Coercion: Stop it

One of my first posts at ZD was about what I called my “feminist awakening.”  I pinpointed it to a particular summer, the first of my graduate studies.  But, I don’t think it really explained the bigger picture of what really was happening.  That summer wasn’t the beginning of my discomfort with gender inequality, it was just the first time I named it.  And, it was the first time I really dealt with something I came to term “gender coercion.”  And by gender coercion, I mean:

The forcing of another party to act out gendered expectations in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation, or some other form of pressure or force.

Going back, I can’t remember the first time I realized that being a “girl” meant that most people saw me as less-than.  It seems I was always aware of it.  I come from a family of all sisters, me being the oldest.  I remember very seriously and solemnly apologizing to my dad one night when I was eight years old, tears running down my face, for not being the boy he deserved and being part of the burden of only-daughters.  Regardless of his loving response, the point is that I had internalized the idea from somewhere that I wasn’t enough.

Being in a family of sisters had its distinct advantages, though.  For example, there were no brothers to do “manly chores” that I wouldn’t get to do–we all shared in the weeding, lawn mowing, bathroom cleaning, and laundry equally.  Though, of course, I noticed that boys got to pass the sacrament and go to boy scouts, at least I never had to hear about it more than once a week and even then, indirectly.  I never saw my parents treat any of my siblings differently than they treated me.  I acknowledge that I internalized ideas from culture that discouraged me from becoming the engineer I thought I wanted to be as a ten year old, but I also was very openly (and persistently) encouraged throughout high school by my parents to work hard in school so I could get college scholarships.

All of this is to say that, through luck, my sisters, and my parents’ encouragement of our intellects and talents, I think I may have developed a much more egalitarian worldview in my childhood and teen years than many of my friends.

Because of this, I dealt pretty well with Young Women’s because I had internalized, somewhere along the way, that my life had a great deal of agency.  I knew that the lessons may be beating me over the head with “someday my prince will come” metaphors and bread-making activity nights, but I didn’t have to be threatened by them.  “I can get a PhD, no problem,” I would think, “And these other girls can choose to get married at 19 and not get PhDs if they want.  Also, not a problem.”  Or “Sure, maybe they like doing cross-stitch, but I don’t have to.”

This continued on through college, with some small challenges that I simply shrugged off as anomalies.

Essentially, I had a kind of live and let live attitude.  Your choice.  My choice.  They can be different.  And I didn’t feel like anyone (normal) had any real problem with that.

Until that first summer of graduate school.

As I alluded to in that first post, the Joseph Smith Seminar was the first time I was professionally involved with other mostly-Mormon men (and one or two women).  And all of the sudden, I wasn’t allowed to be “my choice”–I found myself shoved into the stereotypical Mormon paradigms of womanhood, without my consent.

I felt…I didn’t know what to feel!  Shocked?  Hurt?  Confused?  Violated?  Betrayed?


One year later, I was engaged to be married and I dealt with an even more violent sense of coercion within the covenants, symbolism, and words of the temple.  Feeling coerced by my parents and extended family to attend regardless of my serious reservations and pain didn’t help…

I had always cherished that supremely Mormon value of free agency, the knowledge that we had a Heavenly Mother, the sense of divine worth I’d carefully developed in my family and on my own, the peaceful and equal relationship I had with my fiance…but they all were threatened–no, more than threatened–by this experience that seemed to be cruelly fine-tuned to force me to accept a worldview, suddenly and without prior explanation, that went against my greatest truths.  I thought and still think it is horrific that my wedding day to such a wonderful person and my best friend was also the day my soul was ritually marginalized…through my own spoken words coerced from my mouth by social pressure, fear, and confusion.

If that sounds violent and dramatic, it’s because it was.

A month later, I found that life in a family ward was, in many ways, much more restrictive than my Boston singles ward ever was.  Because I was someone’s wife now I wasn’t allowed to be me anymore–I felt coerced to play a role others expected me to suddenly perform in a way I never felt as a child, teen, or single adult.

