Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Ordaining LDS Women

I was riding in the car with my family Friday evening when my phone popped up the news alert that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. I told my husband, who immediately jumped to discussing politics and whether Republicans will nominate someone before the election or not. I didn’t want to talk about that. I wanted to just stop and think about her for a minute. I looked at my husband and realized that she meant so much more to me as a woman than she ever could have to him.

A couple years ago I went by myself to see the movie “On the Basis of Sex”. On the drive home (while thinking about the movie) I began sobbing unexpectedly. It was weird. I wasn’t expecting that to happen.

I was also involved with Ordain Women a few years ago (which you can hate or love, but read some of my experience HERE) and I guess the portrayal of RBG on screen brought up so many memories of my own experience that the emotions bubbled up and overflowed until I was crying so hard I couldn’t see the road. 

You see, Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked very hard to get the ball rolling towards gender equality under the law, and everyone told her it was unnecessary and ridiculous and would cause many, many problems – up to and including ending the American way of life. I was surprised at the similarities between what people said to her as a young woman and what people said to me as part of Ordain Women. For example…

Here are some things people told RBG:

  1. Women are special and should be protected from having to do the things men do – like serving on a jury and hearing the details of terrible crimes.
  2. If women start doing manly things like engineering, fire fighting or law enforcement, the men will feel emasculated and stop doing anything at all. 
  3. What woman would even WANT to be an airline pilot, work overtime, or get credit cards in her own name (unless it’s to hide purchases from her husband)? 
  4. No woman we’ve talked to has a problem with women’s role in our country. 
  5. This is the way our society has worked for thousands of years – women stay at home and take care of children, and men go to work. Why do you want to change what has been working for humankind for millennia? Have you ever considered there was a good reason for why it happens this way? 
  6. If you had things your way, it would hurt women and single mothers! These laws are in place specifically to protect them from things like military service or paying child support. 
  7. Jury duty is such a pain! Women are so lucky they don’t have to be a part of it. Fewer women commit crimes anyway, so it’s not like women are being sentenced by an all male jury very frequently anyway. 
  8. Men are naturally better at math, science and politics and do better in the working world, but women have the most important job of all in society – being homemakers!

Here are some weirdly parallel things people told me about ordaining women: 

  1. Women are more spiritual and shouldn’t have to do uncomfortable priesthood duties – like hearing terrible confessions of sin.
  2. If women are ordained and become bishops, ward clerks, and can give their kids blessings themselves, the men will quit serving and let them do everything.
  3. What woman would ever WANT to be a bishop or called as an apostle?  And why would a woman want to get called at midnight to give someone a blessing? Those are all really hard jobs! 
  4. I’ve talked to my sisters and my wife, and none of them want the priesthood.
  5. Jesus ordained twelve men as his apostles, and only men have ever been called as apostles since. Are you arguing with Jesus and how he did things? 
  6. Giving women priesthood power would hurt them. We have enough responsibilities as it is. Can you even imagine adding even more to your plate?
  7. Sitting in on disciplinary councils is the worst. Why would any woman want to be part of one anyway? Only men with the priesthood are judged at the stake level anyway, so while it’s true a woman will only have men on her council it’s a much smaller group – just her bishopric and the ward clerk. 
  8. Men are much better at this kind of stuff – compartmentalizing what is going on with members of the ward from home and work matters. Women would stay up all night worrying, but that’s what makes them such good homemakers and mothers. 


There was a powerful scene in the movie where the dean of Harvard tried to convince RBG that American law was set up to help women, as it ensured they wouldn’t have to do all the difficult things that men have to (like earn a living, for example). In frustration she responded to him emphatically, “It’s not a privilege, it’s a cage. And these laws are the bars!”

I sat in my bishop’s office one day as he told me he believed Latter-day Saint women are the most privileged women on earth. He said we are admired, respected and adored by the priesthood holders in our lives, and honored for our femininity and ability to nurture children. I remember thinking, “So we should be happy with zero authority because at least we’re popular and nice?”. That Harvard movie scene brought that bishop’s office memory back to me so vividly.

RBG tried repeatedly to get into places reserved for men only, and she faced laughter and verbal abuse for it. She was one of the very first women ever allowed to attend Harvard for a law degree. She was often the only woman in the room, with all the men looking uncomfortably at her, bothered that she was intruding her femaleness into their previously all male sanctuaries.

