Getting at the Heart of the Female Equality Debate

May 11, 2013    By: DavidF @ 6:05 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

(Authorial Note: This post looks long, but if you ignore the appendix section, it should be a fairly quick read.  )

Women and the priesthood, wearing pants, sexism, the place of Heavenly Mother, and so forth are all major issues on the bloggernacle these days.  The common thread in each issue is whether women are equal to men in the Church.  Some people take the apparent inequality as a given, while their critics argue that these people have the wrong perspective.  Men and women are equal in the church; these folks just need to look at the issue differently.  And so the debate rages.

Generally the discussion goes round in circles because the debaters share an actually unshared assumption: the meaning of equality.  I suggest that there are three forms of equality that this discussion invokes, and since discussion partners are often using one or two different forms of equality, they end up talking past each other.  We need to fix this if we are going to move the discussion forward.

So these are the three forms: equality in terms of responsibility, acknowledgment, and theology.

Responsibility equality: Women give service.  Men lead and give service.  Or, if we count leading as a type of service, men give more kinds of service.  More than that, the priesthood has a special kind of value with no strong female equivalent.  Usually we compare priesthood with motherhood, but a more fitting comparison is fatherhood with motherhood, which leaves priesthood something extra for men, a mark of worthiness, and a special dimension for spirituality in male lives (or also in female lives via worthy men).

Recognition equality: Women get acknowledged for their hard work, but priesthood camaraderie offers a kind of appreciation among men that keeps women feeling on the outside.  We have a very appreciative culture for young men making the next priesthood office and going on missions.  Young women are far less recognized.  And sometimes this starts even in the primary, anticipating the kinds of tracks these two sexes will go on once they reach twelve.  Furthermore, the recognition adult women get for their service is often demeaning or overlooked.  This would probably be much less of a problem if there were more women in leadership roles.

Theology equality: Men and women have equal access to the celestial kingdom.  They both receive revelation.  They are (supposed to be) equal partners in the home.  In this sense, there is a fairly undeniable equality between the sexes.  However, there are also a few theological inequalities.  Some women take issue with wording in the endowment.  Heavenly Mother remains a largely mysterious figure and therefore an ambiguous role model for women.  Nevertheless, on a theological level, the sexes are largely equal.  

So what?  I hope that this discussion shows that if women are equal to men in some ways, in other ways there are stark inequalities.  Does that mean that those inequalities are wrong?  That’s a topic for another time.  But in the meantime, if we accept that these inequalities are real, we can at least know in what ways they are real.

Appendix

I originally planned on making this part of the post proper, but I figured that too few would be willing to read this much, so I’ve included it as an addendum.  Here are four characters representing four sides of the debate (these names were randomly chosen, by the way).  I’ve given each of them a position with three supporting arguments.  These may not be the best arguments, but I think they are representative.  And hopefully they’ll show how the points I’ve untangled above get mixed into the arguments that the opposing sides actually rely on (in a gist of the argument form).

Alice thinks that women are unequal with men in the church, and there needs to be some reform.  Alice bases her arguments mainly in the context of responsibility inequality. 

(a) Men have the ultimate say in everything.  While relief society presidents oversee women, the bishop oversees the relief society president, which means the buck stops with a man.

(b) Relatedly, men have more responsibility than women in the church, such that a 12 year old deacon has more authority to oversee general church operations than an adult woman.

(c) There is no clear woman-equivalent power to the priesthood.  While some people compare nurturing and motherhood to the priesthood, the analogy falls apart on almost every level.

Stacy thinks that women may be unequal to men in some respects, but ultimately, that’s a good thing.  Inequality doesn’t mean that women aren’t valued, and there’s no reason to try to change things (at least mostly).  Stacy uses all three types of (in)equality to advance her argument.

(a) Since men have the priesthood, they have to do more.  Stacy doesn’t want priesthood obligations added to her other responsibilities.

(b) God gave men the priesthood for a reason, and we should respect that, even if we don’t understand why.

(c) But most importantly, motherhood is a sacred role like no other.  Men can’t have it, and women don’t need to supplement this role with priesthood obligations.

Jim’s argument closely resembles Stacy’s.  Jim thinks that women and men have quite different roles, but those roles are ultimately equally important.  Or rather, the perceived inequality doesn’t actually exist.  Jim basis his arguments in the context of recognition and theology (in)equality.

