An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

YW Personal Progress

YW Personal Progress    1/01/10

Personal progress, albeit with different names, has been part of the YW program for decades. And the main focus has always been on preparing LDS girls for homemaking roles. My mother’s Beehive book from the 1930s listed goals for beautifying the home including planting vines around the outhouse. Either Mother was a slacker or she lacked a green thumb. I remember the old outhouse by Grandma’s corral and a luxuriant growth of greenery never disguised its function.

When I entered the Beehive program the summer after 6th grade, our teacher presented each of us with a blue felt banderol (we said bandalo, but spell checker provides this spelling).  We were instructed in blind stitching so we could sew the ends together and wear it across our chests from left shoulder to right hip. As we accomplished each Beehive goal, we would receive a felt emblem to sew onto the banderol to show the world, or at least our ward, our success. Filling the band with awards would promote us to Honor Bees. The first emblem for our band was one we would create ourselves—our personal symbol. The rest of that Mutual class time was devoted to choosing, designing, cutting and sewing our personal emblem. My friends busied themselves drawing and cutting blossoms, trees, and song birds. I had never thought of myself in non-human imagery and had no idea what to choose. Not that it would matter. I had no ability to draw, so nothing I chose and constructed would be recognizable. I finally cut a piece red felt and stitched it in place, answering, “A red gooney bird” to anyone who asked about my symbol. No further emblems ever graced my banderol. Externally created goals meant nothing  to my 12-year-old self.

        By the time my daughters reached YW age, Personal Progress expanded to include frequent goal-setting meetings with advisers. Although multiple goals were possible using the YW Values, the emphasis on lessons—especially for the Laurel age group—was on achieving the “divine role” of marriage and motherhood. Our eldest daughter, Lolly, loudly denied any desire to marry and have children. The YW president asked me one day if Lolly’s denial might not be based on a fear that she wouldn’t have the opportunity to marry. Bingo! Our daughters didn’t date much in high school. Girls without boyfriends appear a bit pathetic if their stated goal is marriage.

While the content of the 2010 YW Personal Progress program doesn’t look too different from previous programs, the packaging may present a problem. A description of 21st century girls as “pink” and “soft” and listing “wife, mother and homemaker” as the only career choices may have as much appeal as a bowl of strawberry Jello nestled among tapenade, sushi, lamb-filled gyros and tiramisu at a smorgasbord . An unintended consequence may be the disengagement of girls who aren’t dating or who don’t identify with pink and softness. Since school and other secular activities provide worthwhile guidance for adolescent girls, non-involvement with YW Personal Progress may not be individually negative. The institution, however, will suffer a loss if the program turns bright girls completely away from the LDS Church .

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