Life Is Not A Zero Sum Game

Posted by on January 8, 2013 in feminism, Gender roles, manhood, priesthood | 34 comments

I know that it sometimes seems like it is—that it sometimes seems like someone else’s gain automatically signifies my loss, but it is not like that. Or, at least it is not always like that, or not in the things that matter most. This is true on individual levels as well as institutional levels. For instance, men’s gain does not need to mean women’s loss, as women’s gain does not need to mean men’s loss. It doesn’t.

When things are done right, everyone gains: when things are done poorly, no one does. One of the best examples of this in a religious context is set forth by renowned feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether in a direct dialogue with Mormon theology. Straight from a paper I once wrote:

Ruether “engages in a critique of patriarchal images and concepts of God,” as well as “in a re-visioning of God-language inclusive of women and men.” She began by stating her view of the problem of patriarchal God-language. She did this not to suggest that “the traditional patriarchal language for God has been fine for men but has excluded women, so we need some additional feminine language for God,” but to emphasize that “language for God that subordinates women is detrimental to men as well.” Subordinating language “distorts and limits the humanity of men as much as it does the humanity of women,” for a “God who is alienating and dehumanizing to women is harmful to everyone, and even to the well-being of the planet earth itself.”


Again, a gain for one is a gain for everyone, and a loss for one is a loss for everyone. This is why it is so puzzling for me to hear statements that “feminists hate men,” want men’s demise, or any other such thing. In my experience, that is not the case at all: the feminists I know love men. And women. And children. They often fight for women’s rights because women are often the ones lacking rights. But (and this is an important But), this does not mean that feminists do not want men to keep the rights that they do have. In almost every case, they want men and women to share the same rights—not more, nor less for either.* Thus, it is not taking away rights, benefits, etc., from men to given to women; it is giving to both equally. It is a desire for all to succeed, and a belief that it is possible.

I thought of these things again recently while sitting on a living room couch and catching the tail end of the movie “Enchanted.” One of the individuals I was with had not seen it before, and interpreted the only scenes he saw (aka: the “true love’s kiss” and the heroine saving the male “damsel in distress”) quite differently than me: he saw them as evidence of Elder Christofferson’s most recent General Conference talk about the media’s denigration of men, while I saw them as a very welcome shift, and a great tie to one of the earlier scenes in the movie, where the leading gent’s young daughter is given a gift about brave, smart women through history.

I was troubled by our different perspectives, and tried to get to the bottom of it. Later I asked my fellow viewer if he believed that both men and women are in need of saving, or more simply: occasionally in need of helping. He answered in the affirmative. Then I asked if he believed that women can sometimes do that saving/helping for men, as men can sometimes do for women. Again, he answered yes. Next I asked if he had daughters, if he would want them to be smart, and strong, and brave. He answered resolutely that he would want all of those things for his daughters. So I asked him what the problem was.

His problem was not that the females in the film were portrayed as brave, smart, and heroic, but that the males weren’t. It didn’t bother him that the women (or woman and girl) were strong, but that they were strong (from his perspective) at the expense of men. At this point, I quickly reminded him that he has not viewed the whole movie, and that the lead male was not portrayed as weak throughout, as he suspected, before asking him how he would have preferred the scene to play out. This is where this tale connects to my original points, because his answer was a great answer: he would have liked to see both the woman and man yielding swords, overcoming the wicked witch-turned-dragon together. I am pretty sure that I would have liked that too.

I still insist and acknowledge that there are times when a man needs help, just as there are times when a women needs help, and am still profoundly grateful for “Enchanted’s” rare and precious gem exemplifying the first. However, I insist as emphatically that women’s strength or rights do not need to come from men’s weakness or lack of rights. All can win. Really.

This also makes me ask more questions, but to myself now, and to you, instead of only my fellow viewer. What would it look like if other’s successes were our successes? What would it look like if other’s losses were our losses? To me it would look like covenants fulfilled: rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. Among other (specific) things, it would further be desiring all persons in an LDS context to have their voices and words matter, and for their hands (and hearts) to have opportunities to heal. As for me and my house, we would much, much rather live in a world where things are good for men, women, and children.

*Neither does this desire for equality signify that feminists want women to be the same as men, or for men to be the same as women. That idea is bad logic that I simply don’t have time to go into now.

