Do you know what's it like to watch the life of your daughter being sucked out of her? Ever so slowly watching her world collapse in on her? I know what it feels like to hear the last heartbeat of a child on a monitor, and not be able to do anything about it. We lost our third child at birth. It has been eleven years and the memory still brings me tears and leaves me with gut wrenching anxiety about how it could possibly have been different if we had made other choices.
But I’m not speaking of my third child in this essay. The sickening reality is I'm watching this happen every day with our fourth child, a daughter. It is different this time, but in all honesty, only slightly less painful. Her body is alive and well. It is her heart, mind and spirit that are being destroyed. It is the light in her eyes, and curiosity of her mind that are fading. Her hopes and dreams are shrinking. Conforming. Slowly, her world is collapsing in on her. It is equally heart wrenching to watch. Social scientists have long known that on average the socialization between boys and girls leads the former into more active participation in the world and the latter into trailing supportive roles. From the local to global, there are an increasing number of programs and support groups designed to minimize and mitigate these socialized gender differences. How does the LDS Church's Activity Days program for young women facilitate or hinder this progress?
What do we know about this diverging development between girls and boys? Physical developmental differences (Flannagan et al. 2015), social expectations (Thorne 1997) and cultural norms (Tiggemann and Slater 2014) begin to converge for girls beginning in the fourth grade. Based on these studies we know that on average, girls become less physically active around this time, and they are not pushed to do hard things if they are not "interested" in a topic. At the same time, they become more focused on their physical appearance and meeting others’ expectations. In short, they are being socialized into specific sets of cultural norms for their gender. In the field of education, this process is referred to as "tracking.”
Tracking is the process whereby a social bias (often at the unconscious level) leads schoolteachers and parents to inadvertently infuse various gendered practices into the schooling environment through stereotypes found in "books, graphics, and the content of classroom talk" (Thorne 1997). Each of these gendered interactions, however innocuous, shapes the level of awareness students have about the possibilities of their education and their life. Thus, while girls tend to outperform boys in school generally (Legewie and DiPrete 2011), boys and girls all over the world, even in the most developed countries, are still segregated into different areas of emphasis (Mann, Legewie and DiPrete, 2015). Many young girls that once had bright eyes, and dreams as big as the universe, slowly lose interest and stop exploring. Why is that? There are many explanations, but one of the reasons is particularly poignant for this discussions. What these researchers found was that those students who could not visualize themselves with a particular career were more likely to drop out, even if they possessed the technical ability to perform. Their cultural identity shaped their behavior more strongly than their personal capability.
This is where the potential challenge of Activity Days comes into play. Activity Days is not designed to function like a career preparation class, however, this does not mean that the way the program is frequently executed doesn’t lead to negative gender biases. When Activity Day activities are juxtaposed against the Scouting activities, the young girls cannot help but learn something from the comparison. They are learning by virtue of all that is not covered for them, and what they see others of the male sex doing. Activity Day programs potentially teach two detrimental lessons. First, the young girls that are primarily exposed to activities that emphasize home life and personal looks will quickly internalize that these are the “approved” activities for young LDS women. Second, when they see young men activities that emphasize skill learning and personal development, they will consequently learn that these are not normal activities for young women. These two lessons will unnecessarily limit the range of activities our heavenly parents might otherwise inspire our young women to do.
The purpose of our church activities should not be to reinforce cultural stereotypes, but to expand the horizons of our youth so that they can develop the full range of their God given talents and interests. According to the Faith in God manual, which the Activity Day program is supposed to support, we find that the purpose of the program is to ". . . encourage [youth] to learn and live the gospel, serve others, and use the talents Heavenly Father has given [them] to learn and do many good things." Does the Activity Day program as currently implemented, as compared to the young men's program, help or hinder this process?
Program Differences and Social Science Expectations
According to the Handbook of Instructions, the Activity Day program is technically for both boys and girls, and is to be held at most twice a week. In addition, activities for both girls and boys should support the completion of the Faith in God award (see 11.5.2). However, in practice there are considerable differences from the Handbook. The Church has adopted the scouting program for the boys - which program comes with a specific curriculum that guides the boys through a variety of activities and allows the boys the ability to learn about themselves, their interests, and engage the world. Not only is the program designed to help the boys explore a variety of interests, they also frequently receive higher levels of funding and have more activities every week than the Young Women's program. Indeed, there is no equivalent organization to the Boy Scout program in the Church for the young girls.
