Two Heads of Household

By Dani Addante

equalityA friend was telling me about a C.S. Lewis quote that explained why men are the head of household. I told her I didn’t believe in the head of household idea. The quote said that a man is the head of household because the woman is aggressive when something threatens her kids, so the man gets the final say in order for things to be fair.

Really? Men are more fair than women? Look at history and you’ll find that this just isn’t true. I kindly told my friend that she has to look at the personality of the individuals. Surely fairness is not based on gender.

When I was engaged, I decided I didn’t want to come second in my marriage. In fact, thinking of the man presiding caused me to not want to get married. I didn’t feel happy. I felt very uncomfortable and didn’t know how to react. One thing kept bothering me: What if the head of household idea was doctrine? I was so confused.

I wanted to find a husband who saw me as an equal. We would make decisions together. My husband would not have the final say or call himself head of household. We would be heads of household. Two heads are better than one, right?

If one person is head of household, surely it means that person is superior in some way. It would demean the other person.

I prayed for a long time to know about this. Eventually, I came to the knowledge that God views men and women as equals, and that I could definitely have an equal relationship. I noticed that when I wasn’t thinking of a life of inequality, I felt happy and free.

I asked for a priesthood blessing during a time when I felt very hurt by inequality. I was told that God does not view women as inferior, and that men and women are equal. It was very comforting for me to hear this. I had begun to think that maybe God was sexist. But I heard with my own ears that God is NOT sexist.

Shortly after I got married I began to see some sexism at church that I hadn’t noticed before. It wasn’t anything too serious, just some little things here and there that made me uncomfortable.

For example, while filling out the new member form (we had just moved out of the singles ward and into a family ward) I noticed something strange.

At the top half of the page it said “head of household” and asked about priesthood ordination. At the bottom half of the page was written “spouse” or “wife.” I can’t tell you how uncomfortable I felt when I saw that.

I wanted to put both our names under “head of household,” but when I saw the priesthood ordination line, I thought, “This doesn’t apply to me.”

So I hesitantly filled out the form. I crossed out “head of household” and wrote “husband” instead.

I would feel some dread when I went on to view the directory. It had the term “head of household” with my husband’s name right under it, and then my name under his. I also noticed that they would put his email address under both our names.

I felt like I’d been demoted.

I’m sure the ward leaders weren’t trying to put me down. It’s just the way the ward directory system is set up.

The Family Proclamation says that husbands and wives are supposed to help each other as equal partners. This means that they both nurture, protect, provide, and preside. I believe this in the fullest sense. If a woman is a stay-at-home mom, she is still providing for the family by working at home, even though she’s not paid. While she may not be providing income, she is a provider of time and keeps the house running.

If couples are equal partners, then it makes sense that there are two heads of household. It doesn’t make sense to have a head of household while at the same time affirming that men and women are equal partners.

Despite the conflicting messages I hear at church on this topic, I know that men and women are equal partners. I will continue to live the doctrine of gender equality.

I look forward to the day when the system the ward directory uses and the member forms they use in church will reflect the gender equality the church believes in.

Next time I come across one of those forms, I will cross out those dreaded words “head of household.” I might even make my own form and hand that in instead.

Dani has a B.A. in Creative Writing and loves to write young adult fantasy novels. She has an adorable pet guinea pig and loves chocolate-chip cookies.

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60 Responses

  1. Spunky says:

    There is a way around that- don’t change your last name and make friends with the stake clerk. Then have the clerk list you separately. You won’t show in the ward directory as a family, but you also won’t be listed second to your husband. It’s a pain.

    • CS Eric says:

      When I was the membership clerk, I entered names as people came into the ward. I only had that situation come up once. But because when you do that, you aren’t shown as a family, it took a while for people to figure out that the couple go together. Our RS President couldn’t find the sister to assign Visiting Teachers to her, and she was shown as “unassigned” on the Home Teaching rolls. It was even more of a hassle when they moved, because the system moves people as families, too. The other ward got his records, but not hers because they didn’t understand how they belonged together.

  2. J. Stewart says:

    So a priesthood blessing from a man helped you understand that FATHER in Heaven doesn’t favor men over women? But you wish they would change the ward directory format? Is this satire?

    • I am not sure what the intention is behind this dismissive comment. Are you trying to say that you would like to see more global action to address the problem of patriarchy in the church, perhaps addressing male-only priesthood ordination and Heavenly Mother doctrine? Or are you rebutting Dani’s assertion that equal partners are supported by God and so you approve of ward directory formats that emphasize patriarchy?

