Gender Crisis in the Fox Household

I’m the Webelos and 11-year-old Scouts leader in our ward; we meet at the church every Wednesday, which is the day of the week pretty much everything youth-related happens. Given that many people drive quite a distance to make it to various meetings and activities, it’s not unusual for a few families to show up en masse and stay through the evening, with the younger kids tearing apart the nursery or playing games while the adults carry out their responsibilities. This is common enough that it’s become a kind of “play-date” for many children in our ward, our own girls included. Every other week Megan, our 8-year-old, has Primary Activities Day (PAD); this past Wednesday was an off-week, but she wanted to come with me and play during my Webelos/Scout meeting anyway. She played tag in the cultural hall for a while, but then joined up with my boys when I brought them out for exercises; they’re working on their Athlete activity badge. Megan did great: stretching, curl-ups, the long jump, etc. She’s quite active (ballet, gymnastics, etc.), and actually outperformed the boys in some of their requirements. She loved showing off, but also loved the physical competition. On the way home, she was talking about how fun it was to be with the Webelos, and asked if she could come every week. I said that would mean she’d miss PAD. And that’s when our gender crisis began. With almost no input from me, my daughter quickly grew hysterical: “I hate PAD!” “All we ever do is make crafts; we never do anything fun!” “I’m NOT a girly-girl!” “I want to be a Scout!” “I’m a tomboy; I’m not like the other girls!” “It’s not fair!” “Everyone likes boys better than girls!!” Eventually she was so angry she was sobbing, which continued all the way home and into the night.

When my wife Melissa was her age, her father had been a Scoutmaster, and I knew that she had on more than a few occasions gone on Scout activities with him. But eventually, her dad had put a stop to it: as Melissa reconstructed her father’s words for Megan later that night, “Scouting is a time for boys to be around other boys; it’s important that they be able to do these things by themselves.” (Having come from a serious Scouting family, and being a big fan of Scouting myself, I completely agree with this point.) But it didn’t console Megan at all. She raged as only an 8-year-old can about the injustice of it all. It hurt to see her so upset. Of course, she was exaggerating in her frustration: both Melissa and I know very well that Megan does have a real “girly-girl” side to her, and always has. She adores her American Girl doll (Samantha), she’s an imaginative and talented artist, loves crafts (clay, drawing, woodwork, etc.), and is just as caught up in Trading Spaces as Melissa is. And yet . . . she’s right, too. I mean, leave aside anything one might want to shoehorn into this about the priesthood or authority or sexual teachings: just look at what we provide our children with in the church. Megan’s church-sponsored activities never take her outside. No sports, no athletics, no health and fitness. (Lots of cooking, though.) And given that Megan has been bouncing, balancing, jumping, running, dancing, throwing, swinging, skipping and bounding from pretty much the day she was born, that lack really hurts. I’m not very familiar with the church’s programs for girls–though no doubt I will continued to become moreso!–so I don’t know how much independence local units have; perhaps we’ve just ended up with an especially “girly” Young Women’s and Primary Presidency in our ward (except that I know from personal experience with these people that isn’t entirely true). But after listening to Megan pour her heart out, and even while knowing that come the next morning much of the heat will have gone out of her complaint (which was in fact the case), I realized that this must be one of the reasons so many women I’ve known in the church, including Melissa, have looked back on their Girls Camp experiences with such fondness: at last! Camping and swimming and building fires and touch football and everything the boys have always done!

Incidentally, I hardly think our church contributes to my daughter’s complaints in a wholly unique way. In our experience and observation, most other churches and organizations deal with young girls pretty much the same way. (I’m sure that Girl Scout units must vary greatly from place to place, but still, the units we’ve been familiar with, from Mississippi to Ontario, have all pretty much focused on crafts too.) No wonder sports groups catering to girls have exploded in popularity in America in recent years: too many of your youth programs, secular and spiritual, just aren’t designed to give all the tomboys out there a fair shake.

Faithful female bloggers and commenters, as a concerned father I want to know: were any of you tomboys? And if so, was it sometimes hard, as you look back on things, to be a Mormon girl?

50 comments for “Gender Crisis in the Fox Household

  1. Kaimi
    January 14, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    My wife has a long-standing complaint about the inquality of activities for young people: the massive attention and resources and interesting materials heaped on scouts versus the miniscule attention given to second-rate young women’s programs.

    I don’t think the young men really appreciate the benefits they get — I certainly never thought Scouts was that big a deal, until my wife explained (in great detail) the inequities.

  2. Kevin Barney
    January 14, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    There was a pretty good cartoon on the back of a recent Sunstone. It had a member of the bishopric at the pulpit reading the announcements. He goes on and on about the upcoming scheduled activities for the young men: horseback riding, camping, mountain climbing, spelunking, etc. And then he says, oh, yeah, the young women will be tying a quilt.

    If you are the leader and you really want to, you can involve your daughter more in these activities. Most people are just so glad not to be involved in scouts, they figure, hey, if that makes him happy, it’s ok by me, and they’ll just look the other way. (grin)

  3. Kaimi
    January 14, 2005 at 2:16 pm

    By the way, recent readers might be interested in the extensive discussion that followed Gordon’s airing of a somewhat similar point several months back.

  4. gst
    January 14, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    Just a couple of years ago the Scouts in our stake went to Hawaii for sea kayaking. No joke.

