a faithful LDS Housewife, Carol Lynn Pearson:
the several decades in which I have heard LDS women discuss
"women’s issues" as they pertain to the
Church, I have found it remarkable how much fear there is
among so many to speak their mind about the things they
find upsetting. Time after time, after hearing a story of
personal hurt or of general distress about "the place
of woman," I have said, "Write a letter. Raise
your hand. Speak to your bishop."
I couldn’t do that!" There is fear in the voice.
that too many women and men have been punished in large
ways or small ways for speaking their mind about issues
in the Church. But because I have not been punished and
because I have reason to believe that many of my words have
been well received and helpful, I would like to encourage
my favorite form of critical response–writing a letter.
this by sharing a letter I wrote fifteen years ago to my
bishopric, with copies to my stake president and to President
Hinckley and to Dallin Oaks. Something had happened at church,
so huge in all that it symbolized, that I knew I could either
chew on it for weeks or just sit down and write a letter.
I sat down and wrote.
Bishop and Counselors,
as I do, that the three of you are good and caring men,
I believe that you have concern for the feelings of the
members of the ward. Consequently I feel comfortable in
sharing some feelings with you.
of the roles that life has assigned me is that of defender
of women, which role I am happy to take. I have for more
than thirty years been a careful observer and documenter
of the various ways in which our society and our Church
demean women and consistently value things male over things
female, despite rhetoric to the contrary.
the things I have observed, none has been more remarkable
than what happened in our ward yesterday on Mother's Day.
I love our ward. When people ask me why I don't move back
to Utah, a major part of my response is that I love my ward
in California. I have wonderful memories and great appreciation
for this ward and for this ward's bishopric. But the memory
of yesterday will remain with me as an enormous sorrow.
I will start at the beginning.
ago, as I was sitting in Sacrament Meeting on Mother's Day,
it suddenly dawned on me that all of the talks, all of the
talks, were in commemoration of the priesthood. I could
not believe my ears. I thought to myself, "This is
not happening. They would not do this to us. Here we have
one day--one day out of the year on which it is legitimate
to focus on women, on the powers of the female, possibly
on the eternal and theological implications of motherhood,
and instead we devote that day to honoring the priesthood?
Surely this is not happening." But every talk was on
the priesthood. The printed program, of course, informed
us that the "theme of the month" was priesthood
restoration, but that was thin justification for what was
happening. By the time the meeting was over, I was fairly
shaking. I wished that the talks had been on food storage;
we could have forgiven it as an oversight But to have talks
on the priesthood on Mother's Day carries the unavoidable
feeling of insult, rather like spending Martin Luther King
day talking about how blessed we are to have been born white.
After the closing prayer, carnations were handed out to
the mothers. I had to wonder what the flower meant.
not the only woman in the ward who noticed the problem.
Both of my visiting teachers, without my bringing it up,
said, "How did you like the way they snubbed us on
Mother's Day?" But women are good and forgiving and
supportive and take what they're given and make the best
of it. However, I did convey to the bishopric through a
respected third party that I felt a real mistake had been
Sunday before Mother's Day of this year, one of the women
in the ward said to me, "What do you think we're going
to have on Mother's Day next week? Do you think they'll
give us the same treatment?" I assured her I was certain
they would not.
you imagine my surprise when, later that evening, my son
John poked his head in my door and said, "Mom, would
you remind me--I was just asked to give a talk next Sunday.
On the restoration of the priesthood."
had not been sitting down, I might have fallen down. "You're
kidding. You've got to be kidding. John, next Sunday is
would you please call Brother Manning back and tell him
it's Mother's Day and ask if you can talk on that?"
Manning was highly apologetic for not noticing that himself
and said that certainly John should talk to a theme of Mother's
Day. As I gave him the above history, he said, "Sister
Pearson, you sound just like my mother. Those are the things
she says all the time."
not believe that we were going to have a repeat of last
year's performance. In fact, I made some phone calls to
find out what the talks were going to be the next week,
and I was told I could expect the major addresses to be
themed to Mother's Day.
I then asked John if he would like to talk on the subject
of the Heavenly Mother, something we have talked about frequently
in our family, and he said yes. The talk that you heard
him give was from the huge research I have done on this
subject over the last many years.
to my amazement, after the two youth speakers gave their
talks themed to mothers, the two main speakers addressed
themselves fully to the priesthood. I was embarrassed with
Brother Curtis, who made a difficult attempt at the beginning
of his talk to acknowledge that it was Mother's Day and
tried somehow to tie that in with the subject he'd been
asked to speak on. I could only shake my head, amazed that
this was happening. And then, when Brother ______ who was
conducting, gave particular thanks to those who had spoken
to their assigned theme, I felt a shock from which I am
still reeling. And then the statement, "Isn't it wonderful
that motherhood and priesthood work so well together?"
I sat in disbelief. After the prayer I was asked to stand
so I could receive a pink carnation.
be the only one in the ward who is writing a letter to you,
but be assured that I am not the only one who is feeling
precisely what I have expressed. Many women and many men
found it to be a sad day.
after Sacrament Meeting, a member of the Relief Society
Presidency grabbed me and asked if I could please take ten
minutes at the end of Relief Society and give some thoughts
to the mothers, as they had noticed that nobody had prepared
anything really to commemorate the day, and they were also
grabbing some Primary children to come in and sing. I told
her that of course I would.
what a shame!
even as I write this, I know that the bishopric is not the
enemy. Consciousness is the enemy. Each member of the bishopric
is a good man, whose hard work and kindness have been appreciated
by me and my family. The problem here is not just the simple
one of a failure to plan ahead with a little sensitivity.
