of the Lord... and he ainviteth them ball to ccome unto him and partake of his goodness; and he ddenieth none that come unto him, black and white, ebond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the fheathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."  (circa 550 B.C.)

Title VII specifically prohibits discrimination in the categories of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  Amendment 13 prohibits slavery.

God's analog seems to specifically prohibit discrimination in the categories of color, slave/non-slave, sex, and a form of national origin or perhaps religion (Jew and Gentile).  I'm not really sure what category is implicated by the reference to the heathen (uneducated?  not religiously trained?).

Good going for America for the apparent anti-discrimination harmony with God's revealed word. 

By the way, just for the record, I trust it is presumed on my blog generally that I am an active, worthy member of the LDS church loyal to its teachings and leadership.  Gordon B. Hinckley said in an April 2003 talk entitled "Loyalty" that "This is His work. He established it. He has revealed its doctrine. He has outlined its practices. He created its government. It is His work and His kingdom, and He has said, "They who are not for me are against me" (2 Nephi 10:16)... Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing."  I know the Church is true, and I am loyal to it and intend to follow the counsel of its leader. 

Now, I'm going to hone in on the gender discrimination and examine it using the comparison to the issue of racial discrimination as evidenced in the "separate but equal" (see Plessy) and "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" (see Brown v. Board of Education) language. No doubt brighter authors than I have done this very exegesis before.  I feel more uneducated on this subject cluster than on other recent posts.  Notwithstanding, here goes:

Plessy: Family Proclamation :: Brown: Adam and Eve story.  Allow me to explain. 

Much has been made of the "separate but equal" roles of men and women in the church.  The divine role of women and the doctrine of motherhood is abundantly taught.  (See for more detail LDS Family Ideals versus the Equality of Women: Navigating the Changes Since 1957 2008).  The Family Proclamation teaches:

"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."  (separate responsibilities but equal partners- separate but equal, Plessy's language)

This paragraph expounds separate responsibilities for fathers and mothers, though it doesn't go as far as to say in what ways the two genders' natures differ (that they differ is implied by "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.").  Because I want to get to other points, I will not exhaustively research authoritative statements which support a conclusion that, for instance, the church teaches that men are built better for providing or that women are built better for nurturing children than the opposite gender.  Although I would point out that although women and men might complement each other well generally, the general man and the general women never marry- instead, there is always a specific man and a specific woman, each with a unique attribute profile.  If the father is more nurturing than the mother, or the woman more capable and inclined to protect or provide than the man, then the couple has a tougher job complying with the articulated roles than a more stereotypical couple.  If one's profile of characteristics is largely unchosen, this result seems hard and unfair- with the seeming response of "tough luck."

Anyway, back to my intended points.  The Adam and Eve story is one of the ideal marriage and family, and provides an archetype to follow.  It seems that Adam and Eve's approach wouldn't fit in very well under the modern church's depiction of gender roles.  That could be okay - the modern church is for the modern world, and Adam and Eve were in a different world, a new world, where they had the opportunity of establishing the culture rather than responding to it.  However, the juxtaposition might shed some light on the doctrine of gender roles.  I think it paints more of a picture of equality than the "separate but equal" conception extant today. (Though I don't here, I might also juxtapose an interesting third option chronologically nestled between the First Family and the Modern Family, namely the Polygynous Family, which like the other two, seems to have garnered at least occasional endorsement by God).

Back to the First Family.  Adam and Eve did everything together.  In Moses 5, it seems there wasn't a division of labor resulting from different innate, gender-specific tendencies.

Did just Adam do the providing?  No, they worked together: "Adam began to till the earth, and to have adominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his bbrow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did clabor with him.

Did Adam take the lead as voice in their prayers, receive commandments, and pass them along to his wife?  No- they prayed and worshiped and received revelation together.  Notice the "they's": "And Adam and Eve, his wife, acalled upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of bEden, speaking unto them... And he gave unto them commandments, that they should aworship the Lord their God, and should offer the bfirstlings of their cflocks, for an offering unto the Lord."

Did Eve do the predominant share of nurturing?  Here the answer is less clear, though again the partnership is referenced as the teaching entity: " And Adam and aEve blessed the name of God, and they made all things bknown unto their sons and their daughters." I think there is no doubt that women have a nurturing nature- but I'm not convinced that men lack this ability.

Brizendine, The Male Brain, 2010: "The stereotype of the stoic, unemotional male is again contradicted by research showing that the daddy brain and mature male brain are profoundly devoted and nurturing" (132).

I also don't think it is clear that men lack the level of nurturing that women exhibit, though men may nurture differently than women.  I think men often nurture in similar ways as well, though- e.g. see the male-only priesthood qualities from D y C 121 that sound very feminine and nurturing, such as "cpersuasion, by dlong-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned 42 By akindness, and pure bknowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the csoul without dhypocrisy, and without eguile-  43 aReproving betimes with bsharpness, when cmoved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of dlove toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy."  Thus, I think men are equally qualified to teach and nurture children.  At the least I think they could unlock the ability if socialized to do so.

