Oppressive vs. Benevolent Patriarchy

By: hawkgrrrl
May 13, 2014

Build a bridge and get over it. Or not.

A recent post by the highly talented Andrea R-M on Juvenile Instructor explained the difference between oppressive patriarchy and benevolent patriarchy, an important distinction for Mormons who are (on the whole) opposed to the former and in favor of the latter.

In theory, benevolent patriarchy is a bridge between oppressive patriarchy and actual equality.  Oppressive patriarchy exists in cultures where men can beat or rape wives, where women have no control over reproductive decisions, where women cannot own property or vote. Oppressive patriarchy views women as a threat to men, forcing them to cover up or stay at home because they are scary temptresses. Oppressive patriarchy says that women must be controlled because they are inferior to men.

The church doesn’t preach that women are inferior, but rather that they are different and in some ways superior to men.  For example, men are scolded for their sex drives and supposed porn addiction, whereas most women are viewed as being above and apart from such craven desires.

Some traits of benevolent patriarchy that will sound familiar:

  • Men & women are (collectively) different.  The underlying message is that (all or most) men are like this, (all or most) women are like that.  Examples include that men are visual or women are emotional.  Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus.
  • Gender essentialism.  From the Proclamation on the family, it states that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”  Most statements about gender in the church deny, downplay or ignore the cultural influences that foster gender differences.
  • Proclamation on the Family and “divine gender roles.”  We preach to people to fill specific roles, not to be individuals or play to individual strengths; outliers are often overlooked.
  • Ignoring exceptions.  We talk about “preaching the ideal” which also means exceptions are either ignored, denied, or dismissed as inferior.  But that includes a very large range of human experience:  homosexuals, bisexuals, women who earn, men who nurture.
  • Puts women on a pedestal.  This line of thinking says that women are angels, too good to be bothered with politics or to work outside the home.  It says women need to be protected.  Women on a pedestal are the “moral authority” but in painting this portrait, women aren’t allowed to be real people with flaws.  For a prime example, look no further than the talk:  ”LDS Women Are Incredible!”, but there are many many more examples of General Conference talks in every conference that take this approach.
  • Women need to be protected.  This approach is appealing to women who want to divide labor, including the woman taking less responsibility outside the home and the man taking more responsibility for financially supporting the family.  It also appeals to some women who like to feel protected or who equate protection with masculine love.  We are even told that Heavenly Mother, presumably a goddess, needs to be protected which is why we don’t mention her.

Unfortunately, it was also a man who tied her to the tracks.

But is benevolent patriarchy really being used as a bridge to equality?  It seems to me that, theologically speaking, we are building a house on the bridge and warning people that both shores are dangerous and that the bridge is eternal.  That’s a tenuous position.

Benevolent patriarchy should scare women.  Being dependent on men to be generous and good, rather than having the ability and means to take care of yourself means that if a man is not generous or not good, you are in trouble.  You don’t have any recourse or the means to sustain yourself financially or often even socially.  Of course, we are teaching our men to be generous and good, to be a good marriage bet, so it often does work out.  But not always.  Life happens.  People have agency. And even if it works out, role prescriptions limit human potential by limiting our development. Women may not finish education or develop leadership skills.  Men may not develop their teaching or nurturing skills.

If women are either viewed as morally inferior temptresses who need to be controlled or morally superior nurturing angels who need to be protected, which view of women is driving the following practices:

  • Not letting women hold their babies when they are being blessed?
  • Not having a woman speak last in sacrament meeting?
  • Not talking about Heavenly Mother?
  • Not including women in decision making councils?

Separate but equal.

Both views of women fail to represent an ideal or an accurate picture of women’s potential.

Why is benevolent patriarchy a (possibly necessary) bridge to equality?  Well, “separate but equal” was likewise a way for racists to make the move from seeing minorities as inherently inferior to meriting equal rights.  The law required “equality,” but allowed states to implement it at their discretion.  We all know how that played out.

First we see women as different and inferior in intelligence, reason and morality.  Next, we see women as different but complementary and necessary to men.  Finally, we see them as fully equal, noting the similarities, not focusing on differences.  Given the inevitable outcome of this path of thought, the less time spent investing in the short term middle step, the less we’ll have to backtrack and pretend leaders meant something different than what they said.  Time to move forward.  The other side of the bridge awaits, and it is a great place to be.

Discuss.

Tags: , , ,

40 Responses to Oppressive vs. Benevolent Patriarchy

  1. Hedgehog on May 13, 2014 at 5:23 AM

    I loved Andrea’s post.
    Our 4th week RS lesson last month was E. Christofferson’s conference talk from October (The Moral force of Women). Just as well I’d been asked to stand in for the primary pianist. I only caught the last part of the lesson, but I really felt quite violent by the end (the Margaret Nadauld quote about the world needing more women who are…. notwithstanding.) Ugh!
    I know some women seem to like that kind of validation. I do recall one friend saying about that or a similar talk last year, wasn’t it lovely, and it made her feel great. But then she went on to say that unfortunately that great feeling hadn’t lasted into the following day. No, I thought, but didn’t say (perhaps I should have). Because it’s just words, platitudes. It doesn’t empower us to be who we actually are, or to reach for our true potential. It ‘puts us in our place’.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  2. Joni on May 13, 2014 at 6:53 AM

    The church isn’t immune from seeing us as “morally inferior temptresses who need to be controlled”, either. Just look at much of the recent talk about modesty.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  3. New Iconoclast on May 13, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    Assuming we can come to some agreement on the premise, the question becomes “How do we get across the bridge as quickly as possible, without dragging people over kicking and screaming?”

