Why are Mormon women terrified to speak in sacrament meeting?

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public speakingAt Sunstone this weekend, Mormon feminists held a postmortem discussion of “tone” in dealing with LDS church leaders.

I wasn’t there in Salt Lake, so I am only reading about this panel secondhand, but one comment in particular rang true to me. That was Ordain Women member Nancy Ross’s remark that Mormon women sometimes adopt a “Primary voice” when speaking in public — an infantilizing voice they employ even when addressing mature adults.

Yes. There’s that.

I have heard Mormon women give talks in sacrament meeting in which they apologize all over themselves that they have to be up there at all. They expound upon how nervous it makes them and how they would so much rather be having a nice, pleasant root canal.

They make especially sure to tell us which member of the bishopric called them to speak, often going into laborious detail about where they were and what they were doing when the request/demand came, so that they can absolve themselves of any personal responsibility for being in that pulpit in the first place.

It’s not my fault! they are saying. I’m only obeying my bishop. If my ecclesiastical superior hadn’t  ordered me to be here I would never dream of taking up your valuable time.

This is more than our church’s bizarre general custom of assigning people to give public talks more or less annually but giving them zero training in how to do it well.

It’s more, even, than most people’s morbid fear of public speaking. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from glossophobia, and it’s a fear that’s divided pretty equally between men and women. A majority of people just hate speaking in public.

In my experience, though, Mormon men tend to grin and bear it. They might spend a moment at the beginning of their talks to note in passing that they feel inadequate to the task, but they rarely go into the long and involved mea culpas that afflict women.

This isn’t surprising. Mormon women have a particular reason for apologizing for their very existence every time they give a talk in sacrament meeting. What they’re about to do is, according to the customs of our church, highly irregular and therefore dangerous.

When else, in our church, does a woman stand before a mixed-gender audience as an undisputed authority figure? When else does she expound for ten, twelve, or even fifteen minutes (the latter if she’s in a ward with a bishop who sometimes assign women to the “final speaker” spot)?

If Mormons in general do a lousy job of training people to give talks in sacrament meeting, then we expect women in particular to gamely do the impossible: give talks they have not been trained to deliver in settings in which it would never otherwise be considered appropriate to have them up front.

Women do not preside over mixed-gender meetings in the LDS Church. They do not hold forth to men in other sanctioned settings. They are not in charge.

Except here, for these precious few minutes in sacrament meeting.

Of course women are terrified. Of course they spend half their allotted time explaining why they’re not worthy to speak their mind. Say the wrong thing in the wrong way with an insufficient number of self-deprecating remarks, and women could be viewed poorly. Or worse.

According to the journal Psychology Today, humans’ general fear of public speaking is an evolutionary atavism that stems from our days as hunted prey. We once needed the safety of a large group for protection from the Big Bads of the forest. If we ever did something that resulted in our social ostracization, we were toast.

In other words, people today fear public speaking more than death because public speaking is a form of being singled out and historically, being singled out was death for our distant ancestors.

This summer, there’s been a great deal of debate about what kind of voice women are supposed to have in the Church. Some people say that tone is everything, and that women can say almost whatever they want, even if they disagree with male Church leaders, if they adopt the “right” tone. Just what is the right tone remains unclear — especially since there aren’t exactly abundant practice opportunities for Mormon women to get it right.


  • Tammy

    Among other things, I teach Presentation Skills for a living. Many people are fearful, it does trigger an autonomic nervous response of fight or flight that produces adrenaline for most people, and it’s what you do with the adrenaline that makes for an effective or ineffective presentation. Practice is key, but anyone can do it. I have taught hundreds.

    I will say that women in general, LDS or not, seem to have a steeper hill to climb. Apologetic and full of disclaimers, that’s one issue. But I also see women have more difficulty keeping their hands in space and not clutching them to cover their breasts. Women tend to strike more flirty-looking and less credible poses when standing before a group. Their shrug their shoulders and seem to have difficulty releasing their elbows from hugging their core. But the greatest challenge I’ve had teaching women has to do with eye contact. They can’t make it and when they do can’t sustain it. As a female myself, and one who has taught hundreds of Presentation Skills classes, I still… *always* have to work at eye contact. I was trained to avoid appearing so self-assured and persuasive. Eye contact feels aggressive to me, even when I know that it’s not.

    Men have presentation skills challenges as well and here are the curious (or not so curious) differences. Men also clutch their hands but when I get them to unclutch their hands, they almost always turn them into fists. I call it the “runner” pose or sometimes the “butler” pose with one fist up and one fist down. It’s just tension being placed inappropriately and we work to redirect it, but the differences in how men and women… again, LDS or no, typically display their fight or flight tension continues to show me how very impactful gender conditioning is and how it will rear itself in our most vulnerable moments.

    I don’t believe for one minute that girls are born to be passive and men are born to be fighters. If we can change this conditioning, we will change the world.

  • I have no problem in giving talks or lessons. For years I was my bishops go-to gal for talks. I even had other wards request me. All that changed when faith crisis/transition hit our lives. Now we keep me at verbal arms distance. I get to comment in class, but even then, I have been told I scare people.

    I love a good address/talk. Give them and hear them. I love listening to you Jana. You’ve taught me new ways to address audiences. Some day I hope to get to practice them.

    Great post here. The “Primary Voice” goes all the way to the top. I have a 20+ year old daughter who loves our religion but refuses to attend the General Women’s meeting because of the Primary Voice.

  • Kate Holbrook

    Jana, your blog posts are so terrific. I often want to call you and have a good talk after I read them.