 

Related posts:

34 Comments

  1. Great post. When I was a BYU student, I took a Theories in the Social Sciences class. My teacher presented what was titled, Gender/Power Theory. He talked about how men have traditionally held the power in our society and how women wanted power too. But the problem with the feminists’ approach is that it just shifts the power to women and doesn’t solve the problem of the imbalance of power.

    I sat in my seat a bit stunned. He seemed to be suggesting that we should just leave things the way they are. How is leaving men with the power better or worse then giving women the power? Why couldn’t we work towards a balance of power? The readings assigned for the section were equally confusing. There were some selections from feminist’ texts that talked about the problems with a patriarchal society. Then there were some writings from the professor and GAs about how the church’s patriarchy wasn’t like the world’s patriarchy so it didn’t have the same problems. But there was no explanation of how the church’s patriarchy was different from the world’s patriarchy.

    • Thank you, Beatrice. I think that you are right that a “balance” of power is key. It can be difficult to even envision what that might be, when we have had so many bad examples of what it is not.

      I also agree with you (and Holly) that the professors assertion that women want ALL the power is incorrect. My guess is that it feels like that to some men who have grown accustomed to having the leg up in terms of power. It also explains the occasional article decrying the “war on men.”

      It surely would have been more interesting to discuss similarities and differences with the form’s of patriarchy. I wonder if there can be a “good” form of patriarchy. Part of me feels yes, because I have a fabulous father and a grandfather, who a little bit help me envision what that might be, but it is still tricky. Why not a real patriarchy-matriarchy/matriarchy-patriarchy?

    • Yes, the church’s hierarchy is different, because it is not a hierarchy of “power” at all, but a hierarchy of service. It is also good to understand the difference between power as compulsion and power as virtue. Compulsion is actually the abuse of power and “fear masquerading as strength.” (thank you, Bonaro Overstreet)

  2. I realize that you present a summarized conversation and that there were no doubt nuances that escape anyone who wasn’t there, but I don’t trust the guy or his claims. At all. His claim that “he would have liked to see both the woman and man yielding swords, overcoming the wicked witch-turned-dragon together” is probably true, but I bet one reason it’s true is that in such a situation, he still would have perceived the man as being in charge, in precisely the ways Mormon marriage is an inexplicably “equal partnership” where men STILL have more power, prestige, and authority than women.

    I think it’s pretty instructive that based on seeing a few moments of a movie in which a woman is brave, strong, heroic and smart, he assumed that she had those traits “at the expense of men. ” HE seems to be the one viewing this as a zero sum game.

    It’s heartbreaking to me that men who claim to be women’s allies can’t even tolerate some experimentation with various stories about what female empowerment looks like. After how many centuries of patriarchy getting it wrong, we’re supposed to get everything right from the start? Why couldn’t he use those few minutes of film to think about what how girls and women feel when they view they overwhelming majority of our current and historical media?

    Beatrice @1

    But the problem with the feminists’ approach is that it just shifts the power to women and doesn’t solve the problem of the imbalance of power.

    Really? Can you cite one single text where feminists say that women should hold all positions of power of in our government, military, and financial institutions? Do LDS feminists who call for female ordination say we should get rid of male ordination? Do married feminists say that all men should stay at home and do housework while women are the sole breadwinners, and do female feminists who are primary breadwinners in their homes refuse to help out around the house?

    Here we see another example of the problem: women claiming ANY power is perceived as a naked grab for ALL the power, a move that somehow leaves men weak and irrelevant. There’s absolutely so evidence that this is the intention, there’s no evidence that it’s happening and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not, but hey, you have to find a way to blame women for any problem when it comes to gender. The world is never generous in giving women power or authority, but it loves to hand them all the blame.

    • Holly, thanks for commenting. There was a bit more nuance to the conversation, as well as more nuance in my understanding of this particular male’s viewpoints on gender roles, equality, and power. With that said, I share your concerns, and wrote this post almost exclusively for him. One of my many (likely ambitious) hopes, is that he would see that it doesn’t need to be a Zero sum game from either angle. He still sees women’s successes as a little threatening, and because of my relationship to him, it is troubling to me.

      Do you have any suggestions or examples of ways that I can better explain that feeling threatened isn’t the right response? Is it simply that because men Have had privilege for so long, that any attempt to even the playing field feels like we are taking something away?

