Am I missing the whole point of this book? (Women At Church)

Joe and I are reading this book together (this is a review):

We’re only a few chapters into it, but I want to jot down a few thoughts this morning.

I think in the end I will agree or will like a lot of the practical ideas she shares. I am one to agree that we can’t just keep doing something because it’s how it’s always been done. I liked Sis. Beck’s comment in a roundtable discussion that a bad reason to do a certain ward activity is because we did it last year. A good reason is because it will bless and change lives! I like that, and I get it. And I think a lot of McBaine’s suggestions are along those lines.

However, the framing of the entire book project is different from how I approach things. She starts with the problem of gender inequality, and then looks within teachings and policy books to find ways that this can be overcome. I appreciate her non-combative model, and I appreciate her respect for decisions made by Priesthood leaders. I like all of that.

I worry though that her motivations, while respectable, will in the end result in other problems she’s not forseeing. I am happy to see women more involved in councils, but I am happy because that is they way that revelation will come and not because it will increase gender equality. I think that she would say that those can’t be separated, and I’m sympathetic to that idea. (I myself, however, am more motivated by the idea of keeping faithful to the scriptures first and foremost, and then I assume somewhere in me that whatever problems we have with gender inequality and the associated pain end up fixing themselves naturally. I have a fear that if we head straight for fixing that one problem, we will overlook other issues that all interconnect and end up with other faith and community problems down the road.)

The idea of posting pictures of Stake or Ward Relief Society pictures is an interesting one. She compares this to how many men’s pictures are posted and she wants to see women also represented. She cites the example that Relief Society leaders are now pictured in the halls in Salt Lake City along with Priesthood leaders. The flaw I see here though is that those men weren’t being pictured because of their personal achievement or so that they can be a role model. (And so I think those women shouldn’t been seen as being pictured for those reasons either.) I think that they are being pictured because they are the leaders of a Priesthood organization, and we are celebrating the work that the Priesthood organization can do. If we then post pictures of the Relief Society organizational leaders, let it be to celebrate the work that the Relief Society is doing and the way that it glorifies God, and not to celebrate the achievement of women per se.

I understand her idea and while I do think it has merit in general and for other reasons, there seems to be a slight flaw in how she is discussing this idea. Or at least, I had never before thought that putting up a picture of President Monson in the hallway at Church was to communicate that he was a role model for my sons. Yes he is a good person, but I would have put that picture up so that all of my children know who to look to for spiritual guidance. He is pictured because of his calling and not because he is an example.

Likewise, I want my oldest daughter, who is old enough to be aware of things in the Church, to know of the work God gave to Relief Society and the potential she has to consecrate herself to that same work. Pointing out the local leaders could be one way of doing that, but it’s not the only way to do that. 

But here I am sure I’m missing something that makes this look like I’m missing the whole point of her book. I don’t know that I am but perhaps how I worry about this one example will make it evident that I am?


9/7/14 update

Maybe another way to explain this would be:

With my daughter and son now both doing weekday activities, it is painfully obvious how much attention, praise, and reward the boys get and the girls don’t. What bothers my daughter the most is that they get activities every week and she gets them twice a month (or less, if one is canceled!). During our conversations I’ve pointed out that her activities are often more fulfilling, fun, and light-hearted than his are. His are more often, but follow a cub scout program that may or may not actually fit the needs of the boys, and come with these odd expectations that this is “important” without really making much of the program. Also, I dislike the constant reward for very little work. 

I see what is going on for my son, and I don’t see that as really being the best use of his time, or the leaders’ time, or Church tithing money. The problem I see is not that the girls need more attention — rather, I think the girls’ program has it right, and the boys’ program is excessive.

The fact that we are ok with that excessiveness is, I think, a symptom of our gender inequality.

However, to focus on the gender inequality and try to fix that by equalizing the girls’ level of money and attention to that of the boys would, I think, be a huge mistake. Rather, I think we ought to be honest enough to recognize that the boys program is no longer the best way to handle things, and that we ought to be willing to change that tradition. The boys program ought to be scaled back simply because it would be more in line with the purposes of the Church first. Then there would be gender equality, but in this case, because the girls’ program was already more in line (I think) with the goals of the Church.

We ought to be equal in our devotion and consecration.

And feel like that step is missing (so far) in her book. I feel like she starts with gender equality, and then looks for ways to fix it and justifies those ways within our current policies and doctrines (and does a very good job in fact). But, the order of the steps bothers me and I think if we follow her advice we will end up making changes that are missing the right vision of the Church. And, I think that vision (of what the goals of the Church are, of consecration, and so on) is actually crucial in affecting gender balance in a way that will actually be lasting (because, it is more honest to the work of the Church). Does that make sense?

Likewise, I don’t know that I think the girls need more recognition in Sacrament Meeting. I think that honoring an eagle scout in a meeting dedicated to remembering Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection is what is off here.

So maybe I could say that wherever there is gender inequality in the Church, I’m inclined to first ask whether or not it is a symptom of a larger problem. And I’m afraid that if we treat the symptom rather than getting down to the deeper problem, that we are going to see ill effects of that treatment down the road and still not get us back to the healthy, faithful Zion body we’re aiming for. 🙂 Maybe?

Also, I say “first ask” because I would think that there are many examples where gender inequality could be fixed with simple measures, which seems to be Sis McBaine’s main message. But I think that those measures need to be counseled about only after we’ve first asked whether or not we, basically, need to repent and get our relationship to God right again. I think. Such is my natural inclination anyway — is that missing something crucial?

So I guess I could also sum it up as —

When it appears that one group is unfairly raised up above another, is the solution to elevate the latter to the status of the former? Is the solution to bring down lower the former group? And also, what is orienting our decisions — is there something else outside of these two questions that might be a better way to orient how we treat these two groups?


3 responses to “Am I missing the whole point of this book? (Women At Church)

  • Mike B

    I’m thinking about your last question in terms of economic equality. I think we don’t want to make everyone poor, since there’s supposed to be no poor in Zion. So we should want to eliminate poverty. But that doesn’t mean we want to make everyone white middle class suburbanites either.

    My guess at a third option would be something like how Ranciere says if we’re trying to achieve equality (perhaps by lowering or elevating) then we’ve already made a classic mistake. We ought to begin by assuming equality from the outset.

    But I wonder if that works with the Lord saying, “if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.” The Lord seems to allow that we might be unequal, whereas Ranciere precludes that possibility from the outset.

  • Karen

    On your first two paragraphs: Amen! Ranciere says to “progress” towards equality is exactly the wrong way go.

    I’m not sure, but I think that the reason the Lord wants us to be equal in earthly things is that the reason we are not, is because of pride (that is, we think the poor are inferior to the rich). It’s an act of humbling ourselves to share our things. It’s not actually the equality of goods we are after, but a one-ness of heart.

  • Karen

    I have more thoughts on Ranciere and equality here but I don’t know that I’ll have time to get to them right away. In the meanwhile, there is another post about this book if you’d like to have more to respond to:

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