Behold, Your Little Ones: A Woman’s Witness

Two girls looking across a lake at a mountain

Public domain photo from Flicker

I am the mother of young daughters. I do the majority of childcare and spend the most time with them. I witness their dreams, their struggles, their assumptions about how the world works. I witness what they believe they can and cannot do. I witness how they take in the church’s patriarchal structure, and how they desire to participate. My husband is a loving, involved father. He isn’t there see these desires to the same extent I am (and even if he was, it would be a different experience for him.) I thought about how rare it must be for a male church leader to see young girls grappling with the patriarchal nature of the church. My daughter’s innocent assertions challenge me. Their hopes need to be seen. Here is some of what I’ve witnessed:

I listened to a two-year-old daughter dream of things she wants to do when she is “older-nuff”: feed horsies hay, ride a tiny horsie, break the sacrament bread. She’s gotten to do all of those things now, but that last item only happened because of the pandemic (and because she didn’t ask permission from daddy). I don’t know if she will ever get to act out her desire to serve in that way in a regular church meeting.

A three-year-old daughter frequently asked me to baptize her when she was old enough. It was hard to tell her that only men like daddy had the priesthood authority to baptize her. She asked him for a little while. A few months later, she was back to asking me to do it. She couldn’t understand why I kept saying that I wasn’t able to. She even showed me how by pretending to baptize me. I wonder what I am teaching her by saying I’m not allowed to do something that she knows I am physically able to do. Things that are not allowed should be either dangerous or unethical, but I don’t understand how authorizing a woman to perform a baptism is either of those things.

A three-year-old daughter pulled pretend oil out of her pretend pocket and pretended to give me a blessing, just like she’d seen the ministering brothers do. She wanted me to play too: it was my turn to give her a blessing now. I was lead by a little child to realize that I had authority to learn to bless others through play and pretend. My impromptu, pretend blessing felt very real.

A four-year-old daughter notices gender imbalance in children’s books. She comments: “I think that’s the only she in this book.” My girls notice the imbalance in the scriptures and church curriculum too.

A four-year-old writes her own “scriptures” because she doesn’t have her own. I find her self-confidence inspiring. I hope she continues to write her own scriptures once she learns how to spell. I want to read them. Maybe I should try writing some myself. If women don’t write, women’s perspectives will be absent from the narrative, again.

A four-year-old declared: “I want to be a boy!” I simply asked: “Why?” Her response: “Because I want to do the sacrament.” A girl’s body is capable of doing all the tasks associated with this ordinance. It was women who came to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body. I hope my daughter can be happy with the body she has. I do not wish for her to feel limited in what she can do with her hands and voice because of parts of her body that few people will see.

A five-year-old was watching the beginning of Women’s Conference with me while waiting for her turn in the bathtub. Seeing the choir of all women, she says, “There is only girls at girls conference and only men at the men’s conference, right?” I tell her, “Well, usually one of the men from the first presidency gives a talk at the end of women’s conference.”
“Does the women’s president give a talk in the men’s one?”
“I don’t think it’s ever happened, but maybe it will someday.”
We chat about other things, like how she knows this song—she sings it at church!!! We have a quiet moment enjoying the music. Then she bursts out: “The men’s president talks at the women’s conference. I really want the women’s president to talk at the men’s conference!” I had to agree, although with the new elimination of those meetings, I guess it won’t be happening.

I have to explain the whole men-attending-Women’s Conference thing again in September 2018 as my Primary aged daughters watched with me. When President Oaks got up after President Eyring, one of them looked at me with indignant wide eyes and lifted up two fingers. By the time President Nelson got up, there was no need to comment. I could feel their disappointment as much as my own. They are so much younger than I was when they figured out that men, not women, have the final say in what goes on in Relief Society.

Snippets from an overheard conversation between two of my daughters:
“Without Heavenly Mother, we wouldn’t even be here. Think about it.”
“We don’t really know what She created.”
They want to know Her, and so do I.

My quiet tween came to me in a quiet moment with eyes shining. She brought up how girls can now be witnesses for baptisms. We talked about how that made many women in the church very happy. She finished my sentence when I started to mention that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. She made a comment saying that it will be interesting to see how things change for women in the church. I agreed. I tried asking her what she thought might change. She shrugged. I tried again. What did she hope would change? She didn’t want to answer. Maybe it felt too big to name. I’m not sure why she initiated the conversation. Maybe she just wanted reassurance that things would change. I didn’t know what to tell her. I still don’t.

Perhaps you are thinking, “You blog on a feminist website! It’s only natural that your daughters will make these kinds of observations because of how you are raising them.” To me though, it feels more like it is my girls (and their observations) that push me to advocate for women’s authority in church. Nursery-aged children are learning intensely about gender. What am I supposed to tell a two-year-old girl who wants to break the sacrament bread someday? That the way she hopes to serve her ward can only be holy if a boy does it? That God cannot work through her hands? It hurts my heart that most often it falls to me, a woman, to explain the sexism in the church to my daughters. I can validate what they see, but I cannot justify it to them. I want church membership to be an asset for my girls. I want to teach my girls to be like Jesus. I guess they are starting already, when they push against the traditions of their fathers.

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8 Responses

  1. Bryn Brody says:

    “ I could feel their disappointment as much as my own.” This sense of disappointment has been growing in me. I thought it would quiet itself. Instead, it has begun to rage.

    • Kaylee says:

      Yes. It was easier to wait and be patient for things to change when it was just me. It’s much harder to squash the disappointment down when I’m so aware of my girls watching and trusting me.

  2. Katie Rich says:

    Powerful post, Kaylee. My kids ask many of the same questions yours do. The answers provided to me as a kid are no longer adequate for me, and it is clear that they don’t satisfy my children either.

  3. Risa says:

    Back when I was an active member, I was sitting behind a grandma and her grandsons while the Sacrament was being passed. Their parents were out of town and grandma was there to watch them. The littlest of the boys leaned over to his grandmother while the Sacrament was being passed and asked “grandma, why can’t girls pass the Sacrament?” I didn’t hear her answer but it made me happy that even some of the boys are asking these questions as well.

  4. Rebecca says:

    I made all those observations subconsciously as a young girl. As a girl surrounded by my brothers, the differences in the way the church treated my brothers versus me were glaringly obvious. And my mother was not a feminist blogger or even a feminist either.

    • Kaylee says:

      I made some of them, but not as young as my children. It probably helped that my brother was younger than me. He was still in Primary when I moved out of the house.

      Activity Girls started when I was 10. I remember being very aware that we only met half as often as the Cub Scouts, but I was glad that there was *something* for the girls, instead of nothing. I also remember being simultaneously jealous of and happy for the girls who got to start Activity Girls at age 8.

  5. LH says:

    “Why can’t girls baptize/bless or pass the sacrament/ bless with consecrated oil?” ad infinitum: “Because boys made the rules”. Until women are ordained to the same priesthood as men, at least could we have a clean-up of church practices and policies to eliminate having been ordained as a requirement for so many things from passing the sacrament to serving in many of the now-restricted callings?

    • Kaylee says:

      Yes please. It’s so frustrating to read D&C 20 and realize that the deacons passing the sacrament is a tradition of the fathers, not a canonized duty. It hurt when my husband was called to be ward financial clerk at a time in my life when I would have loved that calling.

      In D&C107:20 those with the Aaronic Priesthood are given power and authority to hold the keys of the ministering of angels. As a woman, I can claim that the gift of the ministering of angels is given to me all I want, but without ordination to the priesthood, any administration of ordinances isn’t going to be recognized as valid.

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