Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sex and Gender

I would love it if the LDS Church would downplay theories of sex and gender. It all comes down to Jesus for me. He stands as the perfect model and example for both men and women. As my good friend Amy stated in a recent issue of the Exponent II, I as a woman "am to become everything he is. Everything. Not just the nurturing, gentle parts of what He is. I am also to be powerful. To learn to create life. To love perfectly. To stand in passive but powerful resistance to the inequalities and injustices in the world."

If we keep this as our goal - to raise up the human race to become more like Jesus, theories of gender difference should start to melt away. We will see godly and priestly potential in every human being, and it would become more natural to include women in the leadership of the Church.

I don't deny that there might be differences between men and women in this life. (hormones, societal construction, etc.) But I do absolutely reject the idea that because of these differences, one sex should "preside" over the other. If presiding is even necessary (why not just have equal partnerships, particularly in the family setting?), I believe it should be a function of worth and character, not sex.

I don't reject the idea that sex is eternal. But I do reject the idea that there are eternal gender roles. I believe that women need to learn to become everything Jesus is, and relegating women to eternal baby making while the man guides and presides really violates that idea for me.


Blogger Guy Murray said...

"I don't reject the idea that sex is eternal. But I do reject the idea that there are eternal gender roles."

Why? (as to both)

10/31/2005 10:01 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I don't reject the idea that sex is eternal because.... I like being a woman, and it's such a huge part of my identity, it's hard to imagine myself eternally without my sex.

I reject the idea that there are eternal gender roles because I can't stand the idea that I will be constrained in my stewardships, abilities, potentials, and powers eternally.

I consider this a fallen world now, and think that gender roles are a result of this fallen world. I fully expect that in the next life all powers and opportunities will be restored to all womankind and we will finally be able to serve in all ways open to men. And we will finally be absolute equal partners with men without any need for one sex to "preside" (hate that word!!!) over the other.

Of course, I still hope and pray that these opportunities to serve will be opened to women in this life. I think it will happen eventually, but it might be after I die.

10/31/2005 11:09 AM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

Is your acceptance of sex as an eternal component of eternal life premised upon the latter day teaching/doctrine of eternal increase? If so, why do you reject the same as it relates to gender? The Proclamation states:

"Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."

However, there is no specfic mention of gender roles. Is is possible to define gender outside of "fallen world" compartmentalization wihin roles?

11/01/2005 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the subject, I agree with you completely.

11/01/2005 3:46 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Hi, Caroline. I found your blog through FMH just now (and feel bold enough to comment). I agree with your assertion about seeking to emulate Christ in all ways. I've long thought that as men and women become more Christlike, they become more strong and tender and less preoccupied with fulfilling society's pre-cast ideals of masculinity/femininity. The most admirable Christians--and other religious friends--I know seem above the fray, so to speak. There's that glow of kindness and confidence that transcends gender.

11/01/2005 6:46 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hello Guy,

My willingness to accept sex as an eternal component of eternal life is not really based on the doctrine of eternal increase. For me, personally, I'm not looking forward to an eternity of baby-making. I'd like to be able to have a child every once in a while, if I felt like it, but I'd also like the option to not have any and concentrate on developing in any other way that I feel is important.

Being willing to consider sex as eternal, for me, has far more to do with my sense of identity, than with any ideas of birthing children perpetually. (I don't connect my identity as a woman to being able to give birth.)

While the Proc does not specifically mention gender roles in the eternities, it does say that gender is a characteristic of eternal purpose. That concerns me, since purpose to me implies roles. And I want the option of creating and carving out my own role. I want to become the best me of who I am, and I don't want to be constrained by my gendered eternal "purpose."

I think it's possible to define sex outside of "Fallen world" compartmentalization. I'm not sure about gender since the word gender implies a performance of sex roles.

In my view, any limitation placed upon me because of my sex would not allow me to get away from the fallen world approach to gender.

Ultimately I am human. I want to reach the height of human potential, the height that every being should be striving for. I have no interest in reaching the height of womanly potential, particularly if that's different than man's potential.

11/03/2005 7:46 AM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

Hi Caroline,

Just a quick couple of comments. I'm not sure eternal increase is necessarily the same as an eternity of baby making. The fact is very little has really been revealed about just what exactly that phrase means, and exactly what it entails. I do agree with you that sex can be eternal. But, that's all I really know about it. The rest is just speculation, at least in my mind . . .perhaps there are others who know exactly what it means....but I don't know how that could be. There is so much we don't know about the next life. And, I think to project our current "fallen world" definitions and understanding into the eternities may just be a mistake--I don't know--just a thought.

