Yesterday, Saturday April 7th, a couple of minutes before noon something happened that has never happened before--NEVER! Did it matter? Did you hear it? I was in my studio doing pottery and I made a point to have the LDS General Conference on. I'd heard that there was a strong possibility that a woman would be giving a prayer. Then just as I squeezed the water from my sponge after cleaning clay off my tables, I heard the announcement--a woman's name. Then Jean Stevens' voice, calm and beautiful. I didn't hear what she said. I took a breath and let the emotion wash over me. You know that feeling that comes when your heart swells and you are filled with something we Mormons call the spirit? That's what I felt.
1,500 or 15,000, or perhaps even 150,000 or more prayers answered. I wish my mother-in-law was still alive. I can hear her now. "Tokenism." A decade of more ago, my mother-in-law was asked to pray in stake conference. She called it tokenism then, but she gladly offered the prayer, even though she was always less than fully-engaged in the gospel. Today she would have said, "Tokenism," and she would have chuckled, but then she would have added, "It's about time."
Television offers us a glimpse of social consciousness. Despite the trashy programs, there are great things that have happened. I've watched the changes. We all have. I was a TV junkie growing up: Andy of Mayberry, Petticoat Junction, Gilligan's Island and on and on, a sea of white faces and stereotyped roles for men and women. Then we a saw a sprinkling of black characters, but usually in the background or sometimes as a servent, or a jolly maid. When "All in the Family" came along and we saw the ugliness and even ridiculousness of racism and sexism through the bigotry of Archie Bunker. The show broke down the barriers and finally we saw more and more minorities portrayed on television. Mary Tyler Moore became one of the first females who was career orientated. She won the respect of her TV colleagues. Did it matter? Did the tokenism of the first minorities with strong roles on TV matter? Did young females watching Mary Tyler Moore feel their world opening up by seeing her take on the world? I remember a disturbing moment at my mother's house years ago. I was still a teen, not quite twenty. A woman near my mother's age (a relative) was visiting. She made a comment about how she can hardly stand to "see so many of them' on TV. You can hardly watch anything anymore without seeing blacks. Do they have to be on every show? she'd said. I was shocked. I hadn't grown up hearing these types of sentiments in our home. I'm sure it bothered my mother as well, but she simply said, "I haven't noticed." We notice when someone gives us hope for a better tomorrow. It may sound cliche, but all of these moments, big and small, matter. They matter to someone. This conference mattered. It mattered to me.
This afternoon while watching conference with some family members at my mom's, another day, another session and another woman offered now the opening prayer in a session. I mentioned that the day before had been the first time a woman had offered a prayer. My brother said, really? My mother said, she wouldn't have noticed if the papers hadn't made such a big deal about it. The truth is, it's a big deal. It shouldn't be, but it is. Young Mormon girls and women need to see women offering prayers in conference, sitting in leadership positions, making decisions, being strong, being courageous and yes, speaking up when women are being neglected, sidelined, and ignored.