Why Young Women are Walking Away

There’s a disconnect among the leadership of the LDS church. You won’t hear it said at General Conference, but the Mormons are bleeding members in the 18 to 30 age group. Less than half of the kids I grew up with in my staunch, strong LDS ward are still in the church. And yet all the leaders do in response to this is tighten down. Stricter gender roles. Abolishment of homosexuality, even for those who are not Mormon. Reinforcement of the idea that a woman has no place outside the home.

The church has just finished revamping its Personal Progress program for girls aged 12 to 17. A welcome change includes marginally less ugly jewelry for completing milestones. (The old ones looked like disco medallions and nobody, not even the staunchest Molly Mormon in my class, would ever wear them in public.) The new manual is “soft and pink,” just like the girls are supposed to be. Great.

A girl who is today participating in the Young Women’s program has never lived in a world without the Internet, laws prohibiting sexual discrimination in the workplace, and increasingly generous accommodation of the demands of family by employers. She will have seen a gender-neutral approach to leadership positions in government, business, and education. She will hear about how the United Nations has identified gender inequality as essentially the root of most problems in third world countries.

But then what will she see at church? Mormonism assigns her career, life, and personal duties based on her biological function. Men have no such restrictions. Women are permitted to supervise only women and children, in a very outmoded way of thinking about the competence of a woman. Men are given leadership, authority, and the ability to seek a unique identity in their professional choices. As Jeans put it over at Beginnings New:

I’m okay with the pink, and I think I can get the hang of all the new sparkly doodads, but my only complaint is with the description of the leadership opportunities the program provides: “doing this will help you learn the leadership skills for your future roles as a wife, mother, and homemaker” (34). End of sentence.

Women are not overtly mistreated in Mormonism. LDS doctrine and culture certainly does not encourage wife-beating, and statements regarding women are generally kind-hearted and laudatory, if a little patronizing in a Victorian “angel in the home” sort of way. But they are infantilized and denied authority, independence, or identity, which often leaves them vulnerable to being abused or marginalized. Essentially Mormons have taken a snapshot of mid-19th century views on women and tried to freeze them in time. Shoot, even the underwear women are forced to wear after going to the temple is modeled on 19th century undergarments. They’d go great with a corset but are highly incompatible with modern clothing. But the social taboos around discussing the difficulties of garments, bras and menstruation ensure that Mormon women steer clear of modernization and stay put in their Victorian underwear, both in the literal and philosophical sense. And Mormon women are well trained to always keep a smile on, to always work harder, and to never complain, as it implies some kind of lack of faith to do so.

The Personal Progress program is essentially a dry run for adulthood as a Mormon woman. You work, work, work, and in return you’re handed a few trinkets. Boys who earn their Eagle and Duty to God awards are given elaborate Courts of Honor, with photos, awards, and great ceremony. Young Women awards are given to the girl by the Bishop, someone who had no role in her participation, and the trinkets are handed out as a quick matter of ward business at the beginning of the meeting. Where’s the elaborate ceremony where her female leaders, who guided her in so much effort, is able to honor her? I noticed this as a teenager and saw the message: This is what it is to be a Mormon woman. You’ll work, work, work, and never get recognition. That’s reserved for the men.

When I went to the temple, this message was repeated again. I could see the pattern. Adam got to do everything interesting. Eve stood by, mute and still. She follows him. She makes her oaths to him. Adam handles the business of actually engaging with God, Satan, and serious discussion of doctrine. There is no mention of a Heavenly Mother. I can see my future. If I do everything that I am told, then I will bear children on earth, and keep bearing them in the afterlife, except with even less time and attention from my husband. The spirit babies I will bear will never be allowed to speak to me. They will never know my name, because I am “too sacred” to discuss.

That’s when I walked away. In it’s 19th century setting, it could be argued that Mormonism offered a certain degree of empowerment to women, because they were all economically, socially, and religiously discriminated against. The freedom afforded polygamous wives when their husbands were away may have been welcome. But if you take a look around today, the world offers women a significantly better deal than Mormonism, with its outmoded caricature of Donna Reed serving as the only mold to fit into.

