Zelophehad’s Daughters

Most Women Are Happy

Posted by Kiskilili

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.

79 Responses to “Most Women Are Happy”

  1. 1.

    Some maintain that to say that the Church is true is to assert that, a la Leibniz, it is the best of all possible churches. This is a proposition that is accepted on faith and need not be demonstrated empirically or rationally; quite the contrary–to examine the institution verges on sacrilege. We apply a different set of tools entirely to examine false religion than to examine true religion. Hypotheticals are pointless, since God’s will is manifest in Church policy.

    In contrast, I am convinced that hypotheticals are always interesting, whether God’s will is manifest or not, and that the degree to which God’s will is manifest is never perfectly clear. The Church itself, after all, conducts survey research on such subjects, so examination is hardly taboo.

  2. 2.

    (A complementary study of interest would be of course to investigate what circumstances can be implicated in unhappiness. I suspect a shifting complex of competing claims about gender, the most conservative of which are, for obvious reasons, the most entrenched in official venues for promulgating doctrine, along with broader cultural assumptions about whether women’s autonomy and competence should equal men’s, sometimes creates a disconnect in values that is not always easily negotiated and can result in frustration and discontentment.)

  3. 3.

    I frequently hear this assertion as well, and I’m curious as to what people are basing it on. My guess is that it usually stems from what people hear from the LDS women with whom they are personally acquainted. I will readily admit that I rarely attend church and hear women complaining about patriarchy or questioning the restriction of the priesthood to males (and if anyone does, please tell me what ward you’re in! ;) ) In my social encounters with other LDS women, I don’t hear much discussion of feminism. If other people’s experience is at all similar to mine, I can see why it would be easy to reach the conclusion that LDS women in general don’t have concerns about gender in the church.

    However, I think it’s worth remembering that people who do have such concerns are often quite hesitant to share them. I don’t think I’m terribly reticent about my views–anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I have some strong feelings about this one– but I still tend to avoid the subject with people whom I don’t know well, both because it’s emotional issue and because I often simply don’t feel like I have the energy to deal with a possible call to repentance.

    My personal experience is that the subject is a bit like having mental health issues, or gay family members, or other such things that don’t get talked about a lot. You might go for years thinking you’re the only one, and then one day someone admits in Relief Society that this is an issue for her, and sometimes that opens the floodgates.

    Like you, I also wonder whether many if not most of those women who do have serious feminist concerns end up leaving the Church, or at least don’t stay active.

    However, despite all this speculation, I’m quite willing to concede that I’m probably in the minority on this one. But I like the points you make about whether that in and of itself is enough of a reason to dismiss feminist concerns out of hand.

  4. 4.

    Before the Civil War (and after), many people thought slaves were perfectly happy.

  5. 5.

    Oops. I forgot to insert my smiley face in the above comment. :)

  6. 6.

    ECS, thanks! :-)

  7. 7.

    Great point, ECS! That illustrates one problem in this approach perfectly. :)

    I agree, Lynnette, that not only do unhappy people frequently leave (or are never attracted to the Church to begin with), but–an even further filter on our perceptions of women and happiness–there’s social pressure in Church culture only to speak positively, particularly in official meetings. Church is where we discuss what makes us happy about the Church. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. But it’s worth being aware that few malcontents are really audacious enough to seize the pulpit and bear testimony of what they see as the Church’s problems. (Even I wouldn’t consider that appropriate.)

  8. 8.

    Okay, I know that the comparison is offensive, but you really should read this article about the N.A.A.C.P. suing a college in North Carolina for teaching a course on slavery and emphasizing that slaves were “happy in captivity”.

    Course organizers say their intent is to teach while restoring pride to their Confederate ancestors.

    “Everybody can celebrate their culture but we can’t,” said Jack Perdue, a course instructor.

    Among the course’s statements is that the Civil War was not fought over slavery but over the right of Southerners to self-determination.

    The instructors say that slavery was wrong, but conclude from a 1930′s series of interviews with ex-slaves that 70 percent of slaves were satisfied with their lives in captivity.

    “These people loved the South,” said Herman White, who is the main lecturer on the role of black people in the war and the pastor of the Archdale Church of God.

  9. 9.

    Oh, I don’t find it an offensive comparison, but–you know me! ;)

    It’s a fascinating case. Above I stated that it might be true that most communists are happy, with similar possibilities in mind–if we hear that most people were happy under Stalin’s regime, for example (and obviously not all communist regimes have been as brutal as Stalin’s), it’s fair to ask who collected the data, how, and, finally, <em>why</em> people identified themselves as happy. What specifically about the situation made them happy? Or what made them claim they were happy?

    But even if slaves were thrilled with their lot (the Underground Railroad might suggest otherwise, to say nothing of John Brown’s uprising, etc.), would that justify slavery? I don’t think we rest the case if we encounter this piece of evidence–I think that’s when we start asking even more difficult questions.

    (Note: I’m not saying women in the Church are slaves or victims of totalitarian governments. I’m only appealing to extreme examples to illustrate some of the problems in using perceived widespread happiness as a gavel adjourning all discussion.)

  10. 10.

    Perhaps the slaves (and the comrades in the totalitarian regimes) were happy because they just accepted their position and lot in life.

    I mean, how would the consciousness of a slave born in Mississippi in the 1820s be raised to comprehend that slavery as an institution was _wrong_? Slaves weren’t educated or allowed to read. Fugitive slaves were severely punished.

    Taking this extremely offensive analogy and applying it to women in the LDS Church, women who publicly disagree with the patriarchal structure of the LDS Church are shunned socially and excommunicated. Similary, many women in the LDS Church are happy because the Church supports their role as wives and mothers. It varies, of course, but if you are happy being a stay-at-home mother, then I think it’s more likely that you will be happy in the Church (insert appropriate statistical angst over correlation and causation here). The Church provides plenty of affirmation for women fulfilling traditional gender roles, and values the sacrifices women make for their families significantly more than does the society at large.

  11. 11.

    I am a happy LDS woman. The women I know well enough to discuss gender issues with (in person) seem to be also be content with gender issues in church policy.
    The women I know who are quite content with gender in the gospel and gender roles tend to be mothers, with happy marriages, stay at home moms, educated, intelligent, and have strong testimonies.
    We also tend to see that sexism does exist in individuals and cultures (in some other cultures it is far more prevalent than US culture).
    Since we do not feel threatened by different gender roles (like what is defined in The Proclamation) we don’t agree with the idea that men and women are the same. We tend to subscribe to the different but equal theory.
    Since discovering the bloggernacle, I have paid a little more attention in discussions, at church or in more casual settings, to see if gender in the church is a topic of concern to those around me of my more casual acquaintance. I really haven’t discovered anyone with a lot of angst over it. I find it interesting to discuss, and as SAHMs the topic of motherhood is discussed a lot amoung my friends, but I definitely see a difference between the range of views on the internet and the range I am able to find through in person contact.

  12. 12.

    That’s fascinating, ECS!

    A debate kind of related to this issue which I find intriguing is that between multiculturalists and feminists. I can understand why Muslim women, for example, aren’t necessarily thrilled to have Western feminists informing them how oppressed they are. At the same time, I’m not terribly enamored of the more sexist aspects of Islam as it’s often practiced. Similarly, while I’m not overly fond of LDS patriarchy, it actually bugs me to read about those “poor Mormon women” as sometimes portrayed in anti-Mormon literature. It’s a challenging question: who gets to make such judgments?

    few malcontents are really audacious enough to seize the pulpit and bear testimony of what they see as the Church’s problems. (Even I wouldn’t consider that appropriate.)

    lol–if even the ever-so-audacious Kiskilili wouldn’t pull this stunt, I’m guessing that very few would. ;)

  13. 13.

    Hmmm. Good question about judgments, Lynnette. Well, I’m not sure who the Muslim equivalent would be, but I do know that Mormon women would probably not appreciate any self-appointed Harriet Tubmans proclaiming that if LDS women paid attention to what was _really_ going on at Church, they would realize that they should, in fact, be miserable.

  14. 14.

    JKS, I agree that there seems to be a wider range of views on the bloggernacle about this (and about a number of issues, in fact) than you’re likely to find in any one particular location–or at least, any location I’ve lived in. I’ve probably encountered more self-identified LDS feminists in my one year on the bloggernacle than in all the other years of my life combined.

    That said, my experience with in-person relationships has been somewhat different from yours. I’ve actually run into a number of LDS women with feminist leanings over the years in all the various places I’ve lived (including Utah). Of course, my experience may well be atypical (and in talking to various people about this, I’ve often suspected that it is.) Still, I do think the official line of “our women are happy” is a bit misleading.

    (By the way, I wouldn’t equate feminism with wanting women and men to be the same, but that’s probably a topic for another post.)

  15. 15.

    I think you have to distiguish between the rather broad ‘happy’ and satisfied, content etc. I think human beings in general are pretty good and being happy despite circumstance. I may hate living where I do, for example, but, Im still happy. Why should I let where I live make me unhappy? But, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be somewhere else if I had the chance.

    I think for ALOT of women, they see the church structure as something out of their control. And so they don’t allow it to make them miserable – see they have a testimony of the gospel, so they don’t want to leave the church, so they allow themselves to be happy despite it all. This also comes from a strong testimony that the churches ways = Gods will, which I think for some of us, is what we struggle to believe all the time.

    But, the whole discussion does make me think somewhat of Brave New World, where most of the population was perfectly happy with their conditioning, but there were those few who weren’t not satisfied, and thus shipped to Iceland. Maybe we should create an island (er, ward) for us malcontents? :)

  16. 16.

    I would challenge the notion that happy women are those who have “never given a passing thought to issues of gender.” There are plenty of LDS women who have seriously evaluated social and gender norms and survived with their happiness unscathed. What they conclude from those considerations may vary by person, but I think it is too dismissive to say that only LDS women who have not thought about gender issues can be happy.

  17. 17.

    I agree with Veritas- most members see gender relations in the church as something beyond their control and representative of God’s will for them. If it makes them uncomfortable most women will try to just put it out of their mind (who here hasn’t tried that?).
    Along those lines, among those that are bothered by it on some level many will have the luxury of being able to forget about it because they have good local leaders, husbands and friends. Those that don’t have the luxury of forgetting it- those who have been (or been close to others who were) abused, hurt, or neglected- are often discounted (even in their own minds) as victims of bad people or circumstances rather than accepted as proof of what imbalanced structures and rhetoric is cabable of.

