If you’re not part of the solution…

imagesForeign policy analyst and academic Anne-Marie Slaughter made the decision to turn down a high level government position in 2011.  Her decision inspired her to write a widely-read article in The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  A year later she gave a TED Talk in which she argues that caring for family members is a human problem, not a women’s problem.  She says when people who work for her take time to attend to urgent family problems the work still gets done, and gets done better than if they were made to stay at work at the expense of their families.  She says breadwinning and caregiving are both necessary for proper nurturing of human life, and notes that while American culture has given women permission to do both, it remains for men to be allowed as much freedom of choice. She also talks about the barriers to gender equality and the costs of that inequality, asking:

“If breadwinning and caregiving are really equal then why shouldn’t a government invest as much in an infrastructure of care as the foundation of a healthy society as it invests in physical infrastructure as the backbone of a successful economy?”

Why, indeed.  It’s because of the deep and pervasive belief that caregiving is the problem of women.  While that belief is very old and people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds ascribe to it, I’m calling out Mormonism as contributing to the problem of undervaluing caregiving when it should be part of the solution.  But before I go further, what does Slaughter mean by an “infrastructure of care?”  She doesn’t spell that out in her TED talk, but I think things like paid maternity/paternity leave, family tax credits, subsidized preschool, and health care for children are all under that umbrella.

Why is Mormonism part of the problem?  Because it explicitly states that caregiving is the purview women:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” [1]

Why should Mormonism be part of the solution?  Because it also explicitly says that both breadwinning and caregiving are very important.  Our leaders take pains to say women and men are equal (but usually with the caveat about different roles).[2]  Fathers and mothers are “equal partners.”[1]  This is a foundation on which to build an argument for a better infrastructure of caregiving.  But it turns out that the majority of American Mormons are economic and political conservatives who tend not to favor policies and programs that support caregiving.  Why is it that American Mormons so consistently privilege the well-being of businesses in their politics?  Why are infrastructures of care dismissed as too costly, or too intrusive to the private lives of families?  Why are people who use social services condemned as leeches?

I think the answer lies in the very real costs that come from siloing women and men into roles determined by gender.  Those costs include the personal happiness of women who may feel trapped by the daily grind of caregiving or men who may feel equally trapped by the thought of being chained to the corporate gallows.  But there are economic and social costs as well.  And if caregiving is forever the personal problem of women, then why would governments, corporations, or other institutions support infrastructures of care?  They wouldn’t.  And in the United States, where the that belief is quite common, they really don’t.  There is no mandatory paid maternity or paternity leave in the U.S. and relatively small tax credits for having children [3].  For example, compare the U.S. where the Child Tax Credit is $1000 per child per year to Australia, where an ordinary family would be eligible for about four times that amount, and paid maternity leave is mandatory [4].  In addition, there is virtually no help for people getting back into the work force after taking time off to care for children and there is no Social Security for the unpaid work of caregiving.  There is very little social support for men who opt into a primary role of caregiver.  It’s still the case that for men who fail in the home, other successes more than compensate, and the reverse is not true.[5]

But Mormonism has the theological foundation to counter that worldly idolization of the bottom line.  Mormons see children as “an heritage of the Lord.”[6]  “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness.”[1]  “Families Can be Together Forever.”[7]  And “The Family is of God.”[8]  Mormons practically make an idol of the nuclear family, but in making nurturing the primary responsibility for women (but not for men) the Church contributes to the social problem of forever privileging breadwinning over the other needs of families.  There is just no way to gather the political will to seriously support infrastructures of care if the problem of caregiving is forever the personal problem of women.

If political expediency, even for a cause as worthy as helping families, were the only reason for doing away with siloed gender roles in Mormonism, then I would not support it.  But, as I’ve argued elsewhere,[9] nothing in Mormon theology adds up to women and men possessing separate but equal spiritual attributes that would necessitate them being in forever separate-but-equal roles.  In fact just the opposite.  Both men and women strive to acquire, through the grace of God, attributes that are godly and indistinguishable between genders.

