From the Archives: The Talk I’ve Never Given

From March 2004 to February 2007 is approximately 10,000 blogyears.

Most of you weren’t even on the playground when I posted my very firstest post at Times and Seasons. It is still one of my favorites; reproduced here for your reading pleasure.


Good morning, sisters and brothers. Well, those of you in the audience who know me know that I have a real interest in gender issues; some of you know that I specialized in such things in school. And I continue to read about and think about these things quite a bit. And I think I can finally say that I have come to a conclusion.

And my conclusion is this: the Church is sexist. (Steal glance over shoulder at bishop’s face if possible.) And, quite frankly, (pause here for effect) I don’t know why you men put up with it.

I have tried every apologetic tactic, every twisted reading of scripture and policy that I can think of, but in the last analysis, the current doctrine and practice of the Church just simply isn’t fair to men. And I cannot remain silent any longer while my brothers suffer. Let me share with you some of my observations.

First, although I know that you, my dear brothers, serve worthily in the positions to which you are called, I also know that many faithful LDS men wonder why their spheres are so limited. You know that you will never lead the Primary; you know that you will not be allowed to work with young children without supervision; and you feel the limitation. You struggle with this, I know. You know which part of the building our Savior would visit, should he come to our meetings here today, and you know that your gender is grossly underrepresented there. You feel the sting, and I feel for you. I want to assure you that this division of labor in no way implies that God loves you any less than he does his daughters.

You long for equity in your marriage relationships, for you know that this is pleasing to the heavens. But then you also know that the General Handbook of Instructions makes clear that, when it comes to the most important decision couples will make, having children, it is your wife, and not you, who will have the greater voice. You struggle with this, and wonder where is justice. Please be assured, my dear brethren, that God cares as much for His sons as He does for his daughters.

You work long hours, many of you, to support your families. But you know that your work, be you lawyer, doctor, or farmer, is not of an eternal nature. You see your wives getting to devote their best efforts to children; to work that is eternal; to work with rewards that span the eternities; and you know that the rewards of your work are filthy lucre, and you wonder why the powers that be have once again limited your sphere to such trivial things. You know, of course, that if God were to fill out one of those forms, the most correct box to check for occupation would be ’stay-at-home parent’, and you weep that you are denied the privilege of following in the divine footsteps. I feel your pain.

You turn to the scriptures for solace, as we all should. Just don’t turn to the Gospel of Mark. We know of the searing gender inequities in this text, in what most believe to be the earliest Gospel, in this precious record of the life of Christ. We find the male disciples plodding along, mere foils for Jesus to educate, while the women around Jesus time and again display faithfulness and prophetic gifts in abundance. We know this makes you question your very worth as sons of the divine. We know this hurts. We know that you know that not a single story relates either resurrection or raising from the dead without including women as main characters in the story. We know you wonder about this.

I know how difficult it is for you to even go to Church, where your Elder’s Quorum instructors apologize for not preparing a lesson, while you know that next door, the Relief Society teacher may very well be apologizing for not preparing a centerpiece. You know that women’s classes and meetings in Church are generally better prepared, more open, and more meaningful. I know you wonder why this is. You are full aware that the main job of the Elder’s Quorum is to move heavy things, while your sisters in the Relief Society take care of each other in a truly profound way; sisters bind the broken hearts and heal the wounded souls; men move pianos. We nonetheless want to assure you that you are truly full participants in God’s plan of salvation.

I want you to know, my dear brothers, that all of the injustices you suffer due to your gender in this earthly state will be recompensed in the eternities.

Most of you thought I was joking when I wrote this. I’m not entirely sure that I was. I may possibly have been making a wee bit of fun of the Unintentionally Condescending Speech Patten (TM) sometimes aimed at women in the Church, but as far as content, I think I meant it. We code the most important activities and behaviors as women’s in this Church. I know of a (male) CES employee who has a huge quote on his office wall about motherhood being the highest calling on earth. What does it do to you to spend all of your working hours in front of a piece of paper reminding you that you will never do the most important work on earth?

