Back in 1996, I watched an episode about Mormonism on 60 Minutes, including an interview with then current LDS church president, Gordon B. Hinckley. The part of the program that most impacted me was when the report stated that Mormon women did not want the priesthood.
I had wondered if Mormon women wanted the priesthood. Now national television was announcing that we didn’t. But how did they know? Did they ask Mormon women? Which ones? No one had ever asked me. I had never even asked myself. Why would anyone bother to inquire? Everyone knew that Mormon women wouldn’t admit that they wanted the priesthood, so why ask them?
But now that I was thinking of it, how had I learned the taboo against expressing interest in the priesthood? There was no commandment along the lines of, “Thou shalt not say out loud that thou desirest the priesthood if thou art a woman.”
Fast forward about ten years, to the first time anyone ever asked me if I wanted the priesthood. I was having a casual conversation with other Mormon women. I said some things that seemed harmless to me but gave away my feminist leanings.
My comments shocked someone who blurted out, “Do you want the priesthood?”
The way she said it, it sounded like, “Do you want to bomb an orphanage?”
I reflexively answered, “No,” because I had nothing against orphans.
To be honest, I hadn’t actually considered whether I wanted to have the priesthood. But now that I was thinking about it again, it didn’t seem at all unnatural to me that anyone—male or female—might wish they could receive the priesthood; based on all that I had learned about it at church, the priesthood was supposed to be a very good thing.
Fast forward again to the present. I am finally becoming brave enough to think about whether I would like to have the priesthood—but not to talk about it. If I brought up the subject among a group of traditional Mormons, I imagine that the crowd would run and duck for cover to avoid the lightening they would expect to strike me. Even my most optimistic forecasts involve a certain degree of social censure from my Mormon community.
If we could fast forward a few more years into the future, I hope we would find that the taboo has been broken. What if Mormon women felt like they could openly discuss whether they wanted the priesthood extended to all worthy members without regard for gender?
At the least, reporters and LDS church presidents would have more information to work with when they discussed what Mormon women want.