Guest Post: The Recovering Accidental Misogynist

By He Who Shall Not Be Named Psychiatry Doctor Guy

I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry for being male. This was an actual thought from my actual brain that occurred as I sat in Psychology 380: The Psychology of Women. I was one of three scared males in a class with twenty-seven fairly angry undergraduate females and one fired-up female Psychology Professor. It was my first (and only) Psychology class at the university. As a man in the Psychology of Women, I thought I was entering an exclusive island paradise with Wonder Woman and the Amazons—instead I entered a raging war. I was put in the awkward position of trying to defend the global, historical, and current oppression of females in our male-dominated societies. I didn’t know Jack about gender roles, stereotypes, sexist language, social learning, the word misogyny, and a bunch of other Feminist stuff. I tried to apologetically explain that most men didn’t hate women. . . I didn’t hate women, some of my favorite people were women, especially hot college women—sure for thousands of years women had been socially excluded, discriminated against, belittled, exploited, objectified, pornogrified, and had violence inflicted upon them—but not by me. If misogyny meant hatred of women, and I didn’t hate them, then I couldn’t be a misogynist. Right? I quickly learned there was much more to it. I didn’t see how I used sexist language and that I was a privileged white guy. I didn’t see that my worldview was biased and male-dominated. I had a misogynistic blind spot, a space in my visual field occupied by the optic nerve that I couldn’t see because my brain painted over the dark reality. I didn’t appreciate what I was seeing. I was an accidental misogynist.

I must say, having my eyes opened to my (and the world’s) misogyny wasn’t easy to take and I found myself becoming angry with males in general. Men have been jerks for a really long time and once my blind spot was recognized, I began to see the sexism in my own life and inequality of the world around me. For example, here are attributes society associates with women: attractive, feminine, smart, sensitive, emotional, nurturing. Attributes associated with men? Strong, hides feelings, acts tough, sexy, muscular. As my vision was expanded, I became more curious about the factors and influences that created these gender stereotypes, how these ideas played out in mass and social media, how the stereotypes were woven into the fabric of our reality, and what impact it had on men and women today.

So, fast-forward about twenty years and as fate would have it, I became a psychiatrist. In my practice, I treat more women than men. Research data show it’s not because women are more depressed or anxious than men, but my guess is that women are more willing to accept they have an issue and are more willing to seek professional help (at least where I live.) Since I live in Utah, I have a high population of Mormon women and many of them tell me they feel the roles that are prescribed for them by the Church are fixed, immovable, and reductive. Many of them are frustrated by the way these roles and expectations are taught and how the ideal image is promoted and perpetuated. The purpose of this article is my attempt as a recovering-accidental-misogynist-turned-Psychiatrist to “mansplain” what may be driving this discontent among my female Mormon clients. (I do acknowledge my limitations due to my biological maleness make my commentary problematic. Again I’m sorry.)

The Proclamation

While these gender roles have unofficially existed for generations and are part of the fabric of being a female Mormon, these roles were formally outlined in a proclamation read by President Gordon B. Hinckley (then leader of the Mormon Church) as part of his message to the General Relief Society (the philanthropic and educational women’s organization of the Mormon Church) held in September of 1995 entitled, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

It began by solemnly proclaiming that marriage between man and woman was ordained of God and the family was central to God’s plan for His children. The command to multiply and replenish the earth was still in force, and parents were accountable if they didn’t teach their children to keep the commandments, love one another, and obey the law. So the expectation was set right off the bat. Women, who shoulder the majority of the burden of producing human children, were expected to make, have, and raise children. It’s in the plan. These are the rules.

This next part is the part that may be causing much of the discontent, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” Preside means to be in position of authority or act as president. Go to any dictionary you want, definition one, two, and three—preside equals “be in charge.” “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” So helping one another as an equal partnership is good, but it’s somewhat of a confusing idea to have a presider and a nurturer that are equal. In the context of a recovering misogynist there is a distinction and a difference in this language which is perceived by many as a mixed message. There is a caveat that disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate “individual adaptation” to the guidelines, but individual adaptation is obviously meant to be the exception, not the rule. “Equal in importance but different roles” is a common refrain.

