Today’s guest post is from Elizabeth St. Dunstan. At the conclusion of the April 2017 General Conference many members expressed dismay that only one woman had been invited to speak to the general membership of the church. I shared this disappointment, and it seemed to go further than just the lack of female speakers in the lineup. It felt like women were completely absent from the four general sessions of this conference, so I decided to compile some data on the conference to see if it verified my initial observations. Here’s what I found:
In total, men were quoted 480 times by the conference’s 32 speakers; 389 of these references occurred in the general membership sessions, 59 in the Priesthood Session, and 32 in the General Women’s Meeting. In contrast, women’s words were quoted a total of 43 times in the entire conference. Women were quoted 28 times in the four general sessions, 14 times in the General Women’s Meeting, and one woman was obliquely referenced (but not quoted) in the Priesthood Session. All told, that means that men were quoted eleven times more often than women.
Broken down by percentage, over 99% of the quotes referenced in the Priesthood session were originally written or spoken by men, while only 30% of the quotes referenced in the Women’s Meeting originated from the females. Add in the fact that the keynote speaker of the Women’s Meeting is always male, and I think we have a clear example of gender inequality.
The representation statistics get worse when these quotations are broken down by category.
I counted any reference to a woman in scripture as a quote from her, even though these stories were all recorded by male writers. I was astounded to discover that not one current or previous General Auxiliary President was quoted in any meeting! We already have disproportionately few women in leadership in the church, so we can’t afford to ignore the words of those we do have.
Contrast the proportions of types of quotes from females to the same proportions for males:
The vast majority of men referenced by other speakers were either from the scriptures, including the Doctrine and Covenants, or past and current General Authorities. An astonishing ten of the 28 male speakers quoted themselves as authorities on the subjects of their remarks. That’s more than 1 in 3 male speakers quoting themselves! None of the four female speakers indulged in the same practice.
Together, these charts tell us that even when women are quoted in General Conference, they generally aren’t referenced as experts. Over half of the women quoted were either a relative of the speaker or a random woman who wrote a letter to church headquarters. Both of these scenarios were most commonly employed to introduce a topic or provide a jumping off point for the speaker’s subsequent realizations. Men, however, were generally referenced as someone who provided insight, expertise, or a pattern to follow.
Clearly, women’s words are not given the same weight in our church as men’s. To address this imbalance, we first have to admit that it exists. Many of us here on the blogs are well aware of the problem, so step two is for us to make a conscious effort to quote women at church, especially women in positions of spiritual authority. Sisters, don’t just leave the words of our gospel foremothers in Relief Society – bring them into Sunday School and Sacrament Meeting as often as you can. Brothers, you can set the example for the men in your wards and stakes by making sure you never give another talk or teach another lesson without amplifying the words of a woman in leadership. If 70% of the material in my Women’s Meeting comes from men, surely 30% of the material in your Priesthood quorums could come from us.
- Do you notice an imbalance of men’s and women’s words in your ward or stake?
- What do you suggest (aside from the obvious ordination of women) to balance this out?