Recently, Julie Beck asked Mormon Mommy Blogs to bring her whatever questions they had.  A blog post went out to ask the questions women in the church had, whether about polygamy or women and the priesthood or any other topic.  Below are the questions I came up with based on my experience in the bloggernacle. 

As Henry Kissinger said, “Every solution is a ticket to a new problem.”  I don’t think it’s very important for leaders to answer these questions, just to ask them for themselves and to understand the impacts of their actions and inactions to members and to potential converts.  Changes often bring unintended negative consequences as well as the intended positive ones, and I’m very sympathetic to that problem.  This is one reason that the existing negative consequences should also be fully considered and understood by leaders. 

Because those negative consequences are hard for leaders to face (I am speaking as a leader in business), there is often a tendency to 1) shoot or dismiss the messenger, 2) be defensive (often defending the indefensible), and 3) be evasive, answering the question you wish they had asked (accentuate the positive!) rather than dealing with the negative aspects of existing policies or practices that you may have caused or allowed to happen.

  1. How do we get an entirely male leadership to understand the perspective of all women in the church when the diverse perspectives of women are not represented in all leadership councils, both at HQ and local level?  Leaders of the church primarily hear from the women in their lives – their wives and daughters – who are very likely to agree with them.  This is not a very diverse representation of women in the church.  Female leaders in the church are insiders who are insufficiently critical.  Most leaders quit experiencing the church the same way as the lay members decades ago.  Leaders by and large are living the so-called ideal.  Their lives are blessed for their faithfulness as proven by their elevated status in the church.  But that can also lead to overconfidence and dismissal at best or blaming at worst of those for whom things didn’t work out so well:  the single, the divorced, homosexuals, those not living the so-called ideal (such as working mothers). 
  2. Why is it necessary for the Primary President to be female (but teachers can be either sex) but the Sunday School president cannot be female (but the teachers can be either sex)?  This seems to me like a holdover from a previous organizational setup.  The Sunday School secretary can be a woman.  These are inherently gender-neutral callings, and the cost of change would be quite low.  There is also some Dick Cheneyesque one-percent doctrine thinking about men in primary, but there are alternate ways to manage those risks.  Mormon men, especially my generation and younger, are generally very good with children and almost always equal partners with their wives, even when their wives stay at home.  We are not raising a generation of Mormon men who refuse to change diapers and demand hot dinner on the table when they walk in the door.  Division of labor may not be equal if the man is working outside the home and the woman is not, but Mormon men are not “babysitters” to their own children – they are parents!
  3. Why does CES discriminate against mothers, implying that a woman who works while her children are under age 18 is unworthy, although she is able to hold a temple recommend? Why are our seminary students presented almost a solely male perspective in seminary as a result?  The other groups who are also prohibited from teaching for CES are single men and the divorced.  Essentially, CES uses ministerial exception to exclude all who don’t fit their ideal from teaching posts.  Administrative roles do not have these exclusions (which would be illegal discrimination).  Doubtless, the policy exists to give kids an example of some sort of ideal (too bad for all the seminary kids who come from homes that differ), but the practical realities create some weird and hurtful problems.  For example, if you file for a divorce, you are also taking away your soon-to-be ex’s livelihood.  If a divorce is ugly, that is quite a card to have in your hand!  Another odd byproduct is the culture that is created by these employment practices.  Due to coercing the so-called ideal, there is a very self-satisfied perspective among those who qualify.  The other factor is that these jobs pay peanuts and require less qualification than other teaching positions, so the field is already very narrow.  These restrictive hiring practices only further narrow them.  There is a big difference between someone who would use CES as a second family income and those who would use it to support a family.  The environment created is very male-dominated, and with a specific subset of men.  As mentioned elsewhere, this means our children are taught a very stilted perspective that is fomented in a very specific mostly male environment.  They do not receive a very diverse view from CES.
  4. Why are women with children under age 18 prevented from working in the temple, but their husbands, also parents of young children, do not have the same restrictions? Shouldn’t they be at home helping their wives?  Personally, I don’t see how this one can be anything but plain and simple sexism, and quite easily remedied.  If they really want to play this card, why not prevent women from attending the temple at all during child-rearing years?  Are women literally supposed to be chained to the house 24×7?  Perhaps the double standard exists because more male temple workers are needed, but placing this burden on young mothers is just wrong-headed thinking.