(a) Motherhood really is a good match to the priesthood.  This is because both are critical for developing the attributes God wants us to have.

(b) Women are valued for their input in leadership positions and have considerable say in what goes on in the ward.

(c) The priesthood makes up for a spiritual deficit that men otherwise lack.  So at least in this sense, without the priesthood women would have an unequal advantage in God’s kingdom.

 Gary thinks that women are basically equal with men in the church and a discerning figure will agree.  Gary’s arguments fall under theology equality.

(a) Men need women just as women need men to get to the celestial kingdom.  So men aren’t more important than women.

(b) Women have the priesthood as evidenced in the temple.  So those petitions to get it are redundant requests.

(c) Women have the same access to inspiration as men do, and they don’t need the priesthood in order to receive God’s blessings.

Have I done these sides justice?

33 Comments »

  1. The thing that I find missing is the difference between identical and equal. Two things can be equal in important ways without being identical. It seems to me the debate is like that of comparing apples to oranges and discussing their inequality.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 12, 2013 @ 5:35 am

  2. In attempting to right one wrong, please do not commit another. No, equating motherhood and fatherhood is not a “fitting comparison.” This is dismissive of the physical demands of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation–which are non-trivial for many women, for a variety of different reasons.

    Comment by Naismith — May 12, 2013 @ 6:13 am

  3. The thing that bothers me anytime I hear people talking about this is that no one understands the difference between EQUAL and EQUITABLE. Equal means everyone gets exactly the same thing. Not possible, considering basic differences between the genders. Equitable treatment and privileges is possible though, it’s just determining which things each gender gets to measure up to what the other has. But that’s really hard to do so everyone settles for saying equal privileges, rather than tangle with the equitable treatment monster.

    Comment by Jocelyn — May 12, 2013 @ 8:16 am

  4. Men and women are different. Women and men are the same. Both statements are true! The simplified model I like to use to visualize this is a male bell curve and a female bell curve. These curves overlap arguing sameness but this also means there are areas of non-overlap arguing differences. The overlapping curves also account for reversed traditional role relationships.

    Defining equality isn’t necessary to see that women are clearly one down in church practice or that there is a pecking order to women’s roles with SAHM on top just under married men, and it cascades downward to include working mothers, single mothers, never marrieds etc.

    Chances are if you’re in a faithful SAHM marriage you’ll have a lot of trouble appreciating the position of single women in the church and the fact that a woman prayed in GC for the first time in 182 years won’t carry much meaning for you because privilege bias tends to eclipse empathy and because when the brethren speak there’s nothing more to consider.

    Comment by Howard — May 12, 2013 @ 8:22 am

  5. I can’t speak for others, but I frame the issue very differently. What I object to is the unspoken assumption (which all of your categories seem to endorse) that unless somebody can specifically articulate the trade offs that come with gender equality, we can simply assume that there are no trade offs and that it is a benefit without costs. Malarkey!!

    Comment by Jeff G — May 12, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

  6. Howard,

    There clearly is some inequality, but I don’t think stay-at-home-moms are the only ones uninterested in serious change. This pew forum survey from last year showed that only 8% of Mormon women think women should have the priesthood (note this study included only American Mormons).

    Stay at home moms make up a lot of Mormons, but definitely not 92% of Mormon women. And certainly more than 8% of Mormon women would support greater equality in some forms. But either way, I think we can safely assume that the large majority of women ranging from all the demographics you included, aren’t interested in big equality changes.

    I appreciate the comments from the other folk on here. There are some pretty big assumptions in this debate that not everyone would agree with. As I think through the comments I’ve read on various blogs, I think they typically get dismissed as soon as they are raised, but I’ll have to think about writing a post on them. They’re valuable parts of the discussion.

    Comment by DavidF — May 12, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

  7. “Defining equality isn’t necessary to see that women are clearly one down in church practice or that there is a pecking order to women’s roles with SAHM on top just under married men, and it cascades downward to include working mothers, single mothers, never marrieds etc.”

    Church is not a zero-sum game. We can all have eternal life. Pecking order? What are we using that for? What advantage does one get?

    In my ward, the RS president is a single mom, the counselors include a never-married woman and a mother who is employed on a part-time/seasonal basis. And that is pretty typical of any ward I’ve been in.

    “Chances are if you’re in a faithful SAHM marriage you’ll have a lot of trouble appreciating the position of single women in the church….”

