Question: What is sexism?

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Question: What is sexism?

Introduction to Question

It has become increasingly common for feminist critics of the Church (whether member or non-member) to assert that many things about its practice, belief, and history are sexist. In order to adequately respond to this criticism, it will be necessary to define sexism so that we can all be sharp moral thinkers about this and other important issues. Having something deemed sexist is a serious accusation to face and Latter-day Saints should be prepared to respond intelligently but also sensitvely to those that have faced sexism and perceive it in the Church.

In the Sunday Afternoon session of the October 2017 General Conference of the Church, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that "[w]e need to embrace God’s children compassionately and eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism, and nationalism. Let it be said that we truly believe the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ are for every child of God."[1] Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve quoted Elder Ballard's words favorably and affirmatively in that very same session.[2]

The Book of Mormon boldly declares that God "inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."[3] It also informs us that “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one”.[4] Finally, it tells us that we, as God’s children, “shall ​​​not​ esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another”.[5]

Sexism is condemned by God.

With that in mind, let's explore the definition of sexism philosophically. Doing so may help ameliorate some concerns that women and men have regarding the Church and the perceived sexism within it.

Those who believe that they have substantive philosophical or scriptural objections to the arguments presented in this article are free to make them to FAIR editors at this link.

Response to Question

To respond to this question, we'll need to gradually construct and explain the definition of sexism that most people hold to today. We'll start with what most consider the defining or central belief of sexism.

Belief in the Superior Moral Worth of One of the Sexes

The first very obvious definition of sexism has to do with the belief of the inherent increase or decrease between the two genders in terms of moral worth: men being inherently superior to women or women being inherently superior to men. When we say "moral worth" we mean that, for instance, if we had two men and two women tied to two strands of a train track and we get to decide who lives and dies by pulling or not pulling a lever, we would prefer to save the two men over the two women because they are more valuable to long term successes of a particular population. This inherent moral worth is supposedly recognized in either men or women because of a particular positive or negative characteristic shared by one sex but not the other. If you believe that any man is going to be inherently more intelligent than a woman, for instance, you may want to only allow men to be your leaders and do everything you can to save men from danger like the trolley problem just described. You'll assign more inherent moral worth to men because of their greater intelligence. Thus, moral worth decides the kinds of opportunities that we afford to men or women depending upon how much inherent moral worth we recognize in them and that moral worth is assigned because of things we consider positive characteristics like strength, intelligence, etc or things we consider negative characteristics like maybe sloth or neuroticism. All can agree that this is sexism.

Important to note here that whether we consider a particular kind of characteristic positive or negative is a function of the morality we subscribe to.[6] For instance, a person who believes in virtue theory as taught by Aristotle and believes that our telos is to exhibit positive traits like courage and altruism will believe that any antithetical and corresponding vice such as cowardice and egotism are negative. Someone that believes in divine command theory and believes that God has commanded us to be cowardly and egotistical may not consider those traits negative.

Misogyny and Misandry

We need to add to our definition something about misogyny and misandry in connection to sexism. Misogyny is defined simply as the hatred of women or the hatred a single woman because she's a woman. Misandry is defined as the hatred of men or the hatred a single man because he is a man. When you hate a man or woman because they are a man or woman, it is necessarily the case that you have a hatred of all men or all women. If you have a hatred of all men or women, you are a misogynist or misandrist. If you have a hatred of a particular person because they are a man or woman, you're are a misandrist or misogynist. If you have misogyny or misandry in your heart as an attitude towards women or men, you will, by definition, also believe yourself as superior to women or men which is sexism. You will also likely (but not necessarily) deny them opportunities on the basis of their gender. You will be slightly more likely to commit acts of violence against them or verbally hurt them. There are times when people can have misogyny or misandry in their heart that we can empathize with even though that misogyny or misandry is still wrong. For example, some man may have some misogyny in his heart because he has been hurt too many times by women whom he has dated. He can exclaim loudly his disdain or hatred of women. His hatred will come with a reason that he's conjured in his mind. "I hate women!" "Why do you hate women?" "They're liars and cheaters!" We have a categorical statement from the man. All women are liars and cheaters.

