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.

Nicole

Nicole is an adult convert, a mixed-race woman, and a professional diplomat. She blogs at nandm.sbitani.com and writes microfiction @nsbitani on Twitter. The content of this post does not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or any other U.S. Government agency, department, or entity. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and in no way should be associated with the U.S. Government.

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26 Responses

  1. Tracy says:

    YES.👏👏 I am a lifelong member, and I could have written this. Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve had many such moments as well, most recently through an interaction with my stake president about a year ago that brought into even clearer focus for me the long emerging realization that patriarchy is not of God and does not serve women–or men, for that matter, except to enable them and prop them up.

  2. Lee says:

    I have very often heard the argument that girls are more righteous than men, which is why they don’t need the priesthood. If men didn’t have the priesthood, boys would learn responsibility and they would all turn out as deadbeats. It really seems absurd when subjected to any scrutiny. Why would God deny the growth-benefits of priesthood service and authority to women in order to favor less willing and valiant agents, even if it were true that men as a gender were somehow inherently less righteous. I feel like messaging like this is a self-fulfilling prophecy – it communicates that lack of drive or responsibility are normal attributes for men. It also discourages women who have a sincere desire to participate by shutting them out. I have never heard of any reasonable argument against ordaining women.

  3. Amen and amen. I have heard all of these male myths repeatedly during my church meetings and conversations with members. Thanks for writing so clearly. My heart responded when you talked about how some men would leave if they did not preside. I know it’s hard to move a giant body of people away from patriarchy, but stop with the crumbs of small changes. Let’s do the right thing and let people leave.

  4. Anna says:

    Oh, don’t get me started on how low of a bar men have to slither over to be good enough for the church. My sexually abusive father was coddled, loved, and supported and held to zero standard of repentance and restitution because that was just SOOOOooooo hard. But as his victim, I was condemned for “not being forgiving” for not being all the way healed when I had not been given any help, love, or support to heal.

    • Ziff says:

      I’m so sorry, Anna. That’s just horrible! I hate that the focus in the Church around abuse is so often to shut victims up and rush to tell them to forgive so abusers can go on their merry way.

  5. Vaughn Cox says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I agree completely with you on modesty. All youth and adults in the Church, both women and men should dress modestly and consistently with a Temple garment standard. There should be no double standard.

    I also agree that men are given the knowledge, ability, and power to resist temptation. It is their responsibility and not the responsibility of the women around them or anyone else. As men we need to be able to stand on our own.

    It disappoints and saddens me when men try transfer their responsibility for righteous behavior to others and especially to women. It is just a sad version of “the devil made me do it”.

    The members of the Church, especially men, are not perfect. The leaders of the Church. One of the things we need to learn while on this earth is to love and support imperfect people.

    May God bless you and may the Spirit lift you up and support you as you deal with all of the challenges in your life.

  6. JC says:

    Being an LDS single adult woman was what opened my eyes pertaining to this. It’s insane how the standards for single women in the church go beyond the exosphere while those for the single men are literally nonexistent.

    It’s frustrating as a single adult woman being lectured about how physically perfect I must be and how hard I have to work to keep a man satisfied, but Heavenly Father forbid we talk to the single men about their fitness and attractiveness levels. There are so many single adult men in the church who don’t take care of themselves, yet whenever church leaders address single adults, it’s literally crickets concerning this. Instead, the women are the ones constantly lectured about staying in shape, styling their hair, wearing make-up, and wearing clothes that make them look sexy, yet modest. Most single adult men in the church refuse to give the most basic amount of service of women, yet will use the “biology” and “we’re wired to be visual” excuses to hold women to impossibly high physical standards despite scientific evidence proving otherwise. I’m going to take the article linked here and spread it like wildfire, because honestly, the “we’re wired to be visual” crap needs to stop.

    It’s become the expectation in the church that single women need to be okay with a building project and polishing a rock into diamond. Yet single men are told to only look at the perfect, finished, sparkling skyscrapers and not to settle for anything less than the biggest (that is still a size 0), shiniest jewel. Nothing about husbands and wives helping each other become their best selves. Nothing about how men should go beyond what is skin deep when it comes to finding an eternal companion. Nothing about how women are allowed to have standards and should avoid jerky nerds and man-children. Rather, women must be the finished product who sacrifice themselves to prop up men who will turn up their noses at having to do the bare minimum for anyone who isn’t them.

  7. Elisa says:

    I grew up watching LDS boys be coddled and praised for mediocrity while me and the other girls excelled—and were made fun for it, like we were over-reaching and all our work was pointless because we’d just be moms anyway.

