Just Like Daisy Duke

By Cruelest Month

daisydukeThe summer I was seven I carried my red, yellow and blue one-piece swimsuit in my purse everywhere I went. Why? Well, as I explained to my friend Krista, “Daisy Duke does it. This way I am always prepared.”

My favorite television shows were Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, and the Dukes of Hazzard. Just like Clark Kent wearing his Superman unitard and cape under his mild mannered reporter garb, my favorite television heroines also had power suits. Wonder Woman would spin around and be clothed in her power panties, bustier, red boots, and tiara. One of Charlie’s Angels would throw on a bikini and men would give up crucial crime solving clues. Bo and Luke Duke in a bind? No worries, here comes Cousin Daisy in her red bikini to distract Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. To my seven-year-old mind, it was pretty awesome that I had access to a superpower. I just had to put on my swimsuit and men would do my bidding. Knowing that I was prepared to unleash “Swimsuit Super Power” was thrilling. I felt invincible that summer.

At 18-years-old I flirted frequently to feeble-girl my way out of breaking down the ice in the salad bar at my restaurant job (my work uniform was a can-can dress and fishnet stockings that in retrospect may have added to my influence). This experiment in enticing others through sexual allure left me feeling objectified. Especially when I found that my ice breaking male colleagues expected receptiveness to their romantic overtures in exchange for their assistance. I did not go on to habitually use flirtation or sexual attractiveness as a source of power. I gained experiences of wielding power and exerting influence through my involvement in civic and academic communities. My experimentation with being a flirty feeble-girl helped me determine that I preferred the feeling of influencing others through reason and collaboration.

Recently, I have been observing some young people close to me as they revel in the power of their external beauty. The young man is obsessed with his biceps and styling his hair. He slows down to look each time he passes a reflective surface. The young woman has an ample bosom and a rainbow collection of low cut strappy tank tops that she wears on cold and hot days alike. Sometimes she accidentally answers the door in her teeny tiny sleep shorts when a boy comes to visit. Both of my young friends delight in their power to attract and influence others through their looks. They like being sexual objects and become angry when I threaten their favorite source of power with talks of modesty and chastity.

I could scare them both with horror stories of sexual object victimization, but would prefer to offer them positive enticement to seek more uplifting and lasting sources of empowerment. I have collaborated with local priesthood leaders to engage the male youth in using his priesthood power to serve in our religious community, hoping he’ll find empowerment in increased responsibility at church. Local Young Women leadership is also aware of the challenges facing the female youth but have not been able to identify opportunities to engage her in greater responsibility.

I believe that the truest source of empowerment is knowing that my thoughts, actions, and deeds are in harmony with Heavenly Parents. As an adult, I am a member of many different groups and communities and experience varying degrees of influence and responsibilities within each of these communities. It saddens me to realize I have the least influence and responsibility in the community of the LDS church. In my work and civic life, I frequently feel that Heavenly Parents are giving me the thumbs up as I do important work using my unique skills and abilities. I am Wonder Woman, an Angel, or even helpful Daisy Duke solving problems and making the world better. No swimsuit required.

Rarely, I have had that same “super hero at work” feeling in the LDS community. As a 20-year-old Young Women’s leader in an Oakland Cambodian Branch, I have felt empowered as I helped inner city youth to volunteer in the community, gain an appreciation for the outdoors, and improve academic achievement. Later as an Ordinance Worker in the Los Angeles Temple, I also felt deep satisfaction and divine approval as I served other sisters by performing ordinances. In both of these callings, I felt the heft of the responsibility laid on me, and that heft added to my feeling of achievement and empowerment.

A dose of empowering responsibility is just what my young female friend needs. Is there an avenue to empowerment in the LDS community that might entice my young female friend to one day trade in strappy tank tops and booty shorts for temple covenants, garments, and hopefully more enduring power? She is happiest when the eyes of others are on her, but is too old to be the Reverence Child in primary in sacrament meeting, and too female to bless or pass the Sacrament. I’m in search of opportunities for her to feel super, without being a sexual object.

What makes a young person feel super? When did you first realize there was “Swimsuit Super Power?” If you used this power and then stopped, what enticed you to stop?