Now, the vast majority of people who are in this type of situation quickly recognize that they've made a passionate and obviously wrong claim as they talk through their frustrations with someone. However, it still remains a fact that this man made a claim about women that comments on their inherent moral worth as human beings and gives a reason for that perceived lesser worth. Misandry or misogyny is necessarily connected to sexism. These people's hatred of women or men and the necessarily sexist beliefs they'll adopt because of that hatred are of course still wrong, but we can empathize with that misogyny/misandry and sexism to an appropriate degree and seek, with love and by the Spirit, to heal their hearts of the pain they've felt that is causing the very generalized, disdainful attitude of and belief about men or women.

Another example of misogyny or misandry would be seen if, for instance, if two children, one a boy and the other a girl, can come to a person's door on Halloween and that person can intend to give both children candy but deny giving candy to one of the children when they see that that child is a girl. In this example, we don't have any reason to deny the candy to the girl other than an irrational hatred of all women. With the belief of an increase in moral worth between sexes, we're valuing men, for instance, for a very particular characteristic they supposedly all have inherently over all women. With misogyny and misandry, we hate either men or women and thus don't want to provide them certain things or opportunities for things. The belief above might be called rational sexism and misogyny/misandry might be called irrational sexism. Misogyny/Misandry differ themselves from the belief above because they're passionate and irrational. They have a necessary connection to sexism though.

Important to note is that either misandry or misogyny must be coupled by the absence of hatred for the other sex or merely less hatred for the other sex in order to be connected to sexism. If one is both a misandrist and a misogynist and hates them both equally then they are perhaps more accurately described as a misanthropist: someone who hates humanity as a whole. A person can hate both sexes equally and be merely a misanthropist and not a sexist. They can hate both sexes but hate one more than the other and be both a misanthropist and a sexist. This latter attitude might be termed unequal misanthropy.

One can now see the tight association between sexism and misandry/misogyny. They're not the same, but closely related. One is a belief about the sexes, the other is an attitude toward the sexes. Both can delimit the types of opportunities that we want to afford to either.

Many today operate under a very different definition of misogyny and it basically is "anything that I don't like". For example, many condemn the pro-life or anti-abortion political position as being misogynistic. In reality, it isn't misogynistic at all. It's a position that wants to enact civil legislation to protect the unborn from unjust and premature death. Many feminists see access to abortion as liberation from the benighted fetters of child-bearing, child-rearing, and family life. Moral people see access to abortion as depriving women of their greatest flourishing and superpower. In a similarly irrational vein, some people condemn any unflattering portrayal of a person that is a woman as misogynistic. The author recently heard a Lutheran pastor say that he hates the book of Hosea because of its language—language he describes as "extremely misogynistic" and "so sexist and misogynistic".[7] What was that misogynistic rhetoric? The use of the motif of an unfaithful wife or prostitute to describe Israel's idolatry and apostasy. That's not misogyny, that's using a morally negative and accurate motif to describe idolatry and apostasy. This definition of misogyny and its application in modern religious and political discourse is similar to a child being denied a cookie from the cookie jar or a young man being denied 100$ to buy some Nike shoes and that child or teen asking their parents why their parents hate them. All rational minds should be aware of this definition and application of "misogyny", reject them and refute them whenever they are presented, and thus cut them at their roots in culture.

Now we should move into discussion of stereotypes.

Stereotypes

We recognize the existence of stereotypes: ideas that people can have about the attributes about another specific segment of the human population. Some of these stereotypes can be true and some can be untrue. Many believe that the belief in stereotypes about a certain group of people is inherently harmful.

It is certainly true that stereotypes can lead to discrimination. It's a much more debatable thing to affirm that the belief in stereotypes is of itself discrimination.

We recognize that a lot of our humor as human beings is built on playing on stereotypes. The animated sitcom The Simpsons is famous for how it plays comedically on all the stereotypes that one can find in the United States. Some would say that the use of stereotypes in humor is wrong. But that also seems debatable. Does a joke really harm anyone? Especially when the content of jokes is not sincerely believed by the one relaying it? To be sure, some things relayed by comedians are the truth as they perceive it told as jokes. Detecting playful, rhetorical elbows to the rib, on the one hand, and detecting sincere affirmations cloaked as jokes seems to most often be a matter of listening and experiencing rather than providing a concrete set of criteria that we use to sift material.

