by Annie Berry
Annie Berry is wife and mother to two girls (8yrs and 18 months), raised LDS, and currently serving as nursery leader.
Even though for the most part I enjoy being female, there are some aspects of LDS church culture that make being female really confusing. For example, while in the Young Women’s program, my divine worth and how much value God places on women were emphasized. At the same time I learned about my polygamous ancestors. The principle of polygamy, the reasoning behind it, and the way it was instituted seemed to glaringly devalue women, their desires, their sensibilities and place their feelings and well-being second to the need for pro-creation.
Priesthood authority as a male-only privilege is one of those things I fully accepted when I was young, even though it didn’t quite jive with how much God supposedly valued women. I learned to considered my Dad a higher authority than my Mom on all subjects religious and godly, and likewise I considered the words of priesthood-holding Church leaders to be words from God, and trusted their connection with God over my own non-priesthood connection. When I got married I was hit with the realization of the full extent to which this principle affected me (and other women in the church in the past). A temple covenant placed my husband as the gatekeeper between God and myself, which left me feeling disconnected and inferior. And I later realized that some of the principles contained in the covenants I had made in the temple were principles Joseph Smith used to convince women to enter into polygamous marriages with him, even though Emma did not approve, and even justified the secrecy of some of those unions from Emma. When I realized that, I wondered if my own Dad, or even my husband had secret wives. At that point it was very obvious to me why I found those principles harmful and ungodly, but I couldn’t understand why it was harder for the men in my life and in the Church to understand why it hurt me. The need for creation of children, or the simple fact that God commanded it, seemed like rightful reasoning to them. But I couldn’t imagine God using a wrong to make a right, or to overcome an obstacle.
At that point I sought comfort in the thought of a Heavenly Mother. Surely she could understand how I felt. But even current LDS church doctrine didn’t tell me anything about her other than that she existed to produce spirit children, further supporting the reasoning Joseph Smith used to justify deceiving Emma and coercing other women into plural marriages at the expense of many of their well being, in the name of pro-creation.
For the first few years of my oldest child’s life I was struggling with post-partum depression and social anxiety to the point where I had little to no desire to get dressed or leave my house. I felt I couldn’t find fulfillment in the thing that I had always been taught gave me full value in God’s eyes, and therefore, I was unfit to do it. I felt my children deserved a parent to care for them that loved taking care of them, and I wanted to provide that for them, but I hadn’t been prepared for this. I felt trapped. I’m now very grateful to be a mother to two children, and I am in a place where I can find fulfillment in my everyday interactions and care of them, but only because I’m on anti-depression medication, give myself ample time for other things in my life, and do part-time work outside my home while someone else tends my baby.
Is it possible that some women are not fulfilled by the caretaking of children? Wouldn’t it be better to teach an awareness of that than to pretend all women love doing the exact same thing, so that women who feel that way can keep that in mind while searching for their future spouse and look for a partner who has a desire to be the home-maker, or who is willing to share the responsibility half and half? Would I have felt as trapped had there been other acceptable roles and divisions of labor presented to me and my husband growing up besides motherhood for women and providing for men? Likewise, are there some men who would prefer being a stay-at-home dad to being the sole provider? Is it really necessary to give differing directives and responsibilities to men and women regarding the parenting of their children, or can we let each individual couple sort it out? Is it really so ungodly for women to be breadwinners while husbands take care of children, or for both mom and dad to take turns making an income and taking care of children? Or have we let societal gender norms and expectations overshadow the things that really matter?
LDS church leaders give differing directives to women and men in the Proclamation on the Family, Conference talks, and other recently published church materials on the roles they should play as spouses and parents, and how to achieve divinity. Temple covenants and priesthood traditions position men as the gatekeepers of Godly authority and sanction, placing them as mediators of sorts between women and God. And while God the Father, and Jesus Christ provide a tangible model of divinity for men to follow, women are left with the mention that a Heavenly Mother exists, but little to nothing more about what role, if any, She plays in the Godhead, and in our mortal lives. Reasons Church leaders have given for these differing requirements and representations for men and women range from demeaning the nature of women in the earlier days of the LDS church (heavily recorded throughout the Journal of Discourses), to demeaning the nature of men in current teachings, such as when President Hinckley stated that men are spiritually inferior to women and so need the priesthood to make up for it.
Christ, a male, and the second member of The Godhead actually fulfills many of the attributes of Christianity that society (and the LDS church) often relates to femaleness (traditionally male attributes being strength, justice, protection, discipline, etc.. —traditionally female attributes being mercy, charity, comfort, forgiveness, etc.). Could it be that God is less concerned with societal gender norms, and more concerned with other crucial principles? Could it be that although men and women are in some ways different, that their spiritual needs are the same? Could it be that a divine Father can provide an adequate example of divinity for women because the spiritual needs and requirements for women to attain salvation do not differ from the spiritual needs and requirements of men?
To be honest when this first occurred to me I was not sure how I felt about not needing a woman in the Godhead to represent me, but then realized the only reason I’m not okay with a lack of female representation in the Godhead is because LDS Church leaders claim to know things about divine womanhood that I don’t and keep telling me that I’m doing it wrong. If that were eliminated, if Church leaders stopped placing different requirements on me than the ones they place on men, and telling me how much I’m valued while at the same time they belittle me, I’m pretty sure I would have no problem with a male heavenly Father representing me, a woman. In fact, if LDS Church leaders were suddenly able to procure more information on a Heavenly Mother and fit Her perfectly into the diagram of eternal life, within the terms of divine womanhood they’ve already drawn up, I think I’d feel just as uncomfortable with the Church’s current stance on women’s role in eternity as I do without a more detailed example to follow. I think the lie of “separate but equal treatment” would only further cement my hopelessness.
Is a female deity really also implied wherever God is mentioned? Is it possible that Church leaders are unable to produce a more detailed picture of Her because the picture of female deity they have so far presented is inaccurate? Or is it because the entire picture of celestial families they have so far promoted is inaccurate? Is a divine Father really so different from a divine Mother? Or is He simply represented that way because of tradition? Re-examining the way God created Adam in His image, and then took a piece from that image to create Eve, points to the possibility of there being a bit of femaleness inherent in a male God’s image. Otherwise how could he have extracted a female from something made in His image? Maybe no matter what our physical gender is, there’s a bit of male and female in all of us, and no matter what our physical differences are, the spiritual requirements for our attainment of salvation are the same. A lack of representation of a divine female in the Godhead tells me that I and other women require no separate representation or standards of divinity.