Over the years, I’ve tried to identify various methods and iterations of this gender coercion I’ve regularly experienced from both men and women, and actually naming them has helped…

  • Ignoring or belittling any of my achievements that are not part of the approved list of womanly talents (stay-at-home parenting, housework, crafting, food preparation)
  • Addressing only my husband when discussing decisions for our family
  • Comparing me (favorably or un-) to other, more “gender-acceptable” women in the ward
  • Instructing me that I need approval from a male leader for very small decisions (e.g. book club selections)
  • Refusing to let me keep my last name on any church-related records
  • Verbally indicating an expectation for me to perform woman-associated work (babysitting, cooking, cleaning) in any setting, regardless of my assigned responsibilities
  • Heck, simply not making eye contact or speaking to me at all
  • Being the subject of jokes about my female mind/stereotypes.
  • Assigning my life choices as simply, obediently trailing along behind my husband
  • Being told, with a tone of surprise, “That was a very smart comment!”
  • Never being asked any questions about my personal or intellectual interests by most male church members and many female members
  • Addressing my husband first in, and for the majority of, any conversation
  • Threatened with eternal separation from my family if I do not participate in ritual that contradicts my sense of divine worth

Have you ever felt this way–coerced into a stereotypical gender role against your will?   What are some ways this exhibits itself?  I feel like the more we can identify the mechanisms, the less helpless we feel when confronted with them again.


  1. Wow, what a powerful post. This particularly struck a cord with me:

    I thought and still think it is horrific that my wedding day to such a wonderful person and my best friend was also the day my soul was ritually marginalized…through my own spoken words coerced from my mouth through social pressure, fear, and confusion.

    How many women agree to something verbally that they don’t really agree with in their hearts and minds? LIke you, I voiced certain covenants because of the social pressure. I was only able to console myself by the thought that God knew what was in my heart.

    To your list I would add the following:

    Insisting that people dress in gender specific ways in a variety of social situations and reacting negatively particularly toward women who dress in a manner deemed inappropriate for the situation.

  2. Thanks for this. I’ve heard you and other describe this gender coercion before, but it’s always good to hear it again, especially as a male who has been (and likely continues to be) part of the problem, even when its unintentional. Here’s a sincere question for you: how can I go about helping to change this ongoing coercion within the church? I already consciously attempt to do the opposite of everything you list (including, as ward clerk, explaining to the bishop and his counselors that it is not “weird” that two women in our ward have chosen to keep their last names and that it really present little difficulty in maintaining their church records), but what more can be done? I recognize grassroots activism is less effective in the Church than in other venues and organizations, but there’s gotta be something that can be done. Right?

  3. Great post, Apame. I have personally experienced a number of the things you’ve included on your list.

    Another item to add: Emails & sign up sheets regarding feeding the missionaries or bringing food to ward activities are sent to the RS, but not the EQ or HPG. Sign-up sheets for babysitting for a RS or adults-only activity go to YW, but not YM (and there ARE NO sign-ups for babysitting during EQ activities, natch).

    And another one: Jeans for women all fit differently than jeans for men (though I suppose wearing men’s jeans is an option…)

  4. If you can tap out any time you want is it really coercion?

    For instance we all are required to do things we don’t necessarily love doing in our careers. Is that coercion or just a trade off we choose to accept?

    I am mostly objecting to the use of the word “coercion” here. I suspect it is being misapplied.

  5. Aside from the temple ceremonies and priesthood (which I agree are both serious issues that affect all women), I don’t have many specific examples that tie to me not fitting the preferred gender roles.

    Our backgrounds are fairly similar, with I think one major difference. I’ve taken myself out of the social aspects of church so I don’t really have the displeasure of experiencing many specific examples. I think this is primarily in response to all of the crap my mother took as a working mother when I was growing up. She eventually gave up trying to make friends at church and that was an extremely painful process that I would like to avoid.

    In general, DH and I are just not going to fit in to the standard mold for several reasons. Honestly, the feminism issue is just one amongst being liberal, choosing to be childfree, DH being a convert, and being giant nerds.

  6. I’ve had most of those experiences, too. The vast majority of the Young Women activities and lessons I attended as a teenager were about things like finding returned missionary husbands and making our own sugar scrubs and cooking and scrapbooking, none of which were things I was interested in. It didn’t remotely fit my personality, but I was taught that those were the things a righteous woman did, so I thought my lack of desire to do them was a comment on my faithfulness. (Which is, of course, a thing that is also done to boys in patriarchal culture.)

    Much of my experience has been with expectations in marriage, like that husbands are always the ones to make late-night runs to the store or go out to the car when you forgot your cell phone on the front seat. My mom—who’s honestly kind of a feminism/patriarchy paradox that I haven’t quite figured out yet—will actually try to stop me sometimes from doing something myself, and tell me to let my husband or one of my brothers do it.

  7. Geoff: I really appreciate your point here–I wasn’t sure if the word coercion would come across as too “strident.” And, I was afraid that by using it I was setting myself up for being ridiculed for being melodramatic and playing the undeserving victim.

    But, the more I thought about it, the more correct it felt. Yes, I understand that in many of these situations there is the technical option to “tap out,” as you say. There’s no gun to my head.