    In my mind, men engage in the laborious detail and apologies for speaking in church to the same extent that women do. I will have to pay more careful attention, but at this point I don’t agree that this is a gender specific problem. Whether the speaker is male or female, though, it is boring to listen to the story of how they came to be on the pulpit. Training members to give good talks is a terrific idea; I will mention that to my Bishop.

    In the congregations of my adult life, there have always been equal numbers of male and female Gospel Doctrine teachers, so that has been a place women stand authoritatively before a mixed-gender congregation. And children grow up speaking in front of boys and girls in primary.

    I vacillate in my feelings about “primary voice.” I don’t care for it either, but I don’t hear it on the ward level, even in primary I only hear it sometimes. I have come to wonder whether some of the invective (not your voice, but others) against “primary voice” is more viciously sexist than the conditions that foster “primary voice” to begin with.

  • Edy Meredith

    Because I am a teacher abd teacg for a living, years ago I shed all feelings of inferiority in speaking, in instructing, in leading. Of course, that was after I left the LDS church and became a born again Bible believing Christian after being raised in Utah 1942 through the 60’s.(the whole gamat from BYU grade 7 through BYUniversity, marrying a returned missionary in the Manti Temple.
    I understand the deeply felt inferiority and fear that many Mormon women feel, yet there really is no rational reason for them to remain bound by the shackles of ithe slavery of nferiority. I feel compassion for them and wish them the best of God’s blessings. Go ro Youtube and search “Edy Meredith Testimony” for my factual story.

  • Doug2

    For the most part I think it is good that laypeople are allowed and encouraged to speak. I think it is great that often the congregation including women and children are allowed and encouraged to speak. Speaking in public is a common fear, but for the most part a sacrament meeting is a relatively safe place to get some experience and practice at public speaking. For the most part I think it is great, and especially helps most children overcome their fears of public speaking and will likely increase their ability and opportunities and advancement in future education and employment. However some people, particularly if they are strongly pressured; may not overcome their fears and their fears may become worse and ingrained.

    I think it is also beneficial to have people with different perspectives and skills give their own input. It is enriching. Sometimes even children have entertaining and wonderful insights.

    However part of the bad side; behind the scenes, criticism of the church is not well tolerated. It is risky to speak out against church dogma or bad church leadership. Those that are the sheep of Christ, instead of the sheep of the church; risk being ostracized, chastised, punished and excommunicated.

    Sometimes the pressures to conform to church dogma is so strong, that sacrament meetings sometimes sound like repetitive scratched records of the same rhetoric.

    I suspect that pressures on women are probably more intense not to dare to question, criticize or challenge the male-dominated church leadership. I suspect if they dare make a stand at sacrament meeting, that they will pay for it at home as well as at church.

  • Doug2

    “women can say almost whatever they want, even if they disagree with male Church leaders”

    The facts prove otherwise. While the more extreme and more literal forms of “baptism by blood” supposedly are not practiced anymore, there obviously often is reprisals against people that dare to ask some unpopular questions, criticize or rebuke church policies, church teachings and church leadership. People that dare to follow the teachings of Christ by standing up to dogma and pharisees; often find themselves facing the vindictive wrath of church leadership and followers. Regretfully many follow church dogma, instead of following Christ.

    Try criticizing the church from the pulpit about stealing the spoken word of the King James Bible. Try criticizing the church from the pulpit about bearing false witness; by claiming it doesn’t discriminate against the disabled and woman; yet in fact discriminating against the disabled and women. Don’t sugarcoat it. Be honest, simple and straight talk. If you dare speak the truth, you’re liable to face the wrath of the evil doers.

    Christ and John the Baptist dared to speak the truth; they were persecuted, imprisoned and executed. Yet many people that call themselves Christians are afraid to stand up for the truth. Many people that call themselves Christians go on a vindictive rampage when someone dares to tell the truth.

    Some church leaders so fear and hate the truth that they ostracize and/or excommunicate those that dare to tell the truth.

    “if they adopt the “right” tone”

    I feel that is a copout, that goes against Christ’s teachings. Evil people often use such tactics as an excuse to try to dismiss justified criticism. It is a con.

    While Christ often was gentle with his criticism, there were times he was not. Sometimes being gentle or being politically correct, waters down the truth. Sometimes being gentle and politically correct, falls on deaf ears. Sometimes it is best to become indignant and angry. I get the impression that Christ was sometimes angry and indignant against hypocrites, pharisees and blasphemers. I get the impression that Christ was angry and indignant during his money changers protest.

    Christ paid the price for us by being indignant. He may have lost some earthly battles with the church, government and people; but in many ways he won the war. He won many of our hearts and has given us a chance at heaven.

    Christ was ridiculed, imprisoned, tortured and crucified; in part for standing up against corruption in the church, government and other parts of society. Yet many people that claim they are Christians are afraid to stand up against corruption; whether it be in church, government or other parts of society.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • KMD

    I like speaking in church and wish I got to more often. I have only seen the apologetic woman thing once or twice. The only time I hear the candy sweet “primary” voice is women’s meeting and I have always figured it was a Utah thing.

    I suffer from a different problem – trying to enjoy the spirit of the message instead of rewriting the talks in my mind.

    The sustained eye contact thing is hard for me as well though and I don’t know why!

  • M W

    It’s clear the writer of this article is not very familiar with Mormons or Mormon culture. Talk about Ordain Women if you want, but don’t make up crap just about no one is going to agree with that, even if it were true, is only only tangentially related.

  • annie

    MW – Wait….what? Are you serious? I don’t know the author of this blog but I can tell you for sure that she knows quite a bit about Mormonism.

