Sunday, October 13, 2013

Happy Slaves?

I recently read an article about the Pope and his view on women in the church. It made me think about how other churches view women, aside from LDS, Inc. I don't have very much experience in other churches, but I have read a lot of church signs, and most of them have the Pastor's name underneath. It seems a lot of different denominations have women as leaders.
   But back to the article.  Pope Francis said: "said he "suffered" when he saw "in the Church, or in certain Church organisations... that the woman's service role slips into one of servitude,"  
   I thought about my experiences as a woman in the Mormon church and if my experiences could be considered "service" or "servitude".  The dictionary defines service as "an act of helpful activity.", and servitude as "slavery or bondage of any kind."  That's an interesting distinction, and it really got my wheels turning.
   The Church places a large emphasis on service.  Men's service usually includes moving people in or out, blessings, and holding time consuming callings.  Women's service is babysitting (young women's), cooking, cleaning up after activities, and other compassionate things.  I think it's interesting that the types of service expected of each gender is related to the role they are assumed to have. Most of the women's service is things that revolve around the home; cooking, cleaning, and caring for the young or old.  Men's service is moving heavy objects, leading others, or utilizing their Priesthood authority.
   Obviously this isn't surprising.  If people are taught from a young age that men are this and women are that, obviously their ideas of acceptable service will be gendered.  And honestly, it's not the service part of the article that got to me. It was the servitude.  I'm not saying Mormon women are slaves, so put down your pitchforks and torches.
   I think that the Mormon culture creates sort of a "happy bondage" situation.  Women are told that they should be housewives, bear and raise children, and obey their Priesthood husbands.  They are told that by doing this, they will be happy. That this is God's plan for all of his children.  They are told that true freedom comes from following the Prophet.  This is reinforced by every meeting, conference, or training that women get to attend.
   Those women who deviate, whether by choice or by circumstance, from this mold get shamed. Women who work outside the home, have none or "too few" kids, outspoken women, negative women, women who dress too "immodestly" or flashy.  There seems to be no shortage of reasons for women to be shunned.
   Women are told their worth is based on their chastity-hymen before marriage, complete fidelity after. Women are told how they should dress.  Women are cautioned as to the books they read, what they watch, what they listen to, and how they spend their free time.  Women's "sphere of influence", to use a popular LDS buzzphrase, requires them to have huge to-do lists including: temple worship, food storage, family history, raising up children, maintaining the home, service when necessary, visit teach other women, support husband in his calling, participate in service projects, and tons more.Women are told that all of these rules will make them happy, will free them from the "bondage of sin".
   Women, also, are the ones that cook, clean, and serve everyone else. Some women (or people) genuinely enjoy cooking, cleaning, or service.  And that's fine. If it's really what makes one happy. But are Mormon women happy?  Are they happier than other women, women who don't live by the same standards? According to studies, the answer is no.  In fact, Mormon women's depression is such an issue, that it has it's own little phrase. "Toxic Perfectionism".  In other words, Mormon women try to be perfect on the outside, and are dying on the inside.
   But back to the idea of servitude. The dictionary defined it as bondage. A definition of bondage is "the state of being bound by or subjected to some external power or control."  So are Mormon women in bondage to their men, their church, and their God? It sure seems like it. Women are taught when they have a question or difficulty, first talk to their priesthood holder (husband, father, home teacher, bishop). Or ask God. Even the Relief Society is under the umbrella of the Bishop.  Female missionaries are under the jurisdiction of young men district leaders, and the male mission president. There is literally no calling or place where a woman is under her own (or another woman's) authority.
   So what does that mean?  Well, from where I'm sitting, women are told from a young age that their roles are to be wife and mother.  They are given an infinite to-do list and then guilted for not getting it done. They are under the thumb of the priesthood from birth until death, and everywhere in between. They are told that they should be happy serving, happy teaching, happy all the time.  They are in a bondage that is culturally construed. And the absolute worst part is women are expected to smile and be happy whilst in the golden cages they are trapped in.
   Many women don't realize they are captives.  Some do, and then hate themselves for being unhappy. "The church teaches these things will make me happy. I'm not happy. Clearly I'm doing something wrong." Some realize the harm that they're doing to themselves (and their families) and leave the Church. The path is different for everyone, but it all starts at the same place.
   If women are prized and pedestaled for their nurturing, their willingness to serve, their meekness, and their ability to keep a clean house, then that is all they will aspire to. But I believe the human soul craves more. Like a teenager that pushes boundaries until he knows that there are limits, people want...more. Keeping women in a cage, no matter how pretty the cage, or how often they are told they are special, will only hurt women.  Benevolent sexism is still sexism.
   I've  made mention a few times about the Ordain Women movement, and how the loudest voice against are women. I wonder how much of that anger is fear. Fear of change. Fear of what they would be without the "covering" of Holy Housewife. Fear of having options. Fear of making "the wrong choice". It's almost as if Mormon women are birds in a cage, and when the cage is opened, the bird curls up into a ball at the bottom rather than face the vast freedoms allowed by leaving.  And it's sad.

