Mormon Male Privilege and How to Make Apparent Gender Disparity in the Church

Posted by on December 14, 2012 in example, feminism, Gender roles, leadership, Mormon Life, Mormon women, priesthood, Relationships, religion, self worth, suffering, women | 138 comments

Many people are concerned with a very basic question right now: Why do some women feel unequal in the church? A few years ago I wrote a post for LDS WAVE about why I feel unequal. While this was not an exhaustive list, it made apparent many of the gender disparities that we often take for granted.

Another way to make inequality apparent is to talk about privilege. In academia there is a lot of literature on male privilege and white privilege—those unacknolwedged advantages that men and majority ethnicities gain from women’s and minorities’ disadvantages. An important step in lessening, mitigating and ending this discrimination is acknowledging it. It is sometimes easier to see that others have different gender roles or even that women have some disadvantages. The truly difficult thing to recognize is the concomitant truth: what aspects of being male are advantageous?

Do not despair, this is not an attack on men. Rather it is a mental exercise in trying to see those aspects of gender inequality that are normally hidden in our religious culture. Men (and women alike) are taught not to recognize our privileges or as Dr. Peggy McIntosh puts it the “invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. [Male] privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks” (McIntosh 1988). It is not the fault of the holder of these privileges that he has them. However, it is our moral and ethical duty to learn to recognize, mitigate and lessen them for greater religious gender equality.

I decided to try to identify some of the daily effects of these advantages in order to answer the question: What is it like to have Mormon male privilege? (Many of these points have corollaries in literature on white and male privilege).

As a Mormon Male:

