Another thought on the effects of the missionary age change


[thought one on this subject]


(I do not think my comments here are examples of chicken patriarchy for reasons I'll allude to, but Mormon feminists are welcome to call fowl in the comments.)


I saw a tweet during Saturday's afternoon session of, I deduce, a mother of a male BYU freshman. He (the son) and his friends were predicting that girls will soon outnumber boys in the MTC (and, I suppose, by extrapolation, the mission field). I'm doubtful, but also recognize the reasonableness of the argument as I will explain below.

I also saw a certain flunked Saint complain about the inherent inequality of (continuing) disparate ages for the different sexes. But I would like to propose, in the spirit of my previous paragraph, that the inequality we are seeing here may be a form of affirmative action. For men.

I don't know how true this may be internationally, but here in the States, our young men are in trouble. I'm not making one of those chickeny women-are-inherently-more-righteous-than-men arguments. I'm simply observing that, in general, American girls are preparing better for adulthood than American boys.

An example: Traditionally, girls have been told they're inferior to boys in, say, math and science. This problem is still real for women in the field. But do you know a girl who believes this? I just spoke with a graduating senior girl planning a career in science who had never even heard of this stereotype when I enthused about her choice. Where would she have? Most of the kids in higher-level high-school courses are female!

And she's not alone in her ignorance of an alleged girl inferiority. Nationwide, girls are outexcelling boys in pretty much everything academic. Some universities are even quietly instituting policies to let in underqualified boys just to keep the numbers closer to even. More girls are graduating high school, entering college, graduating college. The generation now in kindergarten will enter a workforce that women dominate. I don't see any other possibility.

Now let's return to the age gap in missions. I suspect that a generation of boys---used to girls being better than them---are becoming more and more willing not to take responsibility. When boys and girls are provided identical opportunities, it appears that, on average, boys step aside. I'm not saying this makes any sense, but it seems to be true. (Speaking of youth collectively and not individually.)

At this point of my on-paper drafting process, Elder Christofferson is discussing this very point: Men are falling behind. (At least in America---again, I don't know how true this is internationally.) And after I finish my draft, President Monson also speaks to this concern. (Follow the Christofferson link to watch Priesthood Session.)

No matter your feelings on men/women/priesthood, we as Latter-day Saints cannot be happy about any segment of our populace atrophying.

We can certainly disagree on whether differences in mission (starting age, length, expectation to serve) will help future Mormon men equal future Mormon women, but I think we can agree that future Mormon men had better equal future Mormon women, one way or another.

[Please complain about my arguments in the comments section to help me clarify or abandon them.]

previous svithe


  1. I think your points are good, so I have nothing to add, other than I am the mother of two sons. I fear for them, but at the same time, I'm going to be fighting tooth and nail to make sure they don't fail.

    And I read that blog you linked to by the "failed mormon sister". Oh my. Why oh why, for somepeople, is every differnce between men and women looked on as some sort of "Oh the Lord hates me" issue. Elder Holland, in the presser this afternoon stated clearly, when asked, that they've found over the years that having the girls be a bit older is what works best. If it works why complain or try to "fix" it. The Lord does not undervalue women just because he asks them to do things a bit differently. I just get tired of that sad song...

    Anyway...I am enjoying your blog posts on Conference, and I enjoy your tweets. :)

  2. .

    Thanks, Atomic.

    It occurred to me about an hour after posting that the exact opposite argument of the post could be made from the same facts, that is, that the age changes are affirmative action for the women. 18 and 19 aren't really that different---not like 19 and 21. This is going to get more young women the same experiences we've been saying are desperately important for young men. That should give them more social capital etc etc.

    I'ld like to believe both arguments can be true.

  3. .

    Oh, hey, Ben. I don't discriminate them. I have another blog just for them.

    (Actually, it's yours. I just pretend it's mine. Sorry about that.)

  4. Oh right. I forgot that I'm your non-Mormon alter ego.

  5. "Traditionally, girls have been told they're inferior to boys in, say, math and science. This problem is still real for women in the field. But do you know a girl who believes this?"

    I've taken shit my entire life for being good at math (from both boys and girls, albeit in different ways), so whether or not I believed in the stereotype, I had a lot of pressure to conform to it. (That said, I graduated from high school 15 years ago, and that may be long enough ago that things have changed pretty dramatically.)

  6. As a seminary teacher, I work a lot with youth. I think in the past we as a culture have bought too much into the notion that YW are more righteous than YM and therefore need less spiritual support and opportunity--presumably because they can take care of themselves. The result of this has been a greater likelihood for YW to leave the Church than YM--especially at the crucial period after they leave the youth program. I'm very interested to see how this change affects that dynamic. Already, as a teacher, I'm excited about talking to both YM and YW about leaving on missions so soon after high school.

    I'm not one of those who is fearful for BYU's freshman class. I'm sure some YM may opt to leave at 18, but I bet the reality is that most YM still leave around 19. I like that YM have a choice to decide when is best for them. This makes their situation more like the sisters.

    I also got the impression from the press conference that the days of the 1 1/2 year policy is numbered. I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years the Church moves to a 2 year option for sister while still maintaining a 1 1/2 year option.

    Overall, though, I am excited to see the response to the change. Many of my former YW students are updating their FB statuses about doing missionary work in the coming years. Joanna Brooks said that she is already seeing her daughters differently, and I am having the same experience with my three.

  7. .

    Maybe just working in the field together will get rid of this women-are-better-than-me mentality, while increasing respect. And I agree about the likelihood of a 2yr option coming soon. That's sure what it sounded like.

    I'm starting a teacher-development course this month for the Priests and Laurels and my goals for the class are undergoing some serious changes this weekend.

  8. Maybe it has nothing to do with feminism or discrimination or fairness or equality or other temporal black holes.. maybe they changed it for the reasons stated... they need to increase the missionary force. I wouldn't read too much into it.

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  10. My husband and I have been talking a lot lately about how much boys suck these days. Maybe this is just one more area where the girls are going to outshine them, picking up the slack in missionary work and generally kicking butt.

    I'd like to think that serving with more sister missionaries--who were previously not given the same street cred as elders, no matter what people say to the contrary, but who typically are and will continue to be awesome--will be the wake up call that a lot of young men need to step up and "be men." Nothing wrong with a little healthy competition.

  11. .

    Men thrive on competition.

    Myke: I;m very skeptical that God would make a change that has only one effect. I expect there will be many effects---most of which we may not see for decades.

  12. "but here in the States, our young men are in trouble. "

    aMEN :)

    I'd like to read/write more posts on that topic...

    anyway. Year change. They're predicting that freshmen will be pretty sparse here at the "I" these next couple years. My sisters/sisters in law are all deciding to go on missions. From what data I can gather, this will have a DRASTIC effect on the number of women who decide on a mission. Since I have always emphasized to my (5) daughters that I'd like them to serve missions, this makes me happy :) I think, really, too, that these missions are necessary to prepare for marriage in today's world.

    Fodder for another post... (which I will not be able to find the time to write. Sigh.)

  13. .

    But one to which I hope you will link to here. Because I've no doubt we will agree on most if not all points.