More Problems than Benefits

Posted by on February 16, 2013 in Gender roles, women | 23 comments

Much has been written about President Elaine S. Dalton’s now infamous talk where she argued that LDS women, understanding our roles and responsibilities, would see no need to lobby for rights. There is an understandable amount of confusion as to what she meant by this; was she referring to Mormon women lobbying within a Mormon context or women lobbying for rights in general?

Recently, Elder Dallin H. Oaks expounded on President Dalton’s words, saying

Of course we see the need to correct some longstanding deficiencies in legal protections and opportunities for women. But in our private behavior, as President Gordon B. Hinckley taught many years ago about the public sector, ‘We believe that any effort to create neuter gender of that which God created male and female will bring more problems than benefits.’

I find this problematic for a number of reasons but for the sake of this post I want to examine that last statement–that eschewing traditional gender roles in our private behavior leads to more problems than benefits. I would like to know what these problems are specifically.

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that equality between the sexes in societies is highly correlated to decreased violence against women. Countries where women have the same political freedoms, educational and employment opportunities, and the right to control their reproductive choices show lower rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. A lot of these rights have been instituted into law. I can only take Elder Oaks at his word that he is in favor of these policies that address, and in many cases solve, “some longstanding deficiencies in legal protections and opportunities for women.”

Of course, the same correlation is seen in private relationships as well. Relationships that exhibit characteristics of equal partnerships and reject rigid gender role understandings are much less likely to be violent. But the above quote makes it unclear whether Elder Oaks thinks that this is a good thing. As he states, any effort to “neuter gender” in private behavior is more problematic than beneficial.

I am perplexed by this because research clearly shows that this is not true–at least when it comes to violence against women. So I am left to wonder what the problems Elder Oaks is referring to that make the decrease in intimate partner violence less beneficial than if rigid gender roles that can encourage violence are left in place.

Perhaps Elder Oaks believes that the legal protections many Western countries have put in place to address violence against women are sufficient and the private realm should be left alone. Unfortunately these policies are not enough. While mandatory intervention laws, such as mandatory arrest in cases of domestic violence are better than nothing there continues to be high rates of domestic violence and a disappointing amount of recidivism. Violence against women does not happen in a void, we cannot expect it to disappear unless misogyny is rooted out wherever it exists, and that includes in our private behavior.

To bring this a little closer to home, over the years I have counseled a number of LDS women who have lived by Elder Oaks’ ideal and maintained strict gender role boundaries in their private relationships. Without fail, each one of these women has confided in me that this has been used to further abuse them and their children. We cannot afford to pretend that there aren’t consequences to prioritizing traditional gender roles over relationships built on a less rigid ideology.

I give Elder Oaks the benefit of the doubt that he truly believes there are more problems than benefits to equalizing gender roles. And perhaps he is right. But we need to know what these problems are if we are to decide the price of women’s physical, emotional and spiritual safety is worth paying.

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23 Comments

  1. If you really do want to know, I can help you out. Because I am a feminist who believes that eliminating gender roles might do more harm than good. I’m sure I can’t talk you into anything, but if you’d like to know:
    1. Birth rates will plummet to below replacement level which will quickly and seemingly suddenly make society collapse and humans face extinction.
    2. Marriage and family structure which has been the basis for society is becoming obsolete. These things have many negative results.
    3. Specific to churches, men will be less and less involved in church which means the next generation will be less religious and churches will become almost extinct.
    4. As sexist as some feel the church is, it actually does a lot to encourage men to be more “feminine” in some ways. It just happens to try to even things differently than the world. For instance, the sexual double standard. The world wants to tear it down for women. The church wants men to live up to chastity and fidelity as much as women. The church praises women for femininity, yes, but it also encourages men to have traditionally feminine behavior as part of what being a real man is (talk about feelings, cry when talking about feelings, get married, stay faithful, have children,love your children, be responsible for your children, service is important, listen to your wife, etc.) The world’s equalization seems to result in women becoming more like men and choosing not to have children, not to get married, not to be willing to care for children.
    Now I am not saying all church culture is equal and all non church society is the same. Sometimes it just depends on what you are comparing. I would happily take the church culture stuff over, say, the jock-football player treatment of women. I would happily take the church culture over, say, the welfare teen mom culture with teen dads who aren’t involved or are in prison and entire neighborhoods where kids don’t have a dad. I would happily take church culture over the liberal, single till you die, don’t have kids because they get in the way, your career is your life, and sex is something you do for fun with strangers you hook up with kind of culture my husband sees at work. You, however, are comparing different kinds of segments of society and are coming up with different benefits vs. costs. I wouldn’t want to live in a religious society in parts of the Middle East or Africa either and the violence against women there is wrong and should be stopped.
    I’m quite happy to be raising my boys and my girls in the church and send them to school. For me the benefit of raising my sons to want to grow up and marry, have kids and support his family (while also raising him to view women as people, to reject the rape culture, etc.) is a net positive I hope for him and those around him. For me the benefit of raising my daughters in the church where they see many positive examples of men, and where in their home and extended family they see men who live the gospel by having healthy relationships with their wives and children. My oldest daughter knows her dad isn’t perfect but she knows he is a good dad and I see how much of an influence simply having a good dad who lives with her and is interested in her has on her life.

