Notes on the Proclamation

November 15, 2004 | 58 comments
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In the fall of 1995 I enrolled in a critical theories seminar; first out of the block was feminism. One afternoon in September, I sat at a carrel in the old reading room on the south side of the HBLL and wrote on the inside cover of my reader a personal manifesto of sorts: “Why I don’t believe in gender essentialism.� Less than a week later, I sat in the Marriott Center watching the Women’s Broadcast on the big screen, and heard President Hinckley say, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose.�

In the years since that afternoon when my personal view came head-to-head with prophetic utterance, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Proclamation on the Family. I take prophetic counsel seriously, and I never considered rejecting the Proclamation’s pronouncements about gender out of hand. But neither was I able to relinquish my deeply-felt conviction immediately and simply. Equal parts of soul-searching and close reading have brought me to a blessed (though dynamic) peace with the Proclamation. While I don’t intend to produce here a feminist-vetted reading of the Proclamation, I will set out a few notes and ask for your response.

“Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.� Gender essentialism, any theory that ascribes a certain fixed set of sex-coordinated characteristics inherent from birth to each individual, finds here its LDS expression. Most arguments about gender essentialism turn on the creaky nature v. nurture debate, essentialists positing a biological endowment from birth and constructionists an ideological system as the architect of sex difference. The Proclamation, though, suggests an entirely different kind of essentialism that begins neither at biological birth nor at early socialization, but at a pre-mortal stage of existence. Because gender, in current usage, implies the social expression of sex differences, this formulation would be absurd under any other theological system, precisely because the idea of a pre-mortal social system would be absurd. But because Mormonism posits a pre-mortal sociality, a pre-mortal form of gender is also conceivable. But let’s get to the interesting stuff: in what characteristics, precisely, does essential gender inhere? I suggest, anticlimactically, that we have no way of knowing. One might speculate that because essential gender precedes the physical body, it necessarily excludes those characteristics that stem directly from biology: the nurture-response triggered by the release of oxytocin at breastfeeding, for example, would not be a part of a pre-mortal essential femaleness, nor would the aggression triggered by testosterone levels be a part of essential maleness. Alternatively, one might (and most LDS do) conflate the Proclamation’s assertion of essential gender with its later prescription of gender-segregated family roles, concluding that essential gender must mean that women are nurturers, since they’re responsible for the nurture of children, and men are providers, since they’re responsible for providing. But the Proclamation provides no basis for this conflation; indeed, the passage on essential gender is separated by some six paragraphs from the passage on gender roles. If we stick to the Proclamation, we have to conclude that gender is somehow essential, but that we do not know precisely what that means.

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.� These are probably the most politically controversial and oft-contested sentences in the Proclamation (with the exception of the man-woman marriage pronouncement). Part of the difficulty with these sentences, I suggest, stems from a crucial ambiguity in syntax. “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children� could mean one of two things: either, “mothers’ chief responsibility, over and above any other endeavor or pursuit, should be the nurture of their children�; or, alternatively, “mothers, rather than fathers, should be primarily responsible for the nurture of the children.� I prefer the second reading, which construes gender roles as a convenient organizational principle for the division of family labor, rather than as a limiting description of a woman’s life. As vice-president in charge of nurture, I know that I must take ultimate responsibility for, say, safeguarding the children’s health (even if it’s John who takes them to the doctor), or determining the best educational options (even if it’s John who drops them off); conversely, John, as vice-president in charge of provisioning, knows that he has ultimate responsibility for getting college funds going (even if I transfer the money), or planning long-term financial stability (even if I contribute some of the money)—although in every case, of course, the decisions would be reached by mutual consent. This way, ideally, the crucial matters of family business don’t get left unattended because neither parent feels the responsibility to make sure it happens; simultaneously, though, it allows for flexibility in performing that work, according to situation.

“We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.� Finally, a quibble. Is the family actually the fundamental unit of society? Wouldn’t the family more properly be described as the fundamental organization of society? Surely, beginning at least with Enlightenment, the individual has been the fundamental unit of society: the voting franchise, the census, the social security system, and most other societal systems take the individual as the basic unit. What’s at stake in calling the family the “fundamental unit�?

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58 Responses to Notes on the Proclamation

  1. Adam Greenwood on November 15, 2004 at 1:48 am

    “six paragraphs apart”

    The thing is, Rosalynde Welch, that the proclamation isn’t entitled “A Proclamation on every cool doctrine that has the word gender,” or “A Grab Bag Proclamation on Unconnected Thoughts.” The Proclamation is of a piece. Pre-mortal gender and current gender roles are both included because they are connected.

  2. Rosalynde Welch on November 15, 2004 at 1:56 am

    Adam, hold on, don’t get mad or dismissive (maybe I’m misreading your tone?), because I think we can have a good discussion. Yes, essential gender and gender roles are both related to the family, so it’s not mere accident that they’re in the proclamation. But, if you dismiss my reading, what do you make of the fact that the statement on essential gender is so brief and lacking in specifics?

  3. Derek on November 15, 2004 at 2:44 am

    I still wonder what the Lord really thinks of the Mr. Mom scenarios.

  4. David King Landrith on November 15, 2004 at 3:25 am

    I’ve often wondered about the relationship between the DNA and pre-mortal characteristics. Presumably, DNA factors into many of our mortal characteristics and aptitudes. Presumably also, pre-mortal characteristics factor into many of our mortal characteristics and aptitudes, as well as factoring into many of the obligations and duties that we have in mortality. But the precise relationship between DNA and pre-mortal characteristics is unknown. (A friend of mine wrote an article exploring the possibilities entailed in this relationship in Dialogue a few years back—I’ll post the publication data if anyone’s interested.)

    At any rate, the portion of the Proclamation you discuss under the moniker of gender essentialism seems to settle the DNA/pre-mortal characteristics issue in favor of pre-mortality; i.e., it would appear that mortals are destined (and not merely ordained) to get XX or XY chromosomes because of their pre-mortal gender state.

