Part Five: Issues for Girls and Young Women

As a female, a minor, and a Unitarian Universalist, you have probably already noticed that in the past—and sometimes in the present—our world has been focused on the needs, interests, and experiences of other people: males, adults, and members of the largest religions. The parts of Religion in Life for Girl Scouts you have already completed above have asked you to put your religious perspective on equal footing with other religious traditions and to explore social action in a diverse world with respect to categories other than age and gender. In this part, you will explore women’s history and other issues that concern girls and young women today.

5.1 Feminism

“Feminism” can be understood as the belief that males and females should have equivalent rights and privileges, and, that, furthermore, wherever females as a category are disadvantaged, the situation must be corrected to achieve gender equity. The struggle for gender equality has given feminists—whether or not they are called “feminists”— centuries of work, with different tasks at different times for different people. In fact, feminists do not always agree on the same interpretations, actions, or strategies in a given situation. Feminists’ views may also differ according to their ethnicity, age, race, gender (yes, boys and men can be feminists!), religion, and/or social class. Find at least 3 more definitions and/or descriptions of feminism or feminists. Can you tell whether the person who created each definition of “feminism” approves of feminism or not? How? Which definitions do you like the most and least? Why? Who are some famous people and people you know who could be called “feminists”? Find a way to Share your findings.

5.2 Biographies of Important UU Women in History

Across the world and history, there have been some times when women have had power and prestige than at other times. For many centuries in western cultures (and also in other world cultures!), women have had less power and fewer rights than men. In the United States, a country dedicated to the democratic principle, women were not permitted to vote in federal elections until 1920. Until the twentieth century, most professions were closed or mostly closed to women. Yet, famous (and not-so-famous) Unitarian Universalist women have stepped out of the roles assigned to them to perform work that benefited and continues to benefit humankind. Some even dedicated themselves to enlarging girls’ and women’s place in the world. Choose 3 Unitarian or Universalist women (Remember, Unitarianism and Universalism did not come together until 1961!) from the list below. Don’t repeat the famous UUs you researched in 3.3:

list of women

For each of the 3 women, Identify their contributions to society.  What made them special in their day?  What are we doing today that is comparable? Find a way to Share your thoughts and findings with others.

Check your congregation’s library for these books, which include stories of many of these women: Stirring the Nation’s Heart by Polly Peterson (UUA, 2010) and Missionaries, Builders, and Pathfinders by Gail Forsyth-Vail and Polly Peterson (UUA, 2014).

Check your congregation’s library for these books, which include stories of many of these women: Stirring the Nation’s Heart by Polly Peterson (UUA, 2010) and Missionaries, Builders, and Pathfinders by Gail Forsyth-Vail and Polly Peterson (UUA, 2014).

5.3 Women and the Work World

Choose A or B.

CHOICE A

Even today, some religions do not permit women to be ministers (or their religion’s equivalent of this spiritual leadership position). Unitarians and Universalists have had women ministers for well over a century, however. Find Out about who Elizabeth Brown Blackwell and Olympia Brown and Share your findings. Look at the “Milestones” section of a print edition of the UU World. What proportion of those entering the ministry today are women? How about those leaving the ministry, including retirees? Interview a woman minister and ask her whether people treat her differently than they treat male ministers. If so, how does she respond to the different treatment? Write a thank you note or email thank you after the interview and mention two or three things you learned from the interview. Keep a copy of the note for your own journal.

CHOICE B

Identify a woman who works in a field that for a long time had only (or mostly) men in it, such as science, automotive repair, the military, technology, engineering, farming, contracting (e.g. carpentry, plumbing), or government. Ask her if she ever faced discrimination in the workplace and how she responded to it. Invite her to talk about both obvious and subtle discrimination. Subtle indications that the profession is geared toward males may include leadership patterns, expected dress/uniforms, social events, and assumptions about family responsibilities. In which situations does she adapt to the masculine norm and in which situations does the norm change because she is present?  How has her profession changed over time in relationship to gender issues? Find a way to Record and Share your findings.

5.4 Beyond “tomboys”…

Have you ever participated in activities which other people associate more with boys than with girls? Recall and Reflect on those experiences. (If you can’t think of any instance in your own life, think of some other girl or woman who people thought acted “like a man” or “like a boy” for this exercise.) Did people approve, disapprove, or have a mixed reaction to your behavior? How were you treated and how did you respond?  Would you do anything differently if the same sort of situation came up again?  Because girls and women in the United States generally don’t face discrimination that is as obvious as in the past, do you think it is easier or harder to talk to your male friends about sexism than it was for girls in generations past? Role Play telling a male friend about a situation that is unfair to girls and/or women.

Click here for Girl Scout Link I.

