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.