I would say giving birth is only one aspect of "womanhood". I think there are many other components not only in this life, but likely in the next. So, I agree we shouldn't define anyone's identity based only on one characteristic, i.e., giving birth. Some women can't give birth, as we understand that concept in this life, and I don't think they are any less women than those who can.

As far as "gender" being an eternal part of our identity, I don't know that it necessarily implies certain roles. We, in our "fallen world" have assigned those roles to a certain degree, I admit; however, again, I think it may be a mistake to project our current mortal understanding of reality into the eternities. But, again, I don't really know for sure . . .just a thought. Gender, when viewed outside the confines of mortality may just be somewhat more expansive than how we have limited it or defined it here in mortality.

I like your last paragraph. I agree we are ultimately human; however, I also believe gender somehow figures into our ultimate eternal persona. I don't know exactly how gender fits in completely--but I think it's a component. And, I'm not convinced our current limited understanding and definitions of gender will be our ultimate and eternal understanding or definition.

Thanks for helping me understand a little about the "feminist" view point on these issues.

11/03/2005 10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I want the option of creating and carving out my own role."

I think you will have that option. I just dont think that everyone's view of their own role becoming "the best me" will put them on a path to perfection

11/11/2005 8:41 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I would disagree. I think that every human being becoming the best individual that that person can be will lead to perfection.

And the exciting thing is that becoming that best person will look different for different people. I love the idea that we're all striving towards becoming our best individual selves. And that means to me that we're not going to be exact replicas of each other with all the same feelings, thoughts, strengths and talents. I am much more compelled by the idea of perfected individuality.

11/11/2005 11:10 AM  
Blogger Bookslinger said...

Thing #1:

I think many Mormons, men and women, have an incorrect view of what "to preside" means. I was taught that it does not mean "to boss" or "to be the sole or ultimate decision-maker."

What aspect or definition of "to preside" are you using that makes it offensive or so uncomfortable to you?

Many of us men who will never preside in priesthood functions don't seem to have that kind of curious envy or resentment towards those who do preside over us in priesthood functions or quorums.

I recently attended a Single Adults meeting (as a guest, not in an official capacity) and received a very nice demonstration of priesthood authority and presiding.

The high councilman who holds the stewardship for the single adults presided at the meeting. He was there to see that the needs of single adults were served and met as much as possible. He conducted and presided in such a way that I felt no subordinate relationship to him. He was presiding, but he made it clear by his attitude and his actions that he was there to serve me and all single adults in the stake.

Towards the end of the meeting, the 1st counselor in the Stake Presidency entered. The way that the high councilman recognized the 1st counselor's "superior priesthood authority" without using those words or even implying them, did not lessen himself in any way, and it was such a perfectly natural and smooth transition, that you would not have noticed it was a transition unless you were looking for it.

Perhaps more women should sit in more often on bishropric meetings, presidency meetings, high council meetings, etc. After seeing how a godly "presider" presides, I can't see how one would want to reject the concept of "presiding."

To me, it's no big deal. My bishop, elders' quorum president, and stake president have never made me feel inferior in situations where they presided. They've always made me feel like their goal was to be my servant and see that my needs were met.

If I ever do get called to presiding function in the priesthood, I hope I can emulate their good examples.

I've met some priesthood leaders that I don't like, but fortunately, I've never been in a regular elders' quorum or a ward where I felt the presiding priesthood holder was bossy or lorded things over the peons.

If men in this life are counseled by church leaders to do everything possible to make and keep their wife happy, joyous, etc., to serve her, to sacrifice for her, and by working _with_ her in all things, do you think a righteous husband will change that in the eternities?


Thing #2:

Where do Mormons get this "eternally pregnant" bit? Actually I've heard it almost exclusively from disgruntled members and ex-mormons.

We have absolutely no idea about the mechanics of how spirit bodies are provided or created for the eternal intelligences who become children of exalted beings. All we have are some vague references to "intelligences being clothed in spirit bodies" by exalted parents.

We have no idea how close it resembles mortal procreation, if at all.

I've heard that spirit personages exist in adult form, so a goddess being pregnant and giving birth in the fashion of mortality seems pretty far-fetched to me.

Perhaps some apostle made speculations of such in the Journal of Discourses, but I have found nothing in modern correlated material about it.

I think it was Parley Pratt who made some speculations about how spirit bodies were created or organized. But he was sternly reprimanded by the first presidency for them, and humbly withdrew his speculations and apologized.

Joseph Smith said there was a lot to learn after death and resurrection that was necessary for exaltation. I don't think we should make judgements on eternal procreation or parenthood.

