Women in the Scriptures : Introduction

In 2005, I researched and wrote about my experience as a young LDS woman in a post-feminist world.  I’m going to post them serially here.

Sister Patricia Holland’s talk, “One Thing Needful: Becoming Women of Greater Faith in Christ” addresses the issue of being an intelligent, faithful and valued mother and woman in a world that simultaneous demands everything of us and oppresses our true natures.  She said,

“[Young Mothers] had . . . many concerns.  They described to me the struggles of trying to raise children in an increasingly difficult world, of never having enough time or means or freedom to feel like a person of value because they were always stretched to the ragged edge of survival.  And there were so few tangible evidences that what they were doing was really going to be successful.  There was no one to give them a raise in pay, and beyond their husbands (who may or may not remember to do it), no one to compliment them on a job well done.  And they were always tired!”

M. Russell Ballard received a letter expressing a similar sentiment:

“I have a wonderful husband and children, whom I love deeply.  I love the Lord and His Church more than I can say.  I know the Church is true!  I realize I shouldn’t feel discouraged about who I am.  Yet I have been going through an identity crisis most of my life.  I have never dared utter these feelings out loud but have hidden them behind the huge, confident smile I wear to church every week.  For years I have doubted if I had any value beyond my roles as a wife and mother.  I have feared that men are that they might have joy, but that women are that they might be overlooked.  I long to feel that I, as a woman, matter to the Lord.”[iii]

Pack Mules

I was having one of those days out digging potatoes in our garden by myself one autumn Saturday morning and my thoughts consumed me–Women are just pack mules! We have no high expectations of ourselves because no one expects more of us than bearing children and taking care of the house and yard.  We are constantly serving and trying to better the lives of those we love– but who is making sure that we are taken care of?  These days can be particularly corrosive to my spirit and attitude; unfortunately, I know that I am not alone in feeling the burden of being under appreciated and overworked.Those thoughts were close to the surface of my emotions and I was still tender when I went to institute the following Tuesday.

The teacher prefaced his lesson with a story:  When he lived in Missouri he was asked to give a fireside to the Stake Relief Society.  This invitation was extended near the time that the RLDS women had received the priesthood; some of the women in that stake were somewhat resentful that they were still not allowed to receive the priesthood as well.  Our teacher spoke in his usual jovial manner and continued his explanation:

“And then they assigned me a topic . . (pausing for emphasis). . Women. . . in. . . the Scriptures.” As if on cue, the class erupted in knowing laughter. “For an hour!” he continued incredulously and the laughter surged again.  He continued in a humorous aside, “I thought, ‘Well, maybe I could go for eight or nine minutes’. . .” More laughter.

But I was not laughing.  For me, this was a perfect example of the burden that I had been feeling the previous Saturday; and I started asking questions.

  • Why aren’t there more women mentioned in the scriptures?
  • If even the righteous men and prophets in history excluded women in their discourses, do women really have value in and of themselves? Or are they simply subject to men?
  • Why DO the men, alone, hold the priesthood?
  • Why have we been socialized to define ourselves as “just a mom” or “just a homemaker”?
  • Why was it such an obvious joke–even to the girls in the class–to be assigned to talk about women in the scriptures?

And finally,

  • How does Heavenly Father feel about women?

I have become very grateful for my teacher’s lesson.  His flippancy motivated me to find answers.

As I have researched the topic of women in the church, I have done so with faith and assurance that there is not a conspiracy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints against women.  The Church glorifies women; righteous men respect and esteem women; Heavenly Father treasures women.  These are the assumptions that I have made going into this work.  In my studying and pondering, I have tried to understand the underlying causes and attitudes that determine how women are treated in society and how that affects the Latter-day Saint’s perspective of women.

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