An Interview with Valerie Hudson

BYU Political Science professor Valerie Hudson has been in the news lately as a result of her new book, Bare Branches.

Julie M. Smith: The reaction to your book Bare Brancheshas been tremendous: a 60 Minutes interview, the Association of American Publishers’ award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Government and Political Science, a several-page article in the New York Times, a USA Today cover story, and glowing praise from many quarters. Did you anticipate that this work would be a media sensation or did that take you by surprise?

Valerie Hudson: No, we had no idea. But at the same time, we knew that this was a very important issue, and we hoped that others would see it as such. We did have some rejections in the early years our our project, but I am glad nowthat we kept going.

Bare Branches concerns the implications of a Chinese population with tens of millions of unmarriagable males due to sex ratio imbalance. Can you explore for us the implications of the sex ratio imbalance from a gospel perspective?

On many levels, devaluation of female life is wrong. It is wrong to devalue any life. It is wrong to devalue female life. If one’s very chances of being born are affected by whether one has an X or a Y chromosome, that is wrong. I think our research shows that it is not just girls who pay a price for these harmful attitudes, but it is their entire society.

BYU Newsnet reports that you are working on a project to “document 217 indicators of the status of women in 179 nation-states, including categories as varied as the practice of honor killings, levels of employment discrimination, caloric intake and age at the birth of the first child.” How does your perspective as a Latter-day Saint shape your work on this project?

Donna Lee Bowen and Camille Fronk, in their piece in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism on women in the Book of Mormon, point out that a pretty reliable barometer of the status of a society is the treatment of women within it. Our WomanStats Project aims to allow researchers to see and demonstrate the linkage between the situation of women and the security, stability, and prosperity of their societies.

You have been quoted as saying, “The status of women is linked to the fate of their nations with
regard to both domestic stability, foreign policy and also security.” Do you consider yourself a feminist–either in an academic context, an LDS context, or both? If so, what does that term mean to you and what are your goals as a feminist?

Yes, I am a feminist and I am LDS. It is ironic that there seem to be as many people within the Church as without it that believe it is not possible to be both. I oppose any hierarchy that places men above women or women above men in their relationship with each other, and I oppose any initiative to erase or overlook differences between women and men. My vision is one of parity, inspired by the writings of Sylviane Agacinski, the eminent French philosopher. Parity is equality in the context of difference. We are enjoined to create that parity in order to create Zion. Elder L. Tom Perry recently said, “There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family. They are united together in word, in deed, and in action, as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.” (Church News, 10 April 2004, p. 15, “Fathers’ Role is Anchoring Families.) That is my vision, and that for me is what it means to be an LDS feminist. And this vision holds not only for families, but for the family of man.

Many of our readers would be curious to know how you balance a family with your professional responsibilities. What are your thoughts on that? What advice would you give to a female LDS student interested in an academic career?

The simple answer is that I feel that I am juggling about 10 balls every day. A good day is when only nine of the ten balls fall. A typical day is when they all fall. And then you get up the next day. But if you feel that inspiration guides you in making a contribution, then make that contribution, whether it be in academia or in any other walk of life. To paraphrase Eric Liddell from Chariots of Fire, we feel God’s pleasure when
we do so.

Is there anything else that you wish that I had asked you?

Much of the work I do on issues of men and women, I do for my daughter. I have 5 sons, and only one daughter, Ariel. I wrote a book for her, a book in which the questions she asked me as a young girl feature prominently–indeed, the first chapter is called, “Ariel’s Question.” The book is an in-depth treatment of our Church’s doctrines concerning women, and I co-wrote it with my mentor, Alma Don Sorensen. It is called, “Women in Eternity, Women of Zion,” and can be obtained from Cedar Fort Publishing. The painting on the cover was done by my husband, David Cassler, who is a fine artist, and it expresses the vision of eternal parity between man and woman. My daughter died last August in the cave accident on Y Mountain at the age of 18. But she lives again through every person who reads the book. And so I hope you will read it, and I hope you will smile and say a little prayer on her behalf when you think of Ariel and the important questions she asked. When I think of the priceless gift my daughter gave me, I cannot comprehend how any parent could devalue and discard the life of a daughter.

12 comments for “An Interview with Valerie Hudson

  1. April 17, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Prof. Hudson, thank you for your comments here. Your work is so extraordinarily important.

