Zelophehad’s Daughters

Separate but Equal?

Posted by Seraphine

So, as a follow-up post to my post on the difference between “equality and sameness,” I thought I’d make a post on what “equality” might actually mean within the context of the church.

Here is the church’s position on gender and “equality” as I understand it: Men and women are inherently different, and because of these differences, they have different roles to play in the Plan of Salvation (and in the church, family, etc.). These roles are both necessary and equally important. To sum up: the church has a “separate but equal” policy when it comes to the place of men and women in both the institutional structure of the church and the familial structure. And “equal” means “equally important in the eyes of God” rather than “the same opportunities for service” or “equal in administrative power.”

Now, I will admit that feminists (and other politically progressive folks working for social change) are usually suspicious of “separate but equal” policies. This is not because they disagree with these policies, per se, but because in the history of gender relations (and race relations, etc.), “separate but equal” policies have typically been used as a justification for “separate but unequal” conditions.

However, at the same time, I am not convinced we need to abandon the notion of “separate but equal” (and I think most feminists would agree with me). I think that taking into consideration the differences between men and women is important in a number of instances. For example, as I wrote in my previous post, “feminists argue that women needed to be treated differently in doctor’s offices and studied differently in the medical world because their bodies are biologically different.” I think the conflicts about the issue of “equality” arise when we discuss where we all would draw the line when it comes to how “separate” the sexes should be: I think that most feminists (including Mormon feminists) would argue for fewer instances of “separation” than your average Mormon would.

My sense is that a large number Mormon feminists believe that while there may be a “separate but equal” ideal that will exist in the eternities, we do not currently fully understand that ideal. And that right now the church often uses a belief in “separate but equal” gender spheres to justify unequal treatment. For example, if we think about the structure of church administration (which was the #1 concern on our feminist poll), while women often have a lot of influence through service in callings like Relief Society President, this influence is limited. Because the church is ultimately administered by men (men have the last say in all decisions on all levels–ward, stake, and the church at large), women often have more difficulties making themselves heard in arenas where they could truly enact change (see Caroline’s recent post over at Exponent II for an example).

So, with these considerations in mind, I ask a few questions:

*What if we were to accept the doctrine of “separate but equal”? What does this, ideally, mean to you?

*What kinds of benefits does the church get from a “seaparate but equal” policy, and what kinds of problems does it run into? To what extent do you think we should uphold the “separate but equal” ideal in the church?

*Finally, what does the notion of “equality” mean to you in the context of current church structure and practices? How should we think about “equality” in the church (especially if we do ultimately support a “separate but equal” policy)? Does a “separate but equal” policy necessarily lead to “separate but unequal” conditions?

(Note: while this post is primarily aimed at Mormon feminists who are trying to make sense of the church’s “separate but equal” policy, if you think the church’s current system works well, feel free to share your thoughts on why you think it does.)

152 Responses to “Separate but Equal?”

  1. 1.

    *What kinds of benefits does the church get from a “seaparate but equal” policy, and what kinds of problems does it run into?

    I think this is largely unanswerable. We can try and think through it, but I don’t think we can have any confidence in our conclusions. The only way to know how the effects of the current differential treatment is to do a controlled experiment, which is impossible. It’s possible that it’s harmful to women relative to complete sex blindness. It’s possible that it’s harmful to men. It’s possible that it’s better for everybody. And so on.

  2. 2.

    These are good questions. Over and over I hear it pointed out that it’s possible to value both apples and oranges equally and yet treat them differently.

    This is certainly true. But simply chanting the phrase “this is equal” over a situation, almost as an incantation, is hardly sufficient to make it so. Just because it’s possible to value apples and oranges in different but equal ways doesn’t mean that we necessarily do. We have to examine and demonstrate how and why men and women are equal, and what we mean by equal.

    There are ways in which I think our discussion of men’s and women’s respective relationships with God are completely and deliberately divorced from any context, as though declaring women “equal” or “valued” absolves us from examining the logical and practical implications for such statements, in the muddy specifics of our beliefs and policies.

    I personally don’t believe it’s necessary for men and women to be treated identically in the community. But I do wish women were accorded more autonomy both in the Church and in their personal lives, as well as clearer acknowledgment from God that women are fully human beings who are capable, accountable, and worthy of interacting with directly.

  3. 3.

    Great post and thought-provoking questions, Seraphine. I’m currently reading a biography of Earl Warren, who served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and presided over many groundbreaking civil rights and desegregation cases, including the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the case that ended segregation in public schools.

    Does a “separate but equal” policy necessarily lead to “separate but unequal” conditions?

    This is an excellent question, and one of the justifications the courts used to uphold the “separate but equal” doctrine for decades before deciding that segregation was inherently incompatible with the Declaration of Independence and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The courts reasoned that separating the races did not inherently lead to inequality, but that the facilities and opportunities for blacks must truly be “equal” to those for whites (in early years, however, the definition of “equal” was broad enough to include many obvious inequities against the black population).

    For example, Texas went to great lengths to create a separate public law school (now Texas Southern University) so it wouldn’t have to admit black students to the racially segregated University of Texas law school. The Supreme Court ruled that the black law school Texas hastily threw together to avoid integrating the University of Texas was inherently inferior, not only because the black law school employed only five professors and maintained a library with a small fraction of the volumes available in the UT library, but also because the black law students were prevented from developing networking relationships with the white law students – who would make up most of the legal community upon graduation. The Court didn’t officially rule against the practice of segregation in this case, however, so if the white and black law schools were truly “equal”, presumably the black students could have been prevented from enrolling in the white law school.

    Applying this to LDS Church practices, I’d be hard pressed to say that the women’s facilities and opportunities are “equal” to those available to the men. For example, women do not have the opportunity to “preside” over women or men in Church settings (or over their families if a man is around). The Young Women’s program is traditionally underfunded and underrecognized as compared with the Young Men/Scouting program. As you mentioned, Caroline’s recent post at Exponent II also points out many examples where women are denied opportunities to serve in the Church.

    So, even though I, in theory, agree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning that the separation of the sexes does not automatically lead to inequality, I don’t think the current administrative structures in the Church pass the “separate but equal” test.

  4. 4.

    Addendum: of course racial segregation and sexual segregation in the Church are not strictly parallel experiences. For example, there are practices/ordinances that are off limits to women, period (i.e., giving blessings). Even under the “separate but equal” doctrine, blacks were permitted to do everything whites were permitted to do, but blacks were restricted from interacting with whites. So in my comment above, it’s more instructive to discuss the administrative “separate but equal” practices (i.e., women exercising autonomous authority over Relief Society or YW) as distinguished from the priesthood “separate but equal” practices (i.e., women blessing other women).

  5. 5.

    I not sure comparing racial segregation in American education along with the failure of “separate but equal” and the LDS Church structure works as a comparison. It may be simplistic to say so, but I believe if this Church did not have women involved it would not exist. I’m not sure you could say that about racial issues. Women are the foundation of this faith as far as I’m concerned. I may be isolated here in Santa Fe but I have never met a woman who wanted to hold the Priesthood or a man who is not in awe of the Relief Society. I have see women become I little frustrated with the Priesthood and their decisions or in some case lack of action.

    Having said all that, as President of the Elders Quorum, I do find myself wishing that at the very least that the Relief Society President was present at every meeting making decisions about the ward. I do believe administratively the Church is short changing itself in the management of Church affairs without input by women in leadership positions in all matters. It is my hope to see power shift in the future to allow for more equality in the running of Church affairs from the top to the bottom. But then I would like to also see that happen in society in general.

    It is may understanding that women were allowed to give blessing at least within their family until sometime in the 1950’s.

  6. 6.

    Seraphine,
    Nice post, and some interesting questions. Regarding this one,

    Does a “separate but equal” policy necessarily lead to “separate but unequal” conditions?

    I like your answer, Kiskilili’s,

    Just because it’s possible to value apples and oranges in different but equal ways doesn’t mean that we necessarily do.

    I think this is an excellent point. In fact, I would go further and say that even though it might be possible in theory to treat groups of people equally while separating them, it is extraordinarily unlikely that it will actually work out that they’re treated equally in any sense of the word once they’re treated separately.

    I also like your examples, ECS. As the law schools example shows, it’s typically the case that groups of people are treated separately for the express purpose of treating them unequally. If the intent is really to treat people equally, the first logical step seems to me to be considering them as a single group, and not separating them out.

  7. 7.

    I think this is largely unanswerable. We can try and think through it, but I don’t think we can have any confidence in our conclusions. The only way to know how the effects of the current differential treatment is to do a controlled experiment, which is impossible.

    Requiring a randomized experiment before even discussing possible outcomes of different policies seems like an awfully high bar to set. Besides, where would be the fun in blogging if we can’t speculate without evidence? ;)

  8. 8.

    With respect to comment #1, randomized sociological experiments in the 1940s and 50s showed that forced segregation of blacks and whites in public schools detrimentally affected the educational development of black children:

    To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. Supporting footnote: K.B. Clark, Effect of Prejudice and Discrimination on Personality Development (Mid-century White House Conference on Children and Youth, 1950); Witmer and Kotinsky, Personality in the Making (1952), c. VI; Deutscher and Chein, The Psychological Effects of Enforced Segregation A Survey of Social Science Opinion, 26 J.Psychol. 259 (1948); Chein, What are the Psychological Effects of Segregation Under Conditions of Equal Facilities?, 3 Int.J.Opinion and Attitude Res. 229 (1949); Brameld, Educational Costs, in Discrimination and National Welfare (MacIver, ed., 1949), 44-48; Frazier, The Negro in the United States (1949), 674-681. And see generally Myrdal, An American Dilemma (1944).

    Criticism of the Brown opinion desegregating public schools, including current Justice Clarence Thomas, focused on the fact that people should be free to choose to segregate themselves from another group. When it’s your choice to separate yourself from a particular group, psychological harm is minimized (the effect upon community development, however, is another story).

    Along these lines, studies have shown that single sex education separating the boys from the girls in schools results in higher test scores for girls.

    So, regardless of the political posturing and sociological evidence criticizing or supporting the “separate but equal” doctrine, it’s fundamentally important that each individual has the opportunity to develop her or his unique abilities instead of race, sex, or religion operating as limiting factors to an individual’s development and self-expression. I think this is where the Church needs to improve. Women traditionally have been forced into specific, limited roles regardless of their abilities or aptitudes, and regardless of the necessity of priesthood authority to serve in a particular calling/function.

  9. 9.

    P.S. I’ve also known a few men who would make _excellent_ Primary Presidents. Limiting the roles of men to specific activities and callings cheats men out of opportunities to serve according to their abilities and talents as well. Not that I’ve heard any man complain that he can’t be Nursery leader, however. :)

  10. 10.

    What if we were to accept the doctrine of “separate but equal”? What does this, ideally, mean to you?

    I’ve been curious about the key that was given to women by Joseph Smith and whether that might be an avenue of balancing the power/status of the different roles of men and women. I’ve seen many references on the bloggernacle and related links to the event when the Relief Society was formed and Joseph gave a key to women to turn, but there’s rarely any discussion of what that key is exactly, what are it’s responsibilities and powers? Have we turned it? Is it a key of the priesthood? If so, is it part of the Aaronic/Melchizedek priesthood or is it a “separate but equal” priestesshood? Does it require some kind of ordination? Or was it simply figurative and has no real meaning? I guess none of us know because, to my knowledge, no one “in authority” has ever asked God to clarify or instruct us further.

    And “equal” means “equally important in the eyes of God” rather than “the same opportunities for service” or “equal in administrative power.”

    I read this and the altered constitution from George Orwell’s Animal Farm came to mind: All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others. :)

  11. 11.

    Here’s what I wish the church would do.

    1) Less gender segregation! My greatest talents lie in male-dominated areas like engineering, building things, organizing construction projects, etc. I’m only okay at cooking and I truly suck at small talk and chit chat, though I’m great with kids. But I’ve always hung out with guys from my first best friend in my neighborhood who was a guy, up through college when I was in engineering with lots of guys, to now, when in my work I’m around guys all day every day. Girls are fine. I have many individual friends who are girls (usually, admittedly, somewhat tomboyish girls), but I just feel very uncomfortable in groups of girls and they don’t like me. They think I have cooties. I promise! I never fit in with all-girl groups! =)

    2) YW and RS should have lots more say, more input, more power. We should be able to get the choice rooms in the chuch dedicated to us, if needs be. 10-11 year old girls achievement day should meet every week like the cub scouts do, not every other week. We should be allowed to have fun and interesting projects. I got chastised for spending too much money, then when I quit spending my own money, I got chastised again. In the end the real objection to my 10-11 year old girls achievement day program was that it was too much fun, too interesting, and some boys were jealous and wanted to abandon their program and join ours, which I was okay with, of course, but it seems to have caused trouble. I was finally given an “assistant” who wouldn’t do what I suggested but instead demanded that we change the program completely. Every one of my suggestions for how we could coexist was unacceptable to her. Everything I had done to that point was unacceptable to her. So that’s when I let her do it by herself and went inactive. I talked to the Bishop about it, but he had little to say. The real take home message from that for me was that girls achievement day isn’t about teaching girls to achieve excellence, it’s about sitting in neat rows and memorizing stuff. My method of enrichment of their experience coupled with celebrating their accomplishments is my grandmother’s method, and it has a proven track record, with two generations of high achievers, both male and female, in my family.

    3) RS keys and RS mission: Our charter says that if anyone in our neighborhood needs help, we should help them. If any women need strengthening hands, to be loved, to be taught good household management, to have the guidance of older more experienced sisters with child rearing, nutrition, medicine, clothing, shelter, for their families, then we are to meet those needs. I read “neighborhood” as “planet earth”. What RS needs to do is start microfinancing female entrepreneurs in the third world. We need an RS version of the PEF that is for use for loans to LDS women who need more income to provide for their children. Along with this, we need to provide lessons on business accounting, nutrition (how to feed your family adequate nutrition for less), clean water and how to obtain it (by filtration, chemical treatment, or boiling), medicine (how to diagnose and treat minor ills, when professional care is necessary), reading and good children’s books, and on and on. We need to be involved in the Clean Water Initiative, which really falls squarely under the RS mandate, and we need to expand that initiative to all infrastructure. We need an RS Good Roads initiative, an RS electric power initiative, an RS libraries initiative, an RS communications networks initiative. We would welcome the efforts of men in these projects, but they should be run by women. They are in the core of what the RS is chartered to do, which is to help women to make healthy, comfortable, and safe homes for their families.

    If the human species is going to survive the next few hundred years, we really need to extend the possibility of a good life to everyone in the third world. How will this come about? Men’s organizations don’t seem to fit the bill. I think we need to enlist the women.

  12. 12.

    All of the lessons should be with appropriate level technology, things local people can build and maintain. I should have made that clear. That’s why RS is so perfect, becuase it’s made up of local women, who know best the conditions of the area, and who also have the knowledge and resources of the worldwide RS organization upon which to draw.

  13. 13.

    Ziff,

    I’m less skeptical than you that separate can mean equal. The stats about all girl schools that ECS cites are revealing.

    ECS,

    it’s fundamentally important that each individual has the opportunity to develop her or his unique abilities instead of race, sex, or religion operating as limiting factors to an individual’s development and self-expression.

    I’m not sure what you mean here. I think we all agree that separation along those lines shouldn’t be imposed, but what if people choose it voluntarily? Does an African-American man make a bad choice by choosing to attend Howard or Fisk rather than the University of Tennessee? Does a woman who enrolls at Sweet Briar rather than UVa do herself a disservice? It isn’t at all clear to me that she does.

  14. 14.

    In order to accomplish what we have to do to keep the Earth viable and safe in the next few centuries, I really think the RS needs it’s own hierarchy, with the ability to launch projects independent of the priesthood quorums at each level. The way it’s set up now, there’s just no chance we can get things through at every local level.

  15. 15.

    Tatiana is right on the money.

    Mark IV – I’m not too concerned whether a black person chooses Dorchester (predominantly black neighborhood in Boston) over Beacon Hill (predominantly white) or chooses Howard University over Harvard. I am concerned, however, when black children don’t know they have choices to improve their lives because they have no positive role models to encourage them to develop their talents. Women struggled with the no positive role model problem when they began to compete with men for positions in professional occupations. How should a woman in positions of authority act? Should she try to pattern her personality and career after her male counterparts?

