DEBORAH: During Sunday services, I looked around the chapel, noting the brave women who had posted Me Too stories this week and realizing most (probably all) of the other women could tell their own stories if they’d felt inclined to. Then, as a speaker referred to the men in the ward as “the priesthood,” my mind slid back through the ways men at church have used their position to diminish and/or dismiss me, intentionally or not. I felt the urge to tell my stories, though today I will offer only one.
I served as the Young Women’s president in a ward outside the Intermountain West that looked large on the books, but that had many more members who didn’t attend church than who did. As is common, the girls frequently complained about the disparity between the activities for the young men and the young women. I explained what the appointed budget was for the Young Women and that the Boy Scouts simply had more funds allotted them. Of course, that didn’t soothe anyone, including me, but I felt I needed to set the example of humility and endurance in all things.
All I could do was give the financial reins of power to the girls. I showed them the budget, explained what it costs to keep spending money on refreshments and dinners. (The Daddy/Daughter event was a tradition in our ward and, to be honest, consumed about 85% or more of the budget we had.) I told them if we dropped some of these things, or if they were willing to bring food from home that they or their families financed, maybe we could save up to have one “big” event. Nothing like High Adventure, but something better than a craft or fitness night. Keep in mind this ward was far from affluent. The families of these teenagers didn’t have any more money to spare than I did as a young mother from a single income, just-starting-life home.
The girls weren’t happy seeing the numbers and realized they’d have to scrimp to do a single fun activity during the year that had even a relatively modest price tag per person, but they rallied. My laurel class opted to save money so they could attend a professional baseball game, sitting in the cheapest seats available. As is required, I took their plan to the bishop for his approval.
He didn’t give it. He said, “That’s a Wednesday night and you won’t get the girls home until after midnight. It’s not a good idea.” I begged. I promised we could get parental consent. I explained how excited the girls were to go to a professional baseball game, something that really wasn’t in their families’ budgets to do for them. But the answer didn’t change. “I can’t approve it.” I had to return to the girls and tell them we didn’t get the bishop’s approval. They were crestfallen—and angry with me. I’d elevated their hopes and then failed them.
Then the Wednesday night of the baseball game rolls around. I’m there in the ward building with the girls, doing something inconsequential that they had decided on as a substitute. But the young men aren’t there. None of them. Guess where they are.
The young men are not only at the professional baseball game the girls had been refused the opportunity to attend, they were there, I learned, in box seats paid for by the company the bishop worked for. He had access to free tickets and gave them to the Young Men, not to the Young Women who had had their hearts set on seeing a professional game. To this day, I have no words.
Oh, I did have a few words for the bishop back then. But when I brought it up, he told me he hadn’t said no. (He had.) He said I only thought he said no. (He was famous for recasting reality in a way that favored him.) When I asked why he wouldn’t give the tickets to the girls, he told me he felt the boys would appreciate a baseball game more than the girls. From where I sat across his executive desk, it sure looked like he intentionally undermined me. And it worked.
One girl angrily accused me of having lied to them when I had reported that the bishop did not approve the activity because of the late hours, citing as evidence the fact that he’d given the boys free tickets. It was painful. I took it in silence. I didn’t fight back. I knew the bishop was the liar, but, because of the patriarchal structure that requires young women discuss worthiness issues with their bishop, I protected him in order for them to maintain their trust in him. Forget the trust that was lost in their Young Women leader. I received their scorn for my alleged ineptitude and selfish deception while he walked away looking like an innocent and generous man.
I wouldn’t handle it the same way now. Now I would’ve found a way to take the girls to the game without his approval and shrugged off any flack for it when we got back. This may be why I’m not asked to serve the youth anymore. Even so, I still wouldn’t throw a bishop under the bus in a way that would reduce the confidence in him that the girls have. That’s not a commentary on my weakness as a human being, but on the powerlessness of women in the church. We need a man’s approval, not just for every decision we make within the church organization, but for forgiveness in the eyes of God.
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25 Replies to “Patriarchy Happens”
Thank you for sharing your experiences. The baseball story with the bishop has me enraged!
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You’re a bigger woman than I would’ve been.
I’d like to go flip some tables over after reading this.
One of the things that needs to change is women lying to (or deceiving) the youth to protect their trust in the Bishop. It’s not your job to make them feel like he is worthy of their trust – it’s his. They shouldn’t trust him because he obviously doesn’t have a very high regard for them. That’s a decision they should have the opportunity to make for themselves….with all the correct information. Patriarchy happens – and we compound the problem by trying to disguise it. I realize this is an old story and you would do things differently now – I just hope that’s one of the things you would change!
