Monday, March 9, 2009

Thoughts on Gender Roles as Taught in the Proclamation

I just wrote a too-long comment on another blog, and decided I wanted to share my thoughts here as well. (Actually, it was two comments, so that's not so bad, right? hehe)

The conversation was about traditional roles as taught in the Proclamation to the World on the Family. Some argue that teaching the ideals of husband as provider and presider and wife as primary nurturer really aren't necessary, since the Proclamation leaves room for individual adaptation. And we all know that our leaders have talked about how family decisions are ultimately their to make.

Someone asks:

"But if it really is all about individual adaptation and nuance (which I wholeheartedly wish it would be), why bother delineating it?"

And someone else said, "It's all about individual circumstances."

And here are my thoughts in response:

IMO, these two statements to me illustrate perfectly why we have the Proclamation. It *isn’t* all about individual circumstances. Those only come once we know the doctrine and teachings and ideals. If our leaders did was say, “do whatever you want,” we *would* lose sight of the ideal, the pattern.

Elder Holland’s talk last year in the WW leadership broadcast, in my view, is one of the best I have ever heard on this topic.

The gospel (and the Church’s role) is first about doctrine, standards, and principles that don’t change (even if and when exceptions clearly exist). Those ideals need to be clearly articulated for people to truly make their choices. We can’t fully exercise agency without knowledge and understanding of truth.

BTW, I know too many women, too, whose husbands are not fulfilling those basic roles. IMO, every woman deserves to have her husband at least be willing and prepared to do what he can to provide the possibility for her to be home with her children. If individual circumstances vary from that ideal, then that's between a couple and heaven. But if those standards don't continue to be taught, I fear that more women will be forced to work when they don't want to. That's beyond individual adaptation. That's just plain wrong in my view. And it actually removes agency from the woman, and perhaps could mean that incorrect principles are perpetuated for generations to come.

BTW, I'm not men-bashing here. I know there are a lot of good men out there who know what it means to preside and provide, and take caring for their family seriously. But, imo, in the end, a family can't fully function, and a woman can't fully develop and fly, unless the man is willing and prepared to do all he can to fulfill those basic roles.

On another note, as a woman who is more "naturally" suited in many ways to my career that I had before marriage and children, I am also extremely grateful for the teachings of prophets, because it was only in actually taking that leap of faith in choosing SAHMhood that I discovered that that really was something I could do. And something that I have grown to love doing. It's the hardest thing I have ever done. I still have found ways to keep my pre-Mom self alive, and I am a fan of that. But because of the ideals that are taught, I have discovered more about who I am.

I listened to an interview with Kathy Soper yesterday. She said something that I found profound. The thought was something along these lines: When women discover the mother within them (and that *is* a process for most *doesn't* just happen or come naturally for many of us), they discover the divinity within them.

I have found this to be true. And so, again, I say thank heaven for prophets who teach us true and lasting principles. And then who also recognize the importance of agency *after* teaching those principles.

As the saying goes, all things must be done in order....

p.s. IMO, I can't help but think that one reason these teachings are sometimes misunderstood is that sometimes people think they describe what we should all be born with. But if that doesn't apply for any other gospel ideal (minus those few situations where someone may truly have a gift they don't have to work and pray and sweat to obtain), why should these ideals be any different?

Ten years into motherhood, I feel like I am becoming more of a nurturer. This is not about a checklist of tasks, but about what choosing to fulfill this role, with faith even though it didn't come naturally, is doing to my heart and spirit.

These ideals, imo, are about becoming, but we too often want to reduce them to just about doing.

[I should add that that this whole notion of finding divinity within through growing into motherhood doesn't mean there aren't other ways to discover that divinity as well...through creation and compassion, for example.) But I think sometimes women think, "Well, nurturing doesn't come naturally for me, therefore, I must not be destined to do it." And I think this is often something that causes women to miss opportunities to find that divinity within by taking a leap of faith on this issue. Again, ultimately, God can and will guide with individual lives, but let's not dismiss the principle and ideal just because it may not all come naturally or easily to some of us, or because maybe not all lives fit the ideal.

I will always love this scripture: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine...." Having chosen motherhood in faith, I can testify to this principle. Don't assume that because it doesn't come naturally that you can't or shouldn't do it.]


