When Did You Realize How Low the Bar Is?
Was there one moment when you realized how low the bar is for men in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? For me, there were a number of such moments – snapshots scattered throughout the past almost-decade of my membership in the Church since I decided to join in 2013. I sometimes wonder if these examples stood out more to me as an adult convert, especially since they so often arose in conversations I had with fellow female members where they didn’t appear to bat an eye.
When I joined the Church as a young adult, I was advised to completely revamp my wardrobe to accommodate the standards of modesty even before I received my Endowment and Temple garment. After hanging out with some guy friends in the ward who were lounging in tank tops, I asked a friend why the emphasis on modesty seemed to fall disproportionately on women. She told me men were more visual than women (which many researchers argue is a myth) and that it was our sacred responsibility to be gatekeepers of the law of chastity, helping men fulfill their righteous desire to avoid sexual temptation. I was shocked at the relative power ascribed to my exposed shoulders and relative weakness ascribed to fully grown, independent, thinking, breathing men.
This despite Jesus’s teaching that those who objectify women are the ones who sin, for “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We know from ancient and modern revelation that God “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Why would anyone teach that this wise counsel stops with men’s ability to control their lust? If we follow Alma’s advice “that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering” (Alma 13:28), then we–men included–can overcome all of our sinful desires including those that seek to dehumanize others as sexual objects.
Another snapshot: after my baptism, I moved to a country where I was the only member at the time. The nearest branch was in a neighboring country multiple hours away, and I never met them once. My wonderful visiting teachers made a habit of video calls with me, friends back home organized a Scripture study via Google Docs, and I tuned into the Church’s worldwide weekly Sacrament meeting broadcast for members like me who couldn’t attend Sunday meetings. However, I found myself yearning for the Sacrament and was frustrated when I learned a single man in my situation could have requested authorization to bless and administer the Sacrament himself. As a woman, I had no such option.
Pursuing a career in international affairs and knowing I could easily find myself in a similar situation again in the future magnified my sorrow. I was taught (and I believe) that the Sacrament is a holy, sacred, necessary ordinance. Reading the Sacrament prayers and pondering them is not the same. If it was, why would we have the ordinance at all? Especially as a convert, I love the opportunity the Sacrament provides to renew my baptismal covenants and partake of a precious ritual I did not have the privilege of knowing most of my life. I later learned my situation was even more common than I thought, as Jana Reiss has noted, “there are more women who do not have access to the priesthood in the home than who do.”
When I returned to the United States, I asked a close friend and lifelong member about the lack of ordination for women. She told me as the sole girl who grew up in a house of many brothers that she was confident about the answer: if they ordained women, all the men would go inactive. She said her brothers had told her so themselves! They needed to feel needed and to have duties that women couldn’t do or they wouldn’t be motivated to stay active in the Church.
I was floored. Women like me – especially women without a sealed family, women with nuanced views, and women with doubts and questions – continue to fight tooth and nail for a place in the Church. We battle judgment from other members and from non-members who can’t understand why we stay. And yet these men confessed they’d leave at the slightest reduction in the special authority and responsibility they hold over others. For some men in the Church, it seems they are more interested in presiding than anything else.
I am not arguing that men in the Church are worse than men elsewhere. But I have seen firsthand how patriarchy in the Church has poisoned our expectations for men. Men are fully capable of being strong and organized and compassionate and faithful instead of depending on the women and gender minorities around them to pick up the slack. And I, for one, have hope that someday we will treat them that way.