    Or, maybe, agreeing on the premise can in and of itself shorten the bridge. Or dragging will be necessary. *Sigh.*

    So much that is unequal in the world derives from our human desire to be told what to do and how to think. There’s a little voice yearning for Satan’s simple, painless, decision-free plan inside all of us. No exceptions, no special cases, no difficult decisions. Just relax, conform, and “think of England.”

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  4. Howard on May 13, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    Great article! I think this is well thought out and well presented.

    Finally, we see them as fully equal, noting the similarities, not focusing on differences. This is a good way to say it but we need a better word than “equal” because a literalist’s view of “equality” can never actually be achieved due to inherent differences. This is often used by the orthodox to argue against moving toward greater equality. It reminds me of the (old) joke about the Dean of Students who wanted to help his (male) math and engineering students sort themselves out so he lined them up toes on the line at the far end of a basketball court and coeds toes on the near end line. Then he said ” women don’t move, men each time I blow my whistle you may advance one half the distance between you and the women.” When he blew the whistle the first time half the men immediately walked off the court! They were the mathematicians (orthodox literalists), they knew they could never actually get there but the engineers stayed because they knew they could get close enough for practical application!

    LDS benevolent patriarchy either exposes God as a chauvinist which I strongly doubt given the attention and respect Jesus clearly provided women in an otherwise highly chauvinist even misogynistic world and/or it exposes the brethren’s bias. In truth the brethren CANNOT be collectively awake and aware and forget to invite women to pray in GC for 182 years! That’s a long time spanning many turnovers of leaders. So clearly collectively they are unaware and we see this lack of awareness raise it’s head again each time they respond with placation in place of meaningful proactive solutions.

    The problem with “benevolent” patriarchy is that it isn’t benevolent at all, it is a subtle lie masquerading as benevolent. It pretends to be kind and protective (of what btw???) while restraining and discouraging female growth, keeping them in their one-down place. It’s built on an obsolete model of rigid gender roles that may have made more sense long ago when being a man meant needing to be physically strong and almost fearless. But Johnny Cash and some of the brethren represent the last of a generation brought up on that widely held belief. How many of you priesthood holders stormed Normandy recently, chopped down trees using an ax to build a log cabin or did hand to hand combat with Indians to protect your family? The truth is unless you’re in a job like being a Seal, a Lumber jack, a Roughneck or a Cop which few are today, your fearless strong man job has been largely eliminated and birth control and home automation has freed her to develop her mind and skill set enabling her to very successfully compete with you on the job at a time when two earners are necessary to provide less lifestyle that than the brethren’s families enjoy with one. Times have changed, it’s time to move on.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 7

  5. brjones on May 13, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    In my opinion, benevolent patriarchy (so called), is not a bridge to equality, but merely a means to maintaining perpetual inequality. Nothing more than a diversionary tactic. Benevolent patriarchy is preparatory to gender equality in the same way Jim Crow was preparatory to racial equality. Historically speaking, people and groups that value equality, treat others with equality. I can’t think of a single reason women would need a slow ramp down from blatant inequality to full equality. If you recognize inequality is wrong, you rectify it. In this day and age particularly, there’s simply no parsing policies and beliefs of inequality. You either practice equality or you don’t. The church doesn’t. Its best bet is to own its teachings, reiterate that it believes they’re from god and not subject to the changing winds of public opinion, and get on with the sorting of the wheat from the chaff.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  6. Nate on May 13, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    The church’s benevolent patriarchy is not in anyway a bridge to equality, because equality is not considered an ideal. Women were more equal in many respects in the 19th century LDS church.

    The intensity of the church’s current benevolent patriarchy can be seen as a direct reaction against the equal rights views that are sweeping modern culture. Today’s working woman ideal is seen as a threat to LDS family values.

    In past centuries, women always worked for the livelihood of their families alongside their husbands, as work at home was the norm. In the 20th century work was displaced to offices and factories, and families were sent off to suburbs nescessitating an isolating commute, and creating the “stay at home mom” who doesn’t work, which is a uniquely modern phenomenon. Modern patriarchal culture in the church is an attempt to deal with this new cultural role.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  7. Naismith on May 13, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    I don’t think the “benevolent” patriarchy fits the church model, either. “Benevolent” implies that the man can step up or not, that either is acceptable and it is totally up to the whim of the man as to whether he will support and serve his family. Instead, the church ideal is more one of interdependence, of equal contributions in different ways. Is there any way for couples to be equal partners without doing the same things?

    We are not the only ones to preach this complementarianism. I was impressed and delighted that the book, “Financially Ever After: The Couples’ Guide to Managing Money” by Jeff D. Opdyke also talks about how poisonous and wrong it is to assume that the name on a paycheck entitled the person to more power in the relationship.

    There are things like prenuptial agreements if people have concerns going into marriage.