  1. My odds of receiving a leadership calling compared to females of my same age, experience and spirituality are skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the calling, the larger the odds are skewed.
  2. My odds of being asked to speak at church functions compared to females of my same age, experience and spirituality are skewed in my favor. The larger the forum, the more my odds are skewed.
  3. My church leaders are people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the calling, the more this is true.
  4. When I ask to “see the person in charge,” odds are that I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.
  5. I can go home from most leadership meetings feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
  6. I can be pretty sure that a disagreement with a woman is more likely to jeopardize her chances for advancement in leadership positions and her reputation as a good Mormon than it will jeopardize mine.
  7. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my gender on trial. If I fall short as a missionary, gospel doctrine teacher, or general conference speaker I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.
  8. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my gender.
  9. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my gender is not the problem.
  10. I am never asked to speak for or represent “the” perspective of all the people of my gender.
  11. I can watch general conference and see people of my gender widely represented in visage and voice. I can see many diverse examples of different career choices, personalities and representations of my own gender in leadership positions.
  12. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my gender present, more than a single woman in a group of men would be heard. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group where she is the only member of her gender more than women can be indifferent to the solitary voice of a male.
  13. I can participate in meetings and share my opinions without colleagues suspecting that I am only here to represent my gender.
  14. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of the opposite gender and not feel any penalty for such oblivion more than women can ignore male patterns of behavior and communication.
  15. I can critique the church and talk about how I fear its policies without being seen as much of a cultural outsider as women who have the same thoughts.
  16. If I declare there is a gender issue at hand, or there isn’t a gender issue at hand, my gender will lend me more credibility for either position than a woman will have. I can worry about sexism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
  17. I can choose to ignore developments in women’s writing and activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
  18. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the opinions, perspectives and powers of people of the opposite gender.
  19. I do not have to educate my sons to be aware of systemic sexism for their own daily physical protection and positive child development.
  20. I can be pretty sure that my son’s teachers and leaders will tolerate them as valuable members of society whose voices should be taken seriously; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitude toward their gender.
  21. When I study the history of my church I am shown that largely people of my gender made it happen.
  22. As a child, chances are I was encouraged to pursue interests, goals and ambitions beyond parenthood more often than my sisters.
  23. I can be pretty sure of finding people in my church community who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps professionally.
  24. I can think of many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my gender would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
  25. I can drive poorly, be late to a meeting, cry and mismanage my financial affairs without it reflecting on my gender.
  26. I can be sure that my children will be taught materials that testify about the works, words, existence and deification of people of my own gender.
  27. I can find entire church manuals, lessons, talks, religious texts and historical scholarship which give attention only to people of my gender.
  28. I can expect figurative language and imagery in most of our religious texts and arts to testify to the experiences of my gender.
  29. If I am emotional or upset chances are that it will be attributed to the problem I am facing rather than my gender.
  30. I can be pretty certain that my opinions will be taken seriously and not assumed that I am over exaggerating.
  31. I can be sure that if I need marital help or advice from my church leaders that they will be someone of my own gender and more inclined to understand my life experiences than my wife’s.
  32. I can be pretty sure that no one will ever go over my head to speak to my wife about an issue or ask permission of my wife for something pertaining to my life.
  33. If my day, week or year is going badly, I do not need to ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had gender overtones.
  34. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of dismissal or condescension owing to my gender.
  35. I will never have to confess sexual sins to someone of the opposite sex. I will never have to sit in a disciplinary council and discuss sexual matters with an all-female court. I am far less likely to face sexual harassment and even sexual abuse in my church community than my female counterparts. I am far more likely to be asked about masturbation from a religious leader.
  36. As a child, chances are that I was not told that I am responsible for someone else’s sexual urges or impure thoughts based on what I wore or what I looked like.
  37. Chances are I was not taught about sex and chastity from someone of the opposite gender.
  38. I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my sexual availability or virtue.
  39. My garments are much more similar to regular male underwear than female garments are to regular women’s underwear. I will never have to negotiate wearing garments and menstruating, recovering from childbirth and nursing and risk being denied access to sacred ordinances based on a member of the opposite gender thinking I’m doing so incorrectly. I will never have someone of the opposite sex ask me about my underwear habits on a regular basis for temple recommend interviews.
  40. Chances are that if I work and provide for my family I will never be called selfish or a bad father.
  41. Chances are if I do the same exact parental tasks as a woman I will receive praise for them and told that I am a good father more than she will receive praise for everyday parental tasks and told that she is a good mother.
  42. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time. Chances are I never had youth activities devoted to grooming habits, style or trying on tuxedos for my future wedding. Chances are I never had youth activities teaching me how to care for my wife’s clothing.
  43. Chances are no one comments about my clothing or body in leadership conversations and I am less likely to be scrutinized and turned away from a dance or program because of my clothing.
  44. If I am not conventionally attractive, the disadvantages are relatively small and easy to ignore compared to my female counterparts. Chances are I haven’t been told that it is my duty to try to look more attractive to be more marriageable or a better missionary.