    Meanwhile, Girls’ Camp is held in a flea-ridden, broken-down YMCA camp in near San Bernardino, in August.

  5. Karen
    January 14, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    I’m with Kaimi’s wife on this one. The boys get SO MUCH MORE attention during late primary and all of teen age years. Think about it: the whole ward shows up for an eagle court of honor. The boy’s life is completely on display. It’s a huge moment. I think it is a rare ward that provides this kind of attention to achievement in the Young Women’s program.

    I know that the programs have been rewritten since I was that age, and maybe things are getting better, but there is a huge cultural tradition in our church to support young men more (perhaps this has to do with mission preparation…I don’t know). And I think that eventually this disparity can affect a girl’s feelings on how much she is valued in our culture.

  6. January 14, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for the reminder of that post by Gordon, Kaimi; it was an excellent one. My immediate concern is for activities and programs for those a little younger than the youth Gordon was talking about, but obviously the overlap is pretty large.

  7. Kristine
    January 14, 2005 at 2:43 pm

    Russell, bag the Church programs–find a good Girl Scout troop.

  8. January 14, 2005 at 2:56 pm

    In my ward we didn’t have that active of a program for older Scouts [those 14 +], and to be honest I was actually jealous of what the YW had. In general, their activities seemed to integrate spirtuality, service and fun stuff better. And girl’s camp sounded like a lot more fun, seemed like it had more diverse activities, and was more of a testimony building event than Scout Camp. Plus it seemed like there was a lot more semi-illicit fun stuff going on there (even if some of it was mean).

    Of course, as Russell points out, it’s different for the age group his daughter is in.

    This is just to say that it is by no means a universal that the boys get more support than the girls. And that, in my opinion, the Church would do better to make Boy Scouts more like YW.

  9. January 14, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Now imagine being a Young Man who hates sports. All of that “getting” to do what the Young Men did was a hateful chore for me.

  10. Rosalynde Welch
    January 14, 2005 at 3:00 pm

    Russell, what a difficult situation! I was not a tomboy, although I was not uncritically gender-identified since I always liked and excelled in analytical school subjects.

    I don’t know much about the Primary guidelines, but, having spent more than a few years in ward YW leadership, I think the new Personal Progress guidelines are much more flexible in allowing for a variety of activities. The problem often comes, I think, when just a few leaders have the heavy burden of planning and executing weekly activities, week after week after week. (I know, I know–the youth should be planning and executing, the advisors should do the class activities… but in many wards there simply are not enough youth for this to work, advisors are unwilling or unreliable, and parental support is low.) As a result, leaders understandably fall back on activities that are conventional, and easy to plan and execute. My husband worked with the Scouts during the years that I was in YW, and I often was envious of the specificity of the requirements in the Scout book–all John had to do was see what the next requirement was in the badge, and then coral the boys into completing it (no easy task in itself, of course). In fact, I occasionally sneaked a peek in the book to get ideas or our activities–and if I am called to YW again, I think I will get a Girl Scout book for the same purpose.

    Incidentally, I never loved Girls Camp–maybe because even there it seemed to be all about crafts and skits and songs.

  11. Jay S
    January 14, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Was that sea kayaking trip recent? It is my understanding that the 1st presidency put the kibosh on super activties like that. When I was a priest the stake put a radius limit on on where we could go, which changed activities a lot. When i was a teacher, the teachers and priests alternated between Rocky Point and Lake Powell. When I was a priest we just went to a local lake.

    But getting back on topic, it was my understanding that the Church has changed and emphasized the duty to god award more. I thought the curriculum of that award was brought more in parrallel with the young woman’s program.

    By word of suggestion to Mr. Fox, perhaps you could suggest a set of activities more in line with your daughters interests? I know the leaders interests frequently dictate what is done. This may have to do with what they think should be done, or just what they feel comfortable doing. When I had a scout leader who loved biking we mountain biked every other month for our activity. When I was a teacher our advisor was a huge basketball nut, and so we played basketball. Our priests advisor was a big academic, so we toured the college, planned money market games, etc.

    Perhaps if you discussed it with the leaders they may get more in line. I remember our young woman’s program going on a week long hike when i was younger, but perhaps this is the exception.

  12. D. Fletcher
    January 14, 2005 at 3:06 pm

    I’m sorry to say that I think the Church’s programs for girls are not as good as those for the boys, which means Boyscouts. A former Stake YW president I knew had many run-ins with the authorities over this very fact, and she eventually took her own daughters right out of the church.

    On the other hand, I never wanted to play basketball with the Priests, opting instead to play the piano in the chapel (on Mutual nights). So, if your daughter wants to work out with the Webelos, why not let her?

  13. danithew
    January 14, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    I have a single sibling — a sister. When we were growing up my Mom observed the disparity in camping activities and the like and eventually wrote a letter to the president of the Relief Society (of the whole Church) expressing her concerns about the lack of equal treatment and similar activities for girls. She got back a very politely worded letter that she didn’t find very satisfying. Apparently not much has changed since then (about fifteen years ago).