    I can tell you that I don’t “want” to take less responsibility outside the home. But the sad reality of the stupid body that a dumb-ass creator gave me was that I suffered from severe nausea and vomiting throughout my pregnancies. I am grateful for a husband who stepped up during that season. There was no benevolence to it. It was HIS JOB as my equal partner.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  8. Howard on May 13, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Naismith wrote: Is there any way for couples to be equal partners without doing the same things? I think this is a very good point and of course it often makes sense for couples to do things this way. …the church ideal is more one of interdependence, of equal contributions in different ways The problem is traditional gender roles assign tasks based on gender alone and while that works for some it doesn’t for a growing number of couples. Also while some interdependence is necessary and positive it becomes dysfunctional when interdependence becomes symbiotic as it often does in many LDS marriages.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  9. Joni on May 13, 2014 at 1:07 PM

    It’s strongly implied that the arrangement of benevolent patriarchy will be the Celestial order of things. The woman is to the man as the man is to God, and vice versa. Without being too specific, it was finally noticing the extremely skewed language of the temple that precipitted my faith crisis of the last year or so, and may well lead me to leave the Church someday.

    As I explain to my husband: He and I are both running in the same race. We put in the same amount of training, we are running the same number of miles, etc. But at the end of the race, he receives a trophy made of gold, and I am presented with one fashioned from dog poop. It’s awfully hard to be motivated to stay in the race.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 9

  10. Naismith on May 13, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    “…. creating the “stay at home mom” who doesn’t work, which is a uniquely modern phenomenon.”

    Ouch. This is part of the problem, the notion that a mother who is not employed is not working. For a lot of us, we’ve never worked harder in our lives.

    For a family’s well being, it is not how much you make but how much you keep. And remember, a penny saved is two pennies earned since it is neither taxed nor tithed. As a mom at home, I provided child care for our preschoolers and after-school care for our school-aged kids. And this included sick-child care. Thus my husband was able to be highly competitive in his job, not often needing to take time off for sick kids and having the ability to travel. This resulted in an accelerated promotion.

    I also do a lot of home production of various things. We buy pork as a boneless loin for $1.99 a pound, and I carve it into chops, roast, etc. I make pork carnitas from the least desirable bits, and there is very little waste. Same with all kinds of other meats that I butcher and we use every bit out of. I sewed various things for our family, from the toddler’s training pants to curtains to costumes for various plays. I researched investments, compared various insurance policies and monitored health insurance claims.

    Some of my kids were involved with Joy School, a cooperative preschool program. I was the group leader one year, and it was a struggle but taught me some organizational skills that I use every day as a professional project manager. Why is a task granted the dignity of “work” only if the person is paid but not if s/he is at home fulltime–even though the tasks themselves are identical?

    As a note on the history of all this, while suburbs were born after world war II, the term “SAHM” didn’t come into usage until the mid-1990s. As late as 1992, mainstream media like Newsweek referred to “full-time mothers” and “homemaker was common in the 1970s and 80s.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  11. MB on May 13, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Joni,
    My reading of scriptural descriptions of Celestial life is actually that it is far, far above the terrestrial order of patriarchy we practice here and is the ultimate in equality, joint heirship and power; a life completely full light and power and glory that is part and parcel and equally a part of every being there. There is no “my job” and “your job” or “your reward” and “my reward”, or “my role” and “your role” there like we have here and that makes it’s first appearance after the Fall. The few verses we do have that describe celestial life imply that the unity and equality there is completely comprehensive.

    We’re human beings. All human beings tend to envision the sublime in terms of glorified human experience and read earthly visions into celestial descriptions, choosing earthly points of view when given the choice between possible interpretations of the canon. And then we sometimes even create a cultural folklore beyond that

    Earth does not circumscribe heaven nor is heaven simply a lovely, light-filled perfect version of the very best on earth. My reading of the canon is that heaven and life there is equality and glory beyond our wildest, most joyful, peaceful, just, honest, charitable, equitable, loving, powerful and light-filled dreams on earth. It is better than anyone, divinely inspired or not, has been able to describe to you or me, including you and me.

    So, yes, we struggle with well meaning but clearly imperfect practices of male/female relationships in the church. We also struggle with well meaning but imperfect practices of just about every divine concept in the church as we navigate an earthbound terrestrial environment where beings are separate and hierarchical and divided. Even when we are at our best, and even in our wildest hopes and dreams of what that equality may be, we fall woefully short of understanding what celestial life is like.

    I think that’s why “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” is so true. Every single vision we create of it in our minds sells it way short.

    So no dog poop heaven. That’s not the vision outlined in scripture, no matter who espouses that interpretation of it.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  12. Jeff Spector on May 13, 2014 at 4:33 PM

    I find the post to be pretty dismissive of a certain segment of the LDS female population. Firstly, I did also enjoy Andrea’s piece though I do disagree with the term “benevolent patriarchy” because in the modern LDS feminist world each words have become a pejorative in their own right.

    I do not consider myself benevolent toward my wife, but a partner each with our agreed-upon roles. In fact, I do find the use of the term to be disrespectful to both men and women. Benevolence is more on the charity side than on the working together side.

    Secondly, your points are heavily skewed in favor of a disparaging read of them as opposed to a more neutral read. in other words, you’ve chosen to interpret the remarks you quote against your own bias rather than what the speaker may have intended.

    And, there is a very obvious refusal to accept the fact that the Church does not and never has taught men to Lord over women as a possession, in spite of some individuals choose to do so in direct violation of doctrine.