      • I share your concerns, and wrote this post almost exclusively for him.

        Out of curiosity, you know if he’s reading this?

        Do you have any suggestions or examples of ways that I can better explain that feeling threatened isn’t the right response? Is it simply that because men Have had privilege for so long, that any attempt to even the playing field feels like we are taking something away?

        But depending on his real motivation, feeling threatened might actually be the right response. If, as I suspect, he’s not really interested in equality or justice and wants to protect men’s privileged status, then feeling threatened IS the right response. Feminists DO want to deprive men of power. We ARE taking something away from men.

        Feminism is a threat to men on many levels, because as it levels the playing field, that means that people who’ve had it easy will have to work harder. For instance, feminism is a threat to the ease with which men, especially mediocre men, get into medical school or law school or whatever, or finds a job once they graduate. Because as smarter women compete for positions normally reserved for men, it will be harder for the less intelligent men to achieve them.

        If, on the other hand, he wants justice and equality, he’ll figure out how to work through his sense that feminism poses a threat to his remarkable and naive belief that he should never be subjected to a depiction of a man who is weaker than a woman. He’ll do this because he recognizes that in the cause of justice, there are more important concerns than his personal comfort or welfare. He can’t claim to be a supporter of justice if he’s not at all willing to sacrifice for the cause of achieving it, if he thinks it should occur without any cost to him.

        So basically, find a way to convey to him, as directly or diplomatically as you see fit, that that much about his position is morally and intellectually deficient, to the point of self-deception.

        You could then point out that men stand to gain a lot from feminism, including freedom from rigid gender roles, as well as better marriages and better sex, since studies have indicated that feminists have more stable and successful marriages, get laid more often in marriage and have more orgasms. If he cares about that.

      • that’s annoying, that the last three letters of my name got cut off. I don’t actually self-identify as a ho.

      • Holly, I fixed the moniker to say “Holly” not “Ho.”

      • I have a magnificent Hindu friend, who in writing the following may have given a clue as to what this kind of balancing may look like:

        “Deep within the man is the female, and deep within the female is the man. By hurting the other we hurt ourselves.
        Where a woman is worshiped by men the land flourishes. Where a woman embraces man in her entirety, deep wounds in man can heal.”
        –Satyajit K.T.

        I don’t know about you, but I can feel his words from head to toe.

  3. Whoops, I realize that I didn’t clarify in my comment that the professor was the one who was claiming that the feminist approach is to shift power to women.

    I heartily disagree that this is a mischaracterization of the feminist movement.

  4. I heartily *agree* that this is a mischaracterization of the feminist movement.

    • thanks for the clarification, Beatrice. I admit that element of your comment really threw me for a loop.

  5. Holly, I’m not sure how to respond directly to your comment above, so I am responding here.

    I know for certain that he heard the content, because I read it to him not-too-many-minutes after writing it. I asked him if he felt I represented his opinions and concerns well, and his first answer was that I did, and his second was that the post was “beautiful.” We talked more about it and it was a good discussion. In general I think he really does want good things for women, including equality and justice, but sometimes misses the mark of what that means, or acts/speaks/thinks first from “the natural man” that doesn’t want to let go of privilege. Thankfully his willingness and ability to actually listen to the other point and think things through is strong, which is why I felt writing something might actually make a positive difference in the first place, and I think it has.

    Thank you too for your additional thoughts about the changes–positive and negative–that Can occur from feminism.

  6. I love this conversation. It seems like there are two ways of looking at this . 1) the Rosemary Radford Ruether way — that patriarchy hurts everyone, distorts the humanity of all. Thus feminist principles help both men and women lead more authentic and less constricting lives. 2) (voiced by Holly) that patriarchy does benefit men, and thus feminism does actually threaten men’s position of privilege, since it aims for a leveling out. As women gain rights and privileges they should have had to begin with, men must let go of privileges and rights they should never have had in the first place.

    I think both of these are simultaneously true, though that seems a bit contradictory. I’m trying to reconcile in my mind how both these are true, and i’m coming up with this. Patriarchy provides short-term temporal benefits to men (power, prestige, etc.) But it doesn’t help them become the humans they should become — ones dedicated to justice and fairness. Therefore, taking the long view, patriarchy stunts big picture human development of both men and women, even though it gives short term benefits to men.