One might argue that because the young girls do not have a specific curriculum, the leaders are more free to build a program that meets the needs of the girls more specifically. While this is accurate in theory, I have found that it frequently fails in practice. For instance, let's consider physical activity. Girls and boys are just as likely to be active until they reach fifth or sixth grade. At about this time the girls become more conscious of their bodies, and boy’s bodies are beginning to develop more strength relative to their female counterparts. Observational studies show that during recess girls become less likely to engage in physical activity during this transition. However, at the same time, these studies show that these same girls remained equally active in structured PE classes (Sarkin et al. 1997). What I take away from this study is that without proper structures in place, we revert to our default cultural upbringing, which tragically reinforces cultural stereotypes about gender-appropriate activities. This is as true for the young girls as it is for the adult women. Unless consciously avoided, it is exceptionally easy to fall into social norm traps.
I have been troubled by the Activity Day program of the church for some time now. It is not right that these young girls only get half as many activities as the boys, and that in our family’s experience their activities are decidedly, and too frequently, monochromatic. Not only is this irrationally unequal and unfair, it undermines our daughter's ability to progress and develop her talents - the very goal of the program itself. I always knew that this program would have an impact on my daughter, but I did not know how much it had already impacted her until after an activity a few months ago.
After the activity I asked my daughter what she had learned. She excitedly shared that they learned about preparing to go into "Young Women's.” My heart sank as she described what she got out of the lesson. She opened her purse and told me she needed a hairbrush, lipstick, bracelet, and modesty standards to be ready for Young Women's. I am certain that the leaders did not want her to learn only this lesson (the items apparently were meant to symboliz other attributes), but the lesson our daughter picked up was one of beauty standards. This was one of a string of similarly styled lessons that I had not questioned deeply enough. At this moment though, her response felt different. I could tell that she was internalizing the idea that looks mattered in the Young Women’s program – and she was so excited to “look” the right way.
I took her in my arms and asked: "Tess, tell me what your biggest, best-est, most exciting dream is?" She looked at me in silence. The most I could get her to articulate was that she wanted to make others happy. I felt at that moment that the light was being sucked out of her. Not only were these activities not helping to counter the already damaging coercive power of the world, but were actually facilitating it!
A point of clarification is needed. Developing an attribute of helping others is not a worthless personal attribute. Tess loves to make others happy. This is one of her attributes that I am most proud of. She is a very sensitive soul. The challenge is that many gifts, like the desire to please others and make them happy, without a proper counterbalance, become like a black hole. I have seen so many individuals, especially women, practically destroy their lives trying to make everyone else happy. In my observation, without a proper balance of individual goals and interests to offset the desire to help others, these beautiful attributes can swiftly become damaging and ultimately undermine the attribute itself. I do not want any of my children learning to only live one-sided lives. Unlike the Scouting program, which provides a built in opportunity to explore a young man’s goals and interests, in my family’s experience the Activity Day program is contributing to a closing off process by only emphasizing one aspect (and a very superficial one at that) of her life and her talents.
Something had to be done, so that night we brought back a family tradition I had originally started with her older sister.
A Personal Antidote
When our eldest daughter was in fourth grade I told her a new story every night about the wonderful diverse women who had done something extraordinary with their lives. Savannah was very driven even at that age, and I wanted her to see examples of the variety of lives that were possible for women. I hoped that by resurrecting that tradition, Tess would find women and interests she could identify with and expand her interests and counter act the hollowing out she had been experiencing. (For those interested in doing something similar, About.com has a wonderful collection of hundreds of famous women in history that you can start with. http://womenshistory.about.com/od/alphaindex/a/biographies_a.html)
For no particular reason, other than it was most recent woman I had read about, Tess and I talked first about Katie Sandwina, the circus strong woman, business owner and suffragette. It was awesome. You could see Tess' brainbox working and trying to wrap her mind around what she was learning and the pictures she was seeing. Here was a woman who could lift three men into the air, and balance a cannon on her chest! She said she wished she could show all the boys that picture and prove to them that girls could be strong, too. That night she said a prayer that the boys would learn about these amazing women and treat her better.
Just before leaving her room, she turned to me and said: “Dad, do you know any astronauts? I want to meet one!” I could see the spark in her eyes return. She had started dreaming again. And that desire to learn set other actions in motion for the group as a whole.
