If you’re not part of the solution…

imagesForeign policy analyst and academic Anne-Marie Slaughter made the decision to turn down a high level government position in 2011.  Her decision inspired her to write a widely-read article in The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  A year later she gave a TED Talk in which she argues that caring for family members is a human problem, not a women’s problem.  She says when people who work for her take time to attend to urgent family problems the work still gets done, and gets done better than if they were made to stay at work at the expense of their families.  She says breadwinning and caregiving are both necessary for proper nurturing of human life, and notes that while American culture has given women permission to do both, it remains for men to be allowed as much freedom of choice. She also talks about the barriers to gender equality and the costs of that inequality, asking:

“If breadwinning and caregiving are really equal then why shouldn’t a government invest as much in an infrastructure of care as the foundation of a healthy society as it invests in physical infrastructure as the backbone of a successful economy?”

Why, indeed.  It’s because of the deep and pervasive belief that caregiving is the problem of women.  While that belief is very old and people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds ascribe to it, I’m calling out Mormonism as contributing to the problem of undervaluing caregiving when it should be part of the solution.  But before I go further, what does Slaughter mean by an “infrastructure of care?”  She doesn’t spell that out in her TED talk, but I think things like paid maternity/paternity leave, family tax credits, subsidized preschool, and health care for children are all under that umbrella.

Why is Mormonism part of the problem?  Because it explicitly states that caregiving is the purview women:

“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. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” [1]

Why should Mormonism be part of the solution?  Because it also explicitly says that both breadwinning and caregiving are very important.  Our leaders take pains to say women and men are equal (but usually with the caveat about different roles).[2]  Fathers and mothers are “equal partners.”[1]  This is a foundation on which to build an argument for a better infrastructure of caregiving.  But it turns out that the majority of American Mormons are economic and political conservatives who tend not to favor policies and programs that support caregiving.  Why is it that American Mormons so consistently privilege the well-being of businesses in their politics?  Why are infrastructures of care dismissed as too costly, or too intrusive to the private lives of families?  Why are people who use social services condemned as leeches?

I think the answer lies in the very real costs that come from siloing women and men into roles determined by gender.  Those costs include the personal happiness of women who may feel trapped by the daily grind of caregiving or men who may feel equally trapped by the thought of being chained to the corporate gallows.  But there are economic and social costs as well.  And if caregiving is forever the personal problem of women, then why would governments, corporations, or other institutions support infrastructures of care?  They wouldn’t.  And in the United States, where the that belief is quite common, they really don’t.  There is no mandatory paid maternity or paternity leave in the U.S. and relatively small tax credits for having children [3].  For example, compare the U.S. where the Child Tax Credit is $1000 per child per year to Australia, where an ordinary family would be eligible for about four times that amount, and paid maternity leave is mandatory [4].  In addition, there is virtually no help for people getting back into the work force after taking time off to care for children and there is no Social Security for the unpaid work of caregiving.  There is very little social support for men who opt into a primary role of caregiver.  It’s still the case that for men who fail in the home, other successes more than compensate, and the reverse is not true.[5]

But Mormonism has the theological foundation to counter that worldly idolization of the bottom line.  Mormons see children as “an heritage of the Lord.”[6]  “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness.”[1]  “Families Can be Together Forever.”[7]  And “The Family is of God.”[8]  Mormons practically make an idol of the nuclear family, but in making nurturing the primary responsibility for women (but not for men) the Church contributes to the social problem of forever privileging breadwinning over the other needs of families.  There is just no way to gather the political will to seriously support infrastructures of care if the problem of caregiving is forever the personal problem of women.

If political expediency, even for a cause as worthy as helping families, were the only reason for doing away with siloed gender roles in Mormonism, then I would not support it.  But, as I’ve argued elsewhere,[9] nothing in Mormon theology adds up to women and men possessing separate but equal spiritual attributes that would necessitate them being in forever separate-but-equal roles.  In fact just the opposite.  Both men and women strive to acquire, through the grace of God, attributes that are godly and indistinguishable between genders.

