#hearLDSwomen: My Husband’s Gifts Are Sought After; Mine Are Not

By Anonymous

A couple years ago, my husband and I gave talks in our new ward. After the meeting, several people came over and spoke to us. As we moved to our next class, my husband said, “Interesting that the guy in the stake presidency came down to talk to us.”

“What?” I asked. “Which one was he?”

“The one who asked us what our callings are,” he said.

Later that week, my husband got a call from the stake executive secretary.

“The stake president would like to come visit you and your wife in your home next Tuesday,” he said.

We didn’t know the reason for the visit, though I had my suspicions: the bishop of our new ward had been serving for five and a half years, so I guessed the stake president was feeling out candidates to fill the spot. I was 10 weeks pregnant and worn down by malaise and exhaustion; the thought of my husband serving in a time-intensive calling was overwhelming to me.

When we opened the door at their knock, I was surprised to see the whole stake presidency standing there suited up and toting scriptures. There was a weight in my chest when I realized that the odds were slim that such a visit would ever be for the purpose of evaluating my potential to serve, except as a supportive wife for my husband’s big calling.

I’m normally chatty and dynamic in small groups, eager to share and curious about others, but that night, I was quiet. I allowed my husband to answer all the questions directed at us, and on the rare occasion they addressed me specifically, I answered briefly. I knew they weren’t there for me. It was sobering to realize that regardless of my talents and desire to serve, my husband would always be more sought after, that his skills would always be more desirable to the church simply because he’s a man. On both the ward and the stake level, there are more than double the amount of leadership callings available to men than there are to women. I felt like to the Church I was just a placeholder, a body to uncomplainingly take care of the children while my husband worked long days and gave his nights and Sundays to the Church. My individuality was irrelevant as long as I could keep a smile on my face and make it possible for my husband to attend meetings.

After they left, my husband commented in frustration on my silence, but I was certain the men in my home hadn’t noticed. I felt keenly that my femaleness was a liability, not an asset, in the work of the Lord, and I questioned why God would give me the strengths and desires I had and then make it structurally impossible for me to use them in the Church.

 

Pro Tip: Remember that women are not interchangeable placeholders. Make an effort to engage women in the conversation.


Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

[Photo by Ivan Karasev on Unsplash]

ElleK

ElleK is a foodie, gardener, and writer. Women’s issues in the church are not a pebble in her shoe; they are a boulder on her chest.

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20 Responses

  1. jettie says:

    Wow, this is painfully relatable. Thank you for voicing what so many of us experience as women in the church. You have perfectly captured what it is like to be overlooked and overshadowed by men who are sought after, admired, and elevated to positions of prestige and power while we are given callings under the thumbs of mens’ authority. Bad for our spiritual and mental health, this whole situation!

    • ElleK says:

      Thanks, jettie. It’s hard to put into words, too, because it’s not like I WANT to be a bishop or anything, but the fact that I have gifts that are celebrated in men and mostly underutilized in women makes me feel like the church would value me a lot more if I were a man.

      • Ari says:

        I remember when the ordain women movement was happening, I was still making excuses for the church. I thought that because I don’t want the priesthood, I couldn’t understand why others would. I didn’t support the movement. But then I slowly came to the realization that it’s not about wanting the priesthood. Even if NO women want the priesthood, I now think we should ordain women anyway. Make women equal. Our sons and daughters should learn what female leaders look like and sound like. They should learn to associate competence with womanhood. If we could teach them that, then maybe we wouldn’t see so much unconscious misogyny, which had huge effects on the larger culture as well.

  2. Ari says:

    I think every moderately perceptive woman in the church senses that she has little or nothing that is valued by the church organization. Most of us blame ourselves, thinking that the flaw is in us. If only we were more intelligent, more attractive, younger, thinner, better dressed, we tell ourselves… Then our church leaders would notice what we have to offer. Then we would feel valued in the church. It takes a high level of insight — and courage — to wake up to the fact that it’s really because our church is organized to ignore women’s capacities for much beyond bearing children, caring for them, cooking, and executing the will of the men.