    And finally, do you other points:

    Not letting women hold their babies when they are being blessed?
    the brothers who do not hold the MP also do not get to hold their babies.
    Not having a woman speak last in sacrament meeting?
    that happened at our ward last week.
    Not talking about Heavenly Mother?
    that also happened in our Ward last week
    Not including women in decision making councils?
    that’s funny, in our Ward the RSP attends every PEC meeting and there are at least 4 women in every Ward Council where decisions are made…..

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  13. Guy T on May 13, 2014 at 5:36 PM

    here is a very obvious refusal to accept the fact that the Church does not and never has taught men to Lord over women as a possession…

    Jeff, I wrote about this when I discussed temple sealings.

    When a man is sealed to a woman, he is asked to “receive her unto yourself.” When a woman is being sealed to a man, she is asked to “give herself” to the man, and “receive him unto herself.” (I probably don’t have the words exactly right, but it is close.) So the woman gives herself, but both receive the spouse.

    This appears to show that women are possessions of men, but men are not possessions of women. Certainly there is an important difference in words here from the temple ceremony.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 10

  14. Howard on May 13, 2014 at 5:43 PM

    …the Church does not and never has taught men to Lord over women as a possession…

    Never have? Hmmm, well it certainly was strongly implied:

    “I think no more of taking another wife than I do of buying a cow.” – Apostle Heber C. Kimball, The Twenty Seventh Wife, Irving Wallace, p. 101

    Moses 4:22

    Unto the woman, I, the Lord God, said: I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  15. Howard on May 13, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife… as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”

    - Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., Latter-day Saint Messenger and Advocate, Nov. 1835

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  16. Howard on May 13, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    “Elders, never love your wives one hair’s breadth further than they adorn the Gospel, never love them so but that you can leave them at a moment’s warning without shedding a tear…When you love your wives and children, are fond of your horses, your carriages, your fine houses, your goods and chattels, or anything of an earthly nature, before your affections become too strong, wait until you and your family are sealed up unto eternal lives, and you know they are yours from that time henceforth and for ever.

    Prophet Brigham Young, From Journal of Discourses, v. 3, p. 354

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  17. hawkgrrrl on May 13, 2014 at 9:16 PM

    Jeff: I didn’t state in the post that all wards followed the listed practices; I only asked what drives the behavior when they do those things:

    “which view of women is driving the following practices:

    Not letting women hold their babies when they are being blessed?” My ward in Singapore did have mothers hold their babies during blessings. My ward in Scottsdale does not.
    “Not having a woman speak last in sacrament meeting?” My wards all have women speaking last at times, but many report that their wards do not.
    “Not talking about Heavenly Mother?” I spoke about her last week, although frankly I don’t have much to say as we never hear anything about her from official channels.
    “Not including women in decision making councils?” Again, that’s the point of benevolent patriarchy. Those who DO include women aren’t obligated to do so. They are behaving benevolently. The system doesn’t require them to include women.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  18. Ziff on May 13, 2014 at 9:39 PM

    I really like this post, hawkgrrrl. I also get frustrated with what seem like halfway steps taken in the Church toward real equality. I blogged about a similar issue a few years ago (http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2012/08/28/chicken-change-step-forward-or-sidestep/). One thought that occurred to me was that at least a benefit of making halfway change like benevolent patriarchy is that you might slip some egalitarian-sounding rhetoric in with the patriarchal rhetoric, and the egalitarian stuff might be useful later for people to point to when the Church is getting ready to make more substantive changes.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  19. Jeff Spector on May 13, 2014 at 10:40 PM

    Hawk,

    “Those who DO include women aren’t obligated to do so. They are behaving benevolently. The system doesn’t require them to include women.”

    This is simply not true. In every modern day WW Leadership Training, the Brethren and Sisters have stressed over and over again that the councils of the church should include the opinions and thoughts of both men AND women leaders. That each bring their own voice and perspective to the meeting and each has a right to be hear.

    The men leaders are, in fact, obligated by these teachings to conduct their meetings in that manner. the handbooks state it and the General leadership has re-enforced it by both word and example.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  20. hawkgrrrl on May 13, 2014 at 10:47 PM

    How many women meet in counsel with the apostles on a regular basis? It used to be the norm for female secretaries to support them at least in taking notes, but it has been a couple of decades since the secretaries have all been male. No females are regularly present in our highest decision making body.

    I agree that local leaders are now instructed to include women except in priesthood only meetings. In fact, in some stakes, just this year, visiting GAs explained that no women should attend the “leadership” meeting which was for priesthood only. Are they rogue? Or is that not specifically mentioned in the CHI? Are the GAs right or wrong in stipulating that women don’t participate? I suspect they are wrong and that the church would correct them. And yet it happened.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  21. Hedgehog on May 14, 2014 at 2:10 AM