    Really? Do you have data on that? Because actually, some of us have BEEN single mothers ourselves. Or we visit-taught single mothers, have good friends who are single women, and pray for them daily. Not that single women are a homogenous group, either.

    We are not as self-centered as this makes out. Indeed, having a husband who is willing to support the family financially can free up a woman’s time to engage in service that helps them appreciate the position of others. I was much more self-centered as a single mother, struggling to survive.

    “…and the fact that a woman prayed in GC for the first time in 182 years won’t carry much meaning for you because privilege bias tends to eclipse empathy.”

    Does it really? Not to mention that a lot of us don’t feel privileged, only that if we are financially better off than some that we have more to share.

    “…and because when the brethren speak there’s nothing more to consider.”

    Sigh. Well, okay, if you think that we see it all in such black and white terms, with no thought at all as to how to apply general principles taught over the pulpit to our own lives.

    As well as being a parent at home fulltime is a temporary condition that lasts only for a few short years. Our lives are so long that we can be at home with five children and still be speaker of the House of representatives.

    Comment by Naismith — May 12, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

  8. Sigh. Well I see my general statements are not a good fit for you Naismith. Thanks for letting us know you are one of the exceptions. Do you have any data on how many your position represents?

    Comment by Howard — May 12, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

  9. a lot of us don’t feel privileged

    I would just like to note that privilege is not a feeling.

    Comment by Peter LLC — May 12, 2013 @ 11:28 pm

  10. Women have the priesthood as evidenced in the temple

    I have a hard time believing this. I believe there is no “evidence in the temple” that promote women having the priesthood today. I would rather believe the prophets words than insinuations people make in the temple. “Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has put it that way. It is part of His program.” – Gordon B. Hinckley(http://mormon.org/faq/women-in-the-church)

    Comment by Michael A. Hickman — May 13, 2013 @ 8:49 am

  11. “Well I see my general statements are not a good fit for you….you are one of the exceptions. Do you have any data on how many your position represents?”

    No, but I am not attempting to give odds as to whether or not other people think a certain way.

    I appreciate that all of us have different experiences, and if you had said, “I notice that the SAHMs that I see get the better parking spots at church” or some other measurable indicator of privilege, I would have no problem with your observations.

    I don’t see how this conversation is helped by repeating the stereotype that fulltime mothers are insensitive to their singe sisters, don’t care about issues of equality, and are basking in privilege. (Still haven’t figured out what that so-called privilege does for one…)

    I care passionately about gender equality. I just don’t define equality as doing the same things as men.

    (And for the record, I haven’t actually been a fulltime mother since my youngest started kindergarten, but I thought that was the hardest job I ever did.)

    Comment by Naismith — May 13, 2013 @ 10:25 am

  12. “There’s no inequality in the church between men and women”…said by the men on here. I see some asking for data, maybe you should try having an honest conversation with a variety of women in the church.

    While the young men of my ward were out white water rafting or rock repelling for scouts or mutual, us ladies were being taught how to cross stitch and other domestic things (boring in comparison and HUGE gap in budget allotment).

    Also, I have yet to hear anyone bring up the fact that women can only be sealed to one man in her lifetime. Say my husband passes away while we still have young children at home and I desire to get married again for want of a husband for me and a father to them. I can either a)find a widower and we have a civil union b)marry a church member who doesn’t mind if we don’t ever get sealed c)marry a non member and hope they don’t mind raising our kids LDS or c)Stay single the rest of my life, like my friend who doesn’t want to cancel her first sealing in order to marry another.

    Comment by Alicia — May 13, 2013 @ 11:10 am

  13. Naismith,
    In order to see my observations and those of others simply compare your SAHM church status (past or present, it doesn’t matter) with that of a never married women. Your preferred parking spot is literally any chair you choose in any meeting you attend. Why? Because an overwhelming number of lessons and talks are geared to and will speak to and revere your role (past or present) as a SAHM and only a tiny portion of a few lessons or talks will even mention her situation let alone offer something that will positively resonate with her. Not only is she left out, but due to her faith in the gospel she is compelled to painfully sit through the reality of her less than SAHM position reenforced over and over by the church and church members she otherwise loves.

    (Still haven’t figured out what that so-called privilege does for one…) It provides a comforting high status social position in an exclusive club and the fact that you cannot see that speaks to my original comment.

