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January 26, 2015

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Emily Geddes

Yes! I had very much the same reaction when I saw the two articles side-by-side. The either/or construct is simply not helpful to young women or young men (or grown women and men, for that matter!) and can be so damaging, particularly to those who may already feel they don't quite "fit". Thank you for articulating the problem so well.

Andrea R-M

Neylan, thanks for this. These are exactly the kinds of gender-based discrepancies that are getting harder and harder to ignore or let pass. How are these ideas STILL being transmitted after years of solid and prolific blogging, papers, and publications (including yours) calling out this kind of damaging gendered rhetoric? What will it take? I am grateful that I still have eight years before our transition to YW, but in the meantime, it seems like a painful crawl to where we need to be.

Juliann

When I see traits being assigned based on gender, I always think of a conference talk from Elder Holland. He advised parents to never label their children (the smart one, the nice one, etc.)because the message to the other child was that they were not smart or nice, etc. Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact talk.

Kay B

*Sigh* Here we go again. While I am disappointed with this situation, I think there is a lot we can learn from it.

1) The YW article is much more ambiguous. It talks about having "a unique part" in the Lord's work, but obviously is not as specific as the YM article. It makes no mention of careers, but thankfully does not blatantly discourage them. While it directs YM to specifically strengthen their quorums, the YW are told that there are those who need their "love and leadership".... whatever that means.

2) To an extent, the New Era is conscious of its audience. While the situation itself is distressing, what it reveals is how our YW today view themselves and their futures as a whole. To the young women, it's an ambiguous "cloud" called the future. To the young men, it's a laid-out, step-by-step path. The articles reflect this. The issue from this difference arises later on, when a girl's career/education/goals are pushed aside until "later" (read: never) and a boy's career/education/goals are prioritized so that he can follow "the steps." Articles such as these are merely signs of broader trends within church culture and teaching norms. While it may always be harder for young women to have clear paths due to a multiplicity of variables, that does not mean that we shouldn't try to help them form stronger outlines for their lives. As the adage goes, "make a plan, but do it in pencil."

3) A hint of irony to end on: As I was glancing through the Table of Contents on lds.org for this issue, I noticed that right after these two articles came the following: "Mormonad: Got that Sinking Feeling?" I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Yes, I do have that sinking feeling, but not for the reason that the editors of the New Era think that I do. Perhaps it was a freudian slip on their part.

Alison Moore Smith

I've seen a lot of anger over the posts the past few days and most of what I saw seemed, it my opinion, was misdirected. It seemed that people were bothered by SOMETHING but unable to articulate why.

I read the "girl" article first thought it was mostly fine, so I asked whether it was really a problem with the article or with the differences between the two.

Similarly, a lot of people think I hate scouts because of some of the things I've written. But I don't. Not only do I have two scouts right now, but I was more interested in scouts as a young girl than my brothers were. (I certainly poured over Boys' Life and the scout manuals more than they did.) I was so jealous. As a mother, what bothers me about scouts is the disparity between it and Activity Day.

Thank you for articulating this problem so well.

Kay B, I agree with you. The fuzziness of the path comes not just from the missing steps in the female path, but in the missing destination. We are supposed to follow Jesus, but we can't become like him, because he's a him (although we can develop some Christlike attributes). We are, apparently supposed to be like Heavenly Mother, but we have no model for that.

Aimee

No mention of the high calling of Fatherhood either! Equally as important as embracing motherhood.

AjH

I appreciated your take on this topic very much. Our magazines arrived in the mail just yesterday and my gut reaction was to hide the new era from my 14-year-old daughter.my daughter is beautiful, even spiritually beautiful. She loves the field of genetics. And she has a make up kit. I'm good with that. I like her how she is. I did not like that the article for girls was just a compilation of fluffy opinion.

As a mom and as a young women's leader at church, I believe that in areas of gender we do not need to put up with the black or white options given to us. The types of teachings as they were laid out in the new era only serve to further divide the youth of the church. It is painful. There's a whole big world out there. A girl doesn't have to sacrifice motherhood in order to gain a fantastic education. A girl, and a boy for that matter, can learn both a hobby and learn to work hard. A girl, as well as a boy, can learn to develop leadership skills and be a useful servant of the Lord at church. Etc...

