“Husbands, treasure your wives. They are your most valuable possessions”

General Conference Sex and Gender Women

As difficult as it may be to believe for some non mormons, this statement was not made in the height of 1950s America or during the nineteenth century abolitionist movement. It was made this past April 2007 by the leader of the mormon church, whom mormons believe talks directly to God and makes statements from God about how mormons should live their lives.

If I were a faithful mormon and feminist, I would find this statement very difficult to reconcile. I have a great amount of sympathy for those who are trying to find peace with this type of statement and their faith. I know many strong LDS parents who work hard, value their daughters and try not to discriminate based on someone’s gender. I know many LDS people who are working within the system to make changes to policies that discriminate against women.

I will say, these types of statements and this type of rhetoric (along with the actions behind these statements) are part of the reason I left mormonism.

Some faithful mormons will ask why I find this statement offensive. They may argue that by telling a husband that their wife is their most valuable possession, the LDS prophet is explaining that their wife is of worth, she is of value.

The term possession implies ownership. By using this term, whether consciously or not, Gordon B. Hinckley is suggesting that women and wives are pieces of property. He is reminiscing back to the day when women were second class citizens, did not have the right to vote, own property and could be legally beaten by their husbands. I would assume this is not the impression that most mormons want to give of their religion.

What’s fascinating for me is that this is the language of a twenty first century religious movement – one that is attempting to become more mainstream. One that educates women and pays lip service to honoring and not limiting women’s choices. The recent PBS documentary featured many women who claimed that they felt honored by mormonism and that their choices not limited. Saying that wives are the most treasured possession does not advance that point of view.

What else does the statement that wives are possessions imply? It implies that wives are more important that a shiny new sports car or 36 inch flat screen tv. And just as physical possessions like a sports car wear out, maybe a wife will lose her usefulness eventually. Why not just trade the forty year old model in for a twenty year old model?

The truth of the matter is, women are not in leadership positions in the LDS church. Women are not encouraged to work outside of the home. Some LDS women may choose to work outside of the home, but it is not encouraged. When I remember growing up the women in my parents’ ward, none of them would have made more money than their husbands given their choice of career or job. Women like Sonja Johnson and Margaret Merrill Toscano were excommunicated from mormonism for speaking up for women’s rights within that organization.

Some might argue that the LDS prophet is simply a product of his time. He is in his middle 90s. He might not realize what he is saying and he’s not speaking for God. Statements like this are just his way of saying that women are important. And with official statements like the “Proclamation on the Family”, most of us shouldn’t expect anything different.

I completely agree that women and men are important.

But someone should explain to President Hinckley that statements like this are not the way to give that impression – or to help the LDS church be seen as more mainstream.

17 thoughts on ““Husbands, treasure your wives. They are your most valuable possessions”

  1. That statement slipped past me and although I find it shocking, I am not surprised.

    If remember a picture where Gordon Hinckley patted his wife on the top of the head like a dog. Of course, Gordon Hinckley also took the lead in bringing down the Equal Rights Amendment. And then there is the classic seating arrangement where three pink chairs are placed at the feet of of one hundred men’s seats.

    As for women who embrace their subordinate position in Mormonism, there are also women who embrace a lot harsher discrimination such as being hidden from public view or suffering a clitorectomy.

    Just because there are women who embrace abuse that does not make it right.

  2. Wow. I am appalled by that statement. (I don’t listen to GC anymore, so I never heard it before.) Possessions? That’s disgusting.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  3. It fills me with such gratitude to know that my husband honors me as his greatest posession. I know I mean more to him than his cars or the house or even his signed baseball collection. When he puts his big arms around me I feel so safe and protected. And that time he lost me in Cancun for three days, I know with all my heart that he really was looking for me the whole time, like the lost widow’s mite, or whatever that story is. Women and men ARE important! I’m not sure what the rest of your post means, but if you are talking against the prophet you should know that he is a sweet, sweet man who loves his wife like the most expensive toy shih zuh in the world, and also he is a man who talks to God so just be careful.

