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?