Some stereotypes are simply true. Others are true and important. For instance, women, on average and in general, tend to have more oxytocin receptors in their brains. Oxytocin is one of the most important chemicals in human bonding. Women (on average and in general) thus more naturally choose careers that are focused on people rather than things (like men). Their brains are (on average and in general) primed to be people-oriented, emotionally observant, nurturing creatures. That's what makes them particularly apt to be mothers to their children and it makes it so that women are more likely than men to stay at home and take care of children. That is a true stereotype of women and it's important. It's not sexist to show how men and women think and behave differently. Women's nurturing aptitudes are beautiful manifestations of femininity and female nature. They are manifestations of what makes women wonderful. They are manifestations of the nature of the Divine Feminine that Latter-day Saints believe in. It is because of this nature of women that the Church encourages them to be mothers so that their feminine nature can be most fully and frequently expressed and glorified.

We should also recognize that the stereotypes themselves should also be demeaning instead of merely untrue. Because we can certainly affirm untrue stereotypes that are just silly or benign like "most women wear white shirts" or "most men have stickers on their laptops." To demean is "to lower in character, status, or reputation." Thus the stereotypes should be about things that we use to elevate or lower the mental image or respect that we have for someone in order to be considered demeaning: things like wealth, intelligence, attractiveness, strength, coordination, etc.

The most we should and probably can say as far as incorporating stereotypes into a definition of sexism is to say that the sincere affirmation of untrue and demeaning stereotypes is a form of sexism. The least we can say is that the sincere affirmation of untrue and demeaning stereotypes leads to sexism.

Now we should talk about how we can know when someone is acting with rational sexism or irrational sexism even when they don't declare it or make it obvious.

The Games of Goods

Say that a man is being interviewed for a job and he is declined that job. The job is given to a woman. The man can ask his would-be employer why. The employer can say that it was because the man didn't have as high educational attainments as the woman did. Assume for the sake of argument that the man was able to find out the educational attainments of the woman and found that he actually had better accolades than her. It instantly became more likely that the man didn't get the job because of rational sexism or misandry. What are the other keys that we have to know whether or not we or someone we love is the victim of rational sexism or misogyny/misandry? To understand that, we have to talk about justice and how we define it.

We most often think about justice in terms of stuff or opportunities to get stuff. If I deny stuff or opportunities for stuff to someone on the basis of sex, I'm necessarily carrying a belief in sexism. For instance, going back to our candy example, if two children, one a boy and the other a girl, can come to a person's door on Halloween and that person can intend to give both children candy but deny giving candy to one of the children when they see that that child is a girl. This would be an example of injustice and misogyny. Similarly, we can deny one of the genders the opportunity of playing sports and competing for awards. Thus we can discriminate with stuff (like the candy)or opportunities to get stuff (like awards granted by merit in competition). But there are other conditions that need to be met in order for us to make a valid accusation of sexism or misogyny/misandry.

Let's consider things like scrunchies, bras, or panties for women. We typically provide all those things for women but not for men. Why? Because men typically don't want those things. Returning to the candy example, say that all that we have as candy for the children are Heath bars. What if the girl simply doesn't want a Heath bar and refuses us giving it to her? Have we done something sexist by not giving her the Heath bar? Of course not! Thus, stuff or opportunities must be wanted in order to infer that someone has done something sexist.

Sometimes things are needed to preserve our health or life. Say there are two people, one male and the other female, that are stranded in the desert in need of water to survive. They stumble upon me and I have water to give to them. I give water only to the female but not the male. Clearly something we would consider an example of sexism. Thus, sometimes stuff or opportunities for stuff must be needed.

There are certain times when stuff or opportunities for stuff must be merited such as in competitive sporting events, scholarships for school, and many jobs. Denying someone an award or medal when they haven't earned it can't be unjust. Denying someone an award or medal when they have earned it is unjust.

These are among the conditions that must be met in order to know when someone is denying us an opportunity based in either sexism or misandry/misogyny: want, need, and merit. We set up different games in society for determining when we will supply certain goods to certain people. Some games are games of want (such as for getting bras, panties, and scrunchies), others of need (such as water in the desert), and others of merit (such as awards for competitive events). We can call these the different games of goods.

This gives us the definition that most people live by and that those who make this criticism seem to base their criticism on:

Belief in the inherent increase or decrease of moral worth between the sexes because of a particular characteristic, misogyny, misandry, unequal misanthropy, the sincere affirmation of untrue and demeaning stereotypes regarding either sex, and/or denying someone stuff or opportunity for stuff on the basis of sex when that stuff or opportunity for stuff is wanted, needed, or, when appropriate, merited.

We can call this DS1 (definition of sexism #1). This is the definition of sexism that most people operate under, but it is still not a sufficient conceptualization of what sexism is. There is still one more requirement that the denial of stuff on the basis of sex needs to meet in order to qualify as legitimate sexism.

