Open letter to Bonnie Parkin, General Relief Society President


Dear President Parkin,

I love the rich history of Relief Society and am inspired by accounts of its previous powerful presidents. Emma Smith, Eliza Snow, Emmeline Wells. These were strong, outspoken women who were widely known and loved by their fellow sisters.

I can’t help but sometimes wonder at the disparity between the visibility of the General Relief Society Presidency now and a hundred years ago. Of course, I realize that the RS Presidency’s opportunities to communicate with the women were different then. Snow and Wells were dealing with a much smaller group of Saints, and they ran the Women’s Exponent newspaper that reached and touched so many of their fellow sisters. Today, however, we have a much larger membership and have only the Ensign for adults, which we know is heavily weighted towards the voices of male authorities.

While I understand that these powerful Relief Society presidents of the past were dealing with an entirely different, un-correlated Church structure, I am still bothered by the fact that I feel I don’t know you at all. I don’t feel your power, your influence. Yes, you’ve given some talks at the Women’s Conferences and even a few in General Conference. (I particularly liked the one about Relief Society being an inclusive organization for every sister in the church.) I’m sure you do other things besides give conference talks occasionally, but I doubt I’m the only one who has little idea of what those other things are. While you are said to be in charge of what is frequently touted as the largest women’s organization on earth, I just don’t feel your leadership or your presence. You are not in the slightest a part of our Sunday meetings. I don’t think your name has even been mentioned in my Relief Society in the last year. This contrasts sharply with the fact that not a Sunday goes by without dozens of references in talks and lessons to President Hinckley or General Authorities.

I as a woman need your woman’s leadership. I need your voice, your ideas, your insights. I need to know that women are important general leaders in this church and that what you have to say is critical. I need others (the men) to know that too. Because if you, the most powerful woman in our church, receive no mention and have little visibility, then what is that telling us all about women’s status in the Church? What are we teaching our daughters and sons about women’s potential and place?

I often ask myself what can be done to ameliorate this problem of your lack of visibility and voice. Is there any way you might be able to start a quarterly newsletter, just a few pages, in which you and your counselors recount experiences from which you’ve gained insight, and in which you give us the latest news and developments in the Relief Society? I can’t think of a single LDS woman who wouldn’t love to read such a newsletter and get to know you better.

Also, is there any way you and your counselors might begin to think of ways to incorporate women’s voices into the Relief Society manuals? I feel very alienated from these Presidents of the Church manuals, since they are so unceasingly male voiced. Perhaps at the end of each chapter, there could be a few quotes from the corresponding Relief Society President of the time. Or perhaps you and your counselors could start compiling a manual of talks by Relief Society Presidents of the past, from which both women and men could be enlightened for a year. After all, if we women are being taught for years on end from manuals that feature only male voices, it seems like it would be very invigorating and inspiring for both men and woman to have at least one year to learn from our female leaders.

President Parkin, thank you for all you do. I realize that you are working under constraints that are not of your making. But anything – anything – you can do to increase the visibility of our female leaders and to highlight the importance of female voices in the Church would be immeasurably meaningful to the women and men of this Church.

Respectfully,
Caroline Kline
Harbor Hills Ward

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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  1. Michael says:

    “Today, however, we have a much larger membership and have only the Ensign for adults, which we know is heavily weighted towards the voices of male authorities.”

    You have got to be kidding me with this line! The Ensign is the biggest chick-oriented magazine I have ever read. It is all about feelings and emotions and life’s disappointments.

    There is nothing masculine about that magazine. It rarely contains discussions of hard doctrine and it never deals seriously with men’s problems.

    The only time it can be considered patriarchal is when the conference edition comes out and even then, the conference talks are touchy-feeley. Elder Oaks, Elder Holland, and Elder Packer are the only ones worth reading if you need a true man’s perspective.

    I wish they would re-publish the Journal of Discourses so we could get back to our true masculine roots.

  2. amelia says:

    right. because “hard doctrine” and talks that deal with substantial doctrinal issues, as opposed to social problems (read talks by the three apostles you name vs. a Thomas Monson talk about succoring those who suffer), are so very clearly “masculine” and male-oriented.

    that’s the most repulsively sexist comment i think i’ve ever read on a mormon site (granted i’ve only just begun reading mormon blogs, but still). since when were “hard doctrine” or doctrinely rigorous sermons the realm of men or masculinity? oh, that’s right. ever since the Mormon church wrongfully bifurcated pretty much the entire world, assigning women to the “soft” “feel-good” side of things and men to the “hard” “intellectually challenging” “rigorous” side of things. i deal with this load of bug pucky every single conference when the female speakers stand up and deliver ridiculously sappy talks. it’s about damn time we had women who stood up and delivered doctrinally rigorous sermons. they can. every bit as thoughtfully and provocatively as any of the brethren you can name. but then, we don’t actually extend callings of importance to such women. because they’re somehow not quite women, right? because they’re too “masculine” because obviously doctrine is more than women can deal with.

    my question, to the church at large, is when are we going to have women who use the brains god gave them to deliver intelligent, demanding, in depth analysis of our doctrine? these talks happen occasionally. but more often than not, women’s talks are of a certain variety that fit with gender stereotypes. i can’t wait for the day when our visible female leaders breach that norm and let loose with a flood of thought-provoking prose.

    i’m sorry, caroline, to use your letter for a rant. and i’ll respond more fully later, but this just had to be addressed.

