So this past weekend I was visiting my sister, who is a Young Women leader in her ward, and she showed me this skit that they did for their New Beginnings. (I found it via a Google search. Apparently it is from Sugardoodle, but I couldn’t find a writing credit, unfortunately. Heck, I couldn’t find a title.) It is about the Value Heroes–Lady Faith, Diva Divine Nature, Individual Worth Woman (“My worth goes to INFINITY AND BEYOND!”), Queen Knowledge, Captain Choice and Accountability, Good Works the Great, Princess Integrity, and Virtue Girl–who safeguard the young women of Mutualopolis. Sadly, some dastardly villains capture the Value Heroes, leaving the poor young women of Mutualopolis at the mercy of the evil opposites of those values which have always protected them. But happily, the young women turn to the scriptures and realize that the Lord is their strength and if they live the Young Women values, they can be their own superheroes. And so the city of Mutualopolis is saved! (At least the young women are in pretty good shape. It’s an all-female play, you see. Like The Women, only without the adultery.)
I want to state at the outset that I find this skit freaking adorable. It is clever and fun and, dare I say it, empowering. Also, it provides an excuse to wear cool superhero capes, which is always a winner. In short, I love it. There were just a couple things in it that I found interesting. During the scene where the Value Heroes are off to rescue the young women of Mutualopolis, two entire superheroes–Captain Choice and Accountability and Virtue Girl–are devoted to helping the Laurels pick out modest prom dresses. This is not a criticism, just an observation. Okay, it’s also a criticism. No, it’s an observation. I am the impartial social scientist, observing that a full quarter of the superhero population is required to tackle the specter of immodest formal wear. Every other problem in Mutualopolis can be handled by a single superhero. From this observation I draw two possible conclusions:
1) Sexual modesty is the preeminent challenge for young women. Nothing else comes close to competing.
2) “Virtue” as an eighth Young Women value is kind of superfluous.
I actually think both are true, but I have officially surrendered to the fact that “Virtue” is here to stay and it’s fine and there’s nothing I could do about it even if it weren’t fine, no matter how irritating it is to me intellectually. So I’m just going to talk about the former.
My twelve-year-old daughter generally likes being in Young Women, although she also likes complaining about it. (She’s a young woman of many contrasts, what can I say?) She’s annoyed by all the talk about modesty and dating, and she especially hates the chastity lessons because she thinks they’re creepy. (“I’m only twelve, for Pete’s sake!”) That’s my daughter. Her father and I pretty much think she can suck it up and deal with this stuff because the fact is, you probably can’t run an effective youth program without talking about chastity now and again. (I understate, for effect.) The fact is, sexuality is a challenge for (most) teenagers. The consequences of sexual transgression are very serious. So the attention is fine, really. And I know that they must talk about way more than just modesty and dating in Young Women. I’ve seen the (outdated) Young Women manuals, which are probably more or less the same manuals I was taught with in Young Women, and there are only a couple lessons about chastity; the rest of it is about faith and scripture reading and boring crap like that. So I don’t know how much special emphasis the dating and modesty topics really get and how much is just my daughter’s oversensitivity to those discussions.
I was just thinking back to my own experience in Young Women. I don’t remember them talking a lot about modesty. I certainly knew what the church standards of dress were. (How else would I have managed to flout them?) I knew what a modest prom dress looked like. (Long skirt, big poofy sleeves.) I just don’t remember getting lectured on it that much. Maybe an honorable mention around prom season. Also, reminders for Girls Camp that you couldn’t wear short shorts. (This was before they started requiring girls to wear temple-garment-length shorts.) I didn’t ever go to Girls Camp, so I never had to worry about my shorts being too short. (But I didn’t particularly want to show off my fat thighs anyway, so the point was moot.) I never got the idea that wearing a tank top was some horrible sin. (And I was really grateful for that lack of horrible-sin mentality when I went to college in the humid southern U.S.)
One thing is for sure: I don’t remember ever, ever seeing articles on modest dress in the Friend. This is not to say there never were any, but if I had to bet, I’d err on the “never any” side. These days every issue of the Friend has some mention of modest dress standards. (My personal fave is the Modesty Checklist from the May 2010 issue. Unfortunately, you can’t see the accompanying artwork, which shows a group of children whose bodies are sufficiently covered. Even the dogs are wearing sweaters.) So I’m pretty sure they’ve stepped up the modesty talk in the last twenty years. I’m not privy to the inner goings-on of these secret church cabals that decide all this stuff, so I don’t know exactly what the point of all this stepping-up has been. (But I’m sure that sexualizing pre-pubescent children and their pets is only the unfortunate side effect, not the intention.) I can only imagine that immodesty is seen as the gateway drug to sexual transgression or something. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I mean, I wore sleeveless tops and short skirts for years and never got so much as a date for my troubles–which, now that I put it that way, sounds kind of desperate and sad–but there is a lot about the world of romance that I don’t understand.
I remember my Young Women leaders giving a couple lessons per year on dating and/or chastity. I found them not terribly relevant to my life because I didn’t date. (And I wouldn’t date until I was well into my twenties. And once I started dating and figured out the kind of man who was attracted to me, I would swear off dating and plan to live a life of celibacy before finally, unexpectedly meeting the sweet young man who would become my eternal companion–but that’s another story.) I didn’t date because I was kind of a freak, but in my ward it was not only the freaks who didn’t date. In my Laurel class, there was one (1) girl who dated. She was gorgeous, incidentally, in case you were wondering. Whenever our adviser would start talking about dating, all the other girls would just start guffawing. I didn’t guffaw because I was too cool to give away that I was even listening, but if I had been engaged, I would have told that woman to go lecture the Beehives because that’s who all the priests were dating. (Except for that one gorgeous girl, who never seemed to be present on the Sundays we talked about dating. She was probably on a date!) But I wasn’t going anywhere with that anecdote, just reminiscing because even though I think my daughter can suck it up and deal with the dating talk, I sympathize with her boredom.
You probably thought this was going to be “rant” of some kind, that I was going to start hating on the Modesty/Virtue “nazis,” but no. I am just an impartial social scientist making observations. Also, a narcissistic blogger strolling down memory lane for the pure heck of it. I am also someone who will probably never serve in Young Women because I wouldn’t know the first thing to tell them about dating (except that it’s pretty overrated, which they probably wouldn’t believe). As for modesty, I have a few things to say about that, but with all the indoctrination they’re receiving in Primary, I doubt there’ll be anything left for me to add by the time they’ve started growing breasts. Anyway, I am sorry that this post was not more coherent or praiseworthy or of good report, but this is just where I’m at these days. I thought I’d leave it to you folks to tie it all together in the comments section with your own reminiscences…or rants, I’m not picky. Just keep it clean because I’m only feeling a little bit dangerous today.