We’ve explored some of the answers members have posted on the mormon.org site in the church’s new profiles campaign. So far, we’ve discussed member answers to questions about polygamy, women& the priesthood, and politics. Today, let’s see what members had to say about gender roles.
Here’s the “FAQ:” What is the role of the husband and the wife in the family? I have a few initial concerns with this:
- Is this really a frequently asked question? It seems to me that it’s something we apparently want to tell people, but it’s not necessarily the sort of thing anyone would ask us. Isn’t it kind of like asking your boss what the company you work for does?
- Why is this question listed in the “women” section of the FAQs? It’s ostensibly about the role of husbands (last I checked, men) as well as wives. Of course, there is no section for “men.” Hmmm.
The fact that this question exists is already questionable logic, IMO. With that in mind, let’s proceed. Again, the “official” answer is perhaps the least problematic (below, an excerpt), although it does link to the PoF (which I state below I find potentially problematic):
Both mother and father have a necessary and important role in the lives of their children. Parents’ work in the home will be more effective if their first priorities are God, each other, and their children.
A home that is safe, where children can grow mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, requires faith and the best efforts of the parents working together.
Answers I liked:
- Equality. Those that focused on equality in parenting with no role-prescriptive caveats. Most of the answers did this.
- Responsibility. Those that talked about what parents’ duties are with regard to their children. Many examples somehow lost the children in describing the role of parents.
- “We are here to build self worth in our families. We teach our children to be kind, loving, charitable, helpful, honest and clean. We teach them to follow the example Jesus Christ has given us.” I really liked this one, also because this was the entire answer; nothing even potentially offensive or sexist.
- “To turn out children into the world who are capable, responsible, and morally inspired people. It is a joint effort.” I love this one. And it’s the entire answer.
- Keeping it real. Props to those who used personal examples to show their personal commitment to their very real marriages.
- “My husband and I own a business together, so we share family and work responsibilities more than many Mormon couples. Because we have the same goals at home, we work together to make that happen.” This is really the heart of the division of labor argument; the comment about goals was perfect, IMO.
- “Individual circumstances sometimes require us to support and balance out our spouse in different ways. Husbands and wives work as a team. Sometimes my husband does the vacumning AND the laundry. A husband’s role as father goes beyond just providing, protecting, and presiding. They also play, discipline, change diapers, and do housework. A wife’s main role is to nurture. She cannot nurture other’s without personal nourishment. Her role may also extend to helping her husband provide for the family.” I like that this contains personal examples and doesn’t exempt either spouse from anything that would have been considered traditionally the purview of the other spouse in a typical episode of Mad Men.
- “But my wife is my greatest friend and companion. Knowing that I have been married to my wife not only “till death do you part” but for “time and all eternity” really makes a huge difference in how we treat each other and how we work through arguments. (yes we still have arguments from time to time… but knowing what this life is all about really helps us be as one more often than not).” There’s some tenderness in this one that I like.
- “I feel that spending quality and quantity time with our children is the most wonderful gift I can give to them. They are teenagers now. They are bright, talented, respectful, goal-oriented and fun to be around. They each have a fantastic sense of humor. Though they argue and annoy each other from time to time, at the end of the day they still love each other.” Aside from a little Lake Woebegone effect, this is a nice heart-warming picture of a Mormon family.
- “To me the most important role of a wife in the family is to love her husband, and my husband’s role is to love me. We work at that. We take care of each other, are kind to each other, are gentle with criticism or correction if it’s needed, and try not to take offense. I think that the best thing that parents can give their children is a strong and happy marriage. This doesn’t just happen, it takes commitment and a long-term vision, because life is hard and none of us are perfect at it. This perspective has seen me through short-term problems that otherwise could have ruined my marriage.” I like this person’s focus on how happy marriages make for happy families.
- Humorous. I’ll give extra credit to those who gave a tongue in cheek response to this silly, silly question. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any answers like this.
- SAHMs by Choice. Women have to own their choices. Even though I’m not a SAHM, those who point out they are SAHMs who also add the caveat that it’s by choice win extra points in my book.
- “My wife has chosen to stay at home and be with the children. This was the choice that she wanted and she is glad to do it.” This is a nice contrast to those that say what women (in general) “ought to” be doing, as if personal choice is irrelevant. When we act on shoulds and oughts and don’t own our choices, we will inevitably experience regret later.
Answers that gave me mixed feelings:
- Equality + Role Prescription. Those that mentioned equality, but also prescribed what men & women should be doing (e.g. women nurture & teach, men protect & provide). I don’t strongly object to these, but they just feel a little too specific, and as I said, the entire question is one that no one outside the church would ever ask us to answer, so these PoF-centric answers point to the “hidden agenda.” Equal but different, as we learned with civil rights, is not really equal. The majority of answers fit this description.
- “They work together as equal partners, neither above the other in the marriage. We believe the role of the husband is to provide for, to preside over, and to protect the family. The wife is to nurture her children in love and righteousness.” ‘Nuff said.
- “Preside.” Even when coupled with “equal decision making,” the word “preside” jangles (to me) and points to a “hidden agenda.” To anyone outside the church it will sound like a throwback to “Leave it to Beaver,” and the word “preside” is nearly impossible to understand. It makes me a little embarrassed for us.