  3. Deborah says:

    [Brief aside to Michael before responding to post: There is a big difference between perceived “feminine tone” (a topic for another day) and equitable representation in authorship. The vast majority of “doctrinal” pieces are written by men, especially with the new trend toward reprinting past general conference talks. Most of the articles by women are personal narratives about home and family. The February Ensign has 13 major articles by men and three by women. The three are narratives about losing a child, marriage, and accepting a calling to play piano. This is a typical ratio. Even the visiting teaching message is mostly a collection of quotes by male general authorities. The height of irony was the March 2005 message on “Rejoicing in Relief Society”: 5 out of 6 quotes were by men. Why isn’t this, of all sections, authored by the Relief Society General Presidency? I don’t mind reading articles by men – especially when they are well-written, and the tone of the Ensign may very well cater to a female audience – but it is not providing a forum for women’s voices the way the Relief Society Magazine did for years. And now that there is no longer a Relief Society Teaching Manual, there are very few “official” places to hear women speaking on doctrine. In fact, at this point it is pretty much limited to the two or three conference talks.]

    Caroline: I resonate with much of what you write. And I think there is a hunger from the general membership for a more visible leadership. I think about the strong response Cheiko Okazaki and Sheri Dew got from their writings and the popularity of BYU Women’s conference. It’s stunning that a sister could easily sit though a year of Relief Society lessons and never hear a female church leader quoted – unless the stake leadership happens to choose a talk by a woman for the Teaching For Our Times lessons (that hasn’t happened in my ward for several months). This, of course, keeps me returning to places like Exponent II for dialogue – but dialogue among sisters is different from public leadership. I absolutely trust that the Relief Society Presidency is anxiously engaged in worthy causes – but know very little of how their time is spent or how the organization is run at this point. I hope you mail this letter.

  4. Michael says:

    Amelia,

    Believe it or not, I do agree with you. I would like to see more of the women in the Church tackle the harder issues instead of the “soft stuff”. However, I don’t necessarily think it is a deliberate attempt by the Brethren to make women only handle “soft” things.

    Speaking from a convert’s perspective, I truly believe it is a self-imposed cultural restraint imposed on the sisters of the church by other sisters.

    Just as the men of the church cannot handle a man with “traditionally feminine traits”, I believe that the women of the church cannot handle a woman with “traditionally masculine traits”.

    I mean for the word “traits” to be all inclusive and not just to refer to mannerisms and behaviors. But also to the intellectual, physical, and emotional aspects.

    The last “butch” women we had in the RS Presidency were Dew and Okazaki (although, IMHO, I think Dew has other reasons for the “butchness”). I loved to listen to President Okazaki’s talks. They were intellectually stimulating and made me sit up and listen.

    Now, that being said, in no way did I mean my comment to be sexist and, upon re-reading it many times, I still don’t think it is. A sexist comment would be me relegating women into the “soft” roles. I am doing no such thing. The acceptance of “soft” roles by the women is, in my mind, a voluntary choice. You never saw the strong sisters of the late 1800s and early 1900s imposing such restraints upon themselves or others. They took the bull by the horn and just did it. To heck with Brother Brigham’s opinions.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Michael, is one of your supposed reasons for Dew’s “butchiness” her single status? Geez, why is it that if a woman isn’t married she must be (nudge nudge, wink wink) gay?

  6. Michael says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    No, it has nothing to do with her singleness. It has to do with her absolute hatred of and incredibly vile comments about homosexuality. You don’t get that vile and exhibit that much hatred about something that doesn’t directly impact you unless there is some self-hatred going on there.

    But now I am sorry I even brought it up because I do not want to turn this thread into a discussion of lesbianism. This is for the discussion of Caroline’s open letter which is very good.

  7. Deborah says:

    “The acceptance of “soft” roles by the women is, in my mind, a voluntary choice.”

    Except women do not volunteer to give general conference talks — they are not involved in creating the speaker line-up. Look at the managing board at the Ensign — women are not choosing which articles get placed in the official magazine. Even in the mid-twentieth century the RS presidency did a lot of “fighting” — for their own building, management of their own funds, etc. The magazine was not exactly “voluntarily” disbanded. Can we do more at the local level to “take the bull by the horns?” Sure. But that’s not what this post is about. Caroline’s letter points to the dearth of visible _general_ leadership. The Jack/Okazaki/Clyde presidency _was_ outspoken — and ruffled some feathers in the church office building because of it. I remember that presidency; I was just entering Relief Society and was proud to hear them speak, proud to participate in their literacy project, loved the talks in the pre-correlated BYU women’s conference. The subsequent presidencies have been much more . . . well, docile. Is this a “choice”? Yes, but whose?

