Friday, March 4, 2011


This book cover has appeared in several places over the past couple of weeks, posted by various people on Facebook and some blogs (mostly ExMormons).   Of course, the fact that it was written by the 15 men listed (all Mormon leadership types) on the subject of WOMAN has garnered much ridicule (and rightfully so).  I mean really, this book cracks me up big time since these Mormon men attempt to explain the "role of woman"... according to Mormonism, of course.

Since this book was published in 1979, when I was only 28, it propels me back to the unrealistic expectations I felt so burdened by back then.  When I was growing up, I had a very conflicted view of what a woman's role should be in the world.  First, I had the Mormon Church telling me that a woman's place is in the home, that women should be "helpmeets" to their husbands, that they should bare as many children as the Lord gives them, that the woman sets the tone in the home, and so on.  Marriage is considered to be the ultimate goal of a woman -- and without her husband, she cannot be saved in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom (which is where all good Mormons strive to go after this life).  But on the other hand, I had my mother's example, which was in direct conflict with what the church said.  I'm not saying that she wasn't a good member of the church because she was - she served as Relief Society President when I was a teenager, and she held many other callings including Ward Choir Director, Gospel Doctrine teacher, and Stake Librarian (which was her calling at the time of her death).  My mother did everything "according to the book" except that she worked outside the home.  She was also a very strong, competent woman, and appeared to "wear the pants in our family."  By saying that, I'm not intimating that my father was a wimp or anything, or that he kowtowed to my mother, but it was apparent to me from an early age that my mother was much "stronger" than my father in many ways.  My mother was a career woman who also took care of our home, and while she cooked and cleaned and all that, so did my father.  On the surface, it appeared to be a "partnership" in which they shared the duties equally, but under that facade, I surmized that my mother was actually in charge.

When I got engaged to my first husband, I remember my mother telling me that if I married him, I would have to be the strong one.  That puzzled me at the time because I didn't understand what she was saying.  But looking back now, I see that she was right and knew what she was talking about, not only because she was a very good judge of character and saw that my first husband was not very strong in many ways, but also because she had been there.  She had to be the strong one in her marriage, and although I know she loved my father and that he loved her, there were many instances where her being the "strong one" became very apparent.

So in many ways, it's probably not all that surprising that I have become an "apostate."  My eventual apostasy from the church had to do with historical and doctrinal issues -- but I suppose when my life is examined, it is clear that I was never really "in the mold" of a typical Mormon woman.  Having my mother as my role model created that conflict to a certain degree, and I opted for the career woman path from an early age.  And while I got married at 22, I did not fulfill that "Mormon mandate" of motherhood until I was 30 when I had my one and only daughter.  My waiting to have children had to due with my first husband's lack of maturity and "fasincation" with pornography to the point where I didn't feel comfortable bringing children into our home.  And then, when I was about to turn 30, my biological clock went off and I decided that once we had a child, he would become more responsible, including curbing his fascination with pornography.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen and due to his irresponsible handling of the pornography, my daughter got exposed to pornography at a very early age.  So yes, my mother was right -- I did have to be the strong one in my first marriage in many ways.

While I have not read the subject book ("Woman") per se, I can imagine what it contains, mainly because there are many quotes on Womanhood out there by various Mormon leaders (who are men, of course).

Here are but a few
I sat this morning with some of my brethren who are among our most prominent leaders. One of the brethren said he had recently had requests from two sisters, at different times, asking if he would give them a special blessing so that they could have children. On inquiry he found that in their earlier married life they had refused to have children, and now, when they desire children, for some reason they can’t have them.
Another one of my brethren spoke up and said, “That reminds me of our own experience. We married quite young and we had our children, five of them, before my wife was 28. Then something happened and we were not able to have any more children.” He continued: “If we had delayed having our family until after I had my education, which would have been about that time, we probably would have had no children of our own.”

