I Have an Answer

Questions to Gospel Answers

First published in Mormon Women's Forum, vol. 7, no. 1-2 (1996)

ANSWER: “There are basic things that a man needs that a woman does not need. There are things that a man feels that a woman never does feel. There are basic things that a woman needs that a man never needs, and there are things that a woman feels that a man never feels, nor should he. These differences make women, in basic needs, literally opposite from men.”† —Boyd K. Packer, “The Equal Rights Amendment,” The Ensign, March 1977.

QUESTIONS: Are women and men members of the same species? If so, how can one sex’s basic needs be somehow “literally opposite” from the other’s? What are the things that women feel that men shouldn’t feel? (Menstrual cramps?) What happens if a man feels something he supposedly “shouldn’t” feel? Does that turn him into a fake man? What if a woman feels something that she’s “never” supposed to feel? And how will women and men know if what they’re feeling is something they’re not supposed to feel?

President Packer continued, “A man, for instance, needs to feel protective, and yes, dominant, if you will, in leading his family. A woman needs to feel protected, in the bearing of children and in the nurturing of them… .”

Which men “need” to feel dominant? (Avoid them!) Why does a man “need” to feel dominant? Isn’t domination antithetical to true leadership and a characteristic of the “natural man” that King Benjamin says is an enemy to God (Mosiah 3:19)?

How is the protection a woman supposedly craves any different from the need for security and safety common to both sexes? Is motherhood somehow more under attack than meaningful fatherhood? Ironically, LDS men spend less quality time with their children than non-LDS men; it seems that fatherhood, not motherhood, is more in need of protection among the saints!§ Don’t men need to feel protected in the nurturing of their children? Certainly men who choose to spend time in non-traditional ways—as full-time fathers, for example—seem to need protection from the verbal attacks and sanctions from right-wing traditionalists!

President Packer: “When God created male and female, He gave each important differences in physical attributes, in emotional composition, in family responsibility.”

With the exception of gross biological distinctions, is there not an enormous amount of overlap between the sexes—emotionally, spiritually, intellectually? Where in scripture has God made the kinds of role assignments alluded to? Moses 5:1 indicates that Eve worked alongside Adam; Moses 5:3 indicates that their male and female offspring “began ... to till the land, and to tend flocks, and they also begat sons and daughters.” There does not seem to be quite the division of labor between parenthood and “earning a living” as modern-day rhetoric insists upon. (And, in fact, this division is largely a 19th century middle-class innovation, not at all a “timeless” nor “divinely-mandated” requirement.)

Is it any wonder that women are kept from equal privileges and access to decision-making power when so many men believe in a definition of “true womanhood” that all too frequently diverges from adult human behavior?

Finally, and most importantly, does God relate to us as members of categories or as individuals? Why then do we base practice and policy on frequently erroneous stereotypes and generalities, rather than on respect for individual needs and capacities, regardless of sex? Why does so much of current Church practice seem heavily invested in such simplistic categorizations? Does God truly place order above what is needful to help each of us progress as individuals? And why would order be in any way threatened by allowing individual women and men the opportunity to fulfill the measure of their creation? Should we continue to mindlessly follow the traditions of the fathers, even when they are demonstrably harmful to ourselves and others?

† Author's Note: Although published 20 (now 35+) years ago, this same kind of thinking is still prevalent in the Church today, as numerous conference talks and Ensign articles unfortunately attest.

§ James T. Duke, “Cultural Continuity and Tension between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and American Society,” Mormon Studies Conference, University of Nottingham (U.K.), 6 April 1995.