Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I Have a Testimony of Personal Progress

I'm on a bit of a feminist kick lately, so this post and the next will all be related to the same thought process.

My use of the term feminist is pretty loose. I do believe that men and women are equal in that one sex is not better than the other. I don't, however, believe that men and women are the same. And while each person is an individual, I do think that some similarities can be found in members of the same sex. In other words, a woman can be a fantastic doctor and should be paid as well as her male counterparts; however, to say that she will practice medicine in precisely the same way that male doctors do is probably not true. She will bring her own gifts and talents, some of them almost uniquely feminine, to the job. Will this make her a better doctor in some ways? Probably. But it might make her a worse doctor in other ways.

All this set up is to say that I think the programs for boys and girls should be different. A decade ago I might not have seen it. But now I have boys. And I've been through a fair amount of college and teaching since then. It is hard to say if there are gender roles because we start kids off that way, or if there are gender roles because they are natural. But nevertheless, by the time children begin Cub Scouting and Activity Days, they've probably done a lot of normalizing into their gender roles. These are more powerful as they enter Young Men and Young Women. I believe, however, this should give us more instruction on HOW to teach the youth of the church rather than on WHAT to teach them.

Unfortunately, a recognition of difference in gender often translates to cooking and lessons on marriage for the girls and basketball and lessons on authority for the boys.

Such a terrible dichotomy sets up the Church for failure. In the short term AND the long term.

I spent a year or two in a calling that I loved called Personal Progress Coordinator. During that time many of the young women in our ward earned their award--it was right after they changed the age requirement and we got the girls early in an effort to help more of them finish the program. As much as the program has merits, I also saw many defects. I was thrilled when the new books (containing the virtue value in about 2010) came out, only to find terrible disappointment that while the cover had become pinker and the spiral was more convenient, the content was almost exactly the same. I also continue to find disappointment in the insistence that nearly EVERYthing in the book be accomplished individually.

In reality, particularly with the knowledge that many of our YW will now serve missions, the strength of PP must rival the Boy Scouting program. If Eagles become missionaries, then shouldn't the girls' goal setting program produce the same strength? Shouldn't their activity program do the same?

I think within the personal progress program parents and leaders need to encourage more creativity when helping the young women come up with projects and writing their own goals. Faith can be taught through summer of hard work in a garden. What better way to teach a daughter of God about the divinity of her own creation than immersing her in authentic and challenging outdoor experiences in discovery of God's creation? Individual worth projects should be focused on recognizing the worth of every soul--exchanges with sister missionaries, working with homeless populations, spending time volunteering at a day care. I think that everything that isn't required for knowledge should be focused on learning new skills (whatever they are) that a young woman is interested in. Carpentry, sports, car repair, sewing, cooking, study skills. Whatever. I think girls should also have a night where they can interact with women in a variety of careers. Or somebody that can help them navigate the complexities of college applications. A panel of returned sister missionaries (married and single) talking about the consequences of choosing a mission would be a fantastic activity for choice and accountability. Perhaps in the same category, a panel of mothers with young children from a variety of backgrounds who talk about both the blessings and challenges of parenting. Good works should be obvious . . . but the PP book suggestions are all geared toward child care. Why don't the girls go rake leaves and garden too? Community gardens are awesome places to serve. Part of teaching integrity is to help girls keep promises to themselves. What about a young woman setting a goal to run a 5K (or 10K or marathon or wherever she is) and keep a log of training and fitness routines? Self-mastery and integrity can be seen as two sides of the same coin. As for virtue, well, I can only believe that the whole purpose of the reading-the-Book of Mormon project built into that one is that if kids have a testimony then they will keep the law of chastity.

I agree with that. I can also see that much of the PP program is written with the idea in mind of helping girls learn to listen to the Spirit. But like the scouting program, I don't think that emphasizing the practical aspects of living the gospel could hurt either. This is why I think at least part of personal progress could be done collectively. The girls' activities could be more built around the PP program then . . . just like the YM program is built around scouting. The leaders might not feel like they are doubling up so much that way.

As to budget money . . . in our ward (and it is supposed to be this way in all the wards), if the boys OR girls want to do something beyond run of the mill weekly activities, they have to raise the money. But they can only do ONE fundraiser a year. Other than the expense of the awards, the activities budgets should be equal for the young men and the young women. Cubs and Activity Day girls may be different because the A.D. girls don't meet every week like the Cubs do.

