During my youth and early adulthood I had a bit of an obsession with being spiritually clean. The peak of this obsession came during my mission and the ensuing couple of years; through dedicated church service, scripture study (including a fixation with memorization), prayer/meditation and temple attendance I sought God’s approval, desperately wanting to be found worthy, clean. What I find ironic is that this was the time of my life where I felt the most unclean, the most unworthy, and none of my full hearted sincerity or excellent memorization skills could wash that out. Looking back I’m not sure if I worked hard because I felt dirty, or if I felt dirty because I could never work hard enough (scrubbing away… ‘out damn spot!’)
Pondering my own experience, it occurs to me that this tendency to feel unclean targets the female gender. Yes, I’m projecting, I am definitely generalizing (big time), and my only evidence is personal observation; but what I am wondering is if LDS women (in general) feel inherently MORE dirty and therefore work HARDER than their male counterparts. Yes, the gospel says that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And yeah, we typically think of men being ‘dirtier’ with leaving socks lying all over the place etc, but historically women’s bodies have been the recipient of the most censure for filthiness and I have a sneaking suspicion that such ideas still underlie and inform a good deal of our belief systems.
In every ward I have been in there is usually the open recognition that the ladies work harder than the gentlemen; visiting teaching stats outstripping home teaching stats, women spending proportionally way more time in lesson preparations (even if that is merely in making crafty handouts), etc… It seemed that every temple endowment session I attended women easily out numbered the men (except in the Provo temple when districts of elders were in attendance). These facts are used as the anecdotal evidence that women are just naturally more spiritual than men, but when that rhetoric is combined with the real life fact that having a superior spiritual nature doesn’t translate into any real decision-making power in the organization, perhaps women just implicitly feel they have more to prove. To themselves. To God. To the ward.
Maybe we can chalk it up to traditional gender roles that have the man of the house as the main breadwinner, spending hours each day bringing home the temporal bacon. The stay-at-home wife sees a church calling as a serious full time job to which she can dedicate her energies, providing a sense of purpose, a sense of responsibility, and a chance to prove herself. Maybe this is part of a gender construct that gives women more accolades for frequent tearful testimonies than men. Cultural training about masculinity and femininity (and whether or not it’s okay to be in touch with your feelings).
Or maybe there is the subtle implication that women are a little less worthy, and the little pedestal of superior purity is a smokescreen. Cleanliness before God is a huge part of our belief system; baptism to wash away our sins, bits of bread and sips of water on a weekly basis to sanctify us, continual repentance of the blemishes that constantly mar our souls; all of this leading up to the ultimate purification of the temple initiation and endowment, preparing us to pass through the veil that separates us from God.A promise of being clean enough to enter his holy presence.
The women in the room will now please veil their faces.