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A Woman's Place- Part 3

One of the first feminists in the history of the United States was John Adam’s wife, Abigail, who wrote to her husband on March 31, 1776 to ask him to give women a voice in the running of the new government: “If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

Despite her ultimatum, no room was made for “the ladies” in this new government. Wives back then were property under the law. Any land owned by a single woman was given to her husband when she married. John Adams sums up the commonly held beliefs of the day which allowed for the disenfranchisement of half the population to John Sullivan in a letter where he explains why women should not vote: “ . . . because their delicacy renders them unfit for practice and experience in the great business of life . . . Besides, their attention is so much engaged with the necessary nurture of their children, that nature has made them fittest for domestic cares.”

The LDS church uses similar language to explain why mothers of young and school aged children are not permitted to hold paid teaching position with the Church Education System, why they cannot serve as temple workers, and why a woman’s only true authority is in the home.

In 1993 Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the twelve apostles had this to say about the roles of men and women: “Some roles are best suited to the masculine nature and others to the feminine nature. Both the scriptures and the patterns of nature place man as the protector, the provider. . . . Those responsibilities of the priesthood, which have to do with the administration of the Church, of necessity function outside the home. . . . The woman, by her very nature, is also co-creator with God and the primary nurturer of the children.”

After he speaks about how men are not to dominate their wives, maintaining their power only “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge.” He goes on to say this about the role a woman plays: “This divine service of motherhood can be rendered only by mothers. It may not be passed to others. Nurses cannot do it; public nurseries cannot do it; hired help cannot do it—only mother, aided as much as may be by the loving hands of father, brothers, and sisters, can give the full needed measure of watchful care . . . . The mother who entrusts her child to the care of others, that she may do non-motherly work, whether for gold, for fame, or for civic service, should remember that ‘a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.’ (Prov. 29:15)”

Every so often, I feel like I’m living in a time warp. Has the rest of the world really moved on to letting females serve in positions of ecclesiastical authority outside the home—are their voices really heard and respected in matters once considered the domain of men? If you ask your typical Mormon woman if she is oppressed, she will say no! Absolutely not! The men in our church are taught to esteem the fairer sex, cherish womanhood, care for widows, protect their wives, and provide for the mothers of their children. They are trained from the tender age of twelve to help others by serving in the church.

At the time when many American men are starting their sophomore years at college, Mormon boys are encouraged to delay their education to preach the gospel in a place they’ve never been, among people they have yet to meet.

A few months after my future husband arrived in Mexico for his two-year mission, he was sent to a tropical region, where he slept in a humid room with no air conditioner, making trips to a cockroach infested outhouse in the dead of night. When the sun came up, it beat down with such intensity he shaved his head to keep cool, only to receive the worst sunburn of his life. To make matters worse, his Mission President assigned him a companion who, in the midst of talking to strangers and knocking on doors, badgering and begged my future husband to help him buy a donkey, after which he broke their one and only fan, destroyed all the lights, and began tearing the electrical wires from the walls in a fit of rage.

When my future husband mentioned these issues to the Mission President, he was told to suck it up and deal with it—a scenario which was repeated with another difficult companion a few months later, except that in the second case he was so angry and disillusioned he walked to the bus station with the intention of leaving. Torn between the conviction of his faith and the hell of trying to preach said faith, he found himself sitting alone on a bench on Christmas day bereft of friends or family when two complete and total strangers convinced him to go back and try again.

Is it any wonder with this kind of training ground, the majority of Mormon men value persistence and hard work? Is it any wonder that this particular religion has produced successful, influential leaders like Steven Covey, J.W. Marriot, and Mitt Romney?

Since marrying my husband, I’ve watched him help people move, visit the poor and depressed, give blessings to the sick, and offer our home as a place of refuge for a teenage boy kicked out by his own mother. I’ve watched my husband testify of the strength of his beliefs while struggling to sustain leadership which doesn’t always know better than to use guilt and toxic shame as motivators. Spiritual abuse is a problem in the church, and I’ve watched my husband get walked over time and again while feeling utterly powerless to protect him. So often when I’ve tried to defend him to leaders, I’ve had my concerns and suggestions dismissed right before said leaders compliment me on my compassionate heart.

The majority of LDS men I have met go to great lengths to pay homage to the women in their lives. They see these accolades of verbal appreciation as a form of honor, and often get defensive when a woman utters the word “oppressed” in regards to her place in the church. The problem with the O word is that it brings to mind images of workers weighed down under boulder-like responsibilities as a foreman cracks a whip to keep them laboring. Under this definition it isn’t Mormon women who can claim oppression, but the men who offer their bodies as stepping stools to lift their wives, mothers, and daughters onto a pedestal. 


Zara said...

Wow--perfect. Couldn't possibly agree more.

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