And the result is not just somebody's hurt feelings. What
happened yesterday is symbolic of something so vital and
profound that it demands our very best attention. Why is
our collective consciousness on what we do to our women
so low? How can we, year after year, decade after decade,
allow one half of the human family to be placed in a secondary
position and consider it appropriate?
in the newspaper I read, under the heading, "Why Women
Can Wear Pants but Men Can't Wear Skirts," something
I have known for a long time: "This double standard
exists because men have higher status than women in our
society...It is acceptable to take on the trappings of those
who have higher status than we do...But if men dress like
women, it's not acceptable. After all, why would anyone
want to look like or act like or live like someone who is
less respected? We aspire to upward mobility, not downward
we wonder why many women are opting against motherhood and
in favor of traditionally male pursuits? Or why many women
who do devote themselves primarily to traditionally female
pursuits do so with the vague feeling that, much as they
love it, they are viewed as holding second prize? The Church
should be actively engaged in promoting the status of women,
the respect given women, not in continually diminishing
92 of the current "Ensign," Elder Hinckley is
quoted as saying, "Woman is God's supreme creation...Strong
and able women today fill responsible posts in industry,
government, education, and the professions. The whole world
looks with respect to the Prime Minister of Britain, a woman
of demonstrated ability and great capacity in carrying forward
a program designed to strengthen her nation and its people.
We were all impressed when Golda Meier served as Prime Minister
of Israel. It is wonderful to witness this great renaissance.
I think it will continue to grow for the blessing of people
is indeed a "great renaissance" going on in the
world, in which women are being acknowledged and empowered,
and it is and will be a blessing to everyone.
And is there such a renaissance going on in the Church?
Many of my close women friends have left the Church, despairing
that such a renaissance is possible. I have chosen to stay
in the Church, determined to be a force in assisting that
renaissance to happen.
slowly it is, I think. Slowly more and more people are asking
questions: Where are the women in our history? Why did all
the prayers in the Bible go up for a boy child instead of
a girl child? Why are women in the scriptures so invisible
or so clearly second class when they are visible? Why do
we so emphasize the eternal family, but not find it strange
to worship God as a Single Parent? Why are we given the
impression, through scripture and story, that everything
really important on this earth has been done by a male God
and his male children? Why does the historical suppression
of the knowledge of God as Mother look like "a conspiracy"
(to quote a fine review of a BYU symposium as reported in
the Church News)? Why are Mormon women who go to work to
send a son on a mission or perhaps to send a child to college
or to insure music lessons for their children made to feel
guilty when they deserve all the support they can get? Why
are Mormon women so subject to depression? Why did the husband
of a friend of mine say, when she asked him what he would
do if he had been the one in the relationship born a woman,
"I guess I'd just make the best of a bad deal?"
Why do so many Mormon women go through the temple once and
refuse to go back again or go back with great reservations?
Why did I notice last year in a Relief Society lesson, given
to women by a woman, that thirteen examples and statements
were from men and not one was from a woman? Why did it take
Sonia Johnson to point out that women were not allowed to
pray in Sacrament Meeting? Why do other indefensible policies
still exist, such as that requiring an inactive husband
to give permission for his wife to go to the temple, but
not for an inactive wife to give permission for her husband
to go to the temple? Why can a non-member male serve as
Sunday School president, but a faithful woman member cannot?
(A woman can rule Great Britain or Israel, but not the Sunday
School?) Why did the General Presidency of the Relief Society
and the entire General Board have the distinct feeling when
the organizational changes were made a few years ago that
they were being asked to step further to the back of the
bus? Why has a recent Church-sponsored survey shown that
the more educated a man is the more likely he is to stay
in the Church, and the more educated a woman is the more
likely she is to leave?
questions that are being asked go on and on. It may be possible
to dismiss this letter because, as we know, Sister Pearson
has this thing about women. Dear Brethren, this thing about
women is one of the most profoundly important issues that
exist today, affecting the family, the nation, the world,
and surely the Church at the very center. Maleness and femaleness,
on every level, are out of balance, and the resultant ills
are frightening. To say more would require a book, not a
is to raise awareness. My wish is that each of you would
look at every program, every policy, every talk, every lesson
and ask if it promotes or undercuts the self-esteem, the
general status of women. I know that you love your wives
and that you want the best for your daughters and that you
feel concern for the well-being of all the women in the
ward. The women in this ward are marvelous people. I love
them. They deserve the very best.
renaissance of women that Elder Hinckley spoke of is a reality
and is not going to be reversed. With or without the Church
it is, with all its confusion and possibility for excess
and error, going to move forward and sort itself out and
bless the world. I sincerely hope that we can all be a part
the immediate incident that prompted this letter. The obvious
justice would be to take next Sunday, which is the official
day to commemorate the restoration of the priesthood and
devote it to a belated celebration of womanhood and motherhood,
not a "program" with little ditties about how
perfect our mothers are, which sometimes makes them feel
worse going out the door than they did coming in, but powerful,
dignified discourses on womanhood and motherhood in history,
in our lives today, in our eternal tomorrow. If you could
do something so magnificent as that, how proud of you I
you for reading this letter. I thank you for being the good
men that I know you to be. If I have made you uncomfortable,
I do not apologize. Discomfort, even pain, as all women
know, is the only way a birth takes place. We are in the
process of giving birth to a new and better vision of women,
and we must go through our labor.
I offer you my appreciation and pledge you my support. I
want to continue to give service in the ward and in the
Church in whatever way I may be useful.
this letter with my very best wishes and hopes for increased
her website here: Feminist