Pithy Phrase

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The "Spiritual" Sex

I recently discovered I have a teeth grinding problem.  I got a night guard and all that, but that doesn't treat the cause, and I can't wear it all the time.  Do you know what would stop me from grinding my teeth down to nothing morning, noon, and night?  I believe this bad habit would cease if all the sexism in the world would also cease.  So it looks like my straight, white, dazzling smile will be a toothless grin by the time I turn thirty-five.

One sexist "doctrine" that really frosts my cookies is that women are naturally more spiritual than men.  Let us have a little chat about benevolent sexism.  Benevolent sexism stems from the interdependence of the sexes.  It consists of ideas that women need to be cherished and protected by men, that men depend on women to fulfill the "essential" roles of parenting and homemaking, and that men need women (to be romantic sexual objects) to feel complete.  It is different from hostile sexism, which branch is more familiar to most people.  Benevolent sexism is a hot topic in sex and gender scientific literature right now because, more and more, studies are showing that it is just as harmful as hostile sexism.  People who embrace benevolent sexism are more likely to also embrace hostile sexism.  Studies have shown that benevolent sexism is a more subtle and cunning way to subjugate women.  As men treat women in a benevolently sexist manner, women often begin to accept male dominance.  This then propagates the cycle of inequality.

Back to women's "innate" spirituality.  This common sentiment in Mormanity (my word for the culture entwined in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is a form of benevolent sexism.  Many members, including general authorities, use this sentiment to justify every instance of differential treatment of the sexes.  It is often said that women don't need the priesthood because they're naturally more spiritual, while men need the opportunity to serve and grow.  Another common one is that a woman must nurture the children because she innately walks closer to God.  Sometimes I wonder if these dogmas are spouted off so frequently as a way to keep women complacent in their places of lesser power in Church authority.  The fact is, women are more active in religion the world over.  Why the difference, you ask?  I have come to the conclusion that, since women have historically been held in inferiority and powerlessness by men, they have become more humble.  This, then, has become a societal norm, and the social differences still present today continue the trend.  As we all know, humility begets faith in God.  Those who have less have greater need to believe in and rely on a higher spiritual power; they hope that this divine being will give them their just reward in time.  Therefore, the humbled women throughout history have turned to God for comfort.

Some other benevolently sexist attitudes common in the Church:
  • We don't talk about Heavenly Mother because Heavenly Father is protecting her name from the abuse and slander of the world (if that is the case, then maybe I don't want to be a Heavenly Mother someday.  This paints a picture of a rather weak and inconsequential divine feminine, don't you think?  By the way, this was initially said by a primary teacher.  Also, there is no doctrine that says that the topic of Heavenly Mother is taboo and should not be discussed.  In my opinion, we should be a little wary when discussing her in a formal church setting only because there is so little doctrine on her).
  • Men have the priesthood and women, instead of the priesthood, have motherhood (as if fatherhood can in no way compare to motherhood.  Granted, only women can give birth and nurse.  But men can bottle feed, hold, nurture, and show just as much love as women can.  Cultural bounds lead us to believe this is not true, but it is).
  • Whereas in the priesthood session of conference men get the third degree, women in the relief society session are patted and praised and coddled for how good they are (in my opinion, women are just as intrinsically bad as men are; culture has just taught them to be more subtle about it.  Any differences in bad conduct is the product of societal norms and not of innate goodness).
In summary, all sexism is bad.  Whether you're telling a woman she's too emotional to work in a high-pressure environment, telling a girl that someday her knight in shining armor will come and whisk her away to the temple, or even telling a boy that he can't cry or a man that he can't love his own child as well as his wife can, it's all sexism, and it's all hurtful.  So don't do it, people.  My teeth are begging you.

To find out how much sexism you espouse, take this quiz.


Kevin Dolan said...

I can dig it. So do you think men holding the priesthood exclusively is wrong? And if not, why do you think it works that way? I don't buy the typical pat answers people recite in Sunday School either, for most of the same reasons.

JB Herrick said...

Okay, I took the quiz and here are some questions I scored highly on the "benevolent sexism" scale. I'd like to know what's inherently wrong with these:

"Men should be willing to sacrifice their own well being in order to provide financially for the women in their lives."

I guess I believe this is an obligation of marriage.

"Every man ought to have a woman whom he adores."

I would say the same about a woman. Isn't adoration of your loved one a good thing?

So that's my take on those two... but my mind is open. I'm willing to learn, if it's really sexism.

Mhana said...

There is a really good book on some of the history stuff you're talking about (many, actually) but one treats that specifically, it'a called Ladies of the Leisure Class. It talks about how as men in France became increasingly politicized as they enjoyed citizenship, and became more anti-clerical, women turned increasingly to the church. One of the theories about that is that religion offers a legitimate sphere of action for women where they can take initiative and act in the public sphere without repercussions because they are within the boundaries of the church. Being a social worker independantly was bad because you were taking a job in the public sphere that exposed you to disease and poverty when you should be at home. But being a benevolent angel charity worker from CHURCH gave legitimacy to what was essentially the same project.