  18. 18.

    Peter, if I might venture to interpret Kiskilili, I don’t think she was trying to suggest that only women who don’t think about gender roles can be happy with theirs. I think underlying her hypothetical that most LDS women have never thought about gender and are content with their roles is an implicit causal connection: we tend to think about what bothers us, as well as what excites and engages us. Issues that do none of the above will not receive a great deal of thought. (For example, I myself have never given any thought to the church’s termination of the office of church patriarch or instigation of the block schedule because neither bothers me. Frankly, I just don’t care one way or the other.) As I understand Kiskilili, she’s not at all implying that only intellectually lightweight women who’ve never bothered to think about the issue could possibly be content with the status quo.

    Clearly there are very intelligent, thoughtful, accomplished women who have no quarrel with the church’s teachings on gender–Sheri Dew, Susan Easton Black, and many BYU faculty. I don’t think anyone here would suggest otherwise.

  19. 19.

    I’ve read sources that cite statistics about depression in Utah to point to the idea that Mormon women actually aren’t happy.
    I suspect that more women than most of us realize have concerns about gender relations in the church. However, like others have pointed out, they are not likely to stand at the pulpit and declare the end of patriarchy.

  20. 20.

    Lynnette,

    “That said, my experience with in-person relationships has been somewhat different from yours. I’ve actually run into a number of LDS women with feminist leanings over the years in all the various places I’ve lived (including Utah).”
    I encounter women with feminist leanings (including myself!) too. I just seem to encounter ones who fit their feminism into the church since they are content with the church.

    “(By the way, I wouldn’t equate feminism with wanting women and men to be the same, but that’s probably a topic for another post.) “
    A couple months ago there was a great post, or link to an article, on the bloggernacle that defined various types of feminism. One of them described me, but I don’t recall what it was. Anyone else remember this article?

  21. 21.

    As is typical, by the time I get to a topic someone else has already said what I would say, and 100 times better. I like what Veritas said about feeling like the status quo is beyond our control; I also have a deep-down feeling that things can and maybe even will change eventually. I just *know* that even though the structure as it stands excludes and even sometimes demeans the feminine, that it’s not *really* how it is with God. So I wait. In the meantime, I might as well be happy (thanks, Lexapro).

  22. 22.

    I encounter women with feminist leanings (including myself!) too. I just seem to encounter ones who fit their feminism into the church since they are content with the church.

    Yes, I see what you’re saying. I probably didn’t word my earlier comment very well, since clearly there are women with feminist leanings who are nonetheless non-angsty when it comes to the Church. However, for some reason, I seem to keep running into malcontents, which has doubtless wildly skewed my perceptions of things. ;)

  23. 23.

    http://roxcy.synthian.org/2006/11/09/women-and-sisters/

    This talk by Pres. Hinkley in 1985 being discussed at Prayer of Faith is quite applicable to our discussion here, I think. I think if Pres. Hinkley were to comment on this thread, he would probably say the exact same things he did then.

  24. 24.

    I appreciate some of the things President Hinckley mentioned in that talk; there are some good reminders there. But going back to ECS’s “extremely offensive analogy,” I do have to ask whether that kind of approach isn’t a little bit similar to telling slaves not to worry about what they didn’t have, and to instead focus on the opportunities which were available to them. (And like Kiskilili, I’m not trying to suggest that I think LDS women are slaves–just making a point. Maybe a better example would be women fighting for the vote, and their opponents arguing that they shouldn’t worry about it because of all the freedoms and opportunities they did have.) I agree that it’s important to look at what’s positive, at the opportunities that LDS women do have. However, at least as I see it, that doesn’t preclude the need to also acknowledge the existence of problems.

  25. 25.

    Although I lack an important qualification (gender) to comment on this topic, this is the bloggernacle so I will anyway. My outsider (gender-wise) observation is that for most women in the Church, as for most people in general, “all politics is local.” If a woman feels personally empowered and respected in her immediate Church environment, she is likely to be content with that environment even if it is structurally problematic on a theoretical feminist perspective. With our universal lay participation (including potentially quite powerful local leadership roles for women) on the immediate congregational level and strong emphasis on male fidelity and family involvement, my impression is that very many women find the actual lived life in the Church in their immediate environment to be quite positive. Discontent with structural gender arrangements will arise only if those arrangements result in personal oppression — or, of course, if one thinks deeply about the issues in a broader perspective, as is undoubtedly the case with the author of the present post :).

  26. 26.

    A few thoughts:

    My experience has been more like JKS’s. It would be interesting to also do a study to figure out if we tend to see the patterns that mirror our own personal beliefs and perspectives, dontcha think? :)

    I’ve read sources that cite statistics about depression in Utah to point to the idea that Mormon women actually aren’t happy.

    Those statistics have been discussed and studied (and questioned because they don’t isolate other depression management “management” techniques outside of the Church such as alcohol, drugs and illicit sex). Regardless, though, I think it’s a huge and misleading leap to assume that there is a link between depression and gender issues. Besides, there are plenty of feminists who struggle with depression, too, right? (Depression is no respecter of persons, unfortunately; it’s certainly not bound to one segment of society or of the Church – ugh. That just seems to be one of our latter day trials, IMO.)

    However, at least as I see it, that doesn’t preclude the need to also acknowledge the existence of problems.

    But isn’t that what Pres. Hinckley was doing? He <i>did</i> acknowledge the problems. Pres. Packer has done so as well. I realize that going right to “focus on opportunities” and “this is the way the Lord has designed things” doesn’t always work for feminists, but I’m compelled by the fact that our leaders ARE aware of the fact that these are issues for women. And I also think there is something to the fact that women who are OK with things believe that it’s not the whims and wishes of our leaders that determine what gender roles, etc. are. That is one of the things I hear our leaders repeating. I sympathize with the fact that not all women are convinced of those things, but I do think a belief in that makes it easier to be “happy” with gender roles, priesthood, etc.

    Unrelated thought: I would be interested to see a study done to see if there is a connection between women who are dissatisfied and 1) whether they have experienced abuse of some sort (emotional, sexual, or power-struggle-al) [If women have had good leaders and men in their family who truly "get" priesthood and womanhood and all of that, then I think it's often more likely there will be a chance for satisfaction. Does that seem fair to say, or do you think I'm jumping to conclusions?]
    and 2) whether they were raised and/or taught in an environment where feminism was a lens through which to look at life. My observation has been that often at least one of these factors can come into play for women who are dissatisfied with gender roles and such in the Church. I’m sure there are other factors that come into play, but these are two I have observed.

  27. 27.

    One last thought: I think we might be surprised if we really compared 19th century women’s life with our lives now. There are some things that have changed in the Church (not a lot in the big scheme, I think, but some would probably beg to differ). But if we were to go back to those days, we would encounter a looooot less opportunity for women and a lot less equality in a lot of ways. I would not really prefer to live in a day when I had to wear petticoats and bloomers and long-sleeved dresses every day. (I love a comfy pair of pants. I love being able to even wear pants to bed!) I’m glad I can vote and get involved in politics if I want to. I am grateful I live in day when I can get an education in any field I want, and where I have options for branching out and doing things in addition to my roles as wife and mother. I am sooo glad that society encourages dads to change diapers and do dishes and all of that, and that the Church is always teaching about the fact that dads need to be involved at home. I’m glad we have modern conveniences that mean there are things besides the “keeping a home” things that I can do (women did very little else but cook and clean back then). I’m also unspeakably grateful that my hubby won’t be suddenly called away for three years with no way to communicate except through an occasional slow-boat letter, leaving me the burden of everything at home. Instead, we live in a time where the focus is now build the kingdom in your family, not abroad. Whew. I am grateful this is my day, quite frankly. :) I am a firm believer in traditional gender roles, but our Church leaders would be the first to rejoice in the opportunities that are ours that our early-Saint sisters did not have.

    So, I wonder: if we look at the big picture, which life really is more feminist-friendly? :) I tend to think our life is (by a long shot, actually).

    And I know that all of these opportunities can make feminists that much more anxious to have roles be more explicitly equalized in the Church and family. But for me, that is where belief and also experience have convinced me that the whole gender roles thing is divine, when properly lived (and that is a huge key).

    (Is it possible that there may have been some differences in the Church early on to compensate for what society was not yet granting to women? Again, I don’t see the differences as being huge, but we can’t necessarily pick and choose — what was happening in the Church may very well have been specific to that time, based on where things were then. Perhaps if we were to get that all back, we would have to take all the other more restrictive stuff with it. Just musing here….)

    (ugh. that was long…sorry)

  28. 28.

    As I see it, happiness and a certain level of contentedness do not translate into 1) no thoughts about gender issues or 2) total acceptance of the status quo (e.g., a patriarchal system). I think many people fit into the realms described by idahospud (#21)– they see the current system as the lesser laws of mortality and believe that change will come in time. Those with this perspective are content because they are both patient and optimistic. Thus, for many LDS women happiness may not stem from acceptance of “the current situation” (original post) so much as stemming from 1) a hope for what the situation will become, and 2) embracing the good things the gospel currently offers.

    Several responses suggest that feelings of spiritual discontent are the result of abusive or priming/conditioning circumstances (i.e. raised in a feminist household) and wonder what studies along these lines might show. I’m not in and of myself “a study,” but I can offer my anecdotal experience. I was raised in a traditional LDS family with no feminist underpinnings, and there was no physical or sexual abuse. In addition, I have had kind, considerate, and open-minded church leaders in almost every ward/branch I’ve been a part of. Despite the lack of feminist philosophy and the absence of domestic violence in my childhood home and despite the goodness of local church leadership, I have never been comfortable with the teachings that support the ideas of either hierarchy or patriarchy.

    Because church members, and thus church structure, are imperfect, I don’t see that disagreement or dissatisfaction with any church teaching is necessarily due to rebellion, faithlessness, or apostasy. Nor do I see that it is necessarily the result of being hurt in some way. I think in many instances it’s simply the inner workings of the Spirit guiding us towards a more perfect system. Thus, I agree with the idea in the original post that there is great value in examining certain church policies provided that discussions are kept in a constructive, friendly, and non-defensive vein. I think when we (members of the church) learn to discuss divergent perspectives with some semblance of calm and decorum, the restoration of the gospel will move along much faster.

  29. 29.

    As I was running on the treadmill this morning, I was thinking of how something about this post reminded me of the Grand Inquisitor speech in The Brothers Karamazov.