  • Doug2

    @ M W

    If you are referring to Jana’s article; I think you are a slanderer making things up. At least one woman was recently excommunicated for challenging some of the church’s position on women. I take it as an implied threat to other people that dare to challenge some of the church’s positions. Mormon Women and men have good reason to fear reprisals from the church when they dare to question or challenge church policies. I feel the Mormon church goes against Christ’s teachings, because the church leadership acts much like the hypocrites, Pharisee and blasphemers that Jesus rebuked.

    I’ve been to a few Mormon mixed sex (classes) that were led by women, but that seems to be a rare exception rather than the accepted rule. It was not a venue to speak their own mind, it was a venue that the agenda/curriculum/syllabus was dictated by the male leadership. When the woman leaders were asked questions that was outside of canned rhetorical responses known by the woman teachers; I could see fear on the teachers’ face and their response was very reserved as it they feared they might say something that was not in line with church teachings. They seemed to fear expressing their own opinions/interpretations.

    The Mormon church leadership acts like Pharisees that fearfully hide behind ivory towers. They act like untouchables that do not tolerate criticism of their unethical behavior. They are eager and trigger-happy to dish out criticism, but hypocritically have little tolerance of criticism. I think that goes against the Bible’s teachings about JUDGING. The church leadership is bad about hypocritically giving themselves a free pass; yet holding others to a higher standard and putting others under a microscope.

    While Mormon women and men both have good reason to fear speaking out against the church, I suspect in some ways it might be more fearful for women. Since Mormon men are traditionally household leaders, they are less likely to be threatened at home if they take a stand against church. Mormon women being in a subordinate position are more likely suffer reprisals at church AND at HOME.

    When a Mormon church discriminated against me because I am disabled and have a service dog; some members contacted me in private and said what the church was doing to me was wrong; but it seems they were afraid to stand up to church leadership to do the right thing. Other Mormon churches have been willing to let me attend with my service dog, but it seems none of them are willing to stand up to the church and its leaders that discriminated against. It’s the “good old boys club” that goes against Christ’s teaching. While the other churches didn’t directly discriminate against me, indirectly they discriminated against me by not taking a stand against the church leaders that did discriminate against me.

    That’s part of the problem with the Mormon church. They are trigger-happy and eager to discipline people with little affluence; yet they essentially let church leaders be untouchable. It is a formula for abuse. Another problem with the Mormon church that I feel that goes against Christ’s teachings is how the hierarchy restricts contact to higher up leadership in the church, essentially making leadership untouchable. So when a bishop is abusive, it prevents people from going over the bishops head. Again it is a formula for abuse.

    There is some church leadership that needs to be excommunicated more than (instead of) Kate Kelly. I think the corrupt Mormon leadership is an example of why the “good old boys club” needs to be broken up.

    Church leadership was notified in September that they were violating the copyright laws in regards to the Scourby audio versions of the King James Bible, church leadership has failed to respond and seems to be defiant of God’s laws and of man’s laws.

    Church leadership was notified again when a lawsuit was filed on June 10 against the church. The church still seems to be defiant of God’s law and man’s law.

    So it seems like the church cannot use the excuse that the copyright violations are an accident, because the church has been notified of the violations; yet it seems the church is still violating the law long after he notified.

    The church’s copyright violations and discrimination against the disabled and women are a few of the examples that the church is going against Jesus’s teachings and why the church needs to purge its leadership. As it stands, the church of later Day Saints is not “true”.

  • Jema

    I think this begins as a youth. They always start with who asked them to give a talk and what they were doing at the time they were asked. In my ward, I feel like the women are as strong as the men when they speak.
    I don’t feel as if the men are trained any differently than the women, as all youth are given opportunities to speak. To be frank I don’t think there is another church that gives youth the opportunity to speak and lead as often as the LDS church.
    If women give a “primary” talk then it is individually based and not because of gender. Women teach gospel doctrine, lead RS, Primary, and YW. Are you really basing men being more prepared because of the three men in the bishopric?

  • I don’t like your tone.


  • Dennis McCrea

    Jema- You do realize that the theme of this article is that many women feel like they have to speak in a “primary voice”, a descriptive term created to describe the self decricating/weak manner/mannerisms sisters use when speaking in Sacrament Meetings/public. I live in the mission field and have seen this outward portment so many times over the years since I joined. Not to generalize but it seems this mannerism is especially prevalent with those sisters from “Happy Valley” – Utah, large parts of Idaho, Nevada and parts of states west. It is so demeaning. My wife and I are working to raise our daughter without these expected public norms. Our solution? Encourage her to marry a non-traditional or even a non-Mormon.

  • Kristine Stringham

    When I was in grade 9, I was on the intramural council. We wanted intercom time to make announcements about upcoming activities and I was given the assignment to ask the vice principal for permission to do this. He told me to come to the next staff meeting and present my case. I prepared my thoughts and gave about a two minute speech to the staff. I received applause and was given the intercom time the intramural council wanted. I knew that my experience in giving talks in Primary and Sacrament Meeting had greatly helped me.

    High school English speech assignments, as well as teaching practicums for my Education degree, again underscored how much my church experience had helped me. Some fellow classmates had never spoken in front of groups and found it daunting. Again, I was grateful to have grown up having speaking experience.

    As a Mormon woman, I am grateful for the added confidence the church has given me through the many growth opportunities that are naturally provided – public speaking being just one of them.

  • Wayne Dequer

    I think substance is much more important that tone although I certainly appreciate civility. This last Sunday we went to Sacrament Meeting in our previous ward in southern California where I had served as bishop for 5 wonderful years. There were 2 speakers, both adult women.

