Friday, April 11, 2014

It's gettin' mighty judgmental in Mormonville

I live in glorious Utah County, home of the most conservative Mormon population on the planet. While much of the time, this is a fabulous thing, sometimes it's not. The Mormon church sponsors Girl's Camp every summer. Stakes (several Mormon congregations wrap up to a stake) organize a five day retreat for girls age 13 to 18. Morgan went two years ago here in Utah. Last summer, she went to Girls Camp in Long Beach with my BFF's daughter, Devynn. And this year, Morgan has decided she won't be going at all. We'll actually be in Europe during Girls Camp but she wouldn't go if she could. The drama between girls of this age is just ridiculous. And in Utah, the drama caused by nonsensical "standards" is just out of control and, in my opinion, downright stupid. So we opt out. These standards include the dangers of showing a kneecap or shoulder or, heaven forbid, having a second ear piercing. Are you flippin' kidding me?

So I have a few Girls Camp stories told to me by other girls in our neighborhood.

  • N went to Girls Camp last year. They were all sleeping in tents and N went to shower and when she started making her way back to her tent, she could hear the girls in the tent next to hers talking about her. She sat down outside the tent and just listened to them. They said things like she was a bad example because she had an extra ear piercing. She didn't go to Sacrament meeting often enough (Sacrament meeting is the main meeting, equivalent to Mass) so she shouldn't be at Girls Camp. Oh, gosh, girls, how about church is for everyone, not just the (self righteous) people? How about a second ear piercing has absolutely nothing to do with character and behavior? Needless to say, N isn't going to Girls Camp this summer. To her face, these girls are super nice. They even drop off brownies and cookies and the like all the time. They stop by her house almost weekly to see if she needs a ride to Young Women's activities. But behind her back, it's a whole other story. The Bishop lives across the street. His daughter is one of the ringleaders of this gaggle of girls that talk behind N's back. But yet she goes over to N's house in the mornings before school and changes out of the tops and shorts she leaves the house wearing in favor of something she likes better but doesn't pass the standards of her very conservative parents. Wow-- in a few years I wonder what else this girl will be doing behind her parents' backs if she isn't doing it already. 
  • C went to girls camp a day after it started. Prior to that, she was on a family vacation at the beach where she Instagramed photos of herself wearing a two-piece swimsuit. When she got to girls camp and got to her assigned tent, the girls had staged and intervention of sorts. They were gravely concerned over her swimsuit and reminded C that she was being a very bad example and on the road to apostasy. C left the tent for a while to calm down. When she returned, several of the girls had moved out of the tent, refusing to sleep in the same place as C. C called her mom to get her immediately because she wasn't about to stay another minute with those girls.
  • D went to girls camp and one of the girls is a true Mean Girl who has targeted D. The entire week was spent talking behind D's back, ignoring her and, when no one was looking, pointing fingers at D, laughing at her, and making those "knowing looks" between the other girls. D isn't going either.

Really? Is this what the (well meaning) Young Women's advisors are teaching these girls? Girls across the country and across faiths and backgrounds can be evil. It is a tough age and girls are a nightmare. But when you're teaching endlessly to judge each other based on (in my opinion) things that are so unimportant in the grand scheme of things, it really isn't helpful. Instead of talking about the Big Stuff, like cyber safety, abuse, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, teen sex, bullying, they spend oodles of time talking about dress codes. If only the biggest thing that I, as a parent, need to worry about it shorts that don't hit the kneecap. I mean, seriously, WTF.

I discussed this with one of our Young Women's advisors. She said, "Well, one things leads to bigger things." Um, no.... For real? I mean please tell me where these people come from? If there is something extreme, like a 14 year old girl who is wearing hoochie shorts, has 10 ear piercings and loads of tattoos and only wears dark goth clothing, then maybe there s something else Very Big goig on with that child and someone should try to find out what. Is she being abused, bullied, struggling with depression... what? It's not about "that girl is so unrighteous let's SHUN HER."