    This is straying a bit from the topic of Seraphine’s post, but I think many LDS women can’t conceive of a woman in a position of Church authority and responsibility (how would she act? what would she do?), because the Church has few (no?) modern female role models of strong, outspoken leaders on matters of general import instead of being segregated into Relief Society, YW and Primary.

  16. 16.

    Sorry I keep popping up here, but I want to point out that I do believe there are parallels between the psychological harm affecting black children in segregated schools and the psychological harm affecting some women in the LDS Church.

    Both the black children before desegregation and LDS women today are prohibited from important opportunities for social (and in the case of LDS women: spiritual) development, solely on the basis of their immutable characteristics (race and sex).

    Telling someone she is unfit to perform a particular task or serve in a particular function because of her sex (or race) causes “a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”
    And as Kiskilli eloquently pointed out in her comment “Just because it’s possible to value apples and oranges in different but equal ways doesn’t mean that we necessarily do. We have to examine and demonstrate how and why men and women are equal, and what we mean by equal.”

  17. 17.

    Men and women are inherently different, and because of these differences, they have different roles to play in the Plan of Salvation (and in the church, family, etc.).

    Isn’t it suspicious that the position the Church takes and justifies through the above reasoning, is exactly in line with traditional patriarchal societal values? I mean, what a huge coincidence.

  18. 18.

    Tatiana, I read your ideas for the RS with a lump in my throat. There’s something I could get behind.

    The separate but equal idea doesn’t feel very good to me in most cases. I just don’t think it’s a reality. However, if Relief Society were autonomously run we’d be much closer to separate but equal, and we’d be more likely to be doing some real good in the world in the way that Tatiana envisions.

  19. 19.

    Ziff: Requiring a randomized experiment before even discussing possible outcomes of different policies seems like an awfully high bar to set. Besides, where would be the fun in blogging if we can’t speculate without evidence?

    I’m not saying we can’t speculate. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t regard our guesses as anything more than just that.

    ECS: So, regardless of the political posturing and sociological evidence criticizing or supporting the “separate but equal” doctrine, it’s fundamentally important that each individual has the opportunity to develop her or his unique abilities instead of race, sex, or religion operating as limiting factors to an individual’s development and self-expression. I think this is where the Church needs to improve. Women traditionally have been forced into specific, limited roles regardless of their abilities or aptitudes, and regardless of the necessity of priesthood authority to serve in a particular calling/function.

    I don’t see what’s limited or limiting about the roles that women play in the Church. Sure, they’re not part of the governmental heierarchy but neither are the majority of men. In 78 years of extremely active participation in the Church my dad has never been assigned any responsibility that is greater than what an RS president does. Does that mean he’s been deprived of growth and service opportunities? No, he’s just had different assignments. Sure, he wasn’t shut out of “higher” Church government because of his gender, but that’s beside the point. Who says that being a part of the heierarchy is the best way to achieve personal growth or is the most desirable assignment?

    Anyways, the Church isn’t the only avenue for people to develop their talents and express themselves, or even for spiritual growth. The fact that the Church doesn’t provide optimal opportunities for all men and women doesn’t preclude people from achieving their potential in the least. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to optimize the Church’s performance on the “Perfect the Saints” front, but I’m not convinced that differential gender treatment per se is the biggest obstacle in the way, or even that it is an obstacle to the Church accomplishing its mission.

    Telling someone she is unfit to perform a particular task or serve in a particular function because of her sex (or race) causes “a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

    The Church hasn’t told women that they’re unfit to serve in particular functions. Some people see that as an implication of differential gender treatment, but others (most people, in my experience) don’t. Some women and men who don’t participate in leadership or other Church positions that they want may feel undervalued or inferior, but others are happy for the opportunity to bless others’ lives in the capacity to which they’ve been assigned.

  20. 20.

    My fourth and fifth paragraphs aren’t meant to be italicized. Sorry.

  21. 21.

    women often have more difficulties making themselves heard in arenas where they could truly enact change (see Caroline’s recent post over at Exponent II for an example).

    I had read that, and I didn’t get the point. If I had an idea, I would just tell the bishop myself. He would likely be very appreciative (that’s how it’s been for at least the last five bishops we’ve had). I wouldn’t feel a need to go “through my husband.”

    Re 11: Aren’t Achievement Day girls supposed to meet every week? Our ward does. But it might be the practicality of most girls having sibs in YW, scouts etc.

    Re 16:

    Both the black children before desegregation and LDS women today are prohibited from important opportunities for social (and in the case of LDS women: spiritual) development, solely on the basis of their immutable characteristics (race and sex).

    But I see a huge difference, in that women in the church are told they can be exalted. They get the same thing in the end that men do. That is very different from opportunities for blacks and whites in the 1950s.

    If women were being told that they can’t make it to the celestial kingdom because they are women, it would be a more valid comparison.

  22. 22.

    LOL, Naismith. Slaves were told they’d get to heaven one day, too.

    Tom – hmmmm. Don’t know where to start answering your comment. Sure the Church isn’t the all-encompassing spiritual and social institution for many LDS people. But for those women and men who have the talents and abilities to build the kingdom, why prevent them from developing and growing spiritually merely because of their sex?

    I’m not surprised that you say most people you know don’t see differential gender treatment in the Church as problematic. The real problem, however, is in relying on your own individual experiences to determine whether something is right or wrong. I don’t think many Southern slaveowners socialized much with abolitionists, either. (to continue the slave analogy).

  23. 23.

    Tom, I don’t think many of us are going to claim our speculations or guesses are hard fact. At least, I certainly am not. :)

    And I don’t think anyone is saying that the church can’t fulfill its mission or that serving in church hierarchy is the best path for spiritual development. We’re just trying to say that while many women may not feel inferior because they are relegated to advisory status in decision-making, many women *do* internalize this and interpret this as an indication of their inferiority. It goes back to what ECS was saying about the studies done about segregation and psychological harm. While there are attacks on women’s sense of self-worth from a lot of avenues, I find it very telling that at General Conference after General Conference, the leaders of the church have to iterate “no, we really do value the women of the church equally.” Something tells me that this keeps getting repeated over and over again because there are quite a few women who do not feel equally valued.

  24. 24.

    Kiskilili, I like what you said about how equal treatment is not a natural result from saying “things are equal” over and over again. I know that oftentimes I feel like my concerns about unequal treatment are dismissed by others saying “well, all the GA’s say that women are equal.” And my response is, “yeah, but I still don’t feel equal.” Saying is different than doing.

    And I couldn’t have said this any better:

    I personally don’t believe it’s necessary for men and women to be treated identically in the community. But I do wish women were accorded more autonomy both in the Church and in their personal lives, as well as clearer acknowledgment from God that women are fully human beings who are capable, accountable, and worthy of interacting with directly.

  25. 25.

    I must confess that I’m finding the slavery/segregation analogy increasingly tiresome. There is no meaningful similarity between the position of slaves and segregated blacks and that of women in the Church. Slaves and pre-Civil Rights blacks were denied basic liberties because of their race. Women in the Church can’t serve in certain capacities. Some of them feel bad about it, but their humanity is not denied (no, it’s not) and their basic human rights are not violated. We’re talking about optimizing a positive, beneficial, volunteer-based institution, not freeing a class of people from gross mistreatment.

    The real problem, however, is in relying on your own individual experiences to determine whether something is right or wrong.

    How do you propose we determine the right path for the Church to take? How are we going to pinpoint the effects of the Church’s policies regarding gender on what really matters: the ability of the Church to help people attain eternal life. Your judgments as to what’s right and wrong are no less based on your own individual experience and biased perceptions.

  26. 26.

    Tom – I don’t consider my individual experience in the Church to be that relevant to this issue, really. Taking a step back from our own individual experiences, we can probably agree that the objective values of efficiency and economy could, under certain conditions, highlight certain inefficiencies in the administrative structure of the Church.

    For example, a woman with experience in non-profit auditing and accounting is unfit to hold the position of ward clerk merely because she is female. If all the male candidates for ward clerk are disorganized and sloppy record keepers, it’s inefficient (and dangerous) to appoint an incompetent male to be ward clerk when a competent woman is available to do the job. Same analogy applies to a man who has experience with and aptitude for teaching children being passed over as Primary President in favor of a woman who is a corporate lawyer who has absolutely no experience or talent for interacting with children.

  27. 27.

    So now we’re talking about bureaucratic efficiency and not about moral right and wrong? Sure, I’ll agree: filling positions with the people best qualified to do the work is key to efficiency and certain aspects of institutional Church function would arguably be more efficient if positions were filled in a gender-blind fashion. Would the Church help more people have fulfilling lives and attain eternal life if positions were filled in a gender-blind fashion? I have no clue.

    I haven’t heard it explained anywhere that women aren’t part of the Church government heierarchy because they’re unfit for the work. That’s your conclusion, but it’s far from the only reasonable one.

  28. 28.

    ECS: why prevent them from developing and growing spiritually merely because of their sex?

    Jesus entered a world where such things as “religiosity” or “spirituality” are determined by factors of birth, education and social status. His message is clearly the contrary, but he seems less interested in overthrowing the system than he is in demanding responsibility from each individual according to their circumstances. The Samaritan woman at the well is offered no promise of relief from the social conditions that beset her birth and gender, but is instead given a promise that she will not thirst if she will drink of his water.

    Jehovah has a long history of providing his gospel to few and the opportunities to administer in that gospel to even fewer – at times remarkably few. But when he finally came to this earth he came to declare that his kingdom is not of this world. As he makes clear throughout his ministry, full participation in this kingdom is an opportunity withheld only from those who withhold it from themselves.

  29. 29.

    Larry and Tom, I can see the limits of the parallel between segregation and the patriarchal practices of the church–but I certainly wasn’t trying to draw an exact parallel between the two (and I’m pretty sure ECS wasn’t either, since she said back in comment #4 that the two weren’t parallel in a number of ways). While there are many ways the two aren’t comparable, I do think there are specific ways they are similar.

    Larry, thanks for your support of women having a greater voice.

  30. 30.

    Tam and Tatiana, I really like your ideas of thinking about RS in the past and ways we might think of giving more autonomy to the women. I, too, believe this could potentially give the RS even more power to do good both locally and internationally.

    Tatiana, I also like your ideas about YW–I remember being bitter in YW because they made me do crafts that I hated, etc., and all the YM got to go to cool camps and do fun activities that I wanted to be doing. And I’m really sorry about your problems with Achievement Days–that sounds really frustrating.

  31. 31.

    Naismith, I’m really glad that you’ve had great bishops who were open to your suggestions. Unfortunately, I think there are still many bishops (see Tatiana’s experience, for example) who aren’t as great as yours have been. I’ve certainly had a few who have not taken me very seriously (and I had no husband that I could get to talk to them).

    Eric, I think it is important to remember that Christ’s message transcends the things of the world, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the problems in the world around us.

    ECS, thanks for all your comments.

  32. 32.

    Part of my frustration with the slavery/segregation parallel is that it unfairly stacks the deck in discussions like this. So people who support the elimination of differential treatment based on gender get to be abolitionists (the good guys) and people who don’t see differential treatment based on gender to necessarily be a big deal are anti-abolitionists and slave owners. It’s too easy to respond to arguments by saying, “That’s what slave owners thought, too.” I’m not referring only to what has happened on this thread. It happens a lot. So to me, whatever utility there is in pointing out the (very) limited parallels is outweighed by how loaded the issues of slavery and segregation are. With some effort you could make the same points without all the baggage.

  33. 33.

    Tom – whether the reader finds the comparison between the status of black Americans and the status of women to be offensive depends on the reader’s cultural and historical perspective. The abolitionists are the “good guys” today, but they were often depicted as law breaking rabble rousers before the Civil War.

    Today, many people supporting socially progressive policies harbor racist and sexist views – i.e., the “Limousine Liberals” or the “Champagne Socialists”. As such, it’s very instructive to examine why we view differential treatment based on the immutable characteristics of race and sex in certain situations morally repugnant, but perfectly acceptable in other situations.

  34. 34.

    I’m not offended. The situations simply aren’t comparable for the reasons I’ve stated.

  35. 35.

    Sorry, Tom. Let me rephrase: whether the reader finds the comparison between the status of black Americans and the status of women to be frustrating, increasingly tiresome, or incomparable depends on the reader’s cultural and historical perspective.

  36. 36.

    [Women] get the same thing in the end that men do.

    What is it exactly that every righteous person gets in the end–ability and responsibility to run a cosmos as a God? (If so, where is Heavenly Mother? She doesn’t seem to have exactly what Heavenly Father has.)

    I hope you’re right, but all indications are that exaltation means different things for women and men.

  37. 37.

    Tom, I don’t think there is a way of discussing policies that limit certain opportunities to groups of people based on ascriptive (i.e., unchosen) characteristics that won’t be explosive in the way you’re discussing. If you’d prefer to move away from the slavery metaphor, we have a range of others to consider. Would you prefer feudalism, in which entire groups of people were considered to have been placed, by God, in social classes that were destined to spend their entire lives in the performance of certain, specified forms of menial labor? Obviously an apt analogy in many ways — but no less controversial or loaded than the one that concerns you. Or would you prefer an analogy to apartheid? Or Indian caste systems? Or turn-of-the-century Protestant American attitudes toward Jews? Or Spanish colonial approaches to indigenous peoples? The list of such systems is long, and each has important analogies to the status of women. By contrast, the list of historical systems that limit opportunities to some individuals on the basis of ascriptive traits that are now seen as virtuous is, well, short.

  38. 38.

    Naismith, I’m really glad that you’ve had great bishops who were open to your suggestions. Unfortunately, I think there are still many bishops (see Tatiana’s experience, for example) who aren’t as great as yours have been. I’ve certainly had a few who have not taken me very seriously (and I had no husband that I could get to talk to them).

    So should we abandon marriage because some men are abusers? I don’t think so. Just because a few individuals do not behave appropriately does not mean the system is broken.

    Also, please understand that even those of us women who are “non-feminists” in your book still have some self-respect. I fight my own battles. I would never “get my husband” to talk to a bishop on my behalf.

  39. 39.

    For example, a woman with experience in non-profit auditing and accounting is unfit to hold the position of ward clerk merely because she is female.

    I’ve never heard anyone refer to a woman as “unfit” to hold a position.

    If all the male candidates for ward clerk are disorganized and sloppy record keepers, it’s inefficient (and dangerous) to appoint an incompetent male to be ward clerk when a competent woman is available to do the job.

    Except that we’re not running a church in the most efficient manner possible. Rather, we are perfecting the saints. When someone is called, the Lord will bless them and help them to grow.

    If competence is as importqant as you think, then no 19-year-old should be called on a mission! The liability issues are staggering, and yet we continue the practice.

    Same analogy applies to a man who has experience with and aptitude for teaching children being passed over as Primary President in favor of a woman who is a corporate lawyer who has absolutely no experience or talent for interacting with children.

    And sometimes when we get callings for which we have no experience or talent, it is such a wonderful experience because we know that our success could come only by reliance on the Lord. I am tone-deaf and was called as primary chorister, and it was an amazing experience.

  40. 40.

    RT, no loaded analogy need be made. If you have an argument that Church structures or policies are harmful to women, make it and it can be evaluated on its merits.

    Kiskilili: I hope you’re right, but all indications are that exaltation means different things for women and men.

    There’s no indication that if exaltation does mean different things for women and men that one is better than the other.

  41. 41.

    Tom, slavery and the myriad other historical inequities to which RT refers are not simply analogies. The issue is one of reasoning, not of historical parallelism. The same arguments now trotted out to justify women’s religious subordination were once made against women’s suffrage, women’s admission to the professions, the abolition of slavery, and any number of past and present inequities we would–and should–be horrified to endorse.

    Saying “That’s what the slaveholders said, too” is simply to point out that the argument under consideration leads to the most morally questionable of conclusions and that under other circumstances we would categorically reject those conclusions, along with the arguments that lead to them. This being the case, it’s inconsistent to accept arguments for women’s religious subordination that we would reject in horror if they were used to justify slavery. (And such logical considerations are, of course, at the very heart of evaluating an argument on its merits.) But it is not at all to say that (a) Mormon men are slaveholders; (b) Mormon women are slaves; or (c) Mormon feminists are abolitionists. No one is making that claim, and with a little effort the distinction between historical parallel and reductio ad absurdum can easily be borne in mind.