    The thing that I don’t think many understand is that, even though there may be the technically acknowledged option to leave/protest/walk away/say something– a situation, social pressure, deeply embedded cultural assumptions, etc. can make it literally impossible to say no or stand up for oneself.

    I felt that simply saying something like “I felt pressured to act a certain way” did not really capture what I meant.

    There’s a difference between feeling pressure to, for example, do something that we just don’t feel like doing at our jobs and the experience of being met with a very specific threat to your conscience and your standing with God and feeling yourself lose complete control of your agency to defend it. That’s not simply an inconvenient aspect of life to just deal with, that’s a very tangible threat to personal autonomy.

    The worst example of this situation, in my life, was my experience in the temple, but I think it can come in other, smaller instances as well.

  8. The desire to make choices completely free from contrary social pressures is thoroughly unreasonable. It would require infringing others’ agency to think and express their own opinions. Instead, take responsibility for your own agency. You’re free to wear whatever jeans you want to wear. I agree with Hillary: stop whining about your choices. You’re the one who made them.

  9. Apame, I was going to respond pretty much as you did. But as I thought about it, I realized there is one element that distinguishes between actual coercion and just a really hard choice: and that is isolation.

    If you are exposed to other ideas, it is not coercion. It’s just a really hard choice with some really big consequences.

    You said situations make it “literally impossible,” but outside of that kind of isolation, it isn’t really LITERALLY impossible. It is possible. People do it all the time with the same kind of societal pressure, the same kind of cultural assumptions. They just decide that the cost of the choice, though steep, is worth the benefit.

    So long as you are aware of the consequences and are free to weigh them, it is still your choice. I agree that it is naive to expect that we can control the consequences of our decisions, to expect everyone else to allow us to choose inside a vacuum. Life with other people just doesn’t work that way.

    I went through a period where I immersed myself in ANYTHING that wasn’t girly, and avoided girly stuff like the plague. But eventually, I matured and realized that I didn’t care what others thought, I make my own decisions. So I love to bake, and sew, and knit, but I also like to do yardwork, rewire electrical sockets, and change the brakes on my car.

    Which turned out to be a good thing, since I’m now a single parent and have to take care of everything on my own….

  10. I think the isolation you bring up is a really interesting point, SilverRain (although I don’t think I agree with you that it’s necessary for something to be considered coercion). That kind of isolation IS often a big factor in these situations. It was for me. I had no idea that feminism was even still a thing until I was 26 years old, and what I DID know about it, I thought was “worldly” and “godless” and “a threat to the family and God’s plan.” It is definitely an issue in more conservative places in the country (Texas, for me).

    Even when that isolation isn’t there, though, I’m not sure why that would mean it isn’t coercion. It means it’s not brainwashing—but coercion is the use of authority to compel, not the withholding of information to compel. Knowing that there are other options doesn’t mean that you can’t be coerced into something by someone who has authority over you. Especially if you believe that authority is GOD’s authority, and that choosing to resist would be choosing to disobey God.

  11. I have to side with Apame on this one. As far as the temple goes, we’re given very little information beforehand, but told that we are making very, very serious, sacred, binding covenants. In my case, I was told that the endowment ceremony was the necessary prerequisite to eternal temple marriage, and eventually to the celestial kingdom. If I chose not to marry in that setting, I would be separated from my beloved in the world to come. The necessity of temple marriage had been taught to me since my youngest years in Primary. I wasn’t told in advance that as part of this process, I would be required to heed my husband, while he covenanted to heed, not me, but God. After driving six hours to the temple, and then entering a very, very formal, ritualized space in which everyone but me seemed to know what was going on, I just didn’t have it in me to say no. I did come home and sob big heaving sobs for a couple hours. But I hadn’t felt at the time that backing out of the ceremony was an option. Technically, I know now that it was. But in addition to the intimidating setting of the endowment ceremony, there was also the issue of having already sent out wedding invitations. My huge, wonderful, extended family had bought plane tickets so they could gather from around the country for the wedding the following week – was I going to let them down because I couldn’t get on board with the sacred temple ordinances? I don’t think coercion is too strong a word to describe this process. I’m still an active member today, but my heart still aches whenever I think about the temple.

  12. Apame,

    I guess the line between social pressure and coercion is very blurry. Where does one end and the other start?

    For instance Mormonism tells me that if I, as a covenant keeping Mormon, choose to wantonly break the word of wisdom and law of chastity I am putting my soul in jeopardy in addition to running the risk of excommunication from the church, etc. Does that mean I am being coerced by Mormonism to be sober and chaste? I don’t think so.

  13. If you found yourself at a bar and wanting *with your entire mind, soul, and body* to have a beer, but you felt paralyzed by fear and simply could *not* move or speak because of it.

