Girls’ Rules

My older sister was a great athlete in the old days (before Title IX), and just retired as the athletic director at a high school. Talking with her the other day gave me the idea for this post, so blame her if you don’t like it (isn’t that just like a little brother?).

I thought I had a vague memory of watching her, when I was 8 or 9 (mid-1960s), play some odd form of basketball. Was I just imagining it? She laughed and proceeded to explain the mysteries of girls’ rules. This meant first that there were six players instead of five, and that two players were on offense full-time, two were on defense full-time, and two were rovers. The offensive and defensive players had to stay on their respective side of half court, while the rovers, you know the two girls in every group who were a little more athletic than the others, were free to run the whole court. When you had the ball, you could dribble only three times, and you had to pass three times before shooting. And I’m sure there were other details.

Anyway, we thought about the assumptions behind these rules. One: most girls shouldn’t run that much, couldn’t run that much, and it was immodest and unfeminine to sweat too much (my mom was told that often in her day). Two: girls weren’t skilled enough to have all five (six) players in the same end at once, and so to spread things out the half-court game was turned into essentially four-on-four. Three: dribbling only three times and passing at least three times simplified things for the less-skilled, and prevented the few more-skilled girls from completely dominating. Maybe there were other explanations too, but these seemed to us likely candidates. Other people may have other memories.

Then there was the clothing, which wasn’t part of the rules, but part of the times when my sister played: long pants only, usually sweats, sometimes jeans, until she was in high school. When shorter apparel was allowed, it couldn’t be shorts that looked like boys’. (When she played tennis at BYU, no shorts either, only skirts, down to the knee. Of course all BYU girls into the 1980s remember the dreaded light blue jumpsuits they had to wear.) Dress standards for church games were slower to change, however. A few years later, in the early 70s, when she was the stake athletic director, she wanted to persuade the stake president to allow girls to wear shorts during basketball games. One afternoon she went over to the church, where she knew a bunch of boys were playing (including one of our brothers), grabbed that brother by his long hair (not really but I like the image) and dragged him into the stake president’s office. My brother was wearing the old sort of short shorts, replete with boxers hanging out both top and bottom, and, since he was on the skins team, no shirt. She stood him next to one of her girls, who was wearing fairly long shorts and a nice t-shirt. The stake president took one look at the likes of him, and said, “I see your point. They can wear shorts.”

She has lots of stories like that, both from church and school. And of course I the intrepid historian had a lot come to mind as well, not only from sports but education and other areas of life. Girls couldn’t run marathons. Couldn’t pole vault. Couldn’t, in recreational volleyball at the park, serve it over in only one try but had to have two. Couldn’t, in that same volleyball game, hit the ball on their own, at least that’s what the boys thought who kept jumping in front of them. Couldn’t study too much lest their brains become overheated (that’s a 17th-century one). And many more.

All of these were of course proved wrong, and all of the assumptions behind them seem silly now. Obviously there are still some differences: ladies’ tees at golf courses are still a little closer to the hole than men’s, the women’s basketball is a little smaller than the men’s, and so on, but these are based ultimately on different average testosterone levels and muscle mass rather than on any presuppositions about a girl’s ability to play sports per se. Overall, girls have shown that the playing field is a lot more even than was long imagined, in sports or in school or whatever, that they’re every bit as tough and determined as boys, and that a lot of things once thought crucial just aren’t (like wearing shorts).

It’s old news to feminists and athletes of course. But that conversation with my sister about girls-rules basketball made me reflect specifically on other girls’ rules, and the assumptions that might lie behind them. Not the really big ones, debated often enough here on T&S. Rather, the ones affecting my nearly 20-year-old daughter, who just finished her second year of college. She likes school, and she runs track and cross country. But she’d also like to go on a mission. And I started thinking: why not now?

I wondered about the assumptions behind having girls leave on missions at age 21? I knew that the age requirement had changed before: the first full-time female missionaries went out in the 1890s, and soon after that the minimum age for them was 25. The age was lowered to 23 sometime after World War I, and then to its present 21 during the 1950s (19 was firmed up for boys only in 1961). That the age requirement had changed before suggested that it could change again, and that it changed when assumptions changed.

Over the years, and in highly unscientific recent surveys, I’ve asked people why they thought girls went at 21, and whether they thought it would be a good idea for them to be allowed to go at 19? And of course I had my own wacky ideas gathered over many years of increasing forgetfulness.

The classic assumption was long that a girl’s mission (I use the old terminology, in keeping with the title of the post) was to start a family. Once in sacrament meeting we sat behind a family with three young children, and the mother stood to bear her testimony. She recounted how she had chosen to forego a mission because a famous authority had told her that her mission was her family. My wife, a returned missionary, who was encouraged to go by a lowly local authority, glanced quizzically at me over the heads of our three young children.

But that didn’t really explain why those who did go needed to wait until 21. My brother-in-law (why can’t I resist in-law stories) once tried to answer that. He said that he didn’t want his girls going on missions because it would delay their starting a family. Stunned, because three of his four sisters had served missions, I guessed that he was saying they all could have squeezed in another child or two had they not gone. I wondered to myself, and should have wondered rudely aloud but I was being unusually polite that day, wasn’t waiting to marry until 19, or 18, a sort of delay as well? Why not start sooner, if that’s the thinking? Why waste one biological moment?

It seems clear enough in modern Mormon culture that family is held up as the first priority for both men and women and not only women. A boy’s most important task won’t be his mission, but we still send him, and he’ll probably learn things that will help his family life. Why wouldn’t that be true for girls, I wondered?

Another assumption. They’ll flirt too much if they’re the same age. Response: Anyone who’s been on a mission knows that if someone wants to flirt, two years won’t stop them.

A third: if lowered to 19, then more girls might go, and what flirting then! Response: Anyone with teenagers knows that boys and girls nowadays are more comfortable at simply being friends with each other than were earlier generations, including mine, in which especially boys seemed to divide the world into potential girlfriends and definitely-not-girlfriends. Sure there’d be some challenges, as if there aren’t already, but if many kids are like the kids I see around my daughter, I think they’ll handle it pretty well.

I also recalled a big practical consideration. My daughter once remarked how difficult it was to choose a major, because she was worried that her mission might give her an unexpected direction in school, as this had happened to several boys she knew (I was one of them, but, alas, she probably wasn’t thinking about me). An American elder would have attended school usually no more than one year before leaving, while an American sister may easily have attended for three years. Changing a major after a mission wouldn’t cause much disruption for a boy, but it easily can for a girl, and mean perhaps two more years of school upon her return rather than one–very costly in the US at least.

