Sisters Speak: Countering Androcentric and Limiting Gender Messages Our Children Hear at Church

 

by Sheila Rhodes

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.

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On the Sexist Nature of Benevolent Patriarchy

On the Sexist Nature of Benevolent Patriarchy

Editor’s Note: When Amelia originally wrote On the Sexist Nature of Benevolent Patriarchy on August 28, 2011, it ignited one of the most animated debates we have ever had here at the Exponent, quickly generating hundreds of comments.  It is one of our most viewed posts of all time, in spite of the fact that somehow, this post became inaccessible in our archive several months ago.  Our readers are not happy about this.  Neither am I.  As we have been unable to fix the problem, I am reposting this important essay.

You can view the original discussion at http://web.archive.org/web/20120427181058/http://www.the-exponent.com/2011/08/21/8645/  thanks to Wayback Machine Internet Archiving.

On the Sexist Nature of Benevolent Patriarchy

Last Friday Modern Mormon Men featured two alternative viewpoints on patriarchy: “modern patriarchy” and “reluctant patriarchy.” I was wary of reading the piece on “modern patriarchy” based on a couple of quotes I’d already seen from it, but I read it anyway.  Because I like Modern Mormon Men.  Because I have been saying for a very long time that gender equity will not be a reality in a meaningful way until we seriously examine the gender roles we impose on men, as well as those we impose on women.  And I respect that the MMM bloggers are engaging in that project—the project of asking what it means to be a Modern, Mormon, Man.

Well I read that post, and I tried to do so with an open mind.  And I hit this gem on the nature of “righteous dominion”:

It is children heeding, submitting to, and honoring the counsel of their parents as their parents act within righteous patriarchy. It is wives hearkening to, submitting to, and honoring the counsel of their husbands as their husbands act within righteous patriarchy. And, it is husbands leading, persuading, and gently guiding their wives and children as they follow, honor and submit to the counsel of God.

I felt physically ill.  I kept reading.  And I found an even bigger doozy:

There must be order in all things and there must be one person to be the head of the family. God has chosen men and, for better or for worse, it is this order that we can utilize to edify our families or to crush ourselves against. I know that it is when there is a break in this chain of honor and counsel — the chain that leads from children to wives to husbands and to God — that there is tension, trauma and tragedy in the home.

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The Potential of Priestesshood

mr. mraynes recently received a calling in our ward that necessitated his advancing in the priesthood to the office of high priest. my husband is blessed with an amazing father who, on two days notice, dropped everything and flew to Denver so that he could ordain mr. mraynes as a high priest. As a woman, and as somebody who comes from a family of all girls, I had never seen an ordination so I was excited to be present for this big step in my husband’s life. The blessing itself was beautiful, my father-in-law is a gifted wordsmith and the love that he has for his son was evident. Say what you want about the priesthood, moments like these are sacred and I was touched by the passing of keys from father to son.

After the ordination and the requisite handshakes and hugs, the counselor in the stake presidency took a moment to explain the ceremony to my children. I had already told them that grandpa was going to give daddy a very special blessing that would help him in his new calling. What I did not tell them was that daddy was getting this blessing because he was a boy. But the counselor talked about how special it was for mr. mraynes’ father to do the ordination, how meaningful that is for men and that one day mr. mraynes would do the same for his sons, George and William. I looked over at my daughter as he said this and saw a flash of confusion at being excluded flit across her face but then disappear as her attention turned to the lollipop the bishop had given her.

Bitter tears lept up and stung the back of my eyes–it never gets any easier to see my daughter be disappeared by patriarchy. The counselor in the stake presidency is a genuinely nice man, a benevolent patriarch, and I’m sure he had no intention of making my girl invisible. He was just telling it like it is. But no matter how benevolent the end result of patriarchy–of excluding women from the priesthood and institutional power–is that women become afterthoughts.

In discussing this with mr. mraynes I mused that girls and women should also be afforded moments like this–ceremonies that allow us to explore our authority as disciples of Christ and our connection to the Divine Feminine. I have mixed feelings on female ordination to the priesthood but I firmly believe that if our church will not extend priesthood to women then they desperately needs to explore ways of allowing women to serve and be served in a way that is truly equivalent to men.

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Guest Post: Called of God, In Spite of Man (or to Spite Man?) — Choosing to Be a Sister Missionary in the Face of Opposition

by Sartawi
(Sartawi is a BYU-educated nurse and a world-educated woman.  Her life’s work is to help women of all cultures reach their full potential, and help men respect and support the powerful nature of women, starting with her three kids at home.)

I had always wanted to serve a mission, which, ironically, was my way of asserting my independence in the heart of Mormon Country. My friends were all getting married and starting families, and I was busy with my nursing studies, while traveling the world in various humanitarian capacities. Amongst these endeavours, I wanted to include a mission for the Church. I did not have the slightest desire to share the gospel through proselyting, but I felt very strongly that a mission is where I needed to go next. I trusted that the Lord knew what he was doing.

I submitted my papers just before leaving for a six month internship in Southern Africa. Normally at the time, a call would take about three weeks to arrive. Mine still had not arrived four months later. My stake president called several times to “Downtown” to find out what the hold up was, and was told by a “higher up” that my papers were being held for a specific mission. Since certain missions are on the docket each week to receive new assignees, “mine” was down the line a bit. I was told that the mission committee felt strongly that I was to serve in a particular mission and they were waiting for that mission to be on the agenda.

Finally, five months after submitting my papers, I received my call: a very poor country in South America, as a welfare services missionary. It was perfect. I felt like this was my calling; I was destined for it. It was inspired. It was where I was supposed to serve.

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Guest Post: The Dark Man

by Descent

(Descent blogs at http://jenneology.blogspot.com. She is a mostly stay at home mother to three young children 5 and under. While they sleep, she runs off in the night to serve as a doula and midwife’s apprentice to laboring mothers.)

Clarissa Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves tells the story of Bluebeard and uses Jungian psychological analysis to draw a parallel between the character of Bluebeard and a common theme in women’s dreams–that of the dark man preying on them.

As I read her analysis, I recalled a vivid dream that I had of a man preying on me. It occurred within the last year after my feminist awakening and I became aware of the pitfalls of patriarchy in my church culture. While the patriarchy I most often experience is of the benevolent kind, this dream was my subconscious hitting against the more threatening aspects of a patriarchal church culture.

The dream took place in an LDS church building during an evening activity.

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