    Then yes.

    I think perhaps what I’m getting at here is a feeling of complete and utter powerlessness when you are wanting to do something but find yourself completely trapped.

  14. Apame,

    It sounds like you are sounds like you are using some sort of completely subjective internal standard for what qualifies as coercion or not. The problem is that often doesn’t make sense.

    Using a variation of your example:

    If you found yourself at a bar and wanting *with your entire mind, soul, and body* [to pick your nose], but you felt paralyzed by fear and simply could *not* move or speak because [you knew picking your nose would be embarrassing].

    Then yes [that is coercion]

    In the end we choose freely on these despite our internal glitches and social fears. So it is not coercion.

    Coercion would be physically forcing someone to do something against their will.

    The admittedly gray area is with the gun to the head example. It is generally considered coercion when death is the only alternative even though one could freely choose death. So I am not entirely unsympathetic to your position here.

  15. Oh come on, Geoff J. Coercion doesn’t mean limiting someone to only one choice. It means making choices other than the one you are imposing into bad options. Ransom: coercion. Blackmail: coercion.

  16. I will agree that people have the right to choose their actions and in turn are forced to face the consequences of their choices. However, I think that what is missing from this discussion is an acknowledgement that a lot of those consequences are decided and dictated by the cultures in which we live. Take for example, a young girl who doesn’t attend school. If she made the decision to attend school the following consequences could happen to her based on the culture in which she lives:

    The other students could tease her
    The other students could bully her severely
    Her family could treat her as a bad daughter for not helping out at home
    She could be bullied and taunted by other adults
    She could get acid thrown in her face

    Would we say that the girl who gets acid thrown in her face is just as free to choose attend school as the girl who nothing happens to? Perhaps, but she is dealing with a whole different ballgame than the girl who nothing happens to. As was so eloquently expressed in the original post, I think we need to acknowledge the cultural pressures we place on one another, especially pressures that dole out different consequences to individuals based on their gender. We should also consider the severity of the consequences that we are giving. Through that consideration, we should decide whether we should be putting these pressures on one another.

  17. Did apame get threatened with acid if she did not get married in the temple? Your analogy is completely irrelevant. And no, cultural pressure is not the same as coercion.

  18. Um, no, but she did get threatened to be separated from her family, her spouse, and God for eternity if she didn’t get married in the temple. Is that better or worse than getting acid thrown in your face? It is hard to say, but the point is there are different degrees of coercion and that they are often dictated by our culture or society.

  19. Beatrice,

    Mormonism is no different than most any other religion in that respect. For instance the vast majority of Christian religions threaten people with eternal hell if they don’t follow their prescribed path. But people are still free to choose to follow said path or not.

    This attempt to equate run-of-the-mill religious/social pressure with coercion doesn’t work.

  20. I’m unsure that everyone actually read the definition of coercion used in the OP.

    Additionally, I feel as if my own experience is threatening in some way to other readers. I’m unclear as to why — what exactly is the trigger here to warrant so much push back and insistence on redefinition?

  21. “Which is more coercive — a lot of severe coercion or a little mild coercion?”

    It seems that this discussion has been reduced to one of disagreement about semantics and definitions of terms, and thus no one is discussing the other, bigger problem of cultural pressure/coercion and what it does/they do to people who don’t fit nicely into their places within a culture. I recognize some of what’s described in the OP and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it coercion. And if someone started in with me on a quibble over my terms I’d feel mighty cranky and tell them to quit trying to coerce the topic into something that it isn’t.

  22. Let me add that anyone who doesn’t want to abide by any of the covenants they made in the Mormonism (baptism, sacrament, priesthood, temple, etc) is free to break those covenants any time they choose. Heaven knows there are a ton of people who do just that. So if breaking covenants is just that easy and prominent where is the coercion?

  23. MDearest,

    I’m not sure there really is a “bigger problem of cultural pressure” per se. For instance, social pressure is what keeps us from passing gas around each other in public. I like that kind of social pressure. But of course as a social species there will be expectations of people in every human culture. We all make tradeoffs and decisions about when to go with the flow and when to buck the trend for those expectations.

  24. Ok Geoff J, we know what your experience with cultural pressure feels like. Of course it’s not a bigger problem to you; you’re comfortable with it at the level you’re experiencing. I’m glad for you. To other people, like Apame, and some of us commenters, it’s beyond uncomfortable, and I’d like to see more exploration of that. If you don’t see the need to go there, then don’t. But perhaps there is something that I can learn from others that will help me, so I’d like to see the discussion get back on the rails.

