Making Women in the Ward Feel More Valued
Recently, a ward leader inquired about what the local leadership can do to make women in the ward feel feel more valued, particularly those women who have the sense that the Church undervalues them. So of course I seized the opportunity and mailed him some ideas.
Now, I personally would love to see women welcomed into every position of Church leadership, but that obviously can’t happen without some huge changes coming from Salt Lake. So I stuck to a couple very doable, totally within the bounds of the CHI ideas.
Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:
The things I feel most strongly about at the moment are:
1) finding some way to get a woman into bishopric meetings. It makes me distressed whenever I think of all the Sacrament Meetings that are planned, all the callings assigned, all the topics of talks decided upon, all the goals formulated, all the problems addressed, etc…. without the input of a woman. Having a woman in there would mean a lot to people like me who are so terribly aware of the stark gender imbalance in ward leadership. This could be done by inviting the RS pres to sit in on meetings, by calling a female secretary to the bishop whose calling would entail being in these meetings, or to some extent, by calling a Sacrament Meeting Coordinator who would be a part of any meeting in which Sacrament Meeting was being discussed.
I have a friend who had the calling of Sacrament Meeting Coordinator in her ward. This is what she wrote about it: “My most interesting calling was the sixth months I planned sacrament meetings. Under the “direction” of a wonderful second counselor, I picked topics and called speakers. Relieved a time-consuming the burden from him — I suppose he had veto power but he never used it — and I loved the opportunity to think and pray about the needs of the wards, to talk through ideas with speakers, to follow up with notes and feedback, to coordinate music with the sacrament music coordinator. What was “one more job” for a busy counselor become a labor of love for me. Ultimately, I think it was the congregation that benefited from this singular focus.”
2) Including women’s voices in talks, lessons, etc. Another thing that is difficult for me as a woman is to go to 3 hours of church on Sunday and hear dozens of men being quoted, but not one woman. I sit there and wonder what this is communicating to the youth of our ward. Are we teaching them that only men have deeply meaningful spiritual insights? That only men produce ideas worthy of pondering and discussing? How much does this constant focus on the words and ideas of men, without any focus on the words and ideas of women, hurt females who are attuned to such gender discrepancies?
It would mean a lot to people like me to have women’s worth and value affirmed, not by constant verbal assurances of women’s value, but instead by the serious attention paid to the words of women. (The “Show, not Tell” principle) This could be done by a conscious effort of ward leadership to include quotes from women in talks and testimonies. (Chieko Okazaki is a gold mine for material for talks and lessons.) Also, encouraging teachers to try to find ways to include the voices of women in their lessons would be wonderful – though I know this might be more difficult given the current directive to teach only from the manual.
On a similar note, inclusive language is important to me. A part of my soul is crushed everytime I hear someone reading from the scriptures or quoting a Church president and using words like “man, brother,” etc. It hurts to feel so erased. And it means a lot when people make the effort to say “man and woman’ or “brothers and sisters.” I think our GAs have done a much better job in General Conference in recent years of speaking inclusively. I just wish the practice could become more widespread in our meetings.
The leader wrote a very nice email back to me, thanking me for my ideas and giving me a few of his own, including making sure that the budgets for boys and girls are equal and asking women to be concluding speakers in SM.
I really do hand it to this man. Not only for asking the question in the first place, but also for clearly having put some of his own thought into the matter. This is a dyed in the wool, iron rod loving, orthodox Mormon guy, and it sure does make me feel better about being a part of the Church and this ward to know that, despite obvious ideological differences, there are some men out there that are truly concerned and interested in women’s issues. Very cool.
What are your ideas for practical, doable, within the bounds of the CHI steps that bishops can take to make women in the ward feel more valued?
Have any of your male ward leaders ever expressed interest or taken steps to make the ward better for women?