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Women In the LDS Church are Systemically Disenfranchised

The LDS church has always seemed to follow the laws of the patriarchy. The church has oppressed women along with people who identify with non-heterosexual sexualities. It, like society, is fixated with women’s sexuality and virginity, which impacts women’s views on their sexuality. Women in the LDS church are told from a young age who they need to be and how a “woman of God” must act. They’re molded into thinking like and being stereotypical heteronormative women. They are told that this is what God intends for them, that women are nurturers of others and are always kind. They aren’t allowed certain roles or responsibilities in the church because they are told that is not what God intends for them. Men tell women they are “too pure” and need to be protected. This benevolent sexism is just as if not more detrimental than apparent sexism. Women are being misguided by religious patriarchy and are brainwashed from a young age to think of themselves as inferior to males. Most women, especially older generations, believe everything they are told so they don’t fight for change. The morals of the LDS church are inherently sexist and hegemonic. 

The benevolent sexism starts at a young age. Once boys and girls hit the age of twelve they are separated by sexes and put into learning groups. Girls attend something called “young women,” and men attend activities called “young men.” In these binary groups, women are taught about “womanly” qualities. They are taught to do service, be modest, be kind, and stay pure. These two binary groups are strict on the belief that individuals are heteronormative individuals. They separate them at young ages putting into their minds that boys and girls are different and have different roles. “The Lord defined some very basic differences between men and women. He gave the male what we call masculine traits and the female feminine traits. He did not intend either of the sexes to adopt the other’s traits but, rather, that men should look and act like men and that women should look and act like women” (The Meaning of Morality, Victor L. Brown; Hallmarks Righteous Women, J. Edward Sumerau). A very important moral to the LDS church is modesty. That is why they have the garments that members wear underneath their daily clothes. Women are the ones who carry the moral of modesty which has been drilled into their heads. They are told “modest is hottest” or those worthy men will want a modest woman. They say if a woman doesn’t dress modestly it will corrupt good men to act badly. The weight of the moral of modesty falls on women’s shoulders and not the men. Men are taught that a modest woman is the one they’ll want to marry. Sound at all like rape culture?


woman holding up me too sign
Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

One of the biggest indicators between women and men in the church, other than the stereotypical gender roles, is that men hold higher leadership roles than women. Women do have leadership roles in the church, but they are of “women duties.” They are in charge of relief society which is a church meeting of adult women. All the roles women are given in the church have to do with motherhood and nurturing, while there are many hierarchical leadership roles in the church that are all run by men, such as Prophet, Stake President, Bishop, and counsel members. The biggest indicator of men’s hierarchy in the church and what has become a contemporary problem is that women aren’t allowed to hold the priesthood. The priesthood in the Mormon church is the power and authority to act in the name of god. The patriarchy believes that women are not allowed to hold this. Leaders are troubled by women’s concern for equal rights and are trying to lead them away from protest. “This cultural motion, and emotion, pushed some women from being overly selfless to being overly selfish- causing them to miss the personal growth that can come only from self-chosen sacrifice, which makes possible a woman’s ability to thrive from nurturing all within her circle” (Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners, Elder Bruce; Hallmark of Righteous Women, J. Edward Sumerau). 

In recent years women in the church have started to protest against women not being able to hold the priesthood. There are now social groups of women trying to fight for their right to hold the priesthood. Many women don’t think it’s a big deal, and that women are given plenty of opportunities for leadership in the church. The women who aren’t phased by it are listening to the laws of the patriarchy and what men are telling them God wants. Jana Reiss conducted research where she asked three questions about what leadership roles women could hold in churches, and all three answers were answered by the LDS church with a no. The questions of if women could baptize, lead congregations, handle finances, and if they could bless communion were the kind of questions that Jana asked. “In fact, of the top seven denominations in the United States, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only one that answers all of these questions with a “no” (Religion News Service, Jana Reiss).


girls in skirts
Photo by Photographe EVJF GREG on Unsplash

In General Conference, where high ranking council members who speak to God announce messages from God to the world, all the counsel members are men because women aren’t allowed to have these roles. In these conferences, these men speak on women’s roles in the church and what a good Mormon woman should look like. Women in the church are getting guidance on what a good woman is from a man. Men are telling women what God wants of them and they have been constructed to believe these teachings to be true. “God placed within women divine qualities of strength, virtue, love, and the willingness to sacrifice to raise future generations of His spirit children” (LDS Women Are Incredible!, Quentin L. Cook). Men tell women that for them to be perfect women they have to be selfless and put everyone around them before themselves. Women hear these teachings and are told that God made all women this way and if they don’t have these qualities then there must be something wrong with them. No spectrum has been created for individuality. Women are also forced to believe that they have to have kids and have to want them. Men are not viewed or pressured the same way women are when it comes to their role of taking care of a family. 

These pressures can cause depression and anxiety among women in the church. Since they are taught to put everyone before themselves they often feel guilty taking time for self-love. If they are not putting their family or friends first then they are not doing their womanly duty. Jana Reiss says, “The numbers are definitely higher for Mormon women than for men. 27% of women say yes, almost twice the number of Mormon men who do, 14.5%” (Mormon women and depression, revisited, Jana Reiss). These statistics are most likely the cause of the alienation of women in the church. They are not allowed to grow to their full capacity. They have these set limits and expectations put on them by male leaders telling them how to be the perfect woman, and if they don’t follow the morals of being perfect women then something is wrong with them. Women in the church are harshly judged if they don’t follow the guide of how to be a perfect woman.

I grew up in the LDS church and for years I felt like something was wrong with me because I never believed or understood the church or their values. I remember having to be held to a higher standard than men. I couldn’t have a boyfriend or stay out late or do anything un-ladylike without the church looking at me. I would have to go to young women’s where we would knit or make birdhouses, which I thought to myself was completely ridiculous when the young men’s group would go out bowling or do some active activity. I realized the church was prepping us to be the perfect housewives. A lot of my family is still very tied in to the church. I will always respect their beliefs and values even though I believe and see the world very differently, but I continue to be frustrated by the disenfranchisement of women. 

I am an English major studying at the University of Utah. In my free time I enjoy writing poetry, reading, yoga and coffee!
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