Perhaps it wasn't intentional to offer these contrasting articles for boys and girls in the magazine. However, seeing them laid out as such gave me a sinking feeling. It's a feeling I remember feeling as a young woman growing up in Utah--that there was only one way to be a good Mormon woman. I simply do not think that is the case. My hope is that my church doesn't think so either. But articles like these reminded me that we have a long way to go in our culture.

E

I had the exact same experience when this month's New Era arrived. Thank you for so articulately expressing how deflating and discouraging it is to continually have these type of subtle messages aimed at our daughters. Like the commenter above, I am absolutely baffled that this is still happening.

Dave K

Thank you for this Neylan. I see the same tension reflected in many church sources, none more prominent than the Proclamation on the Family. Nurturing, presiding, providing, and protecting are all good things. I appreciate that the church teaches these responsibilities to my children. I only wish that all my children would be taught all of the responsibilities, rather than being taught (at least impliedly) a gender-based division of responsibilities.

Another good example of this tension is found in Elder Christofferson's address "The Moral Force of Women." Overall, the address is very positive and empowering. But then there is this nugget:

"Former Young Women general president Margaret D. Nadauld taught: 'The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.' In blurring feminine and masculine differences, we lose the distinct, complementary gifts of women and men that together produce a greater whole."

For the life of me, I can't understand Elder Christofferson's conclusion. Is he suggesting that men should be rude, fame-seeking, greedy and vane? Of course not. But then why teach these attributes as a means to keep the genders different?

The best I can conclude is this. Our church culture has decided that like things cannot be complimentary and things which are redundant are not necessary. Thus, to the degree that men and women are taught the same roles and attributes, we risk losing distinctiveness, complementariness, and eventually the entire family structure.

Obviously, I do not agree with this limited view. But for the time being, if my sons and daughters are going to be taught the full spectrum of Christ's attributes - which include all female and male virtues - that teaching is only going to come in the home where my wife and I preside and therefore determine the curriculum.

foo4luv

I always go over articles in the New Era with my daughter so that she gets the stuff that isn't being said.

I also find it strange that the illustration of the girl on the path showed the icon for "embracing motherhood" coming before the temple icon.

Courtney

Thanks Neylan. I thought the exact same thing when I read it--it was the comparison that did it for me, so glaring. My daughter is 11, almost 12, and I'm disappointed to say that I'm very nervous about what she'll begin to pick up that I've steered her clear of until now. She received a letter recently about Girl's Camp and the first paragraph, longer than any other, was about all the modesty rules at camp. I asked my husband if he'd ever seen a paragraph about modesty at boys' camp in all his years working with Young Men--of course he hadn't. I don't want the spark of curiosity and life to dim in my daughters.

Kari

I fear that my work teaching my girls about developing their talents, no matter what they are, will fail if they continue to get this message at church and from the New Era. How can I stop it? Why can't we start treating them as children of God instead of future mothers?

Camille Aagard

To mothers of "Hard-Thing Loving, Useful Skill-Building" girls. PUT YOUR DAUGHTER IN GIRL SCOUTS. Better yet, head up a troop! I have four girls, ages 6 to 16. The bishop recently asked me to be an Activities Days leader. I sought out the manual...and learned there is only the little Faith in God pamphlet. Off to the Girl Scout office I went!

What an AWESOME program! Let's compare messaging to this latest Friend article. "Girl Scouting builds girls of Courage, Confidence and Character, who make the world a better place." Its five leadership initiatives include Advocacy (Take Action! Make a difference in your world!; STEM (science, technology, engineering, math, critical thinking and problem solving). The GS handbook looks just like The Friend. It's illustrated and darling. Uh, but that's where the similarity ends. Its focus is leadership. For example, my 8-yr-old's intro says, "You are a Brownie--that means you're a leader in your daily life and a leader in the world. YOU CAN DO EXTRAORDINARY THINGS!" In Brownies, you'll discover lots about yourself. You'll TAKE ACTION to make the world a better place. You might write a letter to get more trees planted in a local park. You might inspire your school to save water or your community to fix broken sidewalks. All around the country, Brownies just like you are showing their power to change the world. Meet new friends! Go on outdoor adventures, run your own cookie business, and make the world a better place! (And that's just for the 2nd and 3rd graders!)

