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October 06, 2013

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Kelsey

Thanks for your thoughts Neylan! I suppose I struggled with his new "role" because it doesn't seem to be something specific to women. Rather, I feel that anyone who has been given the Holy Spirit has an obligation to act with moral authority. Everything he described seemed as relevant to men as it did to women. Which is where it fell flat ultimately, for me- it still doesn't help shape a stewardship for women that is unique to women and comparable in scope to the stewardship of priesthood authority for men. Because arguably, a righteous man should strive for and ultimately develop all the things he outlined as feminine.

I welcome your thoughts- do you disagree? Do you feel he identified some responsibilities exclusive to women, the way priesthood authority is exclusive to men?

Christy

Neylan, thank you.

Andrea

Thanks, as always for your imminently gracious and thoughtful efforts to see sincerity in a leader’s talk or statement, where others-- including myself, I’m afraid-- might see something more hostile, uninformed, even sinister. I have loved so much of what Elder Christofferson has said in other talks, that I am also trying to hear his words again with some patience and charity. I see what you are saying about claiming a space for female moral authority, but I can’t seem to get past his blatant mischaracterizations of feminism. This man-hating, difference-erasing, motherhood-rejecting image of feminism—which is about 40 years out-of-date—is already a narrative that persists everywhere-- in my college classes, in Sunday School and Relief Society, Sacrament meeting talks, and social media, of course. This image of feminism is what prevented me from claiming my own for so long. Even just a few weeks ago, I sat and listened as a Sunday School teacher attributed to “those feminists” the motive of wanting to do away with gender differences and “place women above men.” I sat there thinking, “But I am one of ‘those’ feminists, and I have never wanted to place women above men.” And, unfortunately, I sat there without saying anything, not wanting to create inappropriate tensions in a spiritual setting. I worry that Elder Christofferson’s talk might have the effect of making feminism the punching bag for all evils in the world, while also limiting people’s ability to see the great good that global feminists are doing right now to eradicate sex trafficking, female poverty, domestic violence, and lack of education for girls, among other things. Now, I know that people are going to say that DTC didn’t mean “us” feminists—he only meant “those” other ones. But honestly, once someone in authority has re-stigmatized a word, without nuance or complexity, the result might be that those who identify with that label are going to be more reluctant to reclaim it, fearing peer or even ecclesiastical backlash.

I have been a self-identified feminist for over a decade, and I’ve known many others, both inside and outside of the church. Even among the secular feminist professors in my graduate program—many of whom were atheist, agnostic, and even what might be pejoratively named “radical,” I never heard even one of them question my desires for marriage, family, children, or to follow the religion of my choice. In fact, they vocally respected my choices-- and maybe I'm just remembering everything through rose-colored glasses-- who knows? Many of my feminist mentors themselves were married with children. I understand that a portion of the feminist movement may still come with the baggage of denigrating the “Mommy track,” but I just don’t see that as a realistic and widespread characterization of feminism anymore, especially among Mormon feminists. Heck, even Gloria Steinem got married, after all. Perhaps I’m not reading the most current feminist scholarship, and I’m missing something that he sees. So, for those of us who continue to claim both feminism and Mormonism, including myself and you, and others of our friends, how do we now own these portions of our identity, without the potential for fellow members to throw this talk in our faces? This is not a rebuttal to your thoughtful piece, which really made me reconsider my initial gut reactions to the talk; it’s more just an attempt at clarification. While I agree with you that Elder Christofferson seemed to take great pains to not perpetuate double standards of morality, or to sound too patronizing, I still wonder whether this talk will have the effect of silencing our moderate friends, or of radicalizing and driving away our more vehement ones, or both. As always, I’m so happy to have your voice with which to engage in these discussions.

Rosalyn

Neylan, I hadn't picked up on the rhetorical significance of his language here (I'm almost embarrassed to call myself a rhetorician!), but I think you're right. Thanks, as usual, for sharing your insights.

Fran

I appreciate reading your perspectives, because I don't want to get stuck in just seeing/hearing things through a certain lens. I do agree with you that the concept of "moral authority" can be useful. I will have to read Elder Christofferson's talk again, and also your thoughts on it.

