Church and the Value of Girlie Things

Girlie ChurchOften in the quest for equality in the church programs for girls and boys, women talk about how much they would have loved to do all the scout activities. As I said in the Boy Scout Redux, I was very envious of many parts of scouting. I love rafting, I pitched in the first girls’ little league in Orem, I ran a marathon to “celebrate” my 40th birthday, and I played intramural flag football and co-ed softball at BYU up until I was past my due date with my second pregnancy. But I don’t love everything “boyish.” I was a ballroom dancer and put myself through college, in part, with pageant winnings. So I’ve got a serious girlie side, too.

So what do girls want? They don’t necessarily want a Boy Scout clone with their gender inserted. But they do want something that’s in the ballpark with regard to resources and recognition. When my brother was at the Jamboree, my big summer church activity was to crochet a hot pad. Seriously.

Personally, I don’t care if the girls want to rough it in the mountains, or have an enormous beauty shop makeover, I just think they should have resources and support to do some things they enjoy — whatever they are — and to be recognized for their accomplishemnts.

It seems that part of the problem is an underlying feeling that “girlie” things are frivolous, while “boyish” things are crucial survival skills. Granted, the church has allowed more than it’s share of (stupid) craft projects (those that Johnny Biscuit affectionately refers to as “sticks and weeds”). And far too many of us were subjected to coffee table grapes. (My mother refused to make them. We were so uncool.) Those superficial activities seem to have morphed over a period of years from the more practical homemaking and self-reliance skills that really did provide value. But in my experience most of those activities were (and are) self-funded.

Still, I’m hopeful that someday we can stop acting like learning to lash a latrine or getting a bowling belt loop is enormously elevated in substance to scrapbooking or having pedicure night.

And while we’re at it, can we stop implying that “campouts” — with boys urinating out the sides of tents and tying firecrackers to rodents — turn boys in to men, but girls at “sleep overs” are vulnerable to molestation?

One year in Boca Raton, all the Young Men in our ward certified in SCUBA. (Cost about $200 per kid, I think?) As one of the Young Women leaders at the time, I asked if the girls were included. No. I asked if they could do a comparable activity. After some hemming and hawing I got a, “Well…OK…bring us your ideas for approval.”

In the time before I moved, we presented four or five ideas. All the ideas were things the girls came up with, none costing nearly as much as SCUBA certification, all things we could administer ourselves. (One was, for example, a nail/hair/sleepover thing.) None of the ideas were approved while I lived there as.

So, in theory they were open to the idea of the girls doing some big thing, but none of the things the girls brought up were deemed valuable enough to actually allow. I mean, who cares if you can do your hair? But if there’s a tsunami, then SCUBA is a valuable life saving skill. And the pottery merit badge means we can eat food in dishes, after all humanity has been extinguished. And the stamp collecting merit badge means we will have something really cool to look at while we’re in the fallout shelters after the “big one.” Or something.

Just because male leaders don’t personally like girl stuff doesn’t mean the girl stuff isn’t as valuable as the boy stuff. One of the problems women face in a church with all-male approval is trying to get the leaders to see things from a perspective that is usually pretty foreign to them. And to value the other perspective, even if they don’t quite understand it.

If gender matters, how do we help male leaders value the female perspective?

[The image is of me and my friends, Sue Petersen and Rolain Lake, warming up for our ward talent show rendition of Stop! In the Name of Love. Obviously, we were girlie and fabulicious. And big hair rocks.]

31 comments for “Church and the Value of Girlie Things

  1. it might be of note that as a guy I detested all things scouting and camping. The last straw for me was when I was almost 18 and was forced to go to camp and the leader conviently “forgot” to bring food for the last day (deal was we brought our own food for the first 2 days he brought food for the last)well…his plan was were to fish for something edible to come out of the lake (can’t recall what it was now but something like Mosquito lake) and unless there was a Mcdonald’s at the bottom of the lake I wasn’t eating anything coming out of there! So once that ordeal was over I resolved never to go camping again, and 15 years ater I have kept my word. One problem too for me was scouts and YM was always on wednesday night , same night as TV’s Unsolved Mysteries, so unless we were tying knots or doing origami with Robert Stack I wasn’t interested

  2. One problem both YM and YW suffer from is that activities tend to be geared towards what leaders perceive the majority want.

