Sisterhood or getting the men off the hook for parenting?

Q.  What do an 8 year old girl and an 88 year old woman have in common?  A.  Both are the apparent target audience of the upcoming Women’s Meeting.

For the first time ever, the General Women’s Meeting that precedes General Conference once per year has been expanded to include not only the Young Women, but also all girls ages 8 and up:

All women, young women, and girls eight years of age and older are invited to participate in the general women’s meeting on Saturday, March 29, 2014, at 6:00 p.m. mountain daylight time.

This is an interesting change, one that I confess has me confused.  I’ve heard a few possible explanations being thrown around.

Sisterhood is Inclusive; Brotherhood is Competitive

I have observed in the past that the women’s Relief Society organization is already far more inclusive than the male Priesthood equivalent.  Typically younger men are in the Elder’s Quorum, but older men “graduate” or are “promoted” to the High Priests’ Group in time.  Eventually, if they haven’t been “promoted,” they are sometimes just grandfathered in because at some point it becomes ridiculous for them to be lumped together with the young, strapping Elders’ Quorum in which they will be asked to help people move and play aggressive pick up games of basketball at the ward.

Not so in the women’s organization.  You enter at age 18, and there you stay until you die.  When I asked why this division is made for the men, I was surprised how many men were quick to defend the separation of the old and young men, essentially stating that the two age groups had little in common, being at very different stages of life, some with kids, others retired, some in school, others trying to move ahead in their careers.  It seemed a bit lost on them that these are the exact same age divisions experienced within the Relief Society, and yet there has been no carnage or bloodshed in all my years in the organization, just a lot of women feeling like a high percentage of the discussion is not for them.  What’s good for the gander is apparently not good for the goose.

Adding children ages 8 and up is perhaps a bit too inclusive.  After all, what do we all have in common once we are including children? Uhm . . . I’m not sure.  My ward is pitching our commonality as a love of ice cream.  However, as an adult woman, my palate is a bit more refined.  I would prefer a light pistachio gelato to a 5 gallon tub of Western Family chocolate.

Childcare Coverage

That’s a long line for ice cream.

Is this change to eliminate the excuse of some non-attenders as not being able to get away from the kiddos?  If so, that was a lame excuse in the first place for any of them with husbands.  Maybe the husbands are cool with staying home with their male offspring, doing jackass style stunts and burning stuff in the backyard while the women-folk are out of the house.  But if that is the reason, then what is it going to take to give women a break from our kids?

I have begun to think that some Mormons think the human gestational period is 18 years, not 9 months. [1]  Not that hanging out at church is exactly an ideal hen night, but still.

Modeling Motherhood

Is the objective of the change to indoctrinate the young ‘uns (but just the girls) as early as possible to be ready to become mothers?  If so, I think that indoctrination is already being crammed down their throats routinely in Primary, Activity Days, Young Women, and at BYU.  What’s two more hours of it?  Why is this necessary?  My daughter is already expressing cynicism about the focus on marriage (she’s 11).  Most women marry and have children anyway.  Are we spoiling the pot with this relentless focus?

I’m not sure why the General Women’s Meeting should be focused on motherhood any more than Priesthood would be focused on fatherhood (except that we don’t seem to have much else to say to women).  After all, many women and girls in attendance are not mothers or are past the age of child-rearing.  Presumably, those between the ages of 8 and somewhere in their mid-20s are mostly non-mothers, and those over age 55 or 60 at least are probably to the point of having mostly adult children.  Those in their 40s and 50s are mostly done giving birth, and in my case, also done talking about it.

Infantilising Women

From “I am a child of God” to “As Sisters in Zion” in one meeting.

One cynical theory bandied about is that the church already sees women as basically children anyway, so why not seal the deal by inviting actual children to their meeting?  After all, there is a tendency for women leaders to use what we in the church refer to as “Primary voice” even in the all-inclusive General Conference sessions.  While that’s a bit of an overstatement, one wonders how content that is appropriately aimed at adult women will suit girls aged 8-12.

The Priesthood session is still ages 12+, perhaps because of the requirement that at least one talk be aimed at eliminating pornography while no such requirement exists for the women’s meeting.  I suppose it’s unlikely that attending the women’s meeting with their young daughters will result in anyone having to have “the talk.”  Not so if they invited the 8-12 crowd to the Priesthood meeting.

What a Girl Wants

As I sat in Primary (substituting) last week, and the girls were encouraged to attend the women’s meeting with their mothers, I couldn’t help but think how difficult it is to get kids of any age interested in sitting through General Conference, let alone for one more church meeting.  Forcing my kids to sit through the Gilbert temple dedication was painful enough, watching them sleep upright in uncomfortable positions, draped over the metal folding chairs like koalas at the zoo.

Abraham Lincoln was famous for his eight-hour speeches that people found riveting and rousing.  Nowadays we can’t even make it through all four verses of I Believe in Christ without checking our phones for texts or twitter updates. [2]  Is that an indictment of our attention spans or an indictment of outmoded attempts to get attention?  Perhaps we need to rethink how we get our messages across to the younger generation.  And the older ones, too.


[1] It’s the best explanation I can come up with for women, and only women, being barred from teaching seminary or institute for CES or being temple workers if they have children under age 18 while no such restrictions for  men exist.

[2] It’s a pretty long hymn.  Srsly.