From that experience, my own brainbox began working, too. The manual states that men can also be Activity Day leaders—did you know that? And in another scripture we are told that if you desire to serve God, you are called to the work. So the thought came to me-- I felt I should reach out to the other parents and organize a monthly outing for the girls. It took a few weeks to coordinate everyone's schedules, but with a few emails we found a date that worked and coordinated our schedules. A few weeks later we piled five young ladies into a van with two dads and took them to an African-American History museum. They loved it!
I was a little worried that this museum might be over their heads and beyond their ability to understand, but I was amazed at the insight they had into the art and the questions they asked. Some flitted from place to place trying to take it all in, others just sat and contemplated the murals, trying to figure out the meaning of each picture. Each found something important to them.
We've decided that every month we will help the girls pick a new experience they want to explore. They get to pick the activity during their birth month, and the parents will do the others. The next few activities will include a science museum, an astronaut's home, and a hike through a state park.
Counterpoints and Concerns
I want to be very clear that I do not dislike, hold a grudge against, look down upon, or think negatively about my children's Activity Days leaders in any way. I know they love my children. I know they want to do what it best for them. I am thankful for the time they invest in my kids. My children feel loved, and that community is exceptionally important. I know that it is hard to contemplate the roles we play in society – especially the potentially negative ones. This is a potentially beautiful program, but a great deal of work remains to perfect it. Activity Days has the potentially to be a powerful tool in our children’s lives: beyond the moral development, it can also help them learn how their talents are part of the gospel and how these talents contribute to our faith community. Because of these positive benefits, it would be wrong to toss the program. However, perhaps it is time to seriously contemplate how even our very best intentions get mucked up. As uncomfortable as this critical introspection is, we have to do this.
Some individuals may be concerned that because many of the activities that I complain about focus on the home, some may be concerned that I am being insensitive or degrading to stay-at-home mothers. I want to be clear that I'm not saying that any woman who is not a scientist, or engineer, or professor or astronaut is not worthy. I'm only asking that we create an environment where all talents and interest are treated as equally important gifts from our heavenly parents. Our children need exposure and opportunities so they can make fully informed choices as they grow and develop. We should not want a world where the value of motherhood is held hostage to a false choice between a particular type of stay-at-home mother and any other variation of a woman developing all of her God given talents and exercising them to the benefit of herself and those around her.
One final counterpoint I would like to address. I've heard some individuals outside the church say that if the activities are too sexist and damaging, then I should leave the Church. The argument here seems to be that any religion/organization that perpetuates these gender biases is a problem. There are even some within the church that ask why we don't leave, if we find the issues so problematic. But as one asked long ago, “Where would we go?” The challenge is that the same issues permeate more than just our religion. Should I take my daughter out of school, because the boys there tell her almost daily that "girls can't do x, y and z"? Should I make her leave her friends when they only give her praise and encouragement for looking a particular way? Should I remove her from the economy because every product out there limits her?
No. Removal is not a viable option. And besides, I'm not going to let anyone off that easy. Even if it were possible to remove myself from these constructs (and it's not), it would mean that I would be contributing to the problem as a whole. I'm told to live in the world, but not become part of it. So, I stay, and I will fight for change. I will make life uncomfortable. I will challenge. I will learn. I will listen. And, hopefully, I will also be a force for moving all us a little closer to the justice, equality, and ultimately the unity that I believe is possible.
Thankfully, there are things I can do as a parent to help in this scenario, but it is a travesty that I have to work against a program of the church, rather than having the program complement and help me in my parental responsibilities - as they were intended to do. President Hinckley's statement about the expanded world the young women have available to them has my guiding star in raising our children ("You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part." https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2001/04/how-can-i-become-the-woman-of-whom-i-dream?lang=eng ) If a Church program expands the mind and expands opportunities, then it should be celebrated. If it closes, limits and/or minimizes opportunities, it should be changed or rejected. Expansive opportunities will be a blessing to all of our children. We LDS believe in the power of education and in the importance of building our understanding of this world, and perfecting all of our talents. In our faith, we believe that there is an equally powerful omnipotent and omniscient Mother in Heaven. Much to our collective shame, we have hidden her. Rather than celebrating and understanding the power of the divine feminine, we have allowed cultural taboos about women's power to limit our Mother - and in so doing inadvertently limit the infinite possibilities that otherwise would be open to our daughters.
Our Activity Day program should be as expansive and inspiring as our daughter's divine heritage.
