Introduction to the Survey
In the Spring 2016 issue of SquareTwo, we posed a “Reader’s Puzzle” to our female LDS readership, and created an online poll to receive responses. To perform the analysis, we examined the responses we had received by 13 July 2016. At that time, there were 455 responses. (As we go to press, there are 463 responses.)
For quite some time, women in the Church have noticed that there is a certain awkwardness in naming organizations associated with women and positions held by women in the Church. We wondered if this was the result of a primarily male focus heretofore in the Church, where men named things as they relate to men. However, in the 21st century, we understand the importance of women naming who they are and what they do. This is a healthy development that may well foster the creation of a more truly equal partnership between men and women in the Church. Is it possible that the language we have inherited from previous generations may limit our ability to envision who women are and what power and authority and skills they may have? For example, are we limited in envisioning who the mission’s president’s wife is and what she contributes because we call her “the mission president’s wife”? Are we limited in envisioning the contribution that 14 year old girls could make to the visiting teaching program because they are not called “teachers” as are the 14 year old boys? We were curious what contemporary LDS women would choose as names if the choice were theirs to make.
Those who took the poll were asked to respond to eight questions, and at the end of the poll, space was provided for the respondent to add additional, open-ended comments. The eight questions were:
- The Relief Society, Young Women's, and Primary organizations have been called the "auxiliary" organizations of the Church. That term unfortunately connotes the idea that they are secondary to organizations of much greater importance. In the Great Plan of Happiness, however, we know that what women do is not auxiliary to what men do. The work of men and the work of women both equally contribute to the success of the Plan. So what term would you use in place of "auxiliary" to suggest that equal contribution?
- What term would you use to refer to the female position in the Church currently called "mission president's wife"?
- Do you have suggestions for changing the names of the Young Women age groups that are called "Beehives," "Mia Maids," and "Laurels"?
- In the Young Women theme, would you favor changing the first line to read, "We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents, who love us and we love Them"?
- The highest achievement for Young Women in the Church is currently called the "Young Womanhood Award." (The highest for the Young Men is called the "Duty to God" Award.) Do you have suggestions for changing the name of the YW award?
- Can you think of a term for the "bishop's wife" that would recognize what she does for the ward?
- Do you have any suggestions for changing the name of the female position called "sister training leader" among sister missionaries?
- Would you change the name of the female position called "temple matron"?
Before discussing the rationale for the survey as well as the survey results, some basics about the survey are listed below:
- The poll was opened 30 April 2016 through an online Google Form whose link was provided in the Spring 2016 Reader’s Puzzle online at SquareTwo. Results were analyzed starting on 13 July 2016.
- Dissemination of the link was through the SquareTwo RSS feed, as well as contacts made by SquareTwo board members to friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. SquareTwo can be characterized as both orthodox and centrist, and thus orthodox, centrist viewpoints are probably over-represented compared to non-orthodox and/or extreme viewpoints on either side of the liberal/conservative spectrum. The poll’s results are thus not representative of the entire spectrum of possible viewpoints, but are more representative of the center of that spectrum.
- 98.9% of those attempting to enter the poll self-identified as members of the LDS Church.
- 88.9% of those attempting to enter the poll self-identified as women.
- Those who did not identify as both LDS and as female were exited from the poll. This was because the exercise was one of self-naming; that is, we were specifically interested in the opinions of LDS women concerning how positions/organizations of LDS women should be named. This poll was an opportunity for women to express themselves, since men have had ample opportunity to name women already.
Why this Survey?
In the survey, respondents were asked to consider the language we use to describe specific organizations, designations of responsibility or awards within the Church. Language creates a horizon of possibility, and thus the ability to name oneself confers the power to say for ourselves who we are. To be named by another is, in a sense, to be “acted upon.” Our great forefather Adam did not name Eve; rather, “Eve” had been her name from the foundation of the world. Indeed, it is striking that when Eve was introduced to Adam in the Garden of Eden, God ensured that Adam did not “name” her, but rather that he recognized her true name. This indicates something very deep and unique about the relationship between our first parents--Adam, it seems, would not foist upon Eve some identity he had devised for her in relation to himself, for this would undermine the equality of their partnership. Instead, Adam respected who she already was, as symbolized by his calling her by her true name, “Mother of All Living,” and by Heavenly Father commenting, “That is right.”
If the language we use to name ourselves is that important, then the naming conventions used in the Church bear some scrutiny. In reading the responses to these eight questions, the very nature of the exercise illuminated how much of our language is gendered, how many of our descriptors and titles are qualified with a female identifier when they apply to women. The standard convention used in the Church today is to have the main title implicitly apply to men (i.e. missionary, mission president), with the female version then requiring an addendum to the title with the female nature of the position specified (i.e., sister missionary). In addition, some of the names seem defined from a male-centric view, such as “mission president’s wife,” which identifies the woman only as she is related to a man. The majority of respondents commented on how both of these linguistic conventions seem off-putting.
The first convention, where we specify a female version of a generic position, such as “sister missionary” seem labored, convoluted and often unnecessary, like we are trying especially hard to make sure no one thinks that men and women do the same things in our institution. As one respondent noted, “If you're going to qualify callings with ‘sister’, you must also qualify with ‘brother.’ Consistency is important. Otherwise it's like saying, ‘here's the menu, and here's the kiddie menu.’ Here's the real stuff, and here's the stuff for women. Nope. It's ALL the real stuff. So if you must qualify gender, do it consistently.” In the same vein, one commenter picked up on how the addition of woman to the Priesthood Executive Council at the general church leadership level prompted the addition of a feminine-associated term, “Family,” to the name. ”Why did the Church change the name of the Priesthood Executive Council to the Priesthood and Family Executive Council when a woman was appointed to the committee? Is Priesthood not synonymous with family? Did the committee not care about families until a woman was on the committee? If women have access to all of the blessings of the priesthood then why the name change?” Again, it felt to these commenters that the institutional church was working hard to make sure women are distanced from men, and from men’s priesthood.
The second linguistic convention, where we define a woman in relation to a man, seems to imply a hierarchy between the sexes, where a man is an individual, but a woman exists only in relation to a man. As one respondent put it, “I am especially passionate about changing the way we refer to women who are wives of leadership. ‘The bishop's wife’ or ‘mission president's wife’ makes her whole identity about her relationship to her husband and HIS title. It also uses the possessive, which is necessary without an actual title.” This sentiment extends also to the use of the term “auxiliary” for all women’s organizations, implying they exist only in relation to male-centered organizations. These distinctions feel “off” to a modern ear, due in part to the fact that our Church leaders today routinely emphasize the equal partnership between men and women in our marriages, families and church councils.
The majority of the survey explored respondents’ feelings about specific gendered titles and descriptors, asking for new linguistic suggestions as well as for comments about current ones. We were fascinated to note how many people, despite feeling passionately that the language needs to be changed, couldn’t come up with new words to describe those positions and responsibilities even when they wanted to. It seemed that being so conditioned to let others define them put them at a loss when asked to define themselves. It clearly felt unfamiliar to explore self-definition. One of the themes that emerged from the survey is how many women found the opportunity to name themselves both delightful and daunting. “I’m so glad you are asking this!” and “This is important!” was often accompanied by “I can’t think of an alternative, but I just feel it needs to change!” and “This exercise proved more difficult than I anticipated! I think it is because so much of church language is male centric and male dominated, and there are not often good words that offer similar impact but are female centric, or even gender neutral,” and “This is hard. We need more female words of power,” and “My answers are probably terrible. But please know that I feel the names MUST change! I just don't know what options we have.” We will return to this theme in the conclusion.
In the survey, we asked about seven specific phrases that apply to women and women’s organizations and callings: the term “auxiliary”; the unofficial titles of “mission president’s wife,” “temple matron,” and “bishop’s wife”; the official titles of Beehive, Mia Maid and Laurel classes as well as “Sister Training Leader” and “Young Womanhood Award.” The survey also touched on the rhetorical possibility of replacing “Heavenly Father” with “Heavenly Parents” in the Young Women Theme, recited by Young Women’s groups around the church every Sunday. The results are analyzed below.
The Term "Auxiliary"
Survey results are diagrammed here (Figure 1 and Figure 2):
Figure 1: Should there be a change with regard to identifying women’s organizations as “auxiliary”?
Figure 2: What change in the use of the term “auxiliary organization” to refer to women’s organizations would you like to see?
