Why are Women’s Accomplishments Always Erased and Replaced By Men (like Freaking Brigham Young)?
I recently made a batch of rolls from a box of Lion House bread mix, sold at Deseret Book stores. On the back of the box is a large image of Brigham Young, who according to the accompanying bio loved to “personally taste” the bread made at the Lion House pantry, and his favorite was the bread they turned into this recipe for rolls.
My first question was, “Why is the space on the back of the box dedicated to a man who ate this bread, rather than the women who actually created, baked and perfected the recipe? Baking is hard to get right. How on earth does simply eating the bread elevate Brigham to the level where he deserves half of the packaging to be a picture and story about him?”
The answer most people would give is that he’s the most interesting and well known figure associated with the rolls, so of course they talk about him and put his picture there. The woman who created this recipe doesn’t have a prominent place in history and so no one would be interested in seeing her picture.
But why doesn’t she have a prominent place in history? I know why. It’s because men like Brigham Young are the ones who wrote the history. How do we know her story isn’t interesting? Have we tried to find out who she was or what she did? I mean, she most likely crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City in the early days, rubbing elbows with “important” people like Brigham Young, who apparently loved her baking. Did he make her one of his 50± wives for her breadmaking skills? Did she have kids? Did she come from Scandinavia? From England? Was she the only convert in her family and traveled halfway around the world by herself as a teenage girl in the 1800s? Did she write poetry? Sing? Dance? What was her story, her name, and her crazy life story that led her to baking bread in the Lion House Pantry on the frontier with the crazy outcast group of religious people they called the Mormons? How could her story NOT be fascinating?
Do women’s names and stories on baked goods not sell as much product? I can think of a lot of women’s names on food items, like Betty Crocker, Ms. Fields, Auntie Anne’s, Sara Lee, Little Debbie, Wendy’s, Mrs. Butterworth, Marie Callender, and Lorna Doone. I don’t know anything about any of these women. I don’t even know if they are real names of real people or not. But marketing with a female face and name seems to have worked out pretty well for those brands, so why are we marketing Lion house rolls with Brigham Young’s name?
Yet here we are. Even in the intensely female dominated arena of bread baking in the 19th century, the man who passively ate this bread is the one featured rather than the woman who actively created the bread. This is exactly what happens when history is written by men, and not women – only the men’s stories and names are common knowledge to the future generations. This box of rolls is just a small example of this enormous problem, and what are we doing in our church to fix this problem in the future? Not very much, considering we still give women almost no talks in general conference, and women hold only a fraction of higher leadership positions in the church (and none with authority). When the church looks back at 2021 a hundred years from now, they’ll probably still only see and hear the stories of men.
I graduated from Brigham Young University, coincidentally a place with no statues honoring women for accomplishments outside of nameless motherhood, where only three out of 112 buildings on campus are named after women (and only one of those is an academic building). A few years ago a student named Alyson Adams did a guerrilla art project for her BYU Art Education class where she printed out signs asking questions like “Where’s the building named after me?’ – Female LDS Scholars and Leaders'” and taped them to campus statues, raising awareness about BYU’s severe lack of female representation on campus. She said, “It seems like (women) are almost an invisible population in terms of representation in visible manifestations around campus. Within our BYU community and church community, we talk about all of these great men who have done wonderful things. But we forget about the women who were there too.” (You can read the Daily Universe article about her art project here.) You can also see some of the signs she put up around campus below:
I have a picture with my youngest daughter and myself from a couple years ago with the statue of Brigham Young on BYU campus. I remember she wanted to stop and rest because we’d walked a long way from our car and it was a warm day, and I still needed to make it a bit further to pick something up from the athletic department for a fundraiser. We were sitting by Brigham, a man whose checkered history has given me many complicated feelings about having his name on my college diploma, and I laughed at the weirdness of the situation and took a selfie with him. It took me a minute to find this old photo, but here we are in 2019, smiling and looking up Brother Young’s nostrils.
I just hope that by the time my daughter is strolling across BYU campus with her own daughter, they’ll stop to rest in the shade of a prominent female leader’s statue instead, like maybe Eliza R. Snow or Jane Manning James. Lady nostrils are much nicer to look up than Brigham’s, if you ask me.