10 Facts about Women in the Mormon Church

1. The Mormon church is led by “the priesthood”. Only men are admitted to this priesthood. Women may not speak or act on behalf of God. To change this gender inequality, the Ordain Women movement was started in 2013.

In June 2014, the Mormon church started a repressive campaign against a number of Mormon dissidents such as John Dehlin, founder of Mormon Stories, and Kate Kelly, co-founder of Ordain Women. The church also went after Kelly’s parents in this crackdown, but not after her husband, who supports her. Kate Kelly was excommunicated from the church on June 23, 2014.

2. Only men may perform regular church rituals (baptism, the sacrament, giving blessings, etc.). Women can only be on the boards of so-called auxiliary organizations. The budget, curriculum and vital decisions of these auxiliary organizations all fall to the male priesthood.

European Women’s Conference, Mormon style. Broadcast by satellite in local church buildings, women are invited to attend the meeting “under the direction of their local leaders” so they can listen to male church leaders talk about the joys of being a Mormon woman.

3. While Mormon men attend important leadership meetings and carry out their pastoral responsibilities, the women anxiously stay at home to take care of the kids and, as is customary in the Nelson family, bake doughnuts for the men:

 “Tonight I am attending with a son, sons-in-law, and grandsons. Where are their mothers? Gathered in the kitchen of our home! What are they doing? Making large batches of homemade doughnuts! And when we return home, we will feast on those doughnuts. While we enjoy them, these mothers, sisters, and daughters will listen intently as each of us speaks of things he learned here tonight” (Nelson 1999).

4. Women must dress “modestly” because otherwise they might “prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure” (Callister 2014). Young women must understand that if they dress immodestly, they become “pornography to some of the men who see” them (Oaks 2005).

"Pornographic" imagery like the bare shoulders of the girl on the teacher’s lap are photoshopped away in church magazines to avoid improper thoughts in the minds of Mormon men who wish to remain pure.

5. Female attire must be “modest” but at the same time “feminine”. Women shouldn't "wander around looking like men," they should "put on a little lipstick now and then and look a little charming" (Ballard 2015). Most Mormon women comply with the unwritten rule that women must always wear a skirt or a dress to church. This gave rise to the counter-movement “Wear Pants to Church” in 2012. This movement calls on Mormon women to wear pants to church once a year – an act of rebellion that has even elicited death threats from the Mormon community.

6. The most important thing a young woman has to offer her husband, is her virginity. Mormon girls are taught that it is better for them to die than to lose their virginity before marriage. Even in cases of rape and incest, church leaders have maintained it is better for a woman to die defending her virtue than to lose it without putting up a fight. “Your virtue is worth more than your life,” Mormon church president David O. McKay said (Kimball 1969, pp. 63, 196).

7. When Mormon boys turn 12, they receive the priesthood and are prepared for assuming church leadership positions. When Mormon girls turn 12, they get nothing. They are prepared to become a wife and mother. To this end, women and girls are regularly told in General Conference and Sunday lessons that their highest purpose is to stay at home and take care of their husband and children (Benson 1981a, Beck 2007).

Photo courtesy of Mike Norton.

8. The Mormon God is a man, a heavenly Father. Mormons also believe in a heavenly Mother but it is regarded “as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven” (Hinckley 1991). She is almost never talked about and no lessons in the church’s curriculum are ever devoted to her, although Paulsen & Pulido (2011) claim that “historically, there has been substantial discussion and elaboration on the roles and divinity of our Heavenly Mother”.

9. The Book of Mormon contains over 300 names, six of which are of women. Three of these refer to Biblical characters, the other three to a mother, a whore and a maid.

10. In Mormon theology, a woman may only be married to one man. Men, on the other hand, may have muliple wives. Although polygamy is not currently practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it remains an integral part of Mormon scripture and several church policies still reflect the possibility that polygamy will be practiced in the afterlife (as explained by the Mormon church itself in the last paragraph of their essay on polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo).