You Talkin’ to Me, Mormon?

I’m in favor of modifying the scriptures to give them gender-inclusive language. I’ve always thought that the strongest argument for this is that gender-exclusive language makes them insulting to women. But I recently encountered another argument that I also find quite persuasive: women find it more difficult to read the scriptures as addressing them.

I heard this argument while listening to a Daughters of Mormonism podcast a few months ago. Sybil, the host, points out that there is a lot of research that indicates that “when women read masculine gendered texts, they do not identify with what is being presented.” She discusses a particular study that looked at how women and men interpreted persuasive communication that was either gender-inclusive or gender-exclusive. The study found that “inclusive language increased the persuasive effects on women, it had no detrimental effects on men.” (The podcast gets into many more aspects of the issue; the points I’m talking about are about 5-10 minutes in.)

I’m sure this point isn’t new, but it’s new to me. I think it’s an interesting complement to the argument that gender-exclusive scriptures are insulting. That argument is often dismissed as women just choosing to be offended at unimportant issues. But the point that women are less likely to see themselves as being addressed by texts written with gender-exclusive language, well, that doesn’t seem to be a matter of anyone choosing anything. It’s just a question of usability. It appears that the scriptures are simply not as easy to use for women as they are for men.

So, for example, when women read Lehi saying “men are that they might have joy,” or later that “men are free according to the flesh,” they’re less likely than men are to see it as applying to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if, as a result, women therefore found it more difficult to be engaged with what they’re reading and get anything out of the experience of reading.

A possible objection to this argument is that the difference is trivial. If the scriptures are a little less usable for women, so what? They can figure it out; it’s not like it’s completely impossible for them to decipher where they’re being addressed or talked about. To this, I would respond that (1) we don’t actually know how big the effect is, and (2) we’re encouraged to read our scriptures daily, so even a very small difference in usability can matter a lot.

What if our scriptures were printed in a way that colorblind people had a more difficult time reading them? Say the words were a little red and the background a little green. So a person with red-green colorblindness could make the words out, but it would be difficult. If there were a way to reprint them that made them easier for colorblind people to read while not making them any more difficult for people with normal color vision to read, shouldn’t we take advantage of it? If I understand Sybil’s description of the research she cited, gender inclusive language would provide just such a solution: it would make scriptures more usable for women, while not reducing their usability for men.

Of course, I realize that rewriting the scriptures to give them gender-inclusive rather than gender-exclusive language would be much more difficult than simply reprinting them on with different colored ink on different colored paper on this example.

First there’s the problem that it’s sometimes difficult to say when “men” means “men” and when it means “people.” For example, I once had a Gospel Doctrine teacher who, in discussing D&C 76, read from verse 32 “they are they who are the sons of perdition” and told us that of course this meant only men could be sons of perdition since it says “sons,” and then not five minutes later read from verse 69 “these are they who are just men made perfect,” and told us that of course this meant “just men and women made perfect.”

Second, and more importantly, there’s the Church’s general conservatism. If we aren’t going to give up the KJV for a more recent Bible translation or embrace Grant Hardy’s more usable edition of the Book of Mormon, it seems quite unlikely that we’re going to have our scriptures rewritten to make them gender inclusive.

The truly unfortunate thing is that even if the unimaginable happened and our scriptures were rewritten with gender inclusive language, it wouldn’t address their far more glaring lack of women’s voices. But I guess that’s a topic for another post.


  1. No easy solution. But I am convinced that as generations go by, the old fashioned male language will be a worse hindrance. I grew up in a time where “he” was always used to mean any person. My kids, however, almost never run into that type of language, so it is more awkward for them.

  2. I wonder whether a change like this would occur concurrently with or following from using a different translation of the Bible. In the KJV, Paul’s epistles, to give one example, currently keep their gendered language whilst other translations (cf. NRSV) use gender inclusive language with an appropriate footnote for when those changes have been made.

  3. I once referred in a Gospel Doctrine class to half our class members needing to translate the scriptures as they read, and the first assumption was that I was referring to our ward’s large immigrant population. I tried to explain that I meant women had to translate in order to read ourselves into the scripture, and used examples (including “men are that they might have joy”), but I could tell by the blank looks that neither men nor women, surprisingly, understood, and I finally moved along.

  4. To an extent I sympathise with the existing texts. First because that’s what was written/translated by Joseph.

    Second because man is already an inclusive term. I took the research to show that women generally feel more persuaded when they are explicitly included in something. I’ll have to take a look to see if that instinct is borne out.

