Paper Cuts

Posted by on March 11, 2014 in authority, Exponent II, feminism, Gender, history, leadership, Mormon women, Relief Society, sisterhood, Young Women | 11 comments

Sunday after church, my children occupied themselves by making paper airplanes with scraps of paper while waiting for my meeting to finish. Monday morning, while tidying up, I found one of their airplanes, made from a copy of the First Presidency’s invitation to the General Women’s Meeting later this month.

First Presidency Invitation to the General Women's Meeting

Click to enlarge

The first thing I noticed about this was the “To:” line. It addresses groups of men, from general authorities to bishops and branch presidents before Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Presidencies. Then the letter starts, “Dear Brothers and Sisters:”

For an invitation to a General Women’s Meeting, addressing men first seems a little off. Whose meeting is it? Who is it for?

Midway down, it states, “The stake president, in counsel with the stake Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidencies, should oversee all events related to this meeting.” Our local women’s leaders aren’t even given full authority over the meeting in their meetinghouses. Additionally, not listed in this letter, if you live in Utah and want a ticket to the event at the Conference Center in Salt Lake, you have to go through your stake president.

At the end, there are the facsimiles of the First Presidency’s signatures. The people inviting us to this meeting are not the Auxiliary Presidents, our female spiritual leaders.

So our women’s meeting is extended to us through men and by men.

Now I know that post is going to sound nit-picky. And I know that these little things are not anything in the long run and almost not one will ever remember how they were invited to the General Women’s Meeting. In the long run, it won’t have much affect on a woman’s relationship with God or the Spirit or the Church. But yet, it represents so much more.

There is a concept described by the phrase “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Meghan explained it in her first comment on this post. There are so many of these little “paper cuts” and you can’t point to one for the blame, but taken together, it is damning. Over and over, we erase women. This letter reminded me of Helen Claire Sievers’ article on page 18 of the Winter 2014 Exponent titled, What Women in the Church Have Lost in my Lifetime; I highly recommend reading it.

The first paragraph of this invitation letter mentions “a spirit of worldwide sisterhood.” I believe in that spirit. Can you imagine how empowering it would be for our General Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Presidencies to be the ones signing this letter? If it were first addressed to women, who are ultimately the intended recipients of it? What if the stake Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidents were the ones who got to distribute the tickets to the event, and “oversee all events relating to this meeting?”

It would be a breath of fresh air! And what an easy change that would be. I hope we get to see it soon.

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11 Comments

  1. Every time it is mentioned (which is often) that Relief Society is “the world’s largest women’s organization” I think to myself “and one of the only ones run by men.” I don’t think it really qualifies as a “sisterhood” when men are at the center.

    • Well said.

    • Every time I hear those sorts of references to the RS, I think it is strange to count its membership as so large, when we don’t even have a choice to belong or not. If RS membership were optional, I’d NOT sign up. It’s not that I don’t like sisterhood, but it is no longer women-centered. The lessons are by men and about men. The decisions for us, as this posts points out, are all made by men. I feel like a guest in what is supposed to be my own “house.”

      • I am so with you, Bones. I would not be a regular member– it is only because of my Exponent blog experience that I even bother with Relief Society as all.

        I have also read that the world’s largest organization for women is the Baptist Church’s organization for women, probably because they did what the Mormons did – and assigned all women as members. So it annoys me when it is claimed to be the “largest women’s organization” for that reason, and for reasons that make me feel like a political pawn for the church in placing me in its ranks. “The largest and oldest organization with forced membership for women” is more accurate.

      • “I feel like a guest in what is supposed to be my own ‘house’”

        So very true, so very true.

  2. Thank you for pointing this out. It is little and it is nitpicky, but it is part of a problem that isn’t little OR nitpicky. To me this is an example of how in all things big and small we have an assumption that men should be the authority, that somehow this has more weight and gravitas and importance because it comes from the first presidency and is directed to local male leaders. But this is a women’s meeting!

    I agree with the above comment about this not really being a women’s meeting or organization. Now that we’re all combined I’m sure we’ll have one, not three talks directed to women (the others being aimed at children and adolescents). While I have often loved the talks given by priesthood leaders at this meeting (forget-me-not by Elder Uchtdorf e.g.) I’d really love to hear those talks in the general sessions and just hear from women at women’s meetings.

  3. I can’t believe I have to go to a priesthood holder to get tickets to the women’s meeting, and that female leaders aren’t responsible for the tickets. Complimentarianism indeed.

  4. Great catch of a depressing instance of a sad pattern, TopHat.

  5. I ran across this post as I was searching the web for an invitation template for the meeting. I am making an invitation so myself (the ward RS president), the YW President and Primary President can deliver invitations to the women in our neighborhood. I was given tickets to attend the meeting in the conference center by my stake relief society president, without asking anyone.
    We decided to do this after discussing the letter you have examined in ward council, with the priesthood leaders in the ward. I feel grateful to have discussed the matter in ward council and to have input from everyone. As a result of the discussion, we now have a greater vision of how to invite all women to this meeting as well as an ice cream social that will be put on my the men and young men of our ward after the meeting. They will organize it, plan it and serve the women/young women/primary girls of our ward ice cream. I personally am grateful for the letter addressed to priesthood leaders because it sparked a discussion.
    I am saddened to read comments of sisters, who would rather not participate in Relief Society. I am amazed at the service offered by women in my ward. Their service is often coordinated through Relief Society. I have seen lives changed and blessed greatlly through visiting teaching, under the direction of Relief Society and priesthood leaders. This past week a sister in our ward passed away. She leaves behind young children. Many in our ward did not know her, yet through Relief Society means her family has been served and cared for. They have been overwhelmed by the kindness of their neighbors. I have never felt anything but love, respect and gratitude from priesthood leaders who have given us assignments or counsel. I have never felt my opinion, counsel or leadership to have been underminded. I understand that many women have concerns with church heirarchy and the priesthood direction given to Relief Society. I may not have similar concerns but I respect those concerns. I plead with you not to give up on Relief Society. We need you. We need your comments and perspective on Sundays and we need your kind hearts and service every day. I am grateful to be associated with such amazing women in an organiztion that was organized through a living prophet by The Lord as part of the restoration of His church.

    • It’s so wonderful that your ward and stake is handling this so well! So many stakes could learn here! Thanks for sharing!

  6. You say it perfectly.
    It may seem like a small, nit-picky thing …. but there are a thousand of those things. And they slowly weigh down my woman’s heart.
    Death by a thousand cuts. Paper cuts.

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