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They Left Mormonism But Not the Patriarchy

Do I need to start with a “not all men” disclaimer? It can be frustrating for me, because when there’s an escape clause, all the men who desperately need to see the problems in their own worldview are going to congratulate themselves that they aren’t the problem, they’ve already done the world of leaving the patriarchy, they don’t see women as second-class citizens or as their servants anymore, they are the good guys. But the truth is, there are very few men who have done the work of leaving patriarchy even after they leave a patriarchal religion. Why not? Because patriarchy is everywhere. It’s in politics, science, religion, entertainment, publishing, medicine, law. Any space that you are in is probably patriarchal. I’ve found a few women’s only spaces that are at least less patriarchal. And yes, women are also enmeshed in patriarchy, so we also have the problem of leaving a religious organization but not leaving behind the patriarchy that goes with it. But I’ll say that I think women do a better job in general than men do.

I’m going to start with the basics here. Patriarchy is a system of thought that says that women are lesser than men. There are a lot of ways that this message comes out. But it’s important for us to start talking about all the ways that women are seen as unequal and all the ways that we pretend that isn’t what the systems are saying when it is, in fact, what they are saying.

“Women are more nurturing than men.” (This leads to women doing far more emotional work than men do, and men telling themselves that it’s because it’s not natural for them. Emotional work is work. It’s not just child-care, but it is definitely that, too.)

“Women and men need to have separate spheres of influence.” (I remember a college professor telling me that women did better in women’s only schools because men didn’t talk over them — as he talked over me. Creating separate spheres is a way of acknowledging the harm of the patriarchy. It may even be a way to alleviate some of the problems temporarily. But it is an admission that women are treated unequally.)

“Women aren’t as aggressive as men.” (This leads to men taking charge in most situations and telling themselves that this is what women want them to do. It’s “natural” for them to do this. This also leads to men taking defensive stances toward women, patting them on the back in paternal ways, telling themselves they’re the good guys if they help take care of women instead of helping women get power for themselves.)

“Women need to be protected.”(This is often true in a world in which rape culture rules. But why don’t we have laws in place to protect women? Why? Because that would take away male power. And the ability to police women’s bodies and tell them that it’s their own fault if they’re raped because of what they were wearing or what alcohol they drank or anything else.)

“Women just need to act more like men.” (This is part of the whole system of making it women’s fault that they have less power. The reality is that when women act like men, they’re told to talk more gently, to use kinder words, ie it’s their fault no one listens. Then when they talk more gently and use kinder words, they’re told that they need to speak up. This is an endless circle.)

“Women are evolutionarily made as the weaker sex, and to give birth to young.” (This is where I point out that science is often just as patriarchal as religion. You can be an atheist all you want but it doesn’t undo your male power. Instead of saying that it’s God’s design for women to have no power in your system, you use evolution. This is eugenics and it’s terrible for humanity, for anyone with “difference.”)

“Women don’t work as hard as men.” (This is a problem that I see in the way men view women’s labor as unimportant or don’t see it at all. Cleaning the house, making food, caring for children, running errands, on and on. Men imagine they deserve more money because their work is somehow more valuable to society. It’s not. The statistics are clear that women across the world do many more hours of labor than men do.

I don’t know how we fix this problem because in general, men have the power and they have little interest in seeing the problem in the first place because it makes them feel bad about themselves. It would make them feel obligated to give up their power and most of them have little interest in that. Leaving Mormonism for men is about seeing themselves as more enlightened and giving them more power because they’re no longer forced to deal with a system that tells them about sin and demands that they give up their power to the hierarchy. No wonder that I hear so many ex-Mormon men talking about how they’re so much happier outside of Mormonism. No wonder that’s not often the way I hear women talk about it. And no wonder that many former Mormon women have little interest in the male-dominated ex-Mormon spaces that are so loud on the internet.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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