More meetings = more equal (and more freshly-minted women)

Earlier this week the church announced that instead of holding separate Young Women and Relief Society conferences (in the spring and fall, respectively), they will now hold a combined “General Women’s Meeting” twice a year. This complements the twice-a-year Priesthood Session of General Conference and therefore is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction as far as women’s status in the church is concerned. A baby step, to be sure. I mean, on the one hand, we’ve been invited to attend another meeting. Yee-freaking-haw. On the other hand, some official people are officially saying that it’s just as important for womenfolk to meet twice a year as it is for menfolk to meet twice a year. It supports the idea that women and men have equal, complementary roles in the church–in the sense that this itty-bitty change is consistent with a viewpoint that might argue such a thing. Okay, when I actually spell out why it’s a good thing, it sounds pretty lame. But that doesn’t take away from my (sincere) conviction that this is an overall-positive lame baby-step for the church and for Mormon women. It may not be big, but it’s significant. Not pulling-over-to-the-side-of-the-road-so-you-can-weep significant, but it is a likely prelude to designating the female meeting an official part of General Conference. And that’s a thing, right? At least a prelude to a thing. That’s my optimistic take on it (and I don’t often have optimistic takes).

Stay tuned for the next exciting change in Mormondom: coming in just 30-80 years!

Speaking of baby steps, that reminds me of the part of the announcement that I thought was totally wackadoo: the meeting will include the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary General Presidencies and will include all female members aged eight and older. Yes, eight-year-old girls are being invited to the Women’s Session of General Conference (not that they’re calling it that—it’s just how I like to think of it in my mind). If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re thinking, “What the crap?” Because…I’m sorry, but why? Why would you do that? Inviting  teenage girls, i.e. the young women in the Young Women auxiliary, to the women’s meeting makes as much sense as including teenage boys (who get ordained to the priesthood) in the priesthood meeting. But eight-, nine-, ten-year-old girls? Are they some kind of women now? (Is it all the hormones in the milk these days?) Pre-women? Women in embryo? (How will we differentiate them from actual embryos?) Yes, they’ll be women someday, but so will eight-year-old boys be priesthood holders someday. As far as I know, eight-year-old boys have never been invited to Priesthood Session. And why not? Because it would be lame.

Some Mormon feminists think this inclusion of Primary girls in the women’s conference is some kind of subtle insult, like the church is putting us women in the same category as children. I really don’t think that’s it. Of course, I don’t know what’s actually it because it makes no freaking sense. Why would you include eight-year-old girls in a women’s conference? Why? Why? Perhaps inviting 11-year-old girls would not be inappropriate—girls on the cusp of Young Woman-hood, as it were. Although I am generally opposed to this sort of Valiant creep (just because I think it’s unnecessary, not because it’s harmful), I can sort of understand it. But what do our leaders have to say to grown women that could possibly be relevant and not mind-numbingly boring to eight-year-old girls? I’m not saying the stuff they say isn’t irrelevant and mind-numbingly boring to us grown-ups, but theoretically it is geared toward our interests and concerns. One might well argue that young women and adult women have little in common in terms of interests and concerns, so why combine the meetings at all? But I disagree. Teenage girls are transitioning to womanhood; they are, theoretically, mature enough to appreciate the same kinds of messages addressed to adults. In addition, as an adult woman, I am very interested in what our leaders have to say to the young women who are growing up in the church. I have said before that there ought to be a more direct relationship between Young Women and Relief Society. I do not think there needs to be a more direct relationship between Primary and Relief Society. And anyone who drags an eight-year-old to this broadcast should be punched in the face. Let the children stay children, just a little while longer!

One rationalization for the inclusion of Valiant-age girls that doesn’t seem entirely crazy is that it justifies the presence of the Primary General Presidency, which otherwise has no stewardship over any of the attendees. But I find this offensive in another way. Again and again we are told the following things: 1) women hold important leadership positions in the church and 2) all adult women are de facto members of Relief Society. The Primary General Presidency is comprised of adult women who hold important leadership positions in the church—shouldn’t that be enough to justify their participation in a General Women’s Meeting? What special thing does the Primary General Presidency have to say to Valiant-age girls that they don’t have to say to Valiant-age boys? What could it possibly be? Don’t our little girls grow up fast enough as it is? Why should we make them attend meetings on television in the dark one moment before it’s absolutely necessary? For heaven’s sake, won’t someone think of the children?

