Men Crossing into Women’s Realms: Where’s the Reciprocity?
In my ward over the last few months, there’s been a noticeable push from the bishop and stake president to encourage the fathers in our ward to step up and take a more proactive role with their kids. Apparently there’s been a sense that too often the mothers bear the burden during Sacrament meeting of quieting small kids, taking them out to the foyer, etc.
I personally haven’t noticed any particular decline in men’s involvement with their children in my ward. In fact, I often see a good number of dads, as wells as moms, entertaining their babies in the hallways and foyers. Nevertheless, I think it’s a good and healthy thing for men to be encouraged to take highly active roles with their kids. As a feminist, I’m uncomfortable with the way the Proclamation assigns women the primary task of nurturing kids, so I love it when these gendered realms are blurred. I open my arms to men who are proactive caretakers of kids despite the fact that people often associate this behavior with the women’s realm (according to the Proclamation) of nurturing. And the Proclamation, of course, affirms the rightness of this crossing over, when it states, “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
Now, I’m not a fan of splitting tasks up according to gender. It seems to me that individual couples can and should decide the distribution of family responsibilities based on personal proclivity and individual talents. But if this gendered system is the one within which Mormons are to work, I am pleased to say that by and large, I see the younger husbands in my ward helping their wives our in their “sacred responsibility” of nurturing kids. However, what bothers me is the fact that I don’t see a reciprocal opening of men’s realms to women.
If mothers and fathers are obligated to help one another in their sacred responsibilities as equal partners, why are Church leaders not encouraging women to help their husbands preside, provide, and protect, as the Proclamation outlines? Can you think of specific talks which encourage women to do these things in the family, as equal partners with their husbands? Certainly, there’s always been a strain in Mormon rhetoric about women being prepared to provide if their husbands die, or of women leading their families in the absence of a husband. But what about women actually working with men to do these three tasks? It seems to me like there has been a much greater push in encouraging men to enter the “women’s realm” of nurturing than there has been in encouraging women to enter the “men’s realm” of presiding, providing and protecting.
This trend of expanding individual men’s family obligations and duties into realms which have traditionally been gendered female, while at the same time not expanding individual women’s family obligations into men’s realms, seems to me to mirror what has been happening with Relief Society and Priesthood on a larger scale over the last several decades. Once upon a time, Relief Society was its own entity, with its own budget, meeting houses, manuals, magazines, etc. It had visible and powerful female leaders. However, as correlation hit and Relief Society was enveloped under the Priesthood umbrella, men started to enter the Relief Society realm. On both a ward level and a general level, men hold final decision making power in determining how Relief Society is run. Men’s voices in our manuals dominate Relief Society lessons. And handful of times a year, the bishop or stake president come into Relief Society to deliver talks to the women. They physically cross into the women’s realm. But I have yet to see a woman give talks or lessons in Elders Quorum or High Priests. I have yet to see women’s voices from manuals making their way into Priesthood lessons. I have yet to see a woman speak in the Priesthood session of General Conference.
As I mentioned before, I’m all for the blurring of these boundaries/realms/roles based on gender. I like to see men and women working together as they both nurture their kids, and I’m pleased when I hear those messages at church. However, it seems to me that families and church communities could only benefit by a reciprocal encouragement of women to enter into realms gendered male, to participate in the presiding, providing, and protecting of families, and to cross both symbolically and physically into men’s spaces in our religious lives.