I’ve been watching Mrs. America, the show about the anti-ERA movement headed by Phyllis Shlafly. It’s an interesting view of marriage, one that bears little resemblance to my own, but one that “traditional” and “conservative” women (at least those who were comfortably middle class) in the 1970s rose up to defend, with many good reasons, reasons that are mostly no longer valid, but that were based partly in fear and hyperbole with some roots in reality. Watching this show is a real slice of life, an era long gone and good riddance, but one that many still living lived through.
When I was young, I became aware of the ERA movement. I smugly thought to myself how great it was to be a part of a Church that was always on the side of right, that did what God really wanted, not what fallible humans thought was best. I naively assumed that the Church would support equal rights for women. It didn’t even occur to me that they wouldn’t. What kind of people would oppose such an obvious thing? I was completely unaware of the lengths the Church went to in order to oppose the ERA, similar efforts to Prop 8, until about 5 minutes ago. Those are actions that have not worn well.
Shlafly’s inaccurate claims that women would be drafted, lose access or alimony, or have to pee in front of men didn’t convince me. The hysterical explanation that the libbers wanted everyone to have a government-sponsored abortion that would lead to the end of the human race also didn’t sway me (nobody was going to force anyone to have an abortion, and I was just a kid and didn’t really think about abortion at that point in my life, but since the argument against it means that women are forced to have children they don’t want, I didn’t see that as a great default).
My budding feminist brain could only come up with two possible reasons that God would oppose the ERA: 1) that it would completely change the economic structure from a family income model to an individual earner model making it a huge disadvantage for families to have children or have only one earner, and 2) that the economy as we had it was so male-centric it would be better to start from scratch than just to grandfather women into these male structures (e.g. no appropriate leave benefits or child care benefits in place, rampant sexism in the workplace, etc.).
The view of marriage among Shlafly’s Eagles presented in this show is a complementarian model in which wives are subservient to outwardly doting (but inwardly dismissing) husbands. The sky is the limit for these (mostly white) women: political power, access to financial benefits of the marriage, and often access to the labor of women of color to support them as their nannies, cooks, and cleaners. Their anti-ERA model is “STOP ERA” which stands for Stop Taking Our Privileges. Indeed. Shlafly even supports the idea of equal pay, although she is eager to claim that’s already a right. Okey-dokey.
By contrast to the STOP ERA women, the ERA women are excited to have the full range of human experience opened up to women. They want options and choice, not maintaining a privileged status based on patriarchy (which is demonstrated to be already unavailable to women of color and unmarried women as well as very limiting to the women it privileges). Episode 4 culminates in a historically-accurate debate between Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique who is largely credited with the original spark of the feminist movement, and Phyllis Shlafly who shrewdly opens by publicly thanking her husband for allowing her to speak to them. Her goal in this debate is to wind up the feminists so that they look irrational while she maintains a cool veneer, and unfortunately, she succeeds.
When her attempts to rally women against being drafted fall flat, the comely Shlafly turns her arguments personal, implying that Friedan and other feminists are simply failures in the marriage market, women who didn’t choose their husbands well, who were dumped for younger models when they got middle-aged and frumpy, and whose strident views turned men off. She said that she didn’t believe the government should bail out women for being unhappy, that it was up to the women to make their own happiness. It’s a low blow that lands, resulting in a fierce retort from Friedan and a stunned silence from the audience.
This view of marriage is the same as how conservatives talk about the free market. When opportunities and wages aren’t equal for both sexes, marriage becomes an economic proposition for women, a job that either pays well (with a high-earning provider) or a job that doesn’t pay well or has other risks (e.g. domestic abuse, divorce). Friedan rightly points out that alimony is not guaranteed to any woman, regardless the actions of her husband, so preventing women from earning on par with men is patently unfair. Shlafly knowingly looks at her as if to say, “I haven’t jeopardized my economic status by losing my looks.”
In 1977, Spencer W. Kimball said:
“While marriage is difficult, and discordant and frustrated marriages are common, yet real, lasting happiness is possible, and marriage can be more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive. This is within the reach of every couple, every person. ‘Soul mates’ are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price”
What I and many others heard was this snippet:
“it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage“
While we women understood that it might mean hard work and personal sacrifice, the idea that men and women were interchangeable in terms of marital success was something that got terrifyingly stuck in my subconscious. I’ve discussed it many times with other Mormon women, even in the last few years. It’s clearly an idea that got legs in church culture. It made its mark on us psychologically.
