An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Separate But Not Equal

When a friend’s ward duns him for the Boy Scout drive, he tells them he will contribute to the Scouts as soon as the Church has an equivalent program for his daughter.  He’ll probably save a lot of money waiting for that to happen. An LDS woman recently expressed a wish for LDS girls to have the kind of “coming of age” event a mission is for LDS boys. But she missed the point. Gender inequality in Church programs starts well before missionary age. At age 8 boys go into Cub Scouts with varied educational activities. Dens take field trips to learn about nature, visit museums and places of business such as newspaper offices. The boys complete merit badges which teach them about nature and history as well as useful survival and everyday skills. Girls have Primary activities such as “Bride’s Day” where they dress up as brides and plan their weddings.

My daughter wishes the Church supported the Girl Scout program. Our granddaughter will soon be 7 and would benefit from Brownie Scouts. Of course, some LDS families do enroll their daughters in Girl Scouts, but Lolly feels she has no time to add a non-Church activity to all their Church obligations. For me the obvious answer is to skip Primary activities if Girl Scouts is more beneficial. But I would not have done that 30 years ago and Lolly will not do that now. The reward for trying to bridge two cultures is rejection by both.

From the time they enter Primary, Mormon boys are groomed to hold the priesthood, to serve a mission, to preside in the Church. Mormon girls are groomed to land a husband and produce a family. Now, which role model looks more appealing to a kid, the bishopric presiding from the stand or their pregnant wives wrestling noisy children alone throughout Sacrament Meeting?

The strangest thing about the lack of gender equity in Church programs is the puzzlement Church leaders express over the loss of activity of women in the 18-30 age group. I’ve heard speculation that it may be as high as 50%.  If young LDS women are dropping from Church activity, why doesn’t someone look at the cause? I suspect that many young LDS women cannot limit themselves to the narrow roles allotted them in Mormon culture.

Now I’m not opposed to marriage and motherhood—it’s just that these are goals over which women don’t have total control. A woman who doesn’t attain marriage and motherhood has not failed. Even without the blessing of children, women can lead rich, full lives. And the child-bearing and rearing years are a relatively brief period of a modern woman’s life.

 I don’t understand why Church leaders have the idea that if girls aren’t bombarded with messages about motherhood all the time they’re growing up, they will reject the opportunity as adults. I have loved and raised five children wholeheartedly although that was never my childhood vocational goal. Likewise, my daughter who is raising four lovely children now. Most women have a nurturing instinct and take to the role quite naturally when they are ready for it. Women without the nurturing instinct will not develop it from hearing sermons.

Can we give girls the same kinds of Church opportunities boys have without extending the priesthood to worthy female members? Maybe not. But we should at least offer our girls a broader goal in life than a wedding dress followed by a maternity dress.

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Comments on: "Separate But Not Equal" (13)

  1. Nice thoughts, Ann. I suspect that the gender gap is part of the problem — the fact that the overall activity percentages are tilted strongly in favor of women. The problem, if you follow the numbers, is keeping young men active. Young women seem proportionately more disposed to remaining active all on their own.

    That doesn’t excuse ignoring young women in terms of Church programs, although whether that is an accurate description is a different question. Having seen both sides, I’d say that in many wards the Young Women’s program is better organized and better managed than Scouting.

    • There is certainly a difference in the way individual wards and stakes run programs, and the YW camping certification program when done right teaches valuable skills. But overall, I’m afraid the Church-sponsored programs from age 8 and up are broader and more developmental for the boys.

      I haven’t followed the numbers on keeping YM active. What do you think accounts for their loss of activity?

  2. “Bride’s Day?” Seriously? I’ve never seen it anywhere in the Church that I’ve been, but I have to confess that my girls wouldn’t be going to that activity. At least not until they’ve finished graduate work.

  3. I agree with the post in principle, but my experience is with Dave’s — statistically and anecdotally, everything I’ve seen shows young men in the Church have a much harder time staying active than young women.

    That leads to an interesting question — if that gender ratio is in fact true, would that be a justification for at least some ‘gender inequity’ towards young boys and men when it comes to young adult programs?