    That said, you seem to interpret the Proclamation’s gender role descriptions with an emphasis on obligations rather than traits or aptitudes. If this is a fair characterization, this would seem to lead to the consequence that some goals of our mortal mission (if you will) are determined by our discernible genetic makeup—and it appears that we’re headed in the direction of increasing the discernibility of genetic makeups.

    I find this to be an interesting consequence of your interpretation, though I must admit that I don’t know exactly what to make of it.

  5. Rob Briggs on November 15, 2004 at 3:49 am

    Rosalynde, another very thoughtful interpretation. You’ve raised a number of issues but I’ll confine myself to your last paragraph.

    The family as fundamental unit vs. individual as fundamental unit & family as fundamental organization. I hadn’t considered your point, mainly because I think they were using “family unit” in its common usage which includes the connotation of family as “organizing unit.” On the other hand, Identifying the individual as the “fundamental unit” is problematic because it harkens to western/American individualism and is obviously ethnocentric, IMO. That notion is very time- and culture-bound and is of quite recent, in relative terms, vintage.

    I was curious why there was no reference to “extended family.” Taking the long view over time and across cultures, extended family was & still is a profoundly important mode of organization (to say nothing of how things are/will be organized in heaven.) But that’s not the case in modern America where, because of social & geographic mobility & other factors, the role of extended family has been greatly diminished (much to our detrimental, I believe.) A reference to extended family presumably would have called erring Americans & others westerners to reconsider their ways. At the same time it would have resonated in developing countries (assuming, of course, that the Proclamation came to the attention of the peoples of those countries.)

  6. quinn on November 15, 2004 at 5:55 am

    how much of this has to do with salvation?

  7. Russell Arben Fox on November 15, 2004 at 8:21 am

    “Surely, beginning at least with Enlightenment, the individual has been the fundamental unit of society…”

    Which doesn’t speak well for the philosophical worth of the Enlightenment.

  8. Kaimi on November 15, 2004 at 9:27 am

    Rosalynde writes:

    “If we stick to the Proclamation, we have to conclude that gender is somehow essential, but that we do not know precisely what that means.”

    I like it. As you point out, we _don’t_ know precisely what that means. And it does not necessarily mean that societal ideas of gender roles are equivalent to, or related to, whatever gender essentialism is eternal.

  9. Adam Greenwood on November 15, 2004 at 9:33 am

    Nothing mad or dismissive here, Rosalynde Welch. Just pressed for time and trying to be brief.

    I agree that the Proclamation doesn’t directly state what our maleness and femaleness meant in the eternity before we were born. I just think that the Proclamation does provide some basis for conflating the male and female roles six paragraphs down with the essential male and female nature discussed six paragraphs up. The most natural reading (but not necessarily the only legitimate reading) of the statement on essential male and female nature is that it’s put in there to counter the idea that the male and female roles discussed later on are entirely socially constructed.

  10. Adam Greenwood on November 15, 2004 at 9:35 am

    In other words, while we may not know precisely what our essential maleness and essential femaleness is–we see in glass darkly now–we do know that ‘men as providers’ and ‘women as nurturers’ isn’t just accidental but part of a divine design that accomodates our essence.

  11. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 9:51 am

    Rosalynde: Interesting thoughts. I agree with you that the idea of eternal society problematizes the essentialism v. social construction debate. I am wondering, however, if even on its fact the statement “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” needs be read as an example of gender essentialism.

    As I understand it, essentialism is the nasty claim that certain characteristics have an immutable and unchanging form, an essence. Applied to gender, the idea is that there are immutable and unchanging attributes that are ascribable to sex differences.

    However, this is not what the sentence quoted above says. The only claim that it makes about the content of the concept of “gender” is that it is a necessary part of one’s identity. In other words, its says that everyone has a gender, has always had a gender, and always will have a gender. It does not necessarily say that the meaning and content of the concept of gender is immutable or unchanging. Hence, the Proclamation rules out the possiblity that we are fundamentally androgynous. To be honest with you, I thinik that most of the philosophical unease that many feminists have with the Proclamation has more to do with the political uses to which it has been put rather than with any serious thinking about what it actually says. Rather, the word “gender” seems like something of a red cape, raising pre-packaged hackles that cause the feminist bull to charge without necessarily stopping to think about whether (a) the Proclamation is using “gender” in the same way as grad-school seminars; and (b) whether it is actually making a philosophical claim about the immutability of gender rather than the necessity of gender.

  12. lyle on November 15, 2004 at 10:47 am

    quinn: Given the doctrine of temple marriage & eternal progress, the answer to your question is “probably alot.”

    re: fundamental unit. Alot is at stake. If nothing else, it seems to provide a nice synthesis answer to the libertarian v. communitarian war of unit of analysis. Also, deciding social/moral/political issues from the basis of what is best for the family vs. what is best for the individual would certainly provide a different solution from those currently muddled out by society; i.e. what to do about individuals who have mental illnesses, social security, etc.

  13. Last_lemming on November 15, 2004 at 11:22 am

    I interpret the Proclamation along the lines suggested by DK Landrith (and would appreciate seeing the publication data he referenced). The Proclamation is saying that whether one is an XX or an XY is determined by some pre-mortal characteristic. Nothing more than that. The brethren should have used the word “sex” instead of “gender”, but are apparently not comfortable using that term in a public proclamation. (Perhaps they fear it would be misinterpreted to cover sexual preference/orientation).

  14. Gary Lee on November 15, 2004 at 11:23 am

    “If we stick to the Proclamation, we have to conclude that gender is somehow essential, but that we do not know precisely what that means.�

    Rosalynde, I think your argument requires us to accept that the brethren who wrote the Proclamation intended to make the almost meaningless statement that “gender is essential� but we don’t have any idea what that means. You may be correct that we don’t know what that means, but I don’t think we can take the position that this is their intended meaning. We have hundreds of statements from church leaders to the effect that men are providers and presiders and women are nurturers. They emphasized those very statements in this Proclamation. They must surely have known that their audience would conclude from their statement that “gender is an essential characteristic of . . . eternal identity and purpose� that they were talking about such things as presiding, providing and nurturing. Had they intended to state there is something essential about gender, but we just don’t know what that something is, they would not have used the language they used. As a result, I think the best interpretation of their statement is that they intended the very conflation that you say most people make.

