I’ve been talking with a high school friend about the oppression of women in Mormonism on and off for about a year. I recently sent him this article by Ashley Sanders that appeared in a recent issue of Sunstone. I thought it was a good article, but he didn’t see the connections to Mormonism. In the resulting give and take, I wrote the following:
The point of that article was to say, at least as I read it, that it is often the case that oppressed people stop realizing they are oppressed over time. As the Hindu women in the ashram illustrate, they have incorporated the beliefs into their worldview and the male priest in charge no longer has to reprimand dissenters – the women do it for him. Yes, Hindu ashrams are substantially more severe than Mormonism in their treatment of women, but the idea is the same – if you’ve been raised in an environment where women are not given an equal voice in the management of the organization, it often takes someone outside the organization to point that out. Which is why the author says that it is necessary for outsiders to point out the injustices.
She also makes another good point – if you were to apply the logic of Mormon patriarchy to other organizations, would you think it was unfair? Let’s use this as an example: Let’s say we model the U.S. government on Mormon principles. Women are not allowed to hold any elected positions – Mayor, Governor, President, Congressman, Senator, schoolboard president, etc. But they are given two options that make them feel “empowered”: First, they get to give a symbolic vote of confidence in the men who are elected, but it is generally considered to be perfunctory and not meaningful. Second, they are in charge of one element of the government – welfare. They get to serve in all of the top positions, but their budget and what they can do with it are all dictated by the male overseers and they have no recourse to challenge those dictates.
I hope you don’t see this as apples and oranges, though you might. The point is, women are not “empowered” structurally within the LDS religion. That doesn’t mean you don’t treat [Angie] (name changed) fairly. That doesn’t mean Angie isn’t “king” of the home. It means Angie has no say over how the LDS religion is run: She is not consulted on who gets positions at the local level; she’s not consulted about which activities take place at the local level; she’s not consulted about how local funds are spent; she’s not consulted about appointments at the stake level, the area level, or church level; she’s not consulted about which businesses the LDS religion spends her tithing on; she’s not consulted about missionizing efforts; she’s not consulted about construction decisions; she’s not consulted about expansion; she’s not consulted on basically anything… Except, except maybe on how to run whatever she might be in charge of (e.g., a primary class, a young women’s class, relief society, etc.). And even then, she is supposed to use a manual that was most likely written by a man but most definitely approved by the male leadership.
Again, you may respond by saying, “But I’m not consulted on any of those things.” You’re right. You’re not. But is it possible for you to be consulted on these things because you have a penis? Yes. Is it possible for Angie because she has a vagina? No. Unless/until the LDS religion changes its policy on females and the priesthood, men have more power in the religion than do women.
Another argument you might offer is: Well, what is religion, anyway? It is a voluntary association and it doesn’t dictate our entire lives… True, it probably doesn’t dictate 100% of your lives, but it does dictate a large portion. What’s more, you are giving it 10% of your income. Personally, I wouldn’t give my money to anyone unless I knew exactly where it was going. A good example: We recently canceled a credit card with a bank because the service sucked. We were then presented with a number of choices for the next card we got to replace it. One option was to go with BP – it would save us 5% on gas, which seemed attractive. But the oil companies right now are raping consumers and pulling in billions of dollars in profits. Even though I never carry balances on my credit cards, I didn’t want to give the impression that I supported the exploitation of consumers by getting a credit card with BP. I chose an REI credit card instead. REI is a co-op; it’s owned by the members and, in essence, run by them. If I’m going to give my business to anyone, I’m going to give it to company’s I support ideologically (whenever I have a choice). I may not make REI much money per year (they probably make a little off me), but I care about who I support. If I were giving 10% of my income to an organization, I’d want to know exactly where it is going.