Gender Bias in the Book of Mormon

For the last three days I have been listening to the Daughter of Mormonism podcast, one after another.  I have been blown away by how much I love this podcast, perhaps because I consider myself “over” a lot of the issues that are raised in some of the episodes.  I was particularly struck by this feeling as I listened to the third episode called “Gender Bias in the Book of Mormon”.

I was surprised by the strong emotional reaction I had as I listened to this episode.  I have given up on believing in a literal translation  of the Book of Mormon, so why would I care about whether or not there are as many “he” references as “she” in the text?  It turns out that I still care an awful lot.  The Book of Mormon and it’s portrayal of men and women were a major part of my childhood, affecting the way I thought about myself and where I fit in in the grand scheme of things.

I was the kind of believer growing up who would have denied that gender bias made a difference to me.  It could have been because I was young, or I just didn’t see the impact, or that I could sense that admitting that would be something you might say if you didn’t have faith.  But ultimately, as is the case with feminism and sexism in general, once you see it you can’t “un-see” it.  A friend of mine once put it this way, to quell fears of those who say feminism is unrealistic because feminists see it everywhere: “I see it everywhere, but it isn’t the only thing I see”.  That really resonates with me.

I realize now the damage that gender bias in the Book of Mormon has done in my life.  The great and abominable church, the daughters of Zion, and the gates of hell are all “she” and “her” in the BoM passages Sybil read in the podcast.  It became a burden I was used to, to “take the extra step”.  I took the extra step to change all the words he to she, him to her, men to women.  I took the extra step to tell myself that I mattered even though the scriptures forgot to mention my sex.  I took the extra step to excuse the men over the pulpit who forgot me, to tell myself that they didn’t mean it and I was actually included.  I took the extra step to fit myself back into a structure that was made for men, over and over again.

I accepted it because I didn’t know any better.  But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t want something better, even back then.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that I accept this now, not when I have done so much work to value myself as a whole person. I am deserving of, yes, even my own pronouns!  At the very least my own pronouns.

It is similar to the damage done by being taught and believing that the greatest deity is male, God the Father.  Mormonism’s redeeming quality here is that we believe in a Heavenly Mother, but it doesn’t do all that much since she is essentially silent and absent.  It wasn’t enough for me to simply knew that she existed.  I wanted a female god to relate to, to imagine myself being!  And for that matter I wanted to have female scripture heroes, female General Authorities to emulate and revere, and women in my local ward who had real power and influence.

It’s taken me a long time to admit how I was affected by this one specific part of Mormonism.  How did you feel while you were growing up in the Mormon faith, as a female reading these gender messages in the Book of Mormon?  Can you look back now and see more clearly how it affected you?

(cross-posted at k-land)

Kendahl

kendahl is a queer fat left-handed INFJ synesthete mother warrior activist social worker abuse survivor unapologetically brilliant powerful witch

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69 Responses

  1. Alisa says:

    This episode of Daughters of Mormonism really made an impact on me to. So much that I asked my husband to listen to it too, to hear the linguistic analysis of why gendered pronouns really do matter.

    I liked, and still like, scriptures in the BoM regarding Christ and the Atonement. I like that Nephi had a vision of Mary when he learned of the Love of God. But the pronouns, and the war subject matter, has always made much of it difficult to relate to.

    “It is similar to the damage done by being taught and believing that the greatest deity is male, God the Father. Mormonism’s redeeming quality here is that we believe in a Heavenly Mother, but it doesn’t do all that much since she is essentially silent and absent. ”

    I was just thinking yesterday that at the head of God’s family, our eternal family, are not a Father and Mother, but three men. I’ve been thinking about this a ton lately. It would make so much more sense for us to be one eternal family “with Father and Mother leading the way.” I think I’m just going to start looking at it that way and explore how that changes my understanding of God and our divine nature.

    • Starfoxy says:

      “Not a Father and Mother, but three men.”
      This reminds me of the post Jessawhy wrote a while back where her kids got a handout in primary that had ‘my eternal family’ with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ at the head: “On earth you have one mommy and one daddy. But in heaven, you have two . . . daddies?”

      • Diane says:

        Starfoxy

        I just shot diet coke thru my nose on that one, lol

      • spunky says:

        Starfoxy,
        That is HILARIOUS!!!!

      • Jessawhy says:

        I just went back to the post and it looks like the image is gone, darn it! It was a cartoon-ish picture with Heavenly Father and Jesus holding our earthly family below them. If it hadn’t been right after Prop 8, it would have been even more hysterical.

  2. E says:

    God is I Am. God is That. God is I – Thou. God is love. God is the Alpha and Omega. God is the Ground of Being. None of those are male or female. How can God be male? I say this coming from a faith tradition that is heavily misogynistic and male in its use of imagery.

    • Kmillecam says:

      E, it sounds like what you are saying is that because you come from a misogynistic, male-centered faith tradition and that you were able to see God as gender-neutral, that you expect everyone to be able to do the same. But I think what you describe is that you are the exception to the rule, not the rule. I’m glad that people can move past gendered God imagery, and I have too. But I cannot deny that having only male symbols and imagery to work with created a problem that I had to overcome. So really I think that your comment is yet another illustration of what I am describing. Maleness is the norm.

      To say what you did evokes a feeling of “it’s YOUR responsibility to move past this”, and while that is ultimately true, I think you are glossing over the very real experience that I am describing in the OP. Plus, there are many women that have had similar experiences growing up with this male imagery, and to say “How can God be male?” to me and to them essentially makes our experience disappear or diminish, at least without further explanation of what you meant.

      • E says:

        Dear Kmillecam,
        I’m asking a real question: how can the “I Am” be male? As you discerned, it is a theological question which asks “what is the nature of God”? I understand that Mormonism has a distinct answer to this question, and that it does not teach that God is commensurate with the concepts referred to in my first post but I hoped that it might add to the discussion by broadening it rather than assuming the validity of whichever status quo we profess. My reading feminist theologians who have sought to insert the “divine feminine” into Western theological thought has been less that satisfying, because it often creates a dualistic form of thinking with which I am relatively uncomfortable. My own thinking now is heavily agnostic and my conduct is what I would call “reality based” or “atheistic”. However, I find myself rather like the father in the following joke:
        On the Upper West Side of NYC lived an assimilated Jew who was now a very militant atheist. But he sent his son to Trinity School because, despite its denominational roots, it’s a great school, and completely secular.
        After a month, the boy comes home and says casually, “By the way Dad, do you know what Trinity means? It means the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
        The father can barely control his rage. He seizes his son by the shoulders and declares, “Danny, I’m going to tell you something now and I want you never to forget it. There is only one God; and we don’t believe in him!

        I enjoy participating in this community to the extent I can, but please delete these comments if they violate the TOS.

      • Amelia says:

        E, I don’t find your comments a violation of our comment policy. Instead I think they’re very interesting. I do very much understand where Kmillecam is coming from. My experience has been that when I am in an intellectual head space, or when I’m approach scripture as a text to be examined, I am fascinated by the ideas you bring up. Because you are correct that man representations of God are, if not gender neutral at least gender ambiguous. Like you I’m not a big fan of dualistic thinking about divinity; it can lend itself to actually reinforcing harmful notions of gender essentialism.

        But, at the end of the day, there is so much gendered language about God; it is so omnipresent in our scriptures; the use of male pronouns is so dominant; that I am also like the father in your joke. I don’t believe that divinity is only male; I strenuously reject any implication that women are less than men when it comes to spirituality; I militantly reject the patriarchal notions of God so prevalent in our church culture. But when my emotions are high, when I’m personally invested, very often it becomes unavoidable that these ideas about gender and God inform some deeply seated belief I can’t entirely shake. It is moments like that when I need a divine feminine, no matter what the problems associated with subscribing to a traditionally heterosexual couple as the highest manifestation of divinity may be.

        But most days, I’m more interested in thinking about God, Goddess, the divine as it exists in everyone and everything, rather than as a bodied entity. And your initial comment is very much in keeping with some of the ways I think about the divine–god as being, as love, as beginning, as end, as the best potential in me and others, as the worst potential in me and others. I’ll never give up the belief in a bodied goddess/god because I care too much about the necessary interplay between body and spirit and believing in a bodied god makes it harder to subject body to spirit. But the conception of divinity that matters most to me is more akin to your conception.