  15. Gary Lee on November 15, 2004 at 11:37 am

    Incidentally Rosalynde, how can we reconcile the statement that men preside with the statement that men and women are equal partners? I think that the term “preside”, when used in every other context in the church implies that the presiding authority has no equal partners within the realm of his presiding authority. The presiding authority is precisely that. Yet, it would seem that the Proclamation presents us with a rather different model. Given that husbands and wives are equal partners, what meaning should we give to the statement that the father presides? So far, I can’t think of any.

  16. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 11:37 am

    Gary: Even if you are correct, which I am far from certain about, why should we assume that an author’s intention controls the meaning of what they say. Presumeably, if language is intelligible between human beings it is because it has some shared social meaning, and it seems to me that it is this meaning that ought to control rather than the author’s intention. There is a real and meaningful distinction between interpretation and pyschoanalysis.

  17. Matt Evans on November 15, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Everyone has made lots of good points. I’m inclined to agree with both Nate and Gary Lee, who make somewhat contradictary claims about the proclamation’s language, but lean with Gary because of one fact that suggests the prophets meant to discuss gender essentialism as critics have interpreted: women bear children. That is one of the facts that gender essentialists struggle with and too often avoid discussing. Even if the essentialists are right about most of our psycho-social traits not being essential (everyone agrees that some men are more nurturing than some women, etc.), it is impossible to believe that the ability to and act of carrying children for nine months, doesn’t create a psychological or physiological difference with those who cannot and have not done so.

    As for the family being the fundamental unit of society rather than the individual, I think the answer to the paradox lies in concepts such as “neither is man without the woman, nor woman without the man, in the Lord,” and “they cannot be saved without us, and we cannot be saved without them.”

    Lest anyone think I accept the proclamation without reservation, I do have one bone to pick: why did they use “recreation” as an adjective when it’s a perfectly good noun? “Wholesome recreation” sounds so much better than “wholesome recreational activities.” Try making the substitution the next time you read it, and I think you’ll agree.

  18. greenfrog on November 15, 2004 at 12:07 pm

    However, this is not what the sentence quoted above says. The only claim that it makes about the content of the concept of “gender� is that it is a necessary part of one’s identity. In other words, its says that everyone has a gender, has always had a gender, and always will have a gender. It does not necessarily say that the meaning and content of the concept of gender is immutable or unchanging.

    If we remove from the concept of gender the idea that gender entail certain characteristics, haven’t we removed the concept of gender entirely?

    Hence, the Proclamation rules out the possiblity that we are fundamentally androgynous.

    So it has a negative meaning (i.e., Not-X), but no affirmative meaning?

  19. CB on November 15, 2004 at 12:10 pm

    Last_lemming, That’s interesting. I guess I have understood that statement to apply exactly to homosexuality. I have heard several of the apostles use the term “gender confusion” when they are talking about same sex attraction.

  20. Gary Lee on November 15, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    Nate: I share your uncertainty as to whether I am correct–I am just not as far from certain about it as you are. (insert smiley face here.

    I certainly agee that there is a real distinction between interpretation and psychoanalysis and I am not trying to psychoanalyse. However, I do think that when prophets write a Proclamation such as this, they have certain information they intend to convey. We are engaged in an attempt to understand the meaning which they intended to convey, because that is what they want us to do when they issue proclamations such as this one. I am not trying to discern their intent without regard to their language. I am trying to draw conclusions based on our shared language and culture.

    To state that gender is an essential characteristic of our eternal identity and purpose is a rather bold statement to make. It was made in the context of a document that discusses certain roles of men and women. I think it is quite a stretch to conclude that this statement should be intepreted to mean that there is such a thing as gender, and it is essential to our eternal identities and purposes, but we have no way of knowing what those eternal identities and purposes are. There is just not a lot of point in making such a statement if that is all that is meant and I am reluctant to conclude that statements such as this have virtually no real meaning in the document. When this very document later elaborates on some of the roles of men and women, given a choice between concluding that we know nothing about our eternal identities and purposes, and concluding that some of those eternal purposes include the very ones discussed in this document, I think the latter is the better interpretation.

    I am also willing to take judicial notice of the fact that this Proclamation is given in the context of a myriad of statements suggesting that men and women do indeed have different purposes, that men preside and provide and women nurture, and that the average reader in the intended audience would intepret the words in the Proclamation as affirming that these roles are essential and eternal in some sense. Had another interpretation been the intention, different words would have been used. I don’t think that is psychonalysing.

    Having said all that, I am not at all sure that I agree with certain statements made in the Proclamation. However, it is easier for me to simply admit that than to reinterpret it in a manner that conforms to my beliefs.

  21. Frank McIntyre on November 15, 2004 at 1:05 pm

    So a gender essentialist thinks that there are at least some fixed differences between men and women that are part of who they are, and not social constructs? Suppose, for the sake of example, the characteristic in question is hair length. One could write this in several ways:

    A. Men have hair length of 2 inches, women of 4. Deviations from this are so rare as to be irrelevant to the discussion. This hair length is genetic or hormonal and not a social construct. (This argument would seem untenable, at least for the hair example)

    B. Men have average hair length of 2, women of 4. But these are just averages. Each population has a variance and thus one still observes men with longer hair than women. The averages are the result of genetic or hormonal differences. Individual variation may or may not be. If this is the argument, it’s no good trying to refute it by sayig that you “met a guy with really long hair”. The argument is about averages. I take it that most gender essentialist arguments are probably about this sort of essentialism. That women and men differ on average and those differences are not social constructs (at least some of the time)..