And at last I remembered how struck I was, while serving in a freshman ward, by how the culture of the ward revolved largely around the boys getting their mission calls. The girls were excited for the boys. The boys were excited for the boys. But the girls weren’t excited for themselves. They could look forward to their sophomore year. Or waiting to 21. Or getting married as soon as possible (which some did, apparently, it seemed to me, to have something to be excited about). If they waited to serve a mission, then people were excited for them, too, but that freshman culture was striking.

These are some assumptions and cultural changes I thought of. I’m sure there are more. Maybe I’m way off. But maybe it would be no worse than letting girls play full-court basketball and sweat and wear shorts.

59 comments for “Girls’ Rules

  1. I think there shouldn’t be set ages for men or women when it comes to missions, period. Go at age 18, or at age 28, or whenever the spirit or culture or parental authority moves you, or don’t.

    Good post, Craig. Thanks.

  2. Concerning the requirement that young men serve missions and sisters not, one excellent reason that I have heard is that generally (for nothing is ever concrete anymore) men need to learn how to give everything, sacrifice their entire time and talents and love for the good of other people. For most women, this knowledge/experience is gained through pregnancy, childbirth, and care of a young child. Having watched my wife go through this experience and having served a mission myself, I would venture that being a mother teaches this to women even better than going on a mission does for men, but I\’m sure that women are more adept at learning this sort of thing than we men are, something to do with those physiological differences that have been well documented.

    I, for one, am glad that the ages are where they are. Had they been at 19 for women, my wife would have had her mission papers just about turned in by the time we started dating.

  3. I was 22 by the time I went on my mission (I decided to finish my undergrad before putting in papers), and one of my sisters is currently serving at 26. I do think being even older than the norm for sisters may make it that much harder to deal with being subjected to the tender loving authority of 19-year-old boys. (Some of my ZLs were great, but some were downright scary.)

    On the other hand, I have a friend who served a mission at age 30 after her husband died of cancer. She said she was so much older than the elders she could effectively ignore them. There was a little handbook for sisters thing that I once found from the early 80s giving sisters makeup and clothes-coordinating tips and instructing us not to treat the elders like younger brothers. Somehow I just couldn’t come up with any other way to treat them.

  4. I think there’s a pretty healthy sized group of girls who don’t go on missions because they’re afraid that if they go, they’ll end up losing out on the opportunity for marriage. They won’t be back in the dating pool until they are almost 23. And as backward as it may seem, they may have a point. Most mormon girls DO marry at relatively younger ages. (I wonder if there are any statistics that show the average age when LDS women marry?)

    I think if the age for sisters was lowered, more sisters would be willing to go.

  5. Gordon Hinckley’s explanation: “I say what has been said before, that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. As such, our young men must carry the major burden. This is their responsibility and their obligation.

    We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program. Over a period of many years, we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small.”

  6. African girls play a basketball-like game called Netball–I wonder if it is the Girl’s Rules basketball?

    Some women can go pre-21–I have known of daughters of MPs who get to go early. I would love to know what their experience is.

    I am with ZD Eve–elders were little brothers I had to report to.

    Some of my best companions were “older” sisters–26 and 33. I think it silly to say that men learn from a mission what women learn from mothering because, of course, not all women have the opportunity to mother. I think few would argue that missions are not educational experiences, so why not encourage that for everyone?

  7. Thanks for comments all. Sue, I was going to mention that in my original post, but didn’t want to pile on. I heard it (and still hear it) from many departing and returning sisters, and I thought, despite all that they still want to go, more power to them. But it was clear that the fear was real; and if the older age really does reduce marriage opportunities, how ironic given the emphasis on family life….

  8. I think that this is a rule that represents LDS culture more than anything else. There is certainly no doctrinal basis for the difference. My former mission president served on the mission committee about five years ago and informed me that there was some talk of lowering the age to 19. I know this is hearsay, so take it as such.

  9. Danish Ball

    This is a description of a relic of a sport that illustrates many of your points, except it is about ethnicity instead of gender. In Pioneer Utah about 80-90% of the converts came from England, Scotland, Wales, etc. This was an advantage since they were usually literate and often able to find better paying jobs other than farming. The closest thing to an actual minority group was the Scandinavians who were not literate in English and therefore destined to farm in rural isolated areas. The largest group of them was the Danish. More than a few Pioneer jokes were based on poking fun at them. Of course, their children intermarried and the Scandinavian minority class was integrated and lost its separate identity in one generation.

    Danish ball was a game we played as grade school and up to high school students in rural Utah in the 1950-60’s and my parent’s generation played it too. The presumption was that the original Danes were too stupid and cloddish to even count or play real baseball. The game could be played on any field of any size even if it had a few trees, ditches, and cow pies scattered around in it. At one end of the field was designated a large safe area including a short base at the edge. At the opposite end of the field was designated a long base which was also safe. Each person batted in any order and was given two pitches. The pitches had to be hit able, but only in the crudest sense. Any sort of bat was allowed. Whether you hit the ball or not you could do whatever you wanted except bat again. If you were not skilled or did not hit the ball, you could just safely stroll over to short base. Any number of people could be at short base or at long base. At any time, but usually after a good hit, you could run to long base and back and then be eligible to bat again.

    Points were scored when you made it back from long base to the original safe area, but score keeping was so chaotic that we mostly played for glory. If you were careful the team could score hundreds of points in each inning. If you got too many people on the bases, this would eventually deplete your batter pool and then at some point someone was going to be forced to make a risky run for it. The game thus encouraged stealing bases and all manner of taunting in the process. Once I was able to crawl, not run or walk, a hundred yards from short to long base. We always played with two teams against each other, but it would still work to have three teams playing at once, one at bat and two in the field.

    The only way to get a batter out was to hit them with the ball while they were not in a safe area. Hitting them also retired their entire batting team into the field. At that point the relaxed game turned into pandemonium. Because after getting hit you could pick up the ball and hit a member of the other team back immediately and then their inning was over before it started. But they could hit you back and forth any number of times until everyone was in a safe area. The cautious thing to do was to flee to safety. But the heroes on both teams ran to get the ball in these times of chaos and get one of the heroes of the other team out. It was a sort of dodge ball free-for all for a few seconds. Grabbing players of the opposite team and holding them down while hitting them with the ball and general fighting was going too far, but tripping and tackling and a stray punch or kick was allowable. Catching the ball or picking it up by mistake as a batter was the same as getting hit by it.

    In comparison to baseball, it had many of the presumptions described in girl’s rules basketball. Danes couldn’t count, couldn’t be relied upon to run the bases in the right order at the right times. Batting was accidental and pitching irrelevant, no skill required. A sport needed to allow for something similar to a brawl. Certain people could choose to really never run or put themselves at risk.

