Auxiliaries Aren’t Designed to Address Women’s Concerns
The theme of the most recent General Women’s Meeting was temple worship, a topic that is fraught with anxiety for many women because the roles, covenants and promised blessings of the temple are different for female worshippers than for male worshippers and, in the opinion of many, much less affirming. (See Endnote.) When the meeting began, I was hopeful that female leaders would take advantage of this opportunity to address women’s concerns about the implications of temple ceremonies for women. Instead, the speakers talked about women who enjoy the Mormon temple experience without acknowledging that women who feel differently exist. Reference A
Maybe General Auxiliary Leaders don’t know that many women have concerns about the temple. With only nine women serving as General Auxiliary Leaders, they are not a representative sample of the wide range of female opinions in the church and there may be too few of them to thoroughly investigate the concerns of the people in their stewardship. In contrast, there are more than 100 men serving as General Authorities, General Auxiliary Leaders or Presiding Bishopric members, plus over 200 Area Authorities, greatly increasing the human resources and potential for diversity of opinion among male leaders.
Most men in general-level leadership have had exposure to perspectives beyond their own while serving in ministerial roles, such as branch, stake, mission and district presidencies or bishoprics. In these male-only callings, they counsel one-on-one with rank-and-file members of their congregations. Because of the taboos against discussing the temple in public, these one-on-one interviews with male leaders may be the only church-sanctioned venues for women to discuss temple-related concerns outside temple walls. Auxiliary leaders are excluded from this important source of information.
General Authorities supervise local priesthood leaders, an arrangement that would presumably facilitate and require communication. General Auxiliary Leaders do not supervise anyone at the local level. Since General Auxiliary Leaders have no direct line of authority over the people they serve, lines of communication may not be open to them. Everyone above ward auxiliary leaders in the chain of command—bishops, stake presidents, Area Authorities and General Authorities—is male. General Auxiliary Leaders, like their stake auxiliary leader counterparts, are not in the chain of command at all.
The men and women who serve as General Auxiliary Leaders are selected and supervised by men, not women. Male leaders may be inclined, either consciously or subconsciously, to call women who “will see no need to lobby for rights.” Reference B Even if General Auxiliary Leaders do sympathize with women who are concerned about the temple ceremonies or other issues that disparately affect women, they may need to focus their work on the priorities of the male priesthood leaders to whom they are accountable, serving as female spokespersons for the brethren instead of as advocates for women. Auxiliaries support the priesthood, and only men hold the priesthood.
Many aspects of the format of General Women’s Session suggest that it is designed to communicate male views to a female audience. Although it is called General Women’s Session (previously General Women’s Meeting), a man presides over the meeting, gives the concluding talk, and has about twice as much speaking time as any of the female speakers.
Of course, not just General Auxiliary Leaders but nearly everyone with a calling in the church is selected by men. (The only exceptions to this rule are visiting teachers and informal assignments such as auxiliary committee members.) Women do not extend formal callings to anyone, male or female. Historically, systems in which only men select leaders tend to be unresponsive to female concerns.
I am looking forward to the General Women’s Session next week. I expect that it will be very pleasant. After all, it was pleasant last time, in spite of—or maybe because of—the fact that General Auxiliary Leaders completely ignored the elephant in the room and made no attempt to address the more troubling aspects of temple worship. But I no longer hope that General Auxiliary Leaders will use their time at General Women’s Session to resolve women’s most pressing concerns about the temple—or anything else for that matter. I have realized that the auxiliary system is not designed to address female concerns.