#hearLDSwomen: My Ward Mission Leader Gave a Talk on the Benefits of Serving a Mission, but He Erased Women’s Experiences by Only Talking About the Benefits to Men
Our ward mission leader gave the closing talk today. Every single time he talked about the benefits of serving a mission, he spoke in terms of the masculine. Serving a mission makes you a better husband, father, priesthood holder, provider, and on and on and on. He kept using the phrase ‘preparing the youth’, but the benefits he listed three separate times made it very clear that what he really meant was ‘preparing the boys’.
He’s a nice enough guy, and I know it probably honestly didn’t occur to him that what he was doing was an issue, but I served a mission and I didn’t become ANY of those masculine things he listed. So, did my mission have no benefit? Did my service not count? I found the whole thing surprisingly triggering because I served a mission right after Pres. Hinckley told the church that women weren’t required to serve missions. The general membership interpreted that as women *shouldn’t* serve. I spent 24 straight months (including my prep time and waiting for my call), fighting to justify my decision to serve. Multiple times, I had elders tell me to my face that I had no right to serve because it was a priesthood calling and I should be ashamed. I was told my baptisms didn’t count because I couldn’t actually perform the ordinance. I was told no one would want to marry me because I’d be an old maid by the time I got back. I was as TBM as they came back then, and the pushback I received for wanting to serve the Lord was intensely painful. It was my first, very jarring introduction to the reality of patriarchy.
I got angry and teary during the talk. My experience (and the experience of the 10 other RM sisters in the ward) was being completely erased in his masculine worldview. It didn’t even occur to him to include us. I fought harder to serve than most of the idiot boys who served with me. My husband noticed that I was upset and put his arm around me. I thought that was nice enough, but the minute the meeting ended, he went straight up to the speaker and told him he “had a few thoughts about his talk”. Then my husband proceeded to point out that the speaker had excluded the women and explained to him exactly what kind of damage that can cause. I had to get to primary, so I didn’t stay. And honestly, I sort of dodged out anyway because what I wanted was to yell at him with all the pent-up anger I still have for all the sexist treatment I received on my mission, and since. And he really is a decent guy. He’s just moving through a very different world than I am. He’s never had to think about it until today. But I get so tired of STILL having to justify my mission experience, even 20 years on.
– Amy M. Hughes
I always knew I wanted to serve a mission. It was not a commandment for me like it was for my male friends, but I was excited to go. I was in high school when our prophet, Pres. Hinckley, made a statement about sister missionaries (in Priesthood session of all places) where he, in essence, said that missions were primarily a priesthood (male) responsibility and that the reason women couldn’t go until they were older (21 vs 19 for men) was because the church was trying to keep the number of women serving “relatively small.” I was bewildered and hurt that this statement on a subject so near to my heart had been made in a meeting I wasn’t allowed to attend, and I felt that the church I so desperately wanted to serve didn’t honor or value my desire simply because I was a woman.
There are so many instances in my years of being in the church that it’s hard to think of specific examples, and it’s just so ingrained and normalized. It is normal to be quiet and let men talk in Sunday school. I know I didn’t have much clout as senior companion in the districts I was in as a missionary. We were always outnumbered by elders. In one district, I followed a more difficult sister missionary and I felt very silenced because I didn’t want the elders to think I was like her. For the record, she really was difficult.
Some elders kept their distance from us sister missionaries because they didn’t want anything they did to be misconstrued as flirting by anyone. They often politely acknowledged us for a few seconds and then ignored us or moved on quickly to avoid being near us. Your support system in the mission field is made up mostly of their missionaries that you see frequently. Your choices are mostly elders because they still significantly outnumber sisters. When even a few ignore you, it’s alienating and hurtful. Some of my areas we didn’t see other sisters for weeks and/or months. If the elders ignored us or avoided us, we only had each other. It was very isolating and difficult at times.
– Chloe M.
When I was in college, working on my mission papers, my boyfriend at the time tried to bully me into not going on a mission because he wanted me to marry him instead. (Note that he had recently gotten home from a mission which he loved and talked about ALL the time. I kept telling him I wanted to be able to have that experience as well.) He was taking the Eternal Marriage institute class, and one day he and his best friend showed up at my apartment with the manual and proceeded to read me a bunch of quotes from the “Mission or Marriage?” section that basically said it was wrong for a girl to choose to go on a mission if she had a marriage prospect. Then his best friend told me that I would be sinning if I chose to go on a mission instead of marrying my boyfriend. Luckily I went anyway, and I sent him a Dear John letter bit later.
Pro Tip: Recognize that there is a double standard for men and women when it comes to missions: while men who don’t serve are often pressured or stigmatized, women face their own set of pressures and stigmas. The systemic insertion of different policies for men and women (age, length of service, opportunity for leadership, centralized leadership hierarchy for men and a decentralized pseudo-leadership structure for women, mandate to serve vs. slightly discouraged choice to serve, calling men “missionaries” while women are “sister missionaries”) marginalizes and alienates the women who serve missions. Do not put pressure on men to serve. Do not put pressure on women to stay (or to serve). Trust men and women to make their own decisions.
“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)