DS2

Let's consider this deeper and go back to our candy example. Say that the two children come to the door and the man simply doesn't have enough candy to give to both of them. He has one piece for the boy and no more for the girl. He doesn't have time to go to the store that is right next to his house and get more because his wife suddenly went into labor and he needs to get her to the hospital. Would we say that the man has done something sexist to the little girl? It would be patent nonsense to try and argue that. Of course, it does suck for the little girl; but we wouldn't hold that man morally accountable for not giving that child candy. He didn't have any other option. The author is sure that we wouldn't say that that man has done something unjust or sexist. There was both a practical (not having candy) and a moral consideration (his wife being in dire need of support and transportation to the hospital) that precluded the man giving candy to the girl. This is an extreme example and an obvious one, but its purpose is to demonstrate that there is no person on earth that can accept any other definition of sexism and justify the man taking his wife to the hospital and every rational mind would affirm that the man should take his wife to the hospital. It shows that everyone must accept this definition of sexism and that the debate regarding sexism must include talk of certain occasions in which the greater good demands that we deny one of the sexes a particular opportunity or thing. The debate must consider whether a particular instance of perceived sexism (since something perceived is not necessarily reality) isn't really sexism given a greater good to which we all aspire and that rationally precludes the possibility of giving one or more opportunities to either of the sexes. It must also consider whether the potential greater good is actually the greater good and whether it actually justifies us in restricting opportunities from someone on the basis of sex. That should be a locus and focus of debate.

This definition applies in even less dire circumstances. Say just that the boy and girl come to the door and the man doesn't have any candy for the children. It would be a cumbersome request to tell that man to get more candy to bring to the boy or girl. The boy or girl should cease their want of and request for candy from the man by recognizing that they're asking too much of him to get them candy. There's a practical reality, the lack of more candy, that precludes him from providing candy to the girl or boy. Thus the debate should consider whether there are either moral or practical circumstances that are not that dire but still important that preclude us from offering the same stuff/opportunities to both sexes.

There will be times when the moral reason involves someone's sex and times where it does not. In the candy example above, the practical and moral reasons did not touch someone's sex. There are other occasions where the preclusion of giving an opportunity to one of the sexes is based in their sex. Such is the case, for instance, with separated bathrooms and locker rooms. We know that men are built to be sexually attracted to women and are, on average and in general, stronger and taller than women. We segregate bathrooms and lockerooms because of someone's sex in these instances. Segregating sexes precludes them entering certain spaces at certain times because of their sex.

Given these considerations, we must expand our definition of sexism to DS2:

Belief in the inherent increase or decrease of moral worth between the sexes because of a particular characteristic, misogyny, misandry, unequal misanthropy, the sincere affirmation of untrue and demeaning stereotypes regarding either sex, and/or denying an individual or group stuff or opportunity for stuff on the basis of sex when it is possible to be given (given the absence of either a practical or moral reason for restricting that stuff/opportunity for stuff from them) and when it is either wanted, needed, or, when appropriate, merited.

This definition of sexism is almost guaranteed to help many in their continued efforts to have faith in the Church and to be sharp moral thinkers about sexism. It may become clearer as people read articles that have been or will be written about this topic in relation to the Church.

One can now survey all of the requirements that must be met in order to a valid accusation of sexism to be made. If stuff or an opportunity for stuff is denied and it was possible to be given, needed, wanted, or merited, then it must necessarily be the case that that thing or opportunity is being denied on the basis of something that is likely unjust such as your gender, religion, sexuality, race, nationality, or other things. Knowing the conditions which must be met for stuff or an opportunity to be given helps us to detect prejudicial and unjustified discrimination even when it is not declared or manifested explicitly/obviously.

The Connections Between the Belief, the Attitude, and the Action

We have this separation now between a belief (of an increase or decrease in inherent moral worth), an attitude (misogyny, misandry), and a particular kind of action (denying stuff or opportunities for stuff) given certain circumstances. Here are the logical connections to keep in mind about them.

  1. The attitude necessarily entails that someone holds the belief.
  2. The attitude will likely carry someone to the action but not necessarily. They may refrain from the action but still carry the attitude.
  3. The belief does not necessarily entail that someone has the attitude of misogyny nor will take the action given circumstances.
  4. The particular action given circumstances necessarily entails that someone has the belief and suggests that someone may have the attitude but does not necessarily entail that someone has the attitude.

