I recently read an interesting article in the Atlantic. It noted a few key points about how men are impacted by the women in their lives:

  • Male CEOs with sons (not daughters) pay employees less. Those with firstborn daughters pay all employees including women more.
  • Men with daughters are less enamored of gender stereotypes and traditional division of labor.
  • The most sexist men are those in traditional marriages with SAHMs at home.
  • Men who work with women (in fields not dominated by men) are more egalitarian at home with housework, but interestingly men whose wives outearn them do less housework. [1]
  • Oddly, men with sisters tend to favor traditional roles vs. egalitarian. [2]

Some objected that stating things in terms of how men were impacted by women was in itself sexist.  Additionally, studies like this are always going to have exceptions.

My own anecdotal experience neither confirms nor contradicts these findings.  My brother is pretty sexist from my perspective, but he has six sisters; he also has a stay-at-home wife and three daughters.  My husband is not sexist, and he has 4 sisters and a daughter as well as two sons, but I’ve always had a career, and his mom worked in a career also, later in life.  My dad, like nearly everyone in his age group, is quite sexist, and he has no sisters (one brother) and six daughters, but my mom stayed at home, like almost all women in their age group.  I’m not sure where the cause and effect is.  Two factors seem to be at play:

  • Generational issues (my parents are one generation older than my in-laws)
  • Whether the wife / mother works outside the home [3]

Additionally, my own perspective of how sexist others are is probably skewed.    I’ve heard tales of sexism on the internet that far surpass anything I’ve seen in my own circle of acquaintance and seem the stuff of novels or Mad Men episodes.  For example, the types of sexism I’ve seen:

  • Assuming stereotypes about  men & women are correct
  • Strictly defining gender roles along traditional lines
  • Expecting women to stay home to raise children rather than having a career, and seeing it as the woman’s duty
  • Considering male children to be more valuable and necessary to the family’s legacy [4]
  • Treating male children as more capable and responsible; having lower expectations for females [5]
  • Suggesting daughters find a man to take care of them financially or otherwise [6]
  • Assigning domestic chores like cooking and doing dishes to the woman as a default [7]

Despite what I see as sexist behavior, my mother never agreed with sexist attitudes; she was just used to living in a man’s world, something my generation didn’t have to do to the same extent.  Her parents and their generation were even more sexist:

  • Women weren’t allowed to wear pants to school. [8]
  • Women were seen as irrational, needing a man to steady them from going completely bonkers. [9]
  • Women didn’t need college educations; even though she really wanted to go, my grandparents wouldn’t send my mother.
  • Men didn’t cry.
  • Women couldn’t work once they got married, and if they worked before, the glass ceiling was at the secretarial pool.
  • Nice girls didn’t, and it was their responsibility to keep the boys from going too far. [10]

In many ways, joining the church curbed some of these sexist attitudes, while fueling others.  Important callings (president of all three auxiliaries at different times) gave my mother responsibility outside the home that used her talents, and church meetings kept my dad focused on trying to live the gospel rather than on his golf game, drinking with his buddies, or other time-killing, male-bonding activities.  Women were encouraged to go to college, and my parents encouraged all their daughters to get as much education as we could, to the extent they could afford to help us.  Drinking and smoking, two male-encouraged habits my mother disliked, went out the window.  Men sharing their emotions was encouraged.  While women being domestic was an existing norm, the domestication of men was a bonus.

Of course, the church, like my parents’ entire generation, is still steeped in sexism.  We’re soaking in it.  Conservative attitudes make it hard to shake.  Deeply misogynist doctrines like polygamy make it hard to discard theologically.  Unlike my mother, I don’t live in a world in which the options for women are limited, a world in which women will tolerate whatever treatment is doled out to them because they have no choice but to rely on men for their financial support.  For that reason, the sexism that used to hurt women is now beginning to hurt the sexists.

While this is not treading new ground, my personal experiences are why I don’t see the sexism in the church as divine; it appears as cultural to me as the sexism my convert parents lived in.  Imbuing it with divine will is what seems wrong-headed.  Someone asked in an online forum if polygamy was the one great evil people couldn’t get over to get on board with the church.  That’s a loaded question.  Polygamy that’s left in the past is one thing; polygamy that’s still called divine will in 2014 is another.  Saying Joseph Smith made a mistake implies that church leaders, even today, sometimes make huge mistakes and mistake their own wishes for God’s will.  And yet not saying that is ten times worse.

  • How do you see men being influenced by the women in their lives?  What factors seem to make men less sexist?
  • What residual sexist behaviors do you see in people around you?
  • How does the church combat sexism, and how does it promote sexism in your experience?  Has it made you or people you know more or less sexist?

Discuss.

[1] Maybe this is due to having a service do the cleaning.  If not, grrrr.

[2] Unclear why those sisters didn’t pound more sense into them.

[3] And possibly if it’s a career or just a job to make ends meet

[4] This is the direct reason my parents had my brother.  After four daughters, they were done, but when they joined the church they were told it was too bad they didn’t have a son to carry on the family name and priesthood lineage, something they hadn’t really cared about before.  Their procedure was reversed, and three of us followed, my brother leading the way.

[5] Although my dad did expect me to know how to calculate a square root by long hand and to be able to explain how nuclear power works.

[6] This was why I was told I didn’t need a car when I was away at school, although my brother had one; it was suggested that I find some “nice young man” to drive me around.  I talked them into it, though, with threats of lesbianism.

[7] although I see that in retirement, this has softened considerably in my parents’ marriage, as they do more housework side-by-side

[8] She did anyway, and got sent home for it.

[9] This patronizing assertion is enough to send anyone on a three state killing spree.

[10] This one carried over another generation, and was probably a good match with the church’s stance for my convert parents.