  25. Mdearest,

    People get severe social pressure from religion all the time. Mormonism is full of faithful members who were told they would be disowned by their families and go straight to hell if they joined the church. The point is that “coercion” is the wrong word here. It is an unnecessarily, even offensively, loaded word in this case.

  26. I stand by my post, fully considering your thoughts, Geoff. I can understand how, from your perspective, it may seem like a loaded word to use and I can understand how that could be offensive. Particularly if you see the examples above as being less-than or not sufficiently horrific enough to be entitled to such a strong word. I can see how one could feel like I was perhaps labeling you, indirectly, of being part of a massive institutional conspiracy of coercion. And I can see how that would make one feel defensive and/or dismissive.

    However, you need to consider how dismissing the narrative of the OP and the experiences of others exactly as stated (and therefor as actually experienced) is offensive as well.

    It’s so important that we take the time to always try to understand each other’s points of view before making such potentially hurtful claims.

    With that said, I do appreciate MDearest’s call to avoid getting too far off topic. This was a post that was meant to help others try to empathize and understand what these sorts of experiences feel like and are, as well as a brainstorming session to help everyone try to come to some healthy and charitable solutions.

  27. Here’s my question:

    If pointing a gun at someone’s head and threatening their physical life is coercion, then why is pointing a theological gun at someone’s spiritual head and threatening their eternal life not similarly coercion?

    It would seem to me that if Mormons take seriously their belief that eternal life matters as much as, and really much more than, this life on earth, then we have to acknowledge that feeling like one’s eternal life is being threatened is a form of coercion.

    I understand that for those who operate comfortably within the system, things like not being able to get sealed to your spouse without agreeing to previously completely unknown covenants does not feel coercive. It just feels like doing what is done as part of that comfortable and correct system. But there are many of us for whom that is not true. There are many of us for whom the way things are done feels coercive. Because it feels like a threat to our own understanding of truth as well as to our eternal well-being. And it’s sure as hell a threat to our relationships with people in this life. Yes. I can technically choose whatever I want. But as one commenter pointed out, when you ratchet up the costs of making that cost to such a pitch that it becomes a life-threatening choice then it’s no longer really just a matter of choosing. It’s a matter of coercion. And I consider a threat to my emotional and spiritual lives as serious as a threat to my physical life.

    On the question of gender coercion: I think it goes without saying that our culture coerces both women and men into conforming to certain expectations. I don’t think it has to be that way, and I think we’ve seen progress towards it not being that way. What I don’t understand is:

    If my choosing to live differently from you doesn’t *actually* threaten your choosing to live the way you choose, then why do you choose to feel threatened?

    If I choose to remain childless, to pursue a career, to perform Mormonism differently than you do, does that really mean you can’t perform it your way? It doesn’t. So I don’t see why you (and I am speaking generally here, not to any specific individual) need to police my actions. Even if you think they are threatening my own wellbeing, whether physical or spiritual. The difference between physical and spiritual wellbeing is that there are demonstrable harms to the body, while most “spiritual harms” are presumed rather than demonstrable. No one can actually demonstrate beyond doubt that choosing to interpret the Word of Wisdom as precluding drunkenness but not precluding occasional responsible drinking will result in spiritual harm. As a result there has to be a *manufactured* spiritual harm. Namely that a person who admits such behavior cannot go to the temple, and therefore threatens her or his own eternal life. I do not understand manufacturing spiritual harms. I only understand living by the principle Joseph Smith identified, namely that the church should teach correct principles (not behaviors) and allow people to govern themselves (behave as they see fit). Mormonism is a far cry from that these days. Instead it polices, both institutionally and culturally, all kinds of behaviors. Including its gender prescriptions.

    My non-compliance with the church’s gender prescriptions does not threaten anyone. The absence of gender prescriptions in the church does not threaten anyone. The only explanation I can find is that people are frightened when their world does not fit neatly into categories and prescriptions, so the church allays those fears by way of prescriptions and categories. Just as most social institutions do. I see this life as being a journey in which we are supposed to learn to see beyond category and prescription, and instead recognize the beauty and worth of each individual regardless of their category. I think I can back that up with scripture. I realize many people will think I’m a flaming liberal hippy who doesn’t understand. I frankly don’t give a tinker’s damn. And I wish that we would spend half as much effort inside the church teaching pure, unmitigated love as we spend teaching conformity and prescription and judgment.

    Sorry if I’ve gotten away from the main thread of the OP. But I will say that I have felt the church’s coerciveness for many years. I have chosen my way in spite of that coerciveness. And I pay the cost attached to it when necessary. I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. The fact that I chose my course and paid the price does not change the fact that I was coerced. Just as the fact that a parent paid the ransom when her child was kidnapped does not change the fact that she was coerced into doing so.