46 comments for “From the Archives: The Talk I’ve Never Given

  1. Proud Daughter of Eve
    February 10, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    I. love. this. talk. Slightly humorous but deeply profound. Wonderful!

  2. Kevin Barney
    February 11, 2007 at 12:22 am

    This was long, long before my entry to the ‘Nacle. Thank you for this wonderful talk. My favorite part was the stolen glance over your shoulder at the bishop near the beginning.

    I think you should actually give it one of these days.

  3. February 11, 2007 at 12:26 am

    This should come with a warning label, Julie. My monitor wishes I hadn’t been sipping soup as I started to read it.

    Painful, funny, subversive, true. And I heard it in the voice of one particular GA.

  4. Doc
    February 11, 2007 at 12:38 am

    This needs to be given by sherri Dew at General conference. I would pay good, good filthy lucre to see that.

  5. Ana
    February 11, 2007 at 1:30 am

    A good laugh out loud after putting the kids to bed … a nice nightcap after a day of eternal work.

    Thanks, Julie!

  6. Matt Evans
    February 11, 2007 at 1:43 am

    Julie (and other feminists),

    I think the points you raise are valid. They demonstrate why I don’t believe it’s hard to reconcile gender differences within the church with our equalilty before God. You obviously wrote it, however, as a satirical feminist argument, which works only if your claims are rejected. Which claims do you believe are actually false?

  7. WillF
    February 11, 2007 at 2:28 am

    Didn’t Eloise Bell write an essay similar to this? I remember reading it, but I can’t place it.

  8. Day
    February 11, 2007 at 3:28 am

    Thanks for showing me I am not alone in thinking about the church and gender equity.

  9. Janet
    February 11, 2007 at 4:09 am

    WillF (#7)–Yup. Eloise Bell’s version was called “The Meeting” and it’s in her collection of essays *Only When I Laugh”. I think Carol Lynn Pearson wrote a piece like this as well, but I’m spacing on the name.

    Fun read, Julie. Thanks! I may print it out and give it to my bishop, since he’d actually find it both poignant and funny.

  10. G
    February 11, 2007 at 5:51 am

    I love it, I love it, I love it…
    and it actually really made me rethink things. Satire is good that way, a nice sharp two edged scalpel.
    thank you.

  11. DKL
    February 11, 2007 at 9:39 am

    Julie M. Smith: …you weep that you are denied the privilege of following in the divine footsteps.

    Uh, no. Real men don’t cry.

  12. Julie M. Smith
    February 11, 2007 at 10:52 am

    Matt, I’m satirizing (is that a word?) the tone of talks sometimes directed at women (particularly the “I feel your pain” and the “I”m now going to mention a huge gender disparity and then claim it doesn’t matter without explaining why” techniques), but the content isn’t satire. I think that modern feminism (most of which I think is a good thing) has trained us to pick up on any gender difference and assume that it hurts women. What we are not skilled at is noticing when gender differences hurt men. I think that if we actually believe what the church teaches about parenting, real power, etc., then we would conclude that, on balance, the different roles assigned to men and women in the church leave women coming out ahead. (Not that it should be a contest. But you know what I mean.)

  13. Frank McIntyre
    February 11, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    “I think that modern feminism (most of which I think is a good thing) has trained us to pick up on any gender difference and assume that it hurts women. What we are not skilled at is noticing when gender differences hurt men.”

    I’d agree.

  14. G
    February 11, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    um, yeah… in my comment (#10) I didn’t mean “Satire” as defined by Matt (which it the accurate definition). I guess a better word would have been “irony”, or something like that.
    whatever word works best, the post did a good job of shining a new light on the subject.

  15. Lizzilu
    February 11, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    I’m not 100% of this yet, I think I’m going to pray on it, BUT I think I just may give this as a talk in March. (If that’s ok Julie) The RS President, the other councillor and I will be speaking about our roles in RS. Today after RS we had a meeting and talked about that. I said since I doubted very many members didn’t know what our role in RS was that maybe we should try and be a little more original. I have to pray about this though, this maybe too much. I think my bishop might weather it better than my RS President.
    I’ll let you know.