As a teen, I used to have a recurring nightmare that I was suddenly married to someone I didn’t find at all attractive or interesting, and I was expected to make a life with this person if I was a good Mormon / Christian. Failure to make it work would be evidence that I was too faithless, selfish, not a good person, morally inferior, with my heart set on the wrong things, the things of this world. My own wishes didn’t matter, only filling this role that was handed to me with this unknown, unattractive and uninteresting person (he was always wearing white flannel pajamas with a horse head pattern for some reason, and we lived in my childhood bedroom). In the dream, it was bedtime, and I was trying to find any way possible to get out of this situation, despite my parents expecting and urging me to do my duty. I always woke up before entering the bedroom.
Taken out of the full context of the quote (which frankly, we all did, to the extent that it must have been intentional to imply that whom you marry mattered less than how righteous you both were), this points to an economic model for marriage. In an economic model for marriage, all men fill one set of job duties and all women fill another. Any man or women will do because the roles are prescribed based on one’s sex, not chosen based on interest and skills. It is the commodification of marriage. A man is shopping (or hiring) for a specific need that any woman (or any true woman) can fill. A woman likewise could be said to be shopping or seeking a specific employer in this model, one with the benefits and pay she hopes to attain. In the traditional model, the man brings pay and benefits; the woman fills a domestic role, bringing youth, beauty, fertility, nurturing skills, child rearing, cooking, good genetics, etc.
In George Eliot’s book Middlemarch, the marriage of Dr. Lydgate to Rosamond Vincy illustrates one problem of an economic model of marriage in which each spouse is solely responsible for one purview (domestic or financial). Dr. Lydgate marries Rosamond Vincy because she is beautiful and clever, but when her extravagant taste is too much for his meager income, she regrets marrying him, and he becomes miserable. When he tries to explain the need to curb spending, she looks bewildered as the earning is not her purview, but his, and what has it to do with her? It was her responsibility to make the domestic decisions, including purchases for the home. It was his to provide financial support. If she were to scrimp on purchases for the home, she would be falling short in her sole duty, to create a pleasing home.
“Poor Lydgate! or shall I say, Poor Rosamond! Each lived in a world of which the other knew nothing”
The problem is that people my age or younger (and I’m not young) don’t generally have economic marriages because reducing marriage to interchangeable parts dependent on one another isn’t ideal. Within Mormonism, the economic model of marriage is further exacerbated by restricting priesthood to men (also by gerontocracy–most Church leaders are from the generation of economic marriages). An unmarried woman (or a woman of color prior to 1978) has no access to priesthood in the home. Only through marriage to a Church-worthy man can a woman access priesthood.
This is a way to raise the stakes on the economic model of marriage in the Church. A friend of mine told me that if her husband left the Church, she didn’t think she could stay married to him. I don’t really believe her claim, but it is evidence of an economic view of marriage. Marriage is her ticket to access to priesthood. Dereliction of priesthood worthiness could be seen as grounds to dissolve the union. Likewise by this reckoning it would fair to divorce a women for infertility (particularly since the Church continually insists on making motherhood the equivalent of Priesthood – a nod to the economics of marriage in the Church.) But it also means that we don’t value the individual so much as what we get from them: any opposite sex partner will do. Even one in horsehead pajamas.
The problem with free market marriage is the same problem with unregulated markets in general; it favors the lucky. Those for whom it works assume that the system is fine and blame those for whom the system has not worked. They believe they deserve their happiness and good fortune, so conversely, those who don’t have good fortune also deserve their bad outcomes.
Friedan’s view in the debate (and in life) was that we needed to free women from the wife as employee model by granting women the means to financially support themselves through paid work. She was a proponent of government-subsidized childcare for families, among other things to even the playing field for working women. Shlafly demurred, saying women should not look to the government for help, leaving women with one option: keeping their meal-ticket husbands happy enough to support them financially and if there were children, being wealthy enough to hire a nanny.
So what do you think?
- Have you watched the show Mrs. America? What were your impressions?
- Do you remember the Church’s opposition to the ERA? Did you agree with it? Have your views changed?
- Do you strive for an egalitarian or complementarian marriage?
- Do you remember the Kimball statement? Did it have an effect on you? Do you agree or disagree with the idea that any two people can make a marriage work if they work hard enough?
- Is male-only priesthood part of the economics of marriage in the Church in your opinion? Why or why not? What are the risks and benefits of this system?
Yes, I remember the quote. Before my father went overseas and left me to finish my senior year of high school we repeatedly had a discussion of the entire subject with focus given specifically to “if both are willing to pay the price”. It was one of the last discussion I had with my mother before she left to join him besides is there enough gas in the car when we go to the airport. The Stake President talked for nearly the next year about the fictitious nature of soul mates. If that was not enough my Home Teaching companion talked endlessly about seeking “with all diligence and prayerfulness”. When I went on my mission and was set apart those two themes were repeated.
I should add not all of the youth I grew up with heard the same message. At the time my best friend lived with me. Of all the discussions with my parents, lessons at church and firesides we went to together the only thing he remembers was our Bishop talking about choice.
