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Toscano: From BYU to Utah (Part 1 of 8)

Dr. Margaret Toscano is the Dept Chair at the University of Utah, but she got 2 degrees from BYU and taught there as well.  In our next conversation, we’ll learn more about her time at BYU, and see her perspective on male privilege for scholars at the university.

Margaret:  I started out from BYU, but I’ve always loved literature. That was sort of my first love, being an English major. Then when I was at BYU, I got interested in language, studying Latin and Greek, because I became very interested in Biblical studies and I wanted to be able to read the Bible in the original languages. So I first took Latin and I like to tell my Latin students, this little story. I was an English major and a History minor. I had a boyfriend who I met in a history class, and he persuaded me to take Latin, and I did. Well, that boyfriend is long since gone, but Latin lasts forever. I still teach Latin. I love teaching. I teach both Latin and Ancient Greek and all kinds of courses dealing with religious topics and literary and cultural topics. I teach a big Introductory to Classical Mythology. Sometimes I’ll have 250 students.

I did my masters at BYU in Classical Languages. I started out with literature and then I got really interested in the ancient world in doing Biblical Studies. I did some work with Hebrew, too. I finished my master’s there. Then I got married. In that time period, I became really interested in Mormon theology and history. So it was while I was at BYU in the early 70s, that I began to meet people who were really digging up documents.

I have to say that, for me, the two things that really made me feel like I was a feminist during that period was I began to see these gaps between men’s–what would I say? Not just, in large, about the sort of gender gaps between how men were privileged over womenut , bwithin the context of the church. I began to ask questions about gender equality. For me, it really came very much, at that time, from a place of believing, where I felt like, “Here I am, a Mormon woman. I believe in God, I believe in the idea of the restoration. But I feel like that there are these inequities that strike me, not just wrong, but somehow go against my own feelings of God’s love and what I want as somebody who is committed to spirituality, and to the sort of basic ideals of the gospel.” So, maybe I could just give a couple of examples. So, for me, it didn’t start out with the idea of kind of focusing on priesthood or even the Heavenly Mother, which are two things I’ve written about. I think for me, it started out from the idea of–and maybe this was in a sense connected with priesthood, but I think it was at BYU, that I saw so much male privilege, that as a woman, I felt like I wasn’t taken as seriously as my male counterparts. I was working on my Masters in Classical Languages. I was obviously smart and did a good job. But, it was the idea that my professors were encouraging all of my male colleagues to go off and get PhDs, so they can come back and be these great scholars. But I was seen as somebody where, “Oh, yeah, you’re going to get married, you’re going to have children. We’re not going to take you seriously as a scholar.” So I think that was the first area where I felt it, was the difference in expectations or the way in which I was valued. I began to see that I didn’t feel like I was valued as much as men at BYU, that I was not encouraged to write or to be a scholar or to do anything… “Oh, yeah, we are happy to have you as a teacher, you’re a great teacher, but you’re going to fill this little spot in teaching until one of our male stars comes back from a big PhD program, and then, oh, yeah, then they’ll take your role, and, of course, you’ll be having kids, so you won’t care.”

Find out more about Margaret’s experiences at BYU.  Check out our conversation…

Dr. Margaret Toscano is professor of Classics and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies here, and also the department chair of this World Languages and Cultures.

Check out our other conversations on Mormon feminism!

Bryndis Roberts of Ordain Women

Bryndis Roberts - Chair of Executive Board, Ordain Women
Bryndis Roberts – Chair of Executive Board, Ordain Women

274: Purge & Actions Since 2014 (Roberts)

273: Ordain Women Leadership (Roberts)

272: Getting Involved in Ordain Women (Roberts)

271: Addressing Gender Inequities (Roberts)

270: From Baptist to Mormon (Roberts)

Dr. Nancy Ross/Sara Hanks – Where Must We Stand?

Dr. Nancy Ross - Dixie State Univ, and Sara Hanks, co-authors "Where We Must Stand."
Dr. Nancy Ross – Dixie State Univ, and Sara Hanks, co-authors “Where We Must Stand.”

211:  Feminist Favorites (Ross-Hanks)

210:  Must Women Be Ordained? (Ross-Hanks)

209: The F-word: Feminism (Ross-Hanks)

208: Nancy & Sara’s Spiritual Journey (Ross-Hanks)

207: Mormon Feminist Successes & Setbacks (Ross-Hanks)

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Getting Involved in Ordain Women (Part 3 of 5)

After seeing gender inequities in the Church, Bryndis Roberts decided to join Ordain Women.  But even before that, she pointed out gender problems within the Church.