  16. Costanza
    February 11, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    The Pearson essay is called “Mormon Musings: Walk In The Pink Moccasins” and can be found in Sunstone 137 (May 2005)

  17. Jeremiah J.
    February 11, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    “I think that modern feminism (most of which I think is a good thing) has trained us to pick up on any gender difference and assume that it hurts women. What we are not skilled at is noticing when gender differences hurt men.”

    Yes to the first sentence. But I’ve had plenty of instruction from modern conservatives on how to notice that the differences in the world really harm or place a greater burden on white, wealthy males. And some feminists have been making the point that gender roles also hurt men for a long time. The feminists generally do this because they still want to get rid of the differences (just about every left movement has made some kind of argument about the twisted lives of the powerful); I’m not quite sure why some conservatives do it.

    I think that you’re right that people in the church “mention a huge gender disparity and then claim it doesn’t matter without explaining why”. I suspect that’s because attempts at explanations often seem to do more harm than silence does. And I admit that our explanations aren’t typically very good. But the good satire of your post seems to obscure the fact that it is indeed possible to honor and reverence certain differences even when one happens to be on the short end of them from a certain perspective. The office decor of some male CES teachers seems to be evidence of this, unless you think that these expressions about motherhood are insincere.

    “You know that women’s classes and meetings in Church are generally better prepared, more open, and more meaningful.”
    I don’t find this to be actually true. And I know plenty of other men in the church whom I’ve spoken with about their quorum lessons. The consensus seems to be that centerpieces don’t add a lot of meaning or openness.

  18. m&m
    February 11, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    What we are not skilled at is noticing when gender differences hurt men.

    So, Julie, I’m a bit confused…are you saying the Church is harmful to or dismissive of men? I’m still not sure what you really want to say, and I’m sensing that this is saying different things to different people. What it says to me is that either sex could “claim” that they get the short end of the stick. (We usually only hear women thinking they get the bum deal.) It felt more like you are poking fun at complaints of women, but I don’t think that is what you are doing. I think this just shows that we can put on different glasses, looking at the same Church, and see different things. But I wonder if we should be doing this at all, and this piece underscores to me that it’s pretty iffy to do so, because the (perceived) “balance” could “tip” either way depending on one’s perspective.

  19. Julie M. Smith
    February 11, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    m & m,

    What I’m saying is this:

    Right now there are some differences between the roles of men and women in the Church. I think a small number of these are the result of custom, tradition, etc., and are neither the will of God nor beneficial to the Saints. But I think that the vast majority of role differences do in fact reflect the will of God and are in fact beneficial to all the Saints. We’ve been culturally conditioned to notice and then complain about the effects on women but not on men. I don’t think we should view it as a contest or try to determine which gender comes out ahead but rather realize that we have a system where men and women are given different privileges, responsibilities, burdens, etc., with the ultimate goal of perfecting a family unit.

    I’m not poking fun at the complaints of women so much as pointing out that they rarely make the same complaints about how ‘the system’ impacts men. That doesn’t strike me as quite fair.

  20. skl
    February 11, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Julie, I love this. But I always love what you write!

  21. m&m
    February 11, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks for the clarification. And I really appreciated this: “I don’t think we should view it as a contest or try to determine which gender comes out ahead but rather realize that we have a system where men and women are given different privileges, responsibilities, burdens, etc., with the ultimate goal of perfecting a family unit.” Well said.

