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. (more…)

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