    It’s not a matter of historical analogy; it’s a matter of logic. The “baggage” you dislike is an inherent part of this kind of reductio. Of course there’s an undeniable emotional appeal at work (and as to the ethics of emotional appeals–well, that’s a subject to fill dissertations), but there’s simply no way to perform a reductio without considering extreme cases. The historical and emotional “baggage” can’t be neatly severed from the reasoning. They are an essential component of it.

  42. 42.

    So should we abandon marriage because some men are abusers? I don’t think so. Just because a few individuals do not behave appropriately does not mean the system is broken.

    But the relevant analogy here is not with the abandonment of the institution altogether (because no one on this site is arguing for that). The relevant analogy is with the modification of the institution. For instance, abuse may not justify the abandonment of marraige, but there are certain forms of marriage–marriages in which power is distributed very unequally between the partners, for example–we should abandon, in part because they are much more likely to lead to abuse.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that individuals’ behavior can never be dissociated from the institutions and contexts in which it occurs and that institutions and contexts have an enormous influence on behavior. A few misbehaving bishops and husbands are not getting their ideas of domineering over women out of nowhere. They don’t lack for sources.

    I’ve never heard anyone refer to a woman as “unfit” to hold a position.

    That’s simply because we’re very polite as a church and a people (and appropriately so). It’s considered bad manners to point out to someone that her gender renders her unfit for some capacity or other–but our social restraint does not alter her unfitness.

  43. 43.

    (and as to the ethics of emotional appeals, well, that’s a subject to fill dissertations)

    No need for a dissertation. Watch this: I don’t like it because I don’t get to use it, therefore, it’s just wrong wrong wrong. And done. Do I get a PhD and a self-importance certificate now? (I get to make fun of PhD’s because I almost have one, believe it or not (but it’s not in womens studies, sadly)).

    I maintain my position that in efforts to get to the heart of the matter—the actual effects of the specific forms of differential treatment of men and women in the Church—drawing loaded, incredibly imprecise historical parallels like slavery and segregation obfuscate more than they illuminate.

  44. 44.

    Tom, repeating your opinion again and again is not nearly as interesting or as conducive to productive conversation as providing a thoughtful explanation of the reasons behind your stated opinion. No dissertation necessary, but I’d like to hear more about why you disagree with Eve’s reasoning besides that it’s not yours and you just don’t “like” it. You can do better than that!

  45. 45.

    That’s simply because we’re very polite as a church and a people (and appropriately so).

    Such certainty. Another possibility is that maybe fitness has nothing to do with the reasons for filling certain positions with people of a certain gender. You don’t know any better than I do the reasons that women are excluded from filling certain positions and men are excluded from filling others. It doesn’t follow from the fact that there are different assignments for men and women that the reason for the existence of the difference is actual or presumed differences in levels of capability or value. Why do we assume that administrative positions are the ones that require the most fit and capable people in the Church? There is as much support for this alternative view: successful performance in administrative positions requires less creativity, self-sufficiency, and natural talent than in other roles in the Church, so they are filled with people who have less of those attributes. So maybe men should feel devalued because they have to perform menial administrative tasks. I don’t buy that line of reasoning, but it has as much support as the notion that women of the Church aren’t called to administrative positions because they are unfit or presumed to be unfit for the work.

  46. 46.

    Tom, good luck rejecting emotional appeals. The research of the last decade or so on emotion and logic suggests that humans are really bad at logical reasoning when they aren’t emotionally motivated. So if we try to discuss these topics without emotion, cognitive science suggests that we’ll be pretty haphazard and irrational about it…

  47. 47.

    Tom, what’s your almost PhD in?

    (You wouldn’t believe the number of imaginary almost PhD’s I’ve accumulated. Perhaps someday I’ll acquire a real almost-PhD. If I finish my coursework and pass my exams.)

    Well, looks like we’ve reached the proverbial impasse. I think these discussions of slavery are most productively and most charitably read not as historical parallels, but as a form of logic that depends on extreme cases (and thus, as RT said above, if you remove slavery, you simply have to supply another extreme case). You clearly think they are best read as historical parallels. But I don’t see how that’s the most engaging–or the most charitable–way to construe them. It’s not very clear what sort of argument could made on the basis of a simple historical parallel, or what conclusions one might draw from it. So I propose that the principle of charity demands a deeper reading of what people are saying when they make comparisons involving slavery.

    At the very least, I can wholeheartily assure you that when I myself make such comparisons, I’m not drawing a historical comparison, imprecise or otherwise (and of course all historical situations are disanalogous to varying degrees). I’m making an argument by examining the various conclusions that a single form of argumentation can be made to support, and using some of those conclusions to reflect on the strength of the argument itself. So my reasoning is not dependent on slavery per se–but it does demand an extreme case of some kind (and as RT helpfully explained above, if we jettison slavery, we’ll simply need to consider something else equally outrageous, that being the whole point of a reductio ad absurdum).

  48. 48.

    There is as much support for this alternative view: successful performance in administrative positions requires less creativity, self-sufficiency, and natural talent than in other roles in the Church, so they are filled with people who have less of those attributes.

    This could account for the calling of individuals, but does it have sufficient explanatory power to account for a Churchwide policy? Wouldn’t we then have to suppose the Church assumes all female talent is occupied with more pressing matters and unavailable for menial labor–and what would lead the leaders of the Church to such an absolute, general conclusion, without respect for individual circumstances?

  49. 49.

    Tom, to the extent we have an eternal, essentialized view of gender–and to the extent that we view our social institutions as expressions of those eternal divine differences about which we hear so much–we do therefore view members of one gender as unfit for the tasks reserved to the other. We can’t on the one hand claim that gender is eternal, that there are divinely ineradicable differences between men and women, and that our entire sociality is organized to reflect this fact, and then turn around and claim that we have absolutely no idea why some tasks are reserved to men and others are reserved to women. That’s blatantly contradictory.

  50. 50.

    We can’t on the one hand claim that gender is eternal, that there are divinely ineradicable differences between men and women, and that our entire sociality is organized to reflect this fact,

    (Exactly the sort of thing that could explain general, absolute policies regarding gender without respect for individual circumstances!)

  51. 51.

    Also, please understand that even those of us women who are “non-feminists” in your book still have some self-respect. I fight my own battles. I would never “get my husband” to talk to a bishop on my behalf.

    Naismith, this is a small threadjack, but I’m just curious to know what you would do in a situation where a bishop absolutely refused to take you seriously or take your suggestions into account. I’m all in favor of women (feminists and non-feminists alike) making their voices heard, but what would you do if a leader (i.e. bishop) didn’t listen? Would you use your husband if you knew your bishop would listen to him? (I’m asking because I’m curious to know what course of action you would take.)

  52. 52.

    ECS, I hope it was obvious that my “I don’t like it” line of reasoning was a joke. But on the appeals to emotion, the reason that bothers me is that, while appealing to emotion is a good way to get people excited about stuff, it’s not a substitute for logic. Analysis should be dispassionate and drawing historical parallels that carry a lot of emotional baggage gets in the way of level-headed analysis. If one feels that one must point out a parallel, that’s fine, but important differences should be acknowledged.

    As far as the issue of drawing historical parallels to refute bad arguments, I acknowledge that if someone puts forth an argument that really does have troubling implications when carried to its logical conclusion, pointing that out is necessary. But I reserve the right to bristle at the implication that the situation of women in the Chruch is even close to analagous to the situation of segregated blacks and to piss and moan about the imprecision of other parallels that people wish to draw.

  53. 53.

    I’m too slow here. To Eve’s #47, I hear you and I agree.

  54. 54.

    Fair enough, Tom. And, for what it’s worth, I’ll certainly agree with you that some historical comparisons I’ve encountered are outrageous. For instance, I once read a misguided feminist claim that every woman has a Holocaust within her. I’ll happily be first in line to say that I find that kind of thing offensive in the extreme.

  55. 55.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Eve’s comments (thanks, Eve!). When I draw parallels such as the ones we’ve been discussing, it’s for the logical reasons explained by Eve, not to say that “slavery is the same as patriarchy” or that “every woman has a Holocaust within her.”

  56. 56.

    ECS
    (I’m reading through, but only at #9, I just want to add that we did have a man as a nursery leader, and he was FABULOUS. Those kids loved him. He knew the secret weapon to cheer up each of them. I hope others have had that experience.)

  57. 57.

    Jessawhy, everything I know about being a nursery leader I learned from a man (father of six). He was fabulous with those kids–he could cheer them up, calm them down, enjoy them, and discipline them serenely, without ever caving or losing his cool.

  58. 58.

    Eve #49:To the extent we have an eternal, essentialized view of gender, and to the extent that we view our social institutions as expressions of those eternal divine differences about which we hear so much, we do therefore view members of one gender as unfit for the tasks reserved to the other.

    This isn’t necessarily so. We can’t distinguish between that possibility and the possibility that members of each gender are fit for all tasks, but they are more fit for the tasks to which they are assigned. In this case, you still have differential assignments based on differential fitness, but you have no group that is unift for any (non-biologically based) tasks. This possibility still probably doesn’t sit well with feminists because you have priesthood and administrative duties in the Church and breadwinning in the family assigned to men because they are more fit than women for those tasks. This doesn’t need to be troubling because there’s no reason to assign higher value to men’s roles than women’s roles, but I’m sure it is troubling to some.

    There is another possibility that I don’t think we can distinguish from the one you propose. It’s possible that roles aren’t assigned based on differential fitness, but on differential needs. If life is about growth and if men and women fall short in different aspects due to their respective pre-mortal natures, their different assignments could be given to help them develop in different ways so they can become more perfect beings through their experiences. In this case you don’t have the respective groups unfit for the tasks assigned to the other; rather, you have each group in less need of the experiences inherent in the tasks assigned to the other. I don’t know if this possibility would be troubling to feminists.

    Further complicating matters, it’s possible that there is some important benefit to having gender-based institutional structures, per se. Maybe it’s less important which tasks each group performs than that they be different. Maybe whatever potential benefit there is to assigning individuals to tasks in a gender blind manner is offset by the loss of the beneficial institutional structure.

    We can’t on the one hand claim that gender is eternal, that there are divinely ineradicable differences between men and women, and that our entire sociality is organized to reflect this fact, and then turn around and claim that we have absolutely no idea why some tasks are reserved to men and others are reserved to women.

    We can if there is more than one possibility consistent with the premises.

    Tom, what’s your almost PhD in?

    Biology.

    RT: Tom, good luck rejecting emotional appeals.

    I don’t need luck. I have emotions of cold, hard steel. Just ask my poor wife.

  59. 59.

    Tatiana’s ideas are great! I really think the younger generation (both of LDS and Americans at large)have a greater worldview than generations before. I think the Humanitarian Aid is great, but we could and should do a lot more.
    I’ve been trying to find a website where you use a credit card to give a $20 or $100 loan to a person in a third-world country. The organization takes the interest, I believe, but it’s not a charitable gift, it’s micro-credit. They send updates and pictures of their business so you can see what your money is being used for. We need more awareness of issues like this and less toll painting.
    Eve and Tom, I think you guys are just talking past each other. (although I agree with Eve, you can’t ignore the facts just because you don’t like the feeling)
    Reading this thread reminded me that fMh is having a Utahnackersnacker, where everybody is getting together for a party.
    It brought a smile to my face imagining what this group would look like if we met for say, a potluck?
    Would we all put on our happy church faces, or would Eve and Tom still bash it out over Sloppy Joes?
    (just a thought) BTW, I’d attend a ZDsnacker any day!

  60. 60.

    Darn it. I’m sorry I missed this interesting conversation yesterday when it was taking place. Tom, what does it feel like to get tagteamed by so much impressive brainpower?

    Isn’t Tom’s point pretty simple? Emotional appeals tend to engender sloppy arguments and should therefore be avoided. In order for there to be a reductio ad absurdum argument, there first needs to be an argument. If we are not careful, we find our positions to be nothing more than a handful of cliches and slogans, riding piggyback on something of real value.

    The ruling in the Dred Scott case assigned lesser value to some forms of human life than to others. Many people think Roe v. Wade does the same. It would be very easy, but also cheap and wrong, to start drawing conclusions about the morals of people who favor the Supreme Court’s rulings in those cases.

    Ultimately, I agree with ECS in # 35. Our reactions to these sort of arguments depend alot on whether our own personal sacred cow is being butchered. All the more reason to be as dispassionate as possible.

  61. 61.

    It brought a smile to my face imagining what this group would look like if we met for say, a potluck?

    An interesting idea, Jessawhy, but it could never happen. Too many of us are in the witness protection program.

  62. 62.

    Mark IV, I think we understood Tom’s point, but the point Eve was trying to make in response is that making an extreme case argument is not necessarily done because the speaker is trying to make an emotional appeal. I can’t speak for others, but my purposes were more along the lines of Eve’s comments about the logical reasons for making such an argument.

  63. 63.

    Mark IV

    Too many of us are in the witness protection program.

    LOL! I’ll bet. Protection from what, though?

    As for Seraphine/Eve and Tom/MarkIV, can you guys just admit that the other person has a point and move on? You are both right.

  64. 64.

    Jessawhy: Would we all put on our happy church faces, or would Eve and Tom still bash it out over Sloppy Joes?

    Nah. I’d probably just hide in the corner. Besides, I don’t have a happy church face. It’s more of an open-mouthed blank stare.

    As for Seraphine/Eve and Tom/MarkIV, can you guys just admit that the other person has a point and move on?

    I thought I did admit that Eve has a point about using historical examples to refute bad arguments. See #52 and #53.

    Without a compelling response to my #58, I won’t concede that giving different assignments based on gender necessarily implies that members of one gender are unfit for the tasks assigned to the other gender, or even that they are less fit for those tasks than the other gender.

    Mark IV: Tom, what does it feel like to get tagteamed by so much impressive brainpower?

    You mean, what does it feel like to get tagteamed by so much brainpower, yet emerge victorious? It just reaffirms to me how brilliant I really am, which feels good, of course.

  65. 65.

    As for Seraphine/Eve and Tom/MarkIV, can you guys just admit that the other person has a point and move on? You are both right.

    I’m curious about what your position is on this. What are the two points that are both right? In what way has it been demonstrated that they’re right? And what are the implications for the discussion at hand, about the possibility for separate-but-equal status, both philosophically and practically within the Mormon Church?

    If you could articulate this, I think it would genuinely help us frame the discussion.

  66. 66.

    Unfortunately I only have a few free minutes right now, and not enough time to comment in depth, but I think it might be fruitful to ask: what is value, and where does it come from? One idea I encounter frequently in such discussions that I’m interested in unpacking is the assumption that value is ultimately (and exclusively?) assigned by authority. Value is thus manipulable, and in the event it should be manipulated, we look to that authority to adjust/reassign it.

    If this can indeed be demonstrated to be the case, then a separate-but-equal-in-value policy poses no philosophical hurdles whatever, provided the appropriate authority decrees the equal value of the separate activities. (Group X can be assigned to watch paint dry and group Y can be assigned to run the community, and both groups are equally valued if the authority of the community decrees that it is so.)

    I find this problematic. Value must at least partially be located in the benefit derived from the activity or attitudes in question, and is not infinitely elastic. Authority is only one possible benefactor in that complex, and cannot construct value on an entirely arbitrary basis.

    In an effort to avoid incendiary parallels, I’ll attempt to stick to thought experiments: can we imagine philosophically a situation in which one group is barred from an activity on which value is conferred and benefit derived, and yet that group is “equally” valued? What are the constraints?

  67. 67.

    Tom – I appreciate your thoughtful comments on this thread. I’m not sure this answers your #58, but I consider all differential treatment based solely upon one’s gender/racial/class/religion to be immediately suspect.

    First, because God is no respecter of persons.

    Second, because time and time again the justifications for differential treatment based upon these immutable characteristics have been revealed to be based upon cultural and social stereotypes – not upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to go far back in our own LDS history to find offensive remarks spoken by prophets of God about members of the black race or the Jewish religion, for example.

    If even a prophet of God is limited by his own cultural background to preach and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, then we as members of the Church need to be extremely vigilant not to fall into this trap.

    In conclusion, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any differential treatment based upon sex. There are biological differences between the sexes that may warrant accommodations in certain circumstances. That being said, the biological differences between men and women are hardly sufficient to justify the limited role women are categorically given in the LDS Church.

  68. 68.

