Guest Post: Built for Women #MormonMeToo

Natalie Ware Gowen

There are three things I can’t do:
Cook in someone else’s kitchen.
Run to someone else’s playlist.
Navigate someone else’s church.

My mother-in-law is a gem, but she keeps the measuring spoons in the most obscure place. If mixing up a gooey batch of my famous brownies takes 15 minutes in my kitchen, it takes 20 in hers. All because it’s set for her, not me.

Before we shared music in the cloud, I’d occasionally borrow my husband’s MP3 player to take on a run. It was okay but I always ran slower to his music. He doesn’t listen to the songs that light a fire under my feet. His tunes are curated to his tastes, not mine.

The more I navigate my LDS faith, the more I feel like I’m cooking in someone else’s kitchen and running to someone else’s playlist. It doesn’t have anything to do with my personal devotion to God. And it’s not for lack of effort. Heaven knows I’ve tried to pray away the discomfort for years.

I’ve managed, but it’s awkward because the church is built for men and not for women.

It’s not built for women when our Individual Worth is tied to our ability to marry and bear children.

It’s not built for women when we miss out on spiritual nourishment during Sunday meetings as we disproportionally spend sacrament meeting in the hall with a kid who needs to nap and then spend the second and third hours serving in our callings.

It’s not built for women when mothers of sons are systematically removed from our children’s spiritual milestones starting at age 12.

It’s not built for women when we have to temper our leadership with sweetness or risk being written off as bossy and controlling.

It’s not built for women when every general church meeting, even the female-only ones, ends with the voice of a male priesthood leader.

It’s not built for women when a husband confesses to pornography use and a wife is counseled into silence.

It’s not built for women when the bishop holds the purse strings to the ward’s fast offerings and has free reign to give counsel that ends in shame and embarrassment for the sisters in need.

It’s not built for women when they are asked to sacrifice their physical and mental safety to preserve a temple marriage.

It’s not built for women when our dear sisters are hurting from abuse and crimes committed against them and are counseled about forgiveness.

It’s not built for women when men, some of whom are perpetrators of abuse, are the only ones with access to hotlines for help.

It’s not built for women when she is disbelieved and dismissed because her abuser is such a “nice guy.”

It’s not built for women when crimes go unreported, pleas for restitution unanswered, and dossiers about the victims are compiled by outside counsel.

What if our Divine Nature was unbound from the fruit of our wombs?

What if we all could gather together in greater numbers for our Sunday meetings?

What if we could stand in the circle of the spiritual milestones of our sons and our daughters?

What if we stopped valuing the reputation of men over the anguish of women?

What if we honored each sister for her individual talents and contributions, regardless of her marital or economic status?

What if we took strong action to protect women from the illegal actions of men in powerful positions?

What if the full potential of LDS women was released into the world?

What if we reshaped the church to work for women too?

What if the church was safe for women?

What if we had a say in making that change?

Like many of you, I’ve felt powerless over the past few weeks as the case involving Joseph Bishop has unfolded. I’ve watched in dismay as the institution circled the wagons to protect itself and sent warning shots signalling they would rather women not speak up.

But they can’t shoot us all.

We need to keep rallying together. We need to continue to share our stories. We need to have hard conversations with our family and friends that raise awareness. We need to talk openly about the deep institutional problems that make the church unsafe for women.

We need to talk about how the 2008 policy on abuse isn’t enough and neither are the recent updates.

If we persist, I believe things can change.

The source of this pain isn’t found within the gospel of Jesus Christ. The flaws are in the institution administering the gospel which was established by men for men.

Let’s remodel. Let’s turn the kitchen into a workspace designed to meet the needs of both genders. Let’s install high-quality speakers and create a his and hers playlist.

Let’s make the kingdom of God roll forth in the later days to fill the earth with the light of the gospel that elevates men and women together.

Let’s change for the better.

Natalie runs on roads and trails. During the week she runs a digital marketing agency and on Sundays she runs the dog and pony show known as Singing Time.

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18 Responses

  1. Nancy Ross says:

    “Let’s make the kingdom of God role forth in the later days to fill the earth with the light of the gospel that elevates men and women together.” Thank you for this post. The church isn’t built for women because the structure of the church can’t/won’t hear women’s voices and invite women to be full participants at the table.

    • Natalie says:

      Yeah….there’s some serious man-spreading going on at the table. They can make room if they sit up straight and pull their elbows in.

      • Natalie says:

        I’m so tired of baby steps, but since that’s all we’ve got – there were some good ones at conference. Eliminating HP Group adjusts the male to female ratio in Ward Council a tiny bit. And no more PEC…I know some wards invited the RS pres, but ours didn’t 🙁

  2. Becca says:

    This is excellent, and for those in the church, this is necessary. I am an ex-Mormon, but I do want the church to be healthier for those still within it.

    Where I do differ on this topic, is the simple concept of allowing strangers to speak as God’s mouthpiece to me. How can I expect a place of worship that is built on that foundation be built to include me?

  3. Notneeded says:

    You are wrong. They can shoot us all. Some of us will leave and those that stay will be silenced.

