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.)