    Finally, I would suggest that those inside the system who are comfortable with it, instead of feeling threatened and accused by the experiences of people like Apame and myself, should acknowledge that perhaps there is something to what is being said. Rather than making semantic arguments designed to dismiss the experience as hyperbolic misrepresentation, accept that we are trying to accurately and honestly portray our own experience. and then consider, “is there something we could do to make this a little better that would not simultaneously substantively change the system?” I would submit that there are many things that could be done that would help those of us who feel threatened by the very belief system we identify with and hold dear, without harmfully altering that system. For instance, if someone is worthy of a temple recommend, then where is the harm in letting them know exactly what the covenants in the temple are before they are asked to actually make them? I can see no harm in it at all. And shouldn’t we prefer that when we make covenants in the temple, or anywhere, it be done with full knowledge and understanding? Wouldn’t it be better, more in keeping with the principles and spirit of the gospel, for someone to know beforehand and consciously choose to make those covenants? Or, if they are troubled by them, to have a safe environment in which to discuss them with other temple-worthy adults, asking their questions without being judged, being offered support and compassion and love?

    But that is not how it happens now. Instead it is done in secrecy, in a setting in which the pressure is so high that it’s virtually impossible to not make the covenants (has anyone actually witnessed first hand someone standing up and refusing to make the covenants in an endowment session?), and everyone knows that expressing doubts in any public fashion will result in condemnation (implicit if not explicit, and probably both) rather than compassion and love and a willingness to simply recognize and allow to exist the other’s questions and doubts.

    Anyway. I could go on and on (as you’ve probably realized) about this. It is the one thing about the church that I cannot understand, and which I think most deeply violates its own principles. That it coerces its members into doing what it thinks they should do, rather than allowing them the opportunity and safety in which to find their way back to God.

  28. Amelia I did not read your long comment but here’s the problem with what you’re saying and with the original post: there’s a difference between someone holding a gun to your head and someone merely pointing out the danger you are headed towards even though they did not create that danger. The guy holding the gun to your head is coercing you. The caring parent encouraging temple marriage is warning that failure to marry in the temple will result in potentially negative consequences. One is coercive. The other is not. The parent is not threatening to harm you but rather warning you that harm,not of their doing, will come to you.

  29. Apame,

    I don’t think I dismissed the narrative of the original post. I certainly didn’t intend to do that.

    The post is title “Coercion: Stop It”. That catchy title hooked me so I read the post. I found no examples of coercion in the post. There were plenty of examples of sexism and rudeness, but no coercion. So my comments were focused on that particular word.

    I think your complaints about sexism and rudeness in the church are very valid. I spent an hour just this afternoon with one of me teenage daughters helping her work through some sexist insults she has been dealing with lately.

  30. Mike, the problem I have with what you are saying is that in addition to potential eternal consequences, a lot of the negative consequences *are* perpetrated by families and other members of the church. Families can shun or treat someone as “less than” because they don’t marry in the temple. As Amelia pointed out, someone who voices concerns or doubts are often treated as an apostate rather than treated with love and understanding. Instead of parents reaching out with love to those individuals, they often react with pain and rejection.

    Additionally, in many cases ward members will gossip about said individual and may not want to associate with them. There are social, in this life consequences, for not marrying in the temple, and those consequences are most often doled out by families and members of the ward.

  31. Mike:

    Amelia I did not read your long comment but here’s the problem with what you’re saying and with the original post…


  32. Apame I read all of your post and enough of Amelia’s to get the gist. I believe the appropriate response is tldr.

    But I still don’t think you’re coerced.

    Beatrice I think you’re talking about negative consequences that may really exist but do not constitute coercion. People may shun me for dressing strangely. That is not coercing me to not dress strangely. If someone puts a gun to my head and says if you dress strangely I’ll kill you that’s coercion.

  33. It seems like we are working with different definitions. To me, coercion includes trying to get someone to comply with you by threatening them with physical, emotion, or social consequences. As I mentioned before, there are both more minor forms and more extreme forms of coercion. And regardless of whether you define these social consequences as coercion or not, they are real and they are very powerful. Most people will not take a decision lightly that could lead to being them shunned from their family and community.

  34. When I was two, behind the huge hedge separating our yard from the neighbors, lived a ferocious, nasty beast– a miniature poodle. I was amazed, when looking through an old photo album, at how small that hedge was. Being a few feet taller sure changed my perspective.

    About 15 years ago I was really jawing with some guy.(even without my glasses I could tell it was a male). And my wife grabs me and starts pulling me off and urgently whispering in my ear ,” He’s got a gun”
    Now this ticked me off. I break free and march over there and say,” Here I am, shoot me. Come on, pull the trigger.”

