Like a high school dance party

I recently attended a ward party with my husband and kids.  On the way home my husband asked me, “Did you notice how the men were only talking to the men and the women were only talking to the women?  It’s the kind of thing you see at high school dances.”  I had noticed.  And it’s not the first time I’ve noticed this pattern at ward social functions.  At this particular party it was mostly the 30-something crowd.  It happens a little less when the whole ward is there there’s more age diversity.  I also think it doesn’t happen as much in small gatherings.  But it’s definitely a thing.  I would have enjoyed talking with some of the men at this ward party, but to walk up and join a conversation between four men just seemed too weird.

I wonder what could explain this phenomenon.  Is it that most of the men are employed while most of the women don’t have paid employment, so women and men don’t have anything to talk about with each other?  The conversations I had with women at the party were mostly about our kids, so I guess that’s possible.  It it some antiquated sense of propriety?  These are educated, modern Americans, so it seems unlikely they’d refrain from mixing between the genders out of propriety.  Is it that we’re used to being separated in Relief Society and Priesthood?  Is it some weird cultural thing like Jacob described in this post at BCC?  Is it just my ward?

I don’t know, but it’s weird.  And it’s doesn’t happen at non-Mormon gatherings.  There aren’t any barriers between women and men talking to each other at any non-Mormon parties I’ve attended.  It’s even OK to have mixed (some moms, some dads) playdates – something I haven’t seen among Mormons.  I took my kids to the museum with a dad of one of my son’s friends, and it wasn’t weird at all.  But somehow I can’t imagine doing that with a Mormon dad.

Anyway, I’m curious.


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12 Responses

  1. spunky says:

    I think you are onto it with the children thing, or at least with the career thing. As a married, childless woman, I felt ignored by the women in the various wards and branches I attended, even at Relief Society social functions. If I wasn’t ignored, sometimes people would treat me like an idiot, explaining, “when you have children, you are really tired sometimes….” Uh, duh. Thanks for pointing out that obvious part in the story that other woman was telling so I didn’t get confused. Ugh. Lamest. Conversations. Ever.

    But, at general ward activities, I found it much more easy to speak in the groups of men about work, finances and news, plus, I happily stuck with my husband (or not) for most of the night.

    That being said, I do feel an obligation or at least a responsibility to introduce myself to say, the wife of the stake president. After all, I am forced to meet privately with her husband for a temple recommend interview which, in essence, is a discussion of my personal background. So I feel like I should introduce myself to his spouse as a matter of courtesy. Its weird. Interviews are weird. That probably adds to the who awkward social structure as well– the males in authority know everyone’s confessed sexual and other histories. That can’t bode well for comfortable social conversations about the weather.

    • Emily U says:

      “That can’t bode well for comfortable social conversations about the weather.”

      I’d never really thought about that, but how true! Yeah, I guess being the bishop would change your social life forever!

      I’m sad but not surprised to hear your conversations as a childless woman could be so lame. I often find myself talking to single and older people at ward functions, in part because I enjoy it and in part because I worry that they feel out of the social loop at church. My ward is heavily weighted toward young families.

  2. MDearest says:

    I’ve been in the same ward for over 20 years. Speaking for that miniscule sample, I have found Mormon social interaction to be very weird indeed, with adult men-women separation only part of the package. There are also some rather entrenched social strata rules that are religiously observed. Once you’ve given your obligatory hat-tip to loving others as yourself, you can safely ignore everyone below your strata. Your spot on the strata is determined by an array of factors including but not limited to gender, marital status, current recommend (or not,) current calling, past callings, employment/income (for SAHMs only the husband’s), behavior/accomplishments of your children (big for women,) and so forth. Since I am married to a heathen, that makes me a de facto single woman, very low status. Since my dh doesn’t attend ward social functions with me, I hardly go to any of them anymore. There are often a few outliers who operate outside these unspoken rules, which is always refreshing. Unfortunately, they keep moving or otherwise leaving.

    Of course, my data are also likely skewed by my age and that of my peer group. YMMV.

  3. cowgirl says:

    I’ve noticed a grouping based on common interests. Often this results in gender segregation. But the same thing happens outside of church, especially in the workplace and at universities. I think a few men in my ward don’t interact much with women. But in those particular cases I’ve never felt it was a loss.

  4. Julie says:

    I’ve been in some wards where, because I am single, I am viewed as a threat to every marriage and therefore neither men nor women talk to me.