    So, you get teachers playing basketball — when 2 or 3 kids don’t enjoy or play the game.

    You have mia maid makeover activities when some of the girls are too insecure or don’t desire to look good for others.

    Scouts go camping and do merit badges when lots of kids abandon by 13 or 14.

    Kids have a multitude of interests. Not all are into sports. Not all want to learn homemaking. Not all enjoy firesides or scouts.

    Offerings need to be far more diverse — music, theater, sports, scouting, camping, science, career, etc. all deserve a role.

  3. Around here everyone is kind of at a loss for what to do for Young Women’s activities. It is easy to say let the girls plan it but what 14 year old girl really knows what is available or what she wants to learn about before she actually learns it? Scouts has the structure so they show up and learn about and do stuff for a merit badge, no angst thinking it all up. Then there is a reason for swimming back and forth in the pool and using your clothes for a flotation devise. For girls activities it can be kind of like “Um, why do that? That kinda sounds lame/hard/boring/weird/ or whatever so nothing even gets off the ground. Too many choices without the structure to really make it happen. Activities only work if people get exciting about planning them and participating in them.

  4. Whizzbang, I hear you. My husband calls me “the anti-craft.” I endured years of homemaking meetings, just to be a good sport. :)

    Steve, I think variety is the right course. Of course few activities will please EVERYONE — and some people will complain no matter what you do (and won’t show up for the activities you plan specifically for them — been there). But having a variety of activities to give experience and reach many should be doable.

  5. jks, that is a great point. The scouting structure does aid in planning. I can’t count how many times kids have hated an IDEA but ended up loving the ACTIVITY.

    One example was the speech contest I did for a combined activity years ago. The kids almost universally thought it sounded stupid. They had a great time and asked to do it again.

    P.S. Never again did I have to hear a talk begin with, “I was asked to talk about…” or “For the Strength of Youth says…” It was glorious.

  6. I have decided it is pointless to try to suggest ideas to my daughter. Anything I have suggested she doesn’t get why. I have suggested Public Speaking and had a woman in the ward willing to do it, but I suggested it to my daughter but she didn’t sound interested (of course)!
    I am currently trying to set up a meeting of PARENTS and leaders to discuss activities for the YW program. I had this idea the day after I went to my first scout committee meeting as a parent on Thursday. It has been eye opening to see the scouting program. –it is NOT about the money or budget, it is about the structure of volunteers and the structure of activities that is in place. They have meetings with parents! I never knew about merit badge “counselors” until this summer. Did you know there is a whole list of people who you can call up (or make your son call) who are willing to drop everything and feel obligated and mentor your son for a couple or several hours on a subject? At my scout committee meeting when I was asked to volunteer for stuff, I mentioned that since I have a daughter too I was going to need to donate that much time to the YW program too….yet there is no structure in place to do that so I need to find ways to do it on my own.
    So, I have decided that I will be dedicating just as many hours to my daughter in YWs (or just the two of us if needed) as me or my husband donate to scouts. Even if it means I take my daughter on an overnight trip just the two of us to a hotel or take some sort of class together. But, my first step is to talk to other parents and try to find out what the girls needs and how we can help the leaders and support the program. (Our ward has some unique challenges and there are additional reasons why we need better communication but it is a long story involving our ward having 2 young women combining activities with the other ward that has more) I may not get the communication with other parents that I am hoping for but I can at least sit down and help the leaders understand the girls from a current mother’s perspective and figure out ways to support the program and maybe even support the other girls.

    Any ideas for good activities for about 8 girls, varied ages, and nothing to do with makeup or manicures? My daughter isn’t into that at all.

