Mormonism’s Chicken Patriarchy
Like a chicken, it won’t let itself be caught. It won’t let itself be pinned down as “bad” because it wraps itself in the language of equality and righteousness. Rather than asserting unabashedly patriarchal arguments for why women should have less ecclesiastical authority than men, it asserts instead that men and women are “different, but equal” while at the same time maintaining the traditional aspects of inequality.
It didn’t used to be so chicken-like. As a 2007 post from Zelophehads Daughters explains, back in the 1970s, Church leaders were blatantly patriarchal. Consider this excerpt from a 1970s Ensign article:
Let us begin by saying that a Latter-day Saint husband or father presides over his wife and family in much the same way a bishop, stake president, or elders quorum president presides over the specific group to which he is called. . . . Imagine, for example, the confusion that would result if two bishops were appointed over your particular ward . . .
Similarly, should two people preside over each other in marriage, particularly when one holds the priesthood and has been divinely designated to preside? . . . The mystery may not be so much in the manner in which a wife submits herself to her husband as, in fact, the way a husband will preside over and interact with his wife and family.
Twenty years later, as the post explains, a lot ofMormons simply cannot stomach this kind of blatant patriarchy. It’s been replaced with chicken patriarchy. A church leader will say that a man and woman enter a marriage as equals, but yet leave it unclear as to how this matches up with the doctrine of the man “presiding” over the woman who must “harken to” the man. It’s like the patriarchy is too chicken to stand up for itself nowadays.
One commenter from the ZD thread recounted:
In Sunday School a few months ago, when coming upon the language of Paul that God is to man what husband is to wife (paraphase) the teacher said something like, I find it is easiest to imagine this like a triangle, with God on top and husband and wife equal.
I couldnt help but think to myself, It might be easier to imagine it that way, but that is not what the scripture is saying.
The teacher gave no explanation of why her model was different than that described by Paul, nor did anyone ask her about it (including me: guess Im a chicken, too!), but it struck me that IF there is a difference between what we believe on this point and what Paul says, we should be able to articulate it.
It is bizarre and frustrating for people to gloss over problematical language about hierarchy… by saying we believe this other (but somehow not contradictory) egalitarian thing. If we do, why do we have the hierarchal language?
I sense that you consider yourself more enlightened than your wife. If only she would understand that you don’t want to subject her, your enlightened view would create equality, the sun would shine, and cats and dogs could get along.
I tentatively suggest that perhaps your attitude towards your wife is the exact attitude that warps divine patriarchy and makes it into the monster that hurts so many people. You are so focused on roles and shoulds, that you are not respecting your wife. Granted, the roles you prescribe are different than the roles focused on by traditional patriarchy, but the focus is still in the wrong place; on the roles, rather than the people.
Unfortunately, the role thing is spelled out in scripture and modern-day propheteering… I mean, prophisizing. Since both Mormon men and women are taught to be humble to church leaders, it’s hard to push through an argument that things are supposed to be different than the way they currently are. You can see this when Mormon men argue that because men submit to other men in the Church, therefore the submission can’t possibility be gendered, or about people dominating people, but must somehow be about everyone following scripture — particularly if both women and men agree that this is the case.
However, chicken patriarchy creates uncomfortable contradictions as noted in the comments above.