    Without a compelling response to my #58, I won’t concede that giving different assignments based on gender necessarily implies that members of one gender are unfit for the tasks assigned to the other gender, or even that they are less fit for those tasks than the other gender.

    To clarify: your argument is that one gender might not be unfit for particular activities, but rather less fit, either (a) because of inherent abilities or (b) because of inherent needs?

  69. 69.

    Jessawhy, I hope you aren’t worried that Tom and I are sitting at our keyboards spluttering in rage at each other, our fingers clattering away in a fury of carpal-tunnel syndrome. I’m not angry at Tom, and judging by his light tone, I’m assuming he’s not angry at me, either. Although we’ve departed significantly from Seraphine’s original post, personally I think these issues, and just about any other issues I can think of, are very worth discussing and disagreeing about. We don’t agree, and we undoubtedly still won’t agree at the end of the discussion, but I’ve already found the conversation very enlightening, and I hope Tom and others have as well. I don’t think the goal is to walk away in agreement or conceding that the other person has a point (unless we really are persuaded that the other person really does have a point–and as Tom pointed out, I think we’ve both conceded as much above). The goal is a deeper understanding and a broader perspective, not consensus. (A good thing, really–can you imagine the gargantuan task of trying to get everyone on the Bloggernacle to agree to a given proposition? Impossible. And although consensus on practical matters is vital–where to live, what movie to watch, what kind of couch to buy–consensus on intellectual ones is boring.)

    In my book the very best, most intellectually engaging, most fun discussions occur among people who don’t agree with one another and who aren’t going to, but who know one another well enough or are simply courteous enough that the disagreement is never personal or mean. I think your urging that we each admit the other has a point can be understood in at least two ways. If you mean that we should each concede our points of view, or parts thereof, for the sake of harmony, then I don’t agree with you. I think that’s intellectualy dishonest, and the harmony that results is superficial and untenuous anyway. Not all intellectual positions or arguments are created equal. To pick an extreme, and therefore inflammatory example: we can’t say to a dictator, well, I can certainly see where you’re coming from with this systematic genocide of yours! I guess you have a point that those [Jews/Africans/Tutsis/Armenians] simply aren’t as human as the rest of us, and they probably do deserve to be extreminated like vermin. In other words, there are situations in which we have a moral obligation to disagree and to continue to disagree, vigorously. (DISCLAIMER: The illustration above should not be taken to imply that (a) Tom is a genocidal maniac, (b) Jessawhy is a genocidal maniac, or (C) that ANYONE AT ALL ON THE BLOGGERNACLE is a genocidal maniac. There are no genocidal maniacs here, folks. It’s just a thought experiment.)

    But if what you’re saying is that we should each make an effort to understand where the other person is coming from in a more complete sense, socially and emotionally as well as intellectually, to make his or her arguments make the best sense they can, to view the other person as a person, not as an abstract set of propositions–well, then I do completely agree with you there.

  70. 70.

    Eve, there you go, bringing extreme-case examples into the discussion again… (Sorry, the irony was just too much for me.) :)

    Kiskilili, I really like the way you’ve added the concept of “value” to the discussion. To answer your question, can we imagine philosophically a situation in which one group is barred from an activity on which value is conferred and benefit derived, and yet that group is “equally” valued? What are the constraints?, I would say “yes” with the following constraints:

    1) group A is solely responsible for activity X and is barred from activity Y
    2) group B is solely responsible for activity Y and is barred from activity X
    3) both activity X and Y are equally “valued.”

    Of course, we could have an argument over “valued by whom?” and “valued according to what criteria?”, but I think the above conditions satisfy your question. My guess is that many people in the church would say that these three conditions are met when it comes to our church’s “separate but equal” policy, but I’m not sure that they are (since women’s roles are things that men can participate in, barring actual childbirth).

  71. 71.

    There are no genocidal maniacs here, folks.

    You only think there are none of us here. I refuse to be reduced to a thought experiment.

  72. 72.

    Genocidal Maniac, this is your parole officer speaking. If you don’t stuff yourself back into the deranged thought experiment from which you have crawled RIGHT THIS MINUTE, I will come after you in my convertible garbage truck, hold my hydraulic log-spitter to your head, and superglue a sequin-encrusted merman tail to your nether regions.

    You’re lookin’ at hard time, man. Don’t make me do it.

  73. 73.

    Emotional appeals tend to engender sloppy arguments and should therefore be avoided.

    Mark IV #60, this is an interesting point — and I think you’d perhaps enjoy looking at the psychological research on this. The finding over the last 15 years or so is that people do their sloppiest reasoning when they’re not emotionally engaged. If emotional appeals are effective enough to get people motivated but not overloaded, the quality of their deliberation process is actually likely to improve. It would seem that we as a species just don’t waste our cognitive resources on things that don’t get our juices flowing.

  74. 74.

    To clarify: your argument is that one gender might not be unfit for particular activities, but rather less fit, either (a) because of inherent abilities or (b) because of inherent needs?

    To add to this: the question as I see it revolves around whether one gender is inherently unfit for particular tasks, or rendered unfit by the presence of the other gender–in other words, less fit.

    Whether we take the determinant of “fitness” to be the capabilities or the spiritual/developmental needs of the gender in question, one data point that is worth mentioning is that under communist regimes in the Eastern Bloc in which tiny groups of women constituted the only Mormons with whom they had contact, no priesthood ordinances were ever allowed to be performed. This is still true for women living in parts of the world where the Church is virtually nonexistent. If I move to Morocco, I will not have the opportunity to take the sacrament. I am unfit to bless the sacrament. If I were merely less fit, what should stop me from enacting the ordinance when no priesthood holders were available?

    To me, this indicates that our policy regards women not simply as less fit than men, but entirely unfit regardless of the circumstances. Is there another way of looking at it?

  75. 75.

    1) group A is solely responsible for activity X and is barred from activity Y
    2) group B is solely responsible for activity Y and is barred from activity X
    3) both activity X and Y are equally “valued.”

    Of course, we could have an argument over “valued by whom?” and “valued according to what criteria?”, but I think the above conditions satisfy your question. My guess is that many people in the church would say that these three conditions are met when it comes to our church’s “œseparate but equal” policy, but I’m not sure that they are (since women’s roles are things that men can participate in, barring actual childbirth).

    Yes–and to complicate the issue, is it helpful to introduce individuals’ idiosyncratic assignment of value? I would add to these constraints that everyone in group B must personally value activity Y at least as much as X, and vice versa for group A, since individuals are bound to value various activities differently, based on their own personal penchants, abilities, and spiritual needs, and value would be accordingly misdistributed if a number of B-groupers valued activity X more than Y, for whatever reason.

    (Obviously, not all women are capable of giving birth–so regardless of our view of physical parturition, there is no activity X to which all worthy women actually belong in the Church.)

    (Also, this thought experiment, while useful, attempts to satisfy the criteria laid out, not necessarily to articulate the ideal situation.)

  76. 76.

    Kiskilili, thanks for amending my conditions. I think you idea for assigning/determining value works for this particular thought experiment.

    (Obviously, not all women are capable of giving birth, so regardless of our view of physical parturition, there is no activity X to which all worthy women actually belong in the Church.)

    Yeah, I meant to add this as an additional caveat, and I forgot.

  77. 77.

    the possibility that members of each gender are fit for all tasks, but they are more fit for the tasks to which they are assigned

    I won’t concede that giving different assignments based on gender necessarily implies that members of one gender are unfit for the tasks assigned to the other gender, or even that they are less fit for those tasks than the other gender.

    I think I’m misunderstanding your argument. You’re saying that decreeing that one gender is unfit for particular activities is not the only possible conclusion for explaining gendered policies: the other option is that one gender is more fit than the other, either because the activities address spiritual needs, or because this gender is uniquely capable.

    But the fact that one gender is more fit than the other for the activities in question, for whatever reason, does not indicate that the other gender is less fit than the first???????????? (What else could it possibly indicate?)

  78. 78.

    Kiskilili #66: One idea I encounter frequently in such discussions that I’m interested in unpacking is the assumption that value is ultimately (and exclusively?) assigned by authority. Value is thus manipulable, and in the event it should be manipulated, we look to that authority to adjust/reassign it.

    I, like you, would reject that idea. From a Gospel perspective, the value of any undertaking can be judged by the good that results from it, or at least the potential for good, good being defined as progression for ourselves and/or others toward godliness and joy. So nurturing children (in the right way) is a valuable endeavor because it benefits children by bringing them closer to God, helping them learn how to live in accordance with the principles that lead to joy, and so forth. It’s also valuable because it helps parents learn to develop divine attributes and learn to love as God loves. Serving in the Church is a valuable endeavor because it furthers the Church’s work of helping God’s children attain eternal joy, while also helping the one giving service develop charity. And so on. So it’s not a case of value being arbitrarily assigned by God or other authorities. Things are good and valuable because according to eternal laws that govern progression and development, they lead individuals to godliness and joy.

    can we imagine philosophically a situation in which one group is barred from an activity on which value is conferred and benefit derived, and yet that group is “equally” valued? What are the constraints?

    Easy: if the group is offered an alternate activity that is equally valuable to the one from which they are barred.

    Seraphine #70 answers the question with these constraints:
    1) group A is solely responsible for activity X and is barred from activity Y
    2) group B is solely responsible for activity Y and is barred from activity X
    3) both activity X and Y are equally “valued.”

    I don’t think 1) and 2) are necessary. As long as individuals in each group have sufficient opportunity to have their needs for growth opportunities met, whether or not they have activities available exclusively to them isn’t important.

    Kiskilili, #68, referring to my #58: To clarify: your argument is that one gender might not be unfit for particular activities, but rather less fit, either (a) because of inherent abilities or (b) because of inherent needs?

    Eve’s assertion, which my #58 is disputing is this:

    To the extent we have an eternal, essentialized view of gender, and to the extent that we view our social institutions as expressions of those eternal divine differences about which we hear so much, we do therefore view members of one gender as unfit for the tasks reserved to the other.

    I pointed out other possible reasons for gender-based assignments besides that members of one gender are unfit for the tasks assigned to the other. I don’t really know if I can say it better than I did in #58, but I’ll try to give the alternatives more concisely here:

    1) men and women are assigned to different tasks, not because they are categorically unfit to do the tasks assigned to the other gender, but because of inherent differences in abilities they are more fit for the tasks to which they are assigned than the other gender.

    2) differences in fitness for given tasks has nothing to do with the reasons for which specific tasks are assigned to the respective groups, but due to their inherent differences, men and women need growth opportunities of different natures in order to progress to perfection, so they’re assigned to the tasks that will give them the experiences they need.

    I could come up with other possibilities that don’t rely on there being essential differences either in abilities or needs between men and women. Here I’m just showing that there are conclusions other than that men and women are unfit for the tasks to which the other gender is assigned that are consistent with the notions that Eve cites: that there are essential gender differences and that “our social institutions [are] expressions of those eternal divine differences.”

    Don’t take this as me proposing a complete theory as to The Reasons for differential treatment based on gender. I’m just refuting Eve’s assertion, which ECS also made, and which I hear a lot, that men or women being excluded from performing certain functions necessarily implies that they are unfit to perform them.

  79. 79.

    That last sentence would be better if it ended this way: “. . . necessarily implies that they are presumed to be unfit to perform them.

  80. 80.

    Whether we take the determinant of “fitness” to be the capabilities or the spiritual/developmental needs of the gender in question,

    I’m considering fitness and neediness as entirely different things. I’m talking about fitness as synonymous with level of ability. Need has nothing to do with ability.

  81. 81.

    “men and women need growth opportunities of different natures”

    Which opportunities and which natures are these?

  82. 82.

    I don’t think 1) and 2) are necessary. As long as individuals in each group have sufficient opportunity to have their needs for growth opportunities met, whether or not they have activities available exclusively to them isn’t important.

    I know you’re going to be annoyed at me for saying this, but racial segregation could be justified using your argument (though most definitely not slavery). :) Since I’m guessing you view racial segregation as a problem, I’m wondering why you might view that as an example of unequal conditions. Since I would argue that racial segregation still allowed for the opportunity of growth, wouldn’t it be okay according to your argument above? What am I missing?

  83. 83.

    I’m considering fitness and neediness as entirely different things. I’m talking about fitness as synonymous with level of ability. Need has nothing to do with ability.

    So we need a word we can agree on: one gender is __ for certain tasks because the other gender needs to perform them for spiritual and developmental growth, and the first gender would deprive the second of that opportunity.

    (Sorry for the repetition, but if I lived alone on the moon, I would not have the opportunity of taking the sacrament. Which man’s spiritual growth would thereby be enhanced? Are there limits to the utility of an explanation based on need in accounting for Church policies?)

  84. 84.

    So, Tom, you’re proposing a pseudo-Calvinistic understanding: God’s justice is impenetrable to human understanding?

    Something like: God’s policies appear arbitrary. Justice cannot be arbitrary. God is perfectly just. So we assume the problem lies in our own understanding of justice? (Or am I still misunderstanding you?)

    I’ll concede that that solves the issue, essentially by deferring it. It’s an explanation I encounter frequently in the Church (though not in these terms exactly). I personally think it raises disturbing philosophical questions of its own, but it does highlight that our disagreement, as so often with feminist issues, can be distilled to one of epistemology: do we defer to authority (Church, God) or do we make use of human reason and observation as legitimate tools for moral discussion?

  85. 85.

    So we need a word we can agree on: one gender is __ for certain tasks because the other gender needs to perform them for spiritual and developmental growth, and the first gender would deprive the second of that opportunity.

    (I understand, by the way, that this is not what you’re arguing–you’re arguing that this is one possible alternative illustrating that we are not led inexorably to the conclusion that gender policies are based on an assessment of the fitness/capability of one gender over the other.

    I was simply using the term “unfit” to describe such a situation, thinking “inappropriate,” etc.–one gender is rendered unfit for carrying out certain tasks by the developmental needs of the other gender, to which those tasks should therefore be restricted, to restate your argument. This is evidently not how you understand the term, so perhaps we can find a more “fit” term, so to speak?)

  86. 86.

    Kiskilili #74: To me, this indicates that our policy regards women not simply as less fit than men, but entirely unfit regardless of the circumstances. Is there another way of looking at it?

    Sure, there are other ways of looking at it. It’s possible that having the priesthood be exclusively held by males is somehow beneficial. Maybe the institution and its ability to accomplish its mission depends on a there being a certain order or structure so that, while it might not be ideal in all circumstances, overall it’s the best thing for all concerned.

    I know, this is hand waiving. But it’s not unreasonable. The thing is, in making these judgments there is so much information that we don’t have and the calculations are incredibly complicated. In theory world we can fix the problem of the Eastern Bloc sisters by simply ordaining some or all women, but God has to work in the messy real world and contingencies can’t be made for all situations.

    But the fact that one gender is more fit than the other for the activities in question, for whatever reason, does not indicate that the other gender is less fit than the first???????????? (What else could it possibly indicate?)

    I acknowledged in #58, referring to my first possible explanation:

    In this case, you still have differential assignments based on differential fitness, but you have no group that is unift for any (non-biologically based) tasks.

    But my second possible explanation has nothing to do with fitness (abilities). If different needs is really the reason or part of the reason that men and women are given different tasks then the fact that they are given different assignments based on gender doesn’t mean that they are presumed to be either unfit (incapable) or less fit (less capable) for the assignments given to the other gender, just that they are in less need of the experience.

  87. 87.

    The last paragraph shouldn’t be blockquoted.

  88. 88.

    I’m never going to catch up. Maybe you’ll just have to trust that I have really good and convincing answers for every single one of your objections. :-)

  89. 89.

    Ah, but we don’t defer to authority, so we can’t simply trust you–that’s what makes us “liberal” in the classical sense. :)

  90. 90.

    The thing is, in making these judgments there is so much information that we don’t have and the calculations are incredibly complicated. In theory world we can fix the problem of the Eastern Bloc sisters by simply ordaining some or all women, but God has to work in the messy real world and contingencies can’t be made for all situations.

    But why does God have to work in the messy real world? He’s powerful. He can make theory world the real world.

    Maybe there’s a reason that it’s beneficial to some women not to have access to priesthood ordinances–I certainly can’t argue with that. I’m only using this example to expose the limits of the alternatives you’re constructing, as an invitation to you to construct an alternative explanation for restricting certain privileges to one gender that has nothing to do with either gender’s fitness, if you think there is such a viable explanation, even as a thought experiment.