That’s why they’re walking away. The church has repeatedly failed to adapt or re-think its view of women. Why is the canonization of Victorian views of women now a point of doctrine? Why must the gender divide be so impenetrable? Stuff like this guarantees that more women will simply walk away. It’s why I left, and it’s why many, many others I know have left. I don’t want to be on a pedestal. It’s confining and I can’t move anywhere. I don’t want to be stuffed into a box. It’s stifling and leaves me unable to breathe. I don’t want to have the joy of choosing to be a mother taken from me because it was an assignment from the beginning. It makes my love for having a family irrelevant.

Time to pay attention to the ones who are walking away, Salt Lake. Perhaps showing your true colours on the cover of the Young Women’s manual isn’t such a clever idea after all.

11 thoughts on “Why Young Women are Walking Away

  1. Mormon women are well trained to always keep a smile on, to always work harder, and to never complain, as it implies some kind of lack of faith to do so.

    Good think you are so much better than those pathetic Mormon women!

    • Thanks for the compliment, although I try not to think of all the ones left behind as being pathetic. There are a few that definitely are pathetic, for various reasons that are not my place to judge. Most Mormon women who force themselves to conform, I feel, are simply trapped. Some are trapped by truly believing that a toxic faith system is real. Some are trapped by the fact that leaving would mean permanently damaged family relationships. Some are trapped by plain and simple ignorance or lack of intelligence, although this last group tends to be the safest from psychological harm. The ones who believe in it but are incapable of seeing or bothering about the demeaning position they are put in are actually fairly lucky. Ignorance is bliss, and I’ve found that lower intelligence corresponds to greater happiness in Mormon women.

  2. And some Mormons are smart enough to recognize that a lot of the stuff you mistakenly think is concrete Mormon doctrine really isn’t (like your speculations about women in the afterlife).

    If Mormonism didn’t float your boat then moving on is a reasonable choice for you. But seeing how you freely admit it isn’t your place to judge, it seems you are doing an awful lot of judging anyway.

    The ironic thing about your comments on Mormon women is that they apply to the men equally:

    “Mormon men are well trained to always keep a smile on, to always work harder, and to never complain, as it implies some kind of lack of faith to do so.”

    So as a feminist critique this comment fails miserably.

    But I have noticed the following about the exmo crowd (especially the exmo’s who can’t leave Mormonism alone):

    Most angry exMormon women who force themselves to leave, I feel, are simply too mentally rigid. Some are trapped by truly believing that a toxic version of the LDS faith system is the only possible version there is. Some are trapped by the fact that staying would mean permanently doing more Christian service than they want to do. Some are trapped by plain and simple ignorance or lack of intelligence, although this last group tends to be the most likely to be experiencing psychological harm while staying. The ones who don’t believe in it but are incapable of seeing or bothering to recognize that the church doesn’t really put them in a demeaning position are actually fairly unlucky. Ignorance among angry exmos is never bliss, and I’ve found that lower intelligence corresponds to greater likelihood of Mormon-obsession in exMormon women even after they leave the church.

    • Sigh. Okay, let’s take this one apart.

      And some Mormons are smart enough to recognize that a lot of the stuff you mistakenly think is concrete Mormon doctrine really isn’t (like your speculations about women in the afterlife).

      And if you had bothered to really look around, you would have noticed that I have different categories for my blog posts to address this very issue. I have “dogma,” “doctrine,” “practice,” and “culture.” As for my “speculations,” they are based on the last doctrinal statements LDS prophets have made about the fate of women in the afterlife. Men have a clear exemplar in Elohim as to who they will become in the afterlife. Women have . . . someone we’re not allowed to speak to or about. If that doesn’t indicate woman’s second class status in LDS theology, I don’t know what does.

      If Mormonism didn’t float your boat then moving on is a reasonable choice for you.

