Friday, September 27, 2013

A Personal Note on Feminism

The word feminism, like the word love, should never be used unless its meaning is clear. There is just too much confusion, and too many opposing meanings, otherwise. Not unlike the word love, which can mean the highest of divine attributes or the meanest of mortal depravities, the word feminism confronts the world with an equal mixture of motives and mores.

I hesitate to write on a subject that will probably be misunderstood and possibly resented. But I believe that my understanding of the subject as a biologist provides a perspective that may be helpful to someone confused about some very basic points of human nature.

To begin with, mortality is a Darwinian reality. I’m not asking anyone to agree with or disagree with many of the tenets of evolutionary biology. But I do take it as a given fact that there is a struggle to survive that applies not just to beasts but to humans as well. It may seem crude to insist on the survival of the fittest and on the fact that some of us are more gifted than others. But in reality some individuals will (and do) out-compete their fellows for the goods of this earth.

Part of this reality includes inherent differences between men and women. I don’t mean to argue about the relative capabilities of men and women in the workplace. I find much of this tedious. But there is little room to doubt that of the two sexes, men are stronger and more competitive as a group and on average.

Argue if you wish about the biological meaning of this inequality and of its fairness in the modern world. The end result is the same. Whether on a stone-age deer hunt, or in a modern corporate office, men will use their advantages to promote themselves and their Darwinian fitness. Women will lose most of these battles, especially if they try and engage them with masculine pretensions.

Natural feminine leadership builds on the natural strengths of women. They are different than the natural strengths of men, although there are often many areas of overlap. The greatest goods of human life are the purview of these feminine gifts. I mean, of course, the blessings of hearth and home.

From a religious standpoint, men are just as guilty as women in neglecting this truth. If it is a virtue for a mother to stay at home with her growing children, it is also a virtue for a father to spend as much time in the home as is appropriate. Neal A. Maxwell was clear that the warning of Jacob Chapter 4 (verse 14) – that men will fall if they look “beyond the mark” – refers to those who do not make the gospel a focus in their families. This applies to men and women alike.

We will look in vain if we try to find a Christian justification for corporate competitiveness. And sadly, much of the disquiet over the leadership roles of women in the church likewise follows this very mortal preoccupation with misplaced power. Women, thinking they will only be happy if they get part of this power, neglect their quieter natural leadership – the leadership of nurturing – and in so doing often mortgage their own opportunities for personal happiness.

The Latter-day Saint position on the eternal nature of feminine leadership is not clear, but it might be imagined. And I think it is very real and very pertinent to the modern Latter-day Saint angst over a male-dominated church hierarchy.

We don’t know what sort of leadership or priesthood our Mother in Heaven holds. But we can imagine that it is significant. It may very well be comparable to that of our Heavenly Father. It may be even greater. I suspect that the nurturing gifts of mortal women are a clue to what it is like. But think about what this means.

In an eternal world, where we no longer live by Darwinian laws and where Celestial beings are filled with the love of God, would not feminine leadership be valued more than it is here and now?

And would it not be a great mistake, then, to confuse the power of a fallen world with eternal opportunities? I say this for the benefit of men and women alike. If a man feels the need to express his masculinity in an ersatz form of domestic leadership, he is in for a rude awakening I suspect – when he awakens in the eternal world to realize that feminine virtues are no longer the condescending palliatives offered to the weak and disadvantaged. Feminine virtues will in all likelihood perfuse eternal Celestial lives for everyone.

Darwinism is a passing phase. Families and the nature of men and women are eternal. Of course we should seek to establish justice and rectify inequality. Of course the women of the world need a great deal more care. But this will never be done properly in a world were Darwinian selfishness governs our everyday lives.

Mortality was never designed as a place for women to exercise masculine leadership. In this world the only way to properly appreciate and reward women is to understand their eternal place in God’s family. If we are to hope for an equitable world right now, it will only happen if we keep this perspective.


For Elder Maxwell’s argument about Jacob Chapter 4, see That My Family Should Partake (page 7).

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