    C. There could be a third argument based on variance. For example, one could claim men and women have the same average hair length but men’s hair varies in length more than women’s, and this difference is essential. Of course, having more variance means that one ends up with more people with no hair and people with very long hair. Thus this argument translates into a claim about _other_ averages, so that on average, there are more bald men, and more men with hair to their toes. If, as is the case, men have a higher variance in IQ, one might expect more male geniuses and more male idiots. (Of course, the difference in IQ variance is not huge, and IQ itself is a test rigged up by gender, so one might not wish to make too much of this). Or if there is more variance in spirituality among men (about which I have no idea) one can easily end up with more women active in the Church but more men suited for callings that require a very high level of spirituality (at the same time that more men land in prison). Even if two groups are the same on average, different variances can lead them to look very different in terms of their roles in society.

  22. Frank McIntyre on November 15, 2004 at 1:14 pm

    Certainly we don’t know the extent to which man and women differ in their essential characteristics. God has not laid all that out. But the Proclamation starts off with notice that there are such differences, and then seems to point out an implication of the differences that God recognizes but we don’t, namely that certain gender roles will work well on average, subject to individual adaptation. This would seem the most straightforward reading of the document. Otherwise, why put the concepts into the same one-page document?

    I think Nate’s argument about gender being essential but the definition of gender having no essential characteristics logically sound but deeply uncompelling. It is strange to say that an essential characteristic of who you are is that you are at your essence part of a group that, by the way, has no essential characteristics.

  23. Sean Harrison on November 15, 2004 at 1:22 pm

    Rosyalynde

    Consider the words of Joseph:

    “That same sociality which exists among us here will exit among us there…D&C 130:2

    Since God’s course is one eternal round, see:

    1 Ne. 10: 19

    Alma 7: 20

    Alma 37: 12

    D&C 35: 1

    would it not be reasonable to suggest that those elements of sociality including nuturing and provisioning are eternal as well?

  24. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    Sean: Is it the sociality of the 1840s when Joseph first taught that principle or the sociality of the 1990s when the Proclamation was issued that is going to be eternal? They are not quite the same thing…

  25. CB on November 15, 2004 at 1:40 pm

    Frank said:

    “. . .differences that God recognizes but we don’t, namely that certain gender roles will work well on average, subject to individual adaptation”.

    That precisely states why we need to be careful about drawing conclusions from the Proclamation which are overly broad. We all know many men who do a bad job at providing; we also know lots of women who are lousy mothers. There are also many men who provide well, and women who nurture well, but they need to work very hard to succeed, which suggests to me that those respective roles do not come to them naturally.

  26. Rosalynde Welch on November 15, 2004 at 1:42 pm

    Hi all–thanks for the civil and stimulating discussion! (But where are the women?)

    DKL: “That said, you seem to interpret the Proclamation’s gender role descriptions with an emphasis on obligations rather than traits or aptitudes. If this is a fair characterization, this would seem to lead to the consequence that some goals of our mortal mission (if you will) are determined by our discernible genetic makeup—and it appears that we’re headed in the direction of increasing the discernibility of genetic makeups.” Can you restate this for me? For some reason (my fault) I’m not grasping the distinctions you’re making.

    Adam: “we do know that ‘men as providers’ and ‘women as nurturers’ isn’t just accidental but part of a divine design that accomodates our essence.” Adam, I can accept that roles shouldn’t be dismissed as mere historical effect; the Proclamation makes it clear that God wants the work allocated in this way. But why must “divine design” mean that roles accommodate gender essence? Couldn’t God have designed the roles to accommodate, say, the particularities of late capitalism (which is, after all, the era in which the Proclamation was produced and the primary shaper of the “world” to which it is addressed; although the Proclamation suggests that gender is essential, there’s no assertion that the roles are or will be transhistorical, is there)?

    Nate: “To be honest with you, I thinik that most of the philosophical unease that many feminists have with the Proclamation has more to do with the political uses to which it has been put rather than with any serious thinking about what it actually says. Rather, the word “genderâ€? seems like something of a red cape, raising pre-packaged hackles that cause the feminist bull to charge.” I largely agree with you, and this post was intended in part to engage in some “serious thinking about what it actually says.” The bull charges both ways, though–often traditionalists ascribe from the outset a certain agenda to anyone who turns a critical (in the academic sense) eye on gender, dismissing out of hand anything that appears to differ even slightly from traditional interpretations.

    Last-lemming: ” The brethren should have used the word “sexâ€? instead of “gender”, but are apparently not comfortable using that term in a public proclamation.” Interesting take. You seem to take even greater liberties with the text itself than I do–constructing an entire psychology of prudishness necessary to decipher what it “really” means. That said, you might not be wrong–but I don’t think there’s any way to determine that.

    Gary Lee: “the almost meaningless statement that “gender is essentialâ€? but we don’t have any idea what that means. ” Why is that statement meaningless? It’s no more devoid of meaning than Elder Nelson’s admission in General Conference a few years ago that he understands very little about homosexuality, but he knows that it’s not ordained of God. In fact, the knowledge that gender is essential–even if we don’t know what it entails–makes important sense of at least one doctrine: if I didn’t understand some part of gender to be eternal, then the preference of heterosexual unions over homosexual unions would seem arbitrary at best and absurd at worst, now that reproductive technology has advanced to its present state. My point is that the simple knowledge that some aspect of gender is eternal has value, even without an accompanying explanatory apparatus.

    “We have hundreds of statements from church leaders to the effect that men are providers and presiders and women are nurturers. They emphasized those very statements in this Proclamation.” It’s interesting how different our readings are. In my mind, the statement on roles (and note that the Proclamation does not say that men are providers and women nurturers, rather that men have the responsibility to provide, and women the responsibility to nurture) is fairly unemphatic, especially given the vehemence many former church leaders have expressed on the subject. Precisely because of this rhetorical restraint, I don’t think the conflation of essence and roles is necessarily intended.

