Sisters Speak: Countering Androcentric and Limiting Gender Messages Our Children Hear at Church


by Sheila Rhodes

Dear Exponent readers, the Sisters Speak column of an upcoming Exponent II magazine will focus on the topic of raising empowered daughters and sons in the face of sometimes limiting gender teachings at church.  I am looking for brief (one or two paragraph) responses to the question below, and I will email some of you commenters to ask if I can quote you in the magazine. For those that would like to respond privately, please email me at carolinekline1 at gmail dot com. 

Church teachings can be enormously empowering for young people. Knowing that we are children of God, that we all have divine potential, that our Heavenly Parents and Jesus care deeply about us  — these are, I believe, healing and affirming messages for kids and adults.

I do worry, however, about other androcentric and limiting teachings regarding gender and how they will affect my kids, particularly my daughter. What will she make of incessant references to Heavenly Father (with no mention of Heavenly Mother)? What will she make of lesson after lesson about prophets and priesthood, with all examples and images focusing on males? Will it hurt her, as it does me, to sing hymns every week that virtually erase her existence as a woman? Will Young Women lessons constantly frame the end goal of her life as finding someone to “take her to the temple”? What will it do to her psyche to hear messages about men presiding in the home and church? Will she begin to question whether God loves her as much as God loves males when she sees boys only being allowed to perform priesthood tasks?  Will she reign in her professional dreams and desires in order to conform to church ideals of proper womanhood?

Perhaps not. Perhaps she’ll soar above these messages and never let them hurt her sense of self or constrain her. I hope so. And I am determined to do whatever I can to help her soar above them.

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Sisters Speak: Mormon Feminists and Temple Recommends

Dear Exponent readers, the Sisters Speak column of an upcoming Exponent II magazine will focus on the topic of the temple recommend interview experience for feminists.  I am looking for brief (one or two paragraph) responses to the question below, and I will email some of you commenters to ask if I can quote you in the magazine. For those that would like to respond privately, please email me at carolinekline1 at gmail dot com. 

Several years ago when I was newly married, I did a temple recommend interview with my bishop. I breezed through most of the questions, but when he asked about whether I lived up to my temple covenants, I responded, “Well, I don’t hearken unto my husband. That doesn’t work for me.” The bishop was a bit puzzled, replied something about how that covenant in the temple isn’t all that different than what Paul says in the New Testament, but I reasserted again that I would not be hearkening unto my husband. The bishop shrugged, moved on, and signed my recommend.

Since then, there have been years when I have decided to not pursue a recommend. I don’t love the dynamic of being asked these personal questions by men I barely know, and I struggle with the temple anyway. So it was easy to decide to bypass the recommend process. However, a part of me wished I had a recommend. I knew I would have more credibility in my Mormon community if I did, and therefore more opportunities to serve and help others in my ward.
As a Mormon feminist, what are your thoughts about holding a temple recommend? Do you think temple recommends hurt Mormon feminists by giving leaders something to hold over feminists’ heads, or do you feel they help Mormon feminists by giving them important credibility within their communities? How have you handled the trickier questions in the interview about belief, affiliation, covenant keeping, and more? Have these interviews been good experiences for you? 
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Not asking Permission: Reflections on the 40th Anniversary Exponent II Issue

“Ecstasy” by Maxfield Parrish

What I say is that women should not ask permission, they should just act.”  — Claudia Bushman in the upcoming anniversary Exponent II magazine

I love this idea that Claudia Bushman articulates in her article in the coming 40th anniversary issue of Exponent II. In one of the very first conferences I participated in with Claudia Bushman seven years ago, she hosted a discussion about women in the church. One of the points she made at that conference was similar — that women should come up with ideas and carry them out, working outside of church-sponsored forums. Think that the church should be more involved in humanitarian work, Claudia asked? Then start a humanitarian organization. Think that we need more books that highlight Mormon women’s voices? Write them yourself. Stop looking to the institutional church to carry out these projects and do them yourself. Make your own opportunities for leadership, vision, and community.

This advice resonates with me. While I would love the institutional church to change its ways and create more inclusive practices for women — and I have certainly picked my battles to create more visible roles for women in my ward  and the church at large– I also love this liberating vision that Claudia sets forth. That we act on our consciences, without always seeing the need to ask for permission from church leaders.

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New Editors Announced for Exponent II

Margaret and Pandora In 2009, Aimee Evans Hickman and Emily Clyde Curtis assumed the roles of Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor for the Exponent II magazine. Their incredible work and vision revitalized and refreshed the paper, resulting in a new life for the magazine and a strengthening of the entire Exponent organization.  With the 40th Anniversary double issue now going to press and the Spring 2015 issue underway, Aimee and Emily are stepping down from their positions. We are so grateful to them for their thoughtful leadership and the sacrifices they have made to provide a forum for Mormon women’s voices.

Exponent II is excited to announce its future editors: Margaret Olsen Hemming will step in as the Editor-in-Chief and Pandora Brewer will be the new Managing Editor.  Margaret worked briefly as Exponent II’s layout editor and has been the art editor since 2010.  In addition to the work she has done for Exponent II (which has also included fundraising and other board responsibilities), Margaret has a BA in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland and an MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University. She is also an AmeriCorps alumna, and previously worked for the International Rescue Committee and the Academy for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University. She is currently raising three young children.  Her guest posts on the Exponent blog can be read here, here, here, here, and here.

Pandora Brewer has been involved with Exponent II since 1990. She has written and edited for the magazine and is a recurring presenter at the annual retreats.  Professionally, Pandora has worked for Crate and Barrel since 1989 and has held multiple positions in stores and at the corporate level. She is currently heading up a Process Improvement Team for the company. Pandora is a proud mom to two grown-up boys and the hungry wife of culinary-inclined husband. She is a perma-blogger for Exponent.  Her posts can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Exponent II is delighted that its legacy of standing on “the dual platforms of Mormonism and Feminism,” as iterated in its first issue in 1974, will continue with its new editors.  To subscribe to the quarterly magazine or to read more about Exponent II’s mission, visit

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March 2015 General Women’s Session: Carole M. Stephens

Sister Carole Stephens framed her talk around the children’s song, “The Family is of God,” and she based much of her talk on portions from the Proclamation on the Family. One thing I particularly appreciated about the talk was that she twice referred to Heavenly Parents. I am someone who craves acknowledgment and discussion of our Heavenly Mother, so it was very refreshing to hear Sister Stephens refer to our divine Parents.

Early in her talk, Sister Stephens acknowledged that we “try to create traditional families,” but that belonging to the family of God is not contingent on marital, financial, or social status. I think that message — that there is a place for everyone and that we all should feel a sense of belonging, despite different life circumstances — is expansive and hopeful, and I welcome such messages. I am glad that she chose not to dwell on this idea of trying “to create traditional families,” since that seems potentially alienating to those very many women who don’t belong to such families.

I also appreciated her honesty in acknowledging that she has not been tested and tried in the ways that so many other women have — she hasn’t lived through the death of a child, divorce, single parenthood, same gender attraction, infertility, or abuse.

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