Review

To review:

  1. DS1: Belief in the inherent increase or decrease of moral worth between the sexes because of a particular characteristic, misogyny, misandry, unequal misanthropy, the sincere affirmation of untrue stereotypes regarding either sex, and/or denying someone stuff or opportunity for stuff on the basis of sex when that stuff or opportunity for stuff is wanted, needed, or, when appropriate, merited.
  2. DS2: Belief in the inherent increase or decrease of moral worth between the sexes because of a particular characteristic, misogyny, misandry, unequal misanthropy, the sincere affirmation of untrue stereotypes regarding either sex and/or denying an individual or group stuff or opportunity for stuff on the basis of sex when it is possible to be given (given the absence of either a practical or moral reason for restricting that stuff/opportunity for stuff from them) and when it is either wanted, needed, or, when appropriate, merited.

DS2 and the Potential for Partial Qualitative Equality as Justice

The potential wisdom of DS2 can be demonstrated now as we consider a few different imaginable definitions of equality and their potential relationship to the Gospel.

Most today consider the word "equality" to be something that is intuitively-derived and obvious to any rational mind. But, with DS2 in mind, we might consider other definitions of equality as potentially viable and demonstrate that things like DS1 is not the only rational definition of sexism.

Most today hold to a version of equality that says that equality is giving both the same amount and the same type of stuff or opportunities to get stuff to all people. We might term this full qualitative equality. It's demonstrated in the photo below. Since this article is about sexism, we'll take males and females as our example. 'M' represents males and 'F' represents females.

Full Qualitative Equality Better.png

But DS2 allows us to consider two other imaginable definitions of equality. One we might call non-qualitative equality where different segments of the human population—in this case men and women—receive the same amount of stuff or opportunities for stuff but none of the same type or nature of stuff or opportunities for stuff as other segments. That is demonstrated with the image below.

Non-Qualitative Equality Better.png

The other version of equality DS2 makes imaginable may be termed partial-qualitative equality where different segments of the human population receive the same amount of stuff or opportunities for stuff and at least some of the same type or nature of stuff or opportunities for stuff as other segments. That is demonstrated with this image.[8]

Partial Qualitative Equality Better.png

Now, it's seems impossible that we'll ever live in a society where non-qualitative equality becomes a reality. It doesn't make sense why we'd ever give just peanut butter and honey sandwiches to men and only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to women, for example. It seems absurd that we'd differentiate the type of opportunity we give to men and women in every instance. But partial-qualitative equality may be a viable option for understanding equality. It's wisdom is in showing, in tandem with DS2, that it is not necessarily the case that we have to be the same or be given the same stuff/opportunities for stuff in order to be equal.

We can take the Family Proclamation as our example. Many have criticized the Proclamation for what they perceive are its strict and clean partition of gender roles between men and women—men being tasked only as presiders, providers, and protectors and women only as nurturers of children. First, we should note that there are problems with that interpretation of the Proclamation. But let's just imagine that it were the case that men and women were given such a strict separation of roles. We recognize that marriage is a procreative relationship between a man and a woman. We recognize that majority scholarly opinion tells us that there are sex-based, biologically-determined, psychobehavioral differences between men and women that make us more apt for certain tasks—men as providers and women as nurturers, for example.[9] We also recognize that nations need labor in order to function economically. They need men and women to be married and have babies and they need those babies to grow up and become productive citizens of that nation. Without men and women having babies, societies would not be able to replace their labor force as older humans enter advanced age and die. There may be (and, in the author's view, are) problems with some of these assertions. But could we consider that it is at least possible for men and women to be given strict gender roles and still be considered just under the before-discussed definitions of sexism and equality? Yes, we can. That is the wisdom of DS2 and partial-qualitative equality because, again, they allow us to at least consider, without a more intense threat of being deemed sexist, that it is not necessarily the case that we have to be the same or be given the same stuff/opportunities for stuff in order to be equal. That's the whole basis of philosophies like gender complementarianism where men and women are both by nature and role different from one another yet complement each other in the child-bearing and rearing relationship.[10] DS2 and partial qualitative equality give us a more expansive and, in the author's assessment, rational way of judging issues related to sexism and equality. These definitions of sexism and equality may allow us to make sense of much of the moral standards that are presented to us in scripture and other moral conflicts we see today between modernity and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To be sure, in each case that we are considering restricting certain opportunities from one sex and not the other, we will have to consider very carefully whether there is an adequate moral or practical justification for doing so: something that supersedes the wants, needs, and merits of one of the sexes. And, in perhaps the vast majority of cases, the author believes that it won't be necessary to restrict opportunities from one sex and give those same opportunities to the other. But we just wish to open the door philosophically for more careful consideration of sexism and equality in light of the Gospel.

