Small and Simple Things

Posted by on October 9, 2013 in authority, Changes, ethics, feminism, leadership, women | 31 comments

If you thought you heard the words “Some feminist thinkers view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women, and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation,” during general conference, be reassured: you aren’t losing your mind. You did hear them. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said them in the Saturday afternoon session, and USA Today will back you up. But when you go to read the talk in the Ensign, the words “feminist thinkers” won’t be there.

They’ve been edited out of the official transcript.

So, is this censorship? Is it Church PR trying to smooth over a badly-worded phrase? Is it deceitful?

Is it wrong for Church leaders to say one thing and print another?

We’ve had quite a bit of discussion about this on the Exponent bloggers’ backlist. Most of us were very hurt by these words, but some of us were even more hurt that they were excised. One blogger even noted that the LDS.org website delayed posting audio and video of the talk for several hours.

Obviously, the words Elder Christofferson used were offensive. I’d argue that they’re also inaccurate (see footnote). But I think the real reason they were taken out is that they don’t reflect the views of the Church. And that is something to celebrate.
As regular ol’ members of the LDS Church, we don’t usually get to see or hear any of uncorrelated, forceful, strongly-argued back-and-forth discussions that happen before that magical moment when the Brethren decide to be unanimous about something. (I’ve been assured, by a very good source, that this does indeed occur.) But we do get a glimpse into this process when general conference talks appear online or in the Ensign edited in small but significant ways. And what we see is wiser heads prevailing. My guess is that somewhere between the time Elder Christofferson maligned feminists and the time a transcription of his words appeared on the Church website, someone (and probably someone senior to him) pulled him aside to say, “Todd, you said something very hurtful today that isn’t in line with Christ’s doctrine. Women have been subjugated and abused throughout history in exactly such ways. I am hoping you will rethink what you said.” And Christofferson was humble enough to do it.
In the edited transcript, there’s even a clarifying footnote which begins, “It is true that many women over many generations have been exploited or saddled with unfair burdens both in family and employment, but selflessness and sacrifice need not and should not become abusive or exploitative.” I’ll bet that was added sometime on Saturday or Sunday.

It isn’t an apology. It isn’t a leader coming clean and drawing attention to the fact that he made a mistake, which I think would be a braver and more honest thing to do. But it is a step. As Elder Uchtdorf had pointed out earlier in the day, our leaders are human beings. May we give them room when they offend, and note their quick repentance, and all of us try more to be like Jesus.

 

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For what it’s worth, not a single one of the feminists I know views homemaking with contempt (and trust me, I know lots of feminists). We might view scrubbing out the oven with contempt, because it’s hard and smelly and takes all day. We might hold any number of small wooden crafts in contempt because we think they’re ugly and kitschy. Some of us might even outright refuse to dust, citing the studies that show children who grow up in too-clean environments are more prone to asthma. Some of us might outsource certain parts of homemaking–cleaning, decorating, meal preparation, and partial child care come to mind. But we aren’t doing it because we think making a home is demeaning and degrading. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We want our children to live in safe, comfortable, happy homes with parents (and babysitters, where necessary) who love them and encourage them. We want our homes to be a place of refuge. We want to have the time to enjoy being with our children, to help them with their problems, and (for those of us who are religious) to teach them about Jesus. So please, if you think characterizing feminists as haters of home and hearth is a good way to make your point, think again.

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31 Comments

  1. For what its worth, the video at lds.org has not been altered. The relevant quote begins at the 8:30 mark and includes the phrase “feminist thinkers.”

  2. Libby,

    First, this is an important post. Thanks. I have just one quibble with your conclusion. It is possibile that Elder Christofferson changed his mind, as you suggest, and decided to remove the phrase “feminist thinkers” on his own. However, that is not the only conclusion that can be drawn. It’s also possible that others in the Q12 or FP disagreed with the phrase and Elder Christofferson chose to remove it so that his talk reflected only statements for which the the Q12 and FP unanimously agree. I have no special insight into how these things work. But I do recall a previous talk in which President Packer described the Proclamation on the Family as “scripture” in his oral remarks, and the published talk changed the wording to “inspired guide” (or something like that). I’m quite sure that President Packer personally believes the Proclamation is scripture. So that leads me to believe the change is due to something other than his personal views.

    • Dave, this is definitely possible.

      I do hope that when someone makes a mistake of this kind that they’re able to see the transgression and are eager to right the wrong. But you’re quite right: it’s possible that Elder Christofferson sees nothing amiss in his statement, which would be sorrowful indeed.