5.5 Sisterhood in Unitarian Universalist Communities

Find Out what the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF) is and what it does. What other groups at the national, district, or congregational level involve mostly or only women—either officially or unofficially? Consider interest groups (e.g. needlecraft groups, the women’s sections in the choir), service projects, the committees that plan social gatherings, and religious education (e.g. committees, teachers, and classes such as Cakes for the Queen of Heaven).

Cakes for the Queen of Heaven is an adult curriculum that looks at the place of women in Western religious history and helps participants explore feminine aspects of the Divine.

When are groups all female by intention and for a purpose? When a group is not intentionally all female, why do you suppose it is all female in practice? Interview two women who value female-focused spiritual resources, and find out why these resources are important to them.  Consider how a religious group can balance the benefits of single-sex programming with the concern for inclusivity and gender equity. Write thank you notes or email thank you to the women you interviewed, and mention two or three things that you have learned.

Click here for Girl Scout Link J.

5.6 Challenges for Youth in Contemporary Life

People face many challenges in their everyday lives and some challenges seem to change or surface when one reaches adolescence. Select and complete three of the five choices that follow.

CHOICE A

Stress: What is stress and how can you manage it?  Find out what the body does in reaction to stress, some common stress triggers, and some strategies for keeping yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy in times of stress. Talk with an adult in your family and with your advisor (one conversation with each) about stresses you face and how you respond to them.  Consider how your experiences have changed since you were younger. Ask the two adults how their stressful experiences during adolescence compare and contrast with yours. Find Out what resources are available for teens under stress. Express and Share what you learned through art, music, poetry, a blog post, or some other means.

CHOICE B

Sex and romance: Even though children talk about romance as early as kindergarten (“he likes you!”), issues of romance and sexuality become particularly important during teen years when people are beginning to form their adult identities, may start to date in groups or pairs, are physically able to conceive and bear children, and in some cultures are expected to commit to a marriage partner. The intensity of this period can be exciting, fun, frightening, exhausting, and sometimes just plain awkward and embarrassing.

Determining who one is attracted to and deciding whether and how to act on that attraction is not simple, because so many other questions are implied and intertwined:

  • What is my romantic and/or sexual orientation, and do I have the support I need to be happy, healthy, and safe in disclosing my orientation to my family and friends? How can I support friends who choose to disclose romantic and/or sexual orientations that may not match their families’ or friends’ expectations?
  • What is my gender identity, and do I have the support I need to be happy, healthy, and safe in disclosing my identity to my family and friends? How can I support friends who choose to disclose gender identities that may not match their families’ or friends’ expectations?
  • What are my family’s rules and/or expectations for teens and romance?
  • How are my relationships with friends and family affected if I am in a romantic relationship?
  • What activities and values are important to me and do I want someone special to share them with?
  • How much and what kinds of sexual activity am I comfortable with and do I want to have? What is safe, healthy, and wise for me?
  • What should I do if someone I am interested in pressures me to go beyond my comfort zone or limits in terms of commitment or sexual activity?

Talk with a parent and one other adult in your congregation about their experience with romantic and sexual issues at your age; what do they wish they had known or done differently? What helped them face those issues back then?

Our Whole Lives has programs for both junior high youth- grades 7-9- and high school youth- grades 10-12. Are these programs offered at your congregation?

Our Whole Lives has programs for both junior high youth- grades 7-9- and high school youth- grades 10-12. Are these programs offered at your congregation?

Find Out what resources can help you deal with those issues–don’t forget about special UU resources, such as the Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum or other youth group programs. Record your thoughts and findings in your journal, to the degree you are comfortable doing so.

CHOICE C

Substance use and abuse: During their teen years, many people are pressured to try drugs, alcohol, and/or tobacco. Using reliable sources, Find Out the risks involved in their use (consider legal, safety, health, reputation, financial, emotional, and relational risks and costs). Why and how might other people try to pressure or trick you into drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use? Role Play possible responses to unwanted invitations involving drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Look Up organizations that help people resist these sorts of pressures, and organizations that help people deal with addictions and/or loved ones’ addictions (such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Al Anon). Find Out if your congregation sponsors any such groups or where they meet locally, and find a way to Share this information. Talk with your minister, religious educator, or other adult in your congregation to learn how people use spirituality to help them recover from addictions.

CHOICE D

Time management: Young people, as well as adults, seem to have far more activities and relationships competing for their time than they used to. For instance, many teens have blended families with more than one household to manage and relationships with larger extended families to maintain. In addition, the worlds of school, work, and social relationships come home with us electronically each day,  demanding attention through social media (such as Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr) and cell phones. Even classes can be extended into the evening with on-line requirements.