DS2 and partial qualitative equality do exist in today's society in ways that do go noticed, to be sure, but not remembered and appreciated. A perfect example is the separation we make between boys and girls sports. We have different leagues for the two sexes. We make the different leagues because we know that boys and girls typically have different abilities as far as strength, speed, and visuospatial processing is concerned because of differing testosterone levels between the two. If we were to place men and women together, men would typically have a competitive advantage over girls. So we give girls the same amount of opportunities to compete for awards in the same sports as boys, but not the same type of opportunity in that we don't allow them to compete against men. The same goes for other sex-segregated places such as “restrooms, changing rooms, spas, college dormitories, and other areas in which women may be in states of undress, sleeping, or vulnerable in other ways.”[11]

Because example like these are not remembered and appreciated, and without a clearer and more consistent defense of DS2 and partial-qualitative equality, DS1 and full-qualitative equality becomes the de facto philosophy for most of society.

We can achieve partial qualitative equality when, in every instance that we are using either a moral or practical consideration to justify restricting a certain opportunity or type of opportunity from one of the sexes, we use that same moral or practical consideration to justify restricting a corresponding opportunity from the other sex. So when we restrict girls from playing in boys sports because men are on average and in general faster, stronger, and taller than women, we would similarly restrict boys from playing in girls sports because they are, on average and in general, faster, stronger, and taller than women. If we restrict opportunities from both sexes using the same moral or practical justifications, then the natural result is partial-qualitative equality and use of DS2 to create it.

There will be some cases where equality is not possible. Returning to our candy example, a man might just run out of candy. There's a practical consideration that allows him to only give candy to one of the children.

Our goal should be to provide equality wherever possible.

One reason that today's feminists have pushed against things like DS2 and partial qualitative equality is a belief that gender is a social construct. In another article we've responded to that notion.

Deriving Other Definitions from This Analysis

What's interesting is that one can substitute the word "races" for the word "sexes", "hatred of a particular race" for "misandry or misogyny", and "race" for "sex" and have a very coherent, very defensible definition of racism.

One can substitute "people of a homosexual sexual orientation" for "sexes", "hatred of those with same-sex attraction or an individual because they have same-sex attraction" for "misandry or misogyny", and "non-heterosexual sexual orientation" for "sex" and have a very coherent, very defensible definition of homophobia.

One can do similar substitutions for nationality, religion, etc. and come up with very coherent definitions of xenophobia, islamophobia, mormophobia, anti-semitism, and all other unjustified forms of discrimination.

How the Demands of Love and Equality May Be At Odds With Each Other Sometimes And Why, At Times, That's Morally Okay

It is important now to here state and make the case that the demands of love and equality may be at odds with each other and that, at times, that may be morally justified.

Let's take the Savior's atonement as our example. We recognize Jesus Christ as the only sinless lamb of God sent to be slain on behalf of the sins of the entire world. God did not demand that we suffer like Jesus did in order to receive, for instance, the gift of resurrection from death. What the Gospel tells us is that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice as an offering of grace. Grace is defined as giving someone something even when they didn't deserve it or earn it in anyway. It's likely that, if God held equality as a virtue that must be held inviolate at all times, that we should suffer like the Savior suffered. Then we would be equal since we would be deprived of the same comforts that Jesus was deprived of during his atonement. What the Savior teaches us is that we must sometimes sacrifice the satisfaction or compensation of our wants, needs, and/or merits for the greater good. The Savior taught us that "[g]reater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."[12]

We might also apply this understanding to areas of Church history and doctrine where we perceive inequalities. We must recognize and trust that God would not command something like, say, polygamy if he didn't believe that that command instructed us perfectly in the demands of love. We are trying, as God's children, to become gods like him and take on his nature.[13] His nature is defined by his perfect embodiment of love.[14] Therefore, his commands must be instructions in understanding the fullest definition of love and putting it into practice so that we learn love both intellectually and experientially. The Savior tells us this much.[15] We recognize that one of the purposes of polygamy was to raise up a covenant seed to God.[16] The end of raising up a covenant seed rapidly could have only been done by one man impregnating multiple women. The constraints of biology demanded polygyny. That naturally delimited the opportunities for sex for women. There was an inequality between men and women. But the greater moral good demanded it. It may be proper to understand that the demands of love superseded the need for equality for a time.

