Sisters Speak: Countering Androcentric and Limiting Gender Messages Our Children Hear at Church
Dear Exponent readers, the Sisters Speak column of an upcoming Exponent II magazine will focus on the topic of raising empowered daughters and sons in the face of sometimes limiting gender teachings at church. I am looking for brief (one or two paragraph) responses to the question below, and I will email some of you commenters to ask if I can quote you in the magazine. For those that would like to respond privately, please email me at carolinekline1 at gmail dot com.
Church teachings can be enormously empowering for young people. Knowing that we are children of God, that we all have divine potential, that our Heavenly Parents and Jesus care deeply about us — these are, I believe, healing and affirming messages for kids and adults.
I do worry, however, about other androcentric and limiting teachings regarding gender and how they will affect my kids, particularly my daughter. What will she make of incessant references to Heavenly Father (with no mention of Heavenly Mother)? What will she make of lesson after lesson about prophets and priesthood, with all examples and images focusing on males? Will it hurt her, as it does me, to sing hymns every week that virtually erase her existence as a woman? Will Young Women lessons constantly frame the end goal of her life as finding someone to “take her to the temple”? What will it do to her psyche to hear messages about men presiding in the home and church? Will she begin to question whether God loves her as much as God loves males when she sees boys only being allowed to perform priesthood tasks? Will she reign in her professional dreams and desires in order to conform to church ideals of proper womanhood?
Perhaps not. Perhaps she’ll soar above these messages and never let them hurt her sense of self or constrain her. I hope so. And I am determined to do whatever I can to help her soar above them. My kids are still young — eight years old and younger — so I have only begun to deal with some of the issues I mention above. But here are some of the things I do to counter androcentric and limiting messages.
- tell my kids incessantly that God is Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father combined. I then often quiz them randomly. “And who is God?” “Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father!” they yell.
- when they need to give a talk in primary about prophets, I have them focus on a woman — Deborah, Anna, Huldah, etc.
- my husband and I both bless our children. I want them to see women engaging in ritual acts.
- I read them books that depict a divine feminine or at least an inclusive vision of God. I like In God’s Name, Big Momma Makes the World, and When God was a Little Girl.
- I often speak to my daughter about what she might become professionally when she grows up. We talk a lot about her becoming a scientist or vet someday.
- Every so often, I take my kids to another church where women lead and officiate. It’s important to me that they see women as leaders in numerous realms of life.
I imagine we’ll get into deeper conversations in the future — perhaps what it means that only men hold priesthood office in our church and can be official prophets and revelators. Perhaps we’ll discuss why scripture and church teachings place women in subordinate roles as obedient listeners to men’s active presiders and leaders. And I plan to be frank about hoping for change. I’ll tell them that I believe this is the gospel of progression and that it must also be the church of progression. Rhetoric will change, emphases will shift — and until then, we can be voices for change, for hope, and for inclusive love.
What strategies and tips do you have to raise girls and boys in empowered ways that counteract limiting gender messages at church? What do you wish parents or leaders had told you as a young person confronting the reality of gender roles within Mormonism?