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 41.
The Young Women
By Hannah Wheelwright
Lesson 41: The Ability to Succeed, AKA “You can do it!”
So, I think I liked this lesson possibly the most of all the ones we’ve covered so far. It still had a lot of problems with it in my opinion and some things I would change, but then again, it also had a lot of really good aspects to it.
I like that the purpose of the lesson is to encourage young women to look beyond their personal perceptions of their failings and think more positively about themselves, their personalities, and their accomplishments. I like that it quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, who I feel is a cool role model for the YW.
I also appreciated the small reference to being spirit children of heavenly parents, found in this quote: “We know that we are literally the spirit children of heavenly parents and that our capacity to grow in many areas is limitless. If we choose to, we can develop our talents and knowledge, increase our concern and love for others, and improve our personal appearance.”
In one respect, while the lesson did emphasize in that quote the limitless possibilities for growth, I was disappointed to find that the lesson was still somewhat binary—”Don’t have low self-esteem”—instead of having a more open-ended discussion on those limitless possibilities. While I recognize that many young women struggle with being too hard on themselves, I think a lesson focused more positively on their incredible potential would do more to influence them in a good way than a lesson that reinforces stereotypes about girls having low self-esteem. I think it would be best if the manual just noted for teachers to address such needs as the young women have in that regard on a case by case basis.
The Aaronic Priesthood
Lesson 41: Sexual Purity
Because this lesson is about sex, I figured that it would be a lesson where the disparity of treatment of doctrines for boys and girls would be prominent. However, after reading the lesson, I felt like it treated the subject of sexual purity pretty fairly. I did want to mention one way in which the rhetoric surrounding repentance for sexual sin is treated differently than that of other sins. I also want to mention how the lesson could be even more inclusive to a variety of family structures.
The manual teaches that it is better to avoid sexual sins altogether than it is to slip up and then have to go through the difficultprocess of repentance with the bishop. This seems like a fairly obvious conclusion, but what it interesting, to me, is that I have never heard othersins addressed in the same way. For example, the lesson on honesty merelyendorses the virtues of honesty, and clarifies that dishonesty is sinful. Thereis no section addressing whether it is possible to be forgiven of dishonesty, or reminding the young men that while repentance of dishonesty is possible, it is difficult and perhaps painful, and so it is better to avoid dishonesty in the first place. I’m sure that it is true that it is better to avoid sin in the first place, but I thought it was interesting that the manual is so specific about it in the case of sexual sins. I don’t see the specificity as particularly productive. It just seems to reemphasize the false idea that many young people have that they are the only ones struggling with sexual sins, causing them to feel isolated. It also increases the apprehension of talking to the bishop about sexual sins. I don’t want to say that the manual should instead endorse the idea of sinning with the intent to repent later. But other lessons talk about the need to avoid certain sins without building fear of addressing the sin when mistakes are made.
I appreciated that the lesson, which deals with something that really is best taught in the home, when possible, encouraged the instructor to involve the young men’s fathers. One suggestion that I would make for improvement would be to expand that invitation. I agree that if the father can come, that would be ideal, but I also think it is good for the young men to have some guardian there, even if the father is no longer in the young man’s life or just isn’t available on that Sunday. It seems appropriate to me to include mothers or guardians in that invitation.
Asriel: You liked the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, but I am not crazy about it. I think of WAVE’s “I feel unequal when. . .” post, and to say that you are in control over whether other people can make you feel inferior seems to imply that you shouldn’t feel unequal even when you are being treated unequally.
Hannah: It’s definitely problematic in that there are certainly times when people are simply being treated unequally and it’s completely valid to feel inferior. So I agree it could be taken the wrong way—however, I really liked that they quoted a woman at all in a lesson that I noticed was dominated by male voices except for the case studies. In a sense, I wish they could have been able to quote a Mormon woman on the topic, since that would have fit the lesson a little better (it seems random to me to suddenly be referencing a quote, no matter how awesome, that you pulled from a Reader’s Digest magazine, in a church lesson).
Asriel: Perhaps a better way to interpret the quote is not that you shouldn’t ever feel unequally treated, but that if you remain committed to the assertion that you are inferior to no one, you will always be aware of situations in which you are being treated unequally.
Hannah: So I have noticed that the Young Men’s lessons seem to frequently include inviting the young men’s fathers to come join the lesson, whereas I haven’t noticed any of the Young Women’s lessons do that. In fact, after a little research; of the six lessons we have covered so far, four of the six lessons for the young men include inviting either some of the young men’s dads or the bishop to share experiences at some point in the lesson, whereas zero of the six Young Women’s lessons include inviting female role models into the classroom on Sunday. Obviously this is limited “research”—I can’t speak to how, or even if, this is negatively affecting young LDS women. But I certainly feel that it would be beneficial if we would provide strong female role models to our young women who don’t see them as much as the young men see male role models.
Asriel: Having been in a lot of Aaronic Priesthood quorum lessons, I’ll just say that it is not often (at least I can’t remember a single instance) that the fathers actually join in for the lesson. However, I see your point that there is not even a prompt for the Young Women instructors to include female role models.
Hannah: One last thing—I flipped through all the young women’s lessons, and there is no comparable lesson like the Young Men’s this week in being purely devoted to sexual purity. The most comparable lesson is simply about “Personal Purity through Self-Discipline.” However, even that lesson is more broadly about being pure in thoughts and deeds, and not so much on simply sexual sins like this Young Men’s lesson is. I wonder if it’s part of what is contributing to some instances where LDS girls feel that sex is wrong, to an extent, even within the confines of marriage. I can see how young men who have had the lesson like the one this week that teaches them how Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth, and that sex is to be both for procreation and as an expression of love, would then go on to have healthy views of their sexuality. However, the young women never had a lesson devoted to this, and thus their view of their sexuality is impaired.
Asriel: Yeah, and this should be important to guys and girls because a healthy, robust sex life in marriage depends on both partners being comfortable with their sexuality, embracing and celebrating it.