  22. Larrea
    February 12, 2007 at 1:19 am

    Your post gave me a good chuckle, and I agree with you, I think women are sometimes not fair to men, just as men are sometimes not fair to women.
    From the time I was little, I always thought men were given the short stick in life-and this comes a girl who was a hard-core tom-boy. Although I’ve struggled with many aspects of church life, I have been lucky enough to believe God loves/values women as much as men-even though my path through life has been pretty far from the standard mormon girl model. I have wondered why I haven’t railed too much against the patriachial structure of the church while some of my friends have struggled with the concept. I think part of it is because I think a patriarchy gone bad is not nearly as bad as a matriarchy gone bad. Not because women are worse, or men are better, but simply because biologically it is hard to completely cut a women out of society-disempowered women become mothers which binds them to their children and to society. Disempoweredd men, on the other hand, can be completely cut off from their families and from society as a whole. But ultimately, it is like you said, it is not a contest or struggle between genders, but simply a system with the ultimate goal of perfecting a family unit.

  23. February 12, 2007 at 1:56 am

    Funny, fun, wonderful.

    I particularly like “Good morning, sisters and brothers.” I had a bishop’s counselor in Florida who became absolutely irate when he heard that. (Or “young women and young men” or “Relief Society and priesthood.”)

    Seriously though, I figured out a bit of the same thing when I had a revelation after having my first baby. I only stayed home with her because President Benson gave “the talk” while I was pregnant. And I didn’t do it happily. Amazingly, I only realized what a blessing that was six weeks and one day after she was born. The day I WOULD have been back at work, had I followed my own plan, instead of God’s.

    Thanks for bringing back such a great piece.

  24. February 12, 2007 at 5:44 am

    Julie, the problem with your inference of “discrimination” is that while it’s true that men cannot get pregnant and have children, they could actually choose to occupy the nurturing role that is normally occupied by the mother. Although others may look askance at them, men can choose to be stay-at-home dads (or share the nurturing role equally with their wife) and spend a lot of quality time with their children. Which means that they can fully participate in the most important work on earth. (And this encouragement of men to take on female roles–nurturing, caregiving, etc,–to the extent that they are able and have the desire is something that I promote.)

    As for the rhetoric of “motherhood being next to Godhood,” this is something that bothers me because it idealizes women roles and ignores the importance of fatherhood. I think we should eliminate this rhetoric for the sake of the men *and* the women in the church.

  25. Norbert
    February 12, 2007 at 7:18 am

    Perfect. Satiric but true, especially the quality of our meetings. Last Sunday I wished the HP group could silently listen to beautiful music!

    As a bit of a thread-jack, I was happy to see Eloise Bell’s name mentioned. What a fantastic person. I haven’t thought about her in ages, and she had a huge impact on my spiritual life.

  26. Ann
    February 12, 2007 at 9:30 am

    #17 The office decor of some male CES teachers seems to be evidence of this, unless you think that these expressions about motherhood are insincere.
    I think these expressions about motherhood are insincere.

  27. Costanza
    February 12, 2007 at 11:14 am

    I agree with Ann. I would add that they also strike me as patronizing, although I admit that my response to them is idiosyncratic and visceral rather than logical.

  28. bbell
    February 12, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Funny Julie,

    And I think true….

    I have been noticing as an adult that my wards activities and focus is basicly directed at two groups. Those under 18. Primary, YW and YM. and the RS. There are 12-24 RS activities annually in our ward. The primary has activities weekly as do the YM/YW. The entire discretionary budget is focused on these two groups as well. Our HP and EQ has a combined budget of $80 while the RS has a few thousand. PH activities while not officially discouraged are not encouraged either and as a result do not happen.

    The only activity that the Men do together is basketball. At 7AM on Saturday and 9PM on Wed. We have not been permitted to “officially”schedule the building for the BBALL. Any of the above mentioned groups have the priviledge of setting the gym up on Friday night for a Saturday morning activity that ends bball for that day. Complaints from men about the situation have been met with…. You are lucky we let you play at all. Be quiet or we will ban bball. The RS and Primary have rights that you do not have for the building.

    That being said I am not a gender warrior just making an observation. I will not pester the Bishop with gender complaints via email or ask that a special Sac mtg be set up to honor men :)

  29. Julie M. Smith
    February 12, 2007 at 1:28 pm


    I suppose in the abstract a father could coparent 50%, but the premise behind this post is the gender roles as taught by the Church, where that kind of arrangement is not seen as the ideal.