    The literature experts reading this should feel free to correct my understanding of this, but the Grand Inquisitor accuses Jesus Christ of expecting too much from humans after granting them their freedom. According to the Inquisitor, most humans don’t want or can’t handle freedom. Humans much prefer being told what to do with their lives, preferably by a benevolent, or at least benign, dictator (i.e., the Catholic Church). In fact, requiring humans to exercise their free will to make positive choices dooms humans to lives of suffering and inevitable failure.

    If the Inquisitor is right about human nature, then it’s not surprising that people living under totalitarian regimes that fulfill the basic human needs of “bread and circuses” claim they are happy.

  30. 30.

    But isn’t that what Pres. Hinckley was doing? He did acknowledge the problems.

    m&m, that’s a good point, that he does acknowledge that this is an issue for some people–I think I was so bothered by the follow-up “there’s no point in thinking much about this” that I overlooked that. I do think Church leaders are at least aware of these concerns (though I have to admit that I’m not convinced that they understand them very well), and I maybe don’t always give them enough credit for that.

    I’m still trying to think this out. It seems like that talk (and many others) are conveying something along the lines of, you have c, d, e, f, g, h, and i– so is it really a big deal if you don’t have a and b as well? And from that angle, I can see why it might seem kind of pointless (and even unnecessarily misery-inducing!) to spend a lot of time focusing on a and b. I’m guessing (?) that for many women who aren’t troubled by the situation that it’s a matter of, sure we don’t get to do these particular things, but we get to do many other things that are just as good.

    For me, however, it’s not so much about those specific opportunities that I don’t have as a woman in an LDS context– it’s about something more fundamental, a sense that women aren’t quite full human beings in Church doctrine and practice. I think that’s why the, “but look at all that you do have” approach doesn’t really do much for me.

    I’ve also been thinking about the comments that Veritas and Idahospud and others have made. I’m guessing that most people who have these concerns but nonetheless stay find a way to make some kind of peace with the situation, perhaps by interpreting those things as aspects of a fallen world. If it’s true that most women are happy, I wonder how much of it is along the lines of “I’m happy because I really believe in Church teachings on gender, because following them has made my life better, etc.” (and I know that that really is the case for some), and how much is a kind of “I’m happy because I’ve figured out a way to live with the stuff I don’t like, because my Church membership is still a positive thing in my life.” Which I guess is one of the questions Kiskilili was originally asking.

  31. 31.

    I’m not in and of myself “a study,” but I can offer my anecdotal experience.

    Thanks for sharing. I suspected my observations were far from representative of different people’s experience.

    I think in many instances it’s simply the inner workings of the Spirit guiding us towards a more perfect system.

    I think we need to be careful with thoughts like this. Just as feminists don’t like to have people insinuate that they are not “righteous” enough and that is why they are not “happy” with the way things are, this statement could insinuate that those who don’t long for something different are somehow not “enlightened” enough. I think we don’t really know what things will look like in a perfect system; that said, I do believe that hope for a perfect everything can get us through a lot of things that cause us grief here (I’m thinking for example of my health issues and how the knowledge of a resurrection helps me a TON). But I also believe that the Spirit is anxious to encourage us to find peace even with the way things are and find the meaning. (Again, using my health example, when I find meaning and purpose even in the trials I face, I am a lot more at peace than when I feel I am simply biding my time until I’m done with this frustrating mortality thing.) ;) I do believe the Spirit can point us to what is to come, but I don’t think He stops there. I think He also is anxious to help us be happy now in spite of the things that don’t feel fair (heaven knows there is plenty in life that isn’t!). This isn’t meant as a condemnation but rather as something I’m trying to figure out in my own life with my own trials, and I wonder if it might apply to the topic at hand.

  32. 32.

    If women have had good leaders and men in their family who truly “get” priesthood and womanhood and all of that, then I think it’s often more likely there will be a chance for satisfaction.

    I’m curious here as to how you’d make a judgment as to whether someone really “gets” priesthood and womanhood. I’m just thinking that it could be argued from the other side that if someone has a lot of experience with those who really “get” what’s going on with the priesthood/womanhood stuff, they’re more likely to end up dissatisfied with it–though I don’t know how fair that would be. I’m hesitant to make any assertions about the connection between how well one understands the doctrine and how content one is, since it seems to me that there are people who understand it quite well on both sides.

    I’m also a bit uneasy with linking feminist concerns to abuse, etc., because I think it can be a way of pathologizing those concerns (not at all that I think that’s what you’re doing here!) Rather bizarrely, I’ve sometimes seen those who’ve been most hurt told that their perspective doesn’t count, because it’s been “distorted” by their negative experience of abuse. That seems as strange to me as telling people who are okay with things that their perspective doesn’t count because it’s been “distorted” by all their positive experiences.

    However, I’d be interested too to know more about how people’s backgrounds might play a role here; I would imagine that whether someone was raised viewing the world through a feminist lens, or through a pro-traditional-gender-role lens, might play some role. (FWIW, though, I wouldn’t say at all that my parents raised their children to have a feminist worldview; though this may have changed some over the years, they were both pretty strongly in the traditional gender role camp when I was growing up.)

  33. 33.

    Lynnette,
    You raise interesting points. This is one reason why I enjoy blogging…because I like to see how other people view things. And it’s helpful to see how my point of view is perceived. Thank you. (You are right…I didn’t mean to try to pathologize the concerns some women have. I do think it’s possible, though, that some women have had negative experiences with domineering priesthood holders, for example, which might very well affect their feelings about priesthood.)

    I’m just thinking that it could be argued from the other side that if someone has a lot of experience with those who really “get” what’s going on with the priesthood/womanhood stuff, they’re more likely to end up dissatisfied with it–though I don’t know how fair that would be.

    Ah, I may not have made my point clear. I was focusing less on doctrine and more on practice, but I realize now that your point of view is addressing a different aspect of “getting it.” What I meant is having experiences with leaders and other priesthood holders who involve and respect and value and serve and include and embrace the women in their units and in their lives. They are bound by the doctrine, so they can’t give the priesthood, but in every other way, they work in unity with the women around them. But I realize that even that may not assuage frustration of one who doesn’t like the structure/arrangement to begin with.

    As to the feminist lens, I think that can be acquired through schooling or association or other “exposure” as well, right? I realize that some women feel they were sort of just “born” with such a lens, but I also have seen it more as a result of experience and exposure along the way, however that may happen.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts in response.

  34. 34.

    I was really hoping someone would know where I read that post/article about the different kinds of feminism. I should have copied it and saved it. Sigh.

    Lynnette
    You were wondering:
    “I’m happy because I really believe in Church teachings on gender, because following them has made my life better, etc.” (and I know that that really is the case for some), and how much is a kind of “I’m happy because I’ve figured out a way to live with the stuff I don’t like, because my Church membership is still a positive thing in my life.”
    I am going on record that I am the former kind of happy. Church teachings have never made me feel like God values me less than he does men. There aren’t things that I don’t like that I have to learn to “live with” that have anything to do with gender. I am not perfect, but the things I find difficult or annoying don’t have anything to do with gender.

  35. 35.

    Thanks for all of the thoughtful and constructive comments. There’s so much to respond to that I’m not sure where to begin.

    Veritas, Tam, Idahospud etc. bring up an important point: those who have made peace with the institution are not necessarily “happy” because of everything it teaches, but sometimes in spite of it. Happiness might be born from a conviction that the Church is not perfect or that the Church will eventually change. (Equally, it might be born from a conviction that the Church exactly represents God’s current plan for mortals.) Regardless, one reason not to stop the discussion with the assertion that most women are happy is that happiness is not a single, homogeneous consistent state of mind, which is why it would be interesting to understand better why happy women are happy.

    I also like what Starfoxy (#17) and Lynnette (#32) say, respectively:

    Those that don’t have the luxury of forgetting it- those who have been (or been close to others who were) abused, hurt, or neglected- are often discounted (even in their own minds) as victims of bad people or circumstances rather than accepted as proof of what imbalanced structures and rhetoric is cabable of.

    Rather bizarrely, I’ve sometimes seen those who’ve been most hurt told that their perspective doesn’t count, because it’s been “distorted” by their negative experience of abuse. That seems as strange to me as telling people who are okay with things that their perspective doesn’t count because it’s been “distorted” by all their positive experiences.

    Oddly, I consider the behavior of individual Church members generally better than the doctrine; I really do believe the Church is more sexist in theory than it is in practice (though the theory is sometimes used to justify some unfortunate behaviors and attitudes). But one problem in assessing the complex relationship between doctrine and individuals’ actions is that the Church makes so many competing claims about gender that a good variety of behaviors can be justified on the basis of various things the Church teaches.

    Like Lynnette, my perspective is probably skewed by my demographic and location, but I know a fair number of members who question or are bothered by Church teachings on gender (including members who are “happy” and committed to the institution anyway). When I first met Ex II’s Emily CC in divinity school, I remember how carefully we felt each other out to see whether the other would respond negatively to our feminist convictions. And I actually did have a friend bear testimony in sacrament meeting of the Church’s extreme value to her personally, in spite of its unfortunate racist past for which it needed to apologize and its failure to value women appropriately. :)

    Hi, M&M! I agree completely about the 19th century–give me what we have today over what they had any day. I’ve personally never yearned for those “good old days,” although some things have become more restrictive for women in the Church even as others have become less. (It does fascinate me, though, that Emmeline B. Wells was able, with impunity, to publicly debate B.H. Roberts on the issue of women’s suffrage. I can barely imagine a current female leader taking on one of our apostles over a feminist issue in the broader culture!)

    I find President Hinckley’s talk interesting for a number of reasons. I’m heartened that our leaders acknowledge the perception of problems, although I’m not sure they acknowledge problems in what the Church teaches exactly; if this were their position, I imagine their approach would be quite different. I do think there are symbolic reverberations and implications to Church policy that makes the otherwise sound advice to “focus on what you have” sometimes less than an adequate solution.