A strong plurality of survey respondents (40%) suggested that the term “auxiliary” be dropped altogether as an adjective, as in “auxiliary organizations of the Church.” “Just drop the word ‘auxiliary’ altogether and use Relief Society, Young Women and Primary,” and variations of this response dominated the comments. Following these suggestions means we would start to use phrases like, “the various organizations of the Church,” and “the leaders of the Church’s organizations,” and “this year’s organizational training.” One respondent commented, “Above all, don’t refer to men as priesthood and women as sidekicks to priesthood.”
Others offered alternative words, if some sort of modifier needs to still be used: “My first inclination is just to drop the modifier altogether. The Relief Society, Young Women's and Primary are organizations of the Church. My second choice would be that they are partner organizations. The term partner suggests a more egalitarian relationship.” 14% of respondents wanted a term such as “complementary,” “companion,” “commensurate,” “collaborative organizations,” “corresponding organizations,” or simply “co-organizations” to denote this equal partnership relationship.
Another 8% of respondents wanted to emphasize more the indispensable nature of the organizations, and offered suggestions such as “core organizations,” “council organizations,” “essential organizations,” “integral organizations,” “fundamental organizations,” “constitutive organizations,” and the like. As one respondent explained, “[I] wanted to point out that not only does ‘auxiliary’ imply secondary importance, but also non-essential.”
A handful of respondents noted the increased emphasis by our leaders on women’s participation in priesthood authority, and pointed to the priesthood as the very reason to eliminate the rhetorical hierarchy: “Elder Oaks has taught that women are given priesthood authority in order to fulfill their callings, so the distinction that has been made between ‘priesthood’ and ‘auxiliary’ is not appropriate. I think we should drop ‘auxiliary’ without replacing it.” Another echoed this view: “Why does it need a separate name at all? It's not ‘the priesthood and ‘everything else. It's ALL ‘the church.’”
Despite the variety of words and phrases suggested by the survey respondents to replace “auxiliary” in our rhetoric, there is remarkable commonality in the yearning they reveal. Almost all of the suggested words point to a desire to have the organizations run by women be considered and treated as having equal value to the priesthood organization. Perhaps this yearning rises from the perceived discord we feel between the way we manage our marriages and the way we run our church: we are, happily, in an era in which marriage, and even priesthood exercise in the home, is spoken of from the pulpit (as in the talk by Elder Oaks referred to above) as an equal partnership, with each member embracing differing roles but equally yoked. In contrast, our rhetoric continues to unequally yoke men and women in the church institutional partnership, intrinsically devaluing the work of women with the words we choose to describe them. As we work to have men and women more equally yoked at home -- logistically, parentally and spiritually -- this survey suggests we crave to move towards similar partnership in the church sphere.
Nine percent of survey respondents did not feel the need for change. For these respondents, “auxiliary” – and even “companion” – suggest that these organizations are indeed offshoots of a central organization, which is the priesthood: “Could it be that the term auxiliary refers to being appendages to the offices of the priesthood…? While women and men are both essential to fulfilling the Plan, the priesthood ordinances are what save us (this does not downplay the role of women, the gatekeepers of mortality). I think it makes sense that the primary, YW, and RS organizations are termed as those providing extra help and power to the organizations and offices of the priesthood.” Most straightforward was this comment: “No, priesthood IS the most important thing in our church, I don't mind the RS being auxiliary.” Although a small percentage of responses, this attitude reflects the reality that the structural direction of church organization revealed in Doctrine and Covenants Section 107 (and other such sections) completely omits mention of women and their roles. (No canonical book of scripture mentions fewer women than the Doctrine and Covenants.) Thus for generations we have been satisfied with women’s institutional contributions being named as secondary, not because they are not valued but because we have had no scriptural language to define them or guidance on how to incorporate them. While men’s type and kind of participation, their participatory structure and their organizational names are carefully spelled out, no such guidance exists for women. Some, as above, take this to indicate that women are in fact secondary, unessential.
Still others who did not see a need for change emphasized the unity of purpose: “I don't see the term [‘auxiliary’] as secondary. The auxiliaries are to assist the individual and family first.” However, it must be noted that this standpoint reinforces that women’s organizations are being named and defined in relationship to males, whereas male organizations are not named and defined in those relational terms. (A slightly different variant of this is to suggest all organizations in the church are auxiliaries: “I think of all of the organizations in the church as being auxiliary because they are all there to support the family.” But, of course, male organizations in the Church are not called “auxiliary.”)
This seemingly scripturally mandated inessentialism of women was frustrating to some of our respondents: “Every lesson I've had on church structure, the restoration, etc teaches that Christ's original church and our restored church had NO NEED for women. Women are typically not mentioned at all in these lessons. The auxiliary status goes so much farther than a name and I cannot see any name fixing the structural reality.” Another offered, “Do we know that women are not auxiliary in the Great Plan of Happiness? The temple doesn't suggest that at all. I know that the work of women is important, but the church sees it as auxiliary. I don't think that changing the name will change the way that women are seen or treated in the church.” This pernicious perception that the restored church has “no need” for women will continue unless we recognize, name and act on the value that half of the membership can bring more fully to the institution.
Because so many respondents struggled to offer names and were curious as to what others offered, we also list here some alternative names to those discussed above, names that were suggested by only a few individuals. If women in the Church collectively have had little experience in naming themselves, it might be useful for us to see what alternatives are “out there” in the minds of our sisters. Examples of alternatives offered include “ministries,” “presidences,” “Relief Society is a priesthood quorum, call it as such,” “branches,” “leadership organizations,” “actionary organizations,” “priestesshood presidencies,” and several others. Some wanted every organization in the Church--including priesthood quorums--to be termed “auxiliaries” or “family support organizations” because all are auxiliary to the family. Several respondents also suggested that changing names doesn’t change power structures, which is a theme we shall expand upon later in the essay.
Mission President's Wife
Of all four titles we asked respondents to comment on, title of “mission president’s wife” registered the greatest demand for change. 96% of respondents feel that this title needs to be changed. Please see Figure 3 and Figure 4 for full results.
Figure 3: Do you wish to see the title “mission president’s wife” changed?
Figure 4: To what would you like to see the term “mission president’s wife” changed?
The urgency for this to be changed seems to stem from the understanding that the wife is as actively engaged with mission life, if in different ways, as her husband, and is equally required to sacrifice, endure physically and emotionally challenging situations, and become intertwined in the missionaries’ lives as her partner. Furthermore, she is called and set apart, just as her husband is. The necessary engagement with the mission president’s wife – on health, emotional, educational levels – seems to leave most missionaries with feelings of love and admiration for her, and thus a desire for her to be given the support and recognition she needs to magnify her calling. One respondent noted, “My dad was a mission president, so I especially wish the ‘mission president's wife’ thing would be changed. I saw that my mom was also called to an important position, set apart by an apostle, wore a name tag, and worked as many hours as my dad helping the mission run smoothly. They were partners and complements in their callings. She was serving in that role as an ambassador for the church, not simply as someone's wife.”
The question of what to change her name to resulted in less uniform answers. The majority (58%) suggest also calling her “President,” or some variation: co-president, presidentess, presidenta. “Why can’t they both be mission presidents?” was a common refrain in the comments. “They could both be president as they are both serving.” Once concern with referring to both husband and wife as “Presidents Jones” is that there may be some confusion about who is being addressed. Some noted that this practice has already been employed unofficially in a few missions, and that the anticipated confusion is overstated. Others pointed out that in other languages besides English, the problem would take care of itself (i.e. “el president” and “la presidenta” in Spanish). Still others suggested simply saying “Brother Jones” or “Sister Jones” if there is any ever confusion, or using their first names (President Peter Jones and President Jessica Jones). One respondent noted, “When a woman becomes President of the United States I am certain they will not rename the position to ‘sister’ if you catch my meaning.” And, “With more women keeping their last names when they’re married here in the United States, this will not be a problem. What is the procedure for naming missionary couples in countries where husband and wife traditionally don’t share the same last name?”
Other suggested names for the mission president’s wife included “matron”, signaling a desire perhaps to have some uniformity in our women’s titles as it would echo the current “temple matron” appellation. “Mission matron” and “temple matron” allow both callings to gain in stature and indicate similar partnerships with their male equivalents. Overall, 23% of respondents indicated that “mission matron,” “mission matriarch,” or “mission mother” felt right to them.