    “how can we reconcile the statement that men preside with the statement that men and women are equal partners?” This is a great question. Personally, I understand the “presiding” language to refer to priesthood office, a separate issue from family authority (note: clearly priesthood should be brought to bear on fatherhood, etc etc etc), and an issue in which the “equal partners” language clearly does not apply, since women do not hold offices in the priesthood. I see the analog to motherhood as fatherhood, not priesthood: in the realm of family responsibility, then, mothers nurture and fathers preside as equal partners; in the realm of priesthood insitutional structure of the family, however, men preside, and women are not equal partners.

    Matt: “it is impossible to believe that the ability to and act of carrying children for nine months, doesn’t create a psychological or physiological difference with those who cannot and have not done so.” I tend to agree with you, which is why I prefer (and have chosen) a scenario in which the mother is the primary caregiver during the early years, in which the physiological and psychological connection between mother and child is so strong and so important.

    Greenfrog: “If we remove from the concept of gender the idea that gender entail certain characteristics, haven’t we removed the concept of gender entirely? ” I don’t deny that the eternal essence of gender may well include certain characteristics, but I dispute the fact that we can determine from the Proclamation (or by other means, for that matter) what those characteristcs are, given the convoluted and troubled history of gender across history and presently.

    Gary: “I am not at all sure that I agree with certain statements made in the Proclamation. However, it is easier for me to simply admit that than to reinterpret it in a manner that conforms to my beliefs. ” Again, the difference in our response is interesting. For me, to refute out of hand parts of the Proclamation caused me intense spiritual discomfort. And let me make it clear: I haven’t reinterpreted the Proclamation to conform to my former beliefs–on the contrary, I have had to drastically reformulate my beliefs about gender and family.

  27. Rob Briggs on November 15, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Matt # 17: “That [child bearing] is one of the facts that gender essentialists struggle with and too often avoid discussing. Even if the essentialists are right about most of our psycho-social traits not being essential . . .”

    You meant gender constructionist, didn’t you?

    [Editor's Interruption: Rather than respond to this comment far down the thread, I'll stick my answer right here: You are right, Rob, I meant gender constructionists. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming . . . - Editor Matt ]

  28. Steve Evans on November 15, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    The women are all at FMH (present company excepted).

  29. Frank McIntyre on November 15, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    RW– “(But where are the women?)”

    Does it matter? Aren’t men and women essentially the same?

    Oh wait, never mind.

  30. Rosalynde Welch on November 15, 2004 at 1:50 pm

    Sean: “would it not be reasonable to suggest that those elements of sociality including nuturing and provisioning are eternal as well? ”

    I think Nate puts it well. The statements about God’s course being one eternal round cannot in any reasonable interpretation apply to the specifics of family or even ecclesiastical structure, as the prescribed shape of those structures (even among God’s people) have proven so flexible over time.

  31. Rosalynde Welch on November 15, 2004 at 1:51 pm

    LOL, Frank! Essential gender aside, women and men clearly have different social experiences of gender.

  32. Sean Harrison on November 15, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    Nate,

    I suppose that you would have to consider Joseph’s perspctive in answering your question. If his perspective were that of an observer of 1840′s sociality and he was drawing logical conclusions based on his familial experience and observations, then you would conclude that his was a projection of 1840′s sociality into the eternal realms.

    That being the case any critical commentator (you or I for example) could rightly replace Joseph’s version of society with his own as dictated by the ever chaning maw around us.

    If however, you consider as factual the idea that Joseph’s spiritual and itellectual education came primarily from the eternities and that he spent his days with a foot in both worlds, then the logical conclusion to that argument is to believe that Joseph was witness to the eternal sociality and was comparing similarities in transiet temporal sociality to those witnessed eternal elements of our nature and relationships.

    I being somewhat simple prefer the latter.

  33. Frank McIntyre on November 15, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    RW/Nate: “The statements about God’s course being one eternal round cannot in any reasonable interpretation apply to the specifics of family or even ecclesiastical structure, as the prescribed shape of those structures (even among God’s people) have proven so flexible over time.”

    I think you guys are being too conservative in what we can know. I mean, provisioning and nurturing are universal needs in all time periods. God refers to himself as our Father, thus positioning himself as sharing a familial relation to us based on a familial concept that we all understand. Certainly there has been flexibility in Church institutional arrangements, and also some flexibility in familial relations (polygamy being a huge one). But having parents care for children is not some wacko 19th century Enlightenment idea with no basis in the scriptures. It is central to sociality in pretty much every culture and certainly in every Dispensation of the Gospel. It is, after all, the “fundamental unit”.

  34. Kaimi on November 15, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    The family as a fundamental unit does not mean that it can’t have its own sub-units. The cell is the fundamental unit of the body, but it can be divided into molecules and atoms. The dollar is the fundamental unit of U.S. currency, and the kilogram is a fundamental unit of weight, but we still have pennies and milligrams. Individuals are sub-units of the fundamental unit.

  35. Adam Greenwood on November 15, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    Negotiating the particularities of late Capitalism would be a fine reason for a divine design, don’t get me wrong. I just still don’t see in your version why the Proclamation bothers to state that our maleness and femaleness was with us from the beginning.

    I think the Proclamation more naturally lends itself to the reading that fathers as providers and mothers as nurturers, but both helping each other and functioning as ‘equal partners,’ is the divine design that accomodates our eternal nature as sexes to the particularities of liberal, secular late capitalism.

  36. Frank McIntyre on November 15, 2004 at 2:26 pm

    Kaimi is right. This is why I refer to my children as “sub-unit 1 and sub-unit 2″.

    In economics at least, “fundamental unit” carries the connatation of the decision making unit. And clearly the individual is the fundamental decision making unit, as it is the building block from which one larger decision making units such as families are formed. It is also not readily divisible. One could go two directions from here:

    A. The Brethren were not writing an economics textbook. So they don’t mean the prime decision maker but something else. Something like the basis for building societal interactions.

