I don’t know whether it’s true or not, that most Mormon women are perfectly content with the current situation (I have no empirical data on the matter), but I’m willing to accept for the sake of argument that it is. Perhaps feminist malcontents are few and far between; the vast majority of Mormon women have never given a passing thought to issues of gender, and could not be more satisfied with what the Church teaches.
If it’s true, then there’s really no point in engaging in tedious, embittered discussion of feminist concerns, right? Whatever the Church is doing, it’s producing a whole lot of satisfied customers, the proof manifest in the pudding, so to speak. Sure, some outliers might have their panties in a twist, but, however the Church behaves, there will always be people who find something to complain about.
I’m still convinced that examination of those policies is worthwhile. First, if the Church has indeed made so many women so happy (especially since policies and teachings have changed significantly over time), it would seem constructive to investigate what exactly is producing so much happiness. (I’d love to see a diachronic study, though I realize such an endeavor would be hindered by lack of survey research targeting 19th century Mormon women).
Several possibilities present themselves. One is that the Church’s current teachings on gender, muddled and often vague as they are, are bound, when adhered to, to result in happiness for truly righteous souls (although righteousness per se might be difficult to investigate).
Another possibility is that women’s happiness results not so much directly from Church teachings about gender so much as from the satisfaction of being obedient to and supporting Church leaders who represent God, regardless of what they say. If this is indeed the case, hypothetically, happy women would continue to be happy if Church teachings about gender changed dramatically. Although I’m obviously in no position to manipulate the variables, the possibility presents itself that the Church might maximize the happiness of its members with a different set of policies.
But happiness is a complex issue, and is not an easy or straightforward index of virtue. Maybe wickedness never was happiness, but it can masquerade as such in surprising ways, and our mortal brains are prone to confuse pleasure for joy. Obviously the Church’s goal should not be to go about maximizing happiness in a purely utilitarian manner, but to teach what is good, not what gratifies the natural woman’s lusts.
But if happiness is a complex matter for feminists, one that potentially requires recalibration, it is equally complex for everyone else. This in itself is an argument against getting much leverage out of the assertion that since most women are happy, there’s therefore no reason to examine feminist complaints. It may be the case that most non-Mormons are happy, for example; one might conclude from this that we should refrain from preaching the gospel to them, tacitly critiquing their current lifestyles which have produced so much contentment and fulfillment. Perhaps most KKK members are happy, or most communists are happy, or most Wal-mart shoppers are happy. This does not grant any of these groups immunity from scrutiny.
But finally and perhaps most importantly, a significant number of unhappy people have left. Those who stay represent a disproportionate sample of those who find peace with the institution. Mormon women are, after all, a self-selected group of people whose beliefs are at least somewhat compatible with Church teachings.
To say that most Mormon women are happy is not at all the same as saying the Mormon Church makes most women happy.
- 10 November 2006