In defense of the Kimball quote (regarding “soul mates” as fiction and presenting the idea that men or women are fungible to relationships), it was a great rejoinder to the notion of “The One” and “we knew each other in the preexistence” and other Saturday’s Warrior false doctrine that still had traction when I was entering adulthood in the late 90s. My wife tells me that in the years before she and I met, she had been propositioned by several young men who told her things like “I had a vision of you in a white dress” and “God told me that I should marry you” (gag). At that point she decided to put in mission papers.
I’ve seen enough failed marriages to know that the idea of any random pairing of a male and female producing a successful marriage is false, no matter how much hard work they put into it. But the idea of “soul mates” is just as false, and I’ve seen a lot of disappointment in people that are so invested in finding “the One” that they miss out on great relationships that are right within reach.
SWK’s quote reminds me of a little chat that my wife and I had years ago with a temple worker (an elderly grandfather type) while we were waiting to participate in a wedding. We asked him about families that experienced sealing, then divorce. We wondered what would happen to everyone. Of course, his answer was “the Lord will work it all out” but then he made an interesting comment. He said that to get to the Celestial Kingdom, you had to be sealed in the temple to SOMEONE. And ultimately it didn’t matter who that someone was. And it didn’t matter if that someone broke the sealing, broke his/her covenants, etc. As long as you were faithful to your covenants, what the other person did would not matter to you and your salvation. He described temple sealing as a bus pass, and said that the pass got you on to the celestial bus with other sealed passengers. And if you spouse didn’t make it, you were still able to get on the bus and get to the CK.
If you think about what he said, it really goes along with SWK’s idea that any two people can make a marriage work. It’s almost as if the other person (the spouse) is just a placeholder to enable you to get sealed so that you can go to the CK. It’s like each spouse is using the other to get that bus pass. But in this line of thinking there doesn’t seem to be a need for love, certainly not eternal love. And the message almost seems to minimize eternal family because it highlights that salvation is more individual. That seems to fly in the face of Families Can Be Together Forever.
Remember a couple of conferences ago when President Oaks talked about the dynamics of families in the CK, specifically about polygamist unions (would both women have to share a house?).? His message was “the Lord will work it out” and he seemed to minimize the possibility that all sealed marriage partners will actually be together in the CK. It goes back to the bus pass. Just get to the CK and don’t worry about the rest.
I am not comfortable with this line of thinking. I think most of us believe we will literally be with our families in the next life if we so choose. The LDS message is almost anti-family at times because it places requirements and qualifications for family reunification that most other Christians think will happen anyway, even if they don’t have the specific doctrine to support it.
I also believe that an economic model for marriage is inherently problematic. Like you said in the OP, it favors the lucky. In a Mormon context, it encourages polygamy (or at least “eternal polygamy”, such as when widowers are allowed to be sealed to subsequent wives as well as their deceased first wife) by treating women themselves as commodities and outward indicators of a man’s eternal wealth (in the same way that accumulation of real estate, livestock or cars/boats/airplanes is a indication of temporal wealth). I’m too young to remember the ERA movement and the Church’s opposition to it, but based on what I read, the Church used many similar hyperbolic talking points as they did when they opposed Prop. 8., none of which ever came to pass.
I shiver to think how much control over information the church wielded to obtain the outcome thought best by the leaders, technically- a few extremely privileged families. Today, the internet provides access to essentially all information, subject only to self censorship and biases. Whether or not one agrees with the church on various points, we all believe that we should have the ability to choose and not be blindly led, that it is our duty to function as free agents.
The church’s position has not always borne out to be on the side of history known for the “greater good” . Eliza R Snow’s anti-sufferage argument Did not bode well over time, despite the intellectual curly-cues she created from her position of extreme privilege.
We didn’t sign up to make these types of mistakes. We signed up to align with God’s love and voice through THE one true church and personal revelation that leads in paths of righteousness- above the fog of a particular time period and sins of a generation. Why then, have we stubbornly and repetitively tripped over contemporary issues? As a matter of fact, why do we keep failing the same test question – equal rights and divine dignity for all of God’s children- whether it be racism and civil rights, women’s rights, or LGBT rights? People- God said this would be on the test- love one another!
Jack Hughes: I totally agree that in striking down the idea of “soul mates,” Kimball was in the right, and it was a timely knock on ideas that proliferated at the time due to Saturday’s Warrior. I can’t say for sure why this opposite extreme idea took hold, but it definitely did. You are also correct in identifying the core problem with polygamous societies throughout history. They are always a byproduct of wealth and power (among men). How we square that with any Christian ideal Jesus taught is a mystery to me requiring some spectacular mental gymnastics and a total disregard for women as people (as opposed to possessions).
