McDonalds (American Culture), Green Jello (Mormon Culture), Banana Cream Pie (Celestial Culture)
This will be my last post on this blog. From here on out I will be contributing to the blog Empowering LDS Women. It is a fantastic site, run by a couple of BYU graduate students. However, this blog will die, or be transferred into a new blog, or something along those lines.
To begin this post, I would like to start with some questions. I hope that you readers contribute your answers via the comment box or in other blog posts on this page.
1. What is the difference between American, Mormon, and Celestial cultures?
2. What attributes of American culture with respect to gender dynamics does the Celestial culture embrace? What attributes of American culture does it shun?
I will divide this post into three sections: Definition of Culture, Question #1, and Question #2.
DEFINITION OF CULTURE
First, I want to refer first to a wonderful diagram.
I see the world in a particular way. My vision of the world is made up of my background, my experiences, what my mommy and daddy taught me, what their parents taught them and so on, what my teachers tell me, what I see on T.V., and what I learn from my church. In this sense, I am a product. I am produced. If another spirit was placed in my body at birth and went through the same experiences as me, they would be exactly as I am today. As the founding father of sociology Emile Durkheim put it, society is a bunch of “social facts.” Facts!
Woah there, Emile! What about my agency?
Obviously Dr. Durkheim goes a bit too far - we are agents after all. But he gets at a good point - a lot of who we are and what we value is a result of the morals and values of where and how we grow up and live.
So, let’s say I am somewhat a product of my society. Consequently, I will see gender roles in a particular way. The way I see gender roles, however, is merely a production of my society - it is not necessarily how God sees them.
Genovieve and Arturo De Hoyos, both Ph.D’s in Sociology, wrote in the 1971 August Ensign about this conundrum. Please notice how they define “mormon culture,” there definition may be different than what you would assume.
“Our contemporary Mormon culture is not quite the celestial culture. We are told that we have received and continue to receive more guidelines and knowledge than all previous dispensations. But we also know that the early Saints were not quite ready to receive all that was appointed for them at the time. And Joseph Smith was explicitly commanded to withhold much of the knowledge he possessed. Nevertheless, this dispensation, manifested now as Mormon culture, can definitely be distinguished from all other dispensations, particularly in the larger amount of celestial culture revealed.
It should be understood that Mormon culture, because of secular world culture pressures, has adopted some aspects of material and nonmaterial Anglo-American culture.
It is desirable, therefore, that the Mormon convert accept not only the celestial culture but also as many other aspects of the Mormon culture as necessary. As was said before, Mormon culture includes many aspects of Anglo-American culture that can be tolerated as long as they do not conflict with the celestial culture. Of course, problems can develop when over-eager and well-meaning Anglo-American Latter-day Saints expect members from other nationalities to accept some of the Anglo-American culture that may not be basically related to eternal values. An extreme example of this might be a missionary-led Fourth of July celebration in Great Britain.
One of the distinguishing marks of the restored church is its universality. Its mission is to make one of mankind and little by little provide the means for the elimination of dysfunctional cultural and other differences between men on this earth. To accomplish this, the restored church provides the institutionalized means for men not only to acquire the characteristics necessary to become equal citizens in the kingdom of God but also to eventually achieve even that unity and affinity which emphasizes cooperation and eliminates all competition between men. Thus, converts are faced with the demand not only to accept a universal standard but also to give up some of the dear national traditions which, after careful examination, might prove to be inconsistent with the values of celestial culture.”
1. What is the difference between American, Mormon, and Celestial cultures?
American culture is socially produced. It is a melting pot. It is Tex-Mex. Most of the gender norms come from European Protestant traditions such as monogamy, marriage fidelity, working men and homemaking women. However, American culture changes. Today, families are smaller, more women get Ph.D.’s then men, and sex before marriage is basically accepted. Socially produced cultures are susceptible to change.
Mormon culture, drawing from the DeHoyos’ line of argument, is the “beliefs, symbols, and values” taught by leaders of the Church. Most of these practices are doctrinally based and stem from universal Godly principles. Some practices, however, may reflect a portion of the national culture of leaders (could the old Priesthood ban be an example?).
