I Believe in Gender Roles

January 20, 2014 | 158 comments
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It is an ancient and time-honored tradition of fathers to leap out from behind corners and startle their little kids. According to the venerable template, the little one will shriek in faux terror and scamper away in expectation of pursuit.

My son has different ideas.

If my son is startled by something truly unknown, like the low-flying medical helicopter that often passed over our apartment in Michigan, then he will get scared. But if he can identify the source of a perceived threat, then his instinctive reaction is immediate and unrestrained aggression. This has been the case at least as long as he’s been able to walk. If I, or anyone else, tries to startle the little dude, he lowers his head, defiantly bellows his war-cry, and charges.

So when my wife realized that he was slated for several shots at his routine checkup on Friday, I took off work to go to the appointment with her. It’s a good thing I did, because they were short on nurses. It was up to me and my wife to hold the little guy firmly down while the nurse stabbed him three times in the left leg and twice in the right. His sister went outside to hide under a table in the hall.

After the shots were over, his rage—and it was rage—continued unabated. My wife hesitated for a moment, torn between comforting her angry son and her terrified daughter. I quickly told her to see to our daughter, and so she went outside. The nurse, clearly shaken, left to do paperwork. Left alone in the room with my son, I scooped him into my arms and rocked with him on the chair.

He vented his overwhelming anger by alternating between screaming that he hated me and his mom forever, and flailing harmlessly at my arm. I’m not always the most patient father, but I had no problem absorbing the little blows, physical and emotional, while gently and quietly reassuring him that I loved him and there were no more shots.

And here’s the truth: I was jealous of my opportunity to comfort my son. Every time he explicitly stated that he hated me and his mom I felt a momentary surge of gratitude that I wasn’t being singled out.

In the argument about female ordination, I constantly bristle at the assertion that motherhood and fatherhood are equivalent, as though the only two possible options are (1) motherhood is equivalent to the priesthood or (2) motherhood is equivalent to fatherhood. This isn’t a post about female ordination, so I’m going to leave (1) alone. (Fiona Givens has written about female ordination today, however. You can read about that here.) But can I just say, in all frankness, that (2) is really, really silly?

The idea that fatherhood and motherhood are equivalent is one of those ideas that’s so absurd that it’s hard to know what to do when people advance it. At a certain point a proposition becomes so radical that there aren’t really enough connections back to reality to know what to do with it. Other than comics and comedians, there aren’t many folks who even address the issue.

2014-01-20 Jim Gaffigan Quote

One woman who did address the issue is Karla A. Erickson, who wrote a piece entitled Explaining why, next time, I won’t breastfeed. The full article is behind a paywall now, but this post contains one of the important quotes:

Now it’s a year later, and I don’t breastfeed anymore. But my son still prefers for me to read to him before bedtime, and to wake him up in the morning.

When he is feeling sick or skins his knees, it is me he rushes to for comfort. I did the work and now receive the rewards of being the skin, the smell, the face, the touch that is closest to him — and it is to me he rushes.

Over the years, my husband and I will work to unwind this preliminary advantage, but we could have avoided solidifying it if we had decided to use formula, or to pump and bottle feed our son.

In other words, this woman will not breast feed her next child because of the unfair advantage it gives her in bonding with her child. I can’t say I agree with her response to the inequality between motherhood and fatherhood, but she certainly gets that there is one.

One could argue that this initial advantage can be overcome—that is Erickson’s plan, after all—but I think there is no serious doubting that there is an early advantage. I’m also skeptical of the overall success of this plan. Young men dying on foreign battlefields do not cry for their fathers. It’s always their mothers for whom they call out.

Now, the reason that I opened up with the story about my son is to convey that I understand that gender roles come with a cost. For me, having my son accept my comfort when he was angry and hurt was a momentous occasion because it was so rare. I was jealous of my chance to be the one who held him close.

There are many other ways in which traditional gender roles have a cost for men as well as for women. I have always dreamed of being a writer, and I’m vain enough to think that maybe I would have had the chops to make it by now if I had concentrated on that full-time, but I didn’t make that choice. My faith emphasized that my duty was to provide, and my patriarchal blessing re-affirmed that. I have always chosen the classes to study and the jobs to take based more on what will fulfill that duty and less on what will allow me to reach my own dreams.

There is a word for this. The word is discipline. I say that not to crow about my powers of self-control (which I would guess are just average), but rather to point out that I am disciplined by the concept of gender roles. It is not something I relish. I like my current job quite a lot, but in about a decade of work the overall impression I have had is that essentially no one likes their job. Your peers will tell you that honestly, and over time you begin to realize that when your superiors tell you otherwise they are lying. (Your underlings, should you have any, will obviously not want to talk about this with you.)

I think my experience is very common to Mormon men of my generation. As more and more women enter the labor pool, the increase in supply has an easily predicted impact on wages: they fall. This means that a Mormon man trying to support a family at a typical standard of living has to work much harder in comparison to other men (whose wives are likely to also be working) then he would have in decades prior. While many women in the Church feel increased desire to take advantages of the new opportunities open to women in our economy, men feel the strain as well in having to find ways to outcompete their peers. This pressure on men is exacerbated by the fact that Mormon men are also more likely to have children earlier in their careers and to want to be present as fathers. The fact that the overall decline of marriage means that more and more men are feeling a decrease in pressure at the same time, leading to a prolonged adolescence where low-effort jobs provide enough money for rent, food, and computer games, is just salt in the wound.

2014-01-20 Peter Pan Quote

None of this should be read as anything remotely like attempting to one-up the challenges that women face in their traditional roles. My point is not at all “men have it worse.” My point is basically “everyone has it bad.” Gender roles are hard.

And yet I still believe in them.

Why?

I believe because I think that the messy biological aspects to our mortal existence are probably not superfluous. I believe that, as we are created in God’s image, the biological differences that underlay gender roles are probably there for a reason. No matter the process, the Creation is clearly an intentional act in terms of its final form. I realize that some people like to stress the idea gender(cultural) and sex (biological) are independent, but I agree with Camille Paglia: the rare variations to the rule merely prove the rule that, across both time and cultures, women tend to be nurturing caregivers and men tend to be physical providers and protectors. I think too often we devalue the roles women play in our society because we are prudes when it comes to biology. Anything that isn’t as clinically sterile as a new cell phone repels our modern society, which is why so much pornography infantilizes women.

I believe because I think that we are too quick, in our modern American society, to try and atomize the individual. On both the left and the right, individual liberties have become such a strident clarion call that it seems as though we’re deaf to the notion of community. I believe that gender roles are hard because they are primarily about duty and obligation as opposed to self-actualization and liberty, but that sometimes duty is what we need to flourish as interdependent members of a society.

I believe because our leaders teach gender essentialism consistently from the pulpit and in official pronouncements. Obviously leaders are fallible—sometimes even on serious issues—but I still give a lot of weight especially to messages that seem central over an extended period of time. I believe because I think that gender roles can serve to make society safer for the vulnerable. Men, as the overwhelming aggressors in acts of physical and sexual violence, ought to live by a stricter standard and be subject to higher scrutiny. And, quite frankly, I believe because there’s something beautiful about complementarity.

2014-01-20 Gender RolesNone of this should be taken to mean that I think that any particular culture has a perfect lock on exactly what the gender roles ought to be. I think that the specifics have to be fluid as general, abstract principles are worked out in the context of particular socio-economic realities. I also believe strongly that there are now and always will be exceptions to the rule, that we ought not to judgmentally apply our own personal standards to those around us. I was, once again, inspired by Paglia’s assessment that LGBT people have always existed at the fringe of society, where the prophets and poets reside. I believe the underlying principle that we can celebrate traditional gender roles without oppressing those who fall outside them, is true.

I don’t think that any specific couple has a lock on the perfect gender roles, either. I believe in gender roles as a matrix for growth and a paradigm for arranging the way we approach marriage, but not as a straight-jacket of do’s and don’t’s. Every marriage will face its own challenges and opportunities, just as every man and woman is going to deviate from gender norms based on their own individual personality and history. I’m not sure what the idea for my wife and I is, but I do know that we’re far from the stereotype. We don’t have enough kids, for one thing (just the two so far), and she’s getting her PhD in computer science for another. We’re figuring it out.

I think that as technology advances we will increasingly have the option of neutering our society and leaving gender roles behind. Erickson talked about no longer breastfeeding, and that’s possible because we can produce high-quality synthetic formulas now. But, as my wife pointed out, “What about that original 9-month advantage?” Well, the use of surrogates can level the playing field between a mother and father already (make a stranger carry the child to term, and then remove her from the picture), and one day we will invariably develop artificial wombs, whereupon pregnancy would become optional for everyone (or at least everyone who can afford them).

When that day comes, will it really be such a good idea? Or have we, somewhere along the line, outpaced biological constraints before learning the wisdom that our Creator placed within them? Is there a risk of forgetting who we are and abandoning our discipline before we have learned wisdom?

158 Responses to I Believe in Gender Roles

  1. Dave on January 20, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Even if one accepts the idea that there is a pair of complementary normative Mormon gender roles (one for guys, one for gals), you have to consider (1) which of the many variations in contemporary American society would be that normative pair of gender roles; (2) whether you would dismiss out of hand alternative gender roles presented by other contemporary cultures or recognized them as valid alternatives (in those countries only, or universally valid alternatives?); and (3) likewise whether alternative gender roles from prior decades or eras should be dismissed out of hand or recognized as valid alternatives. In other words, if you are going to endorse a normative pair of gender roles, you need to articulate some sort of rationale for rejecting the wide variety of alternatives.

    While the LDS discourse one hears over the pulpit and in our publications makes it sound like there are normative gender roles, in practice there is a great deal of flexibility. So much, in fact, that the exceptions swallow the rule. Really, there are no family arrangements that are not acceptable within an LDS ward except plural marriage and gay marriage, and within a generation or two that might no longer be true (the ground is moving beneath our feet). So when it comes to gender roles, the Church talks the talk but (to its credit) doesn’t walk the walk. Instead, it lets adults (at least heterosexual monogamous adults) decide for themselves how to structure their lives and their marriages.

  2. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 9:26 am

    I believe in gender roles too but gender essentialism as taught by the church ignores the frequency distribution curves of nature. Male traits form a bell curve and so do female traits. These bell curves overlap providing areas of nonoverlap and areas of overlap. The areas of overlap clearly, logically and predictably explain reversed role couples. This is a concept that is completely lost in the church’s time honored but overly simplistic one rule fits all approach.

  3. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Howard-

    I believe in gender roles too but gender essentialism as taught by the church ignores the frequency distribution curves of nature.

    The problem here is not with what the Church teaches. The problem here is with overly simplistic assumptions about the nature of the Church’s teachings.

    If there is one and only one thing I wish I could get Mormons to understand, it’s that the Church is not in the business of outlining each and every exception to the general rule, that it cannot do so and that–even if it could–it should not do so.

    Here is a quote from Elder Oaks I have used several times in the past which hammers the point home:

    As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord. (From a CES Fireside on May 1, 2005 in Oakland, CA)

    So: no, the Church doesn’t talk about the entire bell curve very much of the time. The assumption that because the Church doesn’t talk about it the Church must be preaching against is fallacious, however. The General Authorities give general counsel. It is up to us, as members, to apply that counsel in our own lives.

    I understand that some wish this would be more clearly stated, but the problem is that the more the Church “helps” people be independent the less independent we are.

    We are here to be tested and tried in the fires of mortal probation. Asking for the Church to give us an instruction manual for each and every possible issue we may face is essentially the same as asking for the Church to live our lives for us. That is not what the Church is for. (See also: What the Church is Not For.)

  4. Andrew S. on January 20, 2014 at 9:38 am

    I believe because our leaders teach gender essentialism consistently from the pulpit and in official pronouncements. Obviously leaders are fallible—sometimes even on serious issues—but I still give a lot of weight especially to messages that seem central over an extended period of time. I believe because I think that gender roles can serve to make society safer for the vulnerable. Men, as the overwhelming aggressors in acts of physical and sexual violence, ought to live by a stricter standard and be subject to higher scrutiny.

    Even if gender roles *could* serve to make society safer for the vulnerable, as they are actually taught and promulgated, they preserve the system of privilege and oppression. In other words, gender roles as we get them today are more likely to blame women for being immodest/dressing or acting like a “slut” etc., than they are to encourage men to live by a stricter standard and be subject to higher scrutiny. Gender roles have made it so that, as you note, “LGBT people have always existed at the fringe of society.”

  5. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Dave-

    Really, there are no family arrangements that are not acceptable within an LDS ward except plural marriage and gay marriage

    That may be so, but it has very little to do with gender roles. There’s a big difference between what is ideal and what is acceptable. Arguing that the Church doesn’t hold normative gender roles as the ideal because they accept a wide variety of exceptions doesn’t, in and of itself, have any traction.

    I also think your argument falls into the same trap of over-specificity that Howard’s does. The general sense that women are primarily nurturers and care-givers and that men are primarily providers is in no way “swamped by the exceptions”. It is the normative rule across most of history and most human cultures. We can only fail to see the cross-cultural commonalities in gender roles if we make a very serious effort to blind ourselves to the forest for all the trees. But the forest is still there.

