There was a moment, a very brief one, in this past General Conference that could have massive, powerful repercussions for Mormon gender equality. It has absolutely nothing to do with mission service, however. Unlike many of the exuberant huzzahing for the lowered age for sister missionaries, I am not so sure this will move things in the direction I'm angling for. Although it will probably increase the number of sisters who do serve and it does, potentially, re-write the life plan for women, the mission experience does not exactly promote equality. Indeed, the difference in ages and service length for sisters sends clearly a message “Women and men are different. Fundamentally.” Also, the fact that sisters will serve under men who hold the priesthood and are either younger than they are or roughly the same age cements a cultural model of women submitting to male priesthood authority, regardless of other factors that might cause reluctance. Don't get me wrong. I don't think the mission age change is a plot to enslave women. I'm just suggesting that it might be the ground zero for a plus ça change moment.
But not all is this bleak. There was a story offered in conference that needs to be heard. Over and over and over again. President Eyring told the story of being offered a job that would take him away from his position as president of Rick's College. He uncertainly tried to suss out what to do. In three sentences, Eyring completely confounds the “preside” paradigm. The quote in full is:
My wife, sensing this, had a strong impression that we were not to leave Ricks College. I said, “That’s good enough for me.” But she insisted, wisely, that I must get my own revelation.
The importance of this story is hard to overstate. Eyring was willing to accept, without question, the revelation his wife had received. Revelation not just on her life, but specifically about his professional decisions. It is only through her urging that he moves beyond this to ask for himself. If this a model of male presiding, I'm not really sure what “preside” means since he neither goes ahead nor trumps. What it sounds like more is equal partners, where a woman can receive revelation and expect it to be honored. Eyring did not brush aside this prompting given to his wife. His priesthood and maleness gave him no special avenue for answering questions about his family's life.
Sure, this is a tiny thing. But small things are often the most subversive. President Eyring is not standing at a pulpit and agitating for female ordination, or radically re-writing the view of the celestial economy, or anything nearly so drastic. But, he has undone so much with so little. He has, through his seemingly sincere humility, toppled a paradigm of submission to the male head of household.
This story will probably get lost over time. It'll be forgotten, especially in light of the other exciting announcement of the Conference. But I agree firmly with Plato that stories will save us, if we just believe them. But, in order to save, they have to be remembered. And so, to this end, I want to make sure this story gets heard all the times I can possibly raise my voice with it. The hope for a better, brighter future is found in three sentences. Sentences that, in a few years (God willing), will look a whole lot less exceptional and more like the way things should be. And, are. In time. Urging patience is frustrating and I know radicalism has a lot of proponents with a lot of good rationales for their approach. But I say it's worth celebrating small moments of hope. Otherwise, it's too easy to get drowned in bleakness. So, it may not be good enough for all of us, this little story. But it's not nothing. And it should be heard constantly. After all, it's stories like this that change structures more than any forced-upon structural change could ever hope to do.