Celestial Culture is God’s way. The DeHoyos’ implicitly argue that God’s culture is correct and perfect. I think his way of governing us is correct. He does what works. However, I think it is possible that other God’s may have different personalities and, subsequently, different ways at approaching problems. After all, what about the grand council of the Gods? Do they not consult with one another? And if the Apostles have different opinions and argue about issues then what makes us think that the Gods will be different? I am not sure about this - this is a pretty speculative sphere.
2. What attributes of American culture with respect to gender dynamics does the Celestial culture embrace? What attributes of American culture does it shun?
I wrote in a previous blog post about trying to erase my American sense of gender roles and replace it with a celestial sense. This is a difficult, if not impossible, task. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying! Here are specific aspects of American cultural gender norms that I want to embrace because I think that they align well with celestial culture:
B. Choosing one’s spouse
C. Heterosexual marriage
On the other hand, here are some aspects of modern American cultural gender norms that I want to shun:
A. Sexual partnerships based exclusively on physical attraction
B. Women work and take care of kids. Men work. (I don’t mean this is as a bitter or resentful comment towards men and how they force women to take care of the kids. Just the opposite! I mean this is a bitter and resentful way, yes - why don’t men get to help take care of the kids more? Isn’t that the fountain of all joy after all? I want women to share that joyful responsibility more!)
C. Men abandon their families.
What aspects of mormon cultural gender norms do you think are not compatible with celestial gender norms?
Before I go on, let’s remind ourselves that we are talking about mormon culture as defined previously. We are not talking about mormon people who are living under a bigotous gender framework. I am sure we all have problems with their values. No, let’s talk about - if this isn’t too sketchy and blasphemous - what is current Mormon practice, but something you think might not be part of the celestial culture. Remember, these are all “might not’s.”
A. Only men can bless the sick
B. Women learn knitting and sewing to get their young women’s medallion and boys do rifle target practice to get their Eagle. (This is kind of funny, kind of not. In my celestial kingdom there is no way knitting or rifle shooting will be around!).
C. Women don’t say opening prayers in general conference
That’s all I have folks! Thanks!
For the past few months I have been reading a plethora of talks by general authorities related to the roles of father and mothers, males and females, and families in general. In sum, I am flabbergasted! I am in awe and complete gratitude for the remarks come across by leaders in my Church. Given the recent thanksgiving holiday, I have a few statements of gratitude.
I give thanks that my Church supports equality between women and men.
“I find that some women are shortchanged in that a priesthood leader is more persuaded by a son rather than a daughter of Father in Heaven. That imbalance simply must never occur.” (Richard G. Scott, Honor the Priesthood and Use it Well, Ensign, Oct 2008)
I give thanks that my Church values education as intrinsically valuable.
“To keep spiritual learning in its proper place, we will have to make some hard choices of how we use our time. But there should never be a conscious choice to let the spiritual become secondary. Never. That will lead to tragedy. Remember, you are interested in education, not just for mortal life but for eternal life. When you see that reality clearly, you will put spiritual learning first and yet not slight the secular learning. In fact, you will work harder at your secular learning than you would without that spiritual vision.” Henry B. Eyring, “Real-Life Education,” New Era, Apr. 2009, 5
I give thanks that my Church recognizes the equal capability of women and men.
“You are…more blessed than any other women in all the world. You were the first women to have the franchise; the first women to have a voice in the work of a church. It was God that gave it to you and it came as a result of revelation to a Prophet of the Lord. Since that time, think what benefits the women of this world have enjoyed. Not only you belonging to the Church have enjoyed the blessing of equality, but when the Prophet Joseph Smith turned the key for the emancipation of womankind, it was turned for all the world, and from generation to generation the number of women who can enjoy the blessings of religious liberty and civil liberty has been increasing.” (President George Albert Smith, Relief Society Magazine, Dec. 1945)
More than anything, I give thanks that my Church places the family as the most important unit of society, our primary responsibility, and as the fountain of all joy. I believe that any joy I can find from my family relationships is infinitely greater than any joy from the temporal affairs of this earth.
“The most important of the Lord’s work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes” (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974, p. 255).
Brigham Young said…
"As I have often told my sisters in the Female Relief Societies, we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large." ("Discourses," Deseret News, 28 July 1864, 294)
Now, this is quite the quote. ”They should stand behind the counter, study law, or physics.” Wow, really, Brigham, that must have been QUITE progressive for 1864. But you never were one for conventional thinking (me neither).
