Friday, April 29, 2011

Episode 3: Gender Bias in the Book of Mormon

Right click here to download the mp3.



Could Feminism Have Saved the Nephites? by Carol Lynn Pearson

    “Are Boys More Important than Girls?” The Continuing Conflict of Gender Difference and Equality in Mormonism by Margaret Toscano
    (For some reason, Sunstone linked the entire issue instead of the article. The article starts on page 21 of the PDF.)

    Toward a Feminist Interpretation of Latter-day Scripture by Lynn Matthews Anderson

    The Meeting (a regendered version of sacrament meeting) by Eloise Bell

    Daughters of God by Gordon B. Hinckley

    Regendering Website: Enter a url and receive the regendered version.The image for this podcast is taken from a screen capture of the regendered version of the Book of Moses from lds.org.

    The Book of Morma: A Feminist Reading of the Book of Mormon

    Where Is She? Gender Occurrences in Online Grammar Guides by Nicole Amare
    Research in the Teaching of English: Vol. 42, No. 2, Nov., 2007

    Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense by Erika Falk and Jordan Mills
    Women and Language. Vol. 19, Iss. 2, Fall, 1996.

    Speaking to God in his Phrase and Word by Suzanne Trill
    in The Nature of Religious Language: A Colloquium by Stanley E. Porter; 1996: Sheffield Academic Press

    For more discussion on this concept, see You Talkin' to me, Mormon? by Ziff at Zelophehad's Daughters and Gender Bias in the Book of Mormon by Kmillecam at The Exponent.

    43 comments:

    1. That's fascinating about how women actually don't identify with male pronouns. Thanks for the podcast and the links!

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    2. Regendering scriptures does give them a whole new feeling. Thanks for the examples. On a similar note, one of my favorite posts at Feminist Mormon Housewives regenders a typical church meeting, with a female bishop and so forth, and it's pretty eye-opening.

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    3. Emmaline, thanks for your comment. The research really is quite interesting in this field of study.

      Lotus, I'll have to go look up that post on Feminist Mormon Housewives. The regendered meeting scenarios are always revealing.

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    4. Well done. Thank you for your time and effort. I think it is a sad commentary that so many women seem to disregard the impact of the male gender bias in scripture and elsewhere. I believe we have been told for so long (by our male leaders) that it doesn't matter, that we women have just accommodated this notion. In reality, those subtle messages absolutely seep into our self concept as well as the way males view women in broader terms.

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    5. I would love to download these to my ipod. Is there a way to do that either now or in the future?
      Thx

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    6. Just found your podcast. It would be great if you could make the files in an mp3 playable format so I could play them on my mp3 player.

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    7. Anonymous, I completely agree. After being told and told and told by leaders that "there is nothing amiss" and "it is glorious to be a woman," many women just let go of trying to figure out where the emptiness is coming from.

      I'm working hard to figure things out with iTunes. So, hopefully very soon it will be available!

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    8. Mister Curie, thanks for the feedback. I think I've got a few pieces of code wrong, because the files are supposed to be in mp3 format, but I just tried to download one and, you're right. They're in the wrong format. Hopefully, I'll get it all correct soon. I'm totally new to this, so I'm figuring it out as I go, which sometimes means a bit of a mess.

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    9. Excellent work. I really liked the re-gendered scripture. It was powerful. I think the reason why things haven't changed and don't change is because we let men get away with it. We accept what they give us and don't make a big enough fuss, and those women who do make a fuss are labelled and minimised.

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    10. I agree, Polly Anna. I think more of us should "make a fuss" so that it starts to become expected. If enough of us are doing it, maybe we'll be able to challenge the labels and push past the tendency to minimize. I know it is hard to step forward. Hopefully, we'll find ways to take small steps, then larger steps, and then finally take off running.

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    11. Wow! It's been awhile since I read the Book of Mormon. There were so many things that just didn't feel right to me. Like Nephi and his god complex, but I never thought about the negative women imagery. It is everywhere. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago on wondering if a woman could be a savior. Just even pondering on that one for a minute made my head swim. It also made me think of the negative imagery in D&C in regards to women. Emma is always talked down to and commanded to do and if she doesn't she'll be destroyed. Women are property as well being given to others, whether in this life or the next.

      I think it'll take a few hundred years or so before more equality will enter into the church. I hope I'm wrong but when the whole premise of the religion is based on absolute truth and restoration...it makes anything like this seem just blasphemous and not open for discussion since god has already spoken. I hope one day the Mormon church will be more egalitarian where members of both genders will be able to have open discussion about all things.

      Sybil, another excellent podcast! Look forward to the next one!

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    12. I'm having a hard time even talking in church let alone challenging the status quo. I'm so unhappy and uncomfortable in church. I don't think there are any women like me. In church. How do you identify feminist sympathisers ar church?

