The non-accidental choice of the Church to issue the recent press release through a female spokesperson struck me as particularly problematic, but it may also be indicative of positive change on the horizon. For me the main issue relates to the deployment of the gendered voice of the author as a strategy in crafting the message, a strategy that might reveal itself under present circumstances as a logical quandary.
In Monday’s memo Jessica Moody speaks “On Behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” in ways that take full advantage of her gender both to identify with and simultaneously to otherize and marginalize the Ordain Women movement. In the first substantive sentence the first-person plural is used in the broadest, most inclusive way: “Some wonderful conversations have been held over recent years, and are continuing to be held, relative to women in the Church and the invaluable contributions we make” (emphasis mine). And in the very next sentence the group is otherized: “The recent changes you have seen … serve as examples and were facilitated by the input of many extraordinary LDS women around the world” (emphasis mine). And if that weren’t clear enough: “Women in the Church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme.” Leaving aside the question of where the Church obtained its data on this last assertion, we find again a marginalizing and de-legitimizing stance to fit the demand that these women join with a host of anti-Mormon groups in the ill-named “free-speech zones”.
The problem of voice in this press release might strike one at best as an ironic category error, and at worst as a feint that displays the weakness of the position. It is a category error in that it employs the voice of a woman to declare through official channels that women cannot use their voice to declare through official channels. On the other hand, besides the obvious adoption of a female persona to defuse cries of sexism, the problem of voice also reveals what might turn out to be a major chink in the armor. If the bulk of the letter reflects a true, doctrinal, revealed position, and if the majority of the church doesn’t agree with OW, why not publish through an official first presidency message, or at least through a bona fide priesthood holder? Is there a major flaw in the logic that allows a woman literally to speak for the Brethren in order to tell women that they cannot even sit silent in the presence of a meeting of brethren? Put positively, does the fact that one woman is allowed to speak on behalf of the Church betoken a coming time in which many more will be? If one woman is already speaking for the Church, why not more?