In the LDS church (of which I am a member), each year we have two conferences where our leaders speak to us. These happen during the first week of April and October, and the week before the general conference is the women’s conference.
What’s that? A conference for women?
It seems like a thing I should love. But every year when it rolls around, I find myself in a little bit of agony. In theory, I should adore a night with talks by women (mostly) about what women might need to know.
But every year—at the end of September, at the end of March—I get a little bit sad, and frustrated, and annoyed, and sad again.
I confess: I do not go to the Women’s Conference. I don’t go to the meal beforehand that is sometimes held, I don’t listen to it on the radio or watch it on TV. I usually read the talks when they are published a month later. But attending the actual conference is untenable to me. Tonight, as I was discussing this with Kendell over a bowl of pumpkin curry at our favorite Thai place (after he’d noticed that the tables were mostly full of dads and sons), I felt like it was a thing I should write about. (Perhaps in the hopes that I am not the only one.)
So here it is, my list of the reasons why I don’t go to the Women’s Conference:
- I liked the old system better. When Haley was still a teenager, the church handled the conferences in a different way. In March, the focus was on the young women (ages 12-18); in October, the focus was on the Relief Society (women older than 18). Right after she graduated, the system was changed. I feel very grateful that this change didn’t happen until after she finished with the Young Women program, as the times we went to Salt Lake for the Young Women’s Conference were some of my favorite outings of her adolescence.
Now, however, each Women’s Conference is for all girls ages eight and up. And while I partly understand this change—to be welcoming and inclusive to the younger generations I suppose—it takes away my ability to feel like the talks can focus on my needs. Does that sound selfish? It probably is. But such an age span means the talks must be both more broadly applicable and less oriented to specifics, so as to appeal to so many different ages, needs, life experiences, and knowledge. I have found less personally-relevant talks since this new system was put into place.
- I dislike being spoken to like I am a child. Some of the speakers, maybe knowing that the audience includes younger girls, modulate their voices in a way that makes me—well, quite frankly, it drives me bonkers. It is the way kindergarten teachers speak to their charges, the tone of smiling women speaking encouraging, kind, simple words very, very gently. Maybe they speak that way all the time, maybe I am old and crotchety and bitter and harsh (actually, strike that “maybe"); maybe I will never be one of those women who think all women need mothers and so step in to mother them. I’d like to write “I don’t need a mother” except I sort of do, as my relationship with my mother feels so fractured and troubled right now. Really what I don’t need is someone talking to me in a high, sing-songy, kind voice. Whatever they are saying gets lost for me in how they say it.
- It isn’t really a women’s conference. Much as I usually like what the male leaders happen to say during the women’s conference (at least they don’t say it in that treacly tone of voice), their very presence “presiding” at a women’s conference frustrates me. Until women do the whole damn thing—or, shockingly, until women are invited to speak at the male priesthood session of conference—calling it a “women’s conference” isn’t quite right. In fact, it is a symbol of what frustrates me most about the church right now.
- It is too painful. Much of the social context of the conference is about women going with their tribe of women and, as pathetic as it sounds, I don’t have one of those. I have one daughter who isn’t interested in the church right now. I have a mom who would likely go with me if I asked, but remember that fractured/troubled thing? As much as I love her, asking her to go with me hurts more than going by myself. I have a sister who lives only two miles away from me, but she doesn’t need to go with me—she has daughters to go with, or a bunch of women friends. Ditto my sister-in-law. I have friends, of course—but they already have their tribes of friends or sisters or big family groups they go with. Would they invite me to come along? Of course. Would I feel awkward and on the outside? Yes; in the words of Luna Lovegood, “It's like having friends.” No one wants to get a sympathy invite. And sure, I could go by myself and sit by myself, I could even go and sit with someone friendly in my ward who I sort-of know. But watching all of those women in their tribes while I am tribeless only reminds me of the complicated relationships I have. It reminds me of what I don’t have, of what I messed up, of what I don’t know how to fix.
And it’s not just during the meeting. It’s after the meeting, too, when the Thai restaurant and every other eating establishment will have filled up with women. Moms, daughters, grandmas, granddaughters, aunts, cousins, sisters, friends. Keeping their tribes strong while I walk home by myself. And then it’s the Facebook posts, the photos of generations together, of old friends hanging out in their church clothes.
In fact I have to avoid Facebook altogether.
Likely there is someone reading this who is thinking “you just have to try harder. Go and find some friends.” Or “why don’t you fix things in your family then?” Or “stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Or even “socializing isn’t the point, learning is.”
And maybe one day in my life things will change and be better. Maybe the church will come to understand what equality really means. Maybe I will find a tribe. (I think the former is more likely to happen than the latter; I’m almost 45 years old. What tribe will have me now?)
But the truth is that, for now, the women’s conference is just too much. If not going makes me a bad Mormon….well, as much as I love the church, we all know that is not the first thing that’s made me a bad Mormon.