Born of violence and raised on the myth of male superiority, patriarchy dominates our world. Our myths tell us it is divine, but the truth is much less appealing. Patriarchy is defined as:
- a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
Like all monotheistic religions, Mormonism is based on patriarchy. With its all-male priesthood, men hold all significant power in the church. To the extent women make decisions in the church, they are minor, and almost always local decisions made under the supervision of men.
So, what is the origin of patriarchy?
Patriarchy is a product of sexism, and like all the “isms,” sexism was born from violence. Like racism toward Africans was born from an asymmetry between the ability of Europeans and Africans with regard to technologies for inflicting violence, sexism was born from the greater upper body strength of men (on average), which enabled them to control women through the use of violence.
With the development of agriculture, physical strength generated an economic premium, since muscle (human and animal) was the primary source of energy. Surpluses created through agriculture facilitated the development of hierarchies, which could further enforce patriarchy through violence and the development of elaborate mythologies designed to keep people in their proper place. For women, this meant a subservient place.
One of the most critical institutions to develop in these hierarchies were military institutions. With their reliance on close, physical combat, once again physical strength was particularly prized. As hierarchies began to make their way in the world through military conquest, the mythologies glorifying the masculine became much stronger. We see this in the male gods of monotheism.
Monarchs, controlling such governments from their royal thrones, also promoted a mythology that imagined a royal monarch god controlling the heavens from atop his throne in the sky. Mirroring earthly monarchs, this heavenly monarch was imagined to have all of the masculine traits that were critical to military conquest.
Likewise, military conquest depended on the hierarchy’s ability to convince human beings to willingly sacrifice their lives in exchange for some better tomorrow. Thus, the mythologies designed to support these militaristic hierarchies were focused on death, rather than life. As a result, countless generations were duped into sacrificing their lives for the benefit of the few elites at the top of these patriarchies.
Patriarchy was a fact of life in America in the 19th century when the gospel was restored. Women in America were still considered property. They were not allowed to vote. And unfortunately, the traditions of patriarchy took hold within our own religious tradition.
Just as the issue of racism was addressed in 1978, it is time to address our tradition of sexism, which we inherited from 19th Century patriarchy. We, therefore, call on the leaders of our church to end sexism in our religion. First and foremost among the changes required will be the ordination of women to the priesthood.