Take stock of how you spend your time now, including time spent at school, doing school work, socializing with friends in person or on the phone, doing school work and other things on cell phones and computers, helping around the house, taking care of yourself, spending time with immediate and extended family, earning money, doing hobbies or sports, relaxing peacefully, and sleeping. Make a list. Then, Write the number 1 by the things that are obligations, 2 by the things that are not obligations but are very important to you, and 3 by things that are not high priorities for you. Are you able to fulfill all your obligations as well as take care of yourself? Is there anything you’d like to have more time for or anything new you’d like to try but don’t have the time to do? Consider what you would like to change. When looking to make more time, look to see if there’s anything you can do more efficiently, things that seem to eat up time, and things you marked as 3. Where can you trim and reallocate time? Do your Unitarian Universalist values offer any help in making those decisions? Ask two other people, including at least one adult, to give you some feedback on your plan; see if they have any ideas for time savers or arranging priorities.

CHOICE E

The power of electronics: Extremely rapid growth in technology over the past 25 years has given us many more opportunities for accessing information and interacting with others.  Unfortunately, these advances also have their dangers and downsides.  Identify Strategies for dealing with four of the following pitfalls:

  • repetitive stress injuries due to computer usage (HINT: Look up ergonomics)
  • addictive behaviors related to cell phones, the internet, video games, and shopping
  • identity theft
  • viruses
  • hoaxes
  • predators on the internet
  • cell phone rudeness
  • bullying using electronics
  • violence
  • recovery after a computer ”crash” or malfunction
  • debt.

For which of these pitfalls is the solution technical? Which require you to exercise your Unitarian Universalist values?

Examine your own practices and identify what you can do to make and keep your computer use beneficial, safe, and enjoyable. Discuss your thoughts and findings with at least one adult and one peer.

Click here for Girl Scout Link K.

□ 5.7 Body Image and Self Esteem

Although males have started to feel more pressure to look good and make their bodies extremely thin and muscular, girls and women still face higher expectations to create and maintain the unrealistic ideal of a curvy yet very thin body shape. The pressure for girls and women can lead to problems with physical and mental health, such as malnutrition, dental problems, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. Expectations related to fashion trends are high as well, and can pose challenges. For example, many fashions available—especially those in teen sizes—sexualize girls and young women, thus affecting how others see and treat them; prolonged wearing of high heels damages feet; tanning and wearing make-up may damage the skin, as well as being expensive and time consuming. Yet, shouldn’t girls and women be allowed to create their own images and express themselves in a variety of ways? Absolutely!

Explore your power to make your own choices by following these three steps:

STEP ONE: Monitor the media for a couple of days: notice how girls and women are shown and evaluated on TV, radio, and websites, and in films, magazines, and advertising. Are people of all body shapes and appearances treated equally? Notice the sorts of things people say in everyday conversation to and about girls and women regarding their looks, and then Compare them to what is said to boys and men about their looks.  How are the expectations alike and different?

STEP TWO: Find Out what the experts say about body image, fashion, and health (physical, mental, and emotional). If you have participated in any of the Our Whole Lives (OWL) programs, think back to what you learned about gender, self-expression, and relationships there. What can girls and young women do to resist damaging practices and expectations?  Find Out what family rules and guidelines your peers and you must follow regarding clothing, jewelry, and make-up. What choices are open to you along the spectrum between avoiding all risky appearance choices and fully participating in today’s norms for female fashion, however inappropriate or dangerous?

STEP THREE: Consider how girls and women express their femaleness in different ways.  Knowing that you don’t have to choose just one way of presenting yourself all the time, answer these questions in your journal:

  • What sorts of body image and fashion choices would you like to make for yourself?
  • How might your choices change as you grow older? Consider how your family rules, your roles, and your body might change.
  • How are people of different ages, genders, races, ethnicities, religions, etc. likely to view you based on appearance and how might that affect how you are treated?
  • How will you show your inner self through your outward appearance?

5.8 Opportunities for Youth

The Blue Boat blog presents information on events, opportunities, leadership roles and resources for youth and young adult Unitarian Universalists (UUs) as well as stories and opinion of and about UUs and those who work with them. Blue Boat also reports on the future of faith, social justice and other issues and trends of interest to UUs and other progressively minded people of all ages.

In 5.6 and 5.7, you explored some difficult issues that face and even endanger us.  Now, let’s focus on positive opportunities. Find Out what opportunities and resources your congregation and the Unitarian Universalist Association have for youth. Look For these possibilities as you conduct your search: youth groups on the local, regional, and national levels; events such as conferences and seminars on those three levels; activities youth can do alongside adults (e.g. serve on committees; join interest and/or service groups; lead worship; hold office; take classes; join discussions); youth activities at General Assembly or district conferences; the UU College of Social Justice; UU camps and conference centers in your area and beyond internships.  Be sure to talk to others (e.g. your director of religious education, your minister) as well as conduct a web search. Make a list and Star the ones you find most interesting.  Choose at least one starred item and find out how you could make it happen. Share your findings with others.

Click here for Girl Scout Link L.

Next Page: Part Six: Wrapping It Up