Trying to Work Through My Problems with Patriarchy

One of the sayings I remember hearing from the way back is, “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord Qualifies.” I also remember an Institute teacher telling the class that when there are two spirits together, one must always be the leader.

As I’ve thought about these teachings, it bothers me that the key here is that it’s almost always a man who is designed to lead, and who is “qualified.”

Of course, “the Lord looketh on the heart,” and we hear repeatedly that callings in the Church aren’t based on worldly knowledge. A lot of the time they aren’t even based on talent, aptitude, or even scriptural knowledge.

Following the Leader

None of this bothers me, per se. What bothers me is that, in a patriarchal set up, the automatic assumption is that the man is “in charge” because he’s a man. This seems obvious and right to many who grow up in a culture that values patriarchy. It’s one of the problems with patriarchy that makes it such a thorny thing to deal with.

Patriarchy is considered normal, the Way Things Are Done. This sort finality, along with it being “the Lord’s program” precludes anyone asking why. And I’ve always been a big fan of why. If God is “no respecter of persons,” why is gender such a big deal? (Although, I guess that scripture refers to who is “worthy” to receive the gospel and, hey, we all get to hear the gospel…)

Yes, there’s a lot of talk about how traditional women’s roles are just as important as traditional men’s roles, and how husbands should counsel with their wives. However, when all the rhetoric is stripped away, the reality of a patriarchy is that there is only one qualification that matters: Your gender. And if you don’t have the inclination to do what your gender should, then there’s something wrong with you.

This is not to say that I prefer a matriarchy. I don’t. I don’t believe that being a woman automatically qualifies you for something over a man. (Other than carrying a child inside you and giving birth, but that’s a biological situation. And perhaps someday science will change that.)

And that brings me to another of my problems with patriarchy: The assumption by those steeped in patriarchy is that “allowing” women equal leadership opportunities would somehow result in competition. For some reason, the idea persists that men must be diminished as women step into the light. This doesn’t need to be the case. Rather than dealing with large swaths of the population in terms of gender, it would be nice to deal with individuals, based on their talents (or, in the case of callings, the talents they should be developing).

The problem with most entrenched social positions, such as patriarchy, is the fear that admitting others to the same privileges you already enjoy puts you at risk of losing your advantages. In some ways, this is a valid concern, since if everyone is on the same plane, you really are no longer someone with extra privileges; everyone else now has the same opportunities and positions that you have already, so you aren’t special by virtue of whatever circumstances resulted in who you are at birth.

problems with patriarchy

Why Can’t I Be Happy With Being a Wife and Mother?

Someone on Facebook shared an article from a recent copy of the New Era extolling the virtues of rejecting the world’s view of “just” being a mom. This, along with all my other thoughts on patriarchy, swirl in my mind and the question comes up: “Why can’t I be happy with being a wife and mother?”

I’ve tried. Maybe if I’d had more children I’d be too busy to worry about these questions, and too tired to be concerned about hierarchy, patriarchy, and the fact that I’m really all out of place.

Do I have anything against women who are happy fulfilling traditional gender roles? No, I don’t. I think if you enjoy being a mom, be the best mom you can be, in the way you want to be. I like being a mom, but I’m a mom in my own way — and traditional gender roles don’t often come into it.

But being a mom isn’t the most fulfilling thing I do. I love my son. I spend time with him. I help him with homework. I give him tips on practicing the piano. We discuss Things. We make dinner together some nights. It’s just not enough to fill my life and make me a complete person.

And being a wife doesn’t fill in the parts that being a mom doesn’t fill. My husband constantly encourages me to develop my interests, and to have a self outside of him. My husband and son are big chunks of my life and what makes me me, but they aren’t everything.

So it’s disconcerting that patriarchy defines me almost exclusively by my relationships to the men in my life. Women fit in only in terms of how they fulfill roles in social situations constructed to put men in positions of leadership, prominence, and meaningful decision-making.

I’d like to see more situations in which women have leadership roles in the church. I’d like to see women as Sunday School presidents and men as Primary presidents. I’m not sure why women can’t be in the Seventy or even wind up in the Quorum of the Twelve. And we all know where that could lead.

Radical, I know.

I think that women should be able to explore their potentials, and have opportunities for growth and blessings in a wider variety of callings. It’s true that they say that men need women to be exalted, and that’s often seen as “proof” that women are of vital importance. However, If you’re a man and you end up in the eternities without a woman sealed to you, the assumption is that, if you are righteous, you’ll be rewarded by having one assigned to you (neatly solving the problem for the righteous, yet unattached, woman as well).

Sunstone

It feels a little unsettling when I think of it in those terms.

Maybe I’m over-thinking this, and I need to just demurely sit back and let traditional gender roles define my life. Perhaps that would be the thing to do if I really wanted to become more Christlike. In fact, in a Christian patriarchy, these very questions go against the very idea of what a Christlike woman is supposed to be. I should be striving to bury my “unnatural” instincts and subsuming them in the joy of the roles patriarchy has marked out for me.

There’s just one problem: I don’t want to.

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