My friend is a rock climber and over dinner a couple of weeks ago he mentioned that he was taking the scouts climbing on the limestone cliffs above Barton Springs Creek in Austin. He invited me along so the next day I headed out. I yelled to the boys to see if they wanted to come along but only my 12 year old daughter answered. So, I headed to the scout activity with my daughter.
She did her first climbing this year at a rock gym during a Young Men/Young Women joint activity for church. We've gone as a family a couple of times since then and she is pretty good. She's built like I used to be: long and skinny. We showed up and all of the older adult members warmly greeted me. Although none of the church members have gone out of their way to stay in touch with me, they are always very friendly when I occassionally show up at a church sponsored activity.
Anyway, my daughter had a blast climbing on live rock for the first time. She actually did pretty well and made some moves that I'm not sure I could have made. As I was watching I was again struck about how unfair the church treats females. Our ward seems to have pretty decent leaders, but the programs for the boys and girls are still different, have different emphasis, and as far as I can tell the Young Women's program doesn't have anything comparable to Boy Scouts. Maybe the girls just wouldn't be interested, but my 12 year old daughter seemed to enjoy the rock climbing as much as the boys. She also loves to camp, loves to explore in the woods, like to go running with me, likes to ride horses, likes to swim, etc. In other words she likes all of the activities traditionally done by scouts and I'm sure that she can see the greater opportunities that the boys have. My 6 year old daughter also seems to enjoy Brownies as much as my sons enjoyed Cub Scouts, but the church doesn't sponsor anything similar for young girls even though it does sponsor a Cub Scout Pack for the boys. I kind of felt sorry that none of the other fathers brought their daughters along. I know my friend would gladly do the same thing for the young women in the church if they asked, but I doubt that it will happen.
Doctrinally, the church is pretty equal for boys and girls until age 12. Up to that point they attend classes together and receive the exact same lessons. Other than Cub Scouts they are treated pretty equally. Suddenly, at age 12 the boys get the priesthood and the girls start getting lessons on their "Divine Worth." I've read the Young Women's curriculum and as near I can tell a woman's "Divine Worth" is to be a wife and mother and to support the priesthood. They shouldn't attain to anything else. In fact, it seems that they are discouraged from anything that would diminish their focus on being a stay at home mother. They are taught the evils of sex and that their virginity is something to be preserved with their life, if necessary. They are taught to not be a temptation to the young men sexually. They are taught to not date until age 16 and then to only date men that would be worthy to marry them in the temple. They are to make sure their boyfriends go on missions to spread the gospel and then marry them as soon as they get home. The pinnacle of their life should be getting married in the temple, having children, and then raising those children while supporting their family while staying at home. This is the divine road map for women in the church.
The Young Men get lessons on being part of a royal priesthood that is literally the power to act on behalf of God here on earth. From the beginning they are allowed to perform sacred ordinances required for salvation. The little they are taught about women is that they should honor them by not having sex with them before marriage. They are also taught the evils of sex with an additional emphasis on the evils of masturbation, which is apparently not a problem that females have. Supporting the Relief Society or women isn't taught. Instead they are taught to be the leaders in the home since that is the order that God established. This is reinforced in the temple, well it used to be, when the women are put under covenant to obey their husbands as if he were God. The pinnacle is similar to that of women: go on a mission, marry in the temple, and raise a righteous family. After that they are to be the leaders in the home, church, and community and to be the primary bread winners for the family. The only difference is that men are in a clearly superior role in the church and in the family and this is subtly and not so subtly taught to them from the time they are first ordained to the priesthood at age 12.
As I've talked to several people recently it has struck me how poorly the church's teachings serve the women in the church. One general authority of the church noted in a conference address that 1/3 of Mormon women will never marry. Roughly half of the rest that do get married will be divorced at least once. This is 2/3 of the church's women, well over half, that won't fit into the church's ideal. How does the lifetime of teaching serve these women. When they are constantly taught from a young, impressionable age that being wife and mother is not only important but their "Divine Worth" then doesn't that suggest that they've lost their worth. I'm not a woman, but if I were and I grew up in the church and bought fully into the church's teachings then I think that I would be devastated if the years passed and I never found a man worthy and willing to marry me in the temple. I think it would be equally difficult to live the church's teachings, marry in the temple, have children, and then suddenly find myself a single parent after a divorce.
This isn't some small minority like homosexuals that Mormons feel justified in shunning and ostracizing as sinners. This is roughly 1/3 of the church's population that either can't or won't be able to live up to the church's model for life. For these people, what does the church offer? What doctrinal comfort do they have for a life of solitude and loneliness? The church teaches that they should bear it gladly and in return they will be given to righteous men in the resurrection so that they can be their plural wives. What about during life? What comfort does the church offer to them while alive and not fitting into any of the programs or ideals of the church? Where are the lessons about how to prepare for single life? Where is the emphasis on the need for emotional and financial independence? How does the church prepare its young women for the leadership roles that they will be required to take as adults, independent of a husband that they may never have? From what I can tell, the issue isn't officially addressed. Hopefully they'll have leaders and parents that teach them to get a good education and a be able to support themselves in preparation for the likelihood that they will need to support themselves independently. But I haven't found that lesson in the Young Women's manual yet and I'm pretty sure that it isn't in the church's Proclamation on the Family.
I think that my father typifies the Mormon attitudes toward women. My sister is a wonderful, good person who is 40 and never married. She recently decided that she's probably never going to get married but still wanted the opportunity to be a mother so she is going going to be adopting a child from Guatemala where she was a missionary. When my father found out he asked if she was going to quit her job after the adoption. He wondered how she was going to raise the child alone and unemployed. I think he has heard of day care and realized the absurdity of the question. I think this was his subtle way of expressing his disapproval of a non-traditional family. I can see you nodding your heads. Nice, huh?
Think about it next time you hear a Mormon leader talk about the wonderful women in the church and how happy they are and how well they are treated by the church.