    The first speaker surprised me because we had never been able to get her to speak or even pray in sacrament meeting . She simply said: “No, never.” One of the new counselors in the Bishopric had persuaded her gently, but somehow effectively. I was so pleased. Her apologetic remarks did go fairly long and she remained understandably nervous since this was her first Sacrament Meeting talk in at least 40 years. Her tone was masked by nervousness and a still significant Spanish accent but her viewpoint was certainly uniquely her own. I thanked and encouraged her afterward as did several current ward members.

    The second speaker, a former Young Women’s and Primary President, began by saying how much she enjoyed speaking in Sacrament Meeting. She spoke about moving to Utah as a child, of her conversion as a college student in Arizona, and her missionary experiences in Spain. I was Not surprised by her comfort because she always spoke her mind, including disagreeing, in Ward Councils which I greatly appreciated.

    I heard both of these sister speaking in their own unique and genuine voices about meaningful spiritual experiences in their lives sometimes mixed with a bit of humor. As I reflected on their experiences, I drew closer to the Savior. These weren’t General Conference talks, but they weren’t supposed to be. The were the common wholesome fare of Sacrament Meeting talks.

    We learn from each other in the Church as we each try to shape our own attitudes to become more Christ-like. The social process is productive because we are all trying something like our best to come unto Christ. Worries simply about tone and/or appearances sometimes seem trivial in this context and perhaps analogs to trying to improve ourselves with outward works without working on inward attitudes. (See Matthew 5 and 23)

  • Hillary

    It’s something of a logical fallacy to move from “some women” offer profuse apologies or speak in a “Primary voice” to ALL Mormon women feel a cultural pressure to do so out of some vague fear that speaking in Sacrament Meeting is inappropriate. It also ignores the dynamics of Fast and Testimony meetings where people voluntarily come to the podium. In my experience, those meetings skew slightly female (in terms of the speakers). If the pressure were as bad as the author makes it out to be, only the boldest feminist would dare to trespass on the podium in a F&T meeting. Just saying. 🙂

    I’m a life-long LDS woman who has lived both in and out of Mormonville, and I love speaking in Sacrament meeting, teaching in any capacity, etc. No one has ever told me that was inappropriate, expressly or implicitly (that I’m aware of). If others feel inadequate, I don’t take that as a cue to feel inadequate myself.

  • David H

    I wish to clarify a few items of confusion that this article might cause for those who do not regularly attend worship services of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).

    About the supposed lack of training for speaking in public –

    Mormons begin speaking in our combined worship services starting at age 12. Mormons raised in the church get plenty of training and practice. Youth speakers are expected to speak only 2 to 5 minutes, and and understanding and tolerance are high. Nevertheless, in our ward we have had many outstanding talks in sacrament meeting given by youth recently. They have exceeded expectations amazingly. I am very proud of our youth.

    About the supposed inequality of men and women in speaking in church –

    Mormon girls and boys have equal opportunity to speak in sacrament meeting. Both boys and girls have this training and practice starting at age 12.

    Furthermore, our sacrament meeting services (where we all meet together) usually have a speaker who is a woman, a speaker who is a man, and a speaker who is a youth. I have seen this formula followed in the church over 4 decades and on 3 continents. And the youth speaker, again, can be either a boy or a girl. Every youth has equal opportunity to speak regardless of gender. It is not a rare thing for a woman to speak in church in front of everyone, it happens every Sunday.

    I haven’t seen the problems Jana mentions about about “infantilizing voice” or
    self-deprecating comments from women. Our women speakers are bold. They are more brave about sharing their personal experiences and feelings than the men. These women have a lot to share and they know it.

    Someone might get the idea from this article that women only speak in front of the congregation on assignment from priesthood authority. That is not the case. On fast Sunday (typically the first Sunday of the month) we do not have assigned speakers in Sacrament meeting, but instead “fast and testimony meeting” in which members of the congregation may go up and share their feelings spontaneously. At least 50% of these spontaneous speakers are women. They don’t do this by assignment from anyone but the Holy Spirit they feel prompting them. We are uplifted by their testimonies.

    The worship services of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are open for all to attend. I invite you to come and see for yourselves.

  • Rebecca Holt Stay

    I agree that SOME Mormon women do not do well giving their talks at church. The same is true for SOME Mormon men.
    Personally, I have NEVER apologized for a talk I have given. I was taught how to give talks by giving talks in Primary and Sunday School, beginning when I was about 3 years old. That served me well in High school and college where other non-LDS students had NEVER spoken before an audience. We had classes and activities on public speaking in Young Women’s and in Seminary. All missionaries practice this at the MTC and develop that skill by speaking to total strangers for two years.
    I have been asked (by both male and female leaders) to speak at Stake Conferences, Women’s Conferences, and too many mixed-gender firesides and seminars to count. I have been asked to speak to our Stake Bishops council and the High Council. NO ONE ever told me that what I had said or taught was wrong or inappropriate. So, please do not make blanket statements based only on your own experience.
    I have found that many Mormon women, living in Michigan and Ohio where I lived, were actively involved in leading, teaching and speaking, PARTICULARLY IF THEY HAD SOMETHING TO SAY!!!
    I never use the “Primary Voice,” not even in Primary (I am often called to teach Primary) or with my own 6 kids when they were small. I treat the kids as equals and find they respond beautifully- same as LDS wmen want. Do unto others . . .
    From the time Mormon women (and men) are little children, they KNOW they will be asked to speak: why not prepare ahead of time to have something to say???? Read a book, attend some conferences, have an opinion.
    Why not pay to take a class like the rest of the world does if you are uncomfortable speaking in front of an audience? The Church is NOT RESPONSIBLE for teaching everything to everyone!
    Sorry if this is coming off as annoyed. Maybe because I am.

