New Book on LDS Women around the Globe

This is not a review since the book hasn’t been released yet. The book is intended to become a global phenomenon.

My mom sent me this link to the LDS Newsroom, figuring I’d be interested in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society. It’s a new book that’s intended to be for and about women — and as Julie Beck (the current Relief Society President) says in the video, “has global application” and would “appeal across cultures and languages.” It’s about “the major themes in a woman’s life” and histories of women from the biblical era to the present.

Already my third-world feminism flags are up.

She talks about the book being about “the expectations Christ had for women.” By this, does she mean as compared to men? From every account of Jesus I’ve read, including my own interpretation, Jesus did not have separate expectations for the genders. He treated women as individuals and he did not have separate expectations for them as women.

She says the book will hopefully break down stereotypes and myths about LDS women and she asserts emphatically that

…as people read and decipher this in the right spirit and understanding, they will learn that there is no second tier for the women of the Church. That we are not an asterisk in this church, in our theology, or in the world.

Any thoughts on Julie Beck’s version of Mormon feminism?

25 thoughts on “New Book on LDS Women around the Globe

  1. That we are not an asterisk in this church, in our theology, or in the world.

    Well, that’s comforting at least. What are we then in the church? Exclamation points?

  2. I think this is a very clever book. As things like the JSP continue to be published we can expect to see more historical works published that might be difficult for the lay membership to handle. Along with the JSP, the RS minutes book has recently been digitize and transcribed. It includes clear references to female healing, the autonomy of the Nauvoo organization, and Emma’s clear statement that she “had authority” and would continue to as the elected president of the organization. All very different from the domesticated modern RS.

    However, now the Church has a modern history that can be used instead of those pesky “original sources”. If someone wants to bring up how Mormon history can be supportive of a more empowering view of women in a sense of religious power and authority, well, those thoughts come from people going beyond what this manual says. The Church has already done the research (the book quotes Eliza R. Snow about how the RS is actually an ancient society, isn’t that good enough for you?). No further study is needed.

  3. I really wonder, as well, about the method and quality of research that put this book together. If, as the press release states without any awareness of irony, the book “is unique within the Church because it was written by an individual woman rather than a committee” then how did she do her research? Where did she get her stories of modern Mormon women from Africa? How did she pull up the old sources like Eliza R. Snow about the “ancient” RS? From a committee, or did she actually read any of the modern books about such things? Did she read Mormon Enigma? What work did she do to obtain her sources, or were they pre-screen and given to her?

  4. the book quotes Eliza R. Snow about how the RS is actually an ancient society

    Ugh, stuff like that really bothers me. Anciently, some cultures were matriarchal, women were prophets, and there was a focus on the female divine. I’d like to see that in the book, since this is supposed to be a global thing.

  5. “This book makes it clear that an organization of women existed in ancient times…”

    Were temple prostitutes unionized or something?

    The author of the book is on record as not thinking of herself as either a historian or a writer, which seems pretty unpromising to me. There are dozens of women who are eminently qualified to write such a book–the problem is, as NCNTom suggests, that anyone who actually knows the history is not going to be able to write a book that says all is well in Zion and RS circa 2011 is the best of all possible worlds for Mormon women.

    Also, the title. Ugh. We’d never talk about “Sons in the Kingdom”–it’s distressing that the infantilization of women seems so normal, and that the only way we have to suggest women’s importance is to place them in powerless positions vis-a-vis powerful male personages.

  6. After reading posts like this one, it’s soooooo hard to take seriously when Mormon women complain about what’s on offer from the LDS church.

    Mormon Racism: The Lord works in mysterious ways, follow the Brethren.
    Mormon Homophobia: The Lord works in mysterious ways, follow the Brethren.
    Mormon Sexism: OMG, where’s the outrage??

    Chicken patriarchy is the chickens coming home to roost for LDS women who never took a risk for nobody else.

  7. @8 That’s a good point. It’s critical to fight all injustices — even ones that don’t affect you personally. If you don’t step up to the plate for others, you can’t really expect others to step up to the plate for you.

    OTOH, nobody is suggesting that the faithful “follow the Sisteren.” LDS women are trained to shut up and “hearken to men’s counsel” on just about everything, regardless of their own opinions. And when they do try to speak out against their male leaders, their voices are marginalized (they’re basically seen as harpies with some sort of mental disorder). For all we know, maybe lots of LDS women spoke out against the priesthood/temple ban before 1978 — how would we have heard about it?