    Comment by Howard — May 13, 2013 @ 11:32 am

  14. “While the young men of my ward were out white water rafting or rock repelling for scouts or mutual, us ladies were being taught how to cross stitch and other domestic things (boring in comparison and HUGE gap in budget allotment).”

    Yes, that kind of disparity concerns me as well. Fortunately, my girls did fencing and archery, went on moonlight canoeing trips, etc. One daughter went on a Laurels whitewater rafting trip two states away. The next daughter did not do an outdoorsy trip like that because several of the girls in her cohort were anti-camping–wouldn’t even go to girls camp, which is in cabins with electricity. Not much a leader can do if there is not enough interest.

    Comment by Naismith — May 13, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

  15. So I need a man to tell me what to think?

    “In order to see my observations and those of others simply compare your SAHM church status (past or present, it doesn’t matter) with that of a never married women.”

    Sure. I can do that, since I was, in fact, a never-married woman in the church for some years.

    “Because an overwhelming number of lessons and talks are geared to and will speak to and revere your role (past or present) as a SAHM….”

    How often does maternal employment status come up in Gospel Doctrine or the teachings of Lorenzo Snow? I realize that I’ve been in Primary for a few years, but I taught Gospel Doctrine for more than four years without it ever being an issue. Yes, we sometimes have a marriage & family relations sunday school class going on, but it has never been the only option for attendance.

    “… and only a tiny portion of a few lessons or talks will even mention her situation let alone offer something that will positively resonate with her.”

    Our discipleship is far more of a bond than the demographic differences.

    And the singles in my stake have a monthly dinner and fireside on Sunday, as well as a Friday-night scripture study. They also have all kinds of regional singles activities. So there seems to be some attempt to offer something that will resonate for them.

    “Not only is she left out, but due to her faith in the gospel she is compelled to painfully sit through the reality of her less than SAHM position reenforced over and over by the church and church members she otherwise loves.”

    If she wants to look at it that way. But we don’t believe in “the elect” the way Calvinists do. I have never seen “SAHM” as anything but an option, (although I prefer to call it full-time parenting, since I wasn’t just “staying” during those years, I was working). It is a great option for some families, and I am glad that the church recognizes it as a valid choice, since where I live, it is looked down upon as “not working.” I’ve actually been an employed mom more than I’ve been at home fulltime, and never experienced prejudice or was made to feel “less” at church because of my “non-SAHM” status. An no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, as Eleanor Roosevelt said.

    I understand what it feels like to be an outsider at church, because I feel that way a lot. Most of my friends are non-members. But I don’t see church as a social club, but rather a place to learn how to become more Christlike.

    Comment by Naismith — May 13, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

  16. So I need a man to tell me what to think? Sorry but it’s just consciousness raising. Feminists often call that kind of a blind spot in a man male chauvinism.

    Comment by Howard — May 13, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

  17. Naismith,

    You’ve made some interesting comments. I’ve grown up always being told that the ideal situation for a woman in the church is that she is a SAHM. I was taught repeatedly as a young man that I should choose a career where I can make enough money so that my wife can stay at home. When they raised the salaries for institute teachers a few years ago, I was told that it was so that it gave male teachers the ability to provide a one source income for their families. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any lesson in the church where women pursuing careers is anything other than a regrettable necessity for some folk.

    And while I can’t say I’ve had this conversation many times (it’s not a topic that comes up all that often), I’ve talked with several young women in YSA wards at BYU who were struggling to justify pursuing a career when they knew they should raise their kids at home after they got married.

    The point is, I’m surprised by your experiences when I’ve had it drilled into me that SAHM situations are the ideal. And considering how judgmental we Mormons can be of each other, it is no stretch of the imagination to believe that a lot of women who work feel like they aren’t living up to that ideal. But I guess that experiences vary.

    Comment by DavidF — May 13, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

  18. *a more fitting comparison is fatherhood with motherhood, which leaves priesthood something extra for men, a mark of worthiness, and a special dimension for spirituality in male lives (or also in female lives via worthy men).
    *

    I’m pretty sure that sub species aeternitas the distinction between fatherhood and priesthood, and therefore the ‘inequalities’ between men and women that you percieve, collapse.