  14. Anna
    January 14, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    Sometimes I didn’t deem myself completely worthy of the tomboy title since I wasn’t good at sports, but in many ways I was: I never played with dolls, refused to wear dresses anywhere other than church, and sat with the boys at lunch for years. I have all brothers (6) and attributed my interests in large part to their influence. For a little while I really wanted to be a Cub Scout like my older brothers. Getting involved with Girls Scouts was not a viable alternative as far as I was concerned, because they wore cutesy uniforms and went by the ridiculous name of “brownies.” To appease me my dad helped me make a pinewood derby car.

    I don’t remember throwing any temper tantrums or feeling really bitter about unequal treatment for the sexes or anything like that. (Actually, if there’s anything I felt righteously indignant about as a child, it was the sense I had that all kids, male and female, were not taken seriously by adults.) My experiences at Girls Camp and YW activities were generally very positive, except for those downright painful makeover nights.

    My mom got me a Sports Illustrated subscription for my 15th birthday, and I’ve been a subscriber ever since.

  15. MDS
    January 14, 2005 at 3:41 pm

    I’m not sure I buy the “the boys get more recognition” trope that I hear so often. I have lived in areas where the young women got far more recognition than the young men, and think that the pendulum may have swung already. The young women have yearly New Beginnings and Young Women in Excellence nights that are standard, plus many wards and stakes have added special court-of-honor-esque nights for the young women, which in some cases are held on both a ward and stake level, adding two more “recognitions.” The YW sacrament meeting program seems to me to be much more of a fixture than any correlary for the Young Men. The real question, in my mind, is what the value of “recognition” is. I know some feel if the youth aren’t “recognized” they will fall off the face of the earth in terms of their church activity, but is that really the case?

    As far as the quality of the activities goes, this strikes me as a more legitimate beef. Here, it is incredibly important that input from the youth and their parents be sought. If Russell’s daughter wants to do Webeloseque activities, why can’t they be a part of Activities Days? Maybe there could even be a “combined activity” every once in a while involving the kids of this age?

  16. greenfrog
    January 14, 2005 at 3:57 pm

    Are the results of the study a year or two ago by BYU regarding the rates of pre-marital sex among LDS youth (reflecting a higher rate for young women than for young men) related to the situations the daughters of Russell and Gordon have encountered?

    It would not surprise me if in the past 18 months the Church were to have made an effort to increase the focus on young women’s activities. After receiving the BYU study, I think it would be irresponsible not to consider how we can improve the Church experience of young women.

  17. gst
    January 14, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    Jay, I believe the trip was 2 or 3 years ago.

    It seems to me that the independent funding of the Scouting program exacerbates the problem. (I’m not sure how to spell that word, so I’ll include some alternative spellings for the reader to choose from: excacerbates, ecxacerbates, eggszasserbaites.) But I think this was all discussed in the Gordon Smith post cited above.

    My wife (2 brothers, no sisters), insisted on building her own Pine Wood Derby car and racing it. She was not, however, eligible for ribbons.

  18. Russ Johnston
    January 14, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    I was the Scout Master for that past few years and I have found the same problem in the scout program (#9 and #12.) I think that it is very difficult for the leaders to come up with activities that will be uplifting and enjoyable for all of the participants. Even though the Scout program is very structured, the onus still falls on the leaders to make the activities uplifting (something that the YW do very well, I think.)

    Most leaders don’t take the time or don’t have the support from the parents to do the job the way that it should be done. I fought the entire time that I was scout master to get a scout committee and it never happened. Russell, you may be able to have a big impact on the program if you work with the leaders and maybe participate when you can.

  19. Curtis
    January 14, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    Peter King, a writer for Sports Illustrated, has long regaled readers of his on-line “Monday Morning Quarterback” column with details of his high-school-aged daughters’ exploits on the softball diamond and the field hockey pitch. It makes for some outstanding reading if you like sports, and if you have a daughter. (I like sports, and I will have a daughter in 2 months.)

    Here is King’s wrap-up from the year 2004, in which his daughter lost her last three softball games (all by a 0-1 score in extra innings) as a starting pitcher.

    “We all love winning, but winning isn’t the moral of the story in high school sports. The effort is. The commitment is. I look out at Mary Beth in the white circle, staring in blankly for the sign, getting razzed by the other bench, throwing a strike, then doing it all again, over and over. I found myself thinking last week: “I’m pretty confident in the kid who’s leaving the nest in August.” And really, isn’t that what you want to say about your son or daughter as their high school life ends?

    Is that related? I dunno. But, as I mentioned, I will be a dad in 2 months. I hope my daughter will be a princess who will have me attend herbal tea parties with a stuffed Snoopy, and throw a ball with me, and do whatever else she desires. Whatever activities the ward (branch, in our case) doesn’t provide, I will be more than happy to seek out through other means.

  20. January 14, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    “I hope my daughter will be a princess who will have me attend herbal tea parties with a stuffed Snoopy, and throw a ball with me, and do whatever else she desires.”

    I do too, Curtis. Thanks for sharing.

    For the record, I’m going to make Megan as much a part of Webelos as I can. But I also know that the church program will oblige me to draw a line at some point, and I’ll go along with it, both because it’s what I’m supposed to do, and because I agree with it: some boys stuff really ought to be just for boys. We’ll just have to do our best to find alternatives for Megan and our other daughters, to whatever extent we can’t influence PAD and later our local YW program to involve for some physical activity.

