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.
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.