Can of Worms: A Mormon Woman’s View on Womanhood

Occasionally, I wake up in the middle of the night with something in my head that my brain starts blogging about.  After I mental draft for 30 minutes or so, I give in, get up, and get on the computer.  So, it’s 4:18 a.m., and you’ve been warned.  🙂

Facts:  I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The church has been spotlighted quite a bit in the media lately.  Such attention leads to a lot of online “chatter,” including long comment threads on national media sites.  Even though my better judgment tells me not to read those threads because they are crawling with trolls, I sometimes do, and good grief, people are ignorant.

Anyway, people sometimes use these forums to voice their concerns about “Mormons” and what they believe.  An informal calculation in my head tells me that about 75% of these critics are just dead wrong, and about 25% almost have it right, but they’ve severely misunderstood some point of our doctrine.  Simply stated, they are simultaneously misinformed and sure they’re not.  It’s frustrating.

One of the common threads I’ve seen running through these “discussions” is that Mormons are oppressive to certain populations (women, blacks, homosexuals, etc…).  All of these claims make my brain rattle and I want to yell at the universe, “Come on!  Have you ever met a Mormon?  Have you been to a worship service?  Or watched a faithful Mormon family in action?  Or read our scriptures (including the Bible)?  It would not take long at all to figure out that those claims are preposterous!!!”  But, you know how the universe ignores all that fist shaking and pointless yelling, so here I am venting on my blog.  I could not even pretend to tackle all those “issues,” but I’ve just got to address the women one.  I probably won’t do it justice (and frankly, internet trolls scare me to death), but it is with a small dose of trepidation and a large dose of fire in my bones that I must express what womanhood means to me, and what I believe it means to my church, and in short:  to God.

Let’s start with an anecdote, shall we?  Approximately one hour ago, my daughter woke me up to tell me she peed in her bed.  Her sheets were wet, her clothes were wet, and she was cold.  I helped her change out of her clothes, washed her body with a warm washcloth, stripped the sheets, started the laundry, and tucked her into a new bed.  She asked me to wrap her in the blankets “like a burrito,” and I did.  I kissed her on the head, she snuggled down into the mattress, smiled, and said “good night.”  As I walked out of the room, I turned off all the lights, and in the dark journey back to my bed, I was given some thoughts.  (Sometimes thoughts are given, not just thought.)  I reflected on recent news stories of children who are abused or neglected.  I thought of people in the world who would have yelled at or beaten their daughter for wetting her bed.  I imagined how someone who was caught up in the after-effects of drug or alcohol use might have ignored her and left her to fend for herself or spend the night in urine-soaked, cold sheets and clothing.  And in the middle of all those heavy thoughts, I felt a keen sense that my Heavenly Father was happy with how I just treated his little child.  I knew He noticed it, loved it, honored it.  It felt like I did exactly what the Savior would have done if he were here. I knew that my role as a mother, a woman, and a nurturer was important.  But even more than important.  It felt divine– God-ordained and God-beloved– even in all the apparent simplicity of the moment. Like all truths, this truth about the divine role of women is often buried in the details of daily living, and certainly often drowned out by the voices of a noisy world.

I usually like to avoid discussions about feminism because all those noisy voices are sometimes angry and adamant, quick to judge and accuse and assume, and often very slow to listen.  There is gospel context for feminism, but like most things in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is addressed in very different ways and terms and foundations than are common in society at large.  I think that society’s attempts to promote the cause of feminism rely too much on intellectualism and the hope that the brute force of strong, powerful, calculating, soldier-like women can stamp out any doubt of their abilities.  Feminism, in its truest sense of the word, can be best achieved when women spend more time focusing on the power that is already inside of them and using it to its fullest influence rather than trying to create opportunities for power in the world around them.  I just made that up while I’m typing, but it feels right.

The definition of feminism is “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” Based on this definition, without doing interviews or actual research, I think it’s safe to say that 99% of the men I know are feminists, and yes, that includes Mormon men.  I would also venture to say that, according to that same definition, both the prophet and apostles of our church and our Heavenly Father are feminists.  I know that sounds weird because it’s a crossover between society’s semantics and a gospel context, but I believe it’s true.  They believe in and champion the rights and power of women.