    I don’t remember a time where I didn’t notice the bar was so low.

  8. Bailey says:

    The comparison between the work women, particularly the work you pointed out that single women do, to stay in the church between men admitting they would leave if they didn’t get to do something special strips the mask away and reveals just how low the expectations for men are. Also, comparing the power of bare shoulders vs grown men. It’s exhausting. I think low expectations are also damaging to men because it sends the message that they are basically incapable worthless slugs.

  9. anniebwanny says:

    But men have the same standards as women. The garment actually covers more on them than it does on us. I’ve never really seen it enforced on anyone. And I’ve seen comments directed at both genders.

    I see more men who are strong and organized and compassionate at church than I so anywhere else in the world. So I don’t get the point here. Just seems like a poorly formed complaint.

    • Mindy Farmer says:

      Benevolent patriarchy does make nice men, but at what cost to women?

    • Vicki says:

      My daughter’s invitation to church Girl’s Camp this summer had clothing guidelines about sleeve length and shorts length. My boys never once had a dress code beyond “wear closed toed shoes” when attending church sponsored scout camp or other youth activities. Church leaders discuss adult womens’ appearance and they don’t address it for men. The standards are not the same.

      • JC says:

        I grew up with clothing guidelines and sleeve length for Girl’s Camp as well. The guidelines went beyond clothing, were multiple pages long, and even said we weren’t allowed to bring card games.

        Meanwhile, the boys didn’t have rules for the dress code, let alone anything else regarding their camping experience. Many of the YW, their mothers, and leaders were appalled when not long after the boys’ camp trip, they decorated their bulletin board (at the building where I grew up attending church, the YM, YW, and missionaries of each ward had a bulletin board highlighting their accomplishments with pictures, notes, announcements of special events, etc.) with MULTIPLE pictures of of the YM – wait for it – SHIRTLESS.

        Anyone (looking at you, anniebwanny) who says men don’t have the same standards as women is burying his or her head in the sand. This is how ex-church members are made. It needs to stop.

        • Mina Leach says:

          The year I was 17 I was on the stake youth advisory committee. Youth Conferences were still a thing then (this was ‘90-91) and after MONTHS of constant case pleading I got a dress code for young men excluding tank tops, mesh shirts, and shirts v skins basketball. Not that it had any impact past that one conference. Fast forward 25 years, and my daughter complained as a Stake Mission Prep event for seniors about boys going shirtless at a service project because, you know, it was hot out. The stake YM presidency member she complained to chastised her for judging their appearances and not their hearts. Which I’d agree with were that not how women in the church are judged routinely.

  10. Valley Girl says:

    I was serving in a primary presidency while trying to work full time, home school my kids and keep a pristine house. I felt so guilty that I couldn’t prepare the most interesting and engaging sharing times or attend the training meetings. I repeatedly apologized to my president who was very understanding and pointed out that the men regularly skip lesson preparation and training meetings without any fall out. Aha moment!

  11. Mindy Farmer says:

    Yes! And if one more man dismisses priesthood as sleeping during meetings and stacking chairs, I may actually scream aloud and not just in my head. They can’t have it everywhere: the priesthood is essential and powerful and life-affirming and testimony building and sacred. Unless, of course, you’re a woman.

  12. Katie Rich says:

    Wow, yes, such an important point about a man having been able to request authorization to bless the sacrament for himself, while you were not afforded that opportunity. Not all people have the same access.

  13. Ziff says:

    Good points, Nicole. I think the idea that men will leave if we don’t get to have exclusive access to some part of the church experience is pretty sad. If true for most men, just how petty and power-hungry does that make us? And it’s almost worse if it’s false, where it suggests that we’re willing to deploy nonsense arguments to keep our little priesthood club exclusively male.

  14. Anon for this says:

    Also. I am very tired of the “priesthood in the home” statement as though everyone with an ordained guy in the house is receiving the same access to priesthood ordinances and power. Our cultural expectation is that if you have “priesthood in the home” (PITH for convenience here…) then you only ask him for those things. But my PITH is not a words guy. If I ask for a priesthood blessing it is virtually the same every time. What was once a powerful feeling of being seen by God when I received blessings from a variety of men before I was married is now not something I seek very much. My PITH is active. He goes to church, does his calling. But in the 18 months we were away from church for Covid I had the sacrament two times. I asked/suggested more than that, but our dynamic is not such that it was worth it to me to nag every week if it wasn’t something he felt any real need to do. So over time I just decided the sacrament couldn’t be very important to me anymore. Because I’m tired of being denied. So when a spiritual experience is held out of my reach and I cannot do anything about it, I decide it is not meaningful.