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I didn’t last long in the calling, or long enough for that moment of epiphany and awakening to occur. I should probably say, however, that I brought myself to his office to discuss a breach of confidentiality (after release) that he made in ward council meeting, which he denied but was obvious as ward members were approaching me about what I had told him in a letter. The breach wasn’t over a deeply personal matter, but he’d been told it was confidential. Anyway, when I sat with him to discuss the breach, he made a claim about it. We talked. About 15 minutes later, he made the exact opposite claim. Exact opposite. I had him. I pointed out the disparity and he tried to talk his way around them. I told him I know he lies regularly and that if I’m ever in a room with him and he lies again (be it a casual conversation in the hallway or in a classroom) I will call him out on the spot. I promised him. Then I left the office. From that point on, if I entered a room or area he was in, he left. No exaggeration. He made stuff up all the time. I was new in the ward when called to serve as the YW president and that may have been part of the reason for the calling. Regardless, I had to learn the hard way what many members already understood about him. Including, I’m sure, the families of at least some of the girls.
I should say that I’m long gone from that ward and stake, and so is this particularly church leader. Those whom I know who had a longer association with him have told me that he has changed and grown in positive ways. In truth, he catapulted my Mormon feminist awakening (something that still took years to fully develop), but perhaps his experiences as bishop also launched some changes in him. Neither of us can undo a past that was instructive. I’ve moved on with more backbone and I hope he’s moved on with more humility.
Thank you for commenting. Sorry it took so long for me to answer. This is a new blog and we’ve had some glitches to smooth out.
Wow. That really takes the cake. It’s sad when someone like that is called to be Bishop. No telling the harm that is done.
I’m not LDS so perhaps I shouldn’t weigh in on this, but the general principle holds true for all faiths. It’s not the women’s job to protect bishops, priests, rabbis from their own inadequacies and failures.
Julie, I’m glad you weighed in. You are always welcome. What you say is true. The social psychology for women in the LDS faith is difficult. We are raised with such trust in our male leaders that, when they cross the line, its that deer in the headlights thing. We freeze. I should’t speak for all LDS women because, of course, some women aren’t raised this way, and some women have the presence of mind to immediately tackle the challenge of abuse. But I’ve witnessed enough to feel comfortable using “we” because its a common problem. So … “we” tend to need time to process it. Women often default to thinking we are in the wrong when mistreatment happens, simply because leaders are expected to be honorable. And then there is a “don’t speak ill of leaders” mentality that leaves members feeling like, if they call something out, the sin is on them. Part of the reason Sisters Quorum exists is to let members (especially women) tell the stories they haven’t felt able to tell without being shamed or blamed, and to form a sisterhood that helps us power through the social problems we have. I think hearing people like you weighing in from outside the church helps the fog lift.
We had to report two sisters for abuse (verbal with children in callings/never mind how they treated adults around them at church) to the Stake President because our Bishop not only repeatedly ignored it/ but when my sister finally threw herself under the bus to get them released (had been begging for months), they were all released and those 2 sisters were put in as RS pres & 1st counselor instead. My sister stopped attending church for her mental health at that point as the Bishop and the sisters husband/father had confronted her in his office about the abuse.
2 of these children were found to be so profoundly effected that they were self-harming and one was speaking about suicide.
We stepped away after it appeared to be resolved post speaking with a stake p. Counselor…. And they were removed from the children callings, hopeful it was resolved until a few months later found out that one of the sisters again had “volunteered” for doing scouts with her son AND another child by herself. Not only again back with children but not 2 man deep and not officially called and set apart. All not acceptable under the guidelines of the handbook.
So stake president time/and reported it to scout council. I was there in the meeting. SP told my sister that if she didn’t sustain the Bishop she wasn’t temple worthy. So apparently no matter what the bishop does, no matter how many lines they cross/lives they harm and Children abused while they ignore it…gotta still sustain them!
She told them she’d gladly hand it over. We don’t go for coerced sustaining and blackmail.
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Cue the accusation of being offended. Its odd how its a crime to be rightly agitated when someone harms you (or others), but not a crime to harm someone. Forgiveness can be used to club victims. Or, as in your case, to club those trying to protect victims. That could be its own post, couldn’t it? Maybe I’ll take that on.
Thanks for telling your story.