Flanagan, Shawn D. 2015. “Developmental Differences Between Boys and Girls Result in Sex-Specific Physical Fitness Changes From Fourth to Fifth Grade”. The Journal of Strength Conditioning and Research”. 29(1):175-80
Legewiea, Joscha and Thomas A. Dipreta. 2012. “School Context and the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement”. American Sociological Review 77(3): 463-485.
Mann, Allison, Joscha Legewie and Thomas A. DiPrete. 2015. “The Role of School Performance in Narrowing Gender Gaps in the Formation of STEM Aspirations: A cross-national study”. Frontiers in Psychology. 6:171
Sarkin, Julie A, Thomas L. MeKenzie and James F. Sallis. 1997. “Gender Differences in Physical Activity During Fifth-Grade Physical Education and Recess Periods”. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education. 17: 99-106.
Thorne, Barrie. 1997. Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. Rutgers University Press.
Tiggemann, Marika and Amy Slater. 2014. “NetTweens: The Internet and Body Image Concerns in Preteenage Girls”. The Journal of Early Adolescence. 34( 5): 606-620
Full Citation for this Article: Stearmer, S. Matthew (2015) "Please Stop Killing My Daughter with Activity Days," SquareTwo, Vol. 8 No. 1 (Spring 2015), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleStearmerActivityDays.html, accessed <give access date>.
Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 200 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.
I. Jini Roby
Thank you, Mathew Stearmer, for your article on activity days for girls. As a faithful LDS member, a proud of mother of three adult daughters and a former Achievement Day activity leader, I applaud your articulation of this issue. If we, as LDS people, are going to be the salt of the earth and the light on a hill, we cannot afford social retreat for half of us. Men and women both need to tend to the home hearth and to the matters of the larger world.
Jini L. Roby, JD, MSW, MS
Professor, Attorney at Law
and Global Child Protection Consultant
(writing from Myanmar where I am working with the national government to train pioneering social workers)
II. Valerie Hudson
Stearmer's piece resonated with me. Before there even was an Activity Days, I organized a weekly "let's expand our girls' lives" day with other parents in the ward. We took them to a fire station, we had them paint with an artist, we took them to a fish hatchery, we had them use hand tools, etc. When Activity Days was instituted, I was overjoyed! And then . . . not. We have become quite sceptical now. We now tell our daughters that if we think the activity expands their world, they can go. And if we don't, they're not going. So if what's planned is for the girls to give each other pedicures while dressed in their pyjamas at the stake center, no, they're not going. I have nothing against pedicures, but it's the unintended message that this is what the Church wants them to be that I feel I must resist for their sakes.
III. Elizabeth Buck
I found the Brother Stearmer's article on Activity Days both troubling and gratifying. I felt very similar about my experiences in what was then Merry Miss and the Young Women's program. I enjoyed sewing and cooking as a young girl, but I also wished I could go on 10-mile bike rides and examine military hardware like the boys got to do.
However, I take great exception with the idea that it is the Church's program that is beating these girls down. I believe there are other environmental factors at work that have nothing to do with what is taught in Activity Days.
As an adult, I have served as a Den Leader in the church's cub scout program and my current calling is as an activity days leader. I have made it a point, in planning activities for our girls, to ensure that they encourage personal growth, are challenging, and most of all: enjoyable. The biggest challenge here is the difference I have noticed in the girls themselves. When, as a Den Leader, I required something difficult of the scouts, they may have wrinkled their noses, but they did it with minimal complaining. In contrast, the girls are far more likely to fuss and sulk when they think something is too hard. That is a difference that I feel has nothing to do with Activity Days and everything to do with how the world has already been socializing boys and girls. When I ask the girls to do something they're not super enthusiastic about, the fault lies with me in choosing an unreasonable activity. But when I ask the same of the boys, they know they are expected to "man up" and do it, and they do.
These girls have come to me already exhibiting these negative traits of which you speak. When I ask, "What kinds of things do you want to learn about in Activity Days?" they shrug and have no answer. When I ask, "What do you think about x, y, and z?" they don't have anything to say, as if they don't know.
Last August I started tutoring a 5th grade homeschooled girl in history. She had been attending a local public school up until that point. For the first month, she was terrified any time I asked her a question, even if it was something as simple as, "How do you feel about what we just read?" It took several months for her to become comfortable enough to express her own opinion about anything. Activity Days did not cause that behavior.
I taught the girls in my group how to use a sewing machine so they could make their own skirts. I emphasized very strongly that I was not teaching them to sew because they were girls and they needed to sew. I told them that it was to teach them a new skill and for their own independence, that they need not be subject to the tyranny of what is available at the mall. The two homeschooled girls in my class met the challenge cheerfully. The other girls did so with grudging silence and the tiniest bit of sneering.
