Taryn Nelson-Seawright has originated a lively thread on BCC presenting some new data on the gender disparity in Mormon Studies and inviting ideas on the reasons and remedies for that disparity. I congratulate Taryn for generating some new data and for stimulating a vigorous discussion. What I’d still like to see, though, is a reasoned argument in favor of taking institutional action to achieve gender parity in Mormon Studies. It seems to me that this ought to be in place as we respond to the picture we’re seeing in the Tables of Contents.
One argument might go something like this: Mormon Studies plays a small but necessary part in the overall health of the Church’s self-understanding and public image. In light of the Mormon ideal of consecration, therefore, church members who have the aptitude should place greater value on participation in Mormon Studies than on other “leisure” activities that have no effect on the church’s health (scrapbooking, video games, karaoke). Because women evidently have less inclination or opportunity to participate than men—whether as a result of discrimination or neurobiology or the stink in the nursing lounge at church—they should be specially urged to overcome their disinclination with aggressive recruiting, promotion, and “Mormon Studies Moment” in RS. After all, we expect men to overcome their disinclination to hometeaching for the health of the church, too.
Or we could approach it from the value to the participant rather than the value to the Church. For instance: The critical engagement of Mormon Studies and other analytical pursuits provides personal benefit in the form of intellectual growth and wisdom to the participant. Because women evidently have less inclination or opportunity to participate in these pursuits, their involvement ought to be specially facilitated. After all, the church provides men with opportunities for personal growth through person-to-person service to which they might be otherwise disinclined.
Or one could try to make a doctrinal argument for an ethics of diversity from the scriptures. Here we might begin from the scriptural assurance in 2 Nephi 26:33 that “The Lord … doeth that which is good among the children of men; … and inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God.” From this one might argue that we are bound by duty to “invite all”—male and female—to come to us and participate in every good thing, the Mormon Studies community included. Because women may be disinclined to heed that invitation, we ought to issue an especially clear call to them.
I don’t have anything in particular invested in any of these arguments, and I’m not sure I’m fully persuaded by any of them, either. I’m sure many of you can do better, so let’s have it: an open thread for reasoned arguments in favor of working toward an ideal of gender parity in Mormon Studies. (If you’d like to discuss the reasons for the current disparity, including institutional discrimination or neurobiology or whatever, please do so on Taryn’s thread at BCC.)
In other discussions recently I’ve noted my skepticism to the notion that that women’s and men’s preferred ways of thinking are mostly an effect of social conditioning or discrimination. I hope I haven’t given the impression that I don’t want women, many of them, to join our brothers in glorifying God with intelligence. The truth is that I’d passionately love to see a vibrant corps of my sisters in Christ engaged in the life of the mind—if not in my generation, then perhaps in my daughters’.