    M&M raises a very legitimate point in #31 that I’m not sure how to make sense of: how do we know the Church will change the way we’d like it to, and how do we know that if it did, that change would represent God’s will? Once we let the genie out of the bottle that God does not orchestrate everything the Church does (for those who believe this), what standard do we use to evalute Church policies and doctrines? This is part of what troubles me about gender issues in the Church. I sincerely hope that God is better than the Church paints him in his attitude toward women (as I see the situation), but I’m not sure I have a firm enough basis from which to construct an actual belief in this. One oft employed strategy toward gender issues is to dismiss certain practices as “cultural” (it was taken for granted in the 19th century, for example, that women were property, so this attitude was reflected in Church teaching). But my own belief that women are as fully human and accountable as men is equally cultural. For me the chilling specter behind gender issues in the Church is the very present possibility that God genuinely values women less than men.

    The question about whether and when the Spirit leads us to find peace with injustice or to object to injustice is a fascinating one in itself. (I mean this in the abstract–I recognize we’re not in agreement over what represents injustice in the particulars.)

  36. 36.

    For me the chilling specter behind gender issues in the Church is the very present possibility that God genuinely values women less than men.

    I think this is a key issue in this whole discussion. While I understand the logical concerns that may drive this “specter” I think that many women who are OK with priesthood, patriarchy etc. in the Church really, truly believe that God values women as much as He did men. If I could package that assurance up and transmit it through a comment, I would in a heartbeat. It seems to me that with that conviction, none of the external “evidences” of God’s love for and valuation of women would be necessary.

    Not that I don’t do that in other ways in my life, mind you. Again, this isn’t about me getting on my pedestal and shaking my finger at anyone. My specter comes in other ways. I doubt God’s love sometimes when I’m facing broken dreams. Ironic that I don’t doubt His love for women in general relative to that of men, but sometimes I doubt His love for me personally when I’m weighed down by the hard stuff of my life and equate relief to Love. Hm. I still believe the principle is true, though: if I truly trust in God’s love, the need for external signs of what I think are evidences of His love melts away. Too bad theory is easy and practice can be so very, very hard.

  37. 37.

    During the summer that Claudia Bushman conducted a seminar on 20th-century Mormon women’s history at BYU, one of the researchers, Janiece Johnson, conducted an internet survey about Mormon women’s “contentment” (Pres. Hinckley’s word was “content,” not “happy”–at least in the most famous formulation from the SF Chronicle interview). She expected to get maybe 100 responses, and hoped at the outside for 200. Within a week of distributing it to a list of 25 of her friends (all active Mormon women), she received around 1800 responses. There were a lot of really interesting anecdotal highlights, although of course a survey conducted in this way can’t be said to be representative in any scientifically significant way.

    Over 90% of respondents rated their level of contentment at 7 or above on a scale of 1-10. Interestingly, many women who reported having had unpleasant experiences with local leaders still said they were happy overall; even women who described serious questions about gender roles said they were happy, etc. It was very difficult (impossible) to draw conclusions about how or why women are happy in church.

    Maybe the most interesting features of the survey data were the notes people added when forwarding the survey–”conservative” women warned their friends that a bunch of academic feminists were likely to fill out the survey and skew the results, while self-identified feminists added notes about needing to provide balance to a “BYU-funded” survey that was going to paint a one-sided portrait of LDS women (of course, they then said they were content in the church, too, so it’s hard to guess what kind of “balance” they meant :))

    Unfortunately, Janiece ultimately concluded that she couldn’t conclude anything especially enlightening, so her results have never been fully published (although a rough version is available in the seminar proceedings from BYU Studies Press).

  38. 38.

    I remember getting and responding to Janiece’s survey. I don’t remember getting any warning either way about how to respond, but I do remember thinking that it was not particularly useful, since there was no real attempt to get a representative sample. (And frankly wondered what was going on a BYU that it would be sponsoring something so unscientifically done.)

    My own opinion on this is that even if most women in the church are “content”, or “happy”, say 70%, that doesn’t mean that the others have no real concerns that should be listened to. It may be that if you fit a certain demographic, you’re content, but if you don’t– perhaps you’re divorced trying to raise kids– you might find significantly less to be “content” about. (And that’s just an example I made up, not any claim.) Those women’s concerns should still be addressed.

  39. 39.

    “Mormon women are, after all, a self-selected group of people whose beliefs are at least somewhat compatible with Church teachings.”

    This point has significant implications most of which have been ignored in the comments.

    Although we don’t have statistics on attrition rates, very high numbers of women in the U.S. disaffiliate from the Mormon church.

    Rational actor theory sheds some explanatory light on why this is the case. When you begin to talk to women who leave the church it becomes clear that their active participation (whether or not they remain on the books as formal members) exacts more than it’s worth to them. Although it’s often a long and painful process for these women to decide to leave the church, it ultimately comes down to a fairly straightforward cost-benefit analysis. This is especially the case for single and divorced women (who can act more independently) who feel that the church has failed them in significant, even life-altering ways. On the other hand, for women married to active men leaving the church is often unthinkable despite concerns they might have. Leaving would cost more for them than staying because of the potential disruption and conflict to their marriages. When husbands do decide to leave the church, most wives follow.

  40. 40.

    Although we don’t have statistics on attrition rates, very high numbers of women in the U.S. disaffiliate from the Mormon church.

    If we don’t have statistics, then how can you make the assertion you did?

  41. 41.

    JKS,

    I couldn’t say which post you mean on that description alone, but I suspect you’re talking about one of Seraphine’s two recent guest posts at T&S, both of which talked about (and launched comments about) different approaches to feminism and how LDS women fit into different feminist ideas.

    The posts are available here: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3450 and http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3434

  42. 42.

    Ladies, the studies are out there. I suggest you go to your respective university libraries and look them up. You could start with:

    Janiece Johnson, “Patriarchy and Contentment: LDS Women’s Religious Experience, 1970-present,” in Summer Fellows’ Papers, 2003: Latter-day Saint Women in the Twentieth Century, edited by Claudia Bushman (Provo, Utah: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at BYU, 2004)

    Stace Hucks Christianson, “Mormon Women’s Sense of Empowerment,” (MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 1997)

    Marie Cornwall, “Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives,” (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001)

    “Study elevates LDS women: They’re not a sad and depressed lot”
    http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,595053226,00.html

  43. 43.

    M&M,

    Inactivity rates aren’t made public so we don’t have hard numbers to analyze, but church leaders have been concerned about this exodus for some time.

    Michele,

    The articles you list don’t go very far in resolving the question at hand. Kris already mentioned some of the problems with Janiece’s study and each of the others have their own complicating factors.

    A question like this is difficult to answer because studies often focus on women who self-identify as LDS in surveys. Those who are unhappy lapse into inactivity or formally resign, no longer consider themselves Mormon, and are missed in broad surveys (of which we have very few that are reliable and scientific)

    As Kiskilli wrote in her post “to say that most Mormon women are happy is not at all the same as saying the Mormon Church makes most women happy.” Not only can we not claim the latter, we have too little evidence to even claim the former.

    Happiness is a particularly tricky criterion to use for actual well-being when President Hinckley tells members of the church that they should be happy. This prescription may make the “happiness” measure less useful as it will encourage women to report happiness whether or not that’s their subjective state.

  44. 44.

    Thanks for the kind words, M&M. I think one way in which our approaches to issues such as this differ is that I believe there has to be a relationship between external indications of validation and an individual’s internal feelings of validation for another person. For this reason I think two propositions such as God loves women and the Church treats women in x manner ought to be brought into dialogue with each other rather than isolated and compartmentalized.

    An extreme (obviously offensive) example illustrates why this seems necessary to me: using the same logic, one could say that as long as blacks recognize how much God values them, they’ll have no problem accepting enslavement to whites. They won’t seek external indications of God’s love, such as God/church/society’s granting them basic liberties and human dignities. They’ll accept that since God loves them, it makes no difference how God treats them (or how others treat them in God’s name).

    For this reason, if I believe in God’s love, I might use this belief to critique Church practices, or, conversely, if I believe God inspires Church policy, I might use this belief to critique what God’s “love” toward women actually means.

  45. 45.

    Thanks for all the comments and references; I’ll check them out. Like Melissa, I think it would be helpful for such studies to a) cast a broader net and b) take into account the fact that, to at least some degree, happiness is often considered both an obligation and an indication of virtue. I’d also be interested in knowing how different women interpret gendered policies in the Church and how their interpretive strategies relate to their contentment/discontentment with their role, since our current attitude toward gender roles in particular is anything but clear.

  46. 46.

    using the same logic, one could say that as long as blacks recognize how much God values them, they’ll have no problem accepting enslavement to whites.

    I think it could be argued that this could be true — not that they wouldn’t like or agree with such a situation, but that they wouldn’t expect freedom to prove God’s love to them. In fact, the black spirituals that we have say to me that at least some of these people did trust in God’s love despite the injustices in their lives. Are only people who don’t have problems or don’t feel oppressed or somehow unjustly treated loved by God? Of course not. In theory, every person on the planet could know and feel and hold onto God’s love and find peace and hope in the midst of the trials of life, regardless of external situations.

    I think part of the problem with looking for external indicators of God’s love is that we don’t always have the right indicators set in our minds. It’s too easy, too, to equate trials and pain and unjustice and whatever else that is hard with a lack of His love. In short, what we define as evidence of God’s love may not indeed be. I believe the best way to know God’s love (again, speaking to myself here, too) is independent of external evidences, i.e., through the Spirit, internally, spiritually. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get depressed or disillusioned, because life is often hard and unfair. Additionally, our perception of things around us is often not completely and totally the way things really are.

    For this reason I think two propositions such as God loves women and the Church treats women in x manner ought to be brought into dialogue with each other rather than isolated and compartmentalized.

    Hmmmm. I see “God loves women” as something more “testimony” like, not tied explicitly to external indicators or examination, whereas “the Church treats women in x manner” is more a perception/opinion based assessment. Juxtaposing the two in my mind leaves God’s love for women open to too many potential errors in judgment, rather than leaving it a reality to be sought via the Spirit. So I suppose that is where are thinking diverges?

  47. 47.

    m&m, there’s certainly perception involved in whether one thinks the church’s treatment of women is fair/inspired/oppressive/whatever, but there are some pretty obvious and objective benchmarks: the church does not ordain women to Priesthood office, the church allows few women to speak in general conference or other large gatherings, the 12 do not meet regularly with the General RS Presidency, etc. No opinion-based assessment is necessary to adjudicate such organizational behaviors.

  48. 48.

    Kristine,
    I think we are sorta talking past each other.

    No opinion-based assessment is necessary to adjudicate such organizational behaviors.

