He Calls Me Honey Hole

Venus and Cupid the Honey Thief

Names are important. What we call someone or something frames our perception and impacts the meaning in our minds. It offends God when we use the wrong name or nickname as President Nelson recently reminded us,

He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used and adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended.

We are called to repentance by this prophetic declaration that using the wrong name offends God. Churchwide we are called to revise our naming practices. The names we use for classes of Young Women in The Church stand out as a naming practice in need of correction and repentance.

Who controls the naming power in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?  My 97-year-old grandmother is at the young end of a large family. Her name was hotly debated and settled with the family majority (siblings and mother) reaching a consensus that her name would be Betty. When it came time for her naming and blessing at Church her father ignored the majority consensus and declared her name to be Martha. This declaration was thoroughly rejected by the band of siblings who persisted in calling their sister by the nickname Betty throughout her life as did the rest of their hometown. But the legal name recorded on her birth certificate is Martha. Males control naming power in The Church. As the exclusive proprietors of priesthood power, they wield ultimate control over branding, labeling and other forms of naming. And as demonstrated by President Nelson, naming is a priority for the ultimate authority of a prophet.

In her book, Dance of the Dissident Daughter, author Sue Monk Kidd explores the power of naming and women’s use of this power. She states,

To name is to define and shape reality. For eons, women have accepted male naming as a given, especially in the spiritual realm. The fact is for a long time now men have been naming the world, God, sacred reality, and even women from their own masculine perspective and experience and then calling it a universal experience.

Fellow blogger Violadiva writes on the dangers of this masculine perspective in terms of a Mormon Male Gaze here. How does this gaze show up as we name our adolescent children forming adult identities? If they are boys we name them using scriptural titles of Deacon, Teacher, and Priest, describing them as officeholders with sacred responsibilities. They are called to action and are labeled as sacred actors rather than as objects. In a 1995 General Conference talk titled Acting for Ourselves and Not Being Acted Upon, apostle James E. Faust reveals,

Holders of the priesthood of God are to not only be accountable for their own acts, but provide moral and physical safety for the women and children of their families and of the Church. You young, single men who hold the priesthood and are dating the splendid young ladies of the Church have a duty to do everything you can to protect their physical safety and virtue.

Young men are called to provide moral and physical protection for the “acted upon” objects of The Church: the women and the children.

An egalitarian religious culture would call all adolescent children to offices with biblical names and scriptural descriptions of their duties and responsibilities as they prepare for adulthood. Girls too would be encouraged to act, rather than being acted upon. But in The Church,  the names and labels assigned to the 12-18-year-old girl children are not sacred. The names we assign objectify and sexualize.

Beehive is the oldest name and classification for girls in The Church and a favorite symbol of industry, productivity, royalty, and Masonry in early Mormonism. As a freshman in college learning to identify symbolism in Renaissance literature, a helpful classmate directed me to, “Pay attention to the poles and the holes. That’s where the sex role messages are represented.” Applied to the Beehive label it is evident that there is a hole at the entrance of the beehive. Inside of the hole is sticky sweetness to be guarded by bees with pole shaped penetrating stingers.

12 and 13-year-old girls are labeled with a word that means holes of sweetness. Repositories of sugary goodness made by bees penetrating flowers and bringing the fertile essence back to the hive. Duties and responsibilities? None stated, but several implied. A beehive is an object. Be acted upon. Be full of nurturing sweetness. Be valued for what you can give up to the males entitled to take. Be a honey hole. While boys your age pass the sacrament you can be symbolized as a sticky sweet sacrament in a hole. One day you might be feasted upon by a famished prophet seeking holiness in the desert.

Do our labels for girls get any better as they age? What are they encouraged to become as they grow and progress? Per the LDS.org website: “The name Mia Maid refers historically to the Mutual Improvement Association, which adopted the emblem of the rose as a symbol of love, faith, and purity.” Unfortunately, Mia Maid sounds like, “MY maid” which many a teenage boy has mockingly pointed out to his girl peers at church. Duty and responsibility of a domestic nature are implied in this name. Labor performed is in servitude to another who enjoys ownership of the labor performed.

In addition to the meaning: female domestic servant, maid is also defined as an unmarried girl and as a virgin. Why choose as a name for young girls a word that refers to whether or not they have been sexually penetrated?  The emblem of the rose associated with Mia Maid reinforces the sexual message. Flowers long have been used to represent female genitalia (as in this anti-circumcision ad by Amnesty International).

