Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Responses to de facto Gender Discrimination 

by Karen
Let me start this post by acknowledging that my assertions are anecdotal, but also note that I know a lot of women in the church. I talk to a lot of women. I've lived in several wards of differing personality, and one commonality I've found is that most women do not consider themselves discriminated against by the church. They're at peace with the Priesthood issues, and are too busy worrying about their own spiritual progress to get caught up in gender angst. Like most of my friends, I'm bemused by outsiders who bemoan the role of women in the church. We choose to be members, and understand our decision. So, I'm not making an argument of any official gender discrimination, I personally don't think that is the relevant inquiry.

What I am concerned about are the numerous instances of de facto gender discrimination that I see in private relationships between members. This becomes more disturbing when one party presumes to insinuate that their position and opinions are "official." Let me illustrate with a third hand story.

We have a very large Spanish speaking ward in our stake. It is tradition that every stake conference begins or ends with a prayer in Spanish. (This, in addition to the translation services provided.) I personally love this tradition, and find it admirably inclusive. However, at a recent stake conference, some younger men in my ward became really upset at this, finding it totally inappropriate. (For what I assume were conservative "English only in America" reasons....another topic for another day....) A woman, also in my ward, who was sitting near-by challenged them and a heated discussion ensued. One of the men ended it by basically telling her that he was going to the bishop to complain, and that he had the authority to do so. (Insinuating that as a priesthood holder he could, and she couldn't.)

Okay, laugh at this story if you must. You wouldn't be the first. My concern is the insinuation that women are powerless to affect change in the church. I simply don't think that is true, and that we have every obligation to use our time, talents, and means to improve and build the church. Think these situations are isolated? How much attention is payed to the scouts vs. the young women in your ward? Think about the jokes about the frivolousness of Relief Society. I think the relevant question is how do we respond to the numerous cuts, insinuations, and "bone-headed" remarks that we are sooner or later exposed to.

I think we have four options. 1) Over time we start to believe the message that women's experiences in the church are less valuable than men's. (Sadly, a common reaction.) 2) We "turn the other cheek" recognizing the ridiculousness of the situation, but not reacting. (My usual M.O.--often accompanied by a dramatic eye roll...) 3) We confront the speaker and point out the problem. (Maybe the most healthy response, but come one....I think our strongest cultural trait is being passive aggressive, so how often does this happen?) or 4) We attribute the motives of the individual actor to the church as a whole and slowly become embittered. (Leading, eventually, to some level of apostasy.)

My questions. What is the appropriate response by women? What responsibilities do men (and women...)have to evaluate their own behavior? What responsibilities do ward leaders (of both genders) have to evaluate the gender discrimination issues in their wards and address them?

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