    But what does that show/prove? If you want to use these benchmarks to write a paper for a feminist class, they could be legitimate, because those benchmarks mean something in such a context. But you simply can’t use such “benchmarks” to determine if God loves His daughters as He loves His sons. It would arbitrary and subjective. For one thing, as you said, whether those benchmarks are positive, negative or neutral is largely based on perception and opinion.

    Also, we simply can’t measure God by earthly benchmarks. If we could, then I would be “sure” that God loved someone without chronic illness more than He loves me (like I said, I’ve let myself get into that trap at times); or someone unmarried or divorced or unhappily married could determine that God loved happily-married people more; or someone poor could determine that she was loved less than someone with money; or someone living in bondage would determine that he was not loved as much as a free man – and so on and so on. I KNOW it’s easy to look at external measures to try to figure out how God works and feels about us, but it generally sets us up for disappointment because God doesn’t necessarily submit to mortal measures of equality, justice and fairness (at least not in the ways we often think about them). The trick, IMO, is not to submit Him to our measures, but to seek to understand His indicators of love, mercy, and justice, manifest through the mercies of His Son and the eternal opportunities available to all of us, not through what our mortal experiences are like.

  49. 49.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading all the comments on this post so far. I know I’m a little late commenting, but Kiskilili said (#45):

    I’d also be interested in knowing how different women interpret gendered policies in the Church and how their interpretive strategies relate to their contentment/discontentment with their role, since our current attitude toward gender roles in particular is anything but clear.

    I’m going to chime in as someone who is generally happy in spite of some misgivings over gender roles in the church. And my misgivings are definitely ones of theory, not of practice. I have no problems with the gender roles (in my life) in practice.

    One of the big gender issues is women having (or not having) the priesthood. This really isn’t an issue for me. I think the reason it isn’t an issue, though, is because I have no doubt that I will someday have the priesthood. How can I believe that I will be a priestess and a goddess and not have the priesthood (the power of god)? To me, there is absolutely no way that makes sense. And as for not having the priesthood now — well, I just don’t care that much. I’m often grateful that I can’t be called as bishop or ward clerk.

    The gender issue that I do have problems with is the disparity of gender roles indicated in the endowment. I still struggle with this some. My general coping mechanism is avoidance. I tend to not think about it too much, and if I do feel like I need to go to the temple I generally try to do sealings (which I love).

    My issues with the endowment are hard for me to deal with sometimes. Before I got my endowments I loved the temple unequivocally. I loved doing baptisms, and I especially loved the feeling I would get when I went to the temple. I would often spend time sitting outside the temple or in the waiting room just thinking and writing in my journal. Since I got my endowments my relationship with the temple is a lot more angst-ridden. I feel guilt about not doing endowment sessions (especially since my husband would like to do them a little more often), but at the same time, I don’t really like to do them.

    I do still love many things about the temple. I think baptisms are great, especially when youth are able to do them. I think it’s a great chance for young people to try to connect with their ancestors, and also a great chance for them to serve. I love doing sealings for many of the same reasons. I also love the reminder that we can be with our families for eternity.

    My feelings on gender roles in the endowment are (besides being angst-ridden) hope and faith that these relationships are not set up the same way in heaven. Some people might criticize this, and say I shouldn’t expect things to change in a certain way, but if I really believed that things were ordered that way in heaven I think I’d leave the church. I have to have faith that this is an earthly principal set up for a specific reason.

    I feel like I’m not without precedent for this faith. Black members had to live for many years with faith and hope that someday they would be able to receive the same blessings as white members. I wouldn’t have told them, “Hey, just accept that you’re going to be second-class citizens for the rest of eternity,” and I don’t feel that women should have to accept this either.

    At the same time, I think besides just being products of the culture the church was established in, these situations were necessary for the church to be established. I think that the church wouldn’t have been able to grow into what it is today if it had tried to fight for equal rights for blacks or women at the same time it was fighting for its own survival. That being said, I think that either inequality is more a detriment than a help at this point, and I have hope and faith that women will be granted equal rights with men in the same way that blacks were granted equal rights with whites.

    Anyway, this response is incredibly long, so I’m going to stop now. It’s just that I’ve only recently tried to come to terms with these things in my own life (rather than just ignoring them), so I have a lot to say :).

  50. 50.

    M&M,
    I don’t think that anyone is arguing that whether or not one has a hard life is somehow linked to how much God loves them. Life is hard, we all know that. But when he specifically sets in place certain laws/perameters limiting female involvement, that says something. I think there is a huge diffence between random injustices (this happens in a fallen world), and women being excluded on God’s command.

  51. 51.

    But when he specifically sets in place certain laws/perameters limiting female involvement, that says something.

    Listen, I really didn’t mean for this to be a big back and forth thing. You have your opinion about what this means. It “says something” to you, but it does not say the same thing to everyone. What you feel cannot be extrapolated to equal absolute reality.

    I really didn’t mean to cause trouble here…I didn’t think what I was saying was that out there….

  52. 52.

    I’ve found this an excellent and thought-provoking discussion. I’m particulary impressed by how civil everyone’s been (I think–at least, if there has been any incivility it’s gone right over my head).

    Thanks, Vada, for your perspective. Much of what you say resonates with me. The gender subordination of the endowment is such a stark contrast to every other aspect of my life, even my life at church, that I can’t help but think it’s simply got to change (even though I also have to acknowledge that sadly, there is nothing inevitable about progress). I go on more or less in that hope.

    It seems to me that underlying the discussion of LDS women’s happiness or unhappiness are assumptions about which phenomenon requires explanation and which phenomenon is the norm. For some gender traditionalists, it’s LDS women’s unhappiness that seems unaccountable, and so abuse and tyrannical local leaders and exposure to feminist ideology are invoked to explain it. For some feminists, by contrast, it’s LDS women’s happines that demands explanation, and so lack of education or thoughtfulness (“brainwashed sheep”) and exposure to traditional ideas about gender are invoked.

    Both accounts likely contain some truth–it seems fairly likely that women are influenced by the feminist or traditionalist ideologies they encounter in their families of origin or communities or education. But neither account is entirely fair. I would bristle with indignation if a non-Mormon took me by the hand and paternalistically attempted to show me just how brainwashed and oppressed I am as a Mormon woman (as is so often the case, you have to be in the club to criticize it!). By the same token, I have to reject the criticism that feminists have just been abused or badly treated by local leaders and so don’t understand how gender roles “really” work. For one thing, abuse and mistreatment are part of reality, too, and these experiences are made possible in part by a generous grant from our religious power imbalances. And for another, plenty of feminists haven’t been badly treated. As Kiskilili points out, we’re in the bizarre position of having a practice that is, in general, more enlightened than our doctrine.

  53. 53.

    This thread is also making me think that we need a more nuanced discussion of what, precisely, it means to be loved by God. In terms of salvific power, God is no respector of persons, we’re repeatedly told. That is powerful and reassuring doctrine. On the other hand, insofar as we accept Church structures and rituals as divinely willed, God does not grant women the divine and communal authority He does men, or–far more troubling–the same degree of interaction, the same respect for agency, the same unmediated mutuality, that God grants men. God seems to hold women at a distance, mediating His interactions with us through our subordination to men.

    In one sense God’s love for men, women, and children may be absolutely equal–but God seems to respect women as moral agents aspiring to or capable of divinity considerably less than He respects men. In the LDS Church women occupy a paradoxical space somewhere between men and children. We are, it seems, capable of only a limited and paradoxical adulthood, our agency circumscribed in both the public (church) and private (family) spheres by a ritual subordination that is, it would seem, eternal.

  54. 54.

    Well, Eve, back to the thread about happiness, what you just wrote makes me feel the absolute opposite of that. Everything in me screams that that just cannot be true. When do you trust what your instincts tell you, and when do you let the doctrine/temple teach you? Why must they be so incompatible? I know some people don’t think they are, but to be completely honest (going back to M&M’s quote “What you feel cannot be extrapolated to equal absolute reality” -a very wise thought, in my book)I think they are incompatible. I think that very few (and wrong) people would argue that women are inferior to men in intellect, reasoning, or spirituality, so why would God? It just doesn’t make sense. The only thing I can think of is that we as mortals interpret His ways completely wrong at times. We MUST be wrong to interpet His ways as demeaning to women. There simply must be an explanation for the absence (for all intents and purposes) of a Heavenly Mother, women in scripture, the temple rituals, etc. Unfortunately, I just cannot think what that explanation might be. And for the record, that makes this Mormon woman unhappy.

  55. 55.

    Everything in me screams that that just cannot be true. When do you trust what your instincts tell you, and when do you let the doctrine/temple teach you?

    Thanks for articulating this so clearly, Rilkerunning. This is the tormenting question of my religious life.

    I have spent much of the last twenty years of my life, probably more, struggling to construct some sort of explanation for the disturbing realities you articulate at the end of your post. On the one hand, I’d like very much to believe that these omissions and suppressions and subordinations are the cultural dross which will eventually be washed away in a future I desperately long for when God finally will regard me face to face instead of communicating with me obliquely through my husband. On the other, as Kiskilili said somewhere above, I recognize that constructing what I personally find problematic as “cultural” and what I find acceptable as “doctrinal” is extremely problematic. I too am a cultural being. Does the increased status of women in the past century represent a more enlightened society more consonant with the will of God? Or are that evolution and my longing to regard myself as fully human in God’s eyes themselves cultural idiosyncracies that will be washed away when the true and total patriarchy of the millenium is restored and I finally understand and embrace my own lesser nature?

    There are no easy answers. Precisely because the church promises eternity, it ultimately forecloses escape from patriarchy, and I’m left with Job to wonder where is the court of law where I can bring my grievances against God. In this life I can escape the oppressions of church into other social worlds where my gender is not such an incessant obstacle to being taken seriously and to doing what I love. In the eternities, when patriarchy will saturate and totalize every aspect of our existence, where then will I go?

  56. 56.

    Everything in me screams that that just cannot be true.

    “Even if you can no more than desire to believe, let that desire work in you….” :) Hold onto that, let that seed sit and find things that help it grow.

    When do you trust what your instincts tell you, and when do you let the doctrine/temple teach you?

    Maybe they aren’t really different. Maybe what you reason and feel in your gut about God valuing and respecting women equally is right (of course it is, right?) With that assurance, seek to find what might really be going on in the doctrine and temple…not what it appears to be at first blush to your mortal eyes or mind; see what you can see with spiritual eyes. Things aren’t always as they appear. (Not that I have things all figured out. But I know we are truly loved and respected. I just know it in my soul.)