  7. I’ve been in several wards where a list gets passed around asking for volunteers to teach things to both the YM (merit badge stuff, or not) and/or the YW. If you can get a good list of people who are excited about something and willing to teach the youth, it can give you some good ideas for activities.

    Of course, those same wards have also had those adults who volunteered to help spend several hours preparing and arrive at the church to find none of the youth showed up.

  8. Some things are worth learning whether a person is a boy or girl. It’s useful for everyone to know how to cook, sew, tie knots, and start a fire. But as long as we as a culture value traditionally female activities less than traditionally male activities, we are doing a disservice to everyone.

  9. Allison, good comments and nice hair….

    Scouting has changed over the years. Now, with the older boys, it is less a focus on achieving Eagle (especially for boys with no interest in that), and more of a focus on learning skills, discovering their abilities, and learning what is available in the adult world for them to prepare for.

    I think this becomes an equally useful and valid direction for the girls 14+. Check out the concepts on Venturing (and somewhat true on Varsity), where the group select a goal and then work towards it together. Goals can be something that last a month, a quarter, or the entire year, depending on how far they wish to pursue it.

    I could see a series, where the girls study and learn about a variety of college programs: from medicine to biology, art, music, dance, history, chemistry and physics, etc.

    I wish there would have been a program like that when I joined the Church at 16. Our “Scouts” essentially meant playing basketball every Wednesday. While that was okay, it did not require a YM Presidency to guide us in anything, or to help us grow. I would have loved exploring the variety of courses and programs available at the university. Imagine inviting different professors or professionals in the area once a month to discuss their realm of experience.

    I think the Church is a little scared to do something like that, because they’ve had a tradition of young women quickly becoming wives and mothers. However, becoming a husband and father is not supposed to preclude the young man from also becoming a college graduate. There’s nothing wrong in teaching the girls that they can be a mother and wife AND study in college. Perhaps it is a direction we should encourage.

  10. I remember suggesting several fun activities that were turned down because they weren’t spiritual enough. I was always jealous of the boys and the budgets they had from putting up flags in the neighborhood kind of bugged me because I wanted to go on a backpacking trip or go waterskiing at Lake Powell, a place I’ve never been to. Even the fact that they sometimes just up and went to McDonald’s bugged me. The one time that I was allowed to plan an activity and use budget money was when I planned a combined boys/girls bowling activity.

  11. Good points Allison. Finally a critique about YM-YW program differences that I have reason to take seriously* because it emphasizes that gender does matter. And even if programs are not “equal” down to the color of uniforms, they need to be equitable.

    *OK, maybe I should take them all seriously. But this is one with good arguments that might just persuade me.

  12. So I was trying to come up with benefits to a makeover party, pedicure night, or a sleep over. Something tangible that could be used as a good argument for it. I can’t really think of anything. So I thought well, it’s just cause I’m a guy and I don’t understand.

    Then I tried thinking of tangible benefits to camping, knot tying and stuff like that. I can’t really think of anything that is more substantial than a pedicure night either. I guess you could spout off “Builds team work” or something, but I can’t tell you HOW it builds team work. So maybe it’s not that I’m a stupid guy that doesn’t understand girly things. It’s more that I’m a stupid person that doesn’t understand things… :)

    Maybe some of you can come up with better convincing arguments.

  13. Bryan, I can’t comment on pedicure sleep-overs, but as a scoutmaster I’m convinced the boys get something out of campouts other than just comaraderie. Getting these boys away from their mothers and having them learn to light a stove, set up a tent, find their way around w/wo maps, eat their own food, clean up their own mess, sleep in the cold, etc., gives them hands on experience in figuring things out, learning to make do, living with the consequences of their own choices. There’s a tremendous confidence and self-esteem that comes from that, especially for 12-13 year-olds. Teach them how to tie a double-figure 8, have them use it to tie themselves in and rappel off a cliff, and you’ll watch boys transform before your eyes. I know scouting doesn’t work for everybody, but I have 11 scouts, two of which have special needs and two have special circumstances, and I feel we’ve been able to make the program work for all of them.

