The Ensign Gender Watch: Julie Beck’s Remarks On the Family
I’m thinking it would be interesting to track remarks about gender in the Ensign for the next several months. March’s issue, particularly Julie Beck’s article on the family, provides fertile ground for this feminist evaluation.
Things I Liked
-Beck uses gender inclusive language. Adam and Eve were “family leaders.” They had “sons and daughters.”
– She lists “unequal relationships between men and women” and “abuse within family relationships” as threats to the family. I’m not surprised about her listing abuse as a threat. Definitely a good thing to list. I am surprised –and pleased –she listed unequal relationships between the sexes as a threat, though I found it a bit puzzling. (Doesn’t Mormonism –particularly in its temple ceremonies–place women in an unequal relationship with men?) I would have loved to hear more about what she thinks characterizes unequal relationships. I suspect she’s referring to men summarily issuing dictates to their wives. Do you have thoughts on this?
-More careful attempts to balance out male and female power. She writes, “Abraham could not hold the right belonging to the fathers without a wife who had the right belonging to the mothers.” She also mentions Isaac and Rebekah, saying, “The story of Isaac and Rebekah is an example of the man, who has the keys, and the woman, who has the influence, working together to ensure the fulfillment of their blessings.” Once again, she’s interpreting the story in such a way as to equalize the importance of the man and the woman’s role. Though I appreciate the motive, I do wonder if she undercuts the argument by assigning keys (hard power) to men and influence (soft power) to women. Can a true equal relationship be formed with such a bifurcation?
Things I Questioned
-she very clearly has an exclusive definition of family. “God created a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family.” This of course leaves out homosexual couples as well as other family makeups that don’t contain a man and a woman. (Are widowed/divorced moms and their kids not a family under this definition?)
-She lists “age of marriage is rising” and “lower birth rates” as threats to the family. I think many would interpret these things as either neutral or positive for individual families.
-“[Young people are] placing more and more value on education and less and less importance on forming an eternal family.” Placing more value on education seems to me like a generally positive thing, and I’m not sure that education needs to be set against forming families. Seems to me like plenty of people manage to do both. And besides, it might not be bad for some couples to wait until a good chunk of their schooling is done before having kids. IMO.
-She sites, “the definition of family is changing legally around the world” as a threat to family. I personally think a more inclusive legal definition of family can only do good things for the millions of people who are in non-traditional families.
-Satan knows that he will never have a body; he will never have a family. So he targets young women, who will create the bodies for the future generations.” The verse she quotes right before this mentions men and women committing whoredoms. I wonder why she only mentioned young women in her explication. Is this an example of making young women the gate keepers of chastity?
In her article, Julie Beck seems to be trying to promote equality of the sexes, in the sense that both men and women are equally important and should be treated and regarded with respect. This equality of men and women doesn’t extend, however, to men and women having the same responsibilities. (Men have keys, women have influence.) She has a clear complementarian view of gender within marriage, which, not surprisingly, necessitates her narrow definition of family and marriage, a definition which excludes homosexual relationships. Her ideal marriage also includes many children, an opinion that will resonate with some Mormons more than others.
I do appreciate the fact that she refrained from explicitly criticizing education and career for women. Rather, she mentions excessive attention to both these things as being a danger to families in general, leaving the reader open to interpret this warning as applying to men and women alike.