There are plenty of things Brigham Young said that I don’t think the Church would be comfortable saying are true, so this statement alone, in my opinion, is not enough. What are the prophets and apostles saying today?
President Hinckley made the following statement, “The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. You are as entitled as are men to the Spirit of Christ, which enlightens every man and woman who comes into the world… You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Prophet: Seek Learning,” New Era, September 2007, pp. 2-5).
President Hinckley’s statement, in my opinion, corroborates President Young’s statement. Women should not be limited, but should “serve society.” How she performs that service will vary - but she is expected to serve.
And so are the men.
Bonnie Brinton: A Role Model
Today, I have some interesting demographic statistics about BYU to present.
U.S. News & World Report ranked BYU as the 71st best university in the United States.
The Harold B. Lee Library was last ranked in 2007, and was 4th in the nation.
BYU alumni commonly attend graduate and professional schools; including 1st for number of students who go to dental school.
45% of BYU students are return missionaries.
The current dean of graduate studies at BYU is a woman.
Wait…this caught my attention. I am familiar with female professors at BYU, but I never realized the symbolic and literal importance of having a woman as the dean of graduate studies.
I think that some people infer that women should not seek higher education because they should focus first on having a family and staying at home. There is evidence to refute that idea. First, women are admitted into graduate programs at BYU. Second, there are female professors at BYU. Third, the director of graduate studies at BYU is a woman, Dr. Bonnie Brinton. Dr. Brinton accepted this position knowing that it would require additional responsibilities and increase the difficulty in juggling her role as a mother with her work responsibilities. However, since BYU asked her to take on this responsibility, knowing her family situation, it is clear that women can work outside the home, receive higher education, and still fulfill their responsibilities as mothers. Although few people will have the drive, talent, and background Dr. Brinton has, her case is evidence that it is possible for women to work and be a mother.
Karl Maeser and Alice Reynolds
My great-great grandfather is Karl G. Maeser, the man who Brigham Young sent to start Brigham Young Academy. Yes, you can do your laughing and repeat the chalk circle line jokes now. My family has been pretty good about maintaining his history and cultivating a sense of connection and identity to him. I remember two occasions when I was growing up that certainly contributed to the respect I now have for Grandpa Maeser. If you didn’t know, the current Provo Library is actually the former Brigham Young Academy. I remember when I was about 8 or 9 years old my family drove to Provo from Arizona and we participated in some kind of political gathering in front of the building to protest its demolition. The rally apparently worked; the city decided to remodel the building and make it into the public library. When I was twelve, my extended family organized a family reunion with the Maeser’s back in Germany. We flew over for the reunion and spent the day with our German cousins who we never had previously met. Two of my uncles served in Germany and acted as our translators.
In addition to these two experiences, my family has strengthened its connection to Karl through attending BYU. I believe all of my aunts and uncles went to college there. All of my cousins on the Maeser side of the family who have attended college have graduated from Brigham Young University. I think our Maeser heritage was certainly not our only reason to attend BYU, but it probably played a factor in most of my relatives’ decision to attend BYU.
Whenever I walk past the Maeser building I say hi to Karl, and he returns my hello with that rigorous stare - he always looks like he wants to quiz me on the spot. The statue (and the stare) have been effective though; I signed up for the Honors program midway through my freshman year. Karl’s influence played a role in my decision. How could I not sign up for the program that was housed in the building guarded by his statue?
I believe that my connection to Karl G. Maeser has brought me to BYU and been a factor in my decision to go to college, to study well, and now to attend graduate school. Karl’s influence on me has been positive in the same way a role model or a mentor is beneficial.
What does this have to do with women at BYU? I believe that women at BYU need strong positive role models in academics. There are women in BYU’s history who are great examples; I think they should be celebrated as well. Given the administration’s clear support of women getting graduate degrees (for example, the dean of graduate programs is a women, Bonnie Brinton), female students need to know about LDS women who trailblazed the highest institutions of education over a century ago.
