In the thread to a fabulous recent post on FMH by Starfoxy regarding whether reciprocity can be assumed when unstated, Starfoxy asks the following question:
“To what extent should the ‘love & respect your spouse’ talks be given to mixed audiences so that neither group feels they have a disproportionate duty to defer to the other?”
Further along these lines, to what extent is it useful, even when discussing marriage in a mixed group, to address husbands and wives separately, as Elder Holland chooses to in his most recent General Conference address:
“Husbands, you have been entrusted with the most sacred gift God can give you, a wife, a daughter of God, the mother of your children who has voluntarily given herself to you for love and joyful companionship. . . . A husband who would never dream of striking his wife physically can break, if not her bones, then certainly her heart by the brutality of thoughtless or unkind speech. . . . Today, I speak against verbal and emotional abuse of anyone against anyone, but especially of husbands against wives.”
“In that same spirit we speak to the sisters as well, for the sin of verbal abuse knows no gender. Wives, what of the unbridled tongue in your mouth, of the power for good or ill in your words? How is it that such a lovely voice which by divine nature is so angelic, so close to the veil, so instinctively gentle and inherently kind could ever in a turn be so shrill, so biting, so acrid and untamed? . . . Sisters, there is no place in that magnificent spirit of yours for acerbic or abrasive expression of any kind, including gossip or backbiting or catty remarks.”
The potential value in addressing each gender in turn lies in our oft-repeated belief that men and women are different, play different roles, and should even cultivate different virtues. But as Mark IV astutely asks us in the comments, “Can you (or anybody else) help me understand what he means with the ‘purposes and virtues’ of the genders? I would love to know. For as much as we talk about them, I would expect to see some explication, rather than just vague hints.” We’re bold in affirming our belief in gender differences, but tentative when it comes to articulating just what those differences should entail specifically.
Elder Holland concedes that “verbal abuse knows no gender,” thus implying that his remarks apply to everyone equally, and yet still sees fit to address each gender using different terms: women are “gifts” to men, and he addresses husbands “especially” regarding the topic of abuse (implying they are especially guilty of it), whereas wives are simultaneously “inherently kind” and yet in spite of that they are, one might conclude from this talk, more prone than men to “gossip, backbiting, or catty remarks.” (Are we women, natural geysers of sugar and honey (sorry–I seem to have sent my sarcasm filter out to the cleaners and don’t know when to expect it back!), thus more guilty than men when our tongues become “daggers”?)
Given his acknowledgment that both women and men misuse their tongues–heck, I’m starting to think this entire post may be a misuse of my typing skills–is this the most helpful way for Elder Holland (whom I greatly admire, and whose talk makes excellent points I really should pay more attention to) to frame this discussion? I’m certainly not opposed to ever addressing men and women separately. Obviously, a talk on the giving of blessings is most appropriately addressed to men exclusively, just as it makes sense to address a talk on grandparenting to grandparents.
But is it helpful to single out each gender and berate them for characteristic sins, to reiterate stereotypes in the process of asking us to rise above them, or does this only lead us to feel more divided against each other?
If virtue is indeed gendered, then sins are likewise gendered, and it follows that women should be castigated for engaging in behavior that would be acceptable for men, and vice versa.
But while we continue to cling to this notion that different virtues and roles apply to each gender, we’re reluctant to elaborate very far on the details (women are told to be “nurturing”–does this imply men should be “less nurturing,” for example?). Since we’re told men and women are and should be different, how can we avoid concluding, when we’re addressed separately, that the way we’re each addressed has some bearing on those eternal differences?
To me it would make sense either to lay out clearly the different virtues each gender should embrace and how spouses should behave differently toward each other in marriage, and then address wives and husbands accordingly, or else make it clear that injunctions to cultivate more Christlike behavior are universally applicable. As long as we continue to affirm the importance of our nebulous gender roles, reciprocity simply cannot be assumed when unstated.
(Lastly, and most urgently, can someone tell me why I’m online goofing off when I have a million things to do? That’s all for now.)
- 12 July 2007