    What else am I supposed to do? Grieve and yearn and ache? I felt that way about being denied a role in blessing my babies despite being the only one who suffered in bringing them from heaven to earth. But there’s nothing I can do. The Bishopric can just waltz in to the circle uninvited. My role is silent and distant and an observer. I have struggled to have a meaningful relationship with the sacrament since having kids has meant it is mostly about a behavior fight when we’re in church. But 18 months of having to decide that it didn’t matter that my husband was withholding it from me pretty well killed me caring anymore. Every church thing that happened in our home happened because I mustered scraps of emotional energy to try. But I can’t make the sacrament happen. It isn’t about my will or effort. And I’d never get the sacrament delivered to me, because that would shame my husband who is perfectly able to do it, and would if I made nagging production out of it. He’s not hostile to providing it. It just didn’t occur to him that he was denying his family through his own indifference.

    So I just want to put a plug out there that it isn’t only women “who don’t have priesthood in the home” who aren’t having equal access to the sacrament. Having a PITH is the sum total of your priesthood access. I really wish I could ask my ministering sisters for blessings, or administer the sacrament to my children. But what I’m left with is trying to shut off that part of my heart and my testimony.

    • Kaylee says:

      Thank you for sharing this experience. Creating space and context for spiritual experiences is an art form, and as art it is a form of emotional labor. I’m sorry that your husband didn’t see your need. I think the church’s priesthood rituals are one way to create that context. But I have also found that having to be intentional about finding (or creating) the spiritual space you need can be wonderfully filling.

      • Anon for this says:

        Yes. It also makes me largely indifferent when Church leaders try to shut off avenues to feel God or connect, like the latest pontification about Heavenly Mother. They’ve already set up a system of limited access — the timing of our meetings was such that I always had to be rocking a baby to nap when the sacrament was offered, and of course a teen boy could not risk seeing my breast by checking the Mother’s Room. So I went months upon months without the sacrament. And of course my above experience. We’re supposed to access God through ordinances that we can only access through cooperative men – men who are willing to grant recommends, men who are willing to perform the ordinances. That doesn’t always work. And when it doesn’t, I’m going to find my own ways, and I have. And I’m not likely to see an apostle trying to slam down a portcullis to force me into only the male-conduit God routes as binding in any way.

    • Nicole says:

      Thank you so much for making this point and reminding me that PITH isn’t always what we assume it to be from the outside.

  15. Sister Anon says:

    There is actually quite a male hierarchy in the Church, and moderate or introverted men generally suffer. It is a misuse of priesthood authority or power. It demeans fatherhood. Let me explain:

    Men selected for leadership positions (often type A) are ordained high priests. One would think that the disdain for Elders would have disappeared with the high priest groups. It has actually intensified. It used to be that older man were ordained as high priests. This has ended in many areas. So when a young man is called into a bishopric, it is more likely today that you’ll see a father on the sidelines, unable to even stand in the circle because he is “only an Elder.” I’ve seen grown men cry over being excluded from the circle when their sons are being ordained.

    I think things are getting worse. In my ward, the bishopric has placed the wives of high priests in leadership callings. All of our gospel doctrine teachers are high priests, when the best teachers from years ago were often Elders or women!

    • Anon for this says:

      I had no idea. That’s awful. I have noticed that quiet men, or men who don’t make a lot of money, are much less likely to be called to leadership unless they live in an area where there are few such men to pick. Privately I am relieved that my very introverted husband isn’t very likely to be called to something that will take away all of his family time. But on a macro scale I think it is a real lost opportunity.

  16. Bryn says:

    I haven’t seen the excuse that there won’t be enough work to go around if anyone can hold any role in the church and be ordained, so I’ll add this one in. So, so, so many needs, especially in marginalized groups, go unmet and invisible in our current structure. For all our celebrated service, we are barely scratching the surface. I believe we would see our work triple and quadruple if everyone could participate fully and it would be amazing. As a very simple example, a person who cannot abide men due to previous abuse should be able to call on the person they trust to offer blessings, to baptize, to serve them. I can think of people who would lead in the role of Bishop and meet the needs of those who currently starve for crumbs. I cannot fathom what miracles would flow if the priesthood was open to all.

  1. May 13, 2022

    […] write this month’s blog post about until I saw a certain comment on my post from last month. My April 2022 post addressed how disappointingly low the bar is for men in the Church, to which someone replied, “I […]

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