Ask Mormon Girl: The Father’s Day Primary Program is making my gender issues flare up. Help?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

I’m the primary chorister. For Father’s Day, my very understanding Primary President really wants the kids to learn the song “A Young Man Prepared” because she believes that boys can show their dads they love them by preparing to receive the priesthood.  I thought it would be good to teach the boys this song, and the girls another.  But because of some logistical issues in our understaffed primary, she wants to teach the song to all the kids (I’m trying to imagine the look on my daughter’s face as she sings “Though a boy I may appear, yet a man I soon will be . . .”) or to have the boys sing alone and have the girls hold up signs cheering them on.  Gender is already a sensitive issue for me. I think girls already are made to feel just invisible in church meetings/hierarchy and teaching this song and having them either sit there quietly or hold up signs cheering the boys on, well . . . I just don’t think I can do it.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Am I overreacting?

Sincerely,

BHK

Dear BHK:

God bless Primary Choristers and Primary Presidents.  I love Primary.  I really love Primary.  On any given Sunday, you’ll find me hanging out in the back row of the Primary room, soaking up all the good basic stuff about God, prayer, and kindness.  Keeping it simple is often a form of salvation for complicated souls like mine, and I’m guessing yours too.

But even the world of Primary isn’t entirely free from complication. And some of that complication can creep in through even so otherwise delightful a medium as Primary music.

One of my Native American LDS friends served for years as her ward’s Primary Pianist.  Inevitably, the kids would just beg for the children’s song “Book of Mormon Stories,” complete with the fake-tom-tom rhythms and racially stereotypical hand motions.  And when they did, my friend simply said, “Sister H doesn’t play that.” It seemed to work for her.

There is only one “Book of Mormon Stories” in the Primary songbook. But there are, it seems, so many more songs about gender roles, especially in this post-Proclamation-on-the-Family era.  Of course, you’re absolutely not alone in feeling sensitive about gender in the world of Mormonism.  You’re not alone in feeling that the roles assigned men and women in General Conference talks and primary songs don’t line up with the complicated reality of your family life, or your work life, or your spiritual life, let alone speak to your deepest sense of your spiritual personhood.

Your issues with gender—yes, they are real.  But (at least for now) they are your issues.  And as the Jewish-American comedian Sarah Silverman recently observed in her memoir The Bedwetter (which I received as a Mother’s Day gift from my mother-in-law—lucky me!), parents often spend much time projecting their own issues onto their children, and worrying about those issues, when really their children are silently dealing with whole other sets of issues.

This is not to minimize the weirdness of having girls sing about being priesthood holders, or the sense of responsibility you feel for perpetuating what you feel is the invisibility of women in the church hierarchy, or the weight of the gender roles promulgated in the Proclamation.  And it can be painful to feel yourself at odds with a ward organization that you’re obviously committed to serving.  But I’m guessing that you do have an open dialogue about gender at home with your kids, and that with a bit of humor, and grace, you’ll be able to process this experience with them as yet another example of how it is possible to love a tradition and yet not always feel perfectly at home in it all the time.

Either that, or you can spare yourself, your kids, and your husband the stress of the whole situation and take a vacation from gender on Father’s Day by planning an outing to a nice neutral, spiritual space.  I’m thinking somewhere with trees.  For how wondrously complicated and nuanced is the gender world of trees.  You may feel right at home there.

No simple answers here, BHK, at least not from a complicated soul like mine.  Readers, it’s your turn:  what would you do if you were in BHK’s shoes?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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One response to “Ask Mormon Girl: The Father’s Day Primary Program is making my gender issues flare up. Help?

  1. I am the Primary chorister… yes my fourth time… and I would have to insist that girls learn and sing an equally meaningful song. The relationship between a father and daughter is profound… and it would be delightful and enlightened of you to honor that rather than marginalizing them. (Yes… I am a devoted, faithful, completely complicated Mormon woman – and proud of it!!)
    What about Love is Spoken Here… with all the kids singing both verses… then letting them choose which part they want to sing for the duet. We did it for Mother’s Day and boys and girls singing both parts. Boys can kneeling their mothers… girls have a home where every hour is blessed by the strength of priesthood power. Sing the father part first… to put the emphasis where it belongs on this day. Ideas! Good luck.

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