  2. April 17, 2006 at 6:15 pm

    Professor Hudson: Thank you! I am so grateful that you’ve taken up this cause — and that you have found a media opportunities to get the word out and conversation moving. Thanks, too, for the link to your other book — I am eager to read it, in memory of your daughter . . . and the daughters who have not been loved so well.

  3. TMD
    April 17, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    Kudos, Valerie, for all your work! As a current (lds) IR grad student at OSU (Rick’s my chair, but I had 3 courses each with Don and Brian), it’s wonderful to see your successes, both within the discipline and without. I think the Bare Branches work is really interesting, and it’s something that my undergrads are really fascinated by when I talk with them about it (it’s particularly interesting, I think, when set with Goldstein’s War and Gender). And it is wonderful to hear an articulation of LDS feminism which is able to accept difference and differentiate between difference and discrimination. And know, too, that many out here sorrowed with you last year–I heard within my church circles about it just a day or two before I heard of it through Rick.

  4. Adam Greenwood
    April 18, 2006 at 8:02 am

    Of course its equally tragic when millions of babies are killed in strict gender balance, but things like this are a good way of exposing the absurdity of abortion on demand. More, please!

  5. JA Benson
    April 18, 2006 at 9:14 am

    Professor Hudson
    I enjoyed hearing your comments on the segment of 60 Minutes last Sunday. Thank you. I look forward to reading your book.
    For any of you interested in this topic _The Lost Daughters of China_ by Karin Evans is also a compelling read.

  6. Tanya Spackman
    April 18, 2006 at 9:17 am

    Excellent interview, and interesting info.

    I had Dr. Hudson for a PoliSci class at BYU on national security policy. I loved that class and it changed the path I was on (though I was a science major, I then decided that national security stuff – this was pre-9/11 – was incredibly facinating and I tried to get work in the realm of weapons of mass destruction, and lo, here I am in that realm). She’s a great professor.

  7. bbell
    April 18, 2006 at 9:24 am

    Thank you Sister Hudson for your work on exposing the evils of aborting girls simply because of their gender. This is one of the greatest evils in our world.

    Guess what????!!!! India is experiencing the same problem with families aborting girls. I have seen reports that is some areas of India there are 100 boys to every 60 girls or so due to gender driven abortions. How about another book?

  8. Kevin Barney
    April 18, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    Are there insights from this work that we can apply to the “lost boys” type situation of modern fundamentalist polygamy, who are unable to marry within their culture because the older, more powerful males have scooped up all the available women?

  9. CEF
    April 18, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    I too watched the interview on 60 Minutes. I found it most interesting, and agree that their current solution is not the best. However, I would be curious as to how one might address their real problem of too many people to take care of? It does seem to be a problem.

    Also, I remember a talk we used to listen to while in the mission field. It was called “Woman and the Priesthood.” I think it was by Rodney Turner. I think he had a book out by the same name.

    This of course, was before the change in the Temple ceremony. But he made a statement about, or something like, men made their commitment to God, because man finds his fulfillment in God, and a woman’s commitment was to her husband, because she finds her fulfillment in her husband. Would it be that things were like that then, because of the same kind of reason that blacks could not hold the priesthood? And if so, would it be in the realm of possibility that women will be able to hold the priesthood sometime in the future? This of course is highly speculative and may not be something that we should even discuss. But the Church seems to have changed it’s position on women, or maybe I just have a misunderstanding of how it used to be.

  10. April 19, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    Some years ago I ran into a quote by GQ Cannon concerning large numbers of single men. I’ve been looking for an excuse to wow the masses with my tidbit of arcane esoterica ever sense. This is it. Be impressed, world. Be very impressed.

    While I do not make the remark to apply to individual cases, I am firmly of the opinion that a large number of unmarried men, over the age of twenty-four years, is a dangerous element in any community, and an element upon which society should look with a jealous eye. (7 Apr 1878, SLC, in Journal of Discourses. 20:6 (1-9)

    In other news… I enjoyed the interview and have ordered the book, which I have been putting off for some months now, but finally got around to doing this afternoon.

  11. April 19, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Oops: ever since not ever sense. And I guess I should have put the closing parenthesis on the citation. So much for wowing the masses…

  12. Kimball Hunt
    April 19, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    Or else wowing a masseuse. Which is what it sounds what a lot of Chinese men will be doing? In college I had a girlfriend from Peking (who had, incidentally, a PhD I think in biochemistry?) who would relate the shame she felt in her father’s disappointment that she’d been born female.

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