  6. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Andrew S-

    Even if gender roles *could* serve to make society safer for the vulnerable, as they are actually taught and promulgated, they preserve the system of privilege and oppression.

    That sounds like a good reason to reform gender roles. As I wrote last week, conservatives are not be bound to mindlessly defend the status quo.

    In all probability, however, I doubt that we’d see eye-to-eye on this. To the extent that gender roles are normative, they will serve to constrict individual freedom. For those who view personal liberty as the highest possible ideal, no gender roles will ever be acceptable.

    Gender roles have made it so that, as you note, “LGBT people have always existed at the fringe of society.”

    My point there was simple: there can be honor in being exceptional. And there should always be equal respect in being human.

  7. ji on January 20, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I appreciate the thoughts in the original posting. Thanks!

  8. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Nathaniel,
    I’m familiar with the Oaks quote and I value because it acknowledges exceptions. But your comment the Church is not in the business of outlining each and every exception to the general rule is a strawman apology. No one is expecting each and every exception to be addressed but the church makes little attempt to directly address ANY exceptions! If they did far fewer would fell left out and the pecking order of women would be lessoned. But thankyou for agreeing with me.

  9. Jonathan Green on January 20, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Thanks, Nathaniel. I liked this post a lot.

  10. Andrew S. on January 20, 2014 at 10:23 am

    re 6,

    Nathaniel,

    That sounds like a good reason to reform gender roles.

    I guess the thing that strikes me is that in the same way you would say that exceptions to gendered traits prove the rule, I would suppose there is a general rule about gender role expectations — that they reinforce and perpetuate vulnerability and weakness, rather than diminish these things. It just seems that you’re OK with this. But you can say this from a position of extreme privilege with little heartache. For example, you can speak about the responsibility of gender roles while nevertheless, your individual liberties are not *as* constrained as others. You can “have it all”.

    My point there was simple: there can be honor in being exceptional. And there should always be equal respect in being human.

    There is also death and suffering in being exceptional. I guess you can write poetry about these sorts of things. The issue is that we don’t *have* equal respect.

  11. Jax on January 20, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Well, the use of surrogates can level the playing field between a mother and father already (make a stranger carry the child to term, and then remove her from the picture), and one day we will invariably develop artificial wombs, whereupon pregnancy would become optional for everyone (or at least everyone who can afford them).

    I surely hope this doesn’t happen! The church already “strongly discourages” members from being surrogates, I would hope that, if pregnancy is possible, that members would choose to use them. And artificial wombs? What a disaster that would be. We are already experiencing the effects of what happens when the love of men waxes cold (D&C 45) and when they hate their own blood (Moses 7). Now we’re quoting a woman who says detaching herself from the love of her son is a good idea in her mind? Lunacy!! We should be strengthening love, especially for family, not looking for ways to weaken it.

  12. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 10:30 am

    The problem here is not with what the Church teaches. The problem here is with overly simplistic assumptions about the nature of the Church’s teachings…I wish I could get Mormons to understand…

    Interesting! Do you realize that you are blaming the audience here? Where is the speaker’s responsibility to communicate? How did YOU become the speaker’s interpretor? Are you just an apologist?

  13. Jax on January 20, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Correction

    **I would hope that , if pregnancy is possible, that members WOULDN’T choose to use them

  14. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Howard-

    No one is expecting each and every exception to be addressed but the church makes little attempt to directly address ANY exceptions!

    This is flatly untrue. Even if you go back to the bad old 1980s and a talk like To the Mothers of Zion, Benson said:

    We realize also that some of our choice sisters are widowed and divorced and that others find themselves in unusual circumstances where, out of necessity, they are required to work for a period of time. But these instances are the exception, not the rule.

    This is an explicit mention of exceptional circumstances by name in the very height of the Church’s statements on gender roles. Please also note that it is open ended with the unspecified “in unusual circumstances”.

    Let’s not pretend that the Church hasn’t talked explicitly about exceptions. I can’t think of a talk on gender roles where exceptions haven’t been brought up. You might not think that they are brought up frequently enough or that they aren’t handled exactly how you would like them to be, but that’s a separate allegation entirely from the notion that General Authorities make “little attempt to directly address ANY exceptions.”

  15. Jax on January 20, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Nathaniel is right about the mention of excemptions. he didn’t have to go back to the 1980′s to find a quote, because almost every recent talk about family/roles mentions that though they endorse/expound on the ideal they accept and understand that everyone has limitations and exceptions. But they continue to define/expound/outline the ideal so that we can judge where we are and try to move towards that ideal!!

  16. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Nathaniel,
    Addressing my exception criticism with a single example from the 80s is another strawman. You and I both know this is not commonly or frequently addressed. If it were you would have no trouble citing many current examples. And if you were able to do that it would contradict your own position regarding Oak’s quote!

  17. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Howard,

    I picked the 1980s quote not because I had to go that far back to find it, but because the Church is known to have softened rhetoric on this issue since (as I called it in the post) “the bad old 1980s.”

    As Jax says–and I as I mentioned–you’d be hard-pressed to find a single article in which the topic of gender roles is addressed and no mention of exceptions is made. I cannot recall ever hearing such a talk.

    And no, this doesn’t in any way contradict Oaks’ quote. General Authorities frequently mention the fact that exceptions exist. They never give a comprehensive catalog of every single one along with explicit rules for each case.

  18. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 10:54 am

    So what is the point of gender essentialism if all or most exceptions are allowed?

  19. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Howard-

    So what is the point of gender essentialism if all or most exceptions are allowed?

    In other words: what is the point of ideals when reality always falls short? It’s not an identical question, but I think it illustrates the problem with that perspective.

  20. Andrew S. on January 20, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Nathaniel,

    The thing I’m getting from Howard’s comments is that by focusing on “ideals” when reality falls short, the church necessarily excludes and marginalizes the folks for whom the ideal propagated is unworkable, or not the ideal for them.

    Saying that all or most exceptions are allowed (and even recognizing that the ideal won’t work for some) doesn’t actually fix the problem — which is that there is this understanding that the ideal is universal.

    This is what it actually looks like:

    The church basically says, “The ideal for men and women is x…but we recognize that because of unusual circumstances, x might not be possible. Because we are focusing on teaching the ideal x, we choose not to address the ideals for those who don’t fit x.”

    So, in this case, the “one” (or whatever number the exception is) is left out. There is nothing for them, because the church chooses to design to the pattern, and leaves those whom the pattern does not fit to either 1) struggle with trying to force the pattern to fit or 2) fend for themselves.

  21. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 11:39 am

    So what exactly makes the ideals ideal when God makes the entire bell curve? By ideal don’t you just mean statistically normal? If not what do you mean?

  22. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Certainly murder is not ideal, murders must be removed from society to prevent chaois. But parenting styles within the church certainly don’t approach murder and how sure are we the SAHMs are commanded of God and not simply the continuation of the practice that was in place at the restoration? I’m convinced that today we have alternatives that are equal to and even surpass the SAHM model so why do LDS working moms feel guilty? Is it just because they missed all of those podium mentions of how they actually ARE actually equal to SAHMs?

  23. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Nathaniel, any guesses as to why the Church teaches constantly that it is only our Heavenly Father to whom we should go for comfort and nurture? I can’t help being suspicious about earthly prescriptions that line up with overwhelming material and social privilege for men and have nothing to do with the divine order as it is taught to us.

  24. hawkgrrrl on January 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Not sure if women are allowed to participate in this discussion as so far none have, but I’ll throw in a few thoughts.

    “For those who view personal liberty as the highest possible ideal, no gender roles will ever be acceptable.” This is a straw man argument, IMO. Gender roles aren’t just at odds with personal liberty but with achieving one’s divine potential. When we restrict divine potential to narrowly defined gender roles (I hasten to add, the OP prefers “broadly” defined ones), we’ve also thrown out some of the gifts and talents people have innately that happen to go against gender stereotypes: women who are great accountants or scientists or leaders, men who are nurturing caregivers, male writers or artists of any type (to your example in the OP). Is money-making all that God the father focused on in His own development? That’s purely driven by what our society values most, not necessarily based on universal godlike values (elsewise teaching would pay a whole lot more).

    A word to the “exceptions” vs. “ideals.” Obviously, I agree with Andrew S that it marginalizes everyone who is an exception. Having said that, I don’t think exceptions are that exceptional, and my fellow Mormons agree. Our marriages follow national norms, not the ideals touted, guilt or no guilt, despite what is preached from the pulpit. As I pointed out in a post on BCC, 52% of Mormon women do some sort of paid work, and 4% of Mormon men are SAHDs. 24% of Mormon women are the primary earner. These are the same as the national averages. Clearly, theory isn’t driving the behavior. We all participate in the same economy and deal with the same economic realities, and that’s driving behavior more than any rhetoric about gender roles ever will.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/10/10/mormon-marriage-equality/

  25. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Excellent post. Haven’t read all the comments yet, but I definitely agree that there are general cross-cultural gender roles/norms attributable to underlying biology. And it seems that in the name of an extremist ideal of individualism our current culture wishes to willfully put blinders on so as to not recognize this clear fact.

    I find it almost laughable, but ultimately sorry, when people chock up the differences between male and female to mere genital appearance as if it were a single superficial physical trait difference like eye or skin color. But gender/sex is clearly a categorical difference that goes far deeper, composed of a deep and wide variety of biological differences that ultimately give rise to cognitive, emotional, and behavioral differences. Gender roles and complementarity are ultimately rooted in biology (and likely in the spirit as well if the temporal truly is a pattern of the eternal).

    I believe the fullness of intelligence or the greatest wisdom humans can obtain cannot be unlocked without this natural complementarity, it is one of the great blessings of nature, and I agree that it would therefore be a great shame if biology is discarded for technology in an misguided crusade to become culturally neutered.

  26. Jax on January 20, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    What makes the ideal “ideal”? God saying ‘this is the best way’ makes it that way. Are there models today that beat the SAHM model? well I don’t know, is our wisdom greater than God’s? I can see where this gets attacked because in many peoples opinion “the church” isn’t “God”. Which is true, but if you don’t think that this church is being led by divine direction, or that the people doing that talking from the pulpit aren’t inspired in the counsel they give, then why do you want to be a part of this church anyway?

    Basically I’m saying, if you don’t think you are getting good counsel from “the church” nowadays, that you think they aren’t giving you good access to God’s counsel, then shouldn’t you find a church that does??

  27. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    SteveF–one doesn’t actually have to reject the notion of gender complementarity to reject gender roles as they are defined by post industrial revolution Western upper middle class society. I don’t think we can have any idea what god-given gender roles might look like as long as we’re willing to accept the roles defined by the world.

  28. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Kristine-

    Nathaniel, any guesses as to why the Church teaches constantly that it is only our Heavenly Father to whom we should go for comfort and nurture?

    I think there are several issues tangled into this one. You’ve got Mormonism’s commitment to monolatrism combined with some confusion about who we mean when we talk about God. I mean, even Jesus Christ is sometimes referred to as “Father.” Then there’s the dearth of information on Heavenly Mother, and I think it’s easy to see why we are where we are. The root cause is lack of information.

    I can’t help being suspicious about earthly prescriptions that line up with overwhelming material and social privilege for men and have nothing to do with the divine order as it is taught to us.

    On the one hand I agree: there is definitely something suspicious about a lack of information that is skewed against an understanding of the feminine divine. It’s probably not coincidence that as the recipients of a patriarchal religious culture we’re missing out the aspects that relate to our Heavenly Mother.

    On the other hand: I think privilege-themed analyses often tend to go astray. One problem is that, to the extent that gender roles emphasize duty and obligation, they can always be myopically interpreted as evidence of subjugation instead of interdependence by simply only looking at one side of the equation. Another problem is that if we pick any particular lens through which to analyse privilege (gender, race, culture, religion, class, etc.) we can misattribute or leave out factors that derive from other aspects.

    So it’s hard to tell from your post, but I’m reluctant to conclude that the broad idea that women nurture very young children and men provide for families “line[s] up with overwhelming material and social privilege for men and have nothing to do with the divine order as it is taught to us.”

    I think that, by contrast, the biological component to this arrangment indicates it is probably universal (at least with regards to mortality) and also ordained of Heavenly Parents. I also think that it need not be nearly as slanted as you seem to agree.

    I definitely think that our conceptions of gender roles will continue to evolve and change with society, but I’m not quite as hasty to throw out current understandings entirely as you seem to be.

  29. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    “they can always be myopically interpreted as evidence of subjugation instead of interdependence by simply only looking at one side of the equation.”

    Yes, try telling that to kids who are thrust into poverty when their wealthy father abandons them and their stay-at-home mother.

  30. Dave K on January 20, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Nathaniel,

    I appreciate your dedication to the subject of gender. While we have disagreed before (and will likely again here), know that I value your input and respect your willingness to wrestle with this important subject.

    I would very much appreciate your thoughts regarding this question: How can gender be essential if the full expression of God’s love for us, and the full example for us to return to God, is found through a male Savior?

    The church teaches that Christ has the ability to succor all of God’s children in all of their affimaties. This means He comprehends the travails of a woman carring a child to term and giving birth. This means he understands fully all of the female experience.