    I say it takes courage because it is so much easier to blame ourselves. If we can blame ourselves, then we won’t feel powerless. We think that maybe there is some diet we can try, some manner of dress that we can put on, some assignment we can fulfill in just the right way, that will fix it. To imagine otherwise is too distressing for believers. We’d rather blame ourselves.

    Once I began to become conscious of this fact — that our church is organized to undervalue women, that it conditions us to undervalue ourselves and other women as well — I spent a lot of time asking God what he wants from me. I asked him why he would give me an intelligent mind and a capacity to do things — and a desire to do things — beyond what is required for my expected level of service in his kingdom. I asked him why a loving and benevolent God — the God that I have always experienced in my personal prayer as valuing me — why would that God ordain a social order that demeans and dehumanizes women? It took a long time to get my answer because I had to become open to a range of possibilities outside of what my male leaders were saying I should consider, but I did finally get my answer:

    The answer was that God wouldn’t ordain such a social order. Only man would.

    The reason it was so hard to come to that conclusion was partly because of the belief that it has “always” been this way. Men have always ruled over women, haven’t they? But even if I believed that was true, which I don’t anymore (see When God Was a Woman by Stone, whose conclusions are corroborated by Campbell in Goddesses, by Harari in Sapiens, and in Guns, Germs, and Steel by Diamond — because don’t we all feel better if a man corroborates a woman’s conclusions?) — even if I believed it was true that men have always ruled over women, to conclude that it’s the way it SHOULD be just because it’s the way it’s ALWAYS been (which it isn’t) is a thinking error. It’s like concluding that humans should not drive cars because they never did before the 1900’s, or that humans shouldn’t wear nylon because they never did before either.

    It’s time for a change. It’s time for a BIG change. It’s going to take courage, but women need to seek greener pastures. We need to find a faith that does not structurally trod us under the feet of men.

    • ElleK says:

      Wow, Ari. Thank you for articulating that.

      Tied into the issue of women seeking to be more is the fact that women are granted such minimal stewardships. We are to stay home (make sure it looks like Pinterest!), we are to be support staff for our husband (so make sure you’re dressed to the nines!), we have a whole month to prepare a Relief Society lesson (so after organizing the lesson, of course we’ll use extra time to make cute handouts or beautiful centerpieces because this is literally our only job and we have the time and resources to do so much more).

      I agree that patriarchy is not God-ordained.

    • tg says:

      Yes, yes, yes! I love everything about this comment. My favorite line from the book Jesus Feminist is that patriarchy is not God’s dream for humanity.

  3. Andrew R. says:

    Feeling undervalued may very well be a thing for many women in the Church, and that is a shame.

    However, it is by no means simply a female issue. In the church of today women can not be Bishop. Whether you would be a great Bishop, or a lousy one, it isn’t something that could happen. So you may feel that you are undervalued, but at least that isn’t tested since you can’t be the Bishop.

    Now think for a moment about the man who has served as EQP, and been told he was second to none in his stake, served on the High Council for years, and again was the “best”. Served as a counsellor to a Bishop who was a best, mediocre. Watched as man, after man, failed to bring the ward together with common purpose. One gave up and left the church, another had to be released, a third couldn’t wait to be released and the last (and current) is practically a child who cares little about the problems the people have. And all the time this person could do the calling, understands the calling, and for some unknown reason has not been called.

    It happens all over the world, good men who are never called upon to do what they feel they were made to do. Why? My only explanation is that it isn’t part of their “Plan of Salvation”. It isn’t needed for them. Now why that should be the case for half the children of God, I don’t know. But thus far it seems to have been the case, and I am certain that many, many, many of them will be resurrected into Eternal Life – along with the men who seemed not to be needed either.