This economic model of marriage is so disturbing. As the OP alluded to, it can create toxic entitlement in a marriage. If the man is financially providing, then he feels entitled to sex, children, a spotless house, etc. where all responsibility for those things falls on the woman. If a woman is providing a man with the above things, she feels entitled to a specific level of wealth and lifestyle. It’s solely up to the man to financially provide this. This type of marriage isn’t about being in a relationship with a human being. It’s about a transactional relationship, where a spouse doesn’t have inherent value but is only valued as far as what he or she can provide to the other person.
I’ve also heard the sealing argument that you just have to have the ordinance done, but the sealed partner doesn’t matter. This was used to deny my dad a sealing cancellation to my mom after their divorce. It was claimed that if he broke his sealing, his children wouldn’t receive certain blessings and wouldn’t be sealed to anyone.
If this bus ticket concept of sealing is true, then why do we force women who marry a second time to break their sealings to their first husband? Doesn’t that leave the first husband without a bus ticket? Or does he not matter because he wasn’t “lucky” enough to retain his wife, so she should be “given” to another man, in a likely polygamous eternal marriage? Vestiges of polygamous thinking are still way too entwined with our sealing practices.
The male-only priesthood is absolutely part of the economics of marriage, and as you pointed out, it favors the lucky. That is evident right now (during quarantine), as only women with priesthood holders in their homes have access to the sacrament, which church leaders have always said is so important to have on a weekly basis (except for General Conference and stake conference, of course–God knows our conference schedules and designed our souls accordingly).
What I don’t understand about the bus-pass theory of temple sealing is why one has to be sealed to a spouse, presumably in a romantic relationship, in order to get your bus pass. If it really doesn’t matter who we’re sealed to, why can’t our sealing to a parent be enough? Why can’t we be sealed to whomever we want to be sealed to?
Complementarian or Egalitarian? Sister Bingham just gave a talk (Sat evening GC session) that seemed to say that complemetarian marriages are the way God intended things to be from the beginning. Couples are supposed to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and learn to rely on each other’s strengths to overcome their own weaknesses. This “interdependence of men and women…is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ…” she claims.
Part of the problem for me in answering this question is understanding exactly what we mean by “egalitarian” and “complementarian”. In a post over at bycommonconsent last summer (https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/07/28/a-quick-query-about-the-proclamation-on-the-family/ ), Russel Fox explored this anecdotally. He described a talk by a Stake President who described an “egalitarian” scenario where the husband was strongly encouraging a wife to get a higher paying job so they could be “equal” in how much income each brought in. I doubt this is how most egalitarians see egalitarianism. It isn’t about scorekeeping and making sure each spouse is bringing in the exact same income or changing the same number of diapers or washing the same number of dishes or whatever. He goes on to recount asking the Stake President if complementarianism includes the semi-hypothetical (but common enough IRL to not really be hypothetical) scenario where a couple decides that the wife/mother’s strength is in bringing home the bacon and the husband/father’s strength is childcare and homemaking, so this hypothetical couple decides that wife will be the primary breadwinner and husband will be a stay-at-home dad. Discussion then went from there to discuss whether that was in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Proclamation.
I guess my answer to the egalitarian or complementarian marriage is to say that I believe in equal-opportunity complementarianism — where the spouses “complement” each other based on their individual strengths and weaknesses, and the individual results for a given couple may or may not align with stereotypical gender roles. I don’t know if Sister Bingham had this kind of complementarianism in mind during her talk or just what she meant. If I had a clearer idea what we mean by complementarian vs egalitarian, I might be better able to answer the question more definitively.
PS. I think my main concern with the way we typically do complementarianism in the Church is that it too often seems on the surface like, “a complementarian model in which wives are subservient to outwardly doting (but inwardly dismissing) husbands.” If I could get feedback from Sister Bingham, I would read this sentence to her and ask her to talk about how she/the Church agrees and disagrees with this statement.
Obviously, between the soul mate model and the any man/woman will do model, there is a broad range of “looking for someone special, not just anyone” that most of us live in. Amazing it works out as often as it does. It’s not clear why Mormon discourse gets so attached to the extremes.
My own view is that marriage is a flexible institution the can accommodate a very wide variety of situations and personalities. However much you think you’ve got it all planned out as a newly married LDS teen or twenty-something, life will throw in some surprises and some challenges. If there is a problem with LDS discourse on the subject, it is having men three generations older telling young adults and newly marrieds how their marriage should work, using US marriage in the 1950s as a template.
It’s a good post with thoughtful comments, and a lot of issues to address. But one thing immediately comes to mind because I have been doing a lot of genealogy while stuck at home because of the pandemic.
Unfortunately for our modern sensibilities, marriage until recent modern times was very much an economic issue, although Hawkgrrrl has farmed it differently than I see it . I don’t disagree with what she wrote, but I think there is another perspective on this.