    In essence I think it may work in much the same way as if we are told our soccer team is top of the league we feel good. But if the coach says the same thing and adds, “thanks Hagoth”, then I’m going to feel more included, even though I was already on the list as it were.

    Those thoughts aside this strikes me as really doable. For instance, is it as simple as making the following changes to the text?

    man (s) – person
    man (p) – people
    men – people
    women – people
    sons – children
    daughters – children
    son – child
    daughter – child
    human (s) person

    Did I miss any?

  5. I’ve been playing around with this and trying it out on a few favourites. I don’t see why anyone should really object to it.

    Shall a person rob god?

    People are that they might have joy!

    By this shall people know that ye are my disciples

    If anything I think it makes the text more beautiful too.

    While I was doing it I realised that some of my favourites are already neutral in gender terms. Take love thy neighbour for instance.

  6. Second because man is already an inclusive term. I took the research to show that women generally feel more persuaded when they are explicitly included in something. I’ll have to take a look to see if that instinct is borne out.

    In essence I think it may work in much the same way as if we are told our soccer team is top of the league we feel good. But if the coach says the same thing and adds, “thanks Hagoth”, then I’m going to feel more included, even though I was already on the list as it were.

    Hagoth, the difference is that although “man” is sometimes an inclusive term, it is far more often used (especially in modern usage) as a term that is intended to exclude women. If I’m a member of the soccer team, and someone says something about the “soccer team,” that includes me–always–whether my name is explicitly mentioned or not. If I’m a woman, and someone says something about “men,” that might include me, but usually it does not. So then I have to do some analysis to figure out the context, the age of the document, etc., and see if I’m actually included or it’s something that only applies to others.

  7. I usually sing “By this shall all know ye are his disciples”, though it spoils the name of that mysterious Mormon token, the shalmenno.

  8. Ziff, I agree that the hardest part in all this is deciding which “men” references are, in fact, inclusive.

    For example, OD2 states “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood…” As much as I’d like to change that man to “person”, it ain’t happening.

    There are less obvious instances as well where the interpretation might be disputable. In most of those instances, I would be inclined to make the word inclusive, where more conservative men (oops! I mean people!) might want it to apply only to men.

    In a way, I think the current ambiguity serves the interest of the patriarchy. We are told to “liken the scriptures unto ourselves.” We can each make them as gender-inclusive as we want, so that we are pacified. But they can still pull out the exclusive interpretation authoritatively whenever they want to reinforce something. In other words, the more interpretation we put directly into the text, the less authority they have to exclusively control the interpretation process.

    I agree with mel h (#2). Changing the hymns would be a great way to dip our toes into this water. The hymn books is due for an update anyway.

  9. We shouldn’t reinvent the wheel here; others have gone down these paths and fought these battles (for the Bible), and we can learn from that experience. The TNIV was largely intended to update the NIV with more gender neutral language; there was a backlash against that, and so there is in preparation a new edition of the NIV that keeps some, but only some, of the gender neutral innovations of the TNIV. Almost all of the hard cases have passionate critics and defenders, so we don’t need to start from scratch.

  10. – Such a project would force Church leaders to take sides in the ugly and divisive “persons” vs “people” debate.

    – The case for Tatiana’s substitution in “Love On Another” is especially strong. The scripture paraphrased (John 13:35) actually reads “by this shall all [men] know” with “men” as an italicized word added by KJV translators.

  11. >5

    man is already an inclusive term.

    No, it’s not. The writer may intend it to be, but whether or not it is interpreted as such is dependent on reader variables which are out of the writer’s control. (See, for example, Khosroshahi, F. “Penguins Don’t Care, but Women Do: A Social Identity Analysis.”)

  12. The best, simplest way to make this argument is to program “As Sisters in Zion” as the closing hymn for Sacrament Meeting the week you’re going to talk about inclusive language in your Gospel Doctrine lesson. After that, the number of men willing to argue that it should be easy to read oneself into pronouns of the opposite gender decreases to near zero 🙂

  13. 7, Anna

    I really appreciated the way you explained your point. I’m going to agree and disagree just a teeny bit.

    I agree because when people say ‘man’ you are right, more often than not they are describing a man or a group of men.

    I disagree, just a little, because although there are multiple meanings for man you can often see which is intended. “One small step for a man” as opposed to “one small step for man”. When the meaning “people” is the only logical one in use then I think we’re a bit closer to my team comparison. I may be close to quibbling now though so let me explain why my disagreement becomes moot.