    It’s up to you to decide whether to dismiss the ‘motherhood is next to Godliness’ as mere rhetoric. But I don’t; I take it as true doctrine.

    Ann, I do believe that there are people who use the ‘motherhood is next to Godliness’ as insincere platitudes to put women on pedestals and then dismiss them. But I can assure you that that is not the case for the person I mentioned based on what I know about him and how he treats me personally. It also doesn’t delegitimate the sentiment in general.

  30. Starfoxy
    February 12, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    I just really like the tone of this whole thing. It captures that very tone I’ve heard so frequently when the speaker addresses women. I also think it does a fair job of pointing out that we don’t really put our money where our mouth is as far as respecting the ‘most important’ work. If everyone really *believed* raising and teaching children really is the most important work (as we so often claim) then the talks at church would look much more like this. That they don’t look like this says that, even though we say teaching children is important and next to Godliness, few people actually believe it enough to act like it.

  31. Kiskilili
    February 12, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    “It’s up to you to decide whether to dismiss the ‘motherhood is next to Godliness’ as mere rhetoric. But I don’t; I take it as true doctrine.”

    I’m guessing fatherhood is next to Goddesshood? ;)

    But what I’m really wondering is why we need to wait to rectify this imbalance until the eternities–why we don’t make efforts to divide our most consecrated labor more equitably in this life? It’s true that the physical act of giving birth will likely never be available to men (or many women), but I truly believe there is no emotional bond with children, no special ability to nurture that is restricted to women and that men lack. Children benefit from adult male role models in their lives–why not call men into Primary presidencies? Why not salve the wounds of our aching brethren by creating more opportunities for them to care for children in various capacities? Why not gently remind that EQ teacher that there’s no official policy restricting lesson preparation to the women?

  32. Ryan Bell
    February 12, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Seraphine, (#24), I’m surprised to see that argument appear here. Imagine the same argument popped up in opposition to claims of discrimination against females. “Women don’t have to stay at home. Women aren’t forced to wear dresses. No one’s guarding the doors against women showing up at Priesthood meeting. In fact, we all know women that have flouted each of these conventions, so there isn’t really discrimination.”

    The point isn’t compulsion, it’s the norms in the church. And those norms bind men as much as they bind women (although the balance of whom is harmed more by them remains, I agree, debatable).

  33. Naismith
    February 12, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    “I’m not poking fun at the complaints of women so much as pointing out that they rarely make the same complaints about how ‘the system’ impacts men. That doesn’t strike me as quite fair.”

    Julie, this is so profound. Over on Exponent II, there has been a discussion that touched on whether or not Relief Society presidents should/do attend PEC. When I was Relief Society president, our stake was pretty much split on it: some did, some didn’t

    Our ward leadership has told me (and this seems very much along the tone of your essay) that while a RS or YW president would be welcome in that meeting, that it wasn’t really a place of decision-making but more of additional coaching. The ward leadership considered the Primary, YW and RS to be autonomous organizations that were very well run, and not in need of as much help as guidance as the men were, and thus those presidents were not required to attend, as long as the VT percentages were better than home teaching, etc. And why would anyone want to come to a meeting that wasn’t required of them?

    And they were serious, too.

  34. Julie M. Smith
    February 12, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    Re #31: To answer your question, I believe that God has established current gender roles for good reasons. Having been a SAHM for 8+ years, I can now understand some (but probably not all) of those reasons. I do believe that nonfungible roles actually benefit the family unit as a unit as well as each individual in the family as an individual.

  35. Beijing
    February 12, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    People who would love to but aren’t able to conform their lives to fit the ideal can probably understand some reasons that nonfungible gender roles actually harm some individuals and family units.

    I hope a woman with infertility pipes up to speak to both the mothers and the priesthood holders in the tone this talk sets.

  36. Julie M. Smith
    February 12, 2007 at 9:26 pm


    I agree with you that teaching these roles causes harm to some people. But I’m with President Packer on this one: we still teach the ideal. And then, I would add, we should be extremely charitable to those who, through no fault of their own, cannot conform to the ideal.