    • Starfoxy says:

      Also, this fails to account for the fact that, as Mormons, we believe in an embodied God. In our tradition God is not an ephemeral being who just happens to be described with male pronouns, we are taught that God* has a body and is unambiguously male. That doctrine goes beyond simply being part of a misogynistic, male centered religion.

      *Or at least, the only part(s) of God that we are allowed to interact with or know anything about. The jury is still out on whether or not Mother in Heaven is also God, or if she is just God’s wife.

      • Kmillecam says:

        Excellent point. It was definitely an issue for me to believe that there was God somewhere with a literal body that wasn’t exactly like mine. Where is the exalted, literal, divine female body that I could relate to?

      • Zenaida says:

        Don’t you mean, one of God’s _wives_? 😉

  3. Jettboy says:

    Why does this matter? Why do you need female examples or for that matter a female Diety? Do you want to worship Her? You know, the Church is known as a Bride so there are positive female analogies.

    “I realize now the damage that gender bias in the Book of Mormon has done in my life.”

    What kind of damage has it done to your life?

    “But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t want something better . . . ”

    What do you want better than the Atonement of Jesus Christ?

    Take me as a troll, I don’t care, but this and the pod cast proves the dangers of feminism. It is a false religion that has the logical ending of blaspheme, worship of false Gods, and paganism.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Jettboy, the fact that you cared enough to comment calls into question your declaration that you “don’t care” if we call you a troll. I also have to laugh at the idea that your so-called “logical ending of blaspheme, worship of false Gods, and paganism” seems to be meant to scare me into submission, but I have no belief in the authority you are trying to muscle up there. If you continue to call into question my validity in terms of my experience and perspective, then I will not allow you to comment here.

      I quote from the comment policy: “4. Try to stick with your personal experiences, ideas, and interpretations. This is not the place to question another’s personal righteousness, to call people to repentence, or to disprespectfully refute people’s personal religious beliefs.”

  4. mraynes says:

    Might I remind you, Jettboy, that part of your baptismal covenant is to mourn with those who mourn. There is no qualifier that lets you off the hook when one of your brothers or sisters in the gospel is mourning something that you think is of no consequence. The lack of female representation in the Book of Mormon is something that kmillecam and many of us genuinely mourn and I believe that Christ knows our sorrows and feels them with us. The least you could do is not belittle them.

    Great post, K. I never realized how much I longed for and was hurt by the absence of women in the Book of Mormon until one day I was reading in Mosiah and found a verse that was discussing wisdom and used a female pronoun. (I would give a reference but my scriptures are packed away in a box and I don’t have time to try and find it online.) I was working at the Smith Institute at the time and went so far as to check a facsimile of the first edition of the Book of Mormon that we had to make sure it wasn’t just a typo in my scriptures. This discovery literally had me weeping with gratitude that in some small way I was acknowledged in this sacred text.

    • Kmillecam says:

      This is a beautiful thought mraynes, and I am so glad you shared it. It illustrates both the pain of this situation, but also how meaningful it is for all of us to identify with what we read.

  5. Jean says:

    We certainly know how to dwell on the unimportant. What does it matter if the Book of Mormon has male references? It was a different time. Women didn’t have the modern luxuries they have today. Many women literally died without the aid of a strong man.

    Are your emotions mortally wounded because men mostly fight wars? The male dominated Book of Mormon does not take away from its truthfulness. God calls Prophets to speak for him, he always has. These are almost always men, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is beautiful. I am so grateful to have a good upstanding man in my life when the world is so full of evil.

    • spunky says:

      Jean,
      Your “unimportant” comment is judgmental and insulting, therefore in conflict with the comment policy. If you do take issue with the opinion of the posts, then state state so in a Christlike manner. In other words, clean up your act or you will be in permanent moderation.

  6. Aimee says:

    I heard some financial analyst who was talking about yesterday’s plummeting stock market numbers refer to the economy as “she.” He used feminine pronouns to describe the market in his 30 second clip no less than five times. I have never heard the stock market referred to in anthropomorphised terms before (like we so commonly do with the feminine “church”) so to hear it done yesterday (on one of the worst days in the market’s history) was a shock.

    There is absolutely nothing trivial or oversensitive about people who recognize and call out these kinds of gender biases. The biases exist; they do harm. The more people who acknowledge and work to end it, the better our society will become.

  7. When I first read this post, I could feel the pain involved and knew that this would be very difficult for me (as a man) to be able to respond to or comment on. Too easily can any disagreeing comment be deemed as something that can be easily dismissed as being from someone who could never understand. Its been on my mind, pretty constantly, since then. Notwithstanding the very contentious and dismissive responses so far, I thought, this morning, I would give it a try.

    Yes, the Book of Mormon is a book written by men, mostly about men. The female references are scattered throughout, both in a positive and negative usage. One of my favorites is in talking about the Army of Helamen, who were taught by their mothers who knew the gospel to be true. I don’t think this could have just as easily been fathers or teachers. I’m glad the Book of Mormon has so many more female references and pronouns than the Bible, as it does show an effort to speak to all those in our days. With the number of wars and atrocities happening now, we do have some good examples of how bad wars can be, and how to get through those difficult times, in the Book of Mormon. The atrocities described in the Book of Mormon (the individual book, not the collection of books) are descriptions of things that are happening in the world today, which would be easier to ignore if they were not written in a book of scripture.

    I do believe that it has been better to leave out, rather than explicity put in, references to Heavenly Mother. I think there is far too much of a chance for anyone to decide that they will follow Heavenly Mother, not Heavenly Father, as if they would be doing things differently with their children. Those two are even more one than Christ and the Father are one. To think that she has had no say, direction, or leadership in the raising of Her children, both daughters and sons, does more to ignore Her than does simply not talking about Her but knowing She is.

    I understand, as best I can, the frustrations you’re expressing. I hope that no matter where your understandings take you, you will always remember that when you fell yourself encircled about by the arms of Gods love, that it isn’t just one, male person sharing your heartaches and joys, but both or your Heavenly Parents, who know, together, what you are going through and want, desperately, to do all they can to help you grow to be the best you can be.

    • Amelia says:

      Frank, like Jessawhy and Aimee, I appreciate your civil tone and the way in which you’re able to present an alternate opinion without loading it with condemnation and judgment of those who think differently. As we’ve seen in lots of online discussions, that’s not always an easy thing to do, but it’s so important.

      As to women in scripture, there are six named women in the book of Mormon. None of them have very long or fully developed narratives. I’m not looking at any reference here, but here are women in the Bible that come to mind: Eve, Anna, Miriam, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Deborah, Jael, Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, the sisters Mary and Martha. That’s without my even consulting a text–just women whose narratives in the Bible were memorable enough for me to recall them instantly. And they’re a large variety of women, from prophetesses to mothers to women who fought with strength to defeat their enemies. The Book of Mormon simply does not present this spectrum of female characters; nor does it present more fully developed stories of women of any variety, as the Bible does. It’s one of the bigger reasons I personally prefer the Bible to the Book of Mormon.

      As for Heavenly Mother, I understand your argument–it’s one I’ve heard many times. But here’s a couple of counter arguments to consider: How many families in which the parents genuinely love each other and have a healthy marital relationship, and in which the parents have healthy relationships with their children, also have children who choose to solely follow one parent over the other? I know there are broken families in which this happens, but I cannot believe that our God and Goddess’s children would choose only one over the other were the relationships whole and healthy. I do think that the unhealthy nature of our gender dynamics on earth could lead to some children paying more attention to one than the other. It should not be surprising that women who face a great deal of prejudice and are refused many opportunities solely on the basis of their sex, might cling more tightly to a goddess than a male god. That said, the fallen and flawed nature of this world should not be a justification for perpetuating those very flaws. If anything, they should be an argument for making significant change, so that as we see a more perfectly balanced and united relationship between deities of different sexes, we can emulate that in our earthly relationships. When I did my little thought experiment about the possibility of children choosing one parent over the other, I was absolutely flummoxed in thinking how this would play out in my own family in which my parents have been in love for 53 years and married for 50 and in which we all love both of them. Our family is not perfect, but I just can’t imagine a situation in which having access to both our parents would lead to some of us choosing one over the other. If we as Mormons take seriously the idea that our heavenly parents are models for our earthly families, that families are the core foundation of all society, both earthly and heavenly, then we should act like it and stop preaching an invisible Mother God.

      • I think that’s the crux of the argument about Heavenly Mother. While it may be inconceivable for the children of parents married so long to decide to follow one over the other, for young children it happens all the time. That’s where we get “well, Mom said I can”.