To put it very bluntly: I think children are learning how to act in school. They certainly aren't learning it from me. The Activity Days program has great potential to counteract those damaging lessons, but nothing will change unless parents take primary responsibility. Maybe some parents mistakenly feel that this is "just the way their children are." That's crap.
Thank you for your time,
Activity Days Leader, Teacher, and Mother
IV. S. Matthew Stearmer responds to Elizabeth Buck
Dear Sister Buck,
I am glad that the Activity Days girls have you as a leader and that you try to push them to stretch their talents to the fullest extent that our Mother and Father in Heaven would hope for them. I wish you well in your work!
Regarding your larger points--
First, you are right that it is not just Activity Days that is causing this problem. However, my Tess rarely comes home from any community program with a limited understanding of herself in the same way that she has after Activity Days. I recognize that this will not be the case for every child - but Activity Days should be designed to counteract the culture at large. But because there is so little design or plan to it, compared to BSA, for example, that is why there is so much variation based on the leadership.
Which leads to my second point. Why do we not invest the same energy into the program development, leadership and budget for the girls as we do with the boys? Why must we leave this for the leaders to figure out on their own to begin with? Yes, leaders are crucial to the success of any program, but that success will disappear when the one great leader inevitably is called into a new position. It does not have to be this way, and it is damages our girls and places an unnecessary burden on the leaders.
Contrast the figure-it-out-on-your-own ethos of Activity Days with what happens with the young men. At this age no one asks the boys if they want to do archery, computer programming, physical fitness, or any other activity. These explorations are planned right into the program and regardless of the leader or the boys, everyone will be exposed to the same activities. It is my observation that one of the reasons the boys don't complain as much is because they know it is part of the program. They are socialized to follow the plan because they know there is a plan designed for them. They trust it and this trust allows them to explore. Of course there are variations but the point is that the boys don't *have* to know what they want for the program to be successful. That exploration is just baked into the system for the boys in a way that it is not for the girls.
If every girl had passionate leaders like you and a robust system of support, every young girl in the church would be better prepared to resist any influence that would minimize their talents and their individual worth. Anything less will limit their divine potential.
V. Elizabeth Buck responds to Matt Stearmer
When I first read this article several months ago, I felt a fair amount of emotional resistance toward the idea that Activity Days should be run like Cub Scouts. Events of the last few months have caused me to revise my opinion.
I'm in the middle of a pregnancy and my husband is in school, and the stress has affected my ability to do my calling as an Activity Days Leader. I have felt pushed over the edge, which led me to ask for release. There have been tears and angry words. The thing is, I'm not really terribly under that much more stress compared to two years ago, when my husband was working and going to school, and I was 8 months pregnant and working as a den leader. I cried a fair amount then, too, but I didn't fly off the handle.
What made the difference is the way Activity Days is run compared to Cub Scouts. In Activity Days, leaders are mostly left to fend for themselves. This isn't a big deal when all you have to do is show up and teach some kind of lesson, but it is a big deal when there must be coordination with large groups of people, such as with a fundraiser or day camp.
As a den leader, I met monthly with the whole cub committee. In addition to the den leaders and non-officer committee members, there's a committee chair, a cub master, and usually a member of the primary presidency. We kept tabs on each other - how is everyone doing, what needs to be done in the upcoming month, who will attend city-wide upcoming leadership training meetings? Responsibilities were very clearly defined, and there were endless opportunities for training. A den leader has lots of emotional and organizational support.
In contrast, unless the member of the primary presidency over Activity Days has had extensive experience in that organization, or unless she runs a very tight ship, there is no such support for an Activity Days leader. There are no institutionalized monthly planning meetings. There is no leadership training. Responsibilities are defined in the vaguest of terms. An Activity Days Leader has little to no emotional and organizational support. As much as I enjoyed working with the girls, I couldn't do it alone, and that is what I was doing. I felt isolated and frustrated.
Even though my experience ended badly, I have hope that in the future the Activity Days program will be expanded to offer more support for leaders. I foresee that more and more parents and leaders will insist that girls participate in meaningful activities, so that celebrations of lipstick and mascara become a thing of the past.