    I’m sorry to hear your Girls Camp was a “girly” one, Rosalynde. At Melissa’s (and she remembers this well), they did a survival campout–each girl on her own out in the woods with whatever she could carry in a small pack. Order of the Arrow-type stuff (assuming there’s any Scouters here who know what I’m talking about).

  21. Glen Henshaw
    January 14, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Russell, I’m on Megan’s side. You can certainly to work it out with the ward YW leaders to at least consider more physically oriented activities, but in my heart I fear you’re fighting a losing battle. Not that the battle isn’t worth it or shouldn’t be made, of course; but I suspect that change within the church in this area will be slow and gradual, and probably too late to benefit Megan. So it’s up to you, my friend. Take her camping yourself. Teach her to tie knots, handle a knife, build a campfire, pitch a tent. Get her involved in a sports league. Take her birding. Help her plant a garden. Work out with her. Girls need the scouting experience just as much as boys, and if they can’t get it through the church then IMHO it’s up to their fathers to help them get it.

    I have a daughter. She’s four. I’m teaching her to fish. I love it, she loves it, and it means we get to spend the afternoon together by ourselves. I highly recommend it.

  22. January 14, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    Oh, we do family campouts ever year, Glen, never fear. We didn’t get out last year because Alison was too young. But we’ll hit the trails at least once this year, that’s for certain. And family bike rides too. Ours is and will remain a fairly physical, outdoorsy family. When I say that I think some boys activities should be just for boys, I’m not talking about the activities themselves; I’m talking about the boys (and girls) need to get out on their own every once in a while for the sake of their own social development.

  23. Curtis
    January 14, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    Amen, Glen.

    One of my favorite pictures of my wife is from when she was about 3 or 4 years old, and she is sitting with her Daddy (now deceased) with a long string of rainbow trout they caught one Autumn afternoon. She’s beaming, giving a thumbs up, and could not be cuter.

    She is also already asking me when I will take our daughter fishing. (Can you fish wearing a Baby Bjorn? Hmmmm…)

  24. David
    January 14, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    My experience is that while the young men may have a “better” theoretical program on paper, it is frequently not carried out. Cubmasters, scoutmasters, varsity coaches, or venturer advisors who do not show up, who do not plan, who do not involve the boys in planning, who do not carry out planned activities. The young women leaders, in my experience, have generally been more reliable and caring. There are, of course, exceptions in either direction. Perhaps there should be a joint LDS boy/girl scout program run by the ward young women presidency.

  25. Ana
    January 14, 2005 at 7:21 pm

    Some thoughts about this topic, after going back and reading parts of the long thread Kaimi cited:

    In the ward in Alaska where I spent the latter part of my teenage years, YW camp and Scout camp were at the same facility, Lost Lake. It was formerly pretty rough, but members of the Church started fixing it up pretty well once the YW started using it. Campers stay in cabins and wall tents, and there’s a nice new lodge facility for meals and gatherings. The same hikes and activities were available for the boys and the girls–mosquito-infested hikes and canoeing, leech-infested swimming. (We loved them in spite of the abundant small fauna.) Maybe that was a function of being so isolated. It was prohibitively expensive for *anyone* to get too far away to do anything fancy.

    We were always amazed at all the carving the Scouts did on the trees and my brothers reported that there was always one death threat at Scout camp. True, the boys went winter camping at the local hot springs, and we didn’t. But this was Alaska. We didn’t want to go winter camping, even if there were hot springs involved. I wasn’t the most tomboyish of girls, but I did enjoy Camp and camping, and snow caves just seemed like a dumb idea when there were warm beds at home to be had.

    The boys did suffer from an ugly lack of planning in their weekly Mutual activities. Usually they seemed to be playing basketball in the cultural hall or working on merit badges. This did not do the trick for my less-than-athletic brothers who were not that interested in merit badges. (Neither did the “faggot” jokes, but that’s another thread.) I thought the deficiency in specific LDS teaching in Scouting was far more important than any deficiency in fun in Young Women. Granted, I was an overly serious teenage girl and am probably an overly serious woman. But I still think so.

    These days, I work in the Young Women organization in my ward, and my mom was just released after four years in YW in hers. Based on her experience and mine, I think it’s unfair to say that things are not changing for Young Women activities, especially camp. There is a brand new camp facility for use by Salt Lake area YW that my mom reports to be just amazing, with cabins and exciting activities and nice bathrooms (we’ve come a long way from the latrine-diggine days, baby!). Our stake is going to camp this year in Cambria, CA, by the beach, in a facility that is supposed to have similar amenities. I believe there will in fact be kayaking! (I desperately want to go, but the timing is impossible with my work!) I have heard rumors that the Church is building a new YW camp for California girls similar to the one in Utah. The resources required for

    My mom heard President Hinckley speak about the new camp facility in Utah. I have to rely on my memory here, so if anyone knows better, please correct me, but he said that the point of girls’ camp is to create a place where the young women can focus on their testimonies, and that the rough camp style doesn’t do that. This was interesting because I remember hearing that part of the reason for YW camp was preparedness — i.e., we’ll need to know how to cook on a campfire and tie a tourniquet when Armageddon comes or when we all have to move to Missouri. That line of thinking seems to have fallen by the wayside, which may not be a bad thing. Neither archery nor first aid is going to help us retain our young people.

    I wish the programs for the young men thought more along those lines. Maybe change will be coming there, too. As a mother of boys, I hope so.