    The church teaches that Christ is the example by which all of God’s children learn their divine roles and attributes. This means He, alone, provides a full example of divine womanhood. There is no other example needed for a woman to learn her divine nature.

    The church teaches that, through the atonement of Christ, all men can become perfect as He is.

    The church teachest that Christ is male.

    Taking the above, why is gender essential in the eternities. If there is some attribute or ability that women alone possess, then Christ would be an incomplete savior. Or He would be something other than male. And if a man can attain of all Christ’s attributes through the atonement, cannot that man fully embrace all of divine womanhood, just as Christ does>

    Taken another way, the question can be summed up as follows: If gender is an inherent component of Heavenly Mother’s idenity, how can Her Son provide a full expression of Her attributes such that Her daughters can follow that Son in becoming like Her?

  31. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Kristine #27. I think I agree with you. While I believe in gender complementarity and roles, I’m guessing the exact roles defined by “post industrial revolution Western upper middle class society” are flawed. So while I believe the ideal roles probably have something to do with provide & protect and nurturing, I don’t have a clear picture of what the ideal roles would look like in something like a Zion society. So for now, my wife and I are left with prayerful consideration over the guidelines given by the Church and our natural biology, inclinations, and talents, to obtain revelation for our own situation. I really don’t care about the conclusions the world or the wisdom of man (tradition, current culture, feminism, politics, etc.) have come to.

  32. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Kristine-

    Yes, try telling that to kids who are thrust into poverty when their wealthy father abandons them and their stay-at-home mother.

    Given that this would be a flagrant example of a man violating his gender role, I’m not sure how you think it illustrates that gender roles uniquely subjugate women.

    If your argument is that society doesn’t adequately enforce gender roles, OK. Or that society fails to penalize men when the penalty for women is built-in, OK. I’ve never tried to argue that the present situation is perfect. (I’ve spent considerable time explaining why, as a conservative, I don’t have to take that position.)

    But the gender role itself cannot be faulted while it is being violated. That seems like blaming a speed limit for an accident caused by someone who ignored it and drove too fast.

  33. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Dave K-

    I would very much appreciate your thoughts regarding this question: How can gender be essential if the full expression of God’s love for us, and the full example for us to return to God, is found through a male Savior?

    That’s something I’ve thought about a lot, but I don’t have any conclusions to share with you. The specific question I have is this: What would the Plan of Salvation have looked like if Heavenly Father’s oldest child had been a daughter?

    I will say, however, that I don’t think dropping gender essentialism or gender roles solves our problem. It solves some of them, yes, but it creates new ones. Most importantly, the teaching that men and women can only be saved together makes very little sense if men and women are not intrinsically different kinds of beings.

  34. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Fair enough, Nathaniel. But since male abandonment of offspring is nearly as widespread and cross-cultural as breastfeeding, maybe it would make sense to try constructing a society that disadvantages women and children less, instead of trying to engineer ways to harangue men into doing something that doesn’t seem naturally or biologically imperative and which we haven’t managed to improve much over centuries…

  35. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Dave K. Awesome questions, are they open for others too, or are they just for Nathaniel?

  36. Sarah Familia on January 20, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    #32 “Given that this would be a flagrant example of a man violating his gender role, I’m not sure how you think it illustrates that gender roles uniquely subjugate women.”

    Nathaniel, this is a flippant response to a very real (and common) problem. When people plan for gender roles, and then those gender roles don’t work out, women and children do suffer disproportionately. And yes, in my book that is a powerful argument against gender roles.

  37. Pleiades on January 20, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I have not read through all the comments, but articles like these that promote that idea that motherhood is better than fatherhood because PREGNANCY and NURSING really bother me. If those things make motherhood better than fatherhood, it also implies that mothers who adopt are lesser than those who were able to conceive naturally. It implies that mothers who formula feed are lesser because they are not participating in one of the things that define motherhood. It implies that single dads can never be parent enough for their children, while single moms are. It implies that stay-at-home dads are inherently inferior to stay-at-home moms.

    Moreover, the “I helped for like 5 seconds” contribution of the dad only applies to couples that were fortunate enough to have an uncomplicated pregnancy. When the father is driving his partner to the hospital every week, when he’s giving her progesterone shots in her butt so she stays pregnant, when he’s helping her maintain her medication schedule to keep her and the baby alive and thriving during the pregnancy – he might not be actually gestating the child in his body, but he is certainly contributing to the process of ending up with a healthy child and mother at the end of the experience.

    Is there a way you can possibly make your argument that does not marginalize these groups of people? If you can’t, then perhaps gender roles are not so essential when they don’t apply to the 1 in 8 couples who struggle with infertility.

  38. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Sarah-

    Nathaniel, this is a flippant response to a very real (and common) problem.

    There was absolutely nothing flippant about my response whatsoever. I believe that men have a sacred duty to provide for their families. A man who abandons his wife and children is violating his God-given obligation. What part of that is funny? Flippant? Or light?

    The biological reality is that women and children are more vulnerable, which is why men are the perpetrators of most physical and sexual assaults. Gender roles that emphasize overt suppression of anything that even looks remotely like a man taking advantage of a woman or a child are serious responses to a serious problem. I lament a lot of modern “progress” in gender issues precisely because the result has been to make women and children even more vulnerable.

    As an example, the acceptance of casual sex combined with the culture of alcoholism in culture creates the perfect environment for sexual predators to thrive. The reality is that an old-fashioned courtship-based society would provide far fewer opportunities for sexual predators.

    Of course, in reality the courtship-based rituals also tended to go with chauvinism and oppression. I’m not pining for a chance to turn the clock back in all aspects, but I do think that we’re throwing out perfectly good babies with the bathwater these days.

    You could argue that some of society’s methods for responding to this reality are mistaken. For example, encouraging women to focus on staying at home rather than cultivating their own education and job experiences leaves them more vulnerable to being abandoned. That is a fair point, but it must be weighed against the costs of such a policy, and there are always costs.

  39. Julie M. Smith on January 20, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Nathaniel, you live in a world (your own personal world, not the larger society) where gender roles prohibit neither dads from comforting little kids nor moms from getting advanced degrees in computer science. So I wonder if you might say a little about what work your belief in gender roles does in your life. Maybe we could just focus on your belief in women as nurturers: do you think you should avoid opportunities to nurture? That you should not seek to become a better nurturer? That no matter what you do, you couldn’t be a good nurturer because of an in-built limitation? Do you envision male deified beings as being less proficient nurturers than female deified beings?

    In other words, what thoughts/actions/etc. would be different in your world if you did NOT believe that women were nurturers?

  40. Dave K on January 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    SteveF (#35) – any help is welcome.

    Nathanial (#33) – That’s a great question too. IMO, it would not matter what gender our Savior possesses. In fact, I can’t think of any teachings of Christ that are are dependent on His gender. For all the hullabaloo we make of it now, Christ didn’t seem to care too much that he was male. But that seems to only further prove the point that gender is not essential.

    I also agree that coming to the conclusion that gender is not essential raises many questions at the same time it answers (or at least closes down) other questions. For me, as I’ve grown in my marriage (going on 15 years now), I’ve come to find that the things I value most in my wife are not dependent on her gender. Were there no such thing as gender, I believe I would still *need* her to the same degree I need her now.

    I see parallels in how missionaries work better in pairs. They build off each other’s differences and unique talents even though none of those differences are due to gender. The same principle is found in church presidencies (though I personally would support mixed gender presidencies for organizations that oversee mixed gender groups – bishopric, sunday school, and primary). And the same thing is seen with same-sex couples, though best not to raise that issue as it tends to derail the conversation.

  41. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Pleaides-

    I have not read through all the comments, but articles like these that promote that idea that motherhood is better than fatherhood because PREGNANCY and NURSING really bother me.

    First of all, I don’t think I ever said or implied that motherhood is “better” than fatherhood. What I actually did say is that pregnancy and nursing provide women with an opportunity for a kind of bonding experiences that is qualitatively different from anything available to men.

    Yes, that’s true. And yes, that means that parents who adopt are missing out on some aspects of adoption. I think that’s part of what makes adoption beautiful: it’s the effort to reconstruct a family relationship with some obstacles in the path.

    Recognizing that men have obstacles when it comes to relating to their children doesn’t make fathhood inferior. Recognizing that adoptive mothers have obstacles when it comes to bonding with their adopted children doesn’t make adoptive mothers “less”.

    (And taking the argument of a comedian literally is a bad idea. Comedians are famous for addressing sensitive and uncomfortable truths, but they are not famous for doing so with a great deal of careful technical precision.)

    Is there a way you can possibly make your argument that does not marginalize these groups of people? If you can’t, then perhaps gender roles are not so essential when they don’t apply to the 1 in 8 couples who struggle with infertility.

    I confess: I have no idea how to respond to this. If you think that something has exactly zero value if it has anything less than 100% applicability, I don’t know what to say.

    I just don’t live in a word that relentlessly and unforgivingly divided into black and white.

    I also don’t understand the desperate need for sameness. What is this feeling that if you’re not part of the majority you are less? What is this driving need to have every individual variation of your life from the norm specifically validated?

    I understand that my post makes you angry because it has exceptions. I just don’t understand why being an exception is such a pejorative thing, in your mind.

    We all are to some extent, in some way or another, exceptional and unprecedented. That’s just part of being a human being, right? Knowing that some things don’t apply to you, and that on some issues we all have to stand alone.

    We all know this, right?

  42. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Julie-

    I don’t think I can address your answers in a comment. Not even a comment as long as mine tend to be. But I very much want to answer it. I hope that’s OK, but I’m going to hold off for now.

    I will, however, say that I very often (probably daily) think about gender roles when considering my actions. Less as a guide to telling me what to do, and more as an exploration. I feel less like gender roles are about having a checklist of behavior, and more about having a set of questions or an attitude that informs how you decide who you want to be.

  43. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Dave K-

    For me, as I’ve grown in my marriage (going on 15 years now), I’ve come to find that the things I value most in my wife are not dependent on her gender.

    I think it would be strange to the point of pathological if it were any other way. You married a person. Not a gender.

    The individual always outweighs the category for me.

    That doesn’t meant that the category doesn’t matter or doesn’t even exist.

  44. Amanda HK on January 20, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    I just finished breastfeeding and the baby is sleeping right now, which gives me a few minutes to write a comment on here.

    1. Thank you to Kristine. My grandfather went blind when he was in his 30s, forcing my grandmother to care for her children and to go back to work full time. My father and mother divorced when I was four. My father never paid much child support and currently owes back support in the tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands. One of the things that my mother and grandmother constantly told me was that I couldn’t plan my life around an ideal. Would it be great if I could depend on my husband for support and be a stay-at-home mom?! Could I be sure that would happen? No. So I better darn well make sure that I was educated, had an independent income, and knew how to balance a checkbook. You can dismiss my experience as men not fulfilling their responsibilities, or you can recognize the fact many, many people are in less than ideal situations and any church worth its salt should consider the experiences of those whose lives are less than ideal. Doing so means providing women with equal opportunities to earn living wages and to find meaningful careers. I should note, my dad was and is a priesthood holder in the LDS Church.

    2. I breastfeed because I want to give my daughter the best start in life. Your spiritualized vision of breastfeeding bears little resemble to the occasional suckiness of it in real life. Breastfeeding = swollen breasts, little time to yourself, an inability to take many medications when you are sick, etc. Whenever I hear someone go on and on about the beauties and godliness of breastfeeding, I become a little suspicious that they have never had a six month old chomp down hard on their nipple and pull.

  45. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    In #26 Jax wrote: …if you don’t think you are getting good counsel from “the church” nowadays… Well, I’m not really sure any more given the ban on Blacks fiasco. They can. They can’t! They can! The prophet will never lead us astray.

  46. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    “I just don’t understand why being an exception is such a pejorative thing, in your mind.”

    Um, possibly because those who don’t live the ideal have three explanatory models presented to them for their lack in the Church: 1) you sinned; 2) you are a victim of someone else’s sin; or 3) you got the short end of the stick in a mortal world that is fallen.

    Those are all pejorative and lesser. If you think it’s possible to feel just fine about being an exception to the rule, it’s probably because you fit the standard and don’t have to go around getting your legs whacked off to fit the Procrustean bed presented in Church every #$@#!! week.

  47. Dave K on January 20, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Nathaniel (#43),

    First, thanks for making the effort to respond to all the commentaries. I know how taxing it can be to respond to queries from every which way.

    Second, to respond to your comment, yes, I obviously agree that a “category” can matter even if it is not the sum total of the person. The issue, however, is whether a category is *essential.* Most all categories are not. Race, native language, hair color, foot size, family history of diabetes, etc. – all of these categories *matter* to a degree, but none of them are essential to an eternal marriage. The underlying issue here is whether gender is essential, not whether it merely matters.

  48. Brian on January 20, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    What interest me most about this post is the author’s determination to 1) assuage his ‘jealousy’ that he doesn’t get more ‘hold his son close’ more often and 2) assuage his choice to not be a writer by 3) providing discussion that such situations are natural consequences of his following a gender-determined ideal role. Interesting how in comment 42 he claims he doesn’t think of gender roles as a checklist and yet relates decisions in the post which were just that.