    Naismith, I appreciate your positive outlook. But again, it sounds like your experience has been exceptional. I agree with everything you say about work in the home. It’s where I am after all. My husband is great. My father is also great. My parents are pretty much a model of husband and wife assisting each other, but it feels to me church teachings restricted how they were able to do that. And my grandparents, on both sides, who were not church members also modeled that. Maybe they were atypical for their generation. I don’t know. But it means, that for me, the model the church offers feels like a step back for male/female relationships, not a step forwards. My mother’s parents ran a shop together. My father’s parents were quite left-wing (as evidenced by all the left book club books to disposed of after their death). Both sets of grandparents were very liberal in their religious views and acceptance of others. All of them worked both in and out of the home. My parents joined the church as teenagers. My mother had a really interesting job, that would have made a fascinating career, and maybe could have been juggled with a family. She could have gone into computer programming further, and would have enjoyed it. There was even an all women computer programming business, that made all sorts of concessions for it’s employees to allow them to juggle family and programming, I’ve since discovered, at much the same time my mum left work, that would never have crossed her radar because it didn’t even cross her mind she could do both. She was certainly better qualified than my father. But as per the then leaders’ teachings my mum stayed home, and she does say she enjoyed raising us, so there’s that, and she got very adept at feeding a family of 9 for less than £1.00. Also, we were able to rely on the British social system, so despised by many in the US – healthcare, vitamins for children, free milk, free school meals, free music tuition at school. I got a full grant to attend university (tuition and living expenses), both undergraduate and postgraduate. We qualified for that social support, *because* my parents were following the advice of leaders in the way they divided family responsibilities. Meanwhile, my father worked jobs he at best disliked, and at worst loathed all his working life to support the family, though he always had a job thankfully. It was very stressful for him, for her and us. Eventually my mum went back to work part-time out of necessity, but felt some guilt about that for a while. And disliked the jobs she was able to get by then.
    What I have seen and heard in other families, and heard taught in wards and stakes of which I have been a member is pretty unnerving frankly.

    Jeff, when I was a child, mothers did hold their children while they were blessed. Why was that stopped? It wasn’t like they were part of the circle, they sat on a chair holding the baby. But it was stopped. To me it seems it could have started with some overzealous interpretation of the meaning of ‘in the circle’ in a handbook. Whatever, women got kicked out.
    I’ve been in wards where women were not allowed to be the final speaker. One ward, I was assigned the Easter Sunday talk on the resurrection, the one that comes after the atonement. Not possible to switch the order. So when it dawned on them I was going to be the last speaker, there was some kerfuffle, and they got a missionary to bear testimony last, because there was no way they were going to have me speak last! I gave an excellent talk btw., overhearing afterwards the bishopric member who’d made the assignment saying to the others he felt his choice had been vindicated. That ward & stake were also very particular about getting a husband’s permission before extending callings to women. Personally I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it should work both ways, and I certainly took advantage of it in having my husband insist upon my release from callings following the birth of my children. I also appreciated the lovely member of the stake presidency who cared enough to warn me in advance when my husband was about to be called as ward clerk, and asked was I okay with that, as we were walking in to the chapel, but that’s the only such time that happened. There are a few really lovely male leaders, but not enough of them that the whole benevolence premise isn’t a risky proposition. I certainly had my clashes with the others.
    My current bishop once mentioned that back when he was on the HC he had been required to correct wards who allowed women to say the closing prayer, as that had been forbidden for a time in our area. Why?
    In our ward we still hold regular PEC meetings in addition a to ward council, and the RS president is not invited to PEC.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  22. Nate on May 14, 2014 at 2:21 AM

    Naismith, sorry if my comment seemed dismissive of all the work SAHMs do. I’ve experienced first hand everything you say from my mother, who had 11 kids and miraculously taught us all to play the piano.

    Just to clarify my point, I think modern family life is highly oriented towards child worship, wherein children consume much more time and resources than they did in past centuries, where they were essentially “under foot” free range, or domestic and farm labor, unless they happened to be of the upper class. But today’s SAHM must nescessarily take on the unique profession of governess to privileged and over-scheduled children, for all children today are privileged compared to past centuries.

    But unlike former children of privilege, there is no budget in today’s family for a governess, a cook, a house manager, nor a maid, so the SAHM must do all.

    The disconnect here is that today’s children are given the riches and bounty of educational advantages, and expectations to go out and conquer the world, yet they do not see their mother as a cultivated lady of leisure, developing all the “accomplishments” that are encouraged in her children, but instead see their mother as their long suffering maid, cook, and governess. Maids, cooks and governesses are noble professions, but they are only three of hundreds of noble professions to which the modern child is told they can aspire to. What message does this send the child? A little girl of privilege of former centuries can expect to be a lady of leisure who excels in various “accomplishments.” But today’s privileged LDS little girl can be expected to be a maid and a governess, even though she is trained to conqour the world, same as the man.

    It was no big deal for a woman of former centuries to choose to be a maid or governess, because opportunities for women were severely limited. But today, a woman may choose from hundreds of professions, tailored to her unique God-given gifts, as children are encouraged to explore. Therefore, an LDS woman who chooses to be a SAHM makes a great sacrifice by renouncing her freedom and opportunities, in favor of being a governess to her future children of privilege.

    All of this is merely an accident of modern culture, wherein the advantages of privilege have been extended to all families, but not the budget to do so. A modern woman cheats by limiting the number of children, going off to work and using the extra money to pay for child care for her privileged child. But the church sees this as negatively separating the mother from the home, whereas in the past the child could have been underfoot of the farm laboring mother, or another floor away from the beautiful lady of leisure to which she aspires.