    Was I coerced. Not a bit.
    But I have felt coercion by my parents and siblings to perform gender in the way they deemed proper .Humans are social animals who live in family groups. Shunning is a powerful tool to achieve conformity.
    Now that’s coercion.

  35. What about the ‘penalties’ that used to be attached to the temple covenants? We’re those coercive?

  36. Those of us who are old enough to have memorized the “penalties” part of the old temple ceremony will recall that the “penalties” were descriptions of possible coercion by violent or persuasive others who might try to get you to divulge temple language.

    They were not descriptions of penalties to be handed out by the church or God. They were an alert to how much pressure or threat (penalties) might be brought to bear on you by others who wished you to treat or divulge temple covenant language profanely and it was a commitment to withstand that outside coercion.

    I can still recite that passage from the old version. But this is not the proper venue. So I guess you’ll have to take my word for it.

  37. I am struck by your last, bold-type paragraph. I think that the key to not “feeling helpless” is not identifying the mechanisms. I think the key is 1) developing a loving, confident sense of self and others and 2) a quick draw articulateness.

    My experience has been that for me, the best way to get to the former is by coming to a place where another’s view of you has no power over your view of them. And the only way I’ve been able to get there is by seeking to understand those “mechanism users” and who they are, at their very core, beyond all their insecurities, cultural assumptions, role-playing or posturing. That goes for both men and women. And, at the same time I must work at developing a loving, sure connection to God that I trust.

    It is only when I see others the way God does that they lose their power to make me feel pushed.

    It takes time to get there. The vision started for me 25 years ago and I’m still perfecting the art, but it works.

    In absolutely every large organization there will always be some people who make assumptions that are wrong about others and act ignorantly as a result. But I’ve learned that it goes both ways. I have been wrongly boxed in by others and I have also just as unkindly wrongly boxed in the boxers-in by my response to them, identifying them as perpetrators instead of as brothers or sisters.

    The way to freedom isn’t identifying the boxing in mechanisms. What liberates you is seeing others clearly and wholeheartedly, free from fear because you love, separating them from their boxing-in tactics in your mind. And that also empowers you to help others create liberation in their own lives.

    That takes time. But it’s worth the years of work.

    The quick-draw articulateness just comes with experience, compassion and practice. And for some people like me it will take a lifetime to get that down.

  38. Those of us who are old enough to have memorized the “penalties” part of the old temple ceremony will recall that the “penalties” were descriptions of possible coercion by violent or persuasive others who might try to get you to divulge temple language.

    Those of us who are even older remember yet an earlier time, when the penalties were genuine penalties, before the language was softened. But don’t take my word for it.

  39. No, the temple penalties weren’t coercive. Lots of people chose to break their temple covenants back then too. Nobody, not even God, forced anyone to keep covenants with God 20, 40, or 100 years ago any more than now. We are free to choose to keep our covenants or not.

  40. Lady G.E.G.
    Not old enough to remember those, but if it’s so, then the trajectory of “penalties” seems to have been one of decreasing preoccupation with threat as a motivation to do good or ill.

    That’s a good sign, in my opinion.

  41. Everyone here has a choice between making feminist comments and getting kicked off our blog.

    Also, you are all 100% responsible for your choice.

  42. Now answering the original question. Yes I have felt coerced. In the middle of a disagreement with my ex, he turned to me and said that I was not keeping the commandments I made in the temple. When I asked how that was he said that I was not “hearkening” to his counsel (meaning I was not obeying him). Also, when I told him I wanted to have at least a year after college to think about having kids he (and his mama) called me selfish (because my job is to pop babies). Then I told him that I was going to get a temp job to buy a few things I wanted he said that that was selfish too. As a married woman I was not supposed to spend money on me. And the list goes on…

  43. This debate seems to be divided between people who are ignoring one or the other half of the equation when it comes to personal freedom. We act and are acted upon. We have a degree of personal freedom that is restricted by our being acted upon. External influences include the choices of other individuals and cultural and societal expectations. It’s not as simple as saying that something is or is not coercive.

    The girl who risks getting acid thrown in her face for going to school, who is aware of that risk, may literally be unable to chose to go. Or she might still be able to choose to go. There is no easy way to quantify the extent to which external influences restrict our choice, and it would of course vary between individuals and situations.