    I agree that the ideal situation for a Mormon woman is as a stay-at-home mother.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 14, 2013 @ 10:29 am

  19. I will also say that your arguments for inequality look like the kind of argument one comes up with when the conclusion is already foreordained. For ex., on the recognition point, you could just as easily and as meretriciously say something like

    “Women in the church are considered valuable and complete just as they are. Men, on the other hand, are looked down on unless they have extra ordinances performed on them that are supposed to make them as good as women. Men have to justify their role in the church by fulfilling extra responsiblities that women don’t. Mother’s day is celebrated in most wards while Father’s day is treated as an afterthought. Women are routinely praised over the pulpit in General Conference and RS/Young Women’s conferences, while men are routinely hauled over the coals for their failings in the equivalent Priesthood session. Mormon doctrine emphasizes the creation of human life as the greatest divine power given to humanity, a power in which women are intimately involved and men only have a fleeting and auxiliary participation. Young women have an affirmation of their spiritual value to God that they recite, while young men are forbidden to do so. Instead, they are forced to recite an oath that they will not be failures. Young women are trusted to run a program as they see fit, while young men are required to go through a detailed and quasi-militaristic program for bringing their character up. If a couple has few or no children, this is considered to be either nobody’s business, or nobody’s fault, or the fault of both. But if a couple has insufficient financial resources, this is considered to be the husband’s fault.”

    It’s all nonsense of course. Those who look for victims find them.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 14, 2013 @ 10:41 am

  20. Adam G.,

    “aeternitas” – meaning?

    But to answer the point I think you are making: Clearly there is some difference between fatherhood and motherhood. But in terms of roles, obligations, and relations, fatherhood is much closer to motherhood than priesthood is to motherhood (the better correlate for that being priestesshood). But generally when a person asks, “Men get priesthood, so what do women get?”, the answer is motherhood. Lot’s of people don’t find this comparison compelling since men also get fatherhood. Perhaps the issue deserves more argument, but I haven’t seen any good counterarguments thus far.

    As for your counterexample on recognition equality, presumably that kind of statement could be made, but I’ve never seen it. To me this suggests that there is something among men that doesn’t bring out this argument that is lacking among women. So what is it? A feeling of being treated fairly (or equally)? Maybe not, but that’s how the debate gets framed. My opinion is that the question ultimately comes down to value. Men feel valued so you don’t see this kind of proposed hypothetical. Many women clearly feel undervalued. Something is amiss. In this post I’m trying to parse that issue as it’s framed in the equality debate.

    Comment by DavidF — May 14, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

  21. sub species aeternitas — “after the eternal kind” — looking at things in the big picture and not from a temporally-limited perspective.

    It looks to us like you don’t have to have the priesthood to be the father, like fatherhood and priesthood are different things. But all that is provisional. There is no solid reason to think that when all is said and done there will be any fathers who aren’t priests and vice versa.

    I really can’t take seriously your idea that where there is smoke, there must be a fire. You seem to be treating arguments like soldiers, marching them around wherever necessary to reach the conclusion you have already decided must be true. It would be just as plausible to say that men don’t complain because they lack cultural power–I mean, just to take an obvious parallel, there are more feminists in American than in Saudi. Is the natural conclusion that women are worse off here? Nope. So *obviously* the lack of male agitation in the Church is a sign that men are oppressed. (By the way, there is actually a pretty active movement in the blogosphere who argue that men in America are the oppressed and maltreated gender. *Obviously* they wouldn’t complain if it weren’t true.)

    The real facts are that women in the Church mostly don’t feel ‘unvalued’ and most don’t complain, and men in the church mostly wouldn’t complain even if they had complaints because its unmanly to do so and because you wouldn’t get a sympathetic hearing–you’d be told to shut up and soldier. None of which I have a problem with.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 14, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

  22. Adam G.,

    Okay, priests and fathers may one day be interchangeable, but that’s not the way the rhetoric goes in any discussion I’ve seen. And maybe it’s a valid point. But I’m trying to understand the agitation that causes this discussion, which has exploded on the bloggernacle, not to mention in some pockets of BYU. For the latter, I offer that I by coincidence visited a YSA ward (I just graduated) where the bishop devoted the whole sacrament meeting to why women shouldn’t complain about inequal treatment. In another YSA ward last Sunday, my friends told me that a girl gave a talk and spent a substantial amount of time talking about women giving blessings (although being careful not to advocate it right out). This isn’t brand new stuff since I know these discussions happened while my eldest sister-in-law was at BYU almost two decades ago. But this agitation is persistent and not going away. I want to understand why.