All that aside, I still think it’s a good change, overall. And will be even better once they come out and say that part about the eight-year-olds was just a joke. Punkd! by the First Presidency. I can hardly wait (30-80 years).

Comments

  1. I actually think the inclusion of girls 8 years old and up is a direct response to the Ordain Women movement. General Conference this year was a complete smack down for women. The message was loud and clear, understand your role, accept it, or leave. I believe this recent decision is the Church’s attempt to educate girls earlier about their “divine role” to prevent future movements.

  2. My hope is that the meeting will stay Christ-centered, and not devolve into the “you’re fantastic! Now get married and have lits of babies to prove your worth as women!” message that haunts women in the church.

    I’m not holding my breath, though.

  3. What RJ said.

  4. My thoughts on the eight year old girls: we start segregating males and females in the church at eight. Boys join cub scouts and girls have activity days. Cub scouts ties somewhat to the young men’s scouting program. I don’t know the relationship between activity days and young women programs. I see this as something of a retrenchment of gender roles in the Church. If I had to guess, I think we’re going to see more integration across the auxiliaries along these lines.

    I think in time this integration along with other factors like an increased number of female returned missionaries, particularly those having increased leadership opportunities within mission leadership councils can result in a women’s organization that remains separate from the male priesthood organization but that has greater significance and legitimacy in the local and global church organizations.

  5. I’m cross posting this on the similar post on Times and Seasons.

    From a membership perspective, there is no real difference between a 8-year-old girl, a 18-year-old young woman, and a 80-year-old woman. All three have the same membership status (that of being a baptized member), although the 80-year-old may or may not also be endowed. If you are doing a General Women’s Meeting for members of the Church, there’s no reason to exclude the female members aged 8-11. They are female members of the Church, after all.

    How is it any different than what is recommended for the other sessions of General Conference? Last I checked, they were for all members of the Church, including the 8-year-olds.

  6. uncle – further indoctrination in 2 additional meetings per year isn’t going to stanch the bleeding of women in the church. The world is far more egalitarian than the rhetoric women hear in these meetings. The best way to retain women is for them to ignore 99% of these messages (or do the mental gymnastics required to assume lots of exceptions), not to increase the frequency of the messages. It’s like trying to tell women who have the right to vote why they shouldn’t vote anyway. And church members already do a pretty good job of “modernizing” the messages they are hearing anyway. I agree there was an unhealthy dose of smack down at conference, but I hope that wasn’t really because the church is hostile to women as you seem to think. Time will tell. Changes like this one leave me baffled. It seems like a cure for a disease no one has while ignoring the actual epidemic.

  7. John Taber says:

    Through 1993 they did this sort of thing (just in September) for those ten and older.

  8. Ignacio M. Garcia says:

    It is hard to understand what prophets do if you take issue with everything they do before you see the end results. Maybe there is inspiration in what is being done. Maybe they will learn that it doesn’t work, and make changes. My sense is that the sisters in the general boards were probably the ones that pushed for this type of conferences and that they made the recommendations to include the 8-year olds so that it would be more like a general conference for women. So, hold off on the criticism before you fully understand things.

  9. melodynew says:

    What Hawkgrrrl said. And thanks for this, Rebecca J. Amen to everything you wrote.

  10. Mary Jo Anhalt says:

    Give it up. I’m too old to care about your pettiness. If you don’t want to attend or watch, go play with your kids or read your Sunstone mag. How did you like the atheists’ convention in SLC? Did you learn anything worth commenting on?

    I am curious as to why the DAR requires proof of your true ancestry, and the new DNA genotype tests help you get that proof, but legal adoption is ok in LDS doctrine. Hmmmm.

    Have a Patriotic Veterans’ Day. God Blessed America.

  11. Brilliant insight from RJ couched in brilliant wit. Amen, and amen to hawkgirl. If you seek to understand the [missing] women in the church, this can help. If you don’t care, you’ll be dismissive, cluelessly rolling your eyes at those of us gathered here, bitterly laughing.