The focus on purity represented by the unplucked rose or the virginity associated with maid implies that experiencing sexuality removes virtue or value from a girl. Purity and virtue messaging teach that a girl has greater worth if a male with a legal claim to her(marriage) is the first to use her for sexual service. Messages embodied in the Mia Maid name: be servile, clean up other people’s messes, be sexually clean, be a virgin. Boys of the same age are Teachers.

A plate from the 1742 deluxe edition of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela.

Since at least the 1740 publication of Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, maids have carried erotic symbolism as an easy to rape object of sexual violence to be preyed upon by the master of the house. The plot of Pamela centers on a 15-year-old maid attempting to resist the seduction, kidnapping and other coercive efforts of her adult employer. The maid as an erotic figure endures today in anime, pornography, and sexual role play.

Beehive and Mia Maid are the labels assigned to classes of girls who have not yet reached the official dating age of 16. Per For the Strength of Youth, these girls are too young for courtship. They are at an age when it is a crime for an adult to engage them in sexual activity of any kind. There should never be any talk of Beehive or Mia Maid bodies tempting adult men. But historically, girls this young were considered marriageable among Mormons as documented by author Connell O’Donovan in the article, Pedagomy: Sealing Girls to Old Men. 

…Girls aged 11 to 16 were married in Utah to men at least a decade older than they were; some men were even in their 60s when they married these girls. These girls were giving birth to children within a year or so of marriage, proving that these marriages to child brides included sex.

In a Victorian era that abhorred polygamy (particularly the inclusion of child brides in the practice), Mormons had sexual relations with children. An institution with a history of pedophilia should reject the optics of naming classes of girl children with sexually objectifying labels. Today, girl children in The Church progress from Honey Holes (Beehives) to Erotic Virgin Servants (Mia Maids) before finally becoming Crowns for Men (Laurels).

Girls will graduate from the Young Women’s organization to Relief Society as Laurels. The lds.org website explains the name:

For centuries the laurel wreath has been a crown woven from the leaves of the laurel tree. It is given to someone who finishes a significant achievement as a symbol of honor and accomplishment.

While 16 and 17-year-old boys actively engage in the duties and responsibilities of being a Priest such as baptizing or blessing the Sacrament, 16 and 17-year-old girls are coached on how to help their missionary boyfriend focus on his mission with modest dress and inspirational care packages. Priest aged girls are the crown to be given to someone who finishes a significant achievement as a symbol of honor and accomplishment. Is it any wonder that some missionaries believe they accumulate “Hot wife points” in reward for their missionary labors? While they are defined with a heroic label of Priest and aspire to be Elders, girls of the same age are Laurel crowns, a ring of glory for the conqueror to wear on his head as a symbol of completion.

Why are we allowing the sacred reality of our defining names for girls to center on their utility to men? We send a message with our naming that the young women values are: 1. Fertility: Their ability to bring forth children, 2. Labor: Their ability to work for men, and 3. Sexiness: The sexual desirability of their bodies to men. In a church devoting considerable budget and resources to eliminate the Mormon nickname, how can we tolerate the labeling of God’s daughters with offensively loaded words that reduce and objectify?

Returning to the naming concepts explored by Sue Monk Kidd, her words sound like any Mormon woman when she states:

I had also unknowingly forfeited my power to name sacred reality. I had simply accepted what men had named. Neither had I noticed that when women give their power away, it is rarely used to liberate and restore value to women. More often it is used to shore up and enhance the privileged position of men.

The larger context of this quote is a call to repentance from colluding in the denial and injury of the feminine soul. It is a reminder that when men hold the naming power they will in their imperfection commit grave errors. And if Jesus Christ is offended by our failure to faithfully use his name in references to his Church, how much more offense do we cause to our Heavenly Parents when we package and brand our girl children as objects for the use and pleasure of men?

Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

In the days before the Girls Camp program moved to name classes of girls by their year at camp, our girls were Yearlings, Mountaineers, Inspirators and Adventurers. Perform a Google image search for any of those labels and notice the feelings and values the images represent. They are not overtly sexual or objectifying. Divine daughters of Heavenly Parents are so much more than Honey Holes, Erotic Virgin Servants, or Crowns for Men. We can do better. It is far past time for women to reclaim the sacred naming power.

