Relief Society Speakers Compared to Other Women’s Organization Speakers – Visuals That Will Blow Your Mind

I officially belong to two female organizations – the Relief Society (for over two decades), and Girl Scouts of America (where I have been a leader for 7 years). Neither organization is perfect, but both have brought great experiences and friendships into my life.

A couple months ago, I received a package with m’n’ms, microwave popcorn, and a drink mix along with this announcement for a stake relief society event:

It’s a cute flyer for an online broadcast to watch at home during covid, and the movie snacks to eat while watching it are a really nice touch. It’s honestly a great idea.

A week or so before that, I also received this postcard in the mail from Girl Scouts of America:

It didn’t come with snacks (unfortunately), but it is also an online event for girls and adults to listen to a message from one of the most influential women in America today.

The big difference I noticed between these two online events for their female-only organization members was this: the relief society event invited a male speaker and put a quote from a male leader on the invitation, while the Girl Scout organization invited a female leader and put a picture of her and another girl on the invitation.

I honestly can’t imagine a stake priesthood meeting where their invited guest is a local stay at home mom who is great at public speaking. Likewise, I can’t fathom Girl Scouts of America inviting a successful male leader to address their members. There’s certainly nothing wrong with hearing from successful male leaders in general, however the purpose of a female organization is to learn from and engage with successful female leaders, especially because those have traditionally been lacking in representation while male leaders (as an example, every single president of the United States ever) are everywhere to be found.

Wouldn’t it have seemed strange if Girl Scouts had invited Barack Obama to talk to the girls instead of Michelle? So why doesn’t it seem strange to everyone that my relief society broadcast invited a local male speaker (despite an abundance of qualified female speakers to choose from instead)? He’s not a church authority – he’s literally just a regular guy who writes religious books and hosts a podcast. There happen to be lots of women who write popular LDS books and host podcasts, too.

I also belong to women’s hiking groups, and I follow a local museum that has been hosting online presentations from female leaders in science and technology this past year. Because these groups are specifically targeting the experiences of women and girls, I’ve noticed they seek out and invite only guest speakers from that half of the population.

I looked up different national and international women’s organizations on the internet. Most of them have had only online events this past year, so it was easy to see who they choose to invite as guest speakers. Almost without exception, the speakers are female. If a man does sit on a panel, he’s always the minority (for example, five women and one man) and they are never, ever the keynote speaker.

Here are images from prevalent women’s organizations. Whether you agree philosophically with them or not isn’t important. The important thing to notice is who they invite to address their memberhip.

Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA):

National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference speakers:

National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO):

Girl Scouts of America:

Natural History Museum (Salt Lake City, UT), Women in Science Conference:

Now let’s shift to our church. The images I found changed dramatically from what I found elsewhere.

BYU Women’s Conference Speakers*

*To be clear, there were plenty of female speakers at this conference as well, but there were also so, so many men – including the keynote speaker (Elder Rasband). They took a very big chunk of time – more by a landslide than any other women’s conference I could find. There’s certainly nothing wrong with hearing from these men – it just feels so oddly out of place to see so many of them at a conference for women.

Here are some local Relief Society Conference posters off of Pinterest:

And finally, our General Conference Speakers:

If we intend to keep calling ourselves a women’s organization, can we start acting more like one? Because oh, man (not woman!)… it feels so strange.

PS. I think it looks even more strange to outsiders as they hear us referring to ourselves as the “largest women’s organization in the world”.

PPS. I looked up numbers for the other organizations I posted images from above, and we aren’t the largest by a long shot. For example, the YWCA has 25 million members internationally, more members than we even have in our entire church.)

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27 Responses

  1. Katie Rich says:

    I also just got an invitation to a stake women’s conference where the only listed speaker is a man. Happened last year, too. The visuals here are incredible.

  2. Fairy says:

    Why do Mormon women keep putting up with this? I don’t get it. It’s not like it’s anything new. Many of us have been aware of this for 40 years. Could it be that Mormon women would just rather let the men take care of all the “business” and let the women do more important stuff. After all, what’s a talk in a silly conference anyway? No, I don’t think that’s it? But what could it be that makes Mormon women care so little about this problem? It’s been talked about for a very long time. And, although this is a very concise and eye-opening article, it’s really nothing new.

  3. Elisa says:

    I don’t want to by hyperbolic but as I’ve been mourning what’s happening and what’s continuing to happen to women and girls in Afghanistan, I’ve thought that any organization who thinks that only men should be in charge and make decisions and whose meetings (for men and women) are overwhelmingly dominated by male voices is just not that many steps removed from the Taliban.

    There is no excuse for this. It is wrong. What will it take for LDS women to wake up?

    • Tina says:

      I not sure LDS women will wake up until either they have an experience that forces them awake or until they see something different. The contrast between church and Girl Scouts is stark. (Side note: The Becoming Me program is good.)

      • Elisa says:

        Tina, I think you’re right. The cynical part of me thinks that part of why the Church encourages women to stay in the home is because if they do, they will never realize what it’s like to be treated as an equal and therefore won’t realize how unequal they really are at Church. In my observation, many LDS women who enter professions start to see a big contrast between the way they’re treated at church and the way they’re treated in the workplace. For many women I think that’s been a big catalyst. For others, something traumatic like getting dismissed or seeing abuse at the hands of male leadership.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      I have also been following what’s happening in Afghanistan with horror. My oldest son is named after a close family friend who was shot and nearly killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan during that pregnancy.

      It’s nowhere near the level of Taliban brutality here, but there are definitely parallels that I wish my church didn’t have with that group. Women’s voices are drowned out worldwide in so many places. None of them lead to anything good.

