I simply do not understand Utah dating culture; but it simultaneously makes perfect sense. Personal experiences lead me to believe that strict gender roles and mandated heteronormativity in the LDS church heavily contribute to this phenomenon. From a young age, children are taught to invest in their divine, God given, natural talents. For young girls and women this means compassion, nurturing, and house work. For young boys and men this means authority, leadership, dedication, and ambition. One of the most significant documents in the LDS faith that illustrates this point is The Family: A Proclamation to the World, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” All children raised in the LDS church are socialized to believe that this document, and the kind of family that it outlines, is absolute, expected, and required for a successful and happy life: one that will guide a family to heaven.
Nearly all behavior that deviates from this standard is policed, especially when the behavior deals with sex. From women’s clothing to dating, there are specific guidelines. But the only guidelines given with regards to sex are to stay as far away from it as possible, for it is the second most serious sin after murder. There is no dialogue within the church that deals with consent or how to communicate with a partner. The result of this lack of information upscales gender roles in the bedroom – men are dominant and women are subordinate. In an article written by Amy Hoyt and Sara Patterson about Mormon Masculinity, this relationship is highlighted. “The ideal female companion always considered her husband’s wishes and desires above her own. If she became dominant, problems ensued.”
In 2017, the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma published an article about Sexual Assault among LDS college students. Through interviews of over 200 men and women, it was found that “Higher levels of religious fundamentalism related to higher endorsement of traditional gender roles, which in turn predicted agreement with rape mythology.” This includes beliefs about women secretly wanting to be raped, among a host of other forms of victim blaming. The research compiled in this article also emphasizes that “socialization practices within conservatively religious communities might be one source of the gender role attitudes that support men’s sense of sexual entitlement with women.” When men are taught to be powerful leaders, it makes abusing women, who (by divine nature) are inherently inferior, easier to justify.
Consent needs to be a part of the conversation. Rape myths need to be incorporated in church lessons. If the clothes that women wear are going to be criticized, so should the comments that boys make about women’s appearances. There needs to be more dialogue around sex and sexual abuse. In the process, strict gender roles must be re-evaluated for the sake of girls like me and those who don’t fit in the gender binary.
I have a hard time going back to church now because of my experiences with sexism and emotional abuse, but that is not to say that the church does not do a lot of other things right. I will always be thankful for the service opportunities, genuine friendships, and emphasises on a tight knit family and community. The families who brought us food when my mom was sick, the leaders who supported me throughout middle and high school, and the kids who loved our family after my sister came out as transgender are some of the best people I know. The LDS church and community is undoubtedly filled with deeply good people, many of whom would readily welcome a life saving curriculum that abolishes outdated, impractical, dangerous gender roles and expectations.