How Patriarchal Blessings Perpetuate Patriarchy
In every woman’s Patriarchal Blessing, you will find a declaration of lineage, assurance of resurrection, and a promise of heterosexual marriage and motherhood.
Most members of the church receive their Patriarchal Blessings around the age of 14, which is in accordance with the recommended age. The process is simple. After you get a recommend from your bishop, you meet with an elderly man (sometimes this is the only time you ever see him) who takes out a recording device, asks for your full name, and lays his hands on your head. He calls you by name, states his authority, and tells you which son of Israel you belong to.
Sometimes the blessing ends there – he utters ritual words that call and mark you to someday be resurrected, and then he ends the blessing.
Usually, though, he says more. He tells you of your blessings – of your parents, of your leaders, of your friends. He tells you that you are loved, that you are valuable. He reminds you to make good choices, and he tells you that God cares what you do.
He tells you to get an education, to work hard in the Church, to honor your parents. And he promises you that one day a righteous priesthood holder will take you to the temple and marry you, that you will bear children, that you will be a mother in Israel.
The man who gave me my blessing was a good man. I had never met him before, though I knew him well in the years after. I read my blessing in his voice until the paper fell apart. I memorized it to recite in times of confusion or sorrow. He meant well. He promised me wondrous things, he made astute observations. Despite this, his inspiration did not filter out his ideas about appropriate guidance for a woman’s life.
Girls read their blessings. In my experience, girls read their blessings with far more frequency and seriousness than their male counterparts – probably because their eternal identity and destiny depends upon the assurances they find there. They make serious choices predicated upon the perspective of old men who speak for God. The voice in their heads that tells them what God wants them to be is a male voice. It is not their own.
Girls need the wisdom of women. Usually it comes too late, in whispers and tears, but doesn’t have to. Patriarchy is personal – that is how it is often perpetuated. In holy words and narrow perspectives. Because when you are young, and a holy man puts his hands on your head and calls you by name, you listen.