        Historically, humanity hasn’t dealt well with having multiple Gods, even when they are married. You end up with followers of Hera and followers of Zeus, who may work together at times but are often at odds with each other. Even now, differences in revelation could be split by those following HM in opposition to HF.

        I think that is part of the lure of having a genderless God – to get to the point that it doesn’t matter what gender God is; God knows and understands us each personally, no matter what their or our gender.

      • Amelia says:

        I guess I don’t see the “well Mom said I can” as a version of picking one over the other; I see it as an immature attempt to justify behavior one knows is not okay or to get out of trouble, not a child genuinely picking one parent over the other. I would bet that the same child who said “but mom said I could!” one day would, the very next day, say “but dad said I could!” without batting an eyelash.

        And I think your history is a little off, or at the very least your understanding of the consequences of it. There are plenty of historical examples of cultures which subscribed to polytheistic religions that were very strong, in spite of any apparently conflicting allegiances to multiple gods. In fact, there are scholars who argue that cultures that subscribe to polytheistic religions are actually more tolerant and accepting of differences of belief in others specifically because their religion is polytheistic and therefore doesn’t lend itself to a single monolithic version of “truth” which everyone needs to subscribe to. And that’s not to even point out that Christianity, which is absolutely a monotheistic religious tradition, has given rise to a whole hell of a lot of internal strife over the course of its history. I don’t think there’s anything inherent to having only one visible God that will prevent schisms of belief and the subsequent violence and difficulties. In fact, it might just be true that if Christianity officially sanctioned multiple Gods, it would create a space in which a group of people could construct devotional practices that focused on one god instead of the other without leading to everyone else in the tradition rejecting them. Seems like a good thing to me. The only way it becomes a problem is if people refuse to acknowledge that God the Father and God the Mother are equally powerful, equally deserving of worship, equally influential in determining truth and right. Which they of course are. Again, the problem lies not in the abstract system in which both God and Goddess are visible and available to be worshiped and prayed to, but rather in humanity’s flaws and fallenness. And I for one do not think our fallen nature should be a model for how to relate to God.

        And I personally don’t think a genderless God should be the answer anymore than all of us becoming androgynous in order to make it impossible for people to practice sexism. I shouldn’t have to hide my identity as a woman in order to be treated fairly. Neither should God and Goddess have to hide their physical characteristics in order to be equally respected, honored, and worshiped.

      • Again, the problem lies not in the abstract system in which both God and Goddess are visible and available to be worshiped and prayed to, but rather in humanity’s flaws and fallenness. And I for one do not think our fallen nature should be a model for how to relate to God.

        Unfortunately, our fallen nature is the reason for how we are told to relate to God. We can’t handle, as a people, the idea of having two, equal leaders. Jesus always had to stress that he was below God, so the people would not place him equal with, or above God. He tried to teach that we cannot serve two masters – how confusing would that be if we were to try to follow both the Father and the Mother? All it would take is for someone to get inspiration that was different for people to fall away. All it would take is for people to try to determine who is really more powerful or in charge for one side to marginalize the other.

        We can’t even keep ahold of the fact that a marriage is an equal partnership – we always want to know who has the “final” say.

        I think there will be a time when we will be able to worship both Mother and Father together, but just like many other commandments we cannot yet handle, we, as a people, need to grow enough to be able to live it as it should be – an equal and united partnership.

  8. Jessawhy says:

    Frank,
    I appreciate your tone of respect and that you’ve presented your experience with the BoM and HM.

    However, I hope that you’ll continue monitoring this thread with an open mind, as I think many of our readers and bloggers will disagree with your conclusions.

    Although I don’t have the facts right in front of me, I’m pretty sure that your statement here is wrong,

    “I’m glad the Book of Mormon has so many more female references and pronouns than the Bible”

    The Old Testament (and even the NT) describe many more women with detailed stories. (You can even search our blog for interesting analyses of Deborah, Esther, and Miriam).

    This is exactly why many women I know struggle with the Book of Mormon from a gender perspective. If it was written for our day, then there should be MORE stories about or by women and not far fewer.

    As far as this goes,
    “I do believe that it has been better to leave out, rather than explicity put in, references to Heavenly Mother. I think there is far too much of a chance for anyone to decide that they will follow Heavenly Mother, not Heavenly Father”

    I’m not sure what to say here other than it appears that you really haven’t tried to put yourself in our shoes as women. Church doctrine tells us that we can be like our Heavenly Parents someday, however HM is invisible and silent. This speaks to my role in eternity as a silent and limited partner at best and a polygamist and infinite spiritual baby-maker at worst. More discussion of Heavenly Mother would be a good step to helping women like me feel hope for my role in the next life.

    Thanks for commenting, I hope that you continue to read and discuss these issues honestly and respectfully.

    • I’m glad I can be a part of the discussion. Thanks for the support, even if we dont agree. I certainly don’t expect anyone to agree with me, and don’t think I could even if I were a GA. The best I can do is give my own opinions and make some contribution to the discussion with others.

      I’m grateful for this, and many other, discussion sites, where the conversations are more about specific concerns and questions that affect all of us in some way, rather than diving into the often murky minutae pursued by others (e.g. Jesus had blue eyes and these scriptures prove it!).

      I look forward to reagins and discussing more. 🙂

  9. Aimee says:

    I sense the well-meaningness in your tone, Frank, and appreciate it. I think it takes many, many years to authentically start seeing and feeling things from another perspective and appreciate that you are in some ways trying to do so.

    At the same time, I’m not sure I agree with you that there are more references to women in the Book of Mormon than in the bible. The Book of Mormon gives us the nameless mothers of the Army of Helaman and some very one-dimensional sketches of the wives of some prophets. But there are no fully fleshed women’s voices in the whole of the Book of Mormon. At least in the Hebrew Bible we get Esther, Ruth and Deborah (among others). And though we have our Delilahs and Bathshebas, they are more characters than they are metaphors for the entire female gender (unless they are used as such by other readers).

    It’s precisely the lack of strong, memorable embodied women in the Book of Mormon that makes these unflattering uses of female pronouns to describe “the great and abominable church,” for example, all the more unsettling. Blame what you will–the different time of the author(s), the bias of the particular writer, the lack of women writers–but as a modern day reader attuned to gender bias in language (as we should all be), this text is inevitably problematic. It doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. It doesn’t mean it can’t be fortifying (even to a feminist–as it is to me), but it does mean that it’s worth acknowledging and striving to improve upon in future scripture (since LDS belief teaches us that the cannon is open to continuing revelation). Hopefully open discussions like these will continue to help us read the scriptures with greater compassion for how they can sound to a percentage of its readers and improve in future generations of scripture.

    • Yes, I’d lumped together the Bible as having fewer female characters, apperantly thinking of more the New Testament than old. Course, now I keep thinking of the many women who have more extrordinary faith than the men in the New Testament as well.

      To me, the women depicted in all the scriptures are diamonds to be savored both for their rarity and their strength.

      I wonder, as a side note that couldn’t be adequately answered right now, how much of the gender biased language is a result of the use of English, as opposed to other current languages or even the original languages they were written in.

      • Aimee says:

        It’s a good question, Frank. Certainly Latin based languages (whose nouns are either masculine or feminine–how that was determined, I’ll never know!) make some of these issues even more problematic.

        One universal fact of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that scriptures overwhelmingly portray a male God talking to mostly men most of the time. I personally think this is the case because men were the ones writing things down (since women have historically been denied equal access to education). If you’re the record keeper, the record is going to reflect your experience and perspective more than any one else’s. I think such understanding should help us be more nuanced readers who can appreciate both the scriptures’ achievements as well as its limitations. Being sensitive to how these inherently human limitations within scriptures DOES marginalize women and the fact that there are women who recognize this marginalization seems like a Christ-like way to respond to the imperfection and humanness of our sacred texts.

  10. Amber says:

    Daughters of Mormonism is my favorite podcast. (Wait until you hear the discussion panel on the Divine Feminine.)

    I know that when I listened to this episode, Sybil had me thinking through things I had previously ignored. Yes I noticed them, but I was told that it was unimportant what gender the scriptures explicitly direct their message to, it is referring to women as well. That’s easy for a man to say–he has heard male-oriented language his entire life. (I realize that sounds harsh and mean, but it is not intended to be.) For me, it is awful to feel that I have no place in the church. And more, that as a woman, I can’t express these feelings without being labeled “apostate.”

