This paper concerns itself with the concept of “spheres of influence” of gender in Mormonism, and the question of equality. Emma Smith’s leadership in the Relief Society verifies the unique and particular role that Mormon women have been expected to serve. My paper will consist of a general discussion on women and gender in Mormonism, an analysis of Emma Smith’s involvement in the Gold Plates, and her history with the Relief Society. I will use these two main events as entry points to talk about gender: Emma’s role in the translation and recording of the Gold Plates (or Book of Mormon) and the establishment of the LDS Women’s Relief Society.
That Emma Smith was the first scribe and the first President of the Relief Society are two good reasons to focus on Emma’s life and leadership when discussing gender. With the assistance of feminist scholarship by Martha Bradley, Claudia Bushman, Maxine Hanks, Linda King Newell and others, I can talk about more general trends for women in Mormonism.
As I am not often an historian of one particular individual, this paper marks a divergence from my typical approaches. Mormon Studies scholarship is thoroughly invested in Mormon history. Almost every analysis of contemporary Mormonism includes the tale of the beginning of the Mormon Church (formally The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), of Pioneer days, and of the Great Migration West in pursuit of religious freedom. In the case of women and gender in Mormonism, the early stories of Emma Smith are remarkably helpful in considering the possibilities for Mormon women and also the separateness of their roles.
Women and Gender in Mormonism
When it comes to gender in Mormonism, “separate but equal” seems to be the paradigm of consensus. Eliza Snow, a woman with an interesting polygamous history, having been a plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of Brigham Young, referred to the separate roles as “spheres of influence.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took a liking to Snow’s term and even incorporated it into its recent book, Daughters in My Kingdom, published in 2011. From what we know, Eliza Snow took great pride in the spheres of influence of Mormondom. Daughters in My Kingdom records Eliza Snow as having said, “If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least [limited] in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed.” Ms. Snow affirms that women are talented in certain realms; the domestic areas and providing relief and care are important works that coincide naturally with women’s ability.
Many male LDS leaders agreed with, or at least spoke publicly to support, this sentiment. According to Eliza Snow, Brigham Young spoke, “Let [the sisters] organize Female Relief Societies in the various wards. We have many talented women among us, and we wish their help in this matter. Some may think this is a trifling thing, but it is not; and you will find that the sisters will be the mainspring of the movement.”
More recently, Church Presidents have spoken about “separate but equal” responsibilities. In 1993 Elder M. Russell Ballard addressed the contingency of Mormon women:
Even though men and women are equal before God in their eternal opportunities, they have different, but equally significant, duties in His eternal plan. We must understand that God views all of His children with infinite wisdom and perfect fairness. Consequently, He can acknowledge and even encourage our differences while providing equal opportunity for growth and development.
Our Heavenly Father assigned different responsibilities in mortality to men and women when we lived with Him as His spirit sons and daughters. To His sons He would give the priesthood and the responsibilities of fatherhood, and to His daughters He gave the responsibilities of motherhood, each with its attendant functions.
Yet, despite the valuation of women’s work and roles, many male LDS leaders’ statements have come across as paternalistic and patronizing. According to Snow, Young continued his statement about women’s abilities, “Give them the benefit of your wisdom and experience, give them your influence, guide and direct them wisely and well, and they will find rooms for the poor and obtain the means for supporting them ten times quicker than even the Bishop could.” While Young states that the women will find rooms for the poor ten times quicker than the Bishop would (complimenting them), he still instructs the men to “guide and direct them” and to “give them the benefit of your wisdom.” While naming the importance of “women’s” roles and commending women’s abilities, Young still adds the underlying layer that men are more experienced and would need to teach the women their wisdom.