    12, Katya

    I really liked Katya’s contribution in 12 where she points out that even if the sentence clearly means people or human how it is interpreted remains in the realm of the reader or listener.

    That’s not something I’d really thought of before. That when you say ditch, if enough people think you mean ravine, then you need to change the word you use. Dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive after all.

    On reading a little of PDC,BWD:ASIA it appears that the substitutions I propose are insufficient. She or He was found to be more effective than they. So to really get as close to gender neutral as you can you need to say he or she rather than they.

    Am I understanding correctly?

    Women and men exist that they might have joy.

  14. haha kristine exactly. it is the easy cop-out to say that ‘men’ always means both men and women, but it certainly does not, in both the scriptures and older writings in general. i’d even go so far as to say it means men exclusively MOST of the time in these older writings. and for the times it does mean both, who has the authority to say which are which? men. for whom the topic is less important. and so it remains unclear.

    kristine’s ‘as sisters in zion’ example is perfect because men, i think, often don’t realize how difficult it can be to read everything in culture backwards, how much more effort it takes to force yourself into a context that doesn’t bother to include you. women’s invisibility in the church is a problem down to the barest bones – the constant and consistent lack of role models, voice, and representation in church materials is galling, especially in something as sacred and authoritative as the scriptures. it’s an effacement that is hard to realize unless you are on the receiving end of it (thus its constant dismissal by men as ‘trivial’…sure, to you, it is).

  15. I think if people want to read it as exclusive, then it will be. We dont need to adjust any books or scriptures just because of how the english language has shifted over the years.

    After all, at some times in history, “people” referred to only while males, and occasionally white females. Non-whites weren’t “people” at all.

  16. I once read every word of every hymn in Hymns (1985) and counted the instances of male-specific language where gender neutral language could have been used. I’m not at my home computer so I can’t look up the exact result, but between 1/3 and 1/2 of the hymns contained male-specific language.

    This could be easily remedied without changing the meaning or poetic nature of the hymns. I really, really, really hope the next time the hymnal is revised, someone notices this opportunity to include women more fully in our services.

  17. What a paper!

    I enjoyed the scholarly and very reasonable approach of the author. This point,

    The goal of translation should not be to abolish male references, but to determine which English words and phrases most accurately and clearly reproduce the meaning of the original text.

    is brilliant.

  18. Frank Pellett: you’re right, there is no need to change our language and sacred texts as society advances. because anyone reading racism into a racist text (or sexism into a sexist text) is just seeing what they want to see. because those texts aren’t racist. it’s just that people used to be really racist, so there isn’t any need to change how we…talk about that…because racism is still…wait, hold on, what are you talking about?

  19. We dont need to adjust any books or scriptures just because of how the english language has shifted over the years.

    From Bleak House, by Charles Dickens:

    “Sir Leicester leans back in his chair, and breathlessly ejaculates.”

    Yes. Let’s not adjust a thing.

  20. So, “people” is ok, because it used to be racist, where now it’s not, and we hope it isn’t ever again?

    The trouble with changing any writings to be “current” is that what is current continues to change. Take the writing for what, and when, it is, and look to current sources for current language.

    Oh, and Bouncer, that’s cute, but also not the whole sentence.

  21. Bouncer, I bet you’ve had that example in your pocket a long time just waiting for the perfect occasion to spring it into action. Well done!

  22. In October 1991, in the General Women’s meeting leading up to the Relief Society sesquicentennial, Pres Hinckley said, trying to make the point that “man” was “always” inclusive–

    “For instance, the Declaration of Independence, which led eventually to the establishment of the United States of America, includes the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal.”

    “Note that the writers used the word men. Do you suppose for one moment that they did not intend their declaration to include women also? They might have said, “All men, women, and children.” But they simply used the word men in its generic sense.”

    This is a somewhat long story, I have documented elsewhere, but I made a point, in a memo, of Abigail Adams seeking to have women included in the Constitution. (I was working at the Museum at the time on the general Church sesquicentennial exhibit.) I received a call from Pres. Hinckley’s office asking for documentation, which I provided. This led to the following footnote.

    “1. I am aware of Abigail Adams’s correspondence with John Adams on this point. However, it does not follow that all of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration were of the same view. Subsequent generations have regarded men in its generic sense. I might have used various other examples on which there could be no question.” (see the Ensign, with October General Conference, 1991)

    Ouch–He had probably never connected the dots that it took a Civil War to include Black Men and that women were not included in the Constitution until 1920.

