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 39: Drug Abuse
While I appreciate the general message of this week’s YW lesson (don’t do drugs), it felt like yet another simplistic lesson compared to the young men’s thought provoking, discussion-based lesson. Yet another week of “Young women- don’t do this. Do this. But don’t do this” while the young men talk about the potential they have to change people’s lives. The message not to do drugs is important, but such a lesson would fit better into a mutual activity, or even better, just at the end of last week’s lesson about caring for our bodies. Why does it need to have its own lesson? I hate to sound like a broken record, but it seems to me that this lesson is an example of there just not being enough to tell the young women about their divine potential.
I also didn’t like that of the first two stories shared in the lesson -one about “Jim,” who is a high school football star who starts smoking marijuana, and Barbara, who became heroin addict at age TWELVE and almost killed herself at 18 when she overdosed on LSD- by far the worse story is that of the female. Jim’s story explains first that he was an active Latter-day Saint, star of the football team, and a leader among his friends, then it describes the situation in which he fell into drug use, understandably after being around friends who did it for so long. Barbara’s story gives no such explanation. She was a heroin addict at 12 (no explanation of how a 12 year old got a hold of heroin, whether she was active LDS prior to that, or anything about her interests or personal pursuits) and that’s all we know.
So those are the first two stories, and they’re about these extremes of drug abuse, although Jim’s seems far less severe than Barbara’s. The next “case study” shared in the lesson is about a group of girls taking diet pills. Of all the drugs and addictive substances to focus on, I’m disappointed that the manual writes about diet pills. I had never thought about diet pills as something people younger than say 30 or 40 year olds would take, and yet here is the lesson talking about these teenage girls taking them. I’m not saying we should shield our young women from diet pills, but I am saying that suggesting to our daughters that “I know you’re probably really tempted to take these (because you probably think you need them) but you really shouldn’t” bothers me.
I hate to be a negative Nancy… but those are my thoughts from the lesson.
The Aaronic Priesthood
I really enjoyed Lesson 39: Missionary Work through Example, which is all about promoting the gospel message within our social circles by the way we live our lives—being our best selves. That type of missionary work really resonates with my desire to respect the agency of others.
The story of the young orphaned lady choosing her Mormon religion over living with her adopted family was somewhat scary to me, as the thought of any young person leaving the social security that a family or adopted family can provide also calls to mind the risk involved in such a departure. As I read, I was waiting for her to meet the Mormon boy whom she could marry and he would rescue her from her troubles, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that, while she does marry and have thirteen children, the account explains that before all of that, she found employment that allowed her to be financially independent.
In the story about the community developer who knew a Mormon from his time in the military, the three Mormon women who speak with him about getting land for a church facility are officially representing the church and have purchasing authority. Granted, they were probably delegated that authority by a male priesthood figure, but I still thought it was worth mentioning.
One part of the lesson implies that God “feels” differently about some people than others, depending on their actions. Perhaps this is a minor issue, but I feel that focusing on God’s unconditional love for everyone and the realities of action-consequence relationships would be better than implying (even unintentionally) that your actions can change how God feels about you.
Asriel: Near the beginning of the Young Women’s lesson, the manual frames the discussion of substance abuse as being primarily an issue of respecting one’s physical temple. The lesson for the Aaronic Priesthood (18, on the Word of Wisdom) puts the focus more on protecting your agency from the sway/grasp of addictions.
Hannah: I didn’t notice that when I read it, but I see what you mean.
I feel like the YW lesson this week is yet another checklist, while the YM is another wide-open discussion. I can see how YW who find themselves caught up in drug abuse could feel like they had crossed over these binary limitations, whereas a YM could view his life choices as completely acceptable within the very wide bounds he was taught in his YM lessons. Did you get that feeling?
Asriel: Yeah, that makes sense. Applying the YW lesson this week essentially involves either doing drugs and feeling bad about it or not doing drugs and feeling good about it. The Aaronic Priesthood lesson allows for making subjective choices on how to be an exemplary member of the church.
Also, I didn’t put this in my write-up since it doesn’t really relate to feminism, but I think there is a caution we need to take in teaching the importance of being a good “example of the believers.” We should strive to be our best selves, and hope that we can share the good things we’ve found, but we shouldn’t try to paint an inaccurately rosy picture of our lives. I’m reminded of this piece that I read by Joanna Brooks recently about whether the Church inadvertently encourages dishonesty.
Hannah: I think that’s a great point and still pertinent to feminism at least in the LDS Church- I think lessons like the one on Drug Abuse today does lead women to feel a lot of pressure to just accept the information handed down from their (male) leaders and implement it in their lives, and that doing so will make them outwardly obviously happy people. We encourage women to put their feminist questions on the back burner, hoping that they’ll forget or just be so convinced by all the good things said about women – “You’re so IMPORTANT” – that they’ll let it go. Unfortunately it can indeed lead to years of feeling like you have lied about what you’ve represented. I agree we shouldn’t paint inaccurately rosy pictures of our lives, as you say.