It was very difficult to want to go back to church after you-know-what restrictions eased. I liked having ten-minute sacrament meetings in people's homes. I didn't miss any of the extra stuff that, more often than not, I found less intellectually stimulating than an episode of Blue's Clues. And for a while I felt justified in not going to Sunday school or Elders' Quorum they were more confined and more crowded than sacrament meeting, and I knew everyone else there was regularly attending large social gatherings with no masks. But then I got fully vaccinated and went back to normal life in every way possible and didn't have that excuse anymore, so I went back to Elders' Quorum just in time to be punished with a lesson about marriage.
The teacher wrote "The Perfect Woman" on the board and solicited desirable traits to list under that heading. I take issue with his phrasing, but I'm sure he and everyone else there were aware that the perfect woman doesn't exist because perfect people don't exist and woman are a kind of people. I know what he meant was "The Ideal Woman". So people listed things and I just felt kind of defensive and prideful and thought, I'm not looking for a woman and you can't make me. But if I was, I'm sure I wouldn't want the same things y'all want, because Utah culture is a crap sandwich. You know the kind of women (and men, but that's irrelevant right now) who populate Deseret News comments sections? I'd want the opposite of that. I'm very picky. I never made a list as such, I just got crushes on a case-by-case basis and figured out what I like and what I don't like and got pickier every time my heart broke. The last one, the literal girl next door, set the bar so high that I haven't caught feelings since and doubt I ever will again. I can be as picky as I want because I'd much rather be alone than with someone who can't make me feel the way she did.
The one item I wanted to suggest for the list was talent and career ambition, but I didn't dare speak such heresy out loud. One guy said someone who thinks for herself and makes decisions without asking him about everything, and that was nice to hear and obviously made BYU professor Rodney Turner spin in his grave. The resident old guy said something about we have to remember "gender roles" even though "the world" talks about "equality". He stopped short of saying women shouldn't have careers, but he said there's just "something" they have men don't have that makes them better with children or whatever. He'd have to do better than that to convince me. He could have at least called the mysterious something a "je ne sais quois" and given it the illusion of greater sophistication. One guy agreed that even if his wife was making six or nine figures a year, he'd want her to stay at home at least part-time to raise their kids. If my wife was making six or nine figures a year, I wouldn't care what she did. I wouldn't ask and I wouldn't tell.
The last item on the list was "Beautiful", submitted by one of those brave people who points out that physical attractiveness is important even though we spend so much effort trying to convince ourselves that it isn't even though we all know that it is. That kind of honesty is refreshing, but people so often miss the follow-up: that beauty is a matter of perception, that it can and does change. If you love a woman's inside then her outside will also be beautiful to you. Simple. The first time I saw the literal girl next door, I thought she was plain, homely, awkward, and forgettable, and promptly forgot about her. A couple months later, she was still awkward but I had decided that she was God's greatest work of art and I was an idiot for ever having thought otherwise.
In conclusion, the teacher asked if we're deserving of this hypothetical perfect woman and if not, how to change that? I'm glad the lesson was actually going somewhere, because I had been thinking of a quote in the back of my mind: "As we visit with young adults all over the church often they will ask, 'Well what are the characteristics I should look for in a future spouse?' - As though they have some checklist of 'I need to find someone who has these three or four or five things.' And I rather forcefully say to them, 'You are so arrogant – to think that you are some catch and that you want someone else who has these five things for you. If you found somebody who had these three or four or five characteristics that you’re looking for what makes you think they’d want to marry you?'"
When I walked into the gym a couple weeks later for the combined fifth Sunday lesson and saw the word "FAMILY" written on the board, I knew the next hour would be less fun than a root canal, and almost walked right back out. But I thought, What kind of person will I be if I just avoid hearing anything that makes me uncomfortable? Maybe if I humble myself and suffer through it, God will teach me something.
The bishop started by telling us each to tell someone, preferably of the opposite sex, what the name of our first child will be. And he was, in fairness, being weird and awkward on purpose. But still, what kind of a question is that? How should I know what the name of my first child will be? Do I look like I've got a seer stone in my pocket? I've never given this subject a ton of thought and I've always assumed it's the sort of thing that will have to be discussed and negotiated when the time comes. I'm partial to Jessica, myself, but maybe my wife will be like, "Ew, no, a high school cheerleader named Jessica bullied me until I developed an eating disorder. I'd rather feed our daughter to a crocodile than name her Jessica." Also, my first child might not be a daughter. Also, it might be adopted and already have a name. So I thought that was a silly question.