Here's the intro for the 4th and 5th graders: When you're a Girl Scout, you:
Know what you believe in and what you stand for... Dream big dreams and are confident you can make them come true....Take on challenges, even when you need to stretch a little to do so...Team up with others from all different cultures and countries...Inspire others to help their communities...Can Change the world!


Oh, and here's the messaging for the 6th and 7th graders: Leadership! Networking! Thinking about the future (talk to women who've tried out living dreams like yours. Destinations and travel opportunities! Grow your resume! Outdoor adventure! Leadership roles!


I'm taking my troop up to a robotics engineering activity at the U of U this month, wherein they meet female engineers. Two weekends ago, my 14-yr-old daughter spent four days with empowered Girl Scout leaders winter camping at Camp Cloudrim (near Park City). They had the girls plan the menus and shop out the food on Friday night. Saturday morning they snowshoed in for five hours to the camp at 9000 ft. They built snow caves and slept in them. They learned about winter survival. Monday they backpacked back out.

Anyway, hope you get your girls involved. Our Activity Days was only meeting once a month, so I am continuing that tradition. The other three Thursdays are scouts!

TinaMelquist

Honestly, the easiest answer is to simply avoid these magazines altogether. Some may consider that a cop out, but I don't want to have to deprogram my child when I could more easily prevent the errant programming in the first place. There are many other positive magazines to which tweens and adolescents can subscribe.

hannah12

I think this is a good article. I think girls and boys should be encouraged to be their best, to have Christlike attributes, get an education, and be useful to the community. It's important for girls and boys to realize that they need to be preparing to be a parent. I don't think it's wrong to teach girls to be great mothers - mothers have a huge impact on the future of their children and because of that, their impact on the future is great as well. So do fathers. I noticed that in the comments, one person mentioned they wondered why we couldn't treat women as children of God instead of future mothers. I agree, and at the same time disagree, with that. Yes, we should treat all people as children of God. That is very important. But most women will actually, in fact, be a mother one day, and it's important to be prepared. Sometimes I think people are afraid of being a 'mother' because they think that means all they will do is cook, clean, and sit at home all day. Mothers, in fact, do much of that (except sitting at home - I rarely get a moment to sit), but they also teach, serve, lead, go on great adventures, have jobs(!), travel the world, and are involved in politics. Sometimes I wonder why we idolize the working career so much. In truth, there is a lot of worldly praise, accomplishment, and talent achieving aspects to it. It's also mundane, unsatisfying, and demanding of our time with which we'd rather be with our families or out being free. Each parent sacrifices something by the role they choose, either home or work, or trying to do both. My husband and I would love to trade places sometimes, but we both also love what we do. He works 80 hours a week, I am a mother at home with my children and I also do freelance work. We have a daughter and a son, and they will both learn to cook, iron, clean, use a hammer, play sports, play instruments, and will be encouraged to pursue higher education, just as their parents have done.

I hope that the Church articles can encourage both boys and girls to do great things, to get an education, to understand that both will be parents and with that comes responsibilities. What we become is for us. It is also for our children and the people that we serve. Our talents do contribute greatly to our own self image, as well as the bettering and helping of others. I think Elder Christofferson's comments about what attributes women should obtain was excellent, quoted from a talk Sister Nadauld gave. In the Gospel there are commandments and guideposts - I think it's awesome to say that we should be people of faith. Joseph Smith said,"I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." There are many teachings in the Church, already in place, that support the idea that women and men should better themselves, prepare to become parents who can provide for their children spiritually and physically. It has long been taught in our church that women SHOULD get an education and use it. Brigham Young said “You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.” This man was our second prophet who obviously understood that educating a woman, especially where women were more likely to be at home with the children in his day than now, was extremely important. If you don't become a mother for whatever reason, the attributes you have developed that would make a great mother will also make a great leader, friend, innovator, etc. One great woman I know, Ardeth Kapp (former General YW President) was never able to have children, but she has greatly served the women in and out of the Church with her talents. She has attributes that are the same as many mother, without having had her own children, and she has accomplished a lot and helped many others do so as well.