    • You’re being a little rude with me, jks. I never shared my opinion, only asked if our reliance on traditional gender roles was worth the human cost of women and children who are hurt by the darker side of adherence to these roles. It seems to me that you are saying that, at least in our Mormon context, it is worth it. You don’t acknowledge that violence against women is a problem in the church but I can assure you it is and a correlation can be drawn between it and our adherence to traditional gender roles. You din’t specifically say but it seems you believe that this is worth it because it provides a good example for your children, which is fine if that’s your opinion.

      However, you gave me the problems you see with getting rid of gender roles, you have no way of speaking to the problems Elder Oaks sees. And that is what I take issue with. We cannot have an honest conversation about the risks of patriarchy unless everything is out on the table. Elder Oaks didn’t provide examples, he just made a vaguely threatening statement. In the absence of his reasons all I have to go on is the well-researched fact that rigid gender roles are tied to increased rates of violence against women. I acknowledge that we often have to make ethical trade-offs but I am not willing to put the lives of women in danger for vague assertions of “problems.”

      • I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was being rude. I thought I was filling in some of the blanks about the pros and cons. It is such a huge question and I just put down a few ideas.

      • This is a difficult medium in which to read people’s intentions, JKS. I found your first paragraph to be patronizing and an odd way to start a dialog, I apologize if I misread you. As for your later claim that I only wanted to talk about Elder Oaks, I realize I did not make myself clear. I am happy that you presented the problems you see with redefining gender roles. As I said in the post, we should have an honest conversation about all of the consequences on both sides and I specifically did not take a side on this. But I think it is hard to argue that Elder Oaks’ words carry more weight among the general membership than either mine or yours. Because of this, I believe Elder Oaks has a responsibility to be careful with what he says and not make sweeping claims with no corroborating evidence that have the potential to do very real harm to half of God’s children.

        I really do appreciate your engaging on this topic even though many of us see things differently. I hope you had a good birthday despite of it.

    • It seems to me like you’re arguing against yourself in point four. You actually seem to be saying that when men and women are more equal (held to the same sexual standard) they are happier and their marriages are better. When men are more sensitive and “feminine” as you put it, people are happier. So in essence, you’re saying that by erasing some of the stereotypical gender differences, marriages are healthier, people are happier and all of this is part of God’s plan.

      The first part of your comment seems like an extreme and almost absurd response. If my husband does the cooking and the dishes while I do all the yard work, we’ll never have babies. If I make a lot of the family decisions and take the active leadership role while my husband prefers to not do those things, marriage as an institution will cease to function. If I take on the role of spiritual leader in my home, running family home evening, organizing family prayer, planning the family temple trips while my husband plans our parties and social gatherings then society as we know it will crumble to pieces. Blurring gender roles does not result in plummeting fertility and anarchy. It just means people who are good at nurturing, male or female, get to nurture. People who are good at providing, male or female, get to do that. People who are good at both do both.

      None of this addresses the question of violence in the original post, but I am responding to your comment, not to the OP.

      • Hmm, arguing against myself. No. I didn’t realize that I was arguing with anyone. I took this post to be asking what might be the costs of traditional gender roles that Elder Oaks was talking about and I answered about costs in general in eliminating gender roles. As a feminist I see many benefits in eliminating gender roles, but I also see some costs and I think it is interesting to think about them.

    • JKS, your assertions are logically fallacious. First, the connections between each of the points you made and the elimination of gender roles are non-sequitors. Then, each of your points are themselves fallacious.
      1. Correlation is not causation or post-hoc ergo propter hoc (depending on how you would expand your first sentence); slippery slope
      2. Correlation in not causation and/or post-hoc ergo propter hoc
      3. Post-hoc ergo propter hoc; slippery slope
      4. Inconsistency; false dichotomy; straw man

      Yikes!

      • Well, since it is my birthday and I want to engage in interesting discussions but not necessarily spend the day looking up words, I can’t comment much about your critiques.

