Today’s guest post is by Kaylee.
Men are mothers. Consider the verbs “to father” and “to mother”. “To father” is to sire, to beget. “He fathered a child” implies that he had sexual intercourse resulting in offspring. Fathering is usually quite pleasurable for the man. It may or may not be pleasurable for the woman. It definitely has long-term (sometimes devastating) consequences to the physical, mental, and emotional state of the woman.
“To mother” can mean “to give birth to”, but the sentence “She mothered a child” does not require the woman to give birth to the child. To mother is to nurture, to love, to care for, to attend to the needs of, even to overprotect. Merriam-Webster also lists “minister (to)” and “administer (to)” as synonyms for the verb “mother”.
My husband does a good amount of mothering: nurturing, loving, caring for, and overprotecting our children. (And I am grateful for it.) He had never considered himself a mother before I started writing this essay. (I asked.) Language changes with culture, and I can certainly hope that “fathering” will someday connote nurturing and caretaking, but in the meantime: he mothers. The “minister to” and “administer to” definitions of mothering are particularly pertinent in a church context. While ministering is something that all within the church are encouraged to do, the vast majority of church administering responsibilities are deemed appropriate for only males to perform. A good bishop does *not* father his ward, he mothers it. Jesus saw himself as a mother. He identified as the mother hen that longs to gather her chicks under her wings. Men do mothering; therefore, men are mothers.
I wondered how a man who can identify as a mother might relate to church discourse. Sheri L. Dew’s talk “Are We Not All Mothers?” seemed like a good starting point. The title sounded promisingly inclusive: “all” includes men and women, right? You might be thinking: “Wait, wait, wait! Men were clearly not her intended audience. She gave the talk in the Relief Society meeting.” Well. The majority of scriptures are written for, by, and about men, yet women manage to learn from them. I wanted to know what it would look like for a man to have to read through a female lens.
I read through Sister Dew’s talk, changing the gendered language except the parts referring to mothers and mothering. Here are a few excerpts:
“As [children] of our Heavenly Father, and as [children] of Eve, we are all mothers and we have always been mothers.”
“For mother is the word that will define a righteous [person] made perfect in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom”
“No [person] who understands the gospel would ever think that any other work is more important … for mothers heal the souls of [mortals].”
Reading the talk in this non-literal way helped me see that Sister Dew used “mother” as code for “person who can act with Christ-like charity”. The general theme, then, is that we should have Christ-like charity as part of our identity. This message is certainly universal (even if Sister Dew didn’t express it in universal language).
When I read the scriptures, I am generally obliged to read through a male lens to apply the words to myself. When I did the exercise with the talk “Are We Not All Mothers?”, I did something different. I had to imagine what a male perspective could be and how a man might apply the words to himself. This is called perspective-taking.
Women need men to do this perspective-taking work. Despite recent teachings that women have priesthood power, women have very limited institutional power within the church to influence policies, curriculum, or leadership selection. Particularly because of this imbalance of institutional power, men at church need to imagine what it would be like, as a woman, to hear that church talk, to read those verses of scriptures, or to learn about that policy change. Really, we all need to become comfortable at imagining what it would be like to have a different gender, race, ability level, nationality, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, or any other category that humans like to use to divide themselves.
Part of learning to see from someone else’s perspective comes from our own imaginative efforts. The other part comes from knowing the person well by listening to their life’s experiences. A while back, President Nelson challenged women to “mark each verse that speaks of or refers to the Savior” in the Book of Mormon. This is what I experienced when I did so: In underlining so many of the words “he” “him” and “his” in the Book of Mormon, it was impossible not to notice how few times “she” “her” and “hers” came up. Many of the male pronouns were ambiguous, and I had to try to figure out if the scriptures were talking about God the Father, or Jesus. I found this to be an emotionally challenging way to read the scriptures because I felt less focused on Christ and more focused on the maleness of deity. The only exception to this was the glorious bit found in 3 Ne 11:3-8. I learned that the righteous didn’t know the voice of God. Maybe it sounded different than they expected. Maybe it sounded like the voice of a mother.
Questions for Discussion:
- How would church change if men saw themselves as mothers? What about society at large?
- What do you think of reading Sheri L. Dew’s talk this way?
- What does it look like when church leaders are good at perspective taking?