Mormonism rightly understands caregiving to be at least as important to the human condition as breadwinning.  It could become a small but important part of the solution to intractable gender inequality in the world if the Church made these few revisions:

By divine design, parents are responsible to raise their children in love and righteousness, to nurture them, and to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.  In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Of course, undervaluing caregiving was a problem before The Proclamation was written, and eradicating separate-but-equal gender roles from the Church wouldn’t suddenly make the U.S. a world leader in support for caregiving.  But shouldn’t the Church show moral leadership wherever it can?  By teaching that women are primarily responsible for nurturing the Church puts the problem of caregiving primarily on women’s shoulders.  If it were seen as a human problem rather than a women’s problem I think we’d start to see more support for caregiving overall, which would be to the benefit of everyone and be more consistent with true principles of gender equality.

 

[1] The Family: A Proclamation to the World
[2] “Men and women are equal in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the Church, but equal does not mean that they are the same. Although responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature, they do not differ in their importance or influence.” Melvin J. Ballard at BYU Education Week, August 20, 2013.
[3] That’s only a meaningful comparison in context of the overall tax rate, so I compared countries that have tax rates that are roughly the same as the US: Australia, Germany, Japan, Canada, China, and South Africa.  In all cases family tax credits are income-tested.
Here are approximate tax credits for those countries:
US - Child Tax Credit of $1000 per child per year
Australia – Family Tax Benefit estimated about $4,000 per child per year.  It’s a complicated calculation.
Japan – Kodomo Teate Law estimated about $2,700 per child per year
Germany – Kindergeld, averaging about $3,000 per child per year
Canada
– Canada Child Tax Benefit estimated about $2,700 per child per year.  It’s a complicated calculation.
South Africa - No family tax credit
China - No family tax credit
[4] Quimby Masters kindly provided me with a detailed explanation of the Australian Family Tax Law.  Taking an example of a school teacher’s family with an income of $66,000 AUD per year, if that family had five children ranging in age from 5 to 15 they would receive $26,832 per year in family tax credits, bringing their actual income to $92,832, of which they would not be taxed on $26,832 of it.  In addition, every employed woman is entitled to 6 months paid maternity leave, paid at minimum wage.  Individual employers may add to this.  All women are also entitled to 12 months off work, with the guarantee that they will get their job or an equivalent back if they return to work at the end of 12 months.
[5] “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”  David O. McKay.
[6] Psalms 127:3 
[7] Families Can Be Together Forever 
[8] The Family is of God
[9] I wrote about this in “The Attributes of God Point to an Egalitarian Priesthood,” Exponent II, Vol. 33 No. 4 (Spring 2014).

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The Church is Pro-Choice

Note: this post mentions rape, incest, abortion, stillbirth, death of infants, etc. If those topics are going to be triggering, please honor your health and pass on reading.

A few months ago, we were discussing the need for modern-day prophets in Sunday School. One woman raised her hand and said that she was grateful for modern-day revelation because of issues like abortion. I fought my urge to exclaim, “Yes! Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!” because it would really derail the lesson, so I’m going to say it here.

Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!

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Publish Peace

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The cemetery at Verdun

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace.

Armistice Day, celebrated in the United States as Veteran’s Day, is a natural time to reflect on war and peace.  The horrors of the First World War led those who lived through it to swear there would never be another such.  Of course it didn’t work out that way, as we know.

This month I have been studying peace as part of my personal scripture study and reflecting on it more broadly.  The scriptures are full of warfare and atrocities, but the Book of Mormon also takes a clear stance on offensive wars.

