So are Mormon women really making gains? Views differ

THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Published: April 9, 2013 04:44PM
Updated: April 9, 2013 04:44PM
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Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Jean A. Stevens prays during the morning session of the 183rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Saturday April 6, 2013. For the first time ever, a Mormon woman offered a public prayer in the LDS Church’s General Conference before millions of viewers. Stevens is the first counselor in the LDS Church’s Primary presidency, which oversees instruction of children under age 12 in the worldwide faith.

Two days after women offered prayers at LDS General Conference for the first time in the faith’s 183-year history, some Mormons still are celebrating the moment as well as the church’s other recent strides in gender equality.

These feminists point to institutional moves, such as modernizing the LDS Young Women’s program, lowering the missionary age for young women, and including women in mission leadership teams. And, though some disagree with the point of view on priesthood in the church’s recent video interview with its top female authorities — that men and women have different but equally vital roles — they applaud the faith for having women, not men, discuss their roles.

Julie M. Smith, of Austin, Texas, still thinks the Utah-based church has far to go for women to feel equal in the faith, but she salutes these steps.

“Let’s take a moment and enjoy the fact that the cause of Mormon feminism has enjoyed more progress in the past six months than the past 60 years,” Smith writes at Times & Seasons, a Mormon blog. “One almost senses a trajectory that will, someday, mean that all of this will be behind us.”

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Harvard historian and devout Mormon, has a different view of the past 60 years.

“I am old enough to remember when the Relief Society [for women], Primary [for children], and Mutual Improvement Association [for teen girls] had their own general conferences and when female leaders traveled to visit LDS stakes and wards, edited publications, controlled their own money, managed social services, a hospital, etc.,” Thatcher writes in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune. “I am sure this gesture [the conference prayers] was well meant, but it actually exposes rather than solves the problem.”

Maybe, Ulrich writes, “that is a good thing.”

Peggy Fletcher Stack