It Is Women Who Uphold Patriarchy
I recently read an article about the levels of sexist attitudes of different religious groups. The participants were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with six statements that are “measures of modern sexism,” and their answers were given a value of “1” for the more sexist response and “0” for the less sexist response and then averaged together.  While none of the results were particularly shocking, one result regarding Mormon attitudes stood out to me. When responses were sorted by gender in every other group surveyed, there was a spread, typically a wide one, between men’s answers and women’s answers where the women held significantly less sexist views than the men. In the Mormon group, however, men and women showed the same level of sexism. Mormon women, in fact, have higher sexist attitudes than any other group of women polled.
This is not to say that Mormons (or Mormon women) are all horribly sexist. In fact, the article asserts that none of the groups are “wholly sexist,” and, with the exception of white evangelical men who land right in the middle of the sexist spectrum (sextrum?), all of the groups (and gendered subgroups) fall closer to the “not sexist” side of the scale, meaning that they answered less than half of the six questions sexistly, on average.
The graph, titled “Almost Every Religious Group Features a Gender Gap in Sexism,” made me reflect on my experiences with patriarchy and sexism in my church. There have been plenty of times I’ve seen male sexist attitudes on display. Examples include the time my seminary teacher (all my seminary teachers were men) read us a quote about rape from prophet Spencer Kimball that said “It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle,” or when apostles have said things like women should speak in meetings, “but don’t talk too much.” There’s all the times I was never given any real authority in my callings and was constantly ignored or overruled by the men over me. And in every place I’ve lived, men in authority have implemented policies that disproportionately inconvenienced or disenfranchised women (sacrament not allowed to be passed in the foyers, women not allowed to use church buildings or hold RS or YW activities without a man present, women not allowed to hold their babies during baby blessings, etc. etc.). All this notwithstanding, I have mostly observed that it is women who uphold the patriarchy.
It is women who modesty-police each other: women who write the packing lists for Girls’ Camp that ban shorts or capris or yoga pants of any kind, women who tell Young Women they must wear t-shirts over their bathing suits for swimming activities, women who segment girls’ bodies into inches of flesh when giving detailed instructions on exactly how long shorts and sleeves and shirt hems must be when playing church volleyball. It is women who enforce these arbitrary dress codes: women who turn girls away from activities and women who body shame girls and make them change or cover up. It is women who garment-check each other, women who say “did you see what she was wearing in that Facebook photo?”, women who shame each other into observing the rule to not alter their underwear even when it is ill-fitting and impractical, women who hold up their personal modesty standards as a universal imperative (“You should always wear hose to the temple!”).
It is women who are first to bristle when inequities between males and females in the church are brought up: it is women who smugly say “I already have enough responsibilities; I don’t want the priesthood” and thus imply that any woman who feels differently is somehow lesser in her understanding of what God wants women to be and do. It is women who scoff and roll their eyes when someone brings up the complete lack of female representation in our lesson manuals or temples or scriptures or speakers, women who teach Primary songs and stories that laud various men and rarely, if ever, mention a woman.
It is women who mock the voices and intonation of the precious few female speakers in General Conference, women who passive aggressively suggest to other women that it is “selfish” to postpone children or limit family size, women who are so disconnected from their own autonomy that they defer to bishops even on personal matters like sexual pleasure and preferences (“Is it okay if I touch myself while my husband and I are having sex?”), women who subvert their own authority by deferring to whatever priesthood holder is in their home to call on someone to say the prayer. It was women 100 years ago who persisted in asking male church leaders if they were sure that it was okay that women give blessings and anoint with oil, and it is women who accepted the eventual arbitrary verdict that women could no longer perform these rituals. It is women who teach their daughters both explicitly and implicitly that it is unacceptable to question women’s place or role, nor is it acceptable to express desire, even internally, for what women are not allowed to have. Women are among those who side with abusers and victim blame other women. It is women who rationalize the poor behavior of men, women who offer excuses on behalf of various male leaders if another woman dares to confide an indignity or offense perpetuated by a bishop or stake president or general authority, women who insist that they do not want or need representation or recognition, happy to take assurances that they are respected without ever actually being so.
It is easy for me to see why women cling so tightly to their prescribed gender roles that they effectively patrol their own borders: to question the more or less mandate of stay at home motherhood requires facing head-on the sacrifices they’ve made in the name of pursuing that purportedly divine directive. For a woman to admit to herself that she is not well-suited for homemaking means that she must grapple with the fact that she does not possess what she has been taught all women have innately been given by God and that the assumptions she has based all her most important decisions on are faulty and problematic. When a woman who has bought into Family Proclamation gender roles does not possess a natural inclination toward nurturing or the domestic sphere, she feels she must be fundamentally flawed for resenting her role. And when a woman who does naturally thrive in a domestic and caregiving environment is confronted by the lived experience of a fellow woman who does not, it is easy for her to discount the validity of that woman’s perspective because, after all, gender roles are a good fit for her, and gender roles are from God, so it’s clearly the other woman, and not the gendered expectations, that are the problem.
I’m not giving Mormon men a pass here: there continues to be great need for men everywhere to stand up and actively promote equality and opportunity for women. But before great strides can be taken, women in the church must stop acting like crabs in a bucket and be willing to envision the benefits that greater equality can bring. In short, women must allow themselves to want more for themselves and their daughters, and then they must speak those desires aloud. But as a first step, when forward-thinking church leaders offer women increased opportunities or the chance to subvert a cultural norm that traditionally marginalizes women, women need to be willing to say yes.
 So an average of 0.5 means that half of the group chose the less sexist response and half chose the more sexist response, a higher average means more than half of the group chose the sexist response, and a lower average means more than half chose the less sexist response. Here are the statements the participants in the study were given:
Women should return to their traditional roles in society.
When women demand equality these days, they are actually seeking special favors.
Women often miss out on good jobs because of discrimination.
Women who complain about harassment often cause more problems than they solve.
Sexual harassment against women is no longer a problem in the US.
Increased opportunities for women have significantly improved the quality of life in the US.