In October 2017, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, an eye-witness to the revelatory process, gave a talk describing how the proclamation came to be:

Subjects were identified and discussed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve for nearly a year. Language proposed, reviewed, and revised. Prayerfully we continually pleaded with the Lord for His inspiration on what we should say and how we should say it . . . During this revelatory process, a proposed text was presented to the First Presidency, who oversee and promulgate Church teaching and doctrine. After the Presidency made further changes, the proclamation was announced.

It is important to understand the carefulness and level of thought that went into the proposed words of this document. It was discussed, reviewed, and revised by fifteen men for nearly a year. During this same time Chieko N. Okazaki was the first counselor to Elaine L. Jack in the Relief Society General Presidency. In 2005, ten years after the introduction of the proclamation, Okazaki gave an interview with Gregory Prince in Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought in which she reported that the women leaders of the Church were not informed of the proclamation before it was presented, didn’t know it was being drafted, were not consulted about any specific concerns for women, and basically were not involved in this document in any way. The inception, construction, introduction, and perpetuation of “The Family Proclamation” highlight the problematic mixed message of an equal partnership within a patriarchal leadership system. The minority female leadership did not appear to be equal in importance enough to even weigh in on the formal description of their role in the family. Okazaki lamented, “ . . . as I read it [Proclamation] I thought that we could have made a few changes in it.”

The Paradox of the Pedestal

Over the years, I’ve been interested in the changing language and manner in which Mormon leaders speak about and treat women. It seems as if the leaders are trying hard to show how important and “influential” the women are. My recovering-accidental-misogynist brain is uncomfortable with the language used to make the women feel awesome. Herein lies the paradox. It’s somewhat condescending. I’ll show you. In October 2015, President Russell M. Nelson (recently announced leader of the Mormon Church), then Elder Nelson, gave a talk entitled “A Plea to My Sisters.” He begins praising Sister Donna Smith Packer and Sister Barbara Dayton Perry, wives of then recently departed apostles, for their “influence” and stalwartness. To the women of the church he says:

We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women who make sacred covenants and then keep them, women who can speak with the power and authority of God . . . We need women who know how to make things happen by their faith. . . who are devoted to sheparding. . . who know how to receive personal revelation, who know how to call upon powers of heaven.

Later he says, “Sisters, do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence. . .?” Then he gave an example of a woman in a meeting with mostly men and when it was realized she hadn’t spoken, she was asked her impression, and it changed the “entire direction of the meeting.” He then pleads with the women to take their “rightful and needful place.” “My dear sisters, . . . we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. . . you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition. We brethren cannot duplicate your influence.”

To help you uncover your own potential blind spots I’d like you to imagine the majority leadership of a religion being mostly female–Female First Presidency, Female Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, etc. Now basically change all of the above statements to masculine. “Brethren, do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence? My dear brethren. . . we need your impressions, your insights, your inspiration, you brethren possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition, we sisters cannot duplicate your influence.” Would it seem funny to hear a story about women in a meeting who had realized one of the minority male leaders had been quiet, and he was asked his impressions and it changed the entire direction of the meeting? Part of the female Mormon angst is the paradox of the pedestal. In the attempt to build women up and have them feel like they are “influencers” and so needed, it re-enforces the gender role that their place and station is one of influencer, one who needs to be reminded how needed she is. Doesn’t it feel a little pandering for the imaginary female First Presidency to plead with the men, “We need you?” The fact they have to say this, that this message is even a thing, speaks to the potential blind spot of misogyny embedded in the culture.

Recently, the newly formed First Presidency of the Church, under the direction of President Russell M. Nelson, held a press conference to introduce themselves and answer questions from the media. Peggy Fletcher Stack from the Salt Lake Tribune asked a question in part: “What will you do in your presidency to bring women, people of color, and international members into decision making for the church?” After acknowledging their position and station as white American males and how quotas aren’t in the rules, Stack again queried, “What about the women?”