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    13. Kaylanamars, thank you for your excellent comments. I also really dislike how Emma is addressed and commanded in the D&C. I hope equality enters the church before hundreds of years have passed ... there are so many factors involved, that something unexpected could help bring about change at a deeper level.

      I hope that we will be able to create a space for open discussion and have our voices heard, even if the leaders think that "god has spoken." Personally, I think God has more to say ... especially where women are concerned.

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    14. Polly Anna, I know this feeling. I know it well, and it hurts to feel all alone and voiceless. Especially if you feel like your voice would be silenced if you did dare to speak. In one ward I was in, I made little comments from time to time that offered the female perspective, and there was a woman who told me she enjoyed my comments. I started by talking with her after classes and after church, and we actually developed a hesitant friendship based on our desire to be equal in the church. Neither of us felt comfortable bringing our whole pile of issues out, but we did bring things out piece by piece, and had many conversations that sustained us both. It made it easier to be in that ward, which had a very controlling bishop. I hope you find a woman or two that you can speak with. It makes a big difference.

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    15. The quote by tuscano is very powerful. Great Episode.

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    16. I just found this podcast through Sara. I've only listened through this episode and wanted to come and let you know that there are people (or at least mre) re-gendering God in the scriptures. (http://mutualapprobation.blogspot.com). I'm hoping to make the blog a little more developed than it has been these past couple of months with more reviews and opinion pieces in the future. I'm a huge fan of re-gendering. We need to push forward in this despite the backlash from well-intended family members who think we're blasphemers. :)

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    17. loved the podcast. so much to think about. i am relatively new on my feminist journey and haven't spent much time in the scriptures the past few years, so i hadn't thought about how truly gender biased the language is. those male-centered messages are powerful and damaging to women.

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    18. TopHat, so good to hear from you! I actually referenced your blog in my Mother's Day podcast today. I love what you're doing. Keep it going! I'd love to talk to you more about your project.

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    19. Katrina, thank you for your comment. And welcome to the feminist journey. I think you'll find that while it is difficult, it is very rewarding and fulfilling.

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    20. Sybil,
      this was awesome! And sad at the same time. I was shocked at all the references associating every good thing with maleness and everything bad with femaleness. I've had this underlying feeling that females are regarded as inferior in the church, but these specific quotes are horrifying. No wonder the whole equality talk in the church feels like lip service, when so often femaleness is used to represent everything vile and disgusting. Sigh.

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    21. Juliane, I know what you mean. I remember as a teen when I first really tuned into the "whore of all the earth" imagery how empty and ill I felt. Like you, I think it directly impacts the "equality" presented in the church.

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    22. Your re-gendered reading of Moses was amazing. It made me feel that women are holy.

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    23. Thank you, Alisa. I feel the same. I would love a whole book filled with the holiness of women.

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    24. I am really surprised at how differently I felt listening to the re-gendered passage of scripture. I felt like I was being nurtured instead of preached to--so interesting.

      This was a fascinating podcast. The research behind how women and men identify with language makes such a strong case for why we should "make a fuss". I have had the same thing said to me by so many people!

      The problem that I have found over the years is that the more educated I become about the effects of gender-biased texts/teaching on women, the more detrimental those texts/teachings seem to become. Would it be better to be in an ignorant bliss or is it better to be this painfully aware of the messages being sent my way---I say that rhetorically, but it IS really hard to stay in the church and raise daughters in the church when the message of inferiority is being constantly reinforced and the power to change that message is, because I am a woman, ultimately out of my reach. Thank you for giving us a forum to talk about these issues.

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    25. Ah, ShellSea5. Yes, I think we have all wished at some time to put the genie back in the bottle. I'm glad you're here. I'm hoping that if we can talk about these issues enough, we'll find ways to claim our own power. Something inspiring happened today: A woman who has been listening to the podcast suddenly dropped everything she was doing and wrote a letter to the General Relief Society Presidency asking them to please ask the president of the church to petition God for further light and knowledge about our Heavenly Mother. Then she immediately posted the letter.

      This is a piece of action from a woman who is becoming increasingly aware of the imbalance inherent in the way women are talked to and treated in the church.

      So, someone is making a fuss! Maybe soon, many will be speaking up, and they will hear our voices because there will be so many.

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    26. Finally able to leave a comment :) I really loved this episode. For a long time I never gave enough thought to the language of scripture, but this perfectly explains why I never had the same good feelings reading the BoM that my male leaders told me I should.

      And I love the reading from Moses. I can't even imagine how a group of men would react to hearing that seriously.