About a year ago, our stake hosted a Standards Night on a Tuesday eve for the young women and their mothers at the Stake Center, Sunday dress required. Morgan and I showed up a few minutes late and had to sit in the second row in front of the speaker, which had we sat anywhere else, I would have walked out 20 minutes into the whole thing. Instead of talking about all kinds of "standards", it was a one hour forty minute lecture on the church's version of "modesty." It was horrifying, long and totally inappropriate. Some of the highlights of this train wreck:

1. A video of boys just off their mission where they were asked such doozies as "What do you think of a girl who dresses immodestly" and "Would you date a girl who doesn't dress modestly?" and "What would you like to tell a girl about how she should dress?" I kid you not. I think my mouth was hitting the floor. Offensive, no? If my girls ever dated one of these self righteous boys, I would have her kidnapped and sent to a convent in Italy for five years. What parents are raising boys with such a mindset that they'd even participate in an interview like this?
2. A woman who sobbed through a good portion of her presentation as she described finding a modest prom dress for her daughter and then, thanks to her prayers to God, was able to find the exact same matching shoes online. "Girls," she cried. "The Lord wants you to look modest and beautiful and God provided a direct answer to my prayers to help my daughter dress modestly." I wanted to slap this woman. So let's see... first STOP sniveling. Second, God cares more about your daughter's shoes than, say, the children in the Ivory Coast who are being kidnapped from their families (oftentimes after their families are murdered or had their arms chopped off), given loads of drugs and a machine gun and told to go kill other people in the war for... who knows why they're fighting...? And third, your physical appearance is of the utmost concern to God because Jesus taught that during his ministry... ? Holy flipping hell.
3. Another woman talked about how skinny jeans and any pants with embellishments on the pockets were immodest and they shouldn't be wearing them. Thanks, Lady, for making that decision for ME, the mother. And thanks for telling all these girls that half of their mothers are little hussies because we wear skinny jeans. I mean, seriously, what right does this woman have to make authoritative statements about that anyway, I mean, if that's her OPINION, hey to each their own, but say that!
4. A man talked about how they didn't watch beach volleyball on TV because those women dressed way to immodestly and they just didn't need to see it. They also stopped getting the Victoria's Secret catalog in their home because it just wasn't appropriate either.

It went on and on and on. Morgan and I were kicking each other under the pews. Add to that, I was hungry and the AC vent was right above my head and I was FREEZING. If it wasn't for the fact that it was so dang cold I would've thought we were sitting in Hell.

I know the Mormon church means well. The way you present yourself to the world conveys a huge message. If you want to convey that you're a girl looking for a good time, there's ways to dress accordingly. If you want to convey that you're troubled, you can do that, too. How about teaching those messages? Dressing appropriately for the occasion and for your body type. Besides, "modesty" encompasses a whole lot more than kneecaps and shoulders, duh. But somehow, in this wacky culture, that's what it has boiled down to.

When it comes to church activities, hey, it's their club and they get to set the rules. If there's a dress code, no problem, Communicate what that is and make no apologies, no excuses, and no exceptions if you want. But beyond that, the church does NOT get to try and dictate what my daughters or, even worse, what I wear. That's MY job as their parent and I do NOT appreciate the overstepping of bounds.

My dad, bless his heart, is as conservative Mormon as they come. When we first moved to Utah and we were living with them, my dad and I were going to walk to my uncle's home, which is about five blocks away. I was wearing denim shorts that hit my knee and a sleeveless top that actually came up almost to my collarbone. Did I mention it was, like, 150 degrees outside? My dad asked that I get a sweater and wear it before we left the house because I was showing (gasp) my shoulders. Um, let's get this straight,, not only no, but Hell No. I made a decision that second that I didn't care one twit what my neighbors thought about my clothing choices, or the clothes that my daughters wore. While I hardly dress like a hooker, I do wear shorts that are far shorter than the knee and I wear tank tops and sleeveless sundresses almost every day. And so do my daughters. I have no idea if I offend my neighbors but if I do, it really isn't my problem.

I wish that there was far more time spent (and believing) that the most important things to teach in church are Christ-like attributes, like love, kindness, acceptance and forgiveness. And to teach of Christ's ministry and other stories from the Bible. Teaching how to be good people-- honesty and morals, repentance and FORGIVENESS. To foster a welcoming community.

A few days ago, William and I took the girls to the This is The Place park. It is an area where the Mormon pioneers settled in Salt Lake City. Those people were amazing. Talk about having each other's backs. They had a very tough journey to get to Salt Lake and when they did, the support they had for one another was unimaginable. Total love, acceptance, and support. Resilient, strong, faithful. I wish we were more of that Mormon and less of some of the stuff I sometimes see out here. Well, I can't change that, I can only strive for teaching my daughters by example something different. (Eek-- after reading this post, I suppose I'm being really judgmental myself. Well, touché. See? I own my faults!)

I love Utah, I really do. But there's a few things that I find so completely nuts and harmful that I cannot and will not be silent about it. And this is one of them. These modesty lessons I find so completely harmful that I'm going to harp on it. Maybe if a few saner voices start speaking up, it'll help.