  8. Michael says:

    Deborah,

    You cannot instigate change from the top down. It can only come from the bottom up. When it comes from the top down, it is called obedience.

    If there were no women of the church that were willing to fill those “soft” roles then the Brethren would have no choice but to fill the Presidencies with stronger women. The Brethren are not going to pass by every strong woman for callings when the Church only contains strong women.

    As far as the Ensign goes, how many of you have taken the time to write a good doctrinal piece or essay and sent it into the Ensign? If the Ensign editors are only receiving substantial articles from the sisters of the church then they will have to publish them, won’t they?

    The change you seek will happen when the women of the Church refuse to accept such “soft” roles. Now that does not mean that I am advocating a wholesale abandonment of the “traditional” model. It serves an important purpose in strengthening our families and homes. It brings satisfaction to many people who enjoy defining themselves in that manner.

    But are you going to tell me that Deseret Book would not change the composition of its book offerings for women if the “soft” books sat on the shelves and didn’t sell? They would change them in a minute.

    Why was the temple ceremony changed? Because people were uncomfortable with certain parts and attendance was suffering as a result. Change came from the bottom up.

    I understand fully what it is like to want things to be a certain way. In many ways, I am also on the outside looking in to a cultural I cannot relate to. My testimony of the gospel has never been stronger but I am glad I don’t have to live in the Utah culture every day.

    You cannot impose things upon people that they do not want. If enough sisters did not sit still for dull RS lessons, or if they did not show up for the Women’s Conference due to uninspiring talks, then things would change. You can only start with yourself.

  9. Starfoxy says:

    “You cannot instigate change from the top down. It can only come from the bottom up. When it comes from the top down, it is called obedience.”

    I think when it comes from the top down it’s called leadership. We look to our leaders for examples of what we are supposed to be. When we see only docile women in leadership positions we are being taught that docile is how women are supposed to be.

    You say “The change you seek will happen when the women of the Church refuse to accept such “soft” roles.” We’re not just being *offered* soft roles, were being told that soft roles are the ideal. The ideals of the church are defined from the top down. Until the ideal changes strong women will still accept the docile roles assigned to them thinking that they are becoming better women by conforming to the ideals defined by the leadership of the church.

  10. Deborah says:

    “You can only start with yourself.”

    Which is why, um, I helped start this blog, buy books by LDS women historians and socialogists, teach institute classes on Women in the Bible, and on and on . . . What are YOU doing? (Rhetorical question for this thread. Go click on the Virtual Oasis’ link “What is the role of feminist men in feminism?” and respond there).

    It’s not reasonable or desirable to hope all LDS women will think or behave consistently “soft” or “hard”(REALLY hate those terms — but that’s another post). I do not begrudge personal narratives in the Ensign; I LOVE personal narratives. I begrudge the gender strata inherent in the choice of article authors; and believe me, there are plenty of past doctrinal talks from women leaders that could fill those pages; and there are no shortage of women historians and scriptorians writing these days. I can name you several in my acquantance.

    “You cannot instigate change from the top down. It can only come from the bottom up. When it comes from the top down, it is called obedience.”

    Actually, it’s called “leadership” and “inspiration.” And we need some of both.

  11. Dora says:

    Brava Caroline and Deborah! When I think of contemporary female leaders in the church, the only ones who come to mind are Okazaki and Dew. I never tuned out during their talks because they were addressed to women as disciples of Christ. Their talks were always geared to how we can develop and deepen our relationships with deity and humanity, regardless of marital or parental status.

    I also agree that a more diverse approach to womanhood is needed, especially in the leadership of the church. Many years ago, my mother was called into the ward Young Women’s presidency. All of her children were out past the teenage years, and she has never had much to do with kids not of her own womb. Anyway, the bishop told her that he called her because the young women needed her example … as a faithful, independent LDS woman with a career.

  12. amelia says:

    michael,

    I’m glad that we see eye to eye on the need for more women to be more doctrinally and (dare I say it?) intellectually engaged with the gospel. However, I still maintain that your initial post was sexist. You said (and I quote): “There is nothing masculine about that magazine. It rarely contains discussions of hard doctrine and it never deals seriously with men’s problems.” And later you said: “I wish they would re-publish the Journal of discourses so we could get back to our true masculine roots.” If those two passages do not equate “masculine” with doctrine and rigorous theological examination, I don’t know what else they do. I’m glad you clarified yourself a bit in your follow-ups, but it is rather troubling that you made the initial associations.

    as to content in the Ensign: it seems wrong to me to say that it never addresses men’s problems. this month it has articles on losing a child to stillbirth, temple attendance, instilling a sense of self-worth in our children, being a bishop, etc. none of those seem gender specific.

    and I couldn’t explain the problem with the sources of the material better than Deborah already has.