Mormonism rightly understands caregiving to be at least as important to the human condition as breadwinning.  It could become a small but important part of the solution to intractable gender inequality in the world if the Church made these few revisions:

By divine design, parents are responsible to raise their children in love and righteousness, to nurture them, and to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.  In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Of course, undervaluing caregiving was a problem before The Proclamation was written, and eradicating separate-but-equal gender roles from the Church wouldn’t suddenly make the U.S. a world leader in support for caregiving.  But shouldn’t the Church show moral leadership wherever it can?  By teaching that women are primarily responsible for nurturing the Church puts the problem of caregiving primarily on women’s shoulders.  If it were seen as a human problem rather than a women’s problem I think we’d start to see more support for caregiving overall, which would be to the benefit of everyone and be more consistent with true principles of gender equality.


[1] The Family: A Proclamation to the World
[2] “Men and women are equal in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the Church, but equal does not mean that they are the same. Although responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature, they do not differ in their importance or influence.” Melvin J. Ballard at BYU Education Week, August 20, 2013.
[3] That’s only a meaningful comparison in context of the overall tax rate, so I compared countries that have tax rates that are roughly the same as the US: Australia, Germany, Japan, Canada, China, and South Africa.  In all cases family tax credits are income-tested.
Here are approximate tax credits for those countries:
US – Child Tax Credit of $1000 per child per year
Australia – Family Tax Benefit estimated about $4,000 per child per year.  It’s a complicated calculation.
Japan – Kodomo Teate Law estimated about $2,700 per child per year
Germany – Kindergeld, averaging about $3,000 per child per year
– Canada Child Tax Benefit estimated about $2,700 per child per year.  It’s a complicated calculation.
South Africa – No family tax credit
China – No family tax credit
[4] Quimby Masters kindly provided me with a detailed explanation of the Australian Family Tax Law.  Taking an example of a school teacher’s family with an income of $66,000 AUD per year, if that family had five children ranging in age from 5 to 15 they would receive $26,832 per year in family tax credits, bringing their actual income to $92,832, of which they would not be taxed on $26,832 of it.  In addition, every employed woman is entitled to 6 months paid maternity leave, paid at minimum wage.  Individual employers may add to this.  All women are also entitled to 12 months off work, with the guarantee that they will get their job or an equivalent back if they return to work at the end of 12 months.
[5] “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”  David O. McKay.
[6] Psalms 127:3 
[7] Families Can Be Together Forever 
[8] The Family is of God
[9] I wrote about this in “The Attributes of God Point to an Egalitarian Priesthood,” Exponent II, Vol. 33 No. 4 (Spring 2014).

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23 Responses

  1. winifred says:

    expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed

  2. Dave K says:

    Emily, as an LDS male, I want to express appreciation for your recognition that gender roles can be just as difficult for men as for women. It means a lot.

    Your post calls to mind a recent article I read (I can’t remember where, maybe Slate) which argued that one issue democrats and republicans should theoretically be able to agree on is giving work credit for welfare recipients who stay at home to care for children. Many states are passing laws requiring a welfare recipient to work. If we truly believe the childcare is equally valuable to career (as conservatives applauded Ann Romney for) then we should put our money where our mouth is and count childcare as work. But I have a strong suspicion that such an idea would never fly with either a republican congress or any lds sunday school I’ve been a part of.

    • Emily U says:

      Dave K, that’s a great point about the work credit for welfare recipients who stay home to care for children. Welfare reform making primary caregivers find paid work so that they need child care they can’t afford is just the stupidest most frustrating thing. No more double standards that say it’s noble for Ann Romney to stay home but problematic for a poor parent to stay home, please!

  3. Jenny says:

    Great post Emily! I’ve been amazed at how many times I’ve heard since President Obama’s speech about programs he wants to implement to help working moms, that motherhood is all about sacrifice. The government and the working world should not take away our God-given duty to sacrifice, and stay at home moms deserve a pedestal for the good they contribute to society. Unfortunately this is the underlying and prevailing belief in our church culture that makes caring for our children a woman problem, not a human problem as you said. This can’t be a battle between SAHMs and working moms. It needs to be about providing for the needs of parents and children. I love your simple re-write of the Proclamation because it allows each parent to decide for themselves how to best provide for those needs in their own family without overreaching from the Church. Love your conclusion too! “But shouldn’t the Church show moral leadership wherever it can? By teaching that women are primarily responsible for nurturing the Church puts the problem of caregiving primarily on women’s shoulders. If it were seen as a human problem rather than a women’s problem I think we’d start to see more support for caregiving overall, which would be to the benefit of everyone and be more consistent with true principles of gender equality.” You’re absolutely right!