I went to the temple with my MIL this week (about an hour and a half drive each way) and we started talking about feminism and the church. She is not someone who understands any feminist concerns with the church at all. I explained them, but she did not enter into any of them. Virtually everything she said was straight out of this benevolent sexism point. "But I don't want to be bishop, I am tired of leadership and am happy to follow" "I admire how Adam took care of Eve, he was so considerate of her" (when I pointed out that after the Fall, Eve keeps her mouth shut and never says another word or participates in anything that happens until they die, except childbirth). "I don't want the priesthood" and on and on. It was not a fight worth fighting, but it makes me sad how many women have drunk so deeply of the koolaid that they can't admit injustice even when it is staring them in the face.

jody j balda said...

you could just lighten up a little that I am sure would help with the teeth grinding. I have been a member my whole life and I feel in no way that I have ever been treated in a sexist manner by any church leader. It is not the church who says women can not hold the priesthood it is God. I think what your problem might be is that you see little value in the role of womenhood and fall short to see the real power that calling has. but untill you romove that chip on your sholder you probably never will. I kinda feel sorry for you.
This coming from a very strong iron willed very independant women. maybe you should be a little less (power) hungry and be a little more concerned with doing what you need to keep and understand your temple covenants. There in lyes true joy and peace of mind.

jody j balda said...

by the way feminist drive me crazy I see them and women with way too much time on there hands. and too much concern for ones self.

Jenna said...

Kevin: More and more I am thinking that women will one day hold an equal priesthood authority to that of men. There is scriptural, historical, and ritual precedent for it. I don't know how it might come about or what that might look like, but I can't believe in a god who only lets some of his children with certain organs act in his name. And I take the name "God" to mean a woman and a man.

Statement 1: I think the problem here is that it's too specific. Should not a man sacrifice to provide for all of his family members, not just the female ones? Should not a woman also sacrifice to provide for all of her family members? Espousing this statement can lead to hostile sexism, especially in the workplace (this man is trying to provide for his family, but you women don't need to, so he should get this job. It's his duty as a man). It also suggests that a woman needs a man to provide for her, and cannot do it herself. A woman who is not able to provide for herself, but must be romantically involved with a man in order to survive, is somewhat enslaved.
Statement 2: This one paints women as a prize to be won to signify that you are a legitimate man. It objectifies women as symbols of manhood (the play "The Dollhouse" is an interesting commentary on this sort of thing). I believe this is detrimental to men as well. It suggests that men who do not have a significant other are not as good as other men, or are not complete. It justifies the ostracization of men who don't fit into the "attached, heterosexual man" ideal.
They seem nice at first, but the underlying ideals make them unacceptable.

Jenna said...


That makes so much sense. The only legitimate way for women to enter the public sphere was through religious activity. I might go find that book . . . unless it's in French?
I'm so lucky to have like-minded in-laws. I have gone to my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law with many a feministic quandry.

Yes, it's quite obvious that feminists drive you crazy. But if you believe women should have the right to vote, should receive the same pay as men, and should be esteemed as equal to men socially, then you're a feminist too. A feminist is one who believes in the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes. I understand that when someone says derogatory things about a belief you've unquestioningly espoused your whole life, it can be unnerving. I respect your opinion, if not the way you expressed it. And I respectfully disagree. It's not about having power, it's about being respected enough so people are okay with you having power. Perhaps you're right about my lack of understanding about womanhood, but I guess that depends on your definition of womanhood. I get frustrated by the constant cry that "men are from Mars, women are from Venus". We're not intrinsically that different. Our society has just told us we are so long that we believe it.

Questioning church practices is not a sin. In fact, it's encouraged. I believe in having a healthy dose of skepticism (I am a scientist, after all). I'm not afraid to question, and I'm not afraid to come to unsavory conclusions. I can acknowledge the good and bad in the church and stay active. I believe in fighting injustice wherever it's found. Even if it's in my own religion.

On another note, I don't know you. How did you find my blog?

Bob Balda said...

on the contarary I am not a femanist in any way I believe in equal rights of citizens of this great country regardless of race color or gender, femanists of the 60's and 70's and now today are just a bunch of women who can find nothing better to do with there time than to cry and complain about how they are not treated the same as a men. to be honest it is very annoying. you say that men and women are not inherintly different I can tell you being a mother of both a boy and a girl that there is no doubt that they are. you give my boy a doll and before you know it he will be having it drive a tank and blowing up bad guys you give my girl a iron man and soon enough he will be helping her princess get on her hourse while they ride of into the sunset....I have seen both things while I sat back and watched in silence. no one ever taught them these things they just do them. the thing that bugs me as that you seem to think it is a bad thing that we are different....why is that bad? Men and Women are ment to be companions in life and in the church put together to accomplish lifes goals. I honestly see nothing less important being a homemaker than it is for my husband to go out and work to provide for out family each role is equally important in my eyes and in that of the leaders of the church as far as I have ever heard. I find it insulting that you elude otherwise. I am a mother of 3 beautiful children and my job is the most chalanging I have ever had. Even harder than serving a mission amd learning another language. It is also the most rewarding. We are not in a competition to see who can be most imprortant Man or Woman. It is a partnership and an ingeniouse one at that. by the way there is a place in the church where women can act in the name of the priesthood and that is in the temple it is the only place and I will say nothing more about it cause it is sacred but next time you go pay attention and you will see what I am talking about. The organization of this church is put into place by God not man and it is in this order for his purpose to fulfill and I don't think it is becuase he is out to make women feel less important. Who are you or anyone to question him? If you know the church is true then you should have no problems with how things are run. and if you do then maybe you should get on your knees and find out what you should do about it, ask and it shall be opened unto you. Women are not supressed in this church at all, infact we are incouraged to exceed and succedd in all we set out to do, as well as men. If they are supressed it is of their own doing in their own minds. by the way I just happened appon your blog through a fb post.

Motion DeSmiths said...

Who are these people and how do they find your blog?

You're right, Bob. There is probably no better use of my time than to attempt to educate people about sexism. Good insight.