The LDS church receives a lot of flak for its treatment of women. Critics claim that women are treated as inferior than men and forced into an old-fashioned gender role. The church's supporters usually emphasize that women have a role that is of equal or greater importance than men's roles--that bearing and nurturing children is a divine calling and that women are to be honored and respected. The general understanding in the church is that women bear children and men can hold the priesthood, so nobody should be considered unimportant.
So I thought back to my time in the Aaronic Priesthood and I realized that the girls my age had been pretty useless as far as their role in the religious tapestry goes. While the guys were blessing and passing the sacrament, home teaching and exercising the priesthood in our leadership positions, the girls were...wait, what were the girls doing?
The girls had leadership positions, too. They had their Mia Maid presidents and their Beehive class secretaries. I imagine their presidency meetings mirrored ours to an extent. They planned the heck out of those joint activities and they agonized over how to reach out to those less active sisters and bring them back to the fold. But their leadership positions were toothless. Did they do anything important? Did they have any understanding of significance?
See, over on the Aaronic Priesthood end, our Deacons Quorum President acted with the understanding that he held the mystical Priesthood Keys to direct the work of the Quorum. Having Priesthood Keys meant you were a player. You were in good company--lots of important men held Priesthood Keys. The Bishop. The Stake President. And the Prophet. If you held the Priesthood Keys, you felt like you were a part of an important leadership structure of the church. You felt like one day you'd be an Elder's Quorum President. Or a High Councilor. Or a Stake President. You were a leader among the future generation of leaders. The young women? They'd never have that. A laurel class president might someday get to be a stake activities director. She'll never hold the priesthood and she'll never have any real authority.
What was I supposed to do with a young woman as a young man? At fourteen, I could dance with them at church functions...provided we didn't get too close. At sixteen, I could date them...provided we dated in groups and didn't get too close. Hell, you couldn't really take a good look at them without wondering if you had lust in your heart and had already committed adultery with her. (Yes, I know, that's a horrendous paraphrase.)
This probably isn't an original idea, but it's a concept I hadn't considered before. Those church critics who claim that Mormonism is sexist should take a look at the disparity in how the youth of the church are treated. To me, that's a much more difficult phenomenon to defend. I buy the "separate but equal" thing concerning Mormon gender roles, even though I disagree with it. It at least makes some sense.
But when you look further back on the timeline and you see that men are raised to be in charge, that women are raised to be useless (I mean, bred for the blessing of bearing children), that both of them are raised to feel totally comfortable with these roles, that Mormon women don't seem to have much of a function until they reach childbearing age (or marriage, to be more accurate) and that Mormon men are put on the fast track to importance as early as twelve...the "separate but equal" argument falls apart. It may be spun to appear equal in adulthood, but evidence from adolescence makes it obvious that the men were supposed to be superior all along. It looks more and more like the church structure is designed to keep women subjugated and content with their subjugation.
And that does not seem right to me.