For some reason, I got to thinking along the following lines while I was on the flight this afternoon from Salt Lake City to JFK:
Much is said about the allegedly patriarchal and misogynistic culture imposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon its members and upon those who have the misfortune of living in areas that are strongly under its baneful influence.
I get it, of course. An all-male priesthood is bound, in our time, to draw that kind of objection — although I like to point out, when the issue arises, such (to my mind) strongly mitigating elements such as the fact that priesthood ordination isn’t required in the Church for preaching or teaching (both of which assignments are commonly given to women), that women serve on leadership councils and in other important roles, and that, unlike the all-male priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, bearers of the Latter-day Saint priesthood are almost always married (when they’re of marriageable age) and are almost as likely to have daughters. And they live in ordinary neighborhoods rather than in monasteries or rectories. Which is to say that they are not even close to being hermetically sealed off from feminine insights, concerns, and input.
In any event, there are definitely also some strong positives for women in the teachings and moral expectations of the Church. I think, for example, of the intense emphasis on chastity before marriage (which, I would think, definitely relieves at least some of the pressure that young women commonly feel in today’s dating or, perhaps even more to the point, in today’s “hook-up” culture) and on fidelity to marriage vows once they’ve been undertaken. And there’s this, which — according to an article that just swam across my radar screen — seems to be a rather bigger matter than I would have imagined:
I couldn’t help, when reading that article, but be reminded of Sister Sharon Eubank’s very well received August 2014 remarks at the annual FAIR conference:
Such a custom — of even sober, let alone drunken, bachelor parties at strip clubs — is essentially unthinkable within the community of faithful and committed Latter-day Saint men on the eve of a temple wedding. And that, I expect, represents no major loss for women.
I think, in this regard, of a training workshop that my BYU department (the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages) was obliged to put us through every few years over the last decade and a half or so that I taught there. The workshop, mandated by some federal policy or other, was devoted to discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace. I always got a bit of a kick out of it, although, along with my colleagues, I also always behaved with solemnity and decorum during the several hours that the workshop claimed. Why? Because I understood that, if it were to become known that I were violating the standards that the federales were laying out for us, litigation would, in some ways anyhow, be the least of my worries. I would probably already have been fired from my very seriously Church-related job. My marriage would be over. And I would be facing likely Church discipline and perhaps the loss of my membership altogether. The federal guidelines were much more lenient in crucial ways than the expectations of my faith (to say nothing of my own personal expectations of myself) were and are.
And, to generalize from my own case, I think that’s not a bad thing for women.
Many, many, many years ago, while I was in graduate school, we lived in UCLA family student housing. One of our neighbors, and undergraduate and very sweet, was a very young woman with a husband and a small child. We liked her a lot. Her husband, though, who was not a student, was a lout. We never got to know him very well, because he was seldom around. But, when he was around, he was loud and coarse, and definitely not her intellectual equal. And, so far as I could tell, he paid relatively little attention to either his wife or his son. Sometimes, he would vanish unexpectedly for several days and, when he returned, it was none of her business where he had been or what he had been up to.
I was astonished that she put up with such behavior, and I was more than once sorely tempted to advise her to get out of the marriage while her son was still very small. (I never did.) I was also surprised to learn that, for her, this was simply to be expected in a husband, from a man. As we got to know her, we also learned that her father had been at least somewhat like her husband. She had, for example — and I thought this a fairly telling detail — grown up around what would once have been called his “girlie” magazines and his pin-ups and his crude jokes. I was a bit astounded; such a thing would never, ever, have happened in my family’s house. But she took it for granted. It was the way things were fated to be.
I’ve wondered since then whether her marriage survived. I would be surprised, frankly, if it did. At this distance in time, though, I can’t even remember her last name. But it seems pretty obvious to me that wives, daughters, sisters — women — have a right to demand much more from the men in their lives than she felt herself entitled to ask. More respect. A recognition of their dignity and worth. Certainly more than mere exploitation and objectification. And I think that, on the whole, the teachings and values of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints move things measurably in that direction.
Now, please don’t read me as complacently saying that things can’t improve, or that every Latter-day Saint man is a paragon or that every Latter-day Saint family is perfect. I definitely know better than that. And I’m also not saying that the little girls should just shut up and be grateful for whatever scraps we privileged patriarchal misogynists deign to toss their way. But I am saying that, even in the calculus of unbelieving critics, there are some very positive things about the culture of the Latter-day Saints that ought fairly to be taken into account as regards the status of women.
And tomorrow I’m gonna wake up in the city that never sleeps to find that, having been born male, I’m still king of the hill, top of the heap.
Posted from New York City, New York