Jan 26

Talking About Gender Differences

This guest post comes to us from Beatrice.

In our society, we like to talk about the differences between men and women. It is the stuff upon which great novels and films are built. It can be used as a source of bonding with our same-sex peers “Oh, my husband does that too,” or it can be used to explain our relationship struggles “I just don’t understand why women do that.” Talking about the differences between men and women adds a certain richness to our lives and resonates with the way that we think about the world. There is something so appealing about the idea that “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.” In church settings, there is an added layer to all of this. We like to talk about gender differences because it is an essential part of our doctrine. Women always were women and will always be women. Men always were men and will always be men. These inherent, divinely organized differences are the reason why men and women should play different roles in the church organization and in society. Continue reading

Sep 19

Cruelty to Boys

For most of my life I’ve found Mormon-girl and Mormon-woman culture infuriating and alienating. I despise passive-aggressive triangulation and insincere niceness and gossipy backstabbing, in others and especially in myself. I’m all for greater assertiveness and directness and less apology for one’s existence and neurotic hand-wringing over one’s perceived sins, chief among them the sin for which no woman can be forgiven in this life or in the life to come, failure to be nice. Continue reading

Sep 09

Documenting Changing Church Rhetoric on Gender Roles

My impression is that Church rhetoric defines women by their roles more often than it does men. Women are wives and mothers. Even if they aren’t technically mothers, women are mothers, because that’s just who they are. Men, on the other hand, sure we’re admonished to be good husbands and fathers, but those roles are discussed as being much less central to who we are. I would be shocked, for example, if someone gave a talk titled “Are We Not All Fathers?” in General Conference.

When this difference in the centrality of women’s and men’s gender roles is discussed, one hope that is often held out is that the Church is changing. Women are coming to be defined less by their roles and more as people of worth even if they don’t take on those roles, and men are being reminded more often that our roles as husband and father should be central to our lives.

It occurred to me recently that I could easily test for whether such a change is actually occurring by looking at how often different words are used in articles archived at LDS.org. Continue reading

Jun 19

Women and the Priesthood, Fifteen Years Later

Maxine Hanks’s 1992 anthology Women and Authority includes a chapter by D. Michael Quinn, provocatively entitled “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843.” Quinn makes it clear that he’s not arguing simply for what I’ll here call “soft” claims about women’s priesthood status, for example, that women hold the priesthood only “through temple marriage or through the second anointing” (368). On the contrary, he’s arguing a “harder” claim, that women actually held–and therefore, by the successive conferral of authority that authenticates Mormon ordinances, continue to hold–the Melchizedek priesthood completely independent of marriage, on the basis of temple endowment alone. Continue reading

Apr 23

Can Women Be Exalted?

One of the questions which came up in my post last fall about my reservations concerning the doctrine of Heavenly Mother was that of female exaltation more generally. It’s an issue that’s been at the back of my mind ever since. The discussion on my recent poll about the Celestial Kingdom inspired me to re-visit the topic, and attempt to sort out what thoughts on the subject I have thus far. Continue reading

Apr 15

When Objects Attack!: Struggling with Domesticity

When I’m living on my own, my house is very often a disaster. I only have a limited amount of time and energy, and for me, making sure that I fulfill my teaching and other life responsibilities is more important than whether or not my house is in order. No one except my fiance and family is allowed to visit my house, and I go through cycles of feeling bad or guilty about truly how much of a disaster my house can be at times (I generally cycle from mildly remorseful to downright mortified).

But this is not (entirely) a post about my housecleaning guilt. Continue reading

Mar 17

Guest Post: How Mormon Women Negotiate Contradiction

The following is by Katya’s friend Nocturne, who is gathering information for a paper she’s writing, as explained below. We’re hoping her questions will generate insightful reflections upon personal experience and lively discussion. If you would like to respond to her questions privately, we’d encourage you to send your answers to “info at zelophehadsdaughters dot com” and we will happily pass them on to her.

Sex, in the biological sense, is the irreducible raw material upon which the social construction of gender is built. The Mormon meaning of gender and gender roles is inextricable from the history of power differential between genders. I am writing a paper on the contradictions that women in the church either have to accept or dismiss, explain away and legitimize or fight against. As women in the church, we are presented with contradictions: on one hand, we are taught that we have agency to act as you feel right, told to get educations, expected to be self-reliant, and held to high spiritual and intellectual standards, but, simultaneously, the church creates the expectation (and, maybe, manipulation) of only choosing one route: married, stay-at-home housewife, mother. Continue reading

Dec 02

Exploring a Misconception about Feminism: Women’s Superiority

One of the complaints I often hear about feminism (on the bloggernacle and elsewhere) is that feminists say that women are superior to men, or that feminism is about advancing women above or ahead of men (etc.).

When I hear this I am confused, since in all women’s studies classes I’ve taught and in all the conversations I’ve had with fellow feminists, we have focused on men and women’s equality (and what that means, how best to achieve it, etc.). Continue reading

Nov 30

The Trouble with Chicken Patriarchy

When it comes to patriarchy, the Church is all over the map. Husbands preside, but husbands and wives are equal partners. “While the husband, the father, has responsibility to provide worthy and inspired leadership, his wife is neither behind him nor ahead of him but at his side” (Boyd K. Packer). The two are “equally yoked” side by side, but the husband “provides leadership,” implying that the wife supplies the “followership”–not from a position behind him, but rather at his side: perhaps they are meant to walk sidewise? (This all sounds more awkward than a three-legged race.) Continue reading

Nov 19

Secular Usage of “Preside”

In a discussion last year at T&S about what it means for a husband to preside, Jim F. argued that it doesn’t really matter what preside means outside the Church because the word just isn’t much used outside the Church (and perhaps court). Kiskilili disagreed, saying that she thought that secular usage was more common.