  12. My wife’s comment last night: “So who in the purple pants brigade do I get to thank for creating yet another meeting that I have to attend and now get guilted into taking my kids with me rather than enjoying a night out on my own with ladies my age?”

  13. I have such mixed feelings! At first I was so excited, this is what I was hoping for, I don’t want to attend PH meeting, I want my own women’s meeting to be equated with it. Yay!

    Then I was disappointed because we are losing the aspect of narrow, focused talks based upon specific needs (single sisters, postpartum depression, etc).

    But then my friend pointed out that hopefully this will lead to teaching more just core doctrines of the church (and hopefully less of the good-intentioned-modesty-type-teachings reserved for YW that I have been dreading for my daughter) and leaving it to the Spirit to make individual applications. I felt better about that.

    And then the note about Primary. My heart fell, mostly because being in Primary the last 7 years one of my frustrations is the perception that it is a women’s organization. During my years as primary president I had to struggle to convince my bishopric to call men into Primary: often using the fact that half of the children did not have an active priesthood holder in their home. It’s a mixed gender organization similar to Sunday School but expansive in breadth and scope. It is not a female auxiliary, no matter what everyone thinks. Coming from the Primary perspective, I would love to have a worldwide annual primary meeting, 1 hour long, accompanied with a service project. Alas, if wishes were fishes.

    I admit, 8-12 year-olds these days need more advanced teaching than occurred when I was that age. I’m teaching my 8 year old things I was never taught by my parents. My daughter knows all the details about sex, why we never dress to please others – only God, etc. But speakers always consider their audience, and this will have significant changes as they address 8-98+ year olds in their messages.

    And finally, I really am so SO excited to have a mother daughter tradition where we go out for ice cream afterwards and visit about important things and life.

    So all in all, I’d say my reactions is mixed – most definitely mixed.
    (cross posted at neylanmcbaine.com)

  14. Magpielovely says:

    But have you ever heard anything in General Conference (any session, for women or men) that you found would be offensive to 8-year-old ears? I believe I would say No. These talks are just not that frank or clear. Anything that a young child can’t decipher will simply go over their heads or be cause for a good conversation with a parent.

    I’m a fan of the younger ages. The kids are ready for more.

  15. also in April I attended a session and sat in front of an 8 year old. She lasted about 40 minutes before she became a distraction, and I gave her props for lasting that long. I’ve been in primary for 8 years and know the capacity of primary children to recognize and feel the Spirit and bear testimony. I have high expectations of primary children . . . they are ready for more meat and I teach them accordingly. But typically those moments come in 30 minute bites. My daughter is 8 and gratefully has moved out of the coloring book stage, but still needs to bring activities (crocheting, coloring lds pics on dad’s ipad) to make it through sacrament. The gap between 8 and 11 is huge.

    Also I don’t think it’s wrong to express trepidation over the changes. Obviously it will be different, and we may miss certain parts of the ‘old’ way things were done. Older members of the church always ruminate on program changes this way, too. We’re still going to attend and support and “see how this turns out.” I’m some parts will be better and certain people will miss certain things. That’s the nature of all changes.

  16. But have you ever heard anything in General Conference (any session, for women or men) that you found would be offensive to 8-year-old ears?

    Not unless boring = offensive.

    Seriously, I’m only worried about the children.

  17. Since we don’t have to physically attend, won’t most folks listen through the internet while doing something else? So with the 8s at home, the behavior would not be such an issue.

  18. I am so envious of your talent. To mingle snark and wittiness with truth and insight. I get excited every time I see your name on a post because I know it will illicit all three of the following reactions: tears/emotion, laughter, and thought. Does it get better than that?

  19. “I mean, on the one hand, we’ve been invited to attend another meeting. Yee-freaking-haw.”

    Actually, this represents one less meeting, since two meetings are being combined into one – and it is broadcast, so attendance can be at home. The invitation to attend two meetings has been around for 20 years, before which it was just one meeting.

    There are some really good conceptual things about this change, and there are a few potentially difficult things about it. I think one of the most interesting things will be if a male leader continues to preside and deliver the keynote address or if that position will be given to the female leadership – and another will be if the “Priesthood session” is eliminated for a similar meeting of all baptized male members.

