Sep 24, 2012
John, Zilpha, Greg, and Lindsay investigate what it means to be a man inside of the LDS church.
Podcast: Play in new window
By Rich Rasmussen
Re: Women are disappointed in the spirituality of their husbands.
I have a friend who is in her early 30s and still single. On a long car ride one time we got to talking about her dating and disappointment with men. She honest to Thor said to me, “Well, you’re raised dreaming about being married to the next prophet… and then you start dating and the schmucks that are out there can’t even be bothered to do their home teaching.”
I think it’s really sad that her priorities have set her up with that ridiculous notion. Nevermind whether or not a guy is moral. Nevermind whether or not a guy is kind. Nevermind whether or not you’re compatible with him. It’s all about church calling status. Yuck.
For me one of the biggest facepalm moments of my faith crisis was looking into Mormon relationships that I saw around me and realizing that far too many people were just playing rigid roles, even when doing so obviously ruined their lives (trapping them in relationships that they did not want and/or preventing them from entering relationships that they could really use). I personally have had many very good relationships within Mormonism. I have also seen (and even participated in) some really bad ones. In my considered opinion reflecting on that experience, no stereotype is more sacred than a real person. Gilding the bed of Procrustes (giving the men “priesthood” and the women “spirituality/gatekeeper status”) does not change the fact that it maims people.
Interesting discussion, folks.
Rodney Stark’s great book “The Rise of Christianity”
explains how Christian women enjoyed certain advantages over pagan women in the
Greco-Roman world. This in turn enabled the early church to out-propagate the
There’s an anti-masculine bias in Christianity that seems
traceable back to Roman times. In his book “Contra Celsus,” Origen (who is
rumored to have castrated himself, BTW) reiterates without refutation the claim
that Christianity was a religion of women, slaves, and children. It’s hard not
to see a reaction against the hyper masculine patriarchy of the Greco-Roman
world in the sensibilities of Christianity. Male sexuality, competitiveness,
aggression, and pride are all condemned in traditional Christianity, and
Mormonism is Christianity on steroids. Contrary to Lindsay’s assertion, male
violence and aggression are condemned in the Church. The beefy man must act like Ichabod Crane, not the other way around. The only acceptable outlet
for male instincts is in team sports like softball and basketball. Mormon men are castrated. Any outsider can see it.
There were in early Christianity a variety of sects that
were not all patriarchal. Women enjoyed authority in some of the early gnostic
groups. Alongside Paul’s misogynistic statements are hints that women could
function as bishops, deacons, and even apostles. A later redactor altered the
Pauline epistles to hide any trace of female authority in the early Church. The
orthodox church with its male clergy eventually came to define Christianity. This
may be because women were already attracted to the religion with its feminine
sensibilities, but men were not. Having a male clergy makes men necessary in the
Church. Without that, the Church would continue to attract and retain
predominantly women. The male clergy brings the sex ratio into parity and facilitates
fecundity. Even today, returned missionaries will attest that women are more
likely than men in all cultures to join this or any church.
One can see this
dynamic operating in Joseph Smith’s family. Joseph’s mother was attracted to
organized Christianity while his father was not. Joseph created an organized
form of Christianity that made his father the “Patriarch” and clearly defined roles
for men within Christianity.
I agree Martin. Great comment. If I didn’t articulate my statements properly, I meant to say that the church has it’s own definition of masculinity that it holds as a standard. You say there is an anti-masculinity bias- and I would amend that to say there is masculinity redefined within Mormonism. This is what puts men in a double-bind; they have to (appear to) be the strong, stalwart, Sons-of-Helaman protectors/providers in their white shirts, missionary haircuts while sitting on the stand, and simultaneously being gentle, spiritually in tune (emotional), and benevolent. It’s a rough spot to be in, I’m sure.
Fair enough. I always enjoy your comments.
BTW, I want to compliment the perspicacity of the person who chose the picture of John D. Lee’s execution for this blog post.
Wow. This conversation directly addressed probably 95% of the demons the church put into my head. Every single issue you guys raised is something that I has deeply affected me — down to the fact that guys on the bottom of the heap don’t adhere to the dress code. If I could get my wife to listen to one thing about my anger with the church, it would be this episode.