    I really liked the game because anyone of any talent level could contribute and the girls often played with us. Much of the time we were just horsing around and chatting while playing. We could play anywhere and anytime even in snow and on a not-very-busy street. The only disadvantage is that innings could last for hours and games be continued for days. I could throw hard and straight and I could run fast, so it was a game made for me. I loved to steal bases in the most outrageous way possible, crawling long distances and laying down flat and begging opponents to throw at me because more often than not they would miss or if they got too close I would get them right back. Often the other team decided that certain players like me were just not worth the trouble and would ignore us and try to get someone else out. But that only encouraged us wolfhounds to attempt even more outrageous and humiliating stunts, like sneaking up behind the kid with the ball and yanking his pants down.

    I thrived in the times of chaos. I never got mad when some slow kid took a bad risk and got hit. I saw it as part of the game. If you anticipated that the slow kid was getting into danger, you could either attempt a distraction or be running for the ball before it even hit him or her and immediately nail someone else, thus saving the inning. Even better was to trot along with a slow kid while he lumbered the length of the field miraculously dodging numerous off target throws, while every other kid on the team was making it back to safety during the spectacle. When there was the humiliation of getting the entire team out, at least it was complicated and not any single person’s fault. When you did something really really stupid all by yourself and got the entire team out, that was horrible.

    I think we reveal much about ourselves in the sports that we play.

  10. That’s hilarious Mike, and interesting. The Utah Danes were indeed low, but my beloved Swedes were even lower, as the Danes picked on them. They probably even had some other game called Swedish ball. Well the Danes did condescend to marry some Swedes, because I’ve got both Scandinavian nations in me.

  11. I never saw a “girls’ rule” basketball game, but I remember hearing, in disbelief, my older sisters describe the game. The one additional requirement I remember is a minimum number of passes before a shot could be taken–3 is the number that comes to mind, but perhaps I’m just thinking of the limit on the number of bounces allowed.

    They–my sisters–agreed that it was stupid.

    There was an article–I thought in the NY Times–a few years back that described some places (Iowa maybe) where there are still leagues for girls/young women/maybe old women too who play the old girls’ rule game. But a search of their archives turns up nothing, yet.

  12. I actually think more women finish college by not going on early missions… I have known a good number of women who get married and get pregnant pretty quickly, and are either too sick to finish school, or feel overwhelmed with school and a new baby and give up on the one thing they can… school. If women were to go on missions earlier, I think this would be even more prevalent, as more women would get married before finishing school. This could also be applied to women who have to put their husbands through school… if they come back after finishing most or all of their schooling, and then get married, they can work to support their husband while he finishes under grad or graduate school.

    Of course, I have no research to back this up… just an idea.

  13. Interesting point about the difficulty of changing majors to reflect mission-inspired directions. Like most boys I went to BYU for a year, served a mission, and within a year of coming back had switched to classics, something I would never in a million years picked pre-mission. If instead I came back and I was already three years invested in an econ major, changing at that late date would have been problematic.

    (BTW, I really enjoy watching women play basketball, both college and WNBA. And I’m also a convert to women’s softball–now that’s a totally kick-ass sport!)

  14. Mark B., I suppose part of the point is to project ourselves forward and wonder what our grandkids will think is silly about our assumptions…

    Ginger, I’ve thought about this too, and you might be right: I have noticed, however, very unscientifically but still with lots of examples, that when I was a student at BYU women I was aware of who got engaged often dropped out soon afterward (including my wife, the first time she was engaged; when that didn’t work she went back, met Prince Charming, and continued through to an MA). Nowadays at BYU they still get married young, but it seems to me that most who get engaged and married stay in school. There’s probably data somewhere, but maybe not public. Also, if the culture of missions changes, maybe that of education will change even more. For instance, my dad and mom, no progressives but big believers in education, paid half of our undergraduate schooling, and we the other half—even if we got married before graduating. Every family’s different, but if it went something like that for both partners in a couple, then one of them wouldn’t have to necessarily give up school. The cost of American higher education is ridiculous though, and does sway a lot of decisions. Cost would be less of a factor for Europeans, for instance, and then the main issue would be figuring out the children. That’s doable too, however, in my view.

  15. Another assumption. They’ll flirt too much if they’re the same age. Response: Anyone who’s been on a mission knows that if someone wants to flirt, two years won’t stop them.

    Ah, but you miss the real point, which is that most 21-year-old women find 19-year-old boys to be intolerably immature (and, generally, with good reason). If such women want to flirt, it’s usually with someone their age or older, which may be why the Church has lowered the upper age for single men to serve missions (it’s now 25; it used to be higher). Personally, I think it’s a brilliant system. :-) ..bruce..

    P.S. I’ve had three daughters serve missions.

  16. Mark B. – I grew up in Iowa and when I was in High School Iowa girls basketball teams played by those rules, which are kind of like Ice hockey if you think about it. When the state girls championship was broadcast on TV, it always seemed to be a faster paced and more exciting game than the boys played. My senior year, the boys and girls teams played an exhibition game using the boys rules. The girls team wiped the floor with the boys that night. Now it could have been because the captain of the girls team was the highest scoring HS basketball player in Iowa, male or female, at the time. But it sure seemed like the girls had better overall skills than the boys.

  17. You’re right BF, except I meant that boys would probably be doing more of the flirting, 19 or 21 or whatever…. But you’re probably right that the sisters will find them intolerable anyway. And remember that the older male missionaries are already about the same age as most of the females starting out.

  18. One reason I think that the church doesn’t encourage women to serve missions, whether they will ever publicly admit it, is that women are a logistical bother and cost more to support. They can’t walk around at night or ride bikes; in many areas they are the ones with the cars; they cannot be housed in areas where they often house elders (i.e., cheap) because those areas are too marginal or dangerous. All of these things increase the cost and logistical maintenance for women missionaries above the cost of men serving, but the church isn’t about to charge different rates for men and women–imagine the blog on that!–mostly because they are reluctant, I think, to admit that the cost can be significantly higher, which would openly acknowledge how much more protective the leadership is of women than of men.

    Most of these rules are a reflection of the traditional view of the biological vulnerability of women. Elders are rarely raped. And however equality minded we may be, there is something true to that, speaking as the semi-paranoid father of daughters.

  19. Excellent post, Craig, very pleasantly told. I certainly agree with the main idea, cultural norms are relative. Not only vertically in time, but also horizontally around the world. What Mormons in some countries may find perfectly acceptable according to their culture, may shock American members. And vice-versa.