      Either way, though, the wiser heads are prevailing, and it’s been made clear this weekend that at the very least, Church leaders are not comfortable characterizing feminists as anti-family and anti-home. I’ll take that as a sign that we’re headed in the right direction.

    • Perhaps, it was his wife’s personal views. (Dave K. below was unaware I made this comment with a subtle sense of irony.)

      • Very astute observation. When all is said and done, I will not be surprised to learn that church leader’s teachings, policies, and doctine highly reflected the views of their spouse.

  3. I hear what you’re saying but, bottom line, it isn’t honest. The legitimate way to handle it is to report what was said and add a passage to say what correction needs to be made and why a better approach has been added.

    You are kind in your interpretation. I’m afraid mine is influenced by: http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/02/best-conference-talk-you-never-read_13.html

    • Yes. This. The original words should be printed and the correction should be reflected as what it is, a correction. Otherwise it’s more of that insidious type of whitewashing.

  4. I wonder if, perhaps, we miss the frame of reference in which Elder Christofferson made that particular comment, i.e. he is probably only vaguely familiar with Second Wave feminist ideas, and probably has no idea of Third Wave or post-Feminist ideas and perspective. His words were based around the ERA, “domestic drudges,” bra-burning stuff – in other words, nearly 40 years late. I sincerely doubt his words were meant for feministmormonhousewives.com or any other specific group in the Church, or for you, Libby. He may actually chafe at some of your views were he directly exposed to them, but I don’t think the feminist thought found in the church is actually what he was addressing in that quote. His use of the term ‘feminist’ was unfortunately general, and didn’t account for much diversity of thought or understanding within feminism or even Mormon feminism. Again, when he thinks feminism, I don’t believe this website springs to mind – instead he probably hears Gloria Steinem saying “A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after” – which is still a deeply limited indication of Steinem’s or feminism’s actual philosophies. This is not to say that I think Elder Christofferson is wholly ignorant. Just partially informed like everyone else (myself included – my use of the ‘wave’ construct may date me quite a bit).

    Nevertheless, you (and many others) were hurt. There is no denying that. Still, instead of Elder Christofferson being slapped down by a senior apostle or the PR department feverishly reacting to negative national exposure, I would say it’s equally possible that Elder Christofferson realized that the words as he spoke them went against his original purpose: to instruct and, perhaps, to correct, but not to injure. Maybe as soon as he realized the injury he caused, he softened the phrasing personally. Not the most likely explanation? Maybe not, but still possible. I would actually say it’s some combination of all three scenarios, and I hesitate to leave out his own personal feelings of regret or contrition at having unintentionally caused pain.

    Just my two cents. God bless.

    • “…it’s equally possible that Elder Christofferson realized that the words as he spoke them went against his original purpose: to instruct and, perhaps, to correct, but not to injure. Maybe as soon as he realized the injury he caused, he softened the phrasing personally.”

      I hope that it is this one.

    • While I fully concur that Elder Christofferson is most likely ill-informed (probably *very* ill-informed) about feminism and how it has evolved in the last 40 years, I think it’s a mistake to remove the context of the weekend on which this talk was delivered. Specifically that Ordain Women was seeking admission for women to the Priesthood Session. It’s also a mistake to not acknowledge the broader Mormon feminist context of the last year–Wear Pants to Church day, calling for women to pray at conference, the launch of the Ordain Women website. I do not believe that Christofferson used the term “feminist thinkers” or addressed the way that he perceives those thinkers to denigrate what the church holds up as the feminine ideal in a vacuum uninfluenced by his immediate context.

      Maybe if specifically pressed whether he thinks Mormon feminists, the authors at Exponent or at feminist Mormon housewives, the people behind pants day, are themselves the kind of feminists who denigrate homemaking he would deny it. But I believe it is disingenuous to suggest his comments were only inspired by our broader cultural moment and had nothing to do whatsoever with the immediate context of Mormon feminism.

  5. Terrific post, Libby!

    The fact that that phrase was excised is fascinating, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, tinkering with the historical record is problematic and possibly disingenuous. Does this mean Elder Christofferson won’t be held accountable for that phrase? On the other, I’m glad that those words are gone from the written record so that members won’t use them to beat feminists with. On the whole, I’m inclined to be happy about it. I’m happy to know that some force in the Church (I’m guessing Public Affairs) had enough sense to recognize that those words were unfair and unhelpful. And I’m happy that Elder C agreed to let them be cut out. And I’m happy to have the indication that people in Church headquarters are wrestling and disagreeing about castigating feminists. Though I’d be even happier if Elder C came out and apologized and said he made a mistake.

