An open letter to the women I’ve hurt because of the wrong religious ideas I adopted as a male in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I’m sorry for not realizing how hard it can be for women in the Church. I’m sorry for supporting the system of your repression. I’m sorry for believing everything the Church did to you was right. I’m sorry I didn’t think for myself. I’m sorry for feeling superior over every LDS woman because I hold the Priesthood. I’m sorry I didn’t always hear you.
I consider myself a good person. At least, I try to be a good person. I was, however, subjected in my upbringing to cultural, religious and gender-biased ideas about the value of certain human attributes. I had a hierarchy of authority in my own mind that started with the prophet, continued to the apostles and local Church leaders, extended to myself and FINALLY as a last resort included the females around me. I even felt you needed me as an intermediary when you wanted to access God in certain ways, such as when receiving the sacrament or obtaining a Priesthood blessing.
I thought I was treating you as an equal. I just thought you just had a different role. I didn’t realize I’d been programmed to disrespect you. I didn’t realize I thought I was MORE equal than you, simply because I have a Y chromosome.
Waking up to this reality hurts. Recognizing my mistakes in this regard is like shining a glaring spotlight onto my flaws. Awareness is always a hard experience in the beginning. The imperfections were always there, but when I couldn’t see them I was blissfully and unconsciously hurtful. I was also supported in my arrogance by a two hundred year old patriarchy.
What I’ve realized now is that the patriarchy hurt us both. I won’t compare our wounds. I know I’ll lose that battle. But I didn’t fit the mold. I didn’t serve a mission. This kept me from being valued in many ways. I was barred from rising in the Church. I judged myself and even judged my dad because neither of us has ever been a bishop or elder’s quorum president. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t part of the club, the inner circle. And these experiences gave me a tiny, tiny taste of what women face every day in the Church. But perhaps the biggest disfavor that was done to me by the patriarchy was that they told me who you were supposed to be, and I believed them without hesitation.
I know there are many women in the Church who are content with the way things are, who don’t want the Priesthood and gladly accept the role they’ve been assigned. I honor you. This isn’t a letter about who you should and shouldn’t be. It’s a letter about how I unconsciously expected every female to fit into a nice, neat box with pretty wrapping paper and a bow. I denied your individuality. I also didn’t have a place in my mind or life for the woman with a strong personality, and I regret to say that I judged her when I should have celebrated her and everyone else for their unique and beautiful contribution to the world.
Now comes the hard part. Awareness is only a beginning. Can I undo a lifetime of conditioning? I want to snap my fingers and be gender-enlightened, but I know it won’t happen overnight. I will be watching, though. I will be paying attention to your words, tone, and body language as you react to my treatment of you. I’m exchanging my patriarchy card for a human equality card.
I thought I was honoring you by saying you were so spiritual you didn’t need the Priesthood, or that you were being protected from the “burden” of Church leadership, like you were some kind of fragile porcelain doll. I thought I was honoring you by saying your most important work was within the walls of your home, as if that was for me to decide. I thought I was honoring you by appreciating the food you made for me and the decorations you slaved over, but you are so much more than all of that. My job was to set up chairs and tables, shovel snow, hold the door. We both knew our roles. I sat on my hands while you were working in the kitchen. I expected you to serve me. I took from you without giving something back.
I don’t know what equality looks like. I thought I knew.
I don’t know how to treat you. I thought I did.
I don’t know what it’s like to be you, what your fears and hopes and dreams are. I thought I knew because I was told, just like you, what women in the Church are supposed to be. I judged you by how well you adhered to the Church’s definition of ideal womanhood, and until now I never thought to ask about your definition.
I’m ready and willing to learn. Please forgive me for my past ignorance.
Gerry Baird is a software project manager with an MBA from Utah State University. He is the author of several religious/inspirational books including his latest title, “Soulness: Six spiritual practices that will set you free”, and is currently pursuing a degree in mental health counseling from Grand Canyon University. His passions include piano, kayaking, yoga, meditation, religious studies, and offering a nonjudgmental listening ear to the beautiful people he meets in real life and through social media. He blogs at The Awakened Mormon.