There are certain “traditional” young women’s activities that keep us up at night (and not in a good way). Included in our short list are:
1- That activity where everyone tries on their leader’s wedding dresses
2- The infamous activity where the young women are taught how to iron men’s dress shirts
3- The activity where they make the young women write out a list of characteristics they want to see in their future husbands
Now, while all of these are... outdated... and we will address them each eventually, today we want to talk about the lesson where young women write about their future husbands.
For those who might be unfamiliar with this strange cultural phenomenon, let us break it down for you.
The activity typically goes like this:
1- The young women arrive and are given some sort of short lesson about eternal marriage.
2- They are told that, as they begin dating, they should focus on finding a husband who fits the characteristics they are looking for in an eternal companion (no emphasis is given to other things they should be focusing on during this phase of their lives like getting an education, furthering their career, or learning more about themselves).
3- The young women are given stationary and told to write their lists of the characteristics they want to see in their future husbands. Some girls have told us that their young women’s leaders took these notes back to redistribute them once the girls got engaged, others were told to keep them in their scriptures, and others were passed on to their parents for safekeeping.
Regardless of the details of how this activity is executed, one fact remains the same: It’s time to retire this activity. Here are our five reasons why you might want to consider a different activity for your upcoming Young Women's lesson:
1- These kinds of activities place undue pressure on young girls to get married.
It’s important to remember that the young women are literally children. It’s developmentally inappropriate for such young girls to be so preoccupied with marriage. This kind of pressure sends the message that a girl’s worth is dependent on her ability to find a partner rather than the contributions she individually makes in the world.
Instead of this pressure, we could be encouraging young girls to develop themselves and gain greater self-confidence. A young woman who knows and values herself is much more likely to make smart choices for her future, whatever it holds.
2- Not all of the young women will end up in heteronomrative relationships, or even in relationships at all.
Recent data has shown that over 20% of GenZ identify as LGBTQ+. It is unrealistic to expect that all of the young women will end up in partnerships at all, but it is especially harmful to assume that they will all end up in straight relationships.
These kinds of activities corrode the self-confidence of LGBTQ+ girls in our ward. They also set up our young women to have unhealthy perceptions of singlehood.
While we hope that all young women find the love and support that can be found in a healthy partnership, it's also important for them to know that there is joy and fulfillment in single life as well.
What we don't want is for young women to feel like being single is a problem that needs to be fixed. Why? Because this perspective can lead young girls to accept less than desirable or flat out unhealthy partnerships simply to avoid being single.
3- It is unrealistic to expect a child to know the qualities of a good life partner
Again, this comes down to the reality that our young women are between the ages of 12 and 18 which means they are children. It is unhealthy for us to expect that children would have a good grasp on what makes a good spouse. As a result, these assignments become a checklist of regurgitated cultural expectations which include things such as “must be a returned missionary” or “must be a worthy priesthood holder.”
The unfortunate reality is that when we train our girls to water-down their expectations of partners to two-dimensional benchmarks like whether or not they served a mission, we are setting girls up to overlook red flags in future relationships. There are many returned missionaries who are not respectful in relationships. Adversely, there are many wonderful people who did not serve missions. When we judge one another based on short-sighted lists we wrote in Beehives, people on all sides of the spectrum are harmed.
It would be far better if we could teach the young women to value how they feel around someone they are dating rather than if the people they are dating fit their checklist.
4- There are far better things we could be doing with our young women’s time
The time we have with our girls in young women’s is fleeting. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of rushing them to the “next step” of hyperfixation on marriage we enjoyed the time we have with them in this phase of life?
Activities like camping, self-reliance lessons, making art, or spending time with one another outside are so much more fun and more fulfilling than writing these kinds of lists. Why can’t we just allow our girls to be girls and enjoy this time of adolescence alongside them?
Allowing children to fully embrace and experience their current stage of life is the most helpful thing we can do to prepare them for the future. By focusing on useful principles rather than specific applications, we help young women gather and learn to use the tools they will need to carve out their unique life in adulthood.
5- These kinds of activities set everyone up for disappointment
Each of us walks our own path in life- our young women are no different. Some may not stay active in the Church. Some may not marry men. Some may not end up with returned missionaries. Some may not end up in long-term relationships at all. Some will eventually go through a divorce.
Regardless of the path that each of our young women experience, one truth remains the same:
Even if they end up marrying someone who marks down everything on their checklist, there are better more helpful activities our YW can experience.
While it may require a little more effort to give this old activity a remodel, our young women are worth it. They will be much better off if we focus on loving, getting to know, and empowering them to trust themselves. That way, no matter what the future holds, we can feel confident that they have the tools they need to succeed.