This perspective is so rare — but so true — that I had to bring this to the audience of this blog. A woman grew up in poverty and was constantly sexualized and abused, even from a very young age. But when she joined the Church she began a healing process because the men around her treated her with respect, and it was the first time she had ever been treated with this way by men.
So, perhaps all of those claims of “misogyny in the Church” are a bit overblown compared to the reality of real misogyny.
One of the first things that drew my interest in the church was that not a single missionary made any attempt to engage with me on a sexual level. Attending church was my first experience where trustworthy males were the norm. It was an earth-shattering revelation to me that you could have a culture where men act like that consistently. All the adult males in the church treated me like a daughter — a cherished one — something that my own father had failed to do.
And these experiences continued when I enrolled at Brigham Young University, where I was never once pressured for sex in five years of dating male 20-somethings. In those years of both casual dates and multiple long-term relationships, I was never once struck, called a name, whistled at, groped or complimented on one of my body parts. I went on to work as a secretary for the church’s Family History Department, where men would regularly open doors for me, chide each other for not showing me enough deference, display obvious biases toward my opinions and desires and try to set me up with their sons.
When I finally left Utah, it was with an elevated sense of inherent value that nothing in my childhood would suggest was possible. This is the principal point I wish to make. My childhood left me shot through with fear and shame — innumerable layers of it. I may not recover from all of it in this life. However, the healing and the real happiness I’ve experienced so far is nothing short of miraculous. And it is largely because of my association with the church, and the love bestowed on me by the good and faithful men in it.
Contrary to popular perception, men in leadership capacities in my faith are not “bosses,” but brothers and fathers, which I desperately needed. I don’t know why or how, but I know that I needed to feel this kind of love, particularly from men, who became conduits for God’s own pure and rationally unaccountable love that put my shame to shame.
It was heart-warming to read this perspective at a time when so many critics of the Church have lost all perspective on the extreme issues affecting so many people today.
As the author says: “As a young girl, I grew up surrounded by poverty (at times extreme), physical violence and drugs. I don’t mean the psychological trauma of sitting through an uncomfortable discussion about the law of chastity. I mean the kind where someone chokes you after you complain that their pornographic video is keeping you awake on a school night.”
Yes, the solution to the world’s problems is more Jesus and more people joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I am very pleased that this particular woman found a safe haven in an organization that is very patriarchal in organization. It is her personal experience, which has uplifted her spirits, and a credit to the male members of the ward/stake in which she resides.
Where have you been, M*? Nice to hear from you. David Alexander, CWIC Media, Saints Unscripted fill the void, but you were missed. Beautiful post, thank you.
I think that often, when women see patriarchy (in the postmodern sense), male oppression of women, and other such things in the Church – either its structure or the people filling their roles within the priesthood organisation, and just as members – it’s not because it’s really there, but because they’re bringing their postmodern/Marxist/feminist perspective and applying it to this context. They expect to see it there, and so they do. It’s how it’s interpreted, and what’s already decided must exist. If you believe the Church is inherently patriarchal (in the negative postmodern sense) and so on, then whatever you see and experience will be coloured with that.
As a simple example, someone with this perspective will see the fact that no woman gave a prayer or a talk in a Sacrament Meeting as evidence that women are ignored or unseen (this is what the person teaching Relief Society recently, on a week like this, said, and invited the women to make sure they are more ‘visible’, etc.) – when, in fact, women might have been asked and refused (this is actually what happened with one of the prayers – it was me, and I mentioned I’d prefer to give a talk, for example – so the counselor took me at my word and later assigned me one), or it’s just that those were the people chosen to speak that week, regardless of whether they’re male or female. If you see everything along women-versus-men lines, then you need everything to be ‘equal’ on those lines, regardless of every other worthwhile consideration – and things that are much more important, like developing Christlike attributes, making sure the Gospel is shared with the world, and so on. Same with the rest of the patriarchy/oppression/misogyny/etc. concepts. To anyone really looking, the Church, in its structure and its leaders, is very considerate towards and conscious of women and their role in the kingdom. In my life, they’ve given so many positive expressions regarding women – too much, in my opinion. As though women are generally ‘better’ than men, while giving strict commands to the men and being more harsh with them. There will always be exceptions in any organisation, especially one as large and diverse as this. But, amazingly, it retains so much continuity in things like this. I think women who see it in these negative ways really don’t know how good they have it.
It’s a twist on the ‘first-world problems’ trope: seeing something awful in something benign, because you need to have something to be victimised about or fight against, and then the reality of what you’re trying to apply to a context that doesn’t fit it, with people who have actually experienced the real version.
Idealist, good points. The other thing about the whole concern with “the patriarchy leading the Church” is that the Church is not like a business or other organization in that leadership is sometimes a burden more than anything else. I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, sincerely, “I hope I never get called as a bishop!” I think that myself all the time. In secular organizations we want the higher position because it means more power or more money. But the “power” of a higher calling in the Church simply means you will have a lot more work to do. Now I want to make it clear that when I have been asked to serve I have done it willingly, but I don’t sit around hoping I get some great calling with more power, whereas I do hope I get a promotion and a raise at work. See the difference?
So the complaints about the patriarchy leading the Church seem to me as if the people complaining have absolutely no idea what the Church is all about.
I have to agree with Idealist and Geoff, in my experience (in and out of Utah) no one who sits through ward and stake councils on a regular basis would view it as a patriarchal system unless they were trying to morph those meetings to fit a preconceived world view. If people do not see the RS, YW, and Primary Presidents as true leaders, then they are not looking with open eyes.