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  • windjammer

    When you say that the “Primary Voice” goes all the way to the top, I agree. I think President Monson’s voice is the ultimate Primary Voice. He always seems to address the congregation as if he is speaking to children.

  • windjammer

    After a lifetime in the church, I have heard women apologize again and again for having been asked to speak in church. I have often wondered why, when recently, I was stunned to hear a man say that he didn’t listen to female speakers because they didn’t hold the priesthood, and thereby, had little to offer of substance or importance. I wouldn’t be surprised if this feeling was prevalent throughout the church and one of the reasons why women feel the need to apologize. The traditional and typical Sacrament speaker line-up may also cause women to think they are less valued. Usually, a child may speak briefly, and then a woman may speak, followed by the male speaker. It may seem to many that this lineup reflects the importance of the speaker. Similar to musical concert line-ups, the warm-up groups play first, followed by the main event – in the case of the Church, the man with the priesthood. The same situation is sometimes reflected in the ratio of male to female speakers in Stake and General Conference meetings, and sometimes this is seen in Sacrament meeting prayer assignments. For a time, women were not allowed to pray in Sacrament meetings. Only boys/men with the priesthood were given the privilege of praying. When women were finally sanctioned by priesthood authority to pray in Sacrament meeting, women often were invited to give the opening prayer, whereas, priesthood holders “closed the meeting.” Again, and again, and again, women receive the message that what they have to offer is second to men, and certainly not as valued as someone who is ordained to the priesthood.

  • Janet

    I have never commented on anyone’s blogs except for relatives’.

    However, I have to respond to this one. What you say is totally foreign to my experience in the church. I have been a member for almost 49 years, and have spoken often, and been “listened to”. Many women I know have spoken in many meetings at both the ward and stake levels in my area of Canada (Atlantic Canada) and added greatly to the spirit of the meetings with their teaching. We learn from both men and women and all contribute and are respected.

  • Rachel Boyle

    Of all the complaints I’ve read recently by disgruntled Mormon feminists, this has to be the most ridiculous. And that’s saying something. I echo the thoughts of Rebecca Holt Stay above and wholeheartedly share her annoyance with this post. Come on, ladies! I find it interesting (depressing) that I have felt more generalized and trivialized in the past few months by WOMEN than I ever have by men in the church. To say that 10-15 minutes once a year in front of a mixed audience is all women in the church can expect is blatantly misleading. Women have the same opportunities as men to speak and instruct mixed audiences: ward and stake meetings, gospel doctrine and other Sunday school classes, etc.. But I suppose that doesn’t fit into the narrative depicting Mormon women as oppressed, suppressed, helpless creatures who have been beaten down by their priesthood leaders. I keep searching for these women in my ward and others and am yet to find them. As for why some women adopt a “primary voice” when speaking (which I’ll admit can be annoying), I’m not convinced that isn’t attributable to Utah culture. I have not heard it anywhere else – not even in Primary. I’m not buying the idea that they adopt that voice out of inferiority, but I suppose generalizing us all serves the narrative far better. So generalize away, ladies, it seems to make you feel better. Please forgive me if I refuse to validate or accept your stereotype of me and the strong, smart, capable women I find myself surrounded by in this gospel I love.

  • Jamie Leavitt

    Good Heavens! I’ve been a Mormon, and a feminist, all my life…but I’ve got to ask myself if this author is just so riled up she is losing reason or if she has never been fully involved in our church? I am FULLY aware that the culture in our church has a ways to go (as does the culture in our political system, our higher education, our public education system, etc), but the above is just absurd. I have never once apologized, used a primary voice, or been abashed when speaking in church- nor do I regularly see such behavior in the fellow women of my faith. I have LED mixed gender meetings, taught mixed gender classes, spoken to mixed gender audiences on a ward and stake level. I’ve been put in charge of events, programs…Heck, I’ve regularly been put in charge of MEN and I’ve never once slipped an apology out of these pretty little lips for it. I’m not helpless, I fear no man, I make my own damn decisions, I never apologize for my views and I raise my hand every time they ask me to sustain my priesthood leaders as a demonstration of support for those who serve me and a declaration of where my faith lies.

  • Marty

    Jana is active LDS. While I generally agree with her, this doesn’t reflect the behavior of female speakers in my Salt Lake City ward.

  • Gina

    This experience may be true for some but not all. It was my experience giving talks in Primary, Sacrament Meeting and my mission that instilled in no fear about public speaking and that what I had to say was valued. It is one of the few things that I cherish from my membership in the Mormon Church. I haven’t been in over 20 years.

  • Doug2

    David H “Mormons begin speaking in our combined worship services starting at age 12.”

    I’ve seen children of both sexes much younger than 12 speak at worship service at LDS and other churches. I’ve seen children so young that they have spoken from the pulpit being held by an adult or standing on a chair. Mainly giving short testimonies or telling short stories. I see it as mostly good.

    However that’s not really a leadership position. In LDS churches they more heavily praised when they parrot approved talking points and are often coached to parrot approved LDS talking points.

  • David H

    If your last paragraph is referring to our LDS youth, I must strongly disagree with your characterization of them.

    The many LDS youth who hold to the standards of the church do so against opposition and peer pressure. They aren’t “parroting” words without understanding. They know what they believe and they are faithful to it. I hold them up as examples to the world..

    We start giving Mormon youth leadership opportunities at age 12 also. They preside over classes and quorums and are given responsibilities to minister to their peers. They perform service that blesses their communities.