Other terms offered by a few individuals included Mission Advisor, Mission Counselor, Mission Leader, Mission President’s Companion, Mission Associate President, Mission Administrator, and “use Mission Father and Mission Mother.”
Young Women Theme
The survey asked whether the respondent favored a change in the Young Women theme to “We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents, who love us and we love Them.” The current version is absent any indication that the heavenly family includes both a Mother and a Father, as we are told it should on earth, and this absence is especially pernicious to Young Women who are learning by very definition to model divinity. Although infrequent, official rhetoric from leaders does include the term Heavenly Parents and the pronoun Them, offering a precedent for us to use the terms ourselves as members. In fact, a newly released from Deseret Book indicates institutional movement toward Heavenly Parents becoming a visual and rhetorical normalcy in the church. The Young Women theme and numerous songs and manual lessons could easily follow this shift, and some have already written alternative or new lyrics that broaden the use of this new rhetoric. Our survey revealed a profound desire for this phrase to be codified in the Young Women theme. Figure 4 reports the results:
Figure 4: Would you favor changing the YW there to say “Heavenly Parents”?
The 8.7% who report “other” generally stated that they dislike the entire idea of a recited theme for YW, and want to see it dropped. One respondent stated, “Do the boys recite something? Not like this.” Also, we saw comments such as, “I would probably drop the whole recitation of the theme altogether . . . it just makes me cringe a little inside,” and “Do away with the [darned] theme and the recitation of it!”
If we include those responses among those who wish to see change, then 90.8% of the survey respondents want change in the theme. 82.1% specifically favor including “Heavenly Parents” (and we suspect that other 8.7% would be in favor, also, if the theme were kept on). As one respondent put it, “I feel very, Very strongly about the Young Women theme. It would be such an easy, and valuable change,” and “I think the most imperative change here needs to be to the YW motto.” Some felt we could individually act on this desired change now: “I'm going to start reciting the YW theme to our Heavenly Parents.” And several felt that “Heavenly Parents” should be specified as “Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother,” lest Heavenly Mother be invisibilized within a more general term. As one respondent commented, “I am desperate for more acknowledgement of Heavenly Mother as God's equal partner. I think that could encourage more people to see women as holders of divine authority and potential rather than nurturers and invisible support staff only. Parity in funding for YM and YW and parity in recognition for achievements and importance of their accomplishments (in name as well as in visibility) would be a huge step forward.” Another commented, “Just wish we knew more about Heavenly Mother. I feel like she would be a great model and influence for our women leadership. Definitely the YW motto should be daughters of heavenly parents. I am a Child of God should be ‘and THEY have sent me here.’” Clearly, this discussion on the implied presence of Heavenly Mother in the Young Women theme is just the tip of the iceberg for a broader evaluation of where else and how else we can magnify Her presence in our rhetoric, and thus in our awareness.
Young Women Class Names
A question about renaming the three Young Women classes – Beehive, Mia Maid and Laurel – did not reveal quite as much passion or unity in response. Figures 5 and 6 present the results.
Figure 5: Would you like to see the YW Group names changed?
While about 75% would like to see the names changed, included in that figure are 14% who would only like to see “Mia Maids” changed. The term “maid” does not mean now what it once meant (“maiden”), and connotes in the 21st century an often ill-paid and unskilled housekeeper. “’Maid’ is an ancient virginal reference,” said one respondent. “Girls (at least American) these days think of ‘maid’ only as in hotel housekeeping,” explained another. “MIA”, of course, no longer exists in the Church--it refers to the “Mutual Improvement Association.” Thus, MIA Maid is doubly obscure, with the result that it does not seem a dignified title any longer, though surely it once was naturally viewed that way. As one respondent put it, “‘Maids’? Really?” Another commented, “Of the three, ‘Mia Maid’ is probably the most out-of-touch.” “I actually like Beehives and Laurels,” said one, echoing the sentiments of most respondents to this question. “I think those are symbols of hard work and honor that are not overtly gendered. I would change Mia Maids to something else symbolic of education, hard work and faith.”
Figure 6: What would you prefer the YW groups be called?
Generally, respondents noted that the names feel dated and lacking weight when compared to the boys’ “Deacons,” “Teachers,” and “Priests,” but there also seemed to be a nostalgic element for those who had gone through the Young Women program: “I kind of liked those names, despite their U.S./Utah-centric origins, but I can see how they seem frivolous compared to Deacons, Teachers, Priests. But then again, they're not Priesthood ‘offices.’” Even so, 14% of the survey respondents would like the Young Women groups to be Deaconesses/Teachers/Priestesses. “Deacon(ess), Teacher, Priestess,” requested one commenter. “We are anointed the same as them in the temple, why not recognize that as youth progress toward the temple?” Other respondents supported the idea of parallelism in the names, but expressed frustration that it did not have doctrinal support: “I would also be in favor of ‘Deaconess’ ‘Teacher’ and ‘Priestess,’ but that change would seem incompatible with the current (lack of) participation young women are currently allowed in fulfilling their divine responsibilities within the priesthood structure.” Or this comment: “The names for the young men groups indicate the level of authority they have. There is no authority for young women, so switching out a cutesy name for something else that has no difference on what young women can do seems to be a ‘pat on the head’ action.” These comments draw upon the challenge mentioned earlier: the lack of scripturally mandated structures and names for women suggest their inessential or minimized role. However, the high number of people who suggested “deaconess, teacher, and priestess” as new Young Women names actually are drawing upon scriptural precedent. In Romans 16:1, we have the earliest known reference to “deaconess” from Paul himself. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is the deacon of the church at Cenchreae," he says. While this term may not have signified an ordained church ministry, it is used other times throughout Paul’s letters and could be freely referenced in the process of naming our young women.
Another commented the seeming “lighter” names went along with a “lighter” emphasis on young women’s activities: “I'd especially like to see Young Women's activities be on an equal level with Young Men activities. Maybe I just had a bad experience, but the Young Women's activities I remember were about how to set the table properly, how to knit, discussions on chastity, modesty dress pageants, how to cook (which is fun, don't get me wrong), how to cross-stitch . . . while the Young Men were hiking, learning to scuba dive, learning to use tools, do woodwork, basic car maintenance, finding their way in the wilderness, doing sports, etc. It sent me a very negative message about what I was expected to be interested in ‘as a woman.’”
Many respondents understand that the current names have historical significance to the Young Women organization and they liked that connection to our foremothers. 25% of respondents would not change the name, often citing the historical link, while another 14% (as previously noted) would only change “Mia Maid.” Said one respondent, “For some reason I don't mind these names because of their historical significance. I think YW need to develop a sense of history and appreciation for the sisters who came before them and to know that they are part of a larger worldwide group.” Further, most respondents like what “Beehive” and “Laurel” symbolize: “I actually really like ‘Laurels’. It always makes me think of the Olympics and the values of hard work, determination, effort, diligence, etc associated with that.” And: “I like Beehives - for its imagery of handwork and dedication.” Several asked, however, how the current names were “translated” in other cultures in other continents, such as Latin America, Africa, and Asia--which is something that is worth investigation, surely! (If any of our readers have information on this, please write us!)
4% of respondents wanted names associated with historical women, such as Emmelines, Elizas, Emmas. Marys, Abishes, Deborahs, etc. Another 7% wanted to see only the age groups, such as YW 1, YW 2, YW 3. While 13% wanted change, but did not offer suggestions, another 23% offered an amazing variety of possible names, such as Deserets, Seekers. Shepherds, Lambs, Lanterns. Fledglings, Meadowlarks, Eagles, Rubies, Emeralds, Diamonds, Pioneers, Pilgrims, Nobels. Shepherds, Scholars, Disciples, Endeavor, Strength, Purpose, Prioress, Abbess, Priestess, Junior, Leaders, Novices, Apprentices, Ensigns, Beacons, Builders, Achievers, Officers, Evangelists, Faith, Hope, Charity, Preachers, Warriors, Queens, Guides, among others.