    One item to tie in with mission age and college and consequences. In the U.S. students can, I believe, pick up their studies within weeks or max a month or two after coming home thanks to the semester and term system. No time lost, with work habits of the mission still there. In most European countries, and I presume in many countries of the world, a college year starts in September. You can’t start late. Coming back from a mission in November means the rest of the year lost. With a lot of unemployment in the country, and no degree yet, it can mean idleness for a long period for a returned missionary, with sometimes devastating effects. I’ve seen it more than once. What a loss for themselves and for the local Church who needs returned missionaries so badly.

    In the timing of missionary calls to non-Americans, it seems the Church does not really consider that aspect. Men are called in November, January… while the ideal would be in July or August, so they can finish the school they’re at, and be back in time to jump into a new school year. A Belgian bishop told me recently he had to forcefully plead with a mission president and some higher up to get a missionary released some six weeks early, in order to save the boy a full year in school. Problem was also to convince the missionary who thought an early return would show a lack of dedication and faith. We should be grateful for wise bishops.

    Girls, of course, by the same token, are at an even greater disadvantage. With 18-month missions, there will always be at least 6 months lost at either end. Or much more if they happen to be called between April and July.

  20. I loved mike’s comment in 9 (“Danish Ball”). I thought it was additionally funny, because like most generalizations about any group, the opinion that Danes couldn’t count was silly. My Danish ancestors were carpenters and did exquisite work, some of which is still in the family. One of them was also a surveyor and may have surveyed some of the fields in which Danish ball was played. Thanks for the interesting comment!

    As far as sports go, I am a woman and do not like team sports. But neither do my brothers. Give us a bike or a pair of running shoes or climbing equipment and watch us take off.

    And about the mission thing, before I left, one of the guys I worked with told me that whatever I did as a sister missionary, don’t try to “mother” the elders. They greatly disliked that sort of thing. I would not have in any case, but I did remember that piece of advice. I have never been one for flirting either, and most of the elders I just tended to ignore. Several of them I respected greatly, and some of those elders became good friends and were invited to my wedding. A few of them I despised, including one whose wedding reception I attended because he married one of my companions.

    I had one year of college left when I got home from my mission and I finished it and graduated (married and with a child already on the way). I would have loved to have two or three years of school after my mission because being on the mission really focused some of my strengths and interests and in two years I could have finished up a double major and been very much more employable than I am now. But who knows. There has not been a point yet at which it would have made sense for me to get a job although I have done a lot of computer/typesetting/editing work at home over the years.

    There is also no place in my life that I feel I have been harmed by having to go on a mission at 21 instead of 19. On the contrary, I look back on some of the things that I did as a missionary and wonder how we managed to survive with our level of naivete and marvel that most missionaries return home alive and in one piece. Elders or sisters.

  21. And also a comment on #18. We walked around at night. We rode bikes. We didn’t have a car. We were housed in little garret or studio or basement apartments just like the elders. And furthermore, sister missionaries are rarely raped. And furthermore to that, we were cheaper than the elders because we didn’t spend as much on food as they did.

    Four times on my mission I feared for my safety. The first time my companion and I had just stepped into an elevator and realized we were in severe danger from someone we had just talked to. We prayed and were ready to use our umbrellas as weapons (shades of Amelia Peabody!). Nothing happened.

    The second time, a different companion and I had to go through a bad train station late at night. After a prayer, we started talking to a couple of African men and they stayed with us on the train ride and in the train station for the transfer. They were our guardian angels.

    The third time a couple of drunks were harassing the women in the train. I was busy writing something and missed hearing all of their threats towards us from a couple of seats away but my companion was sitting in her seat praying and right as they started to harass us, a German student literally picked them up and threw them off the train which had just stopped at a station. It was something out of a romantic German novel. Chivalry at its finest.

    Now I can’t remember the fourth instance. I could have been thinking of one of my two run-ins with dogs or maybe the drunk student who tried to lure me away from my companion. But that was more of a joke than anything.

  22. Excellent post – and I really appreciate the very diverse comments. Personally, I like the difference in age – mostly for the same reasons others have included already.

    Kevin Barney, at the risk of a verbal stoning, I can’t stomach most women’s college basketball. The discrepancy between the very few excellent teams and the rest is stark. (84-36 is not an uncommon score in women’s college basketball, for example. That’s just torture to a non-affiliated sports fan.) Watching the WNBA is like listening to nails on a chalkboard for me. I am a former coach, and I am bothered enough by the way that the current men’s game has been changed to allow many rules to be ignored and street-ball action rewarded. The women’s game, however, simply is unwatchable. The constant but uncalled fouls, the general lack of comparative athleticism, the multiple missed shots from within 5 feet – the list is endless. I might be more prone to accept it, but the incessant hype a few years ago about women’s ball being more fundamentally sound than men’s ball turned me off completely. The men’s game has deteriorated so much over the last decade or so that neither the NBA nor the WNBA is watchable anymore for me. I still love the game, and watching old-time coaches work team magic is wonderful (like Jerry Sloan does with the Jazz and like the Hornets and Celtics this year), but most games simply leave me empty.

    End of rant. Sorry, everyone.

  23. “women are a logistical bother and cost more to support. They can’t walk around at night or ride bikes; in many areas they are the ones with the cars; they cannot be housed in areas where they often house elders (i.e., cheap) because those areas are too marginal or dangerous.”

    Hmmm. I’d like to see hard data on this. In my mission we weren’t allowed out after dark, which was admittedly a hassle for both us and for the elders who had to walk us home (!), but we walked and rode the bus just as the elders did, and no sisters in my mission ever had a car or even bikes. We also lived in exactly the same type of housing the elders did–at my last transfer we switched apartments with a companionship of elders for reasons I forget now, but I think it may have been to relocate us more near the center of our area for greater proselytizing efficiency.

    In spite of our shorter work hours, on average sisters got more accomplished than elders did (with many exceptions on both sides, of course–speaking generally here), so I think the case could just as easily be made that sisters are actually better investment per missionary dollar than elders are.

    I’m not sure what to make of the phrase “logistical bother,” but I admit it bothers me. From a certain perspective, missionaries and missions in general are nothing but an enormous logistical bother, and some elders and sisters are going to be more of one than others. But I don’t see how sisters as a category are any more of a bother than elders are.

    “On the contrary, I look back on some of the things that I did as a missionary and wonder how we managed to survive with our level of naivete and marvel that most missionaries return home alive and in one piece. Elders or sisters.”