        I can say that I care about women and I care about feminism. I think that the ideas I brought up are worth discussing. At least, I like to read about them and discuss them. If Mormon feminists refuse to acknowledge what might be lost if things change, there will be no way to move forward. Both sides need to be willing to view the cost benefit analysis. I viewed the OP as invitation to put forth ideas about what conservatives might worry about might be lost. But apparently, Mraynes only wants to know what Elder Oaks worries about.

    • JKS,

      I can empathise with some of your reasoning, and I even used to think some of the same things you listed in your reasons for disallowing women to be ordained.

      But then, I thought about it like this: Think of the woman that all of us seem to know or hear about from somewhere, who “trapped” her partner/husband by “getting” pregnant. She knows that he stays with her- at least initially, because she is pregnant. He may grow to love her and might even stay. But there is always that thing… that trap. Is it a real relationship? Sure. Is it based on commitment? I’d say no. It grows into love, perhaps– but isn’t really based on love on either side- it is based on control, manipulation, obligation.

      That is how I see that we pander to men when we say “men will leave the church if they are not ‘needed’ to do the priesthood.” Well, if a man is only with me for sex or because I have his child, I don’t want to be with him, because *I* deserve better. Christ taught me that. Comparatively, if a man is only doing church service because he is obligated because he is the only one who can, based on his maleness… well, again, I think Christ taught us better. To be really converted. The suggestion that men must be manipulated and obligated into PH service, to me, suggests that the church is a false one of manipulated men who do not have testimonies. I do not want false leaders like this in any level of church. I want to follow Christ. I want leaders who are in the church and in leadership because they are devout to Christ, not because they are obligated to lead, or seek to feel manly by being my lord.

      I agree with you from the perspective of Masculinity studies that Mormon men exhibit a degree of femininity that is not traditionally found in typical patriarchal societies. But not all Mormon men engage in or embrace this characteristic, because it is not necessary as a matter of ordination or worthiness. It is only cultural, and therefore, can be readily cast aside, particularly when “leadership” opportunities/obligations arise.

      In short, if men leave the church because women are ordained, and thenceforth feel useless… I am totally okay to lose them, because they are only in the church for themselves, rather than being in the church as a matter of devotion, testimony and a sincere desire to be lead by Christ. Good riddance.

      • This is brilliant. Thank you.

  2. What is this “neuter gender” red herring? Has Oaks spoken with any actual feminists? Because I have met many, and have yet to meet any who seek to create “neuter gender.” Is Oaks purposely making up things as a scare tactic? Or does he really not understand feminism?

    Giving women equal rights with men does not eliminate gender. For example, right now, many Mormon feminists are advocating for women to pray in General Conference, just like men do. Would women cease to be feminine if they offered prayers in General Conference? Of course not. I recently attended a baby blessing at a church of a different denomination. Their blessing format was similar to an LDS blessing, but both women and men stood in the circle and lay hands on the infant. Were those women somehow less female because they were blessing a baby alongside men? No.

    • Agreeing with you. I don’t think much, if any, contemporary feminism advocates a genderless society in the way that non- or anti-feminists seem to think it does. But it seems to be a HUGE response to a lot of feminist concerns. I see it used especially often in religious feminist contexts.

  3. “Relationships that exhibit characteristics of equal partnerships and reject rigid gender role understandings are much less likely to be violent.”

    Given that we have been taught that abusers come in all shapes and sizes and can be both male/female and reach across all socioeconomic as well as religious boundaries I find this statement a little problematic with respect to the fact that it seems to completely ignore what the the experts in the field have been extolling for years and that abuse will happen regardless of how religious, how traditional or non traditional people believe themselves to be.

    • Just to make sure I wasn’t completely off base in my response I did some more reading and read an interesting paper put out by NCBI, the paper was entitled,” The Relationship between egalitarianism,dominance and violence in intimate relationships.’ in a paper written in 2008 Choi and tang do not agree with your assessment that women who are in more egalitarian and who follow less traditional roles in marriage have less of a chance, and another researcher Sagreal 1999, as well as Ehrensrift 1999 also refute your claim

      • The NCBI paper doesn’t refute MRaynes claims, just complicates them.

        “For both sexes, dominance had more explanatory power than sexism and egalitarianism when all else was controlled in the model. Furthermore, contrary to our expectation, male egalitarian attitude had no significant actor or partner effect on relationship aggression, while female egalitarian attitude had significant actor and partner effects on relationship aggression. Dyadic analysis indicated that cultural pointers of patriarchy, such as egalitarianism among young college students, were not associated with male-to-female violence. The sample size might also have an effect on this result in that a larger sample with older participants might yield different results.”