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20 Responses

  1. violadiva says:

    Wow, April. Compelling and powerful! These objectifying names MUST go. I like how you point out the descrepancy between the boys’ names, which are all active names of a person’s position or title, to the girls’ names, which are all passive objects to be acted upon. I hope you send a copy of this post to President Craven!

  2. Chiaroscuro says:

    thank you for this piece. it is especially telling in the contrast between names for the groups of girls and boys of similar ages.

  3. Katie says:

    As someone who has spent the last few months immersed in YW history, I agree: the names should change. They are no longer culturally relevant, and do not carry the same sense of purpose or gravitas that the names for the corresponding boys classes do.

    I also think it’s important to realize that the names were chosen by women, for young women, and had great meaning for them at the time—not as objects, or as decorations for men, or as means to sexualize the young women—but to help guide thinking young women who could set goals, serve, and accomplish things they felt were important at the time. The title, especially, seems unfair.

    • April says:

      In the Facebook discussion of this post someone shared posters from 15ish years ago that identify Beehives as YW of Truth, Mia Maids as YW of Promise, and Laurels as Young Women of Faith. I would love if the objectifying names were dropped in favor of names with more sacred meaning. Adopting YW of Truth, Faith, and Promise as class names would be a tidy solution. Regardless of how noble the nicknames seemed when chosen they are not appropriate mirrors to the names we use for the boys.

      In my lived experience the exotic dancers I know chose their stripper names (and were no longer dancing when we met in a leadership class). Unfortunately these stripper names were chosen by the women to please men, not to uplift the feminine soul. The names were part of a marketing and branding strategy to help them get more tips. The thought of Mormon women selecting objectifying names brings me no comfort. It speaks to the internalized misogyny and self objectification that leads women to lie to themselves and others about their divinity and expansive power. It is marketing and branding to appeal to the Mormon male gaze. She Wants Me to Call Her Honey Hole feels as terrible to me as He Calls Me Honey Hole. Either is appropriate as adult bedroom banter and should never be applied to children in a sacred or religious context.

      • Andrew R. says:

        50 Years! I have been a member of this church for 50 years. I have a mother, a sister, a wife and six daughters, the last of which became a Laurel yesterday. None has ever even considered the idea of “Honey Holes, Erotic Virgin Servants, or Crowns for Men”.

        They may think the name is naff (especially Mia Maid) but never read anything more into it than it is dated.

        I may well ask for a show of hands on Sunday in our combined Priesthood and Relief Society meeting to find out if anyone in my ward has ever considered the names offensive, especially in the light of your conclusions. I doubt I will find a anyone who has thought this deeply and stretched the names so completely.

        Deacon comes from the greek diákonos, and means “servant”, “waiting-man”, “minister”, or “messenger”. So much along the lines of your interpretation of a Mia Maid being a servant.

        Teacher is not a priesthood office anywhere in the Bible, it is interpreted as such in the Book of Mormon because of modern revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants. I would say however mostly, if not always, in the BoM it meant teacher, as in one that teachers.

        Priest is generally just a word meaning “elder”. But we already have Elders. So Priests are just older than the rest of the Aaronic Priesthood.

        So, not that wonderful and sacred really. It is, just as with our own names (that we did not get to choose), what we do with the title, more than what the title (name) means.

      • April Carlson says:

        Andrew R. -You are correct in noting that Teacher is an office named in the Doctrine and Covenants and not in the Bible. In my 45-years as a member of the church as a daughter with a mother and a sister I never considered the ideas of Honey Holes, Erotic Virgin Servants, or Crowns for Men until I was challenged to examine the symbols and names applied to sacred reality in my religion. Especially the symbols we apply to those who do not have authority.
        Symbols are powerful in their subtlety. Perfume and cologne makers choose sexual shapes to package their products as a means to influence buyers. The images associated with Beehive, Maid, and Laurel are fit for sports teams or to products marketed with sexuality. I hate that the Mia Maid name is jokingly used by boys in our church to put down the girls with statements like, “My maids you better get to cleaning up the refreshment table.” I don’t see the parity between Deacon and Mia Maids as servants. A quick search on Amazon turned up zero results for Sexy Deacon Costume and over 1,000 results for Sexy Maid Costume. Replacing the Mia Maid name with Young Women of Faith would inspire and promote spirituality without the sexual branding and objectification associated with Maid or the ownership implied in My Maid.