I remember when my group with Ordain Women was finally allowed into a priesthood session at the Marriott Center at BYU. We were a tiny island of dresses in a sea of suits. It felt exciting (and also a bit weird), knowing that most men in the huge room were unhappy seeing us there, encroaching on what had always been a men’s club before we demanded entry, too. Somehow knowing about all the other women in history who have felt the same emotions we were feeling that day made it easier to be there. We weren’t the first women to challenge gender barriers like that by a long shot, and I for one was comforted to see that history usually proves those challengers right in the end.


Women joining the men in priesthood session at the Marriott Center for the very first time, (kind of) like RBG heading into Harvard law classes in the 1950s. (She’s still way cooler than us, but we did our best.)

Rest in peace RBG – from all the women in our church who are hoping for a better future, just like you always did.

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17 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    Wonderful post, Abby. I love/hate the connections between all the rationalizations offered to RBG and all the parallel rationalizations offered to OW. The consistency is tiring, given that none of the arguments are any good.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      The arguments never seem to change. Those old pamphlets stating why women shouldn’t be given the right to vote say the exact same things. It gives me hope that we’ve defeated these ideas in the past and we can defeat them again!

  2. Heidi says:

    1. Abby, I just watched a short movie made about Ordain Women and you were the focus. It was incredible and I loved hearing your story. I’m sorry you had to suffer as much as you did.
    2. I also sobbed the whole way home from “On the Basis of Sex,” but it wasn’t unexpected as I sobbed during most of the movie too. It started when she was teaching law and asked her students how a country could be equal if it had laws that differentiated on the basis of sex. The answer was so obvious to her students–it couldn’t. Of course it couldn’t. Discrimination is baked right into the idea of “separate but equal.” And as a member of a church that had rules that differentiated on the basis of sex, well, it hit home in a way that I wasn’t prepared for. I’m still struggling with my relationship with the church that I love and has given me a lot and has also caused so much anxiety and heartache. Yes, women may be loved and adored, but I think most of us would prefer to be respected, listened to and treated as a peer.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      Thanks for your kind words about my one and only time as a movie star. 🙂 I would really like to re-watch “On the Basis of Sex”, and have my husband and kids join me this time.

      And I love, adore and protect my dog. But he’s not my equal because of this. Equality is so different than respect or admiration.

  3. Malena Crockett says:

    Thanks for this, Abby. When you lay it out like this, the parallels are too obvious to ignore. Rest in power, RBG.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      I said “Rest in Peace” at the end of this blog post. Maybe I should go edit it to say “Rest in Power”, because that’s a much cooler phrase for a much cooler lady. 🙂

      • MDearest says:

        Because “Rest in peace” derives from Christian origins, and because Justice Ginsburg was Jewish, the appropriate expression is some variation of “may her memory be a blessing.”

        All of the tributes and memories I have seen are a blessing and an inspiration to me, including this one. Thank you.

  4. Donna Kelly says:

    Remember Jesus? He commanded all of us (Yes, including RBG and OW) to ASK and Ye shall receive, KNOCK and it shall be opened unto you, SEEK and Ye shall find. Both RBG and OW were obeying this commandment. Thank you for all you do, Abby.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently. I wish I could take this and repeat it verbatim when the topic of women and the church comes up. I stumble over my words and sound so awkward when I try to explain why women aren’t equal in the church. Thank you for sharing this. If you don’t mind, I’m going to do my very best to make all of your words become MY words next time I’m discussing women and the priesthood with someone.

    • Abby Hansen says:

      I can’t think of anything nicer than to have you use my words! I’ve been using the same words of people I admire for years. Thanks for your kind words.

  6. Caroline says:

    This is so perfect, Abby. These parallels are striking. I was watching the documentary RBG last night and I was struck over and over again by her comments about how “protecting” women and putting them on pedestals was really imprisoning them and putting them in cages. I couldn’t help but think about LDS rhetoric on women and gender and about how much needs to change for women to be considered fully human in the church.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    You and OW are so rad. Thank you for illustrating these parallels clearly, especially the Harvard dean and your bishop. I hope I live to see the day when women are ordained in our church.

  8. Elisa says:

    great lists and also pretty depressing TBH.

    on the one hand RBG inspires me to keep fighting the good fight and not get bitter or jaded. I truly don’t know how she did it. Amazing.

    on the other hand I’m so tired of it all. And I don’t like sexism anywhere, but something about sexism in the church — where people claim to be speaking for God when they tell us this garbage — is to me ten times worse and I’ve lost my patience entirely with it.

  9. Heather says:

    Oh the trickiness of benevolent patriarchy and complementarianism. One of the things I loved about the movie was she shows how men too are hurt by these systems. Think how much the Church could grow if it embraced true partnership. Thank you Abby.

  10. Risa says:

    Really great Abby. I love the parallels you brought up. They resonate with me as well.

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