At some point, a careful plan was devised that would cause women to be dissatisfied with womanhood of old and seek to substitute it with womanhood as defined by Lucifer and his forces. In Place of modesty came immodesty. In place of superior standards came mediocre standards. In place of lifting and building all of mankind came becoming like mankind. Wifehood and motherhood became phrases to describe duties not honors. Devotion to home and family was replaced by the desire for status and power. A job, an office and a title replaced the nurturing of children, the encouragement of husband, and the honor of motherhood.
"Modern" women, according to Kofford, had clearly lost their way. Women feel they are sometimes given contradictory lessons. James E. Faust, then an Apostle, advised young women in 1986, "You should work very hard to prepare for your future by gaining marketable skills. . . . The struggle to improve the place of women in society has been a noble cause and I sincerely hope the day will come when women with equal skills will be fully equal with men in the marketplace." But just six months later, in a satellite broadcast address later published, Church President Ezra Taft Benson proposed another view. "Contrary to conventional wisdom, a mother's calling is in the home, not in the marketplace. . . . It was never intended by the Lord that married women should compete with men in employment. . . . Too many mothers work away from home to furnish sweaters and music lessons and trips and fun for their children. . . . Wives, come home from the typewriter, the laundry, the nursing; come home from the factory, the cafe."
This talk by the Lord's prophet struck consternation into the hearts of many Mormon women. A majority of LDS mothers, as a survey taken at the time found, were then working, using their salaries for sweaters and music lessons as well as rent and food. The large families, low wages, and high aspirations of many homemakers took them into the marketplace. They were also motivated by a quest for significance and a desire to use their talents beyond their homes. What were they to do when the Church president spoke against working outside the home?
A pair of sociologists interested in reactions to Benson's talk studied a sample of 3,000 Utah women between the ages of twenty and sixty and found that about half of the LDS mothers, or 47 percent, accepted the prophetic instruction as binding despite economic stress. Another 6 percent accepted the message although they were angry, guilty, depressed, and resentful. Thirty-seven percent accepted the counsel with qualifications such as financial need. Six percent felt that they were in harmony if they worked while their children were at school. Only 3 percent rejected the message entirely, considering it unrealistic and out-of-date. Faithful women complained of a mixed message from the Church. Told to stay home, they saw career women honored whereas homemakers were overlooked. They resented newspaper articles praising professional women, ignoring stay-athome mothers. Women struggle to comply with the instructions. Some conservatives, for instance, engage in childcare, paper routes, and cottage industry to make money without officially working. Others begin work later in their lives or claim they would rather be home.
This research suggests that the majority of Church women are devoted, obedient, and uncritical. A minority of Mormon women want more. When President Hinckley said in 2000 that he had not "found any complaint among our women," several women fired off rebuttals. A letter to the editor of the Boston Globe from Courtney Black, an LDS woman from Seattle, and Maxine Hanks, the writer of Women and Authority: Reemerging Mormon Feminism, a book leading to her excommunication, argued that LDS women were not content. The writers complained, "If we disagree, we reap trouble; if we relent, we lose our voice." Women could conform or leave, intimidated into compliance. They "bear great responsibility for the success of our community without power to define our responsibility or ensure its success." In the past, writers have noted, our grandmothers gave blessings, created policy, led women's programs, and published women's views. Later on, women who disagreed with men's decisions were "ignored or dismissed, marginalized or ostracized." "Men do not speak for Mormon women, we speak for ourselves."
Their letter caused dismay. Criticism of the prophet is not popular. Even feminists declined to be represented by Black and Hanks. One widely circulated e-mail from Elizabeth Harmer Dionne called the Church a feminist organization where "Mormon women find emotional support and personal and spiritual growth. . . . The Relief Society . . . provides a network through which we learn from, socialize with, and serve one another." Dionne, in a characteristic female strategy, reached beyond the patriarchal structure to a relationship with the Deity. The Church offered the redeeming power of Christ and was indispensable. Dionne nevertheless acknowledged merit in the Black/Hanks argument. More active female roles would "certainly ease any perceptions of unfairness in the LDS church policy" when "undeniably good men nevertheless misunderstand the needs and desires of women."
Defining suitable women's lives has led to political involvement. In the 1970s, the feminist movement collided with the Church's emphasis on motherhood. The collision played out nationally with official opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to legalize gender equality. Church conservatives saw the amendment as threatening traditional roles. The idea, however, was nationally popular, and both houses of Congress passed the amendment in 1972 and sent it to the states. Thirty-three, of the needed thirty-eight states, quickly ratified the amendment.
Conservative groups in and out of the Church feared the ERA would destroy the family. The inflammatory rhetoric threatened free sex, birth control, abortion, and daycare centers. Some argued the ERA would allow the government to combat sexism in churches. The Salt Lake Tribune, the non-Mormon newspaper, feared the ERA might nullify women's protective legislation. The Church took no early stand.