The people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi promised that

“They would not take up arms, yea, they had entered into a covenant and they would not break it – therefore, if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites they would be destroyed.” (Alma 43:11)

Pahoran, in his letter to Moroni, averred that

“We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites if they would stay in their own land.  We would not shed the blood of our brethren if they would not rise up in rebellion and take the sword against us.  We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God, or if he should command us so to do.” (Alma 61:11)

The Savior taught the people of the Americas the same truths he taught in Israel:

“And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (3 Nephi 12:39)

Modern day prophets and apostles also teach of peace, but it is generally within the context of inner calm:

Despite dismal conditions in the world and the personal challenges that come into every life, peace within can be a reality.  We can be calm and serene regardless of the swirling turmoil all about us.  Attaining harmony within ourselves depends upon our relationship with our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and our willingness to emulate him by living the principles he has given us.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Peace Within” April 1991)

President Hinckley took a stand on behalf of the church in regards to the conflicts in the Middle East:

“As Citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders.  They have access to greater political and military intelligence than do the people generally.” He acknowledged the right to express dissent, and then added, “We all must also be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation.”  Citing Captain Moroni, he concluded “It is clear from these and other writings that there are times when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat and oppression.” (Gordon B. Hinckley “War and Peace” April 2003)

I feel a deep sense of unease about justifying war, which it seems the Savior taught against.  What obligation do you have personally to publish peace? Does that obligation go beyond being peaceful within your own family and ward?  Did the Savior expect the same of nations that He did of individuals?

These questions have been swirling in my mind, particularly in light of the more recent debates over drone strikes and their terrible consequences for innocent civilians.  The recent story of a grandmother slain for inscrutable reasons, and the insouciant attitude of our own government to me raises grave questions about my complicity through inaction in programs that are in violation of my faith.

 

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Politics Flowing Over

Politics Flowing Over

Wow, the last 24 hour have been a roller coaster ride, yes? Starting with yesterday’s Supreme Court decision that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to be unconstitutional. We need to make it easier to vote, not harder! I wasn’t happy with this, but I took a deep breath and hoped for better news in the next couple of days.

Then my attention turned to the #standwithwendy hashtag and the live feed of the Texas Senate session, where Wendy Davis was filibustering, SB5, which would have closed most of the health centers in Texas that provide abortions. I listened while I was making dinner, impressed with her abilities to draw this out and keep going. “What is she going to do when she runs out of things to say?” I smiled as she and her supporters made sure to speak slowly and draw out everything. In the evening, my husband and I were planning on watching Star Trek, but the suspense in Texas was so great, we had to pause it and listen. Who among us didn’t go, “Oh ZING!” when Senator Leticia Van De Putte asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”

And the cheering… oh those last 10 minutes! Who couldn’t get caught up in that?! When 12pm in Texas struck, I opened our front door and shouted, “WOOO TEXAS!” a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever said. I was so loud our neighbors came outside wondering if something was wrong (there has been a lot of crime in our neighborhood lately). And I was glued to the live feed as it seemed that the Texas senate was going to ignore their rules and count a late vote anyway. Then I went to sleep.

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Relief Society Lesson: More on the Life and Ministry of Lorenzo Snow

I love this lesson series. I love the different approaches different writers take, and the insights they have  that I’d miss on my own. Most of all, I love that it exists. So of course the first place I went to prepare for teaching this lesson was EmilyCC’s post on the introduction to the Lorenzo Snow manual. She listed some great references, so I started reading.

And I kept reading. And kept reading. Here’s the bottom line: Lorenzo Snow was fascinating. I had a great reaction from my lesson today, and even though I’ll bet you’ve all covered this part of the manual in your Relief Society lessons already, I want to share my notes just because I’m so in awe of the man. (Just please remember that they’re notes, and if you rudely point out grammatical or style errors I will send my peeps after you.)

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What are your political conversations like?

Just before the presidential election NPR’s This American Life had an episode titled “Red State Blue State” that talked about the well-known divide of right versus left in American politics.  It told stories of close friends and family members who don’t speak to each other anymore because of politics, then discussed a new book titled You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong) by Jacob Hess (who is Mormon and conservative) and Phil Neisser (who is not religious and liberal).  Hess and Neisser believe that civilized, useful political dialogue is possible if the two parties stop trying to change each other and start listening.  I said something similar here recently.

So I wonder, are the contentious conversations I sometimes experience and that Hess and Neisser have written a book about the norm?  Or are they less common than they seem?  Please take our poll and let us know how you experience political conversations.

In the comments, please tell us what has worked for you to make your political discussions amicable.

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