President Nelson:

I love ‘em. I’m the father of nine beautiful daughters, how am I so lucky to get girls?. . . They had a superb mother. . . We have women on our councils, we have women administering ordinances in the temple, we have women presidents of auxiliaries and their counselors. We depend on their voices. I think I said something about that in a conference talk a little while ago: “A Plea to My Sisters” to take their place. We need their voices, we need their input and we love their participation with us.

President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor added, “We need their influence.” He praised his wife for her role as mother in raising “four bishops” (sons who became local congregation leaders) and says:

Women are the source of most of the strength we see . . . I think the idea of position or the idea of recognition, I can see how that would be a concern to people, but they don’t see the women getting that recognition. But in terms of influence, the Lord has already given them, I think no greater influence exists in the kingdom than in the women of the church.

To clarify the answer to the question about what they will do to bring women (among others) into decision making for the church, President Nelson provides this puzzling answer, “In the Doctrine and Covenants [Canonized Mormon Scripture] there’s a verse that says before the foundation of the world, women were created to bear and care for the sons and daughters of God and in doing so they glorify God, next question.” Again, changing all the above statements to masculine, from our fictional Female First Presidency: What about the men?

President Woman:

I love ‘em. I’m the mother of nine handsome sons, how am I so lucky to get boys? They had a superb father. We have men on our councils, we have men administering ordinances in the temple, we have men presidents of auxiliaries and their counselors, we depend on their voices. I think I said something about that in a conference talk a little while ago, “A Plea to My Brothers” to take their place, we need their voices, we need their input and we love their participation with us.

Again, if it seems weird to hear it presented like this it may be a function of your accidental misogynistic blind spot. To reiterate the role of women, President Nelson reminds us of the scripture to reinforce the most important aspect of women in the church and their way to truly “glorify God.” The reason for their existence, even before the world was created, is to bear and care for the sons and daughters of God. This, apparently, answers the question of how woman will be brought in to decision making for the Church. Again, the paradox is that by trying to put women on a pedestal of awesomeness and emphasizing the importance of being “influencers” it inherently shows they are not primary, but secondary role players. Exclaiming they really are awesome and primary influencers and no greater influence exists in the “kingdom” is not helping.

Here’s another concern. If (and when) women feel like they fail in their role as a mother or cannot fulfill that role, there are few other options. If they don’t marry, are not mothers, dislike mothering, or their children don’t turn out, they feel like complete failures because this is their main role and function. It is experienced as an all-or-nothing prospect. The pursuit of perfection in mothering and “woman-ing” can take an immense toll. When, as girls and women, they are given divine marching orders of “bearing and caring,” this becomes the framework of their identity. All other pursuits, dreams, expectations are tempered with, “of course being a wife and mother is my first priority.” Tens of thousands of Mormon girls in their late teens get personalized blessings from male “Patriarchs” that describe potential blessings that can be theirs if they live faithfully.

Here’s an example from an actual patriarchal blessing. “Never forget that a woman’s most noble and divine career is motherhood. Of all the things that you will desire to do in life, nothing will be more important for you than the desire to become a successful, righteous wife and mother.” For some, this creates an invisible ceiling on what would be practical to pursue academically and professionally. This role and expectation is baked into everything a little girl thinks, learns, sings about, and prepares for. For some, it’s basically a setup for discontent. Have you noticed how many women really hate Mother’s Day? Why? Either it brings up difficult issues with their own mother, reminds them they aren’t a mother, reminds them they are a “terrible mother,” or guilts them because perhaps they don’t even want to be a mother or hate being a mother—but that is definitely a “no-no” thought in Mormonism. This Mother’s Day aversion and avoidance is perhaps an unfortunate side effect of the all-or-nothing proposition that the pursuit of perfectionism in Mormon female role fulfillment can be.

