A Woman’s Worth

by parkay on September 11, 2011

in Women's Rights

A few weeks ago, at BYU education week, women were packed in the Wilkinson Center auditorium to listen to Professor Susan Easton Black speak about LDS women. I cannot find a print copy of her speech, but Sarah Gambles reported for the BYU Daily Universe on August 18, 2011.[1] I had to read the article about Professor Black’s talk more than once. As reported:

She said “[W]omen stand out in history for three reasons: 1) being the mother of a famous person, 2) being the wife of an important person and 3) race.”

Apparently the professor went on to give examples of her premise, naming Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith’s mother who staunchly defending her son and his religion. She then named Emma Smith (no mention of her maiden name—Hale) Joseph’s first wife. Black noted that Joseph called her “smart.” Her reputation was as a literate woman and that she even led parades in Nauvoo. She also noted that Emma was also the only woman to have a section in the Doctrine and Covenants specifically for her. D&C §132 reads that she [Emma] shall “be destroyed,” if she will not accept “celestial marriage.”

Then, incredibly, under the vague category of “race,” Sarah Manning, a black woman who lived with the Smiths, is mentioned. Though this part was not addressed by Professor Black, after a lifetime of service in the Smith household, Manning was sealed to Joseph Smith in the LDS Temple in 1894 by proxy as his servant for eternity!
The absolute misogyny inherent in this message is enough to make any enlightened person ill. These examples validate women based only on their gender or race, whether as mother, wife or black servant. Any importance in their lives has been solely derivative; it is only due to their relationship to the founding prophet of Mormonism.

What a transparent slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of LDS women, especially the polygamist wives of the 19th century. No mention is made of the outspoken Ann Eliza Webb Young, who, with her attorneys helped to establish divorce rights for these abused women, and who testified in the U.S Congress against the horrendous nature of Mormon polygamy. Fanny Stenhouse’s autobiography Tell it All, reveals that she was more intelligent and a better writer than any of the male Mormon leaders of her time. Nothing is said of Eliza Snow’s poems or songs, of Mormon Emeline Blanche Woodward Well’s feminist arguments in favor of a woman’s individuality instead of being relegated to the status of a pet or a toy for men. And nothing, of course, about contemporary LDS women writers and scholars, most of whom have been excommunicated for their insights and exposure of this patriarchal nonsense.

I have never heard a more demeaning speech given by a woman concerning her own gender. The young LDS women in the audience must be so disheartened, for according to this speech, they have no true role model. None of these women were appreciated for any individual effort, their remembrance in Mormon history is a matter of happenstance, who they knew, married, or birthed. What a travesty!

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[1] http://universe.byu.edu/index.php/2011/08/18/latter-day-saint-women-can-make-a-difference/

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