    You’ve given a lot of reasons to dismiss the topic. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I’m guessing that you feel that there aren’t equality issues, or that there may be, but that they aren’t important because they aren’t relevant to most members? I’d actually be willing to concede quite a bit to both of these claims whether or not you espouse them. But I don’t know anyone who would dispute the fact that men carry the lion’s share of responsibility in church leadership and administration. That’s a clear imbalance. I won’t go so far as to say we need to make sweeping changes to the whole church structure, because I’m not sure that’s the right decision (if there is any “we” involved at all, even), but I prefer to understand that this is a different issue than, say, the fairly apparent recognition imbalance for young men advancing in priesthood offices and young women moving to the next age-related section of young womens (which I thought was a problem even as a young man before I ever went to a blog). I think that parsing out these issues aids the discussion. If my position seems biased, then it was because I was simply trying to be sympathetic to representing the sides of the debate I’ve seen, but didn’t achieve that to your expectations (which is unfortunate, but there you go).

    Comment by DavidF — May 14, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

  23. What I have discovered through studying Mormon culture and speaking to many friends, family, co-workers and students at the UVU is that there seems to be three classes within the MF movement.

    First, there are the Mormon feminists who simply desire that the hierarchical leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints incorporate more faithful female historical accounts in their talks, sermons, lectures, lessons and testimonies.

    Second, there are Mormon feminists who desire to change policy and tradition within the LDS church. For example, MFs would like to stand as witnesses during baptisms or some would like to open church meetings with prayer or be the main speaker in Sacrament meetings.

    Thirdly, there are the radical MFs who desire to thwart not only tradition, council, and policy but also revelation and doctrine by demanding to have what is rightfully a male dominated calling called the Priesthood After the Order of the Son of God.

    I believe that before discussions begin on the bloggernacle about this whole MF movement then we need to know to what MFs movement are we talking about.

    Comment by Michael A. Hickman — May 14, 2013 @ 6:40 pm

  24. “Sorry but it’s just consciousness raising.”

    No,it is not. I was there in the ’70s for consciousness raising, and it was all about women sharing their own personal experiences. Not telling other women that they are wrong and what they should think. This perversion is a reason why feminism has such a problematic reputation nowadays. A few months ago, I had the privilege of meeting the brilliant Stephanie Koontz. And she said that she is no longer using the feminist label. She is not anti-feminist, but she finds feminism currently has a lot of “baggage,” so she frames her issues in different ways.

    As for being a full-time mom, I suspect that a content analysis of actual talks given in general conference would show they have been pretty neutral on the subject, at least in the few decades that I have been a member. I realize that people raised in certain places may hear things from various local leaders, but it isn’t a worldwide thing.

    Pres. Monson’s talk to the RS in 2010 is pretty typical: “My dear sisters, each of you is unique. You are different from each other in many ways. There are those of you who are married. Some of you stay at home with your children, while others of you work outside your homes. Some of you are empty nesters. There are those of you who are married but do not have children. There are those who are divorced, those who are widowed. Many of you are single women. … Do these differences tempt us to judge one another?”

    He seems to view those differences as, well just differences. Not more or less.

    I graduated (undergrad) from BYU in 1980, when Marilyn Arnold was dean of women or something, and encouraged every woman to have a life plan, warning that if each of us could sit down with a divorced mother returning to campus, we would be serious about our education. And Professor Sister Wood at the law school had a baby during that time; she and her husband had a nursery in between their offices.

    Of the cohort of sister students with whom I have kept in touch, all of them have done some kind of paid work at some point in their life. Most of us were mostly home with the little ones, but that’s a temporary condition.

    I went to graduate school when my youngest (at the time) started kindergarten. I only took classes when my children were in school, or in the evening when my husband was with them. I was home with them after school just about every day. This means I did not get to take some classes that I would have enjoyed, and didn’t serve as a teaching assistant.

    After grad school, we had two more children, and I returned to part-time employment when the youngest was in kindergarten. I was home with them after school every day. When I had a big deadline and needed to put in more time, I would go home in the afternoon around 3′ish, hang out with the kids and do their music lessons or whatever. At 5:30, we headed back to the medical center where my paid job was located. My husband’s office was only a mile away, so he met us in the cafeteria there. We had dinner together, and it was our family dinner table for that night–I remember reading missionary letters from the older siblings there. Then my husband would take the kids home, and I would work until the hospital shift got out at 11 p.m. So we still had family dinner, and they had a parent caring for them. (Nowadays of course, I have a VPN and remote desktop and could do it all from home.)