So to sum up my recovering-accidental-misogynist-turned-psychiatrist view of the Mormon institutional blind spot contributing to the discontent of some Mormon women—it is simply this: tributes to the awesomeness of girls, women, wives, and mothers, while reportedly not soliciting female input in the creation of a seminal “Family Proclamation” which took almost a year to create, seem hollow at best. Such tributes highlight the paradox of the pedestal and a mixed message which promulgates the ideal of equal partnership and “need for their influence” while reducing women to stereotypical gender roles, sexist attributes (i.e. nurturers), and the reality that the primary way for women to glorify God is to make and take care of His children. This fairly narrow view of a woman’s utility is woven into the identity of developing Mormon girls which creates a self-imposed expectation of perfection in mothering, and the only response from the mostly male leadership is a “those are the rules, don’t blame us, we only work here . . . but we love ‘em” attitude. I am confident that we can do better. The first step is to have an awareness that our worldview may indeed have a (hopefully accidental) misogynistic blind spot. Such awareness will help us have empathy for those who feel disturbed by a kindly smile and plea to sisters to be “influencers” and “take their place.” Perhaps the second step would be to say, “I’m sorry.”
————
LDS Women’s Meeting, October 1995, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1995/10/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng
“The Plan and the Proclamation,” LDS General Conference, October 2017, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/the-plan-and-the-proclamation?lang=eng
“There Is Always a Struggle”: An Interview with Chieko N. Okazaki. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 45, no.1 (Spring 2012) P. 136.
“A Plea To My Sisters,” LDS General Conference, October 2015, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/10/a-plea-to-my-sisters?lang=eng

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21 Responses

  1. IA4 says:

    Thank you for this statement:

    >those are the rules, don’t blame us, we only work here . . .

    I’ve known several church leaders and seen them in their daily lives. They strike me as good men who are trying to walk their talk. It’s my impression they are aware of the issues, because they have members in their wards who don’t agree with the church on everything and make it a point to be vocal.

    In considering their responses to all the current issues, issues that I think will empty the pews. I’ve wondered, at turns, if they’re evil and I haven’t seen it; or if they’re incredibly, incredibly obtuse. Just these past few weeks, as I’ve considered their comments from gay suicide, to child sexual predation to gender roles that their view seems to be, like it or not, these are the rules (doctrine) and to not blame them, they’re just the messengers. They seem to feel they are utterly powerless to change the doctrines or policies beyond a certain point. This is the most charitable interpretation I can give their choices.

  2. Wondering Why says:

    ” They seem to feel they are utterly powerless to change the doctrines or policies beyond a certain point.”

    But they are powerless. Either this is God’s Church, with His rules for us, or it isn’t His Church.

    If it isn’t the Church of God, or God doesn’t exist, then it matter not one jot what the doctrines are. We can seal same sex marriages, ordain women, etc. None of it will matter because it isn’t God’s Church and He doesn’t care.

    But it is His Church then the Doctrines are His. We are not at liberty to change them.

    Having never been in a ward, or been familiar with a ward, where the sisters were not listened to I find it hard to imagine why bishops would be that way. I was in a stake council meeting last night (as SSP).

    So had three SPy members, 7 of the high council, YMP, myself and the stake clerk – 13 men
    and, three (RS, YW and P) presidents.

    One member of the stake high council said nothing, except for the closing prayer (opening was said by the YWP). One member of the SPy said very little. The rest of the speaking was probably 40:60 women:men. Which means the sisters had more time speaking individually than each of the men.

    They were listened to, their ideas became actions. I have seen this in all the ward councils I have ever attended (and apart from my own wards, over the years, I have attended all the councils in my stake from time to time).

    It is shameful that it happens anywhere, but thankfully it is not widespread.

    • Jenny says:

      I’d say your experience is out of the norm, and the marginalization of women is the widespread occurrence, since it happens over the pulpit during general conference, and when the general authorities revised drafts of the proclamation and forgot there were female herbal authorities that might have an opinion. My sister came home from her ward’s church on Sunday and said the entire sacrament meeting was run by men. Prayers, talks, baby blessing, everything. I’ve lived all over the US and in foreign countries and I’ve experienced it firsthand in every place.

