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 .
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.