Mormonism and gender issues/Women

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Mormonism and women's issues

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FairMormon Perspectives offers answers to these questions

Neylan McBaine"To Do the Business of the Church: A Cooperative Paradigm for Examining Gendered Participation Within Church Organizational Structure," Proceedings of the 2012 FAIR Conference (August 2012)


I will be talking today about how women fit into the functional structure of LDS church governance; but, unlike many of the others speaking today, I do not have advanced degrees in my subject nor consider myself an academic. My credentials as someone qualified to talk about this subject come from: first, a lifetime of personal experience as a woman in the Church and now the mother of three daughters; second, my role as founder, in 2010, of a non-profit organization, The Mormon Women Project, which publishes stories of faithful Latter-day Saint women from around the world; and third, a twelve-year career in marketing and brand strategy including my current role as associate creative director Church-owned Bonneville Communications, the agency partnered with the Church on Mormon.org and the “I’m A Mormon” campaign.

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Question: Do Latter-day Saint teachings about childbearing put an improper burden on women?

Framing the problem of demanding home lives as an exclusively LDS problem is misleading

Some claim that LDS teachings about childbearing put an improper burden on LDS families, especially women.

Most women raising families, not just LDS women, encounter "burdens" as they run their households. Framing the problem of demanding home lives as an exclusively LDS problem is misleading. Recognizing the difficulties women face in family life, Church leaders have denounced male behaviors that add to these burdens. In speaking to women, Church leaders have reassured us that we are free to make choices -- including choices about childbearing and service in our homes -- that will better tailor our workloads to our individual strengths and abilities.

Childbearing in the Church

In 1995, the LDS Church re-emphasized its commitment to family life in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” The proclamation states: “The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.”[1]

In harmony with these beliefs, LDS life is usually family life. In general, LDS people in the United States marry earlier than their neighbors outside the Church, are more likely to stay married, and have more children during their lifespans.[2] As the larger society surrounding the Church has moved away from traditional family life, the LDS lifestyle – or, at least, the stereotype of it -- has become more conspicuous. For some, it raises concerns particularly with regard to the roles women play in LDS families. Critics have inflamed these concerns arguing mostly by assertion rather than with data that the childbearing aspect of the ideal LDS family system places an unfair and unhealthy burden upon women.

Though US data do show that LDS families tend to be larger than other American families, there is no Church prohibition on birth control. LDS couples are counseled to carefully and prayerfully consider when and how many children to have but are assured that the decision is strictly between themselves and the Lord. For a detailed response, see: Birth control in LDS thought

Women's Workloads Inside and Outside the Church

No matter how many other people live in it, running any household can be difficult. It’s not a difficulty experienced by LDS women alone. Arlie Hochschild’s landmark work “The Second Shift” studied domestic workloads to see if household divisions of labor had become more fair for women as they started to take on non-traditional roles. What she found was that even when women worked at full-time jobs outside their homes, they still wound up doing most of the household chores themselves.[3] The assertion that women outside the LDS church are somehow immune from the burdens of running a household is simply wrong. Every woman – regardless of whether she’s involved in paid work, or how many children she has, or where she goes to church – is at risk of winding up doing far more than her fair share of household tasks. Inequalities like these are endemic problems that are not limited to any particular religion or family structure.

The Church's Position on Domestic Workloads

Despite the strong social pull of unequal household divisions of labor, leaders of the LDS church have counseled church members to work to alleviate the strains family life can have on women. Men’s overburdening of the women within families has been denounced by late Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley. Speaking of young mothers he said:

I see their husbands, and I feel like saying to them: “Wake up. Carry your share of the load. Do you really appreciate your wife? Do you know how much she does? Do you ever compliment her? Do you ever say thanks to her? [4]

While his approach to husbands was firm and corrective, President Hinckley took a different tone when speaking to wives in the same address:

You are doing the best you can, and that best results in good to yourself and to others. Do not nag yourself with a sense of failure.[4] Reassuring language like this has become a fixture in addresses made to the women of the Church. Another fixture is the assurance that there is no monolithic ideal of how to run a “proper” LDS household. As late member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Marvin J. Ashton said in 1987:

Sisters, do not allow yourselves to be made to feel inadequate or frustrated because you cannot do everything others seem to be accomplishing. Rather, each should assess her own situation, her own energy, and her own talents, and then choose the best way to mold her family into a team, a unit that works together and supports each other. Only you and your Father in Heaven know your needs, strengths, and desires. Around this knowledge your personal course must be charted and your choices made.[5]

What seems most important isn’t how LDS women shoulder their burdens but why they do it at all. In 1980, Melvin Wilkinson and William Tanner made a study of large family life in the LDS setting. The prevailing sociological wisdom was that large families yield less affection for children. However, the researchers found that the negative effect of large family life “is not so strong that it cannot be neutralized or even reversed.”[6] Furthermore, they found that the key to reversing the bad effects of a large family wasn’t an increase of the amount of time parents spent with their children (or in other words, not an increase of the size of the “burden” placed on the parents) but an increase in the level of the mother’s commitment to the Church. Temple attendance was used as a measure of the mother’s religiosity. From there, the researchers went on to find that the higher a mother’s religiosity, the more affection the children in the family reported feeling.

Apparently, gospel living can actually provide relief from burdens – even ones that seem universal and inevitable like the ones all women face in running their households. As the Lord himself taught, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30




Some claim that LDS teachings about childbearing put an improper burden on LDS families, especially women. (Click here for full article)










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  1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Family: A Proclamation to the World (First read by Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting held 23 September 1995, in Salt Lake City, Utah.)
  2. Arlie Hochschild, The Second Shift (New York: Penguin), 2003.
  3. Arlie Hochschild, The Second Shift (New York: Penguin), 2003. [citation needed]
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gordon B. Hinckley, "To the Women of the Church," Ensign (Nov. 2003).
  5. Marvin J. Ashton, Be of Good Cheer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 25–26.
  6. Melvin L. Wilkinson and William C. Tanner III, "The Influence of Family Size, Interaction, and Religiosity on Family Affection in a Mormon Sample," in Religion, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints, 93–106.