The Churchmen’s Voice, Mansplaining and Mormons

On Saturday, August 18th 2012 I attended the We Are Woman Rally in Washington, D.C. which was organized to protest the war on women, evaluate the current state of women’s rights and make our interests known to our representatives; to communicate that we won’t sit back and remain silent while women’s rights—for the first time in more than a century—are not only being threatened, they are moving backwards. I was invited to speak about The Equal Rights Amendment and the importance of women getting the same constitutional guarantees and protections as men. I represented Mormons for ERA and talked about how my religion shaped my moral imperative to fight for equality, social justice and rights and protections for women, children, mothers and families. I argued that for too long we have let the conservative right co-opt religion and families as the motivation for their legislation even when it is evident how many their laws and policies harm women, children, mothers and families. I concluded by encouraging everyone to press forward in the fight for women’s rights and led the masses in the now 50 year-old chant: “Hey! Hey! What do you say? Ratify the E.R.A.”

Hearing hundreds of voices join together in support of what I consider one of the greatest travesties of legislative justice in American history was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Unfortunately, another memory from that day stands out just as clearly.

Mormons for ERA were gathered on the West lawn of the U. S. Capitol holding signs, mingling with fellow protestors, and wrangling our children when a family approached us. They were a Caucasian seemingly upper-middle class family of four on vacation to the District of Columbia. They saw our signs and wanted to know more about the rally and our organization. We explained briefly and the wife inquired about our Mormons for ERA sign. “Are you for or against Mormons?” she skittishly asked. “We are all Mormons” I cheerfully explained. A look of relief flushed across her face and she reached out to connect, “We are Mormons, too” she enthused. We soon got talking about banal subjects and the husband interrupted to ask what the ERA was. I had not even gotten through a basic description of the 24 word amendment when he interrupted me again to explain why what I was saying was wrong because “God makes those decisions, not humans or governments” he assured me. “Excuse me?” I asked. I was certain I had misunderstood him because his statement made no logical sense in the context of what we were talking about. “The scriptures clearly show that marriage is between one man and one woman. That is God’s truth and humans or governments have nothing to do with it.” He preached and then reached out, gathered up his family and began quickly turning his back on us. “Well, do you want to talk about this or are you leaving?” I asked trying to be considerate of their family vacation schedule and not wanting to debate in front of his children unless he was game. He turned to look at me exasperated. His visage was scrunched with annoyance that tacitly communicated, “I’ve already explained it to you little girl. What more can be said?” I was not intimidated. I dared to suggest, “Actually our scriptures have many forms of marriage sanctioned by God: polygyny, polyandry, concubines, marrying the eldest daughter, widows marrying brothers, etc. More importantly, however, what does this have to do with women’s rights and the ERA for which this rally is gathered?” He ignored everything that I said then he rolled his eyes and shook his head as he reasserted his point about the bible, God, and governments with “the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant” (Solnit 2012). When the last phrase left his lips he turned and walked away without so much as acknowledgment that I was still standing there or that I might want to reply. He made sure that his was the last word. As he made a hasty retreat his wife and children were left to awkwardly say goodbye and rush ahead to catch up to him.

Despite being an interloper at a rally for which he had no knowledge of and approaching me for elucidation, he proceeded in explaining “the way it is” in a completely arrogant, condescending and paternalistic way even though his reasoning was absolutely off topic, erroneous and fallacious. He was appalled that I would deign to “talk back” to him and then responded by repeating trite phrases rather than critically engaging the actual subject at hand. What was the most shocking to me was his assumption that by virtue of being a Mormon male he obviously had more knowledge than I did irrespective of the fact that I was an invited speaker at this rally who has invested enormous time in researching the ERA, women’s rights and even marriage equality (even though it was a digression from the original conversation).

“The out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence” (Solnit 2012).

I have only ever experienced this type of over-confident inanity with masculine presumed knowledge in my interactions with Mormon males. I have never been treated with such disregard in my job or community exchanges and no other person at the rally behaved thus (including the picketing male pro-life groups). It reminded me of a time last year when I was called in to talk to my bishop about the fact that some of the women in the ward were upset by my participation in LDS WAVE, Exponent and Mormon feminism. My bishop said, “Well, everyone knows that feminists hate stay-at-home-moms and since you are feminist many women feel judged and like you don’t value motherhood.” He said this in such a blasé, nonchalant manner that I responded without even thinking. I laughed. I said, “Now bishop, you know that that is not what feminism is, right?” He at least had the courtesy to look uncomfortable and mumble for a minute before I continued, “I am actually a stay-at-home-mom right now and contemporary feminism promotes women’s and mother’s rights and protections.” He still looked disbelieving and avoided looking at me as he awkwardly twisted in his chair. “You can’t possibly hold me accountable for the erroneous assumptions that other people have about feminism” I questioned. He ignored everything I said then quickly changed the subject and began to instruct me on how I might better fit in with relief society sisters even though I had never asked for his advice and was not told why he wanted to set up a time to meet with him. He encouraged me to not speak so forcefully (“It is not what you say, it is how you say it” he explained), to conform more and to wear more skirts. At the time I was shocked. Now I feel horrified. Horrified that we live in a culture that teaches men that their uninformed opinions are not only more important than women’s but that they can and should be used to help instruct and explain things to women.

