Something’s Missing in General Conference: Where Are the Women?

One year ago, it was announced that the Priesthood Session and Women’s Session of General Conference would only be held once a year and each on the Saturday evening of Conference weekend. The October 2018 General Conference marked the first time the Women’s Session took the place of the Priesthood Session on General Conference weekend.

Traditionally, at least for the past 20 years or so, two female auxiliary presidency members speak during the general sessions of Conference: one on Saturday and one on Sunday. (There have been exceptions to this, like when only one woman spoke in April 2017 and three women spoke in April 2018.) Nearly always, though, during the Women’s Session (or Women’s Meeting, as it was called before it was considered a session of General Conference), three women took up the majority of the time, followed by one talk by a member of the First Presidency.

During yesterday’s Women’s Session, there were the traditional three female speakers: President Joy Jones, Sister Michelle Craig and Sister Cristina Franco. They were followed by the entire First Presidency: three male speakers. The women in the Women’s Session spoke for a total of 33 minutes and 47 seconds; the men spoke for 43 minutes and 34 seconds. In the session named and set apart for women, men spoke for 56% of the time.

The women’s talks were, on average, 11 minutes and 16 seconds long; the men’s were 14 minutes and 31 seconds in length. Each woman spoke for just 77% of the length of time that each man did.

Not only was the Women’s Session dominated by male voices, but there were no female speakers at all in the general sessions on Saturday. In a day that should have had a record-breaking four female speakers in one day of Conference, there were only three, and those three spoke to an exclusively female audience.

Out of the 33 talks that were given across all sessions of Conference, four were given by women. That’s 12.1%.

Out of the 27 talks that were given in the general sessions of Conference with a coed audience, only one was given by a woman.

One.

That’s 3.7%.

In April 2017, the last time there was only one talk by a woman in the general sessions, Ashmae at By Common Consent wrote a beautiful essay mourning the lack of female voices and explaining why we need to hear more of them: 

It was a good conference.

Still, I couldn’t help but notice that only one talk out of twenty-seven in the course of eight hours this weekend was given by a woman.

Of course there are arguments to be made, reasons, justifications, but as a 33-year old woman fighting hard to use my voice and find examples to pattern my voice after, particularly within the church, I don’t much care about any of the explanations that might be given. The fact is that this vast oversight is hurtful. But beyond hurtful, which I can work through on my own, it is disempowering. It sends a message, intentional or not, to not only me, but my children who sat in their forts and did their best to watch with us, that women do not have a place, except in the darkened seats of the audience where they can listen.

If women’s voices matter, as the male leaders of our church frequently reassure us they do, then we need to hear from more women. No one has ever assured men in General Conference that men’s voices matter because it’s obvious that men’s voices are important. No one has ever wondered if men, as a group, are valued or heard in the Church.

Don’t tell us that women’s voices are important.

Show us.

ElleK

ElleK is a foodie, gardener, and writer. Women’s issues in the church are not a pebble in her shoe; they are a boulder on her chest.

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31 Responses

  1. Holly Andrus says:

    This is NOT a criticism… but does anyone know what the percentage is of all the male general authorities who speak at each conference compared to the percentage of women general auxiliary officers that speak? That might enlighten the conversation. Btw I love it when the women speak…and I was pretty bummed that no women spoke on Saturday during the day. However, .by giving up a general priesthood meeting the men are giving up 3soeaking slots that have been traditionally allocated to them. Natural fallout of a new way of doing things?

    • JRCM says:

      Men are “giving up 3 speaking slots”. That is a very male centric way to view this. Thanks for literally making the authors point – 4 women spoke out of 33 talks and you’re worried about 3 less for men.

      Men say they “love to hear the sisters” and “sisters voices are valuable” – we’ll, put up or shut up. Your actions deny you. Unbelievable.

    • ElleK says:

      Holly, I get what you’re saying: if 4 out of the 9 female aux presidency members speak in conference, that’s 44% representation. If there are 100 male GA’s/aux presidency members (as an example; I don’t know the actual number), and 23 of them speak, that’s 23% representation. But I think these numbers actually support my point: if women’s voices and perspectives are important, then we need more female leaders. We certainly need more than just nine who are rotated out every 4-5 years. The First Presidency each give [at least] two full talks each Conference; each of the female presidencies could do the same. Or the general board members could speak. Or we could have more top-tier level callings for women.