Even so, many were sensitive about any idea of naming girls’ groups after things that are supposed to be sweet and beautiful and passive: “Nothing that compares Young Women to flowers, fruit or other ‘objects,’ please! Maybe something like Sowers, Messengers and Shepherds-- more duty-oriented.” Most of the suggested names and the requests for what new names should embody focused on giving the girls titles of action and strength. “We need names that represent the girls as spiritual agents rather than attributes,” confirmed one respondent, reflecting the views of many. Or, as one less optimistic respondent put it, “They gave them frivolous names that have stuck for so long because they continue to be given frivolous lessons and have nigh zero ways for the YW to meaningfully participate in the running of the ward. I imagine the next names will also be a little cringe-y and sound like girl scout summer camp cabin names.” (Indeed, the names of the cabins at one Church-owned girls’ camp in Utah are Pantywaist Pocket, Boogeyman Hollow, Cow Camp and PoocherMonkey Pass. This summer, a Young Women president covered the cabin name signs with more significant names, and was told by senior missionaries staffing the camp she was on their “poop list” for doing so!)
While there was not as much unity in opinion on what the change should be, the responses reveal a deep desire to endow our girls with both meaningful responsibility and with names that help them embrace and grow their agency and their strength.
Young Womanhood Award
There was strong support for changing the name of the YW Award: 90% of respondents favored change. Following the trend established by both the “auxiliary” and Young Women class name questions, respondents again requested parallelism with the boys’ designation when asked about renaming the Young Womanhood Award. “Duty to God (Why would they be different?),” summed up one commenter. But many were also open to something entirely new, emphatically stating: “Whatever it is, call it the same thing.” Figures 7 and 8 report the results of our survey:
Figure 7: Would you change the name of the YW Award?
Figure 8: To what would you change the name of the YW Award?
Commenters noted there are really two issues at hand when discussing the Young Womanhood Award and the Duty to God Award: first, the YW award’s name suggests that the girls are being awarded for being what they already are: female. This is not something they’ve worked for; it has a passive element in it that is essentially tied to their gender. In contrast, the boys’ award doesn’t reward their gender specifically, but rather a sense of action and work and purpose. The second issue identified in the comments is that the programs that lead to these awards are themselves different, so if the names are aligned, many hope the programs could be aligned as well. Several commenters explored these issues eloquently: “The simple verbiage of these awards connotes purity in growth for the woman, and responsibility to authority for the men. I'd love to see a merge of titles, like: Youth Achievement Award; Service and Action Achievements; Becoming Awards. These can be used for young women and men as they grow to serve and love those around them. And build their relationship with their community. Equality, not equity. Leveling the fields for teenagers is a great place to start.” And: “How about we use the same award and program for both? I think it would be great to have young women and young men working together toward their Duty to God awards, collaborating on projects where appropriate, etc. Aside from a simpler naming system, this would help foster equality and cooperation between the sexes at an early age which could result in more egalitarian thinking among the rising generation.”
Several noted that the Primary organization offers the same award to both boys and girls – Faith in God award - and how if the Church were to shed the Scouts program for the Young Men in the future that would likely result in a revisiting of both programs anyway. And several noted how this is yet another example of how we go out of our way to qualify girls’ efforts and responsibilities linguistically as different from boys’. One commenter eloquently explained how she would love to see these qualifiers done away with: “I have long wished for some sort of calling to women/young women that could be as requiring and effective as the priesthood calling is for men/young men. Young men can feel so needed, called upon and motivated greatly by their priesthood duty and it is hard to mobilize young women like that because there is no explicit duty. I think we should shift the vocabulary in young women to a duty like it is in young men. As I prayed about this for my young women, I realized the obvious - that we are all called to move the work forward, bless others. We are all called to do what the priesthood can do. Whatever that says about the priesthood I don't know, but I now use ‘duty’ and ‘calling’ with my young women to bless the lives of others and continue the work forward. It would be great if that was reflected in organizational rhetoric.”
Those who did not favor “Duty to God” but wanted change nevertheless presented alternatives that seemed to our respondents to be more about agency and action, rather than simply being, and included “Personal Spiritual Achievement,” “Personal Progress Award,” “Witness of God,” “Path of Wisdom,” “Leadership Award,” “Commitment to God,” “ Divine Service Award,” “Faith and Works Award,” “Discipleship Award,” “Duty to Goddess Award,” “Value and Strength Award,” “Excellence in Achievement Award,” “Commitment in Excellence Award,” etc. One respondent even opined, “Why not change the boys'? Why not the Young Manhood Award?”
In contrast to “mission president’s wife,” the term “bishop’s wife” didn’t engender nearly the same call for change. Most commenters noted that the bishop’s wife is not herself called to specific responsibilities. She is neither required to take on certain tasks, leave her home or become directly engaged with the ward members, the way a mission president’s wife is. She has no explicit spiritual or ecclesiastical responsibility. “I’ve been a bishop’s wife,” said one commenter. “It isn’t really a calling so I don’t think it needs a title. She is simply supporting her husband in his calling as she would in any other calling.” Bishops are often called when they have young children at home, are working full time jobs and are even at the height of their careers, and many seem to appreciate the fact that she doesn’t have more church responsibility in the face of her husband’s duties. Figure 9 shows an almost even split between those who would like to acknowledge that a heavy burden has fallen upon her, with others who do not think the burden is heavier than that associated with being the spouse of someone with another calling.
Figure 9: Would you like the “bishop’s wife” designation changed?
Even so, 52% of respondents do feel there should be more formal linguistic recognition for her. “Ward matriarch,” “ward mother,” “ward matron” were the most popular suggestions. Again, some noted that in other languages there are natural alternatives: “I was called Obispa. I wish we had an English equivalent.” Although interested in changing how we refer to her, many who were at a loss for alternative words revealed how we sometimes use language to pity women at church. “Ward widow? Ward superintendent? Saint? Sacrificial lamb? Sister Single Mother? Survivor? Person who all of a sudden hates church?” sums up the variety of suggestions on this front.
Although some could not summon language to describe a bishop’s wife, they did express feelings about the need for more partnership in church leadership. “All leadership offices in the church (other than those over specific groups i.e. relief society, elder's quorum, etc.) should be filled by couples who share in the leadership and responsibilities,” said one commenter. “This would much more fully mirror the true nature of God -- our Heavenly Parents, and the structure of the home. Every ward needs a mother as well as a father. Serving as bishop, in a role where time is stretched thin and things have to be kept from a spouse, often causes a strain on marriages. Having women fully engaged with their husbands in these callings would improve the actual function of every ward and the church as a whole. A ward cannot function with only male leadership any better than a family can function with only a father--it is possible, but definitely not ideal. We should have Brother Bishop and Sister Bishop in every ward. And in every leadership position up to and including president of the church. That is the model that will lead us closer to our Heavenly Parents.”
While not going so far as to have a Brother Bishop and Sister Bishop, some local leaders have found creative ways to manufacture structural partnerships between the bishops and their wives simply through callings. A stake president in Utah, for example, calls the wives of all of his stake’s bishops as welfare specialists so that each wife can serve as a partner with her husband in addressing the temporal needs of the ward members. This lessens the wall of secrecy that usually exists between a bishop and his wife, and allows the wife to feel invested in the calling that demands so much of her husband.
Others felt that giving an appellation to the bishop’s wife would burden her even more: “I'm afraid any kind of official calling would tax those poor women even more. We recognize that they perform some pastoral roles and sacrifice a great deal, but giving those things as a calling would add the burden of expectation.” Another concurred: “As a former bishop's wife, I think that changing the way of referring to the bishop's wife might imply more responsibility and I'm not sure that is a good idea. Taking care of our 7-10 kids was enough work and though I supported my husband in all he did, I was grateful those duties were officially his not mine.” Alternatively, in some areas where the Church institution is still developing, bishops may have inactive or non-member wives who are not interested in being involved ecclesiastically.
A very different view was expressed by other respondents, who suggested, “I can't think of a name for the bishop’s wife but I would like to see her at least acknowledged with her husband and together they lead the ward. And by acknowledged I don't mean comments like “we couldn't call sister so and so to be the bishop, so we called her husband instead.” I think she should be included in bishopric meetings and ward council. She is privy to everything going on in the ward, even though most bishop's wives I know pretend they don't know anything. This does nothing to help the cause of women as a whole in the church. It would only strengthen a ward to have the bishops wife more involved.”