    If I could wrap up that conviction (Merry Christmas?!), I would in a heartbeat. (I really think our leaders would, too. That is what I get from talks like the one referenced above from Pres. Hinckley.) It literally made my heart hurt to read the last three comments. Everything inside me KNOWS God loves (and respects) His daughters!

    I was just talking with a friend yesterday about the frustration of not having explanations for things that feel so unfair, so wrong, so hard. She reminded me that sometimes things don’t make sense to our mortal selves. And I am trying to remind myself that faith is required in those moments…faith in what we believe and feel to really be true about God. Easy to say, hard to do, I know….

  57. 57.

    In the eternities, when patriarchy will saturate and totalize every aspect of our existence, where then will I go?

    Eve, pleeeeeeeeeease help me here. I am so confused…how can you dread something we know so very little about, in a way that makes God to be a being who wants to paint you into a lonely, oppressed, ignored corner? I just don’t understand how one could embrace a point of view that paints Him that way. (This confusion is generalized to your other comments as well.) To me that says (screams), “NO! This is wrong! He isn’t that way! He can’t be that way!” If you are right, faith is pointless, and that is despair to the hundredth power!!

    If our perspective doubts God’s perfect love and promises, that to me is how we can tell when we aren’t understanding things correctly (like Rilkerunning said above — “we MUST be wrong to interpret His ways as demeaning to women”) –when we make God into someone who is anything less than perfectly everything wonderful we can ever dream of, that has to be an indicator — HOW can we think that is right??

    Again, not that I haven’t ever had my moments of doubt, but when I see things more clearly again, I realize that HE is the constant; if I’m not happy it’s because I’m not understanding something, not because the point of view causing my unhappiness is correct. It’s so easy to get out of sync with a perspective that allows us to catch glimpses of how things really are. God is the personification of every dream fulfilled, every perfect characteristic and every true and good and right thing we have ever experienced or hoped for. He promises all that He has — to ALL of us. If we perceive Him to be any less than that, to be offering any less than that, how can we be possibly be seeing things as they are? And how can we expect that by so doing we could be happy now?

    We are taught about the nature of God…that it is the critical foundation of faith. If the foundation of our faith is that God wants nothing more than our happiness, why not start with that as a paradigm with which to seek to understand everything, and reject what “understanding” we may have that doesn’t fit? I. Just. Don’t. Understand. And I’m really not trying to be nasty here at all, I truly am just befuddled beyond belief…. (And I know I’ve obnoxiously repeated myself but again it’s just because I am just blown away by all of this. I pray you can know my heart as I do ask these questions…I’m not seeking to criticize, just to understand. Please forgive if it comes across wrong…. It’s like I have just been hit in the gut and the air’s been knocked out of me….)

  58. 58.

    M&M, I do truly appreciate the sincerity of your desire to impart the peace you’ve found on this issue to others.

    With that assurance, seek to find what might really be going on in the doctrine and temple…not what it appears to be at first blush to your mortal eyes or mind; see what you can see with spiritual eyes. Things aren’t always as they appear. (Not that I have things all figured out. But I know we are truly loved and respected. I just know it in my soul.)

    I do respect that these assurances have worked for you, and undoubtedly for many others. But while seeking for deeper understanding is rightly a core part of our spiritual practice, I think this kind of reconciliation by appeal to a deeper “spiritual” vision has definite limits.

    Can we recuperate any problematic doctrine or teaching, past or present, by seeking for some redeemable meaning in even the most offensive statements? Can we recuperate Brigham Young’s (in)famous statement about ruling over his wives and children by virtue of his superior intelligence, for example? Can we recuperate the racist teachings of Bruce R. McConkie and claim that if only blacks had truly and “spiritually” understood their place as servants in the celestial kingdom and God’s love and respect for them in their special role as blacks, they wouldn’t have bothered their heads about priesthood blessings and access to the temple, that they would have been content with their lot?

    Isn’t there a point at which attempts at reconciliation simply become offensive–not to mention nonsensical?

    It seems to me that not every apparent contradiction can be reconciled. The fact that the church changes its practices and ceases teaching certain ideas suggests that there are limits to the kind of reconciliation you suggest.

    Of course, what precisely those limits are–that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? ;)

  59. 59.

    Eve, pleeeeeeeeeease help me here. I am so confused…how can you dread something we know so very little about, in a way that makes God to be a being who wants to paint you into a lonely, oppressed, ignored corner? I just don’t understand how one could embrace a point of view that paints Him that way…. If our perspective doubts God’s perfect love and promises, that to me is how we can tell when we aren’t understanding things correctly– when we make God into someone who is anything less than perfectly everything wonderful we can ever dream of, that has to be an indicator– HOW can we think that is right??

    M&M, sorry to be so confusing.

    Here’s my thinking, hopefully a bit clearer. Indeed we know little about the eternities. But the temple, which structures our view of eternity, outlines a vision in which women are eternally subordinate to men and silenced and in which polygamy is more than a distinct possibility, never having been doctrinally refuted and very much alive and well in our current sealing practices. Women are somewhat contradictory in this ritual space, subjects in limited ways, but ultimately situated as objects which men must acquire and whose ultimate purpose is to bear children. We don’t exist as ends in ourselves. We have no voice.

    Here on earth I can escape this stuff by taking refuge in a secular world, which while riddled with plenty of its own contradictions, at least offers me a fuller subjectivity than this. In heaven, where will I go to be a person?

    Forgive me for being a little skeptical of the view that God is “perfectly everything wonderful we can ever dream of”–that’s not the God I encounter in scripture. We know little about God, of course, but one thing that’s abundantly clear that God, while infinitely merciful and compassionate, does not simply conform to our wishes and fantasies, but demands things of us, often very strange and hard things, such as the willingness to sacrifice our firstborn sons or to refrain from saving people burning up in agony or to join a church that doesn’t ordain people of our race to the priesthood or to cross the plains and watch everyone in our families starve to death.

    Given how very partial our view on this earth is, I’d be hesitant to claim we ever really see things as they are. But if we want to understand God, at least to the very limited extent that we can, I think we need to start with the information that we have about Him. It seems to me that God’s mercy is sterner, more demanding, and more incomprehensible than our contemporary notions of God sometimes acknowledge. Surely God is perfectly good. But clearly He isn’t always good in the way we humans would ordinarily understand and use the term.

  60. 60.

    We are taught about the nature of God…that it is the critical foundation of faith. If the foundation of our faith is that God wants nothing more than our happiness, why not start with that as a paradigm with which to seek to understand everything, and reject what “understanding” we may have that doesn’t fit?

    I’m still trying to think through this issue of the relationship between God’s goodness and our happiness. It’s the stuff of dissertations and could fill encyclopedias, to be sure. But it seems to me that God wants a particular kind of happiness for us that is beyond–that is indeed often antithetical to–contentment, ease, and pleasure. In my understanding the joy God offers us is not incompatible with sorrow and even requires it. The joy of a divine life embraces irrevocable loss and grief and contradiction and constantly demands that we shed comfort in order to know by our own experience. Whatever’s entailed in this soul-expanding kind of happiness is necessarily often going to be beyond our comprehension.

    In short: who knows why God demands such searing personal sacrifices? In this life I doubt we ever will.

    It also seems to me that in a strange way God’s wrath and righteousness are as essential to our trust in Him as are his mercy and compassion, and that if God were simply all that we most wanted Him to be, He would be incapable of fostering our growth.

  61. 61.

    Surely God is perfectly good. But clearly He isn’t always good in the way we humans would ordinarily understand and use the term.

    Thanks for responding. I have to go to bed, but I think the above begs a question: doesn’t that present the possibility that our definitions of what we think “should” be based on what limited understanding we have are wrong?

    But the temple, which structures our view of eternity, outlines a vision in which women are eternally subordinate to men and silenced….

    Remember, this is your understanding of the temple. Why not leave the possibility that there might be another way to see all of this, a way that doesn’t leave you feeling like you won’t have a place in the next life that will make you happy? A way that won’t leave you feeling so hopeless? Despair is not a feeling from God, right? That is what I don’t get…it feels to me (my perception) that you stay in a mode of thinking that leaves you feeling disillusioned. And you retreat to a secular world that can’t offer you an understanding of God, and gives you a pair of lenses that can possibly make Him harder to understand. This is what confuses me. I think I understand your point of view, but I don’t understand what the barrier is to trying to find ways not to escape what causes you pain, but to challenge that point of view (with a hope that you might be able to discover a God and a plan that could make you happy — until you discover the God whose arms are open to receive us and love us and lead us to happiness. The more I study scripture, the more I find THAT God. Is it because it would require leaving what is comfortable and fulfilling to you in your world now? A place where you feel you fit automatically without having to sort through stuff that hurts? But it’s a secular world. It won’t be there in the next life in that way…so why look there for your comfort? (Again, I am truly seeking to understand, not to attack. You don’t owe me any explanation if you would rather not continue this. I appreciate your willingness to engage at all above.) :)

    So much for a quickie. I guess it’s clear I can never do a quickie. Long. Winded. Am. I. ;)

  62. 62.

    does not simply conform to our wishes and fantasies, but demands things of us, often very strange and hard things,

    For what it is worth, I struggle with these kinds of thigns in my own life sometimes, but we do have explanations as to why these things are asked of us. Faith is hard work, and becoming is too. Again, it flies in the face of mortal comfort and happiness, but He is about a different business. :)

  63. 63.

    M&M, it is late and I should get back to the grading I’m supposed to be doing, so I’ll try, probably unsuccessfully, to cut to the chase. I think I’ve already answered the question of why I don’t seek a different understanding of the temple ceremony. I’ve thought and thought and thought about various ways to understand the temple. I’ve read and considered all kinds of different approaches, and if nothing else, I’m impressed at people’s endless creativity. I’ve tried with all my heart to make it cohere with my cherished notions of the value of women. But if I’m honest with myself, in my view, it simply doesn’t. I’d love to hear an explanation I find convincing. But I never have. I’m left with little but the hope that just as it’s changed in the past (thus obviating all of the old reconciliations people were once performing) it can and will change again.

    Is it because it would require leaving what is comfortable and fulfilling to you in your world now? A place where you feel you fit automatically without having to sort through stuff that hurts? But it’s a secular world. It won’t be there in the next life in that way…so why look there for your comfort?