      It’s a choice I would happily take if it were an option. If you don’t understand that no clean break from Mormonism is possible to someone born into the faith system, plenty of stories are freely available all over the Internet of people who tried to leave quietly and respectfully and were deprived of that opportunity by friends and family.

      But seeing how you freely admit it isn’t your place to judge, it seems you are doing an awful lot of judging anyway.

      Logical fallacy: Ad hominem attack. You don’t know me. My judgments are passed on a cultural and religious system with which I have extensive experience. You attack me without knowing me at all.

      The ironic thing about your comments on Mormon women is that they apply to the men equally: “Mormon men are well trained to always keep a smile on, to always work harder, and to never complain, as it implies some kind of lack of faith to do so.”

      Fallacy: you falsely represent my statement. My words would only have been ironic had I also claimed that men are completely free of any of the problems that affect Mormon women. I did no such thing. I chose to focus on the situation of women; men were not on topic. I feel that Mormon men suffer just as much from patriarchal constraints. They are left alone in their status as ruler of the home. Because they preside over their women and children, they have no one truly beside them.

      So as a feminist critique this comment fails miserably.

      Hardly. See above. Just because I failed to address the damage done to men by sexism in a bit of writing focusing on women does not mean my critique fails. How male-oriented of you; to demand that in a defence of a particular affront to women I must also include men.

      Ohhhkay and this last bit:

      Most angry exMormon women who force themselves to leave, I feel, are simply too mentally rigid. Some are trapped by truly believing that a toxic version of the LDS faith system is the only possible version there is. Some are trapped by the fact that staying would mean permanently doing more Christian service than they want to do. Some are trapped by plain and simple ignorance or lack of intelligence, although this last group tends to be the most likely to be experiencing psychological harm while staying. The ones who don’t believe in it but are incapable of seeing or bothering to recognize that the church doesn’t really put them in a demeaning position are actually fairly unlucky. Ignorance among angry exmos is never bliss, and I’ve found that lower intelligence corresponds to greater likelihood of Mormon-obsession in exMormon women even after they leave the church.

      I had to read that through a few times as it looks like you copied and pasted a bit from my original post and then edited it with your own stuff, but you left some of my original comments intact. So whilst first noting that it’s just plain badly written and chock full of typos, let’s point out all of your fallacies:

      One, the fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc as well as the Straw Man fallacy. You cannot conclude that my lack of interest in being an obedient member of the LDS church is based on a desire to avoid “Christian service.” There’s no correlation whatsoever, unless you also commit the package-deal fallacy, which would falsely claim that nobody could want to perform Christian service in their life unless they were a member of the LDS church.

      Two, bare assertion fallacy combined with an ad hominem attack. “The ones who don’t believe in it but are incapable of seeing or bothering to recognize that the church doesn’t really put them in a demeaning position are actually fairly unlucky.” You say that the church does nothing to put women in a demeaning position, and the only proof that you offer is that I’m too lazy or incompetent to understand.

      Three, non sequitur. “Ignorance among angry exmos is never bliss.” What on earth does that even mean? Saying that I’m ignorant because I don’t share your viewpoint is so absurd I don’t even need to explain.

      Four, you conclude with yet another ad hominem attack by implying that my defection from Mormonism is due to my lack of intelligence. Bo-ring. Yawn. You didn’t even address my main point, which is that rigid belief systems are often comforting to people who either are unintelligent or fear death to the extent that they will embrace anything that helps them feel better. There’s plenty of research that’s been done on both of these topics, much of it performed by researchers with religious beliefs. Please come up with something less childish and more creative. The discussion will be much more interesting and useful that way.

      You’re showing the blind spot bias — the tendency not to notice one’s own biases that might undermine their ability to make a valid point in a discussion. I wouldn’t have taken all the trouble to show that except for the fact that I encounter it so regularly in believing Mormons. This bias combines with the appeal to authority as an LDS believer (yup, yet another logical fallacy) as well as the deeply emotional setting Mormons are encouraged to place their faith in, and what you get is somebody who instantly gets all riled up and shoots their mouth off without thinking things through, simply because that person has encountered someone else they disapprove of. In fact, I wrote about this today.