    Sorry, that comment sort of meanders.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  23. Winifred on May 14, 2014 at 8:19 AM

    Howard, what reaction are you fishing for?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  24. Howard on May 14, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    Winifred,
    What are you referring to? I’m not aware of fishing for anything, though sometimes I do.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  25. jspector106 on May 14, 2014 at 1:52 PM

    There seems to be this effort to take the worse case anecdotal behaviors and try to paint them as the normal, business as usual. I’ve been in 3 Stakes, and only 4 Wards in my time in the Church, so my own experience is limited. but I’ve been in Stake positions and Ward positions and, frankly, while no every situation has been ideal, I have seen more behavior toward the kind that is now being taught than the older behaviors that some seem to cling to.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  26. Yvonne S on May 14, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    This has been interesting to read. It surprises me that people think that upper middle class status is the norm in our culture. Just thinking about that makes me laugh. Women have always worked. It takes work to live. The middle class ladies of leisure todays teens think they might want to become have never existed.

    The church’s role, besides spreading the gospel and saving souls, is to be a help to families. Families are eternal. Working for boats, nice cars and lots of cruises and adulation is not eternal. The organization of the family is such that one of the two parents needs to at least act like a leader sometimes. Women have no excuse for not preparing to take care of themselves.

    Yup, kids need to learn to clean their own rooms, take their own showers, comb their own hair and do many other things for themselves .One of the things the rich and everyone else needs to learn to do is to work. In my opinion the argument over what patriarchy is or is not is just silly when it is addressed the way it is here..

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  27. Kristine A on May 14, 2014 at 5:25 PM

    Wore pants on mothers day to celebrate my own de-pedistalizing. I’m on the other side of the bridge hoping others will join me :).

    PS I am a stay at home mother who cherishes her motherhood. I’d like to have a women’s celebration day instead of mother’s day – where we have talks about relief society or Eliza R. Snow.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  28. rah on May 14, 2014 at 11:10 PM

    Jeff,

    I think the misunderstanding a bit between you and hawkgirl is one of historical perspective and scope. You think it unfair to paint the worst extremes as normal events. Fair enough. I think it is unfair to pretend that the best of what is happening, finally, right now in 2014 represents most people’s lived experience in the church. In the 1980s women (including Hawkgirl) were barred from praying in sacrament by official policy. Until just the last couple of years women’s role in ward council was marginal at best and in PEC almost non-existent except in the rarest of circumstances. Today, I bet if we magically looked at every PEC meeting in the church happening this week, that there would be NO women at a majority of them. If oyu look at the stake level meetings I bet the percentage is even worse. I bet if we had rosters of the attendants and time in the room at official meetings of the 12 that women would even be in the room for way less than half the time and they would be outnumbered every time. Officially the General Relief Society President actually reports to a 70, not an apostle (there is good reason they stuck the picture of the female General Officers below the 70. Each of them officially reports to one.) Women are not part of disciplinary councils. The list goes on and on and on. And this is, can we remind ourselves 20 and freaking 14! And many of the most signficant changes (changing the missionary age, women praying general conference) have only come in the last few years as pressure has built to change our practices and institutions. I don’t care if the church refuses to tie any particular change to any particular movement, all the movements and the changes have come as Mormon feminists have found their voice and forums after being shut down post the ERA and again in the 1990s. They have not come out of proactive innitiatives. We now have Oaks talking about women wielding priesthood power when it was in the OPs lifetime and yours and mine that the church was excommunicating women for writing about the exact same issue or demonstrating the real abuses of ecclesiastical leaders. So please, lets at least acknowledge that in our very recent history there has been much. much much to reasonably critique. Today, if you look at the average general conference talk that addresses the role of women in the church it reads exactly like a template for the definition of benevolent patriarchy with a bit of egalitarian language thrown in. It simply does. And no matter how we spin it, there is *structural inequality* in the governance of the church.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 12

  29. rah on May 14, 2014 at 11:12 PM

    Yvonne,

    Totally agree and macro economic changes in the US and elsewhere are making the upper-middle class that can support a non-working mother even more rare.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  30. Jeff Spector on May 15, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    rah,

    “I think the misunderstanding a bit between you and hawkgirl is one of historical perspective and scope.’

    I don’t think you have to be concerned here. she and i have had an online acquaintances for several years now and i have nothing but respect for her. She and I know where each others stands so, I don;t perceive it as an issue. We’re just conversing here. She can also speak for herself.

    I fully understand the history, and it is not all that pretty. But this is a new day and times have changed, what is being taught today needs to be put in place by local leadership, no excuses.

    “Today, I bet if we magically looked at every PEC meeting in the church happening this week, that there would be NO women at a majority of them. If you look at the stake level meetings I bet the percentage is even worse.”

    How would you know this? Again, the handbook spells out who should and can attend what meetings and generally, the women are included or can be invited. It seems to me that a right-thinking leader at the STake or Ward level would want this input. I can’t imagine then not. I’ve seen it work too well for it not be be put in place.

    “Officially the General Relief Society President actually reports to a 70, not an apostle…” As do the Priesthood department, YM, YW, SS and all the Stake Presidents, AA70 and other leaders all over the world.

    “They have not come out of proactive initiatives.”

    Firstly, you don’t actually know this and certainly, the feedback coming up the organization has probably helped move the Leaders in that direction. That is a good thing, isn’t it?

    “it was in the OPs lifetime and yours and mine that the church was excommunicating women for writing about the exact same issue or demonstrating the real abuses of ecclesiastical leaders. ”

    Uh, not exactly. What Elder Oaks taught in last conference has been taught for almost the entire history of the Church…..

    “And no matter how we spin it, there is *structural inequality* in the governance of the church.”