    And this is super-generalizing and is going to come across as judgmental, especially since my only evidence is anecdotal, but I’m going to risk it anyway…I’ve lived in wards from coast to coast in the US. In wards that closely resemble a BYU satellite ward, the men-women divide is stark and exclusionary. In wards that are diverse–not only racially but also in family makeup (single parents, divorcees, single men and women, part-member families) the socialization is much more integrated.

    The best ward I ever lived in was homogenous racially, but economically, educationally, marital-ly, and politically quite diverse. When I moved to that ward, my intent was to just be inactive since I knew I’d only be there for two years. They made it impossible. Dinner invites, standing post-church lunch invites, complete inclusion on holidays and even weekend outings–I was part of it all, and once I found a “group” so to speak, the conversations were equally attended to by men and women.

    Not coincidentally, I don’t think, was that a couple members of this group were from outside the US, or had spent significant time outside the US. I wonder if the social situation at church you described happens outside the US.

    • spunky says:

      “a couple members of this group were from outside the US, or had spent significant time outside the US”

      Interesting point, Julie. My experience of social segregation is outside of the US, so I do not think it an American-only custom. But I think you have a point about ex-pat personality. People who are more inclined to be ex-pats and live abroad for a time (regarless of where they are patriots) are probably more open to different socialization techniques and, therefore difference social values. So it might not be the non-US factor, per se, but more of a psychological state of better open-mindedness.

  5. LovelyLauren says:

    I am married, but have no children and I’ve noticed that the younger married folks tend to hang out in couples and the older married folks (typically with more than one child) tend to gender segregate.

    Honestly though, while some women are bothered by the gender segregation, I actually sort of love it. At this point in my life, I have little interest in being friends with men and as long as I don’t get treated like someone’s wife (which annoys the hell out of me) I’m not usually bothered.

  6. Anonymous today says:

    A similar phenomenon is something I’ve noticed only recently (and I’m clueless enough to know if or how things were different before). I moved a bit over a year ago to a city where I knew nobody outside of my immediate family. I’m a married male in my 50s.

    Since shortly after I’ve moved, I’ve been working at a place with more than 100 employees, most of them younger than I am. The women there have been quite friendly to me, but not in a flirty way. Basically, they treat me like a human being, like a co-worker, just basically like someone they don’t mind having around working with them. The type of work doesn’t allow for a lot of conversation, and certainly no extended conversation, but I do chit-chat with them frequently, and they’ve often been the ones to initiate conversation (I’m fairly introverted, so that’s normal).

    On the other hand, I’ve been an active member of a ward here for the same period of time, and I can think of only one woman with whom I have had a significant conversation, and she’s a friend of my wife. With that exception, I don’t think a single female older than 10 has said as much as “hi” to me unless I initiated the social contact. As far as I can tell, the women in the ward don’t even know that I exist. And when I’ve initiated conversation (not very often), they don’t seem interested in talking with me. It’s not that they seem to dislike me (I think I’m an OK guy, and I don’t behave offensively), it’s that they seem like they’d rather be doing anything other than talking with me.

    It’s as if there’s a rule somewhere in church that it’s not OK for a woman to be a friend with a man.

    I have done nothing at either work or church to suggest that my interest in any woman (other than my wife, of course) is sexual in any way (because it isn’t). Basically, what is happening is that in terms of the women I’m around, I feel like a person at work but a non-person, almost invisible, at church. And even though I have no particular desire for a deep friendship with a woman other than my wife, I have to admit that it hurts a little.

    • Emily U says:

      “It’s as if there’s a rule somewhere in the church that it’s not OK for a woman to be a friend with a man.”

      I feel like that, too, and I think it’s a loss to all of us. I’m sorry you feel so invisible at church.

  7. Nancy Ross says:

    I’ve heard that a previous bishop of my current ward used to teach that it was inappropriate for you to talk to someone of the opposite sex who wasn’t a family member. Sigh.

  8. X2 Dora says:

    I remember being at a birthday party a male friend was giving for his wife. They had been married less than a year, so there were both single and married friends. The line down the center was almost comical. Marrieds on one side, singles on the other. It’s almost as if the marrieds were afraid that the singles were going to tempt them into a bedroom and ravish them. In a culture where marriage is so heavily emphasized, I think that people are afraid to act in any way that could even remotely be construed as flirtatious or involved. As a single woman, I find it extremely annoying.

  9. Richard Lynn Paul says:

    Utah was the 8th state I lived in and it seems to be around here in the Church that this is true. Hasn’t happened to me in the other 7 states and cannot speak to the states around Utah. And, yes, it is very sad as a Utah-Mormon cultural norm (especially the experience related by Anonymous Today, above).

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