HILDEGARD: We all have days when one. more. demand. could be the straw that breaks us. Being needed is good, even necessary to our well-being and community; but being needed can easily cross the line into too much of a good thing.
Demands come from our families, friends, schools, communities, and places of employment; and if you’re LDS, infusing all of these is a constant, compounding need from the church.
A few years ago in a talk titled, “A Plea to My Sisters,” President Russell M. Nelson called specifically on women, saying, “We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices.”
That quote is shared widely to and among women, always intended as inspiration. If a woman feels underutilized at church, then it’s, “Remember, you’re needed!” If a woman feels overwhelmed by the multiplicity of demands she’s expected to meet with a gracious smile, then it’s supposedly reassuring, because if the man who’s now the President of the church said it over the pulpit, that must mean God will help you meet all those demands, if you just have enough faith.
Aside from the sheer exhaustion of meeting queued-up demands, I don’t find “need” to be the highest or best possible reason for keeping someone around. Here’s why: The Merriam-Webster definition of need is, “a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism.”
Being needed is not a compliment. It’s a utilitarian statement. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re appreciated. It doesn’t necessarily follow that we’re loved. It could mean that we’re tolerated and employed out of expediency.
And somehow, that last possibility finds a bruised spot in my soul. Women are engaged all over the church, but primarily as support staff. President Nelson claims that women’s wisdom is needed, but when have women been consulted–let alone full-voiced participants in the process–during major policy changes that undoubtedly affected the women in their stewardship?
What would women’s strength and wisdom look like in action? In leadership? We don’t really know. By rule, women are always superseded in institutional authority by at least one man or group of men; women’s decisions are always subject to men’s revision, and that means women must anticipate men’s responses. I think the cultural habit of equating “Priesthood” with “Men” contributes to complacency about this lack of parity, despite then-Elder Oaks’s instruction from a few years ago to eliminate that problematic verbiage. This is not women leading.
Moreover, there’s the problem of multiplied demands outright depleting women’s resources. We pay lip service to replenishing our own wells, but the individuals held up as examples for us to emulate are usually those who forget their own needs. (See if this article on indulgent suffering sounds familiar.)
For example, the late President Hinckley experienced a discouraging time on his mission and sought counsel from his father, who responded, “Forget yourself and go to work.” While that may be wonderful advice for a young adult male missionary, now it’s frequently applied to women. And outside its original context, it’s yet another lance to the hearts of women struggling under the weight of all the ways we’re needed.
Women are needed far too much and nourished far too little.
Women are praised as “angels” by President Nelson and so many others; must we be immortal to be good? If so, I’m afraid all of us are out of luck; women are just as mortal as men. We can’t meet others’ needs when our own resources are depleted, siphoned off into the vortex of endless need around us.
And sometimes it seems like the church may not know exactly how to meet our needs–or even what they are.
The Relief Society’s recent refocusing of the Visiting Teaching program could be the best evidence that the women in LDS leadership are trying to address women’s needs–or rather, to help women do that for each other. The sisterhood forged by individual ministering can truly change lives and nourish hearts, and I’m absolutely thrilled.
We need to see similar awareness and action at a broader institutional level.
We need to hear–sincerely–that we are useful and worthwhile individuals, outside of potential for marriage and motherhood. We need genuine encouragement for personal development, not contingency-plan encouragement “in case we don’t get married.”
We need our husbands, if we are married–and we need them home, not buried in administrative meetings that flatter their egos but drain their energy and keep them from participating as equal partners in parenting.
We need our children to hear reinforcement of the teaching that they are loved.
We need support instead of suppression, whether it’s coming from men or women.
We need to hear in lessons and in conversations that it’s okay to have feelings that may be described with adjectives other than, “devout,” “happy,” or “tranquil.” This is more likely to happen if we hear more from people who can relate to us and our lives–which probably means we need to hear more from women themselves.
And we need to stop hearing anything related to modesty. That word has been twisted and weaponized for too long. We need your trust, not your micromanagement.
So President Nelson, you’re absolutely right that we are powerful. But mortal women are not perpetual generators for the convenience of men and mortal institutions, however inspired. In order to continue providing for those around us, (and yes, I just transgressed the Family Proclamation‘s gender role boundaries), our own needs must be acknowledged and addressed.
You say you need us. Surely it’s not just to make babies and launder the white shirts of your Priesthood uniforms.
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