      Either way, I don’t see how changing a paper form and an electronic database so that these inanimate objects are less offensive to women is a bad idea.

  3. Daniel says:

    It gets worse. They way MLS is set up, the most senior priesthood holder in a family is promoted to head of household. There are plenty of families in our ward where I have had to manually put the single mother back as HOH in place of her deacon son when records have been moved in.

  4. TopHat says:

    Last month on Father’s Day the Primary Sharing Time lesson in my ward on fathers included that the father was the head of the family and that the father has patriarchal and priesthood power. I definitely had a talk with my kids about how the primary lesson was wrong and that the parents of a family are a team and lead the family together and one isn’t a head or above another. It’s so frustrating that I have to do that, though.

  5. Bewildered says:

    I need your help with a problem. I also believe husbands and wives should be equal partners. I want our kids to go to private school. My husband wants our kids to go to public school. We’ve prayed about it, discussed it, laid out the pro’s and con’s, but we still don’t see things the same way. My oldest starts kindergarten in August. What should I do?

  6. Rob Osborn says:

    The CS Lewis deal is jyst bizarre. Not sure any man thinks that way.

    Anyway, the Proclamation states that the husband presides not that both tge husband and wife preside. “Head of household” is a traditional throwback to the person held responsible for home. Traditionally, this has been the man going back before the church was even around. The bigger question here is who we ultimately answer to- our Heavenly Father. He is our “head”. In this definition it means he is our leader. I think you would have a hard time explaining away male patriarchy especially when the Savior himself is “male”. In this sense, Jesus Christ is the “head” of our church. We cant escape this fact. Next down from this is the fact that Jesus annointed 12 male apostles as the evangelical heads of his church on earth. At some point perhaps we need to understand why these facts remain. When the pioneers crossed the plains to come west to SLC, they were assigned to companies and had male captains at their heads who were responsible for their companies of families. Why? This ultimately has something to do with males being better suited as a “protector” and law enforcer and thus a natural presider. I am head of my household. It is my responsibility to protect and provide for them because I am better suited for the task. I enforce the law physically and answer the end result to my leaders. Captains in the pioneer companies answered to their leaders for the welfare and safety of their companies. This doesnt make men and women unequal, it just states that men and women have different roles.
    Patriarchy is a fact. God our eternal Father is our “head”.

    • Am I understanding your logic correctly? Are you saying that every man, simply by virtue of being male, is more Godlike and more Christlike than every female, and hence more qualified to lead? If males are more Christlike and women less so how can you say that “doesn’t make men and women unequal”? And aren’t women, like men, taught to emulate Christ? Are we too crippled by our gender to achieve Christlike attributes?

      I would argue that Christ’s sex is not what made him a great leader, but rather his compassion, charity, and love. I see no reason why men and women can’t equally develop these qualities, and equally qualify for leadership roles.

      But thanks for so thoroughly clarifying the offensiveness of the pro-patriarchy position. We can always count on you for that.

      • Rob Osborn says:

        You completely missed the point April. Why did I bring up the pioneers and why captains were male? Its not that they are more godly or Christlike. Its because they were better physically to lead at the front a company of men women and children into the unknown to protect and provide for them and place their lives at stake for the betterment of the companies survival. I dont care how you cut it but the captains were men because they were best suited to protect and provide for the temporal welfare of their needs. Just because one “leads” does not make that person mighty above others or more godlike.

        You still need to address why the head of our church is male if you are so convinced that it should be co-lead by man and woman.

    • Lily says:

      I think you would have a hard time explaining away male patriarchy. . . ”

      No, Rob, I have a very easy time explaining away male patriarchy – it is a worldly, nature-man-made principle that continues to be shoved down our throats because we live in the TELESTIAL kingdom. I have a very easy time believing that when we are out of this world and in a better one, men will not “preside” over women.

      • Rob Osborn says:

        Is Jesus Christ male? Is he not the “head” of our church? How do you explain why the priesthood leader of our church is thus male?

      • MDearest says:

        Thanks, Lily for this succinct comment. I feel like this is the only way I can explain the evils of patriarchy. I couldn’t have said it better.

    • Pete says:

      Rob Osborn,

      I enforce the law physically and answer the end result to my leaders.

      Doctrine & Covenants 121:41 “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;”

      And how will you answer to Heavenly Mother? Or do you think you won’t need to because, in your mind, she’s not in charge?

      • Rob Osborn says:

        Show me the scripture where we answer to anyone but our Heavenly Father?

