Behold, Your Little Ones: A Woman’s Witness
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.