William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gender Roles, the Priesthood, and Non-traditional Familes

The question was put: "was considering how she might respond to her daughter's assertion that 'it wasn't fair' that 'boys' got the Priesthood. I found this to be a very dynamic topic for discussion, especially with my recent observation/experience. In the Gospel Principles class it was asserted that men and women have defined roles - Men to be the breadwinners and providers, and women the 'nurturers'; 'because women have that gift'. A high council member made this statement in reference to the Proclamation of the Family. He made the statement, and the missionaries and myself all turned to look at my husband to be, with your 14 month old daughter sitting in the back of the chapel - taking care of the baby while I attended the class. He doesn't know that I'm the breadwinner and provider, and he does all the nurturing/caretaking/disciplining etc of our children 4 days a week. Now, I don't hold this against this gentleman. I know what he was trying to say. And he is not aware of my family's 'differences'. However, it did get me thinking about the expectations of the church and where/if I could ever really fit in. Some very good topics for debate: 1. Is holding the priesthood an inherent 'inequality' or just a 'different responsibility'. 2. Are women, as defined by the church, more 'loving and good' based on their gender. 3. Should the 'women are more spiritual' mantra die a natural death. 4. Is there room for families where the Priesthood holder is the 'stay at home dad'? 5. Are families with non traditional roles common, or more present in other places where the church is present. 6. Is there any 'official' remark from church officials about non-traditional roles in families?"

To which I responded:

I concede that statistically and generally, there are significant differences between the genders. But I do not perceive any persuasive reasons to make one gender ineligible to receive the priesthood. Nor do I perceive any reason for God to legislate gender roles which do not fit the natural dynamics of individual couples and families. Fortunately, the Proclamation on the Family does contain a clause about individual adaptability when it comes to gender responsibilities, but this liberalism is often overshadowed and overpowered by the all-too-common rhetoric about gender roles in the LDS church. As far as I am concerned, if a couple believes it makes more sense for the father to stay at home and for the mother to work outside the home to be the "breadwinner," there is nothing wrong with it, and the family may well be better off for it. Many fathers are highly nurturing to their kids (like me). Many mothers are more qualified than their husbands to earn a living for the family. Additionally, we can expect to see non-uniformity when it comes to individual parents' preferences about their responsibilities, and the strength of those preferences.

Your question highlights one of the prominent issues in the church's social values- we formulate ideals, then glorify them, and with hardly a thought, rush to the unjustified conclusion that the ideal we have created, must be sought after, regardless of its attainability or even desirability in individual circumstances. In fact, if we look closely, we will probably discover that a great deal of our practical theology (i.e., theology relating to how we should conduct ourselves) stems from this very process of idealism. It does not follow, from the statement, "Most men are best suited working outside the home while most mothers are best suited staying at home taking care of the kids," that therefore, "All men should focus on being the breadwinners and all women should focus on taking care of the kids."

Absolutely there is room in the Church for families such as yours. But more importantly, the Church shoud abandon the rhetoric about proper gender roles and leave it to couples to decide for themselves.

As an aside, as far as I am aware, households with hyper-masculine, religiously-conservative fathers are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse. While this fact is certainly insufficient to blame all relatively innocent hyper-masculine, religiously-conservative fathers for the bad acts of their peers, we should give serious consideration to whether there may be a causal relationship between idealizing hyper masculinity and religious conservatism, and the ills which tend to be empirically associated with them. In my personal opinion, paternalistic religious conservatism fosters an environment of male superiority, lack of respect for women, and a dynamic which tends to justify abuse with impunity. Freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and egalitarianism are thus not only critical on the citizen-level, but within the family. From what I understand, studies also show that egalitarian couples have more satisfying relationships. So if our real goal is to have greater happiness, we should not tie ourselves down with gender roles dictated by anyone other than the couples themselves.

That said, I do believe that couples should be encouraged to study the scientific literature concerning the genders and couple relationships, as these may be enlightening to help couples understand each other better, and find ways to make the relationship more satisfying.

No comments:

Post a Comment