    So true! Some of the elders really annoyed me. But looking back at the person I was as a missionary, I find that that person pretty annoying and immature. Just one reason I so loved Russell’s recent post about his mission.

  24. I personally am of the view that the only way to increase the number of missionaries and hence converts is for more sisters to go out. We have hit a wall Demographically speaking regarding elders and need the sisters to increase the numbers.

    Plus the sisters are generally good teachers/converters due to being more empathetic and they tend to work the members better.

  25. In my mission sisters rode bikes, went out at night, didn’t live in great places, and weren’t allowed to drive cars (that one I thought silly). It was only an issue because we had a sisters only zone, with sister zone leaders. While the other zone leaders had cars, the sisters didn’t for some reason. I thought it was a fantastic idea, by the way, but our area authority nixed it, for reasons unclear. It’s probably not safe in some places for either elders or sisters to be out at night, at least not tracting.

    Nice additions about schooling Wilfried, these really shouldn’t be underestimated. We sometimes treat a mission as if it’s all that matters, when of course there’s so much more living left to do. I remember thinking when I left that my ordinary life would literally be over, because 2 years would never come. But I contributed to that mystical quality that all else is trivial, and I no longer think it is. Schooling costs and timing and considerations are crucial too, and some leaders are indeed sensitive to those. My bishop wrote a letter trying to insure I’d be back (August birthday) in time for school. And I convinced my stake president to do the same for one of my sons.

    On the naivite of missionaries, and looking back and wondering what we were possibly thinking or how we survived: that’s why we go young. At least until you’re old. And then it’s a much different sort of thing.

    As for relationships among missionaries: I don’t think most people know how old others are out there. I just don’t think keeping the age difference makes that much difference in regard to their relationships.

  26. Sorry, I meant to add that perhaps we shouldn’t regard the logistics for elders as the default mode. If logistics for sisters are different, that might be good. Maybe it would carry over to elders and be beneficial for all.

    I also meant to note that I had lunch with a sports historian; he not only knew the girls’ rules story, but had read the manual by the inventor of the game. The primary concern in designing the game this way, in the early 20th century, was female reproductivity. Big surprise. One of the big rules was that girls were on the honor system regarding menstrual periods: during your period you certainly couldn’t play, and 3 days before or after either. Also, it was crucial that they not touch each other. The original manual showed pictures of proper (distant) defensive position, and improper (close). A lot of those assumptions might have been forgotten by the time my sister played, but that’s the point: those assumptions still shaped the game. That’s why assumptions are worth thinking about, to see whether they still are seen in the same light, and how they affect other “games.” How many assumptions about women have been based on faulty or overgeneralized notions about their reproductive life?

  27. I was just observing what goes on in our ward and our mission, where the housing (the sisters couldn’t stay in the elder’s old apartment and new housing in a better neighborhood was found), the transportation (no elders have ever had a car in our ward, the sisters do), and the work hours are all clearly different, Maybe only in our mission, and maybe not in Peru, but I’d guess we are representative of big city North American missions.

    By logistical bother I meant that the logistical decisions (i.e., transfers, housing, transportation) were more complicated because they are made separately for elders and sisters, applying different rules, and then integrated together, which is different from just throwing all the names in a hat and pulling them out (or however they figure transfers), not having to worry about housing or cars.

    I never said that the sisters were not effective or that they weren’t worth the investment–didn’t even come close to saying that. But the question is why we treat them differently–and I remain convinced that cost is one of the reasons. In our mission at least, one need not see more hard data, it’s obvious.

    When I was a bishop, I was instructed by my SP to move heaven and earth to get a worthy young man to go and, in the same breath, to discourage young women from going at all.

  28. Jim, your observations make me wonder what the differences between sisters’ experiences in countries outside North America and within the U.S. and Canada are. Other than the dreaded dark rule, as far as I could tell everything about our mission life was the same as the elders’, and I don’t think we cost any more than they did.

  29. ZD – wow, you weren’t allowed out at night? That must have been really hard to set up appointments with families since most fathers aren’t home in the day. I was in Venezuela and the sisters weren’t allowed to ride bikes (cultural thing – I asked the MP for a bike and got the reputation of being a rebel for that one…). But we did tract at night. In one area, I remember having to wait at a bus stop every night in a red light district to get home. But being the trusting, naive soul that I was, I never felt unsafe.

  30. Sally, we mostly (maybe entirely, come to think of it!) taught and worked with women. The cultural barriers to working with men were just too great, I think–there was lots of street hassling and even grabbing, and while on the street we had to ignore and avoid and fending off male attention. If we actually approached men to proselytize it was inevitably seen as a come-on. (I never did it myself but I knew one gutsy couldn’t-care-less sister who sometimes did.) Our more substantial dealings with men were basically limited to members and the elders.

  31. I’m with Ray (22)…WNBA stinks; so does most of the NBA. Women’s softball rocks.


  32. Jim–

    Like others, sisters in my mission only walked and rode bikes. Only some elders had cars. All but one of my apartments had been an elder’s residence previously. The other one was in an area where the members no longer accepted elders because of previous bad behaviour. The area included red light districts etc, and sisters were the only way new members could be taught there. Seems like the logistics hung the elders.

    I would also guess that it is significantly more common for elders to sustain basketball injuries that knocked them out of service or have to have a GA fly into the country to excommunicate them. At least, in my mission. Logistics. And money.

    Frankly, I think most people would be better missionaries if they were older, so why not RAISE the age for everyone? I think it would effectlively weed out some of those logistical nightmares.

  33. President Hinckley gave the reason why women have to wait an extra two years to go on a mission. It’s quoted in comment #5 by John Mansfield. The Church doesn’t want a lot of sister missionaries because mission work is primarily a priesthood responsibility.

  34. I remember seeing a girls’ basketball game at church in the late 50s, and thinking that it was stupid and hard to follow; and, that it made them all look handicapped, or at least very limited in what they could do, since only two of them really played much. It was pretty much a non-action game and boring, except for watching the pretty girls. I don’t remember what their attire was, but it wasn’t impressive.

  35. In all the Ohio units I’ve lived in, the sisters always had cars and the elders never did. It was so bizarre, when we drove to Utah, to see elders drive up to an IHOP in two cars (with Utah plates, in Wyoming!) All three of us (my sisters and I) thought it was weird to see “guy missionaries with cars.” Bearing in mind that sister missionaries are a serious rarity out here: we’ve only had about four months with sister missionaries assigned to our ward in the last five years.

  36. “The Church doesn’t want a lot of sister missionaries because mission work is primarily a priesthood responsibility. ”
    Just wondering why that would be. Preaching the gospel doesn’t require the priesthood -every member a missionary and all that. Plus perfecting the saints and redeeming the dead aren’t primarily priesthood responsibilities, why would missionary work be?