When I consider those who enter into holy wedlock in the Lord’s own way and receive the divine commandments to multiply and replenish the earth, then through their own designs fail to observe the commandment, I wonder if, later on when they are ready to have the children, the Lord might not think: “Maybe this is the time for you to do a little soul-searching in order for you to come back to the realities for which you have been placed upon the earth.”
Harold B. Lee, "Maintain Your Place As a Woman," Ensign, Feb. 1972, 48
In reading this quote, I can't help but think for the umpteenth time that the Mormon Church wants all women to be cookie-cutter versions of each other.  No allowance for individuality or personal preference.  For a religion that professes to believe in Free Agency, there is no leeway offered for individual circumstances.  And the guilt that is placed on those members who do not follow the prescribed path is enormous.

Another quote:
I would like to express the hope we all have for you, which is so real, that you will be exalted in the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom and that you will enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  Dear sisters, never lose sight of this sacred goal. Prayerfully prepare for it and live for it. Be married the Lord’s way. Temple marriage is a gospel ordinance of exaltation. Our Father in Heaven wants each of His daughters to have this eternal blessing.
Therefore, don’t trifle away your happiness by involvement with someone who cannot take you worthily to the temple. Make a decision now that this is the place where you will marry. To leave that decision until a romantic involvement develops is to take a risk the importance of which you cannot now fully calculate.
And remember, you are not required to lower your standards in order to get a mate. Keep yourselves attractive, maintain high standards, maintain your self-respect. Do not engage in intimacies that bring heartache and sorrow. Place yourselves in a position to meet worthy men and be engaged in constructive activities.
But also, do not expect perfection in your choice of a mate. Do not be so concerned about his physical appearance and his bank account that you overlook his more important qualities. Of course, he should be attractive to you, and he should be able to financially provide for you. But, does he have a strong testimony? Does he live the principles of the gospel and magnify his priesthood? Is he active in his ward and stake? Does he love home and family, and will he be a faithful husband and a good father? These are qualities that really matter.
And I would also caution you single sisters not to become so independent and self-reliant that you decide marriage isn’t worth it and you can do just as well on your own. Some of our sisters indicate that they do not want to consider marriage until after they have completed their degrees or pursued a career. This is not right. Certainly we want our single sisters to maximize their individual potential, to be well educated, and to do well at their present employment. You have much to contribute to society, to your community, and to your neighborhood. But we earnestly pray that our single sisters will desire honorable marriage in the temple to a worthy man and rear a righteous family, even though this may mean the sacrificing of degrees and careers. Our priorities are right when we realize there is no higher calling than to be an honorable wife and mother.
Ezra Taft Benson, “To the Single Adult Sisters of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 96
Clearly indoctrination.  Trying to make women believe that they only have one path to follow is a constant goal of the Mormon Church.  Individuality in thought, perception, personality and character are not encouraged in the slightest.  Of course, this makes a lot of women feel inadequate, like they don't measure up to the proper standard.  Seeking to be identical to every other woman in Mormonism is asking all women to live in a cookie-cutter world.  In reading this, I can't help but also think how condescending and patronizing his whole ramble is.

One paragraph in particular really annoys me, and that is "And I would also caution you single sisters not to become so independent and self-reliant that you decide marriage isn’t worth it and you can do just as well on your own."  This statement is obviously aimed at making women feel as though they aren't complete without a man in their life, without a husband.  There are a lot of single women in the Mormon Church who are made to feel that they don't fit in, that they are outcasts, that they aren't good enough because they are single.  And telling those single women "not to become so independent and self-reliant that you decide marriage isn't worth it and you can do just as well on your own" is attempting to diminish their self-worth.

One more quote:
"As fathers we should have love unbounded for the mothers of our children. We should accord to them the gratitude, respect, and praise that they deserve. Husbands, to keep alive the spirit of romance in your marriage, be considerate and kind in the tender intimacies of your married life. Let your thoughts and actions inspire confidence and trust. Let your words be wholesome and your time together be uplifting. Let nothing in life take priority over your wife--neither work, recreation, nor hobby."
Russell M. Nelson, "Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women," Ensign, May 1999, 39
I think this quote is especially interesting because it contradicts completely the mandate for every member to become immersed in the church to the point where they hold callings that take them away from the home constantly.  This is particularly true for men who become Bishops, Stake Presidents, Stake Missionaries, and other very time-consuming callings.  Even callings like Ward Clerk can involve dedication of great chunks of time. So for Russell M. Nelson to say, "Let nothing in life take priority over your wife--neither work, recreation, nor hobby" is very contradictory.  But then, he didn't say religion, did he?

