Monday, May 16, 2011

"What if equality isn't the end point?" Thoughts on gender and work/family issues

I wanted to share and discuss a few articles on the topics of women and the dynamic of sorting through education, career, and family goals. These articles/posts address these topics with a focus on gender issues. I've been involved in the topic of women and education and women in business for years, and so these articles are of interest to me.

First is this article by Casey Hurley: What If “Plan A” Doesn’t Work? Helping Female Students Navigate an Uncertain Life Course. I think she has done an excellent job of addressing the tension that exists for LDS women when considering the prophetic counsel on motherhood as well as the counsel on education, and the teachings in the Proclamation to the World on the Family.

I enjoyed this article on Empowering LDS Women. I think the concept of personal revelation being essential to these issues is, well, essential.

That article points to a Square Two article by Kaylie Clark: Giving Women a Voice Without Sacrificing Faith or Family: The Changes Needed to Create an Egalitarian Society". Let  me start by saying that I really like the idea of brainstorming different policy ideas to have more a more family-oriented culture in government and business. As was mentioned in both of these last two articles, Elder Cook recently talked about this idea in General Conference. We were invited to “be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents."

And yet, there are elements of Clark's article that don't quite sit with me. I don't pretend to have it all figured out (and I invite respectful dialogue here), because I think part of what Elder Cook's counsel invites us to do is to counsel with others to sort through how best to encourage and create family-friendly policies and business practices.

OK, so I like that she is thinking about some possible ways to do this. That is good. Thumb up there. 

At this point, here are some of my thoughts, however, that keep me from giving her article a double-thumbs up.

First of all, I don't agree with a pure egalitarian model as she seems to. I know that is going to be misunderstood as saying that I don't believe in women being equal to men, or in the blessing of equal opportunity. I do. (Yes, I still have posts to post on my thoughts on equality in Mormon vernacular.)

Here's a preview: To me, equality should not be confused with parity. I think she is not acknowledging the fact that the Proclamation still delineates primary roles based on gender. As such, I feel like her ideas are a bit forced on the "This is spiritually valid" side of things.

I think if we are going to brainstorm, we have to keep those gender roles on the table, and dance in the tension a bit more. To me, it's not as simple as just creating an "egalitarian society" -- that feels too structured and too dismissive of potential gender differences (and/or at least the primary gender roles that we have in our LDS teachings).

This is why I like Casey Hurley's article. She doesn't shy away from the tension but rather engages it. I think it's in such tension that personal revelation becomes all the more valuable and necessary.

So, to me, there is a complexity here that a purely egalitarian model, with its associated numbers-based measures, could very likely gloss over. My concern is that equal opportunity efforts often end up toward a mandated equality that could put both individuals/families and private/public organizations into a hard spot.

For example, I am not convinced this kind of policy (as explained in Clark's article) is a good solution:

After seeing the strong economic benefits of including women several European nations have already passed legislation requiring a specific level of women’s participation in the highest management levels of businesses, (Buzek 2011).
I have always had concerns that prescribed employment/selection rules based on gender (or race) can have a serious downside, including organizations feeling coerced to hire for a profiled characteristic rather than honest-to-goodness skill, need, and 'this-makes-sense'-ness. I also worry about the impact this could have on our culture at large.

This article, The End of Men, explores some trends that concern me that seem to be a result of the push for "equality." The fact that many governments have caught on that women are capable and that their involvement has economic value has led to the fact that there are "political quotas in about 100 countries, essentially forcing women into power in an effort to improve those countries’ fortunes" (emphasis mine).

The author of The Atlantic article, Hanna Rosin, poses this question:
[W]hat if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences
Clark insists that "psychological studies testing the assumption that women are better nurturers yields ambiguous findings due to cultural influences, so the argument that women are naturally better equipped for the work in the home is weak with little scientific backing."

The scientific backing may be lacking, but there are still trends and issues (and, for Latter-day Saints, our LDS teachings) that I think deserve more attention as the dialogue about gender issues and work/family policy continues.