    Rachel, I love this post, and I love that Ruether quote. Like you, I have the conviction that a more just and fair world is ultimately good for everybody.

    • I think both ways are true too. Specifically, I think patriarchy offers some benefits and some costs to men so evening things out will lead to both losses and gains. For example, the expectation to be the primary breadwinner offers some benefits (men are treated more seriously in school and work settings, are likely to be paid more than women, and don’t get penalized for having children) and some costs (pressure to provide for the whole family, being treated like a failure if you can’t get a job, etc). Additionally, it is likely that that the balance of benefits and the costs vary a lot from person to person. Thus, evening the playing field would mean a lot of costs for some men, but a lot of benefits for others.

  7. Let me offer this correction: “patriarchy does benefit men” is not an adequate summary of my position. Rather, I argue that patriarchy simultaneously helps and hurts EVERYONE. On a basic level, once a system is in place, it benefits everyone in that there is a system, however flawed, rather than chaos. Patriarchy obviously rewards, however meagerly, women as they actively support it. It also rewards the women it values most highly–women who are young, attractive, fertile (but not too fertile) and affluent–with greater wealth and status.

    The question is not IF it helps anyone, but WHOM it helps, WHY, and AT WHAT COST. I am a feminist because I believe that whatever the benefits of patriarchy, it helps too few people, for reasons that are based on and perpetuate injustice, and that it does so at the cost of a great deal of unnecessary human suffering. I believe that getting rid of patriarchy will be both costly and hard, but worth it in the long run.

    • I guess that should be “Patriarchy also rewards the women it values most highly–women who are young, attractive, fertile (but not too fertile) and affluent–with THE POTENTIAL FOR greater wealth and status,” since it’s not like you instantly become rich if you’re 18 and super cute. But you are likely to make better tips if you’re a young, cute waitress than an old (and therefore automatically) less attractive one. Attractive people are more likely to receive job offers, earn more money, etc. Attractive men are also rewarded for being attractive, but the range for what is considered physically attractive is broader for men, and factors unrelated to physical beauty are more readily acknowledged as contributing to overall male attractiveness.

      In fact, traits that make men attractive–strength, intelligence, determination–are sometimes considered downright repulsive in women. Likewise, weakness and foolishness make men unattractive, though they have often been considered assets for women. So to return to the OP, even though I don’t think “Enchanted” makes men weak and foolish at the expense of women, a happily-ever-after romance where women are attractive even though they are strong, intelligent and valiant and men are attractive even though they are weak, foolish and fearful might actually be a very good thing. It could demonstrate that we can be loved and desired even if we are not able to live up to social and gender ideals.

      But of course the assumption of the guy was that a man who was weak or foolish could never be attractive, not that a man, like a woman, could be attractive simply if physically pretty. That’s patriarchy shaping his ideas not just of men and women, but of what is necessary to his own desirability. You’d think he’d want some help challenging and expanding that.

  8. Rachel, I’m impressed that you persevered in this conversation.

    I hope this example is helpful. Lately, both Nate and I have noticed that while both of us work towards an egalitarian marriage, I have taken on a lot of extra work, and he hasn’t.

    Housework is an easy way to demonstrate this. His idea was that I should make a list of the housework that I wanted him to do. But, that’s more work for me to get his help. And, it told me that the work I was doing wasn’t important enough to be noticed and valued.

    It wasn’t until he started asking himself the question, “Where can I contribute?” without preconceived notions of what I, the SAHM should do, and he, the primary breadwinner should do. I wonder if that question would be helpful to ask as we all work for equality in the Church…if a woman served as an executive secretary for the bishop, might that free up a man to be the Primary chorister, particularly if that’s where both their talents could be best used?

  9. I’m so impressed with this essay. I know that conversation well, it’s been had at my house a time or two ;)

    It’s nice to see movies that give women a powerful role. At the suggestion of many of my feminist friends, I’ve started watching Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and aside from some of the dated qualities of the show, it is very empowering to see a teenage girl who can save the planet from bad guys/girls.

    • Thank you, Jessawhy. :) It can be a tiring conversation to have, but hopefully can also be worthwhile.

      So empowering. It is one of many reasons why I love Mraynes’ recent post extolling that women need to see women in deity and in theology: http://www.the-exponent.com/a-god-like-me/. It really does matter.

  10. A great post – and a topic I’ve thought a lot about. I totally agree that what is good for men is good for women and what is good for women is good for men.