VI. Laurie Lisonbee
Recently my daughter was very troubled by her 8-year-old daughter's Activity Days. They baked cupcakes, made decorations, and prepared FHE lessons, reinforcing stereotypes which squash girls' potential. She wrestled with whether to pull her daughter out of Activity Days, but finally decided to try recommending some changes to the Primary president. My daughter suggested that Activity Days begin to emphasize outdoor skill-building, similar to the Cub Scouts’ more challenging activities. The Primary president raised mild objections to my daughter's suggestions, offering justifications for the current "girlie" activities. My daughter felt that her concerns had fallen on deaf ears.
A month later she got a call from the Primary president. She had reported my daughter's concerns to stake leaders, resulting in meetings with the stake president. It was decided that stake-wide, Activity Days would include a summer day camp, kayaking, rock-climbing, and an annual Pinewood Derby! Last week we attended our granddaughter's Pinewood Derby where she won first place!
One conversation with one Primary president triggered significant changes that will benefit girls for years to come. I am idealistic enough to believe that some day, if enough parents speak up, girls’ Activity Days will indeed become equitable with Cub Scouts.
VII. Alan Hurst
I completely agree with Brother Stearmer that our young women's activities should be combating, not reinforcing, the practiced uselessness and obsession with attractiveness that popular culture often presents as the hallmarks of femininity. I also agree that we can fight this fight by helping young women spend their time learning and doing valuable things.
But I can't say I'm entirely happy with the way Brother Stearmer describes this strategy. I'm afraid that in his entirely commendable desire to rescue our young women from the cult of attractiveness, he's abandoning them to the cult of success.
Let me illustrate. Science is a good thing, and girls should be interested in science, and some girls should even pursue careers in science. And so we should teach girls about heroes like Marie Curie to send them the message that girls can do science, too.
But that's only one of the messages they might hear when we teach them about Marie Curie. If we're not careful, they might also get the message that the reason they should do science is so that they can be successful and important like Marie Curie, and that girls who aren't successful like Marie Curie aren't important.
What I'm getting at is that our culture constantly tells us to define ourselves in terms of our achievements—and if we don't have any achievements, we should "dream big" and devote our lives to getting some. And Brother Stearmer comes dangerously close to agreeing. If "all talents and interests are . . . equally important gifts from our heavenly parents," as he tells us, then it doesn't matter what interests we choose to pursue, but merely whether we're good at them.
This is exactly the opposite of the message of the gospel. God judges us not by our achievements, but by our commitments—not by how good we are at what we do, but by whether we've chosen to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. A useless but determined missionary is more praiseworthy than an NBA star, and it's better to be a mediocre but devoted father than a Nobel Laureate.
Once we understand this, we see the cruel irony of the cult of success. If ten million boys really want to go to heaven, then ten million of them will; but if ten million boys want to win the Super Bowl, maybe a few dozen of them will. The same logic holds in nearly every field our youth might dream about. For every violinist who makes it as a professional, there are a hundred who would love that job and can't get it. For every CEO who revolutionizes an industry, there are a thousand bored salesmen who dream of doing the same. Effectively, the cult of success asks our youth to abandon something that matters, something they can really achieve, to pursue daydreams of impossible accomplishments that, from an eternal perspective, wouldn't mean much anyway.
So, yes, let's encourage our girls (and boys!) to pursue their interests and learn good and beautiful things. But let's not let them forget that some interests really are more important than others, and that faith and family are the most important of all. If that leads a few girls (and boys!) to prioritize church and childrearing over career and hobbies—to put service ahead of success—then that's a feature, not a bug.
VIII. S. Matthew Stearmer responds to Alan Hurst
Bro. Hurst, your point is a very good one that we should not focus on success. But I have found that either/or thinking is usually unhelpful when discussing changes in social systems or programs. Exposing our children to a full range of possibilities in this life does not have to mean abandoning them to a cult of success. I would argue that it is actually helping them live up to the command to be in the world, but not of the world.
We are under a dual command to both increase all of the talents with which we have been blessed with and to dedicate all of these to the building up of the Kingdom. Concurrently, we are to use these talents to improve both the temporal world around us and the spiritual well being of all of those around us. Indeed, we are told that all temporal things have a spiritual dimension to them. For example, Ammon guarded flocks and cleaned chariots as a means of preaching the gospel. The architects and artists who build our temples are using their temporal talents in a way that builds the Kingdom. And even when these same architects and artists build a non-Church building, they still no doubt feel they are making a spiritual contribution as well.