There are questions that remain. Is it just "natural" ability or drive that should determine the balance of who stays home and who brings home the bacon for how much of the time? (For example, I've seen too many examples of women who don't feel like 'natural' mothers who feel inspired to stay home. I'm one of them.) Does the idea of "equal partners" mean "equal roles" or "equal parsing of tasks"? (I don't think it does.) Can or should "equality" be mandated by governments in ways that could force families to choose something that isn't right for them?

Perhaps I could best sum up many of my questions by echoing the question posed by Hanna Rosin:

"What if equality isn't the end point?"

I know I don't have all the answers, but I think this is a valid question.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

On the theme of waiting

Our friends' niece/cousin passed away on Friday. I was reading her blog and found this poem.

It's hard to hear of others' trials that didn't turn out as they had hoped, and yet it's clear that this family had great faith.

And this poem was timely for me.

Take a minute or two and go read it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Waiting on the Lord

The last several weeks have been difficult. I go through phases with my chronic health issues, and this has been a down phase for me.

I have a goal to listen to or read a General Conference talk every night. Last night, the thought came to focus on Elder Kent Richards' talk, "The Atonement Covers All Pain." It was one of my favorites, and re-reading it only strengthened my feelings of gratitude for his wise and loving words.

I appreciated the quotes and scriptures he used. This one struck me, as I am definitely in 'waiting' mode.

President Henry B. Eyring taught: “It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. … And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience. 14
 I've thought often about the people who were healed by Christ's power. Sometimes I have envied them, wondering why He has not healed me yet. But then I realize that those people, too, had to wait -- the blind man waited since birth; the woman with the issue of blood was sick for over a decade.

Sometimes in the depth of pain, we are tempted to ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” 7 I testify the answer is yes, there is a physician. The Atonement of Jesus Christ covers all these conditions and purposes of mortality.
 Elder Richards quoted something from Elder Oaks that has brought me much comfort over the years since he gave this talk.

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught: “Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a ‘healing’ cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are ‘healed’ by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us.” 17

And then Elder Richards testifies:
Our mortal circumstances may not immediately change, but our pain, worry, suffering, and fear can be swallowed up in His peace and healing balm.
I think this is going to be another one of my anchor talks in this journey with chronic illness. Thank you, Elder Richards, for helping be an instrument for the Savior's healing power.

Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.” 1

Friday, May 6, 2011

Eternal Perspective

While doing physical therapy last night, I listened to Elder Russell M. Nelson's talk, Face the Future with Faith. I hadn't noticed this the first time I heard his talk (emphasis mine).

Unfailing faith is fortified through prayer. Your heartfelt pleadings are important to Him. Think of the intense and impassioned prayers of the Prophet Joseph Smith during his dreadful days of incarceration in Liberty Jail. The Lord responded by changing the Prophet’s perspective.
How often might the answers to our prayers come in such a way? Perhaps that is one reason why we are told to pray -- if we exercise our spirits in this way, we are more able to see, with God's help, with an eternal perspective.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Mormon Woman's Thoughts On Faith, Feminism, Gender Equality: Thoughts on Equality, part 1

A Mormon Woman's Thoughts On Faith, Feminism, Gender Equality: Thoughts on Equality, part 1: The Gestalt Gospel 
(See introduction to this series here.)

In a Church press release (it’s now been a couple of years ago), it was stated that “certain words in the Mormon vocabulary have slightly different meanings and connotations than those same words have in other religions.” I think this is also true about some words that have different meanings and connotations than in other contexts, such as the social sciences and even the culture at large. 

Take the word “equality,” for example. When we talk about equality, particularly of the sexes, all sorts of thoughts and emotions and definitions and biases and baggage are already present before a discussion even begins. Accusations of sexism in Mormonism automatically cast the Church or its supporters into a negative light -- because how on earth could anything that isn't "equal" for both genders be a good thing? This is an understandable question if measures such as those used in "equal rights" movements are used. However, I believe such measures are inadequate for understanding why people like me are not upset about the different gender roles and responsibilities (e.g., women don't have the priesthood, different primary roles outlined for men and women in family life).