  26. Ana
    January 14, 2005 at 7:22 pm

    Oh, I left a thought unfinished. The resources required for these new girls camps are nothing to sniff at.

    Sorry ’bout that.

  27. JL
    January 14, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    I’m one of the women you asked to comment here. I was a tomboy like your daughter except I was a clutz who stunk at sports. But I preferred climbing trees to playing with dolls.And I hated dresses. I had two older brothers that I loved to follow around–until they started beating me up about age 8-9. I remember that I used to wish I was a boy so I could play with my brothers and the other boys, they always seemed to do more fun stuff. I wanted to go on the scout trips when my father was the scout leader. It sucked. My parents didn’t have time to consul me so I just sulked over the injustice.

    What was even worse was having to suffer through YW. I hated it. The New Beginnings crap made me want to puke. For our youth activities we either did hokey stuff like crafts or played volleyball– sports involving flying objects are not for me. So I rarely went to the youth activities even though I was president of Beehives, Miamaids and Laurels. Our girls camp was fun the first few years because the camp leader used to be a professional tennis player and she had us doing real stuff and going to rugged campgrounds. The later years we started going to places that had cabins and the only nature-type thing we did was build fires and learn to cook over them.

    You asked if we felt marginalized. Yes I did. I still do. The primary is getting more equitable,with the exception of scouting. I’ve been in the primary for most of the last decade. I don’t know what the answer is other than to try and involve your daughter as much as you think is appropriate. Don’t discount her anger, she has a right to it. It’s double alienation to a kid when she is being left out and then told that she shouldn’t be upset about it. Validate her feelings of injustice by agreeing with her, then explain this is how the rules are and you can’t change them. Maybe you could ask her if she has any ideas for how you could make things more fair. Ask what ways she’d like to be included that might skirt around the rules. I bet she’d be excited to have a challenge like that. My two cents. Oh I also tried brownies but it was boring.

  28. laura
    January 15, 2005 at 1:49 am

    Ah, I too was a discontented participant in the Young Women’s program. The Boy Scouts in our area always had MUCH cooler programs going on. At least from my point of view. I mean, they went caving, rock climbing, backpacking, learned to use power tools, etc and so on. We did a lot of cooking. I usually set something on fire (unintentionally, but still). And we had to latch-hook, too, I remember. Shudder.

    However, my brother would tell a much different story- most of the Scout leaders were military men and ran the program like they were drilling their soliders. Although he enjoyed the activities, he still complains of the rigidity and inflexibility of the leaders. For example, he was not allowed to participate in many activities one spring because of “excessive absences” from weekly meetings. The absences were due to several extended out of state trips when my grandparents passed away (we must have missed about 8 weeks of school, etc total that spring).

    For both of us, our disappointment in the Young Mens/Young Womens programs led to a full scale rebellion around our freshman year in high school where we both flat out refused to attend. (Only my Mom is Mormon, so we were able to get away with this by enlisting my Dad’s support).

    Should young people be forced to attend programs that make them resent church activities? Certainly not everything should appeal to everyone, but it does seem that it would help to have a broader array of activities for both Scouts and Young Women.

    On a different note, I also participated in Brownies and Girl Scouts through my school and found plenty of opportunities to go camping, hiking, caving, biking, canoeing and more.

  29. RG
    January 15, 2005 at 7:00 am

    I’m with Glen. In raising our family (4 girls and a boy) I thought that Church “youth activities” sometimes intruded too much into our family activities. We liked to hike, ski, camp, etc. as a family. I remember when some of the YW leaders were putting pressure on one of our daughters to go to Girls Camp by making the arguement that our daughter needed to learn how to set up a tent. Our daughter pointed out that she had set up a tent dozens of times family camping trips. By the way, she was trying to get out of Girls Camp because she didn’t want to miss out on a family camping trip.

  30. John Mansfield
    January 15, 2005 at 7:44 am

    The program for our girls can to a great degree be whatever the leaders will lead and the girls and their families support. A few years ago, my wife presided a ward primary in the LA Santa Monica Stake. She thought the girls would benefit from a more ample Achievement Days program, and so they had one. The girls gathered weekly for activities and had a monthly evening when the families gathered for games and to recognize the girls’ achievements. This was done in a fairly weak and dwindling ward, so carrying out the girls’ actvities fell on the primary presidency and their mothers. The stake primary organization also provided a multi-day summer day camp-type gathering for the girls that included crafts, touch football, and a hike to a waterfall.

    As a teenager, my wife also went on a stake young women’s winter campout. Years later the stake president’s counselor who had been there joked fondly about hearing my wife’s older sister grumble about getting out of a tent in the morning to start a fire in the snow. She also had a multi-day summer backpacking trek with the ward young women up Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain (13,161 feet).

    After working with the cub scouts in three states, I will also assert that that program is the priority of no one in the ward except those directly involved.

    A funny thing here is that the ward Relief Societies are so much more functional than the wards’ Melchizedek priesthood groups. The capability is there, but the vision of going beyond minimal efforts for our girls could be broader.

    (My wife, Elizabeth, has read through and approves my description of things. Her time is used too purposefully to write an internet post herself.)

