On Kaimi’s Ensign thread, a conversation about the kinds and quantities of power exercised by the sexes has been simmering. Julie suggested that we open another thread for that discussion, and I’ve obliged.
May I suggest that a distinction between power and authority would be helpful in this discussion? Authority being formally transmitted, institutionally systematized and sanctioned, and often allocated in terms of rights; power being fluid, polysemous and polymorphous, exceeding and obviating the formal channels of authority, often more potent but generally more capricious that institutional authority. The office of a bishop=authority; charisma at the pulpit=power. Right to final word as head of household=authority; smokin hot sex appeal=power. Captain of the army=authority; battering ram=power.
Thinking in terms of authority and power highlights the difficulties with considering gender in the contexts of church and family simultaneously. It was, of course, one of the great achievements of the restoration to integrate family structure into, precisely, ecclesiastical structure, but it’s always been an uneasy fit: the ecclesiasticus, with its formal system, reproduces itself primarily through the transmission of authority; the family, with its organic fluidity, reproduces itself primarily through the exercise of power. Our distinctive and wholesale integration of the family into the hieratic sphere (as distinct from the mere modeling of the family on an ecclesiastical model; this has been a feature of Christianity since at least the early modern period) has also proved to be problematic in the present cultural environment, and recently we’ve seen some gestures of reversal: Elder Oaks’ ideas on patriarchal versus hierarchical presiding, for example, work directly on this problem.
This brings us round to the tasty irony of this thread. The patriarchalists and the feminists are working for precisely the same goal: both want men to invest more in their children. This, in fact, must be one of the foremost objectives of any society that aims to reproduce itself: men do not instinctively invest very much in their offspring, and somehow they must be persuaded or forced to do so because women are, by and large, unable to provision themselves and their children alone. Patriarchalists propose to do this by giving men more authority; feminists propose to do this by giving women more power. I know which alternative I wish worked. I also know which one I think won’t.