By Cami Alex Thurman Ashby
There I was, a young Beehive, bubbling with excitement… it was my first Girl’s Camp in Young Womens! A taste of Sisterhood, seasoned with laughter, skits, music and love;
Always to be enjoyed with a side of scary camp-fire tales, moments of journal writing and scripture studies under a tree. I must mention lest we forget mosquito bites, unwanted periods, trying to find bathrooms in the dark, trying to USE bathrooms in the dark, wardrobe malfunctions when swimming, talking about the boys back home, sharing testimonies, singing hymns, listening to talks and sharing testimonies again… and again. Not really knowing for sure what was true but knowing that the tears in my eyes were created by this Circle, this Sacred Circle of Sisterhood.
This Circle that allowed for us to have fun, make mistakes, share our secrets and to see each other as we really were, as we really are.. Divine Women in the making. I ached for that circle all year long, every year of my Young Womanhood. All the petty bickering, silly squabbles, the broken-up BFF’s, the judgments and comparisons… I knew they would be forsaken once camp came again; Once we were thrown together, having to work as one in order to eat decent food, have semi-workable showers, put on a skit, put up our tents, check off all our qualifications, and learn the camp theme song for the year. Once we started each morning with a collective prayer and ended each night, holding hands and bowing heads, we’d remember this Sacred Circle and we’d get it right, at least for a while, when we got back home.
How I longed to share this with MY daughters someday. Maybe I could be a camp director or bring the meals or help check off qualifications or something…anything. And if I didn’t go with her, I would see her come home, all aglow with a fresh renewal of relationships with her sisters, with her Self ….with her God. How I longed to see her empowered within a Circle that echoed of the circles we held with our Sisters long ago in another Realm.
Now I’m here today at church, 44 years old, with an 11 year old daughter. One more year and she’ll be there. She will be joining that circle and we will be sharing this amazing adventure together, as Mother and Daughter …as Sisters.
I sit in the pew, listening to a young man giving a sacrament talk. He is speaking of how he and his priest quorum went to girl’s camp last year. I laugh out loud. Silence. Wait, this is a joke….right? Nobody else is laughing. I look around. I look back at the speaker. I listen. He says they were so honored to go to girl’s camp, He says that the boys taught the girls about modesty, about virtue, about supporting the priesthood. My leg involuntarily jerks out as if a physician tapped my knee. My breathing stops. Coldness saturates my soul. My Circle has been broken.
The last place where the males respected the boundaries of their female peers in my religion… Young Womens. That a priesthood holder could enter Relief Society if he chose, I had known and later endured as a woman. That a priesthood holding man was expected to be at the Young Women’s camp, was something we ignored as girls…they were just old men, they never talked to us. But in Young Women, there are no boys allowed, just as no girls are allowed in Young Men. Never has a woman (young or old) been asked to speak in Young Men, much less in ANY priesthood quorum, anywhere, EVER but especially about their virtue, pornography, immorality or supporting the womanhood.
It’s a Sacred Circle, either of Brotherhood or Sisterhood, those circles are sacred to their members… and now the Young Women’s was broken, trampled upon by the arrogance of religious aristocracy. Marched upon by boys “going as to war”, called by the leaders church-wide to fight immorality on a territory they know nothing of and in which they have no experience; the territory of Womanhood.
These young girls, bubbling with excitement as was I, Smelling fresh with the dew of their awakened femininity, their brand new sense of sexual identity, coming now to this camp, believing, as a child believes in Santa, that the actions and words of the Anointed Ones are as if from God Himself.
Perhaps they ask themselves, as I once did, “What does the Lord want me to be? What does He think of me? Does He love me, I mean, love ALL of me?” And in that one talk from that young man in sacrament meeting, I learned what this church wants of them, of me, of us, the women who want to follow Truth unflinchingly through the mists of mortality: They want us to be submissive to the boys & men we sit equally along side with at church. They think female sexuality must be explained, directed and suppressed by priesthood authority. They love us with conditions..with standards, with stipulations…”only when”…”only if”….if only. I went home after that sacrament meeting, unable to hold back the tears burning my eyes.
It was gone.
The last Sacred Circle I had left in my LDS life, the last sacred memory of pure sisterhood, a place for us to experience, learn and teach each other about what it means to be a young woman, a grown woman, a Divine Woman in the making. My husband listened as I yelled, ranted and raved against a force of patriarch I, nor my sisterhood could hold back within this man-made fold. I collapsed, weeping into his arms as he patted my back saying over and over, “It’s not right. It isn’t right for men to do this to the women in the church. It’s not right.”
So I’ve collected myself now, and I have something to say to the leading Elders that have created and enforced this policy: “I see your banner of brotherhood staked out in the circle of our daughters that you so patronizingly gave us. Perhaps you didn’t realize the anguish you would inflict upon us by doing so. But you eliminated my gender from the circles of decision-making, so what did you expect? The banner of your hierarchy flies higher than our Young Women’s colorful values left pale in comparison. It is clear. You have marked your territory. Well done.
