Being a feminist makes every day an emotional roller coaster. Little victories are consistently overshadowed by enduring patriarchy and sexism (and racism and homophobia). One of the hardest things about being a feminist (in any sphere, not just the LDS Church), is the constant need to explain yourself—to let people know what you believe, why you’re passionate about it, and why you feel the need to speak up, to be heard.
Which brings me to what I want to talk about today—being heard. Last month we got the announcement that, for the first time ever, women would have a permanent seat on the Priesthood Executive Council. Excuse me, the Priesthood (& Family!) Executive Council—because you know, uteruses. Complaining about something that is, in theory, good news seems ungrateful. But it’s that exact gratitude that’s still bugging me a month later.
When the news broke that Sisters Burton, Oscarson, and Wixom would be on these high councils (why they aren’t referred to as Presidents Burton, Oscarson, and Wixom is beyond me), I was exasperated by the overwhelming gratitude that these women expressed. Sister Oscarson broke the news, says she was “honored” and remarked that it is “a great time to be a woman in the Church where our voices are needed and valued more than ever.” Former Young Women’s General President Margaret Nadauld added that “It’s going to be a thrilling thing to have their voices heard.” She says of her sporadic involvement with the councils, “It was a thrill and a pleasure to have our voices heard and be asked for our opinions.” And Sister Burton: “It is with a thankful heart that I have been appointed to serve on the Priesthood and Family Executive Council.”
I wish there were a word for being happy and disappointed at the same time.
There’s nothing wrong with being grateful for significant steps forward in women’s rights. Those steps should be encouraged and recognized for what they are. But while this step was important, I was dying for one, just one of those women, to say that it was overdue. To say that it was about time. To acknowledge the women who UP UNTIL 2015 didn’t have an official validation from the menfolk that their opinions matter, that their voices should be heard.
My problem with our lady leaders expressing how grateful and thrilled they are, is that this kind of affirmation only perpetuates, what a friend of mine has so aptly called it, a benevolent patriarchy. The men and male leaders in the Church are (usually) extremely kind to us sisters, who make up the majority of Church membership. We’re told from the time we’re twelve how special we are, how important our role as women is, and all the wonderful ways we can support the Priesthood. We swoon when prophets and apostles gush over how much they love their dear, sweet wives. We’re dear, we’re sweet, we’re nurturing, we’re kind. We thank them and are thrilled when they give us a chance to speak, to lead. We’re totally cool with our addition to a council necessitating the name change “and family.”
I want women in the Church to be recognized for more than just their sweetness, for more than just their roles as wives and mothers, for more than just the ways in which they support the Priesthood. I want an apostle to describe his wife or his daughter as ambitious or driven or intelligent or powerful. I want more women speaking in General Conference, and when they speak, I want to shake in my heels. I want the full power of God behind their words. I want them to call to repentance. I want men and women to hear them and have their words change them. I want a Holland-level reaction when a woman speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, on topics doctrinal and necessary. I want these new council seats for women to multiply. Men should listen to women. Women should listen to women. And I desperately want women in the Church to stop being thrilled when we’re finally told we’re worth listening to.
I believe that we are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us. Who values our time, efforts, and talents—both family and non-family related. I believe that our leaders cherish the women of the Church, but I also believe we’re worth more than cherishing.