  4. John says:

    “I’ve managed, but it’s awkward because the church is built for men and not for women.”

    I appreciate what your experience in the church as a woman is like. I am married to a woman and have three teenage daughters. I obviously can’t begin to speak to the nuances and subtleties, hell…and even the “staring-me-in-my-face” realities of life as a female Mormon. Because I am not a woman.

    I am a man. And I was born and raised in the church. I can guarantee that you in some respects, your idea about who the church is built for (quoted above) is true. But in other respects, it is false. Because even within the ranks of Mormon men, there are those who will be forever left behind. Yes…the church isn’t built for all men. Only for some.

    It wasn’t built for me.

    I grew up in a home where my mother (not my father!) used the church as the source of her authority. Despite not having the Priesthood, for all practical purposes, my mother was the presiding authority in the home. Her intentions were good, but my father, a kind and harmless human being, was shunted to the sidelines, mocked and ridiculed.

    I grew up in the church hearing frequently, and worse yet…believing, that I was somehow fundamentally flawed BECAUSE I was a man. And those inherent animalistic impulses in me were the reason that I had been given the Priesthood. The Priesthood was needed to tame my natural masculinity. Women, on the other hand, were full of innate spiritual gifts, and therefore didn’t need the Priesthood. This message mirrored the

    Yes…I get it now. The male leadership of the Church only says that tripe in order to keep the women down. I know all about that. It’s true. But as a young 13-year old boy, who had no desire to keep anyone at all down, it was destructive to me. And it took me years to get over it. Years that I could’ve better spent enjoying my masculinity side-by-side with the amazing femininity of my wife. I was never able to settle into my role as a man. I was too shut down and shamed. Thus my wife, in a way, lost those same years. She wanted a man…a husband. And what she got was a weak, ineffective, timid, shame-bound person with a strong sense of self-loathing.

    Fortunately, my wife has a remarkable gift of healing (without the Priesthood, even!) and her patience and persistence over the years, along with a few great therapists, has given us both the hope of a brighter future together.

    The church is definitely not built for women. It is built for men, but it is only built for a certain type of man. It destroys everyone else.

    I got out. My wife got out. My teenagers daughters are out. We are finished. And we’ve never been happier.

    If you allow this to post, thank you.

    • Natalie says:

      Hi John, thank you for sharing. I am deeply touched by the beauty within your marriage to heal and find a place to grow together. You bring up an excellent point – the church is for some men, not all. I have only sons and I’m am acutely aware of how culture and doctrine pushes for narrow ideals of both genders.

      The other day my husband and I were talking about how wonderful it could have been if we had started our marriage discussing how we wanted to structure our family and relationship based on our individual traits and interests instead of figuring out how we were going to fit into the defined gender roles we’d been raised with.

      We could have saved a lot of struggle if we’d been working with our individual gifts instead of against them.

      Removing pressures for gender ideals of past generations could go a long way to help both men and women navigate church life and faith in a stronger, healthier way.

    • Anon says:

      Thank you for sharing. A man I’m close to had similar experiences. Patriarchy limits and damages all of us.

    • Becca says:

      John, as a woman I have seen the dynamic you describe of your father in the church. I think it truly hearkens back to the entrenchment phase of Brigham Young, Utah, polygamy phase of church history, when men had social and spiritual rewards for the number of their wives.

      PS to Natalie: Thank you so much for being so inclusive with the comments!

    • Alyssa says:

      John, you bring up some excellent points. I think the church’s efforts to make women seem “above” men has always been to make us feel special and important instead of giving us actual responsibilities and authority. It is evident that that line of thinking harms both men and women. Thanks for sharing your perspective, and I’m so glad you’re all in a better place now.

  5. Elise says:

    Thank you. This post and comments have spoken what my heart has felt and known for years.

  6. Jenny says:

    I believe the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true church. I love the gospel and our prophet! And in the same hand I’ve experienced the ugly side as well. There are many things that you spoke about that I agree with. To many to list. One thing I didn’t see (I could be wrong) is Even the youth programs are heavy handed towards the boys. Modesty and curriculum are greatly different. Why do the boys have adventurous Boy Scout activities while the girls have personal progress? Maybe if the boys had more church related activities teaching them to be virtuous men we would have more worthy men in the church. Less pornography addiction. Teach virtue, not basketball. The girls can’t even show knees at camp anymore. Specifically for modesty reasons. I could go on and on but I won’t….
    Like I said I love the church. And maybe there’s a reason for all of this. Who knows. I can only trust that the lord will hear our cry’s.

  7. Ziff says:

    Great comparison, Natalie. I think you highlight some really excellent points. To me, one of the clearest summaries from what you’ve said is that many of the misogynistic policies of the church were maybe come up with by men who weren’t out to exclude women, but who simply never though of including them. Unfortunately, while I would wish and hope that men would feel less wedded to policies that clearly hadn’t been thought all the way through with input from both men and women, it seems like male leaders are only more determined to hold doggedly to every single policy as though it were spoken by the mouth of God.

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