I have heard anecdotal evidence that men are much more likely than women to be quoted during LDS church services, and that stories about men are more often shared than stories about women. It is not surprising that this trend would exist given that the majority of scripture stories in the LDS canon are about men and that the majority of modern-day conference speakers are men. In light of this anecdotal evidence, I decided to collect some data to get a better idea of the percentage of times men vs. women are quoted and the percentage of stories that are told about men as opposed to women during a typical church service.
I designed a set of coding criteria (see below) and I collected data across the entire 3 hour block of 2 Sundays. I held a Primary calling at the time, so data from the 2nd and 3rd block is from Primary. While RS or Priesthood meetings may yield different results, I do think it is interesting to see how often we quote from or talk about men or women when speaking with children. To obtain data from a typical service, I chose 2 Sundays that were not fast sundays or holidays (like Mother’s Day or Christmas). I tried to be fairly generous with what I counted as a quote. For example, even a informal quote (such as “I talked to my sister about this and she said…”) counted. I coded both stories about men and women as well as personal stories that the speaker told about him or herself. I was fairly generous about what counted as a personal story (see below). I recognize that 2 Sundays is a small sample of data and that my ward may or may not be representative of the church at large. However, if you are curious about how your ward compares, I encourage you to collect your own data using the guidelines below and include your findings in the comments. The first Sunday I coded included a female youth speaker, a female second speaker (regular member of the ward) and a High Council speaker. The second Sunday included a female youth speaker, the Bishop’s wife as the second speaker, and the Bishop as the third speaker. I didn’t intentionally choose a High Council Sunday and a Sunday in which the Bishop and his wife spoke. However, these individuals are considered leaders in the ward and are likely setting the precedent of what a talk should be like. Thus, the talks from which I collected data are likely representative of general trends.
OK, on to the results. Across the two Sacrament Meetings, men were quoted 36 times and women 6 times. That is an average of 6 quotes by men and 1 quote by a women per speaker. All of the quotes by women were informal ones (e.g., my sister mentioned that…) with the exception of 1 quote by Sister Linda K. Burton, the current General RS President. I didn’t record exact numbers of how many of the quotes by men were formal or informal, but based on my memory, the vast majority of quotes shared by men were formal ones (either from scripture or modern-day talks). I was curious about whether female speakers were more likely to quote women than male speakers. This turned out not to be the case. Of the quotes shared by female speakers, 87% of them were quotes by men and 13% of them were quotes by women. For the male speakers, 81% of the quotes shared were quotes by men, and 18% of them were quotes by women. Thus, the percentages of quotes by men or women are fairly comparable for male and female speakers, with female speakers sharing slightly more quotes by men than male speakers.
Across the two Sacrament Meetings, 16 stories about men and 6 stories about women were shared (not including any of the data from personal stories). That is an average of 2.7 stories about men and 1 story about a woman per speaker. Are female speakers more likely to share stories about women than male speakers? In this case, the answer is yes. For female speakers, 65% of the stories were about men and 35% of the stories were about women. For the male speakers, 100% of the stories were about men. What about personal stories? Overall, women were more likely to share personal stories than men (there were overall 14 personal stories shared by the women and 3 personal stories shared by the men). To look at the overall percentage of stories about men and women that were shared, I added all of the stories together (both personal and stories about others). In this case, I counted the personal stories as a story about a woman or a man (based on the sex of the speaker), or a story about both a woman and a man in the case that the story had two protagonists (for example the Bishop shared a personal story in which both he and his wife were the protagonists). When I combined all the stories, stories about women had a slight advantage (57.5% of stories overall as opposed to 42.5% of stories about men). Additionally, when all the stories are added together, women were shown to share more stories about women (65%) as opposed to stories about men (35%). Men showed the opposite trend, 67% of the stories they shared were about men while 33% of the stories they shared were about women.
