Saturday, June 12, 2010

Young Women

I have come to believe that the LDS church's youth programs are programs of control and manipulation-- particularly the Young Women's organization. The LDS church is very big on traditional gender roles-- the man as the "priesthood authority" and the woman as the compliant housewife. A lot of this is subliminal, but what is overt is shocking.

Consider, for example, the Young Women theme. Every week, all the young women stand and recite the following word-for-word: We are daughters of our heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places, as we strive to live the Young Women values, which are: Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity and Virtue. We believe that as we come to accept and act upon these values, we will be prepared to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation. Listening to a room full of 20-odd young women reciting that in monotone unison is chilling.

Another example is the the Sunday lesson manual. Sub-sections include, "Fulfilling Woman's Divine Roles," "Contributing to Family Life," and "Learning about the Priesthood." Lessons are packed with teachings about how the divine role of women is to stay at home and raise children. True, there are sections on such things as education. However, while these sections may appear innocuous on the surface, even they serve to reinforce the idea that women belong at home and are made to serve others. The lesson I provided a link to, for example, suggests using images of a mother teaching her children and a woman teaching at church as part of the lesson. The message is clearly that a woman's education must train her to serve her family and the church.

Another lesson is devoted entirely to marriage-- specifically, the Mormon conception of it. A significant portion of this lesson is devoted to a story featured in the New Era some years back.

“It all began that first Sunday in March. Or did it? I guess it couldn’t really have had a beginning, because Karen, Emily, and I have been best friends forever. Whether celebrating birthdays and knitting identical purses in Primary as young girls or marching on the drill team and double- or triple-dating in high school, our vastly different personalities somehow seemed to complement each other, and for 15 years we were practically inseparable.

“After high school graduation, though, things began changing in our gleesome threesome. Karen and Emily lived at home and attended the university, while I lived three hours away in a small state college dorm with five strangers. After enduring so much together, we wondered what a few miles could possibly do to our great friendship. But we soon knew. …

“I realized that our special communication had vanished, but I was still shocked one day to open my mail and find a wedding announcement from Emily. Even more surprising was the absence of the wordtemple in the announcement.
“I rushed home that weekend and headed straight for Emily’s. There we talked—talked in the almost forgotten way we had that eternal year ago. She had only known Ted two months, but he was the most handsome, intelligent, popular guy on campus. They would both finish college, and then Ted would go on to dental school. His folks had already agreed to help them with expenses, so that would be no problem. After he graduated, Emily joked, all they would have to do is sit around and rake up the money.
“Once again I had begun to feel close to Emily, when suddenly, I heard myself wondering out loud why there had been no mention of the temple on her announcement. ‘Well, we can’t,’ she said, her flippant attitude not quite covering the concern I sensed. ‘Ted’s a Baptist in the first place, and besides, we want to be married in his parents’ ski lodge and write our own ceremony. A wedding should be really personal and meaningful, not just the same words for everyone. Ted will join the Church someday. But even if he doesn’t, my dad’s not a member and it hasn’t stopped my mother from being active. It won’t stop me either.’
“By the time Emily was through with her well-practiced little spiel, her defiance had built a wall between us once again. What could I say? After a few moments of fumbling chatter to try to ease the discomfort, I said goodbye.”
Pause in the story and have the young women consider this question:
  • • If you were Emily’s friend, what would you say to her?
Continue with the story:
“Three weeks later I attended Ted and Emily’s ski lodge wedding. Contrary to my expectations, it was a very striking event—though not religious in any way. They both read poetry to each other for the ceremony, while a flute played lightly in the background. After there was dancing, with punch for us Mormons and champagne for the others. Ted’s parents were super rich, I could tell, and they had just about planned the whole wedding. They were deliriously happy with their new daughter-in-law (and probably a little from the champagne, too). But I noticed Emily’s mom had really red and swollen eyes—like she’d been crying a lot. Mothers are that way—especially when it’s their only child.
“Surprisingly enough, Emily did stay active in the Church. With all her school work and married duties, she attended her meetings faithfully and also served as the assistant librarian. She and Ted lived in an apartment in our ward and I saw her quite often. She always gave me glowing reports of marriage and told how great Ted was to her. ‘What a life,’ I thought.
“Six months later Karen married a returned missionary who was just completing his master’s degree in education. They were married in the Logan Temple, so I couldn’t go, of course. But I did attend the reception in our cultural hall, and it was really beautiful. …
“I kept seeing Emily now, coming to church radiant and excited about everything she was doing. ‘No problems at all,’ she would say. ‘He’s really very liberal. “You go to your church and I’ll go to mine.” Only he doesn’t even go to his.’ But in the back of my mind I could also see Emily when we were younger: praying her nonmember dad would baptize her, wondering if her dad would take her to the Primary daddy-daughter party, trying to pretend it didn’t matter when he went golfing instead of coming to her seminary graduation. But then childhood is such a small part of life. What difference does it really make in the long run?
“Karen and Emily, still doing things together, had baby girls within a week of each other. I took a pink dress to Emily’s little girl and absolutely fell in love with her. Karen’s mother told me in church one day that Karen, David, and their little Melissa would be coming in March to show off the baby and get her blessed where Grandpa and all three of Karen’s adoring older brothers could stand in the circle.
“Then came the first Sunday in March. …
“As I made my way … into the chapel, I met Emily and her baby in the foyer. It was her first time back to church since Julie’s birth. We talked for a minute and then entered the chapel. Emily and her mother sat in the row in front of me. …
“Through the rows of heads and shoulders that I saw from my position on the fourth row from the back, I caught a glimpse of Karen and the rest of her family taking up an entire center bench. …
“After the songs and announcements were over and after we had taken the sacrament, Bishop Edwards stood behind the pulpit and said, ‘This afternoon we have a special treat. I know many of you have known Karen Evans since she was a little girl.’ Emily looked back at me and winked knowingly, but then turned her head sharply forward as the bishop went on. ‘Well, this afternoon Karen, now Karen Sanders, has brought her own little girl to receive a name and a blessing from her husband. Assisting in the circle will be her father and brothers.’
“As I watched David take his little girl from Karen and carry her almost reverently to the front, I could see a side view of Emily. Tears were rapidly filling her deep blue eyes and streaming down her face onto Julie’s downy head. Her shoulders shook violently as she buried her head in her baby’s neck. Emily’s mother tenderly put her arm around her daughter’s throbbing shoulders, and I could see that she, too, was crying. Emily looked up, and I heard her gasp in a desperate whisper, ‘Oh, Mama! Who is going to bless my baby?’
“ ‘I bless you, Melissa, with a sound mind and body,’ I heard David Sanders say at the front of the room, ‘and that you will live a righteous life, that when the time comes, you will meet a choice son of our Father in heaven, one who honors his priesthood and who will take you to the temple of the Lord to be sealed to him for eternity.’ Through the entire blessing and for the rest of the meeting, Julie’s baby shawl absorbed her tears.
“And now, even though a year has passed … whenever … I see a mother and baby alone, something grabs at my heart. For I keep seeing Emily” (Carolyn White Zaugg, “I Keep Seeing Emily,” New Era, June 1975, pp. 26–29)."
The message of this story is, in essence, "if you do not marry a good Mormon boy in the temple, you and the children will suffer for it." I remember being given this lesson several times while growing up, and each time I promised myself that I would not suffer that kind of pain. It was very effective.