Strong women fascinate me, and I applaud them.  Being able to transcend the boundaries that men attempt to place on women, particularly in religious settings, is admirable beyond words, particularly while they maintain their individuality, personality, femininity, and ambition.

There are women who are perfectly content and completely fulfilled by staying home and raising children - that can be a wonderful role for many women.  But to tell a women who does not find that fulfilling and needs a life outside of her home that she is somehow defective or misguided is simply wrong.  No person should feel that they must be practically an identical clone of another person, no matter whether that person is male or female.  To me, people are people and should be treated as such.

Of course, Feminism is very much frowned on in the Mormon world.  Obviously, the terms Feminism and Mormonism do not go together -- they are mutually exclusive terms.  I realized this early on, and although I had the conflicting examples and messages of my mother and the Mormon Church, I felt internal strife over what my role in the world should be.

But despite the mixed messages I received, I found myself leaning more toward feminist views as I became older.  Several women have struck me over the years as pioneering women in the feminist movement.  In looking at their contributions to the Feminist movement, I find it interesting to examine that against what the Mormon Church forcefully propounds.

Sonia Johnson.  Very famously, Sonia Johnson was a Mormon woman who was also a feminist activist and writer.  Because of her support of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1977, and her speaking out publicly in very critical terms against the Mormon Church's stance on it, she was excommunicated from the Mormon Church.  She went on to publish several feminist books and became a popular feminist speaker. 

Of course, there were many women who had paved the way previous to that time.  Some of them are mentioned below.

Simone de Beauvoir.  Lately, I've been reading some writings of Simone de Beauvoir and her book, The Second Sex, which was written in 1949 and published in 1953.  Interesting time frame, especially since I was born in 1951.  She was definitely a pioneer in the Feminist arena, being one of the first women to speak out.  Although her ideas were very controversial and revolutionary at the time, they have come to be very accepted today - everywhere except within male-oriented, male-dominated religions like Mormonism.  In fact, some might actually say that the Mormon Church is somewhat misogynistic.

From Wikipedia

In the chapter "Woman: Myth and Reality" of The Second Sex, Beauvoir argued that men had made women the "Other" in society by putting a false aura of "mystery" around them.  She argued that men used this as an excuse not to understand women or their problems and not to help them, and that this stereotyping was always done in societies by the group higher in the hierarchy to the group lower in the hierarchy.  She wrote that this also happened on the basis of other categories of identity, such as race, class, and religion.  But she said that it was nowhere more true than with sex in which men stereotyped women and used it as an excuse to organize society into a patriarchy...
Beauvoir argued that women have historically been considered deviant, abnormal.  She said that even Mary Wollstonecraft considered men to be the ideal toward which women should aspire. Beauvoir said that this attitude limited women's success by maintaining the perception that they were a deviation from the normal, and were always outsiders attempting to emulate "normality."  She believed that for feminism to move forward, this assumption must be set aside.

Beauvoir asserted that women are as capable of choice as men, and thus can choose to elevate themselves, moving beyond the 'immanence' to which they were previously resigned and reaching 'transcendence', a position in which one takes responsibility for oneself and the world, where one chooses one's freedom.
Here are some interesting quotes by Simone de Beauvoir:

The most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women.

This has always been a man's world, and none of the reasons that have been offered in explanation have seemed adequate.

Man is defined as human being and a woman as a female -- whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.  
Betty Friedan.  Another noteworthy feminist of the same basic era was Betty Friedan, who was the author of the book "Feminine Mystique," which was published in 1963 and is said to have sparked "second wave feminism" in the United States.  This book dealt with the increasing dissatisfaction of many women in the 1950's and early 1960's, many of whom were unhappy with their lives as suburban housewives, a role which had been assigned to them by men and society.  Even though many of these women were living in material comfort, and were "happily married" with children, they were basically unhappy. 

