I was a fourteen-year old girl attending a Mormon camp called “Especially For Youth”. After a seminar meant to excite the youth about serving full-time missions - taught by a very cute blonde boy who had recently returned from his own - I was standing in line for lunch. I struck up a conversation with the boy next to me, who had also attended the same talk. My enthusiasm for serving a mission was at an all-time high, as I started gushing about how much I wanted to serve, how important the work was to me. I was fourteen and I wanted to be the perfect Mormon, to live up the standards that everyone expected of me. I wanted to be everything that everyone expected of me.
“I just can’t wait to go on a mission!” I said, looking at the boy. He was average cute, which in the hyper-competitive world of Mormon courtship, was enough. Even at fourteen, I was all too aware of the overwhelming pressure of marriage and its implications on my eternal salvation.
He looked at me and arched his eyebrow. “Aren’t you supposed to be concentrating on -- other duties?” he said, the meaning in his voice plain.
“I can do both!” I said. He shrugged, looking skeptical.
I was hurt; I turned my back on this guy, who looked uglier and uglier by the moment. I dismissed him as a pompous jerk. I convinced myself that I could still do it all.
A few months ago, I discovered a talk by Gordon B. Hinckley, the man I considered to be a modern-day prophet of God. I was twelve when he gave this talk; two years later I got angry when a boy dismissed my goal to become a missionary. Hinckley gave this talk during the Priesthood Session of General Conference; only the men were allowed to attend.
“Now I wish to say something to bishops and stake presidents concerning missionary service. It is a sensitive matter. There seems to be growing in the Church an idea that all young women as well as all young men should go on missions. We need some young women. They perform a remarkable work. They can get in homes where the elders cannot.
I confess that I have two granddaughters on missions. They are bright and beautiful young women. They are working hard and accomplishing much good. Speaking with their bishops and their parents, they made their own decisions to go. They did not tell me until they turned their papers in. I had nothing to do with their decision to go.
Now, having made that confession, I wish to say that the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve are united in saying to our young sisters that they are not under obligation to go on missions. I hope I can say what I have to say in a way that will not be offensive to anyone. Young women should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men. Some of them will very much wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents. If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.
I say what has been said before, that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. As such, our young men must carry the major burden. This is their responsibility and their obligation.
We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program. Over a period of many years, we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small. Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.
Now, that may appear to be something of a strange thing to say in priesthood meeting. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church have now heard it. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter.”
Gordon B Hinckley, October 1997, “Some Thoughts On Temples, Retention of Converts, And Missionary Service”
Gordon B Hinckley was a man that, as a fourteen-year-old girl, I considered a Prophet of God. I discovered this talk a few months back and every-time that I think about it, I feel hurt. I don’t why this talk hurts me so much, more than ten years after leaving Mormonism. I suppose because as a fourteen-year old girl the idea of serving a mission struck me as one of the few accomplishments I could aim for in equal accord with men.
At the age of twelve I had been inducted into the Young Women program; the lessons about marriage and children were already starting to weigh me down. And the thought of marriage terrified me; I wanted the luxury of waiting until I was at a reasonable age. This luxury seemed denied to me in the Mormon world, as most of my fellow Young Women were getting married before the age of 21. I had just seen the first of my peers get married off - she was eighteen, just a couple months out of high school, when she married a man who had noticed her a couple years earlier while serving his mission. The ward made a huge fuss over my friend - they talked about her as the ultimate success, having fulfilled her highest potential at the precocious age of eighteen. And while I was supposed to be happy for her, the thought of marriage at such a young age terrified me.
Serving a mission meant that I could defer the prospect of marriage for a few more years, until I was old enough to feel ready. I didn’t want to be married at a young age. I wanted a life that included a little more than simply marriage and children. I wanted something of my own; an education, maybe a career. Some goal that was mine and mine alone. I wanted to have it all.
And yet, even at the age of fourteen, the doors to a larger world were closed to me. I wanted everything and yet the prophet was instructing the men in my life to hold me back from having it all.