    while I agree that change must necessarily involve change at the grassroots level–that things will change if women begin to move beyond the roles prescribed for them–i do not think this is sufficient. Many women–maybe even most–won’t do so because the models they are given in leadership positions continue to reinscribe traditional gender roles. They are presented with images of womanhood in which women don’t engage with doctrine through something that looks like scholarship or in depth analysis, but rather by way of personal narrative. Both modes are legitimate and interesting. but I believe that both men and women should engage in both modes; that we only become the fully developed people we should be when we both think about and examine doctrine as well as live it.

    and while i understand the point that if the populace of the church demands a certain kind of woman, then it will change, i find the argument problematic. as a divinely inspired institution, the church should be setting the example–not kowtowing to its membership. and in my opinion, womanhood is more than warm fuzzy stories about being a mom or performing charitable work (yes; i’m using hyperbole; intentionally). in my opinion womanhood should also include rigorous examination of doctrine. and i believe our female leadership should embody that. change will only happen when things begin to shift both at the top and the bottom.

    and while i agree that okazaki and dew were wonderful examples, i lost a bit of faith in dew when she delivered that talk about how all women are mothers. what a ridiculous attempt to reconcile the problematic way in which the church defines womanhood as motherhood.

  13. Caroline says:

    I think others have said to Michael a lot of what I would have said. I do agree, Michael, that the Ensign is pretty fluffy, but as Deborah pointed out, 80% of it is authored by men, and a good share of that is authored by General Authorities. I am particularly incensed by the fact that our visiting teaching message usually gives about six quotes by men, and if we’re lucky once every few months one of those six quotes might be from a woman.

    Michael, I myself have activist tendencies, and I am attracted to the idea that we can indeed affect change from the bottom. When I want to be optimistic, I try to think like that, since it doesn’t seem that we’re on track for much progressive thinking top down. However, unfortunately, when women are told by authorities – men who speak for God – constantly what it means to be a woman, and that includes softness, sweetness, and other gentle stereotypical feminine traits, it will be nearly impossible for there ever to be a grand scale refusal of women to accept it. I think Starfoxy made a great point about that.

    Deborah, as for the Jack/Okazaki presidency, I’d heard similar things about them ruffling some feathers. In fact, I’ve heard that that presidency was disbanded because Okazaki was too popular, had too much of a following, and some authorities were threatened by her charisma. I’ve also heard that Okazaki was extremely disappointed by the way they were treated by the General Authorities when they were in the presidency. Ok, so that’s a lot of hearsay, but I got it from someone who has talked personally with Chieko. If it’s true, that’s rather dark and depressing, isn’t it?

    Dora, I agree that Dew and Okazaki seem to be the highlight for women leaders of the past 25 years. Too bad we’ve been lacking such charasmatic and doctrinally rigorous female leaders recently. Even though, as Amy points out, Dew did have a major hiccough with that talk about how all women are mothers. Ugh. I’m glad some local leaders at least, like your mom’s bishop, are willing to call strong women into leadership position.

    Thanks so much everyone for your comments. As I was writing the letter, I couldn’t help but feel that Parkin’s position is kind of like Heavenly Mother’s. We know she’s there, we know she cares about us, but we really don’t know anything about her and she really doesn’t have that much opportunity to communicate with us.

    But maybe, just maybe, if Parkin pushes hard, she can get something like a little newsletter going. How wonderful it would be if she had a forum to express herself!

  14. Tracy M says:

    I am not going to jump into the fray of debate here. All I can offer at present is that I REALLY hope you mail that letter, and someone reads it who hears you.

    Im a convert and can barely stand another insipid RS lesson or talk. I find myself talking any excuse I can fine to be elsewhere.

    PLEASE send the letter.

  15. Ariel says:

    “Parkin’s position is kind of like Heavenly Mother’s. We know she’s there, we know she cares about us, but we really don’t know anything about her and she really doesn’t have that much opportunity to communicate with us.”

    Beautifully put. That is exactly the situation- and although I try to be complacent about HM, I am somewhat irked that I don’t see more of Parkin. She seems like a wonderful woman, but I really don’t know a thing about what she does.

  16. annegb says:

    Sheri Dew’s comments about homosexuality in her most recent book were one of the few compassionate things I’ve ever heard her say. I’ve never heard her condemn homosexuality.

    I was referred to a speech Sister Parkin gave on visiting teaching, but was disappointed when it seemed like the same one I read from and quoted from last year.

    I certainly agree with the gist of this thread. But I think you’re being way, way too hard on Sheri Dew, who will never be one of my heroes, either.