    In discussing the podcast and the issues it raised with my husband, I was able to frame my feelings more eloquently. As a child and teenager, since I recognized the scriptures weren’t talking to me, I figured that I was expected to follow the commandments, but most of the eternal blessings–like the Priesthood–are given to men; therefore, I am less than a man.

    This is reflected in how I viewed my relationship with my husband when we were first married. Since he has the Priesthood, and, indirectly, because the scriptures are directed toward him and the good stories are about members of his gender, I felt that my opinion was less than his. I also figured that my place in the household was one step behind. In essence, our relationship would always be 49%/51% because he is a man and I am a woman. (I know this might seem like a stretch, but there is so much more to this story than what I can share here.)

    The more I look at my history, as opposed to where I am now, I realize how gender bias in the BoM has permeated how I view myself, as a woman, in the Church and in the world. Not good.

  11. Diane says:

    Have any of you read the Gnostic Bible?, I love reading it because it has much more participation and inclusion from different groups. The thing I like most is that the women in the gnostic bible have names which automatically gives them power.

  12. Susie N says:

    I like this site because I can come here for all of my anti-Mormon view validations. So much Church bashing, I love it.

    • Emmaline says:

      I like this site because I can come here for validation in the midst of my insecurities – it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one with these questions. So much discussion, of the Church and what it means for women, I love it.

    • Amelia says:

      You know, Susie, snide criticism is not really welcome. If you want to contribute, do so. We welcome any perspective, so long as experiences and ideas are presented thoughtfully and others’ experiences and ideas are respected (rather than being dismissed with a snotty and unoriginal attack).

      If you find our content objectionable, go away and don’t come back. Because like Emmaline lots of Mormon women come here because it’s empowering to know that they are not alone in struggling with difficult questions about what their sex and gender means about their place in the church, about their eternal nature, about their status in God’s eyes. This is a safe space where they are welcome to do so without being called names.

    • Starfoxy says:

      Susie N AKA Michael P.
      Sockpuppetry is not allowed. Pick a name and stick with it. This is your final warning.

  13. CS Eric says:

    Susie N (or whoever you really are),

    One of the things I appreciate about this site as compared with other sites from the female perspective is that this, more than others, seems to have supporting faithfulness as a covert, if not overt, guiding principle.

    I think I understand the perspective of the OP better with the explanation that once you see the inherent sexist bias, you can’t “un-see” it. Being a well-educated white male, society in general and the Church in particular automatically gives me privileges simply because of my status. I think I understand part of your perspective since my wife and I were childless in a church that almost fetishises large families, and now I am widowed, all the “love and teach your wife and children” lessons in Priesthood salt the wounds more than heal them. But even that is only a sample of how it must feel to rarely see someone who looks like me in a position of trust and leadership.

    As an unrelated side note, I think that is part of why the passing of Sister Okazaki has generated such a universal response. Even years after her being released, her influence as a righteous, loving, and beloved leader in the Church continued to be felt.

    • BethSmash says:

      I am sorry for the loss of your loved one, and sorry that church lessons sometimes make you even more sad. *hug*

    • amelia says:

      I’m also sorry for your loss, CS Eric. And I’m glad that you find the Exponent a useful and supportive environment. I don’t practice Mormonism in the same way I have in the past. Many people would probably jump to label me as inactive or to dismiss my perspectives because they don’t align with the church’s mainstream understandings. But the reason I still participate so much in Mormon forums is that I care very deeply about many of the church’s core doctrines and teachings, I love and value my Mormon heritage, I respect my family members and friends who are Mormon regardless of their level of involvement and how they practice. Underlying what I write is always the reality that I am Mormon, no matter who wants to deny me that identity, and I care very much about Mormonism and its people. Even when I’m writing something that criticizes some aspect of church practice or culture. And I think that’s true of the environment here at the Exponent at large. I’m glad that readers can see that.

  14. April says:

    My children’s primary leaders have been giving them Book of Mormon Hero cards during the past few months. It is a great idea, and I love the cards, which show a picture of someone from the B of M and written details about their lives, but I am sad that the B of M offers so few options for female heroes. Who will my daughter’s role models be?

    • amelia says:

      This is where gender bias in scripture becomes so problematic–where scripture and living intersect, as we are taught they should. We hold the scriptures up as a model, as a place to go to get answers. And I have found models and answers there. But when we do this, we make the gender bias a real problem because women as well as men, girls as well as boys, are looking to these texts for ideas and guidance to apply in their own lives. This is radically different from how we consume texts that are understood to be relics of the past (even if still entertaining ones) rather than living texts that continue to be pertinent and relevant in a daily fashion.

      If we want to hold up scripture as a model and example and source of answers, we should make changes to the text that will make it work for that end objective. And with the history of changing scriptural text we have in the church, objecting to that idea is fruitless or hypocritical.

  15. Kirsten says:

    Last year I did a lesson/activity with my Activity Days girls I entitled, “Be W.I.S.E. (Women In the Scriptures, Extraordinary!) I went through the Old/New Testament, Book of Mormon and D&C and highlighted various women and what we could learn from them. I gave the girls a series of clues about each woman to see if they knew who she was. It wasn’t surprising that they didn’t know many of them. One girl was frustrated that King Lamoni’s wife didn’t have a name… When they left to meet their parents, one of the girls asked her mom, “Do you know who Miriam was? She was awesome!”

    I am grateful for Exponent as it is a place where women can discuss their questions, issues, doubts and fears without people being judgmental. This cannot be said for the majority of structured church meetings. It is most definitely NOT an anti-Mormon or Church-bashing site. It is a place where we can support each other and listen. I am glad there is a place where women from all of the various connections they have with Mormonism- whether devout, questioning or those who have left the formal church behind- can talk together. In the New Testament, Jesus did not shut out those who questioned or were in pain. He embraced them and blessed them. Here at Exponent II, we do the same.

    • spunky says:

      Kirsten, this is brilliant! I think you should put this together, even as a draft of collector’s cards or a book for girls… and submit it to Covenant Communications for publication. I would buy this in a second — for me, and as a gift for the women and girls I know. Seriously- patent this idea- stat!!

    • Corktree says:

      What a wonderful activity idea! Thank you for sharing.

    • Gillian says:

      Kirsten,

      Thank you for your post and fantastic idea – I’ve been reading through the exponent blog for ideas and inspiration for an upcoming presidency lesson, hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to use it, although in RS 🙂

  16. Caroline says:

    Kirsten,
    I love your W.I.S.E activity! How I hope other leaders show the same kind of ingenuity. And I think you’re right on about what Exponent is — a forum for Mormon women, no matter their orthodoxy, to be honest and vulnerable about their hopes, joys, concerns and ideas. Thanks for your kind words!

  17. Kmillecam says:

    Oh, look at the outpouring of love that I have seen in comments here 🙂 Thank you, all! I am so glad that The Exponent can be a safe space where we can all be together, no matter our “level” of belief.

  18. Michelle says:

    I have been spending a lot of my time the past year or so engaging the Book of Mormon with this very question of gendered language in mind. I am struggling to find the time and means to be able to communicate what I’m finding, but I hope to be able to articulate some of it soon. Maybe it won’t be enough to quell the frustration some feel, but I hope maybe something could be helpful.

  19. Michelle says:

    p.s. I like the W.I.S.E. idea but hope you might consider sharing it more broadly than just with those who will spend money for it. 😉

    • Kirsten says:

      I’ll try to get it into an easily emailed form and would gladly share it to others for Activity Days or YW. I’m not sure how to get it out to interested parties… Let me know if you’d like a copy (kicamATyahooDOTcom)

  20. N. Curtis says:

    Given that KM’s premise is valid (Mormon scriptures are sexist), KM concludes that she has been damaged. However, when the ambiguity of the argument was questioned, everyone runs to KM’s defense without answering the question.

    I can understand the response because the question was asked in such an inflamitory and sophmoric fashion that an answer was hardly warranted, but the question still remains. Let me try asking again, because this is something I struggle with regarding feminism in general.

    Why is a sexist canon of scriptures responsible for your damage?
    What exactly is the “damage”, lower self esteem? fewer opportunities?
    What (if anything) can the church, friends, or family do to repair this damage?