    Are the Mormon women and youth as amazing and wonderful as I say they are? Don’t rely on the reports of contending bloggers. Observe for yourself. Come see for yourself! Go to mormon.org and click the “Visit” link at the top of the page to find a Mormon congregation near you. Or, the next time your Mormon friend invites you to come to church or an activity with him or her, give it a try.

  • Doug2

    @ David H

    I am speaking from experience. You are making a ignorant dishonest prejudice assumptions. My assertions are not from “bloggers”. You should apologize, but I suspect you won’t. Like I said before, I have attended LDS services. I have witnessed firsthand Mormons discriminating, lying, bearing false witness, slandering, gossiping, using the Lord’s name in vain, bullying, etc. I have witnessed firsthand that the church and the priesthood is not “true”.

    As I said before the fact is I have seen children younger than 12 *parroting LDS rhetoric . Some of them are so young they seem to be in diapers. In some ways it seems charming and I am sure there are some benefits; but in other ways it is frightening. In some ways it seems like brainwashing, reminiscent of Hitler youth. Some of the repetitive themes seem cultlike.

    The young adults and adults seem more frightening, like the way so many Mormons who hold Brigham Young in such high esteem; it’s so repulsive it makes my skin crawl. It’s like holding Adolf Hitler in high esteem. Brigham Young and Adolf Hitler seem to have a lot in common.

    Even as a man I have been scared to speak up in church to criticize how Mormons praise a racist, sexist, bigamist, hate monger, war monger that seemed to support genocide. Mormons seem to have a highly romanticized account of Brigham Young. They largely seem to be ignorant, ignore and/or give a free pass to Brigham Young’s cruel reality. It would be like praising Hitler’s and the Nazis accomplishments; ignoring the evil ways that those accomplishments were achieved.

    I can see through your snow job.

    To cut you and others off at the pass. Goodwin’s “law” typically is dishonestly used as an argumentative fallacy that dishonest people often use to try to dishonestly dismiss legitimate arguments. Neo-Nazis often cry Goodwin’s “law” when criticism is hitting close to home and they have no legitimate argument to make.

    * note: Whether or not they understand the words they parrot.

  • Brian

    I wish Jana could meet the Mormon women I know. They pretty much shatter the stereotypes she tries to project.

    As another commenter noted, if Mormon women are supposedly more averse to public speaking than Mormon men, shouldn’t this be readily apparent in testimony meetings when speakers approach the pulpit voluntarily? In my experience, it’s certainly not.

  • SusanM

    Women terrified to speak in Sacrament Meeting? I laughed out loud upon reading this title and subsequent blog.

    Running out of relevant topics?

  • Doug2

    Exodus 23:1

    Rachel Boyle “Women have the same opportunities as men to speak and instruct mixed audiences”

    It’s not really the “same opportunities” if they don’t hold the priesthood and if they are not allowed to be ordained.

  • Doug2

    Exodus 20:16

    Pot calling the kettle black? YOU seem quite riled up.

    Maybe you haven’t apologized. You seem to be trying to trivialize the fact that many people are fearful when they speak, and that women, skeptics and critics are oftain more at risk and often face reprisals from Mormons for speaking their own minds. Many have been ostracized, disciplined, rebuked, punished and some have even been excommunicated for speaking their mind.

  • Doug2

    Proverbs 19:9

    The fact is that many people including women have fears speaking at Sacrament meetings.

    Some people even voluntarily face their fears. Some people are gently pushed, but pushed nonetheless. Pushing can be a double-edged sword; either good or bad.

    It is common to see people at Sacrament meetings showing signs of fear as they speak. Some even admit it and some even apologize for it. I’ve often seen people shake, stammer, sweat, freeze in terror, lose their train of thought under pressure, etc. Symptoms of anxiety are common place, especially with less experienced speakers. I’ve seen some speakers nearly faint from anxiety.

  • David H

    Doug2, I apologize for my failure to communicate effectively. In an attempt to keep my post short, I gave a false impression.

    I did not meant to imply that you, Doug2, got your opinions from bloggers and not from your own study and experience. When I said “Don’t rely on the reports of contending bloggers”, I was speaking not to you but to the world at large who may be undecided on the issue we were discussing. The contending bloggers of whom I referred are you and I (counting our comments as being similar to blog posts.)

    Again, I apologize for the miscommunication.

    To the rest of the world: There you have it, the two opinions of David H and Doug2, both of whom have visited Mormon worship services, but who have gotten exactly opposite impressions from them. What will your impression be? Come see for yourself! Ask a Mormon friend to take you, or go to mormon.org and click the Visit link near the top.

  • Kristine Stringham

    It’s been interesting to read the comments. It seems that there are many of us Mormon women who feel fine about giving talks and that it’s actually been a positive thing in our lives. I did a quick search to see what else Jana has said about church talks….she doesn’t give us high marks on our speaking abilities. Maybe the women she hears truly are terrified – because she is in the congregation critiquing! It’s not the first time that I’ve wondered what it must be like to be in the same ward as a well-known blogger.

  • Rachel Boyle

    Oh, Doug. If I’m reading your comment correctly, you’re insinuating that my talks or discussions do not hold the same value because I do not hold the priesthood? Congratulations, you are the first man to try and make feel inferior in the gospel. Sorry. Didn’t work. Just as this author’s assertion that women are fearful because they are not given many opportunities to speak to a mixed gender audience doesn’t work either. As if the idea of speaking to MERE women, rather than almighty men, does nothing to instill confidence. Ah, the irony!