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During a Bishop’s Youth Council where we were planning a canoe trip while serving in YW, I listened to the plan and asked if they were taking a motorboat of some kind or a couple of jet skis in case of emergency, in order to evacuate someone in medical need. They weren’t. When I then insisted there should be some kind of plan in place for emergencies, I was taken aside afterward by a counselor in the bishopric and told I wasn’t sustaining the priesthood by questioning them in front of the youth and from then on they only wanted to hear positive remarks about how fun the trip was going to be, etc. I didn’t attend the activity and they didn’t include a motorized boat. Thankfully, no emergency happened, but I’ve never forgotten that moment.
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There is no emergency the power of the priesthood can’t handle. (<sarcasm) I'm sure they exercised faith so that no emergency happened, kind of like the hand cart company. Besides, women are so much more spiritual than men that I'm sure the protective angels attended. (Sorry, I'm on a roll with this one.) I'm happy the girls got to go canoeing. I really am. But oddly, I feel a sense of gratitude for it, and I shouldn't feel that. It should be the norm.
I'm disheartened to hear how your concerns for safety were recast as refusal to sustain leaders. That was a cheap power ploy. Really cheap. And a tactic to shut you up.
Thanks for telling your story.
This is outrageous and makes me heartsick! I have two stories that are similar but smaller. I live in the Midwest. Our ward decided to pay to take all the YM to Utah to attend General Conference. The YW were justifiably envious and asked if they could go too. The YW were told no because the primary reason the YM were going was so they could attend the priesthood session. The YW were promised they would get to go next year. Guess what? It’s been 3 1/2 years and there have been no trips planned for the YW to go to Utah to attend conference. Story two: Our Stake has annual Faith in God events for the 8-11 year olds. The boys get to go to a local lake and fish, play games, canoe, barbecue, etc. The girls go to the stake center in church dress and have etiquette lessons followed by a “luncheon” in the cultural hall. I tried for 5 years via my husband to get them to alternate boys/girls going to the lake and learning etiquette. Finally (long after my kids were too old) someone in the stake listened to my husband and they switched it this year! Progress!
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Let me guess. The boys complained loudly about etiquette lessons and will never have to do them again. I’d put money on it.
I’ve never liked our emphasis on etiquette because it a) its not interesting to teenagers who are probably harped on at home about politeness, and b) its just another way to insist on conformity to social norms that are outdated. Hmmmm.
But if the stake is going to torture the girls with etiquette lessons, yep, they should torture the boys. The girls are keepers of the social AND sexual “norms” in our culture.
I’m glad to hear there was a change that gave some relief to the girls. Please overlook my general dislike for etiquette lessons, even when food is involved. (Can we have an etiquette lesson about the right way to eat an Orea? lol). Thanks for dropping us your story
I was verbally abused by my bishop from the age of 10 to 18. I knew there was no one I could complain to. Who would believe a teenage girl over a Mormon bishop? This is one of the reasons I haven’t set foot in a church service in 30 years. I have too much respect for myself to allow myself to be treated like a second class human being.
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Heartbreaking. Closed doors never protect our girls. The assumption men at church are wise, noble, and caring can’t protect our girls. This is part of the reason we need to empower our female leaders. Just part.
Thank you for sharing your story. Dang.
I’ll tell one of my more benign tales, but it illustrates the point.
When a new bishop was called to our ward, I had just been to another ward in the stake and saw their ward newsletter. It was so well done and I loved it! It brought back memories for me of when I was a kid and helping my mom collate the ward newsletter. I am a writer and I thought how much I would love to head up a newsletter for our ward. So I wrote up a very creative and detailed proposal of creating a ward newsletter and submitted it to our new bishop. Weeks went by. No answer.
So, finally, I approached him and asked him if he had read my proposal and could we give it a go. He very kindly, yet, in a vague and disinterested way told me that our ward just didn’t need that kind of thing. I was disappointed, to say the least. But meekly accepted his answer and walked out.
About 3 years later, right after Christmas, the same Bishop called me into his office asked me to do a ward yearbook that could be passed out to each family in the ward as a Christmas gift. Of course, I thought that this was a very fun idea and I certainly was the right person to pull it off. And many of my ideas for the ward newsletter could be incorporated into the ward yearbook. I accepted the challenge and then said to the Bishop: “You know, this was basically my idea for a ward newsletter when you first became Bishop. And you said that you didn’t think that our ward needed it. What has changed?”
The Bishop looked me right in the eye and said, “I wasn’t listening then. I’m listening now.”