    If, rather than a viable alternative to the above conclusion, your argument is that we don’t have all the information so we can’t finally assess which situation is optimal, I can’t argue with that (which is, as I see it, saying that God’s justice is impenetrable to us). I only maintain that employing our own fallible moral reasoning and the information we do have available is obligatory, that no policy or statement issued by an authority exonerates us from engaging in moral reasoning.

  91. 91.

    Naismith, this is a small threadjack, but I’m just curious to know what you would do in a situation where a bishop absolutely refused to take you seriously or take your suggestions into account. I’m all in favor of women (feminists and non-feminists alike) making their voices heard, but what would you do if a leader (i.e. bishop) didn’t listen? Would you use your husband if you knew your bishop would listen to him? (I’m asking because I’m curious to know what course of action you would take.)

    It’s important to keep in mind that this is the church of Jesus Christ, not my workplace or another civic group. The bottom line is not what I want, but what is the Lord’s will. I’m entirely confident that if something is the Lord’s will, then the bishop will know that, and listen to me. So if a bishop “absolutely refused” to take my suggestions into account, I would assume that he had other priorities dictated by his view of having stewardship over the entire ward, whereas my view is just of my family or just of my sunday school class or primary or wherever I am serving at the time. There are often competing interests, and what seems obviously best to me may not be best for the entire ward.

    If he isn’t willing to listen to the spirit (which I assume happens on rare occasions since leaders are human and have bad days, too), I don’t think it would matter if my husband said something instead of me. I’m trying real hard to think of an example, but can’t. I’ve seen that kind of sexism in dealing with auto mechanics and physicians, but not at church. If anything, most bishops try to make an extra effort to deal fairly with women.

    A few years back when I served as ward Relief Society president, I effected some restructuring in how things were done in the ward. The first time I suggested a change, I had prayed about it, but also marshalled a lot of logical arguments. When I presented it, the bishopric agreed immediately. It was kind of a let-down to have been ready to argue, and not be able to make the case. But as I prayed about it, I was called to repentance for wasting time relying on logic when my needs were already met through the spirit. Thereafter I merely worried about whether it was the Lord’s will or not, and proceeded if I was sure it was the Lord’s will. And the bishopric always agreed.

    So I guess I don’t know what I’d do because I’ve never faced it.

  92. 92.

    Seraphine #82: I know you’re going to be annoyed at me for saying this, but racial segregation could be justified using your argument (though most definitely not slavery). Since I’m guessing you view racial segregation as a problem, I’m wondering why you might view that as an example of unequal conditions. Since I would argue that racial segregation still allowed for the opportunity of growth, wouldn’t it be okay according to your argument above? What am I missing?

    I’m not offering the line of reasoning that you cite as justification for differential treatment based on gender by God or the Church, so I don’t have to defend it as such. Right now the only work it’s doing is answering Kiskilili’s question:

    can we imagine philosophically a situation in which one group is barred from an activity on which value is conferred and benefit derived, and yet that group is “equally” valued?

    I was just pointing out that in order to meet the conditions that Kiskilili sets up, the group that is barred from activity X doesn’t have to have exclusive access to a different, equally valuable activity. That would satisfy the conditions but it’s not necessary that access be exclusive. Look at it this way: group A can derive benefit Z from either activity X or Y or both; group B can derive benefit Z only from activity Y. As long as activities X and Y provide benefit Z equally well the conditions are met.

  93. 93.

    Kiskilili: So, Tom, you’re proposing a pseudo-Calvinistic understanding: God’s justice is impenetrable to human understanding?

    Something like: God’s policies appear arbitrary. Justice cannot be arbitrary. God is perfectly just. So we assume the problem lies in our own understanding of justice? (Or am I still misunderstanding you?)

    I don’t know where you see me proposing this. I never said God’s policies appear arbitrary. To me they appear perfectly rational.

    but it does highlight that our disagreement, as so often with feminist issues, can be distilled to one of epistemology: do we defer to authority (Church, God) or do we make use of human reason and observation as legitimate tools for moral discussion?

    You’re jumping to conclusions. Am I not having a moral discussion with you using reason and observation? I’m unconvinced by the reasoning on which feminists base their judgments that the Church’s policies are bad or harmful or in need of change.

  94. 94.

    Wow, I missed a lot today! (it’s crazy to see these comments reach into the 90s)
    Eve said

    Jessawhy, I hope you aren’t worried that Tom and I are sitting at our keyboards spluttering in rage at each other, our fingers clattering away in a fury of carpal-tunnel syndrome.

    I reread my comment and it just sounds like I’m trying to break up a fight in jr high, doesn’t it? No, I don’t think you guys are angry. I do appreciate the honest discussion. Honestly, and I’ll only admit this b/c I don’t know any of you personally, a lot of what you were saying was going over my head (at least without me reading each comment thrice) and I wanted to get back to the real argument. It seemed to me that you were arguing over the platform on which you intended to debate. I was just trying to hurry up the real show :)
    Eve, I do think that agreeing just for the sake of harmony is wrong, particularly on the bloggernacle. I think your point was well made, and definately accentuated by the Bouncer.
    However, as I continued to read and was called a genocidal maniac?, I believe, I realized that I was wrong. The debate you are having makes sense and we do need to have these discussions. (although it always seems to come back to semantics, doesn’t it?)
    Kiskilili (can you write a pronunciation for your name?)
    Many debates around here focus on the same idea: figuring out if the church is the way God wants it. The methods or reasons for determining this vary, but it seems that the answer is either yes or no. (with caveats that differ between individuals) From what I’ve read of your comments, a person’s answer should be derived, at least in part, through moral reasoning. What part does divine witness (the Spirit, intuition, etc) play in your personal answers of these questions?

  95. 95.

    Jessawhy, thanks for explaining. I think I understand where you were coming from much better now.

    (And I absolutely don’t think you’re a genocidal maniac. That was my whole point: no genocidal maniacs in these parts! The Bouncer’s here to ensure that. ;) ).

  96. 96.

    To me they appear perfectly rational.

    Sorry if I’ve misread you. I think I was reading your comments as an expression of a sort of radical agnosticism: that we cannot know, given the nature of our information, whether limiting institutional authority to men is the optimal situation or not.

    But your argument is rather that God’s behavior does not appear arbitrary, his reasons are not unknowable, but they conform to a moral standard which we can articulate and justify through moral reasoning. God’s behavior is thus rational and transparent.

    (Or rational but inscrutable, and thus irrational–apparently arbitrary–from our perspective? Or transparent but irrational?)

    What then is the rationale?

  97. 97.

    Thanks for clarifying, Jessawhy. And feel free to pronounce my name however you like. :)

    From what I’ve read of your comments, a person’s answer should be derived, at least in part, through moral reasoning. What part does divine witness (the Spirit, intuition, etc) play in your personal answers of these questions?

    I think ideally we bring our own moral reasoning into dialogue with our understanding of spiritual impressions in an effort to make sense of issues, acknowledging the fallibility of both.

    However, spiritual impressions are experiential and unverifiable, which is one reason I think they naturally play less of a role in an open forum. One person can claim the spirit has told them women already have the priesthood and one person can claim the spirit has told them women will never have the priesthood, and we’re immediately at an impasse.

    In Genesis 22, Abraham unquestioningly sets off for Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command. But in Genesis 18 Abraham uses his own understanding of the situation, his own belief about what’s just and what’s unjust, to bargain with God and “convinces” God of his position.

    I’ll take the risk of bargaining with God. :)

  98. 98.

    Eve, I’m glad we’re on the same page. I’m even gladder (if that’s a word) that there are no genocidal maniacs lurking around here. :)
    Kiskilili,
    Thank YOU for clarifying. I’ve wondered this question for quite a while but have only recently been able to articulate it (thanks to reading other, more articulate, posts)
    you said:

    I think ideally we bring our own moral reasoning into dialogue with our understanding of spiritual impressions in an effort to make sense of issues, acknowledging the fallibility of both.

    It seems to me that the church does not teach the fallibility of spiritual impressions. (this is probably off the thread, but I want to understand how your basic understanding of this balance may differ from others)
    So in an open forum, it’s more useful to use moral reasoning since everyone can have her own spiritual impressions. That makes sense. But, for some people, the spiritual impressions will always “trump” moral reasoning, since moral reasoning changes over time and “God’s ways are higher” than man’s ways (is this Calvinistic?). Would the path to real enlightenment then involve taking a new idea from this forum that agrees with my moral reasoning and bringing it to God for confirmation? Is this place a beginning of a person’s journey to enlightenment , or is it just a place to stir the waters and vent?
    Explain a little more about your Abraham analogy. God would have let Abraham kill Isaac if he hadn’t bargained with him? I’m not sure I understand how the story applies. (I’ll go read the chapters)
    I hope you take my questions in the spirit of honest questioning. I really am trying to understand how to be faithful and also ask these important questions of fairness, equality, separateness, etc.
    Also, I’m sure you know I’m fairly new here, perhaps there are previous threads that you could guide me to that discuss this same topic.

  99. 99.

    Kiskilili,
    Oh, maybe you’re referring to my comments way back at the beginning of the thread about our conclusions here being little more than guesses. I think this, not because theological questions are in a special category of questions that are by their nature unanswerable because they’re about an incomprehensible God, but because they belong to a category of questions for which solid evidence is lacking, confounding variables are abundant, important information is missing, and controlled experiments are impossible. Answering the question of whether or not the Church’s policies are optimal would require that we know the current policies’ effects on individuals’ progress toward godliness and joy and that we be able to monitor the changes in individuals’ progress toward godliness and joy when policies are changed. I don’t know how to observe those data. Even if we restrict our analysis to the temporal realm (we would have to) and observe measurable factors (reported levels of happiness/satisfaction, mental health, physical health, divorce rates, etc.) and assume that changes in certain measurable factors correlate with the changes in the factors that are ultimately the relevant ones (progression towards godliness and joy), which assumption has its problems, it is still an incredibly complex problem. It’s not just questions relating to Church policies for which I think definitive answers are unlikely to come. Some important examples: what social factors combine with biological ones to determine human sexual orientation? What economic policies lead to the greatest overall prosperity and happiness? What’s the best way to discipline children? And so on.

    Of course that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to reason our way through these questions. That’s what we’re doing here and we’ve learned some things.

    As for my claim that God’s policies seem completely rational to me, that’s a bit strong. While I have plenty of unanswered questions, the Plan of Salvation as I understand it makes sense to me. I don’t know all of God’s policies and I don’t know for sure how much the Church’s policies match up one-to-one with God’s. But so far I haven’t seen good reason to believe that the Church’s policies are necessarily inconsistent with the notions that God approves of them and that God values men and women equally or esteems them equally or regards them as equally human, etc.

  100. 100.

    was just pointing out that in order to meet the conditions that Kiskilili sets up, the group that is barred from activity X doesn’t have to have exclusive access to a different, equally valuable activity. That would satisfy the conditions but it’s not necessary that access be exclusive. Look at it this way: group A can derive benefit Z from either activity X or Y or both; group B can derive benefit Z only from activity Y. As long as activities X and Y provide benefit Z equally well the conditions are met.

    I’m confused. It seems like you are assigning value to the activities rather than the groups, and saying that if all groups have access to at least one valuable/beneficiable activity, then the groups are equally valued?

  101. 101.

    How can opportunity to participate in given activities relate to how the groups are valued unless participation in the activities has value in and of itself? If participation has no value, then unequal access cannot be evidence of unequal valuation. I’m assuming that the reason valuable activities are valuable is that participation in them imparts some benefit to the one who participates (ignoring the benefit to people other than the one performing the activity).

    saying that if all groups have access to at least one valuable/beneficiable activity, then the groups are equally valued?

    This is a misreading. The groups must have access to equally beneficial activities, whether or not the activities are the same.

  102. 102.

    Tom, I cannot accept your logic. Value of activities is different than value of groups. According to your logic, things like racial segregation could be justified (since minorities clearly had access to beneficial/valuable activities under the conditions of segregation). However, I would argue that racial minorities were not equally valued under segregation, which means that value of groups is a separate thing from value of activities.

  103. 103.

    I’m participating in a thought experiment, not justifying anything. Show me how my logic is flawed. That a line of reasoning has troubling implications is not evidence of flawed logic. It’s not my fault if the thought experiment doesn’t get the results you want. I know from way too many useless real world experiments that experiments sometimes just don’t give you what you want. That’s why they’re called experiments.

    I haven’t thought it through enough to know whether I accept your assertion that the reasoning fully justifies racial segregation, but again, implications are irrelevant to the question of whether or not the logic is valid.

    Value of activities is different than value of groups.

    Yet the thought experiment assumes that they’re inextricably related. Here it is:

    can we imagine philosophically a situation in which one group is barred from an activity on which value is conferred and benefit derived, and yet that group is “equally” valued?

    The “and yet that group is ‘equally’ valued” phrase is meaningless unless somehow the value of activities is related to the valuation of groups.

    My answer to the thought experiment was “yes” (as was yours). I gave reasons why, I gave the constraints, and I gave the reasons why the constraints you proposed were not necessary. If the logic is flawed, then give me reasons why. Or you can give reasons why the assumptions in thought experiment are no good.

  104. 104.

    I understand that you’re not justifying anything. But, in my mind, if you can come up with numerous examples that fit a particular set of proposed conditions (i.e. your conditions) but that don’t met the requirements of the original thought experiment (i.e. groups being equally valued), then the proposed conditions don’t work.

    The example that I mentioned above was racial segregation (though I could have chosen other examples). It fits your conditions (a group barred from an activity still has access to other beneficial activities), but does not meet the requirements of the thought experiment (groups being equally valued), and that means your conditions don’t meet the requirements for this particular thought experiment.

    Perhaps I could accept your logic if you came up with examples that fit both your conditions and the original thought experiment.

  105. 105.

    Wow, looks like I’ve been missing all the fun on this thread.

    Tom, I’m curious, you’ve mentioned a couple of times that you’re unpersuaded by feminist arguments that Church policies are harmful to women, which is fair enough. I am wondering, however, whether there is any kind of evidence on this matter that you would in fact find persuasive. If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re making the case that our information and understanding of the situation is so limited that it’s difficult if not impossible for us to draw any conclusions about it. While I’d agree that whatever conclusions we’re able to draw are necessarily going to be tentative, fallible, and subject to revision, I’m nonetheless wary of too much of an appeal to agnosticism here. My concern is that if we always end up at the position of “we can’t definitively know whether this is harmful or helpful,” we could all too easily end up ignoring real problems which we could potentially do something about on the basis that we weren’t able to say with absolute certainty that they were in fact causing harm.

  106. 106.

    Group A can derive benefit Z from either activity X or Y or both; group B can derive benefit Z only from activity Y. As long as activities X and Y provide benefit Z equally well the conditions are met.

    Hmm. I would say that in this scenario Group A still has the advantage, because they have more opportunities to accrue benefit Z, seeing as how they can get it from multiple places.

  107. 107.

    Jessawhy (re #98), I’ve also wondered a lot about those questions you raise regarding the fallibility of spiritual impressions. (I actually wrote a post on the subject a while ago.) In a nutshell, I’d say that while the Spirit itself is presumably infallible, our interpretation of it is most definitely not–I would guess that most people could come up with personal experiences which attest to the fact that learning to discern the voice of the Spirit is a process, and frequently one with a lot of missteps along the way.

  108. 108.

    Oh, maybe you’re referring to my comments way back at the beginning of the thread about our conclusions here being little more than guesses. I think this, not because theological questions are in a special category of questions that are by their nature unanswerable because they’re about an incomprehensible God, but because they belong to a category of questions for which solid evidence is lacking, confounding variables are abundant, important information is missing, and controlled experiments are impossible.

    Tom (#99), I think I reached the conclusion that your approach is essentially one of agnosticism for two reasons:

    (a) You’ve attempted repeatedly to illustrate that we cannot know what either the effects or the significance to the community of our policies is not. If your stance is that we cannot know what the significance is not, then it logically follows that we cannot know what it is.

    (b) Consistent with this position, you’ve criticized “certainty” (both in this thread and on others) and strength of convictions/self-importance. If one simply cannot know, if ambiguity is to be embraced, then certainty is clearly unwarranted.