    So yes, there is a HUGE blind spot, that continues to the present.

  23. i appreciate your point, frank pellett, although i do think there is a measurable difference between the meaning of “people” and “men” in that, while you are correct that people did used to mean a specific set of people, “men” always has meant the male gender, except in a few cases, and even those are difficult to determine. still you are right, language and meaning change constantly, and we ought to look to current sources for current language.

    you do realize just where that leaves women in terms of their scriptural study however, right?

  24. interesting story, marjorie. yes as i stated above, we like to tell ourselves that the term ‘men’ always included women, but the more i study the intentions of the writers of those documents, the more i realize that generally, it DIDN’T.
    considered subhuman, or at least of a different type, women were generally excluded in writings, philosophies, and considerations about humanity.

    the fact that the writers of the constitution expressly did NOT wish to include women in the rights they were granting is expressed not only in the fact that women were not granted many constitutional rights for decades, but continues on in our own modern day supreme court, where Antonin Scalia, avid “originalist” (person who wants to apply the constitution in terms of the intentions of its writers) is arguing that women are not included at all in those rights and protections.

    and while i find his argument reprehensible, as far as considering the intentions of the writers, he is correct. how much different can we understand the intentions of the writers of scriptures to be?

  25. This is a big issue in our house, where the children are all female.

    We’ve gone in the direction of treating the canon as if it were written in a foreign language. I mean, the King James Bible is Early Modern English, so it’s not quite there but it’s close, and most of the rest of the Mormon canon was written in an explicitly archaicized style, so it works.

    As a result, problematic terms (like generic man and he) can be separated from their present-day usage and placed in the context of the time more easily.

    It’s not a perfect solution, but recognizing our inability to single-handedly change the texts we’re working with, it works reasonably well in our particular multilingual household with overeducated parents (one of them a linguist).

    p.s. Tagging off of the soccer team discussion above, one of my daughters was the only girl on a co-ed elementary-school basketball team this last spring. She thought it was more amusing than off-putting when her coach said “Good job, guys”, but that may be because “guys” is a present-day gender-neutral term for many speakers (though not her), and she recognizes that fact.

  26. Yes, npbiac, I do see the point. Some women see “men” in the scriptures and have a hard time feeling it includes them.

    Unfortunately, there is no good answer to this. Even “to determine which English words and phrases most accurately and clearly reproduce the meaning of the original text” is hazarous, because we can only guess at the original intent of the words. In some cases, especially in text as old as the scriptures, the use of “men” was probably intended by the author to be “men, not women”. But we can only guess.

    Its probably one of the reasons that it is better to listen to a living prophet than a dead one.

    On a slightly related note – I wonder how non-english translations of the Bible and BoM have made use of non-gender specific pronouns?

  27. David B., it is interesting that you say that about “good job, guys.” I use “guys” all the time with my both gender kids, and I think they know it means that……however, as soon as you are a lone girl with 10 guys then when someone says “guys” you feel like they mean males, not both genders.

  28. i guess, then, frank, the remaining question is whether it matters that women are disadvantaged in reading the scriptures. you are right, the issue is certainly complex (and i think the article Kevin posted in #17 does an excellent job of examining some of the complexities you raise). but, in light of the research cited in the OP showing that women (not just some women, as you state, but women in general, maybe even all women) are impaired in their understanding of the scriptures because of exclusive language, is it fair to just tell them to, what, suck it up? when the scriptures are so important, so authoritative, so central to our approach to God? women should just deal with being on the outside?

    i do agree it is necessary to listen to modern prophets, and they do use (as our culture has evolved) more inclusive language. but should women have to shoulder the burden of an oppressive history in their scripture study too, when something could be done to correct it?

  29. I’m with Nobody- I think for most historical uses “man/men” did mean all people- but ‘people’ were all male. Women were something else.
    And as for this:

    Unfortunately, there is no good answer to this. Even “to determine which English words and phrases most accurately and clearly reproduce the meaning of the original text” is hazarous, because we can only guess at the original intent of the words. In some cases, especially in text as old as the scriptures, the use of “men” was probably intended by the author to be “men, not women”. But we can only guess.
    Its probably one of the reasons that it is better to listen to a living prophet than a dead one.

    This is exactly *why* our living prophets should take a stab at deciding when ‘men’ includes women instead of leaving this difficult- nigh unto impossible task to individual women.

