My daughter fidgeted with patches and pins, belt loops and neckerchief slides on visits to the Gold Dust Scout store. She wanted some. “Why do they get some and I don’t?”
“It’s for Boys. You can join Girl Scouts. They have patches for girls.” I sighed.
Last spring we bought Thin Mints at the corner drugstore, and then joined the troop. She sings songs and completes goals every-other Thursday. She earns petals to sew around the flower on her blue vest, already adorned by a flag and troop numbers. At Christmas we ran and ducked after we placed candy cane reindeers, charm bracelets and lotion from the dollar store on the porch of her troop secret-sister. She sensed girlhood camaraderie, a new sisterhood she hasn’t felt before.
One night a month we pile in the car and join other families in the ward house gym for Cub Scout pack meeting. She asks me if she can sit with the Cub Scouts. I let her. She asks if she can do the flag ceremony. She can’t. “Why?” I change the subject. I remind her of Girl Scouts. We clap and cheer as each boy walks to the front to have his accomplishments praised, and tack fancy pins on mothers as cameras flash.
Each November boys pile into the car with other boys, shirts pressed and kerchiefs on and go from house to house, filling up brown paper bags with food for the poor. She wants to go with them. She could ride in the car if I was driving, but often I’m not. Weeks ago she left notes in pockets and under pillows, made beds and tucked shoes away in closets. She loves to serve. She asks if she can go with the boys to gather food when she is older, a logical question to which so many times the answer is yes. “No,” I say. She’s not used to being set apart from her brothers.
“Why not?” she asks. I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s because she’s a girl. She is heartbroken, rejected by her own.
I grew up with seven sisters, a house full of estrogen. It wasn’t a surprise when my youngest brother wrote home from his mission and singled out his sisters as the biggest influence on his testimony and his desire to serve a mission. Five of us had served full-time missions before him. We felt like we had a place in the world, and in the Church. I never held notion that I was diminished, but I was keenly aware that men and women were different. As I turned twelve and entered the Church’s Young Women program, I saw new dividing lines that I hadn’t previously been aware of. As the only girl with three brothers, my daughter is aware of those dividing lines now, and they are painful for her.
Within the Church there is often an unnecessary dividing line between sisters, between those whose lives have been filled with good experiences within the Church, and those whose hearts have often times been injured within the Church as an institution. Often accusations are made amongst sisters of the gospel, one accusing the other of lack of understanding of the gospel or lack of faith; another accusing her sisters of being blind sheep, lying in a field of oppression. Sometimes the only feelings are feelings of ambivalence and apathy toward one another. Recently the Mormon portal at Patheos.com has begun a brave new endeavor to close that gap in our sisterhood. I invite you to listen a series of roundtable discussions from sisters who have different experiences, and thus different viewpoints.
Surely the foundations of our faith are stronger than what divides us. It is the hope of all the participants in this ongoing series that sisters will understand that no matter how different our experiences, each is authentic; and our own experience profoundly affects our interpretation of our faith, and the way we live the gospel.
On the first day of first grade I took my daughter by the hand to lead her home. “Do you like your teacher?” I asked. “I want shoes like Kristie’s. She had them and so did Vanessa. They’re called Twinkle Toes. Can I get some?”
“Sure, sometime you can.” I answered uncommitted.
She likes to brush her own hair, confident in her ability to make herself look nice. She lays out her clothes, mostly of pink and purple hues, and puts on gold shoes that shed glitter as she walks. I help her change her earrings to the rainbows studs she picked out for her birthday. My daughter just turned seven. I make sure plenty of Family Home Evening lessons will secure the story of Joseph Smith’s first vision, baptism, and the Holy Ghost into her young heart in mind.
In one year she will join the body of Saints in a new way. As she navigates the perils of girlhood to womanhood, I hope she continues to like herself, confident in her abilities and to be kind to others. I hope she finds a testimony of Jesus Christ within herself, and I hope she finds a place within His Church, bound to sisters who understand her experience is one partly of pain, even if theirs is different.