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    27. Thanks, Corktree. Now that you bring it up, I'm wondering how men would respond to this passage, too. Men are very used to being well represented in scripture, and elsewhere. I remember when I was a graduate student that we had several textbooks that used the female pronouns as "gender inclusive" and the males pointedly didn't like it. I was amazed at what a positive difference it made to MY reading experience, though. I felt addressed and included in a thoughtful manner.

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    28. Gail KnickerbockerMay 20, 2011 at 7:32 PM

      I really like this podcast. I have NEVER liked the Book of Mormon and I thought it was all the violence etc. I had never thought of me being devalued as a woman that was at the root of it. I am not certain even today that it was that AND I am NOT interested in reading that book again without some major changes in it. Thank you for your words. I had my husband listen to this with me. He is a midwife and has a very high view of women AND he loves the Book of Mormon. Quite weird if you ask me.

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    29. Gail, thank you so much for your comment. I really agree with you: It is comforting to find that there are legitimate reasons that we have not connected with the the Book of Mormon. How interesting that your husband is a midwife.

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    30. Gail KnickerbockerMay 21, 2011 at 8:24 AM

      Sybil, my husband and I could have benefited from a teaching in the church that clearly stated that as a couple you should weigh your strengths and weaknesses and choose who should work and split the work of family in a way that works best for you. He is much more nurturing, loving, kind, soft, gentle, and honoring towards all people. I am much more task oriented, get things done, ambitious, organized, intentional, etc. Were our rolls to have been reversed from the beginning WITH back up and encouragement our life today would perhaps be a bit more confident in our rolls, him as stay at home dad and me as breadwinner and face to the world. I can't find words to describe all this. My husband was willing from the beginning for me to be the breadwinner, I was stuck in verbiage by ancient and modern prophets regarding rolls and promises of blessings. Now, my husband has a job that pays well and it would take me a long time to reach his level of income so he could be home with the younger kids.

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    31. Gail, alas for gender roles. They bind so tightly. My husband and I have actually switched off being the main income for the household, which we've both enjoyed. I so agree with you that there needs to be more reality and flexibility in the way that marriages, relationships, and roles are defined.

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    32. Sybil, I have felt myself moved to tears more than once while reading this podcast as I recognized why I have trouble feeling the Spirit while reading the scriptures. While it is freeing to discuss how excluded women are in the scriptures--and the blessings discussed therein--it also evokes a powerful sense of isolation.

      These past few weeks I have finally vocally expressed (to my husband) my frustration with many things in the Mormon religion. One of those is my need to apologize for questioning anything regarding to the Priesthood--or for that matter why I, and all women, are marginalized despite our complete devotion. It reminds me of times of yore when women were viewed as less capable of handling anything spiritual. Antonia Fraser provides an excellent historical reference for a women's role in Christianity during the 16th and 17th centuries in her book, The Gunpowder Plot: Faith and Treason.

      Hearing you reference women (or the article referencing women) who say they are not bothered by gender inclusive language reminds me of how I used to be. Born and raised in a large family, I have always been the faithful child who didn't ask questions. At least out loud. Now, I am finding my voice and feel the need to reach out to other women who have the same thoughts as I do so we might be the impetus for change. But, alas, it is a lonely place. I appreciate the community that you build through this podcast and that other women(and men) build through their blogs as they explore these complex issues.

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    33. Edit: "listening" not "reading."

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    34. Amber, thank you for your comment. I know that feeling of isolation. I'm glad you were able to speak to your husband. That can make it a little less lonely. I hope you're able to connect with others who are traveling a similar path. There are so many of us, but we've been trained to stay quiet. I'm glad you're here, Amber.

      I've felt that same need to apologize for my questions. It hurts to hold everything inside. Being able to speak and write about it all helps. You said it just right: "all women are marginalized despite our complete devotion." I'm glad you're speaking up.

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    35. I guess I'm an anomaly, but I have never felt left out. I guess I'm one of those rare women who *does* feel included in the 'gender-inclusive male language.' I think it's probably the product of a literary background, or maybe because I was taught from early childhood that these terms were inclusive...so at the same time that I was learning what 'hearken' and 'covenant' were, I was also learning that the definition of 'men' meant 'all people.' It's a significant indicator of how impressionable small children are!

      With that said, I want to point people to Mormon Stories episode #5, about masons and the temple ceremony. http://mormonstories.org/?page_id=102 The interviewee there talked about how yes, there are similarities in the two ceremonies, and that each uses a story to teach a message. But the MESSAGE is not the same as the MESSENGER. The messenger--the words, the ritual--are just a way to express the message. The messenger is a product of whoever made it (the patriarchal/misogynistic society in this case). But the flaws of the messenger do not mean that the message is wrong or bad. So if regendering is helpful for someone, by all means go for it. But it genuinely doesn't make a difference to me.