  31. January 15, 2005 at 9:44 am

    Thanks for all of these comments, everyone. A couple of points stand out: supplement my daughter’s life with whatever outdoor and physical activities we think she needs and is lacking at church, and work with her leaders (who are just volunteers, after all, the same way I am) to try to nudge things in her preferred direction. Will do.

    In a sense, all we’re talking about here is being a good parent. I mean, I can easily imagine the shoe being on the other foot: having a son like The Only True and Living Nathan who hated sports and needed something more, something different, from his youth leaders (and not getting). Fact is, I was just a son: hated sports, and ducked out of them whenever I could. (I liked Scouting though; a subtle difference, I know, but a real one nonetheless.) No one has written on the sufferings of the sports-phobic boy in the church today better than Orson Scott Card; I’ve recommended this essay before, but again, everyone should read Basketball Doctrines.

    My wife Melissa makes the important point that these kind of criticisms can become a habit: if PAD or Young Women’s doesn’t give you what you think you need or want, won’t that make it that much easier to later on believe that Relief Society and Enrichment–and maybe eventually Sacrament Meeting–also don’t give you want you need or want? That way lies inactivity. Not to dispute the valid points many have made, but there probably is a fine line here, up until which we’re going to expect Megan (and all our children) to participate in church activities whether they enjoy them or not, because it’s part of the process whereby church–the imperfect, often frustrating, always in need of improvement church–becomes a part of their life.

  32. anthony
    January 15, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    the amusing thing is when i was in scouts (queen venturers award, think eagle) i loathed it, because all i wanted to do was cook and make crafts and do all the girly girl things the v. v. butch scouts would refuse to do.

  33. January 15, 2005 at 7:38 pm

    This subject really raises my ire. I was very hurt as a young girl with five brothers by the fact that they had scouting and lots of fun and I got to sew stupid crap. In my ward growing up there was nothing for girls until age 12. Meanwhile the brothers were out camping all the time.

    My (very disinclined to criticize church authority types) mom complained about it once and received a serious smack down that still stings to this day.

    I know there are lots of reasons why this is so, and I do not in anyway blame the already overburdened YW leaders. But still something has to be done about this, we’re are teaching our young people again and again that Young Men and Boys are more important and more valued than Young Women and Girls. And this hurts all of us.

    IMO this system is broken, still twenty years later, it is broken. It is hurting our young people and it needs to be fixed. IMO (angry this evening for whatever reason) this is just one symptom of having all-male leadership in the church. And frankly I just feel mad about it. Gurrrrr.

  34. Sheri Lynn
    January 15, 2005 at 8:04 pm

    Okay, we hurt the girls, no question. We pamper the boys and give them the fun.

    And look at the result.

    The women’s section in the temple will be full. And there will be a couple of faithful elders attending. They struggle to get boys to uphold their priesthood obligations as they get old enough to have them, but I think the biggest problem they have with the young women is getting them not to talk too much during Sacrament.

    Is this a squeaky wheels get the grease situation, or am I confusing cause and effect?

    I know the ratio of active elders to active sisters is FAR, FAR from equal.

  35. January 15, 2005 at 10:39 pm

    Oh, so we can take the girl’s attendence and behavior for granted. So it must be okay to treat them like second class citizens.

  36. Nikki
    January 16, 2005 at 2:22 pm

    Russell, I grew up in the same ward you did and I have to admit that while I have fond memories of many of the ward youth activities (temple trips, winter youth camps, etc), I dreaded going to young women’s activities every week. Some activities I remember include making sweatshirts, etching little flowers into mirrors, making a quilted cover for a photo album, and even making our own swimsuits (a somewhat risky undertaking for inexperienced sewers, since a loss of structural integrity at the wrong moment could be extremely embarrassing). I didn’t necessarily want to be doing what the boys were doing, but I wished that we could be spending our time learning things that were more interesting and useful (I didn’t consider sewing useful, since it was cheaper to buy clothes at the store than the fabric to make them, thanks to the textile revolution).

    A lot of the other girls, on the other hand, seemed to really like these activities, so trying to get them to do something different was not a very viable option. I was more intellectual and less girly than the other girls and I had different interests, but at the time I just felt like I didn’t fit in. In retrospect, I think the best thing my parents could have done for me was to get me involved in more intellectually stimulating activities where I could have found more like-minded girl friends. Girls who are athletically or intellectually inclined don’t get the same support at church or from society as boys showing similar aptitudes. I think that parents need to take special care with their daughters to make up the difference by encouraging their talents and interests, and getting them involved with other similarly-talented kids. For smart or talented kids, even one like-minded friend can make the difference between a fun and satisfying adolescence and a lonely and isolated one.

  37. Mardell
    January 16, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    I always thought and still do that he programs are not even close to even. The fact is that scouting has a lot more training for the leaders and activities for the boys outside of the ward or stake. It also includes boys of every walk of life. They have pow-wow and rendvous where thousands of boys come together and do great activites. But the girls have nothing to even start to keep up with that. I do not really mind that the girls do more girly things but why is our program so sub-par?

    As a youth I was Laurel president for a year and I often complained to my bishop about the disparity, So on my 18th birthday I was called to be assistant scoutmaster. I loved the calling, and am still involved heavily in scouting but why could I have not started at a younger age.