    Which leads me to my questions: which is it? should personal decisions be based on the same gender-determined ideals for (of course, allowing for those exceptions which most here seem to argue aren’t as exceptional as the author does) or should said ideals be simply a guide, allowing for even more exceptions? Also, if pre-determined gender roles help us ‘decide who we want to be,’ how much of gender is actually biological and how much is formed by an attempt to conform to said ideal?

  49. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Kristine-

    Those are all pejorative and lesser. If you think it’s possible to feel just fine about being an exception to the rule, it’s probably because you fit the standard and don’t have to go around getting your legs whacked off to fit the Procrustean bed presented in Church every #$@#!! week.

    You might be right, but to me it seems that the problem would be with the punitive attitude towards been exceptional as opposed to with being exceptional. That’s what I don’t understand.

  50. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Really? You can’t understand why a post that extols a very narrow set of choices (ones you happen to have made) as the absolute God-given ideal conveys the implicit message that people who have either made other choices or had other situations dealt to them by reality are not as good as you, or are not living up to God’s ideal?

    I’m pretty sure you’re smarter than that.

  51. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Dave K-

    Second, to respond to your comment, yes, I obviously agree that a “category” can matter even if it is not the sum total of the person. The issue, however, is whether a category is *essential.*

    Right. Just so we’re clear, there are sort of two issues.

    1. Gender Essentialism – This only maintains that gender is a necessary part of identity. Not that it’s of essential importance. It’s theoretically possible to be a gender essentialist who thinks that gender doesn’t actually matter very much. (E.g. gender is an intrinsic but practically irrelevant aspect for your character.)

    2. Importance – How relevant is the category of gender to… whatever. To social policy, to theology, to inter-personal relationships, to your marriage, etc.

    I’m a gender essentialist (so that’s my answer to #1) and I do think that gender is important, but that in any case where you’re dealing with individuals that individuality trumps gender as the more important consideration (so that’s my answer to #2).

  52. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Kristine-

    Really? You can’t understand why a post that extols a very narrow set of choices (ones you happen to have made) as the absolute God-given ideal conveys the implicit message that people who have either made other choices or had other situations dealt to them by reality are not as good as you, or are not living up to God’s ideal.

    I don’t think that’s a fair reading of my post. It certainly doesn’t match my intended meaning, at any rate.

    Consider:

    None of this should be taken to mean that I think that any particular culture has a perfect lock on exactly what the gender roles ought to be.

    And

    I don’t think that any specific couple has a lock on the perfect gender roles, either.

    And finally

    I’m not sure what the ideal for my wife and I is, but I do know that we’re far from the stereotype. We don’t have enough kids, for one thing (just the two so far), and she’s getting her PhD in computer science for another. We’re figuring it out.

    Which of these statements led you to believe that I had a narrow proscription in mind at all, let alone that I felt that I had acted it out precisely?

  53. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Brian-

    There’s no need to refer to the author in the third person when he is so actively involved in the comments. It’s a bit off-putting, actually.

    Interesting how in comment 42 he claims he doesn’t think of gender roles as a checklist and yet relates decisions in the post which were just that.

    That’s not an accurate reflection of the post or of my decisions. Picking classes to take and career moves to make to satisfy a general principle (“provide for your family”) is far more abstract and nebulous than merely ticking discrete items off of a checklist. It’s about negotiation and learning, not mindless execution.

  54. Cynthia L. on January 20, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    “What is this feeling that if you’re not part of the majority you are less? What is this driving need…”

    Nathaniel, your change of language from “ideal” to “majority” in this case answers your own question. Of course people who aren’t “ideal” feel “less.” That is the definition of ideal. It’s not just a numeric majority, the word ideal indicates a value judgment. Others are trying to say, “Why can’t we treat a diversity of roles and models as ideal for different people and different circumstances?” and you’re saying “No, there is only one ideal, and the church teaches it and I believe it.” So it’s not just that some people are different, you are very distinctly saying those differences are less than ideal (and then expressing surprise that these people take away the message that they are less than ideal!)

    Of course when the church only talks about X and relentlessly pounds in X as the ideal and treats the distance between ideal and everything else as so great that the existence of everything else is only just barely mentioned, people are going to feel less if they are not the ideal. If people steeped in this environment develop what you seem to perceive as pathologically distressed attitudes about their failure to be the ideal, maybe the environment’s toxicity is more of a problem than you consciously realize even as you perceive the evidence of it.

  55. CRW on January 20, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    If “gender roles” are innate, in any sense, why is it so necessary to enforce them so hard? Why do they NEED enforcing and reinforcing? And believe me, growing up in YW, and watching my daughters grow up in YW, and even just playing piano in Primary, my current church job, gender roles are enforced. If it’s so natural and all, and exceptions are so fine, why all the policing, from General Conference on down the line?

  56. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Cynthia-

    Nathaniel, your change of language from “ideal” to “majority” in this case answers your own question. Of course people who aren’t “ideal” feel “less.”

    I guess I just don’t follow this logic. Ideally children should be raised in a home with a mom and a dad. Does this mean that if a young wife dies her husband is somehow less? He would have a tragic new challenge to deal with and a decidedly non-ideal environment in which to raise his children. He would not be less.

    Ideally children should be raised in a home with a mom and a dad. Does this mean that if a mother has a husband who is violently abusive she should stick around with him anyway? She should get away as fast as possible for the sake of her life and her children’s. She would have a tragic new challenge to deal with an a decidedly non-ideal environment in which to raise her children. She would not be less.

    I think we should spend less time trying to pretend that there are no exceptions or that general advice doesn’t have validity even when it doesn’t apply to everyone, and more time trying to develop compassion, empathy, and support for those in exceptional circumstances. (Which, as I’ve said, includes everyone in some way or other at some point in their lives.)

  57. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Gender Roles are not biological functions, full stop, such as male sperm contribution in creation, pregnancy and child birth, or breastfeeding. So I don’t know that I buy into the notion that biological function determines one’s ability to learn to nurture and care for children. Why does this conversation keep be reduced to gonads?

  58. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    CRW-

    If “gender roles” are innate, in any sense, why is it so necessary to enforce them so hard?

    Gender differences are innate. Gender roles are responses to those gender differences. Gender roles are not innate.

  59. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    LoriAnn-

    Why does this conversation keep be reduced to gonads?

    Reproduction is the fundamental driving force of natural selection. If you believe that human beings evolved (including that God used evolution to form us), then obviously facts dealing with reproduction are going to have fundamental influence on our species. We’ve had millions of years of evolution and maybe a couple dozen millenia of society.

    Which do you think has the greater influence on our behavior?

  60. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Of course when the church only talks about X and relentlessly pounds in X as the ideal and treats the distance between ideal and everything else as so great that the existence of everything else is only just barely mentioned, people are going to feel less (than)
    Indeed! And when this occurs with an issue that touches a core part of you that you perceive as an essential part of you the message one hears is “YOU are a mistake” rather than you are making a mistake.

    But how could you be a mistake if God made you as a part of the normal frequency distribution of humankind!

  61. WalkerW on January 20, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Nathaniel already stated, “Gender differences are innate. Gender roles are responses to those gender differences. Gender roles are not innate.”

    I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but there is a new volume out from Columbia University Press entitled ‘Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives’ that addresses the similarities and differences between genders. This includes their biological and psychological reactions to parenting, pregnancy, etc.

    Worth checking out for those interested in these questions.

  62. Jessica F on January 20, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    I can see how in the stage where you have small kids that there are roles women play that fathers do not. But that is only a small fraction of my life as a mother. The role my husband and I play in raising our kids is equal. I am not tied it them by breast feeding anymore like I was. We both make food we both read we both hell with homework we both do pretty much everything. Our kids really do not favor one of us over the other. I fail to see how 7 years of pregnancy and breast feeding disqualifies me from having an equal voice in the organizational structure of the church. As currently constructed to have a decision making voice one must have the PH. I do not see my ability to lactate for 12 months after each baby as a reason to exclude me for the other 80 years of my life from a place of service to god.

  63. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    …why is it so necessary to enforce them so hard? Because the LDS church has become a Pharisaical OT behavior enforcement church and only a few of the brethren has discovered beauty and genius of the beatitudes.

  64. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I fail to see how 7 years of pregnancy and breast feeding disqualifies me from having an equal voice in the organizational structure of the church….I do not see my ability to lactate for 12 months after each baby as a reason to exclude me for the other 80 years of my life from a place of service to god.

    Why does this make soooo much sense?

  65. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    “I think we should spend less time trying to pretend that there are no exceptions or that general advice doesn’t have validity even when it doesn’t apply to everyone, and more time trying to develop compassion, empathy, and support for those in exceptional circumstances. (Which, as I’ve said, includes everyone in some way or other at some point in their lives.)”

    In theory, I agree with you. (http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/09/29/i-pray-you-bear-my-joy-awhile/) In practice, I have two kids who can’t stand to go to church because they are tired of constantly hearing that their family is broken and less than ideal. (As a matter of fact, I’m kind of tired of hearing it, too, but I had longer to develop a testimony before we started prioritizing worship of The Family.) You’ve said that in situations involving individuals, “individuality trumps gender.” I can’t think of any situation where we’d be giving advice about families and gender roles that isn’t having profound effects on individuals.

    I think the people who are disagreeing with you here probably “believe in” gender roles in one way or another, too, but are trying to get you to acknowledge that the costs of those beliefs are borne mostly by those who are not reaping the benefits of the ideal situation, as you are. As Julie pointed out, your life and choices are not much constrained by your beliefs–you might want to listen more to those whose lives are dramatically impacted by such beliefs.

  66. Nathaniel Givens on January 20, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Kristine-

    In practice, I have two kids who can’t stand to go to church because they are tired of constantly hearing that their family is broken and less than ideal… I think the people who are disagreeing with you here probably “believe in” gender roles in one way or another, too, but are trying to get you to acknowledge that the costs of those beliefs are borne mostly by those who are not reaping the benefits of the ideal situation, as you are. As Julie pointed out, your life and choices are not much constrained by your beliefs–you might want to listen more to those whose lives are dramatically impacted by such beliefs.

    I am listening attentively to folks who have valuable insights into this matter that I may lack, but that doesn’t mean I can or should just shut my brain off and accept things that do not make sense to me, despite my sincere efforts to understand.

    You seem to be saying, for example, that the problem is not with gender roles per se, but rather with how we teach them. Or, perhaps, with how we fail to teach about exceptions and individuality. That is something that makes sense and that I’m certainly interested in finding common ground on.

    I believe that human society tends towards conformity and judgmentalism–especially in homogenous groups like Utah–and that this can have perverse and anti-Christian consequences and also that it can be hard for people who are largely unexceptional (such as myself) to recognize.

    If that’s your point: I agree. If your kids are only hearing about how their family is broken and less than ideal (and not in a context of “everyone is broken and less than ideal” but in an ostracizing way) then that’s a real and serious problem completely independent of the question of the validity of gender roles.

  67. Cynthia L. on January 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    “I think we should spend less time trying to pretend that there are no exceptions or that general advice doesn’t have validity even when it doesn’t apply to everyone, and more time trying to develop compassion, empathy, and support for those in exceptional circumstances.”

    Nathaniel, 100% agree. You could start by revisiting what others in this thread has been trying to tell you. Your responses have been consistently along the lines of, “The pain you are reporting in your personal experience makes no sense to me and therefore I judge it to be entirely self-inflicted even though you have presented evidence otherwise.” This is the opposite of empathy and compassion.

    “I guess I just don’t follow this logic.”
    “That’s what I don’t understand.”
    “I also don’t understand the desperate need…”
    “What is this feeling…?”
    “What is this driving need…?”
    “I just don’t understand why being [you]…[is painful]”
    “I confess: I have no idea how to respond to [your self-reported feelings]. If [your experience teaches you something I disagree with], I don’t know what to say.”

    I point out all these self-reported gaps in your knowledge and understanding not to punish you. There is no fault in not knowing, and I’m sorry that you perhaps feel attacked for it in this thread. But there is fault in implicitly or explicitly telling others that because you don’t understand them or know what they know, they are wrong. The repeated refrain that you are baffled by what is nearly a consensus here among those differently situated from you suggests that you have an exciting opportunity for growth ahead of you, as you work to begin understanding your fellow saints and their experiences and gain empathy for their viewpoints. I hope this thread can become an opportunity for us to share in trustful candidness and for you to listen in love.

  68. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Nathaniel-again, I can agree with you in theory. But given the amount of curricular attention we pay to family and gender roles in the Church these days, the fact of teaching these ideas badly is far more consequential than our poor teaching of lots of other theological constructs. It’s a lot less dangerous to do a bad job of teaching the Old Testament to adults than to bludgeon children with narrowly-construed gender ideals in Primary every week.