  37. Beijing
    February 12, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    We’ve been around and around on teaching the ideal and being extremely charitable toward those who are harmed in the process…such as by occasionally reminding them that all of the injustices they suffer in this earthly state will be recompensed in the eternities. You’re still preaching it, and I still find it offensive. Nothing new here.

  38. February 13, 2007 at 12:27 am

    Ryan, I actually do agree with you that men feel pressure to adhere to certain gendered roles and behaviors, and I see this as a problem. At the same time, I think there is a difference between “discrimination” and pressure to conform to a certain norm. If men choose to be stay-at-home dads and nurture their children, sure, they are going to run into many who will judge them harshly, but the consequences are going to be primarily social disapproval. I wouldn’t use the word “discrimination” for this disapproval unless men were actually being prevented from nurturing their children.

    Also, while I also wouldn’t go so far as to say that women not receiving the priesthood is “discrimination,” women are not just constricted by pressure to conform to roles. While women can flout gender conventions by being more outspoken and going and working, their roles (on an institutional level) are constricted in ways that they can’t transgress. Women cannot hold the priesthood, and in my mind, men feeling pressured to be providers rather than nurturers is not an equivalent parallel to this.

    Anyway, to sum up: I think men who want to transgress gender roles run into problems, but I guess I’m having problems with Julie’s claim that “women come out ahead” since men *can* do what is coded as woman’s role.

    Also, now that I think about it, I think I’m confused by Julie’s end aim since she sees separate gender roles as the ideal while simultaneously claiming that they harm men.

  39. Julie M. Smith
    February 13, 2007 at 2:17 am

    Seraphine, I think you are misreading me a little. I think gender roles do create some disadvantages for men–and different disadvantages for women–but that overall those disadvantages are virtually nothing compared to the benefits that accrue to men, women, children, and family units.

  40. February 13, 2007 at 3:13 am

    Julie, fair enough. Still, if your ultimate position is that the benefits outweight the harms, I think your satire might be coming across slightly more strongly than you intend (of course, the other possibility, is that my reaction to your satire is stronger than everyone else’s). :)

  41. Doc
    February 13, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    kiskilili (#31),
    The reasons are quite evident here.
    Didn’t you get the feminist memo that men who nurture children are creepy.

  42. Doc
    February 13, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Sorry, that came out more sarcastic than i meant it to. It is really more of a chuch memo, but built upon the fear and litigiousness of our society expressed in the thread.

  43. Julie M. Smith
    February 13, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Doc, you point to a real heartbreaking issue. On a another board that I visit, a mother had her child walk 3 blocks to Kindergarten. It was snowing and the little girl started crying. A man drove by and offered her a ride to school, which she accepted. The mother found out about this from a neighbor (who noticed what happened but did not intervene) and the mother called the cops on the guy. This is a weird story all around, I admit, but it confirms what my husband told me once–he probably wouldn’t help a child in distress in public for fear of repercussions. Sad world, where we scowl at men who do help children. (At the same time . . . I understand the scowl . . .)

  44. Kiskilili
    February 13, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Yes, I’m familiar with this policy and the justification behind it, though I personally wouldn’t go so far as to label all nurturing behavior from men toward children as pedophilic in nature.

    I certainly hope the solution to the threat of pedophilia and the resulting threat of litigation is not to cut men and children off from each other entirely! That carries its own tragic consequences.

    (Didn’t you get the feminist memo that men who don’t nurture children are creepy?)

  45. Not Ophelia
    February 13, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Well, the solution the protestants around here have come up with is to put big windows on the doors of all classrooms. Seems to me to be a better solution than cutting of half our adult population from serving our young children . . .

  46. Melinda
    February 13, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    When I was working in the nursery, I had several priesthood leaders tell me that nursery was their “dream calling.” I’m not sure they were attracted to the opportunity to teach and nurture small children as much as they were attracted to the idea of a calling that involved only 5 minutes of prep and no additional meetings.

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