    Over the last few years, I’ve heard others say that Mormon men stay more active in the church than other men do in other religions because their Priesthood responsibilities give them a sense of commitment to the organization, a sense of value as a contributor, and a place where they are needed.

    This may be true. And if it is, I’m happy that Mormon men have a place where they can feel these things. Some of the best men I know are Mormon and perhaps their Priesthood responsibilities have contributed to their goodness. Nothing wrong with this – for the men.

    But where does that leave Mormon women? In my experience – it leave them “out”. Again, what’s good for men is good for women … because it’s just good for people. Good things – like a sense of purpose, involvement in an organization, and discipline in life – and good for people. If the Priesthood offers these things than it would be a good thing for both men and women.

  11. I have a problem with the word “patriarchy” being thrown around here as if we all know what it means. And as if LDS teachings promote the idea that men are superior to women, or over women, and that women are less or inferior or subservient.

    Rather, LDS teachings are more about men as servant leaders, and married couples as equal partners, with different (but equally valuable) roles. It’s the patriarchal order, not patriarchy.

    The asterisk note at the bottom does not do justice to the reality that, at least on this earth, men and women are different. Most definitions of equality out there really come down to sameness, which is often to a woman’s disadvantage.

    “Again, a gain for one is a gain for everyone, and a loss for one is a loss for everyone.”

    Yeah, you can keep on saying that over and over and over again, but it doesn’t make it true. In reality, some gains for one are a loss for another.

    A lot of men love blessing their newborn babies. After watching their wife go through pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, they finally have something to contribute that only they can do. If women had the priesthood, they would lose their ability to contribute in that way, and it’s not like they can pick up slack in the other areas, because they can’t gestate or lactate.

    Hmm, what idiot god designed such a stupid and unfair system? Or is it possible that we are given complementary gifts to complete each other.

    As far as costs and benefits, I totally feel that I benefited from the LDS system as a mother, even though not particular pretty and even after I was no longer young. When a non-LDS colleague told her husband that she wanted to have a second child, he chided her for reneging on their plan, refused to support her, called on her to be sensible. They didn’t have the other child. When I told my husband that I felt we should have a fourth child, my husband said that he hadn’t gotten a spiritual confirmation, but since this was my area of expertise, he trusted that I knew what I was doing, and even thought he didn’t particularly want more children, he was supportive.

    • “LDS teachings are more about men as servant leaders, and married couples as equal partners, with different (but equally valuable) roles”

      This is only true of more recent LDS teachings. If you read through the Journal Of Discourses, or even D&C 132 and even some conference talks from Pres Benson, you will find that many past teachings are not about men and women as equal partners where the choices and decisions of each are equally important and honored. Thank heaven more recent teachings include teachings of equal partnerships, but it will take a lot more than a few conference talks to correct all the scriptures, sermons, wording of temple covenants, etc. Many men choose to put more stock into the old teachings than they do the new ones, leaving many women feeling as though they are suffering at the hands of an antiquated system.

      And for husbands who would like a more active role in the pregnancy, feeding of their offspring, ect…for many men it’s there for the taking and not fully taken advantage of. My husband took the time to learn all he could about pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding so that he could play an active role during labor and everything else and not feel so much like an outsider. My husband sharing the experience more fully with me didn’t take away from it. For me it definitely enhanced it. Some of the physical responsibilities are not transferrable, that’s true, it’s physically impossible for my husband to gestate (it’s not, however, physically impossible for him to breastfeed, but more difficult, yes). But boy do I wish sometimes that gestation could be shared. On the other hand, the privilege of giving a blessing is physically and spiritually possible for wives to share in, but isn’t shared. Not even when the father for whatever reason is not present or able to give the blessing, and therefore not “losing out” on anything by his wife sharing in it. Also, I have once or twice heard or read a man expressing that he would like to share those responsibilities with his wife. In that case, do you think he would still be losing out if he shared the blessing experience with his wife?

      “and it’s not like they can pick up slack in the other areas, because they can’t gestate or lactate.”
      I’ve actually seen some men (in the very early stages of my marriage, my own husband even) use their priesthood authority, or other societally or religiously delegated gender roles as an excuse to slack in other more meaningful areas of marriage and fatherhood that are societally or religiously often seen as a woman’s job.

