What fraction of missionaries are sisters?

It has been five years since President Monson announced the change in minimum ages at which missionaries can serve. It’s clear that much of the increase in the number of missionaries that followed that announcement came from an increase in how many women were choosing to serve. For example, a 2015 ABC News article on sister missionaries reports (I assume quoting a Church spokesperson) that there were 22,000 sister missionaries at the time, that they made up more than a quarter of all missionaries, and that their numbers had nearly tripled since the age change was announced. Along similar lines, a Deseret News article from one year after the age change reports that there had been increases of 10,000 elders and 11,000 sisters in the previous year. There’s also a Deseret News article from 2014 that gives actual percentage breakdowns: 64% single men, 28% single women, and 8% senior couples.

This increase matches my anecdotal experience. I haven’t tracked anything systematically, but just from following friends on Facebook, it seems like a lot more families who I would have thought were pretty conventionally Mormon have sent daughters on missions in the past few years than did before. I note that they’re conventional because my impression is that having women serve missions before the age change always seemed to me to be a little out of the norm. Like the thinking was that it was a nice thing to do and all, but really shouldn’t women be getting married instead?

It’s great that the news articles I mentioned give some point-in-time snapshots of how many women are serving missions, but what I’m really interested to know is what the trend over time is. For example, I wonder if the number of women serving increased suddenly right after the age change, but then leveled off. Or perhaps it increased at that time, and has continued to increase since then. Or maybe there was a temporary spike and then the number of women serving have decreased.

Like with so many other questions about Church-related data, I’m sure the numbers are available somewhere in the COB, but I’m never going to get to see them. So I did the next best thing and gathered a little data from what I could find. I considered possibilities like counting women and men in missionary alumni Facebook groups, or on a website like LDSMissions.com that allows returned missionaries to register and join a group of others who served in the same mission (although it doesn’t look like the site has been updated in a while). I ended up, though, choosing to gather data from MyMission.com, though, for a couple of reasons. First, it has lists of links to missionary blogs in a nice standard format that was relatively easy to grab. Second, it has missionaries listed as “Sister” or “Elder,” so I didn’t have to make any assumptions about whether someone with a particular first name was female or male.

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Chastity and Consent

CW: General discussion of sexual assault 

When I was a teenager, my Utah County ward had a “morality talk” for the youth about every six months. (It was only years later that I learned that in other contexts, “morality” had a much broader meaning, and wasn’t just code for “chastity.”) Often they wouldn’t tell us the topic in advance, guessing (probably correctly) that pretty much no one had a great desire to hear yet another morality talk. We would asks our leaders suspiciously, is this going to be about morality again, and they would dodge the question. The talks, usually given by the bishop, tried to emphasize to us the seriousness of engaging in “immorality.” We heard a lot about the sin next to murder, and why sex outside of marriage was so terrible (not, of course, that the word “sex” was ever uttered). Often we would be allowed to submit anonymous questions, most of which turned out to be variants of “how far is too far?” and “how do I know when I need to confess?” There were no clear answers given to these questions, though we did get to hear about the dangers of “necking” and “petting,” terms which no one seemed able to quite define. We watched what we called the river movie a lot (the one in which a bunch of teens go river rafting, and one reckless young man neglects to wear a life jacket, while the voice of Spencer W. Kimball warns about evil.) At the end we would hear about the atonement and the possibility of repentance, with encouragement to come talk to the bishop if necessary. To my leaders’ credit, I don’t recall hearing analogies suggesting that engaging in sexual behavior would cause irreversible spiritual damage that even the atonement couldn’t fix (e.g., leaving you as chewed-up gum or a board with scars from nails). On the other hand, I wasn’t paying all that much attention. One of my friends in a different stake told me that her YW leader had bought them all crystal temples, which, if they remained pure, they were to present to their husbands on their wedding nights. If they slipped, they were supposed to smash the temple. I wasn’t overly aware of the problems in this discourse at that point in my life, but even I thought that was a little weird. Read More

Remembering Katie

 I don’t actually remember the first time I met Katie. I know what time period it would have been, probably sometime in the fall of 1999. But I’d heard about her long before I met her, because her older sister (who blogs here as Seraphine) and I were roommates at the University of Illinois, where I was a grad student. Seraphine and I were in the habit of talking late into the night, and in the course of our many conversations, we traded a lot of information about our respective families. When Katie showed up, then, it just meant putting a face with a person with whom I already felt somewhat familiar. Our time at that university and in the small singles branch connected to it overlapped by a year, but I can’t say I got to know her very well.

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Heartbreaking News

As many of you have heard, one of our bloggers was killed by a drunk driver last night. We are stunned and heartsick to have lost Vada. Not all of you may have known her well from just here. But in addition to her thoughtful public posts, she was an active member of our backlist, and contributed immeasurably to our small ZD community. She was also very involved in the online Mormon feminist world in various other places, and we know many people were positively impacted by her. She will be terribly missed.

Vada leaves behind a husband and six children, including preemie twin girls who are still in the NICU. A YouCaring account has been set up for her family; if you’d like to donate, please go here.

