Women can go on missions, if they want to. Now that they can go at 19, some will go who may not have wanted it quite enough to wait until they turned 21. But it is still not the same as for men, who have a clear expectation and strong social pressure to serve missions sometime after they turn 18.
Girls in the church hit this idea, “they can do it if they want to” quite often. Starting at age 8, when American boys enter the officially sanctioned Church version of Cub Scouts, the segregation begins. The boys meet weekly, with a well-developed program and the mandatory 2-deep leadership to do projects, play games and earn little trinkets of awards. The girls are given the Activity Days program, sometimes called Achievement Days, where they meet twice a month with a generally much lower ratio of adults to children. They are not given a well developed program with a full curriculum of activities and games. There are no set awards to earn. There is no committee analogous to the Cub Scout Committee that meets to review the girls’ progress and advancement (there is no standard of advancement for girls) and to plan large monthly recognition meetings to which families are invited (Pack Meetings).
Whenever these inequities are pointed out, the response is that the girls can do the same activities that the boys do, if they want to. This ignores the vast difference in the structure of the programs (Scouts is structured, there is no structure for the Activity Days girls), the training of the leaders (mandatory training and background checks required for Cub leaders before they should be sustained by the congregation, nothing for the women leaders of the girls), and the curriculum and resources (a book of information and activities for each year the boys are in Cub Scouts–Wolves at 8, Bears at 9, Webelos at 10, and the Boy Scout Handbook for 11-year old Scouts compared to the Faith in God pamphlet for the girls, of which there is an equivalent pamphlet for the boys). Starting with the 11-year old Scouts, there are monthly outings including hikes and quarterly campouts. There is no similar program for the girls to prepare them for Girls’ Camp.
This is not to denigrate the women who serve as leaders for the Activity Days girls. They do very well, given how little support and materials they are given by the Church. They care for their girls deeply. They do the best they can. And of course, they could do more if they wanted to.
As youth, the young men continue with the Boy Scouts’ structured program. They have frequent trips and campouts (ideally once a month). They have high adventure camps to look forward to.
And the young women? They have one week of Girls’ Camp (often just 3-4 days depending on where they live) per year. It is generally shorter than the boys’ week of Scout Camp. And they don’t get the extra campouts during the year.
Whenever I’ve pointed this out, the leaders say, “Well, the girls could do those activities if they wanted to.” Really? Without the expectation, structure and support that the boys have? And do all of the boys really want to do the Scout activities? No, of course not. But it is still there for them. But if some of the girls in a ward wanted to go on regular campouts, while others didn’t, I feel confident that the activities would not occur. I’ve lived it.
There is a world of difference between telling a girl she can do something if she wants to while giving her little to no institutional support and expecting a boy to do it whether he wants to or not because the structure of the organization and social pressure requires him to do so.
And of course, there are many things in the church that girls cannot do even if they wanted to and are otherwise worthy. They are girls, after all, a physical difference that makes them fundamentally unsuited for certain roles and responsibilities in the kingdom of God. It must be the physical difference and attributes and capacities derived from that physicality; we’ve been told so often by our leaders how great and spiritual our women are that we cannot imagine that they are deficient in spiritual worthiness.
And now we’re back to the topic of missions. The Scouting program is praised as preparing our young men to be leaders, to be missionaries, to use their priesthood in the service of others. Will the emphasis of the Young Women’s program be changed as well, to encourage the young women to become leaders, missionaries, to use their self-developed talents in the service of others? Will both be prepared and encouraged to serve in the same capacity? Will the young men be encouraged to strengthen and support home and family? Or will the preparation of women to be leaders in the Church remain on their own heads, something they can do if they want to?