If Mormon Women are Too Busy to be Leaders, We Have a Problem

If Mormon Women are Too Busy to be Leaders, We Have a Problem September 11, 2015

"Wonder Woman Scream" by Narcisticthinker via Deviant Art
“Wonder Woman Scream” by Narcisticthinker via Deviant Art

The recent news that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will officially include women on some of the Church’s top governing councils is just one more snippet in a long conversation about ways women can and should do more in the Church. From Ordain Women’s ongoing efforts to petition for ordination, to moderate feminist’s pleas for women already in positions of authority to be heard (such as Neylan McBaine’s book, Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact), this interest in women holding more leadership roles is perhaps the only consistent aim of each branch of Mormon feminism.

But for more traditional Mormon women, efforts to increase women’s leadership roles don’t always seem awesome. When the Church announced, in 2013, that Priesthood session would finally be broadcast live like other sessions of General Conference, I heard many women react with an initial, “Wow! That’s incredible,” followed by a very close, “But I don’t have to watch it, right?” And I hear similar reactions with each new step the Church takes. Just the other week, a friend told me that she couldn’t quite get excited about the Church including women on governing councils, since as a woman the last thing she wants is to be required to attend yet another meeting.

And this argument crops up even more on the topic of women and Priesthood ordination. As a kid, I was frequently told that if Priesthood responsibilities were added to what women already did in the Church, we’d be stuck doing everything. And the argument that we’re already too busy persists. For instance, take this post from ldsblogs.org that discusses why most (active) Mormon women don’t want to be ordained. One reason the writer gives is that women are simply too busy already:

“The Mormon women are not concerned about holding the priesthood, largely because they’re simply too busy with home, community and church service, and leadership, as well as a career for some, to give it much thought.”

Really? Mormon women are simply too busy to think about their relationship to the Priesthood of God, the power that our theology holds to have created the universe? I don’t petition for women to be ordained, so that’s not my concern. What concerns me is the thought that Mormon women feel busy and overwhelmed to the point that, despite how incredible we hold the priesthood to be, they wouldn’t  welcome ordination even if President Monson offered it to them tomorrow.

For women to feel that way, a lot of us must be seriously fatigued.

The Church is making clear efforts to include women in more leadership roles. And if women are carrying even half the current load of work in the Church, then the more we lift leadership burdens from our brothers, the more we need them to lift some of the burdens we’re carrying So while this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are just a few ideas on how men (both members and leaders) can lift the burdens of Mormon women. None of these suggestions require changes to doctrine or even policy:

How Mormon Men Can Support Mormon Women:

1. Teach priesthood lessons about how to support the Relief Society and Young Women. As a woman, I’ve been in countless lessons that centered on the question, “How can we support the priesthood/ priesthood holders?” It never occurred to me that men and boys weren’t having similar lessons, until I asked my husband how frequently they had this type of lesson in Young Men’s when he was growing up, or in Elders Quorum today. He looked at me like I’d asked how often they studied the geography of Kolob (though he did say he’s been in lessons on the importance of respecting women, which is also an important topic). Imagine how draining a marriage would be if each spouse took care of their own responsibilities, but only one spouse really searched for ways to support the other – the spouse putting in the extra effort would probably eventually feel exhausted.

2. Get more men into primary callings. As a former Sunbeam teacher, I know that Primary is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and one of the most isolating callings in the Church. Even Young Men and Young Women leaders are able to spend time with other adults during Sunday School, while Primary teachers are asked to spend both Sunday School and Relief Society or Priesthood with the children. Don’t me wrong: children are awesome! But they’re not adults, and grown ups simply need some time with other grown ups. so when the majority of primary workers are women, men lose out on one of the most rewarding callings in the ward, while some women stay in the calling long past their tolerance point. In one ward I attended, a woman stayed in Primary for five years! By the time she returned to Relief Society, she hardly recognized anyone. This isolation can be especially difficult for women who stay home with their children during the week. I’ve met women who practically wept for joy at the prospect of spending time with adults, after a full week of changing diapers and explaining why it’s not okay to hit siblings.

While the Church handbook places some restrictions on male teachers, it is by no means against Church policy for men to serve in that capacity. Men can teach Primary classes in pairs, or with a wife, or even on their own (the handbook doesn’t recommend the latter as an ideal, but it’s by no means against policy). And there are other ways to involve men as well. For instance, last year my ward in Georgia had a man serve as Primary pianist. In addition to the benefits that calling offered to the pianist, it allowed one more woman the opportunity to attend Gospel Doctrine and Relief Society, possibly a woman for whom Sunday is her only chance to participate in a group conversation with other adults.

Another way to distribute Primary responsibilities more evenly would be to have men and women trade off teaching responsibilities, either teaching every other week or even splitting the two-hour block of Primary. While some age groups might need the continuity of having just one teacher, others don’t. For instance, a male primary worker could sit with the kids while a female primary worker attends Gospel Doctrine, and then switch off so that he can attend High Priest’s Quorum while she teaches the class during the third hour. Simply sitting with the kids in the Primary room wouldn’t even require preparation, which would free this brother to serve in an additional capacity in the ward.

I’ve spent arguably too much time talking about Primary, but here’s why: of all the organizations in the Church, this is the only one I can think of where the people being served are both male and female, and yet the majority of leadership and service comes from women. So it stands to reason that Primary (which includes nursery) may just be a key area where Mormon men can lift the weight their sisters are carrying.

3. Carry a fair share of housework and childcare responsibilities. Other than Primary or Nursery, housework and childcare are the biggest areas I can think of where Mormon women are likely to carry an extra burden. What does that have to do with Church leadership? Well, the Mormon men I know put a lot of time into serving and leading, and a lot of those men are married with small kids. Most of those men also work full-time jobs.

So imagine this: a man works 40 hours a week, with 5 hours thrown in for his commute (half an hour each way, 5 days a week). If anything, those are probably low estimates. He’s then called to a leadership position at Church that adds an additional 20 hours to his week. Even without adding in time for things like home teaching or showing up to a ward activity, that’s 65 hours a week that he’s not with his family. And if he works closer to 50 hours, with more like a 10-hour cumulative commute, that brings it up to 80 hours a week. The work he’s doing for the Church is good, and the work he puts in to support his family is also good, but his wife is quite likely carrying the bulk of household and childcare responsibilities. Whether she has a full-time career or is a stay-at-home parent, it’s likely a heavy burden. And it’s the thing that allows her husband to spend hours serving and leading at Church every week.

So it’s likely true that many women simply don’t have the time for increased leadership responsibilities. But the reason we don’t have that time is because we’re already carrying extra burdens to even make it possible for men to lead. Those extra burdens belong to men as much as they belong to women. Men have children who need to be taught in Primary. Men have children who need to be parented at home. Men have dirty laundry that needs to be washed and lunches that need to be made. So at the end of the day, I’m not asking for men to carry women’s burdens – I’m asking for men to take some of their own burdens back, so that women will have the time to step up and accept leadership positions in the Church.


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