The Mormon emphasis on distinct gender roles characterizes Mormonism’s past and present. Today, Mormon men constitute the priesthood; women continue the Relief Society started in Emma’s day. Proud Mormon women celebrate their roles as women and mothers. While some Mormon or ex-Mormon women may choose other roles for themselves, the overall culture of Mormon women accepts the gender roles espoused in traditional Mormonism. A Mormon woman in her twenties, Stephanie Nielsen, my roommate in Provo, lovingly described women in the Relief Society as “the Moms,” and the bishop as “the Dad.” She claims this analogy helps her understand the organizational structure and the roles.
Mormon feminism often celebrates the “sphere of influence” attributed to women, to use Eliza Snow’s terminology. But a perpetual problem when considering Mormonism from a feminist perspective is the underlying paternalism and the imbalance of priestly authority in the Mormon Church.
The Nature of Female Power in Mormonism
Mormon apologists point to Joseph Smith’s progressive treatment of women, similarly to Muslim claims that the Prophet Muhammed was a feminist and pushed for women’s rights. I am not discrediting either of these arguments, as I believe both have merit. History suggests that Joseph Smith supported women’s leadership—he trusted in his wife Emma as she assisted him with the Gold Plates and he advocated for her to govern as President of the Relief Society.
However, throughout the history of Mormonism, particular men have used the power of the priesthood to suppress women—men’s power has at times within Mormonism been greater than women’s. Feminist historians of early Mormonism show that this was not typical of Smith’s leadership. Claudia Bushman, feminist Mormon historian writes, “According to Joseph, administration by women was a completely positive act that could do no harm if performed in sincerity.” In her article, “Mystics and Healers,” Claudia Bushman shows that, in early Mormonism, women were understood or perceived as especially spiritual beings. Women had visions of angels, interpreted dreams, and could deliver spiritual healing.
It was only until later, beginning with Joseph F. Smith as First President, that the priesthood assumed control of spiritual healings. Elmina A. Shepard Taylor, a leader of the Relief Society and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, recorded in her journal, “Being quite deliberated and sick from the effect of my heart, Sisters Eliza, Horne, Margaret Young and B. Smith laid their hands on my head and Sister Snow blessed me and rebuked the disease and I was much improved from that very time.” Bushman also writes, emphasizing women as both empowered and as having the separate roles I have described, “The outlines of the LDS women’s story in the nineteenth century were clear. The women had not been oppressed drudges but had been valued workers in the kingdom, early voters, keen businesswomen, and activists in national women’s rights groups as well as devoted wives, mothers, and Church members. When Eastern groups came to ‘save’ them from their miserable state, the LDS women were not interested.” 
Scholars Linda King Newell, Claudia Bushman, and D. Michael Quinn have all written about changes in structure pertaining to power in the Mormon tradition. Bushman and Newell argue that female power was reduced over the years. Quinn agrees with changes in structural power, but in his book, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, he goes beyond gender in his analysis. Newell claims that there was a definite shift in defining priesthood in the twentieth century that removed women from authority. Both Bushman and Newell posit that women’s religious authority was greater in the beginning of Mormonism. According to Newell’s argument, the LDS Priesthood and organization gradually imposed more limits on women’s authority, redefining it with new doctrine and acting as if these guidelines were natural or had always been there.
Newell records a struggle between the LDS Priesthood or First Presidency and Relief Society over women’s religious authority. An example is the disagreement over whether women could offer blessings or healings within or outside of “their respective families.” The gradual “clarification” of women’s roles and abilities was a mask of doctrine that male leaders could hide behind. They did not own up to their own part in establishing these guidelines, crediting priestly authority and revelation for new or adjusted rules. Mormon feminism is a mix of reacting against male power and unfair establishment of gender inequalities, as well as upholding Mormon women’s pride and heritage in their roles, talents, and abilities as women. Newell’s work is helpful in tracing the history of the establishment of male power in Mormonism; Martha Bradley offers a slightly more sensitive view including the struggles of equality feminism and difference-based Mormon feminism.
Newell cites a letter from the LDS First Presidency saying that women, “should not be ordained to any office in the Priesthood; but they may he [sic] appointed as Helps, and Assistants, and Presidents, among their own sex.” Newell continues to show that, in 1884 Eliza Snow wrote in the Woman’s Exponent: “Is it necessary for sisters to be set apart to officiate in the sacred ordinances of washing, anointing, and laying on of hands in administering to the sick?... Any and all sisters who honor their holy endowments, not only have the right, but should feel it a duty, whenever called upon to administer to our sisters in these ordinances, which God has graciously committed to His daughters as well as to His sons.”
According to the tradition, men lead the men, and women lead the women. But in actuality, men (via the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) lead and minister unto men and women, while women may sometimes minister unto women and children. Even so, there has been controversy over whether women could minister unto families other than their own immediate (a curious condition given the social web Joseph Smith intended Mormonism to create). In theory, Mormonism values male and female but believes in distinguished roles. I question that there can ever be true equality with the double standard.
The Story of Emma and the Plates
According to the Mormon story, Emma was the first scribe for Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon from Gold Plates. According to many histories, Joseph and Emma had a very spiritual and loving marriage.  Joseph reported having a vision of Emma, before marrying her, and went to Harmony to seek her out as a wife. Emma responded that there was no one else she’d rather marry, and so accepted Joseph’s proposal. Emma stayed by Joseph through many challenges, including his interest in plural marriage, constant persecution from his critics, disapproval from her own father, and the loss of five or six children. Emma’s love for Joseph, despite her disagreement with plural marriage, was unwavering.
Emma, as his partner in many things, was the natural first scribe for the Book of Mormon. Eventually, there appeared some others who would become scribes: Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery, both men. I believe the replacement of Emma with male scribes reaffirms the shift in power Bushman and Newell describe, as well as the separation of gender roles. While Joseph Smith Jr. was affirming of women’s abilities, there was still a general understanding that men belonged in certain areas and women in others.
Emma was the first scribe, but Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery took over the responsibility when able. It is my interpretation that working with the writing (the text) of the Book of Mormon was considered a more male role. While women’s sphere included children’s education and childrearing, religious doctrine was categorized within the sphere of men. The roles were not hard and fast; women could perform roles attributed to men and would do so when there was a need. But as soon as men could take over in the responsibility, they would. In the first, most significant step in Mormondom, the discovery of the Book of Mormon, Joseph and Emma were partners. The histories proposed by Bushman, Hanks, and Quinn support the notion that roles were not as strictly assigned to genders in early Mormonism and that further gender assignment came with later organization of the Church.
I believe Emma’s scribery, and role in the Book of Mormon, was significant. Emma was the first scribe, the first person to assist Joseph in putting the words of the Book of Mormon in print. She was involved in the founding of the Mormon religion. Joseph accepted credit for receiving the Book of Mormon from the angelic messenger, Moroni, but Emma was there from the beginning. Beecher, Derr, and Cannon even have her as waiting nearby in a wagon while Moroni delivered the plates to Joseph.
Emma described her involvement in the actual translation of the Book of Mormon:
…When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made any mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. Even the word Sarah he could not pronounce at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him.
Together, Joseph and Emma worked through the writing down of the Book of Mormon. Joseph corrected Emma’s spelling if there were mistakes; Emma pronounced words Joseph did not recognize. (I am left wondering what kind of translation the Book of Mormon required if Joseph could spell the word in English letter-by-letter without knowing what the word meant.) There were sometimes gaps in Joseph’s knowledge base, so that Emma would help him understand the text he was translating. For example, Joseph needed to ask Emma if there were walls around Jerusalem, as he feared he was being deceived when translating a line.
While Emma did not feel authorized to view the Plates themselves, she describes that “she would lift and move them when she swept and dusted the room and furniture. She even thumbed the leaves as one does the leaves of a book, and they rustled with a metalic sound. This testimony is similar to Joseph’s sister Catherine’s, who, according to her grandson H.S. Salisbury, claimed:
…Joseph allowed her to ‘heft’ the package but not to see the gold plates, as the angel had forbidden him to show them at that period. She said they were very heavy. She told me that she was one of the first eight members, bap=tized into the Church. She said the first six members were, Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Samuel H. Smith, Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer, Jr.
Even in later years when interviewed by her son Joseph Smith III, although denying the practice and principle of plural marriage, Emma testified to the truth of the gold plates. Emma’s faith in Joseph and the Book of Mormon was constant. 
Early Beginnings of the Women’s Relief Society
In addition to having been present during the discovery of the Gold Plates, Emma’s leadership was also demonstrated in the beginnings of the Women’s Relief Society. When, in 1842, Emma was nominated by Elizabeth Ann Whitney, and elected by the women, to be their first President of the Relief Society, Joseph Smith immediately spoke his support. According to Beecher, Derr, and Cannon, Joseph was delighted to conceive of his wife as the leader of Mormon women so that they together could lead the Mormon people. Joseph immediately cited a revelation that he had received twelve years before, which is now section 25 of Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph, excited, read about her “unique standing among the women of the Church.” The term “elect lady” from this section stuck with Emma Smith, from which Newell and Avery derive the title for their biography of her. Although Joseph had received this revelation more than a decade earlier, he immediately saw the connection and considered Emma’s role with the Relief Society a fulfillment of prophesy.
With the Relief Society beginning to take off, Emma and Joseph covenanted to lead together. Joseph spoke to the male Priesthood as the Prophet; Emma would speak to the women in the Relief Society. Joseph assured women of the Relief Society that, “those who would act perseveringly in their place--Should be bless'd with great blessings more than they could conceive.” Beecher, Cannon and Derr report that the Relief Society in 1843, supposedly under Emma’s direction, added “assist[ing] the brethren in building the Lord's House,” to their mission (which was originally relief for the poor). Here is an example of men and women, existing in separate organizations, supporting each other and working cooperatively towards the same goals. The Relief Society’s new mission included supporting the Brethren, support which the Brotherhood would presumably offer the Sisters as well. This project was specifically an addition to the Relief Society that was part of Emma’s leadership.
As indicated by her presence and role in the Book of Mormon and her leading the Relief Society as fulfillment of divine prophesy, Emma was an important figure in the development of the Mormon religion. Gender roles are important in the Mormon tradition. Many Mormon women assert that they are valued in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that they have a unique role as women. The discourse on gender in Mormonism centers around a construct of separate but equal. Emma was an important leader, and according to the Mormon tradition, should have influence over the women. It is not that men and women did not or could not influence each other; women had a role in caring for the sick and poor, and men had a role in the priesthood and directing the community. Therefore, women should stick together to serve the Church, as should men. Emma, as chosen by God according to Joseph’s 1830 revelation, was naturally a leader of Mormon women.
Emma received other honors. John Taylor […] blessed and affirmed her as “a mother of Israel.” Taylor acknowledged Emma as elected or chosen to teach other women. According to Beecher, Cannon and Derr, “Elder Taylor also blessed the two counselors, Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, in connection with their ordination. He later explained that theirs was not an ordination to the priesthood, but rather a blessing that set them apart for their new positions.”
In line with Bushman’s and Newell’s analysis of history, LDS Presidents later rescinded or made apologies for the use of the word “ordained” in section 25. While Doctrine and Covenants clearly names Emma and uses the specific word “ordained,” men in the church could not fathom that this “ordination” could possibly be the same ordination that gives them, as Priests, religious power. Quinn describes a pattern of retractions or “corrections” (“retroactive changes,” in Quinn’s words) to revelations. I see John Taylor’s reconsideration of the word “ordained” (when it comes to women) as similar to this struggle for priestly power and retroactive changes. Although at first himself using the word “ordained” to refer to women of the Relief Society, LDS President John Taylor later clarified that “ordained” has a different meaning when applied to Mormon women than to priestly men.
Conclusion: Can Separate Ever Be equal?
Emma’s leadership consistently reaffirms Mormon culture of gender roles. Emma is elevated and honored as a leader, but has a particular role as a leader of women. This is not to denigrate women (except that men traditionally have the authority to teach the doctrine of the Church, meaning they can instruct men and women). Mormon feminism consistently deals with notions of gender in Mormon culture. Some feminists (Mormon and non-Mormon) approach any difference as a sign of inequality. Others have upheld the notion that women can be valued with special roles as women. The construct of “difference feminism” exists far beyond Mormon culture. Even among the most radical feminisms are beliefs in difference, including lesbian-feminism, Neo-Paganism, and Goddess thealogies.
The concept of gender in Mormonism and Mormon feminism are grounded in separate roles for men and women. While advocating for respect and support for women’s roles, and possibly social recognition of women’s work (in the home or the Relief Society), Mormon feminism upholds the broader concept of women’s and men’s roles in Mormon culture. Mormon feminism has been different from secular equality feminism (though not always dissimilar from other religious feminisms, including radical lesbian-feminist Neo-Pagan and Islamic feminisms) in its stake in gender difference. There are times when the male Priesthood has suppressed women and limited their authority to certain sanctioned arenas; there are also times when Mormon women have held dear to their identities as women and did not want to go unrecognized as women. For example, when responding to human needs in disaster relief, the Women’s Relief Society might specifically want the tag to say that the gift was from the Women’s Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the end, I am left with an overall awe at the beauty and pride that Mormon women find in women’s culture, as well as a frustration that men are offered more power in the priesthood than women are allowed. While I have a greater understanding of what Mormon feminism is and stands for, I maintain ambivalent about power and equality between genders in Mormonism. Can separate ever be equal? Feminism teaches us to strive for equality. Postcolonial theory teaches us to be careful judging another culture based on our own assumptions, expectations, or desires. Throughout the waves, feminists have pondered the question, can separate be equal? It is a question which has kept feminists of each generation from reaching consensus. Even when the status of women’s roles and women’s work is elevated, with the goal of matching the status of men’s roles and men’s work, there may still be manipulative power plays—some of which many will not recognize until years later. In conclusion, I will say that I have respect for and even interest in Mormon feminism, but “separate but equal” will always be troubling.
 Snow, Quoted in Daughters in My Kingdom, 44.
 Young, Quoted in Ibid, 41.
 Ballard (1993).
 Young, Quoted in Snow, Quoted in Daughters in My Kingdom, 41.
 Martha Bradley provides a very sensitive history of Mormon women and Mormon feminism in Pedestals and Podiums, describing the different (Mormon and non-) women’s voices involved in response to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment of the 1970s. Bradley describes the Mormon feminism possible, and also explains feminists for equality in all circumstances. According to Bradley, some Mormon women actually did not believe that equality was the answer, since their beliefs in gender differences were so serious. These women believed that “equality” would prohibit women from certain privileges as women and mothers that they felt they should have.
 “Women have motherhood, and men have the priesthood,” my colleague Ruth Eldredge names as a sometimes placating and sometimes sarcastic Mormon statement.
 Margaret Toscano asks, “Should Mormon women follow the example of the Catholic Womenpriest Movement?” at the 2012 Sunstone Symposium.
 Bushman, C. (1976), 14.
 Ibid, 18.
 Taylor, Quoted in Ibid, 16.
 Bushman, C. (2004), v.
 Newell, 31-32..
 Ibid, 30.
 First Presidency, Quoted in Newell, 30.
 Snow, Quoted in Newell, 30.
 Bushman, R.; Derr, et al.; Newell and Avery.
 Lucy Smith is recorded as having said about Emma, “I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which [Emma Smith] has ever done . . . she has been tossed upon the ocean of uncertainty—she has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have borne down almost any other woman” (Smith, 169).
 Later in Mormonism the Presidency of the Church became a role for men. Joseph Smith, Jr. was the first President, followed by Brigham Young. There was also a Council of Twelve Apostles including the President, to this day all men.
 It is interesting that Oliver Cowdery turned out to be an irresponsible scribe; the Smiths were very disappointed with him losing the original manuscript, while Emma recorded the times when she helped Joseph spell correctly.
 Derr, et al., 6.
 Emma Smith, Quoted in Vogel, 530. Vogel notes that Emma likely heard her husband spell “‘Sariah,’ the name of Lehi’s wife.”
 Nels Madson, “Visit to Mrs. Emma Smith Bidemon,” Quoted in Vogel, 546.
 Joseph Smith III to Mrs. E. Horton, 7 March, 1900, Quoted in Vogel I, 546-47.
 H.S. Salisbury, Quoted in Vogel, 524.
 Newell and Avery, 297-98.
 According to their son Joseph Smith III, the later leader of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “She testified that father found and had the plates, and translated them as the history states; that she had no doubt as to the truth of it.” (Joseph Smith III to Mrs. E. Horton, 7 March, 1900, Quoted in Vogel I, 546-47.) Other women, such as Mary Musselman Whitmer and Abigail Leonard, claimed personal spiritual experiences of the Book of Mormon (Derr, et al., 7).
 My discussion of the Relief Society focuses on Emma’s leadership; however, the Relief Society is an organization that continues to include the voices of women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Relief Society at any historical point is an important demonstration of gender in Mormonism. Joseph Smith supported the founding of the Relief Society and encouraged women to record their meetings’ Minutes as religious documentation. (Kate Holbrook, Lecture in Maxwell Institute Summer Seminar, July 16, 2012.) The women ran their society, but still had his patriarchal approval. Supposedly, the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Mormonism would support each other with separate tasks and responsibilities, but it certainly did not hurt that the LDS Prophet Joseph Smith spoke in favor of their organization.
 Derr, et al., 28. Doctrine and Covenants 25 was originally revealed through Joseph Smith July 1830 (Derr, et al. 9).
 Derr, et al., 28.
 Derr, et al. record that this section (25) of Doctrine and Covenants is the only one addressed to a woman (10).
 Ibid, et al., 32.
 Smith, Quoted Ibid.
 The secretary, attributed to Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Nauvoo Minutes June 16, 1843, Quoted in Derr, et al., 51. Some speculate that Emma accepted leadership of the Relief Society because she was striving to take attention away from the new Doctrine of Plural Marriage.
 Examples. Joseph led all Mormons. The elders who approved of Emma being blessed.
 Women decided on missions of the Relief Society as it was defined in their nature in Mormon culture "to have feelings of charity" (J quoted in "Ladies Relief Society," Times and Seasons 3 (April 1842), Derr, et al. 32).
 Derr, et al. et all… conjecture that Emma had another motivation for taking off with/her focus on the Relief Society: redirecting the energy of the Church towards something other than polygamy. The authors write, “Hesitantly she [Emma] had permitted her husband to marry other wives in the new order; more recently she had disavowed that action and refused to participate further. Part of her private agenda for the Relief Society had been if not to abolish, at least to retard the practice, not only in its corrupted form of "spiritual wifery' as promoted by apostates, but also in its pure form as advocated among the Prophet's closest associates." 61 A distraction?
 Taylor, quoted in Derr, et al., 29
 Derr, et al., 29.
 Quinn, 5.
 Similar debates recur around polygamy. Some feminists believe that polygamy or polygyny is inherently patriarchal and that feminism and polygamy, and possibly polyamory, are irreconcilable. Others, such as Janet Bennion and Debra Majeed, see that, even within polygnous marriage systems, there can be social and economic benefits for plural wives.
 See, for example, the writings of Mary Daly, Carol P. Christ, Robin Morgan, Merlin Stone, Melissa Raphael, or Zsuzsanna Budapest. I see a parallel with Islamic feminism as well.
 “Thealogy” is a term used in Goddess spirituality.
 One could go even further and say that they are not just roles; they are biological facts. “Role” emphasizes that it is a behavior that we perform and perhaps something learned, as in Judith Butler and postmodern queer theory, while a “fact” would be that women are a certain way and men are a different way biologically.
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