  4. Hedgehog says:

    Last November our stake RS organised a RS Zoom event sending out emails via our ward RS presidency announcing the male speaker, an Area Authority.
    I replied to my RS president in fury:
    “So let’s see… it’s a RS fireside… and the guest speaker is.. drum roll… a man…
    Because, there are simply no women who could possibly do..
    unless they’re there as …
    drumroll… the wife of the man !!!
    And hey let’s not even bother to tell us who the women speakers might be, because we couldn’t possibly be interested in that could we!!!!
    Raging quietly!!!
    Feel free to pass on my feedback to stake….”

    They later bought out a poster detailing all those who would be addressing us. Two men, and two women….

    But the stake RS president when asked to speak in our Zoom stake conference later that month deliberately highlighted all the bits she liked from the general conference talks of the Q15… because it’s important to listen to the men… Never mind the excellent women speakers. Or using her own voice. That was gutting!

  5. Mortimer says:

    Well done and amen!!!

    I can understand this type of blind spot in local and even regional activities, but WTH is happening with the BYU Women’s Conference, organized by Professional female professors at BYU who obviously took care to create a diverse panel of speakers, but specifically chose to exclude women- the focus and audience of the conference. That couldn’t have been a blind omission, it had to be strategic. Why? What would happen if we wrote a letter to the planning board asking?

    Gone are the days of Cheiko Okazaki and Elaine Clyde. (Head hangs low.)

    The sister who put together our last RS newsletter tried to include a quote from a female (yeah!).
    She ended up selecting a quote from a Gen RS Presidency member directly quoting one of the brethren (fail).

    • Abby Hansen says:

      Just to clarify, there *were* plenty of qualified women speaking at BYU Women’s Conference as well, but there were so, so many men included that the ratio was radically different compared to other women’s conferences around the country. Other conferences may have a couple male speakers that pop in here and there, but BYU had pages of them AND the keynote speaker was male.

      • Moss says:

        Abby, what was the ratio of male speakers to female at the BYU women’s conference?

      • Abby Hansen says:

        It was just under one-third of the speakers that were men. That’s compared to other women’s conferences where men made up less than five percent of speakers, and were never, ever the keynote speakers. (At BYU Women’s Conference, Elder Rasband gave the keynote address.)

  6. PJ says:

    Mind blown. Just received an invite today featuring a male speaker at the Stake Women’s conference. WTF.

  7. Cate says:

    Mind blown indeed. We haven’t had a stake women’s conference for a while, but in my memory our speakers have always been women (hope I didn’t just jinx it!).

    Besides, who is David Butler without Emily Belle Freeman?

  8. Ziff says:

    Excellent compare-and-contrast, Abby. The differences are stark. I wonder if more LDS women were involved in non-church women’s organizations whether the difference might not be more clear to them. But then again, I think it’s easy and common for us to put church in its own separate compartment, and excuse the inequalities that are so rampant there.

    • Angie says:

      You just articulated the reason why I’m more involved in community organizations than church, outside of Sunday meetings and callings. I don’t spend much time analyzing, criticizing, or trying to improve church. Instead, I vote with my feet by finding friends, meaning, and contribution in other organizations.

  9. Its a feature, not a bug of Mormonism. The entire modus of the church is clinging to this 1950s ideal of the household.

  10. Test says:

    Abby is brilliant!

  11. Lily says:

    That’s quite depressing.

  12. Christy Mulholland says:

    Love this! And thank your for putting this together!
    I have always been so irritated with Stake Conference because after we hear from all the male Stake leaders for an hour and a half we finally move to RS where we hear from our Stake RS presidency…but wait… only for a few minutes because why??? We need to hear from a member of the male Stake Presidency again!!!

  13. Abby Hansen says:

    I just checked my email and have a message from my Relief Society presidency reminding me to study Elder Gong’s last conference talk for our next meeting together.

    Perhaps I should have added Relief Society lessons and how many of them study the words of female leaders to this blog post – because that’s another place that is overwhelmingly male.

  14. Carolyn Gilkey says:

    My stake had a fantastic women’s conference featuring two women speakers, no men. The topic was Mother in Heaven. One ward met in their chapel to watch together. The RS president was so outraged she walked out and urged the sisters to do likewise. Then followed a barrage of hate mail to the stake RS president calling her names and asking for her apology. In her opinion there should have been priesthood speakers. Fortunately, the stake president backed the stake RS president. So there you have it, many women members apparently don’t want to hear anything by or about women.

  15. Allyall says:

    My action is to be part of grassroots change. We need to hear quotes and talks from women more often to make it more common and accepted. I make sure to quote women when I teach or talk. When I was RS pres and asked my opinion on the conference talks we would study for the next 6 months, I suggested all 4 of the women speakers from conference and 3 were included. When I was activity girls leader, I talked about famous Mormon women regularly. While this doesn’t address the incorrect belief of some that we only need to listen to priesthood holders, it is progress.

  16. Chiaroscuro says:

    Powerful visuals

  17. Meredith says:

    I imagine most women don’t even realize the bulk of their church speakers are male – they are so accustomed to men instructing them they aren’t even cognizant to this disparity. It freaking makes my blood boil. Thanks for the research and visuals, Abby.

  18. Mortimer says:

    And how many female speakers are there at men’s or leadership (Priesthood) conferences? If 1/3 of the speakers at a womens’ conference were men, it would be logical. Oh yeah, that’s right. There are never women speakers at men’s conferences or meetings or solemn assemblies, and they would never ever be they keynote/

  1. September 20, 2021

    […] month I wrote a blog post about the number of men speaking at Relief Society conferences and events compared to women, despite the Relief Society being a women’s organization. The […]

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