Sonia Johnson termed this concept The Churchmen’s Voice and gave perfect examples of this in her book From Housewife to Heretic. I discussed one of those examples in a previous Exponent post where an admittedly uniformed Stake President “teaches” a fireside to an educated audience about a subject he knows nothing about. Below is another example of the churchmen’s voice where Sonia Johnson was in a senatorial hearing with Senator Orrin Hatch.

“When Senator Hatch spoke to me, his voice changed. He put on his churchmen’s voice for me–unctuous, condescending; I was not alone hearing it. Several people asked me afterwards whether I had noticed.  Indeed, I had, and said to myself incredulously at the time, ‘For heaven’s sake, Sonia. Do you mean to say that men in the church have been speaking to you like that for forty-two years and you’ve never noticed it?‘ It is incredible how we blind and deafen ourselves so we will not see the truth of how men really feel about us and really treat us. I suppose the only reason I heard it that day was that such a tone was wildly inappropriate in the marble chambers of the Senate Office Building, so out of place that even I, whose ears had become inured to that insufferably patronizing tone from hearing it since birth, was shocked into awareness.  This was not church, he was not my spiritual superior in this room, and he was not supposed to be functioning as if he were-that is, as if he were a Mormon Male.  But he forgot himself and related to me as pompously and arrogantly as he must have related to women in the church all his life, this style came to him with such ease and naturalness” (Johnson 1989, original emphasis).

In light of these experiences, Representative Akin’s recent comments about “legitimate rape,” and Rebecca Solnit’s recent brilliant article “The Problem with Men Explaining Things” I want to start a discussion about The Churchmen’s Voice, mansplaining and Mormons. We have had wonderful posts and discussions at Exponent about “mansplaining” and I want to take those just a step further. What is it about Mormon or religious men in general that increases the frequency or degree of mansplaining? Can we have productive cross-gender discussions without the churchmen’s voice? Do men notice or ever experience this phenomenon themselves? What is the best strategy to reduce this? How can we best respond when we encounter it?

“Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it” (Solnit 2012).

How can women fight this particular battle? Will we ever win the war?

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67 Responses

  1. Nichelle says:

    “I have only ever experienced this type of over-confident inanity with masculine presumed knowledge in my interactions with Mormon males.” So depressing, but spot on. I’ll be on the lookout for exceptions in the non-mormon workplace, but I cannot think of a single one right now.

  2. Jacob M says:

    Very good thoughts. My only addition to what you have said here is that it happens to men, too, particularly single men. It’s partially due to a religion that treats us like spiritual babies. However, I want to stress that it almost certainly happens to women more often.

    • amelia says:

      That’s a very important point, Jacob. thank you for raising it. The way single men in the church are treated as essentially overgrown children grates against me almost as much as the many issues surrounding women’s status in the church do.

    • Descent says:

      I tried to coin a term for the phenomenon you describe: brosplain. Unfortunately, urban dictionary wasn’t a fan…

  3. Dara says:

    Many, many places you see more women in management that men. Many more women are going to college and earning the advanced degrees. Women are expected to out earn men in the not too distant future. What is the problem here? Why is the ERA needed? You would think the reverse would be true and that men need the help.

    • amelia says:

      And yet, Dara, the halls of government power are still dominated by men. Women still individually earn less than men who do comparable work, even if collectively they’re slated to earn more (or already do). A far-too-large contingency of the male legislators and executives (and unfortunately some female ones) refuse to acknowledge women’s autonomy and right to make decisions about their own reproductive health. Women are grossly underrepresented in the executive offices of our businesses.

      I could go on, but hopefully I don’t have to use a sledgehammer to make my point. Also, this isn’t really a post about the E.R.A.; it’s a post about mansplaining/the churchmen’s voice.

      Did you have something you wanted to contribute to the conversation about mansplaining and the way that the attitudes towards sex and gender in the church lead to “the churchmen’s voice”?

    • Whoa-man says:

      Dara, I could talk about the ERA all day, but I don’t want to highjack the comments so I’ll just say one brief comment. Women are not guaranteed the same rights and protections in the constitution as men. Many of our laws are moving in the direction of equality (however, many more are still VERY far away) but these can be changed dependent on the current legislators in power, whereas, the ERA would finally (after 90 years) make women full persons with equal rights and protects under the law which they are not currently, just ask Justice Scalia!

  4. WorkingMom says:

    This is very interesting, I work in software development and I work in a traditionally predominately male workforce. However, I find that at work, I’m usually respected and listened to when I speak up. But it has taken a lot of self-confidence, education, training and I’ve had to believe in myself to get to that point. I had to feel self-assured before I could speak confidently. Now, at church, I have definitely experienced what you call ‘churchmen’s voice’- especially in interviews. In fact, I think it’s led to a sense of shame for me. I don’t have, the same spiritual self-confidence as I do in my career. Maybe the churchmen’s voice is one reason for the compounding shame and lack of spiritual self-confidence.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Wow! Thank you for this comment. I feel very similarly. I am a very confident person in general but I cower in bishops offices and when I’m talking to church leaders. I think I am trying to show respect and deference but what I am actually communicating is that I am complicit in my unequal status- which I am NOT and I need to stop. I have never thought about the shame factor before but that is very real. I also think that from Emma Smith (See her agency and ability to receive “revelation” in the whole polygamy debacle) to modern women there is an underlying idea that my revelation is not as valid as your (Read: any male, especially church leaders) revelation. I feel it. But I don’t know what to do about it….

