Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the publication.
Last Friday you stood before a large gathering of women who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an open forum, taking questions from the attendees. One of the questions asked was about male church leaders “who seem a little dismissive.” You began your answer with a very compelling story of your own experience being dismissed by a male church leader, to the point that you would walk out of meeting with him “seething.” Sadly your experience is very common. You then went on to describe how you learned to work with this brother through prayer and understanding that this was his style and personality and adjusted your communication accordingly and that we as women need to look inside themselves for the solution. That’s great!
However, in describing women, you stated, “We women tend to be shrill or demanding or stubborn, thinking we have the best idea ever, and if they don’t see it our way, clearly there’s a problem here,” at which point many in the audience were laughing. I was not. I was cringing. I cringed for the inaccurate portrayal of women as being shrill and demanding. I do not perceive you to be shrill and demanding, yet here you, our Relief Society leader, stood in front of a large audience of women reinforcing a negative stereotype of women, one not only heard by the women in the audience but by the men listening as well, further justifying behavior that is dismissive of women.
Growing up, I heard my mother often complain of being in meetings where one particular male church leaders was dismissive of her. Never was she shrill or demanding. I have sat in my share of meetings, and on occasion had a male church leader be dismissive of me. Never was I shrill or demanding. Other women I have seen in meetings have never been shrill or demanding. To the contrary, my mother, myself and other women all sit, quietly seething inside.
We as sisters in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not taught to be shrill or demanding. To the contrary we are the peace keepers. We are taught not to challenge. We are taught not to confront. We are taught to obey our priesthood leaders. We are taught to sit quietly and endure.
Certainly, your advice to pray for understanding is wise counsel. It is always good to self-evaluate and see what we may have contributed that can be corrected. But change must come from both sisters and male church leaders. If we leave the responsibility for change in communication, perception, and style to the sisters along, then we are being dismissive of our own feelings. Two wrongs do not make a right.
Dismissive behavior reflects a lack of basic respect. Respect that everyone has something to contribute. Even if you don’t agree with an idea or a possession you can actively listen, understand and validate. Quite often it’s not about being right, it about being heard. How often as mothers, sisters, daughters and especially wives, do we listen to hear, not always to agree, but to acknowledges the value in others? What does Heavenly Father think when he sees a sister being dismissed by a male church leader? Does he fine fault with the sister or the male leader?
Should not all male church leaders be asking, “Am I treating all sisters in my life as a daughter of God? Do I respect all sisters? Do I listen to understand?”
Meanwhile we as sisters should not sit silently and seethe when we have been dismissed by a male church leader. We should not alter our behavior to conform to the misgiving of another. Sometimes a gentle rebuke from a sister to a male church leader is necessary. If done in prayer it can be given in love. We should feel free to kindly and lovingly point out behavior and conduct that is dismissive of our roles as daughters of God. Doing so is not being stubborn or shrill – it is standing our ground by being compassionate and confident.