  8. The author of the book is on record as not thinking of herself as either a historian or a writer, which seems pretty unpromising to me.

    That’s pretty weird. Since when is an author’s lack of qualification a selling point?? Writing a book is not like running for US president or something…

  9. For all we know, maybe lots of LDS women spoke out against the priesthood/temple ban before 1978 how would we have heard about it?

    Maybe. When I asked Margaret Young about it (specifically, why do LDS always talk about waiting for the leadership pre-1978 and don’t examine their own voluntary association with a racist organization?), she said it was a good question and didn’t have a ready answer. Maybe someone else has some insight? Generally speaking, I’d guess Mormon womenfolk were/are just as racist as their menfolk, and very few ever raised any objections.

  10. Speaking of LDS racism, is there any daylight between this conception of God and that of island natives who appease their volcano God with the sacrifice of castaways?

    The answer Im comfortable with is that due to the racism of pretty much everyone at the time, the church might not have survived had blacks been treated equally by the already crazy, weirdo Mormons.

    What a bizarre choice of preface to make before calling for better treatment of women.

  11. @11 I agree, that’s that more likely scenario.

    That said, consider the news of an openly gay man (maybe?) called to the bishopric of an LDS ward. Maybe there’s a woman who would have extended such a call earlier if she’d been Bishop or in the Stake Presidency. So, yes, there are women who comfortably stood by and allowed and/or agreed with racist policies when they could have complained. However, the cost-to-positive-effect ratio isn’t quite the same as when the agitation comes from someone who has authority and the respect of others.

    I’m not claiming that that excuses LDS women’s inaction, only that it helps to explain it. We all have different choices and different opportunities to effect change. Just because it would be easier for someone else to do something brave, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a stand yourself.

    The other explanation I’d add is that women are often brought up with something of a slave mentality. That is, they learn If I’m sweet and pleasant and docile and loyal, then I will always have someone take care of me. LDS women are doubly brought up with that attitude. And if you learn that from the cradle, it is that much harder to break out of it, and be willing to stand up for yourself — regardless of the consequences for your personal relationships. Again, I don’t mean that as an excuse (as though women can’t or shouldn’t be expected to stand up for other marginalized groups), but rather as recognition of what kind of hurdles we have to overcome.

  12. @12 Yuck, I have no sympathy for someone who could say something like that while asking for justice for themselves. It reminds me of this quote regarding Romney’s “Tapestry of Faith” speech:

    Romney opposes bigotry in self-defense, not in defense of others, which is to say that he does not really oppose it at all.

    There was a really good comment by someone here at MSP about how maybe God would have chosen to found His church through/for marginalized groups rather then through/for people who couldn’t handle being fair before society dragged them there? I’m not doing the quote justice — maybe I can track it down…

  13. I dont need my history to come from the Relief Society General Board. I dont have the words to say, though, how much I do need some sign from the Church that my needs, and the needs of others like me, are known and understood and addressed. Daughters in My Kingdom gives promise of none of that. For many sisters somewhere, yes, but for me, no.

    That’s from Ardis Parshall’s (p)review of the book.

    BTW, chanson, the news about Mitch Mayne is apparently true, according to my sister, who knows him (they both participated in the Oakland Stake firesides a couple of years ago).

  14. The answer Im comfortable with is that due to the racism of pretty much everyone at the time, the church might not have survived had blacks been treated equally by the already crazy, weirdo Mormons.

    IOW, it was OK to discriminate against black members because not discriminating might have had some sort of negative effect on white members.

  15. @17 Yeah, all of the sources point to the conclusion that the news is real. I just put “(maybe?)” in my comment because the source I linked to said that Mitch Mayne is the Executive Secretary, which, apparently isn’t “in the Bishopric” (for people who are picky about titles).

    Also, thanks for the link to Ardis Parshalls preview — she’s got quite an interesting analysis of it!

