As a Mother, I Question Male Spiritual Disadvantages
I recently read a book to my three-year-old nephew: The Berenstain Bears and No Girls Allowed, a book he chose from those I owned as a child. In the story, Brother Bear and his friends organize a club to keep Sister Bear out. Sister Bear complains to her parents, and Papa Bear immediately sets off to force the boys to accept Sister Bear into their club. That is until he’s stopped by Mama Bear, who reminds him that gentle persuasion is more conducive to friendship than brute force. Eventually a successful plan is hatched based on Mama Bear’s observations, and all ends well.
I couldn’t help but be initially amused at the gender dynamics displayed. My sister said she has been reading a lot of these books from our childhood to her son, and she reminded me that Papa Bear always wants to do something rash or stupid until Mama Bear convinces him of a better approach. I realized how this reinforces the negative way men are portrayed in society. I think of those movies that my friends and watched in high school: Billy Madison, Dumb and Dumber, Tommy Boy, and the like. I haven’t kept up to date with them, but see the trailers for these movies that are still being made, an entire genre targeted to teenagers and young adults to show how adult men behave selfishly and foolishly. Have I missed the criticism that these movies’ messages deserve? When this humor is so unbalanced toward men, it creates a disappointing and sexist image. Perhaps it’s because men dominate the comedic profession. Yet that still points to our sexist expectations of people’s behavior.
Lately this hits closer to home. In my three months as a mother, I’ve discovered this strong biological instinct to protect my son. In the absence of many physical threats that traditionally plagued my ancestors (food scarcity, lack of shelter, wild animal attacks), I find myself mainly concerned with his social and emotional welfare. How can I give him a sense of inner security? How can I give him the tools he needs to become a good man? These are the questions I find myself asking during those quiet hours of nursing him.
To answer those questions, I have to look at the challenges he will face. As an academic feminist, I’m trained to look at the messages society sends women and girls. But I’m also focused on gaining an understanding of the messages society sends men and boys, especially now I’m a mother of one. I see the messages played over again: men are irresponsible, selfish, sex-obsessed, and uncontrollable hulks. They lack awareness and empathy, and only women can save men from themselves. And this just barely scratches the surface of the ills our society stereotypically puts on males. As a mother of a sweet, innocent baby, I do not want this to be my son’s inheritance.
But that’s society at large: “The World,” as we say in Sunday School. The Church is, or should be, different. Unfortunately, I see these perceptions promoted by society leaking into our Church culture and our explanation of male-only Priesthood or lack of women’s stories in the Book of Mormon. In Relief Society, I often hear women claim that they are inherently better than men. They say they are more spiritual, more sacred, wiser. Like Mama Bear, women are said to be the ones behind all sound family decisions while men are meant to be the public executors of their wives’ decisions so they can appear to preside in the family, preserving women as sacred entities. This stands to reason that men are not then as sacred.
Some people reason that fatherhood is not as important a role as motherhood, so we must give men something in addition to their opportunity to create and nurture human life. This type of reasoning implies that baby boys are born deficient when compared to baby girls, and only when they receive the Priesthood will they begin to recoup the spiritual power that places such a wide gap between them and the girls who are so above them.
My experience is that this reasoning is hogwash. Perhaps it is based on women’s own insecurities, but it’s no excuse to harm others in the process of working out your own self-doubt. Sometimes this belief is perpetuated within the sex: men will promote the idea because they are at a loss to explain why they hold the Priesthood and women don’t. But this answer will not satisfy me because it clashes with what I understand with my heart.
As I hold my son in my arms, I feel such a sense of fullness, of completeness. How can I describe my certainty except that it comes to me as a type of revelation or epiphany? His name is as sacred to me as any woman’s on earth. I know that he is everything he is supposed to be. I do not sense any deficiency in his spirituality because of his maleness. I cannot imagine him any more perfect if he were female. In fact, I sense a strong kind of connection he has to the Divine. A focus he has. An understanding. Totally male and totally complete in God’s love and power. And he doesn’t even hold the Priesthood.