Some bloggernacle women were troubled by the order of the solemn assembly: First, the Priesthood voted (all the way down to the 12-year-olds); they were followed by the women’s organizations. In a comment at FMH, Exponent blog’s Maria notes, “By having women vote after the Aaronic priesthood, it seemed as if the implication was made that those 12 year old boys either preside over or are more important than the women of the RS, including the General RS presidency. Either way, the message is harmful. I worry about the way this could make women and young women in the church feel.”
Is it inherently harmful to have women follow men in sustaining the leader?
It seems, on one level, that potential problems could arise with _any_ order.
Women first? That’s potentially patronizing (“women and children first”). It evokes traditional “ladies first” images which are frequent targets for feminist criticism.
Women last? This raises the concerns that Maria sets out in her comment.
And what if only men are allowed to go last? Actually, that is the traditional limit on closing prayers — a practice which is regularly criticized by bloggernacle feminists.
Mandatory women last: This is potentially problematic, because it shows women as following men, subservient, less important.
Mandatory men last: This is potentially problematic, because it shows men as in charge, reinforces the idea that women’s statements are lighter or preparatory for men’s more important statements.
What’s the take home point, here?
Is it that feminists are never satisfied? (I suspect there will be some who see exactly that as the conclusion here).
Or, is it that _any_ formal organizational structure, rule, or norm, will tend to interact with and reinforce underlying imbalances and power disparities between genders?
If that’s the case, then “ladies first” really isn’t the issue. The bigger issue is the underlying gender imbalance, and what’s really at issue are the ways in which that dynamic surfaces in a ladies first (or last, or whatever else) context.
If that’s what we’re seeing, then the normative implications are clear. If as a society we can remedy the underlying power imbalances, then formal systems of rules or norms (such as ladies first) will often be mostly or entirely innocuous.
However, until we remedy the underlying imbalances, _any_ set of rules — ladies first, last, or in-between — will only serve to call attention to, and reinforce, the underlying power disparities.