    • Amelia says:

      N. Curtis, the answer to those questions would take far more space than a short comment on a blog post to answer, but here are a few points:

      What is the damage? It is the instinctive assumption and belief on the part of both women and men that women are less than. Less than men, primarily. But given the equation of “man” and “human” in much of the rhetoric of western civilization until very, very recently, also less than human by implication. It is the shutting down of young girls’ desire to do and become something great in any way that feels right to them. It is the systematic refusal to grant women access to equal opportunity. Something like the gendered language of a text that is meant to be consumed as an active agent in our daily lives (like scripture), rather than a text which is mean to be read as personal entertainment (e.g., an 18th century novel) or as a window into a past moment in time, contributes directly to these attitudes. Would you want your daughter to reach these conclusions? Would you want her to be taught on the one hand that she has a divine mother but on the other that her divine mother is invisible and off limits? Implicit in the very idea of a divine mother is the idea that she is the greatest height of womanhood, the most powerful, glorious, and perfect version of woman. Implicit in the idea of her being invisible and silent is that no matter how perfect she is, no matter how divine and glorious, she is much less than the male who gets to be so actively involved in our daily lives that he knows not only what his children suffer but what every other living thing suffers, down to a sparrow’s fall.

      That is not insignificant damage. Are there women undamaged by it in the same fashion identified by kmillecam and other feminists? Sure. But that does not mean the damage does not exist.

      What can the church do? It can take its own rhetoric seriously and stop contradicting itself. Either it can be consistent in its promotion of patriarchy/the patriarchal order and stop preaching the equality of men and women; or it can be consistent in its promotion of gender equity and stop preaching patriarchy. The confusion of its message is more damaging than either position would be in its purity.

      What can family/friends/other people do? They can treat women like respected equal individuals, rather than thinking about them in terms of monolithic identity “woman.” In every regard.

      • N. Curtis says:

        Thank you for that quick and thourough response. Right now, I would be happy if my daughter would think enough to not wake up 5-10 times a night. We are a long ways from gender-diety issues.

        I guess the source of my concern is the blame. I am uncomfortable with the tendancy for feminist to blame institutions, inanimate objects, or ambigous social structures for inequality issues.

        I have a hard time understanding the argument that an institution is somehow responsible for the actions of the participants of that institution. For example, as a child, my parents carefully balanced our Mormon upbringing with experiences about heavenly mother and father. My father always asked my mother to participate in blessing on their children. And we were taught from a young age to always question any sexist assumptions taught at church.

        Am I not a Mormon because of this? Am I part of this evil institution? Am I an oppressor because I identify myself as a Mormon?

        Why must it always be the fault of the institution instead of individuals in the institution?

        What percentage of Mormon men and women are actively (either conciously or subconciously) discriminating against women today?

      • Amelia says:

        Why blame the institution? Because the institution is part of the equation in creating the damage. Why place more blame there than on individuals? Because the institution holds more power and influence than individuals do. Whether we like it or not, institutions possess enormous power to do both good and bad for individuals who are either members of them or who are associated with or affected by them through a shared sociocultural context. The funny thing about many (not all, but many) Mormons and certainly about the Mormon church is that they/it want to lay claim to the credit for the good the institution does, but do not want to take credit for the bad it does. If the church and its members are going to claim as the church’s the good effects it has in people’s lives (and this happens all. the. time.), then to be honest and to have integrity then the members and the church must be willing to acknowledge the bad it does as an institution and engage in correcting for that bad, in actively seeking to grow and improve in order to minimize that bad. Now, it’s true that differences of opinion will limit the overlap between what members/the church might see as “bad” and what I and others might see as “bad,” but there should be some common ground in that, just as there is some common ground between what I see as “good” about the church and what mainstream members and the church itself see as “good” about it. So that’s no excuse to claim the good but not the bad.

        I could not possibly count the number of times I have seen the thought process of claiming the good, while blaming those hurt for the bad happen at every level of the church from ordinary members up through ward, stake, and general leadership. When someone has a good experience, it’s at least in part (often in large part if not exclusively) because of this wonderful thing the Church! When someone has a bad experience, it’s because that someone does not have the right attitude, or because they have sinned, or because they just haven’t progressed enough to “get it” yet. That’s dishonest and inaccurate. The reality is that the credit for both good and bad is much more complex than that scenario allows for.

        Then there’s the fact that when we imbue an institution like the church with the authority of teaching God’s Truth (TM), then we elevate it above the possibility of neutrality (which possibility is slim even without imbuing it with that authority). If the church is going to claim divine sanction and the right to a direct path to revelation, so direct that members should cede their individual right to revelation to the church’s right to guide them (as Dallin Oaks has been arguing lately), then it has a responsibility to take even more credit than other institutions for the actions, attitudes, and behaviors of its members. Including those actions, attitudes, and behaviors that do harm.

        Finally there’s the impossibility of a clean separation between institution and individuals. In theory it’s a nice idea. It’s so much more convenient to say it’s not the church or the gospel that does the harm; it’s the imperfect flawed people making mistakes that do harm. But when those imperfect flawed people are the ones making policy decisions and speaking from the pulpit in the place of God Himself and enforcing through incredibly powerful social mechanisms conforming to certain practices–well then I just don’t think you can make anything like a clean break between “institution” on the one side and “individuals” on the other. It just doesn’t work. When Dallin Oaks says that a scantily clad woman becomes pornography, even with a caveat, he knows full well that many, many people in his audience will take his words very literally and will from that point forward make pronouncements about women being walking pornography. And he is a smart man. He should understand what it means to objectify a woman. But he did some kind of cost benefit analysis, either fully conscious or only partially so, in which he decided that the net positive outweighed the net negative. I disagree strenuously with his assessment, but he has the right to make it. He does not have the right, however, to deny there is no net negative; nor do other Mormons. Neither does he or other Mormons have the right to act as if the institution is without blame when he is speaking in an institutional capacity to an institutional audience which will then promulgate his terribly ugly idea as divinely sanctioned and institutionally enforceable Truth.

        So do I blame the institution? Damn straight I do. And I blame the individuals, too. There’s plenty of blame to go around. And it would be irresponsible to place all of it on either the institution or the individuals.

        As for whether you’re a Mormon in spite of unconventional practices in your family of origin–of course you are. Being Mormon is not determined by how well you match the stereotype, whether internally or externally imposed. I am a firm believer that individuals are the only ones who can determine whether they are Mormon, not others. And yes, you are part of the structure of damaging women. As is anyone else who actively participates in Mormonism (myself included). That’s not necessarily a condemnation of participating, much as many of my non-member feminist friends would have me believe. We all of us participate in institutions and structures and organizations that do things that cause harm. But we continue to participate in them because we are social creatures by definition (human beings never exist outside of community) and as such we must navigate complex human relationships and communities, all of which (and I do mean all) will do both good and bad in the world and to those individuals who participate. So the question is not whether you are an “oppressor” or whether you and other Mormons actively discriminate against women, but rather what are you doing to make sure you are conscious of the ways in which the system to which you subscribe and the community in which you participate is doing less harm, more good, changing for the positive rather than the negative, etc. I’m not calling for liberal guilt–that’s totally ineffective. I’m calling for awareness and action to make things better, even if only a little bit. And things like gender inclusive language in the scriptures is something that both individuals and the institution could do in order to make positive changes to minimize harm and maximize good.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Come to put me in my place, eh, N. Curtis? If you are truly interested in the questions you ask at the end of your comment, I can think of several ways you could have asked it without arrogance.

      First of all, I want to thank Amelia for commenting so thoroughly above. I agree. Maybe you will listen to her better than my post, which is full of emotion and is meant to be inflammatory by it’s very nature. I want women who have been in my shoes to “wake up” when they read my experience. I can only thank other women who have been the wake up call for me when they told their stories.

      You say that everyone ran to my defense. Perhaps that is in the eye of the beholder. I didn’t ask for defense. I asked if other women who read here have had similar experiences while reading the BoM. Framing it that way says how YOU see this as a victim/abuser situation, something that I have worked my whole life to see and move past. I do feel like that is what sexism is like though, that it is abusive, yes. Do I blame my father for choosing to sexually abuse me? Yes. Do I blame the Church for keeping sexist language in the BoM, even though it damages women to their very core? Yes. Do take responsibility for what I made all of that mean in my life, my interpretation? Yes. I take responsibility for the story I tell myself, but not for the facts that are outside my control.

      • N. Curtis says:

        When I wrote that people ran to your defense, I did not intend to imply that (1) you need defending or (2) that their actions were a bad thing. If my post came off as arrogant, I apologize, that was not my intent.