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13 Responses

  1. Melody says:

    This is a wonderful post. Thank you for contributing!

    As for young women in the church and how to help them feel empowered and valued – I feel the same way I always have: My power as a woman comes from multiple sources, not the least of which is my connection with God and with Jesus Christ in particular. If the priesthood were extended to all worthy members of the church tomorrow, I am prepared to answer that call. If that doesn’t happen in my lifetime, I will continue answering the call from the spirit to act within my personal spheres of influence. Discipleship is a hard road, but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the road that leads to the best and most lasting power. For women and men alike. So, that is the way I feel I can help young women (and young men) around me — by simply being me. It’s all I have to give. I trust God accepts my offering and I hope I’m helping my younger sisters in the gospel to see what it means to be a faithful, powerful woman in the church.

    More specifically, I often refer to Heavenly Mother along with Heavenly Father in my sunday school class. I try to shine a light on inequalities in the world and how Jesus taught that no one person, gender, race or social class is superior to any other. I encourage my class of twelve-year-old girls (no boys in class this year) to use the foundation provided by their testimonies to reach out and help others in whatever way they can. I try to incorporate section 121 of D&C in demonstrating that priesthood power is defined, in its truest sense, by traditionally “feminine” characteristics. This is always thought-provoking for boys and girls alike.

  2. Cruelest Month says:

    Melody, this is some good wisdom, “I will continue answering the call from the spirit to act within my personal spheres of influence. Discipleship is a hard road, but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the road that leads to the best and most lasting power.” I agree! Regardless of gender the capacity to hear and act on spiritual promptings is a far more enduring power.

    Your 12-year-old girls are lucky to have you for a Sunday School teacher! I remember feeling so confused and conflicted over my role as a YW at that age. I’d hide in the curtains with my BFF to avoid Sunday School and even climbed out the window once in my Gunne Sax dress while the teacher went looking for another truant. Some adult guidance addressing topics like the feminine qualities of priesthood would have gone a long way towards keeping me in my seat.

  3. April says:

    I don’t feel like we offer Young Women enough opportunities to contribute meaningfully to our religious community. I remember Young Women lessons about how important it was that we influence Young Men. Well, flirtation and provocative dress are effective ways to influence young men. I think we need to provide more opportunity for young women (and adult women, too) to contribute meaningfully themselves and stop suggesting that women must focus on influencing the other sex.

  4. Cruelest Month says:

    Agreed April! I think the lack of opportunities for meaningful contribution to the community are exacerbated by all of the instructional time devoted to topics like modesty and chastity. Although the party line may be “don’t use your sexual super power until your married” the message delivered is “sex is your greatest power”. Telling teens “don’t use your really important power” is just an invitation to immediately do the opposite unless we also provide alternatives to gain meaningful experiences of connection and contribution to community.

    • Ziff says:

      “Although the party line may be “don’t use your sexual super power until your married” the message delivered is “sex is your greatest power”.”

      A really excellent point, Cruelest Month.

  5. Pepper S. says:

    I think another extension of the “female contribution” problem for YW is that the ONLY thing they’re ever asked to do for the ward is BABYSIT! At least in my Orem ward, anyway. It makes me sick (even as someone that frequently benefits from the free child care) to see the message sent, crystal-clear, over and over and over: “the only meaningful contribution you can make is taking care of children.” Of course they’re going to channel all their energy into catching a man, that’s all they think they’re good for! I don’t remember ever being asked to babysit as a YW (or to serve the ward in any other capacity, come to think of it), but our girls are in there at least twice a month. Why can’t the young men babysit or teach primary on Mother’s Day? Let’s ask the girls to decorate or put on a variety show or teach a skill or set up chairs or prepare a meal… anything! Then give another organization an opportunity to babysit once in a while.

  6. Caroline says:

    Excellent post!!

    I absolutely agree — our YW need real responsibility and opportunities to contribute meaningfully within the church. Here’s an idea that my husband came up with — make YW the ward greeters. Such a responsibility certainly doesn’t have the ritual heft of blessing and passing the sacrament, but it is visible and it is weekly. Such a suggestion is not totally satisfying to me because it is clearly such a non-parallel to the YM doing the sacrament, but maybe it is a good option given the constraints of our current structure…

    • Hedgehog says:

      I’ve come across the greeter idea before, and it makes me shudder. Possibly this stems from my experience in Japan where invariably it is attractive young women who stand at the doors of the stores, and are intended to use their charms to entice the public to enter. Our YW have to see themselves as more than a pretty face and a nice smile.