    B. The Brethren were writing a Zion-based economics textbook, where the household is inseperably connected and each values the welfare of each other so completely that there is no difference in decision making. Thus the household is the fundamental decision-maker because husband, wife, and child all would make the same decision (or something like this).

    I’m guessing A.

  37. diogenes on November 15, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    The Proclamation is saying that whether one is an XX or an XY is determined by some pre-mortal characteristic.

    Is it really? And nothing about whether one is XXY or or XYY or XO?

    I think it’s safe to say that we actually know very little about the relationship between pre-mortal character and mortal biology. We know even less about the relationship between pre-mortal character and mortal social culture.

    What we do know, I think, based on past experience, is that 90% of what we think is absolutely clear and certain regarding a prophetic text will eventually turn out to be wrong.

    Both science and revelation are provisional knowledge. Confident statements about their relationship tend to reflect our immense ignorance of (in this instance) biology, or of theology, or of both.

    So if you really must speculate, speculate cautiously and minimally.

  38. Ana on November 15, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Where are the women? Entering late because we’re busy taking care of our kids!

    In the scriptures, when the Lord gives specific instructions about marriage, it’s for the sake of the children who will grow up in that marriage. When Israelites were commanded not to marry Canaanites, it wasn’t out of prejudice against Canaanites, but rather to safeguard the spiritual upbringing of future children from the pagan worship of that other culture.

    The current instructions on male and female roles are, I think, intended to provide a flexible framework on which a family can build, a tool for decreasing contention in the home and the marriage while providing for the maximum possible gospel teaching of children by their parents. We’ve all heard over and over how there are exceptions to the rule that the mother should stay in the home. With my husband in a Ph.D. program, I’m one of the exceptions right now, and I’m grateful for the flexibility on this subject in the words of the prophets. I have a great job, one I’d be tempted to stay at for the rest of my working life if not for the knowledge that when my husband is duly degreed, he will be primarily responsible for providing for our family. When he gets the professor job or research job he wants, it likely won’t be here. We’ll move, and I’ll give up what I’m doing now. I think it’s largely because of the principles in the Proclamation that I’m okay with that, and I know we won’t have to debate it and I won’t resent the change. Less contention in my marriage is better for my kids. Subscribing to these principles, I also have to take very seriously my role as nurturer and gospel teacher, even when I am at work all day. That makes me more careful to sing Primary songs in the car, counter the protestantisms that come from the Lutheran preschool, probe deeper into stories about schoolmates who use “bad words,” hold family home evening and scripture study, and so on. I think my belief in the principles in the Proclamation make me a better mother in Zion.

    As for the essential nature of gender, I think we need to remember it’s not just homosexuality we are talking about here. Gender confusion can go deeper than same-sex attraction. There is a growing push for acceptance of transgendered individuals — people who feel they were born with the wrong body for their spirit or mind. As I understand it, some of this comes from a very politicized pro-whateverist group within the mental health profession, which officially still considers “transgenderism” a disorder. A similar thing happened with homosexuality a few decades ago.

    The bottom line for the eternal nature of the gender characteristic in the children of God, as I understand it, is this: We believe in an eternally straight, married male God. His marriage to an eternally female Goddess is what allows him to achieve the highest degree of glory. (I couldn’t decide whether to capitalize Goddess there. It makes me sound pagan, but if they’re going to be equal partners, Heavenly Mother at least deserves a capital G.) Our willingness to emulate that relationship will ultimately qualify us for the same.

  39. Janey on November 15, 2004 at 2:56 pm

    We know we had our agency in the pre-mortal existence. Did we get to choose our own gender? Obviously not by checking a box, but did we choose to develop whatever essential characteristics defined one gender rather than the other?

    If one intelligence chose to develop the capacity to create and bring forth life, then it became female. Another intelligence chose to develop the capacity to create the surroundings to protect and allow that new life to grow, and so became male. (I’m guessing here, because I don’t know what the essential gender characteristics are either.)

    Since neither one can fulfill their capacity without the other, we can guess that one essential gender characteristic is to seek out and support those of the opposite gender in fulfilling their eternal roles.

  40. ed on November 15, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    ana says:
    “We believe in an eternally straight, married male God. His marriage to an eternally female Goddess is what allows him to achieve the highest degree of glory.”

    Are you sure that God has only one wife?

  41. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    “We know we had our agency in the pre-mortal existence. Did we get to choose our own gender? Obviously not by checking a box, but did we choose to develop whatever essential characteristics defined one gender rather than the other? ”

    It seems to me that this is one of theories that is positively ruled out by the Proclamation’s affirmation that gender is an eternal and essential characteristic of premortal existence.

  42. Gary Lee on November 15, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    Rosalynde: In response to one of my comments, you stated “My point is that the simple knowledge that some aspect of gender is eternal has value, even without an accompanying explanatory apparatus.” I take your point and agree with you. I went too far when I suggested that the statement that gender is an eternal characteristic is rendered meaningless by your interpretation. However, the fact that the Proclamation does discuss certain roles as being assigned to men and women by divine design, and that gender is an essential element of our eternal identities and purposes, still suggests to me that the conflation you criticize is in fact intended. Nevertheless, I take your point and agree that your view is certainly a reasonable interpretation.

    I should also clarify that I did not mean to suggest that I thought you were engaged in an effort to simply reinterpret the Proclamation to suit your preconceived ideas and apologize if I gave you that impression. Nor did I mean to suggest that I reject some of it out of hand. However, I agree with Diogenes’ observation that “90% of what we think is absolutely clear and certain regarding a prophetic text will eventually turn out to be wrong” although I am not certain how he intended that comment to be interpreted. Often that is due to the fact that we misunderstand the text. On the other hand, sometimes the text turns out be wrong.