        X2 has long been a place where people come to be heard. However, one of the consequences of being heard is also having to hear what others think about your point of view. Not everyone is going to agree, nor should everyone agree.

        Now, to follow on the conversation. You “blame the church for keeping sexist language in the BoM…”

        Should we then go back and rewrite all of our text to ensure equality is the only image portrayed in religious history?

        While we are at it, are there any other uncomfortable topics in the scriptures that we should sanitize?

        Maybe we can take out all that crap about Jesus performing miracles too. I mean, the example of Jesus sets a horribly unrealistic expectation for Christian men. I am expected to cure deadly diseases with a drop of oil and the random assignment of my genitalia. If we are going to do a rewrite, the miracles need to go too.

        Sarcasm aside, you are making generalizations in your argument that are not valid, “…damage women to their very core”. Only the individual can give power to those scriptures. True, society, family, and history encourage the individual to hand over that power, but in the end, only the individual can allow the scriptures to cause such great and long-lasting damage.

        Men and women have used the scriptures to perpetrate the sexist society in which we live. However, to say that the scriptures themselves “damage women to their very core” absolves both men and women from their sexist actions, and perpetrates the victim mentality by placing blame on an inanimate object that cannot be undone.

        In summary, if the sexist world did not have the scriptures as a tool with which to perpetrate misogyny, wouldn’t they just go find another book or tool to use as an excuse?

        From my perspective, it appears that you are still allowing the church and the scriptures to exert significant power over your life, just in a different way. Therefore, the question remaining for me is why do you allow the BoM (and the church for that matter) to continue to have such a great influence on your life?

      • Amelia says:

        Whose victim blaming now, N. Curtis? You. That’s who.

        Look I get your point. In theory I agree that individuals can, and often do, seize the right and authority to refuse others (other individuals, institutions, organizations, communities) the right or ability to do them harm. But reality is a hell of a lot more messy than you’re acknowledging here (and you’re being awfully arrogant as you’re making your case, even if you don’t realize it, simply by virtue of presenting this as such a clear cut case of “either you as the individual allow others to hurt you or you as the individual disallow them to hurt you”). Let’s take this comment for instance:

        Only the individual can give power to those scriptures. True, society, family, and history encourage the individual to hand over that power, but in the end, only the individual can allow the scriptures to cause such great and long-lasting damage.

        That’s just not true. If the individual came to the scriptures and the organization and the family as a fully formed individual, one that developed in an abstract vacuum in which only her internal character and desires shaped who she is and how she related to the world, then maybe (but only maybe) this statement would be true. But you’ve committed the fatal flaw of all individual rights proponents. The reality is that we do not develop in an abstract vacuum. We develop in relationship. And as such, no matter how much we want it to be otherwise, those relationships will always without exception have some ability to affect us. The best we can do is learn, as we continue living, to trust ourselves more and others less when those others have hurt us. But doing so is deeply problematic when those others have also loved us and blessed us and done us good. I love the church. I love it very much. It has been a source of a great deal of good in my life. I hate the church. I hate it very much. It has been the source of a great deal of pain and suffering in my life. I have, as I have gotten older and thought more about that double emotional reaction to the church, developed greater ability to distance myself from some of the aspects of the church that have hurt me. For instance, I consciously refused to participate in the rhetoric of valuing women and myself only for their marital and reproductive status. Yet I cannot get away from the fact that since probably before I was born, my family and my community marked me for a future as a wife and a mother, taught me to believe my worth lay in doing those things. That “truth” (that women are first and foremost wives and mothers) is inscribed so deeply in my psyche and my soul that it still can do me harm. Even after I have consciously rejected it, railed against it, and spent hours in therapy talking it through. Even after I have pursued countless years of education and begun developing a great career. Even after I have analyzed the attitude, found it wanting, and utterly rejected its truth claim and its right to hurt me. It still hurts me. Because I’m not just some abstract individual who can stand strong against all the ills in the world that buffet me. I am also a complicated human being living in relationship to others, dealing with weakness and sorrow, often lonely. And I cannot be honest and still deny that the church has the ability to hurt me.

        I also want to say that I understand that you’re engaging in a genuine conversation here, that you have these very real questions. But you’re doing so in a pretty abstracted, intellectual fashion. These things are not just intellectual and abstracted for me, or for kmillecam. They are deeply real. They have left me sobbing, my heart aching, my body weary. They have paralyzed me and left me depressed and wanting to do myself harm. They have damaged and altered and reshaped my relationship to my God and my family and my community. These are not just ideas. These problems and concepts are the stuff of my life and my body–so much that I’m crying as I type this just thinking of the anguish I’ve dealt with in the last ten years as I’ve struggled through dealing with them. So please understand that when you turn this into an intellectual exercise of challenging the claims that are being made, you’re not just challenging claims. You’re challenging lives and bodies and hearts and so much more. and you’re doing so as someone who does not have personal experience with those things, not in the same fashion in which we have. I’m not saying you’ve not had your own versions of sorrow and suffering. I’m sure you have (it’s pretty hard to be human and have never had such experiences); I’m just saying that as a man, especially one raised in the kind of progressive household you described, you haven’t had these kinds of utterly, gut-wrenchingly real, physical interactions with these issues.

      • Amelia says:

        Also, there is no such thing as a neutral man-made object. Objects are created with intention. While authorial intention is not the only determining factor in what an object means, it is certainly one contributing factor. And when that object is remade and remade and remade by the community that lays claim to it as a living aspect of its belief system, then it’s impossible to support the claim that what we have is a neutral object (scripture) used by flawed humans in flawed ways. That’s as unsupportable a distinction as the distinction between “institution” and “individuals.”

      • Kmillecam says:

        N. Curtis, I appreciate your apology.

        Let me be clear: my not wanting to hear what you have to say is not because it makes me uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable every time I bring this up, but I do it anyway because I think it’s important. And it’s not because we don’t agree, because I ultimately don’t care about you believe being different from what I believe. What I care about is where you swoop in with grand pronouncements about MY life, that I don’t see things the right way, that I don’t “get it”, that I’m just looking for a scapegoat in the church. Please. If you can’t see anything besides that, then that’s on you. You could see it if you wanted to. You’re very smart.

        What it comes down to is the inherent belief difference between us. I am tired. I don’t like explaining to everyone that I matter, that my experiences matter, that they make sense, that victim-blaming is real, that when you say things like “that [I am] still allowing the church and the scriptures to exert significant power over your life” it effectively erases me. You are ignoring what I am saying. You aren’t believing me when I tell you what I have lived through in my life. I assume it is because accepting that would change your perception of the church, so I understand why you can’t go there. But I won’t back down and say that I experienced something else just because you say that I am blaming the church so that my story fits into your perception of all the good the church does.

        And before you rush to correct me with “I’m erasing myself by giving power to your words”, think again. Consider that you are the one doing the erasing, and that it is nothing to do with me playing the victim, and everything to do with your refusal to really see who I really am and what my experience is.

        And to reduce it to “do I want other uncomfortable topics in the scriptures sanitized” really drives home the fact that this is an intellectual exercise for you, but what we are talking about is my very life. I absolutely reject your effort to make me take ALL the responsibility for the sexism in the BoM, when I have already explained the difference between blame and responsibility. I take ownership of my story about it, but not for the fact that it happened in the first place. I don’t know how much more clear I can be.

        I also remember you and you and I and my husband talked about this at the cabin several weeks ago, something that Amelia brought up in her comment above: if the church wants to take the credit for all the good that it gives to it’s members, then it has to take credit for the bad. Does the church influence or doesn’t it? If it’s a force for good in your life, then it’s just as much a force for bad in my life. You can’t split them up.

  21. N. Curtis says:

    Amelia – We should hang out some time. That is an artful and incredible response to my comment. You are right, I have a strong tendancy to intellectualize any and all discussions. I intentionally intellectualize to divorce problems and arguments from experience and emotion.

    The reason I try to stay away from experience and emotion is two-fold. (1) I have rarely seen issues resolved just by focusing on the emotional manifestations of a problem and (2) it is really hard to win arguments based on emotion and experience.

    On many occassions (and this is one of them) I come to realize through others that seperating issues, such as gender bias in scriptures, from the emotional manifestation of the issue fundamentally changes the argument and the problem in such a way that I unintentionally minimize the impact of the issue.

