Society has never taken kindly to assertive (uppity?) women. Assertiveness is a trait that is often socialized out because a woman’s “no” has the ability to stop male power right in its tracks. Most of us are taught early that nice girls make people happy. We think of ourselves last and never stop to consider, or at least shouldn’t stop to consider the fairness of it all. Unfortunately, Mormon women are not immune to this same societal expectation.
Indeed, the Good Mormon Woman archetype is pounded into us from our earliest moments in church. And perhaps the most important characteristic of a good Mormon woman is faithful acquiescence. Throw in the fervent belief that one’s duty to God includes supporting the priesthood and it’s no surprise that women seem to be the only ones compromising on what’s best for them. Of course it is much more complex than I have outlined but nothing will ever change until women start saying no!
I will provide examples of what saying no can look like:
Several months ago, Jessawhy wrote about her experience as the Cub Scout Leader in her ward. Jessawhy was in charge of planning the Pinewood Derby, an activity that clearly fell under her stewardship. In counseling with several other scout leaders and women in the ward, Jessawhy decided it would be fun to invite the Activity Day girls to the derby as well. But before she was allowed to see the activity to fruition, her idea was callously dismissed by a member of the bishopric. No explanation was given, just a ‘we’re not doing that” and she was expected to accept unquestioningly. Jessawhy did question, however, and in seeking answers from the Bishop she was informed that she did not have the authority to make final decisions in her calling. The expectation was that she would do as she was told. Jessawhy respectfully told her bishop that working under those conditions was not good for her and resigned her position as Cub Scout committee chair.
My mother is a professional genealogist and was the Family History Director in her ward until this position was made a priesthood calling. Now my mother is a family history consultant and reports to a counselor in the High Priest Group leadership. This man then relays her information to the High Priest Group leader who takes the message onto ward council. This system is problematic for many reasons but particularly because the third-hand message is not conveyed accurately or with the same degree of importance that it would be if my mother had a greater voice. This leaves my mother feeling isolated and frustrated that she cannot magnify her calling as she would like. Recently she was told by the high priest group leader and Sunday School president that the bishop wanted her to teach a family history Sunday School class. The bishop never asked or consulted with my mother to see if this was a good idea or even something she wanted to do, it was just expected that she would do it. Had the bishop, high priest group leader, or Sunday school president bothered to get her input they would have learned of serious problems with the class as it was proposed. When my mother voiced these concerns and proposed solutions her ideas were met with disdain and so she refused to participate.
These two examples are symptoms of a larger problem. Women’s voices and experience are often not considered. Though well-intentioned, the demands made of my mother and Jessawhy were damaging and they had the courage to say, “No, I will not participate in something where my voice isn’t valued.” I have no doubt that this was not the answer these bishops were expecting. Good Mormon women don’t refuse requests or demands from their priesthood leaders…but this is how change will be made.
It is obvious that Mormon women have no real institutional power. However, we do have influence. Yes, if men didn’t show up to church we couldn’t even call Sacrament Meeting to order, let alone participate in sacred ordinances. But if women refused to meet the expectations of their male leadership, the church would cease to exist. Make no mistake, there is power in this.
If there is anything that April General Conference showed us is that the general leadership is afraid women will stop fulfilling their duties of nurturing children, supporting the priesthood and exalting men. And they should be afraid; with just under a majority of young women leaving the church there is a looming crisis in our future.
If ever there was a time to start pushing for greater voice and representation in church hierarchy now is that time! The church will change but it needs its good, faithful women to stand up and say, “No, this doesn’t work for me!” Use your influence. Speak out about the things that injure you. Say no to the policies that have not taken your needs into consideration. I believe that our leaders genuinely care about the women under their stewardship. I believe that the church wants to make us happy.
It is our responsibility and duty to tell them how.