Roberts:  [I was] very proactive in raising questions and wondering why things were done this way. Whether it was questioning why we had to have a priesthood holder there when we had Relief Society events; whether it was raising the question as to why the little girls only met every other week; whether it was raising a question about why don’t we affiliate with the Girl Scouts? Whether it was advocating for a class called Strengthening Single Mothers. So, I continued to do things in my church role that were, at least in my mind, trying to address some of the disparities and the inequities, but I did not do them from the context of being part of Ordain Women. I did them for from the context of just being a woman in the ward who sees these things.

GT :  Were people receptive to your admonitions?

Roberts:  I think I made some of the men in my ward probably as uncomfortable as I made my missionaries when I was raising some of the questions. Because when I raised the question, for instance, about why?  I have never been one to accept that something is a rule. If it’s a rule, then it needs to be written down, and I want to see that rule because it often has been my experience that people will read words and think that words say things that words do not say. So, when I raised the question about why do we have to have a priesthood holder? Show me the rule. I felt that then people went off and had to come and look to find the rule. Of course, it was in handbook number one.

GT:  The secret one.

Roberts:  The handbook that I don’t get to see. But then they came back and said, and I think the language said something to the effect of, “Priesthood holders should instruct members of the church, particularly women and children, not to be alone in an unlocked building.” Well, I mean, I don’t know, you can read that sentence backwards, you can switch the words around, you can do whatever you want to with that sentence. That sentence simply does not say that a priesthood holder has to be present, when a bunch of grown women are holding a Relief Society event at the church, it simply does not say that. So I pointed that out that this rule does not say that.

Check out our conversation….

Bryndis Roberts explains how she got involved in Ordain Women.
Bryndis Roberts explains how she got involved in Ordain Women.

Check out our other conversations with Bryndis!

271: Addressing Gender Inequities

270: From Baptist to Mormon

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Addressing Gender Inequities (Part 2 of 5)

There are many people in the LDS Church who notice gender inequities within the church.  What are some of these disparities?  Bryndis Roberts tells what she noticed, and what she tried to do about it.

Roberts: One thing that just struck me and I still don’t understand, and particularly in a ward like ours, why the little boys and girls, the little boys had meetings every week, but the little girls only met every other week. In an inner-city ward, all of the children were just subject to so many temptations and so many things that made me think that the little girls needed a weekly bolstering or recharging or protection, whatever you said that the little boys got from meeting on a weekly basis, the little girls needed that just as much. So I didn’t understand that difference.

I found it interesting that while the church had fully embraced the Boy Scout program, the church had refused or did not embrace the Girl Scout program, which I had had involvement with prior to joining the church had actually been a troop leader. I felt because of my prior involvement, that that program would bring as much to the lives of the little girls as the Boy Scouting program was bringing to the lives of the little boys. I could see particularly in other converts, the joy in the men when, right after joining the church, or shortly after joining the church, they were ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood and it was like a progression, whereas the women converts had no real sign of progression for them. Then I started looking around at things in our Ward that we had to wait for things to get done, because there were not enough Melchizedek priesthood holders to do these things.  In fact, my own temple class, I joined the church in January of 2008, didn’t receive my endowment until October 2009. Part of that was because we were looking for a priesthood holder to teach the temple prep class.

Is there patriarchy in the Baptist Church (where she was a member previously?)

Roberts:   I felt that the priesthood lifted Mormon men above the patriarchal institution and made them administer it in a in a way that was full of benevolence and righteousness. So, I recognized it was a patriarchal institution. I guess, I dared to believe that it was somehow a benevolent patriarchal institution. {Chuckling.}

GT:   Okay, so different than the Baptist Church?

Roberts:   Yes, different in the sense that, I guess I put a lot of stock or a lot of hope, or a lot of faith in the concept of the priesthood, the whole idea of the Melchizedek Priesthood in the whole idea of reaching back to when Abraham was visited by the high priest or visited with the high priest. That whole concept made me think that somehow it was going to be different in Mormonism.

GT:   Is it different?

Roberts:   Sadly, I found that there were many examples, far too many examples of Mormon men engaging in what could only be called unrighteous dominion.

Check out our conversation….

Bryndis Roberts describes what she tried to do about Gender inequities in the LDS Church.
Bryndis Roberts describes what she tried to do about Gender inequities in the LDS Church.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Bryndis!

270: From Baptist to Mormon