Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

“LDS Living” gently criticizes gender inequality in raising Mormon kids

LDS Living says the BOTH boys and girls should have their shoulders covered. And have equal access to technology.
LDS Living says the BOTH boys and girls should have their shoulders covered. And have equal access to technology.

LDS Living says the BOTH boys and girls should have their shoulders covered. And have equal access to technology.

Terrific work, LDS Living.

This morning the magazine posted a short, cogent article by three different women saying that Mormon teens are getting gender-specific messages from their parents — and, by extension, from Mormon culture — sometimes to their detriment.

The issues tackled include:

Modesty: “I can’t help but notice how LDS girls are constantly reminded to be careful of their hemlines, necklines, and sleeve lengths,” writes Jamie Lawson, a mother of boys. “In fact, most parents I know are sticklers when it comes to how their daughters dress. But are we as equally concerned about our sons’ wardrobes being modest?” Excellent question. She goes on:

Of course, modesty is about much more than what we wear—it is also about attitude, language, grooming, and behavior. But as a culture, we Mormons are quick to fixate on clothing. It just doesn’t seem we are nearly as concerned when our sons’ kneecaps are showing as when our daughters’ kneecaps are.

Church accomplishments: This one really hit home with me. Kelsey Berteaux writes that when she finished years of hard work and planning to receive her personal progress medallion, she got a necklace in sacrament meeting and a $50 CTR ring from her parents. When her brother received his Eagle Scout award, he got a gaming console worth hundreds of dollars and the full-court-press of an Eagle Court of Honor — speeches, an official reception, the works. He also has an honor he can put on his resume for the rest of his life. She writes:

I’ve heard arguments go both ways for which is harder: personal progress or earning the rank of Eagle Scout. But more than which is harder, here’s my question: why does it matter? Both courses are designed to help strengthen the youth, male or female in their respective spheres. Both programs are quite lengthy, requiring more than a hundred hours across multiple years to attain. Both are wonderful accomplishments. And both should be celebrated with equal enthusiasm.

Technology: And lest we think the article complains solely about boys getting more privileges than girls, one writer pointed out an inequality in her family that favored the girls. Whereas she and her sisters got to use their iPods and other devices in their rooms to play games, etc., with no adult supervision, her brother did not, presumably because the Church’s notion that boys are more prone to pornography led her parents to believe their daughters were safe. Janalee Rosner writes:

While I respect my parents for doing the best they can, I think it is important for LDS parents to be consistent in their rules with their sons and daughters, especially when it comes to technology . . . . Merely protecting or preventing your sons from encountering technology is not enough, and being stricter with your sons can do your daughters a disservice. Technology is not going away in the foreseeable future, and both your sons and your daughters need guidance to learn how to use technology wisely.

Well done, LDS Living.  And thank you.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • I like this article and generally agree with it. But I don’t think that we need to wholly ignore that men and women do have differences. The fact is, generally (of course, with exceptions), a greater percentage of men havd difficulties with pornography than women. I like the article because the pendulum has swung to where there is a double standard, but I think we need to be careful not to swing too far back the other way and treat all our kids as if they are exactly the same.

  • Thank you Jana, for reporting on this. I didn’t see the article.

    I agree with Brad, but apparently young women also need monitoring with electronic devices as there is some, perhaps a lot, of them who could be victimized through it as well.

  • As a woman who’s been fighting pornography addiction for years, I agree with the equal technology rules. I’m tired of the RS pornography lesson being “how can we help the men?” when I’ve known that there were others in the room that struggle, too. I’ve heard over the pulpit that women are wired differently and couldn’t possibly understand how hard it is for a man to control himself. I only ever hear that women can be addicted to porn too as a sort of hypothetical afterthought. It makes me feel like I’m a freak of nature, which makes me feel like I’m broken and beyond hope. It’s not true. There are lots of us, and we need acknowledgement and help, too. We’re not immune, and our internet safety needs go beyond protection from victimization. And our addictions aren’t just to smutty romance novels, either. Let me nip that one right in the bud.

    Sure, genders have differences. But it’s hard to pin down exactly what they are, and there are exceptions to most rules. The exceptions to our culture’s perceptions of women who view pornography aren’t as rare as we tend to think. We’ve got at least 5 in my YSA RS, and that’s only those of us who felt comfortable (often after years of struggle because women don’t HAVE porn addictions, right?) admitting it to our bishop. Treating men like porn addiction is almost inevitable and women like porn addiction is almost impossible does neither of us any favors.