    I’ve noticed your other comments in which you indignantly assert that those of us opposed to this post are denying the fact that there are women who have a legitimate public speaking fears – that could not be further from the truth. My own husband (yes! a man!) struggled for years with an extreme fear of speaking, coming very close to passing out on one occasion. These fears are very real – the sweeping generalizations made in the article, however, are not.

  • Rachel Boyle

    Allow me to amend my previous comment: I misspoke when I said you are the first man to try and make me feel inferior in the gospel. I’m sure there have been others before you (I pay so little attention to them that they haven’t left their mark) and I’m sure there will be others to come. There will always be men (and women, for that matter) who have deep misconceptions when it comes to the priesthood and therefore assume male superiority. You were just the first to do it as a supposed advocate for women.

  • This is such pablum. Women have no training in speaking in Church, except for twice a year from the time they are twelve, and every week, and every Fast Sunday if they choose. Women receive as much training as men, and to make such sweeping generalizations is absurd. Many of the best talks I have heard have been by the women in Church who share their rich backgrounds and testimonies. Jana, you are so far off base on this one.

  • Tiffani Jennings

    When I was nine years old I asked my Bishop if I could give a talk in Sacrament Meeting. He looked at me with total shock on his face. Then he gave me a warm and genuine smile and scheduled me to speak two weeks later. I was a very shy little girl but there was a story I had read in the Friend magazine and I wanted to share it with my friends. That was my first of many speaking opportunities. Since then I have spoken in both large and small settings. Sometimes I get nervous and sometimes I don’t. I have had many people along the way encourage me and give me tips for speaking in public. I took a speach class for my major in College. I had a partner for one of our projects who was not a member of the church (I live outside of Utah). She was so nervous before our presentation that she had to run out of the room and she threw up in the hallway. I ended up doing the presentation by myself. I always figured if she had been giving talks since primary she would have handled it better. I have never really heard a “primary voice” unless it is in reference to a women speaking when they are also emotional. Of course their voice will raise. It doesn’t change the message they are trying to share. I have also heard just as many men apoligize for being up front as I have women. I think it is a way for people to settle nerves before they begin their talk. I have heard some great talks in Sacrament meeting. Some of them have begun with nervous chatter but I was always taught that it is my responsiblitly to gain something from what is spoken during church not to be entertained by fancy speakers.

  • Karry Rathje

    There is not a “right tone” to campaigned opposition that is contrary to the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if you believe God leads the church and establishes the policies that govern the organization. The Ordain Women movement is not about women being ill prepared to speak in sacrament meeting because they have a “primary voice.” Women have been speaking in sacrament meetings for decades after years of public speaking preparation that commences at a young age in primary. The issue is about priesthood ordination and a vocal minority believing they have the right to publically challenge God’s established organization and the counsel of church leaders without consequence. It’s ironic that Ordain Women leaders and followers, who claim inequality exists in the church, are the same individuals generating content that belittles women while the church teaches about the sacred role and nature of women, empowering them with an understanding that they are a loved child of God.

  • I think women speaking in our “primary” voices has more to do with who we spend the majority if our time with each day, our children. I do not feel inferior when I speak in sacrament. I am one of those people actually more afraid of dying. Dying hurts, speaking in front of a group of people does not hurt.


  • Doug2

    @ Rachel Boyle

    Again you are ignorantly and dishonestly trying to take my words out of context to falsely represent my position.

    It’s not to me, it is the Church of latter-day Saints and Mormon men’s position that essentially women are a lesser are value, therefore women are supposed to be subordinate to men, women not supposed to hold the priesthood, women not supposed to be ordained, etc.

  • Doug2

    @ Rachel Boyle

    Again you are bearing false witness and are slandering.

  • Doug2

    @ David H

    The link you commented on, meant your comment was responding to me. If you clicked on the wrong link, I understand as I have often done the same thing.

    However your comment doesn’t seem like you accidentally clicked on the wrong link. You quoted me then went on a rant as if my post was based on comments from bloggers. Your comment was clearly directed at me. You seem to have gone off half cocked.

    I have first-hand observed sinful behavior on many occasions at several LDS wards, in several cities.

    Many of the comments supposedly by LDS members responding to Jana Riess’ blogs have been dishonest or otherwise uncivilized. There has been many abusive unfounded attacks on me on Jana Riess’ blogs. On many occasions there seems to have been attempt to try to dishonestly discredit my factual accounts that I have experienced first-hand; as rumor by bloggers. Instead of pointing fingers at others, you should take a good look at yourselves.

    Your “apology” seems disingenuous. It seems more like a copout. The fact is, that the Church of latter-day Saints and it’s priesthood is not “true”

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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    What a bunch of malarkey. Isn’t it sexist to describe women as being scared to speak to a mixed group that includes (gasp!) Men?

    The apology at the start is a bad habit that men and women engage in. It has no value in a sermon that is supposed to help 400 people worship God.

    Women get just as many opportunities to speak in groups as men do. Every Sacrament Meeting includes a short talk by a teenage boy or girl. Mormon kids grow up giving talks in Primary, and in their teenage classes. Adult women teach classes of teen and adults, including Relief Society, and adult Sunday School. Many women serve 18 months as missionaries, talking in lots of church meetings and to perfect strangers. The Church encourages women to get educations, and they are half the students at BYU. They work in lots of jobs involving public speaking and performance. Most Mormon women are not scared of anyone. Your description of them as timid is false and denigrating. Apparently your main target is blaming it on the Church.for being patriarchal, but it is a fantasy on your part.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Gee, in my ward the closing prayer is more often by women, so they must be more important!