It isn't just a financial problem, however.  Much of it is cultural. A man will take a week off work to go to scout camp, but he isn't likely to take a week off so his wife can go to Girls' camp. There are also expectations that the boys are going to be doing things, whereas the girls are relegated to just making things. This can be corrected with leaders who are committed to giving girls a different kind of experience. I think it should be instructive that the current general Young Women's president talks about running marathons and backpacking. As women we grumble a lot about why things are unfair, but we have to be careful that we aren't perpetuating the stereotypes either. We want the girls to gain a broader experience than just cooking, but do we default to that mode because it is easier than organizing a camp out? Do we volunteer to babysit for our friend the Beehive advisor so she can take her Young Women to the coast for the day to check out the tidepools? As leaders do we assume that the girls won't want to take a ten mile bike ride because "most" girls don't want to do stuff like that? If our feminism is to work, it has to be an active sort of thing; it can't just make us grumble.


Melanie said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this subject. I know the following story doesn't fully address what you're getting at in your post, but I think it's illustrative of the mentality in which activities for men and women are approached.

One year in college I was a member of an RS presidency. The EQ presidency was made up of some proactive, outdoorsy guys who planned some cool activities for the quorum. In our presidency meeting we talked about planning RS activities that would make the boys jealous, not so much out of competition but as an effort to go beyond the crafts and beauty tips nights that seem to be the norm for RS activities. The Enrichment counselor's responsibility that week was to meet with her committee to decide on topics/activities for the next month's meeting. What did she come back to report the next week - hair and makeup night. I wanted to scream! I felt like we were imposing stereotypes on ourselves.

I frequently rail against crafty, girly church activities for girls and women. But the truth is, I love cooking and spa treatments and shopping and just about everything associated with being feminine and domestic. I guess it just bothers me when its implied that those are the limits of my interests and abilities.

I think activities for girls and women should include more than crafts, and similarly, the boys and men should do something other than sports every now and then.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

I think that is my overall point--men and women ARE different, but I think that it should modify more our approach to doing something than leave out doing something. What about self-defense classes and going to the gun range for Virtue? If it comes down to a sticky situation, a well placed kick is going to come in a lot handier than a testimony.

Another example--I have a friend that wanted built in bookshelves but couldn't afford them. She found a guy in her ward who was a real craftsman and he taught her how to make her own. The girls might not want to make crossbows (like my son's 11 year old scout troop is hoping to do!) but what about learning to make something like a book shelf or treasure box that is appealing? The skill set is taught to both genders, but the final project is something interesting to each as well. Or basic car repair and maintenance? I don't know if there are stats on it, but I'm sure that breakdowns happen just as often to women as they do to men.

And with the new mission rules . . . I just have to say it. The Young Women leaders MUST do a better job of prepping the girls for the difficult realities of mission life. More returned missionary sisters--in equal measures single and married--will need to be called to be leaders to the girls. I had the pleasure for about 6 months of serving in a YW presidency where all three of us and the secretary were returned missionaries. In a generation this will be the normal. If we want to be players we need to learn to make our needs known, not just whine that they aren't being met.

Teri's Blog said...

These are some really good ideas. Right now my husband and I are the Activity Day leaders in our ward. Here in England they don't do scouting. We have a bunch of boys and one girl. We tend to do activities to help them pass off the Faith in God. The lonely girl always brings an inactive or non-member girl friend with her so she doesn't feel lonely among a bunch of boys (you must say that like they have cooties!). She really wanted to do a girls only activity and do something girly, so we are making jewelry next week. I figure if we are doing something girly it needs to be a creative potential skill. And true to fashion, I was prepared for this activity months ago and my husband has yet to decide what the boys are going to "Make an item" from the Developing Talents (page 10) in the manual.
Have you read the Middle-aged Mormon Man's blog post about time with our kids? Really good.

Janssen said...

What a great great post. I hope my daughters have leaders like you when they get to the YW age.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

I'm curious, Teri. Are your boys and girls combined because there is only one girl? Or is this typical when there are no Cubs? Outdoorsy activities and historical things are great activities with boys and girls.

Scully said...

Amen! Additionally, I feel that equal weight should be given to the award itself. I know some wards and stakes are better at this than others, but Eagle Court of Awards are an event, while the YW awards are generally just added to some already-scheduled event or part of ward business on Sundays. I do hope that with the new (and it seems improved) direction of youth instruction on Sunday, that perhaps there will be more of what you suggested and less of what feels like training to be a housewife.