IWD Series 2018: Seeing Women and Girls in Primary

Guest post by Carrie Sillito

Eve. Jarius’s Daughter. Mary Magdalene. Mary, Mother of Jesus. Sarah.  Sariah.  Ten virgins.  The Widow of Zarephath. Mary Jones. Emily Fulmer. The Mother of Heber J Grant. “Mrs. James”. “Annie”. “Jane”. “Mary.” “Sarah”.

17 girls and women.

This list is inclusive of every single girl and woman mentioned in sharing time outlines from 2014 through 2018. At least four of them are fictional (the jury is out on whether “Mrs. James” is fictional or real). Let’s assume “Mrs. James” is real. Only because my heart aches to learn the stories of real women.

Over 5 years, and 240 weeks of lessons, only 13 real women or girls are talked about in sharing time.

Some of these women (Like Eve, Mary Magdalene, and Jairus’s Daughter) are mentioned in more than one lesson.

Women included in Sharing Time Outlines: 2014-2018

Women from Scripture (Total = 8) Total Number of times included
Eve (and Adam) 4
Jairus Daughter 4
Mary Magdalene 5
Mary, Jesus Mother 1
Sarah (and Abraham) 1
Sariah (and Lehi) 1
Ten virgins 1
Widow of Zarephath 2
Pioneer or Modern Women (Total = 5)
Mary Jones (Genealogy story) 1
Outline suggests to invite a mother 1
Ben and Emily Fulmer (President Monson story) 1
“Mrs. James” (missionary story) 1
Mother of Heber J Grant 1
Fictional Female Characters 4
Total Stories Including Women 2014-2018 28

 

In total, there are stories with women or girls twenty-eight times. Total.  In 5 years.  Contrast this to the stories including men and boys. In the same five-year period, there were 211 stories including men and boys. This figure excludes stories or lessons that were specifically focused on the Godhead because including those would have boosted the number much higher.

I don’t want to be all negative. I LOVE primary. I’ve had primary callings most of my adult life.  Many weeks, the sharing time lessons are gender neutral. There are fun activities and games, songs, and visual activities. We spend a lot of time learning about gospel principles, the scriptures, and the Savior. The lessons are usually engaging for both the boys and the girls.

However:

In 2014, Primary children learned that “Families are Forever” in sharing time, yet there was no mention of our Heavenly Mother.

In 2015, Primary children learned about the Savior in sharing time. Unfortunately, the outline for the year only included references to two women who interacted with Jesus.

In 2016, Primary children spent a year learning “I know the Scriptures are True.” However, that year, only five women from the scriptures were ever mentioned in sharing time outlines.

In 2017, Primary children spent a year learning to “Choose the Right.” Over the entire year, only four women who chose the right are mentioned by name – and two of them were fictional.

In 2018, the theme is “I am a child of God.”  There are only 7 times daughters of God are mentioned by name in the outlines or stories. Two of these are fictional.

I was impressed with President Joy D. Jones’s conference talk in October 2017 when she told the stories of women and girls who have made a difference in building the church. I hope we can be like her and share these stories with our primary children.

In October, 2015 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson Said, “We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women… who can speak with the power and authority of God!”

If our current prophet says we need the voices of women, certainly, the children of the primary could benefit from learning about the women who have also worked in building the kingdom of God.

I, like President Nelson, NEED to hear the voices of women. I want to hear their stories, see their strength and courage. I want my children to hear the stories of women. I want them to see women participating in the church, facing challenges with faith. I want them to see faithful women who choose the right, who follow the Savior, who participate in families, who are in the scriptures, and I want them to know that women, too, are valuable Children of God.

You cannot be what you cannot see.

When I started going through the outlines from sharing time, I never imagined there were actually so few women in the sharing time outlines. I began a serious search of the sharing time outlines, wanting to prove to myself that the girls were there, somewhere.

But, instead, I found that in 5 years of lessons, only 13 females who actually existed were ever mentioned.

What can be done?  

I’m reaching out to church leaders to share these findings. I do not believe women were deliberately excluded. I have faith and hope that speaking up can bring change. The church has made many recent efforts to make women more visible by putting auxiliary leaders on the stand in general conference, having women pray in general conference, and adding pictures of female auxiliary leaders to the conference center. Women have been added to councils, and women take a larger part with ward councils in organizing sacrament meeting programs. The church has come a long way in improving the visibility of women in recent years!