    Structural role differences and church organization that has much historical and doctrinal basis does not necessarily equate to inequality when the actual end result is returning to live with Our Father in Heaven and not gaining power and control in this life.

    The fact that some might abuse it, does not make the entire thing wrong….

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  31. hawkgrrrl on May 15, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    “It seems to me that a right-thinking leader at the Stake or Ward level would want this input. I can’t imagine then not. I’ve seen it work too well for it not be be put in place” I agree, but the caveat is “right-thinking.” Again, we’re relying on the better nature of men to be magnanimous toward women whom they may largely misunderstand or underestimate.

    Having said that, to me the biggest problem with benevolent patriarchy is the Uncle Tom issue: women who thrive with less responsibility who like to be “taken care of” and who see themselves as entitled to a worthy, high-earning, spiritual protector just because they show up, taking no thought to their own intelligence, ability, or spirituality; they buy into this idea hook, line and sinker because it’s low effort on their part and yields high rewards.

    There’s a particularly horrible article on lds.org right now written by a woman explaining to other women that to build friendships between women we should talk more about nurturing and speak with confidence about motherhood. That’s got to be the weirdest advice I’ve ever read. It’s like a robot programmed by someone who doesn’t understand human relationships, much less female friendships, spitting out nonsensical phrases into an article. How did such a woman as the author come to be? She’s the byproduct of this culture in which women are valued solely for one thing: the thing they do so men don’t have to do it (to complete the man). That’s so dumb it’s embarrassing.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  32. Jeff Spector on May 16, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    Hawk,

    “Having said that, to me the biggest problem with benevolent patriarchy is the Uncle Tom issue: women who thrive with less responsibility who like to be “taken care of” ”

    That kind of thinking and teaching is equally wrong to the antithesis of it on the male side. Yet, I know that is still being spoon-fed to some young women in spite of the best efforts of some to change it. Particularly by those who are living it now, I suppose….

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  33. Kristine A on May 16, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    oh that article. don’t get me started . . .

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  34. New Iconoclast on May 16, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    to me the biggest problem with benevolent patriarchy is the Uncle Tom issue: women who thrive with less responsibility who like to be “taken care of” and who see themselves as entitled to a worthy, high-earning, spiritual protector just because they show up, taking no thought to their own intelligence, ability, or spirituality

    This statement resonates very strongly with me; I’ve bought into the LDS values of agency and personal responsibility fully. I was a small-L libertarian long before I knew what a Mormon was, and I think that way even more after three decades in the Church. I try to raise my kids to be responsible for themselves, and for their own thoughts and actions. I own up to my own shortcomings, for the most part. I see the world through a lens by which this statement makes sense. I love the idea of my wife and daughters as whole and complete individuals unto themselves in the eyes of God.

    So, to me, the biggest problem is expressed by the potential truth expressed by Jeff Spector’s phrase “Structural role differences and church organization that has much historical and doctrinal basis does not necessarily equate to inequality when the actual end result is returning to live with Our Father in Heaven and not gaining power and control in this life.” Although I agree that this power is abused and frequently misunderstood and not ever well-explained by anyone from prophets on down, possibly because it doesn’t lend itself to the limited and hierarchical vocabularies of human languages, I can’t be sure that the divine pattern doesn’t include women reporting to men and men reporting to God.

    Sometime in the past couple of years, someone wrote a post with a number of points attempting to explain this “benevolent patriarchy” thing (or, as it’s been called, “Chicken Patriarchy“). A very sharp and thoughtful MoFem commenter dismantled each of those points in turn with very convincing logic, until she came to this one – at which point, her response, in essence, was “No. No, this can’t be true, because I don’t want it to be.” There were a few more sentences than that, but I think the first phrase is almost verbatim, and the gist is accurate.

    [Note: I apologize for not quoting those posts directly, with links. I've been looking all morning through posts and links and comments trying to find them again, and I simply can't. OP and rebuttal were within the last 18 months and probably either somewhere on Feminist Mormon Housewives or Zelophehad's Daughters, if that rings a bell with anyone.]

    Anyway, the devil, you should excuse the expression, is in that detail and I think we dance around it too much. Every indication we have, from temple ordinances to GA pronouncements in and out of General Conference to scripture, indicates that this is the reporting relationship. Frankly, you have to stretch pretty hard to come up with any other conclusion at this point that doesn’t resort to wishful thinking.

    That does not preclude women having a direct channel to God, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily second-class citizens, yeah, we’ve all heard those arguments. But it darn sure looks and feels that way to a lot of people, not all of them female, and in many cases those feelings are bolstered by arguably unrighteous actions on the part of men of little understanding. It is a very natural and totally comprehensible desire to see that change, and to desire that a clear statement of gender equality in all respects be made by the prophet of God, possibly followed by a concrete gesture like opening PH ordination to both genders.

    I get that. So the bottom line is:

    What will we do if that doesn’t happen? And, more importantly, if an even stronger statement than those made by Brother Otterson and Elder Oaks recently is issued that makes it clear that the women -> men -> God, male-only priesthood is in eternal fact the divine order and will not change?

    Will we comply? Or do we think it better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n“?

    I am afraid that the longer this issue remains unsettled by clear revelatory direction, the more divisive a stumbling block it could become, and the greater the chance that, depending upon the ultimate answer, more people will decide that the prophet isn’t a prophet, the Church isn’t the Church, and we all lose.