      Let me ask you this. Why did you come here? Why did you get so angry? Why did you resort to personal attacks? Why did you let your emotions override your logic? What purpose do you think that is going to serve? I didn’t go to your blog and insult you. Attacking my commitment to serving others, my intelligence, and misrepresenting my character isn’t going to get you anywhere. It isn’t going to make me want to come back to church, and frankly it just makes you look like a Jackass to both Mormons and non-Mormons. If you disagree, ask your Bishop. If he’s a decent man he’ll agree with me on that point. In all honesty, I’m trying to help you out here. You’re not helping Mormonism one bit by being immature and emotional. You’re just making me look better. Since that isn’t what you want, I recommend you reconsider your approach and learn to bridle your emotions.

      I won’t have the energy to do this to every troll who decides to leave a hasty, poorly-thought out remark full of logical fallacies. After all, stuff written in anger can’t really have much merit. But since you were my very first troll, I thought I’d set a precedent by showing that I have no problem dissecting somebody who brings nothing to the table but anger and a desire to put me in my place. It isn’t going to work, especially as in this case, when I am so easily able to identify the holes in a flimsy argument.

      I know what it’s like to feel the way you do. I used to think like you, and I’m ashamed to say I used to behave in exactly the same way. A few years back I would have responded in exactly the same knee-jerk manner. I used to feel exactly the same way you do. I began examining my pre-programmed opinions, and now I feel differently.

      Now that I’ve laid out what I don’t consider worthy of attention, I won’t respond to comments of this nature in the future. However, I’ll happily engage a rational grown-up with respect, regardless of our differences.

  3. Molly: I had to read that through a few times as it looks like you copied and pasted a bit from my original post and then edited it with your own stuff

    Nice sleuthing Sherlock.

    Clearly we are not going to agree and my drive by potshots are you have admittedly not been very charitable. I probably should show more restraint in these situations.

    Feel free to think anyone who stays in Mormonism is much stupider than you are. No doubt you think those Mormon Feminists over at Zelophehad’s Daughters are among the pathetically stupid Mormon women you described earlier. Far be it from me to try to burst your bubble take and that (cold?) comfort from you.

    Carry on.

  4. Hehe. And clearly I should proof read my drive by potshots before submitting them in the future. Oh well. You know us believing Mormons — really pathetically stupid folks.

    (Oh how I wish I could be super duper smart like the angry/obsessive exmos!)

  5. Pingback: Anonymity and the Status Quo « Molly Muses . . .

  6. Oh Geoff, you make me lolz

    So, funny thing. As a Catholic (at least in the US) all the ceremonial stuff is completely equal with men and women, up to ordination. Girls and boys are baptized, receive First Holy Communion, Reconciliation, and Confirmation in the same ceremonies with the exact same rituals for both. Of course, girls are expected to wear frilly little white dresses (definitely bride-like), and even veils to their First Communion and boys wear the standard black pants/white shirt/tie. In the United States, both girls and boys are allowed to be altar servers (although it was made clear when that rule changed that a priest/parish didn’t have to “permit” girls to serve). We said the exact same wedding vows (that I remember from mine this June), except that you can choose to have a special blessing for the bride or not. I think we had it. And both of my parents walked me down the aisle.

    Obviously in the practical matter of who has authority to make and change the rules and doctrines, men still have all the power, and the doctrines about birth control, etc are rather enslaving toward women. But I had never thought about it in the ceremonial sense before, and I think it’s fair to point out that my experience growing up Catholic was fairly equal to that of my male classmates. I was an altar server, lector (reader), cantor (singer), and Eucharistic Minister (the people who distribute the host). There are many Catholic parishes that have female pastoral associates (what a bishop/stake president would be in Mormonism I guess), and the directors of religious education at my hometown parish when I was there were both women.

    (if my comparisons to Catholicism annoy you, please let me know, but it’s how I was raised and I find endless associations in Mormonism.)

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