To summarize the main findings:
- The vast majority of quotes shared in Sacrament Meeting talks are quotes by men. This is not surprising given that the majority of scriptural text and modern-day talks include the words of men. Also, informal quotes by women are more likely to be shared than formal ones, while the opposite trend exists for quotes by men.
- Men and women don’t differ (much) in the percentage of quotes that they share from women and from men.
- Overall, more stories about men are shared than stories about women (if you don’t count personal stories), but the trend is less strong than it is for quotes.
- If you include both stories about others and personal stories, slightly more stories about women than men are shared. Women are much more likely to share personal stories than the men are. Thus, including more female speakers seems to even out the percentage of stories that are shared about women as opposed to the percentage shared about men.
Once again, I want to emphasize that this is a small sample size, so exact numbers and percentages could move around if I collected more data. However, I want to point out that across all six speakers, every single one shared more quotes from and stories about men than women (if you don’t count personal stories). The only exception was the Bishop who shared 2 formal quotes from men and 2 informal quotes from women. These overall trends seem pretty consistent with my experience attending church across my lifetime, and I would predict that they would hold up for the majority of talks on the local as well as churchwide level.
OK, what about Primary? The data for the two Sundays included 4 hours of meetings (2 hours of Junior Primary and 2 hours of Senior Primary). As is typical, the instructors for all of the meetings were female. Across the four hours, 4 quotes by men and 0 quotes by women were shared. Additionally, 4 stories about men and 2 stories about women were shared. There was 1 personal story shared by a female instructor. This data seems pretty consistent with the Sacrament meeting data in that overall more quotes and stories are shared about men as opposed to women, and that the differences for quotes is greater than the differences for stories.
At this point you may be asking why this even matters. When a speaker is sharing a gospel principle though a quote or a story, why does it matter who the quote is from or who the story is about? After 2 women prayed in General Conference for the first time, I heard many people state that it didn’t matter to them whether the person offering the prayer was a man or a woman. What was said in the prayer was the important thing. Does the sex of the people we quote from and refer to in our talks have any effect on us? I think this is an empirical questions that could be researched. Obviously, the effects of who we quote from and talk about would be a lot more difficult to research than simple percentages, especially given that there may be subtle or unconscious results of these trends. However, I have some hypotheses about how these trends might be affecting members of the LDS church:
- Quoting and telling stories about men more than women reflects a general tendency to view men as more of a source of spiritual wisdom and doctrine than women. We may even be implying that men have more valuable things to say. I would hypothesize that many cultural markers indicate that we tend to view men as sources of spiritual wisdom and doctrine more than women. For example, think of who you would consider to be great scriptorians or people who were particularly adept at explaining church doctrine within the LDS faith. Most LDS members would probably be able to list several people, but I think it would be unlikely that many on that list would be women. Likewise, a man is often seen as the most important speaker at Ward conference (the Bishop), Stake Conference (the Stake President) and even the General RS meeting (a member of the first presidency, who is male). Additionally, we tend to view the words of women as being for women (this is indicated both by the settings in which women teach and the topics they tend to chose) whereas the words of men are for everyone. These cultural values may trickle down to our individual interactions at the ward level in that we may place more weight on the comments of men vs. women in Sunday School or more likely to listen to men vs. women in ward and stake meetings.
- According to LDS theology, men and women have different perspectives and insights on the world. If this is the case, than including female perspectives and voices is important to help men understand the perspective of women (and vice versa). While I think it is admirable that LDS services typically include about an equal number of male and female speakers, I find it troubling that the majority of quotes and stories shared by these speakers are by and about men regardless of the sex of the speaker. As I found in my data, including female speakers does tend to even out the stories shared about men and women. However, while I think it is a good thing that we are hearing a lot of personal stories by women, we are hearing few stories about women who could serve as general examples (such as current or past female leaders in the church). In the rare cases that we do talk about female examples from the past, we often frame their stories around their relationships to men.