    • Emily U says:

      Thanks, Jenny! The sacrifice thing really gets under my skin. Please, don’t protect our right to sacrifice, we can manage that just fine ourselves…

  4. EFH says:

    Very valid points in this article. Well written. Bread-winning and care-giving is something that both genders can do and when they are prevented from doing so according to their desires, they both have a lot to loose. Freedom to choose in how each gender invests in these two aspects is up to the individual. Religion should stick to talking about families and not roles. Roles is something that is constructed socially, historically, politically and economically and is different for everyone. Religion has nothing valuable to add to this debate.

  5. Davis says:

    Several of you stated assumptions are completely flawed.

    “But it turns out that the majority of American Mormons are economic and political conservatives who tend not to favor policies and programs that support caregiving.”

    This in my opinion is not true at all. Policies and programs to support caregiving are something that I and most like me would support wholeheartedly. The difficulty is that most of these programs are tragically flawed and simply don’t do what they are intended to do.

    It is not that conservative Mormons are opposed to supporting caregiving, they are opposed to being COMPELLED to be part of a flawed program that does not work.

    The difference is very subtle, but very profound.

    • Emily U says:

      I don’t claim I know what policies any particular person favors, but the correlation is there.

      I get the criticism that programs are flawed, but that criticism would hold a lot more water for me if I heard proposals for infrastructures of care coming from the right. Generally, there’s total radio silence on that from from the conservative side of the aisle. Taking a stand against being compelled through taxation to support a policy you don’t like might sound like a moral achievement, but getting something (even a flawed thing) done in support of families would be a much bigger one.

    • There is a very conservative lobbying group that dominates local politics in my area, and their primary tagline is that they are about parents’ rights, and yet, I find that many of the policies they support actually compel women to the stay-at-home mom role by making the workplace hostile to parenting. In this way, they compel middle class nuclear families to adopt roles the lobbying group approves of that may or may not be good fits to the individuals, and leave single parents, poor parents, and parents with special circumstances like disabilities with no feasible options at all.

      Very recently though, I have seen some local conservatives support some policies that would be helpful to families, such as Governor Herbert supporting healthcare for the poor (the Healthy Utah plan) and addressing intergenerational poverty, and I would like to see more of that. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/58508592-82/poverty-conservative-education-sltrib.html

  6. mraynes says:

    This is me giving you all of the standing ovations!!!

  7. Dave K says:

    Perhaps its just coincidence, but the Church just announced a new policy to allow mothers with children to work in seminary, institute, and other paid church positions. Per the PA department: “This change makes it possible for families to decide what best meets their needs as it relates to mothers working while raising children.” Who knows, maybe we will see the day when the proclamation is re-worded to apply the labels preside, provide, protect, and nurture equally to both mothers and fathers.

    • Emily U says:

      Thanks for sharing that news, Dave K. I’m very happy to hear it! I’m doubly pleased at the reason given in the quote you shared.

  8. Christi says:

    Dave K can you provide a link for that change? Thanks!

  9. Dave K says:

    Christi, I tried to provide a link, but my comment gets rejected. You can find articles about the change on DeseretNews and the SL Tribune.

  10. Audrey says:

    This is wonderful, Emily! Strongly articulated. Along with the seminary employee change, the church is finally acknowledging the Women’s meeting as the first official session of General Conference. Small steps, but still!
    One note about Social Security: when I worked there (and I’m pretty sure still, based on my Mom’s experience), a spouse can file on their spouse’s record for a sizeable monthly benefit, even if they have never worked. I was very pleased by that. I can’t remember the percentage of their spouse’s benefit they receive, but it was more than half.

  11. Patty says:

    I love your rewording of that section of the Proclamation!

  12. CG says:

    Emily, this is brilliant. Well done, and thank you for articulating so succinctly what I’ve been struggling to for so long.

  13. Caroline says:

    Brilliant, Emily!!

  14. Naismith says:

    I totally support flexible employment schedules, maternity leave, and many of the changes that you suggest. But I reject your blaming of the church for these problems.