    I know you’re not trying to be offensive, M&M, but I think you’re reading quite a lot into my remarks about my life that isn’t particularly accurate. If I wanted a world where I fit in automatically and where I did not have to sort through what hurts, I would have abandoned the church a long time ago. I face the pain and the loneliness of these contradictions every single Sunday. I go to church alone because my husband has become an agonstic and I can’t have children, and at least half the time I leave in tears at being repeatedly confronted with my own complete absence and irrelevance in the Mormon world. Church is by far the hardest thing in my life. You can fairly accuse me of a lot of things, but I don’t think you can accuse me of seeking to avoid religious pain. Believe me, the life of a Mormon feminist is not a particularly comfortable one.

    Just for the record, I am far from fitting in “automatically” in the secular world. My Mormonness, which I value deepy and which fundamentally constitutes me, makes me as alien there as my dissent makes me in the Mormon world. I have to endure contempt for religion generally and sometimes for Mormonism specifically on a fairly regular basis. It’s wrenching to belong nowhere, which is undoubtedly why I find myself pouring out my heart to complete strangers on a blog in the middle of the night.

    And you retreat to a secular world that can’t offer you an understanding of God, and gives you a pair of lenses that can possibly make Him harder to understand.

    I obviously wasn’t very clear here. I don’t seek my understanding of God in the secular world–far from it. What I value about my academic life, besides the joy of doing work I love, is that I’m treated with an automatic respect and seriousness that I’m not granted at church. I get to be a person at school. I have a voice. How can I not love it?

    Of course I’d love to seek my consolations in eternity. But the eternity I see in Mormon doctrine offers me few consolations. (This has the bizarre effect of forcing me to seek virtue for its own sake; I certainly have no desire for rewards in heaven, having little interest in heaven! so perhaps that’s a strange good in all of this.)

    It simply seems to me that my potential scope of action is broader here than it will be there. As a woman, I have to make the best I can of my diminshed religious situation. That’s all I’m trying to do.

  64. 64.

    Eve, thank you for your comments here. I’m quite frequently blown away by the clarity of thought and the eloquence expressed in your (and your sisters’) writing.

  65. 65.

    Eve,
    I’m very sorry for coming across in an offensive way. And I am truly sorry that Church is such a hard place for you (the temple, too). I don’t really know what to say except I’m sorry. I’m also sorry if I misunderstood you. I didn’t mean to insinuate that you hadn’t tried to understand things from a different perspective. I really do wish that I could share what I feel and know, but I realize that is impossible. I hope that someday you may find what you seek in the Mormonism that is dear to you, even as it has been so difficult, too. I admire your persistence in the face of the difficulty. I truly hope someday you will see and feel that love and respect and value that God has for His daughters…that that part of the puzzle will fall into place for you.

    Sorry again for any trouble I have caused.

  66. 66.

    One more thing…I just wanted you to know that I do know that often being a Mormon feminist is not easy, and what I said about avoiding pain did not come out right. I won’t try to explain what I meant because I don’t want to risk doing anything more that might be offensive or hurtful. I feel bad that I’ve done that. Eve, it’s at times like this when I wish I could talk to someone in person to try to smooth over what I really meant and communicate what is in my heart with voice inflection and eye contact and a hug. Please again accept my apologies.

  67. 67.

    I have a couple of observations and comments.

    Up in comment # 39, Melissa observed that large numbers of adult women leave the church, and logically concludes that their unhappiness can be traced to dissatisfaction with its teachings or practices. But in the context of this thread, with the patriarchal nature of the church looming in the background, we also need to consider that far greater numbers of men than women leave. If women leave because they feel devalued, what are we then to conclude about the men who leave?

    And the analogy to slavery breaks down at this point, too. If the slaveholders are ditching the institution at a greater rate than the slaves, what does that say about the comparative benefits they receive?

    Kiskilili, I’m not sure there is a way to frame the questions you raise without sounding either alarmingly condescending or smugly self-righteous. Maybe the best option is, after all, to bear your testimony of the problems and the damage they cause. That approach would have the advantage of being beyond contradiction, if not judgement.

    Finally, this thread brings out (don’t throw rocks!) the benevolent paterfamilias in me. It hurts to see people I admire be hurt.

  68. 68.

    ECS, thanks! Great to see you here.

    M&M, I really appreciate your apologies and good wishes. As you say, it’s so easy to misunderstand one another in a forum like this and for things wrong or be misunderstood even with the best of intentions. I’m encouraged that in spite of the fact that we disagree, I think we’ve been able to have a fairly productive conversation and, hopefully, understand one another’s viewpoints a little better. Thanks for hanging in there with me ;). Although we don’t see eye to eye, I do trust that your heart is in the right place and that you’re sincere.

    Mark IV, I could never throw rocks at you, you’re much too nice. Certainly you make good points about the rates at which men and women leave the church. That would be a great issue to explore. Maybe one of us should do a post on the topic (or would you like to guest-post?).

    Aaack! I must must must stop blogging! (Nothing to do with ya’ll, everything to do with graduate school.) If I disappear, that just means I’m trying desperately to avoid flunking out!

  69. 69.

    Eve,
    I’m encouraged that in spite of the fact that we disagree, I think we’ve been able to have a fairly productive conversation and, hopefully, understand one another’s viewpoints a little better. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

    Thanks to you, too.

  70. 70.

    Thanks again for the discussion and the respectful expression of differing points of view. Several topics which have come up likely deserve posts in themselves, so I’ll just deal briefly with a few. (Ha ha ha! If you’re longwinded, M&M, then what am I? ;))

    I’m sure it’s true that people construe (and thus receive and give) “love” in different ways, and this would be very interesting to explore. At the same time the term can’t be infinitely open and still be meaningful. My impression is that in our culture, by emphasizing the importance of saying “I love you,” we’ve unfortunately sometimes developed a habit of using this phrase as an excuse for doing it–for loving someone. In extreme forms, individuals justify inappropriate behavior by labeling it as love (I punched you/ignored you/etc. because I love you).

    Love is a confusing topic in itself which I haven’t fully worked out. But I think it’s fair to make a qualitative distinction between love of objects and love of subjects. Since in certain environments in Church discourse God is said to curtail or deny women’s personal spheres in which they are subjective, accountable actors, then it seems to me that, at best, God is loving them as objects. This is why the insistence that women and men are equally valued by God because they are equally necessary to his plan is so weak.

    I recognize that multiple interpretations of any text are possible, but not all interpretations are equally valid. Again, language has limits, and this is an especially important aspect of legal language. The specific language under discussion is that of what are essentially eternal laws which we explicitly consent to obey. If the plain meaning of God’s words belies God’s intent, God has effectively lied, and is responsible for those who “misunderstand” by taking his commandments at face value. This is where everything gets tricky, to my mind.

    In addressing the problem of evil, I think it’s helpful to distinguish between events which produce unhappiness whose causes can be located in the mortal world or others’ agency (which, if God is omnipotent, is ultimately under his control–another topic in itself), and instances in which God commands us to behave in a way that, as we read the situation, propogates evil in the world, but for which we have choice. I think a more apt analogy than chronic illness would be God commanding someone to drink poison and somehow make themselves chronically ill, for no apparent reason (no evident greater good). In the latter example, God is not directly creating evil; God is commanding that we ourselves create evil, but we can choose whether or not to obey. One of the insidious things about certain commandments is that rather than hurting us outright in a straightforward manner, God is asking us to hurt ourselves, to willingly become the instruments of our own demoralization in our relationships. (But I realize this all hinges on whether certain commandments result in feelings of demoralization for different people, and why.)

    Vada, thanks for your wonderful and supportive comment–it really resonates with me. There’s a lot I love about the temple as well, especially the idea of sacred space, ritual, and the use of beauty as an element of worship (something generally lacking in our other services).

    Rilkerunning, I’m glad to see you here–I always enjoy your comments. I, too, feel there are reasons to think God is loving, and in a way that indicates certain aspects of our tradition are absolutely wrong (both false and immoral). I don’t see any valid way to reconcile God’s alleged love with certain things the Church teaches. I genuinely hope God’s love is real, and God actually loves us in a way that feels like love to us. But while I can hope, I just don’t see sufficient reason to believe.

    I’ve read that the most difficult personal relationships are those in which we are ambivalent, and the other party sometimes seems supportive and sometimes hostile.

    I’m interested in the data that the Church is hemorrhaging men at rates that far outpace the attrition of women. (If true, this would be especially interesting since one oft-cited reason not to ordain women is that men are supposedly only attracted to churches in which they have power of a sort women do not–our God evidently being a moral pragmatist rather than an idealist.) Of course, the Church is a social community, it’s a set a theological propositions, it’s a commitment to a certain lifestyle, etc., and obviously people choose to leave or stay for all sorts of complex reasons, which is one reason it would be interesting to explore specifically what makes happy members happy. (“One of Mormonism’s appealing aspects to me is the possibility of practicing polygamy in the next life,” vs. “I’m happy in the Church because I doubt polygamy is practiced in the next life,” for example.) For practical purposes, a critical mass of people voicing dissatisfaction is probably necessary for an institution to examine complaints, but for theoretical reasons I don’t see why it should be.

  71. 71.

    I think a more apt analogy than chronic illness ….

    I suppose this conversation gives me a chance to develop some empathy. Perhaps you couldn’t really read how much of my heart I opened up by sharing what has caused me to sometimes feel a lack of God’s love in my life. How easy it has felt for my pain to be rationalized away because “well, that’s just mortality.” But just as I can’t rationalize your pain away re: feminism and all of that, this has at times been my reality, and I don’t think it’s fair to diminish that anymore than you like your pain dismissed. We all need to have our needs heard, ya know?

    At the times when I have struggled, it hasn’t mattered if God “caused” or if He “allowed” it, and I have not found peace in the logic that, “well, that’s just mortality.” When I’ve been in my doubtful, frustrated modes, all I have felt is that He hasn’t helped me in the way I have wanted Him to, so maybe He doesn’t love me. When I’ve not trusted God, I have been mad and unhappy and alone. I’ve cried and prayed and wondered “why” and “where’s the joy now?”. I’ve felt He didn’t care what I was going through. I felt my prayers didn’t matter. (This involves trials I haven’t even shared here as well, some of which leave me also wondering about how the next life will all shake out – will I really be happy?) I cannot believe these frustrations and concerns are any less confusing and disheartening for me than feminism issues are for some of you. We are not so different.

