Before I was born, but after I was conceived, my father had a dream. In this dream, he knew that I would be a great missionary. And because of this knowledge, (and because he didn’t see me in the dream) he thought that I would be a boy.
To my mom’s credit, she reminded my dad, “Girls can be great missionaries too,” and to my dad’s credit, he was not disappointed when I did indeed turn out to be a girl. He also never let go of his impression that I would be a great missionary. Perhaps because of this story, perhaps because of hearing his (and my brothers’) mission stories, I grew up sincerely wanting to serve a mission.
It wasn’t until high school that someone first told me that I shouldn’t go on a mission because I was a girl. The words were spoken by my Young Woman’s President, with the explanation that men were to go on missions and women were to get married. My best friend and I were upset, because we were adamant that we were going, but we brushed it aside, letting it add flame to our desire.
When I became old enough that the choice to serve was no longer a dream but a reality, I understood that it fully rested with me. Because all young men were asked to go, all young men could rely on the call of duty, and know for a certainty that they were doing the right thing in terms of our religion. I had no such surety. What I had instead was a desire, and a feeling that it was the right thing for me.
Church teachings towards women were ambiguous, with official statements usually saying something like, “While all young men are commanded to serve a full-time mission, the most important mission for young women is marriage. Still, we know that some young women will wish to serve a mission. They may do so as long as they do not have immediate marriage prospects. Current women serving do a wonderful job, and are often more effective than the men. Such service will make women better wives, mothers, and leaders.”
Confusing, right? Men are told that they need to go, unequivocally. Women are told that they don’t need to go, and shouldn’t go, but that if they choose to they do great work and it makes them better at the one thing (mothering) that they are told is their mission to do.
At the time I was free of all “immediate marriage prospects,” and was soon called to Northern California to be a full-time missionary. When I arrived new questions arose from my gender. The most important (and personally pressing) of these questions was: Did I have the same authority to preach as the (much more numerous) young men? They held positions of leadership, and (for the most part) I did not. They had the Priesthood, and I did not.
The answer came to me, simply, from the mouth of a woman. She was not then, but until very recently, was the General President of the Relief Society. Her words: “Every elder and sister who receives a mission call is set apart to do the Lord’s work, and each is given authority to preach the gospel of Christ.” At the time, it was enough.
A few months ago (approximately 6 years after my mission service), I read an article examining the official LDS policies toward prospective female missionaries, over time. They have not changed very much since the 1890′s, and continue their mixed refrain that—in the words of the authors—women are “not invited, but welcome.” I am inclined to ask if women can truly feel welcome in a nearly all men’s club where they were not initially invited. The feminist in me is inclined to answer, “No.” The Mormon: “Maybe. It depends on the particular mission.” (My own was mostly wonderful. And welcoming.)
Regardless, I have a dream, that if my husband ever has a vision of a future baby being a great missionary, he will not need to be reminded that girls can also be great in that capacity, and that the baby (if so choosing, and whatever its sex) will one day be both welcome and invited.
Have others had similar experiences of support/non-support?
If you served a mission, how did you decide to go?
How did your female-ness (or male-ness) influence your mission experience?