      • Pete says:

        Rob Osborn,

        Your pathological need to comment on feminist blogs is disturbing. Do you really think that if you just keep saying the same inane things over and over that feminists will magically adopt your dismissive views of women? What are you trying to accomplish? Your insolent diatribes accomplish little, except to make the case for women who are pointing out the harm caused by obsession with restrictive gender roles.

      • nrc42 says:

        At this point I genuinely think he has a list of feminist blogs and a goal to get banned from commenting on all of them. The Exponent is one of the last ones.

      • Pete says:

        Rob Osborn,

        O My Father verse 4.

    • Pete says:

      Rob Osborn,

      Let’s try a hypothetical…let’s assume that you are working on a car and it comes off the blocks and paralyzes you. You are confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life, and are no longer the imposing physical specimen that you think you are now. Should you continue to be the presider, protector and head of your house if there are others who are now physically stronger than you?

    • Dani Addante says:

      In my article, I talk about families, not organizations. Yes, in an organization you would need a leader. But in a family, the wife and husband are both leaders. They have an equal say in their household.

    • bonnie says:

      Yipee! Rob is back to mansplain for us, and surprise, surprise, he’s head of household! I’m shocked beyond words.

  7. EmJen says:

    Unfortunately, the new seminary manual for next year deals with Marriage and Family using 1 Corinthians 11. Now you could argue that they are trying to focus in on verse 11 and nothing else, but if the students decide to read anything around 11:11, you find the scriptures C.S. Lewis used to bolster his claims.

  8. nrc42 says:

    The “preside” and “head of household” rhetoric is just the worst. I’m glad my husband agrees – to quote him, “Of course one spouse can preside over the other in an equal partnership! All you have to do is redefine ‘preside over ‘ to mean ‘be equal with!'” The biggest issue for us is my mother-in-law, who subscribes to the “obey your husband in all things because you exist to serve him” flavor of patriarchy. The passive aggression is super fun.

    And the argument that all men are better suited to some roles than all women and vice versa is complete and utter BS, as is the idea that the spouse who happens to be physically stronger should have ultimate authority in the home (although in my house, that would be me, so maybe Rob’s onto something with that idea).

    • Rob Osborn says:

      So, do you think men should bear children then?

      • nrc42 says:

        If someday scientists figure out how to let men do that, I have no problem with it.

        But I’m not talking about reproductive capabilities.

      • bonnie says:

        I’m so lost. Bearing children excludes one for leadership?

    • Pete says:

      Rob Osborn,

      So who presides and leads in High Priest Group or Elders Quorum? In Stake High Council meetings? By your logic, it should be the physically strongest. Or maybe the richest, or the tallest, or the one who can dunk the most basketballs. Or is by comparing genital girth? The one with the hairiest back? Is that how things work in your ward? Please enlighten me.

  9. Monique says:

    Earlier this year my brother-in-law shattered this thinking in his Sunday school class. I wasn’t there, but was told that when this notion of head of the house came along in the letter of Paul, he said that Paul is simply using a relationship that his audience would have been familiar with (submissive wife, husband as leader) and using it as a METAPHOR for the relationship between Christ and the church, i.e. not the other way around. It follows that this wasn’t meant to be “prescriptive” for how we do things today. When others tried to refute this, he then went to the following chapter and noted that there Paul uses the relationship between master and slave as a metaphor… So whatcha gonna do with that? If we agree slavery is wrong and not for our day, doesn’t this logic apply to the former metaphor?

    I believe this was met with the sound of crickets. Or perhaps the trumpeting of angels. Not sure.

  10. Hillary says:

    I had something similar happen when I got married and moved into the family ward but hadn’t changed my last name to my husband’s. When I filled out a reimbursement form for an activity I did, I put my maiden name on the form (since it was what I was still using), but the clerk ignored it and made out the check using my husband’s last name. And then he refused to change it. I felt so dismissed. This post hit home for me, because there are so many subtle gender imbalances in the church that are non-doctrinal and can easily be changed to make everyone feel equal and valued.

    • Dani Addante says:

      That’s inconsiderate of the clerk to use your husband’s last name when you had written your own last name.

      I felt bad at a tithing settlement once when I saw that most of the tithing I had paid from my earnings had been put under my husband’s name. Only a small part was put under my name, and I’m the breadwinner in my family. My husband is a full-time student at this time. I felt it was unfair that the tithing that I paid was put under his name. Of course, nowadays, people can pay tithing online, and you can choose which name to put it under. So that makes it better.

