Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Brain Drain or Where Have All the Women Gone?  

by Christina
My husband and I had dinner with our home teacher and his family this past Sunday. We enjoyed a lovely meal and after Sis. X and I had thoroughly exhausted the topic of the vagaries of a life spent wearing undergarments designed by a male who clearly had no design experience, we got into the good stuff.

Home teacher X is a good man, actually a great man, and I have no problem with him - in fact, I like him very much - except that he happens to be in the stake high council. Unfortunately for him, this quirk of his means that sooner or later, as in any conversation I have with anyone with administrative authority in the church (ward clerk, anyone?), I started to pepper him with interrogatories and accusations, attempting to elicit any enlightened response on church policy.

This is my issue: why does the church so forthrightly and singlemindedly waste its greatest resource- the women?!!! In particular, let's talk about administrative leadership. I happened to go to law school in NYC along with others of you. Even during law school, a number of my male compatriots in the law school were tapped, rightly so, I'm sure, to share the burden of the administrative functioning of the stake. They were/are stake clerks, members of bishoprics, members of the high council, etc. This trend has only increased in the years since graduation. In fact, I would say we have a definite bias towards lawyers in the stake, perhaps because our great stake president is himself, one of the chosen. I, on the other hand, being of the female, if not feminine, persuasion, hold callings like primary teacher and compassionate service committee member. So, that is all well and good. I certainly don't aspire to be a bishop; I can rarely stay awake through sacrament meeting, and it would be mighty embarrassing to have to do my snoring on the stand.

I also recognize that we do have leadership roles for women: a woman can be a leader in the auxiliaries, as Primary or RS Pres. However, these roles tend to be reserved by age and experience in the church, unlike the leadership roles chosen for men around these parts. Furthermore, they are certainly off-limits for women who choose or are unable to work outside the home in a professional capacity. Finally, those roles deal exclusively with women and children. If a woman has a position of leadership in that or another capacity and needs to deal with men, her authority is always subject to the authority of a man.

So, what's up with the sexist treatment? Let's take as a given that the priesthood for men is a divinely inspired dictate and necessary for the preservation of order in the church and that hierarchy itself is a good (not that I don't, ahem, question that). What does priesthood service have to do with administrative function? If the men who come to NYC to go to law school and business school (sorry, MDs, I know you've got Yamada, but there just aren't as many of you) possess certain leadership/organizational skills, and the church chooses to call upon them to use that skill set, why not use women with those same skills that way?

The way I see it, priesthood function is organized to keep men interested in church. Excuse the generalizations, but the majority of men respond to hierarchy, responsibility, concrete accomplishment and power. So, the organization of the church does an effective job appealing to a certain kind of man, if not all men.

This isn't just a personal vendetta for me, because I happen to enjoy my callings, but rather a pattern of abuse we can track throughout the church. The bigger problem, aside from hurt feelings, is wasted resources. More educated women are not just excluded from serving most effectively in the church, they are squashed when attempts are made. Women, even those with certain carved-out leadership administration, still have to answer to (typically) socially-conditioned sexist males for approval of projects. Ultimately, I think many women just opt out. Why try to set up service projects at church when we can go outside the church and serve more effectively? I could be an attorney at Human Rights Watch and effect change, but if I wanted to set up a program to help at-risk youth in the church, I would have to clear it with fifteen people at the top of the stake, assuming I could even get them to answer my phone calls.

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