Look Who’s Talking

I got into a discussion recently (and by “recently,” I mean “about a year ago, because time apparently flies when you’re an adult) in which I made an assertion that the conversations in the mainstream Bloggernacle are mostly male-dominated. (I defined mainstream as “aside from the feminist blogs,” since the writerly voices at FMH and Exponent are mainly female.) My interlocutor pushed back, pointing to such mainstream luminaries as Peggy Fletcher Stack and Jana Riess as evidence of Mormon women writing and speaking publicly. The whole conversation made me curious, and so I asked: these days in the Bloggernacle, who’s really talking?

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I am not a mother

I’ve heard the “all women are mothers” line at church so many times that they mostly blur together in a haze of Ideas I Wish Would Go Away, but there is one time that stands out in my memory: once, in a ward conference, a stake Relief Society leader was teaching a lesson about the special roles and gifts of women, and, focusing on the nurturing powers of women, started listing examples of how mothers nurture their children: they feed theme, bathe them, clothe them, clean up after them, heal them, love them. She then asserted, as usual, that even women without children are really mothers who can nurture the children in their lives. “For example,” she said, with an entirely straight face,   “you can lift a child who needs it up to a water fountain so they can get a drink.”

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We need At the Pulpit at the pulpit

I read At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women a few weeks ago, tearing through it start to finish in a single day. (My train was delayed so I had slightly more commuting time than usual. Thanks, I guess, BART.) I’m hungry for the words of women in the church, and this was a welcome meal, with a balance of historical and (near-)contemporary women, and a balance of rhetorical types, from prayers to Relief Society sermons to longer theological discourses. Shortly after finishing it, I taught a Relief Society lesson on prayer, and I was delighted to have the book as a source text from which to pull examples of women’s words and women’s experiences of prayer.

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I’m bored of white men

White men are 31% of the US population, but hold 65% of elected offices in the United States.

 

That 31% of the population is also:

  • 60% of the authors reviewed in The New York Times
  • 82% of film directors and most of the speaking characters
  • >90% of Fortune 500 CEOs
  • most film executives, movie producers, and sports team owners
  • 98% of presidents
  • and, of course, 100% of LDS prophets and apostles.

With power in our society so thoroughly dominated by white people, and men in particular, the stories and perspectives we’re exposed to run the gamut, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, from A to B. I like white men–I’m related to them, friends with them, work with them–and their personalities are interesting and their opinions worth considering, to be sure, but still: seeing and hearing from white men so much, in so many places of power and influence, is like eating the same thing every day. Variety is the spice of life, and I’m hungry for more and different foods in my diet.

As an example of a similar effect, since I’m a book lover, think of novels about the Holocaust. I’ll start: The Book Thief, All the Light We Cannot See, Number the Stars, The Reader, Suite Française, Schindler’s List, Code Name Verity, The Last of the Just, The Boy in the Striped PajamasEverything Is Illuminated and I’m just naming the ones I’ve read, and not even including memoirs, non-fiction treatments, or movies. Many of these are great novels, and stories about the Holocaust are important. And yet, can you name nearly as many novels about the Khmer Rouge? I’ve got In the Shadow of the Banyan, and then it turns out the other I was thinking of was about Vietnam instead. And how many novels can you name about the 1990s genocide in Rwanda? I’ve gone out of my way to read about Rwanda after visiting there a few years ago, and I can still only name a few memoirs and non-fiction books. And where are the novels about the genocides in Bosnia, Armenia, Namibia, and many other places? Imagine how much more vibrant our literary landscape would be with a broadened range of cultures, histories, and individual stories to draw from, beyond those belonging to primarily white people in the West.

And on a Mormon note, imagine a General Conference with a leadership roster that reflected a truly international and truly diverse Church, instead of one dominated by white men. We’d be able to hear people speak about their personal experiences of growing up on farms in Utah and flying airplanes in Germany, but also of fleeing Spain during the Civil War, integrating the hospitality industry in the early 1970s, learning about the Church from Reader’s Digestgiving up a child for adoption by a friend, or sneaking through security checkpoints to get to church. I love that I can find those stories online (major shout-out to the Mormon Women Project!) but I want more of them everywhere–in my ward, in the Ensign, over the pulpit in General Conference.

We should end this overindexation of white men and their perspectives for all kinds of reasons–a world with more equal representation would better live up to the exhortation to recognize neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female–but, on top of all the reasons of justice and equality and striving for Zion, let add my complaint: this is boring.

“God Wouldn’t Do That”

In conversations about whether God really commanded such-and-such a thing, I’ve often heard the argument that “God wouldn’t do that.” God wouldn’t tell Abraham to kill his son, tell Joseph Smith to marry underage girls, tell contemporary prophets to enact a policy against the children of gay parents. Such things go against the character of God, so we can be confident that there was no divine involvement in these cases—just human error at work. The response from defenders of these things is often that God is far beyond our comprehension, that his thoughts are not our thoughts, and we are in no position to evaluate what he might or might not do. Read More

Call for Papers for the Faith and Knowledge Conference

Sixth Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference

Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, MA
February 24-25, 2017

The Faith and Knowledge Conference was established in 2007 to bring together LDS graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the interactions between religious faith and scholarship. During the past five conferences, students have shared their experiences in the church and the academy and the new ideas that have emerged as a result. Papers and conversations provided thought-provoking historical, exegetical, and theoretical insights and compelling models of how to reconcile one’s discipleship with scholarly discipline.