  11. Rob Osborn says:

    Why is it that in classic dance, the men lead yet the focus of the dance is on the woman? What does this, in analogy and logic, say about the priesthood with it leading to support that which is greater? Can we not thus see that priesthood leadership, just like dance, is meant to go before to uphold the works of God which works are noth female and male? So, my question- should we make traditional roles of dance and courship change to where women lead, women get the mans door, gets her seat, etc? That would be akward and seen as male chauvinistic wouldnt it? But yet, true men love to lead and serve their sweetheart just as they lead in dance.

    • nrc42 says:

      There’s nothing awkward about a woman holding the door for a man or giving up her seat if he needs it. In relationships, it’s a matter of reciprocating. With strangers, it’s a matter of courtesy (regardless of gender).

    • Lily says:

      Really? Men should lead in the Church because they are always “led” in classic dancing? You are continually using cultural beliefs and traditions to justify men’s leadership over women in the kingdom of God. Just because its always been that way on this earth doesn’t mean its from God or that it will continue to be that way in the next life.

  12. Lily says:

    “Why did I bring up the pioneers and why captains were male? Its not that they are more godly or Christlike. Its because they were better physically to lead at the front a company of men women and children into the unknown to protect and provide for them and place their lives at stake for the betterment of the companies survival. I dont care how you cut it but the captains were men because they were best suited to protect and provide for the temporal welfare of their needs.”

    Right – these were temporal and worldly decisions. Not spiritual or eternal ones. Pray tell, what will I need protecting from in the Celestial kingdom?

  13. Jeff G says:

    My argument is not that men should be the sole head of the house, but that there should be one and only one head of the house.

    As soon as there are two people, who – quite often – receive different revelation as to what the family should do, there is no longer any mechanism to decide whose revelation to follow…. except, of course, human reason.

    The LDS doctrine that revelation is limited to one’s stewardship and that no two people have equal authority over one and the same stewardship is the only way that that stewardship can be led by revelation rather than human reason. Christ said that there is never any need to contention of disputation and that we should not trust to human reason. The doctrine of stewardship with one and only one head (this is the main point of D&C 28) is the only way that we can ever follow that commandment.

    Now as for why this is supposed to always be the husband and never the wife, on that I will not venture an opinion.

    • nrc42 says:

      If in a relationship there is no distinction between discussion of disagreement and contention in a marriage, that relationship has major issues.

      There are times when a consensus cannot be reached. In those cases, though, it is ludicrous for one person’s opinion to consistently be the default.

      The relationship you are describing is deeply unhealthy.

      • Jeff G says:

        Well, you’ve certainly insulted my position by calling it various names. I don’t think you’ve actually engaged or refuted it, though.

  14. ReT says:

    Jeff – It’s an interesting way to look at the situation, but also makes it seem like God must only speak correctly to men. Women’s revelation is less correct. Not sure I can agree with that.

    Not sure I agree with the hierarchy idea either. My understanding is that in the q15, no decision is made until all are in agreement rather than the most senior declaring their revelation greater than the others.

    On a totally practically sense, my marriage works the same way. If we don’t agree, we wait until we do to proceed. No ‘head’ needed.

    • Jeff G says:

      “makes it seem like God must only speak correctly to men. Women’s revelation is less correct. Not sure I can agree with that”

      I absolutely and completely disagree. You’re objection presupposes that there is some measure of “correctness” that is independent of the ways that we go about deciding who’s position to side with. In this case (I can only assume) you’re thinking that logical and/or empirical consistency is a measure of “correctness” rather than a different and competing method for adjudicating disagreements.

      One method of doing so is assigning stewardships. A different and totally incompatible method is presenting arguments based in a timeless, abstract and impersonal logical/empirical consistency. The scriptures totally side with the former at the expense of the latter.

      • ReT says:

        Okay, I can see what you are saying and it does make sense.

        One person has God given stewardship thus making them the ultimate decision maker in the relationship as a form of leadership to resolve conflict of understanding/agreement. However the moment the individual with stewardship uses this power to reslove a situation against the will, understanding, and revelation of the other party, is this not unrighteous dominion?

        Or perhapsody it is the definition of righteous dominion? (if that exists)

        To be clear, I don’t personally agree with any of this, but it is interesting to explore.

      • Jeff G says:

        That’s the best response that I could hope for. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

        As for your comment below:

        “Seems to me the goal when that occurs is not to pick one over the other, but instead to figure out why or find the deeper, cross-over message.”

        These attempts at “trying to figure out” some unity and consistency that *must* be there somewhere are the human reasoning that my alternative hopes to avoid…. Which is more a description of our differences than an argument either way.

      • ReT says:

        “These attempts at “trying to figure out” some unity and consistency that *must* be there somewhere are the human reasoning that my alternative hopes to avoid…. Which is more a description of our differences than an argument either way.”