It’s important to distinguish that true, basic feminism is about rights and not roles. Perhaps this is where we and “the world” part ways a little bit.  Even though women are capable of and have a right to do almost everything that men can do, they are also free to choose the role(s) they will play in society.  I use the word “almost” because, by divine design, men and women are different, and no matter how hard a woman tries to do what man can do, she cannot (barring bizarre medical intervention) actually be a man.  I will never be a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a husband or a brother; and no man will ever have the privilege of being a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a wife, or a sister.  I imagine that eventually society will want to change how those terms are used because they “discriminate,” but while we still have a little bit of sense left in us, let’s admit that some roles are simply predetermined by gender.

In the document, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the prophet and apostles declare,

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. . . .

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

A careful look at words in that proclamation like beloved, divine, destiny, and sacred help us to see how eternally valuable and God-ordained both roles are.  There is no gender hierarchy.

It is in this context of different responsibilities that I embrace the role of priesthood authority in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Just as in a marriage, men and women are equal partners that respect one another and work together as they fill different roles. During Jesus Christ’s life, he called several men as apostles to help him direct and administer the business of his church. A careful reading of the New Testament also shows that Jesus included righteous women in his ministry and considered many of them among his closest friends and most faithful disciples. Likewise, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, women have many opportunities to lead and administer the programs of the church. The men of the church receive the priesthood, which is the authority to act in Christ’s name, and its purpose is to minister and serve others in the example of Jesus Christ himself. All women in the church are members of the Relief Society, whose motto is “Charity Never Faileth.” They, too, seek and are given opportunities to serve and minister.

Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has not commanded it, but we are given many, many opportunities to be leaders in the Church. I have served as the president of the young women’s organization and children’s organization in my local congregation, and I have been a teacher of adult Sunday School classes, scripture study classes for youth, and many, many other classes, lessons, conferences, etc. I love being a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I always feel my contributions are important and appreciated.

Rather than gloss over some of people’s mistakes, it’s important to state that even if my contributions as a woman were not appreciated by some of the men at church, I could still know with confidence that they are valued by God. The vast majority of priesthood leaders I have worked with have always approached their assignments with humility and treated me in a way that was respectful.  They have often sought my opinions and often applied my suggestions.  I did know a man once at church that scoffed at women’s contributions and ability to lead.  He passed that attitude on to his sons, two of which I taught in early-morning Seminary classes.  And though we both served on a ward council together and he was a “fellow citizen with the Saints,” let’s be clear:  this guy was a jerk.  So, yes, some members of the church get it wrong, but in my experience, that is a small few.  Over time, it became clear that this particular man was living a life ripe with hypocrisy, and he eventually lost his membership and standing in the church, and he lost his family as well.  So, let’s be careful to distinguish between the Church’s views on womanhood and the misguided personal philosophies of some of its members.  In this and in any other point of doctrine, a member of the church who does not live its teachings and standards is not a good poster child for the church at large.

Society (and members of this church or any church) gets these gender issues wrong whey they fall into any sexism at all, which to the chagrin of many self-proclaimed “feminists,” also includes extreme views of the feminist doctrine.  In my opinion, this mistake happens when “advocating equal” moves into the realm of competition– when genders are pitted against each other and either gender tries to raise itself above the other, claiming superior rights or roles, with hierarchical intentions. I do not believe that is what God wants.  He loves His sons.  He loves His daughters.  Period.  He has divine purposes for both of them, and we do ourselves and others a great disservice by overstepping His plan for His children and trying to dictate our own generalized rules and exceptions to those rules. The key to solving that mystery in your very own roles, in a truly spiritual sense, is simply having a personal relationship with God, communicating with Him, and having confidence in carrying out His plan for you and your family. I can’t emphasize this point enough:  Study the scriptures and His doctrines (like the aforementioned proclamation), and seek personal revelation.  Heavenly Father will help you know how to apply these principles in your own family.

