During my early years in Young Women’s, I was not given many leadership opportunities. I don’t remember if I ever served as a councilor to a class president, but I do remember that I wasn’t called to be a class president until I was in Laurels. This caused some anxiety for me, a shy and awkward girl who was really trying to do the right thing. Why hadn’t I ever been called, when other girls had? Had I done something wrong? When I was called to be the Laurel’s class president, I really saw myself as a role model to the younger girls and tried hard to make them feel welcome and safe in Young Women’s. I was able to focus on them, instead of my own shyness and awkwardness. One of the best experiences I had was serving as a youth leader at girl’s camp. It was my sixth year attending camp and the leaders put me and the other 6th year completely in charge of the 3rd year girls. During camp, we planned all their activities and taught them everyday. I slept next to my group of girls in our cabin and could see that they really looked up to me. I felt proud of the responsibility I was given and while I didn’t consider myself and adult, I saw myself moving toward a more adult role.
While serving as a youth leader at camp is a more orthodox way for a young woman to serve, I had two more unorthodox experiences while I was the Laurel’s President. We were having some kind of joint young men and young women’s meeting and the adult leaders asked me to conduct the meeting. I was asked to welcome everyone, and announce who was giving prayers and speaking, etc. Being still somewhat shy and soft-spoken I was nervous about this responsibility and I even fasted the day of the meeting in preparation. Things went well and I was glad that I had been able to pull it off. Another experience I had was that an adult member of our ward got the youth together on several occasions to practice a special musical number. Midway through the practices, the director approached me to ask me if I would direct the choir during the sacrament meeting. I was really nervous about it, but agreed. He had me conduct several times during practices and I was able to conduct the joint YM/YWs choir during sacrament meeting.
While these were two small experiences that might not seem like a big deal, they made a big difference to me. The message that was communicated to me through these opportunities was, “We see that you have potential and want to help you develop your abilities to lead. We trust you enough and care about you enough to give you leadership opportunities.” Reading Neylan McBaine’s recent Fair talk has got me thinking about these experiences I had as a young woman. In the talk she specifically addresses how many parents have to explain to their excited daughters that only boys pass the sacrament. I don’t think these discussions are about passing the sacrament per se, but instead they are about young girls not feeling like they have a vital, systematic, and important role in their institution. (Also check out this excellent post on the topic).
A number of months ago, I attended a Priesthood preview that was organized by our ward. When the Young Men’s President got up to speak he emphasized the fact that the Lord puts great trust in young men. He then listed all of the important things young men are able to do (pass the sacrament, bless the sacrament, baptize). When he started talking my first thought was, “Does the Lord also put great trust in young women?” I have imagined approaching him with this very question in order to see how he would respond. In my head the response is something like, “Yes, He puts great trust in young women because he trusts them to be mothers.” I would then reply, “I don’t see many young women who are mothers, do you? What vital role do young women play in the church?”
This is what I see as the essential problem. Young men go through a series of steps that slowly give them more responsibilities and prepare them for later roles they will hold in the church. In addition to this preparation, their roles are seen as vitally important to the congregation as a whole. You can imagine the pride that comes from being able to serve adult members of your congregation in this way. Also, there are many more opportunities open to young men than young women. Almost all young men have the opportunities to bless and pass the sacrament and baptize. Young women, on the other hand, spend most of their time preparing for future roles (wife and mother) instead of fulfilling an important role while they are an adolescent. Furthermore, while young men follow a very distinct age progression through their roles, young women have no idea when or even if they will ever become mothers. We need to do better for our young women. We need to give them an important role that they can play in the church while they are adolescents that will give them opportunities to develop their abilities. We need roles that are available for all young women to participate in at the same time. As adults, we need to communicate to young women that they are valuable through given them these opportunities instead of through only telling them they are valuable.
What do you think? How can we give young women more opportunities to prepare for adult church responsibilities? Can this be done within the current church structure, or are significant changes within the structure necessary?