The Church has announced that starting in 2014, there will be a General Women’s Meeting twice per year, with women, young women, and girls ages 8 and up invited to attend.
I suppose this is a victory for those who want to see more parity between the genders in the Church. (I consider myself part of that group, by the way.) But I can’t get past the “8 and up” part.
My kids are 9, 12.5, and 15.5. It is a regular occurrence that the older two will want to discuss some topic that they have heard about on the news (gay rights, abortion, etc.) and I’ll have to shape the conversation in a way appropriate for 9-year-old ears, often at the expense of a conversation that I’d very much like to have with the other two. There is a huge developmental difference between 9 and 12, and I think the Church has drawn the line between Primary and YM/YW just right.
Which I why I’m not thrilled that 8-year-olds will be at this General Women’s Meeting. There are many topics that might otherwise be discussed in this setting but that are not appropriate for their ears. There are things one might want to say about modesty or eating disorders or sexual abuse or chastity or sex or whatever to a 12-year-old that an 8-year-old should not be hearing. There are also topics of doctrinal depth that would bore an 8-year-old to tears, but that a 13-year-old might attempt to wrap her mind around. What I am afraid will happen is that the talks in this meeting will be very generic and simplistic in order to be appropriate for the young girls. I am also concerned that the rhetorical distance between the General Priesthood Meeting (where serious doctrine is taught, where the speakers are not afraid to call the audience to repentance, and where uncomfortable topics are addressed) and the General Women’s Meeting (where out of concern for the 2nd graders in attendance, the talks will probably be fluffy, simple, and sweet) will become a concern inasmuch as the difference is interpreted to mean something about the natures/roles of men and women. (I suspect that a fair number of men and women will watch the other gender’s meetings, since these will, I presume, continue to be broadcast. I wonder how many people of either gender will bother to gather in ward buildings to watch when they could be home in their jammies with snacks.) For a more positive view of the change, read this.
I heard through the rumor mill that the reason for this policy was that the Church was uncomfortable leaving 8-11 year old girls alone with “the men” since the YW would not be available to baby-sit. I sincerely hope that this was not the reason for this decision, given that, in most cases, those men would be their own fathers and brothers. Perhaps the goal here was to give the 8-11 year old girls some special thing that was theirs alone (given that they have to be witnesses to all of the things that their boy counterparts get to do, from scout day camps to priesthood preparation, etc.). I have no idea if that is correct, but it certainly seems a more palatable reason for their inclusion.
I’ll be curious to see how this change plays out. Inasmuch as it fits into a pattern of increased equity in the Church (recently manifested through the revamped YW curriculum, the lowered age for female missionaries, the broadcasting of the General Priesthood Meeting, the practice of having women pray in General Conference, and the creation of formal leadership roles for sister missionaries and the mission president’s wife), I’m very happy about it. But I wish they’d limited it to ages 12 and up.