A message came through for the youth one General Conference, inviting them to join a challenge. They could earn prizes by watching Conference, recording their thoughts, and submitting them. Simple and straightforward, right? Except, they included one caveat: The Young Men could opt to watch Women’s Conference or choose to watch old Priesthood sessions instead.
This exception puzzled me. Why exactly wouldn’t Young Men benefit from watching the Women’s Session? Is it because watching a session for women might make men uncomfortable? Or is it because messages by women are only for women? Maybe messages for women aren’t significant to men? Perhaps it’s because female speakers don’t have the authority to speak to men?
I haven’t seen a message for a Men’s Meeting Conference weekend, so perhaps the Young Women will receive the same exception? Except it’s not quite the same, is it? In fact, men do attend the Women’s Session. They preside over the session, are praised for gracing the session with their presence, and they are always the final speaker, offering the last, and most important, word.
This is just one example in a series of, presumably unintentional, sexist moments that persist each General Conference. As a feminist, I’m frequently told to pick my battles, to be grateful for small changes, and to acknowledge good intent. This is difficult because I’m also often told that my “demands” are too high to be realistic or, paradoxically, too insignificant to be bothered with.
Despite this challenge of making just right suggestions, I genuinely believe we can have a more Christ-centered and inclusive General Conference if we adjust some our common language choices and ingrained cultural habits.
10 Ways to Improve General Conference for Women This Weekend
- Call women by their titles. Just as you reference men as “President,” or “Counselor,” do the same for women. If you call a man “president” long after his term as Bishop or Elder’s Quorum President has ended, do the same for women. This small change is a significant way to indicate respect for a woman’s authority and contributions.
- Create Conference Packets that Include Female Speakers and Female Representation. Any packet given to keep children engaged in Conference should include sections for female speakers, highlights of female leaders, and coloring pages and word searches that include visuals of women. Otherwise, the message that men are the main/only authority figures in the LDS church is reinforced.
- Listen to Female Speakers. The popular joke when I was younger (no kidding!) was, “Oh. It’s a woman speaker. Time to get a snack or go to the bathroom!” This went along with criticizing female speaker’s for using “Primary voice” and, therefore, making listening to them unbearable for any serious thinker. Can we just let go of these tired tropes in 2021? If women truly have authority in the LDS church and if no position/calling is above another, then female speakers should be given the same attention and respect as their male counterparts.
- Quote Female Speakers. When General Conference is over and members begin filling talks with quotes, make a special effort to include female speakers. This will admittedly, be a challenge because of the limited number of women speaking in the four main sessions, but do it anyway. Otherwise, the promise that women have a significant, important voice in the LDS church is an empty one.
- Study and Teach from Talks by Women. Given the small number of female presenters each conference, it makes sense that the next 6 months of lessons for women and men should include every female talk from the previous conference. Cover these and you’ll still discuss the words of far more men and Priesthood holders.
- Avoid Referring to Someone as “So and So’s Wife.” Being the wife of a prophet, an apostle, a Mission President, or Bishop is not a title. Introduce them as individuals with contributions and selfhood independent of their martial status. If we believe they are being called to serve alongside their husbands, then let’s call them officially and give them a title that reflects their authority.
- Have Women Speak at the Men’s (Priesthood) Session. Better yet, invite them to speak at the Men’s Session and have them speak last. Are women’s issues important to men? Can women speak on all issues? Do women share in the priesthood? If yes, then why don’t LDS female authorities speak to male-only audiences?
- Use the Term “Heavenly Parents.” They Young Women’s theme declares, “I am a daughter of Heavenly Parents.” This seemingly small change makes my heart beat a little faster with joy whenever I hear it. As someone seeking and longing for the feminine divine, I love to be reminded that I come from Heavenly Parents and have a Heavenly Mother.
- Ask the Young Men to Help Babysit. Whether it is the Women’s Session or Men’s Session, many parents need help minding children during conference. Don’t just ask the young women to provide free service on a Saturday night. This is an excellent service opportunity for the future fathers of the church.
- Make Women Donuts. This may not apply this weekend, but plan ahead for October. If the women in your life have a lovely tradition of making donuts or treats for you to enjoy when you arrive home, do something special for them next session. PS. Watching the kids doesn’t count (that’s fatherhood).