Is Patriarchy a Problem in Utah?

Share on Tumblr

1 years ago



There are many complicated challenges and barriers preventing the full realization of respect for human rights. Many things we do in our society are so subconscious and cultural that we may not realize the impact they make. Many people believe that there is one particular reason serving as a huge roadblock in establishing equality, especially with women’s rights. This isn’t an education deficit, unequal pay, or lack of accountability; Patriarchy and Religious fundamentalism is one of the greatest challenges to establishing equal human rights for women. Having the headquarters of the LDS church in Salt Lake City brings this topic closer to home, but it also occurs in areas like Somalia, and all over the globe. Areas with a strong patriarchal religious presence tend to see a large effect on policy, therefore making it even more difficult for women to have equal opportunities and rights.


Patriarchy is a system of society or government in which the men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. It stems from the greek word “patriarkhes” which means ruling father. Religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism were founded by men and are very patriarchal in nature. These religions mostly worship male gods, prophets, apostles, popes and have only male priests. Religious fundamentalism refers to the belief of an individual or a group of individuals in the absolute authority of a sacred religious text or in the teachings of a religious leader or God. Many fundamentalists reject new and modern conceptions of their faith. Religious texts like the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qu’ran, stipulate women’s religious duty of submission to men. Women are subordinate to men, with their roles focused inside the home. Many women are not allowed to be in a position of leadership and are often, if not always, left out of important religious decisions.


My opinion on the subject: I grew up LDS in Utah and I remember wondering why I had to sit here and make arts and crafts while the men were learning life skills and going camping. I wondered why the prophets and apostles were only men and I was told by my mother, “That’s just the way it is. The men lead the church and the women lead the home. We each have our own duties that we have to take care of." However, as I grew up something felt wrong about it. I felt very confined to be subordinate to men and grew up with a very obedient nature. Just growing up and listening to patriarchal teachings and having my questions be stifled made me feel that women not having the same rights as men is justified.  Years later, after leaving the church, it is still a battle to believe that I am worth it, that I am valuable, I am a leader, and that I have skills and abilities equal to men. I believe all of these mental battles stem from being brought up in a patriarchal society.


So what effect do these patriarchal religions like the LDS church have on policy decisions? Mormon leaders have taken stands on liquor laws, same sex marriage, abortion, and other issues they believe are moral in nature. The church declines to endorse political candidates and encourages their church members to vote for “good and moral” citizens. Many legislators have tried to change specific liquor laws in Utah, but because LDS Church officials are the majority in Utah political offices and they disagree with the morality of consuming alcohol, the bills have always failed. Also, the Church has a large influence over abortion in the state, creating many barriers for women, allowing them less access and opportunity. The religious influence over policy makers isn’t coming from the Church of Latter-Day Saints itself, but rather the beliefs of the lawmaker’s themselves.  Often those beliefs and values reflect the core values of the LDS Church, but the Church isn’t directly lobbying any of the officials. Still, the resulting impact is the same: Church ideals and opinions come through in votes made by Utah politicians, of whom approximately 90 percent of House members and 27 of 29 senators are LDS.

The root of the problem may lay in the pervasive nature of societal opinions.  Conservatism, specifically in the opinions of the constituents, can keep the status quo even when people disagree with what those laws entail.  This societal problem is present not only here, but also abroad.  


Religions also greatly dictate the direction of policy and rights in Somalia. Somalia is predominantly a conservative Muslim state where religion has helped form its national identity, social order, and social cohesion. The gender inequality index in Somalia is 0.775 (with a maximum of 1) which makes it the fourth worst country in the world. Somalia has extremely high rates of maternal mortality, rape, female genital mutilation, and child marriage. Participation for women in politics is extremely limited, allowing gender inequalities and the lack of women’s rights to continue unabated. The UNDP of Somalia states, “Across the country, traditional or customary law is applied more instead of the state judiciary, and sexual and gender based violence often goes unpunished, particularly as traditional Somali society does not openly discuss these issues. During the month of September 2012, UN partners registered 277 cases of sexual violence in Mogadishu alone – 237 of which were rapes.11 UN legal aid partners also reported an increase in sexual and gender based violence cases in the months of September and October 2012 in Mogadishu – with many women attacked in Internally Displaced persons (IDP) camps, of which one third were carried out by men in uniforms.” Past governments have not condemned the discrimination against women and there has been no gender policy or gender specific legislation in Somalia up to date.  The lack of policy and social action has allowed these problems for women to continue. The government is shoving women’s rights under the rug, pretending they are not an issue which creates a normality for women to be raped, treated unfairly, and to be the subjects of extreme violence.


Social and political injustice is a problem for women and others. It is also a problem when religion influences policy and prevents action to promote gender equality. A good start to combat this inequality is to become educated on the matter and look at situations, big or small, in your life and society that seem unfair and biased. In those moments of uncertainty, take action and do what you can to help give misguided individuals a new perspective. Becoming educated and bold about the issues at hand is the first step to changing policy that is against equality and underrepresented by women.


As female entreprenuers, we can clearly see the effects of such patriarchal structures through how much harder it is for women entrepreneurs to "make it." But because we so directly feel the effects, we are also in a unique place to look for and implement solutions that will work. Those of us who can have a duty to keep the light shining on these issues as well as look for active ways to address them.


Come to our Sustainable Soiree with Kate Kelly, where we'll talk more about the effects of and efforts to stop Patriarchial oppression around the globe. It's on July 28th at 6pm, at the GreekTown Collective (561 W 200 S). Learn more about it here. 


 - Paige DaBell, Sustainable Soiree Director