While most commenters acknowledged the sacrifice required by wives of bishops, it seems tacitly understood that much of that sacrifice occurs outside the church walls and is thus invisible to most ward members. In contrast to the mission president’s wife and temple matron, who clearly leave their physical comforts and consecrate obvious time to their support of their husband’s calling, a bishop’s wife experiences physical limitations (i.e. help with kids and home) and time constraints, as well as the emotional toll of loneliness and exclusion from much of his work, in the privacy of her home. As ward members, our observations of her sacrifice are greatly hampered, and we may go so far as to studiously disregard the sacrifice we do see as simply part and parcel of a bishop’s wife’s role. This distance from her sacrifice may explain where our survey respondents seemed to feel so much less passion about this particular name than others.
While the desire to change “temple matron” doesn’t match the fervor of the “mission president’s wife” discussion, 70% of respondents still feel the name needs to be changed. “It’s so old-fashioned,” expressed a number of commenters. “It means old. An old woman. ‘Elder’ means old too, but we have negative connotations around old women.” Indeed, the modern definition of “matron” includes references to “a staid woman”. The definition also indicates that a matron is a “woman who has charge of domestic affairs of a hospital, prison or other institution” which seems to be the definition the current name draws upon. But also implied in the name is the separation of men and women where a female authority figure is required for the women: a matron is “a woman serving as a guard, warden, or attendant for women or girls, as in a prison.” So calling a woman “a matron” in the church may serve to underscore a feeling of institutional confinement and regulation. Figures 10, 11, and 12 present the survey results:
Figure 10: Would you like the term “temple matron” changed?
Figure 11: Drill down on term to replace “temple matron”
It is interesting to see that 37% of the survey respondents--a plurality--would like to see the temple matron become a “temple president” or “temple co-president.” While some favored presidentress, others felt this term “doesn’t seem to others to be any less old-fashioned than ‘matron.’” Others felt that the Latin term "presidenta" would be appropriate and felt regret that English does not provide such a simple solution.
Figure 12: Deep drill-down on terms to replace “temple matron”
Other suggestions offered include “temple matriarch” (“matriarchies are soooo cool” said one commenter), favored by 10% of the respondents, “temple director or manager” and “temple priestess.” Other terms included “Lady of the Temple,” “Temple Patroness,” “Temple Mother,” and “Temple Advisor or Counsellor.”
Again, this question epitomizes our desire to linguistically acknowledge the tremendous work done by women in a called-and-set-apart position such as temple matron, but reveals our inability to come up with better language to describe that work or find scriptural precedents for new names. Interestingly, “temple matriarch” and “temple priestess” have linguistic male equivalents: their partner terms would be “temple patriarch” and “temple priest”, and many commenters find themselves craving to use these partner terms because their have parity and yet difference built into the language. “My husband is a high priest,” said one woman. “Doesn’t that make me a high priestess?” We have linguistic pairings for describing ecclesiastical and spiritual jobs, but we simply do not use them, seemingly for fear of suggesting that men and women have the same authority and responsibility. Why is this?
The current appellation we use for temple president doesn’t have a female equivalent (in modern parlance) and this seems to be where we get stuck. Many are obviously comfortable with both men and women being called “President,” even when they have different roles, as “doctors” have many different responsibilities – surgeon, psychiatrist, professor – and we don’t confuse them and think they all must do the same thing. Also, we seem to imbue “President” with ecclesiastical authority, when linguistically it suggests to modern culture more of a managerial authority. (We have presidents of clubs and companies, but are there other spiritual institutions today that have presidents? The etymology of the word doesn’t have spiritual origins, although one of its roots is “preside” which was used in early clerical contexts.) Do we mean for ecclesiastical and managerial authority to be one and the same? By calling a man “President,” are we exclusively identifying his priesthood authority? Are we not also identifying his administrative and managerial authority? Even if a wife does not hold the same priesthood calling as her husband, is she not equally engaged in the managerial demands of the role as well as being his partner in priesthood covenants? If so, she should have the same title.
Sister Training Leader
In yet another example of how we female-ize our job titles, “sister training leader” qualifies the description of the responsibilities (“training leader”) with a seeming caveat of gender. “Why do we need to continually set apart the women from the men?” said one commenter. “The fact that we need to differentiate that they are women and can only influence/lead women is ridiculous,” said another. 79% of respondents to this question seem to agree. The name should be changed. (It should be noted that 5% of respondents had never heard of this position. This could start to be rectified by adding the position to the “Missionary Leadership” section in the Missionary Handbook, which currently does not even mention the women’s opportunities to lead as missionaries, even in the online version.) Figures 13 and 14 report the results:
Figure 13: Should the term “sister training leader” be changed?
Figure 14: What term should replace “sister training leader”?
Drilling down in Figure 14, a strong plurality (43%) felt the name doesn’t need to be changed that much: simply drop the “sister.” “Training leader” is still distinct from the male missionaries’ titles, but describes thoroughly the responsibilities of the position without the gender qualifier. One respondent stated, “If she’s not in a leadership position over elders, where’s the confusion in using the same nomenclature?” Another echoed this sentiment in a more ironic way, saying, “I honestly think most of the naming could be identical . . . considering that the gender construct is so rigid that no one would mistake a woman as being the one in charge even if they has the same title.” Still another asked, “Do they call the male version "elder training leader?” Two respondents asked why elders could not be trained by sisters, as well.
The next largest group (24%) suggested simply using the very same titles as the young men who do similar work: zone and district leader. As one commenter put it, “‘Zone Leader’ is not a priesthood office,” referring to the fact that zone leaders do not hold any specific priesthood keys and are not set apart. Another offered, “When I served a mission in Quebec in 1976, President Wayne Owens called several of us sisters to be District Leaders. This is again a role not a gender specific responsibility.” One commenter suggested, “Call all missionary leaders the same names--and have male missionaries lead their male peers and female missionaries lead their female peers. Call them all Trainers, District Leaders, Zone Leaders, and Assistants to the President. A female missionary should not have to go to a peer male missionary leader about her concerns. She should be able to go to a peer female missionary leader or President Jane Smith. And, by the same token, a male missionary should not have to go to a peer female.” Another expressed that the issue isn’t the name but the lack of understanding about where the role fits in the mission organization: “I don’t have any sense of what the sister training leader’s position is in the hierarchy of missionary leadership, so I’m not sure what to suggest [as an alternate name]. Does she report to the president? The AP? A Zone or District Leader? That info might clarify some ideas of what the title could be.” Others (4%), picking up that the Sister Training Leader reports to the president, suggested that she simply be called an “AP.”
One sister who had experience in the mission field with STLs explained, “They joked that they were assistants to the president's wife. They helped her with errands, were the only sisters allowed to use Facebook, whereas each zone leader (and now I think district leader) can use it for teaching and recruiting. Before I went on my mission, I thought I'd be reporting stats to STLs but that wasn't the case. The temple square mission just calls them district and zone leaders if I'm not mistaken, but there are also no elders so they're an ‘exception.’”
Alternatives to these offered by a few individuals included “Evangelina,” calling both elders and sisters “Mission Training Leaders,” “Mentors,” “Group Leaders,” “Assistant to the Mission Co-President” (i.e., the wife of the mission president, as she is currently called). Still others offered that “sister missionaries” should just be called “missionaries,” or that sisters should be able to use the term “elder” as well. As one respondent explained, “I can recall several instances from my mission when members would dismiss my ability to share with the ward about missionary work because I was ‘just a sister missionary.’ This was 2007, not prehistoric times. At the end of the day, I think that the patriarchal structure of the church reinforces worldly notions from many cultures that women are lesser. Even though I know my earthly and Heavenly Parents don't think of me as less, sometimes the way fellow members talk at church just brings so much pain and heartache for me.”
Reflections on Open-Ended Comments
The survey ended with a field for open-ended comments, and respondents were also able to make short comments within the individual questions on terms/names as well. After reading all of these, we noted three main themes about naming, as well as several other themes not directly related to the questions of the survey that we feel merit attention.
Naming Theme #1: Women were delighted to name themselves, but discouraged that they had had so little practice in it that they were often not able to think of names they preferred.
As noted in the introduction, this survey was only open to women because we were specifically interested in the exercise of women naming themselves, rather than letting men describe women and what they do. As such, the comments - all female voices - revealed the newness of the exercise and a level of unexpected difficulty. Women are so unaccustomed to ecclesiastically defining themselves they found themselves at a loss rhetorically to describe key contributions. For some women, the survey was the first time they had ever been asked to describe and name the ecclesiastical roles of women at church. Even for those who had thought about the possibility of new names, coming up with a useful vocabulary still proved hard. “This is hard. We need more female words of power.” Indeed, English specifically seems to offer slim pickings when called upon to describe female spiritual power which contributed to the feeling of helplessness that tinged some of these comments.