Specifically, I propose that the university commissions the art department to create a statue of the first female professor at Brigham Young Academy, Alice Louis Reynolds. Sister Reynolds has quite a history. After graduating from BYA in 1892 at the age of 21 she left Utah for further study in Michigan, and later studied at Cornell, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. She taught at BYA (and later at BYU) starting at some point before 1900 until her death in 1938. Moreover, Sister Reynolds was also involved in politics; she has a delegate at the Democratic National Convention and involved in the Suffrage movement. Her educational achievements, as well as her community service fit with BYU’s theme, “enter to learn, go forth to serve.”
Learning, Deconstruction, and Progression
I have explained in earlier posts how my assumptions about gender roles have recently been turned upside-down and deconstructed in the past few months. I think this experience has helped me to understand how I learn and how I change. I would like to ask you, Mr. or Mrs. Reader, to tell me how you learn, change, and go through paradigm shifts in the way you view the world. Please do share your comments.
I am undergoing a similar experience with the principle of prayer as I did with my conception of gender roles. I would like to explain.
I have studied prayer my whole life. My parents, sunday school, all those prayers I have offered, all the scriptures I have read on it, etc - all of this contributed to my understanding of prayer. This experiences constructed a concept of prayer in my brain. I saw prayer a certain way and conceived it as a certain way because of my background and experience.
Yesterday morning I went running up Slate Canyon with a friend (by the way, that canyon is yet another Utah hidden gem. The leaves are gorgeous and nobody is up there. It is right off of 300 south when you get to the curve and the hill.). He told me about how he has started to put into practice Elder Bednar’s advice about linking our prayers, morning and night, and making goals with the Lord. I was really impressed with these ideas. I went home and read the talk. (Elder Bednar spoke of prayer two conferences in a row - April and Oct 2008. Both are worth the read. Here is the other.)
Before reading the talk I had a mental construct of what prayer is. For the purpose of an analogy, this photo represents what I conceived of “prayer.”
Then Elder Bednar took a sledgehammer to my concept of prayer.
He demolished it.
Now, I am trying to pick up the pieces.
Do I rebuild the same building with the same structure (a.k.a. the same conception of prayer) or do I change it? Do I have the faith to try to build a better “prayer?” What if it looks different than other people’s conception of prayer? Instead of trying to build a new understanding of prayer, it would be easy to slink back into the shadows, and let culture and my social environment gradually re-build the previous conception of prayer I had - each brick in the exact same place.
Obviously, it is better to build a better understanding of prayer. Put in some stained glass windows and exchange the brick for marble! Come on! On the other hand, I know it will just be deconstructed again and again the more I study it. Is ignorance bliss?
Continual learning and progression is hard work. I think it is the process of becoming one with God so of course it will be tough. There is a reason they call it “the road less traveled by.”
My conception of gender roles went through and is still going through similar revolutions. I know some of you are having the same types of uber-metamorphic changes in the way you view the world. At times it is difficult. I think sometimes, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to just ‘slink back,’ let others frame my thoughts and meanings of the world?” It would. But it’s too late for me now. I am sold on this progression thing. To quote the man of the hour, Elder Bednar, I have learned to love learning. I look forward to deconstructing and reconstructing my understanding of everything for the rest of my life. There is a lot more to things than first glance.
Heavenly Mother: Yet to be Discovered?
The concept of Heavenly Mother is part of LDS doctrine. We know that She exists. In fact, we learn this core concept in the primary lessons (once you open the link, press control+F and then type “mother” to find the reference most quickly). Just as our mortal mothers influence us greatly here on earth, our Eternal Mother will influence us in a proportionately profound manner when we return to live with Her.
If, then, She has and will play an enormously important role in the plan of salvation, what is Her role while we are on earth?
Of all the things that “we just don’t know” about religion, this one seems important. Our Eternal Father and Eternal Mother created us. I would like to know more about them.
Also, some have argued that God may have multiple wives. I stand with the late Eugene England and argue that this is false (though this is a speculative claim). As he states, if polygamy were an eternal principle, then why are references to it’s practice in the scriptures always limited in scope? Furthermore, he addresses the statements made by various prophets in the past and overturns them with logic and modern revelations (page 11). Also, Valerie Hudson Cassler similarly approaches these issues, arguing that polygamy was only a temporal exception to the divine order and law of marriage.
If I have a Heavenly Mother, then…
Does She hear my prayers?
