Voices from the Exponent Backlist: Thoughts about the New General Women’s Meeting

The announcement yesterday about the new General Women’s Meeting — a meeting for females 8 and older, held every six months, and run by the general presidencies of Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society — caused some excitement on the Exponent back email list. Below is a glimpse into some of our thoughts about this new meeting.

Are they doing this twice a year to make this women’s meeting a closer parallel to the priesthood meeting? I am confused, however, as to why they’re combining it with primary.

I’ll be curious about the tone of this meeting. The priesthood session does not use any primary-voice language or tone for the 12-year-olds. I think there’s a sense that these boys are ready to be “men.” But I have a feeling that with 8-year-old girls, you’ll hear some doctrinal simplification.

I like the idea of welcoming girls 17+, but I fear that lumping girls 8+ in with the women indicates an attitude wherein women are just children to be educated by the all-male priesthood

Church leaders are hearing us, but they are not really listening.

I love getting together for the broadcast and dinner with the women of my stake, and that was why I was excited when I heard about this because now it won’t just be one time a year. But I can see with ages 8 and up, doing a dinner might not be feasible.
As for the inclusion of Primary leaders in this meeting, on one hand I am glad that Primary leaders will finally have a chance to talk and teach. But on the other hand, it does kind of seem like it might be more appropriate for the kids if they could do some sort of separate primary broadcast, with more videos and singing and much shorter.

I hadn’t really thought about women getting lumped with children. I was just excited that young women would start to be treated more like adults, the way the young men are. But adding the kids does change the dynamic.

I hate the lumping together of women and children. I feel like I will be like watching the early episodes of the Brady Bunch when Carole sat with the children as Mike became adjudicator and she followed his orders equal to the children, far from equal to him. Bah. I am also uncomfortable with the female descriptors in only familial terms: we aren’t women — we are sisters, mothers and daughters. If there was a bigger focus on Heavenly Mother, I think I could feel better about the ‘daughter’ term, but otherwise, the female familial labels are problematic.

In reading about this, I recall a strong historical argument wherein the creation of the Boy Scouts was to ensure a working class, i.e. elite men ran the world, and reformed larrikins were trained to be working class Boy Scouts to support the elite men. I feel like this new meeting and lumping of all in one is the same thing: training females from the age of 8 as the church working class, in positions that are separate, secondary (yet necessary) and in support of the male priesthood (ruling) class.

I want to know when boys age 8-11 stopped being legitimate members of the primary? This is really irksome.

I am thinking the reason they chose age 8 is to make certain this meeting is not parallel to the Priesthood session. If it were age 12 and up I could view it as an organizational precursor to a quorum for women. But with age 8 and up women and children are clearly grouped together as auxiliary and dependent. I would rather have separate YW and RS meetings than this.

Primary is the one time boys/men have female leaders and the boys aren’t invited to hear their leaders speak. What does that say about the importance of women’s words and counsel to boys?

Someone posted on a facebook thread about this topic that he thinks they are going to change the name of the Priesthood Session to “The general men’s meeting,” and that 8 year old boys likely will be invited there. He said he recently had stake conference and that a visiting authority nearly said as much. I would not be surprised.

1. As many of your have pointed out – putting women, YW, and children together is a double edged sword – and it cuts both ways.

2. I think changing the name of the Priesthood Session would be a good thing; allowing us to start untangling priesthood and maleness. Hopefully this will allow us to study Priesthood more closely. And use it more fully.

I actually like having separate men and women’s meeting (for part of church) and I like the idea of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood – AND I would like those separate meetings to be equal.


Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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11 Responses

  1. EFH says:

    I do understand why there is hesitation about including girls 8+. However, I feel that most of people are overthinking it. I do not see the inclusion as a way for the Church to say that all women are like children. Not at all. There is no better place to include girls than a place where they can meet many older females and envision their destiny in this life. Where else can they get this opportunity? Think about how much their self-esteem will be affected positively by this inclusion as children but also as females. It think this is great!