- “Thank you for doing this!” (many instances of this sentiment)
- “Things and terms have changed in the past; let's ask for things that we need, and know our history that things can change. Let go of things that aren't working anymore; embrace new things that will help us.”
- “I don’t know [what new name to offer], but I’m so glad you are doing this!”
- “It would be fabulous to change these names!”
- “I have no suggestions for renaming these positions and awards held and received by women, however, a change is needed so that we can stop giving the impression that women's work is secondary or lesser than men's.”
- “I wish I had more to give you! Honestly I had never thought about most of these things before, and I am glad that you have brought them to my attention. Especially about the mission president's wife... unbelievable that she sacrifices and works just as hard as he does but doesn't even have a title.”
- “I don't have specific suggestions for all of these, but I would be so so happy to see these changes made.”
- “This exercise proved more difficult than I anticipated! I think it is because so much of church language is male centric and male dominated, and there are not often good words that offer similar impact but are female centric, or even gender neutral.”
- “This is hard. We need more female words of power.”
- “My answers are probably terrible. But please know that I feel the names MUST change! I just don't know what options we have.”
- “This is a hard task - and I'm not sure my answers are very good, but I very glad someone is really thinking about it!”
- “Very much appreciate this opportunity to give feedback. I don't think I have ever been invited to share my opinion on church organization.”
- “I don't have a lot of original ideas on these but I would really like to see them changed!”
- “Not being a word smith, I don't have any current suggestions, but I do feel different, more equal names would be helpful.”
- “I am all for the lifting up of women in the church and these types of discussions. However, I have very few ideas on these. Perhaps that is part of the problem, that I haven't thought about this.”
- “I've got to be honest that it's frustrating to me to not even have a framework to be able to think through these questions. I've been so conditioned to think of it one way that I can't even come up with good ideas. It makes me sad.”
Naming Theme #2: Women felt names were important and had real consequences, and that names were not a fluff issue.In her book from 2014, Women at Church, Neylan mentions how much passionate, negative feedback she’s received over the years on the subject of names and titles at church. She describes some of the responses she’s heard: “One person said, ‘I have been thinking about the use of titles in the church, which is an American cultural habit. I would rather we eschew titles altogether. I seem to recall the early leaders were Brother Joseph and Brother Brigham.’ Other people have told me that insisting on titles just ossifies the idea that some people are ‘in charge’ of others, even if those people are women. Yet another told me that titles just distance us from the people we serve and are inappropriate altogether for the servant leaders we strive to be. I even read a parody online that mocked the idea by imagining a ward council where everyone was calling everyone else ‘President’ and no one knew who was talking to whom.”
In this recent survey, we encountered some similar comments which asserted varioulsy that 1) members shouldn’t “waste their time” and “get up in arms” “worrying about status and titles,” but should instead focus on “humble service;” 2) any title “denotes a hierarchy of power in the Church which shouldn’t exist,” and thus titles for men and women should both be dropped; 3) renaming women’s roles threatens to “diminish the honor of the priesthood,” and 4) “If the language needs to change, it will change when the attitude has changed.”
Overall, however, respondents overwhelmingly expressed a belief that “words matter” and that titles that better evoke women’s spiritual power will lead to greater purpose and expanded functions. Some were motivated less by expanded functions and more by a simple desire for their daughters to grow in the gospel with a dignified sense of their womanhood as being on par with manhood.
Many asserted that appropriate names and recognition are merely stepping stones to more substantive change, but stepping stones that themselves have power to fortify self-perception and women’s spiritual health within the institutional church. Still others understood that we are what others describe us to be. As psychological research has routinely proven, “labeling” has a profound effect on how people think of themselves. Saying someone is “smart” or “mean” makes it so. In this vein, most respondents recognized that telling women they are “auxiliary” or that they are merely “the mission president’s wife” has deep psychological and spiritual implications that, although some claim not to notice, most of us internalize to our detriment.
- “This is important. As a woman of faith, I would love to see changes on these topics.” (many instances of this sentiment)
- “As much as some want to say that small changes like these are unnecessary and only for "political correctness," I would like to say that I will be much happier raising future daughters or teacher future girls and women within an environment that uses titles that actually dignify their essential importance in the earthly organization of the kingdom of God.”
- “I am one who firmly believes that words matter. What someone is called matters. Names and titles matter. The discrepancies in the words we use to describe and refer to men and women in their various positions and activities in the Church both reflect and inform gender divisions and discrimination. This isn't just fluff. These words matter.”
- “I never thought about . . . how some of these phrases and titles actually diminish the roles and responsibilities of women in the Church.”
- “I love that you are doing this survey. As a teenager, I had a stake president who started calling the RS president by "President Jones" instead of "Sister Jones". Having been raised in the church, I thought that was so weird because I thought president is only for men and sisters are never as high as men. This church culture even extended to my view of the world thinking women could not be as good at being presidents of corporations or nations because they are too weak. Now I look back and hate that I had been raised to think that way, all because of naming conventions sending a subtle message to my understanding of men and women. For anyone who says names and titles don't matter, they do!! Calling women "President" and other titles denoting real leadership and authority should be normal and natural to all children and adults.”
- “I would love to see some changes made. My daughters are now barely RS age, but I would have loved to see more equality when they were going through the system. I think if we would have had any boys, my girls would have noticed a large difference in the importance put on various awards, etc.”
- “Thank you for doing this survey! I would love to see things change. I had a friend tell me a story about a little boy who grew up with a woman as the prime minister. One day after an election he came running into his mother and told her that she wouldn't believe it, there was a MAN on the TV who was prime minister. "Did you know boys can be the Prime Minister??" I think we do so much to discount our women and put them in a place of lesser importance through our structure but also our semantics. I think these changes are incredibly important.”
- “It may seem silly to some, but changing the titles of sisters to have more duty-specific meaning helps give them a purpose in the church and feel valued, not secondary to the men.”
- “Names and functions are probably related - changing one doesn't change the other, but changing one could influence the other. I hope so. Great idea!”
- “This is such an important idea. Many of the current titles are silly (Mia Maid), dated (Matron), or utterly lacking (mission president's wife). They do not inspire women to believe in themselves or their potential, and they belittle the work they do. Good luck!”
- “We need more equality in the church. So many talks are given about the unhappy sisters who aren't able to see their worth. Give us positions and purpose. Help us to have equal partnership through duties and interests in our marriages and also in our church positions. A change in self worth will happen. Every[one] will be happier.”
- “Thank you for asking for female members' input. I am raising two daughters in the church. They are still young, but my oldest, who just turned 4, has started noticing the different roles men and women have been assigned based on their sex. She has been drawing erroneous conclusions about the abilities of women from these arbitrary and harmful ‘roles.’ It is my most heartfelt and ardent prayer that those who have the power to change the current structure of the church will do so. I know our church is capable of better.”
- “This stuff is really important. I wish I could think of simpler replacements because I feel very strongly that name changes would go a long way in helping women in the church.”
- “This is such an important idea. Many of the current titles are silly (Mia Maid), dated (Matron), or utterly lacking (mission president's wife). They do not inspire women to believe in themselves or their potential, and they belittle the work they do. Good luck!”
- “Thank you for asking these questions. I think this is important conversation.”
- “I cried when I read about this survey at the thought of this happening. It's such a simple change, but it's reminded me that the excruciating inequality I feel (and please know, I'm an active member and I'm trying so hard) can be helped simply. This is one step that would help me feel less "separate but equal" when equality is discussed in the church.”
Naming Theme #3: Women offered differing viewpoints on whether name changes should precede or follow real structural change.
While most respondents agreed that “words matter,” it was impossible for some to separate the issue of renaming roles, organizations and awards from the actual purpose and structure of those things being named. They debated: Are name changes useless or worse, deceptive, if the structure doesn’t change? Or does the name change lead to changed mindsets that then lead to changed structure?
Within this debate, we noticed three strands of argument: 1) changing names and titles is merely “symbolic recognition” without “substantial change,” or, in some commenters’ words, putting “lipstick on a pig” and “new wine in old bottles;” 2) all names and titles in the church divide and distract, and we should all - men too - return to calling each other by brother/sister or by first names; and 3) titles make women feel uncomfortable and they would rather not be addressed by their calling at all. This ambivalence about naming - either because they demand too much honor or don’t carry enough - confirms that our titles do not align with the duties we feel they ought to describe.
