The title of this post might seem crazy (of course women are people!) but I ask it with all sincerity. I don’t believe that the institutional Church, or its top leadership, actually sees women as people. Do you?
I was reminded of this when reading about David Archuleta’s interviews with Good Morning America and Jennifer Hudson, during which Archuleta reported that an LDS apostle that he spoke with (some speculate it was Elder Ballard; Archuleta performed at Sister Ballard’s funeral four years ago) advised him: “You just need to find yourself a good girl.” That’s right–in 2022, top Church leaders are advising gay men to marry women to “cure” themselves.
Not only does this demonstrate a total lack of understanding about sexual orientation by leaders who are creating policy and proclaiming doctrine about how we are to deal with sexual orientation, but it also reveals a stunning lack of empathy and respect towards women. I don’t want to ignore the first problem (the way the LDS Church treats sexual orientation), particularly during a week in which an LDS person opened fire in an LGBTQ nightclub, killing five and injuring seventeen. I am mourning with my queer friends and family. I hope you are feeling supported. But in this post I’m going to focus on the second (the way the LDS Church treats women). Actually, those two issues are related–a huge component of the LDS Church’s aversion to homosexuality is, in my view, its own sexism that is terrified of seeing men “act like” women. In any event, here are some thoughts on why the statement is problematic with respect to women.
First, it infantilizes women–Archuleta is 31; I hope that the three women he was engaged to previously were women, not girls. If it was Elder Ballard who told Archuleta this, we’re talking about the same man who advised women in a YSA Stake: “You beautiful girls – don’t wander around looking like men. Put on a little lipstick now and then and look a little charming – it’s that simple. I don’t know why we make this whole process so hard.”
Second, this suggestion assumes that women are tools to be used by men to become who they want to be. Women are appendages to support men, to bear them children, and to cure or mask their sexual orientation, or at the very least to let them check a box they need to check to get into the Celestial Kingdom. It is really not that different from ancient Greek and Roman views–views that heavily impact Western thought and Christianity–that women are merely deformed men. The male is the ideal human; the woman is an aberration.
In some ways, this attitude from Church leaders shouldn’t be surprising. There are many examples of Church practices and teachings that treat women as appendages to men. I’m only listing a few off of the top of my head here:
- D&C 132, our foundational text on (plural) marriage, treats women (virgins) as objects who are “given to” righteous men.
- Men can be sealed to multiple women, but women to only one man.
- Heavenly Mother is just a silent, potentially plural partner for Heavenly Father.
- In the temple, men covenant to become priests and kings under God. Women covenant to become priestesses and queens unto their husbands. (Yes, they changed the language to “new and everlasting covenant,” but it’s the same thing–that’s just a sneaky way of saying (plural) marriage.) Previous to changes several years ago, women didn’t even directly covenant with God at all but instead through their husbands, who take the place of Jesus Christ for women.
- Women have zero institutional power in the Church. Really, zero. Influence–sure. Power? None.
- Women are still being taught that we need to have children early and often, and examples of women who sacrifice their own wishes (and even health!) to bring more children into the world are venerated.
- Women are called walking pornography and told they are responsible for guarding men’s chastity.
- Wives of apostles and mission presidents give up their own callings to accompany their husbands on theirs.
- During sustainings of general authorities and in many other organizational examples, women are lumped with children while their teenaged boys are “before” them.
Still, it’s confronting to be reminded of this attitude after lulling ourselves into a sense that we might be people too.
Third, it is callously puts a woman in a position where her husband is unable to be romantically or sexually attracted to her. Don’t women deserve that? Don’t we deserve fulfilling sex lives? Thinking about this reminded me of Josh and Lolly Weed’s story–for those who aren’t familiar, Josh and Lolly were in a mixed orientation marriage for many years. In 2018, they announced their divorce, which resulted from the extreme mental and emotional toll that their marriage was taking on both of them. Because I’m focusing on a woman’s experience here I’m not including Josh’s account, but you can read it yourself. Here’s Lolly’s:
For me, giving my whole heart to Josh while knowing that he did not love me the way a man loves a woman has always been devastating. We were best friends, but he never desired me, he never adored me, he never longed for me.
Josh has never looked at me with romantic love in his eyes. He has never touched me with the sensitive touch of a lover. Whenever he held me in his arms, it was with a love that was similar to the love of a brother to a sister. That does eventually take its toll on your self-esteem. No matter how much I knew “why” he couldn’t respond to me in the ways a lover responds to a partner, it wears a person down, as if you’re not “good enough” to be loved “in that way.” And what I didn’t realize is that as human beings, we actually need to feel loved in that way with our partners.
This deficit started to mess with my self-esteem. I almost felt if only I could be thinner, prettier, sexier, maybe it would be enough to catch Josh’s eye, to help him want me in the way we need to be wanted by our attachment partners. In reality, Josh was GAY and it had nothing to do with me. This is where it doesn’t make sense. I knew he was gay. I didn’t think his sexual orientation was going to change. I could have been the hottest woman on the planet and he still would not have felt any different toward me. No matter how clear I was on the technicalities of this reality, it was impossible not to internalize his complete lack of attraction toward me. Subconsciously, it was a constant message. You aren’t attractive. You aren’t wanted. You aren’t beautiful. You aren’t a good enough woman.
It was making me unhealthy. I gained a lot of weight. My self-concept was diminishing over time. What was worse, I knew my little girls were watching me as their example of what a woman can be, of what healthy womanhood looked like–and they were also watching my marriage. I knew they were getting messages and concepts from me that were not setting them on a path of self-esteem and self-actualized womanhood. It was breaking my heart to see this.
I know this is kind of a downer post for Thanksgiving, but I just couldn’t get it off of my mind. I guess for Thanksgiving I am grateful that I have learned that women are people. That motherhood is a role not an identity. That no one presides over me but me. That I matter.
I didn’t always believe that. Let’s do better.
- Did you listen to the Archuleta interview? What are your thoughts?
- Are there are other ways in which women aren’t treated as people? Are there other groups the Church treats this way? How much of this is our theology verses how much of it is our culture? Are there ways in which the Church improves upon the culture?