    • Ziff says:

      This doesn’t specifically address the voice, but Tatiana wrote a great comment a few years ago at BCC that describes a similar experience:

      I do have this feeling when I walk into my ward building that I go from being someone generally viewed in the world as competent and … potent, to someone weak and powerless. I feel like I go from being somebody to being a nobody.

      Here’s a link to the comment.

  5. Diane says:

    Every time I listen to Mitt’s voice, I hear it, and I think, how will I listen to him for four years. UGG We need to get out the vote particularly among women voters in our age group

    • Diane says:

      Just in case people are wondering about the latest polls. (I hope I remembered this right) Obama only needs 135 more delegate votes to win the election and it is currently a very tight race in WI, and Fl, and Ohio with a 6 point spread either way.

  6. xenawarriorscientist says:

    Mansplaining outside of church– it’s happened maybe once or twice.

    Mansplaining at church- every. single. week.

  7. Kate Kelly says:


    The thing that really irks me is that men… Mormon men in particular… use the “churchman’s” voice about a range of topics and out of the context of church altogether, like Chelsea’s example on Capitol Hill.

    At church they do, in fact, have authority over us and are given positions of power which women must defer to. They are the leaders, so I can see where they get the big idea that their ideas are more inspired or worthwhile. I think this system is wack, but in this system they are in charge and until we change that we can’t expect them to treat us as equals.

    However, somehow this paternalism spills over into all aspects of life and Mormon men think they know more about politics, law, economics… and pretty much everything else.

    Of course, over-confident inanity is not the exclusive field of Mormon men. I just wish that women could also be taught that their opinions, thoughts and feelings are Sososososo valuable that they should be heard out of turn, listened to as a voice of authority on almost any topic and given deference to just for being alive and wanting to speak.

  8. el oso says:

    Where does this come from?
    It is likely rooted or reinforced from young Elder’s missionary experiences. You just got an impromptu discussion of anti-ERA basic principles (according to Joe). There was some attempt to build on common beliefs, but not much empathy or listening.
    When young men are on and recently returned from their mission they usually understand the basic discussion-taught gospel better than their female peers who are far less likely to have gone on a mission. It is noticeable to most men and many women. Over time this disparity is substantially reduced, but it is hard to unlearn a truth which you understood as a young adult.
    Even as we get older, there are residual effects. After 6 months in a new ward I could probably name the sisters under 40 years old who had been on missions with at least 75% accuracy. They do not mansplain (at least I do not notice it) but there are clues in their casual gospel conversations.

    • sar says:

      “When young men are on and recently returned from their mission they usually understand the basic discussion-taught gospel better than their female peers who are far less likely to have gone on a mission.”

      In my experience, RMs tend to BELIEVE that they understand the gospel better than non-RMs and so tend to speak more authoritatively. Whether they actually do or not is less apparent.

      • Amelia says:

        Precisely. They think they know the gospel better, and I’m sure they do in some instances. But it’s not universally true, not by a long shot. And the real problem is that they have been taught that it is right and good for them to know more about the gospel than women do. I cannot tell you how many young men I encountered at BYU who articulated wanting to marry a woman who knew less about the gospel than they did. That’s not about a simple fact of life (that after two years on a mission young men are likely to know more than their female contemporaries). It’s about a sexist assumption that men do and should know more about the gospel than women, that when women are men’s equal in this way those women have violated gender norms and become unattractively unwomanly.

        This assumption is reinforced at all levels, from local ward organization and power dynamics right on up to female general leadership using the primary voice to talk almost exclusively about family and child related topics.

    • Starfoxy says:

      I am often asked if I served a mission, or met with surprise when it is learned that I did not serve a mission. I’ve often wondered why that is, and never thought to connect it to the fact that I am confident in my knowledge of the gospel.

  9. Whoa-man says:

    Jacob, I am so glad you mentioned that because I am really wondering if this is something that men experience in general or even notice. Have you ever felt that spoken to that way as a youth or from someone “higher” up? I think that is a fascinating thing to think about. Why do some men “see” it and others not? I think the concept of earning “full personhood” (i.e. temple worthy married couple with important callings, no beards and children) in order to gain respect, LDS social capital or being treated with equality is a huge problem.

    I definitely don’t want anyone to get the idea that I think that only men are to blame. I’m convinced there is more variation within gender than between gender when it comes to good and bad qualities. Rather, I think of this as being an expression of privilege. I think that is what I was trying to say. Something about Male Privilege, and in our culture, Mormon Male Leadership Elderly privilege presupposes that whatever a man says is divine or inspired, need not be researched and can be used to instruct–something that a woman could never get away with and be taken seriously. Someone on facebook said that churchmen’s voice and mansplaining in the psychology world is called “authoritative certainty” I think that fits nicely with what we are talking about.

