One recent afternoon, two new elders were visiting our neighborhood. There is another Mormon family up the street, and after stopping in to see them, they came by our house. For all I know, missionaries have been doing these drop ins for years. I’ve never been home during the day before, but since my husband and I are starting up a small business, we are now both home during the day until our new office is open. This was a new experience for me.
I opened the door and after quick introductions invited them in. The taller of the two elders immediately had a look of awkward panic. I’ve seen this look before, usually when one of the characters in a TV show or movie realizes that someone has entered the bank wearing a bomb vest. Imagine my surprise, for in this case, I was the potential terrorist!
He nervously stammered, “Is your husband home?” In this case, yes, he was sitting about 15 feet away, just out of sight of the door. Nonetheless, the elder’s non-verbal response was shocking, particularly on the receiving end. Were they implying that I was going to seduce them, that I was untrustworthy, that I was somehow tainted just because I am a woman? My son is the exact same age they are! The thought occurred to me that these are the same boys I was going to slave over a hot stove for a few days later (because I had signed up to feed them), and yet, I was greeted with suspicion in my own doorway. It definitely didn’t make me feel warm or appreciated. Fortunately for them, they were able to come in and sit down because my husband was there to protect them from me. 
I’ve heard people defend this practice by saying that it’s not because you are untrustworthy, just because some other people might make a false claim. That’s a bit like being upgraded from presumed whore to presumed liar. Or because unspecified other people might get the wrong idea if they see elders in the house of a woman without her husband being present. I’m not sure who these Gladys Kravitzes are, but I am quite certain they are fictional. Most of the people in my neighborhood don’t even nod or wave hello, let alone know who lives in which houses. In general, the elders are considered as harmless as eunuchs, for good reason.
This was a guideline that never made any sense to me as a missionary. My companions and I did not adhere to it, and I don’t remember it being mentioned or encouraged by leadership beyond the MTC. Perhaps female missionaries were trusted more or suspected less. Perhaps we were older and less fearful than an 18 year old boy would be.
All I know is that if I’m such a threat, I’m pretty sure my food is going to be spoiled by my girl cooties. I’ll think twice before I sign up again to feed the missionaries. 
- Is this the norm or was this experience a one off?
- Is the policy of treating women with suspicion necessary or is it going too far?
- Does it matter if women are offended since missionaries want to teach whole families anyway (so women without their husbands are not the target audience)?
- What’s the real reason behind this guideline? Fear of seduction? False claims? Appearances? Wrongdoing by the elders?
- Is this policy universally applied or just encouraged based on mission president discretion? Defend your answer.
 I also noticed that every question, initially, was directed at my husband. Where did he serve a mission, although we both did. What did he do for a living, although we both have had careers and my husband hasn’t been working for over 18 months. Where was he from, although obviously I didn’t spring fully formed out of Zeus’s head. I might as well have been the house cat.
 We’ve fed the elders and sisters on many occasions over time, and it is seldom that I have felt this way. If they hadn’t dropped by unannounced, this type of interaction wouldn’t have happened because they would be there for the meal specifically. I haven’t been treated this way very often which is why it was so shocking to me, but maybe it’s the norm.