In short (it’s a little late for that, isn’t it?), being a woman is a wonderful thing.  Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also a wonderful thing.  Women are powerful.  We have divine qualities and eternal influence.  What matters most to God will probably never matter most to society, and that’s okay.  It really shouldn’t surprise us, given that His doctrines have been mocked and scorned since the beginning of time.  We second guess ourselves and judge others when we pay too much attention to what someone else or societal trends at large say women “should” be.  Knowing our Heavenly Father, however, and coming to an understanding of who He wants us to be, leads to peace and confidence and an amazing sense of self-worth and power.  And sometimes, in quiet moments in the middle of the night, when your children sleep quietly in their warm, dry beds, He helps you remember the beautiful role of womanhood.  And when He speaks to you, despite critics, internet trolls, and horrible headlines, the universe starts to feel right again.

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51 thoughts on “Can of Worms: A Mormon Woman’s View on Womanhood

    • Truly, Stephanie. There is no way I could communicate my thoughts that clearly, peacefully, and with such integrity. So thank you for speaking for those of us who are less eloquent.

  1. I feel exactly like Lara- you articulated exactly what I feel regarding this subject.

    And I feel a kinship with you, because I was also up with my fussy baby between 3-5. Sigh. Here’s hoping for naps for both of us!

  2. ((((hugs)))) – you are awesome. I truly admire women like you. There are too many women (in and out of the Church) who really don’t understand their true divinity and purpose, and so meeting ones who do indeed understand what it means to be a woman make me bust at the seams with happiness and with a desire to be just like them. I am glad I know you and that I get to read your middle-of-the-night thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

  3. Pingback: Truth | Peck of Pickled

  4. Stephanie, this information you shared here today is so greatly needed; thank you for sharing it!

    As I read, the family Proclamation came to my mind (just before you wrote about it; great minds think alike! 😉 ha ha!) Before the proclamation I really struggled in my home, as I tried to do too many things and was never really sure of what my role was, or my husbands was.

    After the proclamation, my husband and I started getting really clear on what our roles were. This relieved so much pressure off of me. As I learned to really focus on my divinely appointed roles, our home became a beautiful place to be. I began to really LOVE my life again.

    I love being a woman and am so thankful to Heavenly Father for making men and women different, and for giving us each our own unique talents, gifts, AND ROLES which compliment and bless us individually, and also greatly as a couple and family. Our family life just keeps getting better – thanks to these blessings. I love this partnership with my husband and with our God. And I LOVE BEING A WOMAN, more than I ever did ever before, because of it….

    Corine 😀

  5. Thank you. I think all people want is a cause to champion but we don’t always think it through before we choose sides. In high school, feminism was the word of the day for all my friends and I. Then I came to understand that it was being used to get what we “wanted” not what was planned for us or what we earned. Be careful what you champion, but being a beloved Daughter of God who loves Him and is loved by Him is a great cause to be the champion of.

  6. Amen. Well said.
    I apparently live in the boonies because I hear nothing about the church in the news. Probably better that way. I too love being a woman, and love being a member of the church. I love your thought about power. So true!

  7. Amen!!! You have defined perfectly what we as Daughters of a Loving Father in Heaven intended us to be. I know that so many women near and far are very confused as to what their “purpose” in life really is! Selfish motives are NOT part of His plan for His daughters (or sons). Selfish motives are part of satan’s plan. We have a divine destiny. It’s not a secret, it is recorded in Scripture time and time again. Thanks Stephanie for speaking up.

  8. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

    Can you just imagine all that would be accomplished in this world if every single woman (and man) knew what you articulated so well in this post? I believe that is why Satan tries so hard to cloud the world’s view through “causes” like the feminist movement (such as it is today) because he knows it would completely and utterly destroy his evil works.

    Hooray for shooting another missile directly at him! 😉

      • In Cocoa’s defense, the current trend that often calls itself “feminism” is determined to promote self by belittling men, and I would have to guess that that kind of attitude makes Satan pretty happy.

  9. I loved this post!

    I don’t get alot of “flack” for being a member, and I don’t hear alot of stuff from the media. I guess living in an area without many members has its benifits.

    I appreciate your thoughts though. It is so true that Satan uses all the tools he has at his disposal…and some of them are sneaky. Being a woman and a member of the church is something I treasure. Thank you for being brave and sharing your thoughts.