  45. In general, I am under much less pressure to be thin and attractive than my female counterparts. If I am fat, I probably suffer fewer social and economic consequences for being fat than fat women do. I probably have less social pressure to alter my body in extreme ways (weight loss, cosmetic surgery, hair color, etc.) in order to be seen as attractive as women do. Whether or not I am attractive is not as closely aligned with whether or not I am intelligent, competent and worthwhile as it is for women.
  46. I can wear nice clothing similar to what I wear in my everyday professional life to church. I can wear pants without any social repercussions.
  47. I can be loud with no fear of being called a shrew. I can be aggressive with no fear of being called a bitch. I can be opinionated with no fear of being accused of trying to be like a female.
  48. I can desire to hold the priesthood, serve in leadership positions and expect respect and praise without being called power hungry.
  49. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.
  50. I can be confident that the ordinary language in all of my scriptural texts, church materials, manuals, talks and prayers will always include my sex, i.e., “All men are alike unto God.”
  51. My ability to make important decisions and my capability in general will never be questioned depending on what time of the month it is.
  52. I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t change my name.
  53. I will never get fired from a church affiliated organization if I choose to have children.
  54. Chances are that my mother, sisters and wife do more of the cooking and household labor and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks, including tasks for my own family like remembering birthdays, buying presents, sending cards, etc.
  55. Chances are my mother, sisters and wife do most of the childrearing and in particular the most dirty, repetitive and unrewarding parts of childrearing.
  56. If it turns out that one of us needs to make education and career sacrifices to raise the kids, chances are that my mothers, sisters, wife, myself and most of our social circle will assume the education and career sacrificed should be my wife’s.
  57. Chances are that I never had youth activities, lessons and/or advice from leaders about how to make personal sacrifices and support my wife in her educational and career goals.
  58. I am certain that I will be considered for positions, callings and jobs both within the church hierarchy and in the larger church-affiliated employment and that I will never be turned down based on my gender.
  59. I can assume that I will usually be addressed by the proper deferential title of my calling.
  60. I can be certain that when I want approval for callings, ideas and decisions in my calling that I will be communicating with someone in my own gender.
  61. I can be certain that most talks about my gender do not refer to my reproductive capacity.
  62. It is assumed that I will have interests and career goals outside of my family. I do not face any community recriminations or public sanctions for these.
  63. It is highly likely that most of my spiritual leaders and mentors are of my same gender. It is just as likely that I do not have many (if any) spiritual leaders or mentors of the opposite gender.
  64. I will have the opportunity for more prominent, prestigious and public roles in the church than my female counterparts.
  65. I can be pretty sure that women will never teach me about sex, how to be a good man, what my divine role is, how to fulfill it and how I should feel about it.
  66. As a child I received more funding for youth programs in affiliation with the scouting program and was allowed to do more elaborate, varied and skills based activities than my female counterparts.
  67. I am aware of the existence and role of the Heavenly Parent of my same gender, their position in the godhead and have some sense of my future role in the eternities.
  68. I can be certain that people of my gender provided input to official church declarations and proclamations.
  69. I can be certain that I will never be asked to obey or hearken unto my wife in religious ceremonies.
  70. All things being equal, it is assumed that my spiritual revelation and stewardship trumps that of my wife and female counterparts.
  71. I am allowed to pray in general conference, bless my children and handle church finances.
  72. I have the opportunity to become a deacon, teacher, priest, elder, bishop, stake president, area authority, apostle, member of the seventy and prophet that my female counterparts do not.
  73. I can hold the priesthood and pass that along to my sons.
  74. I can give blessings and heal others. When I say prayers of healing or give blessings what I say is generally accepted as God’s will. People grant the words I use authority and authenticity.
  75. When in a leadership position, people will ask my council, expect my input and even allow me to give them tasks which will shape the next months and years of their personal, family and community lives because they believe my suggestions are either inspired by God or are God’s direct counsel.
  76. I rarely seek approval or validation about my life choices from members of the opposite gender in my church community.
  77. I can be pretty sure that I can walk into any room or meeting in my church community and I will have more financial autonomy, decision making power and religious authority than anyone of the opposite gender.
  78. I preside over my family.
  79. I have the privilege of being unaware of my Mormon male privilege.
  80. ADDITIONAL POINTS ADDED BY COMMENTS: While I am single and looking for a future spouse, I will almost certainly have more women to choose from and pursue than the single women of a similar age and worthiness in my geographical area.
  81. I can be certain that there are people of my same gender conducting, presiding, speaking and sitting on the stand at all of my meetings.
  82. I will never be asked about achieving work/life balance.

Which of these privileges were you unaware of before you read through this list? What other privileges would you include to this list? Which of these privileges have been difficult, harmful or painful to you in your own life? Why do you think most people (male and female) are unaware of these privileges? What do you think are some strategies to make these privileges recognized and acknowledged so that they can be mitigated, lessened and ended?

Please comment below and spread the word. Let’s get the conversation focused on those problems that are often difficult to see rather than the symbolic representation of just one of these privileges (wearing pants to church #46).

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138 Comments

  1. The essays contained in this issue run as wide a spectrum in feelings about the temple as the art that we found to accompany them. Readers are sure to find at least one essay that does not sound anything like their experience with the temple. It is strange and wonderful and somehow deeply satisfying that a ritual that is so standardized can be interpreted in such magnificently varied ways. I hope that you read this issue with deliberation. I hope that as you read you imagine looking into the eyes of the women who wrote about their experiences. When they ask implicitly, and maybe with fear and sadness or joy and affirmed faith, whether you think their experiences are acceptable, I hope that we can all answer, “Absolutely.”

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