In my own genealogy, almost all ancestors coming from farming backgrounds, the main marriage issue was: could the man be a successful farmer, and could the woman handle the house and children, and a garden that could bring in valuable cash at the market?
One of my ancestral lines comes from Baden in SW Germany. I have researched my family there from mid 1800s to early 1600s. Lots of children dying very young. Lots of married men with children, dying in their 20s, 30s, 40s, leaving behind a widow with lots of little kids. Even more women dying young because of childbirth fever, leaving behind a widower with young kids. How were they supposed to farm AND take care of kids?
In almost every case, the widow or widower was remarried within three to six MONTHS. There was no time to grieve and adjust. The widow needed a man to farm, to run a mill, to be a smith, to do whatever trade he used to support a family. The man needed a woman to take care of his kids and run a productive household.
I am glad I did not face such issues in my life. The question of equality for women has emerged because our modern society now has the economic margin of safety to deal with it. When everyday life was a struggle for survival, people didn’t worry so much about gender roles. Marriage was simply NECESSARY.
I am glad for our modern era with its increased options for men and especially women, and that woman don’t have to go into a marriage they don’t want.. But economics traditionally played a large role in marriage.
Even in our modern age, economics still DO play an important role. Our society is much less able to sustain a one-income family that in the 1950s and 60s. Whether a woman wants to be traditional and stay at home or whether she wants to be a professional, or whether the man wants to be an at-home Dad, economics now generally require two incomes.
I think the Church leaders tend to be stuck in a mindset that the one-income family of the 1950s with a stay-at-home Mom is the norm. It is not; it was an historical aberration. Betty Friedan and her book “The Feminine Mystique” and the feminists of that era were a reaction against this, and Phyllis Schlafly was a reaction against them.
Taiwan Missionary: Yes, it’s definitely true that marriage has always had an economic component. At minimum, it’s a pooling of resources. Where it gets dicey is in prescribing work based on gender roles (e.g. women nurture, men provide) rather than letting couples determine the best course of action for themselves, and where marriage is required for one sex to survive due to being completely barred from economic independence. As you point out, it was common for a widower to remarry within months of his wife’s death. It was also common for widowers to send their children to relatives to raise if they couldn’t do it alone (a common theme in Jane Austen’s work–consider Frank Churchill nee Weston in Emma being raised by his aunt & uncle when his mother dies).
Limits based on gender role typically only hinder women, though. Men weren’t prohibited from child-rearing, even when women were barred from owning property. Additionally, the “work” assigned to women used to include all sorts of things that have long since (for over a hundred years in most cases) become paid specialties. Women used to be responsible for all family doctoring, creating home remedies, providing nursing to sick family members, etc. Then it became paid work that only initially permitted men to do it (infecting countless women with their lack of hand-washing during medical procedures and childbirth). The role women held in the homes also used to include direct money-making such as churning butter, making cheese, making soap, making candles–all of which could enrich the family. The 1950s relegated women to a role that had already been greatly reduced in terms of what was needed, and then (using social pressure) barred them from doing other things that were of interest and would improve their minds and contributions. I guess they had Tupperware parties and other MLMs, but these were really just schemes for underutilized minds, not productive, satisfying work. Nobody today is going to be independently financially secure selling scented candles, nor getting a degree at 22, then not using it for two decades.
MrShorty: The language around complementarianism and egalitarianism feels pretty garbled to me. From an article I found online that I think pretty well encapsulates how the Proclamation views it, here are the distinctions. https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-terms/what-are-complementarianism-and-egalitarianism-what-s-the-difference.html
– Belief that only men should hold church leadership positions over other men. Usually, women may hold positions that do not place them in authority over men.
– A patriarchal view of the family, with the father as the head.
– The view that a man should love his wife as Christ loved the church, and a woman should submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.
– Men and women can both hold church leadership positions.
– Spouses are equally responsible for the family.
– Marriage is a partnership of two equals submitting to one another.
– Roles should be ability-based and not gender-based.
Mormon beliefs seem to accommodate both views to varying degrees. Men & women both hold church leadership positions, BUT women are almost never in positions of authority over men and are only using “borrowed” Priesthood power from higher-ranking men. The Proclamation lays out gender roles, but then says you can adapt as individual circumstances dictate. As to women submitting to men, the only place that happened was in a now-outdated version of the temple endowment, but as that was eliminated, women were again kicked in the teeth by adding “preside” to the sealing.