  30. npbiac,
    I think you are misrepresenting Justice Scalia’s argument. He is saying that sexual discrimination is not prohibited by the constitution. Other conservatives would love to have, for example, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act declared unconstitutional. With Justice Scalia and 4 liberals, this is highly unlikely. Scalia does not remove any rights from men or women, but allows the Congress and states to discriminate in many laws.

    I’m sure that there are many “rights” that you are happy to not have. With the country on almost a continual war footing, selective service would be much less selective barring a Scalia type interpretation.

  31. el oso – where is the misrepresentation? he is saying that certain rights (particularly the 14th amendment) extended in the constitution don’t apply to women, because the authors of the constitution (and its later amendments) didn’t have women in mind when they wrote it. they wrote “men,” and they meant men, exclusively. that is my point.

    the benefits and problems with Title IX are not at issue in this post, and bringing it up is a huge threadjack, so i’m not going to address it. but i advise you not to make assumptions about my opinions based on what i can only conclude is your observation that i have feminist sympathies. many feminists would gladly help shoulder the burden of selective service if it meant women were extended truly equal rights with men.

  32. I love this discussion. One question I have is how much does the ability to relate to the scriptural texts affect spirituality? Several studies have shown that women tend to be more spiritual and more observantly religious than men.

  33. Several studies have shown that women tend to be more spiritual and more observantly religious than men.

    More religiously observant, I can buy, but I’m skeptical that spirituality can be quantified.

  34. Hagoth – They’re an example of text that a colorblind person might have trouble reading. (The block says “MEN,” if you’re one of those who can’t read it.)

  35. i do agree it is necessary to listen to modern prophets, and they do use (as our culture has evolved) more inclusive language. but should women have to shoulder the burden of an oppressive history in their scripture study too, when something could be done to correct it?

    npbiac – The trouble I see is that its an impossible fix. If the LDS decide to publish a new version of the Bible, it’s an additional argument for all those who already believe we’ve “added to” the Bible with the Book of Mormon. Aside from that, any changes would increase the complaints about specific changes; e.g. should this one really have been people, or was man meant, or was woman meant?

    Rewriting scripture to make it more meaningful in the current culture is like rewriting any other book; you lose the opportunity to learn more about the time when it was written. You don’t get to learn why they used those words. Its like when someone (fairly recently) published a version of Tom Sawyer by taking out any offensive words. Were those words necessary or right? No, and it shouldn’t have been then. But they were used.

    Would future generations even bother to learn about the oppressive history, if we removed all evidence of it?

    I know I’m in a peculiar position even commenting on this blog, being a member of the most un-oppressed gender and race there ever was, but as burdensome as the writings of the scriptures may be, we cant just whitewash to make it easier for anyone – we lose the joys and tears of the journey that brought us to this point.

  36. That’s why I’ve made a specialty of Hebrew and Chaldean and Aramaic and Greek and Reformed Egyptian and a dozen other ancient languages, Frank — none of this silly, soft, spiritual-molly-coddling of English translations for me, I assure you! I want the opportunity to learn more about the time when the scriptures were written. I want to learn why Noah and Abraham and Zenos and Abinadi and Paul and Bernice used the words they used. I want the full joys and tears of the journey that brought us to this point.


  37. npbiac,
    I have read the entire Scalia quote, and he does not say that the 14th amendment or any other part of the constitution do not apply to women. He says that sexual discrimination is not prohibited. I gave two examples of this that are very much settled law (although my examples are a thread jack). I think that you are reading some commentary which is faulty or some other comments that he made elsewhere. I have seen Scalia misquoted or misinterpreted frequently and wanted to point this out.

    Of course, our minor debate here about a short and relatively recent document like the constitution illustrate one major potential problem with including fully gender inclusive language in our current canon. Some passages are obviously universal, “(people) are that they might have joy.” Others refer to “my servant” or other generic people that may be a prophet or apostle (masculine) or may be anybody.

  38. el oso – saying that sexual discrimination is not constitutionally prohibited IS saying that the 14th amendment does not apply to women. at least not in terms of their BEING women, which is the substance of sexual discrimination. this is a serious statement that could indeed take rights away from women because the 14th is usually interpreted as providing that protection from sexual discrimination. there is a lot of legal precedent of sexual discrimination being prosecuted successfully under the 14th amendment. scalia’s statement would undo all that, define it as unconstitutional (unless states wanted to step in and pass laws, which would require 50x the work and debate feminists put into women being expressly included in the 14th, and probably meet about the same success [they were denied]). this actively DOES take rights away from women that were previously understood to be granted.

    our debate here expresses exactly the point the OP is making. the ambiguity and sometimes outright exclusion of women in important texts leads to ambiguity and exclusion on a practical plane. this is particularly hurtful if those texts are central to religious experience, as the scriptures are. keeping the status quo because of the challenges of change is only the easy answer if you belong to a certain already-privileged group.