    And regarding the not extending invitation to boys and men, I don’t mind it either. Haven’t you ever attended an all female party with your girlfriends? Those are the best parties. I see this as a female counceling where we can all learn from each other, regardless of age and generation and have a blast – talk like girls/women talk and act like girls/women do. What is wrong with that? This is about who is listening to whose words. This is about women and girls getting together and discussing their roles in society and church, their challenges, their faith, their dreams and so forth. This is a great platform to launch discussions about Heavenly Mother, about what a female divene potential might be like in eternety. I really do not understand how some people can make an issue out of this.

    I do feel that sometimes we as feminists develop too much sensitivity and overthink some things. We only want things to change and match our vision only. But let’s wait and see. It might turn out good. And if it doesn’t, than we will point out. We are here to stay anyways.

    And as a side note, don’t make this too much about equality. Because equality doesn’t always work for women. I know this topic is like opening Pandora’s box but allow me say only one thing. Equality doesn’t always work for women. It is not always about women. For example, let’s consider the equal pay issue. We know that women get paid 77 cents per 1 dollar that men do for the same job. This is not fair and should be addressed. I completely agree with this action. However, if I get to choose between getting 77 cents per 1 dollar and flexibility in work hours and better benefits vs. equal pay and having the emplyers not understand at all that once I become a mother I am overwhelmed and need some flexibility, I would totally go for 77 cent option. We really need to think like women sometimes and not just do math.

    I know my comment will displease many (and I did not make it for this reason but only to offer another point of view) but bring it on, sister. At the end of the day, it is ok to be different.

    • Em says:

      The difference I think is that women and children are meeting together, but men and children are not. Unless they make an announcement, have boys start going to a Men’s meeting and it isn’t called priesthood anymore. Otherwise there is a distinct difference between men and women. Men and teenagers meet. Women, teenagers, and children meet. Women and children are characterized as having the same needs that can be met in one meeting. As another commenter pointed out, what about boys under 12?

      A change I would like would be to change the numbering of General Conference. Either the women’s meeting is the opening session, or the men’s meeting is not part of General conference. Otherwise you’re saying one is part of conference and one is not.

      • EFH says:

        Hi EM!
        I have a feeling that this change is just the first change in “structural adjustment process” that the church is planning. I can see that the boys under 12 will be included in the priesthood session but this definitely remains to seen.

        I do not think that children and women have the same needs. Absolutely. However, I have never seen the confernece as a meeting to meet my needs. Even though I recognize that the church operates by using a top-bottom approach, I feel that with this new meeting of all female memebers, we as women and girls get a better platform to influence each other, be united and influence the church from bottom up. Maybe this is idealistic but this is the outcome I am hoping that this meeting will have – a stronger female voice that has more power in the table of decisions.

        I do agree with your second point though that the General RS meeting should be viewed/made as part of the conference. I always thought that the the RS meeting was but probably it was just my assumption. If this is not the assumption of all people, then your second point is very urgent.

  2. X2 Dora says:

    One thing I am concerned with, is the perception that change is always better. Sometimes change is better, sometimes it’s neutral, and sometimes it’s bad. Remembering how the General RS Presidency was not consulted in the preparation of the Proclamation on the Family, and just barely notified of the plan to roll it out, I wonder how much the General RS and Primary Presidencies were involved in the planning and preparation of this change. Or, were they just told that it was going to happen? Some considerations that I would have raised include the following:

    Why not have a RS General Conference meeting with every General Conference session. I do think that it’s a good idea to invite young women who will be transitioning into RS. Many YW have difficulty with this move into RS because they view it as boring, unappealing, and unrelated to their teenage/young adult lives. Another way to ease the transition might be to include YW in part of RS, as the deacons, teachers, and priests are, noting that there are age-appropriate (and even priesthood-level-appropriate) breakaway sessions so that the 12 year olds deacons aren’t continuously meeting with the 60 year old high priests.

    Another consideration might be to have biannual general wo/men’s meetings three months from the General Conference meetings, in order to not have so many two hour blocks crammed into one weekend.