    My daughters have always complained that the boys get more fun activities, but I’m not convinced it’s fixable. Not enough of the girls or their leaders want to do “fun stuff”. Whether as scoutmaster or bishopric member, I’ve repeatedly offered to assist them climbing, mountain biking, back-packing, or simply camping, and every time either the girls or their leaders have backed away. It wasn’t for lack of budget or approval. It was for lack of interest or comfort.

  14. Martin,

    Thanks for something tangible. I’m just not good at coming up with those things I guess.

    Your second paragraph reminds me of my friends I had in the BYU Women’s Chorus. If any of you know anything about the BYU Men’s Chorus you know they do a lot of funny stuff with a lot of their songs. The Women’s Chorus generally just sings songs. A lot of them complain that they never get to do anything fun, but my friends tell me that every time they tried to implement something like that people start complaining or don’t like the idea so it flops and they sing the song straight. (Note this is all anecdotal!)

  15. Martin, I think you miss the point if you think that the problem isn’t fixable because “not enough of the girls or their leaders want to do ‘fun stuff,'” as long as you define “fun stuff” as “climbing, mountain biking, back-packing, or simply camping.” The whole point is that girls can find “girlie” stuff fun, but too often aren’t allowed to do it as an organized church group. Or, as I’ve made the point elsewhere, girls don’t want to be boys and do the identical “fun stuff” that boys do — they DO want to have activities that are as fun for them, and that involve leader support and praise and recognition and effort and planning — and yes, even budget — as the boys get. They don’t want the same activities, but they want the same payoff.

  16. How about something along these lines, Alison, as an argument in favor of “girlie” stuff that male leadership *might* understand (I’m typing as I’m thinking, so this isn’t organized) —

    Scout stuff is seen as valuable for boys because it gets them away from their mothers, as Martin says, and they learn to do stuff for themselves. It’s a juvenile way of practicing to be men, in presenting them with problems to solve and ways to prove themselves as capable individuals.

    Girls need the same early practice at being women. Rather than being rugged individuals proving their capacity to solve complex problems individuals as men see their role, women are far more social, prefer to discuss and reach consensus, and need to work out their own places in the social order. “Girlie” stuff, where girls can talk and giggle and practicing grooming and develop friendships and social networks, do the same work at “practice adulthood” as camping does for boys. Girls need to be away from their mothers and among their peers to practice those skills, every bit as much as boys do. Girls giggling and painting toenails is the feminine equivalent to boys’ belching contests and feats of physical prowess at camp.

    Boys’ activities can hardly be said to be spiritual most of the time, yet we usually expect that being in touch with nature will speak to them in a spiritual way, and we hope that there will be moments around the campfire or watching the stars in the middle of a silent night when boys will recognize the presence of God, and even share confidences and testimonies. It’s unrealistic to expect that girls’ activities will be all spiritual all the time, but when friends are trusted and the lights are out and the giggling stops, confidences and testimonies every bit as profound as anything that happens in camp can happen among girls.

    Male leaders need to understand that girls need practice at becoming women in gospel-centered recreational activities; they need to remember that just as they don’t fully understand women, they don’t understand girls, either, and should expect them to be different, and their enjoyments incomprehensible to the male mind.

  17. Ardis, I’d be more sympathetic to that point if I hadn’t had the same argument made to my face as I was serving in the bishopric where I knew for a fact the YW budget exceeded the YM’s (per head) and I could pretty much approve anything they’d likely propose. I showed them the budget comparison and asked what I could do to help, and that was the end of it. And, I wasn’t affecting any disinterested aires — my daughters were in the program.

    I live in SoCal where the church is truer than most places, but I think much of the historical structural impediments to the YW are either gone or going.