- “In all cases, husbands preside over the family. What this means is that they stand in for the Jesus Christ: their weighty responsibility is to direct the family as they feel He would if He were there.” The WWJD religious twist is interesting here. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that “husband = Christ” idea before, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. So, the husband is the only one who needs to be Christ-like? And he interprets that for everyone else?
- “The husband’s primary responsibility are to earn a living for the family, call the family to prayer and scriptural study, and preside over them in righteousness.” Funny thing is, if those are all the examples of what “preside” means, it’s not exactly a great deal of power. Why not use a more neutral term like administrative sperm donor? (absolutely just kidding on that one!)
- “The father is the patriarch and head of the household, but husband and wife should be equally yoked. They should make decisions together in love and kindness. Nothing should be handled in a dictatorial manner.” The word patriarch is loaded for bear, and without all the caveats we attach to it will be a red flag to non-members who aren’t sexist.
- “The husband presides, but does not dominate. They should act as equal partners, but as I indicated by the word “preside”, in God’s eyes, he is the first level of accountability in what happens in the family.” Apparently, the buck stops there! Wait, wasn’t Adam the quintessential buck-passer?
- PoF link or quote. It’s not terrible, but there are aspects of the PoF that would be misinterpreted or easily misunderstood (for example, the word “presides”) and/or offensive to people. Role prescription, even when followed by an “individual circumstances may vary” caveat can still create problems. There’s a (sometimes hard to distinguish) difference between what is timeless and what is outdated.
- Ideal vs. Pragmatic. Those comments that indicate how “blessed” or “lucky” someone is for having a traditional SAHM/working dad construct. Not outright appalling, but also not a personal favorite. I know there was some unhappiness in the b’nacle from SAHMs because they felt that the campaign highlighted career women rather than SAHMs. My view is that variation should be represented without elevating one above another; what’s ideal to one marriage is untenable to another. Can’t we just get along without being so judgmental?
- “I am lucky. My husband is able to provide a good living for our family and I am able to stay at home with our children. I know this is not always a possibility, but I am grateful for my situation. I feel strongly that traditional gender roles create greater contentment and success in family life.” It feels a bit like scolding those whose circumstances or choices differ.
- “It varies from family to family, but basically if there are kids mom should be home with them if circumstances allow it.” The use of the word “should” is always suspect.
Answers I did not like:
- (Unintentional) Sexism. Even in attempting humor or light-heartedness, some of these answers came off tone-deaf to me.
- “My wife’s role is to be perfect, which she does easily. Mine is to appreciate that.” Actually I’m not sure if this is sexist. It just makes relatively no sense.
- “When people find out I’m Mormon, they automatically think I’m oppressed and considered to be beneath my husband. This is not true what so ever. Right now, because we don’t have any children yet, it is both our responsibilities to work hard and create a home. As I stated earlier, I am in school, working torwards a degree and my husband is the one who talked me into it telling me how important it was. Just because I plan on being a stay at home mom, doesn’t mean I don’t need an education. When the time comes, and we are blessed with children, my husbands (polyandry, anyone?) plans on working and will be the bread winner and I will stay home and be with our children as they grow.” A few things: 1) if everyone else equates Mormonism with female oppression (which I question) then stating it makes everything you say afterward sound defensive, 2) the husband convincing the wife to get a degree as evidence of his not being oppressive is also (unintentionally) evidence of the wife being incapable of making this decision for herself, 3) I’m not sure anyone under age 65 uses the term “bread winner” any more, and 4) grammatical errors undermine credibility (“whatsoever” is one word, not three; “husbands” should say “husband”; “breadwinner” is one word, not two).
- “The role of the husband is to honor his priesthood, provide for his family and protect them. The role of the wife is to nurture the family. She should also encourage her husband to honor his priesthood.” Why is it OK to describe wives as cheerleaders to their husbands, but we never say that husbands should encourage their wives to nurture? It just seems a little weird to say it one way but never the other. To suggest men encourage their wives to be nurturing also sounds tone-deaf unless one is married to Susan Smith, in which case maybe it’s a fool’s errand anyway.
- “This does not mean he “rules” over his family, but that he is the one who is ultimately responsible for his family.” Whew! I guess I’m off the hook then.
- Unintentionally Humorous. Sometimes the mistakes people make in writing these up are just funny.
- “Right now my husband is going to school and I am working and we are both caring for our Son.” They are raising Jesus? Otherwise, why is their son capitalized?
- “Husbands and wife work together in a harmonious manor.” Like an English estate? Are there servants? Pip, pip, cheerio!
- One answer is basically an entire General Conference talk (including a poem, scriptures, and quotes from church leaders), defending the PoF against supposed claims that the church teaches that women should be barefoot and pregnant. Aside from sounding a bit defensive, it’s about two thousand words too long.
What I might have said in answer to the question:
- I probably would not answer this question because it’s such a stupid question.
- Parents jointly bear the responsibility for the children in their care, to raise self-reliant and well-adjusted adults.
- Couples need to be flexible in how they approach their family’s needs as every family’s needs differ.
- Maybe I would share a personal example of how we both nurture the kids, we both manage careers, and we want to raise kids who enjoy pitching in to help, even though they manage to argue their way out of chores every week and still earn an extravagant allowance.
I’m not sure saying anything else is really warranted in my opinion – and even that much is sort of obvious, isn’t it? What would you say? Did you like or dislike the answers on the site? Discuss.