- “Titles are important. But having tangible responsibilities and respect is even more so.”
- “So much needed just in names to give women more equal standing. But changing names will do nothing so long as we still have rampant sexism in the church. More money spent on scouting. Bishopric choosing primary counselors when male presidency members are chosen by the president, only men speaking in stake conference, no "area level" women leaders between the stake and the general presidencies, no women in discipline councils, etc. Changing the names is a start, but not enough. And yes, I'm active. And in an auxiliary presidency.”
- “The title "Mission President's wife" sounds lame because it is lame. You can't make Taco Bell be authentic Mexican food by renaming things "Completely Authentic Tostada" or "Best Ground Meat Burrito North of the Border." I've given up hope, for the most part. I'm not opposed to renaming these positions, but II can't see it doing anything beyond a surface bandaid fix.”
- “[T]he language of the feminine has either been stripped or is absent from scriptures, which makes developing language to label/name "female work" a difficult task. So in many ways, I think that naming the work first is backwards--let's find out more regarding what women's work is in the eternities (outside of just wifehood/motherhood--since this is what these current labels/names reflect). Perhaps it's the male titles that need changing, too.”
- “If the language needs to change, it will change when the attitude has changed.”
- “As long as women report to men at every level, structured inequality will remain and no amount of small concessions will make the organizations currently labeled auxiliary anything but.”
- “Why fight for symbolic recognition without substantive change?”
- “I’m not worried about titles . . . in the work of the Lord.”
- “I'm sure there are issues of more consequence to address in this world that renaming groups in the church.”
- “I am definitely not against making sure women feel like equal partners with the men in this Church, and society, and politics, and job wages, etc. I just think we're too focused on "raising up" the roles of women to "match" what men have, rather than recognizing the value already inherent in the titles we already posses. It's a balancing act, to be sure, but we've swung the pendulum too far the other way.”
- “Renaming would be great, but I feel like it would be a little like putting lipstick on a pig. The name change doesn't change the fact that these organizations really ARE auxiliary. Instead of renaming, could they instead be taken out from under the umbrella of direct priesthood management and given their own budgets, etc.?”
- “I've never cared much for those names [of YW groups], but I'm not really sure what better names would be. The names of the groups were not at the top of the list of things that caused me angst about Young Women's when I was that age. I'd be more worried about discrepancies in the focus of programming, budget and spending, and training of leaders between young men and young women than about the names of the individual groups.”
- “Parity in funding for YM and YW and parity in recognition for achievements and importance of their accomplishments (in name as well as in visibility) would be a huge step forward.”
- “Even more important than updating the names of these roles is to increase the power and authority these women have to make decisions and be leaders that are actually coequal with men. Without that crucial reform, changing the names just adds the veneer of equality without any real substance behind it, and it will be easy to see through the half-hearted effort.”
- “I feel like this survey is asking me, the respondent, to dress up the church's sexism so that it sounds more palatable by selecting better-sounding titles for women's positions. What I really want is for the church to *actually treat women and men as equals*. No amount of name-changing will make things better for women in the LDS Church. We need substantive change, not superficial change.”
- “What the men do is their own business. As a whole, I don't think women need titles in order to stroke their pride. It is for all of us to serve in his kingdom.”
- “Names are powerful and be catalyst for changing the overarching idea that women aren't as important in the gospel as men. But, changing the name alone isn't as powerful as providing examples of stories using the new nomenclature where women are better respected and valued than they are now.”
- “Changing what we call it isn't going to change it what it is, and I think changing the names is just misdirection. "Look over here! We have pictures of the women in the conference center! See? We totes value women."”
- “Rather than change the names for titles for women, I'd prefer to stop calling men by their titles. It denotes a hierarchy of power in the Church that shouldn't exist. Just call everyone brother and sister.”
- “It seems "Ite-ish" to come up with more titles so women can get in on the practice. If individuals, parents, ward counsels and general authorities and leaders discussed the use of titles and determined to stop using them and referred to all as "Sister" and "Brother" the practice of using titles would dwindle perhaps into nothingness.”
- “Changing the names of things can perhaps be a beginning, but it falls very short of what is needed, and to me it feels like putting the cart before the horse. We have so little understanding. We need to seek for the big picture -- the eternal nature of man and woman -- and then all of these organizational and title questions will fall into place behind that. Any changes we make with so little information will at best be short-term fixes with little lasting value. If these changes are made with an eye toward more knowledge and understanding, then perhaps they can be a means to opening the Heavens so that more light and knowledge can be poured down. But I truly believe that great structural changes will come as well. God cannot pour new wine into old bottles.”
Sundry Other Themes:
In addition to the three themes we identify above, the comments in the survey touched on many other tangential subjects that we feel merit mentioning here:
- The Relief Society president needs real authority. She is the bishop’s partner and should be able to use the stewardship and authority of her calling to participate in pastoral responsibilities. From commenters: “I would love to see Relief Society presidents given more executive power and access to regional leadership, and see pastoral responsibilities divided more equally among bishops and RS presidents (from compassionate service to temple recommend interviews).” Also, “I think the Relief Society President should be set apart as the co-bishop (as well as the bishop). She should be in a position to provide advice to women in their lives at the same level the bishop does. I don't like talking to the bishop about things he wouldn't understand or that are more sensitive subjects, such as my garments.” Thoughts on extending callings: “I was just released as Relief Society President of a YSA Ward in my region. As the Elder's Quorum President and I were trying to figure out who we should call as instructors, the Bishopric informed us that as soon as we had found people to fill the callings, we would send their names to the Bishopric for approval. Typical. Then, I learned that after they were approved, the Elder's Quorum President extends the calling to the teachers, whereas the Bishopric informs the Relief Society President that they will extend the calling.”
- Leadership positions in the Church should be couples positions. Neylan was touched to discover a singles’ ward in Salt Lake City that makes a standard practice of having the bishoprics’ wives sitting on the stand during every Sacrament Meeting. Although not officially called yet to serve with their husbands, these wives provide a visual imprint on the minds of the congregants that reinforces the equal partnership between husband and wife. From commenters: “My ideal is that most leadership callings would be extended to teams - couples could serve in harmony, and callings would bring families together, rather than take them apart. I think bishoprics could be comprised of two or three couples, who could divide responsibilities as they are inspired. When single people are called, their partner would be another single person, (of either gender).” Also, “My husband has been a high priest for years. Why am I not called a high priestess?”
- Marriage means different things for men and women. Because men can be sealed to more than one spouse and women cannot, the definition of marriage is different for each. From commenters: “Women should have equal opportunity to be sealed to a second spouse. The current ‘doctrine’ is the most blatantly sexist ‘doctrine’ I have ever heard in my life.” (Our new Readers' Puzzle is on this issue; please contribute your thoughts!)
- Standardize the temple matron’s duties to include counselling women going through temple as to the covenants they will make. From commenters: “Would you please also address allowing our young women to meet with a temple matron before marriage to read and discuss the covenants she will be making in the initiatory and endowment ceremonies? It is time that women are trusted to decide for ourselves if we are willing to be a side kick forever, (aka queen to our husband). By the time we have been dressed in white layer upon layer, standing up, sitting down and making covenants we barely hear and definitely don't comprehend at the time, we have no opportunity to truly think and decide if we want to accept said covenants. It's worse than signing a legal document that we haven't read - and we're taught to never sign a binding document without reading it first. LDS Women should be trusted to make a well informed choice for ourselves instead of being hoodwinked into agreeing to covenants on an eternal level, the ramifications of which we don't fully comprehend until it’s far too late.”
- Align temple rhetoric and covenants with contemporary understanding of priesthood partnerships and relationships to God. From commenters: “After these important changes are made, the next step should be to restructure the Temple ordinances and sealing to be equitable for women as well. We are taught that we have a direct line and relationship with our Heavenly Parents in church doctrine, but in the Temple we women are told that we must be subject to our husbands in order to reach the highest degree of glory. In the deepest part of my soul I know this is not true, and it hurts my heart to be told so. I hope this changes before my daughters might choose to go through the Temple. As it currently stands, the Temple is a place that causes me great pain. I pray that someday the Temple will be a true refuge for more than half of the members of the church.” One woman recounted how when she received her endowments on the day of her marriage, she was in a temple where her husband-to-be was seated next to her. When she was asked to covenant to hearken unto her husband, he leaned over and said to her, “And, Natalie, I covenant that right back to you.”