  39. frank pellett – i do see what you’re saying. the challenges of changing scripture would be significant, although as ardis is pointing out, reinterpreting and retranslating scripture is not without precedent, least of all in our mormon tradition. and any other christian who had a problem with it (what with the NIV and many other ‘updated’ versions being passed around) would be a pot calling a kettle black indeed. and since when does the church stop itself from doing what’s right out of fear of criticism?

    maybe let’s not answer that…

    still. i also don’t think we’re in any particular danger of losing the memory of sexual oppression in history. you can pick up any book written before the 60’s (and plenty written after) for a reminder. the classics and the philosophers are particularly replete with awful things to say about women. no short memories there, or at least none that changing the scriptures would shorten further.

    and finally, your tom sawyer analogy does make sense to me – i don’t believe we should alter that particular document. but as a believing mormon, i want to see the scriptures as more than a historical document, more than a product and anthropological reflection of their time. i want to engage with them as if they were written for me, as if they represented the lord’s voice and will. if we can update them to make that easier for women, shouldn’t we?

    yes, there are challenges to change. but it just seems like a matter of priorities. as i said in my above comment, i think that keeping the status quo is only the best/easiest solution from the perspective of those who benefit, or at least don’t struggle so hard, from it.

  40. You know, that is one of the things I really admire about Joseph Smith, Jr. It didn’t bother him at all to make wholesale changes to the bible in an attempt to make the text clearer or more meaningful, and sometimes he practically re-wrote entire chapters.

  41. Fascinating! I don’t mean to turn this into a discussion of politics, but Supreme Court Justice Scalia yesterday said that the equal protection clause of the constitution applies only to males. The verbiage of the constitution doesn’t mention girls or or women, so too bad for them.

    It is now impossible for anybody to dismiss the concerns Ziff raised as trivial or unimportant.

  42. I’m a woman. I read my copy of the Scriptures. I cannot recall a single, solitary instance where I didn’t find the text understandable, accessible, or relative to myself. Really. I’m sorry–I just don’t get changing the text because a few people have a hard time with “relating” when their own particular pronoun isn’t used. I’m clever enough to “get” it without having it spelled out. I trust the vast majority of women are the same. Re-editing someone’s hymn, particularly, gets my dander up… the hymnist chose specific words and phrases for their poetry, and I don’t see where we get off changing it around because we’ve got our collective panties in a wad over a pronoun, masculine or feminine.

  43. Liz C, I have to admit, I’m a bit bothered by your dismissive tone. You seem to be implying (unless I’m misunderstanding you here) that because you don’t have a problem with it, then there’s a bit of derisiveness on your part towards people that do. This isn’t simply a matter of intelligence – I’m sure most people, female and male, in the church have the capability of telling in certain instances when “men” is meant to mean “everyone.” But I’m really off-put by that because I’m not a man, and I feel really excluded when we do use such phrases. I have difficulty accessing the scriptures for that very reason. Which is to say nothing of the fact of the practicality of the issue (already well addressed in a number of previous comments) given the amount of instances when the speaker or writer actually is only addressing men/priesthood holders. Add on top of that the amount of times when the writer in the Book of Mormon will say “and their women and children” clumping those two groups of people together aside from the Nephites/Lamanites, etc. and it’s probably not all that far-fetched to assume that they were only envisioning a culture in which they weren’t addressing women in any kind of equal status; and I know that makes it harder for me at times to feel like the writer could be addressing me. Furthermore, it’s not particularly that difficult to do things like say “humankind” instead of “mankind” etc. and I think that’s reflected by how often church leaders – both at the top and at local levels – will now say (even when quoting scripture) “men and women.” Obviously, there’s some kind of demand/need for change.

    Also, I can buy your argument for not changing hymns under the argument of them being poetry (and therefore art and not to be censored by anyone other than the writer). But scriptures are not art. I’m bothered by the idea of a male God who wouldn’t be open to the idea of gender inclusive language (as I like to believe that God works within the context of the culture, being the reason why male dominant pronouns are all over the scripture) and doesn’t really work when you take into account the fact that Joseph Smith himself was making attempts at fixing (and therefore changing) the Bible.

