The LDS church, if you’re new to its intricacies, has a series of programs set up for children and youth to participate in and advance through. For the boys, this is Boy Scouts. For the girls, this is Achievement Days for the 8-11 year-olds and Personal Progress for the teens.
This year, a new Personal Progress book was released with a smattering of updates. I believe that the awards were even upped a notch. Whereas before, a young woman received a necklace medallion for completing various steps in the progress, now she can add on a worker-bee pendant as well!
The book is also notably, drastically, pink. And this pinkness is actually an important part of the program…apparently. At its release, President Elaine Dalton made a point of it when she said, “The new Personal Progress book is pink! [well, yes it is!] It is a reminder that you are a daughter of our Heavenly Father and have unique feminine characteristics, gifts, and roles.”
Of course, this quote sure got a whole heck of a lot of attention when it first appeared–what with all its hints at gender essentialism. Caused quite a flurry, actually.
But, most of this discussion centered around whether actual, troops-on-the-ground young women in the church actually believed any of it. Did young women buy into the pinkness campaign? Did young women see themselves as pink, soft, and feminine? Would this pink-push alienate young women who felt, well, more like a “chartruse” kind of gal?
No one really, definitively could say. They could say what they personally felt about being “pinked,” pro or con. But, no one could come out with a valid way to measure support or discontent in the actual ranks.
I offer, then, a possibility.
In our meeting house here in Oregon, the Seminary room (a classroom for teenagers to use for a kind of Bible study) prominently featured this poster:
“Who is your [scriptural] hero”, indeed! I vote the Book of Mormon’s “Daughters in the Wilderness” ninjas for sure! And notice the particular paucity of pinkitude in it!
Yes, my litmus test for young women’s feelings about being “pink” are these “Real Hero Posters.” They have become an LDS pop culture sensation–found in seminaries and bedrooms across the world. Notably, of thirty posters in production, seven of them feature female scriptural heroes. (Not nearly equal to those featuring men, but it’s definitely a start in the right direction for a church that too often overlooks women in scripture and church history in its curriculum).
These include a “Michelle-Obama-arms” Ruth, “don’t mess with me” Mary, and the latest “tough-as-nails” Emma Smith addition.
And, do I even have to point out, there ain’t a smidgen of pink on these posters. All the women are standing strong, striding forward, or looking directly out at the viewer. And they are all incredibly popular among LDS youth today.
Noticeably, too, many of these posters featuring women, also have a motherhood element to them. Not much of a surprise noting the importance LDS theology places on family. What is different and wonderfully surprising, however, is that these mother figures are not swathed in dewy pastels, gazing down with lips half parted into the face of a tiny infant, all hazed over by a vague foggy focus–faceless backs of be-bunned hairdos. No. These women show that yes, they are mothers, but they are individuals first and foremost. It is their individual story. It is their individual heroism. They are not simply a stand-in symbol of “feminine experience.” They are people.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, dominates her poster, centered and fierce–her infant gazes up at her. The “Daughters in the Wilderness” ninjas can’t be stopped–and if you look very closely, you can see two are carrying their children with them. And, you’ll just have to see the “Mothers of the Stripling Warriors” poster for yourself.
As I’m sure is clear by now, I love these posters. They offer a vision of strong, proud womanhood that I’m afraid church curriculum never really gave me when I was in the Personal Progress program myself. There I was told, subconsciously and not-so-subconsciously that women should like being “pink”; pliable, soft, quiet, and nice. And if you didn’t then something was wrong.
I always thought I’d be better at being a ninja.
You can see the full array of Real Hero Posters here.