THE QUORUM: SQ staff recently engaged in conversation about the proverbial pedestal in Mormon culture. Here are a few highlights. We value your thoughts.
DEBORAH: Let me play devil’s advocate. We say we’re put on a pedestal and silenced, but our leaders have said they need our voices. Women speak up in the classroom and various leadership meetings. How can we say we’re still silenced and on a pedestal?
HILDEGARD: A woman’s voice is welcome as long as it confirms the establishment, or status quo. If it doesn’t, it’s leadership roulette and what you say might get you tossed right off the pedestal. Because you didn’t put yourself there. They did. Since it’s externally dictated, the power and control reside externally.
PILAR: Exactly. So you’re assigned to teach a class? Sure, you are. The topic is assigned by men. The lesson concepts and ideas are thought of by men. They ask you to echo their voices. That’s why we have correlation. That’s not really your voice, is it? That’s them using women to be their amplifiers. To be their echo. To be their enforcements.
You sit in ward council? Do you get to make decisions? Do you get to overrule the men? If a tree falls in a forest, does anyone outside the forest know it made a sound? Not unless the Tree Bishop hears, agrees, and spreads the word. How often does that happen?
Then there’s the issue that, if perchance a bishop does listen and also agrees and implements changes based your input, he still generally gets the credit.
Maybe a few women have found a way to slide down off the pedestal and are heard and respected through action. But those women are given that slide by a man. It isn’t her property. It’s a traveling slide that the man carries. The women he associates with may use it for as long as he provides it, but the moment he leaves, she’s put right back on that pedestal.
I don’t think most people I go to church with understand how soul sucking it can feel when pretty much everything from women is just a man’s mimicked ideas passing through a woman’s body. It feels so hollow.
DEBORAH: I think some Mormon feminists accept the pedestal idea because we feel it, but how do we explain how it works to women who don’t feel pedestaled? Or to men? What is the limiting mechanism of the pedestal?
MIRIAM: The mechanism is the way that women in the church are excluded from the core leadership. So sure, you get to have a voice in limited ways, but you don’t sit behind that desk in worthiness interviews, or sit and deliberate on disciplinary councils, or seek revelation on the ward/stake/church-wide level. You may have your spheres of stewardship, but men never answer to you.
DEBORAH: Men are responsible for you, but never to you.
MIRIAM: Yes. Furthermore, the core leadership never ever ever has firsthand experience in the roles that women exclusively have. Thus, the core leaders always suffer from that knowledge gap and, consequently, so does the entire church.
DEBORAH: That’s a brilliant point—that the men who preside over us have never been in our callings. There’s no bishop who’s ever been a Relief Society, Young Women’s, or Primary president. I never really thought that through. We just assume that whatever the men are doing is either the equivalent of what we do or better. We act as if being an Elders Quorum president makes it clear what a Relief Society president does, etc. They get to watch us and then assume leadership over us because, in our system, men watching us is an equivalent of being us. But us watching them never results in something similar. It just isn’t done.
LEAH: Honestly, I don’t relate to the pedestal thing. I haven’t been treated kindly by men. They ignored me or mistreated me; I was supposed to invisibly serve, and, once my flawed servitude put me on their radar, they were upset at the way I’d disrupted their world full of visible men and invisible women.
I guess a pedestal might be the place where women are put the way I put my kids at their play kitchen so I can get the real work done in the adult kitchen. The pedestal is the play-church where women get to have little toy pieces of authority and pretend they’re in charge while men are doing the decision-making around them.
I think that “pedestal” doesn’t really work here, because that makes it look like men have put women someplace to be protected and admired, and that doesn’t happen. It’s not like that. I don’t think it’s a great visual metaphor, and it doesn’t make emotional sense to many women in the church because—and I know I can speak only for myself—most women have been busting their ass all their lives to be treated half so well as a pedestal implies.
The one thing I see that makes sense regarding the pedestal as a metaphor would be how Mormon men say things like, “Women are inherently more spiritual and emotionally knowledgeable than men are,” but that’s done to justify their own misbehavior. It’s never used to rationalize giving women more authority.
Rather it’s used to give women less. Oh, you women are so Christlike, you’ll totally understand when we don’t let you make the call here. You can just go cry to God about it because you’re so extra SPIRICHILL!
The only pedestal I’ve been put on is the homeschooling one. And bread-baking, and sewing, and giving birth to tons of kids. I’d often be introduced to Mormon women with “THIS IS THE ONE who’s homeschooling all her kids and who makes good bread.” It gave people a preconception of me that isn’t true.
I wonder if that meant people were harder on me when I wasn’t what they thought I was. Pedestals set people up for a horrible fall from grace. The standards are inhumanly high, and you’re punished for being a regular person.
LAURA: I want to talk about the dehumanizing aspect of pedestal. I think there’s no place we see this dehumanization more than with procreating. When a woman has sex, it has to be in a proper context so that she doesn’t accidentally get pregnant. When she does get intentionally pregnant in the right context, we celebrate. We throw a party. Some people in some places do things like giving up their seat on a bus.
As soon as she’s given birth, it can feel like she’s dropped like a hot rock. The support often vanishes. And most women still aren’t empowered to talk about mental health or say they hate mothering their kids, or whatever.
We literally only care about her well-being as long as she’s up on that pedestal behaving like the Perfect Mother. Motherhood is a role that exalts and objectifies her.
HILDEGARD: I think that’s a huge point. It’s about us becoming cogs in the machinery, rather than individuals with personalities and unique strengths/weaknesses/needs. Prior to becoming that cog, we’re allowed a bit more variation; but once we assume a role, we’re just that role/cog.
LAURA: It’s not just in the church either. A friend of mine has a very difficult child who is HARD on her. She’s confessed sometimes she doesn’t like this child, that she doesn’t like to parent this young human, and expressed how ashamed she is to feel that way. She’s not allowed to have human feelings because of the pedestal of Motherhood.
And in Mormon culture, where motherhood is the highest calling ever… How do you say, “I don’t want the highest honor you can offer me”? It’s an offer for chains of gold.
PILAR: I think the biggest pitfall of the pedestal is being ignored. Being put on a pedestal means you’re never really listened to. Nobody takes your ideas seriously. Nobody considers your feelings. You are now an object to be worshiped. Your own feelings on whether or not you want to even be worshiped are irrelevant. You don’t get a say in how you are worshiped. What is best cannot be decided by an object.
DEBORAH: What you just said… It’s strikes me that the Mormon God is on a pedestal exactly like you describe. What does that say about us?
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