    My question then is this:

    Given the utter paucity of the available data that you outline above, and the fractious nature of the data we do have, one would logically conclude that you’re equally open to the possibility that the Church’s policies, for example, have a deleterious effect on the well-being of women as the possibility that the Church’s policies are beneficial. We simply cannot know. Your objection then would not be to the conclusions feminists reach, but to the conviction with which they hold them.

    But far from embracing the absolute ambiguity that you allude to in the first part of your comment, you yourself reach a (tentative?) conclusion at the end of your comment: that there is, to your mind, no “good reason to believe that the Church’s policies are necessarily inconsistent with the notions that God approves of them and that God values men and women equally or esteems them equally or regards them as equally human, etc.” You’re willing to make a guess.

    My question is, what methods and/or data has led you, in spite of the reasons you enumerate for accepting radical uncertainty, rather to reject that uncertainty in favor of a conclusion, even a tentative one?

  109. 109.

    Explain a little more about your Abraham analogy.

    Jessawhy (#98), I wasn’t very clear, was I! What I meant was, one model for interacting with God that Abraham presents is unquestioning obedience (in the matter of sacrificing Isaac), and this is the model I think we hold up most frequently in the Church, essentially as the only appropriate model. Another model he presents, when God’s proposed behavior appears unjustified to him, is to bargain with God, to reason with God, as it were–and amazingly enough God seems willing to listen. (Another of the many examples of this is Exodus 32:7-14.) My point is that I see no problem with the latter model. I’m willing to critique, on the basis of my conscience, God’s commandments and policies as the Church presents them, to “reason with God,” as it were.

    But, for some people, the spiritual impressions will always “trump” moral reasoning, since moral reasoning changes over time and “God’s ways are higher” than man’s ways.

    Oh, I absolutely agree that the Church’s position is that spiritual impressions trump everything. It’s apparent to me, though, that spiritual impressions are no less prone to changing over time, as well as that they vary sometimes dramatically from person to person. I think this leaves us with a couple of possible conclusions.

    (A) People are lying about their spiritual impressions.
    (B) The spirit is lying–telling different people different things.
    (C) Spiritual impressions are inevitably subject to personal interpretation.

    I favor explanation C. :)

    I’ll illustrate with a real-life, sort of silly example: several years ago, my cat disappeared for a period of time and I worried he was lost (or worse). I prayed and received a strong spiritual impression. But I heard no voice explaining in no uncertain terms exactly what my cat was up to. What was it God telling me? I felt comforted. But did that mean my cat was safe and sound? Did it mean God loved me whether or not my cat was safe and sound? In light of the fact that my cat reappeared a few hours later, I’m inclined to think the message was that the cat was fine. I’m not sure that’s the only interpretation I could have assigned to the situation–that’s simply the interpretation of that impression that makes the most sense in light of other evidence.

    Is this place a beginning of a person’s journey to enlightenment , or is it just a place to stir the waters and vent?

    This is definitely a place to stir the waters and vent! Actually, I’m not convinced these activities are mutually exclusive.

  110. 110.

    Your objection then would not to the conclusions feminists reach, but to the conviction with which they hold them.

    I can’t speak for Tom, but that sums up pretty well where I am. When a woman objects to the language of woman as nurturer or the pedestal or whatever, I want to take her objections at face value. But Sanger, Addams, and Anthony had plenty to say about the angelic female nature and the innate barbarism of males, and we can’t dismiss them as outdated because Steinem just nominated Sanger as the foremost and prototypical feminist of the 20th century. So I, as an outsider, have a hard time understanding the strong, not to mention vehement, reaction when somebody in general conference talks about his angel mother.

  111. 111.

    Mark, for what it’s worth, I do in fact have a bad reaction when I encounter saccharine views of women from feminists. I have on occasion run into a strain of feminism which which rhapsodizes about the wonderful, oh-so-special attributes of women, and it leaves me feeling rather nauseated. To be honest, I’m a bit confused by your comment. If we were posting praises of Sanger’s idealized views of women (which to be honest I’m not actually familiar with) while simultaneously complaining about GAs doing the same thing, I’d agree that would be something worth calling to our attention, but I haven’t seen anything like that here.

    I’d also note that context plays a role in this. When I hear angelic mother discourse over the pulpit in General Conference, I probably do have a worse reaction than when I hear it elsewhere–because it’s coming from people who are endorsing policies which restrict the opportunities available to me based on my sex. Under such circumstances, I would say that it’s not too much of a surprise that I listen to such rhetoric with more than a bit of suspicion.

    In any case, I’m glad to hear (if I read your comment correctly), that you don’t necessarily disagree with feminist conclusions. ;)

  112. 112.

    Lynnette, I agree that context is important, and the mixture of faith and feminism can be loaded with emotion. We (or at least I) get jumpy when something that means a lot to us/me appears to be under unfair attack. I can imagine it is even worse for those who are both Mormon and feminist.

    I’ll agree that you’re entitled to view rhetoric from the church with more caution that rhetoric from another source, because there is more at stake. But don’t you find it odd when people turn their backs on the church, accusing it of sexism, racism, etc., in the strongest of terms, but cannot even muster a meek quibble with the outrageous racial views of Mrs. Sanger, for instance? I mean, holy cow, that woman could have written the playbook for the third reich. It causes me to wonder if they are really sincere in their beliefs, or if they are just looking for a handy club to use on the church. But maybe I’m misreading them completely.

    Any you’re correct, Lynnette. I do not necessarily disagree with all feminist conclusions. Is that nuanced enough? :-)

  113. 113.

    Mark IV, all the feminists I know are quite critical of racist tendencies in feminism. A lot of the most vocal criticism came out during the 80’s (see stuff by bell hooks, for example), and since it’s mostly accepted these days that feminists being racist is bad, the critiques aren’t quite as common (and accessible to the general public) anymore. Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that the critiques are happening, they may just be happening in forums where they aren’t taking center stage. (BTW, if you want any citations for critiques of racism in feminism, etc., let me know.)

  114. 114.

    [Rant to Follow. Proceed at Your Own Risk.]

    When a woman objects to the language of woman as nurturer or the pedestal or whatever, I want to take her objections at face value. But Sanger, Addams, and Anthony had plenty to say about the angelic female nature and the innate barbarism of males, and we can’t dismiss them as outdated because Steinem just nominated Sanger as the foremost and prototypical feminist of the 20th century. So I, as an outsider, have a hard time understanding the strong, not to mention vehement, reaction when somebody in general conference talks about his angel mother.

    Speaking as one who has a positively violent reaction to angel mother talk–regardless of its source!–I think it’s very simple. For a lot of women I think the angel mother (or what Virginia Woolf caled the Angel in the House) represents an impossible ideal that they can never achieve, which is why they want to crawl under the pews in despair on Mother’s Day. They want to be this woman but can’t (because who could be that good?). For me, it’s different. I don’t want to be an angel mother. I’ve always read Proverbs 31 and thought, hey, where can I get me one of them virtuous women chicks to deal with all the tiresome household chores and manage the family business while I go get known in the gates and chat up the elders? (And come to think of it, I have a bone or two to pick with them elders.)

    Angel mothers are vacuous, saccharine, and boring. They can’t think for themselves or disagree or argue because someone might get upset. They can’t take a principled stand or act decisively or think abstractly because that would be unfeminine. They can’t exhibit courage or strength or intelligence, can’t smart off or crack a salty joke, can’t sweat or bleed–they can only weep, softly, as if superglued into an eternal Madonna pose.

    I mean, really. Who would want to aspire to such a two-dimensional life? I don’t want to be an angel mother, I don’t want to have an angel mother smothering me with incessant selfless nurturing and gentle moral teaching, and there’s no way in hell I could be friends with an angel mother. (Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t personally know anyone like this–I just meet this strange and whiffleheaded woman in certain strains of Victorian and post-Victorian discourse. Oh, yeah, baby, give me the Old Testament any day of the week–Deborah and Huldah and Judith and Susannah had some guts and defiance among them, I’d say.)

    But be assured, Mark, that I am no respector of persons in the violence of my reaction to the Angel in the House. I’m no feminist scholar–see Seraphine for that–but I have, in my day-to-day dealings in the world, occasionally encountered strains of feminism that celebrate women’s inherently angelic, peaceful, morally superior natures as the salvation of civilization, or claim that when women take over the world and establish matriarchy a wave of peace, nurturance, and organic products will follow in their wake.

    Uh-huh. Comes that revolution, I hope to found out in the forest killing small fluffy animals with my bare hands. It’s enough to make a woman want to open up her very own pink shooting gallery. Or buy her very own nuclear weapon.

    [Rant Over. As You Were.]

  115. 115.

    *What kinds of benefits does the church get from a “seaparate but equal” policy, and what kinds of problems does it run into? To what extent do you think we should uphold the “separate but equal” ideal in the church?
    I think the benefits of this mentality are simply insignificant within the church. I can see it’s importance within the medical field, but when we are talking about souls, such separation can only be harmful. Not only does it separate people one from another and create division symbolically and it also dictates what a woman and man should be. In my opinion that is extremely oppressive and wrong. The gospel is SUPPOSE to be about the INDIVIDUAL. Who can really tell a man that just because he has a Y chromosome that he should be working all the time, even though the woman he is married to would prefer to work and he would prefer to stay home. Perhaps he has a more “nurturing” disposition. Does such a desire, such a disposition make him less of a man? Is this desire evil? Conversely, should a woman be condemned because she enjoys work over changing diapers? I had a child psych professor (he is Mormon too) tell me one time that it is better for a woman who wants to work, to work. It is worse on the children then any daycare system to have mother staying at home who does want to be there. I know I sound like a lunatic and a blasphemous LDS woman when I say that just maybe there are women in the world who do not like being stay at home moms. Maybe there are men who enjoy being stay at home dads. Are they wrong? Are they evil? I would argue a big fat hairy no. They are creations of God with DIVINE natures. They have good desires that have been skewed as wrong by a society sick with gender separation. I could go on and argue about how such a separation and assignment of roles might also play a huge part in homosexuality, but this post has become long enough.

  116. 116.

    Eve, nice rant. I like your hick dialogue. It works for you ;)
    Lilith, I wonder about the gender roles, too.
    For me, the perfect situation involves both my husband and I working part-time, and caring for our children together. I would miss them too much to work full-time, but I am going out of my mind being home full-time. (and I know my husband misses the kids terribly). Aren’t we supposed to have balance in all things?

  117. 117.

    Eve, that was awesome. I think your rant is going to be my new screensaver…

  118. 118.

    I just tried to post on the patriarchy thread, but it’s closed!
    So, here is my thought, it’s quasi-related. . .
    A friend sent me some links on the ERA and the church’s position. (I know I’m 25 years late to the feminist party) I was struck by the last line of Sonia Johnson’s speech.

    Our patriarchy may be The Last Unmitigated but it is no longer unchallenged. A multitude of Mormon women are through asking permission. We are waking up and growing up and in our waking and growing can be heard, distinctly, the death rattle of the patriarchy.

    What happened? Where have all the feminists gone?
    I read this and think, She had so much hope for change (or anger, whatever.) Was she alone? Were there others and they just left b/c the patriarchy was impenetrable? Or maybe, we deserve our lot because we haven’t done anything to change it.
    Can someone who’s been around or knows more about this (seraphine?) explain to me what’s happened in this area?

  119. 119.

    I’m not exactly sure where all the feminists have gone. I know where some of us are-the bloggernacle for starters, and sitting with us in church, sometimes quietly, sometimes not. But I think your question, Jessawhy, is why didn’t, and why are feminists now not more vocal in the church? At least for me I sometimes feel there is much too lose by being too vocal. And I guess there is a part of me, and maybe others, who are still discovering within themselves what is right, and trying to find a balance within myself. I am not yet as sure as Sonia Johnson seemed to feel. Maybe she was right. But part of me doesn’t yet know if she (or others like them) were completely right, or at least her tactics, and I worry that maybe I will go too far, and somehow lose my soul. So sometimes I speak, sometimes I hold back, being as liberal as I feel I can safely be, while trying to stay in the mainstream of the church.

  120. 120.

    It is worse on the children then any daycare system to have mother staying at home who does [not] want to be there.

    Nice comment, Lilith, and I could not agree more with this statement. Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say: I’m not arguing that staying at home with children is necessarily bad. But I wish we would more often challenge the assumption that it is always good. Not just for the well-being of the mother–for the well-being of the children! If women feel trapped by and resentful toward their children, their children will almost certainly pick up on it. If women sacrifice and sublimate their own interests for the sake of their children, their children are likely to experience crushing pressure to be worthy of their mother’s sacrifice.

    Obviously it’s possible to maintain personal interests and a sense that one is capable of accomplishing things without necessarily holding a job–a job per se is not what’s at issue exactly. (And it’s equally possible to hold a job that leaves one frustrated, exhausted, and feeling like a meaningless cog in a vast impersonal bureacratic machine.) But in situations in which the mother is just genuinely happier working, it seems to me the children are also going to be happier if she works.

  121. 121.

    What happened? Where have all the feminists gone?

    You might be interested in the article Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote a few years ago for the Salt Lake Tribune.

    This topic was also the focus of a panel held last year in the Boston area, at which Kristine Haglund Harrison spoke and provided a recapitulation of her own remarks as well as those of the other panelists.

  122. 122.

    Thanks, Kiskilili.
    Those are great links!

  123. 123.

    Eve, # 114:

    out-STANDING!!!

    When that revolution comes, they’ll probably put me up against the wall or in a re-education camp. But if I escape, I’ll be right there with you in the woods.

    I do think, though, the the angelic female rhetoric isn’t just a vanishing relic of Victorian discourse. It is alive and well in the million mom marches, moms for peace movement. The argument, to the extent it is comprehensible to me, is that women love their children so much more than men do because men are, you know, barbaric and stuff. And if only the gals were in charge, war and fighting would just automatically go away because they wouldn’t send their kids to die in a war. Or something.

    Seraphine, # 113:

    Oh, I agree with you that modern feminism has an admirable record on racial issues. That is why Steinem’s words praising Sanger were so surprising. I lack the ability to admire someone who speaks of mentally retarded people as being morally defective. In my opinion, a woman who would do so is herself morally defective. She held common people in contempt, and she has no business being held up as a role model.

  124. 124.

    Mark IV, I went back and looked at the Steinem essay on Sanger, and it was my impression that she was honoring her for her work on birth control (not saying she was the ultimate manifestation of feminism). In my opinion, while Sanger certainly held some views that in our modern eyes are not admirable, she often gets portrayed as much more extreme than she really was: she was actually pretty in line with early 20th thought when it came to thinking about race and the disabled. I think that wikipedia does a good job explaining her racist and eugenicist views and putting them in context.

    Anyway, while I certainly don’t condone her racism and eugenics, I still want to honor her for the work she did on birth control. The same goes for figures in the church like Brigham Young. I deplore his racism, but I still honor him as an important prophet of the church. I see them both as people who did important work who were unable to completely escape from the culture in which they lived.

    Besides, who knows? Maybe 100 years down the road someone will be saying about us: how could they hold such morally deplorable views? They were so ahead of their time in other ways… how could they not realize that ____ is an unenlightened viewpoint? :)

  125. 125.

    On second thought, I think that maybe Steinem minimized the negatives of Sanger a little too much, but I can understand why she might have made this choice given all the crazy stuff that’s out there on Sanger. (And I still stand by all the stuff I said about recognizing the virtues of historical figures while still recognizing they are products of a specific historical time period.)

  126. 126.

    Seraphine #104: The example that I mentioned above was racial segregation (though I could have chosen other examples). It fits your conditions (a group barred from an activity still has access to other beneficial activities), but does not meet the requirements of the thought experiment (groups being equally valued), and that means your conditions don’t meet the requirements for this particular thought experiment.

    You really think that blacks under segregation had access to equal benefit through access to equally beneficial activities? That was my condition. The different activities have to provide equal benefit equally well. To my knowledge that was not the case.

    But even if that was the case, segregation wouldn’t have been justified. Leaving aside questions about relative levels of access to beneficial activities and the legal reasoning by which state-enforced segregation was struck down, segregation itself was evidence of unequal valuation (on the part of whites) because whites didn’t want to associate with blacks in any way. When they upheld separate but equal as the ideal, they meant separate. Period.

    Let’s look at your answer:

    I would say “yes” with the following constraints:

    1) group A is solely responsible for activity X and is barred from activity Y
    2) group B is solely responsible for activity Y and is barred from activity X
    3) both activity X and Y are equally “valued.”