For my purposes here, I begin with a couple of quotes that will help frame my thoughts on this topic. And I need to begin the post with the disclaimer that, of course, I cannot and do not speak for the Church. This reflects some of my personal study and pondering on this subject.

Elder M. Russell Ballard said:
Free and open doctrinal discussion is important in gospel scholarship, but remember that most things have been put into place by God and simply are not subject to change. The doctrines and principles of the Church are established only through revelation, not legislation. This is God’s plan; we do not have the prerogative to alter or tamper with it.

Our task is to integrate the principles of the gospel into our lives so that our lives will be in balance. When our lives are in balance, before you realize it your life will be full of spiritual understanding that will confirm that your Heavenly Father loves you and that His plan is fair and true and we should strive to understand it and enjoy living it.

I like to call this idea of the gospel being an integration of many different principles "the Gestalt Gospel." (You'll see in this post that I like alliteration!) This reflects some of my background in studying Psychology back in the day. I believe it's simply impossible to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ by analyzing it or critiquing it through one kind of lens or measuring stick or philosophy. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, more than any -ism can possibly capture in its tenets. Even Mormonism as a culture can fall short of true understanding. This is why I believe it's important to look for patterns in teachings we have, and, above all, seek for the Spirit's help to see the bigger picture. 

Of course, there is no way for me to capture the big picture in words (in part because I am, of course, like anyone else with limited vision as a fallen mortal), but I can share what kinds of concepts help me to see and feel glimpses of that picture, and peace with the ways things are and are taught.

Neal A. Maxwell (then assistant to the Council of the Twelve) shared some thoughts that reinforce this idea of a Gestalt Gospel, and he even addresses how focusing only on equality can leave us falling short of the wonder of the whole: 

[There is a danger and approach that] seizes upon a single, true principle and elevates it above its peer principles. This act of isolation does not make the principle seized any less true, but it strips that principle of its supporting principles. One can be incarcerated within the prison of one principle.
For instance, “peacemakers” are precious commodities, but peace-making must be tied to other principles or it can easily become peace-making at any price. Candor is an important attribute, but it must not be separated from genuine concern for those who will feel the consequences of candor. Paul’s counsel is to be sure that we are “speaking the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15.) Love and truth need each other.

Charles Frankel observed of those who would … subordinate everything else to "equality.”:
 “The fallacies of … egalitarianism come largely from having ripped the notion of equality loose from its context. The result is to turn it into a principle vagrant and homeless, and identifiable in fact only if a quasi-theological context is unconsciously imported. ("The New Egalitarianism and the Old," Commentary, Sept. 1973, p. 61.)
Elevating any correct principle to the plane of religion is poor policy. Just as one person makes a poor church, one principle makes a poor religion!

The doctrines of Christ need each other, just as the disciples of Christ need each other. It is the orthodox orchestration in applying the gospel of Jesus Christ that keeps us happy and helps us to avoid falling off the straight and narrow path, for on the one side there is harsh legalism and on the other syrupy sensualism. Little wonder that man needs careful and precise help, the guidance of the Spirit, in order to navigate under such stressful circumstances.

Little wonder we so need those eternal perspectives which come from looking at life through the lens of the gospel!
My purpose in the next few posts is to try to explore the concept of equality through the lens of the gospel, in light of a greater whole. I like to call this concept Eternal Equality.While I understand that I certainly don’t have a corner on truth, I have seen clear patterns in what we are taught, and these teachings cross generations and also come from both male and female leaders. I believe that one way we can know if prophets and other leaders are teaching truth is when we see consistency and repetition in and across what is taught.

I will attempt to define more what I mean by Eternal Equality in my next post.