Guest Post: Meetings — The Hidden Agenda
by Nate Curtis
(Nate Curtis is a father of three, and husband of one. Nate lives in Phoenix, Arizona and working at a really fun job that is also really boring to talk about.)
A few weeks ago, EmilyCC received a message from a friend and fellow feminist that is going through a trial. EmilyCC shared with me (anonymously – I have no idea who this woman is) a message in which this woman described the ordeal she was facing. EmilyCC shared this message with me because she was deeply affected by this sister’s plight.
As I read the message, I felt completely differently. I found myself thinking, “Why does she want her bishop and stake president to beat up on her? She is almost asking for them to emotionally destroy her. Does she want to by martyred for the feminist cause?” I was shocked at myself. How could I, a professed male feminist, and one who was raised, indoctrinated and married into feminist faithful so quickly conclude that this woman was “asking for it”?
Determined to get to the bottom of this gaping hole in my feminist armor, I started carefully examining why this sister’s cry for help was soliciting blatantly misogynistic conclusions from me. After carefully rereading her message to EmilyCC, I realized that she had no hope that any good would come from this meeting. Her lack of hope is why I wrongly concluded that she wanted to be abused.
Forgive me for a moment of “mansplaining” feminists know this, but it was a moment of revelation for me. When men go to a meeting, and especially a church meeting, there is hope for progress. (by “meeting” I mean when 2 or more people get together to decide on a course of action and/or resolve a dispute). Furthermore, we go to church meetings and defer the decision-making authority to someone at the meeting (usually a bishop) because we know that one day, we might be that authority figure, and we want everyone else to accept our decisions when/if that day comes.
For women, church leadership meetings mean they sit and listen to men make decisions. Even when a woman’s input does influence the decision process, it does so in the shadow of a “worthy” man who is allied with the woman and champions the cause on her behalf. Women have been conditioned to behave this way not just in church meetings, but in business meetings as well. Men and women approach meetings with radically different views that have been established and reinforced for generations both in and out of the church.
I am embarrassed to say that never realized how deeply the hopelessness that results from the meeting bias goes in Mormon women’s individual and collective psyche.
After coming to this realization, I revisited the message from this sister to Emily. Of course a woman, faced with the prospect of meeting with two male religious authorities who “love” her would be terrified and defeated. She has been taught since she was a child that in such meetings she has no power, control or influence. Her belief structure dictates that by even going to this meeting she is submitting to the will of her male religious authority. How wrong is that?
I finally begin to understand a friend’s description of her church disciplinary counsel as, “…being gang-raped by Carebears.”
The root of this problem is that men typically view meetings as battles and women typically do not.
This form of combat is not always against an “enemy” per se. For example, I attended bishopric meetings for years. In those meetings, the bishop would ask his counselors for their advice on various issues. The bishop would then make a decision that usually favored the advice from one of his counselors. In that interaction, the favored counselor was the victor over the other even though there is no traditional “enemy”. The benefits for the victorious counselor include self-confidence, church standing, and reputation-building. Most church leadership meetings are battles similar to this.
In the Art of War, one of Tzu’s main themes is that the outcome of a battle is decided in the preparation for the fight, and not the fight itself. In preparing for meetings men build weapons to help them achieve victory. Here is a short list of some of the more universal and effective weapons that men (including myself) use in meetings.
- Write and distribute an agenda – Whoever controls the agenda controls the meeting.
- Record the meeting – Honor dictates that men will not lie or go back on their word if they know a record is kept.
- Bring allies – Often, the party with the most combatants wins.
- Divide your adversary – This weakens their confidence and credibility.
- Role play – practice the meeting ahead of time.
I could write a book on each of these weapons, and many people have done just that. There are several lawyers here, they will recognize that these tools are used daily in the legal field which is the formal meeting/battle format. I personally use all of these weapons in most meetings both in and out of the church.
Men have designed the meeting/battle system because it favors our gender. Generally, men prefer to fight. Men want a clear victor in any conflict, we want to solve problems, and resolve conflict. The meeting/battle system is effective, but either by design, or by circumstance, this system does not generally favor women.
In conclusion, my questions are:
- Why don’t Mormon Feminist, who recognize the unfair nature of the meeting/battle system, change nature of the battle by showing up to meetings armed with the same weapons that men use?
- How would the male-centric meeting/battle system of resolving disputes and making decisions change when women are in charge?