  10. I really like this statement that you made:
    “What matters most to God will probably never matter most to society, and that’s okay. ”

    I think that is the key here in understanding our true roles as men and women.
    We are not to follow what the world thinks, we are to follow God.
    If we follow him we will never go wrong. 🙂

  11. This is beautiful Stephanie, thank you for sharing that. My husband always tries to explain Priesthood in the terms of responsibility not privilege. Meaning that it isn’t about putting men over women, it is a privilege for men as in its is a gift from God that they have to be worthy of, but not about making women be less. I think that people confuse this, like women are somehow being jilted by not directly having Priesthood authority. It took me a long time to understand this myself but once I did it completely changed everything for me. I agree with what you said that their are many misconceptions about this and I also agree with what you said that all of those people out their thinking these things couldn’t be more wrong. I agree with so much of this, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I have two teen aged daughters who are working on their Personal Progress goals right now and are active in Young Women’s, if those critics out there only stopped to actually learn about how much time and effort is devoted to that program alone, how many hours are devoted by members of the church to plan weekly activities, teach lessons, all of the effort and love that is devoted to the Young Women of the church then they might stop and re think their misconceptions. There is so much more that I could say about this but I can’t articulate my thoughts at the moment. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. I love your part about your daughter peeing in her bed. I think that sometimes the things that “good” moms do out of reflex are truly gestures of angels. I know most women would ignore it {possibly even me} but if you’re in the right place, you do the right thing. WTG. 🙂

  13. Awesome!!! Well said…well thought….might have to borrow some of your thoughts at some point in the future…I admire your blog and the time you put into saying what needs to be said. Bravo!

  14. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this perspective! I think my favorite part is how you emphasized that it’s not a competition between man and woman. Of course, the true doctrine is that it isn’t–that we are equal in our separate roles and responsibilities. So, the antithesis to that doctrine would be that it IS a competition that men or women are better in general. Thus, men are feminized and women are masculinized to blur those lines of beautiful equality in our differing roles. Thank you for listening to your inspiration and sharing it with bloggy land!

  15. “Feminism, in its truest sense of the word, can be best achieved when women spend more time focusing on the power that is already inside of them and using it to its fullest influence rather than trying to create opportunities for power in the world around them.”

    When I read this sentence you so eloquently penned, the following quote from this weeks GCBC talk from Barbara Thompson finally made sense to me after reading it over and over.

    ‘Tell the sisters to go forth and discharge their duties, in humility and faithfulness and the Spirit of God will rest upon them and they will be blest in their labors. Let them seek for wisdom instead of power and they will have all the power they have wisdom to exercise.’ (Eliza R. Snow)

    Thank you for the wonderful insight, not just this sentence, but the whole blog post.

  16. First off: I am the only guy to comment so far, and I think that is because the title of the post is scary to we menfolk. However, I pressed on and discovered a lovely, well-written, wonderful testimony chock full of wisdom. What a breath of fresh air in this angry world.

    Thank you for writing this. I hope it gets circulated far and wide.
    (tip of the hat, ma’am)

  17. Wow–That’s some serious organization of thoughts for the wee small hours of the morning. Thank you for your words and giving a voice to true feminism. I especially like how you distinguished between roles and rights. There are responsibilities connected to both. I love those moments with my children when I’m nurturing them in a way no other human being can. What a gift, and it is the driving force of humanity–the love passed between parent and child. I work with a lot of parents in my job, and it is absolutely thrilling to see parents or children who struggle with connection and attachment to experience that for the first time. That kind of love is a right, and it is through our roles that those rights are experienced.

  18. I LOVE this! You are so well spoken….at 4:18 a.m.! I loved every word and I am not only passing it on to my family, but it is going in my file ‘Sacred to me’ on my computer….so beautifully done! Thank you!

  19. You were clearly inspired to write this, and you articulated so beautifully and powerfully something most of us feel very deeply but struggle to put into words. Thank you!