  20. I also think it’s a reaction to OW, although I don’t think it’s an attempt at stronger indoctrination. That’s not going to work, as hawkgrrrl said. It seems more like a desperate attempt to change *something* to address the calls for gender equality in the Church. But that change has come out as part good, part ridiculous, as Rebecca said so well. As another friend said, the Church hears us, but they’re not listening.

  21. Ray, the meeting is supposed to be semi-annual, so unless you were attending both the YW and the RS meeting, it is another meeting. I was invited (encouraged) to attend the YW broadcast with my teenage daughter, but my daughter hates the YW broadcast, so neither of us went. I doubt she will want to go to the combined meeting either, so it makes no difference to her. I can only hope that if 8-year-olds are invited, they will have some cartoons in the beginning or something. Or better yet, in the middle. As for watching it at home, yes, you can do that. But that doesn’t make it more exciting. (Although it leaves both the teen and the 8-year-old free to “attend” while doing other things.)

    I agree that it is a good conceptual change, but I fully expect the men to keep presiding and giving the keynote address. At least for another 30-80 years.

  22. Totally with madhousewife–my first reaction was #$%!, another Saturday night lost.

  23. Missed that. Duh!

  24. Hear, hear to those praising Rebecca J’s writing. She is the queen of wit and insight. All hail!

  25. Why? What are you so upset about? I’m afraid many of you are forgetting that the head of The Church is Jesus . That’s approximately one deity more than you’re giving it credit for. It’s not anyone else’s decision to make. If you really want to understand all of it, stop speculating and go to the source, i.e. Jesus. Or is that too pedestrian and old fashioned?

  26. J. Stapley says:

    RJ rules. Scott, the sort of fundamentalism that says every single thing that happens in the church is by the personal direction of Jesus generally doesn’t end well.

  27. Anyway, Scott, I’m not upset. I’m genuinely confused. Even if it’s Jesus’s fault, that’s what I am.

  28. I have a high opinion of 8 year old girls. They are smart, thoughtful and conscientious.
    I will enjoy the conference immensely with my daughter and granddaughter. We will be listening to sermons and praising God through music with the Holy Ghost threading through it all.

  29. Magpielovely says:

    Yeah, whether or not the younger set finds it boring just can not have been part of the calculations. My kids are bored out of their minds for about 45 minutes every week in sacrament meeting and no one seems to care a bit (“builds character” seems to be the common consensus.)

  30. What do you mean doesn’t end well? I don’t get it.

  31. I have a high opinion of my own 8-year-old. I still don’t think she’ll enjoy this meeting. General Conference has never catered to 8-year-olds. I don’t know any 8-year-olds who honestly enjoy General Conference, and I’ve known plenty of 8-year-olds. I’ve taught 8-year-olds in Primary. They were all very bright, but none of them could appreciate General Conference talks. Maybe the Holy Ghost is weaker where I live.

  32. Scott, I lifted these quotes from the LDS Revelation wikepedia page under the section “inspired vs. infallible:

    “Brigham Young taught “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.”[11]

    ….Dallin H. Oaks explains: “Revelations from God . . . are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit.”[14] Thus the current prophet can clarify, correct or change any previous teachings.[15]

    All that to say that when I read/hear comments like yours it makes me wish for more widespread acceptance about members feeling differently than their leaders, and maybe more acknowledgement that it could actually be HELPFUL for them to express their different perspective. Everyone in a leadership position is as Elder Oaks said, “often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific directions of the Spirit”. Because of posts like this one I have gotten much more comfortable with the belief that sustaining my leaders does not always have to mean agreeing with every thing they do or say. In fact,this year I’ve written two letters to my stake presidency expressing my differing perspective on a stake policy and I’ll tell you what, it just feels like the right thing to do when I realize that their aren’t any women in their presidency meetings helping them see how the practical play-out of their policies are affecting people different then the elderly white male make-up of our presidency. Anyway, I agree with Amanda above who said that whenever she sees Rebecca (aka Madhousewife)’s name on a post she is excited because “I know it will illicit all three of the following reactions: tears/emotion, laughter, and thought. Does it get better than that?” Thanks to Rebecca J. (and writers like her) I have begun to believe that sharing my thoughts, feelings and experiences is a helpful thing to do for my leaders. And when writing that I think oh my gosh, everyone must agree on that one, right???