At the time, it occurred to me that this would be a relatively simple question to get data to answer, but I put the thought on the back burner, so I am just now getting around to trying to answer it. I chose to search newspapers to attempt to answer the question, given that they tend to have a very broad target audience and are fairly widely read (although I know they aren’t read as much as they used to be).

1. Is preside ever used in a secular context? Continue reading

Nov 07

Why I Don’t Want to Believe in Heavenly Mother

It’s high time I confess a heresy that may put me at odds both with many Mormons and with many feminists: I’m not really all that enamored of the idea of the divine feminine, of the doctrine that we have a Heavenly Mother.

I don’t recall when I first encountered the teaching that we have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Father—though I can say that the idea that Heavenly Father had multiple wives was one that rather horrified me (it still does). But even beyond the potential polygamy problem, the notion of an Eternal Mother was one that left me feeling a bit icky. I projected the kinds of saccharine rhetoric about women that I heard about church onto her, imagining a Mother who was always soft-spoken and dripping with sentimentality. I figured that if such a divine personage did indeed exist, I didn’t want anything to do with her.

Continue reading

Aug 19

Why Discourage Women from Serving Missions?

About a month ago, my beloved sister (and occasional ZD contributor) Melyngoch entered the MTC on her way to the Sweden Stockholm mission. I expect that she will be a very good missionary. She seems to have a great sense of purpose: she knows who she is and what she is doing and why.

I suspect that there are probably many twenty-something women in the Church who would similarly make very good missionaries. So I wonder why the Church discourages women from serving. Continue reading

Jun 20

Why I Worry

Preface: A month or two ago, there were a few conversations on the bloggernacle that highlighted a couple of common responses to feminist concerns. Dan Ellsworth over at Mormon Mentality decided to give the ZD bloggers some advice: he argued that we spend too much time thinking about the church (and our feminist concerns), and that we would worry less if we diversified and spent more time doing things we enjoyed. He also argued that we were going about trying to find answers to our concerns the wrong way. GeoffJ at New Cool Thang expressed confusion, writing in one of the long debates, “I must be missing something here.. If you are certain you are not less than men in the universe and in God’s eyes what are your deep wounds over that subject?”

Both of these comments highlight a common reaction to feminist concerns. I would summarize it as the “why do you worry?” reaction, and it exhibits a genuine confusion as to why feminists are worked up over what seem (to others) to be either inconsequential issues or issues that others firmly believe will be worked out in the eternities. Because “why do you worry?” is a common response to feminist conversations, I wanted to do a post on this subject. This post is specific to me and my experience–other feminists have their own stories, which I encourage them to share. Continue reading

Jun 07

Mormon Stories Podcast

John Dehlin interviewed me for the second episode in his series of podcasts on Mormonism and feminism. I gave an overview of the three waves of feminism, and didn’t really talk a lot about Mormonism at all (he wanted to start with a podcast that gave some background on the women’s movement.) Anyway, head over to Mormon Stories to give the podcast a listen. And if you feel I was misrepresenting anything, or if you want to discuss the history of feminism or other issues I raised, feel free to come back here and comment.

And while you’re over at Mormon Stories, give John Dehlin a big hearty thanks for doing this series!

May 01

After Gonzales v. Carhart

This guest post comes to us from frequent ZD commenter and blogging veteran ECS.

Much of the publicity surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent abortion decision has died down. The Court’s reasoning in Gonzales v. Carhart, however, deserves a closer look. Whether you believe a woman has a right to terminate her pregnancy is not the focus of this post. This post’s focus is on the problematic reasoning in the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales, that, among other things, questions the capacity of a woman to give informed consent to undergo a horrifying, yet perhaps necessary, abortion procedure. Continue reading

Apr 10

Feminism’s Critique of Modesty

A recent post at Pandagon by Amanda Marcotte clarified some concerns I’ve had for awhile now about certain (but not all) discussions of modesty in our church discourse. Now, while I’m guessing that many of the readers of our blog would dismiss some of her stronger claims about modesty and “compulsory femininity,” I primarily wanted to highlight one passage:

Modesty exists mostly as a reason to obsess over what women are wearing and remind them non-stop that no matter what else they do with themselves, they’re just sex objects in the eyes of the patriarchy. The end result is women are given twin messages to be sexually appealing and not to be sexually appealing all at once, and that at any point in time they are in danger of being deemed sluttily or prudishly dressed.

Continue reading

Apr 02

The Sexisms of Graduate School

It’s an age-old and tiresome story, and I’ve watched more than one friend undergo some variation on it. He’s got what you want: the knowledge, the erudition, the passing grade on exams, the dissertation signature. He’s brilliant, an acknowledged expert in your particular area of study, an incisive thinker and an wide-ranging scholar, and he provides quick, detailed (some might say terrible and swift) feedback on the many difficult but instructive assignments he requires. In short, just the kind of professor from whom one might, in theory, secure a first-class education.

He’s also, not to put too fine a point on it, a jerk.

Continue reading