Each week, Hannah and Asriel will discuss the Young Women’s and Young Men’s lessons for the coming week from a feminist perspective. This week is lesson 38.
The Young Women
By Hannah Wheelwright:
Lesson 38: Nutrition and the Word of Wisdom
While I appreciate that healthy habits are emphasized this week, I resent that the lesson does so by objectifying bodies. This might sound crazy, but you can only hear so many object lessons about keeping up that temple of a body you have (see last week’s post) before you start to really feel a disconnect between yourself (or your perception of yourself as experienced through your body and soul) and your physical body. LDS teachings stress so much the separateness of your body and your soul that it is easy to tend to objectify the body. This sample quotation from the lesson expresses it best: “Encourage them to make certain that their spirits have comfortable, healthy homes in which to live so they might thrive and progress to the very limit of their capacity and realize the greatest promise of all—celestial life.” I do think it’s good to separate them to an extent because it’s not healthy to think you are only as “good” as your body and thus your physical appearance, but I disagree with the tone of the lesson in doing so.
Feminist BONUS in the lesson: in one of the stories, the female character is named Chris. I enjoyed that they gave a traditionally male name to a female. It’s a very small thing, but I appreciated it.
Slightly off the feminist topic, but I wish the lesson had gone into a more full explanation about the way the Word of Wisdom has been taught over time. Right here in a YW lesson would have been the perfect time to explain to the young women that the Word of Wisdom was not always considered to be a binding commandment- one of the quotations hints at this but doesn’t state it explicitly.
Once again, we see no quotations from female spiritual leaders, though that’s no surprise at this point.
The Aaronic Priesthood
Lesson 38, titled “Magnifying the Calling of an Aaronic Priesthood Holder,” presents some really great principles about serving others and dressing respectfully. I didn’t care for the part of the lesson that seemed to endorse an elitist view of priesthood ordination, though.
I have mixed feelings on the part of the lesson about how to dress when administering the sacrament. I was glad to see that the manual was only as specific as, “encourage the young men to dress properly…” The problem with the lack of specificity, however, is that it gives license to the Young Men advisors to inject their own opinions on what Aaronic Priesthood holders should wear on Sundays. While some instructors may teach simply that young men should dress appropriately and with respect, others may feel justified telling the young men that they must wear white shirts, shave, cut their hair a certain way, and/or any number of dress qualifications that aren’t actually outlined by church policies.
One paragraph of the lesson asserted that there is value in Aaronic Priesthood holders being different than young men that don’t hold the Aaronic Priesthood. And that this difference should be celebrated. The subtle implication there is that young men that hold the Aaronic Priesthood are better than young men that do not. I don’t see the usefulness in seeking to be different than others, generally, but in identifying good qualities and pursuing those for ourselves, and identifying undesirable qualities and seeking to avoid or abandon them. I would also point out that young women cannot hold the priesthood, and the idea that holding the priesthood is somehow correlated with superiority could foster poor attitudes toward women.
I enjoyed the detail with which the Fast Offering program was described, although I was disappointed that there was not more acknowledgement of the role that the Relief Society plays in the church welfare program. As the son of a mother who has spent many hours doing the leg-work of the church’s welfare efforts through various Relief Society callings, I hoped that the service and efforts of Relief Society sisters would be included in a discussion of how the Fast Offering program functions.
The poem by Edward Everett Hale was quite nice, so I’ll end with that:
I am only one; but still I am one.
I cannot do everything; but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
Asriel: Ok, can I just say that the Young Women’s lesson seemed to be saying that eating potato chips is mildly sinful. Out of curiosity, I reviewed Lesson 18 in the Aaronic Priesthood, the one about the Word of Wisdom, and it was mostly about addictions to the big don’ts in the Word of Wisdom.
Hannah: Oh interesting. Why do you think that is?
Asriel: I’m just speculating, but it kind of feels like it comes down to gender role expectations in heterosexual relationships. Any guy, regardless of his weight, can ask a girl to marry him. A girl, because of gender roles, can’t really ask a guy to marry her, for one thing, and for a second thing, if she doesn’t meet a certain body image, she will probably receive few, if any, marriage proposals. If the eternal goal is to get married, then for the girl, being skinny helps her get married, and thus being skinny is a righteous thing, because it helps her fulfill her eternal destiny in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.
Hannah: Kind of along those lines, the young women’s lesson seems very basic to me, compared to the young men’s. The young men’s lesson this week was all deep, about fulfilling divine potential as priesthood holders. And then the young women’s lesson was basically a do’s and don’ts list of what to eat and what not to eat. Sometimes it seems like there just isn’t that much to tell the young women, so they come up with multiple lessons on things like this. Did you get that impression?
Asriel: I don’t know that I would say that one was more or less basic than the other, but I thought the young men’s lesson was more spiritually relevant than a lesson about eating potato chips. But I guess I’m getting hung up on these potato chips. We’re probably saying the same thing, which is that a deeper delve into the doctrines would be more intellectually engaging for the young women
Hannah: I agree.
Asriel: Also, the YW lesson went back and forth on valuing science; in one place it was saying how it was so great the early saints followed the word of wisdom instead of the scientific knowledge of the day, but the manual used the fact that a lot of scientific knowledge today validates the word of wisdom to make that point. That is a weird position to take, because scientific knowledge could go back to disagreeing with the word of wisdom. For instance, some experts recommend wine or tea for certain health benefits.
Hannah: Something I noticed in both lessons was about superiority. As mentioned in your write up, the young men’s lesson emphasizes the superiority of young men who have the Aaronic Priesthood over young men who don’t. It bothered me that the lesson repeated that you should be able to tell which young men have the Aaronic Priesthood and those who don’t just by looking at them. I noticed a similar vein in the YW lesson, which emphasized that young women who follow the Word of Wisdom are more radiant than those who don’t. I don’t like that we’re teaching the youth to feel superior because they are more “righteous.”
Asriel: Are they really radiant, or is that just code for skinny? 😉