  18. Actually, with regards to spirituality, the YM program suffers compared to the YW. I wish I knew how to fix that too.

  19. Not sure what budget concerns have to do with allowing sleepovers or the other four or five unnamed activities Alison mentioned then she said didn’t cost anything like the boys’ SCUBA certification, but I don’t want to make this a contest between you and me, Martin, so I won’t argue further.

  20. Ardis, your second comment only just appeared for me. I was responding to the budget part of your first comment. I didn’t realize sleepovers were forbidden — our miamaids did that last summer at a leader’s home. I would never do it with scouts. I’d want them somewhere where I can limit the damage, like in a tent in the desert.

    I believe that YW got the short end of the stick historically. I just don’t think that’s the case now, or at least that it needs to be. YW leaders should go for it. Priesthood leaders never know what they’re doing, so if you ask for permission, they’ll wonder if that means there’s some reason they’re supposed to say “no”, so don’t ask.

  21. Do male leaders in the church need to be more open to perspectives of women? Yes.

    Will doing this make make the YW program more spiritual? Yes.

    However, I don’t see the equality argument to be that compelling. Our RS has a much bigger budget that our MP. Our YW have regularly had a bigger budget than our YM. Part of it is because YW activities needed to be more expensive, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But nobody cared.

    Are the programs equally spiritual, equally expensive, and equally fun? No, because achieving all of that is almost impossible. Striving for equality is important and laudable, but it’s not as important as some of the other imperatives that drive ward programs. Making kindness, validation, love, friendship, context for learning how to be a adult, and good examples accessible to the youth is more important, and unequal budgets or different types of activities are sometimes the byproducts.

    I very much like the perspective of #17 on ways a male leader can view his assignment to work with women leaders through a paradigm that acknowledges how different activities may be helpful and valuable for YW who need a wholesome environment to practice skills particularly relevant to becoming a woman.

  22. When I was the age of most of these young men….I had words with my father about the young girl I was seeing. She and I had been busy learning (at age 12)what the world was about. Her Mother called my Father to complain about US. We were being so grownup that she thought we needed to cool off. When Dad confronted me with this argument…I explained that she was just that way. My Dad went nuts! He calmly explained to me that what I had said was not acceptable. I learned that day that a girl has only her reputation to get her through life and for me to talk against her reputation was as big a sin as I could commit. I’m 69 now and remember that as though it were yesterday.

  23. I second Martin… Easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission! Or call your sleepover a camp out in permanent tents :)

  24. My experience has been that the male leaders of the ward (the bishopric) will approve anything that the Young Women presidency asks for. There is no systematic institutional unfairness.

    I have heard of bishopric members who micro-manage others under them in the structure, but I haven’t experienced it. I suppose such persons will micro-manage the Young Men as much as the Young Women or Primary. Generally, I see leaders calling others to serve and letting them magnify their calling (or not).

    This is just my experience.

  25. There is an anxiety & inertia of choice for YWs. If you have the choice of 1000 movies, what are the chances that all the leaders and girls will decide on one and everyone will be pleased with the choice rather than thinking that its a lame movie and surely there is a better one that more girls would enjoy.
    If you pick from only two available movies, chances are people will pick the one with the most votes and the whole group will be fine with it.
    Girls have way too many choices and an unknown, iffy budget based on individual ward bishops’ whims. Boys just choose which merit badge or which cool camping thing they will do.