  17. Sally says:

    I,too am frustrated with the lack of doctrinal knowledge among the sisters. When I go to Education Week, I attend almost every class of Susan Easton Black – it is so wonderful to hear the depth of knowledge from a woman. I teach Relief Society and study extensively before each lesson to bring as much depth as I can and the sisters tell me they enjoy the lessons very much. But when I discuss doctrine, I get little class discussion – just seems to be lack of knowledge in what I am talking about. I get torn between wanting to give meat, not just the same milk we seem to get over and over in RS and talking more about feelings and experiences, which a lot of the sisters seem to enjoy. I find it difficult to approach the lesson from both angles. I remember Neal Maxwell saying that we don’t want a church where the men are the theologians and the women are the Christians. I wish there was more encouragement for women to be gospel scholars.

  18. Caroline says:

    Sally,
    How I wish I was in your Relief Society! At least you attempt to have meaningful discussions when you are teaching. I am currently in a ward in which we’re lucky if we get any discussion questions, let alone good ones. We have a lot of teachers and leaders that like to just get up for half an hour and give a lecture. I think it’s because the teachers are insecure and don’t want to risk not being in control of the situation.

    Anyway, I too wish that RS lesson discussions could be much deeper and meaningful than what we currently have. Unfortunately, the structure of our present manual does present quite a few problems for many teachers. That and the fact that there does seem to be a dearth of women, in my ward at least, who are interested in doctrinal or theological questions.

  19. Caroline says:

    Thanks all for the comments. I am planning to mail the letter off, as soon as I figure out where to send it.

    Annegb, I think what people are referring to is a Republican National Convention speech she gave in which she compared people supporting homosexual marriage to people who supported Nazism. She also at some point mentioned that the idea of two homosexuals raising a child nauseated her. She (deservedly IMO) got a lot of flack in the press for those comments.

  20. Anonymous says:

    We had a Relief Society teacher in our ward who used the scriptures and dealt with hard doctrine and wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions in class discussions. It’s true I liked some of her lessons better than others, just because I think some go better than others, but she was the one teacher whose class I made sure I was there for — and I have a friend who is largely inactive who nevertheless came to RS on the Sundays this woman taught. She was just a naturally talented teacher (I was floored when I found out she worked for an advertising agency and not in teaching or at least in the theater) and a gifted scriptorian. I think she was a teacher for about a year and then she was released to work in the cub scout program. We had a former general presidency member in our ward at the time, and when she found out what had happened, she said, “What a waste.” It’s not just that there’s a lack of visible female role models at the head of the church, we can’t even keep them on the local level.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I have just read the letter to Bonnie Parker and all of the responses. Why are women who are “soft” being made to sound less intelligent or complaisant compared to others? There are women who think about doctrine, the Church and society, but still choose to be “soft” which I am inferring has a lot to do with being traditional. I would like to see more of our female leaders, and I go out of my way to try and have friendships with women who value their intellectual discipleship, but I still feel like I get a lot from reading/hearing talks from male leaders and from a lot of the “touchy-feeley” lessons referred to. Do any of you feel like you are uplifted by those things or only by the female leaders? I really am curious not trying to be antagonistic on that one.

  22. amelia says:

    i should apologize for introducing the language of “soft” and “hard”. they are very inept words.

    my problem is not with the fact that women choose traditional roles or that anyone uses an approach to teaching or speaking that has traditionally been gendered female (narrative and story-telling vs. rigorous intellectual analysis). my point is that neither of those rhetorical approaches should be strictly gendered female or male. I think both are incredibly powerful and can communicate sophisticated messages. the savior himself often used storytelling and narrative in order to teach very important and complex doctrines. so i apologize if any of my statements sounded like i believed such techniques are not intelligent. it was not my intent.

    what bothers me is that the techniques are perceived in gendered ways. i have heard many people criticize sherri dew for being too manly and all i can conclude as to where that’s coming from is that it’s rooted in the fact that she gave talks that are more firmly situated in a tradition that we (unfortunately) believe to be masculine. i don’t understand that. i want to see female examples of intellectually rigorous doctrinal examination as well as of narrative and emotionally powerful messsages. And i want to see men deliver the kinds of emotionally in-tune messages we tend to think of as being the realm of women. my belief is that we are all of us–regardless of our gender–supposed to embody every good thing, whether it is of the mind or of the heart. and i’d like to see this modeled more completely than it is.

    do i find narrative oriented or “touchy-feely” lessons and talks inspiring? sometimes. it depends on whether they make connections back to something more substantial than a feel good story. i enjoy a feel good story. but if i don’t find the speaker or teacher connecting the dots, using the story to explicate some truth, then the feel-good story isn’t any better than a harlequin romance novel–even if it is purer in content. but when the stories and the emotion are connected to something that resonates with me as true, then i very much enjoy such talks/lessons.

    and i apologize for my wordiness. it’s a problem i suffer from on occasion.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Maybe you should use this letter like a petition! I’m an RS president and recently was asked to submit questions and concerns (thru our Stake Pres. which is another matter altogether!) to Sister Pingree who was coming to give a regional training meeting. I submitted a very similar (but much more poorly written, it was a bit of a rant) letter with the same concerns.