  4. pos-ses-sion, noun

    1. the act or fact of possessing.
    2. the state of being possessed.
    3. ownership.
    4. Law. actual holding or occupancy, either with or without rights of ownership.
    5. a thing possessed: He packed all his possessions into one trunk.
    6. possessions, property or wealth.
    7. a territorial dominion of a state.
    8. Sports. a. physical control of the ball or puck by a player or team: He didn’t have full possession when he was tackled.
    b. the right of a team to put the ball into play: They had possession after the other team sank a free throw.

    9. control over oneself, one’s mind, etc.
    10. domination, actuation, or obsession by a feeling, idea, etc.
    11. the feeling or idea itself.

    Wow, I am feelin’ the value and love here. I hope some day someone wants to possess ME. *sigh*

  5. I skip conference out of habit and principle, but bless my RS pres for reading this gem of a statement to us last Sunday!

    I couldn’t help but voice my disgust and muttered “Oh, so I’m a possession?” The GD teacher was sitting next to me and whispered back, “You don’t like that idea, do you?” I said “Being treasured is fine. Being a posession? No.”

    That it was said I’d attribute to the dunderings of a 96-year-old man, who belongs to a generation that would not/could not see anything wrong with describing their wives that way.

    But for it to be trotted out in RS to uplift and inspire? In 2007? I can’t fathom how anyone would feel flattered, cheered or appreciated by being called a possession.

  6. It is hard to believe that in the 2007 any church leader of any church would be so blatantly chavanistic. What bothers me the most is that there are many more women who felt like that was a positive statement than those who are bothered by it.

  7. Really, if you want to be realistic, it’s not as if we women have enjoyed equal rights for a long time and the prophet is saying something that hasn’t been the thought and feeling of men toward women since the beginning of time.

    Our mothers grew up in a time when women simply did not work. It was understood that women stayed home and men got jobs and controlled the way things were to be for the women. Period.

    I recently read “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French (THANKS GLUBY FOR THE BOOK!!!) and it is an awesome book that changed my perception of women, society, and how it really is and has been for women. I wish all of you would read it so we could talk about it in depth.

    Great writing here, Aerin.

  8. i thought ‘someone’ went through each conference talk with a ‘fine toothed comb’ to ensure political correctness so’s the likes of ‘us’ didn’t find such statements and pull them apart? How could ‘someone’ miss this one?

  9. That’s a good point, Gilda. My suspicion is that the Correlation Committee doesn’t worry that much about us. Rather their priority is about orthodoxy.

    In the case of Mormonism, orthodoxy means subordination to the Brethren. In that sense, Hinckley’s statement is unproblematic; all the more so since he is the über-brother.

  10. The “treasure your wives” “put them on a pedastal” “most prized possession” lines have been part of the Mormon male script for years.

    What bothers me most about this statement is that it is dehumanizing. It suggests that women do not have emotions, Or are not subject to spiritual struggle like their husbands. How many times have we all heard that women are supposed to keep their husbands on the straight and narrow?
    Where does that leave the woman who struggles with her faith?

  11. Pardon my ignorance, ‘cuz I’m not up on the Hinkster, but is his wife still around?

    If she is, she could have given her own talk and told the old coot to shut the hell up. The Hinkster shall be punished by having extra starch for his dry-cleaned garmets.

    “Possession,” my ass.

  12. Sideon, she died a couple of years back.

    What disturbs me more than the phrase itself (which I can understand as being an attempt at being sweet), is that he’s *telling* husbands what their wives are to them. That is a very personal relationship. No two people match the same exact way.

    And in my opinion, it’s not the healthiest way to view a spouse. They’re not possessed– they choose to be with you…

    I’d love to hear a General Conference on marriage and gender relationships, but with every male and female pronoun reversed. While some of it would be ridiculous, most of it would only *feel* uncomfortable in that Mormon paradigm, I think.

    But it’s jarring, when the speech is reversed like that, how unequal some things are, for both men and women.

    More than that, though, I’d love to actually hear some conference talks that live up to the potential that they have. I mean, you have millions of people listening/reading, and that’s a lot of power to get ideas out. Maybe say something about world peace, or *really* reaching out beyond the little cliques in church to help entire communities.

    But no… instead it’s filled with men, droning on in their faux spiritual voices, about how great the Church is and how to conform to it.

  13. Your suggestion about gender reversal at general conference talks, Fiery, reminded me of Carol Lynn Pearson’s Pink Moccasins. It’s full of delicious irony.

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