    Actually, I’m kind of surprised at you, GeoffJ. I might be confusing you with someone else but I thought your philosophy of “agency” or “freedom” or whatever you want to call it was very similar to mine. I guess maybe the OP offended you (not accusing you, but you said it was offensive so I take you at your word) and you decided to play devil’s advocate and not mention the fact that we never have a complete degree of freedom in this lifetime. Unless you don’t believe this, in which case you aren’t the C.S. Lewis fan I took you for. 🙂

    Anyway, it’s unreasonable to expect the total elimination of societal expectations, even though they do encroach upon our personal freedom. There will always be norms and the pressure to conform. So I’m not sure there’s really anything to correct in regards to the situation described in the OP. If you’re in a situation where you deviate (either automatically or by intentionally choosing to do so) from the norm, you will have the assumptions of others to contend with.

    Full disclosure: I’m sometimes frustrated with the condition of women in our faith community. I think the increasing egalitarianism of our people (in the younger generations) and our increasingly egalitarian policies (missionary age change, emphasis on woman-inclusive ward councils) will only make things more comfortable for those of us who are less gender stereotypical or more egalitarian. (Those two things don’t necessarily coincide.)

    And now back to lurking.

  44. “Um, no, but she did get threatened to be separated from her family, her spouse, and God for eternity if she didn’t get married in the temple.”


    If you haven’t gone through this experience you can’t understand just how it tears you up inside. Apame seems like a smart woman trying to express her inner feelings on a subject that is close to her heart.

    I don’t think this is an issue of discussing semantics. The truth is Apame has been judged and marginalized for her decisions that didn’t actually effect others–except to question their notions of gender-norms. Now, I can have sympathy for those who don’t understand why a woman wouldn’t change her last name or anything else Apame brought up. But that doesn’t justify mistreating a fellow child of God (although I think this mistreatment is usually perpetrated in ignorance and not out right meanness).

    Choice is a funny word. Like Apame, I’ve felt like I’m stuck in a catch-22. Be true to yourself or risk alienation, scorn, even hatred from your family and friends–good people who you love. I don’t go to church anymore or believe in most of its doctrines. I want to be open with the family I love and be able to have a respectful dialogue with them. I want to remain close with them. But, as good of people that my parents are, I’m not quite sure that they wouldn’t disown me on the spot if they knew I had a little more than doubts about the church. So I limit my interaction with them so I can retain some sort of relationship with them.

    When I went to the temple for the first time, my choice was this: do it or lose everyone your love (including the man I wanted to marry). The choice hasn’t change.

    As Apame define the term, coercion requires some sort of force, pressure, or threat. Tell me I’m not being threatened by the loss of my family for just *thinking* differently.

  45. Tea Black – YES – exactly what my X did to me, for 29 yeras!!! Coerced, using the gospel and the temple. Took me a long time to realize he was WRONG. As to
    the old temple penalties, people who have not experienced them would probably be aghast and horrifed. I wondered for years about my soul because of them and when they were reomved I wondered why – not that I liked them. Just goes to show that THINGS CHANGE in the Mormon world and I hope they change for the better. I’m an inactive Mormon now and a happier one. Deep in my soul I know that God and Goddess are nor coercive parents. Enough said so why is the church coercive, spiritually and emotionally, in so many things?

  46. Thank you for your article. I have noticed a few of those things. When I got married, I noticed in the ward that whenever they gave my husband and me the same calling, or did tithing settlement, they always asked him first if he accepted the calling, or if he was a full-tithe payer. They always asked me second. It felt very weird, like they viewed my husband as the family representative or something.

    I also felt hurt when some would say hello to both of us and ask how we were doing, and would only look at my husband and shake his hand. It was always men that did this. I noticed women would focus on me.

    There were a few times when I saw the opposite. A female church leader asked me if me and my husband wanted to teach primary. Also, when I had an appointment to get married in the temple, the matron called me beforehand. She wanted to talk specifically to me, and wanted to confirm the details of the wedding. It seems like men prefer to talk to men and women prefer to talk to women.

    I am very sorry that they wouldn’t let you keep your own last name in the church directory. When I got married, I felt pressured to use my husband’s last name, so I wrote that down on the paper when we moved into the ward. Shortly after, I wanted to put my own last name again, since I was known by my official name everywhere else, and had decided not to change it. Anyway, I didn’t know what to do to get it changed at church. What happened was that I noticed that at tithing settlement they put most of the tithing I had paid under my husband’s name. I was upset at this, so I began paying my tithing separately instead of combined with my husband. A year later, a new bishopric was called, and one of the counselors asked me if I wanted to go by my own last name. I said yes, and he told me who I could talk to. So I did and got my name changed on the directory.

    For some reason, when I go to the temple, the person at the recommend desk calls me by my husband’s last name, even though my recommend has my last name on it. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe when I got married, they changed my last name in the temple records without asking me or something.


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