Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mormon sexism

The LDS Church is among the worst offenders when it comes to sexist attitudes and outright misogyny.
  • Mormon women have absolutely no power in the LDS church.  No woman can be a mission president, bishop, stake president, or general authority, or hold any ecclesiastical office with power over a man.
  • Mormon women cannot receive ecclesiastical forgiveness from other women.  Only a man can grant forgiveness on behalf of God and "his" church.
  • All women's organizations in Mormonism are "auxiliaries" with no control over their own funding or selection of leaders.
  • Women can't organize or hold events (even women-only events) without the blessing of a male "priesthood" leader, who has to "preside" at the meeting.   
  • Women have to swear oaths of obedience to their husbands in LDS temples (this was recently watered down so that a woman only has to swear to obey her husband as long as he obeys God).  
  • Women can't know the "new name" of her husband (in LDS temple rituals), but her her husband gets to know her "new name."  
  • Women have to veil their faces during parts of the temple ritual, such as during prayer (consider the symbolism -- women can't approach God directly).  Men do not wear veils.
  • Feminism is a dirty word in the LDS church.  Boyd K. Packer, one of the Mormon Twelve Apostles, has indicated that the "three biggest dangers to the church" are "the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement ..., and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals."  Not surprisingly, the LDS Church strongly opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s.
  • Mormon women can be arbitrarily excommunicated through the decision of a single individual  -- her bishop.  A man who holds the "priesthood" (most men do) can only be excommunicated by a twelve-member High Council court, where his interests are ostensibly represented by six of the High Council members.
  • In the 1990s, several prominent LDS feminists were excommunicated because they suggested that women could pray to a "heavenly mother."  Incidentally, Mormons believe in a heavenly mother, they simply don't like to talk about her because it makes them look "weird."
  • Women are taught that their primary role is motherhood.  Work outside the home is discouraged.
  • Women (and men) are taught to not delay parenthood.  LDS women start having children much earlier than the national average.  This causes many women to drop out of college and not compete their degrees.
  • Mormon women today are still brought up to believe that the most important thing they can do is "to marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority."
  • Girls grow up believing that their virginity is what makes them worth marrying.  They are told that "If you allow boys to touch it in forbidden good man will ever want to marry you."  Young women are taught object lessons, such as the "licked cupcake" or "chewed gum," to show them how their value as a potential wife is destroyed if they explore their sexuality.  No amount of forgiveness can restore virginity.
  • Mormon women are pressured on how to dress (modesty, no flip-flops in church) and what type of jewelry to wear (only one set of earrings).  
  • Mormon women (and men) must wear special long underwear called "garments" that effectively enforces the church's Victorian standard of modesty.  Clothing that cannot be worn with garments include shorts above the knee, tank tops, summer dresses, anything low cut or with bare shoulders, etc.  Garments have a disproportionate impact on women due to to the prevailing styles of women's clothing.  They are a mild form of a burka designed to make women reveal less skin and therefore be less of a distraction to men.  (In the LDS church, women are responsible for men's chastity).  Until the 70s, all garments were one piece (some women still wear them!), which complicated basic bodily functions. 
  • Teenage girls are interviewed in private by Mormon bishops about their "chastity" and often asked questions about their sexual experiences.
  • Before 1980, women could not speak in regular Sunday "sacrament" meetings or in General Conference.  Before April 2013, women could not pray in General Conference.  To this day, women are not supposed to give the "opening" prayer in sacrament meeting.
  • Women who wish to serve LDS missions must wait until they are 19.  LDS men can serve at 18.  Apparently, this is to give women a greater chance to fulfill their primary role -- marriage.
  • Although polygamy is not practiced openly in Mormonism, men can still be "sealed" (married) to more than one woman (as long as only one is currently alive). By contrast, LDS women can be sealed to only one husband, regardless of whether her former husband is dead.  In the 19th and early 20th century, polygamy was the ultimate form of control over Mormon women.  If they displeased their husbands, they would simply be replaced with a more compliant woman.  Polygamy is still a doctrine of the church, and many people believe that it will come back after the return of Jesus Christ.  When I used to attend church, I heard many men joke about how they were looking forward to becoming polygamists when the doctrine was restored.
  • Susan Easton Black, BYU professor, summed up the attitude of the church in an address at Education Week, published in the BYU Daily Universe, entitled “Latter-day Saint women can make a difference” (the patronizing title was apparently lost on most BYU students). She said women stand out in history for three reasons: 1) being the mother of a famous person, 2) being the wife of an important person and 3) race (i.e., a woman of a different race can make a difference).  So much for a non-racially diverse woman who isn't the wife or mother of a famous man.
The sad part is that many Mormon women do not believe they are being repressed in any way and say that they like all of the restrictions and having men make decisions for them. After all, men (their husbands, their bishops, etc.) speak for God.