      • As Dankrist stated that paper only complicates my thesis, it does not refute it. As a domestic violence researcher I know as well as anybody the difficult dynamics that contribute to domestic violence but there are generalities that can be used to explain a lot. This is a blog post and so did not feel it necessary to footnote every assertion. And when it comes down to it, we have a rhetorical disagreement. I don’t care if somebody identifies as a progressive, egalitarian, androgynous couple. If one partner is using methods of power and control to abuse their partner then their relationship cannot be categorized as egalitarian.

  4. “Relationships that exhibit characteristics of equal partnerships and reject rigid gender role understandings are much less likely to be violent.”

    This may be true, but might that not be because the only kind of equal partnership that some can recognize are those in which gender roles are rejected? Which is fine if that’s how you want to arrange things, but not so great for people who prefer a gender role, but feel they have to abandon it to be respected.

    Back in the 1980s when we moved to grad school far from Utah, I had a neighbor who was a great mom, doing a great job raising two little guys. I was horrified when I was visiting, and her husband came home, grabbed a beer and flopped on the couch.

    I compared that with our time in BYU family housing, when dads typically came home and watched the kids on the playground or tossed a salad or whatever. My husband might have been gone a lot with school and work, but when he is home, he is pitching in.

    My friend explained that after all, he works and she doesn’t, so he should get to lie around when he comes home. Her husband overheard, and he grumped about her not getting a job. He clearly had no respect for what she did at home.

    So I think that the equal partnership and mutual respect is critical, but I don’t think that rejecting gender roles is a magic bullet. One can recognize different contributions as being equal. And jks does do a nice job of outlining some of the benefits.

    I haven’t counseled women in violent relationships, so I don’t have the same picture from which to speak. But I have known two couples where the guy was overly domineering, and was excommunicated.

  5. OK, what is a neuter gender?

    a) A man without genitals?
    b) An ideological travesty?
    c) A prove that some brethren read stupid popular books?

    I think, it’s all.

    a) Some men have castration angst when confronted with equal women. Therefore
    b) they fantasize a bogeyman they can combat. It’s like atheists who see religious people as naive immature victims, so they feel called to enlighten the rest of humanity.
    Ironically they both fight the product of their own imagination.
    c) Remember those stupid books Todd Christofferson mentioned in his october 2012 general conference talk? (“Interestingly, most of these seem to have been written by women.” Booming men laugh.)
    It seems that some of our beloved brethren prefer simple-minded messages both in their own reading as well as in their talks.
    But maybe I’m completely wrong and they’re avid readers of Judith Butler. In this case I agree that there is one feminist philosopher who has a strange concept of sexes, but I don’t consider her mainstream…….

  6. Myranes

    As you state you are a professional in the field of domestic violence I believe its dangerous for you to keep stating that egalitarian marriages have less incidences of violence and domestic abuse, this is just not the case. The research is there not just in the papers and the research that I have read, the research, books, and symposiums, and outreach that I have attended as a lay person all refute what you have tried to assert.

    Domestic violence is about power and over assertiveness and this can come from both male and female and as a feminist instead of writing about that, you choose to just focus on the male on female violence and that is just wrong. I do realize that is a personal blog, but, all the same, especially since you are an expert in the field I would think you would want to put out accurate information, not just something that fits into your argument for the discussion

    • Diane, please see my last comment to you. If there is abuse in a relationship, whether it be from the male or female partner, it is not an egalitarian relationship. Period.

      I didn’t write about female violence because it is not the point of this post. Does it exist, yes. But it also looks quite a bit different than male violence. If you would like to read my thesis this would be addressed in much greater detail, but once again, this is a blog post and generalities are acceptable etiquette. You’ve made it clear that this post doesn’t meet your expectations, one blog post can not be all things for all people. I’m comfortable with this and I am comfortable that what I have written does not do any disservice to victims or the larger movement. I won’t continue to argue with you on how this is so. I’ll have to write a post about female violence and I will look forward to what you can contribute to that discussion.

  7. Mraynes,
    Thank you for this post. I had read Oaks’ comment a few days ago and was totally baffled by his ‘neuter gender’ comment. Thank you for elucidating here the risks and downsides of stark gender roles.

  8. MRaynes,
    I’m so glad you addressed this. I’m so confused and offended by the “neuter gender” comment. It just proves the the GAs don’t understand or care enough to understand the issues of feminism.
    That’s really disheartening to me.

  9. MRaynes, thank you for this post. Given the prevalence of domestic violence, I suspect every ward has a few women and men who are in unsafe situations. I worry that we don’t talk about DV nearly enough in Mormon culture. Thank you for pointing out problematic rhetoric and its potential effects.

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