    It’s fine if it doesn’t bother you; but even if we are a minority, that doesn’t mean we’re required to not have a problem with it.

    I appreciate you writing the post, Ziff, as it’s nice to know that there are other people that have this same issue. If we really are striving for equality, it should be reflected in our language usage.

  44. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts… I don’t mean to be dismissive, and I’m sorry my post came off that way. I do realize some people have very different experiences that lead them to experience things like the language in scripture in very different ways to my own experience.

    Oddly enough, re-editing hymns gets me more exercised than changing scripture (because I find great value in different translations of the text, I suppose, and find poetry a different creature… so I might object to editing Isaiah, but not, say, Leviticus.)

    Looking through my filter, with my background and experience, I really don’t see a need for re-writing everything to be gender neutral. Perhaps I am not a terribly literal thinker, and thus don’t have difficulty reading “me” into the text? I know I’ve not had (knock wood) negative experiences related to male/female issues, so that’s a factor, I’m sure.

    It’s just honestly never bothered me (in 30+ years of independently reading) that “man” is used to refer to “all humanity” as well as “people who have outdoor plumbing”. It doesn’t bother me that historically, men have been politically prominent. It doesn’t bother me that male historians refer mostly to their male counterparts when writing, and often put women and children into a background context. I don’t find that demeaning or belittling… it’s just a factor of men mostly writing stuff down, and other men collecting the records, and it doesn’t bug me. I know the women are there, and I know they played full roles in life and the gospel, even if I don’t read their every thought on a page. I tend to think that when *all* the records are brought out, we’ll get the other perspectives as well, and it will be fascinating. But for now, it just doesn’t bother me.

    I think it would be reasonable to have “neutralized” text available for those who have difficulty with the standard text, but I’d not wish to make that neutral version mandatory. I can see (potentially) using some non-gender terms in some ways, but I’d not want to de-gender God the Father, or a very male Christ, for instance, because I do believe gender is an eternal, formative, basic thing, and that certain souls are male, others are female. If there’s not been prophetic inspiration to include references to Heavenly Mother, I don’t want them in there. If a prophet did undertake some selective re-translation (as Joseph Smith did), I could see accepting those kinds of changes into the scriptural canon.

    But, frankly, I’d miss the elegance of a great many phrases if they were neutralized. A lot of the non-gendered phrases feel really clunky to me, partially due to being very familiar with the “standard” version, I’m sure.

    Anyhow, short form: thanks for being both blunt and kind. I do appreciate it. One nice thing about my particular brand of Really Opinionated is that I recognize other people are, too, and I find it interesting to get a different perspective.

  45. It does, actually. Poetry is a good window into culture, and sanitizing history isn’t something I like to see happen. Seeing the full lyric is a good reminder that church history was not all pastoral happiness and noble virtue… there was anger and betrayal and deep remorse, too. Phelps’ lyrics, original and intact, give us a very personal view of his heart-felt testimonial anthem. If a hymn text is going to be altered for congregational singing, as this one was, it would be awfully lovely to have a footnote including the original text. There are those of us who like to read hymn history, and those who don’t, after all.

    My husband the bagpiper just grits his teeth at the melody alterations. 🙂

  46. Katya, thanks for the wiki link, too! I’ve sung Star of the East, but didn’t have sheet music for it anymore (we had a house fire a few years ago, and it’s amazing how long it takes to find/replace some things!) There was a link to an image file of the shape note music, and I can transcribe from there!

  47. Liz C:

    All well said…!!

    The question might also be, how would you change the D&C where the words are the Lord’s? Do you all propose correcting the Savior’s language usage…? And how about the B of M..? Are you proposing changing that ‘inspired’ translation…??

    As a male I never read the scriptures and think that somehow women aren’t included. However, all the talk of how women feel excluded and find it hard to relate the scripture to themselves, that could explain some behaviors… ;-P

  48. I think it’s inevitable that tensions develop around canonized texts as the community’s values change. I can accept the argument that our texts shouldn’t be tampered with when they’re approached as historical artifacts, but they’re living documents with a liturgical and devotional life, and in a church promoting a highly expurgated vision of its own history that’s tailored specifically to create the illusion that its current values have a pedigree in the past, the notion that we can’t change male language on the grounds that our liturgy is an archive of historical doctrines we don’t want to lose touch just doesn’t wash.