    • My point about gender inequity is not that girls have fewer programs, but that the focus of their programs is almost exclusively narrowed to marriage, motherhood and homemaking. Activities for boys and YM point them to the broader world of education, careers and community affairs.</em>

  4. I don’t really care about Mormonism, so I’m just going to side-track this conversation by jumping astride one of my favorite hobby horses.

    The problem is that a woman’s domestic labor no longer contributes in any meaningful way to the economic well being of a household. The traditional labors of a women (weaving, cooking, gardening and child care among others) were once vital and now simply aren’t due to industrialization and globalization. Foreign labor can make our clothes, grow our food, prepare it and baby sit our children quite cheaply, which has devalued women’s work and made it appear worthless.

    So instead women want to go to college and enter the workforce which, while economically more rewarding is, paradoxically, much more worthless. You can’t eat a college degree (or find a good job with one either given the vast oversupply of degreed women in the fields women choose) and this country certainly doesn’t need any more cubicle dwellers of either sex.

    Fortunately the college bubble should soon burst and the dollar is collapsing, so our attitudes towards domestic labor should correct from their current state of “This is why God made brown people with weak currencies.”

    • Incognomen–So women have no economic value in the home or in the workforce? I hate to think where you’re going with this line of thought.

      • Incognomen–So women have no economic value in the home or in the workforce? I hate to think where you’re going with this line of thought.

        I think giving women the vote was a mistake. Of course I’m not exactly wild about universal male suffrage either.

  5. I have loved and raised five children wholeheartedly although that was never my childhood vocational goal. Likewise, my daughter who is raising four lovely children now. Most women have a nurturing instinct and take to the role quite naturally when they are ready for it. Women without the nurturing instinct will not develop it from hearing sermons.

    You and your daughter have far more children than the average woman in advanced countries, and it’s very likely that the reason 40% of Europeans and Japanese women say they want zero children, and the average woman only has 1.5, is because they’re not exposed to the strong pro-motherhood messages and sermons you and your daughter were. The pro-natality approach of Mormons is certainly a consequence of the strong pro-motherhood messaging, and maybe that’s the purpose, too.

  6. Matt:
    Actually, I didn’t grow up in a very active LDS family and I anticipated marriage and motherhood coming in the far distant future–until I met George. I converted to active Mormonism after our marriage and we endured much family and church criticism for delaying our family for 5 years. Our kids were so much fun that I expected we’d have at least 6. Population control did not worry me, I anticipated the Second Coming would take care of environmental issues.

    My daughter with 4 children may have been influenced by Church teachings on motherhood or she may just have wanted her kids to have the companionship of multiple siblings which she enjoyed. Her sisters who heard the same teachings growing up have 0 children–but their marital situations are different from hers.

    While I treasure each of our 5 children and I think families with at least 4 kids are more fun, I no longer think the Second Coming is imminent and I realize the earth cannot support an unlimited population. Sadly, I believe the European and Japanese women are more socially responsible than Mormons with large families.

  7. Sadly, I believe the European and Japanese women are more socially responsible than Mormons with large families.

    Really? Both Europe and Japan are aging tremendously. Who’s going to pay for the social welfare costs in either location, as more and more people retire with no one to replace them? Who’s going to pay for social security or whatever health reform plan gets approved if the US joins them? Your kids and my kids will be the ones supporting everyone else–I would think that makes those Mormons with large families indispensable to society future, not “socially irresponsible”.

    Having another kid in the US doesn’t automatically make some other kid in Africa starve. The problem is unequal distribution of resources (and corrupt governments), not “overcrowding”…

    • KMB–Even if we could somehow distribute population more evenly, the earth still has a finite amount of usable water, arable land and energy sources.
      Producing more children than the earth scan support in order to make our social welfare system work is short-sighted at best.

  8. […] Tags: feminists, gender stereotypes, Mormon culture, nurturing children, parental roles My blog on gender inequality drew the greatest number of hits so far. Apparently sex sells. I suspect some, maybe most, of the […]

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