Being a Mormon Woman: What it Feels Like.
Right now, there a lot of people with thoughts on what it’s like to be a Mormon woman. Along with those who watch from the outside and speculate on Mormon womanhood, there are plenty stories floating around from those who have chosen to leave, such as a New York Times article by a Mormon woman who grew tired of waiting for a husband and remaining a virgin in the wait. These discussions about Mormon women struck me differently when, last week, some friends and colleagues of mine participated in a discussion about Mormons on BBC World Radio. The discussion covered a wide range of topics, from the influence of Romney’s faith on his political decisions, to the stereotype of Mormon secrecy. But when I heard other Mormon women discussing their personal experiences in the church, it occured to me how little of that very thing I’ve heard and seen lately.
Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of Mormon women out there who are writing and talking about those experiences. But it seems like the news articles and TV interviews are mostly going to Mormon men. And when we do hear from Mormon women, they’re generally no longer active participants of the community. Out of those still active in the faith, men’s voices seem more prominent in public, in part because of Romney and Huntsman. It’s easy to see how that would happen on a national stage. But I’ll also add that I’ve had two friends who wrote blog posts about being Mormon, whose posts unexpectedly went viral. Both friends were men. So, while I’m sure there are some prominent Mormon female voices, somewhere out there on the Internet, who are talking about their own experiences, I’d like to add to add mine.
I am a Mormon woman, and I have been my entire life, though membership technically only starts after baptism, and I was baptized at eight, as is Mormon tradition and policy for children who wish to be baptized. I am also a single woman who is 26 years old, and given that I live within walking distance of Brigham Young University, where I’m currently teaching as adjunct faculty, being single and 26 is sometimes uncomfortable. Being a single woman who is 26 is often considered pitiable in this community, and as my fellow single friends and I often commiserate, it would be a whole lot easier being single if other people would just get over it and stop feeling bad for us. Seriously. I have a good life. It’s okay that I’m not in a relationship right now.
So, aside from being single, what is it like for me? Well, I think life is life, at its core. No matter where you go, you find some people who are wonderful and others who are idiots. My experience, though, has been that within each congregation I’ve attended there have been more wonderful people and less obnoxious or unkind people than you find in most groups. The congregation I attended while growing up felt like family. I spent a lot of time with church people when I was a teenager, and that time has forged lifelong friendships. And I didn’t spend that time with them at the expense of spending time with kids who weren’t Mormon – I also had a ton of friends in high school, and all but a couple students at my high school were atheists, Catholics, Protestants, Wiccans, or members of others faiths.
As a teenager, I attended an early morning Bible study group before school, in addition to Sunday meetings and lessons, and midweek youth group activities. Sometimes the boys and girls were separate, and other times we were together. But we all worked hard to ensure that everyone was included. Did I encounter sexism during that time? Of course. But I encountered more outside of church than within it. Sexism is part of the world we inhabit, and it infiltrates our lives no matter what. But at church we were taught to respect each other rather than make stereotypes based on sex. When the boys and girls did complain about each other, our leaders organized a meeting where we had to communicate what we saw the other group as doing, and we were able to change things for the better.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m a member of the Relief Society, the oldest world organization of women, an organization within the Mormon church that has female leaders. All Mormon women become part of the Relief Society when they turn 18 or when they join as adults. Each week we meet and have lessons that other women teach, and all of us have one or two other women who are assigned to visit with us and provide special friendship and support. Most of us also choose to serve in that capacity for other women, and it’s a process that helps us to bond. When I get sick and need help, those women (called my visiting teachers) are the first people I call.
And while as a woman I am unable to hold the Priesthood (at least in this life – we’re not at a group consensus on what God’s longterm plan is as far as that goes), I still have full access to the Priesthood. Why? Because in my faith the Priesthood is not a career – it is entirely, 100% about service. A man who needs Priesthood assistance cannot use his own, but must go to another person who holds the Priesthood in the same way I do. I won’t deny that there are problematic myths floating around as to why women don’t have the priesthood. The hogwash about Priesthood as the counterpart to motherhood makes me downright mad — fatherhood is the counterpart to motherhood for those in our faith. But it’s not doctrinal hogwash — it’s random speculator hogwash.
And here’s what else I can tell you: most Mormon women don’t want the Priesthood, at least not at the moment. We have a lot of responsibilities already, and we see it as yet another. Are there problems within the Mormon community that need working? Absolutely. But look at the communities you’re a part of – how many problems need fixing there? So let’s try not to judge each other’s communities too harshly, as we all do our work from within.