The challenge as I see it is that our current Activity Days/Scouts system places boys primarily in a position to learn about developing and contributing their talents - with little attempt to talk to them about balancing work and family life. On the other hand, for the girls, my experience is that we are implicitly teaching them to confine their contributions to physical beauty and the home. That is problematic, for we need the time and talents of both women and men to improve our world and bring us closer to achieving Zion. As Elder Cook has exhorted, the Saints should be on the forefront of figuring out how to better integrate contributing our talents to the world and contributing them to our families--for both women and men. I'd argue we're not anywhere near the forefront; in fact, we are located more towards the back of the pack. I hope we as a people will strive to do better.
So, yes, teaching our boys and girls to focus only on the praise of world would be problematic. But it would also be problematic to neglect to teach them how to develop and contribute their talents to the world in which they live. It is imperative that both our girls and boys learn to balance these competing demands on their time and energy, come to rely on each other, and follow the Spirit. I hope that Activity Days will one day be of greater assistance in this than it currently is.
IX. Tara Bence O'Rourke
I was so excited to come across this article as I have just been called to be an Activity’s Day leader in my ward. I have been looking for direction so thank you, Matthew, for writing this piece.
Receiving this calling was exciting for me, I think this age group is so wonderful and just as soon as that thought came, so did the feeling of great responsibility to not cheat them out of learning at this important stage in their life.
I tried to remember back to my times in Activity Days and sadly, I really don’t have any memory except one activity where we did our nails. My lack of remembrance is not because of a bad memory but rather activities lacking meaning. Funny thing is, I DO remember peeking in the gym watching the boy scouts doing all these intense, involved projects with their badges and uniforms. Even at that young age, I knew that Activity days was just a filler for the girls and wasn't near as important as boys scouts—it was painfully obvious.
One mutual activity that I remember, was when the young women were taught to change a tire. I can’t speak for all of girls, but I was not the least bit interested, I could care less. Looking back, I think it was because I was not accustomed to learning USEFUL things. I was so used to crafts and “make-up tip” nights, I almost feel as though I was dumbed down. There were no standards, no structure, work, and no responsibility involved in the girl’s activities.
I quickly want to make the point that motherhood is a holy, divine calling. It is an enormous responsibly that should be taken seriously. I think the “homemaking” and “beauty” activities really cheapen what it means to be a mother.
Lastly, so often I think girls are taught that they will get married and have babies and be taken care of. Before my marriage now, I was married at a young age and divorced. I was not prepared for that one. I think it is unfair to pound the idea into young girls heads that life is just a fairy tale with a perfect RM prince waiting to sweep them off their feet. It is best to prepare girls for independence (and independent thinking!) just as boys are prepared.
I will be thinking about this article as I start my calling. Again, thank you. I hope to contribute to these young minds in a meaningful way.
What an interesting article. I myself have wondered why the church pours thousands of dollars in scouting for awards, camps, pack meetings, and banquets and the girls don't have such structure. But let me tell you my story of conversion along the 9 years I've spent as a Cub Scout leader and now for just shy of 6 months also as an activity day leader.
I was called into Cubs when my oldest child was 2 and have been in numerous roles from committee chairman, to assistant den leader and assistant cub master. In other words I'm learning my way around Cubs. During this time period I have moved so I have been in 2 different districts (of different economic situations) and been called as a unit commissioner so I see how the program is run in numerous wards. I also have 2 sisters in different parts of the United States how were called as activity day leaders and then as Cub Scout leaders so we have often bounced ideas and stories off each other. The culmination of all that is even with all the standardized curriculum, training, and guidelines every unit provides a unique experience for the boys. And every activity days group is unique too.
I have not had a testimony of scouting. I was trying to magnify my calling by doing the program and helping the boys the best I could, but I would grumble about policies and why the church connection a lot.
This past year (at my 8.5yr mark in Cubs) the church made the decision to stick with the BSA even though the policy changed about openly gay leaders being permitted in the program. I was a leader who thought, "oh here is the catalysis the church has needed to launch their own divinely inspired world wide amazing program for the boys!" And then they didn't. Why? Why wouldn't the church take its own program from God and use that for every member in the whole world so the boys in Africa and Sweden and Argentina all had an awesome program the same one my boys in the US had? Then maybe 2 weeks after the decision was announced I was ask to be an activity days leader. After years with the boys And knowing l would remain as a unit commissioner I began this new territory as an assistant to one of the former young women's presidency members now activity days leader. Let me tell you, I have learned so much.
