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?