    • Ari says:

      You’re right that some men don’t get to realize their potential in our church. That’s absolutely correct. However, the issue at the heart of this, for me anyway, isn’t a question about whether or not any individual woman (or man) can realize their potential to serve as a bishop — most never will. It’s sad and frustrating at the individual level, but it’s not systemically toxic.

      What IS systemically toxic, and what IS at the heart of this for me, is the question of whether or not young girls and boys growing up in the church learn to see women as capable leaders. In a culture that allows ONLY men to be leaders, we are unconsciously conditioned to see the attributes of leadership only in men. We don’t know how to see it in women.

      It took me a long time to see this. Personally, I don’t want to hold the priesthood or ever be bishop. I never wanted that. That was why I made the mistake of failing to support the Ordain Women movement at first. However, now I see that the absence of women on the stand causes us to internalize the belief that men have all the answers and women have none. Most of us don’t even realize that we’ve internalized that belief.

      (That belief has toxic implications. I can’t help but wonder how much that belief influenced people’s votes in the 2016 election.)

      • Andrew R. says:

        I think they probably do see women as capable leaders, but not themselves.

        One of my biggest issues, certainly in my stake, is youth leaders not allowing the youth to do the leading. Five of my six girls have served as Laurel Class president (the last is only 15). None has ever really been allowed to organise and run the activities. None has properly led BYC.

        Why? Two reasons.
        BYC is simple – it doesn’t get held. If it did the Laurel Class president should conduct half of them.

        YW leaders, from my experience, find it easier to decide, impose and then run activities for the girls rather than let them do it. The effort to coach the leaders of the future seems too much effort.
        YM leaders are similar, but they don’t like doing anything. So in YW it is over planned by the leaders. In YM it isn’t planned at all. (No scouts in the UK).

        None of this is helping the youth move into their leadership positions.

        I consider myself lucky however, in our RSP. I am EQP and I would not want any other sister to be the RSP. Ours is organised, knows the sisters, and it just great. She has an MSc in Computer Science.

        Our Primary president is pretty awesome too. She is great to have in ward council, being a younger mother too, she brings a different view from us oldies. She has an MA. And the YW president also has a Masters Degree. As I said, we are lucky. Our bishop is the weakest link!

    • Ashley says:

      Unfortunately, I think there is a massive difference between the notion that being the Bishop is not part of one individual man’s “plan of salvation” and that being part of any Church leadership (that requires the PH -so everything except RS/YW/Primary – is not part of an entire gender’s “plan of salvation.”

      And underlying that entire theory of course, are temple ordinance that specifically ordain one sex – men – to serve God and covenant directly with Him and the other sex – women – to serve and covenant with their spouse (Man).

      Men and women in the church are living completely different dichotomies. I think, Andrew, that you are okay with this, but it may be helpful to at least acknowledge that these dichotomies exist and are distinct from each other – hence, Elle’s pain is distinct from the pain of a man passed over as a bishop.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Oh yes, they exist, and certainly in the lives of those for whom they have been manifested. What so often seems to be the case with things I read here, they only exist for certain areas.

        Genuinely, we have wonderful sisters in my stake, who are listened to. Our Stake RSP speaks in all the units regularly. When it is ward conference the sacrament meetings usually go like this: –
        20 mins to get the business and sacrament done
        10 mins bishop will speak
        after the intermediate hymn the stake president takes over.
        We have 30 mins to fill. He will ask at least two members of stake auxilliary presidencies to speak, he will take whatever is left. They can just share their testimony, or speak as the wish.
        Because we have 3 in the YMP, 1 in the SSP and 3 in each of the other presidencies there are 4:9 men:women to call on. This year we have had 7 of 9 conferences so far. I have only spoken once (and that was when I was also clerk and was being released to be EQP in my ward, I’m SSP). The stake YMP has spoken once, he was a new YMP at the time. All the others have been sisters.

        They are free to speak as they wish, and they share powerful testimonies that it is usually hard for the Stake president to follow.

        He wants to hear them, we want to hear them. I am sad that this is not the same the whole church over.