  6. I’m fascinated when GC talks are revised. I hope that revisions come with actual changes of heart, but in my experience, I find that the church often wants to be “perceived” as doing or standing for something, rather than actually doing or standing for it.

    We’ll probably never know exactly how this change took place, but smacking down the feminists verbally doesn’t help the perception probably of parking a garbage truck in the way of the Ordain Women attempt to join Priesthood Session.

    I’m always disappointed when the newer apostles take the hard-line on these issues. Openness, love, progressive thinking, embracing all, modeling Christ, these are topics I’d love to hear more about in GC.

  7. “Some feminist thinkers view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women, and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation,”

    You really think that some feminist thinkers don’t view raising children as exploitation? I am a very mild feminist and I think raising children can be viewed/used/or can become a form of exploitation.
    Some of the reasons why I do not have more children than I do is because of feminism. Feminism helps me keep things in perspective. Feminism makes me aware of my vulnerability in being a mother and how to minimize my risk, even though I still chose to become a mother.
    It is dishonest for a feminist to not own up to this statement being at least partially true. Which of us don’t agree with the work of early feminists who wanted to give poor women a choice by educating them so they can choose to not have 14 children and risk their lives to have them and be unable to provide for them.
    Even as I lament the downfall of the family (I have lived in a very anti traditional family, low household with children, low marriage area) I am also grateful I am not a woman burdened by pregnancy every year.

    • However, your perspective or things like it come nowhere near close to “view with complete contempt”. I think it is the strong, polemetic claim in the comment that makes it objectionable not just the use of feminist as a term. I would actually been happier if he had kept the feminist thinkers and changed the strong language to reflect actual real feminist thoughts he disagrees with including a legitimate reference that shows he actually took the trouble find and read a real feminist thinker. It is unclear to me he has read a single feminist text in his life. It would be good for us all to know what he is referencing so we can react to it in an honest and sophisticated way instead of a general emotional one.

      • Another thing that made me doubt he’s read much of anything about feminism was his use of the term “mommy track.” The mommy track is not stay at home motherhood. The mommy track is where women with children are shunted into less well paid, less prestigious, and less upwardly mobile jobs. It describes a path of paid employment, not the path of stay at home motherhood. Which (it could be argued) is a path of financial privilege rather than a path of frustrating underemployment.

      • Great point, Emily U. His use of that term was totally off.

  8. I still haven’t listened to the talk because when he began I realized I was not in a place where I could see past how it started to make me feel, so I have saved it for a day when I’m less tired! Whatever process talks go through, this type of revision strengthens my testimony. A comment in One of Elder Packer’s talks, when he referred to homosexual tendencies as not possibly being genetic (or some such idea), was removed before publication online. Since the “doctrine” is the official published transcript, this said to me that that idea wasn’t doctrine. I feel similarly about this instance. Whatever the process, the doctrine has been made ok.

  9. great post. thanks for the perspective.

  10. I <3 Libby. Great post. I love your perspective. Always do.

  11. Elder Christofferson’s use of the word “some” serves as an important qualification. He wasn’t saying that feminists generally identify raising children with exploitation. He was saying that people who identify raising children with exploitation are generally feminists. The latter is clearly the case, while the former is not.

    Unfortunately, now when an average member reads this talk, they’re liable to think, “he isn’t saying it, but of course he means those feminists,” allowing them to take this statement as an attack on feminism directly. At least before the redaction, Elder Christofferson was able to clarify that he was only talking about a particular subset of feminists.

  12. Thanks for the thoughtful post Libby! I enjoyed reading it and all the comments. I have not yet listened to the talk and therefore will refrain from commenting more(despite how much I have to say!) at the moment. :)

  13. Libby, if you have not seen it, the church has now issued a statement regarding the wording change. Quoting from the SL Tribune (http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsfaithblog/56982696-180/conference-lds-feminist-thinkers.html.csp):

    Slight editing of conference sermons is not uncommon, LDS Church spokeswoman Ruth Todd said Wednesday. “The Monday following every General Conference, each speaker has the opportunity to make any edits necessary to clarify differences between what was written and what was delivered or to clarify the speaker’s intent.”

    Church editors had suggested to the apostle that “referencing ‘some feminist thinkers’ would inevitably be read by many as ‘all feminist thinkers,’ ” Todd explained in a statement. “Elder Christofferson agreed and has simply clarified his intent.”