An individual article will not always contain everything that we hope it to. As leaders and parents, we can teach our kids the additional information we hope they will take to heart.

Rachel

We are a very active Mormon family and we do not subscribe to any of the church magazines. We're very digitally oriented anyway and everything we need is online. The magazines often left me feeling deflated and negative and when I chose not to renew, no one in my family even noticed! Done.

Kristine A

I loved this, Neylan. I know I'm already sensitive to how we teach gender roles because these teachings on education being unnecessary DID damage my life, and left me utterly unprepared for real life. Like you I have NO problem whatsoever with teaching this nice list given to the girls; but I have concerns on a narrow focus; why wouldn't we just combine the two lists, make them gender neutral, and give them to all youth? Or we could just skip the checklists and focus on discipleship; because really, if your child is a good disciple wouldn't they be a man and woman of God? And isn't that what we want? (here's the post I wrote http://bit.ly/1K8fSop)

Sarah

Hmm. I didn't get that impression at all when I read the articles. But I've never felt "less than" a boy, because I'm a girl, so maybe that's why. As the child of a convert and non-member, I've felt valued as a female in the church since I started going as a child. Your other readers seem to not feel that way. That's too bad. To them I say, "Come to the South! Maybe you live in the wrong state. We love our women sweet AND strong, just like our iced tea." :)
I thought this article was completely innocuous. As I read it, I underlined the author's note that said the adversary wants us to focus on what we're NOT good at, instead of us seeing our current and potential skills. I loved that! The YW in our ward feel that negative pressure so strongly in the world and I was grateful to the author for being attune to that. I try to be very conscious of not listening to the voice that points out the bad in me or in others (or in articles I read in the New Era *wink*). It's not a voice of someone who wants me to be happy.

Amy H.

I don't believe the writers or publishers of this magazine intended to offend so many, or to say that what was focused on for one was exclusive to that focus group. I do feel, however, it might be beneficial to take a step back and ask "Why did our leaders feel it was important that these key topics were focused on for the young men? Why were these important topics to address for our young women? I feel these articles focused on some of the things our respective youth groups may struggle with, not necessarily the things that they already have well established.

In looking at the focus of the world and its influences on our youth, it seems to me as I raise teenage sons it is becoming more and more acceptable to do the bare minimum, a "hard work" ethic is not the norm, and women are mistreated in various ways throughout media and entertainment; thus the focus on working hard, respecting women, gaining an education and more. In listening to the voices of the world, a woman's value is often portrayed as being in direct relation to their physical appearance, contribution to the working world, and things of the here and now. How appropriate then to remind our young women that they are more than their body (although they should do all they can to take care of it), that to want to be a mother is a high and noble aspiration, and that we are eternal creatures with more to our lives than what the world would have us believe.

I'm impressed that so many of our mothers are reading the material the Church produces for their youth, I hope we are taking these opportunities to kindly discuss with them why certain topics might be addressed and what need others might have of them, if we indeed feel they are not of direct benefit to our situation.

Monique

My suggestion is that the Church headquarters for its magazines needs to be outside of Utah. Perhaps outside of the USA. I really do think this will solve a lot of problems.

Monique

I ended up adding this to a blog post I had already written about the words we use for women. http://ohwellmormon.blogspot.com/2015/01/watch-your-words-for-women.html

Jack

I don't think that those who put together the article anticipated that so many within our ranks would feel that worldly pursuits are more important and fulfilling than motherhood. How is that nurturing another human being has sunk so far down the list of righteous pursuits? I can't think of anything that could possibly fulfill the two Great Commandments more completely than giving of oneself to love and nurture another.

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