Why Do We Only Talk About Men in Relief Society Facebook groups?
Last month I wrote a blog post about the number of men speaking at Relief Society conferences and events compared to women, despite the Relief Society being a women’s organization. The day after that posted I checked my email and saw a message from my ward Relief Society presidency, encouraging us to read a talk by Elder Gong (a man) before we study it together on Sunday in class.
This got me thinking, and I searched for other unread messages from her. Sure enough, two weeks before that was another email encouraging me to read another talk by another man for the last Relief Society meeting.
I didn’t have any more emails remaining in my inbox, so I went to our ward Relief Society Facebook page to see if they updated lesson plans there. They didn’t, but as I started scrolling I realized that the vast majority of links and announcements were not about things female church leaders were teaching or doing, but almost all of them were about male leaders and what the men were teaching and doing.
I scrolled through 24 months of Relief Society Facebook posts, and each time I found one that was a link to a talk for a lesson, an invitation to a fireside or conference, or a woman in my ward sharing an outside quote or book reference, I took a quick screenshot. To preserve privacy I cut out any names or identifying details, but I left the image of the talk, conference, fireside or quote in the screenshot. To make it easy to see at a glance whether the person highlighted in the post was male or female, I put a pink check mark on the female posts, and a blue check mark on the male posts. (And when there was a mixture, I put checkmarks to indicate about how many of each.)
As always, there’s nothing wrong with learning from inspired men. However, what *does* bother me is that in a women’s organization we choose to elevate male voices far more frequently than we elevate female voices. When we find an idea worth sharing with each other, it’s usually an idea from a man. When we want to tell a story, we tell the experience of a man’s life instead of one from our own. On my ward Relief Society’s Facebook page, a group for only women (well, plus the bishopric who is also inexplicably in there), women’s voices got 9 pink check marks, while men’s ideas got 33 blue check marks. In the past two years, women’s words were represented in our group posts only 21 percent of the time.
I think that LDS women have become so accustomed to being instructed by men that we aren’t even aware of the disparity. We lift up the words of men at the expense of other women and don’t even notice that we’re doing it. In general conference, I hear women at the pulpit spending a lot of their time quoting male apostles and prophets (sometimes from the exact same men who have already spoken/will speak in the same meeting!) rather than taking the opportunity to share their own original interpretation of doctrine. In Sacrament Meeting, I see a women at the pulpit giving a talk, but they are often summarizing a favorite conference talk from a male apostle or prophet. In Relief Society, I’ve seen many female teachers at the front of the classroom discussing Teachings of the Prophets, yet never once did we study the Teachings of General Relief Society Presidents.
It’s fine to be an organization that studies the words of men, but only allows women to be members – just don’t call it a women’s organization when it’s clearly not one. Also, give us a fair warning about how male-centric it can be before we decide if we want to join or not, and don’t make membership automatic and mandatory. Some of us would like to opt out.