An Open Letter to Claus Inc. North Pole

dear santaDear Mr. and Mrs. Claus,

A recent video mashup  of male LDS leaders providing instructions to LDS women on how to be LDS women, left me longing for gender parity in General Conference speakers. The ratio of two female speakers to 36 male speakers documented here  is devastating to those like me that hunger for messages from Heavenly Parents spoken in a female voice of leadership.

An English speaking woman of modest means or a non-English speaker is restricted to the meager rations of LDS female leader voices doled out in increments of two every six months (with a once a year bonus of three additional talks by women in the Women’s Session of General Conference). That’s an annual total of seven talks by women translated in a variety of languages and available for free. Half the membership of my church is represented by seven voices in a year!

Those privileged as English language speakers with money and means may hear from the female auxiliary leaders and some other LDS female role models at BYU’s Women’s Conference sponsored by BYU and the Relief Society. Last year over 11,000 women attended. Early registration for 2015 will cost $52 for two days of predominantly female voices with additional costs for transportation and lodging ($92 for a stay in Helaman/Heritage Halls). That’s half a million US dollars in registration fees for 11,000 attendees! I wasn’t part of the elect 11,000 this year, but I caught most of the talks for free online.

Thank goodness I speak English! My Spanish speaking grandmother struggles to understand spoken English, but has no trouble with a written English language copy of a talk. Sadly, no free transcripts of the 2014 BYU Women’s Conference are available for printing at home. You might want to pay the $24.99 to buy a copy of the 2014 talks from Deseret Book. I think she’d really like this gift, but this is not what I want for Christmas.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus it must be obvious to wise personages such as yourselves that there is a significant demand for communication from LDS female leaders and role models. Deseret Book has found this market. They don’t just profit from my abuela purchasing an annual copy of BYU Women’s Conference. They have something called Time Out for Women.  It is a tour sponsored by Deseret Book that brings a cast of mostly female LDS entertainers, authors, professors, leaders and celebrities to women seeking the voices of LDS female role models. Money LadyThe privilege of being an English speaker with the means to travel to tour locations delivers four to six female voices for the early registration fee of $69 US dollars. There is also Time Out for Girls to meet the needs of the younger female market. Online access (English only) is available for $10 to stream the 2014 Salt Lake City Time Out for Women but doesn’t come with the cool tote bag that lets everyone at church know you are privileged. This system of spiritual pearls for English speakers with money does not seem fair to my global sisterhood of spirituality seeking sisters on the two-talks-every-six-months diet.

Why do LDS women have to pay for the privilege of feasting on the words of Christ with insights from LDS female leaders? And what about the good brothers that are unsatisfied with their annual ration of talks by LDS female leaders? I recall Jesus Christ responding forcefully to those that set up a market where worshipers sought sacred meaning. He flipped over some tables. Jesus got angry!

Might your elves craft a remedy in their workshop?

While your team in tinkering with LDS gender parity in the workshop, could you touch up the racial diversity? At LDS General Conference the male leadership we hear from is composed of the First Presidency of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This group is exclusively white and with the exception of Elder Uchtdorf, native to the United the States. There is some diversity in skin tone and country of origin among the Quorums of the Seventy. A portion of the Seventies infuse the conference with diverse voices from around the globe providing insights derived from experience with regional/local leaders. If only there was a quorum of lady Seventies. (You might want to put that in the stockings of those Ordain Women girls).

My Christmas request is simple. No female ordination is required.

I love each of the female leaders I hear from in General Conference. Although they are not very diverse and we don’t look much alike or have a lot in common, I love hearing from them. I know it is hard to have diversity in tiny numbers. How can two women at each General Conference represent the diversity of sisters in the Church? They cannot adequately do so. That is why the the general auxiliary boards of the Church must be called upon to speak. The auxiliary boards draw their membership from the Wasatch front, with the exception of the international Young Women’s General Board. But despite the Utah roots, the board members reflect diversity in country of origin, profession, education, cultural background, and include a few single sisters. We need their voices. I need their voices.

I would like to hear from these female board members at General Conference. For free. In lots of languages. I want to be able to read their words after conference in the Ensign and use their talks to prepare lessons. I don’t need a commemorative tote bag. Just words and voices of female leaders.

Specifically, I would like to hear from: Robin F. Bonham, Anne H. Clegg, Ana Gaertner deAgostini, Stacey H. Edgington, Sandra Rogers, Elizabeth D. Rose, Laraine S. Swenson, and Maria Luisa Torres from the General Relief Society Board.