  1. I'm not your typical 'Mormon' woman, but I am one - sealed to a husband with five crazy kids. I'm 'rebellious', unconventional and stubborn, but believing.

    Many of your views here are inaccurate and skewed, and try and generalize about a large, diverse group of people ("Mormon women") as though we are all the same, and that our husbands and fathers are domineering dirt bags. Generalization is never a safe (or intellectual) approach to take when discussing the sociocultural characteristics of people with beliefs differing from your own.

  2. Rachel,

    I appreciate your feedback. I agree that not every Mormon woman experiences all of these aspects of sexism. However, you admitted that you are not a "typical" Mormon. The majority of Mormon women I know do experience various forms of sexism, some of which are institutionalized and core aspects of LDS doctrine. Likewise, I don't believe that every Mormon man is a chauvinist. However, many are. Some don't even realize that they are being chauvinistic because the sexist doctrines are so ingrained in LDS culture. Nevertheless, when viewed from the outside in, they become apparent.

  3. What a ridiculous post. I've studied Mormonism just as long as Theofrak claims to have and have found it to be the best champion of women's rights I've ever encountered.

    1. That's pretty sad, then. It's an organization that secretly bussed women to oppose the ERA. An organization that claims the world's largest women's organization, but a man is at the head of it, and a man chooses the leadership, and can dissolve the organization or change the leadership if they want (see JS in times of polygamy - dissolved it when Emma was speaking against polygamy while he was secretly living it.). If this is the best champion of women's rights you know, this is tragic news.

  4. Martha, thanks for your feedback. Feel free to address any of the specific issues raised above. For example, do you dispute the fact that women were finally allowed to say prayers in general conference this April? While I applaud advances by the LDS Church, the fact that people were NOT allowed to pray at General Conference simply because they are women is a good example of Mormon Sexism. Also, see my most recent post regarding Elizabeth Smart. While she doesn't specifically call out the church as the source of the "licked cupcake" or "chewed gum" object lessons, we all know that they came out of Young Womens.

  5. All I can say is Thank You. The Mormon Church isn't blunt about their sexism, it is very under the counter. I have always found it to be patronizing when they try to explain away the chauvinism and women's roles in the Church with the fact that women give birth. I seriously doubt a man in the Church wants to give birth, but is confident he holds the key to his wife going to Mormon Heaven. If you listen to the women in the Church talk about what leadership roles they have they generally have no clue as to what it is they are on about. "Oh but a woman can become relief society president", "Women are the leaders of the Primary", "Women are the leaders of Young Women's". No those are all auxiliaries. Sure during the turn of the century when Relief Society was established women were actually ahead of themselves, and they were in charge of their own treasury, but men in the church took it over and strong armed it and their finances. Lesson plans, events, any type of "organizing" has to have the approval of the bishop. Girls and women in the Church can't confide and look for spiritual guidance from a woman in the church without the bishop. I'm sorry but it is intimidating having a grown man from the priesthood come in and tell a group of Mia Maids not to be having sex, because then a Mormon Man and Returned Missionary will never want to marry her in the temple. Can you imagine how they would fume if a woman went into Priesthood to speak to the Deacons about how he should treat women and he should save himself, otherwise a college graduated successful career woman wouldn't want to marry his used up ass.