    And will you please copy this and make it the preface of your book?!?
    And include a poster/print/foldout to reread and frame?

    xoxo

  20. I have not been on the blog in a looooong time, but this post was a good one to come back to 🙂 Thanks for sharing. I know a lot of people think that we, as women of the Church, just do what we’re told and we live our lives being brainwashed in being the “weaker” sex because we stay at home and take care of the home. There is a lot of power to behold in that job, and I wish society would be better at recognizing it 😛 But you said it,“What matters most to God will probably never matter most to society, and that’s okay.” And I love that you said God is a feminist. 🙂 I bet a lot of people would do a double-take on such a statement 🙂

  21. Well said, Stephanie. Very well said. (I wish MY brain were capable of functioning like that at 4:18! Or at any time, for that matter.) 🙂 I too LOVE being a woman in the Church and in the world. Thank you for reminding me that God notices and values the little things I do.

  22. I am so glad that you shared your early morning brain rumbles with us. You are so right about everything you said. You think much more clearly than I do when I am woken with thoughts that just won’t go away until I really think about them. I wish that the world would listen to you more often because you are pretty darn smart. I have I mentioned that I love your blog? You are awesome.

  23. i grew up the lone sister in a troop of brothers. Now I’m the mother of a troop of boys. My parents taught my brothers and I, by example mostly, that men and women are different and that is awesome and great and the way it should be. I look forward to showing my boys the truth about women; despite what the world will tell them. I love being a woman, and sometimes it scares me that most women in the church don’t and are more in line with what the world thinks about women. It makes me so sad to think how much joy and power the world is missing out on by avoiding the truth. It is so heartening to read early morning thoughts like this and comments like this. THANK YOU!

  24. As so many have already said–fabulous! I love the line: “It’s important to distinguish that true, basic feminism is about rights and not roles.” I’m reminded of so many of Sister Dew’s talks while she was in the RS presidency in which she spoke of us being the Lord’s weapon in these latter days. Our examples will eventually be louder than any of their words.

  25. Just coming back again to tell you I used this anecdote about taking care of Natalie in the middle of the night for my Relief Society lesson on service today. Thanks for all of this inspiration and food for thought. xoxo

  26. I agree that it’s both amusing and sad that men get turned off by proud, competitive “feminism”, and as a result miss a chance to be uplifted and educated by half their fellow travelers. Women are absolutely man’s equal; every child of God comes with intelligence and unique gifts to bless their neighbors.

    While there are definitely some ignorant men out there (and fortunately they’re often prudent enough to only abuse other men with their misogynist views), like racists, we should be able to push them to the margins by acting in charity towards all.

  27. Thanks for writing this, Stephanie. There is so much power in truth.

    I got a lump in my throat when I read about your thoughts after tucking in your little burrito. 😉

    I also love the thought about men and women not being in competition. In fact, the interdependence of men and women to me is fundamental to why we have different roles and responsibilities. One heart, one mind, in the Church and in the home. I don’t think that could happen if men and women had exactly the same to-do lists. Equality to me is a spiritual concept, founded in the Atonement, not measured by lists of who does what.

  28. My own little miss is sleeping in big girl underwear for the first time tonight, and I am so glad I read this! Not only for that much-needed perspective in that regard, but all of what you wrote, I agree wholeheartedly. Is is just so right, and so well-expressed. I admire you greatly for using your eloquence in such positive ways. You so totally rock. 😉

  29. I LOVE this. I came across your blog as I was searching for conference ideas and have been enthrawled for the past hour. I feel like crying tears of joy have found this blog – It feels SO GOOD to read such pure, no fluff, REAL life thoughts. PURE thoughts. REAL thoughts. It’s nice to read that other women have “reacurring bad mom days” but that they are still sooo good and trying so hard, not trying to justify themselves in the “woes of parenthood” but being “guardians of virtue” ….. I’ve been so inspired tonight and I thank you for your words and true inspiration.
    Tonight as I sang my baby boy to sleep (okay, so he’s 3 1/2…. but he’s my baby) he pulled my head close so we were cheek to cheek and sang along to a favorite soft primary song… listening to his sweet sunbeam accent and that tender virtuous, innocent voice in harmony with mine gave me those intense feelings of the glory in womanhood and motherhood. What a gift…. A true gift… there really is no greater joy.

    • I so agree with you Cara. I felt the same way when I first read this, to the point that I sent it to my daughters’ young women’s leader to somehow incorporate into a lesson. I agree with you that Staphanie’s words are truly inspired!

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