    Scouts is based on boys doing and learning things and becoming more capable. That plus spending time together outdoors with mentoring.
    Girls in this day and age aren’t sure what they are supposed to be learning and becoming more capable in. The old fashioned, traditional feminine things seem kinda lame to a lot of girls (why quilt if you can just buy a blanket?). Older women don’t feel like they can mentor younger girls. Young mothers are busy with little children. The YW program isn’t sure what practical things to teach girls. SHould they focus on career stuff like scouts does in merit badges? Or should they focus on homemaking stuff? Do the girls like sports or not? It totally depends on the particular girls in the ward, so what if your girls are diverse in their interests so you never have two girls who are interested in one thing?
    My daughter is interested in anime, Japanese, writing fan-fiction. She is convinced that the other girls are all into singing and dancing and she has nothing in common with them. I’m not convinced that is true, but I think it is hard to pick a direction.
    Finally, I noticed that my daughter’s 14 year old birthday party consisted of a lot of time sitting at the table after dinner just talking. When I get together with adult women I love to sit and talk. I would LOVE for YWs activities to give females a chance to bond one of the ways that women have bonded for years. I assume that is what happens during pedicure activities. Talking. Men tend to like to do things together to bond. Women want to talk to each other, the activity sometimes gets in the way….so you need to make sure you arrange time for talking.

  26. I so appreciate the great comments and will take the time to address many of them, but can’t do it tonight. Just want to through a shout out to two items:

    Ardis #17: Wow. I so appreciate those insights. I nearly cried. (How girlie is that?)

    jks #26:

    Girls have way too many choices and an unknown, iffy budget based on individual ward bishops’ whims. Boys just choose which merit badge or which cool camping thing they will do.

    I think you’ve really hit on an ingenious angle in your comments — one that I have not heard addressed before. When I hear people claim that their YW get more funds than YM I can hardly believe it. It is SO foreign to my experience that I can hardly believe it. I’ve never seen a YW budget that approached YM/Scouts or even heard of one from someone who would give a real name and ward.

    But your statement hones in on the heart of the matter, without questioning anyone’s statements. YW have “iffy” budgets based on whim and a very open-ended program that doesn’t give much structure.

    Keep your ideas coming. :)

  27. Great post. LOL about boy scout camp behavior. Dead on! Scouting is antithetical to developing a manly spiritual outlook.

  28. Ramemptom #10:

    There’s nothing wrong in teaching the girls that they can be a mother and wife AND study in college. Perhaps it is a direction we should encourage.

    The church does a pretty good job of encouraging women to be educated, don’t you think? At least better than many of the guys I dated. Can’t tell you how many times I had “the talk.” It went like this:

    Guy: So how important is school to you?

    Me: I’ll die if I don’t graduate.

    Guy: Um…er…ah…

    Me: You don’t have a wife supporting you in school right now, do you?

    Guy: No…

    Me: So if I were to, hypothetically, become your wife, you wouldn’t need me to drop out of school to support you, right?

    Guy: Uh…

    That was generally the beginning of the end of those relationships. For good reason.

  29. Allison,

    While the Church puts much emphasis on college, they often seem to speak out of both sides of the mouth when it comes to young women. They are expected to marry young and have children, while the husband goes to college then provides for the family.

    While this tradition may be changing somewhat, it still is very prevalent. It is ingrained in our way of thinking, which is why so many of our young men expect the wife to babysit and raise children, while he attends college. For many sisters, college often comes only later in life, after the kids are grown.

    In a perfect world, both could go to school at the same time. However, sometimes there are trade offs.

    I like how my son and his wife are doing it. He worked (Air Force), while she went to school. Now she’s a nurse, and he’s attending school full time. They both share the duties of kids at home. Yes, it could also work the other way around, too. First the husband finish his degree, and then immediately let her finish hers.

    My point is that the Young Men have Boy Scouts, where they explore their world and opportunities, while many Young Women are taught Personal Progress and how to make doilies. Why shouldn’t a major part of their study be on exploring their world and opportunities, as well?

  30. In the time before I moved, we presented four or five ideas. All the ideas were things the girls came up with, none costing nearly as much as SCUBA certification, all things we could administer ourselves. (One was, for example, a nail/hair/sleepover thing.) None of the ideas were approved while I lived there as.

    Your experience has seriously sucked. I feel bad for you (and especially the girls), and that your experience hasn’t been a positive one. I can assure you that your experience is not universal, so there is hope for others out there.

Comments are closed.