  24. sarah says:

    “while I agree that change must necessarily involve change at the grassroots level–that things will change if women begin to move beyond the roles prescribed for them–i do not think this is sufficient.”
    The top down or bottom up question is interesting, and I think that top down leadership is necessary in this case. Many women work outside the home but yet week after week, conference after conference, we still hear how women SHOULD stay in the home and raise children. Even the Ensign over the summer supported and scolded women for not being homemakers and enjoying it. I think if the grassroots level, or the idea that the church will change as the women do were really true, then “the women working outside the home” issue already would have been taken off the table.

    Cheers,

  25. Starfoxy says:

    I found this quote from a discusion about appropriate church dress pertinent to this discussion(I hope it doesn’t start a threadjack).

    “The lady that wants to wear pant suits shows that she is not be obedient and wants “to counsel” the leaders. … We are not to bring the church down to our level but raise ourselves up the Lord’s expectations.”

    This person stated perfectly why change in the church *has* to be from the top down. People who go against the norm are immediately branded as disobedient.

  26. sarah says:

    Interesting quote… In the winter I go half way… I wear pants under whatever skirt I wear… whether it be long or short. Not much of a fashion statement, but I am not cold but not so “disobedient” either. I noticed I was accepted more when I dressed better in my ward in Texas, but since I left there, I really don’t care much.

    I agree with starfoxy, especially with religion where you can be branded as bad in some way, I think it is essential that the leadership call powerful women to leadership positions so that more women can follow in their example.

    If it is other women at the grassroots level keeping women in stereotipical roles then I think that some changes at the top would certainly alter womens perceptions faster than anything!

  27. cchrissyy says:

    Well-written and true. I like it!

  28. Caroline says:

    Hi everyone,
    I have a request. Can all you anonymouses sign your posts with either some name or an anonymous1 or 2 or something? I want to respond to your comments, and it’s hard when there are so many called anonymous! 🙂

    Anonymous – re: fabulous teacher who becomes cub scout person. That’s just too sad. The leaders should have fought to keep her in there. Getting good lessons in church is pretty difficult at anytime. But to relegate a truly talented one after only one year to cub scouts? A waste indeed.

    Anonymous – re: petition
    I like the way you think. A few years ago I think I had the same idea about circulating petitions. But my husband seemed to think that the church just does not work that way. That it’s better for individuals to talk to leaders, and then those leaders to talk to authorities, etc. Seems a lot less direct, but I guess that’s the way these things tend to work. Sad.

    Sarah: The top down bottom up question is interesting. I agree that things should be better regarding working women. But I do think the rhetoric has become softer about it in the last decade. In the 80’s Kimball said some incredibly harsh things about women working, but I don’t hear that anymore. And I’m also encouraged by what happened with birth control. A vast number of members just kept ignoring the authorities who counseled against it, and eventually they changed their tune.

  29. jana says:

    caroline:

    I wonder if the birth control issue is different, tho, than something like where you work (in or out of the home) or wearing pants to church. No one can tell what form (if any) of birth control I use except my SO and my doctor. Most everyone can tell what sort of attire is wrapped around the lower half of my body at church. So that’s why it’s harder to go against the grain on this most church-related issues–the need to fit in is too strong.

  30. Deborah says:

    Caroline: This is on the church website:

    Relief Society Building
    Address:
    76 N. Main Street
    Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

    Phone number(s):
    Call 1-801-240-3212 for more information.

    I’d call to make sure they use this as the mailing address.

  31. Mike says:

    Don’t you think that the letter sent to Pres. Parkin will just be forwarded to your stake president without her even reading it?

  32. Caroline says:

    Jana, good point. Using birth control is less obvious than other more overt things, and therefore I guess there was less social pressure regarding its use. Though eventually, people probably do catch on (or at least wonder) if a couple has only two kids. I wonder if that’s what happened with the church authorities. They looked at the stats and saw the birth rate steadily declining and realized they couldn’t win this one.

    Thanks Deborah,
    I’ll send the letter off soon.

    Mike, as I mentioned above, it probably will end up on my stake pres’ desk, but that’s ok with me. (In fact, I think I’ll include two copies. One for him, and one for Parkin.) I stand by all I’ve said and I’d welcome the chance to talk to him about it. At least, maybe, I might be able to convince him to choose one teaching for our time talk by a woman. See, I’m an optimist.

  33. amelia says:

    you could always deal with the stake president issue by doing it in the first place. when you print up your letter, include a cc at the bottom naming president clayton and mail a copy directly to him. i know he wouldn’t have a problem receiving it. you could include a cover note explaining that these issues are important to you and that you feel like they should be addressed at both the general and the local area, so you are copying him on the letter. You could also acknowledge in that cover letter that the relief society president in our stake is actually quite visible (they’ve been fairly good about visiting the wards and they host at least a couple of women’s events each year, though admittedly one of those is simply a social held before or after general women’s conference). I think this kind of acknowledgement will go a long ways towards opening hearts and ears from the beginning (I think someone else made a similar suggestion for the original letter?).