        Taking High Council speakers out of the mix – only 8 a year – in my ward you are as likely to have a sister as you are a brother speak last in sacrament. I would say, as a feel, the sisters give more prayers.

        In our ward and stake council sisters are listened to, if they have not said something they are asked if there is anything they can say.

        Why doesn’t this happen everywhere? I don’t know, I wish it would. The wards and stake where it isn’t must surely be poorer for it.

      • Ashley says:

        Andrew, your comment does not address the systemic disadvantage to an entire sex/gender within the church. You say the dichotomies exist and then use an example of how often sisters speak in the ward conferences you are a part of to somehow attempt to “sweep under the rug” the fact that in this church gender/sex dictate not only the lived experience on earth but the eternal roles of men and women in a way where men consistently have authority over women.

        I think it’s wonderful that so many women speak in ward conference in your ward. I think it’s wonderful that women often speak last in your ward, and you think that they also give more prayers in your ward. Given that most wards have more active sisters than brothers, you would think this would be the case everywhere. For the record, in the wards I have resided in for the past two decades, it has been the norm for sisters to speak last and for sisters to offer closing prayers and I frankly don’t keep close track of the ratio of male to female speakers.

        But none of that changes the structural, systemic, and institutional issues that ensure that men and women have incredibly different experiences and opportunities at church – and in the eternities. This is a source of pain for many women. It is not a misunderstanding of doctrine. It is the truth of life in the LDS church. Women aren’t upset just because they have less opportunities to speak, pray, lead, etc (though I’d encourage you to take a look at the recent General Conference to give your own numbers some perspective). We are upset because we have no authority or autonomy over our own roles and spiritual lives. Our personal revelation can, at every turn, be overruled and interpreted by men. Yes – many bishops are wonderful, most husbands wouldn’t dream of it, we should of course seek our personal revelation, women are listened to at times. But at no time in her entire existence as an LDS women, even if she is the General Relief Society President will a woman be in a position where she cannot be overruled by a man.

        Perhaps you will point out that every man in the church is in this same position – after all, who among us cannot be overruled by a prophet?? But it is in no way, shape, or form the same. When the number of women in an area do not count toward the creation of or maintenance of a ward/branch, that tells us everything we need to know. Do not do men or women the disservice of claiming otherwise.

  4. Lily says:

    I had to push back a little. “I was 10 weeks pregnant and worn down by malaise and exhaustion; the thought of my husband serving in a time-intensive calling was overwhelming to me.” But the thought of YOU having a time-intensive calling was ok?

  5. Diana Villafane says:

    This is the way it will go for you, as long as you remain inside this particular religious structure. Everyone’s journey is different. I wish you the best, and will keep you in my prayers.

  6. Andrew R. says:

    Just an insight. It may, or may not, be useful.

    I don’t know what the outcome of this “scoping” was. An absolute must when a recommendation goes from the stake to the first presidency for a new bishop is that the wife is an exemplary member. The same is true for counsellors in the stake presidency. I have been in meetings (stake presidency) where the discussion for whom to recommend for both of these callings mostly centred on the wife’s ability than the man’s.

    The husband’s ability, other than his acceptance, has never been an issue in the calling of any auxilliary president in a ward or stake that I have been involved with.

    And stake presidents are told to use their wife as a counsellor (not about the private individual issues) but with how to deal with general issues. Wise stake presidents say the same to Bishops.

    I know it isn’t the same – but I can assure you if the stake president was considering your husband for a calling he would have been interested in you, and your feelings to. And if he wasn’t, he should have been.

    • SC says:

      If this is truly the case, then I wish that the sisters could be vested with keys, authority, a title, and an official co-calling, rather than shunted to the side whenever our husbands are called to preside (and vice versa).

    • Pete says:

      So it’s really not abilities, but anatomy that counts the most. Gotcha.

  7. Fed up again says:

    Shut up Andrew. Go back to your cubicle. I’m not interested in reading your opinion six different ways.

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