I hated attending YW Conference with my teen-aged daughters. They giggled and whispered throughout, and I sometimes joined them. Two hours of tedium strained our reverence. And I’m not sure any messages they managed to hear benefited them. The focus on marriage and motherhood as the only goals for LDS girls probably pushed Lolly into a radical feminist stance. The promised bliss of temple marriage may have blinded Jaycee to the need to check qualifications beyond a temple recommend in choosing her husband.
I don’t know how much the conference messages have changed since I last attended, probably not much. Just five years ago, Lolly served as YW president in her ward in upper New York State. She despaired that her Laurels set goals only for admission to BYU and marriage. Very bright girls not accepted at BYU elected to stay home and enroll in a local community college rather than attend one of the excellent state universities out in the sinful world.
I wish the message to the YW could be less Utah-centric, less fear-based. Sure there is evil in the world and immorality exists on college campuses—including BYU if you know where to look. But secluding herself from the world while waiting for Santa to drop a suitable mate down the chimney is not the best choice for most young women.
Why not include women from outside the Wasatch Front to speak to the YW? And I don’t mean a speaker who describes being the only Mormon girl in her high school and struggling with loneliness while maintaining her high standards. Let’s have some inspiring stories from women taking advantage of opportunities outside Mormon culture. Mormon Women: Portraits & Conversations by James Kimball and Kent Miles interviews women from nine different countries who illustrate a spectrum of successful lives—SAHMs, career women with children, single moms, and women without children. All these women value family and church, but their contributions have not been limited to that sphere. Good works initiated by these women range from starting orphanages in Nepal to driving truck loads of humanitarian supplies through the war zone to Bosnia.
And why limit role models to Mormon women? Why not highlight some of the Christian and Moslem Liberian women interviewed in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell? These women united to exert pressure on both government and rebel leaders to end the bloody civil war in Liberia in 2003. I can’t think of a better example of upholding family values than ending a war which killed over 200,000 and fostered rape of women and girls and kidnapping of boys for child soldiers .
And how about some examples of women who have created successful lives despite youthful moral transgressions? I’m thinking of a classmate who got pregnant and married at age 15. She and her husband accepted their responsibilities, accomplished educational and financial goals, raised a good family, and both contribute to their community. And no, I don’t think recovery stories will influence girls to sin now, repent later. A girl dumb enough to think struggling to finish high school in the role of wife and mother while her friends attend the prom and plan for college or jobs and their own paychecks following graduation cannot be influenced by anything spoken at YW Conference. I do think girls need to learn that transgression need not ruin their lives. God never abandons His children.
Like a few others, I’m making suggestions for YW Conference speakers. Being an optimist, I’m awaiting a thank you-call from headquarters.