DEBORAH: During Sunday services, I looked around the chapel, noting the brave women who had posted Me Too stories this week and realizing most (probably all) of the other women could tell their own stories if they’d felt inclined to. Then, as a speaker referred to the men in the ward as “the priesthood,” my mind slid back through the ways men at church have used their position to diminish and/or dismiss me, intentionally or not. I felt the urge to tell my stories, though today I will offer only one.
I served as the Young Women’s president in a ward outside the Intermountain West that looked large on the books, but that had many more members who didn’t attend church than who did. As is common, the girls frequently complained about the disparity between the activities for the young men and the young women. I explained what the appointed budget was for the Young Women and that the Boy Scouts simply had more funds allotted them. Of course, that didn’t soothe anyone, including me, but I felt I needed to set the example of humility and endurance in all things.
All I could do was give the financial reins of power to the girls. I showed them the budget, explained what it costs to keep spending money on refreshments and dinners. (The Daddy/Daughter event was a tradition in our ward and, to be honest, consumed about 85% or more of the budget we had.) I told them if we dropped some of these things, or if they were willing to bring food from home that they or their families financed, maybe we could save up to have one “big” event. Nothing like High Adventure, but something better than a craft or fitness night. Keep in mind this ward was far from affluent. The families of these teenagers didn’t have any more money to spare than I did as a young mother from a single income, just-starting-life home.
The girls weren’t happy seeing the numbers and realized they’d have to scrimp to do a single fun activity during the year that had even a relatively modest price tag per person, but they rallied. My laurel class opted to save money so they could attend a professional baseball game, sitting in the cheapest seats available. As is required, I took their plan to the bishop for his approval.
He didn’t give it. He said, “That’s a Wednesday night and you won’t get the girls home until after midnight. It’s not a good idea.” I begged. I promised we could get parental consent. I explained how excited the girls were to go to a professional baseball game, something that really wasn’t in their families’ budgets to do for them. But the answer didn’t change. “I can’t approve it.” I had to return to the girls and tell them we didn’t get the bishop’s approval. They were crestfallen—and angry with me. I’d elevated their hopes and then failed them.
Then the Wednesday night of the baseball game rolls around. I’m there in the ward building with the girls, doing something inconsequential that they had decided on as a substitute. But the young men aren’t there. None of them. Guess where they are.
The young men are not only at the professional baseball game the girls had been refused the opportunity to attend, they were there, I learned, in box seats paid for by the company the bishop worked for. He had access to free tickets and gave them to the Young Men, not to the Young Women who had had their hearts set on seeing a professional game. To this day, I have no words.
Oh, I did have a few words for the bishop back then. But when I brought it up, he told me he hadn’t said no. (He had.) He said I only thought he said no. (He was famous for recasting reality in a way that favored him.) When I asked why he wouldn’t give the tickets to the girls, he told me he felt the boys would appreciate a baseball game more than the girls. From where I sat across his executive desk, it sure looked like he intentionally undermined me. And it worked.
One girl angrily accused me of having lied to them when I had reported that the bishop did not approve the activity because of the late hours, citing as evidence the fact that he’d given the boys free tickets. It was painful. I took it in silence. I didn’t fight back. I knew the bishop was the liar, but, because of the patriarchal structure that requires young women discuss worthiness issues with their bishop, I protected him in order for them to maintain their trust in him. Forget the trust that was lost in their Young Women leader. I received their scorn for my alleged ineptitude and selfish deception while he walked away looking like an innocent and generous man.
I wouldn’t handle it the same way now. Now I would’ve found a way to take the girls to the game without his approval and shrugged off any flack for it when we got back. This may be why I’m not asked to serve the youth anymore. Even so, I still wouldn’t throw a bishop under the bus in a way that would reduce the confidence in him that the girls have. That’s not a commentary on my weakness as a human being, but on the powerlessness of women in the church. We need a man’s approval, not just for every decision we make within the church organization, but for forgiveness in the eyes of God.
The Sisters Quorum would appreciate hearing your stories. Feel free to comment or see our Submissions page.
Please like and follow Sisters Quorum on Facebook. You can find us by clicking here.