In January 2012, I did a blog post about topics women in the church were discussing. I identified 10 practices that some women saw as unnecessarily discriminate or that were in other ways causing women to question their value in the church. This was in response to a request Pres. Beck made of Mormon Mommy Bloggers (of which I am not one). As Virginia Slims likes to tell us while promoting carcinogens: “You’ve come a long way, baby!” OK, not that long a way. But “You haven’t stood still, baby!” isn’t going to sell ciggies.
I’ve heard the caution from those who are suspicious about feminism that if you participate in events like wearing pants to church, you’ll be promoting things that you may not believe in personally because the aims might be broader than your own. Well, no duh! Unity of thought is an illusion. I’m not chasing after it. But dialogue with diverse opinions is a worthy aim. If I have 3 LDS feminist aims, they are:
- Feminist butts in seats at church (of both sexes). Since Jesus was obviously a feminist, I’m not sure how it came to be such a dirty word. I suspect Sonia Johnson threatening to sue the church didn’t help. However, most of the feminist bashing I see is straw woman argument. Real LDS feminists bear little resemblance to the caricature.
- Women encouraged to invest in the church and themselves and be full individuals in their own right without regard to the roles we play in the family.
- Break down sexist practices in the church, particularly at the local levels, that are often fostered by attitudes from the top down. This only happens when we are having open discussions, listening, and reflecting.
If there are any church members who can’t get behind those three aims, I suggest you sit down and think it through and then come back. These are not revolutionary aims, just practical, common sense ideas.
So, what’s happened in the 14 months since I wrote that blog post titled Ten Questions LDS Women Think About? Quite a bit!
- Temple menstruation is deemed OK. Thanks to a policy clarification campaign, the church has officially stated that females who are menstruating are still permitted to do baptisms for the dead. Some temples were prohibiting this, resulting in walks of shame for teen girls.
- Mission age has changed for both men & women. The biggest change is that a 19-year mission age for women will de-stigmatize and normalize missions for women, unlike the mustachio’d spinsters that served when I was a missionary at the ripe old age of 21. (That is a joke, people. I used Nair.)
- Women wore pants to church, and church HQ yawned. A few stalwart and misguided members cracked a fruitie (Aussie slang for blew a gasket), but that was about it. The world didn’t end. The church officially said it didn’t matter, and all are welcome. And our new YW president’s daughter even participated in the pants movement!
- The BSA / LDS connection was threatened. In fairness, nothing actually happened except testing the effectiveness of a few homophobes’ anti-perspirant, but if the church dumped BSA, there would no longer be any justification for differences in YW / YM budgets. We can still address this inequity regardless, but it was an interesting almost moment from a feminist concerns perspective.
- A woman prayed in General Conference. Even better, it was apparently determined prior to the LWP movement. My conclusion is that it suddenly dawned on someone that they had forgotten the existence of 51% of the church membership. Women now exist! Our invisibility cloak slipped off (although our shoulders remain covered).
- Mission councils were established to involve female input. On the downside, it’s still a women can lead women only, men can lead and teach everyone limitation, but it’s better than it was for sure. This is the nose of the camel, not just table scraps; at least that’s my rosy view.
- Faithful LDS women launched an Ordain Women site. Nobody’s been hauled in to HQ over this, and there’s no huge retrenchment, beyond the BAU trenchment. Kirby’s got a line on what’s really making men nervous about female ordination: men will be seen through and called on their B.S. by those discerning females.
Here’s a quick scorecard of the Top 10 List from 14 months ago:
- 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? Underway. The “councils” approach is a definite step in the right direction. This really only happens with time, now.
- 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)? No change. But I will add to this list of nonsensical sex distinctions positions like membership clerk and financial auditor. A female CPA cannot be a stake auditor, but a man is apparently qualified, even if he can’t add his way out of a paper bag.
- 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? No change.
- 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? No change.
- 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). No change, despite many missed opportunities in Gen Conf to refer to “Heavenly Parents” rather than “Heavenly Father.”
- 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.) No change.
- 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? RESOLVED.
- 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? No official change. Some wards are more equal in budgeting and recognition than others.
- 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? No change. This one really only comes with more female representation in councils and time.
- Can we get more diverse and common sense female design input for the garment? No change. I’ve heard the latest garment design is actually worse. Apparently our belly buttons are now believed to be around armpit level, and our knees fall somewhere mid-shin. Plastic surgery may be required, but I think you can take it as a tithing deductible.
Bonus item: YW manuals out of date. Improved greatly, but still preserved sexual stereotypes by writing the YW manuals passively and encouraging action and leadership from YM at the same time.
Second bonus item: 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. No substantial change, although I wonder if the mission age change will have downstream impacts to this.
To this list, I would add the following:
- Even more mission equality. With the mission age change, now women are wondering why the remaining distinctions exist: women 18 months at 19 years old vs. men 24 months at 18 years old as well as men being considered “mandatory” in terms of how encouraged they are. Personally, I’d like to see men given a similar level of flexibility as women. Allow either to go at 18+, and let them default to 18 months with option to extend to up to 24 months. Additionally, should we have more integration in mission leadership – women over both men & women in some positions?
- More equal speaker representation at General Conference. Seems like a no brainer as a next step. Sure, the Q12 are going to all speak which covers a lot of the slots, but what about more of the women who are serving with them in councils? What about their wives (as they do at regional conferences)? But please, hold the primary voice, and try hard to pass the Bechdel test.
- More female participation in support of Priesthood rites. Suggestions for YW to be ushers as their male counterparts use their budding priesthood to administer the sacrament seem reasonable and not too scary. Likewise, women holding their children as they are blessed or being allowed to perform the role of witness at baptisms of their own children don’t seem too far out there.
- Female ordination. This is definitely being discussed by Ordain Women, although there is a claim that 90% of women don’t want to be ordained. I would counter that 90% of members would support whatever the church decided to do. Even Will wouldn’t leave over this one (sorry, man – love ya). But before that can happen, my view is that the next one is even more important . . .
- Reduce hierarchical, competitive-style Priesthood structures. I’m with Pres. Uchtdorf that many men feel marginalized by the existing structure, particularly those who aren’t getting “promoted” in the ranks or who are in EQ past the age of 40. As a woman, I don’t feel drawn to this kind of structure. Don’t get me wrong – I kick tail in that kind of structure at work – I just think it’s not that spiritual or conducive to the best decision making. It feeds (and conversely wounds) pride and egos. And it’s actually much more hierarchical and competitive than a work environment because it is not gender integrated today.
What do you think of the progress (or lack thereof) in the last 14 months? What do you think is next? What would your top priorities be?