  43. Rosalynde Welch on November 15, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    Hi Ana– great comments (typing with one hand now, sorry to be telegraphic). Your lived experience with gender roles seems to align with my argument: the roles facilitate an efficient, often effective and (one hopes) harmonious division of labor, in which expectations need not be continually renegotiated. I also agree with your suggestion that it’s children, not women, who belong at home as much as possible, in order to receive maximum gospel instruction, as you put it–and, given those conditions, it’s awfully convenient for the chief nurturer to be home, too. And your comments on essential gender further the suggestion I made in an earlier comment, that the statements on gender essentialism might be more properly understood in the context of sex and sexuality than of roles.

    Janey–interesting possibility, but I tend to agree with Nate. If gender is part of an eternal identity, it’s difficult to conceive of its beginning.

    Gary–thanks for clarifying. I might have responded somewhat abrasively earlier–I think I misunderstood your perspective. It looks like the differences in our positions are based largely on interpretive preference, as many gender-related positions are.

  44. Last_lemming on November 15, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    You seem to take even greater liberties with the text itself than I do–constructing an entire psychology of prudishness necessary to decipher what it “really� means. That said, you might not be wrong–but I don’t think there’s any way to determine that.

    OK, set aside what word the brethren should have used. “Gender” works just fine if you are using a dictionary written more than 20 years ago. The definitions in those dictionaries were
    (1) sex, and (2) the familiar grammatical concept, not necessarily in that order. The definition of gender as a social construct simply didn’t exist. That definition now appears in some dictionaries, but not all, and usually not as the primary (based on what dictionary.com spits out). Of course we cannot know for sure, but a straightforward reading of the text using the primary definition of “gender” in many current dictionaries and most dictionaries of the past does not strike me as taking liberties.

    And nothing about whether one is XXY or or XYY or XO?

    I omitted those possibilities precisely in order to keep my speculation cautious and minimal. Only the XO really presents a problem in my framework.

  45. MDS on November 15, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    Janey: “We know we had our agency in the pre-mortal existence. Did we get to choose our own gender? Obviously not by checking a box, but did we choose to develop whatever essential characteristics defined one gender rather than the other? �

    Nate: It seems to me that this is one of theories that is positively ruled out by the Proclamation’s affirmation that gender is an eternal and essential characteristic of premortal existence.

    Me: I’m not sure that it is positively ruled out, Nate. The scriptural definition of eternal is not a simple one. Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. See D&C 19. Eternal punishment does not have to refer to a temporal period, but can instead be the punishment that God deems appropriate. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism points out that

    The word “endless,” for example, has sometimes been employed by God for greater impact “that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men” (D&C 19:7)

    Coud it be that eternal gender is therefore God’s gender, or the gender that God deems appropriate to assign to an individual? And that the Proclamation usage of “eternal” is intended to impress upon us the importance of the gender roles it assigns. I won’t even pretend to have a clue as to how to answer my question, but in light of the scriptural gloss on “eternal” it probably makes sense to ask it.

  46. Janey on November 15, 2004 at 6:56 pm

    Restating comment 41:

    “We know we had our agency in the pre-mortal existence. Did we get to choose our own gender? Obviously not by checking a box, but did we choose to develop whatever essential characteristics defined one gender rather than the other? �

    It seems to me that this is one of theories that is positively ruled out by the Proclamation’s affirmation that gender is an eternal and essential characteristic of premortal existence.

    End quote

    We got to choose everything else of significance, i.e., whether or not to become mortal, whether or not to make covenants, whether or not to accept Christ as our Savior, but we don’t get to choose gender?

    Is our gender really as eternal as our existence? At some point in the premortal existence, I was an intelligence, incapable of reproduction or any sexual characteristics at all. What criteria was used to decide who was a male and who was a female? Or even to identify who was a male or a female?

    If we really have been either male or female long before we had a physical body, then there are essential male or female characteristics that are solely spiritual. What are the spiritual differences between men and women? Men hold the priesthood, and women don’t. That must be because of the spiritual differences between the genders, but I doubt anyone knows what those differences are.

  47. J. Stapley on November 15, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    I’m coming to this a little late…The question of the eternal nature of gender is confounded by biology. This is because our current delineation of gender is almost completely based on biology. However, our current biology is strictly temporal and despite having no good reason, we project our current biology on the eternities.

    We have blood as medium to facilitate metabolism (notably, the consumption of oxygen for simplicity’s sake). The bulk of our DNA stems from our core metabolism. Because of blood, we have a heart, lungs, veins and arteries. Let us consider what we know of resurrected beings. We know that they have flesh and bone, but no blood. This makes sense, but let us consider the ramifications: they have a completely different metabolic state, one which does not include blood. I think it is reasonable to say that they probably have no heart or lungs or veins (as we might think of them). It is likely that they don’t have DNA, or if they do it is completely different that ours. When looked under the same light, most organs of the body are now not needed.

    Now let us consider gender. Our current biology mandates that we have sexual organs. These organs serve a temporal purpose – to propagate genetic diversity…I mean having babies. Now, I realize that there has been some interesting speculation on this already, to which I don’t personally agree, but I seems to me that our reproductive organs will not be resurrected. Why would they be?

  48. Peggy Snow Cahill on November 15, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    OK, you want a woman’s opinion? Here’s mine. (I hate to do this because I always get raked over the coals by someone who wants to yell at me for what I did or did not say….)

