At the adult session of Stake Conference last weekend, our Stake President suddenly and forcefully said, “Now brethren, I need to speak to you right now. This may sound harsh, but you need to hear this. I am hearing from too many of our faithful sisters about the way they are being treated by their husbands. Brethren, you are breaking their hearts.” He repeated, with tears in his voice, “You break their hearts!” Then, still emotional, he counseled the men to “be kind”.
This got me wondering. How pervasive is this problem? I am not hearing it (much) from my sisters at church. And what does he mean by “be kind”? A significant enough number of men in our stake must be treating their wives unkindly or he wouldn’t have felt it necessary to reprove them. What does “unkindness” look like? Why would any Christian man do that? Why would any woman tolerate it?
I live in a suburban Atlanta stake, and most of the members here are steeped in the culture of kindness in the family. There’s little machismo here. So if this is happening in the genteel American South, what’s it like in other, less “enlightened” areas?
Though my own marriage is irreparably broken, I still have trouble imagining what my Stake President is talking about. Is he referring to flying fists and angry outbursts? Or is it a more subtle abuse of priesthood power (or simply manhood) as in “I’m the Boss, and your thoughts and feelings don’t count.”
This is not a man-bashing post. Men are as different from each other as any two human beings, and I know and love plenty of kind and selfless men. Certainly, there are some general gender differences. Is this propensity toward unkindness one of them? I have trouble buying that. But Jacob gave a very similar speech to the Nephite men of the church, recorded in the second chapter of Jacbob :
6 Yea, it grieveth my soul and causeth me to shrink with shame before the presence of my Maker, that I must testify unto you concerning the wickedness of your hearts.
7 And also it grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God;
8 And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.
9 Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.
10 But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God, and tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations, in the presence of the pure in heart, and the broken heart, and under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God.
Jacob chastised the Nephite men for much more than unkindness, but the setting was the same as our evening Stake Conference meeting, a body of men and women, gathered to hear the pleasing word of God.
Much of the counsel we receive from church leaders is non-gendered. But I have noticed that the men seem to get more “admonishing” than the women. We women hear a lot about how “sweet and wonderful” we are. For many of us, that kind of “praise” is condescending and gag-inducing. The men seem to be almost disparaged sometimes, like there’s hardly hope for their eternal souls (even though it is often couched within a context of superiority) which I find equally repellent.
So, why the difference? Is it based in reality? Are men really more unkind, more “hopeless” than women?
What is your experience?