  69. Hedgehog on January 20, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Nathaniel: “Gender differences are innate…”
    I’m apparently quite late to this discussion (and trying to type on my mobile device) and agree with a number of earlier comments, so won’t repeat what has been said previously. I’ll say this however, the above idea has caused me immense distress in the past. I grew up hearing many things about the innate qualities of women taught at church both in RS and YW. Qualities I did not possess, attributes I found and still find very difficult. When I raised this I was told perhaps I hadn’t looked hard enough, that since I’m a woman they were there, this was what our inspired leaders were teaching. It got to the point that I was driven to consider that in that case I was surely then not a woman, so what was I? It was an extremely painful and soul-wrenching place to be. Well, common sense prevailed. Biologically, I am female, that was clear, though there are those who have ambiguity to navigate. For the conclusion had to be that our leaders were wrong on this.
    And it is not only damaging in the way it hurt me. We all need to develop Christ-like attributes. I know women who believe they possess these attributes innately, because they have been told so many times over the pulpit. Compassion springs to mind – because of what they hear they believe, for example, the way they are behaving must be compassionate inspite of all evidence to the contrary.

  70. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Dave K #30. Last year FMH did a series called Fembryology. Part 1 discusses how male and female bodies are made of analogous parts, but some parts are organized differently for differing functions (and thus behaviors).

    In my mind this is parallel to our spiritual bodies which I understand are in the likeness of our temporal bodies. It is also my understanding the out spirit bodies are made of light or intelligence.

    I believe that males and females have the same capacity to obtain all light and intelligence, but I believe there are some differences in how it is organized in the spiritual body. So while both can obtain all of the same intelligence and godly attributes and thus can understand one another perfectly, I believe these differences mean that male and female ultimately find a fullness of joy exercising this intelligence in differing ways in those places where the intelligence is organized differently. And these two expression of intelligence work together to enable a perfection that no individual could achieve on his/her own, that no individual could be organized in such a way to achieve a greater joy/happiness/glory than male and female organizations (and expressions) can achieve together. To me this is what ultimately accounts for differing gender roles in eternity, and I believe the biological parallel exist here to pattern, teach, and prepare us for that truth. In my mind, this complementarity of the sexes is the ultimate expression of the truth that the individual is not and cannot be perfect alone; and it is the perfect symbol of atonement, of two becoming one, even a greater whole.

    So while I believe a female could be a Savior, and I am open to the idea that it is so on other worlds, I am inclined to believe that it is a male role. While Christ can be a perfect leader, with a perfect understanding of male and female, and embody all Godly traits which both male and female alike strive to achieve, the difference lies in how male and female will find a fullness of happiness exercising those traits and intelligence both on earth and in heaven. Christ is the perfect exemplar for male and female in traits, not necessarily in role (which is why I believe eventually the necessity will arise and revelation will come to teach us more about the divine feminine).

  71. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    “I guess I just don’t follow this logic.”
    “That’s what I don’t understand.”
    “I also don’t understand the desperate need…”
    “What is this feeling…?”
    “What is this driving need…?”
    “I just don’t understand why being [you]…[is painful]”
    “I confess: I have no idea how to respond to [your self-reported feelings]. If [your experience teaches you something I disagree with], I don’t know what to say.”

    This clueless position appears to be where the brethren come from on this issue as well. One of the problems with privilege is it tends to be privilege blind!

  72. Trevor on January 20, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Are there some things that are more innate or that come easier to Heavenly Father than to Heavenly Mother?

  73. CRW on January 20, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    The orthodox consensus is gender differences are innate but we must enforce a particular way those differences should be expressed, I.e., broad-and-with-exceptions but still pretty specific gender roles (in my experience)? Yes painful.

    Although you already discounted exceptions as proving the rule, in our 40 year, 5 kid, one professional and one academic marriage, we’ve probably some every possible permutation of provide vs nurture, and it continues this minute as I avoid wrting discharge letters and my husband feeds the grandkids. But I was there, 8 months pregnant, primary president, working full-time to put my husband through graduate school at the infamous Mothers in Zion fireside, and I did NOT hear “there are acceptable exceptions”.

    I felt a blow to my heart, blindsided by such punishing pain that I was sick. We survived, and we’re still active, but that to me is evidence of the damage that can be done.

  74. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    #72 Yes, appearing to mortals.

  75. CRW on January 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Didn’t know I was still so mad about that.

  76. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Trevor #72. I would guess no. But there may be differences in preferences.

  77. ASM on January 20, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Nathaniel, you have not answered the question why ideal gender roles matter. The comments by Julie in #39 and Kristine in #65 most clearly expose this. How does accepting your argument make life better for me, my family, my fellow Saints, and my community? Why is your argument so compelling that it should overcome the objections of those who are “exceptions”? Without more concrete thoughts along these lines, your argument boils down to a repetition of status-quo ideology. I look forward to reading your more extensive response to Julie’s questions about how gender roles affect your life.

  78. Dave K on January 20, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    SteveF(#70), thank you for this insight. I read the Fembryology series (or at least most of them), but I never drew the connection you did to gender essentialism. I can’t dispute your theory as it is. None of us has any clue of how spiritual creation takes place. But I can state that my own experience conflicts with your conclusion that a fullness of joy is found in church-defined gender roles.

    I’ve spent most all of my adult life presiding and providing. For me, that role is wholly unfulfilling. Nurturing is where I find fulfillment. I can’t imagine a worse hell than the role the church teaches to men: Get up before your kids each morning, work your butt off, and maybe if you’re lucky you can see them before they go to sleep. If you are lucky enough to see them awake, remember your job isn’t to read them stories or help with homework, it’s to pick who says the prayer. And conduct worthiness interviews. If you do this job well enough, the church will give you a calling that takes you away your family on weekends too. Yes, we know you wanted to be a baseball coach for your boys this year, but trust us, you’ll find endless PEC meetings to be much more fulfilling.

    Sorry to be crass, but I’ve tasted of the fruit of gender roles. And my apple tastes like crap. All of the joy I’ve found in fatherhood comes from doing things other than my proclamation-defined role.

    [Dave K repents]

    Back to the topic at hand, you said, “Christ is the perfect exemplar for male and female in traits, not necessarily in role (which is why I believe eventually the necessity will arise and revelation will come to teach us more about the divine feminine).” I’d love to see that happen, but I rather doubt we will see any revelation in the near future regarding divine female roles that do not come through Christ. The church has repeatedly taught women that Christ is their example. There will be no female savior or divine female role model other than him. Here are a few examples of church teachings on the subject:

    “Role Models,” 2009, New Era, Elder Misalucha. (role models for YM and YW include missionaries, mission presidents, church leaders, Captain Moroni, Nephi, parents, and the Savior) (http://www.lds.org/new-era/2009/08/role-models?lang=eng)

    “Question: I am a daughter of God. Who can be my role model as I grow up?,” 2007, Ensign, Elder Ballard (answer: your Mom and Jesus)(http://www.lds.org/friend/2011/05/i-am-a-daughter-of-god-who-can-be-my-role-model-as-i-grow-up?lang=eng&query=christ+as+role+model)

    “The Lord as a Role Model for Men and Women,” 1980, Ensign, Ida Smith. http://www.lds.org/ensign/1980/08/the-lord-as-a-role-model-for-men-and-women?lang=eng

  79. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Sure aspects dealing with reproduction are going to have fundamental influence on our species ability to reproduce but those have nothing to do with “Gender Roles”, as aspects are reproduction are biological functions.

    The inequality in motherhood and fatherhood is not about our biological functions as mothers/fathers and our contribution to the physical creation of offspring, it is about fulfillment of roles that we are able to choose.

  80. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    In talking about “Gender Roles” in which we have in relation to eachother are not products of our biology, or only or most influenced by our biological functions. Like you said, you CHOSE not to become a writer, you did not however choose to have male gonads instead of female ones, and therefore you did not choose your biological role. Gender Roles are theory, biological roles are laws of nature.

    How our behaviors become influenced in what are socially ascribed Gender Roles based on our biology will differ based on the cultural upbringing of what it means to be male/female and therefore a man or a woman. While gender differences will always exist in both biological and theoretical roles, they are not mutually exclusive.

  81. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Dave K #78. Haha, I think we’re actually quite similar in how we view gender roles in our current culture/society. I guess in my view, my problem isn’t so much with nurture or provide and protect (and I prefer lead over preside, since preside seems to be the wrong word if husband and wife are to be co-presidents), but rather with imperfect way in which society is set up that allows (or doesn’t allow) us to exercise our roles in an ideal way. And in particularly, I find it extremely difficult in current society for spouses to adequately work together in fulfilling these roles as equals. I think ideally there would be much more of the working together part. But I suppose we have to make due with the society we’ve been given. I do look forward to a better day though, and seek for creative workarounds to the seeming cultural flaws in the meantime.

    Yeah, I see what your saying with those articles. I think we’re being taught the best we can be taught given what is currently revealed. As I mentioned, I do find Christ to be the perfect exemplar in godly traits and attributes for both male and female, I just think that as far as role example, there is still more to come.

  82. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    People don’t like to be told they are something they’re not, or they should be something they’re not. It implies they are defective when they’re not unless God screwed up!

    This was the church’s stand for a long time on sexual orientation, it didn’t work very well and it finally caught up with them so they modified it. It doesn’t work any better on gender roles.

    What sin is there in mommy providing and daddy nurturing?

  83. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    LoriAnn #80. I find it silly to think that roles have no relation to underlying biology. Let’s just simplify and think back to a hunter gatherer society. Biologically men with more testosterone are generally physically stronger and more aggressive, this is clearly linked with men being the hunters and protectors and possibly even the leaders of/for the family. Biologically women with more estrogen are not as physically strong but are generally more given to a stable mood and a sense of well-being and develop breasts to feed children, this is also clearly linked with the role of nurturing children and the more child-friendly and less-aggressive role of gathering.

    Looking past all the complexities and technology of modern society, it is not hard, imo, when looking down to the core to see the parallels in other cultures including ours today, particularly when considering what behavior is generally attractive and desirable to the opposite sex. We’re still the same species we were on the plains of Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Biology influenced roles then and biology influences roles today. And perhaps technology will reach a point were we have the option to culturally neuter society, but as Nathaniel pointed out in the OP, is that really the best option for society and its happiness in the end? Is that what God intended by creating the sexes (also see my comment #25)?

  84. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Howard #82. Surely there is no sin if the Spirit says it is the right thing in a given situation. It simply may not be the general ideal for the development of children and the happiness of mom, dad, and children.

  85. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    …perhaps technology will reach a point were we have the option to culturally neuter society… Aren’t we there?

    So much to do about our roles in a fallen world! Will men have testosterone in the afterlife? To what end aside from procreation? Perhaps something better awaits us in a post gender essential society. What would it be? Co-creation and co-management. Isn’t that where business is headed? Wouldn’t it provide better goods and services? Wouldn’t testosterone laden warmongering be tempered by the pretense of estrogen in war rooms around the world? Wouldn’t that serve to temper the insanity of war that we simply take for granted as a necessity in a male dominated globe?

  86. Alison Moore Smith on January 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    In the argument about female ordination, I constantly bristle at the assertion that motherhood and fatherhood are equivalent

    I’ve never heard anyone assert that motherhood and fatherhood are equivalent, anymore than I’ve heard people assert that men and women are equivalent. Rather, I hear the response to statements like, “men have the priesthood, women have motherhood,” by reminding the forgetful that men also have fatherhood. Fatherhood is certainly a better corollary to motherhood than priesthood. And priestesshood (whatever that in is the LDS context) is likely a better compliment to priesthood.

    There is an apt analogy to be made with men and women’s body parts. No one ever says male genitals are “equivalent” to female. But if you start saying, “men have p’s and women don’t need them because women have arms,” then it becomes a bit puzzling. You have arms, too, even though they are probably hairier and more muscular than mine (and, so, not equivalent).

    In my mind your post (given that you chose to refute the idea that motherhood = fatherhood) is rather a straw man. So no wonder you didn’t know where to start building it. Still, I think some of your points are interesting.

    This woman will not breast feed her next child because of the unfair advantage it gives her in bonding with her child.

    I was adopted, so my mother didn’t/couldn’t nurse me at all. In my case as a mother, I did was was called “dry nursing.” It was excruciatingly painful and difficult. (Even Le Leche League (not a fan) gave up on me. I was able to nurse the FOURTH of my SIX babies with the help of a lactation consultant, but not the others.)

    Obviously the “advantage” can be nonexistent and can actually be a disadvantage. (I’m not sure I bonded better while bleeding and crying in pain than my husband did happily rocking the babies.) And I’d guess the advantage is more one of time and closeness than milk supply. (So, yes, I disagree that “there is no serious doubt that there is an early advantage.”)

    But let’s assume breastfeeding goes swimmingly and is a wondrous, magical time of pure saturated love that cannot be duplicated. In my opinion it’s rather a ridiculous, socialist notion to feel the need to take away the experience of nursing a baby just because not everyone on earth can do it.

    But understand, I don’t know any women (socialist or not) who want to take away the priesthood from men because they can’t have it. Rather, I know women who want to remove any ARTIFICIAL barriers to this blessing.

    The real question, then, is whether the female priesthood prohibition is from God — meaning that even ordaining women wouldn’t give them the priesthood because God forbids it — or a cultural artifact. If the latter, why not allow women the same blessings?

    If the former, we still know there IS a doctrinal priestesshood. While it might be different, it’s still SOMETHING. Why not look toward the actual practice and implementation of that?

