When I was still Mormon, we had this program called “Personal Progress” wherein we would earn medallions for mastering skills of domesticity, spirituality, and submission. It was an honor to have earned your Personal Progress Medallion; the bishop even presented you with that little necklace in front of the whole congregation; a public declaration that you were well on your way to becoming a perfect daughter of Christ, worthy to be the helpmate of the CUUUUUUTEST return missionary in the whole stake. The best thing a girl could be.
I was an anxious, insecure, perfectionistic young woman. This program was made for girls like me. And so I plunged in with both feet, finishing the entire thing in two years, when it could take some as long as six. During this time,I learned the metrics of self-worth; Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue.
On paper, all of those values look well and good, but remember, the underlying motive of this program is to get young, impressionable girls to strive toward what their church arbitrarily defines as a Righteous Woman; the optimal feminine status being that of the devout wife of a worthy, priesthood holding, “provider/protector” husband, in addition to being the nurturing mother of Zion’s future.
At twelve, I didn’t know what “faith” was, nor did I value it. It felt silly to say the words “I believe” when talking about things I didn’t understand, and couldn’t prove whether they were true or not even if I did. Believing in things that are not seen hasn’t been my specialty since the Santa Claus Illusion was shattered.
“Divine Nature” was irrelevant to me, because even in adolescence, I didn’t really think about divinity, nor care about my royal status in heaven as a literal daughter of The Almighty. I’m a literal daughter of my biological parents now, and that has always been more than good enough for me.
I really can’t argue with the value of “Individual Worth.” God knows teenage girls need to find that. And I gotta hand it to the Mormons, they specialize in making their flock feel special. I didn’t believe that I was special until well after Mormonism, which I’m honestly rather grateful for, because the kind of special you are when you’re mormon breeds a superiority complex that I fortunately avoided, I hope.
Knowledge is a value in any context, and my youth leaders certainly urged me to pursue as much as I could get. I would eventually carry the burden of educating my future children to prepare them to be righteous spirit children of the Most High. I’ve never wanted children, though, which gave me the freedom to value knowledge for its intrinsic benefit, and pursue it for my own gain.
Choice and Accountability felt a lot more like Guilt and Shame. Under this value, we became well-versed in the Church’s arbitrary code of conduct-dress modestly, no coffee, don’t swear, no tattoos, no sex before marriage, don’t have fun on Sundays, you get the idea. Here, we also learned that it’s actually really easy to choose the right when everyone is policing your every move, even beyond those chapel doors. And we also became very much aware of the disciplinary protocols that would follow our inevitable transgressions.
Mormons do a lot of Good Works for their own. In order to learn this value, we’d bake cookies for the widows in the ward, volunteer at the Bishop’s Storehouse, (an inter-congregation food bank) rake leaves or shovel snow for the elderly members, things of that nature. I’m glad we did those things, it forced me to get out of my own narcissistic world and do something for someone else. I wish we’d hit this value harder, I still struggle to get my head out of my own ass to help my fellow man.
When we learned about integrity and how to have it, we covered all the basics-don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t intentionally hurt people, exude decency. We pledged to have the “moral courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right and wrong.” But then I learned that morality isn’t universal, and it’s totally kosher for you to chop a guy’s head off to steal his stuff if God wants you to. This “knowledge of right and wrong” was getting pretty murky, so I just hoped that God would never ask me to behead anyone.
“Virtue” is code for “Chastity.” A righteous young woman is sexually pure. She has to be if she’s going to have her fairytale wedding in the holiest of holies; the temple. Hormonal adolescent girls are the gatekeepers of sex and therefore must keep the young men at bay by not bearing their shoulders no matter how hot it gets, only dating in groups, and keeping their boyfriends in line. I was not good at this. And when my “virtue” was forcefully taken from me, I’d accepted my fate of being ineligible for an eternal marriage with the love of my life, as I was not willing to jump through the hoops of redemption. That would require confessing a sin I didn’t commit to a man who had no legitimate authority over me.
I do not possess any of these values as the church defines them, but I feel comfortable considering myself a righteous woman all the same. I swear a lot. I drink coffee like healthy, well-adjusted people drink water. I help my fellow man, even the one who doesn’t look like me or doesn’t share my beliefs. I know that I have inherent worth, but not as a spirit crammed in a flesh vessel banished here by her omnipotent dad to prove herself, no. Just as a person on a planet with other people who miraculously get to experience life here for a while.
I guess the church and I just measure personal progress differently.