Lori G. Beaman, a Canadian sociologist, interviewed twenty-eight LDS women and categorized their strategies for negotiating relationships in the family, church, and society in three styles: the submissive Mormons, the moderates, and the Mormon feminists. Most LDS women, said Beaman, considered the priesthood a service-oriented calling, requiring heavy labor with few rewards. Only feminists saw the priesthood in terms of power. Moderates saw priesthood as strengthening man's weak nature. Submissive Mormons celebrated the male priesthood, equating it with their motherhood. Each group interpreted the teachings in accord with their own relationships to the Church.
A picture of the ideal LDS woman can be found in descriptions of general authorities' wives. Tributes to one recently deceased woman characterized her as "a faithful, gentle friend who shared her rich love, testimony and talent with folks of all stations, a regal and refined woman who never forgot her farm girl good sense." She would be remembered for her "selflessness, patience and kindness and for her love of family, the Church and music." When she died in 2005, a mother of ten, grandmother of more than fifty, and great-grandmother of many more, she was remembered for the "wonderful, loving spirit about her." She enjoyed reading, "watching old movies," and had a knack for quilting, cooking, and sewing. She had made countless prom dresses and ballet costumes. This is the warm, loving, and supportive model that LDS women aspire to.
Women who attempt to gain more voice in Church matters have focused on two issues: the ordination of women to the priesthood and the worship of "Mother in Heaven," the female consort of God who has had no earthly incarnation. The first would require a reshaping of the priesthood and family roles, and sharing a burden many do not want. A professional woman, a member of thirty years, said that she never wanted the priesthood. She had found ample opportunities to help others. She did note, however, that she sometimes wished priesthood leaders were "more mature, secure, humble and more sensitive to the feelings and challenges of and input from women." Still, women should "cease perceiving [themselves] as oppressed by men and begin to [act] WITH them."
Most activist women look for self-expression in nonconfrontational ways that stop short of demanding priesthood. Lisa Butterworth, an Idaho mother of three children under the age of four, felt she could not talk in church meetings about history or feminism. "I wasn't interested in bashing the church; I wanted to find something that could be faithful, liberal and feminist." She created an online blog, FeministMormonHousewives.blogspot.com where she and likeminded women could discuss the daily challenges of mothering young children and the frustration they felt with the "limited roles women have in The Church."
Feminist Lori Winder Stromberg took a more militant position on the priesthood when she noted that "feminists are constantly seen as being power hungry. . . . Perhaps I am power hungry, but my question is: Why aren't you, too? If by power hungry you mean wanting women to have a voice in the church, then yes, I am power hungry."
When President Hinckley was asked in 1998 about women getting the priesthood, he said another revelation, which he did not anticipate, would be required. "The women of the Church are not complaining about it. They have their own organization, a very strong organization, four million plus members. I don't know of another women's organization in the world which does so much for women as this Church has. They're happy. . . . I don't hear any complaints about it." He repeated the same view in 2000. "The women have their place . . . they have a voice in determining policy and doing many things in the church. I haven't found any complaint among our women. I'm sure there are a few, a handful somewhere who may be disaffected." Significant change is unlikely.
Attention to the second issue, Mother in Heaven, would make women more visible, advocates of the doctrine say, and add a familial aspect to the Church. The shadowy Mormon Mother in Heaven, is known only from Eliza R. Snow's poem, "O My Father," written in the early 1840s. Her quotation is "In the heav'ns are parents single? / No, the thought makes reason stare! / Truth is reason; truth eternal / Tells me I've a mother there" (Hymns 292). Snow, the preeminent LDS poet of the nineteenth century, later said the doctrine came from Joseph Smith, though he made no record of it. The idea is well accepted by inference and analogies to earth life: If there is a father, there must be a mother. Mother in Heaven's lack of definition allowed Her to be created according to individual desires. President Spencer W. Kimball characterized Her in 1978 as "the ultimate in maternal modesty" and "restrained queenly elegance." According to this interpretation, She has been shielded to protect Her privacy.
From 1980 on, feminist LDS women fastened on this doctrine. Essays were published and prayers were offered. Official disapproval soon fol lowed, labeling praying to Mother in Heaven "inappropriate" and the "beginnings of apostasy." No scriptural record showed Jesus praying to anyone but His Father in Heaven. Priesthood leaders were firmly urged to correct this usage "without equivocation." Leaders may have feared a cult of the Mother in Heaven or the skirting of patriarchal structure. Perhaps they disliked the feminist source of the practice.
Speaking in 2002, Elder Cree-L Kofford laid out the roles of men and women in a pointed talk at BYU-Idaho. According to Kofford, Satan is the author of the design that makes women dissatisfied with home life: In an effort to draw all of God's children from the paths of righteousness, Satan has used deception from the beginning. His tools to destroy men have included pornography, alcohol, tobacco, dishonesty, greed and power. That plan, however, was only "marginally successful" because Satan had one fatal flaw in his plan: he forgot about the power of womanhood.
Throughout that period, as men were bombarded with all that Lucifer's arsenal held, the vast majority of womanhood remained as faithful daughters of God. They were, by their nature, pure, clean, uplifting, strengthening and building. Where men would falter, women would encourage. Where men would doubt, women would believe. And in the process of this relationship, women inspired men to be able to withstand the entreaties of Lucifer, and thus his efforts brought only marginal return. . . .