      I’m glad that you feel you have benefitted overall from the LDS system.

    • Your comment is using your personal experience to speak for groups as a whole. You feel you have benefited from how the church treats women. That’s fine; not everyone feels that way. Your beliefs mirror those of the church. You believe that men and women are inherently different and should have different roles, things the church teaches. You are a mother, the primary role assigned women in the church. (I am pulling these assumptions from your comment; I realize I do not know you.) The system works for you because your beliefs and experience appear to line up with the system. For women who don’t feel men and women need to fill different roles, don’t feel they fit the roles assigned to them, or don’t have the desire or opportunity to be mothers (and therefore don’t fill the primary role assigned to them) the system doesn’t work. While your experience is valid, so is that of the women who don’t feel the system works.

      You also use one example of a non-member not supporting his wife. That is one person. What does that prove, except this one person might not be supportive of his wife. Not every Mormon is supportive of their spouse and not every non-member is unsupportive. That seems like an odd story to tell; are you trying to say that non-members are less supportive then members because of one non-member you know?

      You also stated that if women held the priesthood men couldn’t bless their babies. As this post points out, giving women the priesthood wouldn’t take it from men. You are assuming men couldn’t bless their babies; why is that? Why couldn’t parents do it together and use it as a bonding experience for their families? Or why couldn’t they decide as a couple which would do it?

      And just because men don’t get pregnant or lactate, why does that exclude them from their kids lives if they aren’t the only person with the priesthood. Men without it manage to be involved with their kids, to have good relationships with them. Of course they can pick up the slack in other areas; kids need more then birth and breastmilk.

      Many women feel that changes to the system would improve their lives and experience at church. My question is, what would you lose?

    • naismith:

      I have a problem with the word “patriarchy” being thrown around here as if we all know what it means.

      most of us do know what patriarchy means. if you don’t, you can always avail yourself of your favorite search engine to help you understand the discussion.

  12. “This is only true of more recent LDS teachings. If you read through the Journal Of Discourses, or even D&C 132 and even some conference talks from Pres Benson, you will find that many past teachings are not about men and women as equal partners where the choices and decisions of each are equally important and honored.”

    Well, almost two-thirds (64%) of members are first-generation LDS, according to Elder Pieper’s talk in October 2006 general conference. So they don’t have that baggage with them. I was attracted to the church in the mid-1970s because of the then-current teachings about equal partnership in marriage.

    Also, to be fair, President Benson’s teachings in the 1950s were consistent with USAmerican society at that time. I also think you have to look at actions as well as words: President Benson waited for his wife while she served a mission before their marriage, and President Young called women to be physicians and encouraged education for women.

    “Many men choose to put more stock into the old teachings than they do the new ones,”

    If that is true, than in such cases absolutely NOTHING the church does will have any impact. I’ve known a few men to be dictatorial towards their wives, and two of them were excommunicated. The church has been consistent in messages about the value of motherhood.

    “….leaving many women feeling as though they are suffering at the hands of an antiquated system.”

    That’s sad when it happens, but what is the answer? I don’t see how having women take on some of the traditionally male roles is helpful. That would just perpetuate the ugly idea that feminine contributions are less valuable.

    “And for husbands who would like a more active role in the pregnancy, feeding of their offspring, ect…for many men it’s there for the taking and not fully taken advantage of. My husband took the time to learn all he could …”

    I don’t want to get into a playground battle over whose husband is best, but my husband was wonderful during my pregnancies.

    However, we were very clear that he was holding the basin, not barfing into it. He was rubbing my back, not actually experiencing the contractions. He was fixing a meal, not experiencing his blood sugar drop from nursing. We don’t pretend that his contributions were equal to mine.

    “Some of the physical responsibilities are not transferrable, that’s true, it’s physically impossible for my husband to gestate (it’s not, however, physically impossible for him to breastfeed, but more difficult, yes).”

    Has your husband actually tried? Because there have been several experiments when men tried to induce lactation and could not, not without hormones. I’ve never been able to find any peer-reviewed studies that determine the success rate of male attempts.

    There is, however, a vast body of research (see the meta-analysis of a dozen studies in the November 1997 Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Sharma M, Petosa R) showing that one of the reasons that men discourage their wives from breastfeeding is that the father resents that only she can do it; it makes them feel inadequate. So they feed formula instead so that both can be equal. And in that move to equality, the baby may be missing out on optimal nutrition. Hmmn, would dad be more supportive of mom’s unique contributions if he also had something unique that he could do, too?

