The first real crack in my lifetime of "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't sexist" conditioning came not from any critical source, but from the section on "Mothers' Employment Outside the Home" in the Eternal Marriage Student Manual. I was raised to believe that anything in the church that seems sexist to modern sensibilities is really just misunderstood. But after being in college for too long, some of these quotes that I'd probably already heard growing up really rubbed me the wrong way, and then this line in particular from Spencer W. Kimball jumped out as unequivocally, unapologetically, and undeniably sexist: "No career approaches in importance that of wife, homemaker, mother - cooking meals, washing dishes, making beds for one’s precious husband and children." Translation: Women have the most important divine role, which is to perform household chores for men and children. To be perfectly frank: barf. And from then on I couldn't stop seeing all the sexism that I'd been taught not to see.
In February of last year I linked to this manual section in a blog post about how the church's teachings (aka doctrine) on women have evolved. Within a month, the entire section had quietly disappeared from the church's website. Coincidence? Probably, but you can't prove it. And that wasn't worth making a whole other post about, but yesterday a reddit post brought to my attention some more recent and more subtle deletions from the manual, and I just have to talk about them.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball
“Boys seldom criticize a girl for using too little makeup. Sometimes they say, ‘She’s a nice girl, but I wish she’d dress up, and she uses too much makeup.’ To be overdressed, to be gaudily dressed, to be dressed to look sexy, to be overdecorated is bad taste, to say the least. The young woman is smart who can don just enough powder and lipstick to convince the fellows it isn’t makeup at all, but the ‘real you.’...
“Young men should keep their faces shaved, their hair combed, their haircuts reasonably conservative, their nails cleaned. Overtight, suggestive pants brand young men as vulgar. Young people can be smart and personable, dignified and attractive by finding an area somewhere less than the extremes and still in good style” (“Save the Youth of Zion,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1965, 761).
This quote is arguably a bit sexist - it reminds me of M. Russell Ballard's "Put on a little lipstick now and then and look a little charming" comment that may or may not have been blown out of proportion a few years ago - but it has the rare distinction of being more nitpicky about men's dress and grooming than women's, so I appreciate that. I assume it was just removed because dress and grooming standards have changed since 1965 (except at BYU) and it comes across as obnoxiously Pharasaical (like BYU). A lot of women like men with beards. Also, I know it's perfectly normal for women to wear just a little bit of makeup and for men to erroneously believe that they aren't wearing any, but Elder Kimball's phrasing here seems to encourage deception, so that's kind of funny.
Women's Divine Roles and Responsibilities
President Ezra Taft Benson
“It is divinely ordained what a woman should do.... The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking, and motherhood” (“In His Steps,” 64).
“Brethren of the priesthood, I continue to emphasize the importance of mothers staying home to nurture, care for, and train their children in the principles of righteousness” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 60; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 49; see also To the Fathers in Israel, 3–4).
See To the Mothers in Zion, on pages 352–57.
“A mother’s role is also God-ordained. Mothers are to conceive, bear, nourish, love, and train. They are to be helpmates, and are to counsel with their husbands” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 6; or Ensign, May 1984, 6).
“It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work. The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking, and motherhood. It is well if skills in these three areas can first be learned in the parents’ home and then be supplemented at school if the need or desire presents itself” (“In His Steps,” 64).
“There are voices in our midst which would attempt to convince you that these home-centered truths are not applicable to our present-day conditions. If you listen and heed, you will be lured away from your principal obligations.
“Beguiling voices in the world cry out for ‘alternative life-styles’ for women. They maintain that some women are better suited for careers than for marriage and motherhood.
“These individuals spread their discontent by the propaganda that there are more exciting and selffulfilling roles for women than homemaking. Some even have been bold to suggest that the Church move away from the ‘Mormon woman stereotype’ of homemaking and rearing children. They also say it is wise to limit your family so you can have more time for personal goals and self-fulfillment” (“The Honored Place of Woman,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 105).
It's self-explanatory that this was removed for the same reason as the entire section on "Mothers' Employment Outside the Home." I'll just examine a few lines that stand out to me.
"It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work." Translation: women have a one-size-fits-all role, while men are free to seek out roles that fit their individual talents, interests, and personalities. They may, of course, still end up stuck in crappy jobs that they hate in order to support their families, but not for lack of trying. And this really gets at the heart of why "complementary" or "separate but equal" gender roles are not equal at all and never have been.
"These individuals spread their discontent by the propaganda that there are more exciting and self-fulfilling roles for women than homemaking." Translation: if a woman doesn't feel sufficiently contented or fulfilled by menial household chores that her husband could just as easily do, she's been deceived by propaganda. She couldn't have possibly reached that conclusion on her own, and even if she did, she's not smart enough to know what's good for her.
"Some even have been bold to suggest that the Church move away from the 'Mormon woman stereotype' of homemaking and rearing children." Please read this in Owen Lars' voice: Like the Church moved away from the 'Mormon woman stereotype' of homemaking and rearing children by showcasing career women in its "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign?