   The part that makes me the most sad is the Pope said that he was saddened by this disparity.  Mormon leaders say thisA woman’s moral influence is nowhere more powerfully felt or more beneficially employed than in the home. There is no better setting for rearing the rising generation than the traditional family, where a father and a mother work in harmony to provide for, teach, and nurture their children.    Or thisDaughters of God, do we know who we are? Do we know what we have? Are we worthy to receive the power and blessings of the priesthood? Do we receive the gifts given to us with gratitude, grace, and dignity? Do we embrace our roles and responsibilities to strengthen homes as mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts? Do we show respect for men, manhood, and fatherhood?  
   I think it's a pity that Mormons proclaim they are the "one true church", yet treat their women as little more than indentured servants, while at the same time, telling them how wonderful it is that they serve.  I think it's a shame Mormon women are so miserable that they lead the nation in anti-depressant use, and yet put on a happy face and pretend nothing is wrong. I think it's a travesty that instead of women feeling that they are free to be who they are, they are pigeonholed into a tiny box; and faced with the choice either fake happiness or be isolated for being negative.  Feminism and equality are not derogatory terms used by man-hating lesbians who spit on the idea of motherhood. I think that the strength of the church should be shown in the way they treat their women; not in the numbers they claim, the donations they give, or the sermons they preach.


  1. I was raised Roman Catholic by a man who was kicked out of Seminary for disagreeing with the Bishop and a woman who is strong in ministry and teaches for a Catholic school. My parents taught all three of us girls to think for ourselves and always question. What you describe in this post is SO outside of my experience it baffles me and, like the Bishop of Rome, saddens me.

    This may seem weird but... I am thankful that you have been able to find the strength to not only question but make changes in your life for the better. Even more so, I am thankful that you continue to find the strength to share your story and possibly show other women that there is another path.

    On a side note, my mother and I actually had a really long conversation about Pope Francis this weekend, the church is in for a difficult time as the Jesuit priest continues to offer discernment and choice to the Catholic priesthood.

    1. I'm glad that you had such strong role models! :D
      Also, I agree with your mom. It's fascinating watching people's reactions to the Pope's ideas. It seems everyone outside of Catholicism is saying "Well, duh, it's about time" and the people within are screaming "God made it this way, why are you changing it??"
      In some ways, it's the same with the Mormon church. Except there's no leader calling for change. :(

    2. Ever heard the expression that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease"? The Catholics that are having heart palpitations about His Eminence (who is acting so much more as a Priest than as the leader of a global hierarchical religion) are simply the squeaky wheel. There are MANY more Catholics that support the choices that Fr. Francis will be offering. The Church, meaning the global organization, is what is going to have difficulties, not the Catholics. It's a strange but important distinction :)

  2. Ah yes, Mormonism is steeped in patriarchy and women are expected to fit a certain mold although fortunately I've met relatively few Mormon women (at least in my generation) who actually believe they need to obey and submit to their husbands. I feel like that aspect of patriarchy is much more prevalent in church leadership structure as most Mormons genuinely do believe in obeying their preisthood church leaders.

    Patriarchy aside though I feel that the very nature of callings requires servitude rather than service. Mormons don't have the freedom to evaluate their own interests and strengths and then decide how to serve. Instead they are to accept whatever calling is extended to them unquestioningly. If someone is called to conduct the choir they can't say, "Gee I really don't know anything about music but I think I'd do a great job working with the youth groups." Or a bishop can't really say, "I just don't have the time to devote to this calling right now. Could I perhaps teach Sunday school instead?" And if you really do enjoy your calling you'd better not get too comfortable with it because you'll just be released in a couple years and it's also a sin to say, "I really love working with the young women and feel that I have a strong connection to the girls. Could I please keep teaching them?"

    1. Perhaps my growing up in the Bible-belt in generally old branches/wards is the reason my experience is different. I remember lessons in RS and someone would inevitably comment "I'm glad my husband is there to make these decisions for me!"
      And I agree with what you said about callings. I know I'd been called over and over to "Music Director" because I can sing well. I tell each Bishop I have no idea how to conduct music, and they just smile and say perhaps someone in the ward will teach me. I wish Bishops would listen more to the people they call, and not just rely on "divine inspiration".