Each of us can make a difference.

When I teach sharing time, I find and include stories of women and girls too.

As M. Russell Ballard said, “It takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord.”

I encourage you to also make women visible. Many of us in the LDS church have teaching callings. We can make an effort to find stories of women and girls to share too. Whether you teach in the Primary, Sunday School, Young Women’s program, Young Men’s program, Relief Society, Elders Quorum, or High Priests, YOU can make females more visible in the church. If you are not a teacher, you can share comments and stories about women in class.  One of my favorite Bible stories is of Queen Esther when she had the courage to speak out against the plot of the evil Haman. She put her faith and trust in God, and because of this, her courage saved her people. Our primary children need to learn about Esther and other faithful, brave, courageous women.

We can share our ideas with each other.

We can help each other! I created a PDF with stories of women and girls that fit into current sharing time lesson plans. This may give you some ideas of how to include girls and women in sharing time. All references are church published sources. This is not a complete or exhaustive list of resources. This is intended to help you supplement (not replace) the current primary outlines. If you teach sharing time and you have other stories of women or girls that you have used, I’d love to expand this resource to include more examples of women from the scriptures, choosing the right, following the Savior, as part of families, and as children of God.

Women and Girls Sharing Time Supplements PDF

Because over 5 years, primary children need to hear about more than 13 women in sharing time.

Carrie completed a PhD in Sociology, and teaches Sociology courses part time. She is in her ward primary presidency, and a mother to three children. 

 

 

 

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13 Responses

  1. spunky says:

    When the inequality is laid bare in such a way as you have, it is obvious to see that there is a gaping hole in the primary curriculum when it comes to righteous female representation. I love learning about women in the scriptures, and am so glad to have this resource to share with my children.

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

    • Carrie Sillito says:

      It was really shocking to me to see how unequal it was! I really am hopeful that this will change in coming years, and I hope people will use the PDF at the bottom of the post (along with all of their own ideas) to help improve the visibility of females who have contributed in the ancient and modern church. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Violadiva says:

    You have exposed and offered an elegant solution to a really huge problem in our church curriculum. The optics of my kids going to primary every week and rarely hearing stories about girls choosing the right or being valiant trouble me greatly. I’ll pass this along to all the primary teachers I know!!

  3. Chairoscuro says:

    thank you for the hard data to put this problem in concrete terms

  4. ReNee McDonald says:

    This plea is beautiful and heart felt.

    There are over 600 women in the scriptures (thank you Heather Farrell), 300 with names! there are thousands more in the history of our church as well as good christ like women through out history that have stories that are important to the foundation of our church and to knowing where we come from and who we are.

    Thank you for this kind post and for giving words and courage to others to share these wonderful stories! The change begins with us…and with our circles….

  5. Jason K. says:

    Excellent work! Thanks for drawing clear attention to the problem, and for making a solution so readily and elegantly available.

  6. maebridge80 says:

    My research was similar to this, but looked instead at mentions of women and girls in the Primary class manuals. Interestingly, in the Doctrine and Covenants manual used in the Valiant Classes, much of the source material comes from Lucy Mack Smith. Primary children would not know this though, unless their teachers decide to mention it.

  7. Ziff says:

    Great post! Thanks for outlining this problem with such clear hard data, and for putting together resources that can be used to remedy it. I hope lots of people take your challenge to heart!

  8. caseymariez says:

    (I just posted this on the facebook link to the article, but I thought maybe I should re-post it here.)

    This post inspired me to re-frame this primary song:

    [Follow the Prophet] Love God and Others

    [1. Adam was a prophet, first one that we know.
    In a place called Eden, he helped things to grow.
    Adam served the Lord by following his ways.
    We are his descendants in the latter days.]

    Adam was a prophet, with his wife called Eve
    Together they made choices and now we get to live
    Learning from our choices, changing as we go
    On this earth we’re here to listen, learn, and grow

    [2. Enoch was a prophet; he taught what was good.
    People in his city did just what they should.
    When they were so righteous that there was no sin,
    Heav’nly Father took them up to live with him.]

