Juvenile Instructor » What I Learned from Jack Weyland, or a New Series on the History of Mormon Girls
 


What I Learned from Jack Weyland, or a New Series on the History of Mormon Girls

By: Amanda - July 18, 2012

A few months ago, in a post called The Mormon Body Project, I asked what a history of Mormon women and their relationship to their bodies would be like.  How did Mormon garments with their emphasis upon modesty and purity change the way that women thought about their menstrual cycles, their breasts, and other intimate aspects of their bodies?  Did Mormon theology and its emphasis upon the divinity of the body allow Mormon women to develop more positive ideas about their body?  And, finally, how did Mormon institutions like Young Women’s and Relief Society help girls manage the transition from childhood to adolescence?  These questions were inspired by Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s The Body Project, which attempts a similar history for American women as a whole.   Brumberg – and the initial post – focuses on young women as the most vulnerable segment of the American female population.  Uncertain about themselves and their bodies, pressured to be thin, and experimenting sexually, such girls struggle as they mature into adulthood.  Brumberg argues that the Victorian era, for all its faults and sexism, offered something that the American culture currently does not – a support network in the form of women’s clubs and interested mothers to help girls navigate the transition from girlhood to womanhood.

Since that post, I have continued to think about what a Mormon Body Project might look like and what sources I might use to write it.  One idea that has emerged is focusing on Mormon teen literature and romance novels.  Like many girls, I first learned about my body and what it meant to be a woman, not from my mother who I would have been too embarrassed to ask but from the books and magazines I read.  From a book called The Trouble with Thirteen, I learned that girls could drink coke and ride their bikes while on their periods.  From Seventeen, I learned that if you danced too closely with a boy while wearing an inflatable bra, your boobs might pop.  And, from authors like Lurlene McDaniel and V.C. Andrews, I learned that life could also be difficult and fraught with terminal illness, incest, and physical abuse.  Looking back, it’s easy to laugh at the material I read and how seriously I took it.  The Baby Sitters Club, Anastasia Krupnik, and Sweet Valley High were not pieces of stellar literature.  Their impact, however, was as long-lasting as that of the more classic pieces of literature I read.  I remember the “shoulder-length blonde hair, blue-green eyes, and perfect tans” of the Wakefield sisters as well as I do the moment when Mary Lennox opened the doors to the secret garden and watched as the weeds began to bloom.  Janice Radway has argued in Reading the Romance that romance novels are popular because they allow women to explore what it means to be a woman in a world fraught with violence and rape all with the assurance that everything will turn out okay.  Teen literature provides a similar function for girls.

As a result, Juvenile Instructor will be hosting a series this summer in which a number of scholars, including Elizabeth Pinborough, Susanna Morrill, and Andrea Radke-Moss, read and critique Mormon teen literature and romance novels.  The idea is to understand how these books presented ideas about the body, modesty, and dating.  Although some of the commenters will examine recent fiction by classic authors such as Jack Weyland, the bulk of the series will focus on works from the 70s, 80s, and 90s in an attempt to understand how we got where we are.  How did all those copies of Charly that my friends bought and read on the bus affect the way that they thought about dating and romance?  The first person to try to answer this question will be Elizabeth Pinborough whose post should appear sometime next week.  The answer should be fun and will hopefully be a first gesture towards a history of Mormon girls.

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21 Comments

  1. Excellent. I look forward to this.

    Comment by Christopher — July 18, 2012 @ 8:41 am

  2. Awesomeness abounds.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 18, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  3. This is fantastic.

    Comment by Jared T. — July 18, 2012 @ 9:26 am

  4. Fascinating. I didn’t know these books existed until quite recently (perhaps because I am male or because I grew up Mormon outside the Intermountain West?). I look forward to the posts.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 18, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  5. “Excited” does not even begin to describe my anticipation for this.

