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.


Jettboy said...

What if God doesn't want women to have the Priesthood as you define that term? What if God wants women to be only wives and mothers and could care less about what you consider choices or transitions? What if God isn't a Feminist, but holds "19th Century" or more ancient "property" views of Women? I wonder if you have thought of that before.

Lietta Ruger said...

Thank you for stopping by Jettboy, and taking the time to leave a comment. It gave me an opportunity to visit your blog. I appreciate your comment as it allows me an opportunity to elaborate.

To respond to the question you posed: have I thought of it before, your proposition that God wants 19th century or more ancient property views of women. I think it is apparent in some of what I wrote in my post that I indeed have given it a great deal of thought. I do appreciate that you shared your viewpoint (you did share your viewpoint didn't you?)

You know, I honestly don't know what God thinks, I know more about what I think and what I think God may think which is in reality, just my opinion of what God thinks. Which is truth for everyone else as well. No one can or does know God's mind, while it may be reassuring to perhaps think we do or wish we could or believe we do. I wish you great comfort if your belief set permits you to believe you do know God's mind.

Women and choices, which is what I advocate. It's not my intention to define what those choices should be more that women are entitled to have choice and make choices for herself. When cultures decide to restrict those choices, it is my belief, they have limited their society by strictly limiting women's roles. When those limitations create physical and emotional harm for women (read human beings), then it is right to examine and question the value of those limitations.

Mother in Heaven may or may not be a feminist, and I like to believe she or the feminine aspects of 'she' work in harmony and conjunction with Father in Heaven, 'he' or the masculine aspects.

It was the Stake President's Counselor who spoke on 'transitions' citing that the focus of his talk was to be on young women in transition. The reaction I registered internally upon hearing the limited definition is why I chose to write this post. It is my opinion, my world view, how I choose to see the situation. As an 'investigator' looking more closely into the LDS church as one in which I will be spending a fairly good deal of my time, it is my understanding that questioning the structure, the why and wherefore and value system of it all is part of my obligation as an 'investigator'. Would you agree?

Jettboy said...

"you did share your viewpoint didn't you?"

My viewpoint can be implied I suppose by my questions, but that wasn't my intention. It was for you to question your assumptions in this blog post as a Feminist. If you as an "investigator" are to, as you say question "the structure, the why and wherefore and value system of it all," it is just as necessary to question your own views as strictly. Fair enough that the speaker might have brought up "transitions" of women. Still, I disagree with Feminism because I don't believe it is Biblical, if I may be so bold to use that (not one of my favorites) term. Adam and Eve are the archetypes of male and female. He is to provide and protect and she is to bear children and comfort, both as one and yet not the same.

"I wish you great comfort if your belief set permits you to believe you do know God's mind."

My religion teaches that we can know God's mind in relation to ourselves and His Gospel, even if not in perfection during this life. It teaches that with Faith in the Lord, the Study of His Scriptures, and the Revelation from Prayer we may all be Prophets as Moses prayed all his people could become. For that is life eternal, to know the only True God and His Son whom he sent.

If you have read some of my blog, perhaps I can point you to some of my own views on this topic. I assume you haven't read all of it. Mind, what I right is not politically correct and perhaps even offensive to you, but I make no apologies.

Jettboy said...

I meant "mind what I write" of course. I hate blog posting's inability to correct mistakes.

Lietta Ruger said...

I really don't want to turn this into a back and forth and in respect for that, I want to wrap this exchange up by leaving a link to a most relevant video that shares a heartwarming story of women's efforts to overcome the practice of female circumcision.

Also, I'd like to leave a reminder that women have suffered death in the horrific act of 'Witch Burning' for a period of 4 centuries (14th to 18th centuries)and typically after first enduring sadistic tortures, primarily at the hands of popular practice of priestcraft which served under the name of Christianity.

As the narrative goes, Mormonism brought forth a restored church in the 19th century. Women's roles in that church structure shared company with popular views of that era. I have enormous respect for the women of that era. Fast forward to the current times, with the Mormon church evolving into the present day LDS church, and while protective of their women, has not fully grasped that the one size fits all model does not work for all women - or men for that matter.

I have no illusion that LDS church will change it's view any time soon, or even in what's left of my lifetime, however, that does not make my viewpoint irrelevant. In my opinion, and it is an opinion, a male dominant society, even a benevolent one, creates for women a role not worthy of her full potential or capacities, and therefore shortchanges men, shortchanging the whole of that societal structure.

I'm hardly a feminist in the sense of the back and forth LDS dialogue. I haven't come from inside that culture, didn't grow up with it, and until the last 15 years married to my Mormon husband, knew not much about it. However, I have been fortunate or unfortunate, depending on personal viewpoint, to have been a woman, wife, mother, and building a career at the time of the feminist movement of the 1970's. That movement had it's flaws, to be sure, but it also opened doors for younger women that might otherwise have not been opened. It is worthy of a revisit, tweaking, fine tuning, and imo, can only enhance the beauty of LDS communities.

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