    • The practice is long-standing, but commenting on it–and specifically commenting on this change–was a very open and honest thing for the Church to do.

    • Yes! This was so interesting–and welcome–for the Church to not only point out (acknowledge?) the change, but tell us *why* it was made! My impression when he gave the talk was that he was trying to paint all feminists with a broad brush, but he figured that saying “some feminist thinkers” would be sufficient to bring to mind the image of the evil feminist in the minds of many Church members. The fact that he changed his mind, or that someone else prodded him to change his mind so that he would get rid of the reference for precisely the reason it bothered me in the first place–the broad (and unfair) brush–is very encouraging to me. I might be overinterpreting here, but is this saying someone in some power in the Church *doesn’t* want to alienate feminists? That’s great news!

  14. I did NOT like this talk at all. I found it one-sided and often condescending, a weak attempt at placating women in the Church. Perhaps, though, after rereading what he said, he realized that by saying “some” it would be construed as “all”.

    Considering, however, that feminist ideologies aren’t exclusive to members of the LDS church, there ARE feminists who align themselves with this line of thinking. There ARE women and men who view motherhood and homemaking as demeaning toward women and a form of exploitation, and there ARE people who believe that it is a step backward in the progress of humanity for women to stay at home to raise children. They don’t speak for all feminists, and they mostly existed decades ago when feminism was extreme in its ideologies. Perhaps, in his limited understanding of the progression of feminism, and how it has changed and evolved over the last 40-50 years, and the actual philosophies of feminism within the church, he assumed that those “Mormon Feminists” must align themselves with a view that women who choose to stay home and raise their children are inferior to others who make other choices outside the home.

    Honestly, I think he is just misinformed. Having been alive in the 50s/60s/70s/80s, he probably doesn’t know that there is a spectrum of feminists, and most aren’t extremists.

    That said, I don’t excuse his words. He may be misinformed, but that doesn’t make what he said right. But, he made an effort to make it better…maybe?

  15. Oh, I was going to add this to emphasize my point.

    (I don’t think I did html tag right…)

  16. Great post, Libby! I agree with you that this change is something to celebrate!

  17. Don’t take this offensive, since it is not meant that way, but I am a little bit bad at wording things in written English, since it is not my first language.

    Tell me, can you say, his statement is wrong? What he said was the following: “Some feminist thinkers view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation.”

    Notice the first word: some. Some means at least two, maybe more, but not all! If he meant all feminists would think that way, then he would have put all, but he didn’t. Can you honestly say, that on this whole wide world there is not a single feminist who shares the views he puts forward there?
    If you can, I’d say you haven’t looked very far.
    If you say you can’t, what’s the fuss about?

    If you don’t think the way he described there, you were not meant by his statement.

    If you look at this link (http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsfaithblog/56982696-180/conference-lds-feminist-thinkers.html.csp), it says there, why it was edited that way:

    Quote:
    Church editors had suggested to the apostle that “referencing ‘some feminist thinkers’ would inevitably be read by many as ‘all feminist thinkers,’ ” Todd explained in a statement. “Elder Christofferson agreed and has simply clarified his intent.”
    End quote.

    And that is exactly what happened here in this blog. You heard “some” and thought “all”. That is why they changed it, because of you and the handfull of other people (googleing revealed about 10 other posts like yours) who would understand it that way.

    Feel honored! Because of you and maybe two or three thousend others, they changed the wording, because they knew you would be offended, though it was no offense at all! I can’t remember an apostle rewording anything for my sake ever.

  18. I claim the privilege of editing my sacrament meeting and other talks for clarification before they are disseminated in print form according to the dictates of my own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them edit and clarify how, where, or what they may.

  19. I haven’t read through this whole thread, so this my thoughts may have already been express. I feel that the wording was changed exactly because they can be misinterpreted – just as they were in your post. You started with the full quote of “some feminist thinkers” and then altered the quote when you said one won’t find the words “feminist thinkers” in the transcript. It is completely true that some feminist thinkers have strong positions against traditional motherhood/raising children, this does not mean that all feminist thinkers feel this way. However, as you demonstrated, it is quite easy for someone to jump to that conclusion. Peggy Fletcher Stack covered this in her column and provided the following from the church: Church editors had suggested to the apostle that “referencing ‘some feminist thinkers’ would inevitably be read by many as ‘all feminist thinkers,’ ” Todd explained in a statement. “Elder Christofferson agreed and has simply clarified his intent.”

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