  38. RG
    January 16, 2005 at 7:04 pm

    As an avid collector of world and L.D.S. folk art for over thirty years, I lament the state of teaching that rich art tradition in the Church. The boys get none of it, and girls usually only get a watered down sample. I’m not hostile to teaching “arts and crafts” in the Church (although I am not advocating this as the only kind activity!) , but I am saddened that it isn’t done in a way that better draws upon the richness and complexity of the tradition. A yarn tied “comforter” for example is not the same thing as a “Balitmore Album quilt. When the history and quality is stripped out of the craft, it usually looses its ability to deliver long lasting emotional and aesthetic satisfaction.

  39. January 16, 2005 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Nikki. What’s your last name, if you don’t mind my asking? I’m not remembering you (though perhaps you’re younger or older than I).

  40. claire
    January 16, 2005 at 10:02 pm

    We’ve been thinking a lot about a variation of this issue in our family. We plan to participate in what ever activities are available for our daughters, as a matter of supporting the Church/program, but to what extent is it important to support the program _because_ it is a Church program, at the expense of other activities our daughters could participate in that are not Church related? How important _is_ the association with other LDS youth (regardless of what the activity is)? Russell, we recently began taking our 8 yo to another ward for PAD, because she is the only (active) girl in that age in our otherwise large, urban ward. We’ve pondered moving to the suburbs for the express reason of creating an LDS peer group for our children, but in the cold light of day that seems rather extreme.

  41. Nikki
    January 17, 2005 at 2:12 am

    Bastian – I’m a couple years older than Jesse

  42. JWL
    January 17, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    Have you checked out your local Girls Scouts where you are now? For the very reasons outlined in your post and on this thread my sister had my neices attend Girl Scouts. At least in New Mexico, the Girl Scouts were fairly outdoorsy. Obviously falling back on an outside youth organization does not resolve the larger issue of the gender disparity in the allocation of youth resources in the Church, but it does offer a possible alternative in individual situations.

  43. Deb
    January 17, 2005 at 4:55 pm

    Originally I posted this in Gordon’s thread about Boy Scouts vs. Personal Progress. But realizing that the topic burnt out quite a while ago, I went searching for a more recent topic of similar nature, and found this. I think my comment applies here as well.

    I have been a Girl Scout Leader for the past 10 years and have found it to be a marvelous program for my daughter. One very positive thing for me also is that the church can’t kick me out by calling me to a different position – a problem that has been an annoying but necessary part of my experience as a Young Women and Boy Scout leader in the church.

    For my daughter, in Girl Scouts she has been able to participate in a great variety of experiences which are as varied as earning her community service pin by working 50 hours at the Humane Society to back packing for three nights in Haleakala National Park. Through GS she has also been a tour guide at a botanical garden, volunteered with Special Olympics and Relay for Life and run a three-day drama camp for younger scouts. She is currently writing up her Gold Award Project proposal (which by the way is more difficult to complete than an Eagle Project) and this summer she is attending an International Girl Scout Camporee in Oregon.

    In comparison her Young Women experience has been quite narrow. Because of her extensive scouting experiences, my daughter’s take on the YW program is that it is great for spiritual growth but extremely lacking in other aspects of personal development.

    Until recently I served as committee chairman for our ward scout troop for 5 years. We have three sons and I can with great authority say that the comparison of the YW program with Scouting (even before Duty to God) is a joke. The commitment and time required to achieve an Eagle as compared with the YW medallion is at least five to one. Add on to the scouting program Duty to God and the ratio of time commitment for young men vs. young women is probably about eight to one. Do we really need to plow that much more commitment, time and resources into our young men than our young women? Not to mention the obvious fact that the YM program is so much more balanced than the YW program. When I go to New Beginnings and YW in Excellence I can’t help but think that these families can’t possibly be taking this program seriously. It is so obviously lacking in balance. Besides spiritual topics, which of course are of prime importance, young women also need to learn about important areas that will affect their lives in the future such as money management, first aid, citizenship, physical fitness, nutrition, languages and cultures, community service, the environment, nature and outdoor life — not just Girl’s Camp.

    It would be an insult to the hard work of the young men when they get Eagle to have a similar presentation to YW for completing their program. There is such a disparity between the two programs in time, effort and acheivement. It is sad for my daughter — thank goodness she does have Girl Scouts!!! She will be duly recognized in a magnificent ceremony when she does complete her Gold Award complete with the lettes of recognition from our state’s senators, reps and the President of the United States.

    As far as why the church does not use the Girl Scout program the answer is twofold. One is that the Girl Scout program is not franchised as the Boy Scout program is. Therefore, the church can not “own” the program as it does the Boy Scout program. Secondly, Girl Scouts has always been run by very “progressive” women. It was progressive – controversial– from the start and is still run at the national level by liberal women whose philosophies do not always jive with the Church’s goals and principles. However, for me on a local level I have never found a conflict between my values as a member of the church and the content of the program of my Girl Scout Troop.

    All the discussion about budget above to me is irrelevant. Give my daughter a program she can sink her teeth into. It should not be Boy Scouts or Duty to God. It should meet the needs of the girls and in so doing should, of course, have as much depth and breadth as the program we give our boys.

  44. Eric Selin
    January 18, 2005 at 11:22 am

    I keep reading people commenting about Scouting and being “called” as a Scoutmaster. Nobody is called because it isn’t a calling. Scoutmaster is an appointment not a calling. In our stake I have found that Scouting while serving as the activity arm for YM in the church, works best outside and independent of Priesthood direction.

