Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stake Conference - The Man who didn't speak for Women

My first Stake Conference experience.  We watched the General Conference two weekends ago, and this weekend was about Stake Conference.   A meeting for Investigators and Returning Members was arranged for us newbie souls (me) and returning souls (my husband).  Mostly an hour long welcome, encouragement kind of thing with an added bonus that us newbies and returnees had a section up front when it came time for the Conference Meeting.   This little bonus (blessing?) worked better for husband who wasn't relishing sitting in the fold out chairs set up in the multi-area knowing there would be attendance beyond the capacity of the pews.

Speakers included a young boy telling his story of making a decision to go on a mission and his mother's displeasure with his decision.  He told it with the sincerity of his age and experience, it was a good story.  His mother eventually came around, but it was apparent that it was a stressful situation for the boy during the time his mother was not supporting of his decision.

Speaker, return missionary reporting on his mission, stories of disinterested people, disheartened missionaries, and the occasional success story.  Importance of how the load is lightened when members work with the missionaries to 'friend' a new investigator or returnee.

Speaker, husband and wife team, Mission Presidents.  What one would expect to hear from Mission Presidents talking of their activities with the young missionaries.

An hour or more has passed, and we have only stood up once to sing a hymn.  Another hour to go, and I'm starting to miss the movement of what is affectionately known as pew aerobics in our Episcopal services.  Stand up to sing, get down on knee rails for Prayers of the People, stand up for Gospel presentation, sit down again, stand up and move around for The Peace, the Eucharist and walk forward to take communion at the altar, kneel, then stand and walk back to your pew and kneel  sit, stand, sing. Of course, no one is required to do all of these, some bodies won't bend well enough to kneel, sitting is permitted : ).  Back to Stake Conference, second hour and more continual sitting; speakers were the Stake President and his two Counselors.

Speaker one; and the reason for how I titled this blog.   The man was engaging, and while he was obviously given a theme to talk on as well as guided material to use, he was vivacious with the story telling, so much so that it sounded like a story of his own making.   I took a liking to him, and would enjoy hearing more presentations from him.  Then he got to the part about 'transitions' and advised the focus was to be on young women transitioning.   Immediately, I find myself going on guard, wondering why if this talk is aimed at young women, why a man is giving the talk.  He talked of the transition of young men to the priesthood, to new responsibilities, to new challenges.  I thought how it might be both exciting and a bit intimidating to young boys to cross that threshold, and how so many cultures have some kind of rite of passage for boys to young manhood.

Now for the women.  I waited to hear what he would have to say about the transition for young women.  It was merely that young women would transition from Young Women's to Relief Society and to let the women of Relief Society mentor them.  The end.  He didn't say much more about this particularly relevant and important transition in a young woman's life.   What I wanted very much to call to attention is that if this is the message delivered to young women, then it is a message of almost hopelessness.  While young men will have a transition rite of passage to rise up to new responsibilities, new opportunities, new challenges, what can young women look forward to in this scenario?   Maybe their women mentors of Relief Society will encourage them to go to college or to do a mission.    But those same women know very well that the young women in this culture will be expected to marry and give birth, repeatedly.  A noble gender role, to be sure, yet I wonder what are these young women to do with the education or the experience gained from the mission -- how is it to be used in raising a family, being part of this church when they hold no authority and that authority is with the men and via the men only to the woman?  I wonder, will there be enough stimulation for the women in child bearing, child raising once their minds have been opened with stimulation and disciplines gained in education, missions, employment when income needs of the family demand it, careers perhaps?

In hearing the presentation, I felt the let down on behalf of my young women sisters.  Perhaps they will be satisfied with the direction laid out for them, but I think not.  I think this church and culture does an admirable job of elevating the biological role of women in marriage, birthing, child rearing, but that is not the whole of what it is to be woman.   And in an organizational setting as this church has laid out with male leadership roles, males making decisions on behalf of the local ward (congregation), the stake (diocese), the larger church, which has been one of my overriding concerns, this presentation brought that point home for me yet again.