Does She ever communicate with me?
Does She love me?
Yes, yes, and yes. Right? I would hope so. But, I would like to KNOW so. (Read this for President Hinckley’s talk encouraging women not to pray to our Heavenly Mother).
If God is my Father, why wouldn’t He want me to know about my Mother? I have been told that it is out of absolute respect that He doesn’t tell us about Her. That He doesn’t want us to blaspheme Her name like we have done His. He is protecting Her. I don’t agree with that argument because I don’t find it logical. First of all, though we certainly have blasphemed His name, I don’t think that our Heavenly Father is one to be personally offended about name-calling. Nor do I see him avoiding topics, especially big topics, such as ‘who is the Mother of all souls?’ Also, if She is a God, then does He need to “protect” her from us mortals? Do mortal fathers protect their wives from their children?
Perhaps I can come to know more about her, and to know her personally, if I desire to and try. Ask and it shall be given?
To all religious scholars, I echo the message of Dr. Daniel Peterson: I believe that there is more to know about our Heavenly Mother and that the scriptures may be full of references to her. In fact, scholars are already uncovering promising leads. As scholars of modern day scripture, will you search for answers? As history has taught us (the young boy Joseph, President Kimball and the Priesthood revelation, Joseph F. Smith and the revelation on the Spirit World, etc.), when we inquire of the Lord and search for answers upon matters that we just don’t know, he often will grant us that knowledge. I suggest that we embark on a deep study and quest to know our Heavenly Mother. In return we will surely uncover speculative theological truth claims about her, and then perhaps, we hope, our diligent study will eventually lead to more revelation on the subject. It may take a decade, a generation, or a century, but what do we have to lose?
Patricia Hill Collins explains, ‘Why I thought what I thought’
At various points in my life I have said something and then immediately stopped, shocked that I said it. Sometimes these have been strange Freudian slips, but on most occasions I stopped because I suddenly realized my own ignorance and/or prejudice. At these moments I wonder why I said such a thing and how I came to view the world that way. Before studying sociology, I assumed that I was “guilty” for all of these follies, whereas now I think that society’s influence shares in producing my opinions and, consequently, my prejudices. That doesn’t take me off the hook completely, however. As Patricia Hill Collins points out, in the matrix of domination which is society, their are three main points from which prejudice can be produced: (1) personal biography, (2) the community, and (3) the systemic level of social institutions (608). I would like to walk through one occasion when I noticed a personal bias and then examine how that bias was produced (or how I believe it came about).
This summer I studied at Cambridge and enrolled in a course entitled, “Socio-historical gender roles in Britain from 1900-present.” This was quite an enlightening experience, to say the least. For weeks we discussed women’s suffrage and women in the workplace and it was fascinating. The real turning point for me, however, came when we discussed stay-at-home-dad’s. During this lesson I realized that I had never considered staying at home at all! And the thought of it was not so attractive. Sure, I would prefer to work less so that I could spend sufficient time with my children, however the idea of not being in a work environment and exclusively staying at home seemed so foreign! I feel this need to contribute to society by working. Then the vision opened - if I couldn’t imagine staying at home all the time how could I expect my wife to do so? Surely if she wanted to that would be one thing, but merely assuming she did was presumptuous and closed doors of opportunity for her. I was discriminating against her.
How, then, did my discrimination come about? Using Collins three levels of oppression production, I first hypothesize that my assumption was not created merely by “personal biography” (608). Perhaps, given my personality, I assumed I would work because I like to interact with others and feel intellectually challenged. In reality, though, my personality has little or nothing to do with it.
Second, my assumption was definitely produced in part by my “community” (608). As an upper-class white Christian American, the vast majority of families with whom I have interacted consist of a working father and a stay-at-home-mother. In fact, I have only heard of ONE stay-at-home-dad my entire life. Also, it has been imbued into my mind by Mormon culture that it is exclusively my responsibility to work and exclusively the woman’s responsibility to stay at home. Many argue that these “traditional” roles are implied if not explicitly stated in official church statements.
Third, I don’t think that institutional policies affected my decision much. Though some U.S. policy, such as maternal leave, indirectly promote traditional gender roles, I doubt very much that these policies affected my assumption. After all, I am 23, single, and a university student; I haven’t directly faced those institutional policies yet.