  16. Regarding Mitch Mayne-like scenarios, I have an older friend who told me a story about how he was in a bishopric meeting and they were pondering whether or not an openly gay person could be called to the bishopric. He said, “Well, I’m gay, so I guess that answers that.” It’s not like people didn’t already know he was same-gender attracted, but since there isn’t a kind of witch-hunt mentality about the subject anymore, people can kinda forget.

    Really what I think is happening on the subject in a lot of parts of the country (SF/Oakland, Seattle area, Portland area, NYC, etc) is that it’s coming down to a question of “Are you with a man at the moment? No? Okay, then you’re not breaking any rules.” The fact that Mayne is being vocal, though, makes me wonder if anything extra will come of it.

    In terms of Mormon women not being vocal, well, “being vocal” isn’t the only way to go about intervening (or doing feminist politics). From all appearances, one woman could seem as silent as the one who’s being docile for the sake of being “taken care of,” but behind the scenes she could be a tigress, affecting the background on which the foreground sits. At some point, people are like, “Wait, this foreground doesn’t fit this background anymore.”

    I’d like to read a history of 1978 policy change that is about more than just white/black American relations, but also includes the Church growth below the border and into South America where figuring out just who has “African heritage” (don’t we all?) and who doesn’t can be dang-near impossible.

  17. The fact that Mayne is being vocal, though, makes me wonder if anything extra will come of it.

    Well, here’s hoping that the CoJCoLd-S will be smart enough not to make a stink and turn this into a new publicity nightmare.

    one woman could seem as silent as the one whos being docile for the sake of being taken care of, but behind the scenes she could be a tigress

    Absolutely. But a lot of people aren’t really conscious of being docile as an intentional strategy. It’s just the way they’ve learned to be, hence stepping outside that role can be difficult to imagine.

  18. 17, 19 -Yeah and women who are CPAs could never be ward clerk because they don’t have the right plumbing…apologies for being under-whelmed. I wish I could be more even handed about this, but I just can’t. Yes, it’s great that someone who is openly gay is called to a leadership position – but what about 50% of the population??!?

    It’s just ridiculous that some callings (like ward clerk) are men only… can anyone actually defend it? Why one person without any accounting experience might be called as the ward clerk, but a woman who has studied for years and passed a test to be a licensed accountant is not qualified? The only defense I can think of is that “that’s what God wants” – which in my opinion isn’t really a great defense btw.

  19. Yes, its great that someone who is openly gay is called to a leadership position but what about 50% of the population??!?

    Its just ridiculous that some callings (like ward clerk) are men only can anyone actually defend it?

    A woman good with numbers? That’s as unthinkable as a man leading primary. Oh, wait. Neither is unthinkable at all.

    This Mormon.org cornucopia of LDS women saying only good things about the Church’s policy/theology on women makes me frown. And almost all the men give some answer about the priesthood teaching them to be more service-like, “like women.” Good grief.

  20. aerin ~ Its just ridiculous that some callings (like ward clerk) are men only can anyone actually defend it?

    An explanation that some of my LDS friends have put forth to me is that ward clerks work after-hours with the all-male bishopric nearby in addition to attending meetings with said all-male bishopric. Mormons have an old-fashioned sense of gender boundaries, I am told, and they try to avoid having grown men spend time alone with grown women who aren’t there wives. (Yet, apparently there’s nothing wrong with a grown man sitting alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex and asking her specifically about her sex life and/or pregnancy history . . . some old-fashioned sense of gender boundaries, right?)

    In any case, apparently the ward clerk and executive secretary callings were technically available to women until the late 90s. Ardis Parshall has a story I’ve seen her share around the Bloggernacle multiple times about how her aunt was released from her calling as ward clerk in the late 90s when the new CHI formally changed the policy to exclude women.

  21. Alan ~ From every account of Jesus Ive read, including my own interpretation, Jesus did not have separate expectations for the genders. He treated women as individuals and he did not have separate expectations for them as women.

    Not only that, but he refused to bind women to the expectations of traditional “women’s work.” Examples:

    – Luke 11:27-28, a woman in the crowd calls out to Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” This would have been the perfect time to plug for “motherhood” if he’d wanted to. Instead he corrects the woman, saying “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Motherhood is not the primary goal of a woman’s walk with God. Discipleship in Christ (whatever form that may take) is.

    – Luke 10, Mary & Martha. Sitting at the master’s feet and learning > homemaking. ‘Nuff said.

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