  • The Eagle Scout tradition is over 100 years old and has developed some ceremonial components over that time such as the ‘Eagle Court’ and is largely secular since Scouting is generally non-denomination and seldom held in the LDS chapel. Whereas the YW recognition program id a recent addition; and specifically tied to recognition during Sunday services. Using both achievements on resumes in early years of job searching is appropriate. As far as rewards for attainment of the goal: that is going to vary by family and circumstances. I’ve seen it run the range from ‘the award is It’s own reward’ to a driver’s license and a car, in both cases. Rewards (particularly for unmotivated scouts) are offered by parents to motivate youth to loftier heights; rightly or wrongly depending on your perspective.

  • I’m sorry for not understanding you and other women who may suffer from pornography addictions. Generally speaking, visual stimulation does nothing for me, and I am one who has a hard time understanding the men who have a problem with it, as well.

    The problem I had with lessons about pornography was an idea that was once expressed, that once addicted to pornography a man could never overcome it.

  • I really appreciate Anonymous’s statement about HER addiction to pornography. As a woman who has served as RS Pres in a YSA ward and have more recently served as a counselor in Young Womens- I can assure you that there is a large problem with porn addiction amongst are girls/young women. When we refer to it as a male-only problem they become even more ashamed of approaching their parents and leaders for help. My uncle and father-in-law have both served as bishops for student wards at BYU and BYU-I in the last 5 years. They said that there was always as big a problem with porn/masturbation with the ladies as there was with the guys- some semesters there were even more women they were working with. We do such a disservice to our youth by not teaching BOTH genders, in frank terms, what/how to overcome this particular trial.

  • The premise of this article has some merit, but I am disappointed that it doesn’t at least address some basic gender differences. For example, we care very much about what girls wear (modesty) but the article fails to acknowledge that we are just happy boys wear (at least somewhat clean clothes) and bathe (hopefully regularly.)

    Generally speaking, you don’t need to tell girls to take care of themselves. Generally speaking, if you don’t tell the boys, they will stink up the chapel as they pass the sacrament.

  • Do you have research to back up these assertions about personal hygiene and gender? These vast generalizations don’t fit my personal experiences.

  • Not all men have serious addiction issues with it either. Pornography is a lot like alcohol. Not everyone who drinks a beer becomes an alcoholic. Not everyone who smokes one cigarette becomes a hardcore chain smoker. I personally saw enough of some dirty magazine and felt distasteful with the stuff in it. Just my experience though, I do feel at least with the porn issue, we should be wary that their can be women who have issues with it just as there are men who have issues with it. Realizing that fact is helpful.

  • I’m very tired of hearing the argument that scouting is different and not a church organization. The meetings are held in church, boys are expected to be a scout, and church funds do go to the program. I’m not saying that the boys don’t need this resource, I’m just tired of the general attitude that the boys need more funds, and activities. Girls are under attack to, and funding/activities offered should be equal. Why are the girls not given the same funds/resources? I’ve never heard a good explanation. I was the Activity Days leader for my ward, and I got a budget of $200 for the whole year for 20 girls. I saw the budget on paper, and the cubs got over $800 for just awards for the year. When I brought this to the wards attention the explanation was that the boys had more awards to pay for. My question now is, why do we only feel the boys need to be rewarded for their accomplishments? Merritt badges, courts of honor, day camps, and other rewards, and our girls get maybe a necklace when they complete the Faith in God booklet. It’s hardly fair. My daughter wanted to know why her best friend got a day camp, and she didn’t, so I created one for the girls in our ward, at my own expense because my requests for help with funding were denied. The whole situation sickens me. Each family paid what they could, and I covered the rest. The boys got bounce houses, face painting, survival skills, and treats, all provided. They were told if they needed help, the ward would cover expenses. When I filled the first day up with free activities, took the kids to the museum, and did a pool party in my neighborhood pool and provided treats for all, I was told the ward couldn’t even cover the chaperones cost. This may be a ward specific thing, but the general acceptance that boys need more safeguards and protections from the evil world leaves a bunch of neglected little girls in the lurch.