Last week news broke that changes were coming to youth responsibilities regarding proxy baptisms. Jeff Spector reported on it here at Wheat and Tares, and it was also discussed at length elsewhere. One of the more controversial aspects of the changes was the contrast between opportunities for Young Men to serve (priests can now baptize and serve as witnesses) and opportunities for Young Women (any responsibilities typically performed by female temple workers, like handing out towels). I wasn’t planning to write about the issue, but then I read a Deseret News op-ed this morning.
In “Why last week’s LDS Church announcement is about much more than towels,” Morgan Jones defended the new roles for young women. In her experience, holding towels were sometimes very sacred experiences, either in the temple or helping someone after a live baptism.
I know some will say I’m simply subservient, but I really do believe there is value in understanding that service isn’t always some glamorous made for Instagram photograph, or a reflection of earthly power or status. Most service means genuine sacrifice.
It came across like the author felt some uproar was about “earthly power or status.” Now, since we’re talking about handing out towels versus priesthood responsibilities, it can’t be about power or status. Everyone knows priesthood is about service. So why, whenever gender roles come up with the priesthood, is there an immediate jump to assuming people want “earthly power and status”?
But the op-ed isn’t the only thing that’s bothered me. Last week I witnessed a knee-jerk reaction from a Mormon guy when I told him about the policy changes. “Let me guess, people are complaining about it. It’s never going to be good enough. Why even bother offering anything when people are just going to whine and be ungrateful?” I had mixed feelings already, and the reaction felt like a slap in the face. How could I even respond to that?
Here’s the deal. I’ve had three kids be baptized, each in a different ward. The mom, for the most part, plans the program. The mom plans any refreshments afterwards. The mom packs the supplies for after the kids come out of the font, and she’s the one holding the towel when her kids come out of the font. In many wards, it’s customary for the mom to share a brief testimony, but it isn’t printed as a planned part of the program. It’s the bishopric just being magnanimous. But do you know what pictures I have of my own baptism? Me and my dad. Me and the men in the confirmation circle. Because the ordinances are the only things that actually mattered that day.
So don’t, DON’T tell me women are unwilling to serve. But having my daughter learn next year that her place is to hold the towel while she watches yet another ordinance performed by her male peers is NOT something I want pointed out at this time in her life. This daughter picked up several years ago (on her own) that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve were all men, and she asked why there were no women. I said the truth, we don’t know. She thought deeply about it for a few minutes and then came up with, “Maybe men are just better leaders.” These things affect how girls see themselves.
When people say that boys will now be able to practice baptizing for their missions, what does that tell girls about their roles as missionaries? Heck, we had a homecoming recently for a girl, and the priesthood leader opened with explaining that missionary service is not an expectation for women like it is for men. At first I figured he was trying to emphasize how awesome it was that she chose to go, but he didn’t. Everything she was about to share, the life-changing moments, were nice and all, but it was unnecessary. Like a fun study abroad program.
Growing up, I had enough insecure teenage Mormon boys tell me women need to shut up and know their place. What’s actually offensive in this whole thing is not that girls will be handing out towels, but fellow members arguing that young women should be grateful for the opportunity, like it’s some great privilege. It’s just a different way of telling girls they should shut up and be grateful to have any place in the church at all. Because, you know, faithful people would appreciate the crumbs.