I learned that the program the church had in place for the girls was for boys too as you mentioned and was WORLD WIDE meaning the girls and boys everywhere at every socioeconomic level and in many different cultures use the standards in the Faith in God books to guide their program. Notice the faith in God book is only different in pronouns and then for the 11 year olds preparing for the priesthood vs preparing for young women's. I have realized from your article the reason the faith in God is not rigid is because it is the framework that has to convey the values in hundreds of different cultures. Cubs on the other hand is conveying those same values, (yes they are the same things being conveyed in the Cubs adventures and the Faith in God book) except specifically to the American culture and identity. Also they are constantly updating the program to keep up with what is needed and wanted by American boys. The flip side of that is Activity Days leaders are expected to be guided by the spirit to create and meet the needs of their children, in their own culture and resources.
The number one thing I have learned is both programs are in place to help the children as you said. You can argue about sameness and gender differences in all the studies you want, but they are all unique individuals. Your article made me do a self examination as a Cub leader, as an activity day leader, and as a mother. Am I praying daily for the inspiration I need to nurture tender spirits and minds to reach their full potential? What a good example you are to be in tune to step in and help give your daughter when you saw the program not working for her. All too often we like to check things off a list and say we've accomplished something, but it truly is about helping the children develop. I was just reading an article about mentalities in different cultures and how Americans love to check off lists and reach tangible goals and awards( very much the structure of the BSA) but now I wonder how a South American culture might take scouting in that form? The Faith in God program is much more feasible in that culture I would imagine. Which Mormon culture and then Utah Mormon culture are their own interesting phenomenons. Most of us see the world through the eyes of the culture we are from or adopt.
I'm not saying I think it's perfect but for what it's worth having done both and having both sons and daughters, I think the only real answer, as in so many instances, is prayer and personal revelation in your sphere of those you serve. God is aware of all better than any of us.
Also a side note, as a stay at home mom sometimes it's hard having the world constantly telling you you should be more than "just a stay at home mom" and when you are doing somethings that aren't pleasant for the 18,000th time, you really start to think the world might be right. At least in the world you get some kind of physical compensation for your time and effort. So having values taught at a young age by older women who do hold home and family sacred it is important too. Mentoring is almost lost in our American culture, but can be invaluable.
Thank you for your insight. A very interesting and thought provoking read.
XI. James and Nuala Stephen
Having read this article, many thoughts and considerations come to mind. I wonder if we do not contribute to our own vision of the diminished role of the female in our society today by constantly clamouring to have our girls do as the boys do! I do not see the same urgent desire in our male counterparts.
The scouting program was established by Baden Powell not an LDS authority and while we do have it available in the LDS Church, with the inclusion of a religious element, the program and activities are from the plan and guidelines of the Scouting organization. When it comes to learning and skills... Let's compare survival skills for example...is it any less essential to know how to bake bread, than start a fire? Ideally, it would be preferable to be skilled in both! So it is with all of life. Many of the traditional skills associated with females are actually survival skills too. All parents have the freedom and right to teach and enlighten their children as they see fit. It is unfair to put that burden of responsibility on people who lovingly and willingly volunteer to serve to the best of their capacity. I have experienced this kind of attitude (and been guilty of it myself) where we expect the church to provide our custom designed program of activity to meet the developmental and emotional needs of our children! Schools, in contrast, have approx 40hrs. or more per week to teach and influence our children, as do the students who attend them, and have a much more profound effect on our children's wellbeing! What a joyful challenge it would be if the greatest concerns we had for our children in school was to decide if they should take hairstyling or shop. In contrast, we have to hope they will not only fare well in all their subjects but hope and pray they will not be introduced to drugs or bullied to the point of contemplating suicide. We need to remember that Church is going to teach Church Doctrine and Gospel Principles and that the Articles of Faith are clear in explaining that we are free agents who believe in seeking after all good things and bless others in their pursuit of doing likewise. I hope that we aren't seeing our own personal fears and frustrations reflected in our children's eyes. We have many fine examples amongst us of individuals who attended similar church programs in their youth and have still pursued their dreams and achieved their goals in life. There are also countless single mothers in our society today who fill the role of mother and father and do it so very well! The same can be said for single Dads! Let us continue always to desire to broaden the minds of all people, to add to our skills and knowledge set rather than forsake one for another. We do not need to blame or diminish others or create an anxious quest to demolish all things associated with the traditional female role, especially before we have taken the time to truly value and cherish our amazing, significant, tho often unseen, contribution to all of mankind.