- Given that most of the quotes and stories that are shared are about men, it may be more difficult for female members to relate to what is being shared. This is certainly a problem in our scriptural canon, and likely a problem in our modern-day talks as well. In my opinion, it is valuable to hear stories that one can relate to and identify with on a personal level. It is also valuable to hear stories from other perspectives that require individuals to try to understand different points of views. When our stories and quotes are male-heavy, we deny men the opportunity to stretch their perspective and deny women the opportunity to hear stories they can easily relate to. This is a problem in our general society in that men and boys (esp. white men and boys) are more likely to hear stories about people like themselves in the media, while women and girls (and members of minority groups) are less likely to hear stories about people like themselves in the media (see footnote below). To listen to an excellent discussion on how both U.S. culture in general and the church is framed around a male perspective, see here.
Would it be possible to shift the ratio of quotes from men and women and stories about men and women in LDS talks? Individual members can try to shift the culture by including more quotes by women and stories about women in their talks. However, one of the largest barriers to making this shift is that there is less material by women to draw from. If you count all sessions of General Conference and include the Priesthood Session and General RS or YW session, about 14% of the speakers are women. Also, female speakers in General Conference tend to focus on a narrow range of topics (e.g. family, roles of women, children), while men speak about a wide range of topics. Thus, the most obvious way to make a shift in the culture is by including more women in General Conference and encouraging them to talk about a wider variety of topics. Given that the average member doesn’t have the power to make this change, the best he/she can do is to try to include more of the material that we have. The publication of “Daughters in My Kingdom” does help with this effort and hopefully indicates a recognition by church leaders that we need more quotes and stories about women. Additionally, there are other efforts by LDS feminists, such as WAVE, to collect quotes by and stories about women. Honestly, I think one of the best ways to shift this trend it to draw attention to it. I don’t know that many LDS members consciously recognize this disparity, and think about the implications that it might have. Hopefully, opening up this discussion will contribute to a cultural shift.
What do you think?
- Are my findings consistent with your experiences in church? If you are so inclined, please collect your own data. A close tally of quotes and stories may provide different results than what you might expect based on general observations.
- Do you think the amount of quotes by and stories about men and women has an effect on LDS members? What might be the cultural effects or doctrinal implications of this trend?
- How do you think things can be changed? In order to change this trend, do we need to include a lot more women in leadership positions? Is this necessary or sufficient to improve the trend? What other changes might be made?
- Record the sex of each speaker/teacher for each lesson or talk. Also record whether the speaker is a youth speaker or member of ward or stake leadership (High Council speaker, Bishopric member, RS pres, Stake Pr.es. member, etc)
- Record the sex of the speaker of each quote.
- Include scriptures when the speaker is stated, either within or before the scripture.
- Count informal quotes. For example, “I told my sister about my thoughts on prayer and she said….”
- If someone is quoting heavily from a conference talk, count each time the speaker of the talk is quoted. For example: In a recent conference talk, Pres. Monson stated, “Prayer is important”. I think that is really true. We need to pray each day. He also said “Read your scriptures every day.” I think that is also important. This would count as 2 quotes.
- Record the sex of the protagonist of each story. If the story is primarily about both a man and a woman, count it as both a story about a man and a story about a woman.
- When a story is included in a quote (or a quote included in a story) count it both as a story and a quote. For example, “In his conference talk Pres. Monson shared the following story…” would count as both a quote and a story
- Record stories about the speaker in a separate column. Do not count it in the story columns.
- Include any story about self, even if it is really short or simple. For example, “The other day I was reading the scriptures and I had the following insight…” would count as a story about self.
Footnote: Children’s programming wordwide (assessed across 24 countries), 68% of the main characters are male, and 32% female. Characters are most often white (72%) and female characters are usually skinny with blond or red hair. Of the top grossing U.S. films released between 2007 and 2009, 32.8% of the speaking roles are female (2.05 males for every female).