    The teenage speakers who start out the program are twelve years and older, and alternate between young men and young women. Thus they are equal on the schedule.

    In the wards I have attended, in Utah, Idaho, Washington, California, Nebraska, Maryland, Virginia, and Japan, the order of the two adult speakers at the normal sacrament meeting has no significance.

    Between the two speakers, there is usually either a congregational hymn, a song from the ward choir, or a performance by a small group or soloist, either instrumental or choral. If anything, the main skilled conductrs, performers and instrumentalsts tend to be women. Our current ward choir director is a woman with an advanced music degree who arranges music professionally. One of her arrangements was perfomed by the chorus that performed at the general church women’s.conference. She is no wilting violet.

    The Church.of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not led by a corps of male unmarried priests who give all the sermons. We men have beloved wives and daughters, and if I ever heard a man denigrate women speaking in church, I would tell him that he is being a jerk. But I have never heard such an idea from a real Mormon man in all my 60+ years as.a Mormon. I surmise that you critics have to invent male jerks just like you invent female “victims”.

  • Doug2

    @ Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Take a good look in the mirror. You’re dishonestly ignoring the facts that there is no need to invent “jerks” in the Mormon church. The fact is that “jerks”do exist in the Mormon church. They discriminate against women and the disabled. They have disciplined people for advocating more equality and fairness.

  • TC

    Dear Jana, to preface, I have not read the previous comments but did want to share my own experiences which do not match up with this post.

    While I understand this might be the experiences of some in the church – perhaps confined to certain geographic locales, it has been but a blip on my radar in the various places I’ve lived. I was raised in southeastern Washington state, went to BYU, moved to NYC, then DC, now Germany. I have seen many powerful women speakers in sacrament meetings as well as other ward and stake meetings, and have never felt out of place speaking when asked. I know some do and I wish it weren’t so and seek to always encourage them to feel their worth and power to influence others for good.

    I see the challenges you speak of sometimes and so I was very pleased when our new bishopric this past year emailed guidance to those asked to speak in Sacrament meetings. There was a short list of do’s and don’ts wherein we were told not to waste time with the above outlined complaints and we were exhorted to seek and speak with the power of the Holy Ghost. I was so grateful to receive it and I let our bishopric know I felt it was important and well done of them to remind us.

    In our transient overseas military ward participating in ward council, I suggested it might be a good idea if all the presidents or presidencies spoke in January about how their organization’s theme of the year could bless member’s lives. The bishopric considered the idea and took it another direction in a way, but it was a great month of talks wherein I felt it centered presidencies’ thoughts on what they should seek to communicate that year in their meetings. And it let the ward get to know the various quorum and auxiliary leadership better. Women can and do speak up, but some are still learning they can. I know I am still prayerfully realizing when and how I can and should communicate with fellow leaders in my ward. It’s a wonderful time of growth for me right now.

    As for women not presiding over meetings, I don’t feel that as I’ve participated in various meetings and led in various auxiliary callings, currently as Primary President. Last December, our presidency held a training meeting during 2nd and 3rd hours of church to prepare all our teachers and leaders for the new year. Members of the bishopric popped in and out (probably more for the great spread of food and curiosity since this hadn’t been done in our ward according to anyone’s memory), but I felt I was presiding over men and women as the President and I felt the humility and power of my calling to help us all understand the importance our weekly presence and preparation hold on the lives of the children we teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to each week.

    One of the reasons I have loved being a member of this church is because from the age of THREE, boys AND girls are asked to pray, recite scripture, and prepare and deliver talks in front of audiences of peers and adults. We can always do a better job teaching one another and some practices are thankfully changing, such as the closing speaker. In all, however, I’m pretty content with and excited about the continuing Restoration. Let us keep encouraging one another and sharing ideas of how to improve the church experience!

  • Sandee Spencer

    Personally I LOVE to speak in Sacrament meeting and would even enjoy an impromptu opportunity. And I NEVER use a Primary voice– I have a very hard tie listening to anyone that does.

  • EG

    @ Doug2: I have seen the same thing in other religions. To say only Mormons do these things is out right lying, which means you have an axe to grind against the LDS church.
    And then someone sincerely apologizes to you and you respond angrily, calling it a copout. And here you are complaining about how Mormons act and behave rudely. I can tell some really good stories of Evangelicals (and people of other religions) that take the Lord’s name in vain, discriminate, lie, slander, bully, gossip, etc. And not only that it happened to me also.

    How about Christian schools that tell kids that saying the word “lucky” is evil because the word comes from Lucifer and by saying lucky and other banned words the kids are “stepping on the blood of Jesus” and other nonsense. And in Christian schools the kids are brainwashed and scared into believing so many ridiculous things that the kids need counselling when they become adults.
    Then there is the New Bethany School for Girls in Louisiana where the Director Mack Ford got off for child molestation and other major abuse charges because the DA is a family friend of Ford.
    There is a Pastor (MacPherson I think) who slept every woman he could, including under age girls, from his congregation, knowing he had AIDS.
    Victor Barnard, a youth Pastor, who molested numerous little girls (still hiding from the law).
    Riiiiight…..the LDS are the only horrible people in existence.
    The way you attack means you have no legitimate argument to make.

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  • Denise W.

    If you cannot get past your petty irritation at “the primary voice” and just listen to what people are saying then it is you who disrespects this Church and it being led of God. Everyone’s comments about hating the primary voice sounds like teenagers complaining about being told what to do. It does not matter how much you know about doctrine and scriptures or how long you have been in the Church, you need to be humble and open and willing learn from the words of those speaking. And if you think women have no power over anything in this Church then you need to get involved and learn more about the actual structure and functioning of the church