    It is just shocking to me that the second I enter a church building or talk to one of my church leaders I immediately give total deference (and they expect total deference) and I’m beginning to see how that becomes problematic in the larger picture. Can we show respect without giving away our own ability to be thinking reasoning equal contributors and what would that look like in a leader-female member exchange? The few times I have tried to disagree with or assert my own opinion in these settings it unexpected, uncomfortable, against cultural norms and has not gone well.

    I can’t help but wonder if we have any female equivalent to a churchman’s voice? Can you think of any scenario where a woman’s unresearched opinion is assumed to be superior by nature of their gender: Motherhood! My husband experiences this every time older ladies watch him caring for our daughter. Maybe women in the church have a “motherhood voice” which belittles male’s knowledge and equality in family matters? It’s an interesting comparative juxtaposition but I’m still not certain that they are equivalent in degree (public vs private, small vs large group influence, etc) or potential damage (individual vs across-gender habitus).

    P.S. CLARIFICATION: he did not actually call me “little girl” but gave me a look/rolled eyes that said as much.

    • Ziff says:

      Great post, Whoa-man! I’ve heard this mainsplainy voice called the “high council” voice. I guess I’ve often noticed it being used by men who were not in positions of authority, but who clearly wanted to be. For example, I recall a guy in a ward I was in once always giving us authoritative pronouncements from his dad, who used to be a bishop.

      Of course, since I’m a man, it’s not surprising that my experience is with men using this voice on other men. But perhaps I should be a little bit comforted that it’s not exclusively deployed against women. In any case, it’s hugely annoying.

  10. Whoa-man says:

    El Oso, fascinating contribution about male/female “competence” based on missions. You are making me think!

  11. el oso says:

    Yes, I have sometimes heard the “motherhood” voice. It is usually a fairly friendly type of voice though or I am just not easy to offend in that way.

  12. david says:

    “some of the women in the ward were upset by my participation in LDS WAVE,” It wasn’t the men who were upset.

    • mraynes says:

      But it was a man who confronted her and used the “churchman” voice to shame Whoaman. This was the topic of the post, not how women oppress other women.

  13. Rachel says:

    I really REALLY loved this post. Perhaps because I am also one who “cowers” when placed before a Priesthood leader–whatever the reason. I generally feel like they do not care to know my real opinions, and like I am not free in stating it. I generally burst into tears if I even try. Or just sit there silently, nodding. Sometimes I can’t say anything, and just want to get out of there as fast as I can. There have been exceptions to this (including several good bishops of my youth and one in Vienna, Austria who was superb about treating male and female like human beings) but they are unfortunately more rare than they should be.

    I think one of the comments tying it to the “missionary voice” is getting at something accurate. I have known Sisters as well as Elders to take on that voice. When I was on my mission I would sometimes catch myself speaking like that, and would try to fight it. I realized when I spoke like that I didn’t sound sincere at all, or like me. I would try as much as I could to just speak normally and honestly about the things I cared about. It got much easier to speak normal when outside of the mission culture.

    Many General Relief Society or other female leaders on the general level share a specific speech as well, that one of my friend refers to as “Momese,” because it is the voice one would use to children. While it is not quite as condescending as the male speech can be, it is still not something I would like to emulate or be addressed with.

    • BethSmash says:

      In my family “momese” is known as “primary voice”

      • tiffers says:

        Jane, this makes me want to cry. I am so sorry your education and talents aren’t appreciated. What a wonderful woman these people are missing out on! This truly breaks my heart. It’s a tough position too because you don’t want to come across like a know it all or overly confident, but you want to be able to share your gift and serve in the ways you best know how. I hope you find the respect that you deserve.

      • tiffers says:

        woops. put that in the wrong spot. this is kind of confusing.

  14. Carl Youngblood says:

    Being a man, I’ll try my best not to do any man’splaining here, but I felt, as I read your anecdote about your bishop’s talk with you, that the social dynamics he mentioned may have been accurate observations even if he did a terrible job of communicating them to you and was ignorant about your particular cause.

    I think it’s really true that framing and approach can make a huge difference in other peoples’ receptivity to one’s ideas, and, although the bishop may have been lying, I don’t find it implausible that other women in your ward might have been uncomfortable with your thoughts. I suspect that is no surprise to you. You no doubt want to take a more provocative tone when discussing issues that are important to you with your fellow ward and RS members. But of course there are other approaches. They each have their pros and cons.

    I frequently find that I can’t share all of my thoughts on various subjects in church because my fellow ward members will just turn off. Instead, I try to be mildly thought-provoking, though I don’t always succeed. My frustration with this approach is that I still feel lonely, like my feelings and yearnings will never be fully corroborated. And my point is frequently misunderstood. On the other hand, when I’m too provocative people are often even more antagonistic.

    I have a brilliant friend, for example, whose ideas are quite radical and who is frequently opposed in a church setting. He has told me that he makes a point of dressing as close to the Mormon male uniform as possible in church because he wants to fight his battles over ideas and not over his personal appearance. This is merely his acknowledgement of the inevitability of tradition getting in the way of learning. His choice isn’t right for everyone, but I think that recognizing this as a natural aspect of any social group is important. Then we don’t spend our time tilting at windmills but actually focus our energy on those areas where we’re most likely to make a difference.