The production of my assumption is a mixed bag. Learning about different possibilities opened my eyes; education tends to do this. To avoid assuming that my “programmed” way to view the world is correct, it is my responsibility to deconstruct my assumptions, use my reason, and make educated judgements.
What if BYU students with children received reduced tuition?
Government laws or the powers of markets can cause our world to be molded in certain ways. As much as I would like to believe that I act according to what I think is right, the fact is that I am greatly influenced by outside structures.
This principle is consistent with gender roles at BYU.
I have noticed a variety of talks on BYU campus lately about women in careers: women in law, in government, etc. The more these talks continue on campus, the more our “mormon culture” will begin to change and be accepting of women in careers. But that is our culture - what does our doctrine say? Is our culture “behind” or “ahead” of our doctrine?
Leaving that larger question behind for a while, I would like to propose what effects possible structural changes in BYU policy would have on gender roles and perceptions. I think that these hypothetical situations will illustrate how policy frames gender roles.
- What if only men were admitted into the business school under the idea that women should not be involved in business careers because they would be too time-intensive?
- What if all the statues on campus had their wives next to them?
- What if their were gender quotas for the mechanical engineering program?
- What if men received reduced admission to sign up for arts and humanities majors? Would more sign up?
- What if students with children were given reduced or free tuition?
- What if the school providing free all-day daycare?
Clearly, there are problems with all of these hypothetical policies. However, when you look at their potential effects, twenty years from now, you can imagine how gender perceptions can be molded.
What, then, are cultural gender roles and what are divine gender attributes? Perhaps I have assumed that many cultural gender roles were divinely inspired and that many divinely inspired roles were just cultural?
Erase my traditional role. What’s my divine role?
I have yet to meet an aged father, whose children have all up and left him and his wife alone at home, look back on his life and say, “I should have spent more time at the office.” I am sure there are some out there (the black swan could always show up right?), but I believe the great majority of aged fathers would agree with this statement.
First, I would like to look at the roles of mothers and fathers in history. Second, I want us to think what the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ means for gender roles, especially for men.
Historically speaking, I would say that men have not valued fatherhood as much as women have valued motherhood. Why? I am sure there are a plethora of reasons; perhaps carrying a baby in your womb for 9 months has something to do with it. Or spending hours breastfeeding, cooking, cleaning, and other service for the children. Historically, I believe that these activities have been done by women. As a result, women have generally been closer to their children. Those you serve you come to love. Think of a church calling where you had to really extend yourself to help another. You come to love that person, regardless of their deficiencies. Such has been the case with mothers throughout history. In a way, their tireless service for their children, their children became their life.
And where were the men? Working outside on the farm or in the city - working for the family, right? Again historically speaking, I believe that fathers that were working FOR their family could have developed that closeness and love for their children just as mothers did. However, I think the vast majority got caught up in the “world of work,” losing their perspective; in a way, work was their life.
Given this history, I use the word “traditional” to refer to these types of gender roles.
I believe that the Restoration of the Gospel in the dispensation of the fullness of times provides the ultimate Godlike version of eternal companionship. The Restoration has provided us with knowledge respecting the roles of women and men through the story of Eve and Adam (sounds different in that order, huh? Ha!). Eve’s role, and thus women’s role, was to act as the medium to bring us into this life. Adam’s role, and thus men’s role, was to act as the medium to provide us the divine ordinances to save us. Eve’s role has never been lost throughout history; women have always given birth (though today he certainly is fighting hard against even the principles of reproduction and birth). On the other hand, Adam’s role has come and gone. It seems logical to me that there could be correlation between the loss of the Priesthood of the earth and men treating women poorly. In other words, perhaps the discrimination women have traditionally faced is connected to the loss of the Priesthood from the earth during the periods of apostacy. Furthermore, the cultural gender roles created by the periods of apostacy were not erased overnight by the restorations of the Gospel and Priesthood during various dispensations periods. Social change historically has been a slow process (though today social change can happen at an exponentially quicker rate - thank you education, technology, the internet, etc.).