But we might now ask "Okay, sure, there may be times when love demands that we forego equality. But shouldn't we be compensated later for our sacrifice? The Savior was certainly compensated for his sacrifice by being placed 'at the right hand of God'.[17] We're trying to create Zion where we become 'of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness, with no poor among us'.[18] The scriptures are replete with references to equality. Like where God says that 'if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things'.[19] Shouldn't God be morally obligated compensate us at some point so that we all become equal or are just repayed for the times where we forewent our equality in order to serve the greater good?[20] Doesn't he even tell us several times that we will be compensated?[21]"

It is true that the Lord often compensates us for our obedience and will compensate us for much of it either now or in the future. Really it's not a compensation for our obedience so much as it is an act of love for an act of love. The covenants that the Lord cuts with us are not to be understood as transactions but moreso as instructions in how loving people should try to relate to each other. But love demands something more than having love reciprocated. Love sometimes demands, as the Savior demonstrates, that we give acts of service to others as acts that may not receive reciprocation. We are going to be made equal with the Savior in terms of power and blessings at some point and become gods ourselves if we remain righteous.[22] But we will not suffer like the Savior suffered. We will not be made equal with him that way (or rather, he will not be made equal with us and can't be since his Atonement is already accomplished). Thus, while people who love each other should try to reciprocate the acts of their lovers, loving people should not expect reciprocation from their beloved. Even if that reciprocation is not given, we should continue to love and not demand reciprocation.

All this demonstrates that the demands of love and equality may be at odds with each other. In some cases, like the Savior's, permanently. We should seek equality as much as possible, and recognize that equality is something that we should all value very, very highly since it is the condition that we will inherit and be expected to maintain when we become gods; but we should recognize that there may be times where equality is simply not possible—and really not even desirable—given the demands of love.

There may be cases, now or in the future, where God may want to restrict opportunities from one of the sexes either permanently or for at least a persistent, enduring amount of time given the demands of love—that which leads to our greatest collective and individual flourishing—and it may be that our "equality" comes because we are equally valuable to the working of a divine order that by necessity restricts certain stuff and opportunities for stuff from one of the sexes permanently or persistently—similar to cogs in a machine. We may play very different roles from one another, but without playing that role the machine won't work like it's supposed to. We'd all be equally important to the working of the machine. We should be open to this possibility.

God's Ways Are Higher Than Ours

We will need to remember that it may not be possible to know everything that God has in mind by restricting certain opportunities from anyone. God reminds us that "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."[23]

We should remember that it may be wisest to simply trust God when we don't have a good explanation for why he may have done something. We should allow him to surprise us.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf related the following story in the April 2008 General Conference of the Church:

In 1979 a large passenger jet with 257 people on board left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. This error placed the aircraft 28 miles (45 km) to the east of where the pilots assumed they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before, and they had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, an active volcano that rises from the frozen landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m).


As the pilots flew onward, the white of the snow and ice covering the volcano blended with the white of the clouds above, making it appear as though they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board.

It was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees.

Through years of serving the Lord and in countless interviews, I have learned that the difference between happiness and misery in individuals, in marriages, and families often comes down to an error of only a few degrees.[24]

The author would add communities like the Church and nations to the list of entities that can know the difference between happiness and misery by mere degrees.

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that all things have a telos or purpose for which they were designed. As someone or something either adheres to or is used according to its telos, that thing or person flourishes. The Lord’s standards and the opportunities he decides to afford or not afford us are granted in part based off of a deep understanding of our nature: who and what we are as humans; what we were built for. Misunderstanding our nature as human beings by even just a few degrees may mark the difference between our greatest individual, communal, and national happiness and something less than that. Creating law, whether divine or mortal/civic, based on a misunderstanding of our nature risks forgoing our fullest flourishing individually and collectively for something less than our fullest flourishing. There may be things about our nature that God understands and we don’t. As an all-knowing being that is also of our same species, we should afford him our trust in determining, through his prophets, what our telos is as men and women, what opportunities he will and will not afford us, what the best understanding of gender is, when to hold or not hold equality inviolate, and so on. Forcing the Lord’s hand like Joseph Smith did in giving Martin Harris the Book of Mormon manuscript may create dysfunction for our lives individually and collectively as a Church and even as a society.

