I have been thinking a lot about power, empowerment, and disempowerment recently. For me, the root of religious empowerment is access to decision making power. As such, I feel that the structure of the church disempowers women. There are many things we can do to empower women in the church (as has been discussed often on this blog). While these things are helpful, true empowerment needs to come in the form of actual decision making power on all levels of church hierarchy. This raises the question: without this major step what access to other forms of power do women have?
INFORMAL POWER: One of the most common reasons I hear from women of why they “do not feel unequal in the church” is because they have access to the formal structure of decision making through their callings and husbands. They feel like their voice is heard and considered to their satisfaction by the males in their lives. While this is a positive thing and something that is obviously “lovely, of good report, and sought after,” it still places the apex of power singularly in the hands of males and women’s access to it dependent on their good will. Unfortunately not all men are interested in women’s contributions and there are no formal structures to ensure this. The other difficulty with informal power is that it is not something that is granted or assumed. Unlike the priesthood responsibilities which all members are taught about regularly, informal power is not discussed, taught, or even regularly encouraged– so that empowered women tend to find a niche where they are happy with their informal power and disempowered women do not even realize informal power exists or how to access it. How can we better empower women to utilize informal power?
FINANCIAL POWER: Many of the women mentioned in the New Testament after Christ’s resurrection were benefactors who housed, fed, and financially supported Paul and his missionary efforts. For the most part, rich women are mentioned at a higher rate in religious texts than poor women. This tells us something about the power of financial wealth. I have a handful of very very wealthy friends and they have access to church leaders on a level that I will never have. If there is a tabernacle, a BYU project, a temple, a mall, or a cause that the church does not want to spend tithing money on, they reach out to their wealthiest members and ask for donations. This is no different than any other organization on the planet. Money gives you access to leadership. Whether or not those leaders listen to you is another matter. The only problem here for women is that often the wealthiest members of the church are either couples or males. Because women typically spend a large percentage of their lives raising children they rarely reach the level of financial wealth it takes to get access to sit down dinners with the apostles. What would change if women made up the wealthiest members?
MEDIA POWER: The 2012 Mormon Moment was a good example of the power of the media. Being able to construct a narrative, raise controversial questions, and reach large groups of people is an enormously powerful skill. Regardless of whether or not the church wants to deal with a certain topic, if it generates enough media attention they are forced to reckon with it. Women throughout the spectrum of media professions from public relations to blogging have a lot of power. The internet has changed the way that information is spread and processed and opens up many avenues for the expression of opinions and experiences that have the potential to reach those with actual decision making power. While it seems like a round about way to access power, the ability to shape public opinion is radically important. The historical and cultural context in which our current and future church leaders are raised makes up the foundation from which their decisions are based. LDS women are notoriously media literate (pinterest, blogging, etc.) in what ways can we better utilize the media to empower women in the church?
ACTIVISM POWER: The conversation about blacks and the priesthood changed radically when sports teams around the nation began to boycott playing BYU. Although this is arguably something more male-centric I cannot help but wonder what would happen if teams refused to play the BYU football team because of gender inequality? How much money would be lost? How embarrassed and frustrated would members be? How many men would think about gender equality in the church for the first time? While this is not the best example of activist power, there are many ways to advocate for your interests when you have been left out of the formal decision making structure. Some activism advocates for specific causes or changes while others attempt to get a conversation started or promulgate information. What are the pros and cons of activism power within the church versus outside of it?
POLITICAL POWER: Mitt Romney, Harry Reid, Orson Hatch and Rocky Anderson communicate and interact with church leaders on a level that most people never see. While women have no way to acquire decision making power within the formal church structure, they have access to political power in most countries. What would happen if LDS women began to take over the political spectrum? How would wards and stakes change as women in the congregations became mayors, governors, senators and congresswomen? The vision of politically powerful LDS women walking the halls of our ward buildings, being consulted on relevant matters, stating their opinions as if they ought to be present in meetings, and asserting their God given powers is one of the most encouraging and empowering visions I have had in a very long time.
What are your thoughts on power, empowerment, and disempowerment? What other sources of power do LDS women have access to? Which types of power make the biggest difference at a local level? At the general church level? How can we best increase women’s decision making power in the LDS church?