This was a really interesting episode. I think one of the key problems with how we characterize men and women in the church (which was articulated in this episode) is that men are treated as if they are inevitably tied to their human weaknesses while women are treated as if they don’t have human weaknesses at all. Obviously this is very problematic for both men and women.
I think sexuality is a good example of this (as discussed in this episode):
Men are taught that their sexual natures are overpowering and very hard to control. They are cautioned to go to extreme means to keep that sexuality in check.
Women are taught that they are not sexual at all, and are inadvertently taught that they don’t face the same sexual struggles that men do. Some of the discussion in the episode seemed to suggest that women have it “easier” than men when it comes to these issues. While I agree with the points raised (women are not chastised for reading Twilight etc.) I don’t think that women really have it easier. Women are taught that they are not supposed to be sexual at all. So if you are a woman and you struggle with having “clean thoughts” or struggle with masterbation, in some ways you can feel even more guilty because you are not “supposed” to have those problems in the first place.
Another point that I wanted to bring up is that even though the rank and file Mormon man might not have very much decision making power, he does still benefit from the patriarchal system of the church. Because all of the leaders are men, I think that people in the church are more likely to listen to men in general and take their words more seriously. You see this in the average Sunday School class when men’s comments are respected more, while often women’s comments are brushed aside or rephrased by someone else. All men in the church enjoy the general by proxy benefit of being viewed as someone who should be respected and listened to.
Good points about women. It’s hard to empathize with men though, huh?
It would be awesome…if LDS women could assume all the wonderful ‘privileges and responsibilities’ of LDS men.
She would have to stress about being worthy for a mission.
She would have to stress about initiating, planning, paying for dates & being rejected.
She would be an infidel if she did not financially care for me throughout my lifetime.
She would be at fault if she ever got angry, raised her voice at me. Amen to the authority of that woman!
Female leaders would have to listen to my masturbation confessions and not gossip about them.
Female priesthood would be expected to visit me once a month (in addition to my visiting teaching bros who I barbecue with)
I also probably get to complain a lot about men’s rights stuff.
She would be expected to stay home with the kids so I could go to menrichment once a week.
To clarify and flesh out my previous point, sometimes in these discussions we can focus too much on who has it worse, men or women. I wasn’t trying to make the opposite argument, that women always have it worse. Instead, I think that there are negative aspects of the patriarchy for everyone. Men and women are affected in different ways, and face different challenges because of the patriarchy and strict gender roles, but it can affect everyone in a negative way.
I agree Beatrice- it’s less a contest about who is more persecuted- and more about deconstructing how the systemic structure of patriarchy is damaging for everyone (save a select few). I think there are some men within the church that feel that Mormon Feminism seeks to “take away” something from them, when in reality, giving women more equality and equity within the church doesn’t take anything away, but seeks to give an egalitarian system that would be less likely to damage both parties in the ways everyone has mentioned. Patriarchy is bad for everyone. Nobody wins. As an example, imagine women having more leadership responsibilities- to take the burden and pressure off of men and also giving women more of a voice and presence within the spiritual realm.
I agree with Beatrice. Patriarchy can create a lot of different disadvantages for both men and women.
David, If you’re arguing that women often benefit from being infantilized, I absolutely agree with you. (I personally don’t think the benefits are worth the cost, which is, in a word, “personhood,” but that’s probably a separate conversation.)
It sounds like you’re both bitter that the system puts the lion’s share of the burdens of administration and the public performance of righteousness on men, but equally bitter when women complain about their marginalization. But isn’t the solution to both these problems the same?
P. S. I especially love this line! “Female leaders would have to listen to my masturbation confessions and not gossip about them.” Yeah, if the situation were reversed, it would only be the women who would suffer–when denied the opportunity to gossip! ‘Cause it wouldn’t be at all awkward for you to discuss your masturbatory habits exclusively with women–who, by the way, would take
for granted that you don’t have a sex drive and would likely consider you a freak.
What does it mean to be a Mormon man?
The picture says it all…
(1) Have the guts, or even better, “[L]ove that man or woman enough to shed their blood” (Brigham Young, 1857) to make things right … like the real elders had for John D. Lee.
