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Are Mormon Women Oppressed?

Disneyland June '13 309

Hmm…

Anyone who thinks we are has clearly never actually met a Mormon woman.

Actually meeting one of us would quickly put this myth to rest.  We might seem mild mannered (though, I admit I never seem mild-mannered), you better not mess with a Mormon woman.  We will quickly put you in your place.  We speak our minds and stand firm in our principles.

Granted, a lot of it comes from ex-Mormons.  You probably should not take anything an excommunicated member says as the unvarnished truth.  Obviously they’re going to have a chip on their shoulders.  Members who leave voluntarily have a similar chip; nearly every story I’ve heard about why they leave the church is because individual members (in their eyes, at least) mistreated them.

I want to address a few points that anti-Mormons use as “proof” that Mormon men oppress the women of the church.

I’ve already addressed the “issue” of why women don’t receive the Priesthood in my post “Women and the Priesthood,” but I’ll reiterate it here briefly: the Priesthood is not about control; it’s about service.  Furthermore, priesthood power is predicated on righteousness.

Here’s a funny myth about women and the priesthood: “Women are also told that, because they have the all-important ability to bear children, men need the power of the priesthood merely to remain equal to them.”  First of all, that’s not doctrine, though it is a joke that Mormons sometimes tell each other.  Secondly, if it were true, why would that be a bad thing?  That sounds pretty complimentary towards women!  Women are inherently so awesome, that men need an additional gift from God just to keep up!

Another criticism I read says: “All Mormon men are ordained as members of the priesthood, with the absolute authority to preach the gospel, bestow blessings, prophecy, perform healings and baptisms, and generally speak for God.  Their priesthood gives them the right to advise and instruct the Saints (i.e., Mormons), and their jurisdiction extends over all things spiritual and temporal. At age twelve, boys become members of the Aaronic, or lesser priesthood, and at nineteen become eligible for the Melchezedek, or higher priesthood. Members of either priesthood are higher authorities on everything than are non-members. Women are, of course, excluded from the priesthood. This practice in effect says that a woman’s prepubescent son is more qualified to advise her than she is to advise him.”

There is some truth here, but it is twisted like a pretzel.  Yes, all Mormon men can be ordained as members of the priesthood, if they live worthily.  Young men are ordained to the Aaronic priesthood at age 12, and to the Melchezidek at age 19.  Along with priesthood comes authority to preach, bless, and baptize, but it certainly isn’t “absolute” authority.  A priesthood holder isn’t authorized to preach to, counsel, and baptize random women just because he has the priesthood.  A priesthood holder has authority to do those things within his stewardship.  The prophet has authority for the whole church, a bishop has authority for his congregation, a Sunday School teacher for his class, a father for his family, etc.  We certainly don’t believe a 12 year old boy has more authority and wisdom than his mother.

Basically, we believe that men have authority to act in God’s name within their calling.  Guess what?  Women do, too.  A bishop can receive revelation for his congregation.  Teachers receive revelation for what they should teach their class.  A father receives revelation for his family.  A mother receives revelation for her family.  Every individual can receive revelation for their own lives.

We don’t need anyone to talk to God for us – we can talk to Him ourselves.  We cannot invoke God’s words or blessings for someone else unless we are in some kind of leadership role for that person.

Women run fully half the organizations of the church.  Men run the Priesthood (the men’s organization), Sunday School (for all adults), and Young Men (for male teenagers).  Women run Relief Society (the women’s organization, and, incidentally, the largest women’s organization in the world), Young Women (for female teenagers) and Primary (for children).  Women teach classes to children, teenagers, and adults, and also address the entire congregation.  When a person (man or woman) is called to teach or preach, they can receive inspiration from God for what to say.

I teach boys and girls ages 8-12 every Sunday.  There is a curriculum, but no one really tells me what to do; I am trusted to teach my students the word of God in the way I think best.

Mormon girls are expected to be chaste before marriage and faithful after it.  Guess what – so are boys!  Everyone is expected to live by a high moral standard.  It’s not because sex is “bad,” but because our bodies are sacred and should only be shared that way with our spouse.  For some reason, some people think this is a bad thing.

Some people take issue with the allegation that we believe women have to be married in order to go to Heaven.  That’s almost true – a woman must be married to go the highest degree in Heaven.  But guess what: so must men!  “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:11).  Basically, we think marriage and child rearing is really, really important.  One prophet of the church, David O. Mckay, said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”  And he wasn’t just talking to women when he said that!

Another criticism is that a church divorce is very difficult to get.  That’s true.  There has to be some pretty serious issues, such as infidelity and abuse, to get a divorce.  If you’ve merely “fallen out of love” or “lost that lovin’ feeling,” you’re expected to work it out.  Marriage, like everything else worthwhile, is hard work sometimes.  It’s unrealistic to expect the lovey-dovey stage to last forever.  In fact, this doctrine is actually good for women.  A man is commanded to remain faithful and loving to his wife instead of abandoning her for a younger, prettier woman.  Marriage is meant to be eternal.  Your spouse is not phone or car to be traded in every few months for a newer model!

Husbands also don’t have tyrannical authority over their wives.  Husbands and wives are to share in important decision making.  The politics of individual marriages is, I suspect, no different in Mormon marriages than in non-Mormon marriages.

You can find a good summation of Mormon doctrine on marriage and divorce here.

It is true that many Mormon women feel a lot of pressure.  We feel pressured to learn and live the gospel more perfectly, keep up with the demands of modern life, all while being a Pinterest-worthy homemaker.  (Not sure what’s up with the Pinterest obsession; I felt I could safely avoid the cutesy handicrafts when it was just epitomized by Martha Stewart.  Now I have Pinterest to contend with!)

But, these pressures largely come from ourselves.  When someone else displays encyclopedic knowledge of church history and the scriptures, has brilliant, beautiful, and perfectly behaved children, or makes the most adorable baby shower invitations ever, it’s natural to feel intimidated and to compare yourself to them.  That’s not really the other person’s fault.  We need to feel confident in ourselves that we are doing the best we can.

Furthermore, we’re a pretty accepting group.  Mormon women are always ready to forgive, console, validate, support, and love each other.  We understand that each person is on their own individual journey.  We accept one another while encouraging one another to keep going.

Mormon women, oppressed?  I don’t think so!  We are the real movers and shakers.

What do you think about women’s role in the church?  (Any church, actually).  In the home?  In society?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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