LDS sister missionaries talk with the New York Times.

LDS sister missionaries talk with the New York Times. (screen shot)

Yesterday’s New York Times featured a marvelous feature story about the rise in the number of Mormon sister missionaries, and how their service might be changing the LDS Church.

The story was on the front page and above the fold — which is still symbolically important even though so many people read online now.

As well, with the lone exception of an official church spokesman who is quoted at the end of the article, every single voice is that of a Mormon woman.

I was delighted to see that, in addition to the many rank-and-file missionaries and other women interviewed, Sister Linda Burton was quoted and photographed for the piece.

Last year I reviewed all the media interviews Sister Burton had granted since her term as General President of the Relief Society began in 2012. It was a pretty brief task because the only ones she had given in her first year — or been permitted to give — were in Church-owned publications. At that time there was not a single representation of Sister Burton’s voice in a “secular” media outlet.

So her presence in the Times article is welcome indeed. The Church cannot on the one hand complain when ordinary Mormon women express their views to the media and on the other hand offer no “official” voices of women in leadership who are authorized to express the views of the Church.

It’s hard to imagine that the Church could be anything but pleased with the Times story. It may rightly point out inequalities in Mormonism, but the general tenor of the article is upbeat and admiring. Women are “hastening the work” of the gospel, as one sister missionary puts it.

Blogger Joanna Brooks notes that the way the Times article portrays Mormon women is actually recognizable. We’re not portrayed as dupes, or victims of patriarchy, but as strong people who are trying to live righteously:

 It portrays Mormon women as the ambitious, intelligent, hard-working, resilient, dedicated human beings that we are.  This is not how Mormon women have been generally represented in American media for the last 150 years.  We’ve been portrayed as victims and voiceless dupes—of polygamy, of inexorable patriarchy (Sonia Johnson and the September 6), and of bearded madmen kidnappers (Elizabeth Smart).  Not here.  In the New York Times, we are bright, world-travelling, hard working, scripture-studying women with plans to rule the globe.

Overall, the article points to a very bright future for Mormon women, and that is cause to rejoice.

P.S. If you’d like to engage with the two journalists who wrote the story (Jodi Kantor and Laurie Goodstein), there is a Twitter chat about it today at noon EST.

2 Comments

  1. In the Church’s official, mostly positive response to this article, it said, “An hour and a half interview with Linda K. Burton, who as president of the nearly 6-million-member Relief Society is one of the most influential women in the Church, yielded a half-sentence quote.”

    Has the church ‘not permitted’ Sister Burton to give interviews? I don’t know the answer to that, but in this case, it seems that there was disappointment by the church that she was quoted so little. Longer quotes were shared of women who hold heterodox views. Could it be that the media hasn’t been as interested in Sister Burton’s voice as in the voice of women who aren’t content with the Church? This article seems to suggest that.

    I’m grateful Sister Burton was quoted for at least the little bit that she was. She is a Mormon women who does represent me, while there are Mormon women, who get quoted often by the media, who do not.

  2. A slight correction: this is not actually true.

    As well, with the lone exception of an official church spokesman who is quoted at the end of the article, every single voice is that of a Mormon woman.

    Also quoted is Yong-In S. Shin, the sisters’ mission president:

    Before Ms. Ensign and Ms. Scott head back to the United States, each will have a private meeting with Mr. Shin, the mission president, who gives the same instructions to every missionary. Their next job in the church, he will tell them, is to find a faithful Mormon spouse, “so that they can be sealed for a time and eternity as a husband and a wife,” as he put it, and “experience the joy of having their own family in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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