  37. As the mother of sons, I find it distressing to think that the church is more willing to put them in harm’s way (marginal apartments, tracting in dangerous areas, etc.) than it is to do the same to women. Elders aren’t safe anywhere sisters aren’t. If we were honest, we might admit that we’re more afraid of sisters being raped than elders being stabbed. We ought to be willing to spend enough money to keep all our missionaries safe, not try to cut costs with some weird chivalrous machismo.

  38. Sally, agree or not with the rationale, there is a big difference between “sharing the Gospel” as a responsibility all members share and teaching the discussions as a priesthood, full-time missionary duty.

    Kristine, the Church spends millions of dollars each year subsidizing missions, and they house the missionaries in the lowest cost apartments they can find **without jeopardizing safety** to the greatest extent possible. However, you can’t teach those who live in relatively dangerous areas and not travel or live in those areas. Given the number of full-time missionaries world-wide and many of the areas in which they live and teach, the overall safety is truly remarkable.

  39. According to the Missionary Dept. in ’91, the most prolific baptizers are native sisters, after that NA sisters, [big gap] after that native elders, and last were NA elders. I bet that any motivations in the church to discourage Sister Missionaries is tempered by those statistics.

  40. Interesting statistics Ranbato, I wonder what they are now. I’m not terribly surprised. Maybe one motive to send women at 19 would be that they’d be less efficient than 21-year-olds and thus make things more even! (TIC). It’s definitely worth pondering what is fundamentally required to preach the gospel. Baptizing requires an elder, but preaching? If that were the case, there’d be NO sister missionaries.

  41. #40 – Actually, Ranbato, that is the strongest argument possible that the Brethren are serious about their reasons for not encouraging every young woman to serve a mission. They certainly know of these stats, and yet they continue the current emphasis on full-time missionary work as a priesthood responsibility. If they were focused on the growth of the Church through increased baptisms at the cost of everything else, they would change the emphasis tomorrow. Agree or not with their decision, it obviously is one they believe in to the core.

  42. Wait, Ray, are you saying you’re in favor of Affirmative Action for Missionaries? Thus that 19-year-old males need a little boost and extra advantage because of past or inherent deficiencies? (smiley face)

  43. Craig H–
    correction: baptizing DOES NOT require elders (missionaries)–it requires priesthood holders and, imo, should generally be done by local members so new converts have a strong connection/emotional memory that does not get transferred on Tuesday. I also think local bishops should be the ones conducting the interviews. Let the missionaries teach–leave everything else to the flock the convert is joining.

  44. I too wanted to serve at 19 (I actually wanted to serve at 6, but decided waiting 15 years was a wise move), but I have to wonder about the dynamics – the good ones – that develop from having built-in age differences. Speaking from only my own experience, having established age differences (not just the accidental ones from having slightly older elders and sisters and older couples) deepened the learning experience. At 21 I felt myself perversely more worldly than the elders – despite the fact that before my connecting flight in Newark, NJ the furthest from home I had been was Cleveland. Associating with the elders – something that only happened once a month, if that – put me in a social setting I had never experienced (I have no younger brothers) and required new ways of thinking about church service. Until then all of my church leaders (male and female) had been older than I was. Suddenly I was faced with DLs and ZLs with less life experience, less education, and worse language skills than I had. While sister missionaries might experience more of this there are certainly large numbers of elders near the end of their service who find that their leaders are younger and less-experienced than they are (not to mention older couples with a lifetime of church service who still sit in meetings being instructed by 19-year-olds). Also, when a new sister missionary arrives in the field probably a third or more of the elders are her age or older – and these are the ones most likely to have leadership positions having a direct influence over the rules and structures of missionary life.

    This forced me to consider things from their 19-year-old perspective and compare it with my own 19-year-old experiences. It made me recognize previous growth in myself and made me more compassionate when an elder did something I found incomprehensibly silly. It also increased my respect when I saw the development of real (re: Christ-like) leadership in an elder. It made me more willing to see leadership and service not as positions to be gained by being an expert, but as opportunities for improvement.

    Basically I think the age differences of mission life are more complex than merely 19-year-old boys and 21-year-old girls and I think that complexity is a little slice of how church membership and service work in the \”real world.\” I\’m sure I am not the only one who has had a calling that I was not qualified for or found myself taking direction from someone far less qualified than I am in a particular area. I\’m not sure that this reasoning is behind the age rule, but I think it could be one benefit (amidst the previously listed problems/concerns).

  45. I concur with many of the comments above. President Hinckley spoke to this indirectly a few years ago. he didn’t come out and say it like this but close enough:

    Keeping people on missions is expensive for the church. If as many young women chose to as young man it would swamp the missionary program.

    In the grand scheme of things the money spent needs to favor the cultivation of priesthood leaders so ergo young women leave at 21 and priesthood leaders are not to teach that every young woman has a duty to serve.

    It makes perfect sense unless you have a thin skin. The way I see it is men profit more from a defining experience like a mission (in terms of masculinity). A woman’s femininity is not as dramatically affected by this kind of experience.

    Ducking out now for a few weeks….

  46. Thanks for comments all: Amy, because certain advantages come from the current system doesn’t mean other advantages wouldn’t come from another. Any system would have benefits and disadvantages, including the present, for both men and women. Moving the minimum to 19 for women would seem to me to allow them to share in the educational flexibility and spiritual opportunities young men already have. Aloysius, I don’t know where to start, but your assumption that any reflection on this is simply the result of thin skin is a big assumption and I’m not sure how useful.

  47. I have liked this thread, and I tend to think that pres. Hinckley was pretty straightforward about the idea (see # 6, for example). Missionary work is primarily a priesthood responsibility, and today\’s missionaries are tomorrow\’s leaders. The sister missionaries are a powerful force, but we must deal with limited resources.

    I have a daughter on a mission; she was 24 when she left. She never considered going on a mission until she got her patriarchal blessing, which made mention of it. Then other things (health issues) swamped her life for some time, and then she just felt it the right thing to do. And she\’s always had a very strong sense of what\’s right and wrong. She also had a very strong spiritual confirmation about serving a mission when it finally was possible for her.

    Anyhow, I also have a 21-year old daughter who\’s been married over 18 months and has a son by now. Her husband did serve a mission. This daughter had thought about going on a mission (like her mother did).