      • Andrew R. says:

        April, please don’t misunderstand me. I am all for changing the names. Mia Maid is an awful name. Though I have never heard what you have in relation to Young Men using the term as My Maid. However, in the UK we have more YW than YM, especially the older they get, so the power dynamic (priesthood aside) is weighted in favour of the YW. And the choice for dating is therefore in the hands of the YW – so annoying them is not useful.

        But the fact that you only saw the Beehive – Honey Hole thing only when you looked deeply, indicates that was never the intention of those that chose it. Unlike your example of perfume bottles, etc.

        And whilst I would not expect to find a sexy Deacon costume, you can find them for Priest – with a Cross where it ought not to be.

      • April Carlson says:

        Andrew- Yes Priests, Nuns, Mormon Missionaries, Teachers all have kinky costume versions, but they are primarily titles for respected positions. I do not believe that Beehive, Mia Maid or Laurel were concoted by nefarious marketers in the Church Office Building as part of a plot to promote child marriages. But, I did not have to look deeply for sexual connotations. As soon as I considered the symbols it was obvious and I couldn’t think why I had never seen it before. I object to the objectification. I would be equally distressed by using Sugar Bowls, Salt Shakers, Ant Hill, Nests or any other object as a spiritual title.

  4. Jks says:

    I find your insistence that “Beehives” has to be sexual quite disturbing. The more likely symbolism is, as you said, a “symbol of industry, productivity, royalty, and Masonry in early Mormonism. “
    Anyone can make any word sexual and dirty. I hung around teenagers and it doesn’t take much imagination to make innuendo, just determination. I am not usually squeamish but your over the top sexualization of hives that aren’t sexual to 99.9% of people bothers me. That person your Freshman year is someone you should be angry at for sexually harassing you by describing beehives with you in this manner, creating filth where none existed before.

    • rebeccadalmas says:

      At first blush, I’d want to agree with you, but I find the piece persuasive. The problem is not that a beehive is inherently sexual–it’s not–it’s that the church is inherently sexist and over-sexualising of females. The beehive used as a state symbol of industry and activity seems plenty fine in its own, but when turned into an exclusive appellation for 12-year-old girls, it creates this identity for them. While their male counterparts are entering an apprenticeship-into-authority of sorts. these girls are entering the apprenticeship-into-production. And it all entirely revolves around their potential to procreate and therefore their sexuality.

      The honey-hole rename is probably an exaggeration, but the connections are still there.

    • Izzy says:

      Isn’t the old euphemism for sex referred to as The Birds and The Bees? A beehive as a sexual symbol isn’t much of a stretch when bees have represented sex for so long.
      I was disturbed by the article because the point is valid, and contains thoughtful examples that make a strong case for those symbols being sexual and objectifying. It’s really hard to think that for all of those years I was being groomed for some very limiting roles, but it makes total sense when I think about the misery inequality in the church has caused me.

    • April Carlson says:

      My Freshman year friend helped me understand darksome holes in Spenser’s Faerie Queen and the many syphillis jokes in Shakespeare. No beehives were discusssed. No sexual harassment occurred. I coached her on biblical references and knowledge was increased. No filth was created.

      My point in exploring the sexual conotations of the names we use for girls is to draw attention to the subliminal messages imbedded as well as the overt messages. The words Deacon, Teacher, and Priest with their clearly defined duties and responsibilities are not easily “made sexual and dirty”. There is no history in The Church of Deacons, Teachers, or Priests being married off to much older women for procreative purposes. But the filthy history of child brides in The Church begs to be renounced. Mascot type names or objects applied to describe the spiritual progression of children is wrong. Cub scouts are named for animals in a secular organization. My college teams are The Bears and The Trojans – both have sexual connotations that don’t trouble me as they are secular names for sports teams, not applied to the spiritual development of children.
      Objects are easily “made sexual and dirty” and for this reason should not be applied to name the sacred reality of a child growing and progressing in spirituality. It is reductive and objectifying.

      • Andrew R. says:

        “My college teams are The Bears and The Trojans – both have sexual connotations”

        Really? I guess this is not the place to reveal those. However, I did not know this, nor can I imagine what they are. It seems that it is easy for you to see things as sexual.

        And don’t get me wrong, I am an expert (though I should not be, and try not to be) at double entendre. I could make anything sexual if I wanted to, for humour only. But I would struggle with bears and Trojans.

