Infantilizing anyone?

General Conference Women

Y’know, I don’t want to be all about criticizing the CoJCoL-dS. I’d like to have some balance, like this post outlining positive things about Mormonism — because there are plenty of them. But I accidentally followed a link on this Mormon feminist post leading to a conference talk that made my jaw drop.

I somehow never heard about this talk — perhaps because I’m part of the class that’s too (spiritual? flighty? pedestal-bound? lactilicious?) to hear important leadership messages like this one:

Young women should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men. Some of them will very much wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents. If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.

I say what has been said before, that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. As such, our young men must carry the major burden. This is their responsibility and their obligation.

We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their lifes program. Over a period of many years, we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small. Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.

We constantly receive letters from young women asking why the age for sister missionaries is not the same as it is for elders. We simply give them the reasons. We know that they are disappointed. We know that many have set their hearts on missions. We know that many of them wish this experience before they marry and go forward with their adult lives. I certainly do not wish to say or imply that their services are not wanted. I simply say that a mission is not necessary as a part of their lives.

Now, that may appear to be something of a strange thing to say in priesthood meeting. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church have now heard it. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter.

19 thoughts on “Infantilizing anyone?

  1. I never heard that explained before. Not in that way, anyway. I was always told that the age for women was higher because of some weird laws in foreign countries. Wow. A mission is not a necessary part of their lives?
    What if that is a part of the life that the young woman wants?
    Thanks for your service but we don’t need you. Go home and make babies.
    Sad and demoralizing.

  2. Question:

    What if that is a part of the life that the young woman wants?

    Answer:

    If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.

    I thought about adding a satirical “translation” for this, but somehow it doesn’t need one…

  3. I had this strange thought pop up in my head.

    What if the church’s stated ideas of “separate but equal” actual led to women have really important — and in fact critical — roles within the church hierarchy and structure that nevertheless were different than men’s priesthood roles. Like, I dunno, what if men were all about missionary work and evangelism and whatnot, but like, women were solely in charge of the temple, sealings, and whatnot.

    But then I realized, nah, something like that would never happen. The church is too busy insisting that women staying home (from jobs, from missions, etc.,) and being mothers is their separate but equivalent role.

  4. What if the churchs stated ideas of separate but equal actual led to women have really important and in fact critical roles within the church hierarchy and structure that nevertheless were different than mens priesthood roles. Like, I dunno, what if men were all about missionary work and evangelism and whatnot, but like, women were solely in charge of the temple, sealings, and whatnot.

    That’s an interesting alternate reality to imagine, but for it to happen, it would require that the women have their own leadership hierarchy that doesn’t answer to the male hierarchy.

    This point reminds me of Jake’s Animal Farm post. A lot of the commenters were incensed that he would compare the CoJCoL-dS to the Soviet Union (or the pigs of Animal Farm) without having any specific criticisms of the parallels Jake drew. But some made points like this one:

    Even if you take the cynical view of nepotism in the church, I think its a stretch to claim its Napolean (the pig) like power grabbing.

    The problem with that reasoning is that a power imbalance doesn’t need to spring from intentional power-grabbing to cause problems. When you have a situation like the CoJCoL-dS — where the women have to report to male authorities at every level — the class in power simply starts to believe that the members of the unempowered class are congenitally incapable of taking care of themselves. And the result is a culture of “adults, women, and children” — where the male leader asks the husband’s permission before extending a calling to a wife, and where we have male-only leadership meetings (like the quote in the OP) discussing what options to allow women, etc.

  5. As a practical matter for an evangelical faith, when you’ve got a widening gender gap in your church (the gals are sticking around while the guys are heading for the exits), the advice on offer in the post is a recipe for a numerically diminished missionary force. Seriously, if I was giving advice from a cubicle in the COB, I’d be telling the dudes upstairs that they really ought to consider getting the kind of revelation that puts the sisters at the forefront of the proselyting effort, because it’d produce fantastic outcomes.

    Back on planet Earth, Mormonism remains the same Potemkin Village that it’s been ever since Correlation set in.

  6. @6 Good point. But I don’t think that converting people to the church is the only goal of the missionary program. Or, if it is, I don’t think this is the only point one could chalk up in the “needs improvement” column. 😉

    Also, with both the LDS Boy Scouting program and the missionary program, the CoJCoL-dS alienates a certain portion of the guys who don’t think these required activities are a worthwhile use of their time, and they alienate a certain portion of the girls who would like to participate and resent being prevented or discouraged. I guess this is another argument against Andrew’s hypothetical “separate but equal” gender tracks. Even if the two gender-based tracks were equal, you’d still end up with people whose inclinations and abilities don’t match their gender-assigned roles.

  7. It warms me to see an institution as important in society as the Mormon Church is still on the very cutting edge of 1850s thinking about gender issues. What next? Be still my beating heart as I wait for the Church’s next progressive move.

