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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Guest Post: Is Mitt Romney a Closet Male Chauvinist? How Do Mormon Men Really View Women?

This column was posted yesterday on Joanna's Ask Mormon Girl. She asked if we wanted to re-post it in full on Modern Mormon Men so she could hear what our readership has to say on the subject. We're eager to see what you think!

Joanna Brooks is a national voice on Mormon life and politics and an award-winning scholar of religion and American culture. The author of The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith, she is a senior correspondent for the on-line magazine and has been named one of 50 Politicos to Watch by A twenty-year veteran of the Mormon feminist movement, she was the subject of an extensive profile: Crossing the Plains and Kicking up Dirt: A New Mormon Pioneer and of the acclaimed American Public Media show On Being’s Mormon Demystified show.

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

I was reading an article about Romney and Mormon feminism, and it struck me that even though Romney stuck up somewhat for the Mormon feminist publication Exponent II in 1980s – 1990s Boston, he still behaved like a Mormon man “keeping control” over the women in his ward (not sure how else to word it). Then, when he was governor of Massachusetts, I’ve read that he had a female lieutenant governor and his cabinet was almost 50% female (and they weren’t concentrated in “feminine” offices).

I guess I’m just confused by the “cognitive leap” that powerful Mormon men make between their views of women’s roles in the Church and the reality of women’s roles outside the Church. I’m tempted to see these men secretly thinking that in a “perfect world,” all women would be at home raising kids while they’re husbands are running the world — and if these men gained enough power, they’d try to shape the world in that direction. Am I wrong — are some Mormon men secretly questioning the Proclamation on the Family?


Dear AP:

I think the question of how Mitt Romney relates to and views the role women in leadership settings is an important one. Given the LDS Church’s conservative political record on gender—including its very public commitment to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment—voters deserve to know how Romney will regard women as constituents and colleagues. I think the Washington Post article you cite did a good job calling attention to the fact that yes, there are Mormon feminists and an ongoing dialogue about gender in Mormon communities, and that Mitt Romney sometimes did a decent job of responding to women’s priorities and concerns and other times was a bit tone-deaf and imperious. (More on the tone-deafness in a minute.)

Are there conservative Mormon men? Heavens, yes. Just the other day, I got a message from a Mitt Romney supporter somewhere in Idaho who personally threatened me with excommunication and ordered me to “Humble yourself, girl.” Sigh. But in my experience, that cartoonish chauvinism, while real, does not reflect the full humanity and complexity of Mormon men.

For there is diversity among Mormon men, even on questions of gender. The LDS Church’s Proclamation on the Family (1995) did present a strict division of gendered responsibilities. It is true that the administrative hierarchy of the LDS Church is all male. Even lower-level church jobs that don’t seem priesthood-specific–Sunday School president and ward clerk, for example—are gender-segregated. There are plenty of Mormon families (especially upper-middle class families) that maintain a traditionally gendered division of labor. Still, most Mormons recognize that the day-to-day lives of Mormon men and women can be far more complicated. My father was raised by a working single mother, and he and my outspoken, headstrong LDS mother raised three strong-minded daughters, each of whom has a successful career. I’ve received mail from LDS women with small children whose husbands encouraged them to go back to school and get their Ph.D.’s, just because it made the women happier and healthier. I’ve gotten kind messages from regular Mormon guys, regular white-shirt-and-tie Elders’ Quorum types, who in their afterhours read widely across the bloggernacle, including robustly gender progressive sites like Feminist Mormon Housewives and By Common Consent. And it’s my observation that younger Mormon men especially are incredible hands-on fathers. In fact, I know some fantastic Mormon stay-at-home dads.

Is there a “cognitive leap” between gender as taught and gender as lived in Mormon communities? Perhaps. But it’s my assessment that many regular Mormon folks intuit that the gender-specific roles we play at church don’t necessarily translate to the public sector, especially where non-Mormons are involved. I expect that Mitt Romney has figured that out. Though word has it he can be tone deaf, sometimes, on the nuances of gender issues–just as the campaign trail has shown him to be a bit, well, tone deaf on the nuances of lots of other stuff as well. (Cadillacs, anyone?)

In fact, it’s my sense that for many Mormon men—especially post-Baby Boomer generations—a “perfect world” is not one where the women are home and the men are running the show. Nope, the “perfect world” is the one where the work is over, the phone has stopped ringing with calls from church responsibilities, the dishes are done, the bills are paid, the kids are asleep, the wife is chilling and smiling, and the Jazz (or fill-in-the-blank, non-Utahns) are winning on t.v. However it all gets done–whether by male or by female–as long as all the work done, that’s perfection for you.

Experience varies widely on this, and we’ve got to hear men’s perspectives. Readers—menfolk especially—do you make a “cognitive leap” between the way gender is talked about at Church and the way you operate in the day-to-day world? Does AP have it right? Do Mormon men really dream of running the world while their wives stay at home? Or are Mormon men more complex human beings than most people assume?

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