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.