  7. Nona says:

    I absolutely reveled in that Swimsuit Super Power as a teenager.
    Personally, my sources of non-sexual power have all come from outside the church–mostly school. I think my mother gets most of her power from her prowess at domesticity, which is a more conventional Mormon power for women. Either way, I just don’t think it is to be found in the institutional church. Church is a great place for men to feel powerful. And even the church teachings send females outside of “church” and into “the home” for their power spheres. I find myself guiding my daughter to non-churchy pursuits and it’s easier to do with her than it is with my son who is embroiled in priesthood duties and over-the-top scouting programs.

    • Pepper S. says:

      I’ve found a little power within the church – just one superpower – and that’s my knowledge of the scriptures. SUPER SCRIPTORIAN! *cue theme music* I can put anyone in their place if I just know them well enough, and I’ve done it enough times that people don’t mess with me very much.

      It’s hard to sell that superpower to a kid, but it’s a church-oriented superpower and evidently someone sold me on it along the way!

  8. X2 Dora says:

    It all ties in, doesn’t it? I agree with you that girls and women need more than platitudes, they need meaningful responsibility. Especially young girls, as they develop their sense of self-identity/worth/efficacy, laying the groundwork for the rest of their lives and existence. As I read over your piece, I found myself uncomfortable with the use of the phrase “Heavenly Parents,” without the qualifiers “my” or even “our.” So, although I use “my/our Heavenly Parents” all the time, I have a hard time substituting Heavenly Parents directly for God. I think this is because, even though I believe that Heavenly Mother is a partner to Heavenly Father, I still have a hard time believing (as opposed to wanting) Her to be His equal.

  9. QueLinda says:

    While my daughter enjoyed seminary, to a point, she has found a lot of power and equality in her new involvement in the institute program. I don’t know if all institutes have the same spirit about them, but I can say I have been impressed by our local one. My daughter has organized the blood drive, has talked of nothing but equal footing in how her opinions are met and respected. I see how the young adults that hold callings on the institute board she has been called to treat each other. Respect! I am enjoying seeing my daughter make positive contributions based on her efforts and strong testimony, not her looks. (which is tough because she is quite beautiful. Sometimes this is noticed more than other of her many wonderful traits and superpowers.) Can that be because the title of the callings on the Latter Days Saint Student Association are the same no matter the gender? Could this be playing a large roll in how fairly they are treated?

  10. Emily U says:

    Cruelest Month, I’ve thought of your post over the past week, and of the questions you asked. What makes a young person feel super? I think real achievements do that. Not Personal Progress (yawn), or reciting the YW theme (it’s full of issues), or pats on the head about being special. Working toward a goal that your really care about and making it through challenges makes people feel super. It’s an individual thing so it’s hard to generalize about how to do it, but I think it really works.

    I recognized swimsuit power as a young person but I don’t think I ever really used it. Partly because I didn’t feel I had it (I never felt thin or pretty enough to pull off Daisy Duke’s tricks). I also had a strong sense, even as a young teenager, that using swimsuit power would make me vulnerable. I always wanted to be in a place where I could say no and be in control of what was happening to me. I wanted to be pretty and have boys like me, but more than that I wanted to be the owner of my life. I wanted to be the cops, not Daisy Duke. But I’d be a stylish and smart cop who wouldn’t be easily distracted, and I’d catch the bad guys every time using my well-honed skills and awesome powers of observation.

    For the girls who do like the idea of being Daisy, I don’t exactly know what the cure is. I think at the root of it is the desire to have control over a situation, and I guess feminine wiles are a readily available tool. What I’d want them to understand is that that tool is transient and limiting, and the real power to determine your life is in your brain and your heart, not in what people see on the outside. And that ultimately people are attracted to others who have that inner power. At least, the kind of people you want in your life. It’s not a simple message to teach and it can take time to hear it.

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