    I\’m only telling this to remind us that quite often our assumptions of even what we ourselves want or what\’s good for us are not right. I was 21 when I left for my mission, because I only joined the Church at 19. My wife decided to go on a mission rather than just bide her time (we weren\’t married then, in case anyone wonders ;)). It was good for both of us, especially we were in a small branch in an area with few members and both served missions where the Church was well established, so we were better able to build the Church at home.

  48. I didn’t serve a mission, since I was in my 30s when I converted, but I’ve experienced girls rules in many areas of my life. They still exist all over the place, and they make equally little sense. I love this post for examining these crazy girls rules ideas of the past for the light they shine on our girls rules of the present.

    Concerning missions, I definitely think girls should go out at the same age as boys, and for the same length of time. Sister missionaries are extremely effective, and the strength and service that they learn seem to bless them and mature them in the same fashion as with the elders.

    As a female in engineering, I’m surrounded by unspoken girls rules in my job, which I experience as barriers to full engagement in the real work of the companies I serve. There is always this subtle and not-so-subtle assumption that I will do some window dressing, take up the money for the boss’ gift, bring the food to the potluck, or clean and decorate the jobsite. It takes a while with any new group before they understand that I’m interested in the real work that’s going forward, and that the systems and machinery we’re dealing with are my primary concern. Not staying clean or looking pretty, not mothering grown men, or cleaning up after them. The girls rule that states that anything substantive is off limits for girls is the one I battle against the most. =)

    So I would applaud sister missionaries being expected to go at the same age and serve the same term as their male counterparts. I think they’re perfectly qualified to go into the same situations and perform the same services that are assigned to the elders as well. I think we should encourage more sisters to go out and allow them the opportunity to gain the experience and maturity that their brethren are gaining, too.

  49. Thanks Tatiana, that’s the kind of reflection I was hoping to provoke—reflecting on girls’ rules in many areas of life as well, and whether, like the old girls’ rules basketball, the form of the game continued long after the assumptions behind the form were forgotten and changed. To me the assumptions are the crucial thing to reflect upon, for on them the form (current policy, current rules, whatever) is built. It’s one thing to say that missionary work is largely a priesthood responsibility, which I understand is the current form, but I’m wondering about the assumptions behind that form, I guess. Maybe those have changed and we haven’t thought about the implications. Or maybe they haven’t changed. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

  50. Craig, my point in an earlier comment is that not having “girls’ rules” in some areas, like basketball, would have horrible results – like the WNBA. Even with girls’ rules (like agreeing to limit foul calls to allow the games to last more than one quarter), it’s just bad basketball and unwatchable if you aren’t emotionally or financially invested. Sometimes, girls’ rules really are necessary.

    Missionary work is the other example you used, and many commenters have considered the “girls’ rules” and accepted them as better than the lack of them. Let me give one more reason why I accept them:

    If everything is equal, then all worthy young women will be encouraged to serve missions. If the majority of young women served the same length mission as the men, it would do two things: 1) delay their educational pursuits at least two more years (often three); 2) delay their marital pursuits at least two years (often three). I just deleted a pretty long explanation of the possible demographic effects of these changes, but suffice it to say that I don’t see the Church lowering the eligibility age and extending the term of service for women until they accept the probability of significantly higher marriage ages and the smaller families that inevitably would follow. I am fairly certain that result is anathema to the Church leadership, and I understand completely why that is so.

  51. I guess we can agree to disagree on possible consequences Ray. 1) we already delay the educational pursuits of young men, and feel it’s worth it because of what they get out of their missions. Why not young women too? I think you’re assuming they’ll stop going to school. I don’t, as discussed above. 2) by going at 19, they’ll have the chance, if they wish, to get married earlier than the sisters who now go at 21, and thus increase marriage prospects, and delay the age of marriage for all (which in general is probably a good thing). As for family size, it’s already smaller than it was a generation ago, with 3-4 kids typical. Easily manageable biologically if you don’t marry until your mid-20s. We need firmer statistics on stuff like this (average age of marriage, average number of children, correlating divorce with early or late marriage, and so on, all probably somewhere, but maybe not to the public) to be able to speculate better.

  52. “I think you’re assuming they’ll stop going to school.”

    Nope; never crossed my mind.

  53. My great grandmothers crossed the plains on foot pushing and pulling their worldly possessions, supported their families and ran their own farms while husbands served missions, enlisted in the Mormon Battalion, and/or fled to Mexico. One gave birth while droving cattle. For 2 winters I rode a bike in the dark on ice wearing heavy boots, 2 pairs of tights, multiple layers of thermals/shirts/sweaters/tights and a heavy overcoat. We looked like lumberjacks in skirts. Sisters who choose to serve missions are typically not of the delicate-flower variety. They’re generally a bit more intrepid and adventurous.

    I wonder about Craig H.’s assertion that more women who serve missions might be in a better position towards marriage if they served earlier. I think that it’s theoretically possible.

    However, as it is now, I wonder if sisters who choose to serve are those who might be least likely to marry in general. As a 24 yr old returned sister missionary grad student at BYU it was clear that I was not in the target dating pool for most guys. Many newly returned guys on the hunt are intimidated by women who have as much, if not more, life/gospel experience as them. Many of my mission companions did not marry and I have many other friends who served who have not married. We’re an extremely well-educated, accomplished, and formidable bunch. I think that any of us would have loved to also be married and have kids, but I wonder if somehow we might not be somewhat better equipped to be single in a family-oriented church and not only survive, but choose to thrive.

  54. Thanks for clarifying Ray.

    Nice points Marianne; maybe not only young men but middle-aged men are also intimidated or don’t feel comfortable around educated women. I’ve heard a number of single middle-aged educated women make such complaints; the men they know tend to need to feel superior (intellectually, economically, etc.), and not merely equal and certainly not inferior in these areas (again, it’s a generalization, not all men are this way of course, but if you talk to enough single educated women of a certain age, in Utah, you hear it over and over.). I know this is only anecdotal, but maybe it suggests a larger cultural problem too. Is it possible that elders and sisters serving on a more equal footing might contribute toward mitigating such a cultural problem?

  55. Interesting post. I don\’t know if this has already been mentioned but my understanding is that there actually are some 19 year old women out serving missions. Craig, all you have to do is become a mission president and your daughter can be on her way :) (If this is folklore, please correct me!)
    My grandmother was called on a mission when she was 19. Anyone know when the 19/21 rule was instigated?
    As for sisters being more of a drain on mission resources, I\’m not buying it.
    Marianne, I appreciate your insightful comments. I also have several friends who served missions, are absolutely fabulous and remain unmarried. In many ways, their mission experiences have been springboards for diverse career opportunities. I would definitely say they are thriving in their current circumstances but haven\’t actively chosen to delay marriage. If we are cultivating young men who aren\’t comfortable with well educated, accomplished women then well, shame on us.
    I think the equal footing idea extends beyond the mission field to those who are at home. I had a blast my freshman year and then entered the extremely socially awkward (for me anyway) sophomore year when many of the males my age left on missions. When I left at 21, a few started to trickle home. Then, when I returned, a majority were already married/engaged, etc. So women are left with cultivating friendships of either younger or older guys (I know it\’s only a few years but back then it seemed hugely significant).

