RECENTLY A FRIEND, whose husband seems always to be in one or the other position of local leadership within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, expressed that she tries to help her husband understand how women in the church feel and, essentially, wondered what I would tell him, or other local leaders, if I could. Easiest writing challenge ever. So while I am just one woman and cannot be said to represent all LDS women–not even those of a more feministy persuasion–here’s my Top 10 list of things I’d like to say to bishops and stake presidents about how women in the church “feel.” The list is in no particular order.
First, Bishops and Stake Presidents, thank you for all you do within the bounds of your calling. I think all members understand your job is very difficult. So please, as you read forward, understand that these ideas are offered with the intention of supporting you in your service to the Lord and not in a vein of criticism. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who takes on your calling is a rock star. Now, here we go!
1. Stop worrying about how women in your ward “feel.” Instead, consider how we think. We are rational human beings and want to be treated as such. We don’t want to be treated like we are one big emotional explosion waiting to happen, particularly when you may not be dealing with us nearly as rationally as you think. This tends to happen in the realm of religion.
2. Remember that you felt inspired to call particular women to the positions you did. Honor the inspiration that led you to call these women. So if we come to you within the bounds of a calling, say as a Primary, Young Women, or Relief Society President, and make a suggestion, offer a name for a calling, or fill you in on a decision, take it as if the Lord were offering it. These women are, after all and according to you, chosen by the Lord. If you cannot take the suggestion or extend a call to someone, then show enough respect to explain why. Yes, we understand that, because of confidentiality, you may not always be able to explain in full, but you can explain that circumstances will prevent you from following up on the suggestion or the extension of a calling. That is common courtesy and respect. Never “go in another direction” without first discussing it with female auxiliary presidents. (See #1.)
Honor the inspiration that led you to call these women.
3. Never say or imply that you are overriding the decision of a female auxiliary president because you are bishop (or stake president) and have greater insight/inspiration/authority than she on a matter. (See #2.) This is worse than simply ignoring a suggestion because it comes off like a school yard taunt: “Oh yeah? Well, my inspiration is better than your inspiration and God made me boss! So take that!” (See #1.) Remember this, priesthood leaders, because it is vital: if you had the inspiration to call a woman to a position, then you raised your hand to sustain her and you should be the first person to allow the Lord to work through the instrument of His choice—namely the woman you called. A servant of God learns when to follow, even when he’s “boss.” (Repeat: See #2.)
4. You are not the Daddy. It is not your calling to make sure women in your ward are protected. You and your counselors (or other priesthood representatives) do not need to hover over every activity we have, inside or outside a church building. In fact, WE DON’T WANT YOU THERE. We want you to be home with your own family. To behave as though we are in danger without a man around is silly. To think we need oversight is even sillier.
Stop assuming that the words of women are only of value to women.
5. Stop assuming that the words of women are only of value to women. Demonstrate in what you say and do that you respect the intelligence and insight of women, particularly of women as theologians. Stop talking about “Sister Scriptorians” like such people are anomalies. Assign men to give Sacrament Meeting talks based on the words of our many wise LDS women. Assign women to speak last on the program. Start quoting LDS women in your own talks. And if you can’t do that off-hand, remedy that. Start reading LDS women. Read Neylan McBaine’s Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact. Chances are, the women in your ward are or will be reading it soon.
6. Invite the Relief Society president to sit on the stand with you every week. (Her husband can handle the kids.) Imagine the impact on our girls (and boys) if they grow up seeing women on the stand in a capacity other than chorister or organist. Demonstrate the respect you feel for your auxiliary presidents in a visible way.
7. Do what you can to put your foot down on the pedestaling of women. When you support the idea that women are somehow better than men, you rob both women and men of individuality, destroy the responsibility and self-confidence of our boys, and support behavior that contributes to the epidemic of depression among Mormon women.
When you support the idea that women are somehow better than men, you rob both women and men of individuality and destroy the responsibility and self-confidence of our boys.
8. Expand your definition of modesty. Just as “virtue” should not mean “virginity,” “modesty” must mean more than covering a woman’s body. Reduce the body shaming that occurs in Young Women and increase the discussion of responsibility in the Young Men’s program.
9. Learn something about female sexuality, particularly developmental sexuality, and support the Young Women leaders in addressing the coupling of female sexuality and emotional need instead of only talking about conquering The Urges of the Moment. Our girls are, generally speaking, not being well-prepared for what truly entices them toward breaches of the law of chastity.
10: Be seen talking to women one-on-one. Our LDS culture has evolved into a strictly gendered social arena. Mormon men and women do not interact with the opposite gender unless they happen to be married. This reinforces the reduction of women to sexual objects, temptresses, things to be avoided or guarded against, and, at the same time, reduces men to beings enslaved by their sexual appetites. Please. Stop. This. In populations with high concentrations of Mormons, this attitude IS crippling to a women’s ability to function in the workplace. On the ward level, it further marginalizes women. Truly, it is okay to call two people of differing genders who are not married to be co-chairs of an activities committee. An ill-gotten pregnancy will not occur.
I COULD ADD MANY MORE THINGS to my list. And, in truth, I’ve said nothing new here, nothing that LDS woman haven’t been saying in one form or another for decades. Bishops and stake presidents, it’s time. It’s time to move beyond listening to women and to take action on what women are saying. You are called to lead and we need you to do precisely that. Starting yesterday. McBaine’s book (linked above) provides some ideas of ways to improve the impact of women today, within the bounds of the current church handbook of instructions.
I welcome readers, especially LDS women, to leave comments about other things they’d personally like to express to their bishops, stake presidents, and fellow ward and stake members about the place of women in the Mormonism. Please keep your comments constructive and aimed at improving the impact of women in your stakes and wards.
And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women. Alma 32:23