Conclusion

It's the authors belief that many of the concerns that men and women have about perceived sexism in the Church will be helped by recognizing that certain opportunities may be denied them because of higher moral goods that supersede either their wants, needs, or merits or because practical considerations preclude us from giving them stuff and opportunities. FAIR will likely author future articles under this definition of sexism as it seems to make sense of many accusations of sexism against the Church. Hopefully, this argument will continue to hold philosophically and this definition of sexism will help us to become sharper moral thinkers and be more intelligent as well as more sensitive defenders of the Church.

This definition of sexism has been used to answer the questions about the Church listed below.

Notes

  1. M. Russell Ballard, "The Trek Continues!" Ensign 47, no. 11 (November 2017): 106. Emphasis added.
  2. Neil L. Andersen, "The Voice of the Lord," Ensign 47, no. 11 (November 2017): 124.
  3. 2 Nephi 26:33. Emphasis added.
  4. 1 Nephi 17:35
  5. Mosiah 23:7
  6. One may need to be more familiar with the philosophy of morality in order to grasp this argument fully, but we do need to talk about this here. Be sure to sign up for an introductory ethics course or purchase an introductory textbook in order to learn more.
  7. Bob Ierien @knothead9620, "Episode 4 | #answer to pigeonsarefun1214 My least favorite book of the Bible: Hosea. #askpastor #askontiktok #pastorsoftiktok #progressiveclergy #progressivechristian #biblegeek #hosea," TikTok, December 7, 2022, https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRqVucBJ/. To be fair to the pastor, he also laments how the rhetoric has been used against women in the past by other Christian denominations. That we can sympathize with more. But the mere use of the motifs in Hosea as misogynistic and/or sexist is wrong.
  8. One will see that only qualitative equality is impossible. One will also observe that full quantitative equality is a necessary feature of any imaginable definition of equality. We must at least receive the same amount in order to be truly equal.
  9. For commentary on the biologically-determined, sex-based, psychobehavioral differences between men and women, see Bruce Goldman, "Two minds: the cognitive differences between men and women," Stanford Medicine, Stanford University, May 7, 2021, https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html; John Stossel, "The Science: Male Brain vs Female Brain," YouTube, October 15, 2019, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTEi2-FAEZE; David C. Geary, Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences, 3rd ed. (Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2020).; "The Real Causes of Human Sex Differences," Quilette, October 20, 2020, https://quillette.com/2020/10/20/the-real-causes-of-human-sex-differences/; "The Ideological Refusal to Acknowledge Evolved Sex Differences," Quillette, September 1, 2022, https://quillette.com/2022/09/01/the-ideological-refusal-to-acknowledge-evolved-sex-differences/; Amber N. V. Ruigrock et. al, “A meta-analysis of sex differences in human brain structure,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 39 (2014): 34–50; Larry Cahill, “A Half-Truth is a Whole Lie: On the Necessity of Investigating Sex Influences on the Brain,” Endocrinology 153 (2012): 2542; “His Brain, Her Brain,” Scientific American, October 1, 2012. The most thorough coverage the author has seen in one book is in Charles Murray, Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class (New York: Twelve, 2020), 11–127. Indeed, every single cell of our body is influenced by our sex. See Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences; Theresa M. Wizemann, Mary-Lou Pardue, eds., Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter? (Washington D.C.: National Academies Press (US), 2001), Executive Summary, 2, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK222291/#!po=1.11111. For a paradigm of gender compatible with the Gospel, see Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter, 2017), chap. 7.
  10. Of course, differences are differences. Men and women could be different and not complement each other. The theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and many if not most Christian denominations affirms that our differences as men and women are complementary.
  11. Hypatia, “Preferred Pronouns: At What Cost?” Public Square Magazine, October 7, 2022, https://publicsquaremag.org/sexuality-family/does-it-really-matter-what-pronouns-i-use/.
  12. John 15:13
  13. Doctrine & Covenants 132:19–20
  14. 1 John 4:8
  15. Matthew 22:34–40; John 14:15
  16. Jacob 2:30
  17. Moroni 7:27
  18. Moses 7:18
  19. Doctrine & Covenants 78:4
  20. Doctrine & Covenants 82:10
  21. Doctrine & Covenants 1:10; 56:19; 112:34; 124:121; 127:3
  22. Doctrine & Covenants 76:58
  23. Isaiah 55:8–9
  24. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “A Matter of a Few Degrees,” Ensign 38, no. 5 (May 2008): 57–58.