    So, imagine that under segregation these conditions were met (which, like mine, were clearly not; though, like mine, they theoretically could have been), would you then conclude that under segregation blacks were equally valued?

    Neither of our conditions were fully met during segregation, and even though they theoretically could have been met, segregation still would have constituted devaluation of blacks by whites for reasons unrelated to unequal access to beneficial, valuable activities. Even nowadays I think the prevalence of voluntary (non-economics-based) racial segregation is evidence of reciprocal devaluation of one race by the other. Devaluation isn’t the only thing underlying the tendency to self-segregate, but I think it’s part of it.

    Why does the separation in the Church not necessarily constitute devaluation of men or women by God while state-enforced separation during segregation necessarily did constitute devaluation of blacks by whites or by the government? 1) It’s not the same kind of separation. Not even close. It’s not a case of prohibiting intermingling or socializing or anything of the sort. In the family, men and women are partners (let’s not talke about preside here) and they work together. Their assignment to different roles within the family is not at all analagous to segregation. Further, in the Church, while men and women have some assignments and organizations that are gender-exclusive, they serve on councils together, teach each other, serve together, serve each other, etc. Not at all analagous to segregation. 2) One can imagine reasons for having different assignments that don’t have anything to do with unequal valuation or presumed unequal capablities. 3) I will say that it is possible that unequal valuation by either God or man (I’d be more suspicious of man) lies at the heart of the different assignments in the Church, but there are reasonable ways of avoiding this conclusion.

  127. 127.

    […] In the spirit of fostering further discussion, I’d like to gently unravel several issues from the tangled skein of Seraphine’s Separate but Equal thread below and give each its own consideration. One of these is a fundamental difference in the role authority plays in Mormonism and feminism and the differing degrees of skepticism and partial embrace thus consistent with each. […]

  128. 128.

    Kiskilili #108,
    I’ll try to explain myself in a different way.

    In this thread I have taken some specific assertions and tried to show why they aren’t the only reasonable conclusions. For instance, Eve stated something to the effect that giving different assignments exclusively to different groups necessarily implies that the groups are presumed to be unfit for the tasks assigned to the other. Whether or not this is necessarily so is something on which we can come to a definitive conclusion through reasoning.

    With these kinds of relatively simple questions and thought experiments were we can talk in theoreticals and hypotheticals, I’m not averse to drawing strong conclusions when strong conclusions are warranted. Further, as a scientist, I draw strong conclusions all the time. For instance, when I’m reading a scientific paper, I can reach strong conclusions as to whether the data support the conclusions, whether the arguments are valid, and whether there are other, alternative explanations that need to be addressed.

    Kiskilili: Given the utter paucity of the available data that you outline above, and the fractious nature of the data we do have, one would logically conclude that you’re equally open to the possibility that the Church’s policies, for example, have a deleterious effect on the well-being of women as the possibility that the Church’s policies are beneficial.

    Yes. If I’m restricting my analysis to logic and reason and objective evidence, I have to acknowledge that this is a possibility. Neither possibility is ruled out. That’s the strongest conclusion I feel I can make based on reason alone: I don’t see enough reason to believe that the Church’s policies, if God does approve of them, necessarily are inconsistent with the notion of a God that loves and values males and females equally. I don’t feel compelled to embrace ambiguity here because the question isn’t one that’s fraught with ambiguity like whether or not the Church’s policies actually are optimal; it’s something easier to deal with, though, admitttedly, not real simple: are the Church’s policies necessarily inconsistent with the notion of a God who loves and values men and women equally?

    As I mentioned, there are kinds of questions for which definitive answers are very hard to come by. For example, we can’t just reason our way through the question of what’s the best way to discipline children and hope to come to a definitive conclusion. We can think it through and say what, in our mind, we believe to be the best way. But the question itself has so much ambiguity. How do we determine the “best” way? What are the “best” and most important outcomes? Are there objective measures like scholastic success or mental health on which can reliably base our conclusions? How can we take into account immeasurable factors like amount of love felt and level of kindness engendered, etc. How much confidence can we have in the results of randomized studies? In the end, we can probably safely say that administering daily beatings is a bad way to discipline children. But with these kinds of questions, while we can usually rule out extreme conclusions–daily beatings on one end of the spectrum and no boundaries on the other–we usually have to concede that the conclusions we reach aren’t the only reasonable ones.

    The question of optimal institutional policies and the real overall effects of the current policies relative to alternatives is one of these difficult questions.

    Your objection then would not be to the conclusions feminists reach, but to the conviction with which they hold them.

    I object to some conclusions themselves and I object to too much self certainty in drawing conclusions in regard to those questions that have many reasonable answers. I’m not sure I would say that I object to conviction, just a refusal to acknowledge the nature of those conclusions, that they are based on a lot of subjective judgments and biased perceptions and that they are not the only reasonable beliefs.

    In actually deciding what I believe in regards to these more difficult-to-answer questions, I allow a lot of subjective, personal evidence, impressions, biases, intuition, perceptions, religious experiences, etc. to enter into the equation and I acknowledge, as I feel honesty requires, that I can’t be entirely sure that my conclusions are the right ones or the only reasonable ones. I believe that the Church helps men and women reach their divine potential of eternal peace and joy. My experiences lead me to have somewhat strong conviction, which to me means that my actions are somewhat consistent with those beliefs. I don’t begrudge anyone their convictions, be they feminist or Buddhist or Catholic. But, again, they should acknowledge the nature of their belief.

  129. 129.

    It’s way too easy to say “let’s not talk about ‘preside’ here,” as if that weren’t inherently part of this discussion. For several days and 128 comments, I’ve been silently objecting to the very foundation of this conversation: It’s not “separate but equal” (which in itself would be troublesome); it’s *separate and subordinate* – at both the macro and micro levels. Just because mostly nice and good men are in charge, who choose not to exercise their institutional or familial authority, does not mean that, structurally and linguistically, there is not all the support in the world (and the eternities) to do so. And there is no willingness to recognise that fact, let alone act to change it – this, to me, is the ugly bottom line.

    And it’s insult to injury when, despite how the hierarchy and governance are so obviously structured, and despite words like “preside” being used, we’re then told that it all actually means “equals” (which is, I guess, where the notion behind the title of this post comes from) and priesthood=motherhood and all the other black-actually-means-white rhetoric that surrounds these issues. Am I the only one who is genuinely troubled by the obvious parallels to Orwellian doublespeak?

    Aside from those troubling aspects, people are so much more than the roles they play; it’s awful to be reduced to a prescribed role, especially for eternity. I can’t conceive of a God who sees his children this way. Can those of you who are parents look at your own children this way? Do we really believe that the purpose of life is to learn that we just need to try harder to understand and gain a true testimony that we ARE the roles we’re supposed to be, so we can them play them out for eternity?

    Speaking of parenthood, I also don’t like the way the whole world seems to revolve around children now. As if they might turn into sociopathic murderers if they didn’t have an angelic mother at home with them all day, every day. What about the mothers in this paradigm? Does their growth and humanity not matter at all? When I look at things in the Mormon world without censoring myself, I come to the conclusion that women end up being subordinate not just to husband (again, linguistically/structurally, not necessarily practically), but also to family and children in general. I am not willing to sacrifice the lives of women in that way – no matter how many women (and men) say they are “happy” with the way things are. Sadly, women are often the best weapon in the patriarchal arsenal.

    I apologise if you perceive me as overly negative, but these things trouble me very much, and I am frustrated that we can’t seem to even agree that a spade is a spade.

  130. 130.

    Seraphine, 124,

    …who knows? Maybe 100 years down the road someone will be saying about us: how could they hold such morally deplorable views? They were so ahead of their time in other ways… how could they not realize that ____ is an unenlightened viewpoint?

    Precisely. You have expressed better than I could the need to be circumspect and cautious in our thinking and arguments, because most of the time we are going to be at least partly wrong. Circumspection and caution are usually discarded by all sides in favor of shrillness, emotionalism, and wild accucations when we talk about feminism. Which brings us back to Kiskilili’s point in comment 108. I object only mildly to some of the conclusions feminist make. I object a great deal to the stridency and the real, True Believer zealotry with which those conclusions are asserted. I can also see how much of feminism can be understood as an attempt to respond in a productive way to a heavy-handed paternalism that is both stupid and wrong.

  131. 131.

    Tom, thanks for the clarifications.

    You really think that blacks under segregation had access to equal benefit through access to equally beneficial activities? That was my condition. The different activities have to provide equal benefit equally well. To my knowledge that was not the case.

    I agree that blacks opportunities were severely limited, and I would argue that this is a huge problem, but for this particular explnation I was using your definition of value/benefit back in comment #78, since this is how I assumed you were using it. You wrote:

    From a Gospel perspective, the value of any undertaking can be judged by the good that results from it, or at least the potential for good, good being defined as progression for ourselves and/or others toward godliness and joy. … Things are good and valuable because according to eternal laws that govern progression and development, they lead individuals to godliness and joy.

    and

    As long as individuals in each group have sufficient opportunity to have their needs for growth opportunities met, whether or not they have activities available exclusively to them isn’t important.

    According to this definition of value/benefit, racial segregation still did allow for growth opportunities, opportunities that led them to joy, etc.

    And thanks for the clarification on my conditions. I agree that I should add something along the following lines:

    4. Nether Group A nor Group B should refuse to interact with the other (on grounds of inferior status, etc).

    I agree with the fact that in many ways racial segregation is different than gender differentiation in the church, though I think RE is right to point out the ways in which gender differentiation has its own set of problems (separate from racial segregation).

    BTW, if the differential treatment in the church is a result of unequal valuation by God or man, I, too, would place the blame at the feet of man. :)

  132. 132.

    RE, I definitely understand your frustration, and while we haven’t addressed them on this thread, we have addressed them elsewhere (perhaps most directly in this post by Kiskilili).

    The original point of the thread was not to accept at face value the claims of “equality” in the church, but to ask others “if we are going to accept the claims of ‘separate but equal'”, how can we make this an ideal rather than just something we say?” While there are a number of people who believe things are currently equal (some of whom have participated on the thread), I’m in the camp that believes that they’re not. And one of the reasons I believe this is that I, too, am troubled by instances of subordination that are reinforced and sometimes perpetrated by certain aspects of our church structure, discourse, and/or culture. I do believe that for there to be true equality, we need to continue to elimiate these (we’ve come a long way with the increasing emphasis on egalitarian models, but I don’t think we’re there yet).

  133. 133.

    Mark IV, I, too, am turned off by too much shrillness and stridency, though I think feminist anger has a role to play. Sometime soon I think I’m going to make a post on anger in the feminist movement (whether or not anger has a place in feminism, the labeling of feminists as “angry,” etc.) I did a paper on it a few years ago, and it would be fun to revisit all that stuff.

  134. 134.

    RE,
    I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman, but as a man, I feel subordinate to the needs of my wife, my children, and the Church. I also literally am subordinate within the institution to everyone in priesthood leadership from the EQ Pres all the way up. Everyone is a subordinate to God. I think these are good things.

    Seraphine: While there are a number of people who believe things are currently equal (some of whom have participated on the thread) . . .

    I do believe that, while things are probably not optimal, they’re not all that bad. But I’ve not been trying to argue this point. Only that the notion that they are OK with God is not unreasonable.

  135. 135.

    Sorry to be late responding; I wanted to actually look at the record of general conference talks before commenting….

    Re 110

    So I, as an outsider, have a hard time understanding the strong, not to mention vehement, reaction when somebody in general conference talks about his angel mother.

    Yeah, I’m having a hard time understanding that, also.

    Re 114

    Speaking as one who has a positively violent reaction to angel mother talk–regardless of its source!–I think it’s very simple. For a lot of women I think the angel mother (or what Virginia Woolf caled the Angel in the House) represents an impossible ideal that they can never achieve,

    But see, comments like this make me wonder if you are listenting to what the speaker is actually saying in general conference, or if you are bringing in all this baggage from other sources.

    I realize that I’m a stupid convert who never went through the young women program, but since the original statement had to do with “general conference,” I looked up those references. Apparently the term has been used in general conference 11 times in the years available online. On four of these occasions, newly called general authorities were expressing gratitude to their own mothers, that they wouldn’t be standing in General Conference without their mom’s influenece. Personally, I don’t think we should impose rules on how people thank their moms. It would be a sad world if we were all so concerned with political correctness that folks couldn’t use the words that have most meaning to them.

    On two occasions, the term was a quote, once from Abraham Lincoln (who called his mom that), and once from a letter from Elder Wirthlin’s dad.

    In a talk entitled “Profiles of Faith,” President Monson talked about exemplary folks he had met. He said, “For a final profile, I mention the mother of one noble missionary son. The family lived in the harsh climate of Star Valley, Wyoming. Summer there is brief and warm, while winter is long and cold. When a fine son of nineteen said farewell to home and family, he knew on whom the burden of work would fall. Father was ill and limited. To mother came the task of milking by hand the small dairy herd which sustained the family.

    “While serving as a mission president, I attended a seminar for all presidents held in Salt Lake City. My wife and I were privileged to devote an evening to meeting the parents of those missionaries who served with us…Of all the parents whom I met that evening, the best remembered was that mother from Star Valley. As she took my hand in hers I felt the large calluses which revealed the manual labor she daily performed. Almost apologetically, she attempted to excuse her rough hands, her wind-whipped face. …Until that night I had never seen an angel nor heard an angel speak. I never again could make that statement, for that angel mother carried with her the Spirit of Christ.”

    So that woman was employed in support of the family, who showed great courage, and yet an apostle deemed her to be an angel mother. But he shouldn’t have said that, right?

    Angel mothers are vacuous, saccharine, and boring. They can’t think for themselves or disagree or argue because someone might get upset. They can’t take a principled stand or act decisively or think abstractly because that would be unfeminine. They can’t exhibit courage or strength or intelligence, can’t smart off or crack a salty joke, can’t sweat or bleed–they can only weep, softly, as if superglued into an eternal Madonna pose.

    I’ve never thought that. I assumed an angel mother was the mom who suited that person the best, who was there in their time of need and helped each child be their best.

    I think we should simply listen to what is being said in general conference. Nobody is suggesting that we aspire to be an “angel mother.” Nobody is suggesting such a narrow qualification for that status. I guess I don’t get the ire.

  136. 136.

    Naismith, I think we’ve already repeatedly done the rounds on whether the church can isolate itself from the broader cultural significance of its own language in the “preside” wars. I’d just add to the multitude of observations already made on that subject that the angel mother of President Monson bears a striking resemblance to the angel mothers of other sources–and unlike “preside,” we’re not even claiming to redefine the term. So what you call “baggage from other sources” is, as I see it, very relevant to understanding the term.

    “Angel mother” itself has no relationship whatsoever to our own scriptures, where all angels are male and deliver messages from God, often in voices of thunder. We’re not getting the angel mother concept from our own doctrine or canon; we’re getting it from 19th-century Victorian ideals of femininity and from those ideals’ continued cultural currency. Without reference to the linguistic and cultural spheres beyond General Conference, the term makes no sense. In fact, it flatly contradicts the little we do know about angels.

    I guess I don’t get the ire.

    Oh, I don’t get it myself–or at least, not entirely! That’s why I labeled it a “rant.”

    For what it’s worth, though, there’s also ire of yours that I don’t understand. For example, I’ve seen you repeatedly refer to yourself around the Bloggernacle as a “stupid convert.” It always makes me wince a little. (To put it in different terms: now is that the kind of language an angel mother would use to describe herself? ;) ).

  137. 137.

    I’d just add to the multitude of observations already made on that subject that the angel mother of President Monson bears a striking resemblance to the angel mothers of other sources

    I don’t see the resemblance at all.

    In #114, you were quite specific that angel mothers, “can’t sweat or bleed.” The mother President Monson described didn’t fit that criteria because she had callusesses on her hands and worked so hard as the sole support of her family. Unless somehow she did all that without sweating and bleeding? I don’t think that was his point when he called her an angel, though.

    So what you call “baggage from other sources” is, as I see it, very relevant to understanding the term.

    So *is* the term an insult, which was what I understood from your statement that angel mothers are “vacuous, saccharine, and boring”?

    Or is it a genuine compliment, which was how I have heard it?