    I have another friend who is studying sociology, specifically collective action. He has been quite depressed while attending various symposia and conferences for “fringe” mormonism (Sunstone etc.) because they seem to understand so little about how collective action actually takes place and how inconsequential ideas actually are in the mobilization of a social movement. While I personally enjoy such conferences I can see what he means. So many of us are spending so much of our energy on areas where we’re extremely unlikely to succeed, while a greater understanding of certain tactics could help us to be so much more effective.

    Anyway, I hope these thoughts have been useful in some way.

    • mraynes says:

      I ink you’re right that the way we present ourselves does make a difference towards how we are accepted by our congregations. And of course, each of us has to make compromises in accordance to what we feel comfortable with and what is important to members of our ward. So like your friend, I have no problem wearing the expected dress for women every week. I also have chosen not to make a big deal out of my last name at church so I am called by my husband’s name despite having legally kept my own. These have been battles I have chosen not to fight so that I can get a pass on things like writing for the Exponent.

      That being said, these sacrifices have not stopped me from frequently experiencing mansplaining at church. I gave this example in my mansplaining post but men at church often explain domestic violence to me despite having years of experience in the field, being a trained advocate and having graduated from the only graduate program addressing domestic violence in the country. Somehow these men, and it’s not all men, believe that they have more knowledge than I do and are entitled to impart their wisdom to me. My opinion or expertise is never asked when these situations arise in my ward even though I could be an excellent resource. This is a tragedy because domestic violence is a problem in our congregations and the needs of victims are not being met. It is sad that this is the case because there are leaders who refuse to accept my,or any woman’s, legitimacy as a voice of authority on a subject.

      • Carl Youngblood says:

        mraynes, I hear you. I intended my “pick your battles” concept just to be an additional thing to think about, not an excuse or downplaying of the mansplaining problem, which I agree is still huge and needs addressing. The very fact that feminism is still seen as so fringe is a huge sign that the culture is completely clueless about how endemic and engrained the problems are.

      • Jane's Diction says:

        Mraynes, I have very similar experiences to yours in my ward regarding my field of expertise where my knowledge, experience, and education are completely overlooked in favor of the men in my ward, even by the women. No matter that I have a degree in my area of study, which is only offered at two (maybe 3 now) universities in the U.S. Who cares if I have extensive teaching experience in said language? Brother_served a mission in that language 40 years ago, so clearly he can help with this language question. Couple_served a senior mission in Bolivia just 6 months ago, so let’s ask them to translate the lyrics to this song, nevermind the translator who rendered all of their legal documents into Spanish for free before they left the country and tutored them, also for free. And my favorite example, which was also the most painful, since it came from another woman: A woman I visit taught needed an interpreter for her TR interview. Instead of asking me, she asked her HT, who has a very rudimentary working knowledge of the language. He was the one that finally came to me, embarrassed at his incompetency during the interview, and admitted they needed me. For years, I have excused this dismissive behavior, comforting myself that I am a SAHM now, so of course I’m out of practice, and it would be prideful to acknowledge my proficiency over others’ abilities.

      • tiffers says:

        Jane, this makes me want to cry. I am so sorry your education and talents aren’t appreciated. What a wonderful woman these people are missing out on! This truly breaks my heart. It’s a tough position too because you don’t want to come across like a know it all or overly confident, but you want to be able to share your gift and serve in the ways you best know how. I hope you find the respect that you deserve.

  15. Clara says:

    I have noticed that when Romney speaks, he falls into Churchman voice and Mormonese. I find it to be very interesting, and very scary.

  16. Whoa-man says:

    Rachel and Carl thank you for such though provoking comments. I agree in so many ways. Carl, as president of Mormons for ERA, LDS WAVE and deeply entrenched in Mormon feminism I’ve thought a lot about collective action and would LOVE to talk to your friend in sociology who has expressed his discouragement with the “fringe’s” methods. Can you email me? administrator at Thanks!

  17. Jimmy says:

    He must be very ignorant, for he answers every question he is asked.

    The only thing I object to is the implicit assumption that the combination of ignorance and arrogance is predominantly a male trait. I think we all know arrogant and ignorant people of both genders. I think it’s just that arrogance in leadership poses additional problems. And with leadership in male hands, it makes these arrogant, ignorant men seem more prevalent.

    • Ru says:

      That is certainly true, and if women were given more positions of power in the church, you might see more women engaging in this sort of know-it-all behavior.

      However, while I do know some women who engage in this sort of behavior, my experience has been that men are more likely to assume they know more than me than women are, and it’s far more likely to happen at church. And this is not my imagination — I’ve had men “explain” legal concepts to me, even though I’m a lawyer and they usually know I’m a lawyer.

      I suspect at church, it’s a combination of men being groomed to for leadership their entire lives, as well as a culture that encourages people to believe that with study, you can become an expert at anything. The second concept is true, but unfortunately some people think that reading an MSN article or listening to a few hours of Fox News counts as “study.” Add that to our conflation of emotion and the spirit, and you can see where people can almost get “testimonies” of non-spiritual matters just because they feel strongly about government structure or home births or whatever, to the point where your facts and experience somehow don’t outweigh their opinions.