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    36. Jenni, one of the interesting things about the studies on gendered language and psychological inclusion is that the women involved in the study were likewise taught that male language was inclusive. There are also many strong reasons why women would hold on to these promises of inclusion so that their worldview can remain intact. The point made over and over by these studies is that male language does not actually work for *most* females. This is one of the key reasons why there is an entire field of study dedicated to the issue of gendered language. I guess what I'm trying to say is that regendering texts isn't just helpful for someone, it's helpful for *many*. Especially for women who have never felt truly included in their religion.

      In other words, I was raised in a similar fashion as you describe for yourself, as were many of the women here ... so I think it's not just a matter of how we were brought up; that wouldn't account for an entire field of study.

      Thanks for posting the link to this Mormon Stories episode.

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    37. I recently found this podcast (after listening to your interview with Zilpha on Mormon Expressions), and I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart for providing a forum to discuss these issues. I have felt very alone for a while now, and communities like this really help. I just wish you were all my neighbors!

      This episode for me brought up a recent painful experience that relates to violence against women in the scriptures. I am in the Primary presidency in my ward, and this year's emphasis is on reading the scriptures. So, while doing my "duty" to read from the Book of Mormon every day, I came to Alma 14. It was as if I had read it for the first time, and I have not been able to bring myself to open my scriptures since.

      If you recall, Alma and Amulek are in Ammonihah when the people became angry. The people of Ammonihah gathered up the women and children who believed or had been taught to believe in God and cast them into a giant fire, burning them to death. The people brought Alma and Amulek to watch this horror take place. Amulek asks Alma to help him use the power of God to save the women and children from the flames, but Alma refuses. His rationale is that God will receive them. What really made me feel anguish in my soul was a few verses later, when Alma and Amulek are suffering being spat at and mocked, along with abuse and starvation, they THEN call upon God and say, "How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord?!"

      I cried when I read this, and I cry every time I think about it. How is it that what they suffered (which emphasizes the humiliation as much as the physical abuse) was greater than the suffering of the women and children that they watched being burned alive? How could they justify calling upon God to save them and not those women and children?

      And, subsequently, how can I justify loving a church that holds this book up as my moral compass?

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    38. Anonymous, my heart aches with yours. This is such a terrible moment in the Book of Mormon. I've wondered the same thing: Why was it all well and good to let the women and children burn, but the two men get saved later on? Sometimes it seems like women and children are disposable in the Book of Mormon. I don't believe this is how God actually sees the value of women and/or children ... but it could very well reflect the viewpoint of men in power and the cultural attitudes that dominate in patriarchal societies.

      Your question of "how can I justify loving a church that holds this book up as my moral compass?" is so poignant. I have no answer for you. I think this is one where your heart will have to work out a new space of being. I felt a similar wrenching tear in my own heart several years ago, and I've now been walking a path toward spiritual honesty and peace. This project is part of me finding a way toward that honesty and peace.

      Trust yourself. Pay attention to what your heart and mind say to you. And who knows ... maybe some day we'll be neighbors. For now, we can be virtual neighbors.

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    39. There are so many things that you love that I also love: Margaret Toscano, the essay by Carolyn Pearson, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, etc. These are the voices that I have been waiting for as I grew up in Mormonism and didn't feel represented, seen or heard.

      As you broke down what the scriptures sound like, and where the imagery resides when it comes to male and female pronouns, I found tears in my eyes. Even though I would have been the person, while growing up and during the gender damage you describe, to say that it didn't bother me, I can say that it obviously did if I am mourning that loss now when I am more able to deal with it honestly. There is something deeply troubling when all your most important texts and deities are giving the message of male = ultimate good. I don't think I truly knew how hurt by that I was until I found my authentic female voice.

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    40. k, thank you for this comment. I really empathize with what you're saying. I also defended the sexist language in the scriptures at an earlier time in my life. But now, yes, the wounding is evident. And deep.

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    41. Here's a thought I felt I needed to share after listening to this podcast: In the scriptures (and I'm sorry, I'm not good with remembering exact references) it talks of more scriptures being revealed and added to the standard works. I think it may be in Isaiah or 2 Nephi? (And I'm not just referring to General Conference as scripture). What if this scripture hasn't been revealed yet because it is for us as women? What if it fills in the pieces with women's importance to the Plan? I find it interesting that Black males in the church were not allowed to have the Priesthood until 1978 when it was the "right time." I wonder if this equality for women in the church will soon be revealed because we are seeking after these things?

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    42. Barrie Jo, thank you for your comment. I've heard this idea before, that there is scripture yet to come that is for women. For me, personally, this has never been at all comforting because the current scripture so clearly dismisses women. I agree with you that there is much more seeking happening now ... and that might create some pressure for change.

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