12/06/2005 10:11 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hello Bookslinger. Thanks for your comments. I'm going to respond passionately because this is such an important topic to me.

"What aspect or definition of "to preside" are you using that makes it offensive or so uncomfortable to you?"

The fact that women cannot do it as well. I have no problem, in a church context, with having people preside. I think that is necessary for any organization to run effectively. What makes NO sense to me is that 65% of the LDS population is automatically excluded from this type of presiding, when many are infinitely capable spiritually, emotionally, etc. to do so. To serve someone like Christ, if that's how we're defining preside, is a wonderful priviledge and opportunity. Why deny that to women? Why deny them the opportunity to counsel people officially, to grow spiritually, to serve with their whole hearts in an entirely unique way? I fervently believe such callings should be extended because of a person's aptitude, not sex.

You don't have preside envy - that makes sense to me. I hypothesize this is because you as a male might someday be in a position in which you could preside and serve. You are not arbitrarily prevented from ever doing this. I however have been cut off from that possibility forever, simply because of my body parts. And what bothers me even more is that my powerful righteous spiritual women friends who would be amazing bishops are also cut off forever.

Like you, I personally don't lust after ecclesiastical power. I just want those who are so wonderful and capable and happen to be female to have the chance. This opportunity would be great for them personally and it would be great for the congregations they would preside over. The church would only be the richer for it.

I've been talking about institutional presiding, which I think is a necessity. What is not a necessity is presiding in a family environment. Unless it's both parents presiding together. I absolutely believe that marriage is an equal partnership. The idea that my husband somehow presides over me violates me. No matter how preside is interpreted. If it simply means "serve in a Christlike way" well, I want to be able to do that for him as well. Why isn't it equitable so that we are both commanded to serve each other in Christ-like ways? And of course, as we know, many couples do not interpret preside in such an innocuous way. So many I know interpret it as the final decision maker or as the person ultimately responsible. Both of these interpretations I find offensive to women.

I strongly believe that promoting this type of hierarchy within a marriage is damaging to both partners.

May I ask what your definition of presiding is, and how you justify one sided presiding within a marriage? Additionally, how do you justify talented spiritual females being prevented from entering into church leadership positions?

12/07/2005 8:19 AM  
Blogger Bookslinger said...


Women do preside in the church, just not at the level of bishop and higher. Women have influence in the church too. I've seen it and experienced it. I've been spiritually influenced by every talk, lesson, fireside or Family Home Evening that's been presented by a Spirit-filled woman. The two best speakers in our ward's sacrament meeting have been women, better than the stake president and his high councilmen.

Women have the ability to counsel in the church, I've seen and experienced that too. And not just in primary or in Relief Society.

I sometimes go to a couple of older single sisters (one's in her late 60's and the other in her 80's) in the ward for counsel as I consider them among my mentors. I respect their opinions, and they usually have the ability to explain things in ways I can understand. I think elderly people are sometimes more honest because they aren't afraid to tell you the truth.

I don't believe in going to the bishop if there's someone else in the ward who can handle it.

As to why women don't have the priesthood, and why women don't preside in ecclesiastical matters, as I understand it, God has not revealed those reasons. We can only guess, and we have practically nothing upon which to base a guess.

I'm still taken aback a little by your promotion of other women to be bishops. Seeking leadership position, not even for oneself, but on behalf of others, has something wrong with it.

I understand that you feel slighted. But I still don't quite understand the why's and how's of you being slighted. I get the impression you're either missing something, or else have a stumbling block. I still don't understand your bitterness. Maybe you are trying to apply a concept of egalitarian feminism where it doesn't apply.

I generally agree with feminism in secular matters, but it just doesn't carry over into ecclesiastical matters where we must conform to the pattern given to us by the Lord.

I have received miraculous personal revelations in my life, so I know that God works by revelation in both big things and little things. Maybe not all callings are inspired, but I know that they can be. So I conclude that if God wanted women to hold the priesthood and have ecclesiastical positions in the church, they would. Therefore, I believe that withholding the priesthood from women is not a man-made construct. It's something that when God decrees for it to happen, then it will happen.

If Gordon B. Hinckley were to say at the next conference that all worthy women could be ordained to the priesthood, and be considered for all priesthood callings and leadership positions, I'd sustain him, salute smartly, and get with the program.

But to answer your questions "How do you justify..?" The answer is: I don't. And no one needs to. The church is either run by revelation, or it's not. Every president of the church from Joseph Smith to Gordon B. Hinckley either was a prophet or a fraud.