      Re: the men “giving up” three speaking slots, the same could be said for women in the April session of Conference: since there is no women’s session, you could say the three male speakers in the Priesthood Session are “taking” the spots the women traditionally have. And yet, there are no extra women speaking in the general sessions to make up for it.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. This is important but there’s something I would say that’s more important. Why aren’t there people of color especially women of color that are allowed to speak? Elder Gong was the only body of color allowed to speak during conference and only because he was an apostle. it’s despicable that there is no effort beyond the initail pushback with the new apostles to have conference be a space for bodies of color. It is incredibly telling and reflects the long history of racism in the church and church doctrine and in the Book of Mormon

    • ElleK says:

      I chose to only compare male speakers vs. female speakers in this piece, but you’re absolutely right: the lack of people of color–especially women of color–in Conference is glaring.

  3. Jon Miranda says:

    Evidently the writer of this post loves to hear female voices. Well in the general women’s meeting other than the men present your hearing 100% female voices. What’s the problem?
    Here is wisdom feminists don’t want equality they want Supremacy.

    • Emily says:

      So in April, it’s cool if women take up over 50% of the speaking time in priesthood session?

    • Emily says:

      also, you’re saying that 100% of the men on the stand at the women’s session got to speak. Compared to (I don’t know exact numbers, but are there 5-10 women on each auxiliary board?) less than 10% of the women on the stand. Pretty sure it’s men who want to maintain supremacy.

    • The Captain says:

      Jon Miranda, given the ratio outlined above I think you can feel pretty comfortable that we are still firmly in male supremacy territory. That’s what seems appropriate to you, I assume?

      If so, I’m just curious: Should you be embarrassed or ashamed for preferring male supremacy or is it only women for whom that kind of self-centered attitude is contemptible?

    • Ziff says:

      “Here is wisdom feminists don’t want equality they want Supremacy.”

      Jon Miranda, I generally think it’s bad form to correct people’s usage in blog comments, but holy hell! You’ve been making literally this exact comment on the Bloggernacle for *years*! Could you at least get your punctuation right?

      Also, it’s sad that you consider any push for any movement away from men running things 100% as an attempt to achieve supremacy. I think you might be projecting just a tad.

    • Olea says:

      I mean, literally in every session, other than the men present, you’re hearing 100% female voices??? The church doesn’t have any intersex leaders??? I don’t get how that tautology could possibly mean that women want supremacy.

  4. Sheri says:

    Does this surprise anyone? Women are and will always be second class citizens in the Mormon culture. Look at the history of women in the church. Look at how women are represented in the Mormon scriptures. Look at how Mormon women have just been told to stay off social media. For heavens sake Mormon women are not even allowed to decide how many earrings they can have let alone choose their own underwear.

  5. Morona says:

    When you’re doing things like counting minutes it really doesn’t matter how many anyone gets. You’ve already made a very clear statement that the disparity is intolerable whether it’s 2 minutes or 2 hours.

    Why women and gay people stay in an organization that doesn’t want them or only intends to exploit them I can not figure out.

  6. Ari says:

    We women have also been asked to stay off social media for 10 days, and yet here we are. So rebellious!

  7. anon says:

    It’s still a man’s church. And obviously the leaders are doing exactly what they want to do. They know the disparity, and they don’t care. It’s too bad because every conference, although the messages are inspiring, it still hurts not to hear more women. And BTW, the women rocked it Sat night. It was disappointing to have the first presidency take up the remaining time.

    • Stacey says:

      Especially since their messages were “You’re job as women is to get married, have babies, and be nurturers to your family.” I turned it off mere minutes into President Oaks’ talk. Missed most of President Nelson’s, except the “we need you” part… but need us for what?! Why don’t we get a member of the Quorum who doesn’t speak in the rest of General Conference? And they got TWO apostles in April. Why don’t we get to hear from every auxillary presidency?

  8. Red says:

    To LDS leaders, women’s voices do not matter. We can live with that truth or we can leave. We cannot change it.