    Enoch was a prophet, he taught what was good
    Loving God and others, like Jesus taught we should
    People learned and listened, and wanted to do right
    They were taken up to live in God’s own sight

    [3. Noah was a prophet called to preach the word,
    Tried to cry repentance, but nobody heard.
    They were busy sinning—Noah preached in vain.
    They wished they had listened when they saw the rain.]

    Noah and Naamah listened to the Lord
    They built a giant ark with their family, board by board
    On the ark they learned how to live and to love
    Animals and people and God above

    [4. Abraham the prophet prayed to have a son,
    So the Lord sent Isaac as the chosen one.
    Isaac begat Jacob, known as Israel;
    Jacob’s sons were twelve tribes, so the Bible tells.]

    Abram and Sarai taught people about God
    Prayed to have a kid and they were truly awed
    Isaac joined their fam’ly, God had changed their names
    Abraham and Sarah forever God proclaimed

    [5. Moses was a prophet sent to Israel.
    He would lead them to the promised land to dwell.
    They were slow to follow, or so it appears.
    They were in the wilderness for forty years.]

    Miriam was a girl who helped her family
    When her brother Moses was in jeopardy
    Jochebed and Bithiah loved Moses too
    Love and help and kindness are always right to do

    [6. Samuel was a prophet chosen as a boy.
    Hannah promised God her son would serve with joy.
    In the tabernacle, Samuel heard his name;
    He was called by God and answered, “Here I am!”]

    Samuel was a boy, and Hannah was his mom
    She had prayed with faith and trusted all to God
    Samuel listened closely to God’s quiet voice
    Samuel and Hannah each made a valiant choice

    [7. Jonah was a prophet, tried to run away,
    But he later learned to listen and obey.
    When we really try, the Lord won’t let us fail:
    That’s what Jonah learned deep down inside the whale.]

    Jonah gained his faith in the belly of a whale
    We can trust in God, His words will never fail
    God wants us to share His love with everyone
    We can share the gospel: God loved us through his Son

    [8. Daniel was a prophet. He refused to sin;
    So the king threw Daniel in the lion’s den.
    Angels calmed the lions, and the king soon saw
    Daniel’s pow’r was great, for he obeyed God’s law.]

    Daniel prayed to God no matter what the cost
    He showed love and faith wherever he was tossed
    People turned to God when Daniel chose the right
    We can trust and praise God, no matter what our plight

    [9. Now we have a world where people are confused.
    If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.
    We can get direction all along our way,
    If we heed the prophets—follow what they say.]

    I can feel the Spirit, it sounds like a voice
    Or a little feeling, before I make a choice
    God will help me know the good and the bad
    My Heav’nly Parents love me, and that makes me glad

    Follow God and Jesus, love each other too
    The Holy Ghost will help you know what you should do
    Live with faith and love, praying as you go
    As you seek God’s love, you will come to know

    Chorus:
    Love God and others, love God and others
    Love God and others, as Jesus did
    Love God and others, love God and others
    Love God and others, each adult and kid

  9. Carolyn says:

    I understand that the writer of this post, and all of you who have commented, are very sincere and earnest in your views and opinions. But, in reading this all, I can’t help but feel that these reactions are an example of “missing the mark.” Some of you say that you need to hear more stories featuring women as role models. But why? I used to feel that way, too, as well as feeling that the lack of female role models implied that women weren’t as important as men. But that’s a lie. Women are just as important as men, but we don’t need equal representation in sharing time in order for that to remain a truth. So, again, what is your goal, or hope, that having “equal representation” will achieve? Are we trying to point primary kids to Christ? Or to the people of the scriptures themselves? Aren’t the teachers and the primary presidencies themselves, as women sharing these very stories, evidence to the kids of women of Christ?

  10. meg says:

    Carolyn, I would respectfully disagree. If women are just as important as men (and I believe wholeheartedly that they are), then why wouldn’t we need equal representation in sharing time? Or at the very least more closely equal than a 1:9 ratio. I believe it is beneficial for both girls and boys to learn about righteous women and have female, as well as male, role models to emulate. Whenever I speak or teach I specifically include stories and words of women. Just because women do not hold the priesthood doesn’t mean that our words, teachings, testimonies, and life stories are less valuable than those of men, as the current ratio implies. Righteous examples point us towards Christ, no matter whether they are male or female.

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