  1. Doctrinally speaking, the woman and the man share a great priesthood responsibility, however both of their priesthood assignments are different.

    The woman has the priesthood responsibility of giving birth. (Now I know many may argue that some women cannot give birth, that is only temporary!) The men's priesthood responsibility is to give spiritual birth. This is done through the instruction and administration of the ordinances of faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
    When both have fulfilled these responsibilities, they then enter the House of the Lord where they share in the priesthood responsibilities equally.
    One cannot be made whole without the other. This process of first physical birth (which includes the nurturing process) and then spiritual birth (which fosters spiritual progress)is the responsibility we all are given. This is the power of divinity that is within us.
    I hope we can all learn to fulfill our priesthood responsibilities with honor.

  2. I am filled with gratitude that the Lord sees fit to teach us our divine roles through His prophets. How lost would we be otherwise? Because the world would have us believe it's all good. It is NOT all good. I like In the Doghouse's way of looking at things, though I had never seen it expressed quite that way before. But the other blog you commented on is a prime example of one of the ones I just can't read because I get so angry at the myopia. People who want their own choices justified all the while vilifying those whose choices are different (and refusing to give due weight to the revelation they profess to believe in, because it comes down on the side opposite their own choices). I've been preparing my Sunday School lesson today and reading quotes from Elder Maxwell and others to the effect that there is a great deal about gender roles and the whys thereof that we don't yet understand but that their origin is long before this world began. I think it's far more important to question the world's views on what roles are important than it is to wonder why the Lord sees fit to define such roles in a way that may or may not please the world.

    I like your discussion of developing nurturing gifts. One of the commenters on the other blog took issue with that saying how could the church leaders' statements that women are divinely endowed with a nurturing gift then be true. But just because there is a gift, doesn't mean it doesn't need to be cultivated, to be unearthed. In some of us, certain aspects of nurturing may require more unearthing than for others. That doesn't mean the gift is any less there, any less divine.

    Thank you for giving me some things to chew on today as I prepare my lesson (D&C 25)

  3. I loved the Soper quote about discovering the divinity within us!! Very cool!!

  4. I think it's far more important to question the world's views on what roles are important than it is to wonder why the Lord sees fit to define such roles in a way that may or may not please the world.

    Well said, Angie, thanks.

    This is exactly why we need prophetic counsel. The Proclamation becomes more and more precious to me as time goes on.

    In the Doghouse: Thanks for your thoughts. While I have thought along similar lines, I do think it's good to be careful not to declare doctrinal that which is not really taught explicitly. (That said, if you have any quotes on this, please share.) To my knowledge, women really aren't told to "fulfill their priesthood responsibilities," so I'm a bit leery of going that far when talking about this. (Womanhood/motherhood is usually framed as a partnership with priesthood, not an element of priesthood, even though I do think that priesthood in a larger sense is something that goes beyond just what is held by the men...but for whatever reason, we don't talk much about that doctrinally.)

  5. One of the commenters on the other blog took issue....

    Well, I guess that would be me. I hope it is OK if I participate here. It is not my intention to be intrusive or offensive.

    m&m, I hope I made it plain to you in my comment at BCC that I do not think you were acting in bad faith. I just re-read what I said, and I said that I KNOW you were doing your best. I still think that, and respect you for that.

    To put it simply, while I understand that many people think gender roles are plain and simple, they do not appear that way to me. I've talked to two different temple presidents and two different GAs and I have gotten 4 different answers, so I am not alone in my confusion.

    Angie, I apologize sincerely for whatever content on the BCC blog offends you or makes you angry. As someone who is at least partially responsible for the content there, I am proud of what is posted. I realize that I will probably be unable to change your opinion of me as someone who is myopic and who seeks to have my own choices justified while villifying others, so I won't even try. I also wonder how in the world you know that I refuse to give due weight to revelation because it isn't what I want it to be. That accusation is bizarre, given that I have tried to find answers that makes sense to me by seeking it from those in authority. I wish we could be friends and exercise charitable feelings towards each other. For my part, I wish you the best, and I do not see misunderstandings like this as a good reason to break fellowship with you. I hope the feeling is reciprocated.

    Mark Brown