    BTW, I was listening to the recent ABC News Nightline interview with Ryan Gosling about the academy awards (he was nominated, but didn’t win). He was raised in an LDS home, and although he currently does not consider himself LDS he said many nice things about his mom. Among them: “Awards are for your mom. You know? And my mom deserves it. You know? Because I was a little jerk. And anyone will tell you that. And she knew it. But she didn’t care. She just kept doing the right thing by me, every single time. You know? And, you know, she deserves to kind of go to a fancy party and put on a fancy dress and have a bunch of fancy people tell her she did a good job. You know? Because she did, because I’d be scalping tickets for this show if it wasn’t for her.”

    I held my breath to see if he would actually say the A-word, but he did stop short of saying “angel mother.”

    But I thought that his comments were very much along the lines of the tribute that various newly called general authorities have given in general conference to their “angel mothers.” I guess I don’t see how such expressions of gratitude translate into the observation that “they can’t take a principled stand or act decisively or think abstractly because that would be unfeminine.”

    BTW, I don’t care much one way or another whether it’s an insult or a compliment; I’d just like to understand.

  138. 138.

    Naismith, if you’re interested in comparing LDS angel-mother discourse with the broader Victorian or contemporary discourse on the same subject, there are a couple of sources I can recommend. (And I think this would be a fascinating project, by the way.) The first, naturally, would be the eponymous 1854 Coventry Patmore poem; the second would be Virginia Woolf’s essay on killing the Angel in the House in _The Death of the Moth and Other Essays_. I’m sure Seraphine and others here could recommend more.

    As far as your question about whether being called an angel mother is an insult or a compliment–well, expressions of gratitude, compliments, and insults all overlap, so I’m not sure how we could ever decide, in some absolute sense, whether a statement is one or the other. For example: if someone tells me that I throw or think or calculate well for a woman, he might sincerely mean it as a compliment, but because of the assumptions underlying the statement, I wouldn’t be able to take it as one. So which is it? No absolute point of reference exists from which this can be determined.

    You bring up some angel mothers who don’t fit into my angel-mother rant in certain respects. I’d propose, though, that the category “angel-mother” is a general one, and that as with other semantic categories, there are central, even archetypical instances, and then there are outliers. For North Americans, a robin or a sparrow is fairly archetypical of the semantic category “bird”; penguins and ostriches are outliers because they can’t fly. But I’d suggest that Pres. Monson’s example is still an angel-mother, if something of an outlier, because (whatever her other features in real life) she is characterized in his narrative entirely by her heroic self-sacrifice for her children. She still fits comfortably within the category, or more specifically, in the subcategory that looms larger for Mormons for obvious historical reasons: the Pioneer-Rural Angel Mother, who engages in ceaseless backbreaking labor, in contrast to her delicate Victorian counterparts.

  139. 139.

    I realize where the angel mother thing kind of bugs me personally. About two months into my marriage, my husband and I were preparing a romantic, candle-lit dinner, when out of the blue he told me, “You’re my number one woman… next to my mom.” I laughed: I knew he was trying to say such a loving expression to me, but I was not going to let him get away with that, either. My mother-in-law is certainly *not* an angel (she admits do doing “petty and evil” things all the time, which I think stems from her insecurities and need to bully others). However, I realize that my husband sees his mother in a different light than his sister, his father, or anyone else in the family, with maybe the exception of his brother. He sees her as the perfection of womanhood, whose ideals any woman would be hard pressed to match. I realize that there has for a long time been an Ave/Eva dichotomy when it comes to men’s portrayal of women, but sometimes I wonder if some of them really truly believe in this, particularly with their mothers.

  140. 140.

    Alisa, thanks for your observations. I think you’ve hit on something crucial about the idealization of women: it sometimes has its roots in a mother-son relationship marked by excessive indulgence. I had a good friend, a ward or two ago, whose mother had done absolutely everything for her husband (whom she also unabashadly declared her favorite child)–picked up after him, waited on him, cleaned his room for him, did his laundry and any chores he might, in a more usual household, been expected to do, cooked everything for him–and one of the trials of their early marriage was breaking him of the habit of expecting her to wait on him hand and foot. I remember sometimes hearing about women who expected their husbands to provide for them in the same way their fathers had, and I wonder if men who expect their wives to provide them every creature comfort in the way their mothers had isn’t a parallel problem in some cases.

  141. 141.

    But I’d suggest that Pres. Monson’s example is still an angel-mother, if something of an outlier, because (whatever her other features in real life) she is characterized in his narrative entirely by her heroic self-sacrifice for her children.

    Okay, and so was that a negative characterization? Should the woman have stood up in General Conference and shouted him down, saying, “I am not an angel mother! I can think for myself!”

    This seems to come down to a logic problem: If A=B, and B=C, then A=C, where A = the term ‘angel mother, B = your description of of angel mothers as “vacuous, saccharine, and boring…can’t think for themselves,” and C being my judgement that your description in B is negative and insulting. So that when someone is called an “angel mother,” it is a negative thing.

    Which I don’t believe for a minute. I think that it is sweet.

    If we were being told to strive to be angel mothers or that we should be vacuous and not think for ourselves, then you would have a point. But never once in General Conference, going back as far as the online version goes, was the term “angel mother” used in that context. It was always used in praise.

    I don’t understand why anyone would have a negative reaction to that expression. Why would you want to deny another woman praise for what she has done? The singling out of that woman doesn’t negate the incredible things that so many other moms do. It’s not a zero sum game.

    In my years as a mom, I’ve had the opportunity to have a huge impact on my children’s lives. They wouldn’t be the same person, and certainly wouldn’t be on their current career trajectory, if it weren’t for me. I’m not talking about overindulging, I’m talking about things like going to specialist after specialist to seek the best health care for their condition, calling back the high school time and again until I found someone to approve my daughter taking the second semester of Latin without having the first (she has since made a career in historical linguistics), encouraging a child not to give up on an activity that is now hir career. And so on.

    If one of my kids wants to refer to me as their angel mother, I am not going to refuse to take it as a compliment.

  142. 142.

    “The singling out of that woman doesn’t negate the incredible things that so many other moms do. It’s not a zero sum game.”

    Not true, Naismith. What you describe may not be a classic zero-sum game, but there are virtually no General Conference talks (or scriptures, for that matter) that praise women outside the context of the “angel-mother” paradigm.

  143. 143.

    Naismith, I don’t think it’s a logic problem. I think it’s an issue of interpretation. I do think angel mothers are vacuous, sacharine, and boring, for some of the reasons I’ve ennumerated above. You think that they’re sweet. (For me, to call someone “sweet” is to damn her with faint praise, but clearly that’s not the case for you, so let me rephrase: you think the angel-mother paradigm is positive. Fair enough?)

    I think we’re interpreting GA and related discourse at different levels; you’re considering what’s said, I’m considering what I understand to be the unspoken assumptions underlying what’s said. So you want to point out that no one is told to be vacuous, saccharine, and boring in General Conference. Of course they aren’t. But women are rarely, if ever, praised for being independent, powerful, intelligent, or decisive. What we’re overwhelmingly praised for is maternal self-sacrifice. That definitely sends a message about the sorts of traits we should develop, and it’s not a message I find fits me or my life terribly well. At all, actually. (And it’s not just a matter of not having kids, I don’t think. My mother, who has seven children, and my dearest friend, who has two, both despise this kind of rhetoric as well.)

    Please don’t misunderstand me. (To go back several comments)–I’ve never used the term “political correctness,” and I’ve never said I want to impose any rules whatsoever on how people should praise one another or express gratitude. I’m quite opposed to censorhip, actually. And I’m not about to deprive you or any other mother of praise (although praise itself is highly problematic, but that’s for another post). It’s not at all that I want praise I feel is going to another type of woman, or that I feel jealous of someone who got her name in General Conference, or that I feel that “my type” isn’t getting enough accolades. Accolades aren’t really my thing.

    All I’m doing here is pointing out to a pattern in our discourse that we’ve clearly appropriated from the broader culture and suggesting that it might be a somewhat two-dimensional paradigm for a human life. If you find it useful, OK. A lot of women do seem to find it comfortable fit.

    I don’t know that there’s much more I can say to explain where I’m coming from. I’m sorry that you can’t understand why any woman would have a negative reaction to that phrase; I’ve done my best to explain why I do, and I don’t think I can add much to what I’ve already said. So I think it’s time for me to leave the discussion, attempt to get caught up on my piles of schoolwork and prepare for some upcoming cross-country trips, and wish you all the best.

  144. 144.

    Not true, Naismith. What you describe may not be a classic zero-sum game, but there are virtually no General Conference talks (or scriptures, for that matter) that praise women outside the context of the “angel-mother” paradigm.

    I can think of several general conference talks which praise women outside of that paradigm.

    Let’s try

    “The Light in Their Eyes,” President James E. Faust, Oct 2005
    Some years ago, Constance, a student nurse, was assigned to try and help a woman who had injured her leg in an accident. The woman refused medical help because she had had a negative experience with someone at the hospital. She was afraid and had become something of a recluse. The first time Constance dropped by, the injured woman ordered her out. On the second try, she did let Constance in. By now the woman’s leg was covered with large ulcers, and some of the flesh was rotting. But still she didn’t want to be treated.

    Constance made it a matter of prayer, and in a day or two the answer came. She took some foaming hydrogen peroxide with her for the next visit. As this was painless, the old woman let her use it on her leg. Then they talked about more serious treatment at the hospital. Constance assured her the hospital would make her stay as pleasant as possible. In a day or two the woman did get the courage to enter the hospital. When Constance visited her, the woman smiled as she said, “You convinced me.” Then, quite unexpectedly, she asked Constance, “What church do you belong to?” Constance told her she was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The woman said: “I knew it. I knew you were sent to me from the first day that I saw you. There was a light in your face that I had noticed in others of your faith. I had to put my trust in you.”

    In three months’ time that festering leg was completely healed. Members of the ward where the old woman lived remodeled her house and fixed up her yard. The missionaries met with her, and she was baptized soon after. All of this because she noticed the light in that young student nurse’s face.

    So a woman whose marital/motherhood status is not even mentioned is praised for her work in her career, and dilligence in applying gospel principles and faithfulness.

    Then there was

    “The Women in Our Lives,” President Gordon B. Hinckley, Oct 2004
    I recognize that we have many wonderful women among us who do not have the opportunity of marriage. But they, too, make such a tremendous contribution. They serve the Church faithfully and ably. They teach in the organizations. They stand as officers.

    I witnessed a very interesting thing the other day. The General Authorities were in a meeting, and the presidency of the Relief Society were there with us. These able women stood in our council room and shared with us principles of welfare and of helping those who are in distress. Our stature as officers of this Church was not diminished by what they did. Our capacities to serve were increased.

    There are some men who, in a spirit of arrogance, think they are superior to women. They do not seem to realize that they would not exist but for the mother who gave them birth. When they assert their superiority they demean her. It has been said, “Man can not degrade woman without himself falling into degradation; he can not elevate her without at the same time elevating himself” (Alexander Walker, in Elbert Hubbard’s Scrap Book [1923], 204).

    So he is explicitly praising women who are *not* mothers.

    And I really loved this talk

    “To Young Women,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland Oct 2005
    First of all, I want you to be proud you are a woman. I want you to feel the reality of what that means, to know who you truly are. You are literally a spirit daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. That surpassing truth should be fixed deep in your soul and be fundamental to every decision you make as you grow into mature womanhood. There could never be a greater authentication of your dignity, your worth, your privileges, and your promise. Your Father in Heaven knows your name and knows your circumstance. He hears your prayers. He knows your hopes and dreams, including your fears and frustrations. And He knows what you can become through faith in Him. Because of this divine heritage you, along with all of your spiritual sisters and brothers, have full equality in His sight and are empowered through obedience to become a rightful heir in His eternal kingdom, an “[heir] of God, and joint-[heir] with Christ.” Seek to comprehend the significance of these doctrines. Everything Christ taught He taught to women as well as men. Indeed, in the restored light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a woman, including a young woman, occupies a majesty all her own in the divine design of the Creator. You are, as Elder James E. Talmage once phrased it, “a sanctified investiture which none shall dare profane.”

    Be a woman of Christ. Cherish your esteemed place in the sight of God. He needs you. This Church needs you. The world needs you. A woman’s abiding trust in God and unfailing devotion to things of the Spirit have always been an anchor when the wind and the waves of life were fiercest. I say to you what the Prophet Joseph said more than 150 years ago: “If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates.”

    It is about each young woman being her best self for herself, not merely so that she can grow up to be a better mother.

    I hear lots of praise for women, having nothing to do with their role as mothers. Now, some may argue that Constance still fits the paradigm because nursing is a nurturing, mother-like profession…..

  145. 145.

    Naismith, I liked your quotes, especially the last one. My awareness of feminist issues is so new to me that rereading these older talks is like reading them for the first time through a different lens.
    As far as preaching for us to become “angel mothers,” I did have a lesson at Enrichment that ended in a take-home magnet with a picture of an angel carrying a broom and the phrase, “An angel’s work is never done!”
    The message was well intended, but rubbed me the wrong way for the reasons that Eve mentioned.
    But, I don’t know that any other women had any problem with the idea and perhaps appreciate the notion that their work is as important as angels’.
    Alisa, what is the Ave/Eva dichotomy? (I know I’m the only person who frequents this site that doesn’t have a graduate degree related to literature/feminism or both)
    Interesting to think about. Eve, you’ll have to do a post about why praise is problematic, I’m intrigued by your vague references . . .
    And, while I’m ordering posts, how about one called, “Faith promoting rumors vs. Faith discouraging truth”?

  146. 146.

    Jessawhy- the Ave/Eva dichotomy refers to the belief that all women are either a angels or whores and cannot be anything inbetween, something that is still suprisingly pervasive.

    And don’t worry, you’re not the only one around here who doesn’t have a graduate degree in literature or feminism. I don’t have a graduate degree in *anything*. :)

  147. 147.

    Starfoxy’s right. It essentially refers back to the gender wars of the Renaissance where women were seen in one of two ways: as the angelic Mary (Ave Maria) and the devil-conspiring Eve (Eva). It shows that many at the time had a very two-dimensional view of women.

    Jessawhy, you have taught me a lot of things over the years, and your intellect has never ceased to impress me. You don’t allow me to get lazy in my thinking! That’s just a natural trait of yours, you can’t get all that from a silly literature degree. : )

  148. 148.

    Those quotes are nice, Naismith. I think, however, these quotes represent the belief that a woman’s role is to be a nurturing “angel mother” to those around her.

    Examples from your quotes: the kind nurse, the statement that the unmarried woman “stood in our council room and shared with us principles of welfare and of helping those who are in distress”, etc.

  149. 149.

    I think, however, these quotes represent the belief that a woman’s role is to be a nurturing “angel mother” to those around her.

    I’m not seeing it. Yes, two of the quotes mention service. But how is this any different from what is said about the men in the church? We are all counseled to serve. For such statements to be sexist, they would have to be different from those about and to men.

    It is my understanding that the angel mother paradigm is “characterized by her heroic self-sacrifice for her children,” to quote Eve.

    I don’t see any mention at all of self-sacrifice, maternal or otherwise, in those talks. Yes, the student nurse did stop by the woman’s apartment. But home viists are a routine part of the job in public health nursing, so it is not clear whether or not visiting her home was going the extra mile. The message I got from the talk was the importance of praying over our work as we are counseled in Alma 34. When I write a report, even though it just involves statistics and is not serving anyone directly, I still start the process on my knees.

    You seem to be shifting the definition of “angel mother” a few standard deviations to encompass all service, as if service were a bad thing. I think there is a big difference between serving, and giving the oxygen mask to a child first.

    Service is an inherent part of the gospel. One of the few reasons we need a church structure is to organize our service.

  150. 150.

    I thought of this thread during general conference when one of the 70, (I think) came into his parent’s room to find his “angel mother” praying for him.
    It is just ironic that we do still hear that phrase in a way that makes me feel bad if I had just gone to sleep instead of waiting up for teenage son . . .
    What is the opposite of an angel mother?
    What is a mediocre angel mother?
    (These sound like laffy taffy jokes, right?)

  151. 151.

    I thought of this thread too!

  152. 152.

    […] With the current focus on Mormon women on some blogs, and recent, um, rather intense discussions about feminism, I’d like to visit an essay entitled “Border Crossings”(which was […]

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