074: Mental Health Repercussions for Mormon Feminists

verlyne-180x250Natasha Helfer Parker interviews Verlyne Christensen, a psychologist and a member of the Mormon Mental Health Association with a private practice in Alberta, Canada.  Her focus through her graduate studies focused on multicultural counseling – and she chose to study religion as a culture and how it impacts everyday life.  Her dissertation dealt with research in regards to mainstream Mormon women (2007-2008) – those who self-identified as feminists and active members of the church.  Her research focused on how these women made a patriarchal religion work in their lives, the costs and benefits of this type of participation (i.e. cognitive dissonance) and implications for clinical treatment.


Feminist Mormon Housewives

By Common Consent

Ordain Women

Many thanks to The Lower Lights for the beautiful bumper music and to Brian Dillman for audio production of this podcast.  Natasha Helfer Parker runs a private practice in Wichita, KS and writes at The Mormon Therapist for Patheos: Hosting the Conversation of Faith.

Donations to Mormon Mental Health are tax deductible and go directly to support the costs of producing the podcast.  If and when donations exceed these costs, they will go to support trainings, research, materials development, and financial support for those who need help affording appropriate therapy services.



4 comments for “074: Mental Health Repercussions for Mormon Feminists

  1. Memba
    August 4, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    I would like to humbly offer a male perspective on this issue that, frankly, I never hear expressed in discussions about Mormon feminism or patriarchy. At the outset, I want to clearly say that I have no problems whatsoever with women holding the priesthood and serving in any and every calling in the church–even scouts.

    Having said that, I want to say that I think “patriarchy” may not be the best way to talk about. Absolutely, women are excluded from many leadership roles. That is a fact.

    However, I do not think this exclusion from leadership equates into women having less power in marriages compared to non-LDS couples. The law of chastity is enforced absolutely with men, and with at least as much enthusiasm and diligence as with women. And that means, in real life–not just theoretically–that women pretty much have absolute control over sex in marriage.

    Mormon men rarely cheat on their wives when things get rough. Part of that is clearly due to the huge consequences to a man if he, cheats, attempts to force more sex, turns to pornography and masturbation, or anything else. I have many non-LDS friends and associates who have extra-marital relationships–sometimes even with the wife’s knowledge at some level. None of my LDS friends do this. And if they are caught doing any of it, they are severely punished and publicly shamed and humiliated. They lose their church standing, even if they aren’t ex’d. And it is permanent.

    My point is, the strict adherence to chastity demanded by the church is a huge power and control equalizer among marriage partners. I think it is naive to think otherwise. Mormon men have to work harder than non-LDS men to please their wives if they want a happy life. And this is drilled into men again and again in the church–just read conference Priesthood talks if you have any doubt.

    And sadly, I can tell you that I know several men whose wives have completely stopped all sex in the marriage. And the man can’t do anything about it if he wants to stay active in the church. He just endures to the end. And he still has to treat his wife wth reverence, civility and dignity. If there are problems in LDS marriages, church leaders almost always blame it on men and their lack of self control.

    I know this idea doesn’t fit well with feminist thought, theory and doctrine (yes, doctrine). But chastity changes everything. “Patriarchal” power has major limitations in this environment. So maybe at the home and family level, things aren’t quite so out of balance with power? I think you can find plenty of LDS marriages where the matriarch rules the roost, not the priesthood.

    I apologize if I offended anyone by saying this. I doubt anyone will even read it. But dang, it felt really good to express my feelings on this in writing!

  2. anon
    August 18, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Memba,
    You share an interesting perspective. I can tell you as a woman with a husband who had on going chastity/fidelity issues that at least my experience (over at least 6 bishops) is that sadly, Men, left to police their own, have a really hard time protecting or understanding the experience of women and overwhelmingly are incredibly “Soft on crime”. You are obviously very conscientious and may perceive more correction or resistance than exists. I have even been questioned and put on the spot about my potential “failures” which were “causing” my husband to act out. And there were no failures but we had to get into it and I my intimacies had to be examined several times by different men. We never got effective correction or help from any patriarchal leader. And I know many women who have not been protected in other issues like (life safety). We all have personal biases and its just really hard to truly get into someone else’s shoes without the experience. That’s why its important to have people with a variety of experiences. And that includes being female.

  3. A Happy Hubby
    August 18, 2015 at 5:05 pm


    I have to say I agree with most of the points you made and I would assume you are living some of what you talk about (it takes one to know one – and I know of what you speak).

    But as true as it is what you have said, this is only one portion of life (albeit a big one for many). Just because the wife has power (or more power than non-LDS women in general) does not mean in other ways she can feel (and be) oppressed.

    So I don’t think it is a mater of figuring out who has it worse, but working on all issues to make as many feel less oppressed.

    My $0.02

    • Memba
      September 4, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      Happy Hubby,
      Thanks for your thoughts. You make a good point. Women may enjoy equal or even greater than equal power in Mormon marriages because chastity is strictly enforced with men as well as women in the LDS faith. That is my main point.

      However, they may still feel oppressed in other ways by the church or even in their marriage as a result of being female. That is totally legitimate and I can understand it. And as I said, it would not bother me to have women priesthood leaders, including Bishops, Stake presidents, apostles and prophets.

      I also feel strongly that it would be great if there were more talk and reverence given to our Mother in Heaven, the existence of whom is certainly widely believed among LDS.

      But patriarchy in the modern LDS church doesn’t look anything like it looks in many Middle East, Asian and African societies, several of whom treat women like property, or slaves. In LDS culture, men are not permitted to beat their wives, cheat on them, abandon them, mistreat them or anything like it without severe consequences from the church. If anything, the LDS church turns a blind eye to abuse from female spouses and is eager to lay the blame on the inconsiderate, domineering, unrighteous-dominion wielding men of the church. That is the part that I disagree with.

      I would like to see women in the highest LDS leadership for a lot of reasons, including the different perspectives they can bring. I also think they would be in a much better place to talk publicly about marriage from female perspective. My guess is that the women would be a little less aggressive about judging and blaming men for almost all marriage problems, which is what I believe dominates talks on this subject at general conference.
      Just because the church says a man presides in a home does not mean that he does. Women can and do preside in many LDS homes and have a whole variety of tools to use to achieve that dominance, including verbal abuse, sexual manipulation, threatening nasty divorce to get one’s way and plain old bullying. If a woman takes this approach with her active, Priesthood holding husband, he has little recourse except to tolerate it, or seek a divorce. Toleration, patience, long suffering, self-sacrifice to preserve the family unit are all things taught and strongly encouraged to LDS men.

      And the price of divorce is high. It breaks up a family and dramatically alters the most important relationships in one’s life with not just the spouse, but the children. For a man, there are also church consequences. It means he will never, ever be given a bishopric or stake presidency calling–at least not that I have ever heard of. This is true even if the man divorces from a totally abusive marriage. Divorces are almost entirely blamed on “selfish, domineering men with lack of self control” within the LDS culture. Women are rarely regarded as the culprits or even as sharing in the responsibility. And the consequences of divorce to a woman in the LDS faith are nowhere near as drastic as to a man. But part of that is due to the fact that they have already, by virtue of their gender have no access to the callings that are never filled with divorced men.

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