    On a positive note, I like your presentation of discipline. But the example you use is unconvincing. Yes, you have chosen to work for pay rather than write full time. This seems little different from the stay-at-home mother you seem to be contrasting yourself to. Most people have lots of obligations that take precedence over fun. If that’s a “gender cost” I can’t see it.

    Do the full time mothers you know indulge their fantasies full time? I don’t know any that do. Except, you know, the “full time mothers” with nannies and housekeepers and cooks.

    A friend of mine is a very successful writer (Richard Paul Evans). Like most writers, he wrote his first book while working at a job that paid the bills. Another friend of mine (Jennifer Beckstrand) started writing a couple of years ago, in spare moments and after hours, as her kids got older. She just published her third book.

    I agree that being the provider means you have particular obligations you might not like. I do, however, think there is a qualitative difference between being told that it is your obligation to provide and having every (legal, moral) possibility open to you to do so, based on your abilities, and being told you must be the stay-at-home parent. Yes, there are various flavors to stay-at-home parenting, but the requirement to be home is severely limiting however you look at it.

    Understand, I say that as someone who has been a SAHM for 26+ years. I do NOT regret it — even though I only did it after being “coerced” by President Benson. But I would much have preferred for the emphasis to be on caring for the CHILDREN and leaving the details for how that is done to the couples. That doesn’t diminish the duty and obligation, it merely allows more flexibility and personalization in meeting it.

  87. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Choosing what roles you would like to fulfill based off natural (perhaps biological) inclinations, interests, skills, etc is not neutering.

  88. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Dave 83-
    Choosing what roles you would like to fulfill based off natural (perhaps biological) inclinations, interests, skills, etc is not neutering.

  89. Michael P. on January 20, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    As someone who agrees with Nathaniel more than most of you do, I am curious what everyone here considers an “exception” to the gender roles that are preached by the church. I think it is useful to be explicit. Would the following be the biggest exceptions to the norm? Any others worth calling out?
    1) Single parenthood for whatever reason
    2) Mother working outside of the home
    3) Father staying at home instead of mother
    4) Not having children
    5) Not marrying at all

  90. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    LoriAnn #87. Choosing what roles you would like to fulfill based off natural (perhaps biological) inclinations, interests, skills, etc is not neutering.

    Yes, but ignoring deeply-rooted core characteristics and biological proclivities (many of which we may not be able to currently fully see or even comprehend) based on nearly a billion years of the specialization of the sexes through evolutionary pressures in favor of personal/cultural whim and fancy, is.

  91. Julie M. Smith on January 20, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Well, Nathaniel, I obviously can’t force you to reply, so let me try a different question:

    One problem created by attaching theological significance to gender roles is that women cannot then be asked to be like Christ. That is, if you see Christ as enacting masculinity, then I shouldn’t be following him, at least in some respects, because I am supposed to be enacting femininity. How do you solve this? Are you OK telling women that they shouldn’t always try to be like Christ?

  92. Lorian on January 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Next time, just ask your wife to pump before bedtime, and then you take the night-shift with the baby. You’ll find what many, many gay fathers have found, that it is entirely possible to form a primary parenting bond with your infant, and that there is no need to feel left-out or less-than your wife. Not to mention the fact that you will also come to realize that parenting roles are not as different as all that, once the labor and delivery are all done. You get to *choose* those roles. If you made a choice you regret, choose differently next time.

  93. Susan on January 20, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    @ MichaelP
    -Not being attractive enough to attract mate because of sickness or disability
    -Being born into a part-member household
    I don’t know how common these two are, but this is my personal experience of being an “exception”. My father is a wonderful person, but not a member of our faith, and I can assure you that growing up, most lessons about the importance of temple marriage or merely singing “Families Can Be Together Forever” brought real heartache to me and the other kids in “exceptional” circumstances.

  94. Michael P. on January 20, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Julie,

    What traits of Christ can’t be followed by women? Or perhaps a better way to state it is, what is essentially masculine about the the Savior’s traits? Perhaps I am being too simplistic, but when I think of a list of Christ-like characteristics (like that found in Preach my Gospel) there is nothing distinctly masculine about it. Did I misunderstand?

  95. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    D&C 89 reads in part: To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation… BUT, somehow along the way this clear greeting, non-constraining, non-commandment of a revelation from God became both a constraint and a commandment! And not just a commandment but a differentiating and identifying symbol to mark us as LDS and it eventually became one of the ways we separate the non-faithful from the “faithful”.

    Obedience is the first law of heaven and it is drummed into us in layers. OBEY! Thinking for yourself and probing questions are subtly but efficiently and very effectively discouraged. We soon learn as much from the unspoken as the spoken, as much from faith promoting folklore as from revealed doctrine. And along the way from the pulpit we learn that the core part of us that IS us is somehow defective, God somehow made a mistake and for our physical gender we turned out too nurturing or not nurturing enough, too aspiring, or not aspiring enough! It is a cruelty imposed by handing our autonomy over to a church that doesn’t even know why they banned Blacks from the priesthood! Yet we allow them to run our lives! This core self attack layered on top of typical LDS indoctrination is ecclesiastical abuse but in truth probably more negligence than abuse for they are so clueless that they know not what they do! It is the result of a bias toward rule tightening caused by being led by well meaning care takers for long periods between revelations.

  96. Dorothy on January 20, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Michael P: If Christ is a male, and men and women have gender roles, then Christ presumably has a male gender role, correct? If Christ has no male roles worth emulating, then are gender roles real? If Christ has male roles that women shouldn’t emulate, then women are not to follow Christ in at least some way. The admonition to follow Christ completely only holds true for men.

  97. Michael P. on January 20, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Susan,
    Thanks for responding. While my family is all baptized, most are no longer active for varying reasons. So sometimes those same things can bring me sadness as well. But I am not sure what the alternative is. I don’t think our doctrine and gospel can take itself seriously if it is not in someway exclusive or demanding on us. Why preach baptism and repentance if they don’t matter? That being said, I have a feeling that there will be many more people in the Celestial Kingdom than we tend to think. At least that is my hope.

    I feel this way about many of the exceptions people are focusing on here. We can’t pretend to be neutral on the kind of home and family life the gospel encourages.

  98. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    SteveF

    What “core characteristics” do you mean in reference to gender itself not gender roles? (Pretty Jesus was/is the epitome of female core characteristics.)
    What is a ” biological proclivity” that does not relate to the functions of gonads? (This negates the entirety of the Plan of Salvation if based only on our sex organs afterall)
    If you look at the history of the “specialization of the sexes” you can’t ignore the history of female oppression and systematic abusive sexism as part of that, to which I sure hope isn’t something you would actually endorse just because you are born with a male sex organ and thus incapable of rational conclusions.

    The only poeple ignoring anything are the gender role pushers who think just because your genitals function a certain way it means you must fit into a box.

  99. Michael P. on January 20, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Dorothy,
    I am not sure I follow your logic. Christ lived in a completely different culture and time than we did. I am sure that there are many things that he did as a jewish male living 2,000 years ago that doesn’t apply to men nor women today. When we talk of “following Christ” I thought we were all talking about faith, charity, love, obedience, righteousness, etc. the stuff that matters. :)

  100. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    * After all the specialization of the sexes is based off male sex organs which are primal/sex driven not rational/love driven like female sex organs.

  101. Susan on January 20, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    MichaelP, thank you for the response. I agree that the way we practice principles is complicated, because the very notion of an ideal is discriminatory (x is the best, or in other words, x is better than y and z). But we must be more honest with ourselves that every time we praise an ideal, we are hurting those who, for whatever reason, cannot live that ideal. Which is why an article entitled “I Believe in Gender Roles” is so tedious for those of us who don’t fit into those roles.

  102. Michael P. on January 20, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Susan,
    Is the feeling of hurt necessary though? Or is it at least some of the time a choice that you and I make?

  103. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    LoriAnn, not sure what your getting at. I’m talking about the biological specialization of the sexes through almost a billion years of evolution, not the few thousands of years we have of an often sparse written history that is not even a blink of an eye in comparison.

    I’ve mentioned some trait/behavioral differences as it relates to hormone differences already, but I think there are deep biological roots behind many psychological, emotional, and worldview differences that go well beyond the physical appearance or function of gonads, that have been selected to the survival and benefit of the rising generation and the differing partnering wants or needs of each sex through mate selection. Consider that these differences in worldview are significant enough and generalizable enough to cause common points of marital tension so that books like “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” and “His Needs, Her Needs” and countless others like them both resonate with and help a lot of people (or even jokes like in the video It’s Not About the Nail ).

    I find it almost inconceivable how there appears to be so many people readily comparing sex/gender to single superficial trait differences like hair color, skin color, height, etc. How a person can believe that male and female, father and mother, are fully interchangeable with no probable effects and reduce sex differences to merely the superficial appearance of genitals, is beyond me. Everyone is of course entitled to his or her own opinion, but I don’t find those type of thoughts taken to such an extreme to be intelligible.

  104. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    “Or is it at least some of the time a choice that you and I make?”

    Michael P,

    Would I be mistaken if I guessed that you are heterosexual, temple-married, middle class, and white? I’d love to be surprised…

  105. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Michael P, classic male mistake–trying to fix the problem from a logical standpoint before acknowledging and providing affirmation of a person’s or people’s feelings (likely unintentionally discounting those feelings), something our female counterparts seem to understand and practice much more innately, and I believe a positive Christ-like trait that helps all humans to be a little more humane when interacting.

  106. Lorian on January 20, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    Michael P #102 — I think the issue is that, if something is outside the realm of what is reasonably obtainable by a significant percentage of people, *and* if there is no clear, objective proof of any actual superiority or advantage it would confer if it *were* obtainable, then can it really be said to be an “ideal”? And if these things are true, is it not actually more hurtful to tout it as an ideal to which all *should* aspire and against which all should measure themselves?

    Say, for instance, that some people can run the mile in under 4 minutes (which some certainly can). There *might* even be a legitimate case made that being able to do so confers a demonstrable advantage to those capable of this feat. But there are many people born without legs, or who have suffered spinal injuries or other debilitating injuries, and cannot ever walk, let alone hope to run a mile in any time.

    Is it useful to keep preaching to such people that running the mile in under 4 minutes is an “ideal” to which all people should aspire? I cannot see how it is helpful to do so. Even able-bodied people who exercise regularly are rarely able to run a mile in less than 6 or 7 minutes, at best. Still, everyone should aspire to running the mile in under 4 minutes? Or perhaps there are better goals out there that still serve a useful purpose, help people stay fit, help people get where they need to go.

    Not saying the church can’t set goals for people, but when they are prescribe as *the* best and only one-size-fits-all goal or ideal, whether they actually fit everyone or not, it mostly seems like it just gets frustrating and hurtful after a while.

  107. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Books like “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” and “His Needs, Her Needs” and the video It’s Not About the Nail are some of the most sexist and ignorant things about gender I have ever encountered and in my opinion perpetuate untrue stereotypes that people are addressing.

  108. Michael P. on January 20, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Kristine,

    Is that supposed to be the trump card that wins the argument? The truth is Kristine, regardless of our orientation, marital status, income and race and whatever other qualifier, we still have at least a slight ability to choose our feelings, or at least choose what feelings we indulge. That doesn’t excuse the behavior of others; it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be sympathetic and acknowledge hurt. But it does mean that we need not always, in every circumstance consider ourselves a victim or in need of redress.

  109. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    No, it is not intended to be a trump card. It’s just noting that it’s easier to choose your feelings when you’re not the persistent object of scorn or pity. And maybe a suggestion that telling people you’re actively hurting that it’s their fault for “choosing” to feel hurt is bad form.

  110. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    LoriAnn, tell that to the people whose marriages are saved after learning such principles.

    Another simple difference that just popped into my head is that men are generally much more visual when it comes to sexuality. For example, men are the primary consumers of both female and male pornography worldwide. A pretty clear example of biology leading to a behavioral difference. Is it sexist to point that out, or just an acknowledgment of reality?

  111. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Whose reality?

    “Sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli are widely acknowledged, although poorly documented.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2739403/

  112. Michael P. on January 20, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    Kristine,
    The particular case that I was referencing when I wrote that to Susan was how mentioning eternal families at church can be a sad thing to people like her, who have a non-member parent, or to people like me, who have most of their family inactive from the church. But that we still need to teach it and realize that we have at least some power over how we react to how others treat us, whether they are intentionally trying to hurt us or not.

    To me this is a powerful and important truth, but perhaps not universal. It gives us a choice, we don’t have to be the victim even if we really are.

  113. SteveF on January 20, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Kristine #111 – The porn market’s, that’s for sure. If women are every bit as willing to consume pornography as men, I’m sure everyone involved in that morally-deprived industry would love to know why their success in obtaining female customers is so poor relative to their male customers. I’m confident the markets would be more than willing to supply that demand to the same extent it does for male customers if it existed.

  114. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    …we don’t have to be the victim even if we really are. As true as that statement is I think it’s important to realize that the experience of going to church and remaining LDS hurts for some people and it would be a very nice change to see consciousness raising among the brethren on this issue and many others so they might set an example for the largely local clueless leadership.