    Sorry for the wordiness.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  35. hawkgrrrl on May 16, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    I could not agree more New Iconoclast. But I feat that the more clearly worded answer is not forthcoming because the Q15 know that women will leave in droves if they say the truth, that women are second class citizens in the structure they envision. Put whatever window dressing on it you like, if women > men > god is the structure, that’s what it means. I stay because there is nowhere else to go and because that isn’t the official stated position; however, I can see that if the statement were made by our existing leaders, it’s likely that’s what it would say. That’s simply unacceptable. Women are not collectively inferior to men as this implies or needing their mediation with God or too good to talk to God directly or any other host of mental gymnastics to make it work. I don’t accept it. Honestly, even if church leaders said it openly, there’s a 50/50 chance I would just assume they are wrong. However, many women would leave.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  36. Jeff Spector on May 17, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    Here’s is my take on the posts above.

    A revelation anything short of ordination of women will never satisfy those who are demanding it. I think even if Pres. Monson gave a talk in General Conference that he spent hours on his knees in humble fasting and prayer in the Holy of Holies and that the Lord instructed him to tell the world that women were not be be ordained, he would not be believed by those same people. OTOH, if the opposite happened and he said the Lord did tell him to ordain women, the other half (and many seeking ordination) would say that he capitulated to pressure. So, it’s a no win situation.

    And yet, you see many things pertaining to women’s roles that have changed in a short time, so, something is indeed happening on that front. But, for those seeking the ultimate, it will never be enough.

    As for second class citizens, frankly, to me it is a bunch of malarkey. We’re not talking different drinking fountains, hotels, restaurants, poor schools, or lack of jobs because of your skin color, last name or where you came from. These are real issues people have faced. To me, it takes on a flavor of spoiled brats and a sense of entitlement to equate it to that. And especially, when one relies on the experiences of others and not our own to try to prove the “inferior” status. I’ll state again, if the only real difference in the Church between men and women is the upper leadership roles, then it is about power and control and not about our own eternal progression, what service we can render to others and finally, how Christ-like we become.

    Otherwise, I guess many of the men and children in the Church are equally second class.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  37. hawkgrrrl on May 17, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    Jeff: to me the issue is the temple theology, full stop. That’s what I mean when I say second class status. I completely disagree with both your extreme examples above. If Pres. Monson stated that he had spent hours on his knees and that it was the answer – yes, some would not be mollified, but many would if he were honest and earnest and if people can feel the spirit when he says it. Given his ailing health, both physical and mental, I don’t think this is going to happen anyway. On the other hand, if he said God revealed women should be ordained, most would follow the prophet. A few conservative naysayers would say he kowtowed to pressure, but most would fall in line.

    But what about a middle ground solution? There aren’t just two options. What about making this intermediate truly a step towards incorporating women equally? What if we began talking much more about female authority and institutionalizing the roles of women to be more fully involved, structurally and mandatorily, in ALL decision making bodies? What if we made the minor changes that would be necessary to finally erase the polygamous origin of the temple endowment so that women and men are given the same promises and blessings for eternity? The church is both pushing for progress and counter-acting progress. When it comes to women, it has always been this way in the church: progress and counter-progress mixed together. I have to think the author of that is the fifteen different voices in the Q15.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  38. ji on May 17, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    So many “if” statements — “if” this, “if” that…

    It seems mostly a given in these conversations that men in the church mistreat women in the church, and that “progress” means moving towards “equality” and anything else is “counter-progress.” I troubled by these premises — they aren’t true. At least, in my ability to see, they simply aren’t true. I offer this as one Latter-day Saint’s opinion, for the benefit of whoever might be reading this blog later. I appreciate this site’s commenting policy inviting a diversity of opinions.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  39. Jeff Spector on May 19, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Hawk,

    What if we made the minor changes that would be necessary to finally erase the polygamous origin of the temple endowment so that women and men are given the same promises and blessings for eternity?”

    I don’t have a fundamental issue with making this kind of a change. Even though I don’t think the problem is actually with the ceremony itself, but the lack of understanding of the underlying theology that both male and female partners are required for exaltation. I’d rather see it changed to reflect that POV. And there is a downstream effect that also has to be considered in other parts of the Temple.

    “What if we began talking much more about female authority and institutionalizing the roles of women to be more fully involved, structurally and mandatorily, in ALL decision making bodies?”

    I see this point a lot among the more vocal feminists, but ignoring the progress that has been made because it simply is not enough.some. I don’t know what more could be done outside of letting every group in the Church run open loop and autonomous without any accountability to anyone.

    Can you give me an example of recent “counter-productive progress?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  40. New Iconoclast on May 19, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    Ji, good comment. Sometimes we do bend over backwards to acknowledge that dinosaurs still walk among us, while failing to recognize the great progress we as a people (and as a society) have made. Yet, as Hawkgrrrl says in #37, for her, the issue is the temple theology, full stop.

    If that “reporting relationship” (w > m > G) were more openly stated, instead of subtly implied in the endowment and in many of our assumptions, for many it would come down to whether or not they either believed that was really revelatory, or if so, whether they were willing to live with it.

    I recognize that it’s probably easier for me to appear to make an implied judgment about it being “better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n” since I’m male; but it’s not really easy. The brass tacks bottom-line possibilities should scare us all a little, regardless of gender.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting

Archives

%d bloggers like this: