Being bored one recent evening, I began looking through the Mormon Blogosphere for something interesting to read. Eventually, I hit upon this blog post by Ted Lee.
(I want to highlight just a couple of things from his post but recommend you read it in its entirety.)
From "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", he quoted, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose”, shared various definitions of gender including the "academic", then asked:
"But what if we used the academic definition for gender — that is, a specific set of roles and expectations on “proper” ways a man or woman is supposed to behave and think about oneself that is culturally and historically specific and rarely based in any biological “truths” at all — for this one phrase? Suddenly, the meaning of this entire sentence changes radically, and — this is the part that interests me the most — so does the entire meaning of the document. Here are some possible conclusions we can extrapolate from the sentence knowing what we know about the academic definition of the word gender."He then gave three possible conclusions with his first conclusion quoted here:
If gender is the performative role you act out within a societal context, then what is being referred to within the document as an eternal aspect of identity is not necessarily sex (male, female, or other) or sexuality (sexual partner preference) but which cultural role you want to play in life. “The Family” proscribes two basic gender roles:
“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.”
“Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
And then of course, “The Family” adds in the paradoxical disclaimer, “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
The binary of father/mother can then be redefined as provider/nurturer. Both are important aspects of parenting; one could argue that you need one of each in order to have the ideal, well-rounded parenting set. If gender, being culturally constructed and socially situated, is actually eternal, then one interpretation of the phrase could argue that, disconnected from sex and sexuality, a person’s preference for either providing or nurturing is innate and that parents, regardless of sex or sexuality, should negotiate whether they compliment each other in skills and personality. Therefore, the role of father and the role of mother are not connected to the chromosomes within your DNA or the genatilia you carry on your body but your personality/preference. Do you feel you are innately more of a nurturer? Then perhaps you should adopt the ‘mother’ role in your spousal partnership with children, or at least have nurturer as your default mode. If you feel more innately as a provider instead, then perhaps you should adopt the ‘father’ role in your spousal partnership and seek out a nurturer personality for a partner.
Even the paradoxical “separate gender roles but equal partners” statement makes sense in that while we would maybe prefer to specialize in our parental duties, life and its messy situations it throws at you necessitates flexibility in playing those roles — you may feel that you are innately more of a provider than a nurturer, but life may require you to play that role in support of the more innately nurturing spouse; Mormon doctrinal stances on gender, fatherhood, and motherhood, then, are not stances concerning biological, physical attributes, but actually on parenting techniques. This would certainly reflect reality: the role you play in a family is much more flexible (and thus, more able to achieve some kind of equity or parity to its counter-part in a spousal relationship) than your actual chromosomal make-up.