    “You feel you have benefited from how the church treats women. That’s fine; not everyone feels that way. “

    I understand that. I have sympathy for those who are unhappy for whatever reason.

    “Your beliefs mirror those of the church. You believe that men and women are inherently different and should have different roles, things the church teaches.”

    Actually, not quite. I think that men and women ARE different. It’s not as random as assigning priesthood only to people with blue eyes, and only those with red hair can be temple sealers. I think the church does a great job of supporting mothers with children. Which really is a biological reality that transcends any church policy. Oh, hey, could it be that a divine creator made us that way?

    And since raising the next generation is the evolutionary definition of success, I don’t think it is a bad thing for the church to revolve around that effort.

    “For women who don’t feel men and women need to fill different roles, don’t feel they fit the roles assigned to them, or don’t have the desire or opportunity to be mothers (and therefore don’t fill the primary role assigned to them) the system doesn’t work.”

    I am not sure that this is entirely true. A lot of women who are not mothers still feel invested in the church and the task of raising up a righteous posterity. Ardeth Greene Kapp and her husband could not have children, and while they were a young couple in an era where it was much easier (pre-Roe v. Wade) to adopt, they felt inspired that they should not adopt, but serve the next generation in other ways. She served as the general YW president for years, and as a mission president’s wife where she had a profound impact on my son, teaching him much about gifts and service. My stake has had a lot of ward and stake Primary leaders who were never mothers.

    “Not every Mormon is supportive of their spouse and not every non-member is unsupportive.”

    Absolutely. The difference is that the church consistently encourages men to support their spouses and treat them as equals and value their homemaking contributions as equal to wage-earning contributions, etc. Whereas not never non-member has such a value system.

    “You also stated that if women held the priesthood men couldn’t bless their babies.”

    No, I didn’t say that. What I said was they wouldn’t have “something to contribute that only they can do.” They would lose the uniquesness of their gift.

    “Why couldn’t parents do it together and use it as a bonding experience for their families? Or why couldn’t they decide as a couple which would do it?”

    Of course they could. But would that be the best way? I don’t know, but I suspect that therewould be costs as well as benefits.

    “And just because men don’t get pregnant or lactate, why does that exclude them from their kids lives…”

    I didn’t say it excluded them from their kids lives. But pregnancy and lactation are not insignificant contributions to be dismissed. For me, they consumed more than a decade of my life and required two surgeries to repair the worst of the physical damage.

    I would like those sacrifices to be valued. They are recognized and valued at church. They are by my husband.

    “Many women feel that changes to the system would improve their lives and experience at church. My question is, what would you lose?”

    First, I don’t care strongly one way or another. Whatever the Lord wants for the church is fine with me. Priesthood, shpreesthood, whatever. But there are costs and benefits to any change.

    I can imagine very well what my life would be like if both men and women had priesthood, because I live far from Utah, where most of my friends are not LDS, and in a town dominated by a university that has decided that “equal opportunity” means “doing things the way men have always done.” And there is so little respect for motherhood. It isn’t considered work. The other women in my playgroup (all non-LDS) loved it when I quoted from church leaders about the importance of motherhood. They were hungry for the kinds of affirmation that LDS women get.

    I also suspect that one of the costs would be that our church might go the way of so many other churches who have a problem with male engagement. This was first brought to my attention by a classmate in grad school, who was a baptist minister, and expressed that while he was repulsed by LDS theology, he thought we were on to something with the male priesthood/father thing. One can google Kathleen Rolenz’s award-winning Unitarian sermon on “The Vanishing Male,” churchformen.com or the many male ministries to get a taste of the challenge.

    • “Well, almost two-thirds (64%) of members are first-generation LDS, according to Elder Pieper’s talk in October 2006 general conference. So they don’t have that baggage with them.” “If that is true, than in such cases (some men putting more stock in teachings of inequality than teachings of equality) absolutely NOTHING the church does will have any impact”

      First off, I was born in 82, so I’m pretty new and I’m still affected negatively by old and current incorrect or inconsistent doctrine. It’s true that the LDS church encourages husbands to treat their wives nicely, and encourages equality in marriage through conference talks and lesson manuals. But at the same time, in the most binding sacred covenants and doctrinally important ceremonies, men are designated as presiding authorities and given the ability to act with Godly authority and sanction, where women are given no such ability, and are portrayed as veiled followers who answer to God through their husbands. I don’t call that consistent, not in the least. And because temple ceremonies remain inconsistent with current teachings of equality, it really is no wonder that many men feel it’s ok to choose current temple covenant teachings which hearken back to old teachings of inequality,over the newer less official teachings of equality. In which case, the church definitely has the power to make an impact.