Benson's anti-feminist masterwork speech referenced here, "To the Mothers in Zion," remains in the manual despite all these other deletions. That's a bit of an oversight, which I brought to someone's attention with the online feedback form in March.
President Spencer W. Kimball
“Tomorrow when I repeat the phrases that will bind you for eternity, I shall say the same impressive words that the Lord said to that handsome youth and his lovely bride in the Garden of Eden: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.’ ...
“... You came to get for yourself a mortal body that could become perfected, immortalized, and you understood that you were to act in partnership with God in providing bodies for other spirits. . . . And so you will not postpone parenthood. There will be rationalists who will name to you numerous reasons for postponement. Of course, it will be harder to get your college degrees or your financial start with a family, but strength like yours will be undaunted in the face of difficult obstacles. Have your family as the Lord intended. Of course it is expensive, but you will find a way, and besides, it is often those children who grow up with responsibility and hardships who carry on the world’s work” (“John and Mary, Beginning Life Together,” New Era, June 1975, 8).
“Supreme happiness in marriage is governed considerably by a primary factor—that of the bearing and rearing of children. Too many young people set their minds, determining they will not marry or have children until they are more secure, until the military service period is over; until the college degree is secured; until the occupation is more well-defined; until the debts are paid; or until it is more convenient. They have forgotten that the first commandment is to ‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.’ (Genesis 1:28.) And so brides continue their employment and husbands encourage it, and contraceptives are used to prevent conception. Relatives and friends and even mothers sometimes encourage birth control for their young newlyweds. But the excuses are many, mostly weak. The wife is not robust; the family budget will not feed extra mouths; or the expense of the doctor, hospital, and other incidentals is too great; it will disturb social life; it would prevent two salaries; and so abnormal living prevents the birth of children. The Church cannot approve nor condone the measures which so greatly limit the family” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 328–29).
This section already omitted many quotes that straight-up denounce birth control as evil, because they don't jive with the church's current position that it's a personal decision. So Kimball's quote made the cut the first time around but now it crosses the line. Why? Probably because it pressures couples to have children that they can't afford or otherwise aren't ready to take care of, which is just plain terrible for everyone involved. I'm particularly disgusted that he, a man, considered "The wife is not robust" to be a "weak excuse" for not popping out as many babies as possible. This flat-out contradicts a far more reasonable David O. McKay quote on the preceding page: “In all this, however, the mother’s health should be guarded. In the realm of wifehood, the woman should reign supreme." (Then why does she need so many men to tell her how to do it?)
Looking at this and the earlier deleted Kimball quote, though, I am impressed that the manual made a distinction between "Elder" Kimball and "President" Kimball. Usually when an apostle becomes president of the church, subsequent publications attribute all of his quotes to President So-and-So regardless of when he made them, which is lazy and misleading.
Wayward Children Born Under the Covenant
The Prophet Joseph Smith
“When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother” (in History of the Church, 5:530).
It's surprising to see anything from Joseph Smith deleted. He's had a better track record than most of his successors. And I don't know why this quote was problematic. I could see the church maybe wanting to move away from the implication that temple sealings remove children's agency, but the subsequent Brigham Young quote implies that far more strongly. Maybe the Joseph Smith quote encourages complacency by focusing on the ordinance (dead works) and not on the parents' actual efforts and worthiness? Maybe recent scholarship has cast doubt on its accuracy? That's all I've got.
I'm grateful for these deletions, except for the last one, which I don't care about one way or another. I just wish the church actually announced or drew attention to them in some way. Yes, I realize it's awkward to explain why quotes from prophets, seers, and revelators are no longer acceptable for publication, but when the church just quietly discontinues old teachings without correcting or superseding them, people who were previously taught those things continue to teach them anyway. Case in point: last year, in a fifth Sunday lesson in a YSA ward in a college town, my sixty-something bishop was very adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers, and told those present to only use their college educations to be better mothers, not to have careers, and that anyone who disagreed (like me) was deceived by the world's lies. Mostly I was pissed off and incredulous that he had failed to notice the shift in the church's position over the last thirty years, but I also felt a little sorry for him when I complained to the stake president (who agreed with me) about him teaching the same thing that the prophets taught when he was our age. With regard to this manual specifically, many institute teachers probably use a paper copy and will never notice the online revisions unless somebody tells them.
But speaking of sexism, thanks to the recent states' rights free-for-all opened up by the repeal of Roe v. Wade, a ten-year-old rape victim from Ohio had to travel to Indiana to get an abortion. I hope God is warming up a spot in hell for every politician who thinks it's even an option to force a ten-year-old rape victim to endure pregancy and childbirth. (I argued with a family member who claims that pro-choicers don't care about her at all, that they're just using her as a pawn for their agenda to murder babies, as if liberals don't denounce rape literally all the time.) But I guess I can take some comfort in knowing that Utah, despite ranking as the second most sexist state in the nation and being a near-constant political embarrassment, will never be that bad... right?
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, 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.