This piece was originally published in 2007 when Emily Milner was not yet on staff. She’s since been a part of the group for almost a decade. This piece came from deep in the archives but spoke to me and my need to for peace with things beyond my control. I hope the answer Emily comes to answers a need in you today too.
The Book of Mormon mentions five women by name: Sariah, Abish, Isabel, Eve, and Mary. It refers, without naming, to various wives (of Nephi and his brothers, of King Lamoni, of Jacob’s philandering people); to an abused servant girl of a dissenting army leader; and to a conspiring, dancing daughter in Ether. We also have the wives who inspire the men to fight, and the mothers of Helaman’s army.
As a teenager I read the Book of Mormon. I knew it was true. The Spirit spoke to me through it. Still this lack of women bothered me. We can focus on the ones that are there, but so many of them aren’t, or don’t have names. And there are many men, minor characters, that do get named: Zeram, Amnor, Manti, and Limher, for example.
This all boiled inside me one day in a BYU religion class. The teacher encouraged us to ask gospel or missionary-related questions at the beginning of class. He would, he promised, answer them all either straight out of the scriptures or else using recent General Authority quotes.
Well, the teacher went off on feminism. He quoted 2 Nephi 13:12: “And my people, children are their oppressors, and women shall rule over them,” as a sign of the evils of feminism. He ranted about how an LDS book publisher had forced him to use equal examples of males and females in his recent book. A student raised a hand and said, “This even happens at BYU! Here, at BYU, in a writing class, I couldn’t just use he!
And so went the discussion. I got more and more upset as I listened to it. I was angry that the teacher saw using gender-neutral pronouns, an obvious need to me, as this harbinger of evil. I was angry that he lumped all feminism together with the far-left crowd, when really there was much good feminism had accomplished (voting, owning land, wearing pants).
But mostly I was angry because, even though I knew the Book of Mormon was true, he had dismissed this question that was my question too: why are there so few women in the Book of Mormon?
I ranted over it to everyone I met that week. I was still ranting when Sunday dinner with my family rolled around. “It’s a legitimate question!” I said. “The worst thing you could do when an investigator asks a legitimate question is go off on the evils of feminism.”
“I agree,” my dad said. “It’s a real question.” Then he diffused my anger with Moroni’s words, in Mormon 9:31: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.”
Since then, the more imperfectly I have served in the Church, the less inclined I am to condemn anyone because of their imperfections, especially not people I honor as much as I do Mormon and Moroni.
I hope that one day, in the scriptures yet-to-be-revealed, we will have more stories of Book of Mormon women. I want to read the words the wives prayed as their husbands fought to protect them. I want to know the faith-inspiring life stories that strengthened Helaman’s army. I want to find out about Mormon’s wife, who saw with him “a continual scene of wickedness and abomination”and yet stayed faithful, raising Moroni in righteousness while Mormon commanded the Nephite army.
Nephi and Moroni tell us that one day we will stand face to face with the authors of the Book of Mormon. I hope we get a chance to meet their wives, too. I need to thank Mormon’s wife for sustaining her husband, and her son, as they carved out the words in my Book of Mormon.