Womanhood

Thank you for your feedback. I have finalized the report and sent it to my stake president. I am pleased to report that he has agreed to send it on to General Authorities. The original text of the post is below for historical purposes, but the final version, incorporating  feedback I received from Exponent readers and others, is available at http://bit.ly/LDSpolicy.


Virgin of the Green Cushion by Andrea Solario

Virgin of the Green Cushion by Andrea Solario

“The worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10) and modern day apostles have repeatedly affirmed that Church leaders value women. [1] Church policy instructs that in Ward Councils, “both men and women should feel that their comments are valued as full participants.” (Handbook 2: 4.6.1) Church policymakers could demonstrate that they value women in councils by ceasing to mandate that men outnumber and outrank women on councils in which women participate and including women on councils from which they are presently barred.

Including as many female speakers as male speakers in semi-annual General Conferences would better demonstrate that women are valued as “theologians” [2] than limiting female participation to one woman per day. Revising temple ceremonies to be as affirming for female participants as for men would go far to testify of women’s value in the eternities.

Mission goals that incentivize teaching and baptizing men instead of women are evidence that many mission leaders value male converts over female ones. As potential priesthood holders, male converts are valued because they are needed within the Church organization. Local leaders may see female souls as liabilities instead of assets because they cannot serve their congregations in the many callings and functions that are reserved by general level policy for men only. Church policy authorizes new church units to be established without any women at all, while no church unit may exist without men, regardless of how many faithful women are in the area.

Disparate excommunication policies for men and women suggest that the Church is cautious about terminating a valuable male membership but women are less valued. Women may be excommunicated with fewer human resources than men, at lower levels of church governance than men, and without anyone assigned to “stand up in behalf of the accused” (D&C 102) as is mandatory for males in an excommunication trial.[3]

Value womanhood by accommodating—not policing—the gynecologic realities of womanhood that many women experience. Establish a lactation policy that prohibits local leaders from barring women from church activities for breastfeeding. Eliminate policies that govern reproduction and underwear. Prohibit men from asking women for details about their sex lives during interviews and disciplinary councils.

Eliminate detailed female dress and appearance guidelines for young women and rules that prioritize appearance over comfort and safety, such as by requiring sister missionaries to wear skirts even when biking. Such rules and guidelines demonstrate that female bodies are valued for the wrong reasons.

Policies that bar women from working in callings with men, carpooling with men or hosting missionaries without male chaperones suggest that women are feared as temptresses more than they are valued as moral human beings.

With few exceptions, church policy limits female presiding authority to groups of women or preadolescent children, while men preside over all demographics of church members. Men are rarely placed in a position in which they are obligated to submit to the preferences and ideas of a woman over their own, while women are consistently required to defer to men, establishing a pattern in which male opinions have greater value. Even the opinions of men not presently serving in leadership callings may carry more weight than those of women because of their greater experience and potential within the rotating lay clergy of the Church.  Avoid a pattern of hierarchy in which men govern women but not vice versa.

[1] Quentin L. Cook, LDS Women Are Incredible!, 2011 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/lds-women-are-incredible?lang=eng

D. Todd Christofferson, The Moral Force of Women, 2013 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/the-moral-force-of-women?lang=eng

[2] Neil A. Maxwell, Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, 1977.

[3] These policies differentiate between Melchizedek priesthood holders and other members. Virtually all men who have been active LDS church members for any portion of their adult lives are ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. All women are banned from the Melchizedek priesthood. Hence, with a few exceptions, these polices discriminate solely on the basis of sex.


This post is a section of my draft policy analysis, a Values-based Approach to Woman-friendly Policy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have completed as much policy research as I can alone and now I am asking for feedback from the Mormon community before I finalize and submit the report. All draft sections will become available at the following links when they are posted:

Introduction

Charlotte du Val d'Ognes by Marie Denise Villers, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Introduction

Values

800px-Andrea_Solario_002 Womanhood
The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet Opportunity
Jesus and the Canaanite Woman by Mattia Preti Communication
The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch The Golden Rule
The Woman with an Issue of Blood by James Tissot Protecting the Vulnerable
Esther Denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand Transparency
Jesus Tempted by Carl Heinrich Bloch Agency

Policy Suggestions

Family Portrait by Lavinia Fontana Introduction

Missionary Work

Youth Programs

Women’s Programs

Church Participation

Priesthood Interviews

Callings & Employment

Leadership & Policymaking

Temple Worship

Gynecologic Health

Church Discipline

Access all posts here.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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12 Responses

  1. Nicola Kelly says:

    Comment

  2. Martine says:

    “Value womanhood by accommodating—not policing—the gynecologic realities of womanhood that many women experience. Establish a lactation policy that prohibits local leaders from barring women from church activities for breastfeeding. Eliminate policies that govern reproduction and underwear. Prohibit men from asking women for details about their sex lives during interviews and disciplinary councils.