In Chapter 1 of the Feminine Mystique, Friedan points out that during the 1950's, the average age of marriage was dropping and the birthrate was increasing for women, yet the widespread unhappiness of women persisted, although American culture insisted that fulfillment for women could be found in marriage and housewifery.  At the end of this chapter, she said, "We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: 'I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.' "

So this was the backdrop against which I grew up.  A mother who was very career-oriented but who tried to juggle it all within the confines of Mormonism.  A father who was very pious and dogmatic about Mormonism, which also created its own degree of conflict for me since what I heard and what I saw were two different things.  And while I felt drawn toward being a career woman, I also "wanted it all," and tried to accomplish that goal in three marriages, all of which ended in divorce for various reasons.

Obviously, having feminist views as a woman in the Mormon Church is like performing a tightrope act.  One misstep and the feminist woman goes plunging into oblivion with no safety net to catch her.  Sonia Johnson is one Mormon woman I admire because she stood up for what she believed and didn't kowtow to what the Mormon Church told her she must do.  And there are many other Mormon woman (both current and former) that I admire for that quality as well.

Another of those brave (former) Mormon women I admire is Maxine Hanks.  She was born in 1955, and is a feminist theologian who compiled and edited the book Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism (1992).  She served an LDS Mission, taught at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and worked for BYU in the 1980s.  She had been writing or researching on Mormon topics since 1975, including LDS history, theology, and women's issues.  She has continued her work on women’s studies relating to Mormonism and religion in general, having studied at the Harvard Divinity School and then pursing Gnosticism, in which she became clergy in 1999, and she is very active in interfaith work. 

Interestingly, Maxine Hanks was one of the September Six who were excommunicated from the Mormon Church in September 1993.  The other members of the September Six were Lynne Kanavel Whitesides (disfellowshipped, a feminist noted for speaking about Mother in Heaven); Avraham Gileadi (excommunicated, Hebrew scholar and literary analyst); Paul Toscano (excommunicated, a Salt Lake City attorney who co-authored with his wife a controversial book, Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology (1990), and, in 1992, co-founded The Mormon Alliance); Lavina Fielding Anderson (excommunicated, feminist writer who was a former editor of the Ensign Magazine); D. Michael Quinn (excommunicated, Mormon historian, author, and contributor to Maxine Hanks’ book mentioned above).

It is interesting to note that Margaret Merrill Toscano (wife of Paul Toscano, with whom he co-authored the above-mentioned book) was excommunicated on November 30, 2000.  Of these individuals, only Avraham Gileadi has been re-baptized, and Lynne Kanavel Whitesides is still disfellowshipped.

This drive toward censorship was blatant and unmitigated.  If you would like to read more about the September Six, I discuss them in more detail in my book, "Finding My Own Voice: A Former Mormon Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery" in Chapter 10 which is entitled, "Research from Unauthorized Sources."

Here is an article by Maxine Hanks entitled "Perspective on Mormon Women."  While this article is somewhat off topic from the above, it provides an interesting "perspective" on the subject of Mormon women, and some insight into her views.

A Struggle to Reclaim Authority
The priesthood they exercised in the early church
has been lost, but the voice of feminism will not be silenced.


Maxine Hanks is the editor of
Women and Authority:
Re-emerging Mormon Feminism
She lives and writes in Salt Lake City.

Los Angeles Times
Sunday July 10, 1994
Home Edition
Opinion, Page 7

When Howard W. Hunter became president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last month, his first public act was a plea for alienated Mormons to "come back," or return to fellowship.  Yet more than half of the 9 million church members can never participate fully because they are women.  To find reconcilliation, Mormon women must look to the past.

