Number One: What I was supposed to learn on Pioneer Trek when I was 14
Pioneer trek is an admittedly weird tradition that has popped up in LDS stakes all over the Mountain West. And every pioneer trek I have ever heard of made sure to include the ritual known as the “Women’s Pull.” What usually happens is all the boys get called off to the “Mormon Battalion” and while they are away doing whatever it was they were made to do, all of us girls are left to pull the handcarts all by ourselves.
And I remember on my first trek that they called away all those boys right before a big hill, just as it was beginning to rain. There I was with my “sisters” and my “Ma” in my “pioneer family” pushing or pulling our handcart, slipping and stumbling up a big, muddy hill. And my sisters and I—we felt awesome. We did it all by ourselves! And honestly it wasn’t that much harder without the boys than it was with them, and we learned that we were capable of doing hard things when we worked together with other women and supported each other!
Except, when I answered with those words when my “Pa” asked 14-year-old me what I learned from the Women’s Pull, he only looked at me blankly, chuckled a little and said, “No, no. What you were supposed to learn was how hard and difficult things are without men and the Priesthood to help you. I’m sure it wasn’t as easy as you think it was.”
“Oh.” I thought.
Number Two: What I was supposed to learn about marriage in my BYU Single’s Ward
So there I was as a 19-year-old. Just starting my sophomore year at BYU. And I trudged up the big hill onto campus with my roommates for either Stake or Ward Conference (I can’t remember which). We sat down, journals open to empty pages and ready to take notes. Not surprisingly, every talk was about dating. Dating Dating Dating. And probably chastity.
The last person to speak got up and to build up for his point he was telling us about the time he climbed Mount Everest. He had hired a Sherpa. And he told us all about this Sherpa. How this Sherpa had carried all of his heavy things. How this Sherpa had made him breakfast and lunch and dinner. How this Sherpa reminded him to drink water often and held him up in rocky portions of the trail.
And as his final great example of how wonderful his Sherpa was he explained how there was a large boulder that had to be climbed. And how he was so tired and oxygen deprived that he couldn’t climb it. So the Sherpa got down on his hands and knees and allowed this man to step on his back in order to get over the boulder. This Sherpa became a stepstool.
“And that, Brothers and Sisters, is how a good marriage works. Sisters—you must always support and encourage your husband just as the Sherpa did for me. Brothers—look for that quality in the girls that you date because that is the kind of wife you want to have.”
“Oh.” I thought.
Number three: What needs to be clear about the role and purpose of Relief Society
There was a combined Relief Society/ Young Women meeting in a ward in the Salt Lake area earlier this month. They had a special program for the newly-graduated young women to celebrate their accomplishments and welcome them to Relief Society. Their parents spoke, and they were given a little box that had—along with their new lesson manual, Relief Society directory, and the most recent edition of the Ensign—these three things:
- A Box of Green Jell-O (“because no ward function is complete without it!”)
- A recipe for funeral potatoes (“because you will be making this all the time for the rest of your life!”)
- A hairnet (“so that you can keep your hair back as you serve food out of the church kitchen at all sorts of ward activities!”)
“Oh.” Thought every 18-year-old “graduating” into Relief Society.
These are three important lessons “the Church” tries to teach us women that we are supposed to do, feel, or agree with. You can find these lessons in correlated manuals and in conference talk after conference talk after conference talk.
It is very disheartening to think back to 14-year-old me, who concluded at the end of pulling a handcart up a muddy, steep hill with other women that we were strong, able, and awesome—only to be rebuffed and told that no. I was wrong. We were weak and needed help. What other sincere 14-year-old somewhere is rebuffed and made to think she is weak?
It is alarming to me to think that I was told along with an auditorium full of other young single people that a good marriage is one where the woman must always give and give and give and make herself a glorified stepstool so that her husband can climb over a boulder and get to the top of a mountain. That is not the recipe for a good marriage. That is the kind of paradigm that fills domestic violence shelters. What other 19 year old is ingesting the idea that her role is to be her future husband’s eternal stepstool?
And it is depressing to me that people can effectively say, “Welcome to Relief Society! Here is a recipe and a hairnet. This is what Relief Society is. Get comfortable.” Because that is not what Relief Society is supposed to be. Relief Society is not supposed to be the ward’s catering and maid service. And we should be actively trying to change that trend—not welcoming in a new generation to perpetuate it. What other woman is surprised and disappointed when she learns what it means to be part of the “World’s Biggest Women’s Organization!” that she has heard lauded her whole life—welcomed with a hairnet and a promise of never-ending demands for her to make another pan of funeral potatoes?
Why are we teaching these lessons? Why?