  115. Kristine on January 20, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    MichaelP, consider the possibility that a porn industry conceived and executed by men may be no more successful at depicting gender relations that appeal to women than a church in which men “believe in” gender roles constructed by and for men, and women overwhelmingly (at least in this discussion) find those role prescriptions inadequate to describe either their actual experience or something recognizable as ideal.

  116. Cynthia L. on January 20, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    “When we talk of “following Christ” I thought we were all talking about faith, charity, love, obedience, righteousness, etc. the stuff that matters. :)”

    So Michael you’re saying that you don’t believe in gender roles, and that the church currently spends huge, huge amounts of time and energy teaching things that don’t matter and expounding things that purport to be doctrine but aren’t because they don’t matter?

    Nathaniel, what do you think about Michael P’s claim that none of what you wrote about matters?

  117. Jeff G on January 20, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Nathaniel, in this thread you have earned your place as my favorite blogger. Very well articulated!

  118. LoriAnn on January 20, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    Yes Steven, but why were their marriages were saved? It was likely not because they learned about their gender roles, but how to communicate with each other.
    Regardless of one’s view of gender roles, learning how to communicate effectively is mutually beneficial for both genders/sexes.

  119. SteveF on January 21, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Kristine #115. Even if your theory is true (which I highly doubt given the amount of time and potential for money the market has already had), you would still be admitting a behavioral difference between men and women, for the type of pornography that appeals to men (whether pictures of women for straight men, or pictures of men for gay men) does not equally appeal to women (whether pictures of those same men for straight women, or pictures of those same women for gay women).

  120. SteveF on January 21, 2014 at 12:14 am

    LoriAnn #118. The point is that they learn about generalizable differences between the sexes in worldview, wants/needs, and/or communication methods. I’m not trying to point out gender roles in these examples, but rather underlying general differences attributable to biology that make the concepts of gender complementarity and gender roles in society at large make sense.

    Anyway, I think I’ve taken my fair share of the comments already, so I’m going to try and limit my responses.

  121. Riley on January 21, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Nathaniel,
    Bummer this spun out of control. Hopefully the rapid fire doesn’t discourage your continued engagement. I find your insight as intriguing and enlightening. Plus it takes courage, intellectual integrity, and patience to engage topics such as this.

    I think your point in #59 is very poignant. I’ve been attempting to grasp evolution and evolutionary psychology and can’t help but think too often even the powerhouses of the bloggernacle it turn a blind eye to the implications of evolution.

  122. Single Sally on January 21, 2014 at 12:35 am

    Single sister chiming in, for whom the question of gender roles in marriage is purely academic. I think the point about Christ’s embodiment of masculine/feminine qualities, mentioned several times above, is an important one to examine. As a teenager sitting in on my mom’s appointment with her visiting teacher, I remember a lesson about how women are inherently good at nurturing. That always bothered me because I’m not a particularly warm person and I don’t like children very much (Babysitting was always a disaster, and I know that if I ever marry and have children I’ll have a difficult change of heart ahead of me). I made a comment to the effect that Christ was the perfect embodiment of all manner of supposedly “feminine” virtues, including kindness, forgiveness, and nurturing. Are we not all, men and women, to follow Christ? It is my belief that every one of us should be striving to cultivate the virtues he demonstrated for us. The details of financial arrangements and divisions of labor in the context of the twenty-first century should be worked out with the talents, spirituality, and good sense that God gave us. I don’t believe any more souls would be saved by “father provide, mother nurture” than with mothers and fathers cultivating and teaching the virtues of Christ and making whatever decisions will best meet the messy challenges life throws at us.

    To the points about whether or not we outliers “choose” to feel hurt by the way the ideal is so often taught, I think that when we are facing our own problems it can be very useful to ask if changing our outlook will help us. But it’s a good deal less helpful when approaching the hurts of other people. I’ve seen these ideas hurt even the very strongest women I know. I did not know until adulthood that my wonderful mother, who worked throughout my life, felt and still feels judged and guilty for her choice, even though my family is perfectly happy with the shape our lives took and even though plenty of women in our blue-collar neighborhood worked. She never let a crack of that pain show until I started facing my own hurts as a single woman in the church. She is neither a moper nor a complainer (I get that from my dad’s side of the family), but salt still stings. I do think we can do a better job of teaching care for children, love of spouse, and emulation of Christ without hurting the exceptions who turn out not to be all that exceptional after all.

  123. Michael P. on January 21, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Cynthia L.,

    Don’t be so insincere. When talking about what matters, I was referring specifically to attributes of Christ. And how we are not asked to be like him in ways that are inconsequential. Like wearing robes, or sandals or whatever the style was, nor are we all expected to be carpenters. But I am sure that you already knew what I meant.

  124. RW on January 21, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Cannot resist posting. I believe in gender differences, not roles. We all do what we do best, and in a marriage this is subject to negotiation. For example, I can lift 40 lbs of water up to the dispenser because of my upper body strength. I like the expectation that my priesthood is effective, but I know that this is only a tool for helping other people. FWIW, because I don’t believe in gender roles, I don’t really believe priesthood is a gender role either. My wife has given me a priesthood blessing and healed me from the flu. So why shouldn’t she have the priesthood authority, also.

    Men that want to push women into nurturing roles may have two problems: 1) they do not really like taking care of children and 2) they want, themselves, to be nurtured by this person who is filled with unconditional love and acceptance.

  125. RW on January 21, 2014 at 12:54 am

    One more thing, sex is for mixing phenotypes and genotypes, has been and always will be. Nurturing children has a survival benefit, but who does the nurturing is certainly up for grabs.

    If you marry and want children, it should be clear how the nurturing is going to happen, generally clarified through discussion and negotiation.

    Dads make good nurturers, also.

  126. LoriAnn on January 21, 2014 at 1:28 am

    I find it once again important to emphasize or distinguish between different “roles” you and others are applying to the two genders because of their biological sex and acknowledging gender differences between the sexes.
    I don’t know that anyone believes that there aren’t differences between people which may include gender.

    However what is the point of debate is that our gender/sex should not and does not necessarily ascribe our “role” in life. We each have the ability to fulfill something based off inherant characteristics we possess as individuals, which may result from our biological sex or it might not. There are no characteristics that pertain only to a certain gender/sex. Please note AGAIN these characteristics are different from biological functions of gender/sex. No one is making attempts to argue for the neutering of the differences between them.

    What we are saying is that our gender does not and should not necessarily be the deciding factor to prevent us or qualify us for the duties of fulfilling obligations or roles within the home and family, or elsewhere in the community and our duty to a cooperative society.

  127. Cynthia L. on January 21, 2014 at 1:41 am

    Michael, I’m being completely sincere. The precise things that you shrug off, little cultural artifacts like clothing style choice and manner of employment, are the exact things that gender roles folks insist on policing. We spend so much time today telling girls *exactly* how much of their upper arm can show. We worry about whether moms are laboring during the daytime hours in a wooden structure we call a “home” or whether moms are laboring during the daytime hours in a wooden structure we call an “office.” Is adhering to these details spiritually significant or not? I agree with you that none of these details would have been the same, for women or men, during Jesus’ time. Then why are we so sure they are spiritually significant now? Why does Nathaniel “believe in” this? And even if there are some gender-role-related things that do transcend time and place and culture, then you need to grapple with Dorothy’s question about what are those things and where are women to find an exemplar if not in Christ because he was male?

  128. Michael P. on January 21, 2014 at 3:01 am

    Cynthia,

    I still think that you are confusing two different things. My point to Dorothy was that there is nothing distinctly male about following Christ. In other words, men and women can follow Christ equally and in essentially the same way because following Christ is the only way to salvation for any person: faith, repentance, baptism, enduring to the end… nothing male about it. Any distinctly male features of Christ that I can think of aren’t really emphasized by the church or its members. Can you think of anything that are?

  129. Cynthia L. on January 21, 2014 at 3:45 am

    “Following Christ is the only way to salvation for any person: faith, repentance, baptism, enduring to the end… nothing male about it.”

    Precisely. Very well said.

    “I still think that you are confusing two different things.”

    No. The people who are confusing two different things are people who over-emphasize gender roles instead of emphasizing simply following Christ in ways that are “equally and essentially the same” for men and women.

  130. ji on January 21, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I went back and re-read the original posting — and I still want to thank Nathaniel for the gift of the posting. I sincerely appreciate his willingness to share something that is important to him, and doing so in a spirit of intellectual honesty and framed in faith. Thank you…

  131. SilverRain on January 21, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Nathaniel, thank you for this incredibly nuanced and wise perspective. I haven’t read all of the comments, as the ones I did read were dully predictable, but since I’m certain you won’t get much positive feedback, I want to make sure I speak up.

    It was deeply heartening to not only hear that someone else out there can think about the complexities and balance in this topic, but also to hear it from a male perspective. Kudos. If I knew you in person, I’d bake you and your family a cheesecake or something. ;)

  132. SilverRain on January 21, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I also want to add that I don’t fit into the traditional gender roles in any way, yet I firmly believe in gender roles. I have been wanting to write about my experiences for some time, but didn’t know how. I think you have given me a springboard….

  133. Howard on January 21, 2014 at 8:17 am

    “Following Christ is the only way to salvation for any person: faith, repentance, baptism, enduring to the end… nothing male about it.”

    What’s interesting about this statement is there appears to be a contradiction here 1) Christ is our exemplar, 2) gender is essential yet there is nothing male about following Christ. So if 1 and 2 are true why doesn’t Christ model this thing that is so essential called gender? Given this conflict shall we assume Christ got his role modeling wrong? Or is it possible that what ever is essential about gender isn’t important enough for Christ to model it?

  134. Nathaniel Givens on January 21, 2014 at 9:12 am

    SilverRain

    Nathaniel, thank you for this incredibly nuanced and wise perspective. I haven’t read all of the comments, as the ones I did read were dully predictable, but since I’m certain you won’t get much positive feedback, I want to make sure I speak up.

    Thanks! I actually haven’t read all the comments, either. At a certain point yesterday I couldn’t keep up with the avalanche. I can type pretty fast, but once I was getting a response about every other minute, I just abandoned ship. :-)

    The website was also loading really slowly / intermittently. I’m going to go back and read all the comments at some point, but not just yet. (I just checked in this morning to see how the site was going and read the most recent few.)

    I think I’m going to have to write a couple of follow up posts. One to address the questions that Julie asked about how I interpret this in my own life (not that I want to get too personal, but I do think trying to make the post more specific is worthwhile) and another just to talk about the general nature of principles and rules vs. exceptions.

    In any case, let me know when your own post is ready on the topic and I’ll give it a read.

  135. Julie M. Smith on January 21, 2014 at 9:35 am

    From #94:

    “What traits of Christ can’t be followed by women? Or perhaps a better way to state it is, what is essentially masculine about the the Savior’s traits? Perhaps I am being too simplistic, but when I think of a list of Christ-like characteristics (like that found in Preach my Gospel) there is nothing distinctly masculine about it. Did I misunderstand?”

    To answer your questions: None. Nothing. No. (Which goes a long way towards explaining why I do not believe in “gender roles” as they are usually constructed, defended, and advocated.)

  136. J Town on January 21, 2014 at 10:26 am

    I also want to thank you, Nathaniel, for your post. Agree or disagree, I think it was very well articulated. Some good ideas were brought up in the comments also, but many were about what I would expect in response to a post about such a topic. I think it’s very courageous of you. Keep on posting.

    To Cynthia L.,

    “You could start by revisiting what others in this thread has been trying to tell you.”

    I can’t speak for Nathaniel, but that seems a strange way to persuade someone to listen to you.

    “I point out all these self-reported gaps in your knowledge and understanding not to punish you. There is no fault in not knowing, and I’m sorry that you perhaps feel attacked for it in this thread. But there is fault in implicitly or explicitly telling others that because you don’t understand them or know what they know, they are wrong.”

    You say there is no fault in not knowing only after pointing out every instance where he said he did not know or understand and stating that he needed to revisit what people have been trying to tell him. You also say that he stated that others were wrong because he didn’t understand them. That is not true.

    “The repeated refrain that you are baffled by what is nearly a consensus here among those differently situated from you suggests that you have an exciting opportunity for growth ahead of you, as you work to begin understanding your fellow saints and their experiences and gain empathy for their viewpoints.”

    There really is no consensus here, though. I saw multiple differing points of view in the comments, though several commenters did monopolize the discussion. I agree that empathy is certainly valuable, having been raised in a less than ideal family situation myself. I simply don’t see why Nathaniel honestly expressing his lack of understanding of or even agreement with some viewpoints and then, clearly, seeking to understand, is being so thoroughly misrepresented in the comments. It may not be intentional and I’m not just referring to you. But all that does is discourage an honest exchange of opinion and information. It does not persuade someone to change their views. Not at all.

  137. Jeff Spector on January 21, 2014 at 11:21 am

    I have to admit I am, on one hand, surprised by the animus of the discussion here as though it were some political discussion rather than a theological one between members of the same Church who claim to worship and follow Jesus Christ.

    And yet, I am also not surprised because so many of us have adopted the world’s principles, leaving behind the Gospel of Love.