    Eliminate detailed female dress and appearance guidelines for young women and rules that prioritize appearance over comfort and safety, such as by requiring sister missionaries to wear skirts even when biking. Such rules and guidelines demonstrate that female bodies are valued for the wrong reasons.”

    Yes. Just get out of our underwear. Don’t use underwear to instill fear and mandate obedience.

  3. Jean Webster says:

    Excellent! I hope and pray that we will be heard

  4. Emmalee says:

    I find this series interesting to read. I am curious about your sources for some of it simply because I only have my own experience (and mom/sisters/friends experiences as we talk about these issues) as a basis to judge of these concerns so I wonder how widespread what you write about is.
    *are there really leaders that have banned women from activities because of breastfeeding? Not just anecdotal evidence but a statistically significant number of experiences? Or is there some sort of church policy about this?
    *I think that having men and women working closely in callings is something that can be more complicated than this seems to suggest. I have never thought that was framed as either side being a temptress or temptor, but when someone is in a vulnerable place with marriage/loneliness that can lead to problems. Anecdote: my mother (super righteous and good with a strong testimony of christ), told me of a time when she was in stake YW and was working closely with a stake YM on an assignment and she didn’t even realize how she started to feel until as he was coming to pick her up for a meeting and she was thinking oh I should wear this to look cute and make sure to put on some makeup so I look nice for him. She didn’t have a car and it was out of Utah so 30 minute drive to the church. But she said she made sure to have a different ride after that and be way more careful. It would be great if every one was in the same place and it was 100% professional in working with people but I feel it is messier than that. For me it is not about one gender being more suseptible or to blame but about where people are at emotionally and how the desire to make people think that marriage and family life are great hides a lot of the sadness/loneliness that makes people vulnerable to bad decisions.

    • Thanks for reading Emmalee. I am happy to answer questions:

      1. I don’t know how often local leaders bar women from church meetings for breastfeeding. I hope that doesn’t happen often, but I don’t think it ever should. I do know church policy is that local male leaders have the prerogative to do so if they want to. It is becoming more and more common for organizations of all kinds to adopt lactation policies which prohibit local managers from evicting women for breastfeeding and I think such a policy would benefit the church as well.

      2. I have been told before that many church policies that keep women away from men are designed to promote marital fidelity. While I believe marital fidelity is very important, I don’t think this is the right way to make this happen. First of all, it seems suspicious to me that the way women and men are kept apart is most often by limiting opportunities for women, not men. Secondly, it reminds me of the Pharisees who built a hedge around the law to guarantee observance of the Sabbath day, even though these extra rules had negative side effects, such as forbidding people from doing good by healing even on the Sabbath. I think keeping men and women away from each other through policy is creating a hedge around the law of chastity which has negative side effects–limiting opportunities for women and reducing our ability to do good in the church by working together across gender lines. Finally, it is not effective. In spite of these separation rules, affairs are unfortunately common. I think it would be more helpful to strengthen marriages in other ways, such as by offering premarital and marital counseling and encouraging healthy, egalitarian marriages.

  5. Olea says:

    Yeah, anyone who doesn’t allow breastfeeding in a chapel loses the ability to claim that they value motherhood.

  6. Mindi says:

    Requiring men to attend Girls’ Camp is another signal that women leaders are not adequate on their own.

  7. Mindi says:

    Excluding mothers from baby blessings

  8. Ziff says:

    Boom! April, I love how straightforward and to-the-point you are here. Just to pick one out of so many points you made that I love:

    “Men are rarely placed in a position in which they are obligated to submit to the preferences and ideas of a woman over their own, while women are consistently required to defer to men, establishing a pattern in which male opinions have greater value.”

    Exactly! The pattern of always having women report to men does send precisely this message, and it makes it easy for men to dismiss or ignore women’s concerns and ideas, to blithely wave their hands and say things like, “No woman I know cares about that stuff, so it probably doesn’t matter.”

  1. August 29, 2015

    […] Womanhood […]

  2. July 23, 2016

    […] two years of battle, the mother’s  lounge in my local building was moved. Likewise, there is no policy protecting lactating women from discrimination at LDS churches, as is the case in many private and nonprofit organizations.  The lack of such a […]

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