The Restoration of the Gospel in today’s dispensation through Joseph Smith is yet another opportunity for (1) men to fulfill their divine purpose as the medium through which God provides us the ordinances of salvation, and (2) the deconstruction of traditional cultural gender roles only to be replaced by the actual divine gender roles of men and women, equal and complimentary.
I celebrate the Restoration for what it is - the opportunity for mankind to create a society liberated from traditional gender stereotypes and instead predicated on our divine natures as men and women.
Men, what does this mean for us then? Can we erase the inclinations and proclivities we have as a result of growing up the society we have? Then can we look at those tendencies abstractly, evaluate them objectively and selectively choose which are conducive to fulfilling our divine mission as fathers and which are not?
That is a difficult task. Surely, the process will require continual effort on our part. But wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing if we were always able to respond with reason-based answers when someone asked us “why do you do such and such?” I know that many times when people have asked me why I do certain things, I have often found myself retreating and getting defensive - “I just do.” “It’s the way things are.” “That’s what everyone does.” I don’t think those answers are justified - and I am full of them. In fact, the more I try to evaluate my cultural tendencies the more I realize - I am a product of my society! But no matter, the point is whether I am making an effort to progress, and treat people as Christ would treat them; do better today than I did yesterday.
I want all the doors of opportunity, both eternal and secular, to be open to all people. Doors open to men to help in “nurturing,” as well as doors open to women to help in “providing.”
Staying at home
So, my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I loved coming home from school and having her waiting with a fresh smoothie or toast for me to scarf down before she drove me to sports practices. That is the kind of mother-child relationship I was familiar with growing up.
I went to the University of Cambridge this summer and took a course on the socio-historical study of gender in Britain during the 19th and 20th centuries. Let’s just say a few of my paradigms were overturned. We learned about first, second, and third wave feminism. I thought the first and third wave movements seemed pretty reasonable. I remember at one point in the class we were discussing government assistance money in Britain intending for stay-at-home mothers (yes, this really exists in Europe and has for a long time - people it!). The problem with the system was that the government issued the checks to the husbands who would cash the checks and spend the money on alcohol. To solve the problem, the government started imputting the money directly into the women’s bank accounts. I raised my hand and asked, “How would that solve the problem? Don’t the husbands have the same access to the money whether it comes in cash or to the account? It’s all going to the same place anyway.” You see, my parents have always had one shared bank account (as far as I understand). Well, the whole class burst into laughter! None of their parents had shared bank accounts. Not one! That experience opened my mind up…and boy did it get filled and then some! In the months since that class period I have been continually discovering evidence after evidence of how gender plays into daily life.
Mormonism and Gender! This is the most interesting of all. Us Mormons have had quite a history as far as gender goes. Without going into details, I would like to throw out a few defining moments for statements on gender in the LDS church…
How about Joseph Smith signing a blessing that Emma had written to herself? Or what about the numerous accounts of women blessing their children, even up into the 1930s, and the Church supporting them all the way? And today, what about the numerous prophets, apostles, and seventies who are calling for husbands and wives to be “co-presidents” of the family?
I really didn’t know all of these things before this summer. I guess I fell into “LDS culture” and assumed that the ways things were was the way they are supposed to be. I couldn’t be more incorrect!
As far as my future family was concerned, I assumed that I would be the breadwinner, working away from home, while my wife stayed at home with our children. I think that model does work - it worked for my family. But I wondered…and a question kept coming into my mind -
If I expect my wife to stay at home all day with the kids, would I be willing to do the same? If not, how could I expect that of her?
And why couldn’t I stay at home with the kids? Isn’t raising a family the most important part of this life? Isn’t fatherhood a divine calling? Well, honestly, I just wouldn’t feel fulfilled! Being at home ALL DAY - I have never imagined myself in that position. I have built up this expectation of myself as a working man; staying at home all day just seems crazy! I need the intellectual stimulus that comes from working or studying (or at least my culture has programmed me to think that I do). I would imagine that women have that same need - though we may have buried it with layers of culturally-accepted discrimination.
So, men of BYU, I ask you the same question - how can we expect our wives to stay at home if we wouldn’t be willing to do the same? And women of BYU, do you need that “intellectual stimulus” or are you satisfied with the “traditional” role of housekeeper? (which is, I might add, the noblest of duties) I would appreciate your responses - leave them in the comment boxes below.