        If this is a difference between us, then it is a deeply interesting one. “Tring to unravel the paradoxes” is where I find God. Everytime. Without fail. I haven’t actually found many conclusions, so for me engaging in the question is what is spiritual lifeblood. Perhaps this is human reasoning, but I haven’t found God to be unwilling to work with it.

        How would you define your process then? (genuine question)

    • Jeff G says:

      Let me clarify a bit:

      The main question is whether the boundaries stewardship cut through logical consistency, or whether logical consistency cuts through the boundaries of stewardship?

      What your comment assumes is what God tells a husband must be logically consistent with what He tells his wife and vice versa. It is for this reason that their personal revelations must be, again, “consistent” with each other. I’m calling this assumption into question. There is no reason why God can’t tell two different people two logically incompatible things.

      Picking up on your claims about unanimity in the leadership, you might(!) be right about how they operate now. If, however, we look back at the time of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, these leaders – for the most part – felt no need to wait for the approval from the 12 or anybody else before they spoke what was in their right to speak within their uniquely granted stewardship. Most people are unwilling to grant that the modern church is led by revelation just as much as the church was back in their days. Basically, mine is applying this same argument to the family.

      • ReT says:

        I agree on God telling people different things. Seems to me the goal when that occurs is not to pick one over the other, but instead to figure out why or find the deeper, cross-over message.

        If I have time, I’ll get back to you on the q15. The lifting of the priesthood ban seems like a good place to look but I’d better make sure my memory of it all is correct.

    • IDIAT says:

      RE: Unanimity of Q12: I don’t think being in agreement is quite the way you envision. The church would grind to a halt if 15 prophets, seers and revelators had to agree on everything every time. Like a stake presidency and high council, the president leads, suggestions are made by all, and ultimately a call for a sustaining vote is made. I can easily sustain my president without agreeing with him.

      • Andrew R. says:

        It doesn’t grind to a halt, but that is how it works – by revelation. I don’t have the reference at the moment. Check out the D&C.

  15. MamaTytonidae says:

    Sometime within the past several weeks, my Gospel Tools app (ward directory) has changed such that both myself and my spouse are shown at the top, in what used to be the head of household category, and only our children are listed as “members of household.” Also, all of my contact information as well as all of my spouse’s appears associated with each of our individual names, instead of using the male spouse’s contact information to create default “household” contact information.

  16. Andrew R. says:

    Head of Household only appears in leadership viewed information now. It is really only used to help identify the correct priesthood quorum group association for home teaching. On the individual ordinance summary it days “resides with” now.

    I don’t believe showing the make name above the female in the directory is evidence of patriarchy. It is a convention. It could be the other way. But a mixture based on alphabetical order, or age, or whatever could make it harder to find the right person. If you want the wife you and you don’t know the Christian name it could be hard with ambiguous names.

  17. Violadiva says:

    I wish the “head of household” could be custom designated to be either gender, or jointly shared.
    I know it’s possible for it to be a woman because we have single women on our roles as such. Annoyingly, it’s auto designated by MLS to assign the man, even in a part-member family where the husband isn’t even a member. That really confuses the home teachers, because it’s the women who are members.

    • Andrew R. says:

      I am not aware of this – though that may be due to the differences in data protection. In the UK although we know the names of non-member husbands we do not show them in directories, or even membership data for clerks as heads of anything. Not being members we can not legally hold all their information.

      But even where, in the past with non-computer based systems, non-members were in the system they never showed as Head of Household. As I say, in the UK.

      I am wondering however, how you would propose which was the first shown, or head of household, etc. The couple, the bishop, age, baptismal date?

    • Ziff says:

      Yes! This would be great if it were set up more flexibly instead of the rigid “man = head” system.

  18. Téa says:

    In the side note of name listings, I find that my family and friends address letters to Téa and [Spouse], whereas his friends and family use [Spouse] and Téa. Some names have a natural rhythm in the order cadence, or in general familiarity, and talking about them in reverse order can seem quite off. The Dynamic Duos of Sullivan & Gilbert, Larry & Bob, Shirley & Laverne, Hammerstein & Rodgers, Garfunkel & Simon…all pairs on (fairly) equal ground but not in the order to which we’re accustomed.
    I recall one woman commenting on a discussion about presiding that she and her husband agreed together to divvy up stewardships based on individual strengths and impact. As an example, she said that all final decisions about the bearing of children were ultimately decided by her, because she was the one who would be pregnant. They would counsel together on issues throughout, and she championed actually playing to the strengths of partners rather than defaults.

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