Posted by on Apr 21, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Love-Hand-Free-WallpaperMormon male privilege begins with the patriarchy that exists in the Mormon hierarchy. Patriarchy literally means rule by fathers. It has existed in most civilizations for centuries, but has persisted in many Bible based traditions because the Bible’s narratives encourage it such as, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence (1 Tim 2:12 KJV).”[1] Today, the word patriarchy describes a system (not a group of people) in which men hold most or all the power, in other words, rule by men. As described in the previous section Origins of Privilege, systems like this promote and propagate power for specific groups. Therefore, patriarchy promotes and propagates privilege and power for men. So, how does this manifest itself in Mormonism?

Similar to other positions of privilege, recognizing the ways in which we men inhibit and discourage women from reaching their potential can be difficult. Because privilege brings with it advantages of greater access to resources, those that don’t benefit from it have a harder time achieving the same equality in life. That is manifested financially, emotionally and socially. It is important to note that Mormon men generally try to be Christ-like in their relationship with women and the type of patriarchy that exists in the church is therefore often called a Benevolent Patriarchy. Most men are not conscientiously trying to subjugate and demoralize women, but the system unfortunately does. The following paragraphs are some examples of male privilege in Mormonism.

One of the most obvious is that positive female role models in the scriptures are almost non-existent and completely drowned out by the male roles. This may have been a product of the time in which those scriptures were written, but it continues today where there are many more male voices heard in meetings and leadership positions. Men speak in Relief Society general meetings, but women don’t speak in priesthood general meetings. This makes members expect male leadership and feel more comfortable being led and counseled by a man. Conversely, it makes women feel more comfortable taking positions of subjugation and hesitant to take on authority, or speak up and voice their opinions.

Even if only men hold the priesthood, there are many positions of leadership that do not require the ability to perform ordinances, such as Sunday School Presidency and Ward Clerk positions. Currently no women are given the ability to deal with finances and grow in this area. When a woman does have a position of authority like Relief Society President, she is referred to as Sister Johnson instead of President Johnson, whereas men who are presidents are referred to by the title President. Female auxiliaries are always overseen by male priesthood leaders, and are commonly required to obtain permission from male leaders to do things. Auxiliaries led by men receive less oversight. Like pouring salt on an open wound, women have no female voices in church discipline, and are left to confess sexual sins, or seek help in cases of sexual abuse in a room alone, with a man.

In their religious lives, LDS women are relegated to the role of mother, while men can be fathers priesthood holders, and are encouraged to pursue higher education and lucrative careers. The most public portion of a baby’s birth in the church is the all-male ritual of a baby blessing where the mother is not allowed to participate in the blessing, or even stand for recognition. Female employees of CES[2] and temple workers cannot keep their positions if they have young children or are not married. The same is not true of men.

As time has passed in the Mormon Church, women have seen their autonomy restricted rather than enhanced. As women in many countries have made strides toward equality with men, in the LDS Church, women have lost ground. For example the Relief Society started out being financially and authoritatively independent from men. Eventually, it was pulled into the main Church structure as an auxiliary of the priesthood. They also raised and controlled their own money, published their own magazines and materials, and managed their own business activities. This authority began to decline in the early 20th Century as male priesthood authorities pressured the Relief Society to disband its publication, the Women’s Exponent, confiscated and sold its massive store of grain, and ended lifetime tenure of Relief Society presidents. Also, under the consent of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young women used to be allowed to wash, anoint with oil and perform blessings for healing the sick. Unfortunately another blow came in 1946, when women’s healing blessings were prohibited in a memorandum drafted Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.

These disparities start when girls are young and impressionable, and form the basis of their worldview. As young as 8 years old, girls see the boys become cub scouts and engage in activities with much larger budgets than the activity days allowed for girls. This results in more involved activities for the boys. This continues through boy scouts where the young women programs usually receive much less funding. This makes many girls grow up thinking it is normal and acceptable for boys to get more, do more and be more. Many Mormon girls internalize this treatment, which makes it harder to make changes to the system, because those girls who remain in the church often see their subordinate roles as natural and defend the system. Those girls who do not accept their inferior role in the church frequently leave church activity by the time they are young adults. This system of internalization and resistance to change has been so effective that no woman had been allowed to pray in General Conference until the spring of 2013.

