We should just stop pretending. Let’s call a spade a spade: there is not equality between the sexes in the Church.
The most obvious example of inequality in the Church is in the exclusive assignment of demanding administrative duties to men. The vast majority of the most time-intensive callings in the Church are filled by men. Men are tasked with the brunt of the bean counting and attendance of overlong administrative meetings. Men have to collect tithing and do all of the accounting work that that entails. Men have to keep track of sacrament meeting attendance and are held to account for diminishing attendance. Men are responsible for visiting every family in the ward and are constantly harangued for their failure to do so, while women are only expected to visit the sisters, and even that responsibility can be discharged by making a quick phone call or sending a cute card in the mail.
These administrative duties are especially burdensome when viewed in light of everything else that is expected of the men of the Church: they are expected to provide for their families with their salary alone, minus tithes and offerings, and at the same time they are expected to be personally involved in their children’s lives and maintain strong personal bonds with their wives and children. No success in work or church service excuses a man for failing to be an involved father and supportive husband.
Free from the obligations to make money and serve in the most taxing callings, women of the Church are able to focus their energy on what we are taught is the most important work we do in this life: family work. Sure, women are expected to serve in the Church, but when convert baptisms, retention rates, and activity levels decrease it’s the men who bear the brunt of the blame.
The pressure to be personally worthy is disproportionately felt by men. If a man is unworthy to participate in priesthood ordinances, such as blessing, baptizing, or ordaining his children or giving healing blessings, he must bear the public shame of having other men perform these tasks in his place, while a woman’s unworthiness is pretty much invisible.
And then there’s the issue of missionary service. There is a huge disparity in what is expected of young adult males and females. Young men face enormous pressure to suspend their studies, romances, and career opportunities at a crucial juncture in their lives in order to serve missions. If they decide not to go, they are ostracized and made to feel guilty for shirking a sacred duty. There is little compassion for the guy who may not have a stellar testimony and can’t bring himself to give everything to the Church. It’s no wonder that so many men leave the Church when they are young adults—the pressure to go on a mission effectively turns the late teens/early twenties into a make-or-break time. Faced with the decision to either give up everything and serve a mission, not serve a mission and stay in the Church to be constantly pushed to serve, or go inactive, many young men take the least painful path and fall away.
Young women, in contrast, are free to serve in the Church and pursue personal fulfillment however they want. There is no disgrace if a young woman chooses education, marriage, work, or wheel-spinning instead of a mission. While there is some pressure for young women to be pursuing marriage, they are not pressured out of the Church if they don’t find a spouse. In fact, rather than being called to task for their failure to move their life forward, they are often coddled and reassured that they are victims of all the young men who create the well-known gender imbalance by falling away from the Church in young adulthood. Mankind in general is also blamed, what with their less spiritual natures making it so that there aren’t enough men who are worthy of our virtuous women.
Official discourse reinforces the unequal status of men. Women and young women are frequently praised and congratulated for who they are, while men and young men are regularly taken behind the proverbial woodshed for their many sins. It is in Priesthood session of General Conference, not in Relief Society or Young Women’s general meetings, that the sins like pornography, spousal abuse, racism, and gambling get considerable air time. Maybe that’s because those sins are disproportionately alluring to men, but even if that’s so and women don’t need to hear as much about these specific issues, aren’t there a lot of things that they’re doing wrong for which they could be berated? They don’t get anything that compares to the lashing that the men are often given.
Church teachings about marriage leave men vulnerable to be domineered by their wives. While there are abundant explicit injunctions from our modern prophets, and even some in the scriptures, against men domineering their wives and subjugating them, there is very little explicit instruction against women domineering their husbands. No man who’s paying any kind of attention to what our leaders are saying can believe that the priesthood gives him any kind of last word authority over his wife, but wives may easily feel justified in setting themselves above their husbands by virtue of their more spiritual natures and in domineering them through guilt trip or other means. The disparity in how men and women are treated in General Conference may reinforce this tendency in women rather than combat it. This is not to say anything against women in general, but we know that it is in the nature of humans to want to concentrate power and domineer one another and there is much more in Church discourse on marriage that pushes back against that tendency in men than in women.
The Church grows on the sweat of men. It’s time that we acknowledge their value and treat them as equals.