    And Marcia, one doesn’t need to have a low opinion of 8 year old girls to worry that they might struggle with having a weekend that is normally eight hours of listening quietly to adult focused discourse turned into a ten hours. If many eight year old girls are smart, thoughtful and conscientious, then would you agree that many are also talkative and energetic?

  33. Yes yes. Don’t be sheep. I condone that as much as anyone else. Maybe I got your tone wrong, but this sounded less like questioning and more like a dig against the leadership of the church. Like they need to get ‘hip’ to the times ‘yo.’ Like they haven’t thought about this. Or prayed about this. Or whatever. Question, disagree, write your congressman. I believe you can do these things without being disrespectful.

  34. Oh, if the leadership of the church can’t take a little playful teasing from a blogger they’ll never read, they aren’t the men I think they are.

  35. Rachel I agree with you. There are an innumerable mix of character traits among 8 year old girls
    .
    I have found that in-home training can help prepare a child to learn to worship joyfully at church and hear the Lord’s word. Please don’t be offended by this ‘first lesson” my children heard repeatedly in our home:: “Only boring people get bored.” 8 year old children generally can focus for 8 minutes at a time. Long talks will certainly tire 8 year old brain and minds will wander.
    Can we teach our children to wander into their imagination, write a thought in a journal, pray or lay on Mom’s lap for a while and then are gently encouraged to refocus and hear the good word?

  36. from a blogger they’ll never read,

    Rebecca, you’d be surprised what kind of stuff from the bloggernacle actually makes its way to the Brethren…

    That being said, I think some here would also be surprised at, as you suggest, the ability of the Brethren to poke fun at themselves and not take (some) things too seriously. I happen to know that at least one of the Apostles is a pretty big fan of the recent “Peanut Butter cup” parody that was making it’s way through Facebook and Youtube a few months ago.

  37. I was just going to leave this alone, but, what do mean by “a step in the right direction”? What’s your goal here? I’m so very curious as to what your point of view is.

  38. Marcia, I like your comment so much. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I came back to copy and paste it into my journal. In practice, I’ll probably frame it something more as “Boredom is a choice”, otherwise I can already hear my six year old running around calling people boring anytime she hears the “I’m bored” phrase. :) But what I love about your comment is the honesty in talking to our kids about their experiences in attending long meetings directed mainly toward adults. To tell them this is supposed to be a time for them in the same way that it is a time for an adult woman is just setting 99.9% of them up to feel like failures. We homeschool and one of the HS blog authors I love to read just wrote about how organized religion is too much like school. My comment is the one near the end at 5:17 PM, but this is the part that I think applies:

    “Luckily, I have also come to believe that my religion is a means to an end, not the reason for life. So I bring my children anyway and I teach them that when their teachers get frustrated with them for acting like children this is their chance to show those teachers that God loves them too. “Hug your teacher and tell her you forgive her for being mean to you.”

    I have opted out of asking my children to spend 1/3 of the most vulnerable time in their life in an institution that largely misunderstands the beauty in their natural tendencies, but I have been very careful in making the decision to still take them to the church that teaches me this:

    “Being mistreated is the most important condition of mortality, for eternity depends on how we view those who mistreat us.”

    This would be impossible though if I couldn’t tell them that organized religion has problems. We go despite the problems, not because our church is free of them. And that’s the lesson I want them to learn about all relationships; we love because of the good in others, not because there is no bad in them.”

    http://homeschooling.penelopetrunk.com/2013/10/14/organized-religion-is-too-much-like-school/

  39. I hope that it’s only women who can talk I the meeting. I.e. no men.

  40. Our stake just received a letter from the FP indicating that in future stake conferences children age 12 and up are now invited to attend the Saturday evening sessions. This may be directly related to the theme/content of upcoming stake conferences (missionary work). However, it’s interesting that it comes at the same time as the inviation for younger females to attend the meetings addressed in this post. Perhaps there is a general shift to begin including older rugrats?

  41. Children twelve and up invited? Then who’s going to babysit for the parents with younger children, so they can attend? Ten and eleven year old children? Did the letter also announce that there are going to be nurseries for the evening session?

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