    “…it explicitly states that caregiving is the purview women. “

    That is one interpretation of that passage, if you want to twist it away from the parts about equal partners and individual adaptation, which are also part of the same document. An alternative interpretation of that same text is that within the family, the woman is the one who has the ability to receive revelation as to how the children should be raised, since she is primarily responsible. We spend time in predominantly Muslim country, and the LDS women there feel that they have true equality in their marriages, and are in a much better place than their Muslim sisters, because of this empowering teaching. It is a healthy slap in the face to the father-know-best mindset. And since issues of child nurturance have a substantial place on the family agenda during the child-rearing years, this does foster equality between the mother and dad.

    Another interpretation is that this statement actually recognizes the very real physical differences between men and women. In order to birth and care for the number of the children that I felt the Lord wanted me to bring to earth, I lost 10 years of my life to vomiting of pregnancy, recovering from a difficult birth, hypoglycemia during breastfeeding. And afterwards I needed two surgeries to put things back together, but still have chronic back problems. And my story is not unique when one adds in all the various permutations and possible side effects from pregnancy—I never had to go on bedrest, didn’t develop gestational diabetes, had no surgical deliveries with complications—there are many ways that a woman’s health can be permanently impacted by pregnancy, which is why proponents of abortion correctly point out that abortion (which is not without risk) is much safer for a pregnant woman than giving birth. On the other hand, my husband never even lost a night of sleep. He did get up when I asked for help, but the baby’s cries never woke him. So could we please stop pretending that having children is the same for men and women? No, I couldn’t share parenting with my husband the way we would have preferred, but that had NOTHING to do with church policy and everything to do with our bodies.

    Of course the answer that feminists have provided to the dilemma of pregnancy is to not have children. That has been a common suggest from Simone de Beauvoir to Linda Hirschman. LDS women who choose to have more than one child may not be supported by our feminist sisters outside the church, because they think we are stupid to “make ourselves vulnerable” by having such an obscene number of children (my experience, anyway).

    “I think the answer lies in the very real costs that come from siloing women and men into roles determined by gender.”

    And if the church actually promoted “siloing,” you would have a point. But in the teachings we get from church leaders, everything I have heard and read is to encourage partnership and prayerfully finding unique answers that work for each family. For example, in the 2008 WorldWide Training on Building Up a Righteous Posterity, Sister Lant talked about how younger families do things very differently than in the past, and she is very positive about it. “The point is, though, that it’s individual. Each couple has to work out how they will do things.” And Elder Holland responded, “You’re taking me back to the proclamation, which speaks of being equal partners….” and goes on to condemn one person grabbing tightly to only one role.

    “And if caregiving is forever the personal problem of women, then why would governments, corporations, or other institutions support infrastructures of care? They wouldn’t.”

    So you think they are justified? This is what drives me crazy. Does it not matter that women make up more than half of the electorate? Why can’t we be respected for what we actually do and have done, rather than only respecting women who do the things men do?

    Another source of such problems are certainly women who declare it is not a problem, because women should not be seen as weak. At my university, it was a female provost who decided that there would be no stopping of the tenure clock for pregnancy.

    “But it turns out that the majority of American Mormons are economic and political conservatives who tend not to favor policies and programs that support caregiving.”

    I am sure that the conservative card makes a convenient punching bag, but please understand that a lot of us who appreciate the church’s support of motherhood do not particularly fit that category. I am a registered Democrat and serve on the board of a women’s organization that is considered liberal by many.

    Here’s the thing: I personally don’t know any woman in the church who has been discouraged from pursuing her career goals.* Our stake includes women who are professors, dentists, physicians, soldiers, IT specialists…. But outside the church, I know many women who have curtailed their families, most to one child and certainly not more than two. And some of them are hurting and frustrated. They have spouses who don’t appreciate childcare and homemaking as making any contribution to the family—only their paycheck is recognized as having value. So they are no better off, although they live in the male normative system that you seem to prefer.

    * I have read stories of women who have been discouraged by LDS family and local leaders and I am sure their stories are true—I just don’t see it where I live.

  15. Ziff says:

    I love this post, Emily U! I particularly appreciated where you repurposed our so-common “the Church versus the wicked world” rhetoric in a better cause:

    “But Mormonism has the theological foundation to counter that worldly idolization of the bottom line.”

    Spot on! It really is unfortunate that there’s so little support in the Church for pro-caregiving policies, especially given that, like you said, we have the tools to advocate for better things!

  1. February 26, 2015

    […] If You’re not part of the Solution […]

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