Zelophehad’s Daughters

How often are men and women quoted in General Conference?

Posted by Beatrice

Soon after I finished my most recent post, I realized that it would be fairly easy to assess how often men and women are quoted and how often stories are told about men as opposed to women in General Conference.  I decided to analyze the most recent conference (April 2013) to get the most up-to-date data.  From the April 2013 conference, I randomly selected two talks from Priesthood Session and two talks from the General YW Meeting (and by random, I mean truly random.  I assigned each talk a number and used a random number generator to select talks for me).  I also randomly selected two talks by men from the main sessions of conference and analyzed the only two talks that were given by women.

So, on to the results.  Across the 8 talks I analyzed, men were quoted 53 times and women 19 times.  That is an average of 6.6 quotes by men and 2 quotes by women per talk.  These results are fairly similar to what I found for my ward (an average of 6 quotes by men and 1 quote by a woman per talk).  The way I was thinking about formal vs. informal quotes when I assessed ward talks didn’t really work for assessing quotes from General Conference.  For example, I was thinking of informal quotes as something someone said in a casual conversation “I talked to my sister and she said…”  While General Conference included a handful of quotes by lay members (and non-members), the speakers were careful about including people’s exact words so they don’t really fit into the definition of informal that I had been using.  A better way to code this might be looking at quotes from leaders of the church and historical figures as opposed to lay members of the church (as well as people who are not members).  While I didn’t make a careful tally of this, there was more inclusion of female leaders of the church and female historical figures (like Eliza R. Snow in Elder Cook’s talk) in General Conference than in my ward.  As I did with the ward data, I looked at whether female conference speakers were more likely to quote women than male conference speakers.  There was strong evidence of this trend.   Of the quotes men included, 94% of them were from men and 6% were from women.  Of the quotes women included, 54% of them were from men, and 46% of them were from women. However, a more careful inspection of the female speakers reveals that the percentages are largely driven by Sister Dibb’s talk to the young women in which she quoted women 13 times!  Near the end of her talk she included a list of 9 quotes from 9 young women about places that are holy to them.  From the other 3 talks by women, the speakers included 1, 0, and 3 quotes by women.  Thus, if you remove the data from Sister Dibb (who is obviously an outlier in the group), then the percentage of women quoted by women drops down to 21%.  This percentage is still a lot better than the percentage of quotes from women in the talks by men, but it still shows a strong trend to quote men.

Across the 8 talks, 33 stories about men and 13 stories about women were shared (not including any data from personal stories).  That is an average of 4 stories about men and 2 stories about women per speaker.  This seems fairly similar to my ward data (2.7 men, 1 women).  Are female GC speakers more likely to share stories about women than male GC speakers?  Once again, the answer is yes.  For the female speakers, 56% of the stories were about men and 44% of the stories were about women.  For the male speakers, 82% of the stories were about men, and 18% were about women.  What about personal stories?  Men seemed about as likely to share personal stories as women (5 personal stories overall by men, and 7 personal stories overall for women).  In contrast to the data I collected from my ward, more stories were shared about men than women when the stories about others and personal stories are combined (65% men, 35% women).  Similar to what I found in my ward, when all the stories were added together, women share more stories about women (58%) as opposed to stories about men (42%).  Men showed the opposite trend, 82% of the stories they shared were about men while 18% of the stories they shared were about women.

Overall Conclusions: The data from General Conference is very similar to the data that I collected in my ward.  Overall, men are quoted more often than women and more stories are told about men than women.  Also, the difference is greater for quotes than for stories.  Additionally, while female speakers tend to share about an equal amount of quotes by and stories about men and women, male speakers tend to share a lot more quotes by and stories about men than women.  There are only 5 female speakers as opposed to the 35 male speakers across all sessions of conference.  Thus, if I assessed all quotes and stories across all sessions, it is likely that there would be a much higher percentage of quotes by and stories about men than women.

Implications: The similarity in these trends on the ward and general church level could indicate a couple of things.  1-Talks on the ward level are patterned after talks given to the whole church. and/or 2-The percentage of quotes by and stories about men and women on all levels are an indication of broader cultural/doctrineal aspects of the LDS church.  See my first post for hypotheses about how these trends may be affecting church members.  The General Conference data suggest that since these trends exist on the general church level, they are likely having an effect on the global church.

5 Responses to “How often are men and women quoted in General Conference?”

  1. 1.

    Been thinking about this some more. First, I wonder if there is some percentage we should actually be aiming for as acceptable in a church where our standard works are written by men and which contain stories overwhelmingly about men. (As an aside, I’d be interested to see what your analysis would reveal about the standard works.) I would think the ratio is something like 10-to-1 for men quotes and stories compared to women. So if members just randomly cited from the standard works, their percentage of stories and quotes from men would be somewhere along those lines. If speakers want to balance things out they’d have to consciously seek out women’s stories and quotes and oversample from them.

    In preparing my last sacrament talk I consciously looked for quotes and stories about women. It was somewhat challenging. I think a terrific partial solution would be to have a Priesthood/Relief Society manual for study that was based on the lives of great women in the Church. Hard to see that happening in the near future, but that would make finding such quotes and stories much easier. But, it would thrill my soul to see the Church value women’s lives and sayings in such a way, and it would require no doctrinal or policy changes–just some changes in perspective among some of our leaders. Ya gotta admit, something like that would win a lot of love from us feminists.

  2. 2.

    Great points, Mike. I agree that it is extremely difficult to find quotes by and stories about women in the standard works. Modern-day quotes and stories (since the restoration) are a bit easier to find, but it is still challenging. I agree that manuals that included more quotes by and stories about women that are geared toward both men and women would really help. For example, most years we study the words of modern-day prophets in RS/Priesthood. However, the focus of these manuals contributes to the problem of rarely studying the lives and words of past female leaders. With regards to modern-day women, I think the material that the church has access to is largely underutilized. I think it would be a huge step in the right direction for the leaders of the church to especially encourage men to study the words of female leaders.

  3. 3.

    Just to be clear, were you including quotations from Nephi, Paul, Isaiah, Jesus, and the like? How about a Doctrine and Covenants section where God is speaking in the first person?

  4. 4.

    Left Field, I followed the guideline “Include scriptures when the speaker is stated, either within or before the scripture.” So if the speaker said, “According to Nephi, ‘Men are that they might have joy.’ ” then I would include it. Or if it was a scripture like “I, the Lord, am bound when you do what I say…” then I would include it.

    I didn’t include scripture that didn’t state the speaker of the quote, even when I knew who the speaker was. There were also a couple of interesting cases of scriptures in which the sex of the speaker was unclear, like the angels declaring Christ’s birth. I didn’t count these as either quotes from men or from women.

  5. 5.

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