    Seriously, I believe this type of thinking is likely to persist simply because women do not have a prominent role in Church leadership. There’s no balance to the men. And I suspect that is unlikely to change any time soon. Twenty years from now, there might be some progress, but the Church will still unnecessarily lag behind the rest of society. At least, that’s my guess.

  8. @5 — Quote: “When you have a situation like the CoJCoL-dS where the women have to report to male authorities at every level the class in power simply starts to believe that the members of the unempowered class are congenitally incapable of taking care of themselves.”

    Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happening.

  9. An LDS mission is also dangerous, or can be. Missionaries do get attacked occasionally. The percentage is very low, but if there were more female missionaries, there’s a greater chance of attack. Women are (rightly or not) perceived as being more vulnerable and need to be protected (do female missionaries get any martial arts training? Shouldn’t they?)

    I guess what I’m saying is, there is this culture that women have to be protected, that we don’t want to encourage them to do too much outside the home, in the dangerous world, etc. The paternalistic society wants them to go straight from their parents’ (father’s) home to their husband’s, ideally. Women need to be protected, and specifically need to be protected by men.

    Being a missionary is risky for everyone, male or female. And I suppose it’s encouraging that women are “allowed” to be missionaries.

  10. The percentage is very low, but if there were more female missionaries, theres a greater chance of attack. Women are (rightly or not) perceived as being more vulnerable and need to be protected (do female missionaries get any martial arts training? Shouldnt they?)

    Yes, but that’s not precisely my problem with this talk. My problem is that the male leaders are discussing amongst themselves (icing: in a gratuitously patronizing way) the options that women should be allowed to have. By all means the leaders should be talking about how to keep the missionaries safe. But female leaders and authorities should be taking an active role in the discussion, and it should take place at a meeting that girls and young women are allowed to attend, since it obviously affects them.

  11. Twenty years from now, there might be some progress, but the Church will still unnecessarily lag behind the rest of society. At least, thats my guess.

    Yeah, that’s essentially the theory of “optimal tension”. In a nutshell, making social progress while always staying a few decades behind the times is a selling point for a lot of people.

  12. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it.

    This is a strange admission. Either he already knows he wouldn’t be able to say such things in a space that included females, so he’s acting coy, or it’s the case that church leaders actively infantilize women for co-ed audiences, too, so that he really just wasn’t sure.

    Probably an uncomfortable mix of both.

  13. @6:

    a widening gender gap

    I think this was the Church’s intention all along — they made the space of power so small that many men would decide to leave, so that when polygamy is legalized in 2050, the Church can easily fall back into the institution of polygyny (polyandry will still be forbidden, of course).

  14. @14 — Are you serious, or are you joking?

    You’re right that there’s a good chance that polygamy will be legalized in the next few decades, and that the gender ratio may smooth the road for polygyny to be accepted by the CoJCoL-dS. But I would be really surprised if this were an intentional strategy on the church’s part. I think they’d rather not have all those male tithe-payers leave the church, given the option.

  15. Going through this week’s links, I found an interesting blog entry that kind of echoes what I was saying @7:

    Thus, part of the reason why I served a mission was to prove to everyone that I had just as much right to be there as anyone else. I had a right to choose what I wanted to do with my life instead of just following the role that was laid out for me.

    A year or so ago, I was talking to some friends at a social event about my choice to serve a mission. For some of the men that I talked with, serving a mission took on almost the opposite meaning. It was about filling the role that their culture had laid out for them. Thus for men, serving a mission feels much less like a choice and a lot more like an expectation or duty. I found these differences really interesting.

    I find them interesting too!

  16. For those who’ve seen my other comments in the bloggernacle, I’m probably sounding like a broken record by now, but this is one issue that always grates on my nerves.

    “We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their lifes program.” “I simply say that a mission is not necessary as a part of their lives.”

    Well, whose lives are the most important here? The lives of the missionaries or the lives of the people that the missionaries are [supposedly] bringing salvation to? Despite some sister missionaries’ issues, it was no secret in my mission that sisters were generally more successful in bringing people into the church.

    So, a mission is really just part of the ChurchCo life program? It’s not about bringing salvation to the world? Gawd, how I wish the suits in Salt Lake would just come out and admit that the missionary program is for providing a rite of passage for young men, and not bringing the gospel to the world.

  17. Gilroy — Good point. People so frequently seem to assume that the purpose of a mission is to provide the men with leadership experience that it’s sometimes hard to remember that the missionary program was theoretically supposed to have a different purpose.

    Also, unrelated, but because of your comment I went back and re-read the original conference quote. Every time I read it, I have to read this sentence twice:

    Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church…

    My brain keeps anticipating that this sentence will finish with

    …as the men who serve missions.

    But, of course, he doesn’t finish it that way, so I have to start again from the beginning and recalibrate my expectations to understand what he’s saying. He’s not saying that your efforts as a missionary will be as highly valued as a man’s (they won’t be — that’s the whole point of this part of the talk), he’s saying that it really doesn’t matter whether you serve a mission or not — it won’t affect your standing in the church. Unlike for the guys, who will be considered total losers by everyone if they don’t go.

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