      “I also suspect that one of the costs would be that our church might go the way of so many other churches who have a problem with male engagement.”

      I’m still unclear as to why you interpret being for female engagement as having a problem with, or being against male engagement.

      And I wholeheartedly acknowledge that yes, my husband was the one stroking my hair and whispering encouragement in my ear, not the one pushing the baby out…but If I could have allowed him to take a turn physically giving birth to our child, would I have? Yes. Do I think he would have done amazing? Absolutely. Do I feel like I would lose out on anything by sharing that responsibility with him? No.
      Let me be clear though that I don’t consider priesthood authority to be the consolation prize/corresponding gift or responsibility to women’s ability to grow babies. Nor do I believe that baby growing abilities naturally preclude women from the right or ability to: provide for their families/provide value to their communities through service and careers/act with Godly authority/have their decisions and revelations and spiritual experiences valued on par with their male counterparts’. Again, still not clear as to why a woman sharing in the blessing experience would mean a husband loses out. The husband is still giving something to the child that a mother cannot give: A father’s blessing. And a mother sharing in the blessing would be giving something the father cannot give: A mother’s blessing.

  13. Naismith writes

    And there is so little respect for motherhood. It isn’t considered work.

    Exactly, The things women have always done are not considered work or truly worthy of respect. The primary way women are convinced that they must do one and one thing only is by telling them that that’s the only way they’ll be REAL women and worthy of respect. But society never truly valued child rearing, any more than it valued babysitting or teaching kindergarten (look how badly those jobs have always paid), and once women have shown the lie in all of this, the fact that there’s no real value for women’s labor can emerge.

    One more reason patriarchy sucks and we’ve got to get rid of it.

    I also suspect that one of the costs would be that our church might go the way of so many other churches who have a problem with male engagement.

    There you go: it’s all about the men. Sure, we want to act like we respect women enough that they put up with their subordinate status, because what really matters is making sure that the men stay engaged.

    Naismith couldn’t have shown more clearly how much it is a zero-sum game for most men: If you make things better for women, men disengage. They only stick around if they get to be super important and super in charge. It all works because there are enough women who will say, just as she has here, “Oh, I’m OK with losing out because it’s not really losing out to me, and anyway, what about the menz?”

    As she herself, wrote, “Hmm, what idiot god designed such a stupid and unfair system?”

    One more reason patriarchy sucks and we’ve got to get rid of it.

  14. Naismith, I agree that the LDS church’s valuation of mothers and their work is valuable. I don’t think anyone here disagree’s with that point. But can you explain how valueing women’s work, wherever they work, whether it’s inside or outside the home, would contribute to the ugly idea the feminine contributions are less valuable? If anything it seems like it would reinforce the idea that feminine contributions are valuable, not only in their role as mothers, but in all the roles women play a part in. In other words, I express an inclusive sentiment: “Feminine contributions are important everywhere”. Rather than “Feminine contributions are most important in the home”. Or “Feminine contributions are important only if they are doing things men traditionally do”.

  15. Thank you so much, Rachel! This was beautiful. I wholeheartedly agree.

    • You are welcome, EP. And: thank you.

  16. Terrific article, Rachel. It sounds like your male friend, like so many people, was confusing entertainment with advocacy. That film is amusing precisely because it plays havoc with the fairy tale formula that it slyly pretends to follow. Which underscores your point: people create zero-sum conflicts where no conflict exists, let alone a winner-take-all. Why? No doubt many reasons, but surely rash judging and expecting the worst are high on the list. Chips belong under buffaloes, not on shoulders. If charity covers a multitude of sins, it covers ten multitudes of misunderstandings,

    • Amen, Dean. Amen. :)

  17. Although the premise of this TED Talk suggests that one of the best ways we can teach our children is through movies, it generally has a great message. It’s important that we pay attention the the messages the media we consume is sending us.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>