Yesterday's announcement of a women's session of general conference, including all girls and women over age 8, was yet another moment of joy along the path of bringing parity to the women's community of the Church. Although I have heard from some women who are mourning the child-free opportunity to commune with Relief Society sisters during the Relief Society broadcasts, my opinion is that this new meeting accomplishes several important purposes.
First, it recognizes our women as a body unto themselves, meaning that our girls in particular can assume an identity beyond their age-imposed class. Boys, too, of course have age-imposed classes, but they also have the overarching umbrella of priesthood identity, which, from a very young age, they share with their fathers. This new change helps bring that same continuity of generational spiritual identity to the women that has existed for the men.
Secondly, it allows all women in the Church to have a greater knowledge and familiarity with all of the general female leaders. The average female member among us can probably more easily name at least 2 or 3 male Seventies than we can name the general president of the Primary or any of her counsellors. If we as a body of women see more of our leaders more frequently, and get to know them as we know the brethren, then we are more inclined to feel more fully represented. Also, a range of role models -- as opposed to just one or two faces we see repeatedly -- allows more women across the globe to find a woman who particularly inspires them. Melissa Inouye spoke about this need for a range of role models in her recent essay about why we need more female leaders. This change helps increase the influence of those female leaders we do have.
I also see this as a stepping stone to additional needed and helpful changes to the way young and adult women interact in the Church. Specifically, this opens the doors for Young Women to join the Relief Society for opening exercises during our Sunday meetings, just as the boys join the men. Because a young woman has had very little exposure to the Relief Society as an organization before she actually joins it herself, the transition from Young Women's to Relief Society can be jarring. As a member of the Relief Society presidency in my college ward, it was at this transition point that we saw many freshmen struggle. I think greater integration would help ease this transition.
I also feel this change paves the way for more widespread encouragement of girls to go Visiting Teaching with their mothers, something that has rarely been encouraged (and, by some reports, actively discouraged) but which, with the change in mission age, I have now heard some wards and stakes mandating in their local congregations. Our young women need the same training in visiting and ministering to the members as the boys get, not to mention the experinece of going into someone's home, teaching them the gospel and responding charitably to their needs. This is the foundation of missionary work which our boys get from Home Teaching. An integration of Young Women and Relief Society would allow our girls that same training.
I also hope that this women's meeting will be added to the conference session of the gospel library app, so that we can access the words of these women in the future just the way we can access the words of our male leaders through the Church's many content outlets.
Of course my last hope would be that this meeting is soon renamed a "session" and become the sixth official session of every general conference. In the meantime, I'll celebrate another small but significant step in offering women organizational parity in the Church.
What other good things to you hope will come out of this change? What are you nervous will be lost?
What I Am Reading:
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. I usually love the Man Booker Prize winners, and this year seems no exception. It's the longest book ever to win, by the youngest author!
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. I've been studying this for work and was surprised when my husband said it was one of his favorite books from freshmen psych!