    Why are we limiting the discussion to gendered language? Aren’t we equally obligated to keep “white and delightsome,” reference to Cowdery’s divining rod, the blood oaths in the temple, the oath against the nation, the Lectures on Faith in the canon, etc.? If hymns can’t be altered, how do we get away with appropriating Protestant hymns and editing out language we object to on doctrinal grounds? I’d take the argument more seriously if people were willing to sing praises to the trinity in sacrament meeting on the grounds that part of our history as Christians—and perhaps as Mormons—is belief in the trinity, for example.

  49. missky and Liz,

    When you say things like “I never read the scriptures and think that somehow women aren’t included” or “I’m clever enough to “get” it without having it spelled out,” you’re missing the point.

    Ziff’s post is based on psycholinguistic research, and anyone who’s studied linguistics knows that how we think we process and interpret language is often very different from how we actually process and interpret language, according to controlled research studies. You’re comparing perceptual apples with statistical oranges.

    missky, the Khosroshahi article I mentioned above discussed a study which demonstrated that men categorically do NOT think of women when presented with masculine pronouns in supposedly universal contexts. If you think you’re genuinely more enlightened than that, you’re welcome to volunteer to be a research subject in a similar study.

    Also, this:

    However, all the talk of how women feel excluded and find it hard to relate the scripture to themselves, that could explain some behaviors… ;-P

    is completely inappropriate, particularly on a thread whose topic is the marginalization of women. Please adopt a more mature and appropriate tone, in the future.

  50. And a very big amen to both Kiskilili and Katya. I get very annoyed by both the “but it never bothers me ’cause I’m smart enough not to be bothered” and the “but it’s a historical document and shouldn’t be changed” arguments. The sexist nature of cultural and linguistic traditions is not about conscious consumption so much as the unavoidable psychological consequences for everyone, male and female, who are compelled to partake in those traditions in some fashion just by virtue of an accident of birth. And it’s more than a little naive to make the same argument about the creations of past artists, whose work absolutely should not be altered for the reasons Liz C. advances, and something like canonical scripture, which is meant to be a living text as demonstrated by how we’re meant to use them (guidance in our daily lives) and the fact that the church has in fact altered them on a pretty regular basis to correct for other problems. You can’t claim that the absolute sanctity of the text precludes changing it on the one hand and then accept contemporary Mormon scripture with no concern about it having been changed on the other.

  51. The Old English wifman meant “female human” (werman meant “male human”)

    and man meant human of either sex.

    What has happened is that over time all of the gender inclusive terms have supplanted the gender specific male terms.

    Makes for some interesting implications as to making texts inclusive all over again (and the fact that a proper modern translation might well be one that replaces “man” with a term that reads more like “man” used to read in the old english).

  52. Man or mann had a gender neutral meaning of “human”, corresponding to Modern English “one” or “someone”. However in around 1000AD “man” started to be used more to refer to “male human”, and in the late 1200s began to inevitably displace and eradicate the original word “werman”)

    So maybe I’m a little prior to 1600s Jacobean English, but still, I think the point is valid. Those who oppose gender inclusive language miss the roots of the words.

  53. Shall a person rob god?

    People are that they might have joy!

    By this shall people know that ye are my disciples

    Shall one rob God?

    All are that they might have joy.

    By this shall others know that ye are my disciples.

  54. saying that sexual discrimination is not constitutionally prohibited IS saying that the 14th amendment does not apply to women

    No. It is saying that there is nothing for the 14th Amendment to incorporate.

    I think it is time to log off and finish dinner on my end.

  55. The next concert I go to where the line to the women’s restroom winds out the door and around the corner into the corridor, I’m going to interpret the sign above the men’s restroom (which never has a long queue) as a welcome and speedy relief.

  56. If you are among a buch of Mormons and the conversation starts to lag, casually and innocently toss out this question:

    In section 121, when the text says that “almost all men” are prone to unrighteous dominion, does it mean women, too?

    Since the statement occurs in a discussion of priesthood, it is easy to think it applies only to men. My experience says that LDS people are split about 50/50 on the question. This is one of the best examples I can find where gendered language probably obscures the meaning.

  57. Mark, I’d argue that women are included in any discussion of the priesthood, and the concept of corruption (as demonstrated by unrighteous dominion) applies equally to all of us. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to sit on the RS Enrichment board for a few meetings. 🙂

  58. Liz C,

    I know! It really baffled me the first time I heard a woman say it applied only to The Priesthood and not to her, because she had a well-known reputation for biting other sisters’ heads off if they didn’t report their VT visits in the one and only true and living way. It was totally bizarre.


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