    Let me be clear. Gender bias in the scriptures is real and it is a real problem. In my opinion, gender bias in scripture is one of the greatest weapons in the sexist arsenal. By making the moral instruction manual for an entire society a sexist and male-centric transcript, the collective misogyny of our society has secured a place of dominance that has existed for thousands of years and will continue to exsist into the foreseeable future.

    The evil actions taken by powerful individuals throughout history that cite the scriptures as a justice for their oppressive ambitions are one of the greatest religious travesty to ever occur.

    It is unreasonable for me to debate the emotion and experience. Every once in a while I catch a glimps of what it feels like to be a women in an oppressive religion. Your post was one of those rare moments. It reminds again that feminism is not my torch, nor my burden. I do what I can, but it is virtually impossible for me to be committed to the cause in the same way you all are.

    That being said. As one of the guys, I am, by default, part of the gender group that caused the problem. Now that we have worked through this a bit, I think I can more clearly articulate where I see an issue in the argument.

    When white men are hurt either systemically or individually by a societal or community injustice, then the expection of those men is that they “get over it”. I have had horrific things happen in my life. We all have. But society tells me that I need to do whatever it takes to deal with those bad events, make it right and keep going. I think this expectation is what the term “victim blaming” is intended to capture (feel free to correct me on that if I am wrong, it is a new term to me).

    While my definition is overly simplistic for this discussion, and something I don’t agree with myself, I present it only for clarification. Men, and particularly white men, are expected to survive, not complain, and forge ahead just by virtue of the superior position we created for ourselves.

    To flip it, if I were to start a blog or paper detailing out all of the unreal expectations set for white males by our society everyone would likely view that production as comedic. However, is it fair that since the day I was born, I was expected to earn a graduate degree, achieve at least upper-middle class economic status even it it means not doing what I love, be the sole provider for 2-15 people, be a civic leader, be unbeatable at any sport , exhibit extreme intelligence in every discipline, don’t cheat, but beat all the cheaters, lead lead lead, Duty to God, Eagle Boy Scout, deacon, teacher, priest, mission, president, bishop, avoid fights – but win all fights you can’t avoid, be straight – even if you are gay, be the shoulder, the pillar, the rock, the protector, take all of the blame, but none of the credit, and above all, don’t cry? A Mormon male oppression blog, now that is comedy.

    Do a search, they are out there, and every single one of them has to be funny. If they tried to be serious about it, no one would listen to the panseys.

    So why are feminist allowed to dwell on the oppression, while the men just need to dig a little deeper under their load?

    • Amelia says:

      That’s a completely valid question, N. And I for one don’t find it comical or laughable or an invalid project to be asking these kinds of very real and very important questions about gender. In fact, the paper I presented last week at Sunstone about popular romance and gender was meant to be an exploration of how the conventions of popular romance allow their male leads to break out of socially enforced gender constructs (though I ran out of time and didn’t get to make my point very fully).

      I’ve been saying this for years and I still say it. The reality is that our society is every bit as sexist in its attitudes towards and treatment of men as it is of treatment of and attitudes towards women. And I don’t believe we’ll make the strides we need to make towards gender equity without dealing with that sexism against men, and doing so in a serious fashion. However, we can’t do that without an ongoing conversation about women’s roles and feminism. For instance, we can’t change the nature of the workplace and “provider” expectations so long as we continue to use a phrase like “work/life balance” as code for “working mom issues,” which it almost invariably is. And that’s just one small example. There’s a hell of a long way to go before we hit anything like real gender equity. In my mind, gender equity is about allowing every individual regardless of their biological sex or their sexual orientation the space in which to determine the shape of their own life and character. It’s about autonomy and self-realization. And allowing men real autonomy and self-realization would directly address many of the problems you identify. The problem is that we have a very culturally embedded notion of what autonomy and self-realization look like, so that what white men in western civilization already have matches up to our cultural notion of what those things mean.

      As for the larger point you’ve been trying to make about not allowing one’s family/culture/community/religion the power to hurt oneself–well that’s just a form of exactly what you’re saying your society does to you as a white man. You’re saying, essentially, “grow up and get over it.” If it’s not okay that our society says that to you, it’s not okay for you to say it to others. I understand your point about the basic inequality of it being permissible for women to cry foul when they are hurt in sexist ways while the same is not permissible for men and it’s a very real complaint. However, our solutions should not be to make women have to submit to the same problematic social structures men have to submit to; the solution should instead be to recognize the discrepancy (as you have) and propose something that addresses it for both parties, rather than making both parties suffer from the same bad circumstances.

      As for arguing from the intellect or the emotion–that’s a tough one. The most successful arguments must engage all three of the traditional branches of rhetoric–pathos, ethos, and logos. When they are weighted disproportionately, then the arguments don’t work. They can’t be all pathos (emotion); such arguments are almost always unreliable. But if they are all logos (logic), they are just as unreliable because they fail to take into consideration the very real lived costs that individuals and whole communities or groups encounter. And ethos is only viable insofar as the pathos and the logos demonstrates the reliability of the speaker. So there has to be all three for an argument to succeed. What I was seeing happen in your comments was far too much logos abstracted from pathos.

      I also want to respond to this:

      I have had horrific things happen in my life. We all have. But society tells me that I need to do whatever it takes to deal with those bad events, make it right and keep going. I think this expectation is what the term “victim blaming” is intended to capture (feel free to correct me on that if I am wrong, it is a new term to me).

      You’re sort of on the right track here. Victim blaming has something to do with telling people to just get over it already. But that’s not entirely it. In your scenario, at least your society recognizes that you have been harmed. Its response is not at all a good response. Telling someone to “just get over it” is rarely an effective mechanism for fostering healing and growth. Victim blaming is much more pernicious. It’s telling someone who has shared their experience of being hurt that they are themselves to blame for that hurt. Which is essentially what you do when you say that people hurt by scripture (tradition, culture, church, etc.) are granting the scriptures or whatever the power to hurt them. You’re essentially saying “you’re hurting because you’re hurting yourself.” Sorta like when a woman gets raped and the response is “well, she dressed like she wanted it,” with the unavoidable implication being that it’s her own fault that she was hurt. The difference between that and what you describe is in some ways very subtle. After all, implicit in an assignation of blame for hurt done is an acknowledgment that hurt happened. However, in your scenario is the idea that others recognize the justness of your claim to have been harmed, even if they then tell you you’re responsible for getting over it and not letting the hurt continue. In victim blaming, there’s not even that very small moment of acknowledging the justness of the victim’s claim to having been hurt because she was always already at the root of her own hurt. If only she had dressed more modestly, or not gone out alone, or not been kissing that boy, or whatever, she would not have been hurt in the first place. I’ve gendered this distinction because the best example of victim blaming (and most egregious) is the way in which our culture regularly blames women for their own sexual assaults and rapes (and this happens all the time), but there are certainly ways in which men are victims of this practice, too.

      • N. Curtis says:

        Again, excellent and articulate.

        Thanks for insight on victim blaming. I have a follow-up question on that.

        My 6-year old consistently believes that any punishment or bad experience he has is someone elses fault. In his mind, he honestly believes that he has never done anything wrong or stupid. So he gets angry at the perceived perpetrator of his bad experience (usually Emily or myself) instead of his misbehavior or bad decisions.

        Hopefully, Asher will grow out of this, most people do. However, as I get older, I see that many people never really stop blaming others for their situation.

        They may learn to not express those feelings in public forums, but I think that to varying degrees many people want to be the victim.

        I understand that we must make great efforts to protect and shelter victims, but how do we do so without creating a place for that compassion to be abused?

        (and I don’t see or know anyone on these boards who I think does this. This is purely a tangental conversation.)

    • Amelia says:

      Also, I’d love to hang out sometime, if I ever make it down your way or if you and E. make it up my way. I’m sure it would be a good time.

  22. N. Curtis says:

    “What I care about is where you swoop in with grand pronouncements about MY life, that I don’t see things the right way, that I don’t ‘get it’.”

    I never said you don’t get it. I never made any grand pronouncements about your life. I stated a concern that I have for you as your friend.

    “…that I’m just looking for a scapegoat in the church.”

    I also never said this, and if I did anything to imply this concept I apologize. I do not think you use the church as a scapegoat. Some people do, but I have never seen you take actions and claim the church made you do it.

    “When you say things like “that [I am] still allowing the church and the scriptures to exert significant power over your life” it effectively erases me.”

    I can see your point, and it is valid. I did not intend to minimize or explain away your position. However, as your friend, I do worry that you are giving the church just as much, or even more power over your life in your opposition as you did in your participation.