      That said, the experience may be different for men (perhaps women are more condescending to men on certain topics? I don’t know).

      • Whitney says:

        “Add that to our conflation of emotion and the spirit, and you can see where people can almost get “testimonies” of non-spiritual matters just because they feel strongly about government structure or home births or whatever, to the point where your facts and experience somehow don’t outweigh their opinions.”

        This observation is really spot-on. And when someone can find any scripture or GA quote that supports their position & feelings, that further leads to a “testimony” of things that aren’t doctrine –and as we all know, testimony=revelation from Holy Ghost=eternal truth for everyone=The Final Word on the topic at hand.

      • Whoa-man says:

        Brilliant comment Ru!

      • tiffers says:

        I really hope that there is some sarcasm going on here. I am often bothered by the idea that there are only certain things that people can have testimonies of. I think that one of the worst things that leaders of the church have done is tell members what they can bear testimony of. For a while (is this still going on?) we were told to only bear testimony at the pulpit of like three or four things — Joseph smith/restoration, modern day prophets, Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon/scriptures — or something along those lines. What you get when you do that is a TON of people who think they just don’t have a testimony. What a testimony is, is your own truth. It is what you know to be true in your life, or what you have faith in – in YOUR life. I am not in the same school of thought that “testimony=revelation from Holy Ghost=eternal truth for everyone=The Final Word on the topic at hand.” I suppose I stop at “testimony=revelation from Holy Ghost” I feel like a testimony is completely unique and individual. I just spent an entire week at girls’ camp trying to unwind this kind of thinking. I taught the girls about the hundreds of things they can have testimonies of and how they are not to be ashamed if their testimony is not the same as their friend’s or mom’s or leader’s. I am so tired of the cookie-cutter-ness of the culture of the church…

        I do have to say though, that some “testimonies” shouldn’t be born in public. I think someone can have a testimony of home birth or of vegetarianism or of building their own home or of getting a master’s degree, but these can come across like opinions and because we are all so individual they aren’t universal. Maybe the spirit has testified to the individual the importance of this particular part of their life as truth for them. But maybe some think that testimonies are to be only born concerning eternal and all-encompassing truths?

        Sorry for sharing too much! Thoughts are just rolling around in my head and spilling onto the keyborad. I have been out of the mind frame that the LDS church is the only truth on the Earth for a while and I have new ideas about what truth means… and where and how to find it.. so I just find it frustrating when testimonies are shoved back into that small box again. This is all a bit off topic. woops. Hope it made some sense. See ya Sunday, Whoa-man! Wait, See you TOMORROW at noon!

      • tiffers says:

        And just to clarify those examples I gave of things you could possibly have a testimony of — I would suspect that you wouldn’t necessarily say that you have a testimony of that actual thing itself, but rather what truth it has revealed. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily have a testimony of vegetarianism as much as you would have a testimony of being in tune with your own body and knowing what is best for it. Or maybe you have a strong testimony of education and learning as much as we can in this life and your schooling is what increased that testimony. Just thought I would clarify that. So, I guess those things could be thought of as a little more universal when posed that way.

  18. spiderlady says:

    “Don’t speak so forcefully, conform more and wear more skirts.” Wow. That’s the best example of the phenomenon you’re describing, right there in a nutshell.

    • Clara says:

      I would be speaking more forcefully and never wear a skirt to church again, but I tend to be rather oppositional on occasion.

  19. nat kelly says:

    It’s funny, I actually do have a male coworker (non-Mormon) who is a complete mansplainer. He does it to all the women around him, including those with more experience, or his leads. And probably because of my experiences with so many Mormon men, it doesn’t grate on me nearly as much as the other women, because even though it’s annoying, it feels familiar, and I know how to deal with it. My female coworkers are more often just left flabbergasted and bewildered about why he feels entitled to act that way.

  20. Kate Kelly says:

    Can I just say hear-hear to Carl’s “various symposia and conferences for “fringe” mormonism (Sunstone etc.) … seem to understand so little about how collective action actually takes place and how inconsequential ideas actually are in the mobilization of a social movement”

    It seems to me that the Sunstoners think that with the 1 millionth publication or panel on “women & the priesthood” the brethren will finally come around.

    It is extremely ironic that Mormons who are so efficiently amazing at organizing direct action campaigns when they are orderd from the top-down (Prop 8), have absolutely zero know-how and accuity to reverse the chain and effect change in the opposite direction & change the insititution.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Fascinating. What would a fringe grassroots organization/movement look like?

    • Amelia says:

      I think we’re being a wee bit uncharitable to those who attend Mormon symposia and conferences here. While I understand the point being made that such action is unlikely to result in change *on its own*, I’m entirely unconvinced that “to effect change” is the driving force behind why these events happen and why people attend them. I think why they happen and why they draw attendees has much more to do with community and exploring ideas, than some naive and misguided belief that this is the best and only necessary avenue to change in the church. And I say that as someone who has attended and participated in a few such conferences but generally finds them only mildly interesting. In other words, I’m not an apologist for them.

      I’m no sociologist, but I also find t hard to believe that collective action can happen without some awareness of what needs to be changed. That, at least, is one way that such gatherings can help move towards change even if much more is needed to actually get there.