I've already heard it said that women have respected roles, ie, teachers, Relief Society, but in my attendance at Relief Society so far the lessons I have heard repeatedly are about women supporting the priesthood (males).   While so far all the men I have met at this church do acknowledge that their wives and the women strongly influence the workings of their homes and the church (wink, wink), I would liken it more to  that informal structural order known to women for eons.  The one in which women learn how to influence their men within the context of whatever social structure they find themselves in at any given time in history.  

This priesthood business is 'dated', more like 'outdated' and harkens back to an earlier time in history when women were more the property of their husbands and men, and had did not have an active voice in how they were governed, what the rules of society governing them and their daughters should/would be and if it was in their best interest.  No big deal??   I think it is a big deal for more reasons than I will number in this blog post.   I'm aware of cultures active today that still stones their women in a most horrific way, with only the men of the village throwing the stones, including the woman's father, brothers,grandfathers, and community leaders.  (see movie, The Stoning of Soraya M, and you'll feel it viscerally, it won't be an abstract concept).  I'm aware of cultures that have a rite of passage for young women which insistes on mutilation of their clitoris and parts of their vagina by the very women of their tribe whom they trust.  It is some aberrant notion of an  idea that it will help the young women be faithful to one man.  Yes, well, given that the pain of intercourse will hardly be one of mutual pleasure, and childbirth may be quite difficult, I'm sure the trauma of the mutilation experience and any trauma they will continue to experience will have long term impact on the young women.

There are more reasons than not to partner in some form of equally with women while still respecting the nature of the gender differences and gender roles.  There is little value in leaving women in their 19th century roles while we live in the 21st century.  I don't advocate for disassembling the structure of the priesthood, no, I advocate for growth in the church, by extending the opportunity of priesthood to the young women.  If as this church keeps trying to tell me how much they value their women, it might well be past time for them to step up to the plate and demonstrate their faith in the faith of women.   I advocate for more choice for women, and if they prefer not to take on additional responsibilities of a priesthood role along with the other roles they are likely to have in life as a woman, let it be a matter of choice, not a matter of barriers to opportunities.

Women in the 21st century have opportunities not available to them just a few decades ago.  They can and do hold positions in politics, are active in sports - what used to be male only sports, have roles in active military, are able to have careers while having families, and none of this is 'required' of them as much as they have choice about it.  I don't see the value in the LDS church position of continuing to subject women to roles that women may well have outgrown.   It can be argued that it is doctrinal, scriptural, that there is some kind of wisdom in holding to that belief set.  I would say differently.  I would say that it is time for the prophets, seers and revelators to listen more closely to the messages they may be choosing to ignore.

As for the destination being charted out for me after baptism.  I am advised we would be enhanced by more of the holy spirit if we readied for temple marriage, temple work, and aimed for the celestial kingdom.  Well, I'm not sure that a celestial kingdom that has me perpetually giving birth to babies is the idea I had of a heavenly after life.   Perhaps the celestial kingdom once we get there will have found additional roles for women beyond that of their biological gender.  Women were built to have children, yes, and men weren't, true, but all of us are more than our biological gender, and in spiritual faith it is quite possible there is no gender.   Wouldn't the men be greatly disappointed to find when they got there that the roles had been reversed, and they were doing the work of baby making while the women were doing the work of priesthood?

Aside from that bit of outburst from my internal self, the Stake Conference, was well, okay.  Although I'm not sure how it is largely different from a Ward meeting, it is good to gather periodically and get acquainted with the others who make up a Stake.   I think most religions do something like this, even as they use different names for what they call their congregants and the buildings.

p.s., and I know I'm not saying anything new here, these kinds of discussions about the role or lack thereof for women in Correlated LDS are all over the Mormon blogosphere.  I'm adding my 2 cents, coming from a non Mormon background, not governed in my role by Mormon or LDS dictates, and having been a part of that second wave of feminism, I am of the opinion that women cannot do it all, at least not all of it simultaneously, but women can and should be given the opportunities of choices along the progression of their life phases as women.
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