    (FWIW, one of the most annoying things I used to hear from other female students was, \”Well, I was going to serve a mission but decided to go to (fill in the study abroad here) instead.\” It made me want to hurl every time.)

  56. Marianne made some good points, but one I’d like to take issue with. I’m not sure at all that sisters who serve missions are those who’d be less likely to marry anyway. I think it’s more that men in all cultures tend to be intimidated by women they can’t feel superior to. And, just to make sure this is understood: I am a man and have seen it very well in the men around me.

    I think one of the answers is to educate our young men to appreciate a partner they can be equal with – and that has to begin with Mom & Dad (and I’m talking real equality, not the usual feminist issues). I know that’s not easy, but it sounds like a healthy goal.

    That said, I admit I have my own issues with this, but I hope at least my sons are a bit less neanderthal than my father was.

  57. Hail all — drawn to the site by the references to the WNBA and rules. Apologies as I indulge in a little history.

    1) If you check this women\’s basketball timeline [], you\’ll see that women and girls have been playing basketball about as long as men — which means since 1892 — they probably started 2 or 3 months after our favorite Canadian experiement with the game.

    Various changes to the rules are noted throughout.

    FWIW, the two most significant differences between the WNBA and the NBA is length (40 – 48minutes — mostly dictated by TV/advertisers), size of basketball (slightly smaller – something that drives many players/coaches mad, since the ball bounces in the cylinder differently).

    The W players get 6 fouls before they\’re gone, something I wish they\’d change to 5, like college (except for my team of course!).

    2) Just like the men\’s game, the women\’s game exploded across the country. Interestingly enough,I\’m making an educated (and someone\’s possible PhD) statement that much of it spread through faith-based organizations – YMCAs, and the Protestant \”Healthy Body, Healthy Spirit movement\” and then through the Catholic Youth Orgs — One of the most famous wbball teams is Immaculata\’s Mighty Macs — winners of three consecutive AIAW championships in the 70\’s.

    In the early years, there was no national governing board, so you\’d find teams playing by \”girls rules\” (which had many variations), boys rules and/or a mixture of both.

    The restricitions on women\’s basketball through rules was, as noted, in the original post, part of a backlash (happens every 30yrs or so) against women entering what was viewed as a \”male sphere.\” You can see it in the language used to against women\’s athletics (one thread not mentioned was the constant, underlying homophobia – often expressed in the \”women becoming manly\” theme).

    There was also the fear that women would be tainted by the habits of men\’s sports — cheating, gambling, point shaving, professionals pretending to be amateurs, rowdiness and drunken behaviour etc. etc. (sound familiar?)

    What many people do not know is that competitive women\’s/girl\’s basketball was all but wiped out as a result. Hugely popular in the late 20\’s and 30\’s, with thousands attending, Lou Hoover (President Hoover\’s wife) worked with the WNDAAF to pressure secondary principals. They caved, and by the mid-30\’s state championships were discontinued.

    Iowa was the lone — and rightly honored — exception. As the famous quotation goes: \”Gentlemen,if you attempt to do away with girls’ basketball in Iowa, you’ll be standing in the center of the track when the train runs you over.\” (John W. Agans, 1925, speaking to Iowa High School Athletic Association whose members were voting to ban girls tournaments.)

    3. I lay out this historical timeline in response to Ray and Jonovitch\’s comments about the WNBA. I have no illusions about changing their impressions about the W — \’cause, to be honest, I find the NBA unwatchable. But, I would ask them to consider how far the women\’s game has come, considering it\’s missed 50-60 years of growth because society (and then the NCAA and football coaches) fought against its very existence.

    If you consider that Title IX, passed in 1972 and finally enforced (sorta) in 1978, we\’re really only in the 2nd generation of beneficiaries playing on the court. The talent pool in ALL areas of women\’s basketball (coaching, writing, managing, marketing, administration, officiating etc.) isn\’t as big as is could be, but oh, boy, when I look at Deanna Nolan, Diana Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles in the WNBA and players like Maya Moore at the college level, the future looks bright.

    Heck, anyone can see the W\’s game has improved exponentially in it\’s 12 years of existence.

    As for the comment about girls rules and the WNBA, I couldn\’t tell, Ray, if you thought the creation of the W was a mistake. Seems to be pretty small-minded, but you sure are entitled to that kind of opinion. (apologies if it\’s not)

    Me, I think it\’s awesome. For so long, talented female atheltes have been funneled in to \”solo\” sports (tennis, golf, skating, gymnastics) because a \”team of women\” scares the heck out of society. Just like the pre-incarnations of the NBA struggled and failed miserably (and the NBA might have collapsed if not for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson), the WNBA has survived when other women\’s professional leagues have failed — and survived in an era where the sports world is far more cluttered.

    I\’m proud to be a season subscriber and, as someone who knows the history of men\’s basketball AND women\’s basketball, I believe in the importance of the W. I also enjoy the heck out of the games, even when the turnovers make me spin in frustration (\’cause, I know in the NBA no one EVER turns the ball over, nor do they miss a lay-up or a silly dunk, and the basketball is ALWAYS beautiful. ). My friend Q puts it this way: []

    What struck me was seeing the exuberance of a frequently dysfunctional Mystics team led by an interim coach beat a contender with the best record in the league based on pure effort and heart when they had every reason to give up. It shows something about the Mystics that has perhaps been lost in a professional sports world dominated by overblown contracts and ego: this team really cares about what they do. And it makes it easy to love women’s basketball.

    Any time I get to witness the joy that comes from someone doing what they truly love – even if it’s putting a ball into a basket – it gives me goose bumps. It doesn’t matter if they go on to win the championship, what their attendance was, or whether they are engaged in challenging sexist double standards about women (though all those things are important). What matters is that they truly care about the outcome of that game and it’s worth noting in a society that has become way too wrapped up in the extremes of cynicism and trying to change the entire world at once.

    Thank you for indulging me my ramblings — I enjoyed reading ALL the posts

  58. Thanks Lupita, and I agree Velska. And thanks for the history of women’s basketball more broadly, Helen.

    Thanks everyone for comments!

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