Guest Post: Sitting in the Dark
A woman I know was told years ago by her husband that she wasn’t to open her own doors because he wanted to open them for her as a sign of respect. Throughout the years of their marriage, he has opened her car doors before she enters and exits the vehicle. Once, I drove with this couple somewhere in a large, full SUV. We arrived at our destination and piled out of the car and were halfway across the parking lot when we realized the woman was missing. I ran back to the car and saw her still sitting inside. I opened the door and asked if she was coming, and she said, “My husband gets mad when I open the door myself. He wants to do it for me.” But her husband, distracted by so many other people in the party, had forgotten her. She sat in the hot car by herself, waiting for someone to do a task she was perfectly capable of performing.
Obviously this example is extreme and a bit silly, but it illustrates something I frequently witness at church: women are placed in positions where they have to go through a man for something they could easily do themselves. Sometimes there is good reason for this: any organization must have order and run large items up the chain of command. Schedules must be coordinated and budgets secured in order for things to run efficiently. However, women frequently must ask permission for the smallest of things. Sometimes this is required by her micromanaging priesthood leader, and sometimes it is the woman herself who feels pressured by culture or others to seek approval for minutiae that falls under her stewardship.
We cannot blame this only on a local phenomenon. Several months ago, some meeting notes of the Quorum of the 12 were leaked. One of their agenda items was to approve the opening song for the General Young Women’s Meeting which had been changed by the general young women’s Presidency. These capable women, entrusted with a large stewardship, were not even permitted to choose the hymns for their meeting without oversight and permission.
My stake has rules in place that prevent women from using church buildings without priesthood holders present. I am sure there are reasons for this; however, the logic is flawed (suggesting that an 80-year-old priesthood holder is needed to “protect” 25 adult female volleyball players with access to cell phones is absurd). My stake also has men at Girls’ Camp keeping 24-hour watch (no such policy exists for boys’ camps). Such policies treat women like they are children and in need of governance and supervision, not to mention inconvenience men.
A friend of mine is arranging a camping trip for LDS women in her area. It’s not an official church activity; it’s just friends and acquaintances camping and swimming and having a good time together. But on the bottom of the flyer it says, “Although not a church sponsored camp, two priesthood brethren will be on site for emergencies.” I assume this means that if someone gets hurt or sick, two men will be available to give a blessing. I have no problem with priesthood blessings or with men pitching in to help, but I was confused and, frankly, distressed that the capable and competent women organizers thought that, should an emergency occur, they wouldn’t be able to handle it on their own (let’s not forget that our foremothers gave prophet-sanctioned blessings, including anointings, for a hundred years). This notion that a blessing given by priesthood holders is more effective than a prayer using priesthood power given by women is as toxic as it is widespread. If such a thing were true, then women (or even a lone man, since he can’t bless himself) should conceivably never be further than yelling distance from a priesthood holder.
Despite the new insights we’ve received in recent years regarding women’s relationship with priesthood power and authority, there is still an overarching sense that women need men in every circumstance for approval, for direction, and for access to priesthood power. I’m not bashing on men (or priesthood holders) here–it’s important that we all work together. The problem is when it is assumed (by men or women or the institution or all of the above) that women need babysitting and aren’t capable enough (or allowed) to make decisions without extensive oversight.
The story I related earlier of the woman stuck sitting in the car brings to mind the analogy given by Elder Anderson in a recent General Conference: “A man may open the drapes so the warm sunlight comes into the room, but the man does not own the sun or the light or the warmth it brings. The blessings of the priesthood are infinitely greater than the one who is asked to administer the gift.” While it’s a lovely thought on the surface, my mental picture of this analogy is not one of warm sunlight coming into a room, but of a woman sitting by herself in the dark, perfectly able–but not allowed–to open her own drapes, waiting for a man to come and do it for her.
When possible, we must challenge this culture that insists women need supervision in all things. Until we both confront the sexist and patronizing policies employed by the institution and allow ourselves to seize the drapes and let the sunlight pour in, we’re sitting in the dark.
ElleK listens to NPR in the car, sings in the shower, and crusades from her couch. Women’s issues in the church are not a pebble in her shoe; they are a boulder on her chest.