I especially want to hear from the international General Young Women’s Board: Carmela Melero de Hooker, Leslie Pope Layton, Denise Posse Lindberg, Dorah Mkhabela, Janet Matthew Nelson, M. Lúcia Silva, Susan Saxton Taggart, Rosemary Thakeray, and Megumi Yamaguchi.

I promise to take notes in my journal and not get up for a second helping of pancakes if Reyna I. Aburto, Jean B. Bingham, Mary R. Durham, Joy D. Jones, Cecilia T. Plascencia, Larraine A. Rowberry, Erin C. Sanderson, Virginia U. Smith, or Janice P. Taylor from the Primary General Board should accidentally slip into “primary voice” while speaking in General Conference.

Finally, I’d like to hear from the two women that serve on a board with men! And even though they are a mixed gender board they all remain active in our church!!!! Namely, Ann Madsen and Amy White from the Sunday School General Board.

Most of these women are mothers and homemakers, some are single sisters, some are grandmothers. Professions and academic achievements include: hospital management, non-profit administration, computer scientist, math teacher, English interpreter, master’s degree in teaching, interior designer, public health faculty, vice president of sales, nurse, professor of ancient scriptures, masters degree in applied linguistics, speaks seven languages, international business leader in software industry, city council member, travel agent, and Church translator. These women also have mission or member experience in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Guatemala, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, and Spain. They sound marvelous to me!

I’m starving for an equitable share of spiritual nourishment from LDS religious leaders in female bodies. I need relief from the money changers marketing the balm of female leader voices exclusively to the privileged.

Let the members of General Auxiliary Boards speak in General Conference.

Delivery in April or October of 2015 is perfectly acceptable for a good girl with years of practice in waiting and paying for voices from God’s chosen daughters.

Sincerely,

Cruelest Month

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16 Responses

  1. spunky says:

    Amen and amen!!!!!! Need I mention that some Polynesian language conference or other printed church materials can’t even be bought?

    Please Santa, please!!!!

  2. EmilyCC says:

    I appreciate seeing the Americentrism as well as socio, racial and linguistic barriers that I hadn’t adequately thought of before. Thank you for this post, Cruelest Month.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m defending what Desert Book is doing because I want to give a resounding, “AMEN!” to every part of this essay. But, I wonder if DB’s ability to recognize the gap and then market to women is because there is a women leading this organization and DB can only meet that need through sales and marketing. Makes me wonder what the Church might see and do if there was women’s representation in the upper echelon of Church leadership.

  3. EFH says:

    You have identified well the gaps among voices and accessibility. The church has just become aware that people care about women leadership and voices and it is slowly incorporating them. I think this will improve with time. I have noticed that LDS Church doesn’t prefer implementing a drastic change of the way they do things but instead prefers to incorporate changes slowly. I do not know why.

  4. Cruelest Month says:

    I definitely suffer from tote bag envy! EmilyCC I’m glad that Time Out for Women and BYU Women’s Conference exist. It frustrates me that women’s voices are not more globally accessible to an LDS audience, but I do think that having a woman at the head of Deseret Book makes a positive difference. EFH I am also hopeful that the LDS Church will continue to implement change. I’m crossing my fingers that all of the auxiliary boards will become international and one day take the podium for General Conference.

  5. Izzy says:

    Yes! This is on my Christmas wish list too! I grew up outside of Utah and didn’t have the opportunity to attend special events like the women’s conference at BYU. My mom was a convert to the church so she wasn’t very familiar with these special meetings for women anyway. It would be so nice to hear from more female speakers during General Conference when it’s easier and more accessible for more women to hear them.

  6. Emily U says:

    Yeah, it definitely smacks of the moneychangers that women go to DB to hear from other women. It also reminds me of how youth conferences used to be something to really look forward to, and now they are scaled back to lameness. But hey, you can go to EFY! If you’re rich enough.