    I thought it was a thoughtful post on which some might disagree, but not with the fervor I am reading. What a shame it has come to this.

  138. SilverRain on January 21, 2014 at 11:23 am

    There is salvation, and then there is eternal life. Salvation requires following the traits of Jesus. But gender roles aren’t about traits. They are about division of labor, duties and responsibilities when it comes to developing others throughout eternity.

  139. Howard on January 21, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Gender roles aren’t about traits? Elder Richard G Scott seem to think gender roles are about traits:

    Our Heavenly Father endowed His sons and daughters with unique traits especially fitted for their individual responsibilities as they fulfill His plan. To follow His plan requires that you do those things He expects of you as a son or daughter, husband or wife. Those roles are different but entirely compatible. In the Lord’s plan, it takes two—a man and a woman—to form a whole. Indeed, a husband and wife are not two identical halves, but a wondrous, divinely determined combination of complementary capacities and characteristics.

  140. Michael P. on January 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

    SilverRain,
    Thank you for expressing what I have been trying to say in my last few posts. I am not sure how, in the minds of some, traits of Christ and the idea of following Jesus somehow make gender roles null and void.

  141. Cynthia L. on January 21, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Alison, just wanted to say how much I loved this. Perfect analogy.

    “In the argument about female ordination, I constantly bristle at the assertion that motherhood and fatherhood are equivalent

    I’ve never heard anyone assert that motherhood and fatherhood are equivalent, anymore than I’ve heard people assert that men and women are equivalent. Rather, I hear the response to statements like, “men have the priesthood, women have motherhood,” by reminding the forgetful that men also have fatherhood. Fatherhood is certainly a better corollary to motherhood than priesthood. And priestesshood (whatever that in is the LDS context) is likely a better compliment to priesthood.

    There is an apt analogy to be made with men and women’s body parts. No one ever says male genitals are “equivalent” to female. But if you start saying, “men have p’s and women don’t need them because women have arms,” then it becomes a bit puzzling. You have arms, too, even though they are probably hairier and more muscular than mine (and, so, not equivalent).”

  142. Hedgehog on January 21, 2014 at 11:53 am

    SilverRain, it is precisely the proposed eternal aspect of the divisions that is so terrifying. If it were only painted as part and parcel of a temporary and fallen world it’d be an easier pill to swallow.

    Jeff, one man’s animosity is another woman’s vigorous exchange of views then…

  143. Howard on January 21, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Michael P. wrote: I am not sure how, in the minds of some, traits of Christ and the idea of following Jesus somehow make gender roles null and void.

    Well is seems odd doesn’t it Michael that Christ is our exemplar but gender essential roles as important as we are taught they are are completely left out of his Biblical examples? In your mind did Christ model gender roles? Does he now?

  144. Julie M. Smith on January 21, 2014 at 11:57 am

    ” I am not sure how, in the minds of some, traits of Christ and the idea of following Jesus somehow make gender roles null and void.”

    I think you might by blending “roles” and “traits” in ways that I would not, but I’ll try to explain the traits issue:

    (1) If Christ showed traits that only men should emulate, then women should not follow Christ by trying to develop or display those traits. Thus, believing in gender-linked traits means that we can’t tell women to wholeheartedly follow Christ.

    (2) If Christ did not show traits that only men should emulate, it really calls into question the assumptions behind most discussions of gender-linked traits. It is hard for me to understand how gender traits can be inherent, good, and eternal if Christ did not show them.

    If this still does not make sense, please let me know and I will try to explain it a different way.

  145. Michael P. on January 21, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Howard,
    I am not seeing the importance of your point. Gender is essential, but gender roles are at least somewhat flexible across time and culture if only because the needs of the family change across time and culture. Did Christ model the gender roles of his day? Perhaps so. Are we asked to model the gender roles of his day? No. We are asked to follow his eternal characteristics. I just re-read the proclamation on the family and I don’t see anything that states that our LDS gender roles as presently defined are eternal in nature or a constant standard in the heavens. And this observation lines up with my experience. I know plenty of people, in my own family even, who don’t conform to gender roles, yet are happy and faithful members of the church. Is this a question of attitude?

  146. SilverRain on January 21, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Julie: There are many things Jesus did that women can’t do. And men, too, for that matter. We can’t perform the Atonement. We can’t raise ourselves from the dead. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow Him, and try to be like Him.

    Gender roles are an opportunity to ponder, to open ourselves up to be instructed by the Spirit. “Take up your cross and follow me” isn’t a contract. It’s a chance to re-examine our traits, our human and mortal natures and allow them to be changed by God and communion with His Spirit. The details are wildly different from person to person. Gender roles are a chance to take the traits we’ve been given and bend them to a particular task. Conflating the traits with the task only ends in heartache.

    Motherhood, fatherhood, and priesthood are all callings. How much and in what way those callings apply to eternity, I don’t know. Though I trust the prophets of God when they teach us that there is something eternal in them. And I trust the Spirit when I am urged to submit myself to them. We reject those words utterly to our own detriment.

    Your argument in #144 makes perfect sense. It is very logical. But not everything of value is strictly logical. We are told as women to follow Christ, and we are told that we have a task, here and in the eternities, to nurture our children and assist our husband as he provides for them. Beyond the logic, there is a synergistic beauty and simplicity. I hope one day to be sealed to someone who honors this divine synergy.

    That is enough for me.

  147. Howard on January 21, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Well then Michael P. it appears we agree; gender is essential, but gender roles are flexible. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear this from the pulpit even half as often as we hear gender essentialism reenforced?

  148. Orange on January 21, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Here are a few questions that have puzzled me for years and years, since I was a young woman being taught that marriage and motherhood were the main (if not only) goals of my life.. If as a woman, I have a very narrowly defined gender role outlined in the Proclamation, why has God given me talents that fall outside that role? Are they temptations I must overcome? Am I supposed to neglect these God-given talents or am I the exception? (And don’t most women have other talents besides nurturing?)

    Also, since child rearing will only be for a smaller percentage of my life (25 years, so about 30% let’s say), what on earth am I supposed to do for the rest of it?

  149. Julie M. Smith on January 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    “There are many things Jesus did that women can’t do. And men, too, for that matter. We can’t perform the Atonement. We can’t raise ourselves from the dead. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow Him, and try to be like Him.”

    I thought we were talking about traits? These are actions. Further, they are actions no _human_ can do. We all grant that. The issue is whether Christ exhibited traits that women should not try to emulate.

  150. SteveF on January 21, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Howard, using the logic you propose you could likewise throw out the importance of marriage and raising children in the plan of salvation, since we have no record of Jesus being an example in these specific roles. Perhaps what is important is that Jesus exemplifies and embodies perfect love that can be applied to whatever roles one finds themselves in–whether necessary to exaltation (like eternal marriage) or unnecessary (like being a president of a non-profit organization)–which allows Jesus to be the perfect exemplar regardless of any gender roles that may or may not exist.

    At any rate, I believe regardless of men or women being born with general biological propensities towards certain traits and behaviors (which I believe is what Elder Scott is referring to) that I believe align with certain gender roles, I still believe that it is another thing altogether to learn from these instincts to spiritually obtain Christ-like attributes, and I believe it is necessary that men and women come together and learn from one another and each other’s worldviews so that both men and women can obtain the spiritual intelligence to one day embody all good traits. So while we talk about gender roles, my preference is to emphasize the importance and necessity of working together in these roles, for only in this way I believe can we obtain all truth.

    Julie #144. Have you considered the theory I proposed in #70? What about it does not at least theoretically resolve the conflict you are proposing? Even if it’s not the correct solution, I think it shows that the issue can be logically resolved.

  151. Howard on January 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Howard, using the logic you propose you could likewise throw out the importance of marriage and…

    Indeed Steve F! My point is there are many things far more important than the issue of gender essentialism which makes a significant number of people feel badly about themselves unnecessarily when it is applied to traditional roles! Really, who among you are qualified to truncate the bell curve of humankind?

    From my perspective the main reason the church makes a big deal out of gender essentialism is they have a history of lagging (but eventually conforming to) social adaptation and need/want some way to argue anti-gay, the timing of the family Proc. being suspect relative to the issue of gay marriage.

  152. Michael P. on January 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Howard,
    I think we do hear it over the pulpit. I remember hearing it last conference from Elder Christofferson in particular.

    Julie,
    Thanks for explaining. I understand your points better now.

    1) I don’t think Christ showed traits that only men should follow in any specific way. I truthfully can’t think of any.
    2) I don’t think this calls into question the teaching of gender specific traits. I have typed and deleted several different ways to explain this in this comment and I am not sure how to clearly articulate it. The best I can do right now to explain my position is to point to SilverRain’s comment.

    By the way, don’t want to get too personal, but I remember introducing you once as a Friday Forum speaker at the Austin Institute. Just realized that you were that Julie M. Smith.

  153. Michael P. on January 21, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    “The timing of the family Proc. being suspect relative to the issue of gay marriage.”

    Howard,
    Is it possible, even remotely, that the brethren received a revelation to explain the position of the church precisely because the issue of gay marriage was starting to emerge? Just a thought…

  154. SilverRain on January 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Julie, that’s my point. Gender roles are actions to which traits can be bent. You’ll note that the Family Proclamation doesn’t talk about traits.

  155. Howard on January 21, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Michael P.
    You wrote: “I think we do hear it over the pulpit.” This is a common apologetic response. Yes we hear it but only a fraction as much as we hear gender essentialism. Give consideration to relative air time on these issues and you will see my point.

    Is it possible, even remotely, that the brethren received a revelation to explain the position of the church precisely because the issue of gay marriage was starting to emerge? Yes it’s possible! But given SWK’s experience obtaining OD2 and his comments about receiving revelation and given the fact that the Family Proc. was designed by committee and given the fact that Packers “qualifies according to definition, as a revelation” talk wording was changed to ” is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow.” in print, I find it highly improbable!

  156. Michael P. on January 21, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Howard,
    You don’t teach or encourage a principal by frequently referring to the exceptions. The references are there and they come nearly every conference. There is even a “I am a Mormon” video with a stay at home dad. If I were to ever encounter a man or woman who thinks that the church sees no flexibility in gender roles, I would gladly and ably rebut them.

    Regarding the proclamation, I don’t think any of the points you raised make it highly improbable to be revelation or inspired.

  157. Adam G. on January 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    This essay really spoke to me, especially the part about sacrificing your dream of being a writer to be a dad instead, and envying your wife the warm relationship she has with the kids.

    Also, that bit about the different reactions to being scared. I loved chasing my daughters and they liked it to, but with my son his reaction is to charge at me. Just like your son, he literally lowers his head like a bull and charges. Its disconcerting. He also thinks hitting is fun. He’ll just walk up to me, grin, and slug me. If I slug him back, he laughs.

    He likes playing with dolls some, and my girls liked playing with trucks some, but there is a distinct preference there that doesn’t come from any express encouragement on our part, since our attitude towards kids playing is more or less ‘go play and get out of my hair.’ He also just ignores people for hours on end but cannot ignore anything big or noisy or that’s working machinery. My girls don’t just blow people off, thank goodness, but him, if he’s not wanting something from you or if you’re not in his face, you don’t exist.

    He also from a very young age recognized the difference between men and women. Before he could talk, if memory serves. If he’s not off in his own world, men he watches, often very keenly, but also often like he’s trying to keep a low profile. Women he’s more likely to ignore, but when he doesn’t ignore them, he’s more likely to interact with them. My wife describes it as flirting, and its hard to disagree with her. It sure as heck looks like flirting. A couple of months ago I had him in the grocery story and there was another two-year old behind us, a cute little blonde girl, and I swear to goodness that he turned around, caught sight of her, and literally dropped his jaw while staring. To the point where her parents got uncomfortable and asked me if I could distract him or something.

    I had a similar experience. I had my first crush on a girl in second grade and was potty trained at age 3 by a three-year old girl sniffing that big boys don’t wear diapers, whereupon, my mother tells me, I blushed and literally never needed a diaper again. (Incidentally, my own experience makes me more sympathetic to gays who say that they always knew they were gay even before they went through puberty).

    Our girls obey both me and my wife about equally–not perfect obedience but about equal imperfect but mostly acceptable obedience. My son, on the other hand, frequently flatly refuses to obey his mother and won’t do it at all until the levels of repression have been significantly amped up. Whereas if he hears my voice get angry or sees my face get mad, he STOPS. Literally, he freezes. If he’s crying, he goes suddenly, dramatically quiet. It’s like he’s very attuned to the possibilities of male aggression.

    Anyhow, the whole unisex egalitarian notion requires levels of reality denial that I couldn’t bring myself to stomach even if I were so inclined. You can’t really accept evolution and deny sex differences.

  158. Nathaniel Givens on January 21, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    This is my first post to have reached so many comments, and so I didn’t realize that T&S has an unofficial policy of closing down comments when they’ve reached 100 or so.

    We’re well over 150 at this point, so I’m going to go ahead and close them down. I will probably come back to this topic again soon, FWIW, but my next post (on Monday) will likely turn to a different topic. It’s time to let this one cool down for a bit, I think. (That’s true for me, anyway.)

    Thanks to everyone for participating in the discussion.