Traditionally, the Mormon church hews to strict gender roles, encouraging the faithful to marry early and women—who are automatically disqualified from the priesthood, the authority bestowed upon men—to concentrate their efforts on the home. But change might be coming.
The New York Times has published a pair of pieces about the changing role of women in the church. The first, from Sunday, discusses the implications of an influx of women into the traditionally male rite of passage that is mission work. It's part of attempts by the church to grapple with a world where women more often hold jobs and have fewer children, for instance. Said professor Joanna Brooks:
"An increasing number of young Mormon women are growing up in a world where they not only can work, but have to work, and they are operating 12 hours a day in contexts where gender is irrelevant, but in a church structure where all financial and theological decisions are made by men. This will just stop making sense."
But then who will do the ironing???
It seems the first piece opened the floodgates. The Times has followed up with another piece on the responses from female Mormons, about the changes they'd like to see. While many are happy, there's a growing chorus demanding the rights and responsibilities of priesthood (and its attendant leadership role in the church) be extended to women. Even those who aren't pushing for the whole tamale want some changes made:
A third contingent argues for leaving the priesthood to men but raises questions: Why may male religious authorities ask women intimate details about their sex lives in meetings in which no other women can be present? Is there a reason why women cannot handle bookkeeping or finances for congregations?
Complaints range from the exasperating:
"My husband's group of young men recently trained to climb Mount Rainier together," Jennifer McDonald, a 36-year-old clinical psychologist in DuPont, Wash., who supports women's ordination, wrote in an email. The corresponding activities for young women were "quilting, making friendship bracelets, and hair styling," she said.
To the downright horrifying:
Several years ago, Allison Shiffler, a former missionary, confessed to church authorities in Provo, Utah, that she had had sex with her boyfriend, a transgression of the Mormon prohibition against premarital sex. Her bishop asked if she was on birth control, how many times she had sex, and if she had a history of masturbating, which is also against church rules.
Some women want to plan worship, while some want to be Sunday school presidents. Others want the "purity" lectures toned down. Another contingent wants, at the very least, leaders from church women's groups present when church-wide decisions are made. Others want more women preaching, speaking, and working on church doctrine.
It's not clear how far Mormon higher-ups are willing to go; so far, they're insisting priesthood will remain off-limits. But it sounds like they're going to have to do something, lest they have a revolt on their hands.
Photo via Shutterstock.