And now I…I have marked mine; Mine, my daughter’s and her daughters throughout the ages. I have created a circle outside your jurisdiction, away from the misled marching army of God all arrayed in reverent dominance. Where else did you leave me to go? In so doing, I feel the warmth of my sisters as I close my eyes and spread out my arms, hoping for…… Ah…there it is. The connection.”
I feel you Sisters. Shall we do this again? Shall we join hands and run back to camp? Shall we work together to put up our tents, put up our showers and clean ourselves off? Shall we laugh at our pregnancies, periods or lack thereof? Shall we talk of boys, of men and of the hopes and dreams we have for them; we shall be better able to hold their hands in the Circle of Humanity as we regain our own circle, shall we not? Shall we swap stories of embarrassment, terror, sadness and hope. Shall we sing silly songs with hand motions, songs for those we have loved and lost?
Or perhaps we can sing beautiful songs, melodies we’ve never heard nor sung before, blending together in harmony as One? Shall we let go of our our judgments & irritations with each other and then snuggle close to stay warm & tell of Goddesses & Heroines in days long past? Shall we watch our life stories together, like watching musical skits and finally laugh at all the stupid things we use to get mad at or embarrassed by?
Oh yes, Sisters! Spread out your hands and clasp hold of the your sisters’ hands as they come to us from every land no matter how foreign, from every path whether crooked or straight or gay, from every color- oh, such a spectrum of colors! Let us remember that which we do not need any man nor priesthood to remind us of. Let us receive that which we thought we’d lost but which we always had, that which we already are and have always been… A Sacred Circle of Sisterhood.
Nice work Cami.
Yes, I’ve mourned this, too. This is partly why I have given up, and come out in favor of female ordination (though I really never thought it was the only way, before). Yet, there were paths, and places that women could grow. But now? The men have taken it all and left us with nothing to lose.
This doesn’t take away from the power of your experience, but women do speak to priesthood quorums, occasionally. The RS president and another sister were invited to speak to our HP group a couple of months ago. They spoke of service, inside and outside of the home, along with some other topics. It was a good thing, and I wish it happened more often.
If I understood you correctly, you also think this is everywhere, “called by the leaders church-wide”, but I had never heard of this till now. Sounds more like a thing that will come and go. Blessings on you in the meantime.
“We shall be better able to hold their hands in the Circle of Humanity as we regain our own circle, shall we not?”
I couldn’t agree more, Cami. I need those sacred circles for myself, and for my twelve year-old daughter. I’ve also realized that as I am peeling away the layers of fear and vocalizing some of the problems with how women are treated in the church that have skewed my sense of self, my relationship with my husband has become so much healthier and stronger. Thank you for sharing!
Wow. This article actually made me cry (and I DO so hate to cry). VERY very well done. You have shown and explained perfectly how our voice and gender are being suffocated, overshadowed and drowned in a wave of “well-meaning” male/priesthood intentions. I LEFT my previous Church because of this very feeling of inequality and the inability to explain the worth of women (among other issues)…and now I have recently woken up and realized that damned oppressive tidal wave has followed me to my last vestige of peace and hope in life, to even this Church. I can scarce believe that SO many of us have been awakened to this feeling, awareness, and knowledge if not to act on it. So, articles, websites, blogs, and the brothers and sisters on them have become my last vestige of strength, and it is HERE that I will stand with all of you.
My heart figuratively stopped when I read this. That young man’s talk slapped each and every one of us across the face. The young men must go to Girl’s Camp to teach them about modesty and virtue. I have no words.
I felt that same slap. Who is a boy to teach a girl about her true self, other than to parrot the misguided words of others. The boys are also having something stolen, and they won’t realize it until they look for spiritually strong women, and realize that we have all gone looking for men who honor and adore us, who respect our minds, hearts, and bodies, for men who want us to be strengthen in our sacred circles and come home as better wives, mothers and people.
This is not to say that there are not wonderful Mormon men. Many of them don’t wake up until after they watch the girls that are broken, bruise, even spiritually tortured, in the name of priesthood authority. They either see those wounds in the women they love and marry, or recognize to late, that women who leave the faith are not less virtuous or less modest, but because they have enough self respect, to move there rent to a place where others respect them too.
Most LDS male feminists I know, came to feminism in their late 20s to 40s. Hopefully our children will find it in college, or sooner, so that the girls who are in their Primary classes, have a way to stay, without having the patriarchy strip them of all their strength and beauty.
Cami, this is truly beautiful. Thank you.
WARNING: What they don’t tell you is that if you raise a confident, serious about her education, involved with community other than the church daughter – these same young men, even after their missions – are INTIMIDATED by her! They date the girl in beauty school, the girl when you ask what she is majoring in at college she gets the deer in the headlights look and says,”not sure yet”. BUT, her father usually has a leadership position in the church:-) I speak from experience. So, my two successful daughters – with advanced degrees, are married to non-members. Men who respect them, are incredible hands on fathers, and who truly do treat my girls as equals. Sorry, I got over their not having a temple marriage a long time ago. So sad when a close LDS friend confides their daughter, with no education (the pretty one, with 3 kids and no options) & husband are using LDS social services counseling. BE VERY CAREFUL MOMS!