My real assessment is that Church leaders are complementarian, but the majority of Church members are egalitarian. They believe that traditional gender roles are ideal for the well being of everyone, but they allow that it might have to be adapted. Most of our language could be interpreted either way. Most Church leaders are uncritical of the idea of families as patriarchal (dad makes the final decisions), and that includes women as well as men; this usually follows the man-as-breadwinner model because the one making the money is the one whose vote really counts. Calling something “ideal” doesn’t actually make it so. I see no real evidence that any deep thinking or empathy for women exists among 90% of Church leaders.
Great post! I have had many of the same thoughts about marriage. And I, too, have had my nightmares. The most vivid nightmare I have ever had happened shortly after I finished my mission when I dreamed that I was unhappily married to my pre-mission boyfriend. He had been a pretty nice guy, so the dream kind of surprised me. But I knew that he had very “traditional” expectations about women, and if I had married him I would have been truly miserable. The dream was so vivid and horrifying that I sort of wondered at the time if it was from God. And the memory of the dream sustained me as I stayed single for more than a decade.
I want to see Mrs. America someday, but I suspect it will make me angry and very sad, and I can’t handle that right now. But I am enjoying this discussion very much.
I do remember the ERA and the church getting into the middle of it. I am VERY ashamed to say that when I was just barely a teen I uttered the words something to the effect of, “Between the ERA and Illegals, I don’t know what this world is coming to.” I remember my mother smiling at me and I don’t know to this day if that was a “good little LDS solider” smile, or a “just wait until you grow up. The world is complicated!” smile.
Now 4 decades later I have done a 180 on both issues.
Rita: I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy watching it either, but I have to say, although Shlafly is the titular character, heroes such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisolm are also front and center, throughout. They are amazing women to watch for their vision, their pragmatism, and their resilience in the face of misogyny.
I was too young to be aware of the church opposition to the ERA at the time. I became aware of it as I dipped my toe in the more liberal areas of the bloggernacle in my adulthood, probably in 2012 or so. Since then I have noticed a few references in church settings and articles. Even in the last year a woman bore testimony about her late mother who had lobbied her whole life against such evils as the ERA and Planned Parenthood. She took it for granted that everyone agreed that was the righteous course.
I will certainly watch Mrs. America, but I knew nothing about it until now.
I wasn’t aware of the Kimball quote, that I’m aware of, until I was serving a mission, and I immediately thought it was ridiculous, but over time I think I decided that it just meant one shouldn’t wait for the perfect companion. But I came to that conclusion without getting any context for the quote; as seems to be common practice, I chose a meaning that conformed to my expectations.
“A friend of mine told me that if her husband left the Church, she didn’t think she could stay married to him.”
Sigh. This is a common fear among those who no longer believe, or whose belief changes in some way, that their believing spouse will not stay with them. It’s plastered all over exmormon reddit. Marital problems are extremely common during or following a faith crisis. It’s not always the believing partner that wants out; sometimes when a person loses faith in the church they find they have nothing in common with their spouse anymore.
Hawkgrrrl, this is some really great thinking. You never disappoint. I lived through the ERA debates though I was largely oblivious to the issues, except a few of the scare quotes that placed me in a position between thinking them ludicrous and yet putting trust in church leaders: they must know! It suggests a pattern that is repeated through time.
Appreciated your additional thoughts, and pretty much agree, especially your point that assigned gender roles have traditionally limited women much more than men. But it is also interesting to see, based on what I have read, that in Sweden, which has been one of the “leaders” of modern feminist opportunity, and which is a highly egalitarian society, women have been unwilling to move into STEM-related fields, beyond a certain point. It is not for lack of opportunity there. It seems to be a matter of personal choice. Women there seem to prefer, based on what I have read, more “nurturing” careers.
So, do men and women self-limit themselves, beyond what traditional social roles expect? I think the answer is yes, to a certain degree. But the ways they self-limit will gradually change, as our “group think” evolves.
Bottom line is that couples should be allowed to pursue whatever combination of complementarian and egalitarian roles they want, AND not have anyone give them a hard time for it—whether it is the troglodyte in Priesthood giving Brother Smith a hard time about his wife being a doctor, or so-called progressive women in professions harassing women who have chosen to stay in more traditional roles.
When we lived overseas, my wife, who in her day was a superbly qualified RN, was several times contemptuously dismissed by female Foreign Service Officers who told her, “oh, you don’t do anything,” when they learned that she had chosen to stay home with our young children.
It cuts both ways.
