Hymns can have a huge effect in the way we see gender and gender roles. We need to make sure our new hymn book accurately portrays both women and men in a positive light. Our latest hymn book was published in 1985, and most of the hymns were written before that. Demographics and views on gender have changed substantially since then.
Children sing about preparing their friends for the elders, even though over a quarter of missionaries are female. They are glad when Daddy comes home, even though 71.5% of mothers in the United States with minor children are in the work force. We thank God for male leadership, but not our Relief Society leadership. Hymns dedicated to men and the priesthood, such as Ye Who are Called to Labor (Men), Come, All Ye Sons of God (Men), Thy Servants Are Prepared (Men’s Choir), See the Mighty Priesthood Gathered (Men’s Choir), Go, Ye Messengers of Heaven (Men’s Choir) and Ye Elders of Israel are full of references to missionary work, whereas there is not one hymn dedicated to women that talks about missionary work. Male songs emphasize strength and might, while female songs are about being gentle and gathering flowers.
The language in the hymns sometimes overlooks women. Ye Who Are Called to Labor (Men) says that those who are called to preach the gospel have been “blest with the royal priesthood” and urges them to “acquit (behave) yourselves like men”. The Priesthood of Our Lord teaches that the priesthood is needed to put on the total armor of God. I Hope They Call Me on a Mission sings about being called to serve “when I have grown a foot or two”, which is more closely associated with male bodies than female bodies. Many missionary songs, like We’ll Bring the World His Truth, use military themes, which follows traditional male roles.
Melodies can also follow gender stereotypes. Male songs are bold and triumphant. One children’s hymn for boys resembles a Superman theme. Female songs usually tend towards being more flowery and sweet. While some women identify with these melodies, they don’t resonate with other women. We should have a variety of styles that speak to a variety of women rather than put all female melodies in a box.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating male missionaries and encouraging them to go on missions, but we need to also celebrate and encourage our amazing force of sister missionaries with equal frequency and energy. We can thank God for a prophet and the General Relief Society President. We can have triumphant songs about men and triumphant songs about women. We can sing about the mighty priesthood and the mighty relief society. We can celebrate dads and moms coming home from work. We can even gather a few flowers for dad.
Maybe we could change some of the existing hymns. It wouldn’t be hard to have the children sing about preparing their friends for the missionaries rather than the elders, or join with the disciples of Christ to seek out the righteous where’er they may be, rather than just the elders of Israel. If you are so musically inclined, you might even write a few songs celebrating femininity and masculinity in a healthy light.
However we do it, we need a hymn book that portrays gender roles in a positive light, that help the youth grow up with a healthy appreciation for both genders. They need to feel that they are equally valued and loved by God regardless of their gender.