Young women, Missions, and Church Culture

According to a Trib article Ashley Farr, a former Miss North Salt Lake Teen Miss USA, now a missionary in South Korea, has every expectation of being a parent and a businesswoman. She has some specific goals including an internship at Goldman Sachs, and being the chief executive of a fashion or technology company. She also expects to be the wife of a mission president. The article doesn’t say if she intends to marry a sitting mission president, or a young man who is on the mission president trajectory.

It occurred to me as I thought about this young woman, a finance major at BYU, and probably hundreds, perhaps thousands others like her, was that it would probably be at least thirty years, and probably longer, before her husband would be in a position to be called as a mission president. If she accomplishes the other goals she has set, she might be the one called as the mission president. That may seems unlikely given the present church leadership’s position on the acceptable role of women in the church, and in particular their reaction to the ordain women movement. What I don’t think the leaders realize is that the OW movement is an artifact of sending women on missions, and they have just upped the ante by reducing the age requirement and now seeing thousands of young women seeking to serve missions.

Many of the women involved with OW are returned missionaries. These women, as well as most of the women who have served missions are well versed in church doctrine (to the extent that is possible these days), scriptures, and the process of church governance. They are much further up the ladder with the inside story than most LDS women, and they are equal in knowledge with the males. In addition, and this is based upon personal conversation with returned sister missionaries, they often were subject to what they considered domineering, if not mindless, supervision by their male missionary cohorts. They know that they have something to offer.

I suspect that a good proportion of the 23K young women on mission are like Sister Farr and openly acknowledge they have career ambitions, and that part of the reason they wish to serve a mission is to develop skills that will serve them in future careers. Even though the Church leadership has hammered away for at least forty years that men are the breadwinner, and women remain the homemaker (“Sister, come home” they cry), it apparently is losing traction. Some of the most outspoken female voices against the OW movement are women who have professional lives, working outside the home. There is a push back against the fixed role of women even by some who considered themselves the most faithful.

It will be interesting to see if church leaders ever come to see that their efforts to keep young men and women bound to the church with its male dominance by sending them off on missions will bring about, particularly among females, the very things they are trying to stem.

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4 Responses

  1. chanson says:

    This is a very good point.

    I’ve been planning a piece about how I think the church’s treatment of Ordain Women illustrates their lack of leadership plan or strategy, and I didn’t even think of this point. On the one hand, they’re helping ambitious LDS women build career-relevant experience, while on the other they’re flailing to smack Ordain Women down.

    It sincerely looks like on every front the CoCJoL-dS is doing whatever seems kinda like what they are supposed to do, without any kind of coherent vision.

  2. Holly says:

    they often were subject to what they considered domineering, if not mindless, supervision by their male missionary cohorts. They know that they have something to offer.

    Yes. I was already a feminist before I went on a mission–the elders in the MTC called me “Sister Reddy” after Helen Reddy, who sang “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” because my feminist sensibilities were so obvious. So the stuff I saw on my mission just solidified everything I already thought about how messed up gender roles in the church really were.

  3. Parker says:

    Mel at “Write on Through,” has similar thoughts. “Will Female Mormon Missionaries Change the Church?”

  4. chanson says:

    @3 Yes, it just showed up in my feed today. Here’s the link!

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