    To the extent that YW wish better activities than tying quilts they have only themselves and their leaders to blame.

  45. Deb
    January 18, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    I was called as scout committee chair and recently released. Maybe someone needs to tell our Bishop it is not a calling.

    I agree with you that Scouting sometimes works better outside the church. It becomes morphed into an entity very different from traditional scouting inside the church. My kids have been in church packs and troops and non-church packs and troops. I have found both to have strengths and weaknesses.

    I also agree that the YW leaders bear some responsibility for not giving the girls a more “meaty” program. But if you look at what they have to work with in the Personal Progress book you will see that the program could really use some beefing up.

  46. Jason Richards
    January 18, 2005 at 1:21 pm


    You can’t be serious 5 to 1, 8 to 1 more commitment to achieve Eagle rank than to complete the Young Women Medallion?!!!

    Please! The Boy Scout ‘achievement’ program is nothing more than a lame set of check-a-box lists. Check enough boxes and they give you a patch. Check enough boxes and they give you the eagle patch. There’s no ‘real’ achievement envolved, just marking time until you can get a part-time job and quit participating in Mutual (a.k.a. Basketball).

    I do agree that there is a lot of FAKE recognition for that eagle award, and a HUGE inequity in the fact that the YW are not adequately RECOGNIZED for the work they do to receive their Medallion!!!

  47. Jason Richards
    January 18, 2005 at 1:35 pm

    Forgive the tone of my earlier post–it possibly came across as harsh. I just meant to observe that the forest looks a lot different from where I’m standing. I’m interested in hearing more of your description, because it almost sounds as if you’re standing in a different forest.

  48. Mike Heninger
    January 18, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    My ward has such a small number of boys that we have joined a non-LDS Cub and Scout troops. The perspective of Jason Richards is certainly close to what the non-LDS Scout leaders think about LDS Scouting. But it does not describe a the troops we have been members of, they have been excellent. Perhaps we have stronger than usual Scouting around here. If Scouting is important to you and your ward is like what Jason Richards describes then I would recommend shopping around and finding a good troop. I think when enough of us do this, we are going to be able to come back to our wards and rejuvenate Scouting.

  49. Deb
    January 21, 2005 at 9:28 pm

    It took me a couple of days to sit down and quantify the number of trees in the forest that I find myself standing in. The strength and quality of the trees in the forest are another discussion. But just in raw numbers here is how the forest looks.

    Taking each program and assigning a ball park figure in hours to the check lists of activities that the young women and young men have to accomplish in order to complete their respective programs I come up with the following figures:
    YW Personal Progress:154 hours
    That includes 42 value activities and 70 hours of service projects.
    YW Camp Program: 196 hours.
    That includes 4 years of YW camping activities and 2 years of camp leading.
    YM Duty to God: 934 hrs.
    That includes time spent attending to priesthood duties, accomplishment of about 130 activities, 4 years of seminary, reading the Book of Mormon twice and 60 hours of service projects.
    YM Eagle Award: 594 hrs.
    That includes requirements, service hours, final Eagle project, etc for all 7 ranks in the Boy Scout Program and 21merit badges.
    YW Pers. Progress + Camping = 350 hours
    YM Duty to God + Eagle = 1528 hours

    Disregarding substance (another topic below) even if we acknowledge that boys and girls are different and need different programs to help them mature into spiritually mature and responsible adults, does one gender really need 4.5 times more of a program than the other gender? To quote a hymn– the thought makes reason stare!

    Add in the quality issue and the contrast is even more stark. Looking at the quality of the YM and YW forests we find that Young men in their program are taught citizenship, patriotism, money management, environmental awareness, international relations, physical fitness and a host of other topics per their own personal interest. The boys also get to serve in the community on a broader scale and go on more and better outdoor adventures. Our young women have never left the island of Oahu. Our young men routinely during the summer months go on high adventures to other islands.The boys are required to read the Book of Mormon twice and attend seminary. Those activities, while encouraged, are not a part of the Young Women’s Personal Progress Program.

    It’s true that each program is nothing but a series of check lists. So what… many, if not most, important endeavors in life are based on a series of check lists: getting a job, obtaining a drivers license, obtaining a professional license, getting a college degree, qualifying to teach in the public school system, obtaining a temple recommend.

    The lists for each program can be implemented in an interesting or lame way. The problem that I have right now is that I think the YM program is a little too ambitious (even without Boy Scouting) and the YW program is very much under ambitious and too narrow to make it interesting.

    Thanks for your thoughts to help me clarify my own thinking.

  50. Lisa
    May 21, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    I just came home from church and thought I’d get some ideas for an upcoming camp clinic. I guess I stumbled upon this web sight and the Title sparked my interest. Well, I do not have a great feeling about this sight and am saddened by the time and effort put into critisizing. The Lords youth programs. We are all volunteers and it has been my experience that you only get out of something, what you yourself are willing to put into it. If you have problems with the activities, volunteer to help. Get your kids involved with other things too. The church is there to help the families come closer to Christ. It is merely a vehicle to help his children become unified, enjoy others company and worship. Which I feel this web sight does not offer this. We should be helping build not destroy. Pull up your boots and get to work making a possitive difference.

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