Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Talk like a Mormon: Moving through the Ranks - Young Women

Just as boys progress through organizational ranks in the Mormon Church, so too do girls. Beginning at the age of 12, Mormons girls are said to be part of "Young Women's," short for "The Young Women's Organization." There are three ranks or groups within the organization. On Sundays, the three groups meet separately for classes. They also meet collectively with the Young Women's presidency within the ward, both on Sunday and for activites during the week (remember that "ward" is the word both for the local congregation, which is determined entirely geographically, and for the actual meeting house where the ward congregates). The presidency is a group of women chosen (or "called") by the ward leadership (the bishop and his councilors - all male) to work with and guide the young women. Young Women's President is a bit of a banner "calling," or position, within the ward. A woman would never aspire to it, since callings don't work that way. But most women, at least publicly, would be thrilled and honored to be called to the position, since it is pretty much expected that the young women they work with will regularly comment (at least at church) on what an example the president is to them. Each rank or group within the organization would also have its own presidency, chosen from among the young women within the group. The three ranks are:
  1. Beehive: 12- and 13-year-old girls are called "beehives." Since girls are never allowed to attend "Young Men's" (i.e., priesthood), or boys "Young Women's," I can't tell you precisely what beehives do during their classes. I do know that all of the young women have "values" that they spend a lot of time reciting: "Faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity." Each value has an associated color, so when the Young Women's presidency decorates for a ward event, it looks a bit like a gay parade of rainbows. As neophytes in the organization, beehives probably spend some time learning about the values - and learning to recite them endlessly in just the right order. For the mid-week activites, beehives tend to get paired up with deacons (12- and 13-year-old boys). These regularly occurring, social (and sometimes service-oriented) activites where boys and girls co-mingle are called "mutual" (short for "The Mutual Improvement Association"). Here's a sentence that correctly illustrates the ways these terms are used: "There's a new beehive in the ward - I saw her at mutual last night." Incidentally, beehives are not called by that name because of their preferred hairdo. The beehive is a symbol selected by Mormons for themselves (and, by extension, for Utah) because they regard bees as industrious workers. Why specifically the symbol is attached as a name for 12- and 13-year-old girls is probably best answered by a serious Mormon historian (or Wikipedia). Rest assured, however, that most Mormons themselves haven't given this a lot of thought; beehives are simply what girls in this age group are called because the Church says this is what they are called.
  2. Mia maid: 14- and 15-year-old young women are called "Mia maids" (the first word is pronounced "my-uh," like "Mayan" without the "n"). The term comes from M.I.A., which in Mormon parlance stands for Mutual Improvement Association (see above). Over time the acronym began to be pronounced as a word and spelled as a proper adjective. One would never call these young women "maids"; they are always referred to as "Mia maids." Again, I don't know exactly what they do in their meetings. It's probably telling, however, that young women would know at least some of the special responsibilites of young men (that deacons pass the sacrament, for instance), whereas young men don't know what young women do - in large part because there are no rituals, duties or assignments performed publicly by young women before the entire ward, as there are by young men. As a boy, all I really knew with certainty about Mia maids was that they liked to giggle a lot and alternately flirt with and mock teachers (that is, 14- and 15-year-old young men). But then, so did I...
  3. Laurel: Laurels are lovely, all fresh-faced and virtuous - at least in the Mormon imagination. Since they are 16- and 17-year-olds, they are young women in body and spirit, as well as in name. By this point you have surely already anticipated that I really don't have a clue what they do in their classes, either. My guess is they spend some time working towards an award, called "The Young Womanhood Recognition Award," which is a medallion worn on a chain. I know this only because occasionally during Sacrament meeting (the main meeting during the three-hour block of meetings on Sunday - the one where the entire ward meets together regardless of age or gender), laurels who have earned the award are recognized. Lucky laurels get to date upstanding priests (16- and 17-year-old boys who hold the priesthood), since dating is officially allowed beginning at the age of 16. Ideally the dates would be double dates (there is safety in numbers), and the laurels would find modest but pretty earrings to match their award medallions.