#hearLDSwomen: In My Ward, Women Give Just 20% of the Talks, so I Wrote to My Bishop
Over a year ago in my ward, I felt like there had been an abnormally long string of Sacrament Meetings where only men spoke. I wondered if maybe I was mistaken, so I checked the ward program spreadsheet and counted the number of adult male vs. female speakers we’d had in recent weeks. Men gave a whopping 80% of the talks and were almost exclusively the concluding speaker of each meeting. More than half of the time, there were no women speakers at all. So I sent an email:
I’ve noticed a trend in recent Sacrament Meetings that I’d like to bring to your attention.
Since July, there have been 12 Sundays with assigned speakers in Sacrament Meeting. Seven of those Sundays (58%) have had exclusively male speakers for the adult talks. No Sundays since July have featured only adult women speakers. This means that we have heard from 20 men and only 5 women in the past 4+ months. A man has also been the concluding speaker on each of these Sundays save one.
I realize not everyone notices or cares about things like this. I’m sure the scheduling was not malicious or deliberate. I am hesitant to send this email because it’s not my place to tell you how to run things. But as a woman who has always been and will always be presided over by male leadership, I’m asking you to please notice things like this. Church leaders like to say that women’s voices are important, but when there are literally four adult male speakers for every one adult female speaker, and when there is frequently a long row of suits up on the stand without a single skirt, I sure don’t feel like that’s true.
I appreciate that you’re mixing things up by not just having married couples speak. I recognize that High Council Sundays often feature two men (though they’ve started bringing the female auxiliary presidents sometimes, which I’ve been thrilled about), so the speaker lineup hasn’t been entirely under your control, but I hope you’ll try to compensate for that with some all-female speaker lineups (that aren’t just the ward auxiliary presidencies, though I did enjoy those Sundays earlier this year).
You each have a lot on your plate, and I appreciate the sacrifices you make and the work you do. Thank you for your consideration.
My bishop responded, “Thank you for letting us know.”
For the next couple months, I noticed they were making an effort to include more women. One week, they even asked me and another woman to speak as the only adult speakers, and I was the concluding speaker. I was pleased about their efforts, but I still noticed some upsetting discrepancies. My husband spoke the week before I did, and he was invited in a text by a member of the bishopric and told to pick his own topic (which is standard operating procedure in my ward). When this same bishopric member called me the next week and asked me to speak, however, he gave me several topics to choose from and asked me what I thought about them. When I gave him noncommittal answers and said I’d probably incorporate a couple of those themes along with whatever I felt inspired to add, he continued to press me, wanting me to select a topic so he could approve it. He started giving me suggestions on how to write my talk (“When I write a talk, I usually look up my topic in the Topical Guide and see what scriptures I can find…”). I finally asked him whether he trusted me to speak at all. I told him that I knew how to write a talk, that I’m a very competent speaker, that I served a mission and was an MTC teacher. He seemed surprised and backpedaled uncomfortably.
My husband, who’d been listening to the conversation from the next room, commented afterward on how differently we’d been treated by the same man asking us to do the same task just one week apart. It was especially frustrating to me because between me and my husband, I am the stronger speaker, and I enjoy it more.
I just looked up the most recent few months of Sacrament Meeting speakers, and while the numbers are slightly better than they were when I wrote to my bishopric, women’s representation, at 33%, is still abysmal. Men spoke 20 times; women spoke 10 times. Men were the concluding speakers every Sunday except two.
On Sundays when we hear only from men, I often find myself counting the number of suits lined up like chess pieces on the stand. There’s generally the three men in the bishopric, three priests at the Sacrament table (and, after they sit down, a deacon who sits next to the bishop for no discernible reason), a visiting member of the stake presidency, and the two-three male speakers. Women’s absence is so tangible that it’s a wonder to me that no one finds it remarkable: women are absent on the ward level, they’re absent at the general level, and they’re absent in the temple liturgy.
When I don’t see myself represented at any level of church governance, what else can I conclude but that this is a church by men and for men?
Pro Tip: Pay attention to women’s representation in your ward. Notice how many male vs. female speakers there are in your meetings, in General Conference, in the temple ceremony. Ask yourself what you can do to elevate women’s voices.
“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)
 I wrote more about this dynamic here.