  34. Mike says:

    Sorry, I obviously missed that you had already broached this topic.

    Maybe the stake pres would be ok with one topic a month from female leaders??? Might be a good suggestion to make to the ward RS leadership, too.

  35. Caroline says:

    Mike, can you be more specific?What do you mean by one topic a month from female leaders? For what? teachings of our times? I’m afraid we don’t have enough female leader talks to have a lesson on one every month. (unfortunately)

  36. Tona says:

    Caroline,

    Can I put a word in for being a female cub scout leader? How else are young boys going to learn about smart, spiritually engaged church leadership than from examples like that? Much-needed change happens on many levels, and working within the RS is only one of them… suppose all women felt a need for change (which they clearly don’t), who would show the boys and men the way? I’ve worked in RS and Primary and am now a Cubmaster, and actually I think it’s a great place to demonstrate strong female leadership within the ward.

  37. amelia says:

    i obviously can’t say what exactly caroline intended, but i think she meant that it’s unfortunate that such a gifted teacher was taken out of teaching and put into cubscouts, not that it’s always a waste to have a strong, intelligent woman in the position of cub leader. this is especially understandable given caroline’s experience with RS teachers (not a great one).
    i agree with Tona. i think it’s important that we recognize that women can have a very important impact in any calling in a ward–not just in visibly women-oriented callings. and maybe this woman was also a gifted cub leader and did as wonderful things there as she did in RS. and i do think it’s incredibly important that we begin to influence the ways both young boys and young girls perceive women

  38. Caroline says:

    Thanks for your input Tona. I think Amy clarified well what I meant. I think indeed we should have powerful talented women in cubscouts, but I can’t help but feel that someone who is so gifted with teaching adults (a rare, rare skill in my experience) should be given more than a year to help enlighten and inspire the large group of sisters who attend R.S. Certainly, it sounds like the boys that got that teacher were very privileged to get such a talented woman, and hopefully she’ll be able to affect them in an important way.

  39. Mike says:

    “can you be more specific? What do you mean by one topic a month from female leaders? For what? teachings of our times?” I’m afraid we don’t have enough female leader talks to have a lesson on one every month. (unfortunately)”

    I was thinking more about possibly a 1st Sunday instead of 4th Sunday and using words from both present and past female leaders. The current P’hood/RS manuals draw not only from conference talks but also from other talks and writings. If people searched through various writings and things (Exponent mags, RS mags, Ensign articles), they could scrape up some good stuff written or said by women over time. Never as much as there is from men, of course. Anyway, just an idea…

  40. Mike says:

    First- this is a totally different Mike from any of the previous commenters.

    Wow- I was somewhat shocked by Michael’s comment- as it seems that it slightly derailed the discussion.

    I wish that ALL of us heard more from the RS presidency. One of my favorite CES firesides in the last few years was Sister Parkin’s from March 2004
    http://lds.org/broadcast/ces/0,7341,538-1-61-461,00.html

  41. Mary Ellen says:

    I forwarded the article to Bonnie Parkin’s son and daughter-in-law who were in my ward for many years. I don’t know whether they forwarded it to her, but I thought they’d be interested in what was being said here. 🙂

    An aside: there is–and always has been–plenty of “good stuff” written by Mormon women. Anyone saying otherwise is woefully uninformed.

  42. Caroline says:

    Mike1, thanks for clarifying. You’re right. First Sunday is the perfect time to get women’s voices into the curriculum. Maybe I’ll send an email to our ward’s new RS pres about it….

    Mike2, thanks for the reference to that Parkin fireside. I haven’t checked it out yet, but I will.

    Mary Ellen, Whoohoo!!! Thanks for forwarding this to Parkin’s son. Wow, I’m actually becoming hopeful that this letter will reach her someday. I agree that there’s a lot of “good stuff” written by Mormon women. My fear is that not a huge percentage of it is “authoritative.” (i.e. given at one of the big conferences.) I, of course, am more than happy if a teacher teaches from a female authored source that is non-authoritative, but I’m afraid most ward RS pres’s wouldn’t go for it.

  43. Kristel says:

    I think its funny that you are asking to hear more from Sister Parkin, but you havent even listened to her when she has spoken in the past – like the fireside you havent checked out yet. Can you explain that a bit please?

  44. Caroline says:

    Kristal,
    That’s easy to explain. I didn’t know it existed until I read Mike’s message yesterday, and I had a friend over all last night. Ergo, no time to read it yet. But hopefully sometime today after I get home from work I’ll do that.

    And maybe I should clarify. I have no doubt that Bonnie Parkin is indeed going around and giving talks and firesides to various limited audiences. What I and so many other women are craving are more opportunities for all women (and men) to hear her.

    I’m sure we are all missing out if she is limited to primarily speaking at firesides, which are a)given to limited audiences and b) hard to find the transcript for even if we do find out about the fireside. I and so many other would love it if she could speak to ALL of us more often. In conferences, in the Ensign, in a Relief Society newsletter, etc., which are easy for all members of the church to access.