His lesson had its positives. He acknowledged that "people experiencing same-sex attraction" exist and told people to chill out if they're in their late twenties and not married yet. Hooray. Much of it, though, took on a very us-vs-them tone, as if members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the only .02% of people on the planet who believe in family values. He went through parts of the Family Proclamation, a document that he stressed was DOCTRINE, was SCRIPTURE, was from A LIVING PROPHET. Actually, Gordon B. Hinckley is a dead prophet, although he was a living prophet when he gave it, but then so is every prophet when he gives something so I don't know why that distinction is necessary. He said it was prophetic because when it came out in 1995 its teachings were just common sense and he couldn't see the point of it, but now they've become controversial. It was actually written after five years of a court battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The Church was involved in this court battle and had, in fact, been concerned about the prospect of same-sex marriage since the mid-to-late 1970s when that was one of its reasons for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.
Anyway, I braced myself for some thoughtless remarks when he got to the part that says fathers are primarily responsible for providing and mothers are primarily responsible for nurturing, but the thoughtless remarks were worse than I would have ever anticipated. He was very blunt and adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers with unpaid 96-hour work weeks. He straight-up told them to use their college education to be better mothers, not to have professional careers, full stop, no caveats, no nuance. He was also adamant that anyone who feels differently (like me) is following the "natural man" and the world's lies about women's equality. At least twice he referred to the people who feel differently "outside the Church", which came across to me as a conscious attempt to invalidate and put down the many people in the Church that he knows perfectly well also hold that view and constituted a sizable portion of his audience.
It pisses me off to think that my future wife may have been conditioned by lessons like this one to believe that her career ambitions are sinful, and to think that some women present for this lesson were thus conditioned. It's wrong and it's harmful. It will lead to depression, guilt, faith crises, and disaffection from the Church. Anecdotally, the twenty-something LDS women I know - not all of them raging liberals by any means - are far more open-minded on this topic. A majority of them see no reason why they shouldn't pursue careers and those who do want to be stay-at-home moms have no desire to force their preference on everyone else. Many of the latter will end up working anyway because modern economic realities have made it impossible for many families to survive on one income, the bishop's talk of sacrifice and frugality notwithstanding. I know for a fact that I wasn't the only person in the room who vigorously disagreed with what he said, and that his belittling of us did not persuade us to reorient our thinking. And women whose staying home is in the best interest of their particular families can make that decision for themselves without a man incorrectly insisting that it's the only option God will allow.
Since the bishop made it very clear that he wasn't open to discussion, and I wasn't in the mood to be called to repentance for not being sexist enough, I tattled on him instead of reaching out to him directly.
I'm sure the bishop is a wonderful man and that it's unfair to judge him by his most obvious shortcoming. Nonetheless, I am no longer capable of respecting or trusting him when I remember this lesson every time I see his face. (At least he's still better than my last bishop.) Will there be any sort of public retraction, correction, or apology? Of course not. That would shatter the illusion that our leaders are perfect, which we work hard to maintain even though we all claim to know that our leaders aren't perfect. I felt that my suffering through this lesson and being depressed for a few hours was worth it because I was able to speak out, to do something - but it would have been more worth it if I could know that I'd actually been able to help the women who also suffered through it. I wonder how many of them will leave the Church.
The Church posted this a few days later:
In essence, Dr. Erica Glenn explains that you can have a happy and fulfilling life even if you, like her, are not married. This should not be a controversial argument, but because Mormon culture is a crap sandwich, it was. On the one hand, people took issue with her not mentioning the Church's teachings on the importance of marriage that everyone in the Church has heard hundreds of times and that necessitated the existence of videos like this in the first place. On the other hand, people - specifically men - jumped to the conclusion that because Dr. Glenn is beautiful, the only possible reason for her not being married is that that she chose not to for selfish reasons, and therefore she's wrong. "She could get married tomorrow if she wanted to," said one sexist idiot who's never met her and apparently thinks she should settle for the first carbon-based life form that has a penis and thinks she's hot. Maybe, just maybe, the whole mindset of needing to get married for marriage's sake, and not because you've met someone you actually want to be with forever, is kind of toxic. But nobody asked me.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.