    • Ari says:

      “The rest of the speaking was probably 40:60 women:men”

      This is an interesting comment. There is actually quite a bit of evidence that people’s perceptions of which sex does most of the talking are actually quite distorted, probably by unconscious beliefs about who is SUPPOSED to do the talking. Here is a link to a nice review article: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics/article/speaker-sex-and-perceived-apportionment-of-talk/16666BA97B7BE41FFB16A5693BF60C23#. You can follow the citations there for the actual science.

    • EJ says:

      If you Google listener bias you will find that men generally perceive women speak much more than they really do in meetings. Your perception of 40:60 probably means it was closer to 25:75. I would love to see the results from a Gender Time app for the meeting.

    • Bon says:

      13 men, and 3 women. Not balanced at all in the first place. Your point sounds like women either do or should talk way more than the men to be heard. Do you think those women notice that they are both (A) outnumbered, and (B) know what even though their input is considered, the men are the designated leaders, proclaimed judges in Israel, and holders of keys? They do, and stay in their place because they were taught to. It is totally a widespread problem, whether you see it or not.

  3. Left Field says:

    Wondering, the prophets are supposed to be actively seeking God’s will, and seeking solutions to problems that arise. In the Mormon tradition of revelation, we’re not supposed to have prophets sitting around twiddling their thumbs and tapping their pencils, and staring at the wall, waiting for God to suddenly appear and say, “Everything’s cool; carry on as you were!”

    But that does seem to be the model of revelation I often hear promoted by church members. “Whatever we’re doing right now is precisely what God wants. Otherwise, he would have already told us to change it.” That’s the same thing as not having revelation at all. We already know everything. We are doing what God told us to do. There are no more great and important things to be revealed. There is no more need of revelation.

    That’s the thinking that made the restoration necessary in the first place.

    • Wondering Why says:

      Except that our Prophet is saying he is receiving revelation. Both Apostles and Sisters seem to have been involved in the recent Ministering changes, and additionally the revision to how the priesthood quorums are structured. So, during that revelatory process God failed to remind the Brethren to balance the unit discussions. And He also failed to say, “While we are re-organising priesthood quorums, please start to ordain women.”

      I see a process of revelation taking place. That it isn’t the one that some people want doesn’t make it wrong. It doesn’t make the Brethren wrong.

      • Left Field says:

        There are an infinite number of things that God has “failed to say.” Revelation is the things that God *has* said. According to Mormon belief, the Apostasy can be understood as the result of people being satisfied with God not having revealed something.

        What you describe is exactly the model of we-know-we’re-doing-this-correctly-because-we-haven’t-received-a-revelation-to-the-contrary:

        “We have already received all those revelations about tobacco and ministering and stuff, and if there was anything else we should do, or anything we should be doing differently, God would have already told us. So there’s no need for the prophets to bother the Lord about ways to better include women because if there was any way to better include women, God would have already told us about it. Therefore, no revelation on the subject should be sought or expected.”

        That’s the kind of thinking that by definition shuts out future revelation.

      • Wondering Why says:

        Did you even read my post before you trashed it.

        The point was that the brethren were seeking a revelation about strengthening priesthood quorums, and received one. It didn’t included ordaining women. If I was God, waiting for men to ask for something that should be done I would have taken the opportunity. He didn’t, so I suspect it isn’t something we need. Just my opinion, And I am, according to the rules around here, entitled to have them, and air them.

      • Left Field says:

        You’re the first and only person here who has brought up ordaining women. But since you seem to want to raise the issue, I’ll just point out that we have no record of a revelation indicating whether women should or should not be ordained. We have 138 sections in the Doctrine and Covenants, many of them dealing extensively with priesthood. And there is not a syllable that says women shouldn’t be ordained. And there’s no indication of a non-canonized revelation on the subject.