    The concept of gender permanence was brought home to me in watching a show on men who had undergone transsexual surgery, and came to regret it. They realized that the surgery did not, in fact, turn them into women. They were merely mutilated males, still.
    Now, what defines a woman or a man? God only; He defines each of us as individuals. I am not what most people would call a typical female by the world’s stereotypes.
    But the world’s stereotypes are far too limited in what they see as male and female.
    If you haven’t read Beverly Campbell’s “Eve and the Choice Made in Eden”, read it!
    Women are meant to be strong, wise, intelligent, honorable, noble, courageous, and all the other wonderful traits that some people might think of as more masculine. And men are meant to be sensitive and nurturing and compassionate and tender and all the other traits that some people associate with women.
    We do not have to be held in place by the world’s silly stereotypes.
    But that is not what the Prophet is advocating. The Proclamation is not about defining male and female as some restrictive dichotomy.
    The most essential difference, to my mind, is that women bear children.
    And if they do not in this life, they will in the next (if we make the grade, that is!).
    And men support them. They love them and take care of them, and teach them, and whatever else is needed.
    This world tends to denigrate women and the process of creating new life, because it is the most essential part of life…its ongoing nature.
    But each of us as individuals needn’t worry about fitting into some kind of mould. We need to be the best person that God intended for us to become, in harmony with His teachings.
    He made each of us different for a reason, so we would need to learn to work together.

  49. Mark B on November 15, 2004 at 8:48 pm

    I’m all in favor of sex.

    Now, that may seem a simple proposition, but . . . let’s use “sex” when we mean “sex” and “gender” when we mean “gender.”

    There was a time when “gender” had to do with grammatical distinctions which, as my OED says, corresponded “more or less to distinctions of sex (or absence of sex) in the objects denoted.” Now, unfortunately, too many people say “gender” when they mean “sex”, probably because they’re trying too hard to avoid the “too frequent repetition” of a word that they think is identical to “sexual relations” or “sexual intercourse”. Which, of course, it is not.

    Now, the penultimate sentence in that paragraph suggests yet another rant on the word “intercourse,” which has lost many of its former uses because people afraid of saying “sex” have used it as a euphemism for sexual relations or sexual congress, so we can no longer speak of intercourse between nations without a smirk, and Intercourse, PA, raises all sorts of questions like, “What, after all, do they do in that place?”

    Just think how much fun we could all have if “congress” rather than “intercourse” had become the euphemism of choice!

    By the way, sorry for injecting this irrelevance into this thread.

  50. Ana on November 15, 2004 at 9:06 pm

    Ed: Of course I’m not sure God has only one wife. But I am sure he has at least one and that she is female. I thought that post was getting long enough without going to the polyg place.

    Rosalynde: Thanks for the kind, telegraphic words. I miss my one-handed typing days. I think it took my writing out my thoughts to realize that I agreed with you.

  51. Rosalynde Welch on November 15, 2004 at 8:58 pm

    Mark B: I vote for “carnal embrace” as my intercourse-euphemism of choice! Sexual congress is pretty fun too, though.

  52. Blake Ostler on November 16, 2004 at 12:26 am

    Man Roslynde, you always make me think and your style is so … well, provacative. Perhaps gender is more than genitalia (sorry I didn’t know how to put it less offensively). Perhaps gender is more like a way of being than physical presentation. I think of the problems that cases of hermaphroditism and gender-confusion (where gender is ambiguous at birth) create for the “eternal gender” issue. While my spirit definitely feels male, I’m open to the possibility that gender is more than … well you know.

  53. Joel D. on November 16, 2004 at 5:58 pm

    Re: J. Stapley #47

    See my post #28 at http://www.timesandseasons.org/wp/index.php?p=1600. [On Our Ambiguous Origins]

  54. D. Fletcher on November 16, 2004 at 10:39 pm

    I don’t have smart things to say about the Proclamation. I repeat the story, that when it was announced, it was at a Women’s Conference, the week before General Conference, 1994. That night, I was playing the piano at Gordon Bowen’s wedding reception in SLC (ironically, he is now divorced). After the conference, President and Sister Hinckley showed up at the reception. My sister asked Sister Hinckley if anything of portent happened at the conference, and she replied, “no, same old, same old.”

    The Proclamation seems designed as a political tool to limit the further advancement of same-sex marriage, or at least, to give scriptural weight to previously ambiguous ideas. The FACT that genders are often determined by doctors at the birth of an ambiguously-gendered child seems to make little difference to those people convinced that the Proclamation is revelation from God.

  55. Rob Briggs on November 16, 2004 at 10:50 pm

    “Man Roslynde,”

    What a difference a comma makes. ;>

  56. Adam Greenwood on November 16, 2004 at 11:10 pm

    “The FACT that genders are often determined by doctors at the birth of an ambiguously-gendered child seems to make little difference to those people convinced that the Proclamation is revelation from God.”

    How right you are, sir.

  57. Joel D. on November 17, 2004 at 10:00 am

    Re: J. Stapley #47 [about resurrection of reproductive organs]

    In addition to what I put above, see also my post #44 at http://www.timesandseasons.org/wp/index.php?p=1600. [On Our Ambiguous Origins]

  58. Anne Olsen on December 29, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    RW – hey I am an old lady. Not up to the minute on a whole lot since the world is changing faster than any one person can assimilate all the changes and ideas. What I do know is this, science, ideology, philosophy etc, do not contain the whole of the whole, as it were. Some day all truth will be made known. At this time we are mere infants reaching for understandings. This is good, but never let what we think is the current truth override what our supreme creator has told us. So, what do I do when something that is from the restored gospel smacks me in the face? I think hard about it, I study it. Just like you! That is so great we have these wonderful minds and all the knowledge of peoples at our disposal. Then, I try to work it out in my mind. Sometimes it fits, sometimes it doesn’t. But in the end, even if I think I have worked it out, it is taken to Heavenly Father who will tell us each very directly if we are off track or not. (Mosiah 4:9)I have taught my children and hopefully they will always retain it as part of themselves, “Heavenly Father wants you to know the truth. He will make available to you the answer to your questions. The problem is in preparing ourselves to receive the answer. Sometimes we have to be prepared over a time period. Sometimes we are so prejudiced by our own thoughts and feelings and experiences that we don’t really want to hear what he is telling us.” RW, please take your thoughts to Heavenly Father. I can only tell you that I ahve much peace with the proclamation and it hasn’t come by dissection but through faith and through the actual power of the Holy Ghost. Something about your article just shouts out, “I want it to be my own way and I won’t really listen unless it is my way.”

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