    I have seen others go down that path, and for some of them it ended up being a dark, miserable and lonely place. Whether or not this is actually happening is a question only you can answer. I only made that statement out of concern for you. It was a risky statement for me to make, if I had known it would offend, I would have kept it to myself, or talked to you about it privately. I apologize.

    “You are ignoring what I am saying. You aren’t believing me when I tell you what I have lived through in my life. I assume it is because accepting that would change your perception of the church, so I understand why you can’t go there.”

    This is simply not true, and somewhat insulting. I have clearly stated several times my belief that gender-bias in the scriptures is a real and serious problem. Furthermore, I have never said anything that you have lived through is either false or less than accurate. I do accept that your experiences have been painful, horrible and life-changing.

    However, that does not mean I need to change my perception or belief in the church. Simply put, the church is not black or white. It is not all good or all bad. Just as with everything in life, including people, the church is a complex and shifting field grays. Your words indicate that you think I have never had a crisis of faith, that I somehow cannot comprehend your point of view because I don’t want to agree with you. That saddens me.

    I have never questioned the truthfulness of your words. I have never questioned your life-story. I believe that virtually everything you have shared with me is true, but I still choose to believe that the world is a better place with the church than without (even if that is not a defendable position). I still choose to believe the Christ-story and the Smith story. I do not see any reason why both your life-story and the religion cannot both be true and accurate.

    “do I want other uncomfortable topics in the scriptures sanitized” really drives home the fact that this is an intellectual exercise for you, but what we are talking about is my very life.”

    You said that you, “blame the Church for keeping sexist language in the BoM”. The only way for the church to fix that problem is to either stop using the BoM or change the wording. Unless you just want to blame, but leave no room for correction. You opened the door on that one. I just walked through.

    “if the church wants to take the credit for all the good that it gives to it’s members, then it has to take credit for the bad. Does the church influence or doesn’t it? If it’s a force for good in your life, then it’s just as much a force for bad in my life. You can’t split them up.”

    Your conclusion here was the same position I took when debating with your husband. You cannot separate the good from the bad with any institution and especially religious institutions. Therefore, you cannot make broad and generalized conclusions about those same institutions. It is impossible to defend the argument that the Mormon church is, as a whole, good. For the same reason, you cannot defend the argument that the Mormon church is, as a whole, bad. You CAN defend personal statements (such as Amelia’s), regarding the church as you just did. In your life, the church is a force of bad. In my life, it is a force of good. It’s the same church, so you and I must be different. I am ok with that.

    • Kmillecam says:

      “This is simply not true, and somewhat insulting. I have clearly stated several times my belief that gender-bias in the scriptures is a real and serious problem.”

      I apologize for assuming what I did, and that you found it insulting. I truly didn’t mean to insult you, and I see that what I was seeing wasn’t what you were experiencing.

      “Furthermore, I have never said anything that you have lived through is either false or less than accurate. I do accept that your experiences have been painful, horrible and life-changing.”

      You say that you haven’t said that, but here: “From my perspective, it appears that you are still allowing the church and the scriptures to exert significant power over your life, just in a different way.”, you seem to be saying that it’s my own fault for letting the scriptures hurt me, that I’m just giving my power away again. If I am currently allowing the church/scriptures to exert significant power over my life, then that implies that my OP was less than accurate and/or false. I hope that wasn’t your intent to say that.

      “I do not think you use the church as a scapegoat. Some people do, but I have never seen you take actions and claim the church made you do it.”

      So the measured way that I approach Mormonism isn’t enough? I am very careful to only relay my own personal experiences, and to frame them as such. Even though I don’t use the church as a scapegoat, I still get the typical apologist arguments of “what about all the good the church does”, as if the church needs defending because I am using it as a scapegoat? That doesn’t work for me. I don’t think it’s a terrific jump for me to hear you say “KM concludes that she was damaged” and think that what you are getting at is that the church didn’t mean it, or something. Or that because they do a lot of good, we should let them off the hook for the real pain they do cause.

      I’m not saying that the church doesn’t do good. I am saying that the male-centric language in the BoM isn’t a good thing for women in general, especially women who experience reading the BoM the same way I did. How exactly is that giving power to the scriptures to point out the sexism? To say that I don’t want other women to do through this? To say that my experience was painful? I don’t think that I have to be devoid of emotion about how this feels in order to prove that I am not giving my power over to the scriptures or the church, which is what I think you are saying: that I must choose one or the other? Am I reading that wrong?

      “…you cannot make broad and generalized conclusions about those same institutions. It is impossible to defend the argument that the Mormon church is, as a whole, good. For the same reason, you cannot defend the argument that the Mormon church is, as a whole, bad. You CAN defend personal statements (such as Amelia’s), regarding the church as you just did. In your life, the church is a force of bad. In my life, it is a force of good. It’s the same church, so you and I must be different. I am ok with that.”

      We are in agreement. But, it seems like you think that I am saying that the church IS a force for bad as a whole, when I have never said that here. I HAVE said, specifically, that I have problems with sexism in the church, victim-blaming in the church, and other similar issues. Just because I am talking about one specific “bad” issue in the church, doesn’t mean that I do in fact believe that the church is a force for bad as a whole. But even THEN, whether or not I think that personally is beside the point when I am talking specifically about gender bias in the scriptures, because I was never arguing that because there is gender bias in the BoM that the church is generally bad. You made that jump, not me.

      “I only made that statement out of concern for you.” and “I stated a concern that I have for you as your friend.” are definitely well-meaning statements, but I have to tell you that they are also condescending. They sound less like concern and more like correcting, which is insulting because the OP was all about my own perception of being a woman and an abuse survivor, reading the BoM, and sustaining damage because of it.

      That said, I realize that it’s possible that I am giving this power over to the scriptures but if A) that’s true, then it doesn’t mean that my story/argument is false and/or that the church shouldn’t do something about it, and B) if that’s not true, then I am no longer someone to have concern over. That doesn’t make sense to me.

      I also know that you are my friend and that you care about me, and I thank you for that. I hope you don’t mind the back and forth (I’m assuming not??), as this is very helpful for me to flesh out more of what I am getting at, and to understand where you are coming from.

      • N. Curtis says:

        You know there is nothing I like more than vigorous debate. One of the hard things about debate online is that we lack the visual clues that signal a transition from personal discussion to global discussion.

        This makes it very difficult for each of us to discern when statements are intended to be personalized and when statements are intended to be global.

        On rare occasion you and I will make global statements like, “the church is bad.” or, “the church is good.” and we are both quick to concede the errors when we make them.

        I did not intend my comments regarding global conclusions about institutions to be personal, but rather philisophical. However, my sloppy writing did not clarify a transition from personal to global conversation.

        I always become concerned when people I care about decide to separate from the church because in a very sneaky way, people separate without actually leaving the church. In those instances, the damage done from a dysfunctional religion experience can become compounded instead of corrected.

        But again, that is an intensly personal experience that I can neither judge nor identify. I just worry.

  23. EBrown says:

    The Catholic church has recently revised the language of the Liturgy. Much of what the new translation appears to do is remove the rather weak efforts of the previous translation at inclusive language. “The translators should maintain in the translation the same person, number and gender as in the original (LA, 57b).” Note that the “original” is neither Greek nor Hebrew but Latin. What the Bishops are declaring is that the Liturgical language will now be a direct translation of the Latin, regardless of the actual meaning in the language of translation! Needless to say, when a translation is made from a gendered language where every noun has gender to an language like English when very few nouns have gender, and where, indeed, gender is almost exclusively reserved to sentient beings, the emphasis is heightened. For example, “for us men and our salvation” seems to exclude women entirely from the salvific benefits of the Incarnation. While at one time, “men” might have included “women,” it is no longer true. I would argue that it was never true but that’s another story.

  24. Gillian says:

    In pondering this post and how I felt about these issues and ideas, along with researching ‘women in the scriptures’ for an upcoming RS lesson, I came across this essay from the Maxwell Institute titled ‘Women in the Book of Morman’, by Camille Williams. Thought I’d share the link- it’s quite lengthy but well worth the read as it addresses quite a number of issues and has great references.
    http://www.immobile.byu.edu/?m=5&table=jbms&vol=11&num=1&id=291

  1. August 11, 2011

    […] post about Gender Bias in the Book of Mormon, and the DoM podcast that inspired her post, got me thinking about other ways that language is used […]

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