        All we can come up with is to claim that by definition, whatever we do is God’s will.

        But that’s not revelation. That’s the exact opposite of revelation. That’s “We don’t need no stinkin’ revelation because God has already told us everything, and we’re already doing it.” It’s not God revealing many great and important things. It’s “If God had any more great and important things to reveal, he would have already ‘taken the opportunity,’ so we’ll just carry on as we are with God’s blessing.”

        As the story goes, one day another of the general authorities admonished J. Golden Kimball to clean up his language and to look to his church leaders for an example. “Brother Golden, have you ever heard President Grant swear?” he asked.

        “Yes, as a matter of fact, I have,” Brother Kimball responded. “I was with President Grant in St. George. It was hot and dry and the crops were drying up. The saints down there were having a terrible time of it. It broke my heart to see it. I said to President Grant, ‘It’s a damn shame,’ and he said, ‘Yes, it is.'”

        God reveals things by not revealing things the same way President Grant swears. Only if we put words in his mouth that he didn’t say.

    • Ziff says:

      Well said, Left Field.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Wondering…. I’m wondering how you’re missing the point here.

    To whoever wrote this article, you are the kind of man someone would be absolutely blessed to have as a friend, husband, father… I applaud you! But also, it is not BAD to be a man! Obviously not. And we need the input of men! We need the input of everyone! This is about getting to a point where it doesn’t matter so much if you are a man or if you are a woman. It just matters that you a person… who just so happens—naturally—to be a man or a woman.

  5. Lorraine Jeffery says:

    I have been in the church for 75 years, and needed changes have taken place. I understand what the author is saying. I have seen it and experienced some of it. But I also see the progress that has been made (I.e. women no longer have to have their husban’s permission to get their own endowments, women are included in council meetings, young girls have the option of pursuing college careers other than teaching or nursing etc.) Is it enough? No, of course not. I miss Chieko Okazaki. What a breath of fresh air she was. And I think your voices need to be heard.

    Those of us who are older may not be leading the charge, but we hear you and please believe that needed changes do take place — albeit slowly.

    Lorraine

    • Happy Hubby says:

      I really appreciated the guest post. I feel I am walking a bit of the same path. But before I congratulate myself and assume I see it clearly now, I have learned to assume I still don’t get it and I need to keep digging and learning more. I have to assume I still have misogynistic lenes that I see the world through.

      Lorraine – No question that change occurs. We don’t practice polygamy among living individuals. Blood Atonement is no longer taught or part of the temple. In the temple women don’t have to promise to “obey” their husbands, but now only promise to “harken” and they no longer have to get bosom to bosom at the veil. Women of color can enter the temples and even marry someone there regardless of his skin color. Women can (occasionally) give prayers in general conference. Young Women can serve missions now.

      All good steps, but I just can’t get over the feeling that rather than “leading” in any of these areas, the church is being dragged (often kicking and screaming) to make the changes. I just wish I could feel proud of my church in this area.

    • Wondering Why says:

      Just a slight correction, so that any unsuspecting person doesn’t read what you said as policy.

      Women married to unendowed husbands do require their written consent from their husband. However, this is not a sexist policy, men in the same position also require the same.

      Handbook 1 3.3.3
      “A worthy member who is married to an unendowed spouse, whether the spouse is a member or nonmember, may receive his or her own endowment when (1) the bishop receives written consent from the spouse and (2) the bishop and stake president are satisfied that the responsibility assumed with the endowment will not impair marital harmony.”

  6. Ziff says:

    I really like this post, Psychiatry Doctor Guy. I’m working through a similar ongoing change in myself to understand and rid myself of my misogyny. It’s always nice to meet other men working along the same path.

  7. IA4 says:

    What was really shocking to me was to learn that misogyny is everywhere. Once you open your eyes to it, it’s really surprising how ubiquitous it is.

  8. Lorraine Jeffery says:

    Thanks for the correction Wondering Why. The blog definitely got some discussion going, and that is so important.

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