not in Primary anymore

passive male feminist syndrome

At the beginning of this semester, my ward boundaries changed, and I was under the impression for about a week that Hannah Wheelwright was moving into my ward. It was like the scene at the end of the third Harry Potter, when Harry thinks he is going to get to live with his godfather Sirius Black. It was much like that scene, in both the ecstasy of events turning to my favor, and in how that possibility got ripped away from me at the last second (it turns out, no she moved into a different ward from me).

But a prospect like Hannah Wheelwright moving into one’s ward — and I’m speaking generally, here — does cause one to think about how one behaves in one’s ward. And in my case, it brought to a new level of urgency thoughts I’ve been having for several months. Self-reflective thoughts, that make me go:

I think I’m a good feminist on the Internet, but am I a good feminist when it’s just “me and the bros?” Specifically, am I helpfully reactive and helpfully proactive in my efforts to lessen gender disparity in my local church community?

Helpfully Reactive

I sometimes struggle to know how I can best represent the male feminist perspective in Elders’ Quorum. When an otherwise unrelated or good point is being said, but along the way it gets tainted in its delivery by the cholera of patriarchy, is it making a positive contribution for me to raise my hand and say, “whoa, dudes, whoa?” How can I do that better and more often?

Helpfully Proactive

And let’s be honest. If I limit my comments to just reacting appropriately to comments that I hear (Feminist Whack-A-Mole, if you will), I’m doing nothing to help the broader problem of feminist issues being ignored altogether. So what are ways that I can insert ideas into conversations that would otherwise be totally male-centric?

These are things I’ve been thinking about lately. The Exponent has a must-read, in-depth consideration of Mormon male privilege, which cogently lays out why this is so important.

I am sympathetic to the notion that church meetings are not political meetings, but as a community-minded group of folks it seems we Mormons should be more comfortable than we are at bringing our personal lenses, concerns, and perspectives to any conversation to be had.

One approach to being a positive, progressive force for good in the ward is to make sure I participate in more than just the opportunities to impose my views on others. Then my ward friends know that I’m in it for the long haul with them, and all but the most persistent have a harder time writing me off.

But I think it also just boils down to good old-fashioned courage, to “go and do,” “open your mouth,” and “do what is right, let the consequence follow.” But sometimes it’s hard to speak up for feminism at church — either hard because it’s scary, or because it’s downright difficult to figure out how to be positive and constructive about it. And because it’s hard, sometimes all I end up doing is is pulling out Words With Friends during the lesson. But that doesn’t help anybody (unless you’ve had a week like mine, folks — I’ve been killing it on that game).

I wish I had more solutions, but here’s where I’d love your thoughts. Anyone else (man or woman) sometimes find the bark a little bit easier than the bite when you’re actually in those hard metal seats every Sunday?

6 Responses to “passive male feminist syndrome”

  1. AllyGriggles

    For me, and I think for lots of people, the problem is that speaking up can be very emotionally draining. You’re sticking your neck out there and there’s at least 30 people in the room who most likely disagree with you. Those are really difficult odds. Once we figure out how to combat the emotional toll, I think we’ll all be a lot better about speaking up.

  2. Victoria

    Okay, just saying, we’re all sad that Hannah didn’t move into the ward, but *I* MOVED INTO THE WARD HELLO.

    Anyway, This is one area where male allies have the potential to do a lot of good, because unfair as it may be (read: super unfair) Mormons do respect male voices more than female ones. Female feminists are easy to write off as crazy, power-hungry, confused, naive, etc. But men are not. So any support that men give to feminist causes goes a long way, I think.

    Small things like quoting women as authoritative sources, mentioning Heavenly Mother/Heavenly Parents, acknowledging feminist concerns in the church as legitimate, making sure that chastity lessons acknowledge that men are responsible for their own thoughts, countering stereotypes of women, are all things that help a lot.

  3. meganhoefflin

    Thank you for this, Derrick! I loved it. My favorite parts were Feminist Whack-a-Mole and the bit about how it can be difficult to frame things in a positive and constructive way. These are real problems for me too–I don’t want to be someone who just shoots down other people’s ideas, and I don’t want to sound bitter and negative.

  4. E.D.

    I’m in a similar situation and meganhoefflin. At this point, I need the time (and editing) of the internet to keep me from being a negative, swearing mess in church.

  5. BethSmash

    About a year or two ago in my family ward a newish/youngish teacher in Sunday School was teaching a lesson (probably on obedience – or following the prophet – I don’t exactly recall). When she said, if the prophet brought back polygamy (she did NOT mention that we still do practice polygamy – if only after one partner dies) that it would be hard, but she would follow the prophet. I sat there biting my tongue, because I live in a ward with a lot of older people, and I didn’t want to make a fuss or anything (not being proactive, as it were) when one of the men in the class (who I think at the time MIGHT have been in the Bishopric – again, it’s been a while). Said, I wouldn’t do it. I would not be in a polygamous arrangement, even if the prophet said it was okay, because I also believe in personal revelation and an arrangement like that would not be right for me. And I actually felt tension release in the room. I thought it was just me being angsty, but it was a lot of people who apparently felt upset by her statement that ALSO weren’t speaking up. Obviously, this is not the same situation, but it is a reminder to me to (at least occasionally) speak my mind.


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