I also see little reason on a "nature" argument why women are not cut out to be providers.  Women are strong and smart and can do about anything with some training (as can men generally as well).  Eve didn't seem to balk at earth tilling.  Indeed, history shows that women can work.

One ill of promoting a Modern Family over a First Family model is that some of those "misfits" (e.g. 1: *Jessica Stott, a young and high-accomplishing Ph.D. professor in the MPA program.  Her husband is content to be a stay-at-home dad and his wife the breadwinner.  Or 2: *Sarah Stewart, a high-accomplishing, full time MPA student, mother of four friend of mine) receive condemnation, both direct and indirect, within the church.  Who can blame them, when the Family Proclamates: " 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."  Both couple examples I illustrated are misfits.  In the First Family model, however, such a couple is not out of line, as long as the couple somehow provides and the couple somehow nurtures.  The First Family model treats the couple as a unit, rather than an association of a father and a mother to whom different duties independently attach.  The First Family approach seems to treat the couple as "one flesh" better than the Modern Family framework.

Personal preference, I like the First Family approach more than the Modern Family approach.  It seems to be a better policy in an ideal and a practical world because men and women really are equal, and avoiding role differentiation allows the couple greater flexibility in fulfilling the parenting and other responsibilities incumbent on them as a couple.  I think in a First Family, if there is any failure in the performance of parenting duties, then each is held individually responsible for the breach, as each individual is accountable for the entire parental performance.  In addition to apportioning responsibility, I see great benefit in a tighter peer/equality relationship.  As the Brown decision says, separate is inherently unequal.  This justification is bounded, though- for there are some physical differences at least between the average man and average woman (see e.g. Brizendine's The Female Brain and The Male Brain).  As mentioned above, though - because unique individuals marry rather than averages, less discriminating of roles seems a propos (instead, assign roles to the couple rather than to individuals, which further incentivizes unity).  Men and women "are alike" - at least to God. 

God unifies.  The at-onement is all about at-one-ing us with God and each other.  The baptism covenant, though between an individual and God, binds her to her fellows ("bear one another's burdens).  Satan, on the other hand, divides and separates.  He tries to separate us from God.  Division seems to be an indicator of the Devil's work.  He tries to separate and divide families.  He tries to prevent and disrupt the unity of marriage.  He approached Adam and Eve separately so that the fall was staggered rather than unified.  Nibley speaks of this wedging and decries both matriarchy and patriarchy.  The relevance of this distinction is that it seems the First Family is more "together" than the divided roles expounded in the Modern Family: vir et uxor consentur in lege una persona- "a husband and wife are regarded in law as one person."  Counterargument- "Think not that I am come to send apeace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law." (Interestingly, not husband against wife).

Jesus and Joseph Smith were both progressive feminists for their time.  I wish I had some substantiating examples close at hand. 

Though Jesus and Elohim exemplify charity for us, charity itself is female rather than male: Moroni 7:45 "And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own..."

Proverbs 2 and 3 refer to wisdom and understanding as female: "So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;  3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;  4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures..."

Dialogue with my brother:
Another good example is women's rights. In the church women don't have any rights. Counterexamples- the right to pray, the right to read scriptures, the right to believe as they choose, all civilly-guaranteed rights, and the right to repent.  If you argue that they only have these rights through men (e.g. scriptures because they were revealed through a man or they have the right to pray because a male told them how), you might similarly argue that any rights men have come through women because none are born except to a woman.  My point is that you might have a solid claim here, but it's not yet well supported or sufficiently narrow.  Any rights they have come through a man. This is understandable as it was the way society was run in the not too distant past. I agree generally.  Many religions, including ours, have their roots in a man-centric milieu (e.g. 19th amendment wasn't until 1920).  Women couldn't own property, they couldn't vote, and they were basically add-ons to their husbands. If you lived in a society like this today you would be labeled a patriarchial society. This is how the church still operates. Women are barred from holding the power of god, counterexample 1: officiating women in the temple. counterexample 2: any women exercising faith in the magnifying of her calling.  they're barred from taking part in any leadership role that doesn't involve other women or children, I'm struggling to conceive of counterexamples here- e.g. a Sunday School secretary isn't a classic leadership role, and a mother role, though a leadership position, is mostly relevant to children, i.e. her role diminishes even in a family of only sons as the males become adults- so good point as far as I can tell. they're even technically barred from heaven if they don't have a man to let them in (see temple ritual). True, although that bar applies equally to men, i.e. neither men nor women can attain the highest degree of exaltation but for sealing to an opposite-gender spouse. Does this make sense in a modern context? Not really. I agree in that the restrictions do seem deleteriously and unnecessarily limiting.  Those restrictions may not exist forever- as others, the policy might feasibly change in the future (presuming the policy is either A) merely a practice like blacks and the priesthood or B) malum prohibitum only, like polygamy). I observed an all-female clergy in an episcopal church a month ago and they seemed competent for the pastoral role.  Given the opportunity, I see few skills women couldn't develop that are relevant to current male-only roles in the church.  Also, since growth and progress are important aims for men and women, it makes a lot of sense to open up traditionally male-only leadership roles to women (except for the presumed fact of current contrary revelation).  Difficult as some church leadership roles such as bishop are, they offer unparalleled outcomes for those who fulfill such roles (examples include understanding principles and refining skills of change, government, judgment, gentleness, love, stewardship, accountability, and leadership more generally).  There is little reason to conclude that women, though they might fulfill these roles differently, would do a worse job than men.  Nor does it seem likely that men have more need than women for the lessons gained from fulfilling these roles outside contrived gender distinctions. 