This Bishop was a good and gentle man, who I pretty much trusted (as opposed to the bishops both before him and after him.) And I got to do my community building in the ward via the written word. But I was not able to follow my own vision in my own time and be proactive, I had to wait until the man in authority got the vision in his time and gave me PERMISSION.
Women are soooo f***ed over in this system, so completely disempowered, it’s a travesty.
That’s frustrating. It reminds me of all the times I have (or have seen other female leaders) speak to their bishops about their own inspiration, only to have it trumped. This goes on all the time regarding callings. A woman offers a name for a calling, but someone else is called without her even knowing its going to happen. Didn’t the bishop raise his hand to sustain her? Sure, I get that there may be somethings an auxiliary leader doesn’t know about that *could make the calling not possible, but the problem isn’t so much that woman’s inspiration isn’t taken seriously and followed (and that’s a problem). Its that its dismissed without comment, its that its always beneath the “inspiration” of the man over her. Don’t they realize how this undermines a woman’s spiritual health and confidence? So frustrating. Its like we aren’t the sheep that need feeding.
To be fair, though, I’ve seen this happen to men who lead organizations. But I don’t think its a detrimental to the men because they get their turn to have the power.
And it probably doesn’t happen as consistently or across the board to men as it does to women. For the women, being dismissed without comment is the norm. For men, it’s not.
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One more story?
The ward needed a Christmas program. I had written one for my previous ward. I felt divinely inspired as I wrote it. It was fresh, new, innovative, creative, moving (as described by the members of my previous ward). So I gave a copy of my Christmas program to our current Bishop for “approval” (not the same bishop in the previous story) Again, the bishop did not have the decency to give me an answer, I had to pursue him to get the answer. I caught him in the hallway as he was locking his office. He moved quickly as we talked and I had to rush to keep up with him and maintain eye contact.
He didn’t like my Christmas program. It gave him the shivers. Like, when I said that when we retell the Christmas story each year of Mary conceiving and awaiting the birth of her child, we join her and feel that anticipation with her each year. We, as a people, are pregnant and awaiting the birth of Christ Child each Christmas morning.
YUCK! He said, That was ICKY! And he scrunched his nose and shook his shoulders in a shiver to demonstrate his point.
And it was over. No question, discussion. Nothing. This one man in authority thought that that was ICKY, and my offering was dead.
Again…… women. do. not. matter. in this church. When the man says no, it’s over, no matter what any woman believes, thinks, feels, has been inspired to….
We are dismissed, invisible, inconsequential, disposable, replaceable. In fact, I don’t think we should even be called sisters anymore. It’s a more apt description to refer to us as “the f***ed overs.”
BTW: Postscript to the story: this lovely wolf-bishop in sheep’s clothing is now an area seventy.
Yep. Its not helpful for a man’s humility to be told, when he’s in a power position, he speaks for God. Nor is it healthy for any of us under the man who thinks his opinion is God’s.
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That story about the YW’s activity being denied makes me really mad. The bishop was definitely treating the YM as if they were more important than the YW. I’m assuming that bishop didn’t have any daughters. If he did, he would have treated the YW better, I think. When I was in YW, I always felt like the YM got to do all the cool stuff and I often complained about it to my parents. My brother got to go on camping trips several times a year, but the YW only got to go once a year. I felt like my brother had so many more opportunities and this made me angry.
I got lucky with one YSA Bishop I had. He believed 100% that you can’t ignore half the ward, and women led multiple committees with the male counterparts being called as the co-chair. I was called as the service committee chair (we organized service activities for the ward in the community and encouraged service between ward members) and got to see the inner workings of his ward councils every Sunday. Let me say that again. I attended ward council every single Sunday. For almost a year. Talk about a Bishop who gets it!
I recently moved out of that ward and across the country. New calling in the new ward puts me as a trio in charge of the activities committee (I’m a co-chair). I’m the only female in the trio, but someone had to be the odd man, right? Well, both men (the chair and the other co-chair) are invited to ward council every other week. But when I asked if I should be attending, I was told I didn’t need to worry about it.
And then there was the memorable 5th Sunday lesson on the law of chastity. Our ward pulls from 4 stakes, and I know 3 of the stake presidencies heard about that (considering my dad is in one of those presidencies and HE was shocked by how the lesson went) and I’m fairly certain the 4th heard as well.
This bishopric needs to do some reading.
You Ordain Women crowd spend an inordinate amount of time creating fake social media groups and profiles and crafting these ridiculous stories and metrics that you then just keep repeating in your echo chamber, hoping the SLTrib will pick it up. You people are so transparent.
Thanks for writting this