For Mormon women, what would true equality look like?
A talk given by my daughter Sarah Marie Crenshaw Evans, 14 August 2016 in Somerset, Kentucky, USA. Used with permission.
When I was a tiny feminist
I come from a family of ten children. I was the third child, but the first daughter. In fact, I was the first granddaughter. It wasn’t until the sixth child in our family was born that I had a sister. Furthermore, when I was four years old we moved to a street where the only children within ten years of my age were also boys. Not surprisingly, I became a bit of a tomboy. I enjoyed climbing trees, jumping fences, and completed the scouting requirements right alongside my brothers. Some of these things are difficult to do in a skirt and can’t be done if you worry too much about how your hair is going to look afterward.
However, that was not the only reason for being a tomboy. Something had been laid down very clearly by the boys of the neighborhood: You are just a girl, but you can play if you don’t act like one: this means no crying, no complaining, and you have to keep up. Lest you think badly of my brothers, this was during that age period when boys typically consider girls to have cooties and have secret clubs with “No Girls Allowed” signs posted. And the ring-leader neighbor boys, as became more evident in later years, did not have a good example in their home of a Christlike patriarch who honored womanhood.
One Stake Conference Sunday, following the prayer, a leader at the pulpit asked that the men and young priesthood holders put up the vast sea of extra chairs which filled the cultural hall. I also began stacking chairs, working to outdo my older brothers. As I was doing so, one of the older men told me I didn’t need to help with the chairs and suggested that I should instead go help my mother with my younger siblings. This sounded very much like one of those ‘just a girl’ comments I battled daily with the neighborhood children. So I told him off. Did the man up front say just the men should put up the chairs because they thought that the women and girls were too wimpy to help out? We are just as good as men and boys! I could carry twice as many chairs as my brothers and I was going to prove it. I remember him laughing and calling me a ‘little feminist.’ I was rather proud of that, thinking it must be part of what my mother had been trying to encourage: being feminine and celebrating womanhood.
My father heard the exchange. Once we were home, he took me aside to talk about it. I don’t remember exactly what words he used, but I do remember what he taught me. He pointed out that the reason the men were assigned was that most of the women had young children they were watching. The man had noticed that my mother needed some help with my younger siblings. I had not noticed, but my father had, and he stopped putting up chairs to help her. His strength and worth had not been dependent on how many chairs he put up. His goal had been simply to be where he was needed most. His manhood was not threatened by the task of helping with small children but rather enhanced by it. He impressed on me that the way the boys treated me by belittling my gender was wrong, but that trying to ‘out-boy’ the boys was not the way to fix it. I had intrinsic worth and a divine nature that my girlhood (and eventual womanhood) was part of and that I should stand up for it by being a girl, which does not mean being wimpy or whiny, but is a different kind of strength.
He also spoke to my brothers privately and how they treated me on the street began to change.
There is no better place in this world for a woman than in God’s restored church
When I joined the Young Women’s program a few years later, I fell in love with the YW values. I am a daughter of God, who loves me, and I love him. I am gifted with a Divine Nature derived from a heavenly heritage which includes a heavenly father and heavenly mother; my identity as a woman is part of this and something to celebrate. I have Individual Worth that is infinite and independent of what others think of me and is not dependent on what clothes I wear or what number shows up on my bathroom scale. This worth is not enhanced by or dependent upon fashionable clothing or performance recognition. Instead, it is enhanced by the faithful pursuit of knowledge, good works, integrity, virtue, and wise, righteous decision making.
President Hinckley echoed this when he said:
“Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth.”
Ladies, please let me emphasize: When President Hinckley says “a lovely daughter of God”, he is not referring to your weight, shape, stylishness, or any other physical attribute that you might think of right now to disqualify yourself as a ‘lovely’ woman or young woman. He is referring to you. Each and every one of you, without exception.
Men, the Lord and the prophets have called on you to reinforce these truths in your sisters, your mothers, your friends, and your wives.
The world teaches something very different
The world seems to claim that a woman’s worth is dependent on either her productivity or sexual appeal. Tragically, evidence that women believe this is everywhere, from body image crisis to women caught in cycles of abusive relationships. There are many women in this world who are stuck, battling every day to assert their worth and some level of intrinsic value. Some by submitting and giving whatever is required by those around them, in hopes of receiving some validation of their worth. Some by becoming champions in the battle of the sexes, beating down men to make place for women on the world’s Rameumptum-like pedestal of recognition, where there is only room for one at a time.