I realize that I haven't really addressed your concerns, and I probably can't. But have you talked to older (like in their 60's and older) women who have strong testimonies and gotten their take on it? Feminism and equal rights is not a new concept, so your concerns over the matter are not new. Faithful, strong and influential women have been considering the issue ever since the church started, so you're not the first to wrestle with the issue. Research the writings of past LDS women, or call upon those who have already resolved the concerns in their mind, as this is something that I bet can't or won't be explainable to you from the male perspective. At least I don't have the words for it at my disposal.

12/09/2005 10:26 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hello Bookslinger. Thanks once again for your comments. Just so you know, it's really not conducive to having an interesting exchange of ideas to call me bitter or "missing something". I've not slung insults at you - I ask for the same respect. Give me your perspective, by all means, but leave off personal insults please.

I'm glad to hear that you counsel with women in your ward. What you are arguing is that women do have power within the ward setting. I would nuance that and say that women have soft power, while men have hard power. Men have ecclesiasical authority to make autonomous decisions and counsel. Women have moral influence, perhaps over their husbands, perhaps in their callings, and sometimes, as in your case, over random ward members who respect them and approach them.

This differentiation of hard and soft power is particularly appropriate in the general hierarchy of the LDS church, where as we know, women don't have any authority at all to contribute, counsel, and help define policy and doctrine for the church at large.

I don't see anything at all wrong with wanting the best people to be bishops. What righteous LDS person wouldn't want that?

I think our mindframes are fundamentally different when it comes to the Church and revelation. I also believe that the Church leaders are often inspired. However, I also believe that they are products of a certain cultural outlook that can and does impede them in certain ways. I don't think there's any possible way a human can completely remove himself/herself from the societal contexts and ideals in which he/she was raised.

I chalk blacks not getting the priesthood for so long up to the fact that some leaders were really constrained by previous assumptions and church tradition. Therefore I'm incredibly glad about continuing revelation. There is always room for improvement, progression, and a more inclusive hierchial structure within the Church. Just as this is the gospel of progression, so will the Church progress as well. Thank God for that!

12/10/2005 7:42 AM  
Blogger Bookslinger said...

I'm sorry that my observations came out as insults. They were not intended that way. I need to learn more diplomacy. I just wanted to point out that a couple of your comments on your blog and one on another blog (that brought me here) did come across as bitter in a manner along the lines of a bitter subset of secular feminists. If you say you aren't bitter, I believe you. But then I'd say you're giving an impression that you didn't intend, just as I gave an impression I didn't intend.

Brigham Young is on record as saying things that come across as racist. So I would venture that it's possible that the prophets of his generation (through Lorenzo Snow) might not have even gone to the Lord to ask if/when blacks could have the priesthood.

But starting at least with David O. McKay, (and maybe sooner, I don't know about Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, or George Albert Smith) the prophets did go to the Lord and ask if or when blacks could have the priesthood. I don't have the source handy, but David O. McKay is quoted as having said that he asked the Lord several times, and was told essentially "Not yet, and stop asking."

So while BY said "never," which may have been based as much on the limited info given him of the Lord as much as his own prejudices, at some point after him the prophets were given further light and knowledge that priesthood would eventually be bestowed upon black men.

You wrote: women don't have any authority at all to contribute, counsel, and help define policy and doctrine for the church at large.

I agree on the doctrine part. But having sat in on bishopric meetings, ward councils, and correlation meetings, I have observed first hand that women do contribute, counsel and help define church policy. But I'll grant the possibility that the church is run differently on a local level in your area.

You wrote: Men have ecclesiasical authority to make autonomous decisions and counsel.

If you mean autonomous as in on his own without consulting anyone, I would disagree. Every president, from the bishop on up has two counselors with whom he is to consult, in addition to seeking direction from the Lord.

I have seen things in the outward management of the church that I think could have been improved. I agree with many people who say that some problems went on too long before being more agressively or pro-actively handled.

And I think there's a good chance that things would be run better if we had more women in church management positions.

If women held the priesthood and could have ecclesiastical callings, then that would mean men's home teaching load could be cut in half, and I'd probably have 50% less chance of being called to a leadership position. So in that respect, I wish women did have the priesthood. It looks like it would make things easier on me and other men.

But that is one of those "big decisions" that is reserved for the prophet and apostles. I have confidence that in the big things they are following the Lord's directives.

Emma Smith complained to the prophet about a bad situation, he went to the Lord about it, and the Word of Wisdom came out of it. So feel free to write the prophet and complain, er, I mean make suggestions, citing Emma as your example. Hey, it worked for her!

12/10/2005 7:06 PM  

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