But even after reading this, I still feel like the main objective was to present the same old gift in a new wrapping paper. Women's roles are still best fulfilled by being stay-at-home mothers. I did not feel that he created room for hoping to be more than that. And that kind of crushes my soul. Even though I love being at home with my kids.

amanda

Neylan-I absolutely love your analysis of this talk. The more I think about it-the more I love it. It's empowering and thought-provoking. I can't wait to sit and re-read his talk and the rest of general conference so I can ponder it more with this in mind. Thanks for sharing.

Emily Peterson

Your analysis of the talk from this perspective was very insightful and helped me approach the talk from a different perspective on the second go-round. However, while I'm intrigued by the notion that women's "moral authority" may be an equalizing factor to counterbalance the spiritual exercise of LDS men's Priesthood power, Priesthood is not only about spiritual power, it is also the basis for administrative authority in the Church. And that is where the "moral" vs. "Priesthood" authority comparison breaks down, because "moral authority" lacks a crucial element: power to enforce. Without enforcement, there is no "authority." There is "influence," and "preeminence," but the term "authority" is too strong.

Every leadership position in the Church, including female-led auxiliaries, is ultimately administered through Priesthood authority channels. This administrative aspect of Priesthood authority in the Church gives power over church resources, members' ability to participate in ordinances, and full control of Church discipline and membership. If women are to have moral "authority," there must be a means to enforce it, otherwise it is simply "moral influence." Worthiness interviews, Church discipline, and auditing of allocation of Church resources could all fall under women's jurisdiction, if the moral authority of women is to be truly emphasized.

That all being said, I do want to point out that I very much appreciated the obvious care Elder C. took to extend his counsel to men and women equally. For example, when discussing his concern that motherhood is viewed with contempt by "some" (the print version of his talk was edited to remove the incorrectly-used generalization of "Feminists,") he made sure to point out that no other endeavor in life is as important as motherhood "and fatherhood." When discussing sexual purity, he attacked the double-standard for men vs. women with regard to chastity teachings and expectations. I do not share view that such a double standard has been "criticized and rejected," as there is still quite a long way to go in society (and unfortunately, still in the Church) to fully "reject" the effects of Patriarchy and rape culture, but I was very, very glad that he even acknowledged men's responsibility to hold the same standards they place on women.

I do worry that, even with leaders' words in General Conference instructing men to reject this standard, a redoubled emphasis on "moral authority" for women may just feed back into the pernicious Patriarchal idea that women are the "gatekeepers of virtue" and must be the party responsible for establishing boundaries in physical intimacy. Emphasizing women's moral authority as strongly as Elder C. did is, though nobly intended, a strong step toward separating men's and women's equal moral responsibilities and placing women back in the position of carrying ALL responsibility for moral stability and goodness. The risk that this segregation of roles will occur is only compounded by the existing clear delineation of Priesthood administrative and spiritual authority along gender lines. The "separate but equal" rhetoric creates too much potential for further and further separation of women from feeling connected to the power of the Priesthood (as well as to any real administrative power) and for men to lose connection to their own moral authority. I support gender equality in all areas of authority in the LDS church.

Amy

"I do not believe Mormon women are in a power struggle; I believe we are in a purpose struggle." Thank you for putting my feelings into words. You beautifully diffuse the "us vs. them" mentality that more traditional Mormons may feel are part and parcel to feminism.

scienceteachermommy

To the pat-on-the-head-women in the home thoughts, I went into this talk very worried. From his first line I thought, "Here we go again." But by the end, my thoughts greatly echoed Neylan's here. A couple of things to note as readers make an effort to get over that gut reaction: one of the examples he used as an influential woman was a sister in his ward growing up who he praised at length for her great work in the YMCA in their community. He mentioned several times the importance of men as partners--to be worthy of their authority. He said that the best work for men AND women was in the their families. He also praised worthy work of men and women outside the home.

And . . . if we are talking about framing words just right, he juxtaposed modesty to vanity rather than to being unchaste, coming much closer to the correct definition of modesty. A thing that hasn't been done in a long time.

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