In April 2000 Priesthood Session, Richard G. Scott said:
“Satan has unleashed a seductive campaign to undermine the sanctity of womanhood, to deceive the daughters of God and divert them from their divine destiny. He well knows women are the compassionate, self-sacrificing, loving power that binds together the human family. He would focus their interests solely on their physical attributes and rob them of their exalting roles as wives and mothers. He has convinced many of the lie that they are third-class citizens in the kingdom of God.”
Many women, who battle daily against this campaign either do not know or can begin to lose sight, as I did, of what it truly means to be a daughter of God. Without this knowledge, it can be difficult, if not impossible to appreciate the deeply enhancing balance and power that comes from the complementary partnership of a man and a woman.
Men and women are not only equal, but divinely complement one another
The Apostle Paul taught, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”
Our gospel uniquely claims that worthy temple marriages, if sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, can continue for not only time but eternity. Complementary to this doctrine, we are also taught that neither man nor woman can receive the fullest degree of exaltation alone, but only within the marriage covenant. We are taught that our eternal potential is to become like our Heavenly Parents, with our own eternal families
This doctrine was revealed under the Prophet Joseph Smith. Shortly after teaching this doctrine, he was approached by a man who saw Joseph doing housework for his wife Emma. The man came and complained to Joseph that such menial work was not fit for a man, especially for the Prophet, and should be left to women. The man offered to talk to Emma about doing her chores. The prophet, in light of the newly revealed doctrine of eternal marriage asked the man, “If a man is not willing to help and cherish his wife here, why would she want to be with him in the hereafter?”
The prophet Joseph Smith set a beautiful example of equal partnership and honoring womanhood. He and his wife Emma struggled through many tasks and hardships together. Some of them were ordinary, such as beating rugs, running the store, or sitting up at night with a sick child. Others extraordinary, such as Joseph translating while Emma transcribed the newly revealed Book of Mormon or the many times they were forced to cope with the loss of a child. The Prophet’s example and teachings regarding the importance and essential power of husband and wife partnering as equals were in stark contrast to the accepted social practice of the day, which considered women to be the property of their husbands.
Colossians Chapter 3 reflects this beautiful pattern:
17 Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
This is the divine pattern of Heaven as applied to the family, where there is order established with a designated leader who presides, but with full unity and partnership, just as Christ declared himself to be one with the Father, but followed the Father’s lead and direction in all his works. A woman who is married to a man who follows Christ’s pattern and definition of manhood has no cause to fear “submitting to” [listening, suppporting] her husband and letting him lead the family in their united course.
The same master who does not fail to notice when one sparrow falls or one lily fades, is also certainly aware when a husband exercises unrighteous dominion in His name. The call to preside in the home, or the bestowing of priesthood keys, does not mean that a man is in any way superior to his wife. The call for wives to “submit” to their husbands is a call to the women to let their husbands lead in righteousness, following this Christ-like pattern. It is not a call for women to make themselves lesser, or to submit to abusive, demeaning, controlling, or otherwise unrighteous practices.
Doctrine and Covenants 121 states:
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
To those who have been disappointed in their pursuit of an equal and Christ-like partnership, please know that you are not alone. God is with you in your pursuit. He has a place for you in his plan which includes all His promised blessings which you strive to attain. As we build our lives based on the Lord’s pattern of womanhood and manhood, we will be blessed, regardless of the actions of others.
Let us not lose sight of our divine identities as men and women of God, whatever our circumstances. Let us be confident, each of us, in our womanhood, in our manhood, and in our importance as His children. As we do this, we can become free of fear regarding our self-worth and place in his work, shielded from the falsehoods which Satan would use to entrap us.
I wish to add my testimony of the divine nature of our calling as women and men of God. God has a plan for you. God has a plan for me. Our gender and the calling associated with it are part of that plan and our identity. He loves you. He loves me. Our divine potential is equally great in his sight. As we learn His truths and share them with our brothers and sisters throughout this Earth, we will be empowered. We will be confident. And we will find joy.