  5. Why, after being raised in the church her whole life, did my 9 year old daughter never hear once at church that she has a Heavenly Mother? Her answer when I mentioned it was “Well, I never heard of her!” (I accept my own responsibility for that also).  I have to think this is because of the fear that outsiders will think we are weird polytheists if we embrace Heavenly Mother.  As evidenced in South Carolina, they don’t like us anyway; maybe we should quit caring what they think.  Personally, I don’t think our male leadership has any idea how easy it is for a woman to feel that we are just not the target audience at church.  Many women are extraordinarily proud we have a Heavenly Mother.  It’s one doctrine that keeps many in the church even when they experience a crisis of faith.
  6. Why can’t we entrust women with the care of our YW without priesthood oversight? (YW are often uncomfortable with male leaders showing up at events like girls’ camp, and may also have issues with being asked chastity related questions behind closed doors by a male leader.)  The first one is a bit new, so I’m sure it was put into place because something happened.  There always seems to be an incident, and then we go all one-percent to remedy it.  As to worthiness interviews, there are girls who are silent victims of rape or incest for whom this situation is inherently perilous to their well being.  There are some well-meaning yet nosey bishops who think it’s totally in their purview to go on fishing expeditions with the questions.  Male leaders coming to girls camp was something that was always very strange to us as Young Women.  It was like someone’s dad hanging around too much at a sleepover – creepy!  When every woman is constantly put beneath male  oversight, women can feel like guests or visitors to the men’s church, not full participants, or worse, like children who need to be protected and corraled, not like adults.  Good bishops know how to treat female leaders as leaders in their own right.  But with 32,000 bishops, they can’t all be winners.
  7. Why can’t women open or close General Conference with prayer? Why do some wards still restrict women from opening a sacrament meeting with prayer or from speaking last in Sacrament Meeting?  I suspect these are just ticky tack traditions that would be very easy to remedy, and it would send a clear message that God doesn’t listen more to male prayers than to female ones just because men have the priesthood.  That is the unwitting message to women, whether we notice it or not.
  8. What can be done to counter the belief among young people that boys are more important than girls in the church because their priesthood milestones are celebrated and their scouting programs and achievements are funded by the church?  BSA is beginning to open up to allow co-ed scouting events with girls joining alongside the boys.  But that is unlikely to be the solution for the church due to the overnight campouts; additionally, scouting is very expensive due to the uniforms, awards, and camps.  Recreating a girl version might be more than we can handle (since we can’t even keep our manuals up to date).  Forcing girls to do crafts alienates the many, many girls who are not interested in that.  Ideally the girls should be responsible for the planning, which will result in activities that appeal to that specific group of girls.
  9. How do we teach chastity without loading the girls down with excessive modesty rules and a belief that they are responsible for the actions of the boys? How do we create individual commitment and accountibility for selves (rather than others) and healthy sexual attitudes and body image among our women?  My personal view is that we should talk about chastity and choice, but drop all the modesty talk and specific guidelines for dress.  They are a superfluous distraction with no solid foundation, and it teaches boys that they can judge, disrespect and control girls’ behavior.  The guidelines are also extremely hurtful toward girls who gain weight, making them the targets of criticism when their clothing becomes tight.
  10. Can we get more diverse female design input for the garment? I appreciate the improvements of Carinessa in theory (if I lived in a cold climate I would wear them), but there are many issues not addressed: the need for wicking fabric for hot and humid climates, drop the cap sleeves, flat seams / silkscreened marks (for those with sensitive skin), and different body types and needs. For those who are committed to wearing the garment, we will pay more for what works in our climate and with our skin.  Female garments bunch up and show wrinkles below your clothing, even when your clothing is not tight depending upon the fabric.  It would be great to have a real designer working on alternatives, not just minor tweaks from seamstresses who are already accustomed to wearing the versions we already have.

Other commenters mentioned some great ones I forgot to include:

  • The YW manuals are extremely out of date.  This is a very big problem for those teaching the youth.  I’m not sure why we aren’t getting updated manuals.  Perhaps this area is just resource poor.
  • Advice to the young women to  marry young, that education is “nice to have,” that the husband as sole provider – only preaching the so-called ideal can have disastrous side effects.  These messages can ruin lives.  How many girls marry young and make a very poor choice (or worse, wind up in a domestic abuse situation) and then have no recourse to support themselves or their new brood of children because they chose not to get their education?  When we don’t encourage girls to be self-reliant, we create a culture of women with limited options if things go south.

What questions would you ask?  Do you disagree with any of the answers I’ve suggested above?  Discuss.