    And I do think that it’s important to consider how inclusion of 8-12 year old girls will change the audience, and thus the spoken content. In general, the content that I hear coming from Elder Oaks is very different from the content I hear coming from Sisters Wixom, Stevens, and Esplin of the General Primary Presidency (had to look it up). And while I do like the occasional talk directed at children and youth, I think it is a mistake to assume that 8-12 year old children will be paying attention to most of the speakers at a two hour meeting (for most of us, projected in the dark).

    If the idea is to get more women heard and developed for leadership, and recognized as such, why not have more than one woman speak at each general conference session?

    • EFH says:

      I like your last point. Female speakers really should be included more in the General Conf. I am so surprised that only one or two women speak all weekend long.

  3. Sarah W says:

    During October General Conference I’d guessed to myself that we might soon have a General Women’s Meeting 2x per year, the Priesthood Session would be renamed to General Men’s Meeting, and there’s be a push in the church to stop calling men “the priesthood.” I’m excited that the first has already happened, and hope the second two happen soon.

    Since General Conference has long included all ages, I’m hopeful that the General Women’s Meeting including 8-11 year old girls won’t be lead to it being dumbed down. I love some of the curriculum shifts I’ve seen the last 20 years since I graduated from YW’s. Junior Primary kids are being prepared younger to eventually be baptized. Senior Primary kids are being prepared younger to study & understand the scriptures & gospel. Teenagers are being prepared to proclaim the gospel by getting to practice teaching & leading in their YW/YM and Sunday School classes. They’re learning to redeem the dead by assisting in name extraction programs and going to the temple more often. Relief Society classes have always focused a lot on perfection the saints and caring for the poor in needy. Hopefully there continues to be a slight shift away from preparing females to be wives and mothers (think Enrichment instead of Homemaking), and instead focus on preparing ALL baptized members 8 and up to carry out the 4-fold mission of the church.

  4. April says:

    I know Women’s Meetings have been done like this in the past. in 1988, when I was 12, I sang in the choir at General Women’s Meeting along with my 11-year-old sister and my mom. It was a memorable bonding experience for the three of us to participate in the meeting together. Of course, as young as I was at the time, I didn’t notice whether the talks were dumbed down to child level.

  5. April says:

    girls develop faster and these 10 and 11 year old girls are facing hard challenges at a younger age. i think it is great that they will be there. it is debatable whether the 8 & 9 yr olds need to be there – but that is where we tend to draw the line in primary for older girls.

    it’s funny, the feminist in me felt that finally the older primary girls are getting something the boys don’t get. the older primary boys get weekly meetings where older girls only get bi-weekly.

    plus i am excited to hear more from the female leadership of the church – especially the primary general presidency who don’t hear from much. i am sure all the of the women in the primary presidencies have something to say. does the primary presidency “dumb” down their talks when they speak at conference? i recently re-listened to a beautiful talk by sister jean stevens (1st counselor) gave in april 2011 conference.

  6. Embracing Light says:

    I love this post! It was great to hear what so many women were thinking on this subject. Thanks.

  7. CG says:

    Wow. Great Comments and insight. I have wanted this to happen for a long time, but I want to know the reasoning behind the 8-11 age decision. My gut reaction is frustration because I see it as lumping the women and children together. What are the Brethren saying with this change?

  8. MB says:

    I’ve taught enough 8-11 year olds in Primary to believe that including them is good. They don’t need dumbing down. And I am hopeful that the General Primary Presidency knows that. My senior Primary girls need the straight stuff being taught to and written for their 12-17 year old peers. And some are dealing with adults who are making really bad choices. Clear, loving talks, not dumbed down ones, are what will help them most. Perhaps it’s not so where you live, but where I do these girls are getting a lot of teen and adult expectations and challenges thrown at them by their peers and society around them. They don’t live in a childlike bubble. It’s smart to include them.
    If you think your daughter isn’t ready and doesn’t find it helpful, don’t bring her. But please don’t resent the girls who attend and who do.

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