    Comment by Ben P — July 18, 2012 @ 9:56 am

  6. Thanks for putting this together, Amanda. Sounds like a great series.

    Comment by David G. — July 18, 2012 @ 10:00 am

  7. Excellent introduction, Amanda! But I’m wondering if you had any experiences with Judy Blume books of “my” generation (pre-teen in the early 80s)? In _Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret_, we also learned about how to wear a first bra, how to deal with the first period, and that if we pumped our arms back and forth while repeating, “We must, we must– increase our bust! We must, we must– increase our bust!” then our chest size would be guaranteed to grow. Blume spoke to the transition from girlhood to womanhood with honesty, simplicity, and a bit of edginess and realism that said it was okay to be in touch with our emerging sexuality.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — July 18, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  8. And for that reason, her books were sometimes even banned from junior high school libraries. I can remember being warned not to read Blume books, because they were too “racy” for young girls, but you better believe we were all reading her.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — July 18, 2012 @ 10:40 am

  9. Important series – popular fiction is often under-utilized by scholars, but you’re right – there’s a rich literature (Radway is a good example) on using this for cultural and historical studies. I’m going to be watching this series closely, partly because I was an avid reader of Weyland (my grandparents owned an LDS bookstore so I usually snagged them hot off the presses).

    Comment by Tona H — July 18, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

  10. Just don’t miss Joni Hilton! Her books were quite influential on me and my view of what it means to be a Mormon girl and woman.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 18, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

  11. K and I open our essay on embodiment with Charly. I had to read the book before using it in the essay (wow), and I’m delighted to hear some scholarly thinking on this literature.

    Comment by smb — July 18, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

  12. Thanks all! I am excited about the series as well.

    Andrea, I haven’t read that particular Judy Blume. By the time that I was a kid, the Mouse and the Motorcycle and the Fudge-A-Mania series were all that were popular by her. My 4th grade teacher made me read “Dear Mr. Henshaw” but that was super boring.

    Tona, I never knew your grandparents owned a bookstore. Do you remember what the bestsellers were in teen lit? One of the difficulties I’ve had in locating sources is that I only know of a few that my friends happened to like.

    SMB, I KNOW! Read “Sara, whenever I hear your name.” It’s about a girl who is pregnant by her father, converts to the church, and then dumps the Mormon boy who had been dating her because he seemed too possessive. BIZARRE!

    Comment by Amanda — July 18, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

  13. Looking forward to this and I know many others who are, too! Thanks!

    Comment by Emily — July 18, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

  14. As I read this I wondered if you were aware of “For Time and Eternity” by Mark E. Petersen (Yes, the apostle). I just dug out my copy. It was published in 1954. It is the first piece of teen fiction directed at LDS youth (really girls) that I am aware of. At the time I thought it was great and I read it several times. It seems over the top didactic now.

    Comment by Marjorie Conder — July 19, 2012 @ 5:22 am

  15. A very interesting series, I look forward to it. I had some older sisters who read these books, so I was at least aware of the titles (it seemed like John Hughes movies played a bigger role for them).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 19, 2012 @ 8:03 am

  16. Amanda, I think you’re confusing Judy Blume with Beverly Cleary, who wrote “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.” :)

    Also, this promises to be wonderful. I love academic treatments of pop cultural artifacts…

    Comment by Michael H. — July 19, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

  17. As the father of 5 ladies, I would appreciate literature about strong, faithful LDS women.

    Comment by wonderdog — July 20, 2012 @ 6:25 am

  18. [...] What I Learned from Jack Weyland, or a New Series on the History of Mormon Girls, by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, The Juvenile Instructor. “Juvenile Instructor will be hosting a series this summer in which a number of scholars, including Elizabeth Pinborough, Susanna Morrill, and Andrea Radke-Moss, read and critique Mormon teen literature and romance novels. The idea is to understand how these books presented ideas about the body, modesty, and dating. Although some of the commenters will examine recent fiction by classic authors such as Jack Weyland, the bulk of the series will focus on works from the 70s, 80s, and 90s in an attempt to understand how we got where we are. How did all those copies of Charly that my friends bought and read on the bus affect the way that they thought about dating and romance?” This project is a continuation of The Mormon Body Project, which asked what a history of Mormon women and their relationship to their bodies would be like. [...]

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  19. Brilliant. Most of my journal from the year I was 13 consists of meticulously copied passages from Charly…

    Comment by Kristine — July 21, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

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