Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Women in Church History: A Call to Action

In my church, we hear no shortage of words about how important women are. Essential, even. Incredible. Which is nice, right? Because we all like to feel appreciated. 

But sometimes, when confronted with all these general insistences that women are really great and have such valuable roles to perform, my inner Eliza Doolittle bursts into song:

Words, words, words 
I'm so sick of words 
I get words all day through... 
Is that all you blighters can do?

Sing me no song, read me no rhyme,
Don't waste my time, show me!
Don't talk of June, don't talk of fall,
Don't talk at all! Show me!

There are many areas that we as a church could put our money where our mouth is in regards to women (and I won't make a list here, however sorely I am tempted), but one is in recognizing women's contributions to church history, both past and present. 

If women really are essential, are incredible, are important, then why don't we value their contributions more? Why don't we celebrate them and quote them and tell their stories to coed audiences on a weekly, church-wide basis? 

For over ten years, our Relief Society and Priesthood lesson manuals have exclusively contained the words of male prophets. In the future, can we hope for a manual containing exclusively the words of our female leaders? What if, one year for Sunday School curriculum, instead of rotating through the standard works, we focused on women in the scriptures? Imagine a General Conference with more than two female speakers (versus 27 male speakers).* Imagine a woman speaking in the Priesthood Session of conference. Imagine women being invited to address priesthood groups, women given leadership callings that, though they don't require priesthood, are traditionally given to men, women included on all church decision making councils, female stake leadership speaking in wards like high councilors do. Imagine rooting out patriarchal traditions on the ward level by having women frequently speak last in sacrament meeting or having as many weeks where there are only female speakers as there are weeks of just male speakers.

I would trade all of the talks about how wonderful women are for even one of these concessions. The talks praising women would become redundant if we showed that we really do believe women are spiritual and human equals to men in the way that we treat their contributions.

(So much for not starting a list. Turns out I can't hold back that tide. But I digress.)

So why does any of this matter? What's the big deal? Everything on that list seems so petty when compared to the vast scope and beauty of the gospel, right? Why nitpick? 

Because that list, while only the tip of the iceberg, demonstrates that our church culture systemically and subliminally perpetuates the idea that what men have to say is important and relevant for everyone. What women have to say, however, is important and relevant for women and children, but not so much for men. This view (patriarchy) is damaging to both women and men. 

But I'm not going to delve into the harmful effects of patriarchy today. My purpose in writing this and breaking my self-imposed ban on posting overtly feministy stuff on my personal blog (because people get judgy, yo, and I'm not interested in being summoned to my bishop's office again) is to share a rare opportunity to do something about it.

Ardis E. Parshall, my newly discovered Mormon historian heroine, is seeking funding so she can write a book about Mormon history told through the words and experiences of women. So cool, right? And the icing on the cake is that Ardis isn't a feminist hothead like me. She doesn't rant. She is thoughtfully diplomatic and articulate, and she's a legit historian. So don't let my angst turn you off: go check her out.

To explain the need for such a volume, read her post here. If statistics and graphs aren't really your thing, just skim that one and read some of these fascinating posts she wrote about how women, for better or for worse, are portrayed in church history:

Finally, read her vision and call to action here:

"What we don’t have is a history of the Church itself that incorporates the contributions of Latter-day Saint women to any significant extent. The active, achieving, contributions of women are largely reported as the history of women, segregated from the history of the Church itself.

It’s time to change that."  - Ardis E. Parshall

If you want to order a copy of the book or are in a position to contribute to this important project, please visit her Kickstarter page.

*I just found out that the church [finally] recognized the Women's Meeting as an official session of General Conference. The numbers above don't include the Women's and Priesthood session speakers; if you include those, there are 5 female speakers and 34 male speakers.

1 comment:

  1. I just was the informational video and this book sounds so interesting. You know I love history, especially American women's history, and often Mormon history, too.

    Proud of you! Keep being you.