Taiwan Missionary: Women choosing to opt out of certain fields (and into certain other fields) rests on two prevailing theories: 1) those fields are still more male-dominated and therefore less woman-friendly (yes, even in more progressive nations–for example, studies show the effects of “priming” on women taking math tests. If they are asked to identify their sex, that’s enough to make their test results worse compared to men, and compared to how they do without being reminded of their sex), or 2) society over-values certain fields and compensates them disproportionately (e.g. why do we pay teachers so little? the value of a job goes down as soon as it becomes female-dominated). It’s probably some combination of both. Add to that the fact that male-dominated fields have not found it necessary to make their cultures more accommodating for things women often value like work-life balance, consensus building, workable childcare and maternity leave options, and given the wage gap women experience in these demanding fields, and it’s easier to see why women might opt out. I had two college roommates who were engineering majors, and they were usually the only women in their classes. Their observation of their male peers was not generally favorable either. There’s a lot of preening and competitive performance among males, even when they don’t know what they are talking about. Not that women aren’t capable of the same, but it’s not the norm for a woman in a male-dominated room to pretend to know more than she doesn’t or to be demanding of recognition for average work.
STEM fields also require confidence in one’s expertise, both speaking with confidence, and being recognized through peer reviewed studies. A great article just came out that talks about the effects on women in group decision making bodies when there are more men than women (and even when there are more women). Because men expect to be treated like experts, they hold the floor more often. Even if women are experts, they are frequently undermined, ignored, talked over, or dismissed, resulting in less participation and less confidence. https://magazine.byu.edu/article/when-women-dont-speak/?fbclid=IwAR1kOzaB4tVY1C49y8CuoAhiMbJdsAZttRPyT65pxPvr-g3Ae3qm6EPbzMI
I was a teen during the big anti-ERA push by the Church. I remember reading the few words of the amendment and saying to Mom, “This sounds like this is a good thing.” Apparently, it all boiled down to it meant that “boys and girls will have to use the same bathroom”. So for family night, we went around our Nevada town, putting up anti-ERA door hangers (provided by the Chruch).
I was a missionary in the spring of 1980 and saw a flyer for an “ERA Aftermath” meeting on the University of Michigan campus. I talked my companion into going. Boy, did we get the stink eye. Something one of the speakers said has always stuck with me: “Even though we lost, at a grassroots level we saw the traditional family be replaced by the rational family (meaning families composed not of relatives, but by people of our choosing). In hindsight an overstatement, but clearly a trend.
Pres. Kimball’s statement has kept me in hot water. I once told my new bride (who joined the Church at 17 and was, hence, not properly indoctrinated) that there was no such thing as a one-and-only, but that any good woman and good man could be perfectly happy through righteousness. She was devastated. I didn’t see her as someone special and apart, but as an interchangeable person – one of a multitude – that could fill the role of being my wife.
She was right. That attitude was so ingrained in me (Brigham said basically the same, so it was part of my formative years) that, though I love her deeply, I did not treat her as my one-and-only. My end of the bargain was to be a provider and fulfill all my Church responsibilities. What more could any woman ask?
It’s been 38 years of marriage, and I still slip so easily into that mindset.
I know this is way off topic but the comment about the conundrum of woman, sacrament and the quarantine has struck a cord with me.
We went from – sacrament is so important, you need to not work on Sunday or do anything else in order to physically be in church to renew your covenants and revive forgiveness each and every week.
To now, (at least In my area) – don’t you dare think about blessing the sacrament without the bishops authorization / blessing.
To hey you creative folk, don’t you dare try to socially get together doing online Sunday School or any other sort of spiritual uplifting online during this pandemic because it isn’t approved.
They have no solution for people without access to the sacrament and they’re currently complicit in totally being fine with that because heaven forbid there should be a temporary lifting of the stringent requirements of who can administer and bless.
I think for fear that the longer we are away, that were all going to realize that at the end of the day our relationship with the divine isn’t really dependent of a physical building, or the mundane lessons, or even frankly local, regional, or SLC leaders.
That we are all totally fine taking care of ourselves.
And while I’m way off topic may I just cry out and say that someone needs to talk sense into my 70+’divorced mother who continues to pay tithing on retirement , social security, and alimony for 30 years as “fire insurance”.
Leadership could easily clarify and relieve these poor folks from the burden and tell them that they are done with their obligation and congratulations on making it.
I strongly recognise the Kimball quote. Shorn of context I heard it many times growing. Combined with the quotes emphasising apparently perfect marriages In which nary a cross word was ever heard by children raised by such paragons, quite a storm appears to have been created. I’ve said before that of my cohort growing up in my ward, and the few years either side, temple married or otherwise, I can think of very few who have not now been through divorce. So far I’m one of the lucky ones. But then as a teen I would push back and argue. I saw my parents argue, and resolve their differences. That my patriarchal blessing mentioned a soul mate (an idea more prevalent outside the church than inside where I was) probably did no harm, but it didn’t prevent the nightmares in which I found I was married to someone to whom I was not attracted on the basis of the quote, and the sheer skin-crawling horror of it.
I was a brand new RM when the anti ERA furor swept over the church. One Sunday night (this was pre 3 hour block) we had a sacrament meeting dedicated to the evils of the ERA and to how we as a ward would be mobilized to fight it. After the closing prayer we retired to the gym and all wrote letters to our elected representatives urging them not to pass it. The ward was organized into districts and given assignments, members were asked to donate to the cause.