    I would welcome more women speaking in GC. But it wouldn’t be an automatic fix for the patronizing BS in that video (which was very hard to watch, I actually couldn’t finish it) because women can be supporters of patriarchy, too, and the ones chosen to serve as GAs often are uncritical supporters of patriarchy. But there might be a moderate feminist or two among all those board members, and when more women speak, we’ll have better odds of hearing from them.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Emily U, I was comforted by an older and wiser Episcopalian friend this summer when grieving the excommunication of Kate Kelly. She told me that when the Episcopalians began ordaining women the first few women to be ordained were quite conservative and aligned with the more patriarchal elements of their church. But over time the women ordained have become more reflective of the general population of Episcopalian women. I hope the same happens for us. The women on the general auxiliary boards might not be feminists, but adding more female voices to General Conference could be a powerful step towards breaking up the patriarchal drone .

  7. Em says:

    I keep hearing that “hey Santa!” song in my head as I read this — a song that I hate, but I would agree with it if what it wished for was hearing women’s voices.

    I remember still my acute disappointment in the MTC with Relief Society. I had heard for years people talking about the wonderful things they had heard when apostles came in person to address the missionaries, your own special talk not in General Conference! I was very excited that members of the RS general presidency were coming just to talk to sister missionaries like me! Unfortunately, the talk started with the slide “Immodest. I’m modest. The difference is in the details” and sort of went downhill from there. So I agree that just hearing from more women is not inherently a solution to patriarchy.

    However, I would love to hear more women’s voices, especially from backgrounds beyond the Wasatch front. I believe it is no coincidence that one of our most beloved speakers ever was Chieko Okazaki, whose ethnic, professional and geographical background gave her experiences and perspectives that were different. The issues that preoccupy leaders in Utah are not always the main issues facing saints in other parts of the world, and more women speaking to and about the sisters in their home areas would be so helpful.

    Thank you for highlighting the privilege aspect of this. We don’t pay extra to hear a lot from our first presidency — they have their Home Teaching Message, plus multiple talks at ever conference, CES firesides etc. etc. It is a bit of a moneychanger situation, yet I have a hard time blaming DB. Capitalism dictates that when there is a demand it is worthwhile being the supplier. Instead I feel more like when Christ asked which of us, if our child asked bread, would give a stone (or in this case, a crumb). The problem isn’t so much that people make money off the thirst for knowledge, it is that those who could make that knowledge freely available do not do so, leaving the door open for capitalism to fill the breach.

  8. Cruelest Month says:

    Em,
    My sister talked me out of posting my wish that the Church would bring us a Tupac style hologram of Chieko Okazaki. I watched “Cats Cradle” and cried a little to cleanse my heart after watching the patriarchal mash-up video. The silence from the Church is disheartening. Especially when they have a large pool of exemplary orthodox LDS women to draw from.
    I follow all the members of the auxiliary presidencies on Facebook and the Relief Society page. The content is rarely updated on these pages. In contrast the Quorum of the Twelve each has at least an update a month on their pages, but generally more frequently. The absence of an unpaid widely accessible LDS female voice needs to be addressed by the Church directly. DB is meeting a need and I agree that they are not to blame for the failure of the Church to promote women’s voices in a fair accessible manner.

  9. Caroline says:

    Cruelest month,
    This is brilliant. I’m so glad you pointed out the ways that access to women’s voices is determined by privilege and leaves out many of our sisters in other parts of the world. Such an important point. And a huge amen to everything you are asking for!! Let’s draw GC speakers from boards that have more of an international makeup and let’s work toward parity in male and female voices in GC.

  10. Ziff says:

    Amen, Cruelest Month! This would be great!

  11. Jenny says:

    Amen!! Maybe you can cc your Santa letter to the First Presidency! But seriously, you’ve got some really great points in here that I would hope the brethren would find rational and logical, if there was a way to bring it to their attention. It could make a really great letter writing campaign.

  12. Rachel says:

    “I don’t need a commemorative tote bag. Just words and voices of female leaders.” Me too, sister.

    And I have heard from YW Board Member, Janet Nelson, when I was in her ward in Brooklyn, and her words are just as insightful and smart (and math based!) as you could hope. I have also hiked with her as she adeptly led a group of young women through the woods, when some of them had not previously left their own borough, let alone their own city. It was worth carrying my 7 month pregnant belly up the hill.

  13. winifred says:

    many will say at that last day I chose my feminism over my exaltation

  14. When I have mentioned my hope that female speakers could make up a larger ratio of general conference speakers, people have said, “But that would be too much work for the 9 eligible women!” As you so aptly pointed out, there are many other women whose voices could be utilized. There is no doctrinal reason to limit female speakers to those nine people, and limiting the pool of female speakers makes it impossible to represent the diversity of women in the church.

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