As a feminist, I frequently blog about what I see as the problematic elements of patriarchy. However, I realize that many members of the Church (not to mention Church leaders!) see the situation quite differently. So I thought it might be interesting to simply see what I could come up with as far as potential costs and benefits of a patriarchal system. I realize that given my own views on this topic, there’s probably no way I can do this in a fair manner, but I’ll give it my best shot, and trust our astute readers to correct any misperceptions and point out things that I’ve overlooked.
Note: for purposes of these lists, I’m conflating patriarchy in the home, male-only priesthood, and patriarchy in the Church, though I’m aware that these are all to some extent separate issues.
(1) Continuity. To completely abandon patriarchy would be a clear break with the past; a model in which men lead/preside and women obey/hearken can be found throughout our scripture and our tradition.
(2) Patriarchy is necessary to preserve the family. Specifically, if I understand the argument correctly, it gives fathers a necessary role and encourages them to be involved, and thereby counteracts cultural trends toward children being raised without fathers.
(3) For many women (again, if I’m understanding this correctly), the patriarchal system actually puts them in a role in which they feel valued for their unique contributions.
(4) For practical purposes, someone has to have the final say (this is possibly contradicted by more recent statements which emphasizes that men do not in fact have the final say, but I mention it anyway because the argument still gets invoked).
(5) This system brings greater unity to a married couple. I’m not sure I completely understand this one, but I’ve seen the idea floated more than once. Perhaps making one person the leader helps bring the two together in a common purpose?
(6) Not being burdened with leadership or priesthood responsibilities gives women more energy to focus on their primary responsibility of nurturing children.
(7) The priesthood serves as a kind of check on some of the excesses of male behavior. In other words, priesthood-bearing LDS men might be somewhat more likely to behave like decent human beings than your standard American party-going male.
(8) Similarly, requiring men to act in a capacity of spiritual leadership encourages them to develop their spirituality, which is important in a culture in which—for a variety of reasons—spirituality seems to be more closely associated with women. (Or, possibly, women are simply inherently more spiritual.)
(9) Having men perform priesthood ordinances for their children connects them to them in a way that women are already connected, having given birth to them.
(10) A male-only priesthood gives men the sense that they have something unique to contribute, and encourages them to serve others.
(1) The autonomy and agency of women are curtailed.
(2) Inevitably, as D&C 121 tells us, giving men authority is going to lead to situations of unrighteous dominion.
(3) Women don’t have the chance to develop what capacities they might have for spiritual leadership (and conversely, men don’t have the chance to develop the spiritual capacities which are best developed in other roles.)
(4) Telling men that their job is to preside can have the effect of making them less involved in the nurturing aspects of child-raising.
(5) A number of women (and some men as well) find the system intolerable and simply leave the Church.
(6) It potentially makes it more difficult for men to see women as equals.
(7) It leaves the role of women in the Plan of Salvation theologically ambiguous; it is not clear whether they are agents in their own right, or their primary role is to enable male exaltation. For some women, the possibility of the latter, and the related possibility that God relates to women in a fundamentally differently way than he does to men, is a source of tremendous spiritual anguish.
(8) It limits the pool of priesthood leadership, which is particularly a problem in areas where many more women than men are active in the Church.
(9) Women are denied access to the blessings that go with exercising the priesthood, and men have the disadvantage of not being able to ask their spouses for blessings.
(10) Women’s voices and perspectives are not much represented in the highest councils of Church decision-making, and are only represented to a limited extent at the local level.
This is just off the top of my head, so I realize the way I’ve formulated these arguments may be flawed. But feel free to chime in and tell me what other costs or benefits you see, or how these ideas might be better stated.
(By the way, I am well aware that the Church’s primary justification for the patriarchal order is that it’s the will of God. So if that’s all you have to say, it’s probably not worth expending your valuable time and energy writing a comment to that effect.)
- 26 March 2009