Even as a fired up RM I had some reservations because, like Angela, when I read amendment it just made sense to me. But I assumed that my church leaders had revealed information that I wasn’t privy to. So I marched, I wrote, I donated, I became a good soldier in the righteous cause that had been laid out for me by my religious leaders.
Years later I found out about the sausage making that went into our anti ERA program and it left a bad taste in my mouth that has never dissipated. But the experience was not entirely bad. Years later when my ward and stake were being mobilized for the Prop 8 fight in CA I recognized it as anti ERA wine in a new bottle. I sat down and told my wife I would not be participating in the frenzy based on what I had learned years before. She marched and protested and called and vocalized without me and I never regretted my non participation.
@Angela C. Thank you for the reference to broader Christianity’s definitions. I follow enough Christian marriage bloggers that I was familiar with the basic idea, but it was nice to see it all summarized so clearly. Based on these definitions, I would have to put myself more on the egalitarian side than the complementarian side.
Part of me would really like to take the definitions here and present them to Sr. Bingham and others in leadership and see what they would say. We have plenty of examples of taking words/phrases/concepts from broader Christianity and redefining them to mean our own thing. Your guesses about how the leadership (and the lay member) distribute themselves between these definitions of the two viewpoints. I think it would help us all understand better if we could clearly define our version of complemetarianism vs. egalitarianism.
Or maybe such clear definition would force us all to once again choose between our own conscience and loyalty to the institutional story — further dividing us rather than allowing “plausible deniability” to keep us muddling along together.
MrShorty: Between the evils of being told outright that “complementarian is God’s true way” which is patently ridiculous or having older folks believe and live the way they want to without trammeling the rest of us into a situation where we have to leave to breathe, I’ll take the latter.
BeenThere: Your comment about what you said to your wife reminds me of something I wrote about in my mission memoir, a person with whom I was corresponding who made me feel the way you made your wife feel. From my book, The Legend of Hermana Plunge:
“…he says he’s ‘writing and receiving (both irregularly) with other females in the states.’ Why does that wording make me feel like a hamster? . . . Basically, the message I get is best summed up in the following quote: “I want to leave all my options open.””
I shuddered at the idea of being referred to as one of several “females,” like we were all the same thing. Realizing that someone you see as a real person, a unique relationship, someone who understands and cares about the things that speak to your soul, just sees you as a “plus one” or one of many “females” is a real blow. Polygamy compounds that problem (and it is definitely a factor in Mormon relationships as Eugene England pointed out so well) by making women even less special as unique people, and putting men in the mind frame of a wandering eye.
“The problem with free market marriage is the same problem with unregulated markets in general; it favors the lucky.”
I would add to this that unregulated markets also favor the unscrupulous. Republicans right now believe that corporations should self-regulate (or write their own regulations, which often happens when they have bought politicians). Corporations, of course, are interested primarily in anything that improves the bottom line. They fail to recognize that there is really no such thing as a free market, and no corporation would want a truly free market. This would leave them vulnerable to the unscrupulous bahavior of other (and perhaps larger) corporations or powerful individuals.
So, after RS presidency talk at general conference, I’m left wondering if I want to put the time into engaging with the upcoming women’s conference, which I’m assuming will be equally garbled. Thankyou for deconstructing this period of women’s history in the church, it was slightly before my time so I never adequately understood it, European as I am.
Wayfarer, last year’s BYU women’s conference session on women and the priesthood, put on place specifically because they’d received so many questions on the topic, was far more garbled than the recent general conference talk. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. Given we’d had to wait so long for the transcript it was a huge letdown. I’m not holding my breath this year.
Currently listening to the sister to sister event which is about 2 hours into the live stream. Some pretty toe curling stuff on the topic of mothers sigh… the inevitable divine nature inherent to women… gah…at least Sis Aburto mentions we’re all different at the start of the next question….
Sis Aburto tends to be less invested in this “biology as destiny” rhetoric that is really just cishetero male privilege masked as science. Among the male leaders, Uchtdorf generally does the best at seeing women as real individual people, not one big blob of nurturing.
I always found SWK’s quote about any good man and woman…troubling because even in friendships girls aren’t best friends with every nice or any nice girl..Even in friendships there is chemistry.
Also, we lived pre-mortality for billions of years. We knew more people there than here.
We would have formed relationships. Some closer than others. I imagine some wanted specific others to be with them in mortality. I don’t know that I’d say everyone has a ‘soulmate’ but surely people could find someone special in a billion years time compared to the few decades we are given here to marry.
However it happens, I know good marriages have chemistry. It isn’t one size fits all.