As I read a post last week complaining about sister missionaries having to bike in skirts (and proposing that they be allowed to wear pants instead), I got this strange feeling I have every so often in the bloggernaccle: a provocation to defend the status quo. This is not a position I am in regularly in my real life. Or my Church life. I quite like change, especially change that makes sense. And I am one of those poor beleaguered sister missionaries who both had to wear skirts or dresses (and nylons!) every day and had to use a bicycle as my only mode of transportation.
I hate wearing skirts and dresses (and nylons!). I hated biking much of the time. The combination of the two was a giant pain in my tookus and a cramp in my style.
But I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t even complain about it, at least not in an ever-present-on-the-internet kind of a way. Partially, that is because I can readily see the benefits of both practices for a missionary, but also it is because, when it comes to sisters serving missions, there are bigger fish to fry. If I am going to come off as some whiney feminist, I am going to make sure I pick a bigger target than bicycles.
So, here are some things I would love to see changed in our practice of sisters serving missions:
- Actively encourage sisters to serve. Serving a mission is unquestionably one of the best things I have ever done. But it takes kind of a bullish contrarian personality like mine to get a girl on a mission. Because it is not our “priesthood responsibility” or any kind of an expectation for women, it just never occurs to many women to make it a part of their lives. And they are missing out. No matter how gently the communication comes that women don’t “have to” serve a mission, we are basically communicating to women that we don’t want them to serve. Regardless of the intention, what matters in communication is the reception, and that message comes across loud and clear that girls should stay home. Ask me how I know.
- Change the age at which women serve. Or the age at which men serve. I don’t care which way it goes, although I personally think that age, even two years, is an asset on a mission. I just want there to be a parity. That nonsense idea that men and women of the same age will get into hanky panky is crazy; missionaries who want to get into hanky panky will do so, regardless of age. Allow missionaries more flexibility about when they serve. Let’s get rid of that weird “big sister” dynamic with which we saddle sister missionaries.
- Have sisters serve an equal term of 24 months. I have no idea why this disparity continues, but I’d love to make a sister’s mission equal in length to the men. Having the shorter term cuts a bit into our development of missionary skills and language, but it also minimizes the whole experience, turning an actual sacrifice of time into something that seems a little more to the elders, who sacrifice an extra 6 months, like just a fling with missionary work.
- Provide a female leadership element. Depending on the particular mission president or mission president’s wife, some missions may have a built in feminine voice, but that is certainly accidental. I suggest we design something. Something official. This might include a woman or two who conference with sister missionaries in conjunction with their president’s interviews. Or maybe some sisters who serve in the Mission Office and act as a liaison between women in the field and the MP. It could just be some feminine input on potential transfers. Heck, we could open up non-priesthood positions like District Leader, Zone leader, or Assistant to the President to sisters.
OK. Those are the biggies. Are there any changes you would make to the missionary program before you got around to letting sisters wear pant-suits?