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:
- 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.
- If women start doing manly things like engineering, fire fighting or law enforcement, the men will feel emasculated and stop doing anything at all.
- 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)?
- No woman we’ve talked to has a problem with women’s role in our country.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Women are more spiritual and shouldn’t have to do uncomfortable priesthood duties – like hearing terrible confessions of sin.
- 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.
- 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!
- I’ve talked to my sisters and my wife, and none of them want the priesthood.
- 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?
- Giving women priesthood power would hurt them. We have enough responsibilities as it is. Can you even imagine adding even more to your plate?
- 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.
- 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.
IT’S ALL SO MUCH ALIKE!
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.
Rest in peace RBG – from all the women in our church who are hoping for a better future, just like you always did.