In keeping with these past objectives, we invite graduate students and early career scholars in religious studies and related disciplines (e.g., women’s studies, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history, literature, etc.) to join the conversation. We welcome proposals addressing historical, exegetical, and theoretical issues that arise from the intersections of LDS religious experience and academic scholarship. Final papers presented at the conference should be brief, pointed comments of ten to fifteen minutes. Please visit faithandknowledge.org for more information on themes and topics explored at previous years’ conferences.

Proposals should include a paper abstract of no more than 250 words and a brief CV. Please submit proposals by December 2, 2016 to Christopher Jones at chrisjones13@gmail.com. Notifications of acceptance or rejection will be sent by December 16, 2016.

The registration fee will be $25 for graduate students and $50 for early career scholars. For individuals whose paper proposals are accepted, hotel accommodations for two nights and all meals on Saturday will be provided; travel expenses will be reimbursed based on a sliding scale.

Further information will be posted on the website faithandknowledge.org.

Faculty Gender Balance at the BYUs – Graphs of the Data

Michael Austin has a great post up at BCC about how small a percentage of the faculty at the BYUs are women, and what a bad message this sends to students, both female and male. I thought it might be interesting to look at the IPEDS data he used in graphical form.

Here’s a scatterplot showing each institution’s percentage of faculty who are women as a function of total faculty size.

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Things I Don’t Get

I’ve been thinking about some of the things that lots of people I know absolutely rave about, or I feel a lot of social pressure to like, but in reality I just don’t get—for whatever reason, they simply don’t click with me. A sample:

Podcasts: Sometimes it seems like all the fun discussion these days is happening on podcasts. Because of that, I want to like them. But somehow I don’t have the patience to listen, and I find it hard to stay engaged with them.

Museums: I have a really hard time with museums; I just find them boring. Looking at objects and displays doesn’t do much for me.

Strawberries: It amazes me how much people love strawberries, how they’re widely seen as a treat, how they’re even dipped in chocolate. I simply can’t stand them.

Breaking Bad: So many of my friends love this show, and I see it appearing all the time in lists of the best television. I’ve tried to watch it twice, and seriously found it unwatchable.

Nature: It’s not that I dislike nature. I genuinely enjoy being in the mountains or visiting the ocean or being in a forest. But for me, it’s not a transcendent experience. It doesn’t really move me emotionally. For years, I felt tremendous pressure to be having certain experiences when I was out in nature that I just wasn’t having. It’s been a relief to let that expectation go.

The sacrament: In 41 years in the church, I have yet to have any kind of spiritual experience related to the sacrament. I’ve tried various ways of making it meaningful, but in the end it’s a ritual that leaves me cold. People talk about it making a difference to take it; I’ve never felt that way at all. I still take it, but I’ve stopped driving myself crazy trying to make it into anything special.

I’d be curious to hear what other people would put on a list like this.

How Much Priesthood is Enough Priesthood?

I’ve pretty much always been the kind of feminist who thought women should have the priesthood; I remember telling people this when I was in high school, and while they often laughed it off uncomfortably as teenage rabble-rousing, I was perfectly serious. This hasn’t changed, but, in watching the Church’s response to Ordain Women and some of the baby steps they’ve made towards (and away from) equality, lately I’ve been thinking more about what wanting women to have the priesthood really means to me.

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Abdicating Authority to the Algorithms

Supporters of chicken patriarchy like to cite calling on family members to say prayers as an example of a duty that the father in a family, as the presider and priesthood holder, must perform. I suspect this is a preferred example because it carves out a required role for the man, but it avoids the offensiveness of men’s supposed duties that fans of paleo-patriarchy might cite, such as the duty to be the final decider in matters of schooling, employment, or spending.

Because this is such a oft-cited example (in blog discussions at least), it is with some glee that I report that as the husband and father in my family, I have abdicated this duty to an algorithm. And not even one of my own making! One of my kids came up with it. And to be fair, calling it an algorithm is making it sound way more complicated than it is. It’s a very simple system. In case you’re curious, here’s how it works. Family members are ordered by age, and each family member is assigned a number from zero to number of family members minus one. The day of the month is then divided by the number of family members, and the remainder is matched up to one of the assigned numbers to find who gets to say family prayer. For blessings at mealtime, the meal number (1, 2, or 3; no allowance is made for things like second breakfast) is added to the date. For example, today is May 26th. There are five people in my family. To decide who says the blessing on lunch, we take 26 (day) + 2 (meal number), divide by 5 (number of family members), yielding a remainder of 3, so this means it’s my second oldest child’s turn (since the family is numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 in age order). Read More