    I don’t think it matters if God “causes” or “allows” or even “commands” whatever causes us pain. I think the underlying problems are the same, and the possible answers and healing will come in the same way for all of us. THIS is what the gospel is about — answers for all, regardless of what the specifics of our pain and struggles are. But it requires faith and trust that is sometimes soooo hard to really exercise. We each have to find how to let go of that pain, to give it to Christ and to God.

    The fact that we can each choose something different to define what God’s love means to us (or we can each say to the other that we don’t share the same pain) sorta illustrates the point I have been trying to make all along. In a way, when we are unhappy with God or what is going on in life or commandments or whatever, I think we have set God up. We have defined for Him what love from Him should look like. And I think we set ourselves up for disappointment when we set Him up like that.

    And so I am trying to remind myself that a different approach is probably called for. Why not figure out how God chooses to show His love to me — how He defines it? Where is it written that I have any right to put parameters on His love or anything else I want from Him? He’s the Parent, I’m the child. He gets to decide what is “expedient” for me, for all of us.

    The gospel teaches us that His love is shown by the facts that 1) He created this earth, 2) He gave us the plan of happiness by which we can grow to become like Him, and 3) He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Aren’t we a bit cavalier (ungrateful?) to demand anything more of Him, as though He is supposed to do more to “prove” His love? What more can He really give us if He has promised us everything He has and sacrificed His Son??? He has given all that we need to be able to eternally live in happiness with Him someday. He provided a way to have our sins and our guilt swept away, and to have illness and broken dreams and pain and unanswered questions all fixed and made whole. We don’t know what that all will look like, but what is faith for if not trusting in all that He has promised? What is submission if we don’t accept the way He chooses to show His love? If we don’t ultimately trust in that, I think none of us will truly be able to taste God’s love in this life, at least not to its fullest extent.

    When I really trust in that (like I said, it’s hard for me to do — I’ve been struggling with this lately, which is part of why I’m writing this – for ME), then my demands fade and the peace comes back and I can find happiness in spite of whatever trials I may be experiencing now.

    So, in essence, I think we are all wrong to determine what equals God’s love and what doesn’t. The scriptures say that God doesn’t give stones when we ask for bread. He is a perfect giver of good gifts, but He is the only one who can determine what the good gifts that we need are. If we trust in Him, then we open up the way to be happy. I’m learning that is not easy to really do. But I think that is what we are here to learn how to do.

    1 Cor. 15:19: “If in this life only we have hope…we are of all [wo]men most miserable.” We have to look to what lies beyond and hope in that through Christ in order to not be miserable now. I just don’t see any other way. At least my experience has been just that.

    Incidentally, I think in general people leave when they get fixated on whatever is happening here and now (in the Church, in their lives, in social movements, etc.) and forget the eternal perspective, and don’t trust that God really will give us the best that He has to give if we will but trust in Him now.

    Sorry for the long comment. I know I’ve probably gone over the top. Thanks in advance for your patience in letting me sort out some of my own thoughts on this topic. I hope maybe something I have said might be relevant, but if not, please go easy on me. Life isn’t easy for me right now.

  72. 72.

    m&m, I don’t think Kiskilili meant to dismiss your experience with chronic illness. I personally (and I believe the rest of the bloggers here would concur) would never respond to someone sharing a painful experience with illness/death/etc with “well, that’s just a part of mortality.” You’re right to point out that mortality is hard and painful, and when God doesn’t take away those pains, it can make us doubtful of His love. So, thanks for sharing your experience with those things.

    Still, I disagree with your following statement: I don’t think it matters if God “causes” or “allows” or even “commands” whatever causes us pain. While you’re right to point out that it doesn’t matter in the sense that they are all painful (and we have to figure out some way to find peace), I find that it’s easier for me to make sense of pain that I think God “allows” vs. pain that I think he might “command.”

    For example, as I’ve shared elsewhere, I have bipolar disorder, and for awhile I was made at God for the ways in which this has adversely affected my life. I wanted to know why God didn’t just remove this trial from me. But I’ve been able to come to a certain amount of peace about this issue because I know it’s a trial I only have to face in mortality, and I know that it’s something I’m facing because it’s helping me to grow as a person. This hasn’t made the experience not painful (and I think it’s important to acknowledge this kind of pain in my and others’ lives), but I’ve gained a certain amount of perspective on it that’s helped me to come to a certain amount of peace.

    I think what’s hard for a lot of women when it comes to issues of gender is that things are painful and they see things as being potentially painful for eternity. While the plan of salvation teaches us that things like bipolar disorder are things that accompany our mortal lives (and won’t be around when we have perfected bodies), we are given no such assurances about things like gender roles and the importance of women in God’s plan. Many women are told that things that cause them immense amount of pain will exist not only in this life but in the life to come. In a sense, God is not just “allowing” these things to happen but he’s “commanding” them, which means these things could continue indefinitely. And the thought of indefinite and eternal pain is something that is scary.

    Now, I for one, believe in a fair and equitable God, and that somehow things will be righted in the eternities, but this is something where I am using my own convictions to come to conclusions (rather than knowledge I’ve gained from church because it is the church that makes me doubt my worth as a woman).

  73. 73.

    Thanks for responding.

    Now, I for one, believe in a fair and equitable God, and that somehow things will be righted in the eternities, but this is something where I am using my own convictions to come to conclusions

    I think this is the key. Frankly, we have very little “knowledge” about what the eternities will look like, so I am saddened when women will put that much energy into something that is really so unknown to us still. We really don’t know enough to really be able to understand how it will all shake out. What we do know is what you said…that God is fair and equitable. I also think we need to remember that our understanding will be perfected as well, so that will surely come into play in how “happy” we can be with whatever the order will look like.

    Anyway, this is why I said that trusting in God’s love and desire for us to be happy, even in the eternities, can help, which it sounds like is what helps you. But I appreciate you helping me understand a little differently why you think illness vs. feminism might be a little different.

  74. 74.

    I apologize, M&M. My analogy was clearly insensitive and poorly worded, and I appreciate your patience with me. I didn’t mean to dismiss your struggles and the very real questions they raise.

  75. 75.

    Kiskilili,
    It’s OK. I appreciate your patience with me, too. As you can tell, I’m just having a tough time right now so I’m probably more sensitive than usual.

    To all,
    I know that we see things differently, but I just want to say again that I appreciate that we can discuss things in spite of those differences. I hope that my involvement in this discussion has been consistent with the overall positive feelings I have about the interactions. I feel like you genuinely care, and I hope that you know that is the case here as well. Thank you to all for your patience and willingness to engage and to continue to help me understand more where you are coming from. :)

  76. 76.

    Thanks, M&M. I appreciate your willingness to engage us honestly and civilly even though we don’t always see eye to eye, and hope I can be worthy of the concern and sincerity that you show. One of the things I value most about the Church is its ability, at its best, to bring together people of very different backgrounds and even different perspectives and create an opportunity to form friendships in the gospel across those very real divides.

  77. 77.

    I know it’s old but . . .
    What a great thread! It took me a few days to read the entire thing, but this is what I have been looking for for months!
    Comments 52-55 really hit me. (I forwarded them to my husband, so I’ll see how that goes) It’s just a scary possibility that the inequalities we see in the church are intended for eternity.
    But, I would like to think that the problems that women encounter in the church are confined to this life. After directing a friend to comments 52-55, she emailed me back with her thoughts on this issue (which are much more developed than mine) She went back to Adam and Eve (as has been discussed in other threads/forums, but seems applicable here). Here’s what she said.
    “Men and women were always set as equal. Eve’s subordination was b/c she was the first to take of the fruit. God sent Adam and Eve as equals to this earth, but instead of taking of the fruit together, Eve thought she was more wise and made the decision alone. Even though the fall itself was not a mistake–it was part of the plan, Eve’s decision to do something drastic and change the course of humanity without consulting her equal partner was wrong.
    I have really been looking for someone in the Church to talk more about this. I was disappointed that Beverly Campbell had a chapter called “No
    other way” in Eve and the Choice Made in Eden, but she did not think outside the box enough to realize that even if a fall was necessary, maybe Eve
    didn’t have to bare the burden alone and that Adam and Eve could have made the decision together. Shouldn’t every husband or wife consult with their
    partner before making any huge decisions? Shouldn’t there be consensus when a couple engages in sexual relations, decides to have children, buy a home,
    move accross the country, etc.? Shouldn’t Eve have consulted Adam before taking the fruit, instead of after? I think the “no other way” was a lie
    from Satan. There was another way–the way is that as equal partners Adam and Eve would make the decision to become mortal together. As for the idea that similar “falls” have happened on other worlds, it seems possible, even probable, that in other worlds Adams and Eves take of the fruit together. That gives hope that the subordination of women in this world only, which I don’t deny
    exists, is b/c of what our mother Eve did differently than the other mother Eves–and it is only in this world that it exists. Perhaps that will be relieved in the afterlife. I am tempted to write a letter to the first presidency asking what I as a daughter of Eve can do to vindicate myself
    from her mistake to make the choice without Adam although I guess my husband and I should write the letter together to show equalness and consensus on our choice : ). I’m joking, but it’s a serious issue.”
    So, I’m curious to get feedback on this idea of the cause of women’s subordination. Maybe some women see it this way (I think Eliza Snow did, she talked about the curse of Eve as subjection to men) and that’s why they can be happy despite their position in the church. (That was my attempt to tie this Eve threadjack back to the original topic!)

  78. 78.

    Jessawhy, thanks for your perspective on this. I hadn’t previously heard that intepretation of Eve’s sin, that it wasn’t necessarily taking the fruit per se but rather not involving Adam in the process–that’s interesting!

    I too sincerely hope that female subordination is confined to this life, and not a reflection of how things are eternally; my own belief is that it’s one of the many difficulties which confront us in mortality. Yet I have a hard time accepting the idea that all women are in some way being punished for Eve’s choice. I’m not sure how well that notion fits with the Second Article of Faith–though I suppose it could be argued that it’s similar to children suffering from the sins of their parents, even if they’re not held accountable for them. But my biggest dilemma is trying to reconcile the idea that female subordination is something temporary with Church teachings that patriarchy is eternal. (If Adam had taken the fruit first, I wonder, would we now be explaining that matriarchy is eternal?)

  79. 79.

    [...] suggest that self-selection plays a role. For instance, Kiskiliili has observed that, A significant number of unhappy people have left. Those who stay represent a disproportionate [...]

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