Image

Marriage is considered to be the ultimate goal for an LDS young woman. In the Young Women Theme, "mak[ing] and keep[ing] sacred covenants" and "receiv[ing] the ordinances of the temple" refer to marriage-- Mormon marriages are performed in temples. Temples are presented to young women as the ultimate fairytale castle for their weddings. Young Women are expected to complete "Personal Progress", a program that stresses the eight values listed in the theme. Elements of Personal Progress include preparation for homemaking and church service, preparation for marriage, and reinforcement of "keeping the commandments."
Image

Chastity in young women is so important in the LDS church that there are annual firesides specifically dedicated to chastity. A new "value" was recently added to the list of values that Young Women are required to memorize-- Virtue. I'm not criticizing the idea of virtue or chastity; only the LDS church's treatment of it. If a young woman in the LDS church commits some kind of sexual sin (which can range anywhere from French kissing to actual intercourse), she must go to her bishop and go through a lengthy "repentance process" in order to regain her "worthiness." This process entails not being allowed to take the Sacrament (the Mormon equivalent of communion), meeting regularly with the bishop, and "confessing" the sordid details of her sin to the bishop. How does this compare with Christ's treatment of the woman accused of adultery? Christ was the most perfect human being ever to walk the earth. He was perhaps the only person who ever had the right to condemn anybody else for sin. Yet, his words to the adulteress were, "Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more."

Young women in the LDS church are frequently told that they are of "infinite worth", but actions speak louder than words. Is the "virtuous woman" the only one whose worth is "far above rubies"? The attitude of the LDS church towards women indicates that their worth is contingent upon conformity. Pink pastel conformity.

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like a lot of pressure!

    I've really enjoyed reading your blog. As a born & raised Christian who is passionate about sharing truth, it is such a blessing to have blogs like this to read. They help give me a deeper understanding and compassion towards Mormons & ex-Mormons. You mentioned in one post that it is hard for a non-Mormon to understand the challenges of leaving the LDS church. You're completely right, it's very hard to grasp just how difficult it must be, I know I'll never understand completely.

    Your strength in doing so is very inspiring to me.

    ReplyDelete