Women are playing an increasingly prominent role in Mormonism, especially with the burgeoning of women missionaries in the church after it lowered the age of admission to the mission field.
The New York Times (March 2) reports that the “biggest gender change in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in memory” revolves around “waves of women” taking part in church missions and returning home with “unprecedented scriptural fluency, new confidence and new ideas about themselves.” The lowering of the age of females to take part in the historic coming-of-age ritual of missions from 21 to 19 in 2012 tripled the total of women entering the mission field. Church leaders have been forced to reassess their views as Mormon women are “increasingly supporting households, marrying later and less frequently, and having fewer children,” writes Jodi Kantor and Laurie Goodstein.
The shortage of eligible bachelors for those more than 40, especially in the Mormon heartland of Utah, also creates new questions over the role of unmarried and often professional women in a church where marriage is still the most common coming-of-age ritual for young women. Kantor and Goodstein add that the church is already making small changes that some Mormon feminists see as opening the door to an enhanced leadership role for women. These include inviting women to have a greater say in local councils, introducing the first female leadership roles for female missionaries and instructing bishops and regional stake presidents to consult with leaders of the parallel women’s organizations in their deliberations.
While there are Mormon feminist groups and blogs, such as Feminist Mormon Housewives, pressing for broader changes, including allowing women in the priesthood, most of the women in missions that the reporters interviewed tended to think that such measures are going too far.