(2) Let “[t]he Spirit constraineth” you when you encounter wicked people burning innocent women and children (even if you have the power to stop it), so “that the judgments which He shall exercise upon [the wicked] in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.” (Alma 14:11)
Now … who’s man enough to follow the prophets, whose counsel is as “bloody” practical as it is timeless…
Not me. I’m just a victim of circumstance … yuk, yuk, yuk
I doubt any Mormons today would act like that…every sec has past leaders saying things that sound crazy, Moronism is no exception
Yes, except for “Mo Fundy” … Get it?
Thanks yes i get it
I thought the conversation began striking true evolutionary chords when it turned to the underpinnings Mormonism’s primate grip on human sexuality.
I always sensed in Brigham Young’s bravado a simian vibe – that he just couldn’t wait to exploit Joseph’s lady-lovin’ theological stylings to start his own silver back kingdom 1000 miles removed from civilized Homo sapien competition.
On the other hand, I read somewhere where religion-endorsed monogamy evolved to provide successful mating strategies for wimpy males. Let me go find it …
Oh yes, Douglas Kendrick!
And pushing it back further into evolutionary history – Sergey Gavrilets:
So, two opposable thumbs up to those wimpy male chimps and the females who found their exclusive devotion more adaptive, however long they had to sneak past the general alpha-orities to transform into humans.
And thumbs down to encrusted institutions that perpetuate the misandrist and misogynistic remnants of monkey-mating strategies.
Thank you. You totally nailed it regarding the pressure we are under as average, non-leader material males in the church. I say this about almost every episode, but if I could pry open my wife’s brain enough to pour in just one helping of MormonExpression, this would be it.
One thing I wish you would have discussed though is not only church’s position on the dirty aspect of male sexuality, but the restrictions the church teaches about the sex act itself, i.e. that the only time either partner should climax is during vaginal intercourse, in the middle of the night, in the dark. A couple of times I’ve drop hints to my spouse that as a male, and a visual animal, I’d love her to tease me by showing me her body. Once I even hinted when she was not in the mood for sex that I have intense desires and it would be a release to me to use her skin or hand to masturbate. Oh, how quickly those were shut down. She has been taught that my only sexual need should be once a month, missionary position, in the dark, and I should be content with that. (Oh and she shouldn’t enjoy it.) Even talking about sex, as husband and wife, is off limits in her mind. Ya, we have issues, and the church is to thank for it.
Still listening, but just wanted to chime in as a former exec. secretary that the Bishop was not allowed to be fully alone with the sisters in the ward. Often the door was ajar or if it was closed I was instructed every 10 minutes to knock on the door and also to stay close to the office.
I am still struggling to live up to the expected spirituality my wife puts on me as the priesthood holder of the home. She always says “thanks for honoring your priesthood” which certainly places quite a burden on me that I don’t think is fair.
When you say men are seen as either good or bad and nothing in between, this is true. The reasons for this is because if a man is a sexual being at all it is bad. Life, marriage, and singing hymens main purpose is to manage male sexual arousal. By this I mean their main purpose is to manage manage evil, which male sexual arousal is the true root of all evil, not money.
Great podcast but you failed to mention one major aspect…what it means to be over 31 and single!! I can’t attend singels anymore and everything is geared toward YSA!! Talk about a slap in the face!! I know more members who leave due to this one issue more than any other!!
You’re doubly screwed as a man in LDS culture and as part of larger modern society as a whole, because in the Church you’re told you’re the sole provider and the larger society tells us all the men and women share equally in the domestic child rearing responsibilities as well. Some of these poor guys have 2 and 3 jobs and then get home to take over raising the 8 kids. Total crazy tunes.
This was a very engaging conversation to listen to.
I think that the mission is a prime example of harmful male standards. All the other examples were great to, but, sometimes I wondered how “Mormon” they were. Where do we draw the line between harmful Mormon treatment toward men and just left-over, antiquated social roles and expectations of men? Is there a difference or am I splitting hairs? I think that a lot of what was spoken about are 19th century attitudes toward maleness that are being preserved within the Mormon church.
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