  21. Such a thought-provoking post. I have two related questions.

    1. Does anybody else have experiences with a woman taking on the Churchmens Voice, as we’re calling it? I know a woman (I shant say who, since I’m using my real name here and you never know how the internet can twist and turn =) who takes on this same tone and “let me instruct you and inform you and set you right” approach with me frequently, especially in matters of politics or religion or family. It’s so tough to respond! I’ve wondered if it’s a function of her personality, her upbringing, etc., but from reflecting on my interactions with her, I can say that while the Churchmens Voice is a real phenomenon, it can possibly be co-opted by certain women at certain times.

    2. I know this is an oversimplification, but I wonder what the ideal solution is: for men to be less explain-y, or for women to be moreso? Do we ideally hope for men to adapt their communication styles to be more like women’s, or do we hope for the opposite? (Again, I know this is really reducing things to general terms that aren’t entirely accurate, but I wanted to keep it simple just for clarity’s sake.) I sometimes look at my own marriage as sort of a microcosm of gender relations in the church, simply because my husband and I both fit into so many stereotypes for our sexes. As we’ve been married for the past few years (almost four, now), I’ve noticed both of us gradually adapting our communication styles — I am becoming more forthright and take-charge than I was, more willing to vocally disagree with him and not apologize for it, and he is becoming more measured than he was, peppering in phrases like “in my opinion” or “as I understand it” or “does that make sense?” We’re both sort of moving towards the middle. I’m pleased with that change, because I think it encourages both of us to improve and expand our skill sets. To be honest, though, if I had to choose one way or the other way for both of us to communicate … I still think my original way (ie the feminine way, the way with lots of allowances and feelings and measured speech) is the better one. And I acknowledge my bias with that. =) Anyone else agree/disagree? Do we need women to mimic the Churchmens Voice in order to counter it? Do we need to call out the Churchmens Voice when we are faced with it and ask for a change?

    I think a big solution in winning this battle/war is just for men and women to be in contact with each other, at every level, more frequently, even all the time. It takes time to learn by example, but I think it’s effective. As women see how they can adapt and men see how they can adapt, and as everyone sees new options for positive interaction, all are benefited and able to grow. That’s why it’s so concerning to see few women (or none at all) in certain governing bodies of the church or government. If men are only interacting with other men, then it’s a man’s way and a man’s world, and that sort of comfort zone leaves men without motivation to expand their approaches or try new things. It also leaves women without a voice.

    • I think many men could do better at using authority in speaking correctly; by being humble, listening, and actually caring about whomever they are speaking to as human beings rather than errant puppies who need a swat to learn. Jesus was a good example of that. I also think many women could do better at having more confidence in the authoriy and knowledge they have without subsuming themselves because they think they will offend.

      Maybe rather than one or the other, is there a middle ground we can all strive for?

    • Whoa-man says:

      My favorite scholar on gendered communication is Deborah Tannen who does an excellent job discussing the larger gender-type speech patterns that we use in general. So male: assertive/hierarchical , female: passive/affiliative communication is not Mormon-specific, but I do wonder what about our religious experience as men and women (past, present, and future: i.e. men grow up knowing they will lead, go on missions, become leaders and eventually gods, etc. Women’s life cycle is much much less certain all the way around) makes women’s opinions seem like individual assessments better kept to oneself and men’s inspired teaching for the group? I might be overstating, but I like to go all the way back to the Emma Smith example and the concept of females and revelation. She was basically told to pray for herself and receive a revelation about polygamy but if she did not get the “right” answer she was wrong. I’ve felt this way as a woman in the church before. Like my revelation or stewardship can be “trumped” or questioned by men’s and for me that is the root of the entire systemic problem!

  22. lmzbooklvr says:

    Thank you for this! I just listened to the FMH podcast on stages of feminism & wanted to start better educating myself! Now I can.

  23. Crystal Adams says:

    Great article! I was at the rally Saturday with 2 of my sisters and I wish we had found and talked to you!
    The family you mentioned-were they tall, lean, with 2 older children? We saw a family walking around like that and the wat they were dressed made me wonder if they were members.
    Thanks to your article I found LDS WAVE on facebook.
    I have never lived in a heavily populated LDS area, but it seems like the men who speak in the churchman’s voive primarily come from those kinds of areas…
    Luckily I have a solid 4 year education from a women’s university and 12 years of being a professional in my field under my belt…I don’t get that voice very often. When I was YW president my bishop told me he was scared of me. : – )

  24. Lisa D says:

    I have not personally run into the problem much in my current ward (in the UK), and I think that is because it is a ward where I am one of the more experienced members. (I have certainly encountered it in previous wards!) I found –much to my astonishment — that the phrase “when I was at BYU” can get a man who is about to pull rank on me to back down, as they suddenly become insecure about their own position. I discovered this accidentally and was delighted to find that the man in question hasn’t tried to mansplain anything to me since. In my ward, that phrase seems to carry much more weight than the phrase “when I was on my mission” did at BYU.

