20 July 2014

Driving and Ordination

I don't consider myself to be a feminist.  I am a stay-at-home mom who oversees the household duties such as cooking and cleaning while my husband goes to work and earns the money.  I didn't think twice about taking my husband's last name when we got married.  I appreciate having a door opened for me.  Some may consider this old-fashioned, but it works for me and our family.  And while I continue to be happy with this way of life, being an expat in Saudi Arabia has definitely given me a different perspective on gender equality.  In Saudi, women lack many basic rights.  One that affects me, even as a foreigner, is that I can't drive. . . merely because I am female.

Recently I watched an interview with Kate Kelly.  Kate Kelly was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church).  She was recently excommunicated from her church for apostasy; she has publicly asked the leaders of the Mormon church to prayerfully consider ordaining women to the priesthood.  She also founded the Ordain Women website.  Currently only men and boys as young as 12 years old are eligible for priesthood ordination.

As I watched the interview, I started thinking about the parallels between the women here in Saudi Arabia and Mormon women.  According to an official statement from the LDS church leaders  "The blessings of His priesthood are equally available to men and women.  Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices.  All service in the Church has equal merit in the eyes of God."  So while only the men are ordained, both genders can equally benefit from the priesthood.

Using that argument and logic here in Saudi, while only men are given the authority or license to drive, technically both genders can benefit equally.  Although females may not actually be the ones behind the wheel, they can still have equal access to go places in a car. . . . . Well, as long as they have both a car and a man to drive them.  And, before they go anywhere, they have to ask someone for a ride.

From my American perspective, why not just allow the women to drive themselves?  It would be so much easier, for both the men and women.  The men (and boys) wouldn't have to adjust their schedules to be able to accommodate driving their wives, mothers, daughters or family members around.  (It is not uncommon to see boys as young as 12, sometimes even younger, driving here.)  But on the upside, a man is able to provide meaningful service to his wife and family by providing rides for them.

Interestingly, according to one study 90% of Mormon women don't believe they should be ordained to the priesthood.  Juxtapose that with another article which discusses a couple of studies, the larger of which states that 86% of Saudi women are opposed to changing the driving laws.

Which begs the question, if women are happy with their circumstances, why bother with change?

In my opinion, it is all about choice.   Having the ability to choose for yourself is true freedom.

Let's suppose for a moment that the prophet of the LDS church received a revelation that Mormon women have the option, but not responsibility, to be ordained to the priesthood.  Apparently only a small percentage of Mormon women would even be interested in the option.  But how amazing for those women who do desire this to be able to serve their own children and families by doing things such as giving blessings and anointing the sick.

Now let's suppose that Saudi Arabia lifts the ban on driving.  Again, apparently only a small percentage of Saudi women would be interested in driving themselves, but how awesome for those who can now have the freedom to do something as simple as drive their children to school or go grocery shopping by themselves.  They would no longer be so dependent on the men in their lives.

If I had been part of the study polling Mormon women, it is very likely that I would have also responded that I am personally not interested in being ordained.  But that being said, I definitely support the idea that women should have freedom of choice.

So while I can understand why most Mormon women don't want to be ordained, I can't understand why Saudi women don't want to drive.  But maybe that is because I've driven but not been ordained.  I haven't ever given one of my children a blessing.  Maybe I simply don't know what I'm missing.  But either way, that isn't the point.  The point is that there are Saudi women who would like to drive, and there are Mormon women who would like to be ordained.  Doesn't it seem reasonable that they make the decision for themselves?

Another interesting statistic that sounds oddly repetitive: a pamphlet published in the 1910s in the United States explained that one of the reasons women shouldn't be allowed to vote was that "90% of the women either do not want it, or do not care."

I find it interesting that in each case it is the group being suppressed who doesn't want the increased rights and privileges.  Just because most women didn't want the right to vote in 1910 doesn't mean that they were already 'equal' to men and that status quo shouldn't have been challenged.  'Separate but equal' generally isn't really equal when it comes down to it.  And just because women now have the right to vote doesn't mean that they are required to vote.

I choose to stay home with my young children and forgo a career.  I choose to drive when in the United States.  I choose to take my husband's last name as my own.  Not only am happy to do so, but I realize I am very fortunate that I can choose each of these.  The most important part being of course, that I had the choice to begin with.