    I do think it is wise for a dad to be able to support the family, since he is not going to be affected by pregnancy or breastfeeding. I was very sick during pregnancy, and could not do anything but gestate. We even had to have the toddler cared for by someone else because the anti-nausea medication left me too loopy to be responsible.

    But in this age of defined contribution retirement plans, couples who want to retire young enough to serve a mission may need two incomes for some years of their marriage.

    Comment by Naismith — May 14, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

  25. Naismith,
    I enjoy many of your comments because they often represent a well articulated minority view to what is typically posted on the bloggernacle but really you need to gain an understanding of what a general statement is! Neither you nor Stephanie Koontz and her ilk have a copyright on the meaning of the phrase “consciousness raising” or the word “feminist” or where they can be used. Try a dictionary or Google if my meaning seems unclear to you (which I doubt). Also citing every exception you can think of doesn’t undo or negate the general and significant bias of the church toward SAHMs and away from never married and others that comes from the podium. I’m not surprised you’ve missed it, privilege is deaf to the unmentioned underclass.

    Comment by Howard — May 14, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

  26. Naismith,

    I’m not really sure I have a dog in this fight, but since I am pretty confident that stay-at-home-moms have been the traditional ideal in the church, I decided to do a quick search.

    I typed “husbands provide” in lds.org and looked at the results on the first page. It was pretty much what I expected. If you have any doubts, try it yourself, although it would be easier to scan through the following link going to the 2003 Building an Eternal Marriage teaching manual. It has a lesson devoted to mothers working outside the home, and summarizes six general authority talks ranging from Kimball to Hinckley that all say women should only work outside the home if it is a necessity.

    The Monson quote you provided shows what I have noticed as a shift away from this polarizing discussion. We try to be more inclusive of people who don’t fit the traditional pattern these days.

    Comment by DavidF — May 15, 2013 @ 7:57 am

  27. “…well articulated minority view…”

    Actually, I think I may be in the majority of women that I know in the church. It’s just that many of them do not want to engage with people who talk down to them and tell them what they really need. Especially men.

    DavidF, I have no doubt that there was a view in the church encouraging moms to be at home full-time, just as there was in much of mainstream USAmerican culture for a season. But that does not mean there is any privilege accorded to families who prayerfully decide that is best for them.

    And most of today’s church members are first-gen, so we haven’t been exposed to that rhetoric, and aren’t being, either. The Monson quote was not a rarity, I could cite many, many of those from my time in the church.

    Yes, men should provide. I totally agree. That is not the opposite of women being employed. Where over the pulpit do they tell us that being at home is the best choice for every family?????

    “women should only work outside the home…”

    Let’s please be accurate. Those talks said nothing about WOMEN. They talked about mothers. Big difference. According to a talk he gave in conference, Elder Holland’s mother had a paid job while he was on his mission, was she a sinner? I thought he was actually holding her us as a good example.

    I love the church’s emphasis on highlighting the value of having a parent at home, because it is not something that I hear much anyplace else. I never considered being at home fulltime until I attended BYU and met amazing women like Ann Madsen (who has since returned to teaching), Sandra Covey, etc. It makes sense that this would be in an English-language Institute manual, but most of the general church membership is not going to be exposed to that. At the state university one of my daughters attends, I have issues with the guidance department, because they do not encourage women to consider how their career choice might fit with pregnancy and motherhood. I encourage every young woman to pursue a career with part-time professional options–pharmacy, physical therapy, nursing, accounting, teaching. That way they won’t be forced to choose between a career and motherhood; they can move between seasons of their lives with times of intense focus on one or the other, but not having to be slammed into one at the expense of the other. So the institute manual seems a counterpoint to what young people are hearing elsewhere.

    And I don’t think it is accurate to describe today’s LDS families with a mom at home as “traditional.” The traditional 1950s mom at home was subservient to her husband. We are equal partners, at the church’s encouragement.

    I don’t think the church wants us to fit into ANY pattern, but rather embrace the wonderful diversity. Why do we insist on using words like norm or exception that just make people feel like outsiders?

    But then, maybe I am just a stupid non-feminist who doesn’t get it. A sinful stupid non-feminist who isn’t doing what the church wants me to do.

    Comment by Naismith — May 15, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  28. There is little question that small children benefit greatly from full time care from responsible parent figures or nannies during their formative years. This is a laudable goal I support and generally one of the great strengths of the church but it shouldn’t be perused to the extent of or by method of the diminished of others either directly or by implication. The concept of career and motherhood seasons is a great start because it recognizes that there is a term to the SAHM calling although I doubt many of the General RS or YW presidency actually see it that way given their CVs but don’t leave out those who are childless or husband-less or SAH fathers in the process there needs to be a variety of acceptable life tracks.

    Comment by Howard — May 15, 2013 @ 9:43 am

  29. Naismith,

    “Let’s please be accurate. Those talks said nothing about WOMEN.”

    Correct. My mistake.

    “Elder Holland’s mother had a paid job while he was on his mission, was she a sinner?”

    No. Where did you get this idea?

    “And I don’t think it is accurate to describe today’s LDS families with a mom at home as “traditional.” The traditional 1950s mom at home was subservient to her husband.”

    These aren’t mutually exclusive statements, nor must they necessarily go together to both be true. Suppose I said women traditionally wore dresses. This is similar to my claim and yet it clearly doesn’t contradict yours. The stay-at-home role is definitely traditional, and all of the talks I cited above show that top leaders used to encourage it whenever possible (allowing for exceptions).

    Times have changed. You said the church doesn’t tell us to live according to a pattern. That surprises me. You’re going to have to elaborate what you mean by pattern, because I’m confused. What I mean by pattern is essentially what Jeffrey R. Holland taught at the 2008 Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting:

    “Now, I hope this helps you understand why we talk about the pattern, the ideal, of marriage and family when we know full well that not everyone now lives in that ideal circumstance. It is precisely because many don’t have, or perhaps have never even seen, that ideal and because some cultural forces steadily move us away from that ideal, that we speak about what our Father in Heaven wishes for us in His eternal plan for His children.”

    Our leaders almost always teach us the ideal and then let individuals sort out their exceptions (I’m paraphrasing another quote by Elder Oaks). Actually I remember 2008 being a big year in terms of changing emphasis. That was the year that the first Ensign devoted solely to YSA came out. It was a big deal at the time because the only council YSA generally get is “stay faithful and get married”. This Ensign showed a clear amount of depth on a segment of church membership that don’t get much attention otherwise.

    In any case, we don’t see those kinds of talks I noted above in the mid-late 2000s. Things have change and so has the emphasis.

    Also, Naismith, don’t insult yourself, and please don’t play the victim. If I’ve offended you, then you can let me know or just ignore me. But there’s no reason to go from a healthy discussion to emotional labeling. I don’t see why you would feel you need to go to that extreme.

    Comment by DavidF — May 16, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  30. Conclusive proof men are oppressed: someone’s written a book about it!

    http://www.amazon.com/Men-Strike-Boycotting-Marriage-Fatherhood/dp/1594036756/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369227034&sr=8-1&keywords=men+on+strike

    Comment by Adam G. — May 22, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

  31. That actually looks like a pretty interesting read. I can’t imagine actually buying it though.

    Comment by Jeff g — May 23, 2013 @ 11:17 am

  32. More proof. These dark tales of oppression wrench at the soul.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aaron-gouveia/its-time-to-stop-treating-dads-like-idiots_b_3179351.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

    http://legalinsurrection.com/2013/05/book-review-men-on-strike-by-dr-helen-smith//

    Comment by Adam G. — May 28, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

  33. It seems to me that SAHM talk only makes things appear worse than they are. Twentieth Century and earlier woman who had big families (more than five children) could stay at home their whole lives caring for their many children (like maybe 8 to 12 kids.) Nowadays in the 21st century three is average for LDS women which means that some have more and some have less. Very few have 10 or more.

    Staying home without children does not make one a SAHM. So anyone with three children born before a woman is 30 years old will not be a SAHM once those children leave her home while she is in her 40s.

    I know 50 sounds really old to all young people, but when they reach that age they will look down the road and see that they have the possibility of living nearly another 50 years without their own children to care for.

    I am not a SAHM anymore. I have much time every day that I can decide how to use. Now I don’t always feel like part of the group, but I know that is not because I do not have the priesthood.I feel more equal now than I ever have.

    Comment by YvonneS — May 29, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

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