- English presents unique challenges in describing women’s roles. Because of the male/female identifiers in many other languages, co-presidencies and female roles are easier to name in other languages. From commenters: “When considering female church titles/ names and a change of them, it's key to remember that though English is the language for church government, it's far from the only spoken language and in many cases female titles will already be of equally high significance to the male ones. As such in other languages than English it may already be obvious that in God’s great plan as well as in church government, organization and leadership, women are equal to men and of equal importance/ significance in building up God’s kingdom on earth.” Also, “Honestly, what I wish is that there were an English equivalent to the Danish word that means female president (præsidentinde vs. præsident). Simple modification, shows a difference, but in a subtler way.”
- The exercise of renaming women’s roles and organizations reinforces the male dominance of our culture because we are assuming it is the women who must change, not the men. From commenters: “The maternal feminist in me is curious as to why we need to re-name just the women's positions in the church? Why are there no questions about changing the language around boys and men? Why reinforce the male-normative ideology that when something is not quite right, it is women who must change? Why not change the whole system to fit both men and women better?” Also, “If you're going to qualify callings with ‘sister’, you must also qualify with ‘brother.’ Consistency is important. Otherwise it's like saying, ‘here's the menu, and here's the kiddie menu.’ Here's the real stuff, and here's the stuff for women. Nope. It's ALL the real stuff. So if you must qualify gender, do it consistently.” Another take: “I would also love to get rid of the phrase ‘sister missionary’ unless people also start saying ‘elder missionary.’ Either call them all missionaries, or distinguish between them in both phrases, as they are all missionaries. ‘Sister missionary’ sounds like a modified version of missionary, which it is not.”
- Meetings and callings sometimes seem unnecessarily gendered. Commenters noticed that there are callings, tasks and meetings that ostensibly require priesthood ordination to participate, but which, when examined more closely, don’t actually require specific priesthood keys. Sunday School president is an example, a calling which is traditionally held by a man but which Neylan recently discovered is held by a woman in a small farming ward in Idaho. Other examples are temple workers, who cannot be women with children under 18 at home. From commenters: “We have a Stake Technology Specialist who told me that only men may be called to that position, which seems a bit silly.” Also, “Ward mission leader needs to be a dual calling for a man and a woman. Something like ‘ward mission leader co-chair’,” especially as more and more women are serving missions. Lastly, “I have recently wondered about the ‘priesthood leadership meetings’ that are held in connection with Stake Conference. The Sunday School and Young Men's Presidencies are invited, while the Relief Society and Young Women and Primary presidencies are not. Sunday School and Young Men presidencies hold exactly the same number of male priesthood keys as the excluded organizations -- none. What they really mean is ‘adult male priesthood holders who have leadership callings.’ I guess if adult male leaders need more training than adult female leaders, they are welcome to hold an extra meeting. But please call it what it is.”
In this survey, we targeted centrist female members of the Church and found an overwhelming desire to change specific titles and descriptors of women’s participation. While the statistical results showed large majorities in favor of new titles, the individual comments added an important personal dimension to the numbers. Specifically, the comments identified just how difficult it is for women to come up with language to describe themselves, even when they sincerely search for words. “We need more words of power!” as one of the commenters remarked, reflects our own feelings after witnessing this sincere search among respondents. We also recognized how extensively our current language positions women in relation to their husbands or the men they serve with, resulting in most women’s titles including a modifier that ties them either to their husband or to their gender. Lastly, comments explored a broad range of attitudes about the importance of titles and whether they are catalysts for or results of ecclesiastical change.
Regarding the specific names queried by the survey, “mission president’s wife” received the most uniform endorsement for change. Strong mandates for change also accompanied the use of the word “auxiliary” to describe organizations outside of the Priesthood, as well as the title of the temple president’s wife, currently called “temple matron.” “Sister training leader” also received a vote for change by a wide margin. In each of these instances, respondents suggested dropping the female-qualifying part of the title and using instead the same name - the name that signifies true partnership - as the man. So “mission president’s wife” is simply “President Jane Jones,” Relief Society, Primary and Young Women are simply “organizations,” the wife of the temple president is also “President Jane Jones,” and sister training leaders become simply “training leaders.”
Inclusion of “Heavenly Parents” instead of “Heavenly Father” in the Young Women’s theme was almost uniformly desired, as was an alignment of the Young Womanhood award in both name and purpose to the Young Men’s Duty to God award. Also regarding the Young Women, while the majority feel the names of the classes should change, Beehive and Laurel seemed to hold positive and nostalgic significance for some even while still agreeing that Mia Maid is outdated.
Introducing new rhetoric to describe the “bishop’s wife” received the least enthusiastic response. Many noted this is not a specific calling, but perhaps the private, domestic nature of the wife’s sacrifice makes her contributions to her husband’s role less obvious to members and thus seemingly less needing of a title.
In addition to the statistical answers gleaned from the survey, we found a rich trove of themes in the open comments sections. Three themes rose to the top: 1) Women were delighted to name themselves, but discouraged that they had had so little practice in it that they were often not able to think of names they preferred. 2) Women felt names were important and had real consequences, and that names are not a fluff issue. And 3) Women differ on whether name changes should precede or follow real structural change. In the previous section of this essay, we also discuss other noteworthy themes that emerged.
These statistical results and the hundreds of comments that accompanied them serve to confirm that the names of women’s organizations and roles in the Church are awkward at best and demoralizing for most. Although it was new for some and difficult for others, the opportunity to consider our own names - and by extension our purposes - within the institutional Church was a meaningful and reflective experience for all respondents. The responsibility to adapt church structure to meet the needs of the people today is a privilege our leaders (local and general, male and female) have and use, and we believe there are few places this privilege will do more good today in building the Kingdom of God on earth than in building--or perhaps the better term is excavating--a deeper understanding of the roles of women and women’s organizations in the Lord’s work. We believe the depth of our faith community’s understanding is reflected in the names we use, and the poll results indicate that the women of the Church are ready for significantly greater depth than currently exists.
 There were also some issues that were mentioned by respondents that we did not discuss in the essay. These included 1) how we name sister temple workers (“Sister temple workers need to be called “officiators” instead of “followers”: “Refer to sister temple workers as "officiaters" of endowment sessions, rather than "followers" because they are the ones who provide the ordinances for women (could not be done by the male officiaters) and they are up front (aka- the do NOT do any following),” 2) how women are blithely asked to cater events for men in the Church (“In the trenches this translates to women in our stake constantly being asked to cater for men's activities such as priesthood leadership, and they all sing our praises and thank us and then traipse out to the Saturday evening session (which is for everyone), leaving us to spend the next couple of hours cleaning up.”); 3) certain local practices not in harmony with Church doctrine on equal companionship between husband and wife (“I also had my bishop dismiss me in a tithing settlement interview saying he wanted to talk to the patriarch of my home (my husband). The whole attitude needs to change but it never will unless it changes at the top.”), 4) the incongruity of having 14 year old boys begin to home-teach with their fathers, but 14 year old girls not having the opportunity to visit-teach with their mothers ( “I think girls should start Visiting teaching at age 14. They are often more mature than 14 y boys, and they could get to know the sisters and create a more natural transition to RS.”); and the use of the term “president” for women whose calling is as a president (”Another issue is the *use* of these titles. We should call general-level leaders (such as the General Primary President) ‘President Smith’ and not ‘Sister Smith.’”) [Back to manuscript].
Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. and Neylan McBaine (2016) "What’s in a Name? SquareTwo Poll Survey Results on the Naming of Women’s Positions and Organizations in the LDS Church" SquareTwo, Vol. 9 No. 2 (Summer 2016), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerMcBaineWomensNamesPoll.html, accessed <give access date>.
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I. Natalie Jo
This article was very interesting! What struck me is that it seemed like the more prominent the position, (i.e. Mission President's wife being the greatest) the more strong the response was that the name needed to be changed. While I do not argue that it would be a great thing to change, isn't the importance of changing "Mia Maid' almost paramount so that these young women can be set up for success? Once the actual shift in mentality has taken place even among the most "powerless," for lack of a better term, the change in the more prominent positions will simply follow.
Thanks to everyone that is out there fighting to make positive changes!