The historical relationship of men and women in the Mormon church is a conflicted one. In 1992, I published a book that explores long-ignored aspects of that history and attempts to retrieve the soul of Mormon women's spiritual life. For that, I was accused of apostasy.
Mormon women obtained authority early in the history of the church and then fought a losing battle to keep it. Their concerns were not taken seriously, so men's authority prevailed. Feminism emerged in the struggle, in the energy of women's rhetoric and work and in their resistance to male agendas.
Mormon women exercised considerable religious authority in the LDS Church for 100 years and maintained some autonomy for 140 years. During the first 20 years of Mormonism, from 1830 to 1850, women received authority for blessings, healing and prophecy; priesthood keys, powers and rituals; and missionary calls. Women clashed with male leadership and lost authority at the turn of the century and again in the 1970s. Since 1991, Mormon feminists have encountered a backlash against their attempts to reclaim women's authority. Today's church holds that women cannot exercise priesthood, therefore women are not "ordained" but only "set-apart" to church positions. As a full-time LDS missionary, I sensed I had priesthood, but spent 19 months being denied the right to use it.
Although women's authority is plainly evident in Mormon history, today's male church leaders won't acknowledge it, for that would mean having to take responsibility for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers who revoked that authority. Instead, they blame Christ. Over and over again, male leaders assert that female priesthood is "contrary to the Lord's plan" and that today's church "follows the pattern the Lord has set."
The extreme gender imbalance in Mormonism re-emerges in Utah's masculinist culture, where government, education and business are run by Mormon men in the shadow of Salt Lake's tallest building, the LDS church offices. In Utah, women as well as men repress the feminine, starve it and then overcompensate: We crave sweet and fatty foods for comfort; we gain weight to feel loved; men act effeminate and women self-destruct with prescription drugs, obesity, depression and too many kids. Hostility to women manifests in subtle and shocking ways. Apostle Boyd Packer said, "I could tell most of the secretaries in the church office building that they are ugly and fat. That would be the truth, but it would hurt and destroy them."
Male-dominant culture offers women a choice between female powerlessness or male-identification. A respected local therapist told me that she sees many Mormon women who "actually believe they are men." My book was an attempt to heal, by moving beyond male-defined identity to a place of female identification, definition and power, and by removing obstructions to women's relationship with God.
My feminist views were never welcome in church, so I turned to the public marketplace of ideas. Yet for two years, church leaders threatened me not to speak publicly about Mormon feminist issues. Excommunication was a small price to pay for my voice. It didn't take away my theology or my spirituality, which the church does not control. God's spirit cannot be homogenized, mass-produced and marketed by blue-suited septuagenarians from a high-rise in downtown Salt Lake City.
I was told that my feminist ideas were "contrary to the laws and order of the church." I agree. My excommunication was justifiable. Still, these are men's laws and men's orders, not women's. In 1884, Eliza R. Snow, "prophetess" and president over all women and girls in the church, made it clear that the women's Relief Society, which she headed, was "designed to be a self-governing organization. "If difficulties arise," she wrote, ". . . the matter should be referred to (the) president and her counselors." Later, when men assumed governance over women, they usurped women's authority. I cited Snow to the 15 high priests set to judge me, but it had no impact on them. It did, however, liberate me from participating in their illusion. They excommunicated me to silence feminists and send a message of fear to Mormon women, but their action had the opposite effect: Visibility and discussion soared, and my book is in its second printing.
So, where does this leave Mormon women? They have a strong feminist tradition. Whether today's women can reclaim their authority and priesthood in the church and fully participate remains a question; first, they must find authority within themselves. But I will not "come back" to a church that crushes female authority and individual conscience.


Interesting last line to that article -- I will not "come back" to a church that crushes female authority and individual conscience.  And I wholeheartedly agree.  However, unlike what I perceive from this statement, regardless of what women were allowed to do or be in the beginnings of the Mormon Church, and regardless of whether the church "crushes female authority and individual conscience," I could never return to being a Mormon because of all the evident lies, deception, cover-ups and contradictions laced through its history, teachings and doctrine.  I have felt so much happier, and so much less burdened, since disassociating myself from the Mormon Church that it's really a no-brainer for me.

Mormon no more... and finally happy!!


Donna Banta said...

Beautiful and thoughtful post. Those quotes from "Woman" took me back to those horrible Mother's Day Sacrament Meetings where we were lectured about conforming in the way that you described, then given a flower -- even if we weren't actually mothers. (Because obviously we all wanted to be.)

Diane Tingen said...

Donna, thank you for your comment. Your comment about those Sacrament Meetings on Mother's Day took me back to how ridiculous they really were, reminding all women that their primary role in life is as "righteous mothers bringing up righteous chlidren." Of course, the worse part of the whole thing was knowing that there were single women in the congregation who had never been mothers, and probably never would be. The lack of consideration for women in those circumstances amazes me. Of course, it's all still going on today, and I'm grateful that I'm not there witnessing it all anymore.