        Freud saw the act of putting on a glove as sexual. And we can do the same with lots of things. Even the symbols in the temple could be seen as sexual.

        And when we finish a hymn we slip the hymn book into a slot – we should stop that practise immediately.

        What you are saying hear is the exact opposite of what Violadiva was saying about the male gaze.

        She is saying that we should stop teaching that how women dress is conveying a sexual message to young men.

        You are saying that we should attach a sexual message to the symbol of a beehive. Any man who wants to put his member in a beehive is welcome to it!

      • April Carlson says:

        Oh Andrew. I agree with Violadiva 100%. I am not saying we should start projecting a sexual message onto beehives. As Izzy points out with her comment on the birds and the bees, I am not the originator of apiary sexual connotations. We should stop using objects or sexually objectified laborers as titles for spiritual growth. They are not uplifting or aspirational. Young Women of Truth, Faith, and Promise are appropriate and not easily used for sexual objectification.
        The other piece you seemed to have missed is that in our Church grown up old men married children and got them pregnant during a period of time when this was NOT socially acceptable. Any church with a history of sanctioned pedophilia should do everything in their power to avoid any hint of sexualizing children. Naming them as fully spiritual human beings with scripturally based terms that promote spirituality seems like a small ask.
        BTW I am not reaching with the team names. In the LGBTQ community bears are husky, hairy, gay men. Trojan is a condom brand in the United States. On both campuses the sexual connotations are celebrated.
        I am working on my sex therapist certification and agree that I am more likely than most to recognize the use of sexual imagery.

  5. Lily says:

    As a proud Mormon feminist that would like to see real change, this type of article doesn’t help us. The extreme sexualizing comes off silly and makes it look like we are making things up to be upset about.

    • Mo Fem says:

      I agree! The names are a little old fashioned, but this post reads like a parody. It also betrays a lack of understanding of our history (the current names for the classes were created in the 1950s, decades after the end of polygamy, and they were created by female leaders when the YWMIA was a thriving, independent organization).

      • SC says:

        Actually, this post is exactly what we need. Non-Mormons, upon hearing that our young women are called beehives, maids (forget the “mia” part–HOUSECLEANERS, hello!) and laurels, while boys are given well-known and well-respected titles that abound in other religions and which are held by women in other religions: deacon, teacher and priest, are universally horrified at the gender disparity that mormons accept as everyday and normal. Just ask around. Our Young women are a laughintstock outside of Mormondom because of these ridiculous monikers, and the fact that inside the bubble everyone has been conditioned to think that calling girls bees, maids etc is perfectly fine really speaks to the potency of Mormonism’s grooming of young girls and their parents. How heartbreaking.

      • Phobos says:

        > when the YWMIA was a thriving, independent organization

        The LDS Church has NEVER had an independent organization run by women. Anything they do has to be approved by the First Presidency and/or the Q12.

    • BCA says:

      Yes! This!! This articulates what has made me so uneasy about this posting. There are so many problems that need to be addressed, and this honestly seems like such a depraved stretch. I’m uncomfortable with this representation.

  6. Mary says:

    When I was entering young womens, they actually changed the names for a few years–perhaps it was a pilot name test. They just called us the 13-14 year-olds, the 15-16 year-olds and the 17-18 year olds. When we asked why, they were doing this, our adviser started shifting her weight and looking around and said, “it’s because one of the names translates into something dirty in another language”. About halfway through my years in young womens they changed back. I don’t know why I didn’t ask. I don’t care why to know now and I didn’t care to criticize the choice then or now.

    A few years later, when I was watching Fried Green Tomatoes, it was apparent to me through the subtext that the story was a lesbian love story. This was back in the days when homosexuality was considered a choice. I got into several heated discussions with TBM sisters over this. Later, I read a review of the movie and the non-LDS reviewer mentioned Idgy’s giving Ruth honeycomb and Ruth referring to Idgy as a “bee charmer” as being rife with sexual imagery. That was the first time I’d ever heard that and I realized that “Beehive” was the problematic name.

    So, I’m going to come down on the side that “out in the world”, this sexual imagery and these sexual terms are known and understood. They are linguistic shorthand for precisely what the author suggests. That in order for the church to be taken seriously as an organization that values women and doesn’t over-sexualize them, they need to change the names. I like the faith-based names, suggested above.

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