I'd like to read a book on female and male roles in the LDS church.  I don't know enough about these issues.  I'd also to to read a book analyzing chronologically LDS statements on contraception.
> The Place of Mormon Women: Perceptions, Prozac, Polygamy, Priesthood, Patriarchy, and Peace
> ""it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by." - First Presidency statement (David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown, N. Eldon Tanner), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Office of the First Presidency, April 15, 1969
>  "As to sex in marriage, the necessary treatise on that for Latter-day Saints can be written in two sentences: Remember the prime purpose of sex desire is to beget children. Sex gratification must be had at that hazard."
(J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report 1949, Oct: pp. 194-95)

Excerpt from my Sunstone Symposium post, in the Mormon Women's Forum section:
If one were to go about trying to establish gender equality in the church, presuming that priesthood exclusivity tips the scales in favor of men, two primary strategies would be likely to succeed:
1) demean men in relationship to women, such that priesthood acquisition then brings the two into balance
2) exalt women in relationship to men
I have observed both in abundance.  Evidence:
Strategy 1) When I was in the MTC, I remember asking our middle-aged branch president why the idea persists that women are naturally better/more spiritual than men, noting how frequently I hear that idea expressed (the idea bothered me at the time).  He told me "simply because it's true."  Also, the persistent theme in the church that men are most frequently the ones who cheat on or leave spouses, abuse and neglect their children, etc., shows that they must be the worse of the two sexes.  Further, polygamy shows that men are naturally worse since there are so many more righteous women than there are men: just take a look at current active women>men ratio in the church. 
Strategy 2) I have heard from LDS pulpits the idea that women, since they were created last, are God's "crowning creation," implying their superiority to men.  Also, women have the supernal role mother and wife, and are superior nurturers by nature. 

These relative to each other, men- denigrating and women-exalting themes are ill-founded and misleading if they aren't true.
-I would counter some of the pieces above by noting that though women on average are perhaps more emotionally expressive and use their MNS more frequently, this fact even if verified does not necessarily support a conclusion that women are more spiritual, since emotion is not equivalent to the Spirit.  To the contrary, the presumption that revelation reception rates for the two genders are very similar is a reasonable one. 
- I would note that if women were created last, men were created first, and Jesus was both male and the Firstborn.  If you're going to make a women>men claim on the basis of sequential creation, it seems that God makes His best creation first, so the crowning creation argument is at the least neutralized if not superseded.
- I would point out that focusing on nurturing and motherhood when addressing gender equality excludes the value of single and/or career-focused women.  Unless that focus is accompanied by a similar focus on providing/protecting/presiding and fatherhood for men which would also exclude childless and/or career-focused men, then the nurture focus leads to further inequality. 
- Since when are the roles of mother and wife more significant than the roles of father and husband?  Thus, focusing on the mother/wife role doesn't boost women relative to men absent a conclusion that mother>father and/or wife>husband.  As to the nurturing argument, I would argue that men nurture differently than women on average, but not necessarily worse or less.  Also, is nurturing more important than the male-associated roles of providing, protecting, and presiding, all identified in the Family Proclamation?  One must necessarily conclude as much to exalt women in relation to men on a nurture basis.

- See more of my detailed arguments in my Mormon feminist post.   Basically the conclusion is that, at the margin, men and women are equal up until 1) male-only priesthood, 2) male-oriented scriptural focus, 3) polygamy, and 4) patriarchal order tip the scales in favor of men.  
There are female characterizations of deity or God's attributes in several places in the scriptures.  Two examples that come to mind: A hen gathering her chickens (3 Nephi 10), and charity as a her (Moroni 7).

I would predict that church practices and principles regarding females have changed over time.  Examples will likely include working outside the home; praying, speaking, voting/sustaining, and partaking of the sacrament at church; and becoming very educated. 

I think if there are incompletenesses or imperfections in the church, but the Lord still is well pleased with it and allows it to exercise His authorized priesthood and seals ordinances performed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, I am encouraged.  If God will grant that level of acceptance of an incomplete or imperfect church, then perhaps He will grant me a high level of acceptance- because I am all sorts of incomplete and imperfect.

Caveat: My blog generally is a way to "try on" ideas to see how they feel, rather than an authoritative, certain, or permanent stance I assert. Simplex commendatio non obligat - "A simple recommendation does not bind." This is especially true of this post.

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