Mormon male privilege extends to the holiest of Mormon buildings and ceremonies, the temple. There, women covenant to hearken unto their husbands while the husbands only have to hearken to God. As Joseph Smith[3], Brigham Young[4] and Elder John D Charles[5] have said, temple goers receive a sacred new name that women have to share with their husbands but the men can never share theirs back. Though polygamy is not technically practiced anymore, the doctrine has not been rescinded, and actually is still practiced in a way. When a woman dies, her husband can be married to and sealed to another woman for time and all eternity. Women on the other hand can only be sealed for eternity to one man. If her husband dies, she cannot be sealed to another man, ever. In other words, in the eternities, Mormon men still expect to have more than one wife. The very fact that we ever practiced polygamy and still have teachings that it will be practiced in heaven, puts women in a soul crushing position of being on a lower level than men.[6]

When all these examples of male privilege are combined throughout the life of a Mormon boy, he expects more out of life than his female counterparts. He is encouraged both consciously and unconsciously to be a leader and make choices that will lead to a fulfilling life according to his personal desires. In contrast, women are encouraged to take the path of motherhood and dependence on a man for their temporal needs. When women do pursue higher education, they are often encouraged to major in areas that will enhance their skills in the home, and to end their studies once they marry and have children. This leaves Mormon women who follow this path with fewer opportunities for growth beyond motherhood, and with fewer abilities and resources to deal with the challenges of life on their own.

Well, you have all this privilege, what do you do now? Keep in mind, that you did not create the system; you are not personally to blame for the system. You can use your privilege in a positive way. Recognize that it gives you certain abilities that you have not earned, and use it for good. Use the leadership benefits of your privilege to influence others, especially those in your same privilege group. Use your money-making ability to support gender equality. Use the authority benefits of your privilege to enact more gender equality wherever you can.

 

Honoring our past,
Envisioning our future.


Carson Calderwood, the author of this post, is on Ordain Women’s Male Allies Committee.

[1] This verse has long been used to justify female subordination in Christianity. However, it is helpful to recognize that most scholars do not believe that 1 Timothy was written by Paul. “While seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), four are just as widely judged to be pseudepigraphical, i.e., written by unknown authors under Paul’s name: Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). The Blackwell Companion to The New Testament by David E. Aune, p. 9.

[2] CES stands for Church Educational System. CES employees teach seminary to high schools students, institute classes to college students, and run other church educational programs.

[3] Journal of Discourses, v. 19, p. 250

[4] An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, Introduction, Signature Books, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii; see also pp. 204-240.

[5] John D. Charles. (2004). Endowed from on high: Understanding the symbols of the endowment, p.64

[6] As mentioned in the prior section, access to women is a reward for elites in a limited access system. This was definitely true for Mormon patriarchy from Joseph Smith through the end of the nineteenth century. However, sever pressure for the United States government eventually brought polygamy to a halt for the main stream LDS Church. Thus, current doctrine does not allow the practice during life, but holds out the promise of greater access to women for faithful men in the eternities. D&C 132.

 

[1] CES stands for Church Educational System. CES employees teach seminary to high schools students, institute classes to college students, and run other church educational programs.

[2] Journal of Discourses, v. 19, p. 250

[3] An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, Introduction, Signature Books, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii; see also pp. 204-240.

[4] John D. Charles. (2004). Endowed from on high: Understanding the symbols of the endowment, p.64

[1] This verse has long been used to justify female subordination in Christianity. However, it is helpful to recognize that most scholars do not believe that 1 Timothy was written by Paul. “While seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), four are just as widely judged to be pseudepigraphical, i.e., written by unknown authors under Paul’s name: Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). The Blackwell Companion to The New Testament by David E. Aune, p. 9.

[6] As mentioned in the prior section, access to women is a reward for elites in a limited access system. This was definitely true for Mormon patriarchy from Joseph Smith through the end of the nineteenth century. However, sever pressure for the United States government eventually brought polygamy to a halt for the main stream LDS Church. Thus, current doctrine does not allow the practice during life, but holds out the promise of greater access to women for faithful men in the eternities. D&C 132.