Georgia isn’t the only place with skirmishing this weekend: “LDS leader’s address still causing controversy,” a long article at the Deseret News, recounts the comments of five Sunstone panelists (and one unfortunate commenter) to LDS Relief Society President Julie B. Beck’s October 2007 Conference talk “Mothers Who Know.”
The article quotes Janice Allred as saying, “[O]nce again, women felt they were being handed a script for their lives that they couldn’t follow.” Lori Winder said that “motherhood is prescribed essentially as the only role for women eternally.” Margaret Toscano made what I thought was the most insightful comment, noting that the public backlash against Pres. Beck “reflects the idea that it’s more acceptable to question women’s authority than men’s in the church.” Emily Benton shared her feeling that, as a young divorced woman, she “didn’t belong in a singles ward or a family ward.” Rounding out the panel, Janet from FMH found that it was her friends who are religious conservatives who took the talk the hardest: “They locked themselves in the bathroom and cried about it.”
Then the first commenter, a mother of five without a PhD (as she noted), stated she “always had a very confident sense of self and I attribute that to being raised in the church,” and that she doesn’t want “to be in a forum where I’m with Latter-day Saints and feel under-valued.” The article states that “several audience members approached her in the hallway at the Sheraton Hotel following the session and a heated discussion ensued,” including one man who told her, “You’re a slave and you don’t even know it.” Parenthood as slavery — well, no responsible parent would deny there’s an element of truth to that description, but that’s not really what the blockhead who made the comment was getting at.
While I don’t collect quotes, my impression is that when senior LDS leaders have addressed the role of women recently (say, since the turn of the century), they praise and value the motherhood of mothers, the service of those who serve, the leadership of LDS women who are in leadership roles, and any other contribution of women who contribute. In remarks to LDS women, the ratio of praise to criticism seems pretty high. I suspect some are reading explicit praise of one role (say, motherhood) as implicit criticism of any other role, which seems unfair — that perspective can interpret any statement as criticism. At the same time, the continued controversy over President Beck’s talk does show how complex the whole “role of women” question is. Too many roles?