    I fully recognize that this is a cheap trick and prefer not to use it. In my 3 years in this particular ward, I’ve only had to resort to this 3 times. It is interesting to me to discover that by “winning” my position by this cheap trick, I have in general become much more confident in my communications. This in turn makes it less necessary to use cheap tricks.

    This situation has changed enough that now when I say something and ward members disagree, now they respond by trying to articulate arguments against my ideas, not by dismissing me as a person. What a nice change! This also means that I am more likely to give space to their opinions and the conversation is more fruitful in general.

    I have been considering a move back to the States, specifically Utah, and one of the things that makes me nervous about it is the prospect of the reappearance of mansplaining in my church life. Blech.

  25. Twila says:

    You had a post that linked to an scholarly article on “invitational rhetoric” a while ago. Do you think that could be used somehow to deal with a person who is “splaining” at you? I loved those ideas, still trying to work out how to effectively put them into practice in the context of church.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Twila, how quickly I forget…..Of course! I should have remembered that about invitational rhetoric. Thank you for the reminder and for taking my questions seriously. I really do want to figure out how to best respond to these problems for EVERYONE’s benefit. It is so hard for me to not just feel justified in my petulance, but rather respond in a way that invites dialogue- even when being mainsplained to. The invitational rhetoric article is such a great resource. I need to go back and do some studying it seems…..

      • Twila says:

        Yes, maybe chanting like in the jail situation. Can you imagine? Oh the image is so satisfying, but seriously, I loved the ideas put forth in that article. I recently moved from a fairly progressive congregation into a very traditional one. And I think if I can figure out how to apply some of those principals, it may make the experience not only bearable, but perhaps richer.

  26. Naismith says:

    A while back a sister commented that she was shocked to learn that the RS president was “just a housewife” because she wore nice business suits to work every Sunday. I mean, to church every Sunday. But that slip-up was the point: That woman felt she would be taken more seriously if she dressed and communicated at church the way men were used to in the workplace.

    I personally haven’t had much trouble, but I also have to confess that I have totally underestimated the power of the Spirit to aid in communication at times. There were times that I felt clear about a course of action, and figured out all kinds of logical arguments to sell it to the bishopric. Only to go in and have them say, “Of course, thanks.” No argument needed. I learned to rely on the Spirit, and that if I felt it was right, they would too.

    Of course, I appreciate that some women did not have that same experience with their bishoprics, and in some other people’s shoes I might not have felt that positive about it.

    “…contemporary feminism promotes women’s and mother’s rights and protections.”

    This of course is not true. It would be accurate to say that SOME contemporary feminism promotes mother’s rights. But some does not (and where I live I find those voices to be most loud and powerful).

    Someone who thinks like your bishop may not be ignorant of feminism. They may have been a student or professor at one of the universities where Linda Hirschman’s GET TO WORK was the One Book in a recent year. They or their spouse might have been put down at a party if she doesn’t have a three-digit degree or fancy job title. They might have taken a women’s studies class and read Simone deBevoir’s denigrating comments about motherhood.

  27. tiffers says:

    I GOT MANSPLAINED today! Ha ha… I was laughing in my head about it because of this post. For some reason it made me laugh more than made me mad.

    I am the only female soccer coach in my son’s league. I got mansplained by a male coach telling me “I was on the wrong field and he has been practicing here for weeks now and has been coaching for years and this is field 11A, not 11”. He started making everyone move. Well, I knew, the refs knew and the mom from the other team with the field map knew he was wrong. He said “Whatever! it doesn’t matter as long as you play the right team so just switch!” I said, “it does matter and we need to play on the assigned field and show respect these refs”(who were like 13 years old! ha ha). Anyway, the other male coaches backed me up and we made him switch fields. I was the only one who stood up to him. What a punk!! It may sound silly, but he was just so cocky and mansplain-ish. Anyway, it happens other places besides the church for sure. I would guess that it happens wherever a certain gender has traditionally taken a lead… which would be the case with sports coaches I guess. Can’t wait to play that guy’s team later this season and beat the pants off of them.

  28. Adriana says:

    Great discussion, thanks Chels for your post. Took me back to all those awkward and hilarious moments in bishops offices when I questioned counsel. I currently live in a “macho-loving” country (Guatemala) and work in a field dominated by male doctors and bureaucrats (HIV research). Being the foreign female, I often get mansplained. At a research conference I recently presented at I was given the nickname “la nina con los datos” (the little girl with her facts). When I thanked the conference organizer for inviting me on the panel, he responded, “well, you have a great body so you grabbed the attention of a lot of men here”. SLAP, mansplained.

  29. EmilyCC says:

    “I’ve already explained it to you little girl.”

    Classy, dude, totally classy, and in front of your kids, no less.

    I worry that mansplaining is an inherent problem of any organization based on patriarchy and a clear hierarchy. I have seen men in positions of authority in and out of the Church do this to younger men or men in “lesser” positions. My husband has been working on getting over this problem, which he developed because he thought it was such a great bit of rhetoric as it often completely shuts down further discussion.

    I’d like to think that by not backing down and naming what men are doing in the moment, this is a problem that can be phased out over the years. It seems to me that mansplaining is less of an issue with each generation.

  30. wow! thanks for that amazing write-up. I actually beloved it with the core. Hope you retain posting these kinds of fantastic posts

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