  9. Marie says:

    At the end of the day, why do you tune into Conference??? If it is to receive inspiration and personal revelation, then the sex or colour of the speaker is highly irrevelant. As a convert to the church (20 years) I am really disappointed in the type of thinking I see here. I find it very petty. Personally, I was greatly inspired by all of the talks. I think if people listened to the talks for their content rather than to take note of who was delivering them and the colour of their skin, or sex, they would get a lot more out of conference. To reduce it to petty politics like this really says more about you than it does the church.

    • Insulted says:

      I did take note of the content and was pretty unhappy to hear that women exist only because men need help. We have no inherent worth apparently, only to help men gain exaltation and help men gather Zion and help men by nurturing their children. It was insulting to me as a woman.

    • Risa says:

      What is says about the church is they don’t believe the voices of women or people of color matter. If that doesn’t matter to you, then I don’t know what to tell you. But I can assure you that the voices of women and people of color matters to Christ.

    • ElleK says:

      I always find this “it’s about the message, not about the messenger!” argument interesting because, if that’s truly the case, then it wouldn’t matter one bit if we had, say, 29 talks given by women and 4 talks given by men. And yet that has never happened. I think that says more about the Church than it does about me.

    • Ziff says:

      Great point, ElleK. It is the defenders of the status quo who are clearly more invested in having God’s messages come through a certain group of people and not another group.

    • Lily says:

      Soooo, if talks from men and women would be exactly the same, because their personal perspective doesn’t make a difference, then we are exactly the same and there is no reason women shouldn’t hold the priesthood. Right? You can’t have it both ways. Either we are different with different roles, in which case the female voice matters, or we are the same and the voices are the same, in which case, there is no reason to treat men and women differently.

  10. Ziff says:

    Thanks for putting this together and calling this out, ElleK. It’s a sad pattern.

  11. Dot says:

    You are right, Red. And that is why I finally left.

  12. Bruce Jensen says:

    You have 27 speakers: 12 Apostles, 3 1st presidency x2. That is 18 of the 27 leaving 9 spots for all other General Authorities. I dont know what the women to men ratio is but they all get to share 9 spots.

    Given the chance, I believe that the larger majority of us agree with the 18 talks by the 1st Presidency and Quorum of the 12.

    • Pete says:

      Bruce Jensen,

      Is there a Conference handbook or revelation that say all 12 apostles must speak every conference? Or is it just tradition?

    • Disappointed says:

      Bruce, but there were 33 time slots. Pres Nelson spoke 4 times. That’s ok, I understand we need to hear our prophet. But they could have easily given the entire RS meeting to women speakers. That would have been fabulous. We didn’t need to hear from the entire first presidency. They don’t trust women to control their own meeting.

      Plus, who wrote these rules anyway? Not inviting more female speakers is a policy. A policy that can and should change. The brethren are always saying “we need women”. For what? Certainly, they do not mean for women to lead. If they wanted women to lead, they would make the speaking slots more equitable between me and women. But they choose not to. They do not seem to care that women’s voices be heard, or that young women have someone to look up to.

  13. acw says:

    I agree with the post’s concern and was similarly bothered. A perspective my husband shared with me is interesting, however–the entire First Presidency traditionally speaks at the Priesthood Session. By having them all speak at the Women’s Conference, they were honoring and validating the session in a way that it hasn’t been before. So perhaps that’s where they were coming from (even though the optics are still so problematic).

    • HHB says:

      The exact same thing occurred to me, acw, and in my more charitable moments I want to focus on what I believe were good intentions on the part of the first presidency.

      That being said, this to me is a perfect example of the well-known destination of paths paved with good intentions. I know that not every woman felt this way, but this conference, taken as a whole, left me feeling spiritually kicked around the block. I found so many of the talks beautiful and inspiring on their individual merits, but the unspoken message of the conference as a whole broke my woman/mother/daughter heart.

    • Olea says:

      Why do we not then just consolidate Relief Society and Elders Quorum/High Priests Group, and have the first presidency be fully in charge? Or do away with the middle level management? I get it, that male leaders are higher status, so having male leaders speak gives the session more import, but if it’s actually important to have a women’s organisation, there’s more than one way to honour and validate it.

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