  45. Kristal says:

    Yes,
    It is hard to find what she says to us. It takes all of 5 seconds to get every talk she has ever given off the churches web site.

  46. Starfoxy says:

    I think the main point here is that we are all spoon-fed quotes and talks from the male leadership in all of our church meetings and magazines while the words of female leaders are rarely, if ever, mentioned.
    While she is easy to find, many people don’t know to look for her. She is non-existent to the people who don’t know who she is, or that her words are there to be found. I would guess that about half of the women in Relief Society worldwide couldn’t tell you her name.

  47. Caroline says:

    Kristal, You must be far more proficient than I am at navigating LDS.org. I went to the gospel library and searched Bonnie Parkin’s name. The only things that came up were things that have appeared in the Ensign. Perhaps you can help me (I’d honestly like to know)- where do you go to find fireside talks?

  48. Caroline says:

    Mike2,
    I just read the fireside talk you referred me to. It was neat to see Parkin extensively quote and interpret different scriptures. I, personally, probably would not have chosen to draw such strict polarities between “us” and “the world.” But I realize that that is common rhetoric among lots of church leaders and it was still great to hear a woman grappling with the scriptures.

  49. Kristal says:

    From lds.org if you look on the left side you will see links. Click “Gospel Library”.
    More links are now on the left side, including:
    Recent Addresses
    Broadcasts
    etc.
    If you click on Broadcasts, you can get to Archives of firesides, BYU tv, Radio, almost anything. At that point, just do a search for “Parkin” on those pages.

  50. Kristal says:

    Im afraid I hit enter too soon.

    If you go to the BYU Television page, and click “find a talk” you can find talks given by President Parkin all the back from when she was in the young womens presidency in 95ish

  51. Dora says:

    “While she is easy to find, many people don’t know to look for her. She is non-existent to the people who don’t know who she is, or that her words are there to be found. I would guess that about half of the women in Relief Society worldwide couldn’t tell you her name.”

    I can second this. I surveyed about ten active LDS men and women; the only one who knew who she was is a current RS president in a singles’ ward. No one else (including me) even had an inkling who she was.

  52. Caroline says:

    Thanks Kristal. I’ll go there and check out some of her other talks.

    Dora, wow. While I know Parkin’s not highly visible, I’m still surprised that only 1 in 10 Mormons you asked knew who she was. That’s really a shame.

  53. lucinda says:

    I have found myself shaking my head over and over as I read these comments. It seems that most of you have forgotten the fact that Christ himself on most occasions was what you all refer to as soft. We have plenty of “hard women” today, I’m thinking softness and gentleness are what this strong, violent world is in need of. I am a “strong take charge woman” and love doctorinal discussions, and have never found myself referring to the author to see if they have merrit. Many of you also seem to forget that church callings are from Heavenly Father, not just the Bishops whim. As Relief Society president of our ward I try very hard to use inspiration for what I do and the callings I make and I am convinced our Bishop does the same.
    Relief Society is not a Democratic Society, it is the organization that the Lord uses to teach and uplift women and their families. Not some platform for loud (hard) women to show their teaching or leadership talents. I have had to work on many occasions, but feel very strongly about the need for women to stay home. Maybe those looking for an excuse to work should remember that council comes from the prophet of God, regardless of how outdated he may be.

  54. Amelia 2 says:

    I hope I dont have to associate in callings or in any other way with people who have the self-centered, lazy attitude that we are entitled to be handed doctrine on a plate. Stop complaining and study for yourself. Sart a scripture study group and realize that Bonnie Parkin is obviously WORLDS ahead of you in every humble, Christian, responsible, loving and obedient way. Lucinda makes sense. It seems like everyone else is like the kindergarten kids slapping each other’s backs and seeking positive reinforcement for silly criticism of others. Dont you think Bonnie Parkin has already thought of the need to reach people? Maybe she gives us too much benefit of the doubt in thinking we actually could -um – click on the “find a talk” button and read or listen to every talk and inspirational doctrinal or other talk we ever could want. I hope and suspect nobody would waste their time re-thinking everything through you’re cocky perspective. Hopefully the secretary saves valuable time and puts it straight in the trash.
    Good luck in your lives. Bitterness never was happiness.

  55. Anonymous says:

    We, in the church, have a prophet and apostles who receive inspiration and guidance from Jesus Christ on how His church must be run. The “Presidents of the Church” books cannot possibly be female voiced. I’m sure you can understand why. There have been a lot of good talks by men and women who are not apostles and prophets. But they are not called to guide the church. Do women have good things to say? Of course they do. But the Lord’s house is a house of order. He is running things as He would have them run. You need to stop seeing things as man vs. woman. Men and women have their roles. Neither one is more important than the other they are equal but different. The Lord has called these men to guide His church. Did you know that critisizing church leaders is one of the first steps to apostacy? That comes directly from a prophet of God. You may not have ever heard that because you were waiting for a statement from a woman.